Advice. Opinions. Conversation.

Coronavirus and freelancers: “If I become ill, I’ll have to work.”

Working as a freelancer or contractor in the UK? You may find this interesting. 

Petition: Include Self-employed in Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) during Coronavirus. It’s had over 65,000 signatures so far. If it hits 100,000, it will be considered for debate in parliament. I’ve signed it and shared.

Self-isolating employees can access sick pay from the first day of being off if they earn enough, but it’s not clear if this will be extended to those on low incomes, zero-hours contracts and the self-employed if a pandemic hit the UK. 

Freelancers make up 15% of the UK workforce, and the majority of us aren’t entitled to any sick pay. So, we rely on our savings. We need to pay bills and put food on the table like everyone else so most of us will carry on going to work, sick or not, which raises the risk of spreading the virus further. 

As the petition points out, “4.8 million people are registered self-employed in the UK (2017 figures from the Office of National Statistics so this figure is probably higher). “It would be easy enough to work out what each person is entitled to based on their tax returns.” 

Good to see trade union action spurring this on. On March 4, Francis O’Grady, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), called on the government to make SSP available to all workers. “Unless we sort out our sick pay rules and make them fair, many workers are going to face that invidious choice of do they pay their bills, put food on the table, or do they follow government health advice to self-isolate if they’ve got symptoms? No one should be out of pocket for doing the right thing.” The National Union of Journalists (NUJ London Freelance Branch) has also written about it here

And Lisa Nandy (my favourite Labour candidate) in The Guardian today calling for an extension to the Brexit transition period because of the coronavirus. “Businesses trading with the EU do not know what terms they will be trading on in 10 months. Add to this the falling demand and disruption created by the coronavirus, and it is reasonable to expect many businesses will not survive.” Which means more stress for the freelancers who work for them.

She has also suggested extending SSP to avoid a ‘public health disaster’ waiting to happen if self-employed people and those working in the gig economy can’t afford to self-isolate. 

Please sign it and share! 

Photo by Hello I’m Nik 🍌 on Unsplash

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Clear messaging (& tone of voice) is crucial at all times – not just during coronavirus!

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Advice. Opinions. Conversation.

The Rise of Email Newsletters (here are some you’ll love…)

The email newsletter is having a moment. Just reading about how they are part of the ‘Passion Economy’ in this month’s Courier. I see a new one launch every day, and women are on it. They’re a more intimate form of communication with people who actually want to read your stuff. Mine will focus on writing, creativity and work culture.

What else do I want this year? More fun. Deeper connections. To prioritise my own projects and happiness (getting up an hour earlier to work on my own stuff). To sort out my health. I have rheumatoid arthritis and want to find out what’s causing it and get it into remission. It’s no fun when your fingers keep getting stuck when you write for a living. Over the past year, I’ve been working with Gayle Merchant on my nutrition and have just done a comprehensive gut test to try and get to the bottom of it! (literally – stool samples in mum’s fridge over Christmas). I also want to feel stronger, so as well as running, which keeps me sane, I want to try some weightlifting this year. 

I also love a good tattoo so have decided to go for it and get a full sleeve 🙂

More travel. To read a book a month. Better paid work. I’ve signed up to the Hoxby CollectiveThe Dots, and I’m checking out The Allbright, a members’ club for women. Interesting event programme and some inspiring women on board – member spotlights. It would also be great to have a regular coworking space in London. 

So, if you want to take your working life up a notch and set some goals this year, check out The Professional Freelancer by Anna Codrea-Rado. How to set freelance goals you’ll actually stick to, and the importance of distinguishing between outcome goals – things you don’t have any control over like “getting a book deal” and process goals – actionable steps you can control like “emailing five agents this week”. Why it’s important to do both. Here’s some more freelance friendly content to check out, via @JessicaAnneLord.

What I’m reading

How to escape your phone and other life hacks

Family life suffers from always-on work culture

‘I quit life as a BBC journalist to live as a jade carver in China’

Resounding NUJ victory in landmark equal pay case. A wake-up call to all employers!

Little Black Book – A Toolkit for Working Women

DCW chief Swati Maliwal hospitalized after fainting on 12th day of hunger strike

Bittersweet legacy of a blazing talent – Motherwell: A Girlhood

Elizabeth Wurzel and the illusion of Gen-X success

CES 2020 – all the latest news and highlights – the joy of tech!

