Uncovering a Georgian chocolate kitchen

Charlotte Barker became very skilled at spotting the word 'chocolate'

Charlotte Barker became very skilled at spotting the word ‘chocolate’

Charlotte Barker tells me how her research led to the discovery of a hidden Georgian chocolate kitchen at Hampton Court Palace.

A few weeks ago, I went to a storytelling workshop at the Tower of London. At the end of the day, we all had to tell a story relating to our work. Charlotte Barker, a curatorial assistant at the Historic Royal Palaces, stood up and told an extraordinary tale of how her research had uncovered a chocolate kitchen hidden away in the depths of Hampton Court Palace. Until recently, it had been disguised as a flower-arranging cupboard.

A visit to Hampton Court Palace

Keen to know more, last week I took the train to Hampton Court to meet Charlotte.

Hampton Court Palace: worth a visit

Hampton Court Palace: worth a visit

If you haven’t been to Hampton Court, you really should. Set by the Thames a half hour train journey from Waterloo, it’s a glorious mix of Tudor and Baroque palaces, surrounded by spectacular gardens. The Tudor part includes Henry VIII’s jaw-dropping Great Hall, chapel and apartments, while the Baroque side features a vast sweep of apartments originally commissioned by King William III and Queen Mary II.

On the day of my visit, it had been raining hard and the moat was flooded, the lawn underneath transformed into temporary pondweed. As Charlotte and I walked across the Tudor Clock Court towards the Baroque apartments, we came across a group of schoolboys looking for Henry III. “He’s usually around here somewhere,” Charlotte assured them. “Have a look up in the Great Hall.” The boys sped off on the trail of the monarch, a costumed actor supplied by Past Pleasures, the company that ran our storytelling workshop.

Fountain Court: spice, confectionery, chocolate

Fountain Court, home to the royal spicery, confectionery and chocolate rooms

Fountain Court, home to the royal spicery, confectionery and chocolate rooms

From a Tudor passageway, we emerged into Fountain Court, an internal courtyard created for William and Mary. “From her state apartments opposite, Queen Mary would have been able to watch servants in their blue uniforms dash from room to room here collecting spices and confectionery,” Charlotte explained.

“The main kitchens were at a distance from the living quarters to cut down the risk of fire. But in this series of rooms, they would have kept a huge stock of spices such as nutmeg, cardamom and cloves, and the cooks created elaborate confectionery for royal banquets.”

And thanks to Charlotte’s research, led by curator Polly Putnam, we now know that there were also two rooms dedicated to chocolate underneath these elegant stone archways: a kitchen and a preparation room.

Preparing the king’s hot chocolate

In Georgian times, chocolate was an exotic luxury. George I had his own personal chocolatier, Thomas Tosier, who was in charge of preparing the royal cup of hot chocolate for the king’s breakfast each day. This involved roasting the cocoa beans, then mixing them with spices such as chilli, aniseed and allspice, to create a rich, spicy concoction.

“Tosier was in a very privileged position,” said Charlotte, “because he had the king’s ear for a few minutes each day.”

Chocolate cakes and sugar loafs: key ingredients for the king's hot chocolate

Chocolate cakes and sugar loafs: key ingredients for the king’s hot chocolate

Chocolate’s popularity was not limited to royal households. Although coffee and tea reigned supreme, chocolate houses also sprang up around London, catering to a clientele that could afford this luxurious new drink. Tosier owned The Chocolate House in Blackheath, run by his wife, Grace. A portrait of Mrs Tosier at Hampton Court shows quite a character, with a large-brimmed hat, fashionable ringlets and a posy of flowers at her bosom.

Hot chocolate remained a favourite with George I and George II, but by Victorian times, the monarchy was no longer staying at Hampton Court. So the rooms dedicated to chocolate making were given over to grace and favour residents.

Full immersion in dusty tomes

By the 21st century, there were rumours that a chocolate kitchen had once existed at Hampton Court, but no one knew where it was. Charlotte was given the task of sifting through the palace’s files to find some clues. When this drew a blank, she headed off to the National Archives at Kew to immerse herself in dusty, leather-bound tomes.

