Time to go Christmas crackers

Christmas has come early in the Smith household…67 days to be exact. With Christmas consumerism rife, you may think I have been sucked into the crack den that is retail Christmas hell. Not so, I just generally love it. Don’t despair; I’m not alone. There are people out there where every day is Christmas Day.

imageAlthough I’m not suggesting you should adopt this attitude (your boss would have something to say about your 365 days of annual leave for starters, not to mention having to chow down on a Turkey roast with all the trimmings daily), lessons can be learned from early Christmas adoption. 

 Here are seven reasons to consider kick starting your festive fun early.

  1. People are nicer at Christmas. That’s right, Tesco checkout staff talk to you, the grumpy ones at work lighten up and people let you out at junctions. Embrace the kindness, for it will not last long.

  2. You can listen to Cliff Richard unashamedly. In my household, Sir Cliff only ever comes out at Merry Cliff-mas. So why not start early? If you can resist the dulcet tones of ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ or ‘Saviours Day’, you are a greater man than me.

  3. Forget fashion. Dust down your polonecks, dig out your thermals and throw on any form of clothing with a fleece lining to keep out the winter chill. Get snuggly.

  4. Take time out for yourself. With the clocks going back next week you can enjoy many a quality evening at home, tucked in with a nice sherry, some chocs and a hot water bottle. What’s not to love?

  5. Start winding down. Get that Christmas party feeling at work and become everyone’s best friend. Champagne at 11am? Why not?! P45, that’s why. Sad face.

  6. Brighten up your home. So, that magnolia strewn blank wall in my lounge has been CRYING out for a three-foot tree, festoon with glittery Christmas owls. No, really, it told me. It’s been lonely.

  7. Take a break from being good. Time to kick back, be lazy, eat crap, binge on bad TV…for at least two months.

If, like me, you are a festive fun enthusiast, dig out the tinsel and step into Christmas early. Keep track of just how many days there are until the big day using the Christmas Countdown Clock below.

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Ten things The Apprentice can teach you about business

Last night, twenty up-and-coming business stars once again smacked open the shiny walnut doors of Sir Alan Sugar’s boardroom, ready to compete against each other to become the entrepreneur’s business partner and win a £250,000 investment. It is car crash TV, but every year millions watch it avidly, eager to mock the controversial (Sarah Dales) and more affable (Nurun Ahmed) candidates, in a modern day Gladiator-style clash of the egos.

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It is compelling viewing, mainly because we are all waiting for the inevitable ring fight of childish bickering, backstabbing and one-upmanship that the programme has to offer. I have heard many people say if you want to get on in business, do not apply for The Apprentice.  Through all its faults, glints of inspiration shine through.

Here are ten things The Apprentice can teach you, when climbing the often-oily ladder of career success:

  1. Make a good first impression – think of how you were at the initial interview and apply this to your every day working life. Be nice, be friendly and be approachable. Cultivate a firm handshake, smell nice and say the right things. Do not insult anyone, snap at anyone, or deride anyone. Do not spend hours’ texting on your mobile, when you should be writing your report. Continue to turn up on time, and work hard. Don’t get sloppy.

  2. Dress to impress - it goes without saying that the candidates are always impeccably dressed, some even going as far as peacocking in loud colours as a bold ‘I’m the best in business’ fashion statement. There are no dogs dinners here. No, thank you. I’ve worked in places where women don’t wear bras, colleagues smell like they haven’t washed for days, where people just get it so wrong. If you think your outfit is too short, tight, shiny, or your new pink dip dye hairdo is a bit too much, then it probably is. Dress like your first day at work everyday, and you’ll go far.

  3. Put yourself forward – putting yourself forward for project manager (or anything else at work for that matter) can be scary, people may judge you and you may risk failure. But if you never put your head above the parapet you – and others – will not know the extent of your potential.