What I’m listening to

#237 Emma Forrest: Writing & Transcendental Meditation. Dreams and creativity. Keep a pen handy. You are most creative when you don’t realise you’re doing it.

Lana Del Ray – Norman Fucking Rockwell

Where I’m going

StartUp 2020 – the UK’s biggest start-up show of the new year.

The Allbright

Nicci Talbot is a freelance journalist and copywriter. She can be reached at or follow her on Twitter @niccitalbot.

Photo by Lee Soo hyun on Unsplash

Advice. Opinions. Conversation.

Christmas Gift or Charity Donation?

What would you prefer? A conventional gift or a charitable donation given in your name this Christmas?

According to new research by one of my clients, the Gift Card & Voucher Association (GCVA), more than one in five Brits (21.5%) would prefer a charitable donation. In the run-up to Christmas, the GVCA surveyed 1,000 consumers who celebrate Christmas in order to determine how gifting habits are changing over time. When asked what else they would be happy to receive instead of a traditional Christmas gift, gift cards emerged as a popular alternative, being chosen by 44% of Brits.

40% said they would prefer to receive “experiences”, such as nights out or skydiving trips, rather than traditional gifts, and 36% said they would like to choose their own gift, as opposed to a present that was picked out for them.

The research also found that a fifth of people would want a donation to be made to charity on their behalf, instead of receiving a physical gift, showing that attitudes towards gifting are changing in line with our sustainability values.

Is the rise of alternative gifting a response to the huge amount of waste produced from unwanted Christmas gifts? According to the survey, Brits receive an average of TWO unwanted gifts each Christmas, equating to a total of 119,584,080 across the UK. And nearly 23 million of these gifts will be sent straight to landfill! Not good enough!

We also use nearly three rolls of wrapping paper on average and most of that isn’t recyclable.

If, like me, you’re out shopping this weekend for last-minute Christmas gifts, think about getting a gift card.  They can get something they really want or enjoy a new experience.  Gift cards are either digital or increasingly being made of sustainable materials these days.

Happy gifting – and have a wonderful, festive Christmas break!

More on what the GCVA does to support the gift card industry and its sustainability pledge at

Photo: Virgin Experience Days

Advice. Opinions. Conversation.

Copywriting: Wealth from Words

NUJ training with Eugene Costello and Nick Saalfeld 

Copywriting and branded content creation pay two or three times more than conventional journalism and there is near-insatiable demand for skilled practitioners. Join Eugene Costello and Nick Saalfeld to learn how to delight clients and what it takes to command truly stellar day rates.

So, I went along to find out more… a really enjoyable course, funny, entertaining and inspiring with lots of anecdotes, jokes and useful tips. Eugene focuses on B2C work and Nick, B2B and thought leadership so good insight into the pros and cons of both and different rates of pay.

Key takeaways: Do corporate work. There’s lots of it out there and it pays well. Know your worth and charge a decent day rate. Don’t do piecemeal or project work – sites like People Per Hour and Upwork are saturated. Look for niche areas like tech/blockchain, where there isn’t as much competition. Focus on building a relationship with a client. I also love the idea of having a ‘capability statement’ instead of a CV.

Types of copywriting:

·      Advertising

·      Business writing

·      Blogging for clients

·      In-house journalism

On finding work:

·      Contact small businesses and individuals with high net worth and ask if they need help

·      Contact advertising agencies via LinkedIn

·      Facebook groups – A Few Good HacksJourno ResourcesNo 1 Freelance Media Women, & copywriting groups… Eleanor GooldJackie Barrie

·      Have your own website with slides/logos on it featuring your best clients and an online portfolio. Blog about the companies you’re working with or want to be. Eugene got an in-house journalism gig with Octopus Energy by writing a blog post about their excellent customer service… which caught the eye of the CEO when he shared it on Twitter… a charity donation and eventually, some work!

·      Serendipity – be out there talking to people, go to meetups – Nick runs one for Pharma professionals in London, carry business cards

·      Find your niche – for Nick, it’s thought leadership. Think about where your work fits into the company – do your research and then produce 10 pieces. Move from piecemeal to transactional work to relationship building and make yourself valuable. He jumps at the chance to go in-house, meet people and work out how he can contribute. “Get out of the transactional crap into long-term value work.”