The document that proved the location of the  chocolate kitchen

“8th door on ye right… chocolate room”

“It involved some extremely long days,” she said. “Most of the archives are records of royal warrants, so they weren’t relevant at all. But eventually I found an inventory, which was an unusual document. It was written in 1710, but gave a record of the rooms in the palace after the death of William III in 1702. By then, I’d become very skilled at spotting the word ‘chocolate’, and saw that the inventory described a list of rooms around Fountain Court, including a ‘chocolate room’.”

“When I saw that phrase, I felt a rush of excitement mixed with a profound feeling of relief that we had found the missing piece of evidence,” she said.

Secrets behind the oasis

Charlotte rushed back to Hampton Court to find out which door was the “8th door on ye right” mentioned in the inventory – and discovered it was a small room packed to the rafters with flower-arranging equipment. “The king’s chocolate kitchen was being used as a storage room for the palace’s annual Florimania show,” said Charlotte. “It was full of vases and oasis. At first sight, there was no evidence at all that it had ever been a kitchen.”

The royal chocolate kitchen, with its fireplace and charcoal brazier

The royal chocolate kitchen, with its fireplace and charcoal brazier

Once cleared, the room revealed its secret history. On the back wall, there was a pulley system above the fireplace which would have been used to raise and lower a metal cylinder which would have rotated over the fire to roast the cocoa beans contained inside. A fold-down wooden table was a Georgian original, made for preparing chocolate rather than arranging flowers. And a brick structure in the corner, covered over with a wooden board, was a charcoal brazier formerly used to cook the king’s hot chocolate.

In February this year, the newly-discovered chocolate kitchen was opened to public display, alongside a chocolate preparation room, where the hot chocolate would have been decanted into porcelain cups surrounded by special pewter holders.

The chocolate preparation room with its display of elaborate porcelain and silverware

The chocolate preparation room with its display of elaborate porcelain and silverware

For Charlotte, all her hard work has paid off. She said: “I still feel I’m a lowly intern at the palace,  but to be involved in such a wonderful project – and have such a fantastic find – is something special. This is a great achievement, and something that I will always remember from my time at the palace.”

Tips for historical researchers

Charlotte has a few tips to pass on to anyone who’s undertaking painstaking archival research.

  • First and foremost, don’t get discouraged – the information is out there somewhere.
  • Don’t be afraid of taking the time to do proper archival research because you can find all sorts of fascinating snippets that provide extra information that you might not imagine finding.
  • Finally, you must find your motivation, otherwise it’s tough work. Keep reminding yourself what you are doing this for.

Ten things I learned at The Story 2014

You never know quite what will happen at The Story, except that it will illuminate distant areas of your brain with unpredictable copper sparks for some time to come. Here are a few of the things I learned from this year’s gathering of storytellers of all stripes – from film makers, writers and artists to illustrators and singers.

1. You have nothing to fear from a jelly hand grenade

Kyle Bean's 'Soft Guerrilla' materials for Cut magazine

Kyle Bean’s ‘Soft Guerrilla’ materials for Cut magazine

Artist / designer / illustrator Kyle Bean goes to painstaking lengths to create extraordinary images. When Cut magazine asked for pictures to illustrate a feature on guerrilla gardening, he came up with the feather knife and jelly grenade shown here, as well as toast knuckledusters and sticks of mini-milk dynamite.

2. The truth is over-rated

In the pursuit of a good story, you sometimes need to bend the truth, twist it or step neatly over it. “We have a really dodgy relationship with reality and are not really interested in it at all,” said Jane Pollard, talking about the documentary she and Iain Forsyth made about Nick Cave.

Kenyatta Cheese agrees. As he says: “It’s not the facts that are important. It’s the emotional truth.”

3. A story needs a ‘yay’ bit at the end

Not all stories end well, but Stella Duffy prefers it if they do. “I believe in a story having this ‘yay’ bit at the end,” she said. This was after she’d told us: “Two weeks ago I had eight hours of cancer surgery. I’m still a bit bloody and very bruised, but isn’t this a lovely frock?” She’s devoting her considerable wit and spirit to inspiring a series of Fun Palaces across the UK in October 2014.