  4. Ask for what you want – the contestants all want to be Sir Alan’s business partner. They want to win their tasks. They all have a business plan, an idea, a vision. They are go-getters and aren’t waiting around for someone to hand success to them on a plate. And hat’s off to them for that. Whether it’s promotion, a pay rise, or improvements to the company or your department, speak to your superiors. Don’t whinge to your colleagues. It won’t change anything. State your case with valid reasons in a business-like manner. After all, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

  5. Get up early & be prepared to put in the hours – every week, week in, week out, the contestants are summoned at the crack of dawn out to a warehouse, airport, or marketing agency to get briefed on their task. The successful candidates work late, finalising their projects. If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail, as they say. You get out what you put in. I’m pretty sure Sir Alan is not your lie-in-bed-until-midday-watching-Jeremy-Kyle type character. You won’t set the business world on fire with that attitude. Get up and get going.

  6. Bond with your team – despite the cringe-worthy names (Decadence and Summit, for this series), the team mentality of The Apprentice is where many contestants shine. Although it’s a competition, in order to get on in life, you need to get on with people. The right team can make or break your success. In the finals of The Apprentice, former team members are brought back to help the final three. God help those who back-chatted, belittled or bullied their team members to get to the top. Oh wait, they got kicked out in Episode Three.

  7. Respect your superiors – Karren Brady, Nick Hewer, Sir Alan. These people have got years’ of experience on The Apprentice whippersnappers. Those that fail in the competition, underestimate their advice or watchful gaze. Although energy and enthusiasm goes a long way in business, so does knowledge and experience. So respect your business elders and find a mentor.

  8. Play to your strengths – some people like to present, some shine at the customer-coalface, whilst others are better in the background looking at marketing, finance or the supply chain. It takes a combination of these things to make an outstanding businessperson, but if you can invest your time in one particular area (remember the inventor and engineering graduate, Tom Pellereau?), it shows real strength. It’s better to be a knowledgeable expert than a clueless jack-of-trades.

  9. Do your homework – so many contestants on The Apprentice fail because they go into tasks blindly. They pluck figures and ideas out of thin air and wonder why their business ideas flop. The good candidates undertake market research on business names, product design and brand positioning, and ensure they’ve done their maths so they actually make a profit. Lots of people have great ideas, but successful business people do their homework then put the wheels in motion.

  10. Lead with results – contestants on The Apprentice talk a good talk with statements on their CVs such as ‘I can sell ice to the Eskimos’ and other nonsense. However, those that do the best, follow up bold statements with results. You may have a degree in biophysics and won Toothpaste Salesperson of the Year 2014, however what really counts is what you achieve day to day.

So, The Apprentice can teach us many things about becoming better business people. For your weekly dose, tune in every Tuesday from 9pm, on BBC One or watch on BBC iPlayer.

Want more?

Take a look at ten years of The Apprentice below:

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Cheap eats: thrifty spicy rice

This is one of the most delicious things I have ever had the pleasure to eat!

Those that know me know that I am a fairly frugal chef (after taking out a lot of debt in my 20s - don’t do it kids). However I refuse to compromise on quality of food. You are what you eat, after all.

This is a tried and tested recipe that my friend Jess taught me way back during university. Thirteen years on, it is still one of my firm favourites as it’s delicious, quick, easy and cheap. A great student recipe idea or a cheap eat generally.

Shopping list:

• Tinned mackerel fillets in spicy tomato sauce (it MUST be the spicy one, not just tomato)

• Chopped spring onions

• Soy sauce

• Toasted sesame seed oil

* Brown rice

Steps:

1. Boil rice, drain

2. Fry rice in sesame seed oil

3. Add soy

4. Add mackerel and stir in

5. Toss in spring onions

6. Voila! Enjoy your yummy rice

Ten tips to kick-ass political canvassing

So, today I ventured out on my first-ever political canvassing trip. Armed with a Waitrose carrier bag stuffed with membership renewal letters, a rose-tinted ‘I’m-new-at-this’ enthusiasm and my favourite playlist, off I went into the blue yonder.