·      Create a ‘capability statement’ instead of a CV, a two-page document showing clients, sectors, logos, agencies worked for, reference examples, 6 referees, commercial boilerplate. Nick has one and updates it every three months. “It knocks the socks off a CV!”

·      Nick also hires writers and looks for: critical thinking, logic and structure in complexity, curiosity, conscientiousness, business sense, horizon scanning, adaptability, flexibility, creativity, emotional intelligence, self-motivation, prioritisation and time management, embracing and celebrating change

·      Learn about new areas where there’s less competition – e.g. cryptocurrency, tech, blockchain

·      Content management agencies – worth signing up for but be selective as the pay can be terrible. Check out and

What can you earn?

·      You get what you expect – rates can vary between £150-500 a day

·      On knowing your worth – Eugene asked for £500 per day at Octopus Energy and thought he’d fluffed it as things went quiet… but he held out rather than going back with a lower offer and they offered him £400 per day to be their in-house journalist

·      If there’s something they like about your work don’t be afraid to ask for more. It’s a good thing to try and hold your rate

·      Avoid project rates or piecemeal work – develop a sense of your own value

On writing:

·      Forget the tone of voice corporate bullshit. Speak to people as humans. Be warm, personal, concise, & write as you speak. Innocent Drinks had a revolutionary way of communicating with consumers

On freelance journalism:

·      “Writers are going down the rabbit hole of chasing ever-diminishing work.”

·      “Print journalism has trodden journalists down until they have no respect left for themselves.”

On copywriting:

·      “It’s a nice life. I can cherry-pick between commercial work, which is well paid and other work – features, press trips.”

·      “Anyone can write and get Grammarly. Clients are paying you for your intelligence, ideas, and perspective – not to write!” They pay you to turn up on time, get on with the team, make coffee etc. Consider how you make people feel and know that ALL your interactions matter

·      Ethics – only work with clients you feel comfortable with.

Also, at £15, this course was a steal and far cheaper than equivalent commercial courses I’ve seen advertised. One of the many perks of being an NUJ member!


Photo by Hannah Grace on Unsplash

Advice. Opinions. Conversation.

Sticking it to Stigma: Hot Octopuss’ Sex Toy Campaign

Screen Shot 2019-11-07 at 20.16.04I’m proud to be working with Hot Octopuss, a London-based inclusive sex toy company.

This week they launched the Show Stigma The Finger campaign, starring six activists wearing nothing but the middle finger.

Show Stigma The Finger was designed to be displayed across the Big Apple but was banned by numerous media buyers, deemed “too inappropriate.” Despite falling foul of regulations, the company rallied support from local New York street artists to bring the campaign to life at one location in Manhattan and online. It hopes to highlight and break down prejudices and phobias standing in the way of women achieving healthy and happy sex lives – a mission the brand has been working on since 2011.

“‘No’ wasn’t an acceptable answer for this one. When we were told the ads were too inappropriate, we knew we had a duty to make sure the world saw it. The stars of the campaign are giving a fearless F-you to years of stereotypes that society has placed upon them. They’re standing up for anyone who’s ever been told they are too big, too old or not pretty enough to enjoy sex. It’s our responsibility to make sure these voices are not silenced, so we are going ahead with the campaign despite what the authorities say,” says Jules Margo, COO and co-founder.

You can see the campaign in Downtown Manhattan, NY until the end of the year or online. Its launch coincides with the release of their latest toy – the DiGiT – a gender-neutral finger sex toy that demonstrates how powerful a single finger can be. For every toy purchased the company will be donating 10% of profits to charities chosen by the campaign’s six activists.

The faces behind the fingers are rebelling against homophobia, ageism, ableism, colourism, body shaming and transphobia.

The company collaborated with multi-disciplinary artist, Aleksandra Karpowicz to execute the campaign.

Join the movement online via the hashtag #ShowStigmaTheFinger on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Photo by Cowan Whitfield


Advice. Opinions. Conversation.

Plusnet Unlimited Fibre Extra Broadband – review

I’ve recently signed up for unlimited fibre extra broadband with Plusnet. I’m working from home so need a fast, reliable internet connection. I live with a 12-year-old YouTuber/Netflix addict so we’re both online evenings and weekends, which can slow things down.