4. Celery and pasta make good gore

Barnaby Smyth is a foley artist: one of those fascinating behind-the-scenes people who creates rustling leaves, rattling chains and footsteps for film and television. He asked us all to close our eyes as he recreated a ghostly story for us in sound. “For decapitation scenes,  I twist a head of celery mixed with boiled penne pasta,” he said. “But you can use tagliatelle too.”

5. Children have great instincts

In a Ministry of Stories project, 13 year old Teodor says you can mould an idea any way you want

In a Ministry of Stories project, 13 year old Teodor says you can mould an idea any way you want

Performance artist Bryony Kimmings worked with her nine year old niece, Taylor, to come up with Catherine Bennett, a paleontologist popstar who is the epitome of the anti-twerk, the un-Thicke of it. Schoolchildren suggested lyrics for CB’s song, The Future, including the brilliant line: “We need at least four more ways to eat potatoes.”

6. We find joy in unusual places

  • Bill Wasik gets his kicks from going viral, and was responsible for gathering a 200-strong flash mob in Macy’s carpet department who claimed to be commune members looking for a ‘love rug’.
  • Tony Ageh loves lists. “A proper list is democratic, neutral, useful and empowering,” he told us.
  • Philip Larkin is partial to procrastination and Vines. Here’s the impromptu Vine made during his talk, part of his ‘What happens if I press this button?’ series.
Lisa Salem with her mobile recording buggy

Lisa Salem with her mobile recording buggy

7. All stories are the same

Feeling lost and alone in Los Angeles, Lisa Salem took an unusual approach in the city-where-no-one-walks. She attached a video camera to a baby buggy and invited people to come and walk with her while she videoed the conversation. “The talks quickly became intimate and personal, and I discovered that everyone tells the same story,” she said. “Everyone wants to be heard, to be seen, to be understood.”

8. Writing a novel is like riding a horse

Novelist Meg Rosoff solved a mystery while she was practising dressage. Why, she wondered, were so many of the novels she was asked to review so mediocre? Her theory – convincingly put – is that you need a good flow and mastery of the unconscious to write a novel. Just as a good dressage rider channels the power of the horse, a writer needs to use the deep, unconscious areas of the brain to create writing that resonates. “Write fiercely with resonance from a really deep place,” she advises.

9. It’s not easy to destroy a computer

Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, gave his insights into the Edward Snowden leaks of NSA material. In July 2013, GCHQ supervised the destruction of Guardian computers containing some of the leaked information. “It’s more difficult than you’d think to destroy a computer,” said Alan. “It’s not enough to wipe it clean, hit it with hammers or put superglue in the USB drives. We had to dismantle them, then use angle grinders and drills on the internal components.”

10. It’s never too late to travel with an ancestor

Gruff Rhys gets mystical following in his ancestor's footsteps

Gruff Rhys gets mystical following in his ancestor’s footsteps

Gruff Rhys, the Welsh singer and all-round good egg, told a fascinating story of his 2012 American Interior tour which retraced the steps of a long-dead ancestor, John Evans. Evans was quite a man: he left Wales in 1792, hung out with tribespeople, became Spanish and then French, and ended his days in New Orleans. Gruff was accompanied on the tour by a felt model of Evans, complete with period costume and a pioneering stare. Gruff completed his story by playing us a song about Evans, with around 29 key changes reflecting the many twists and turns of his ancestor’s adventures.

Thanks to the intrepid organisers of The Story for assembling such a brilliant mix of people and ideas. When can I book next year’s ticket?

West meets East: Opera Holland Park comes to Old Street

Mike Volpe of Opera Holland Park

Mike Volpe of Opera Holland Park

Mike Volpe is a true opera aficionado. For nearly 25 years, he’s been General Manager of Opera Holland Park, enthusing a new generation of opera lovers with an eclectic mix of outdoor performances.

Although his family comes from the mountains outside Naples, Mike grew up in England. He drinks Italian espresso, but when Chelsea play Napoli at Stamford Bridge, he’s adamant that: “It’s Chelsea all the way.”

As part of a Chickentown Radio special, Mike came to BL-NK in Old Street last week to talk about some of his favourite music.