All did not go to plan. If you are about to start a political canvassing campaign, here are my top ten tips on how to kick-ass on the doorsteps.

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1.    Get up early

The early bird catches the worm. I was planning to hit the streets at 7am but languished in bed and didn’t get out until 8am. It was great for the first hour, but by 9am more cars were on the road, more dog walkers were on the path, and more recipients of the letters were stirring, which made the delivery trickier.

You will also feel a fantastic sense of achievement when all you work is done and dusted by 9am, and you can reward yourself with a hearty breakfast (see tip 10). If you leave it later in the day, you may come up with lots of excuses why not to do it. Seize the day!

 2.    Plan your route

Make sure you go through your deliveries in the comfort of your own living room to ensure you have everything you need, in the right order of proceedings (house numbers, roads, etc). That way, you won’t end up scrabbling around in your bag for the right envelope on the corner of the street, in the guise of a lost postman.

 3.    Respect your neighbours

Make everyone’s life more harmonious by respecting ‘no soliciting’ or ‘no junk mail’ signs and closing gates behind you. Leave everything as you found the property and be as quick as you can in making the delivery.

All of our letters were addressed to a named recipient so I had no qualms in sticking them through the door. No one likes to be spammed; treat others how you would like to be treated. After all they may be your constituents one day.

 4.    Take a wooden spoon

A seemingly strange accessory for political campaigning, but nonetheless an essential one. This little gadget will make it easier for you to get documents through stiff letterboxes and will save you re-doing your manicure (for the discerning lady campaigner).

5.    Use Google Maps

I live in my ward and thought I knew all the roads, lanes and avenues that crisscrossed the area. How wrong I was! Perhaps it was the result of getting up so unnaturally early on a Sunday but thank god I took my iPhone as I ended up using Google Maps to check where I was going on more than one occasion. Use a map app, or take a printed one, to save time, energy and confusion.

 6.    Have water on hand

I severely underestimated the time it takes to pound the streets. After an hour, my mouth was drier that Ghandi’s flip flop but I was only half way round the route. I felt a long way from Kansas. There was nothing I could do (as I didn’t take any money out with me, and there were no shops open so early on a Sunday anyway) except feel parched until I got home two hours later. Be prepared or prepare to fail and pack the Evian!

 7.    Be well equipped

Canvassing is a lot harder than I thought. You need to wear comfortable footwear (I opted for Converse trainers), pack an umbrella, and wear layers so if you get hot or cold you are prepared for the worst. Take money in case you need water from a shop (see tip 6).

You are not popping down to the corner shop for milk, you are going to be trekking around for at least a couple of hours, so equip yourself for the challenges accordingly. I took a fully charged iPhone with me, which supplied me with motivating Jamie Cullum music (no judgement) and the lifesaving Google Maps app.

 8.    Look approachable (and not like a burglar)

As I was essentially creeping about my neighbourhood at the crack of dawn on a Sunday, I tried to dress smartly (as smart as you can in Converse trainers) to avert looking like I might be out to rob my neighbours.

I started off with sunglasses on and headphones, but after about 20 minutes in I popped them both away as on the odd occasion someone came out of their property or passed me on the street, I felt these were barriers to social interaction.

So ditch the sunnies to look approachable (and less like an undercover agent from MI5).

 9.    Know what you are delivering

 This is common sense, but make sure you know the contents of what you are delivering. Yes, you may trust your fellow party members with what they have eagerly supplied you, however you don’t want to be caught out if people on the doorsteps ask what you are delivering. Ask to see a copy before you begin to ensure you know your onions.

 10. Reward yourself

After all that early-rising, spoon-wielding, road hopping, letterbox jamming, dog barking, thirst-inducing work it is time to reward yourself. I chose eggs benedict and the Sunday papers – but do whatever floats your boat. After all, political canvassing is voluntary work. Whatever your political affiliation, you have made an effort to support your beliefs and get out there in your local community. Well done you.