Yesterday I received a cheque in the post from them for £70 as a ‘thank you’ for signing up.


Great customer service too. A few days ago they called me to check in on the service to make sure I’m happy, asking if there’s anything else they can do for me.

There are tons of options for business broadband and I went with Plusnet on word-of-mouth recommendation. They aren’t the cheapest, but they provide a good service, fast speeds, and have won awards for their customer service. I can also speak to someone in Sheffield rather than dealing with chatbots and overseas call centres. A huge time suck.

After months of problems with my phone line, scam calls and a very slow service that kept dropping, I am happy and feeling productive! Amazing what a small change in your set up can do. When things are running smoothly you don’t even think about them. The surprise cheque was a nice bonus too.

Just checking out their community blog. Here’s a recent post on the best countries for remote workers.  I don’t think Spain is better than the UK for remote workers though, not based on my recent experience there 😉


Check out their products here:

Advice. Opinions. Conversation.

Warren Lee Wilde:👇🏼my highlights are my art 👇🏼

“Oooh, I love your fringe,” he peers at me over the top of his gold shades as I walk into the salon.

I’m loving the look. Jungle playsuit, gold safety pin necklace, pencilled brows, and platform trainers.

“Take a seat. Can I get you a drink?” asks Amber.

“Water, thanks.”

I sink into a black leather chair, already sticky from the sun. It’s Saturday morning at Urban Hair & Beauty, St Leonards and I’m here for a blow dry. There are three women sat behind mirrors and another next to me, flicking through a magazine. One of them is leaving and my stylist, Kelly, knots a headscarf around her curls to hold them in place. “You look fabulous,” I tell her as she leaves and she smiles. I sip my water and turn to the woman on my right. “What are you having done?”

“Oh, just the usual. Trim and tidy.”

Kelly is ready for me so I settle into the chair and surrender to the shampoo. “Is the temperature ok? Would you like a head massage?”

My favourite six words and the marker of a good salon.

Jungle man is Warren and he’s busy chatting to his client as I sit down to have my hair dried. I catch the tail end of a story about his 11-year-old sister who is getting into dance and wants to try pole dancing. He rolls his eyes. “She’s like, Warren, can I have a Versace bag? I’m like, no girl, not till I have one first!”

“Great music”, I say to Kelly. Warren G. Christina. Kylie. Pounding through the speaker into my left ear.

“Yeah, it’s Radio 1. They play the best tunes on a Saturday morning. My boss doesn’t like it. She prefers Gold and Magic but she’s not here on Saturdays so we have it on. Our customers love it.” I watch Warren getting jiggy through the mirror.

He turns to me: “Didn’t I cut your daughter’s hair? What was her hair colour again?”

“Blonde-brown. Long.”

“Yeah, I remember. Didn’t she have a guinea pig?”


I took Julieta in a year ago to have her hair curled for her year six prom, so I’m impressed he remembered after all this time. I tell him she’s 12 now and has done a year at school in China.

Kelly sprays on some heat protector and gets to work with the straighteners. I tell her I have a pair of GHD’s. 20 years old, and still going strong.

“We use Cloud Nines. They’re made by the same guy who started GHD. There are three types and these are the thicker ones for long hair. I think they’re better.” She carries on ironing and I watch the steam rising while my hair flops in defeat. “It’s so satisfying.”

“You can recycle your GHD’s here if you want to. We sell Cloud Nines as well.”

Warren reappears holding a stunning bouquet of green and white flowers. “Who are they for?” I ask.

“My client. I’m invited to her party tonight on The Lawn. She’s an artist. I have to take something nice. Her daughter will be head to toe in Gucci…”

“Where d’you get them from?”

“The florist on Norman Road. She does all the vintage bouquets herself. £20! Can you believe it? I said, look, I’ve got £20 – what can you do, and she came up with these. Fabulous, aren’t they?” he has a sniff and disappears behind the Prosecco wall. Flowers, steam and hairspray.

It’s 11.30 am and I have serious hair to go with my LBD, fishnets and black Vagabonds.

“I love your look. Love monochrome. You always look fabulous when you walk past. Beautiful figure.”

This is why he gets invited to party on The Lawn with his clients.

“Likewise. So, what’s the look? I love the playsuit.”