1. Mascagni: Hymn to the sun

Mike’s first choice is the introduction to Pietro Mascagni’s opera Iris. He explains why. “In 1997, a year after we began the company, we thought we’d try to mine a different part of the repertoire to others. This opera came to light and at the time it was a rarity. This piece is a hymn to the sun, and it’s just a glorious piece of music.”

Growing up in an Italian household, there was often opera playing in the background, or an uncle singing traditional Neapolitan songs. “I sang all the way through school, and my school provided kids for the chorus at Aldeburgh,” he says. “Later I listened to a lot of John Martyn and was also really into prog rock, and I think there’s something vaguely operatic about that.”

2. Kate Bush: the blackbird song

Talking of the crossover between rock and opera, Mike adds: “I’m a big fan of Kate Bush. James (Clutton, producer at OHP) and I have often said that she would probably compose a really good modern opera. We’ve just heard a chorus about the rising of the sun and this is about the setting of the sun. It’s Sunset from her album Ariel. It’s one of the most beautiful things she’s ever done and includes a line that could appear in an opera – ‘Who knows who wrote the song of summer that blackbirds sing at dusk’.”

3. Puccini: tattooed words of God

For his next piece, Mike chooses Le tue parole sono di Dio from La Fanciulla del West – which Opera Holland Park is putting on next summer. Mike loves this aria so much he’s had the words tattooed on his forearm.

Operatic ink: "Your words are as if from God"

Operatic ink: “Your words are as if from God”

The opera tells the story of Minnie, a saloon owner during the Gold Rush, who falls in love with a bandit. The miners in the camp take against him and are about to have him hanged. “La Fanciulla del West is probably my favourite Puccini opera,” says Mike, “and this is a crucial moment of redemption. Minnie rides in with a pistol, stops the miners from hanging her lover, and sings this gorgeous soliloquy. Sonora, one of the miners, lets forth this line – Your words are as if from God – and then Minnie and her bandit ride off into the sunset together.”

4. Strauss: a gorgeous lament

Mike’s clear about the best aspect of his job: “James and I both say it’s the applause. It’s that moment at the end of a show when you know it’s a success and there’s a thousand people roaring their approval. That and working with all these incredibly talented people.”

Of course, outdoor opera isn’t so much fun if it’s cold, but Mike reckons the upsides of his job far outweigh the downsides.

Mike’s not complaining, but his next choice is what he describes as a “gorgeous lament”, sung here by the great Jessye Norman. “Beim Schlafengehen is based on a Herman Hesse poem. It means ‘going to sleep’, and is one of Strauss’ four last songs, which are all about dying. You could say it’s a bit miserable, but it’s just a gorgeous way to lament the end of your life. Strauss could do some incredible things with a voice and an orchestra.”

5. Montemezzi: rollicking good fun

Mike describes how he came to choose his next piece, from L’Amore dei Tre Re by Italo Montemezzi. “The first piece we heard today was Iris, which was the start of our journey in rare opera. In 2007 we staged L’Amore dei Tre Re and it was a great success. It’s part of that school of late Italian composers who wanted to create their own new Italian language of opera. It’s just rollicking good fun. The soprano spends the whole of Act 3 dead on a slab, but she’s still part of the action because her father-in-law has spread poison on her lips in order to trap her lover. So we end up with three bodies on stage. This is the prelude to Act 3.”

Opera Holland Park: an intensely informal experience

L’Amore dei Tre Re fits the operatic stereotype of entertainingly over-the-top death scenes, but there are other stereotypes that are potentially more damaging for opera companies today. For example, opera is frequently perceived as expensive and elitist. Mike’s keen to argue that Opera Holland Park offers an entirely different experience. “Yes, opera is an elite art form in the same way that sport is elite. You want to be the best. But we’re entirely about popularising opera. We have thousands of tickets available at 12 or 15 quid, and about 1,700 free tickets for young and old. Opera Holland Park is intensely informal, and the critical thing to note is that most of the people who run the company are from very ordinary working class backgrounds. So if anyone demonstrates that all that elitist business is nonsense, it’s us.”