“ASOS, darling. Head to toe. I do like a chunky trainer.” He leans in and whispers, “these are Versace though. I love clothes and dressing up. It’s mostly ASOS. Sometimes my friends buy me stuff to wear.”

I glide down London Road, buoyed by the compliments, music, service, and happy vibe. Only £15 for a wash and blow dry too. It’s a Good Hair Day.

@WarrenLeeWilde – 👇🏼 my highlights are my art 👇🏼

Urban Hair and Beauty, London Road, St Leonards. Tuesday to Saturday and late nights on request.

Advice. Opinions. Conversation.

16 Ways to Beat the Menopause Naturally

“My biggest ‘aha’ moment was realising that it all starts with the gut!

“I mean everything, absolutely every health concern, starts with the gut! Looking after our digestive system should be the number one priority when it comes to health. Mental health is considerably improved once we begin to work on the gut.”

Which is why we call it the ‘second brain’.

I’m at a “Balance Hormones Naturally’ talk and food demo with nutritional therapist and food photographer Daniela Exley at Cake Room, Hastings. Daniela’s journey into healthy eating and personal development began in May 2013 after she started experiencing a huge array of symptoms including exhaustion, depression, allergies and painful joints – she was eventually diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and is now on the road to recovery through diet and lifestyle rather than taking drugs. I also have RA so am keen to learn from her experiences.

Her first point is that our general approach to health issues is medical care first and diet and nutrition as a last resort. It should be the other way around. If you’re experiencing health issues the first thing you should do is look at your diet and learn about how the gut works and what might be causing a problem. See if you can improve things naturally before you take drugs or HRT or its bio-identical equivalent, which is still chemically manufactured.


  • Hormones are chemical messengers – your body is an orchestra and hormones are the conductors keeping things balanced and on track. When they are out of balance, for example, with menopause, it affects our health
  • Healthy gut flora is important for a healthy immune system. 70-80% of your immune tissue is in your digestive tract. One way to replenish gut microbiome and rebalance your hormones is to eat more fermented foods like Kombucha, Kimchi, Kefir, Sauerkraut, which you can pick up from Trinity Wholefoods, a health food cooperative around the corner in Trinity Street
  • Eat coloured veg for phytonutrients
  • Eat prebiotics – found in green bananas, asparagus, artichoke, leeks, and garlic
  • Drink 1 ½ to 2 litres of water a day (herbal tea counts) to help release toxins in the gut
  • Phytoestrogens are structurally similar to estrogen so they can mimic it and help reduce the risk of conditions associated with low estrogen levels, such as osteoporosis and heart disease. Flaxseeds are the richest dietary source of lignans, a type of phytoestrogen. “My menopausal symptoms – hot flushes and breast pain – have stopped completely after 7 days of taking flaxseeds.”
  • Asian women don’t tend to complain of menopausal symptoms, and they have much lower rates of breast cancer – possibly because of a diet high in miso, tofu, tempeh and Natto, a fermented soy superfood which is an acquired taste. “It tastes like old socks… slimy, stretchy but it’s soooo good for you.” Nor do they drink much alcohol, apparently, which made everyone go quiet. “Alcohol is so toxic to the system, it’s the only thing your liver can deal with when you drink, so if you’re drinking regularly your liver can’t help regulate your sex hormones.”
  • Brassicas, baby – they are a good source of indoles which help the liver detoxify and inhibit enzymes that activate carcinogens. Broccoli, bok choy, kale, cauliflower, Brussels
  • We need healthy fats and cholesterol for hormone production. Quality fish oils, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil: “I’ve lived with Spanish people who eat gallons of it – they are one of the healthiest nations.”
  • Get outdoors more – being in nature helps to calm the central nervous system. Don’t overdo the exercise… hardcore workouts aren’t great in your 40s as they can stress the adrenals… try yoga or Pilates
  • For better quality sleep and less anxiety try Epsom salt baths (magnesium) – I buy mine by the bucket load from a garden centre – much more economical and a nice man carries it up the stairs for me. “Listen to Marconi Union’s ‘Weightless’. It’s THE top meditation track. I always fall asleep before the end of it.”
  • Plastics – you can’t avoid them completely, but supermarkets are getting better. Morrisons allows you to take in your own containers for fresh fish or better still, buy from your local fish market where it’s wrapped in paper. In Hastings, you can buy reusable wraps from The Crown pub on All Saints Street
  • Beauty products can be hormone disruptors – lists all known toxins present in products
  • Go organic: when fruit & veg are sprayed with pesticides they don’t produce as many phytoestrogens
  • BEE POLLEN – “You can survive on it. It contains every vitamin, mineral and amino acid known to man. It’s what they feed the Queen Bee and she ain’t got hot flushes
  • Maca is great for libido, energy and balancing your hormones. Blend it with cashews, coconut flakes, dates, and lemon essential oil to make your own truffles
  • Buy quality Essential oils – Daniela recommends doTERRA, which are food grade. We sniffed several: basil (smells amazing, relieves stress, anxiety & depression, relieves itchy skin), clary sage, thyme – all help with hormone balancing. Daniela hosts a drop-in session at The Cake Room on Monday mornings where you can try some of the oils and learn more about their uses