6. Lechner and Tsabropoulos: evoking atmosphere

Point made, Mike moves on to his next choice: Trois morceaux après des hymnes byzantins II by cellist Anja Lechner and pianist Vassilis Tsabropoulos. He explains: “I’m very much into atmosphere in music and love music that mixes genres. This pair evoke atmosphere beautifully – this piece is just gorgeous.”

7. Roberto Murolo: Neapolitan song

From a piece written ten years ago, Mike turns back to his childhood. As a boy, he was surrounded by renditions of Neapolitan songs, and his next choice is one of his mother’s favourites – Voce ‘e Notte – ‘the voice in the night’ by Roberto Murolo. “Part of the problem with Neapolitan songs is there’s some awful cheesy rubbish out there,” says Mike. “But there’s a stable of singers from the 40s and 50s who transcend those stereotypes. Roberto Murolo is a bit of a legend. He just sat there with a cheap guitar and played these gorgeous songs.”

“This song is about a man singing below a woman’s window, saying, ‘Don’t be alarmed, don’t look out, just remember our two voices together.’ It’s exquisitely sung and played, and is a perfect example of the veracity of Neapolitan music, which is a very potent and historic idiom. It evokes Italy and Naples and is really not that far off opera in its sentiments and the way it tells a story.”

Talking of Naples, I was keen to hear where Mike gets his Neapolitan coffee fix in London. “Mokarabia is a really nice coffee,” he says. “There’s a great little cafe opposite our sponsor Investec’s office in the city which sells it. One of those old places where cab drivers stop. So I go there when I’m in the City; Mokarabia is probably the best coffee around.”

Mokarabia coffee: a Neapolitan's choice

Mokarabia coffee: a Neapolitan’s choice

8. Film music: What Dreams May Come

Mike moves on to discuss the similarities between film music and opera. “Film is exactly like opera,” he says. “You have this melodrama and the music is used as an emotional rachet. I’m a big fan of film music and was very fortunate to meet composer Michael Kamen who wrote the music for the Band of Brothers tv series and Mr Holland’s Opus. This music comes from a 1998 film called What Dreams May Come, starring Robin Williams and Greta Scacchi. The premise is that heaven is what you want it to be. The music is very emotional and intense and Michael Kamen captures the sense of the film beautifully.”

9: Pat Metheny: Cinema Paradiso theme

Continuing in the film music vein, Mike’s next choice is an arrangement of the Cinema Paradiso theme by Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden. “Pat Metheny is a great hero of mine,” says Mike, “and this music is gorgeous. You don’t have to be Italian to appreciate Cinema Paradiso, but after spending so many summers in Italy, this music really conjures up that atmosphere for me.”

Alternative careers: actor, rugby player, fisherman, criminal

And what career would Mike have chosen if opera hadn’t got to him first? “There’s a question,” he laughs. “When I was 16 I was offered a very good opportunity to go to RADA. But I didn’t want to spend another three years studying. Maybe I could have been a rugby player. Apart from that, there’s a very good chance I’d have been a criminal. What I’d really like to do, though, is to run a fishing boat out of St John’s in Antigua taking tourists to catch tuna and barracuda.”

10. John Martyn: Couldn’t love you more

Mike’s final choice is John Martyn. “My oldest brother introduced me to John Martyn and I first went to one of his concerts aged 10 or 11. I just love him. He was an incredible songwriter and guitarist, and his Scottish sentimentality and the edge of violence that went along with it are an intoxicating mix.”

“This song, Couldn’t love you more, really sums him up. I don’t know how you could resist a phrase like ‘If you kiss the sun right out of the sky for me, I couldn’t love you more‘. I don’t think there’s any greater love song.”

Summer 2014 at Opera Holland Park

Looking ahead, there’s plenty to draw people to Opera Holland Park this summer. “We open with La Fanciulla del West,” says Mike. “It’s a challenging but wonderful opera to produce. We also have one of the great bel canto operas this year, Norma, which features the famous Casta Diva aria. We’re putting on Il Barbiere di Siviglia by Rossini and Adriana Lecouvreur by Cilea – a lovely romantic piece where the leading lady is killed by some violets laced with poison. And we’re doing our first Britten opera, The Turn of the Screw, which could work amazingly well in our space.”