All in all, a fascinating evening and I came away feeling inspired and energised. Good company, good food and useful information. Daniela made a rocket & walnut pate/pesto while we were there served with homemade chia & flaxseed crackers. Easy and yummy: blitz lemon juice, olive oil, rocket and walnuts. We drank homemade Kombucha tea from Vikki from Bullet Café (has a kick and could be Prosecco if you drink it in a flute…) and polished off the Maca truffles.

I bought her book, the 28 Day Mind & Body Reset and have been enjoying the recipes – blitz and bake easy dishes and things I actually want to eat. I found bee pollen granules in Trinity so have been taking those; let’s see what a difference they make to my focus and energy levels as an alternative to multivitamins.

We had a chat before I left, and she gave me another nugget. “If you’re looking to do some deep work on energy and manifestation, I recommend Lacy Phillips. Check her out, powerful stuff.” I have since signed up for The Pathway and she’s right, it is life-changing work and another tool to support you on your journey.

Dive in… The Deep Connect Nature Retreat, Romania – 1 – 8th June 2019

Photos: Daniela Exley


Advice. Opinions. Conversation.

A Night of Flamenco: Jesus Olmedo & La Kati – review

I went to see Jesus Olmedo perform at the Kino Teatr last month. A graduate from the Royal Conservatoire of Madrid, he is now working across the globe and runs a collective in London called Flamenco Soul – live shows combining ‘cante jondo’ (traditional song) with Spanish guitar and flamenco dancing. He rose to fame as Pippa Middleton’s flamenco teacher on the back of this article she wrote for The Telegraph.

First up: Flamenco guitarist Adrian Sola who just sat down and started to play. Following a big bang – technical hitch – he looked up with a shy smile, fiddled a bit and carried on. He has such grace – a beautiful, transcendent sound that grounds you and lays the foundation for the rest of the show. He doesn’t say much but has a fantastic stage presence and can hold his own as a solo performer. I noticed I had started crying. After a couple of sets, he was joined by percussionist Ayoze de Alejandro who worked his way into the sound and they played off each other. I think of flamenco as a solo performance, but it’s about teamwork and collaboration with lots of eye contact, banter and gesturing between performers. It was lovely to feel the connection between the two men.

Jesus is petite and slender with a determined chin and an intense expression – he reminded me of Hugh Jackman in The Greatest Showman. For the first performance, he wore a black and white suit which looked a bit Michael Jackson with a shirt that came undone as he moved. He is an excellent dancer and gave an accomplished performance, but for some reason, he didn’t dominate the room or give me tingles down my spine. I wanted him to push it to the edge. Maybe that would come later? For the second half, he wore a red and black suit which looked sharper and took it in turns to dance with La Kati – an excellent flamenco performer.

“You need to watch Israel Galvan,” my friend whispered into my ear. “I saw him in London. He’s such a force… dominates the stage. Such charisma. Chunky, not too skinny. Great ass, too.”

One of the highlights was an improv session around a wooden table featuring all performers. They started out tapping the table with their fists, building the sound, smiling and laughing and ended with a cracking tabletop performance by Jesus and La Kati. Would it collapse, or would they fall off first? Good tension and the audience got into the swing of it, clapping along in delight. I can imagine this scene being played out in bars across the country as a voice for political protest.