“We’re also putting on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland again, which we commissioned from Will Todd. We’re big believers in getting young kids to sit down and listen to opera performed by real musicians, and the demand for children’s concerts is consistently high.”

If you’d like to find out when tickets for this summer season are available, follow Opera Holland Park @operahollandpk. After all, where else will you be able to hear Casta Diva in the open air, see a Cheshire Cat sing or witness death-by-violets?

Velvet antlers; hidden talents

Teenage Cancer Trust Christmas card picture

Santa’s sleigh: a picture drawn by a child supported by the Teenage Cancer Trust

You might remember that a few weeks ago I mentioned a new project, 26 Stories of Christmas. Well, the site went live yesterday for the first day of advent. Day one features my 62 word poem about the flying reindeer of Finland.

The 62 word poem, or ‘sestude’, is inspired by the fabulous drawing of Santa and his reindeer shown here.

Do visit the online advent calendar every day up until 26 December to see drawings by children helped by Teenage Cancer Trust and It’s Good to Give, alongside poems written by writers from 26. And if you feel moved to donate to either of these charities that helps children and teenagers with cancer, we’d be incredibly grateful.

Velvet antlers; hidden talents. My poem for 26 Stories of Christmas

Velvet antlers; hidden talents.
My poem for 26 Stories of Christmas

Nadya Powell: Tech City’s one-woman whirlwind

Women make up pretty much half of the population and nearly half of the workforce, but they are still woefully under-represented in the tech world. I met up with Nadya Powell, MD of MRY UK, to hear what she and her peers are doing to redress the balance.

The highlight of Internet Week

It’s Friday morning, the last day of Internet Week, and Nadya Powell has just hosted an ‘Innovation Date’ event at BL-NK, a new social/digital space in Old Street sponsored by Hackney Council. She’s suffering from sleep deprivation following a non-stop week of events, but is keen to share her thoughts about the London tech community, women’s role in tech and ‘that horribly flabby word – innovation’.

Nadya Powell, MD of MRY, on the yellow sofa at BL-NK

Nadya Powell, MD of MRY, on the yellow sofa at BL-NK

“There’s a really nice vibe and sense of community to Internet Week,” she says. “My highlight was seeing a presentation by a small agency called Vitamins at the kick off event at Google Campus. They talked about their work designing mobile phones for the elderly. It was really delightful because they realised that older people don’t need big buttons or an SOS option, they just find it hard to work out how to use their phones. So they redesigned the packaging and made it simple for people to find out how to carry out typical tasks, like accessing their contacts.”

ADD and getting ahead in tech

MRY is long-established in the US, where it’s well known for its work for Coca Cola, Sony, Microsoft and the American Presidency. (It created americanselect.org – a site that encouraged Americans to vote for a President, not a party.)

The company has been in London for nine months, and has its headquarters in Brick Lane. As MD, Nadya takes care of a team of 25 people. “I’m the most senior person here,” she says, “and the buck stops with me. I’m responsible for products, clients and creative work.”

She Says: inspirational network for women in tech

She Says: inspirational network for women in tech

Nadya admits that she got into this career more by accident than design. “The only common theme throughout my career is I’ve always been really interested in technology and I love new things. I have ADD. When you go into the tech space, you find so many people just cannot stay engrossed in things if it’s not a bit shiny and new.  But what really got me interested was back in 2000 when I decided I wanted to move into the tech space. So I took myself off to college and taught myself to code. When I started to build little web sites – very badly – using Flash and Photoshop, I realised this was an industry I wanted to stay in forever.”

The importance of starting young

Like many women in tech, Nadya was lucky to be encouraged in her interest from a young age. She explains: “I was one of a group of children who were asked to trial educational computer games developed by the BBC. You had to follow the instructions using a mouse or a keyboard. I also had a computer from a young age, which was unusual, considering I’m quite old. I remember making my own drawings using Microsoft Paint software. So I definitely had more of a techy upbringing than many women of my age.”

300sec_large42Where have all the women gone?  