All in, an accomplished show, though I was left wanting more. For me, the standout performance was Sola’s solo guitar playing. Graceful and immersive, he took the audience with him on a journey – the total opposite to the flamenco but the two work well in tandem – he sets the stage for the physical movement and didn’t need any vocal accompaniment.

Looking around the Kino Teatr, St Leonards’ Russian art gallery and performance venue, I felt a bit depressed that most of the audience were over 50. £20 per ticket is a bit steep, but this is live theatre and something you don’t see every day in St Leonards. I prioritised this over other events as I wanted to feel something and thought it would help with the winter blues.

When we got home I watched Israel Galvan and Silvia Pérez Cruz on YouTube. She has a stunning, ethereal voice and he is such a force on stage – simple black outfit, hair swept back in a ponytail. He draws you in with his graceful hand movements. I can see why flamenco is Spain’s premier art form and a powerful tool for protest. Not sure I’d be any good at it with my joints, but I look forward to being energised by more of it.

Jesus Olmedo will be back at the Kino Teatr, St Leonards on May 25, 2019. Booking and info here.

Photo by Dolo Iglesias on Unsplash

Advice. Opinions. Conversation.

The M’Hencha Company – Moreish Moroccan Cake

“What is it?”

“It’s a traditional Moroccan cake, but made here in the Cotswolds by a woman in Bourton on the Water,” the shopkeeper said proudly. “It won a Gold Great Taste Award”.

M’hencha (M’hanncha) is a tear and share filo pastry filled with almond, pistachio and rose water. The name is Arabic for ‘coiled like a snake’ so it’s also called snake pie or serpent cake. When things feel drab, nothing lifts the spirits like fresh mint tea, Turkish Delight and pistachio pastries scattered with rose petals. This is my regular afternoon treat at Liban, the new Lebanese restaurant at the Kino Teatr, St Leonards. Intrigued to see if the M’Hencha lived up to its award-winning status, I bought one to take home.

M’Hencha’s creator, Sophie Browne, is an artisan baker based in Bourton on the Water. In 2003 Sophie was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disorder and soon realised that juggling a corporate career with motherhood didn’t blend with managing a chronic condition. With a fair amount of trepidation and hope to create a better lifestyle and heal herself, she quit her sales and marketing job and decided to set up her own bakery business.

“I thought baking cake to order would be a grand plan, a pleasure to do, creative, local. I’d start small so there was less pressure and with some serious persistence, a hefty dollop of determination along with an unsustainable business plan under my belt I finally came up with a unique proposition: M’hencha. I created my interpretation of it in 2011, and after taking it to market for the first time and receiving an extraordinary response, I submitted it to the Great Taste Awards. I was utterly overwhelmed to receive three stars and have M’hencha Citrus, Rosewater & Pistachio named as one of the Top 50 Foods in Britain & Ireland 2012. This catapulted M’hencha into the limelight and The M’hencha Company was born.”

Sophie’s version of the North African pastry cake is an amalgamation of five recipes from Algeria to Morocco. She has added her favourite flavours to give it a new spin with citrus and frangipane. “My palate is my guide, I have a passion for Persian flavours and I like what I eat to be a sensory experience.” In 2015, she created an alter ego to the fragrant, fresh Citrus Rosewater and Pistachio, and, inspired by the other flavours of North Africa, the orange, cinnamon and date M’hencha was born.

“The final recipe was an accidental hero born from a bag of dates splitting in the mix when up against the clock. It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened making the fine-tuned recipe punchy and spicy. I submitted this version to the Great Taste Awards where it achieved three stars, ‘Top 50’ status and was awarded the Golden Fork for the South West (the Oscars of the food industry)”.

Sophie has kept her business small and specialist, personally making every M’hencha order and, in addition to the baking, manages the business development, orders and events – with the help of an enthusiastic support team. “I am a passionate artisan and incredibly proud to be one of many creative Cotswolds’ foodie businesses.”

My M’Hencha didn’t make it home in one piece. I heated it up and had some for breakfast with coffee from Fillet & Bone. Strikingly different, it tastes extraordinary and you don’t need much to feel satisfied. An excellent alternative to almond croissants in the morning and an exotic gift for foodie friends.


The Cotswold Chocolate Company

Photo: Thanks to Annie Spratt on Unsplash