Although women make up almost equal numbers of the workforce (currently 46%), the number of senior women in the tech industry is vanishingly small. Nadya describes how she’s seen the male/female ratio change over time. “When I first started working in tech, the ratio was about 50:50 men to women. But when I came back after my first maternity leave at the age of 31, I thought, ‘Whoah! Where are all the women in their 30s?’ And as I start to get frighteningly close to 40, there are literally a handful of us in this space in a senior role.”

For Nadya, the main barriers that are stopping women from staying in the tech workforce are the long hours and demanding nature of the work, which make it difficult to integrate work with home and family. She admits to sometimes getting together with the handful of “six or seven” senior women she knows in similar jobs and saying, “Yes, juggling work, friends, families, husbands and interests is really hard.”

“It’s a real challenge to retain more women in the industry,” she says. “Because how can we build things for the entire population if we’re not involved with the 50% of the population that are women?”

Anjali Ramachandran founded the Ada's List network

Anjali Ramachandran founded the Ada’s List network

Three organisations helping women

“If you look at the top creative directors of tech companies and agencies, they’re all men,” says Nadya. Luckily for future female techies, Nadya and her peers are using their considerable energy and enthusiasm to support the next generation of women in tech. She recommends checking out these three networking / support organisations.

She Says – a networking, mentoring inspirational framework where women can meet each other. Founded by Laura Jordan Bambach, Creative Director at Dare marketing agency and President of D&AD.

300 Seconds – lightning fast talks by the digital community, encouraging women to have their say and improve their presentation skills.

Ada’s List – set up by Anjali Ramachandran at PHD, Ada’s List helps raise the profiles of women who work in and around the internet.

Misconceptions about gaming

Like it or not, if you play Candy Crush, you're a gamer

Like it or not, if you play Candy Crush, you’re a gamer

Talking to Nadya, it becomes clear that there are some huge misconceptions about the nature of gaming today. We may think that gaming is mostly the province of teenagers holed up in darkened rooms, but an increasing number of gamers are now women.

“Thanks to mobile devices and social gaming, gaming has really taken off,” says Nadya. “Now 81% of the population regularly game and the majority of social gamers are women. If you asked a woman who’d spent four hours that week playing Candy Crush if she’s a gamer, she’d say no. But she absolutely is!”

As women are now such an important part of the gaming marketplace, it makes it even more vital to involve more women in the industry.

The changing face of Old Street

MRY is based in Brick Lane, an area that’s become the nerve centre for the creative and tech industries in recent years. “There’s such a sense of vibrancy around the Tech City area,” says Nadya. “There are so many accelerators based here, looking after small start ups, that the whole atmosphere has changed hugely.”

“It’s also fantastic what Hackney Council have been doing to foster this atmosphere. Like the space we’re in now, BL-NK. This is a joint initiative between Hackney and various local businesses to create a space for start ups and creative people to just drop in. I’m not sure how many other councils would have such a forward-thinking way of looking at how you increase investment and business growth in an area.”

BL-NK, new social space for start ups in Hackney. Photo: Karen Day

BL-NK, new social space for start ups in Hackney. Photo: Karen Day

What’s wrong with ‘innovation’?

Despite being a fan of the new, Nadya has been outspoken about her dislike of the word ‘innovation’, which she calls a ‘horrible flabby word’. What’s she got against it?

“Innovation is just the latest buzz word and everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon, having Innovation Directors and Heads of Innovation and declaring that they’re an innovative company. It’s a shame because the word has been used in so many terrible ways that it’s lost any meaning. We had a session on this during the opening session at Google Campus. Mel Exon from BBH Labs said that innovation is about constantly adapting to change and every now and then saying, ‘OK, we’re going to go out on a limb and try this, and it’s going to be pretty terrifying, but we’re going to invest in it.’ And so words like ‘adapting’ and ‘disrupting’ start to feel a lot more meaningful than flabby old ‘innovation’.”

Future aspirations: winning Strictly

There’s still plenty left for Nadya to achieve. “One aspiration is to be on Strictly Come Dancing. I’ve got to be on it before I’m 50 because no one wins when they’re over 50. Apart from that, I would love to keep working in this space, to see more women in it, and to keep on supporting young women in tech. I’d also love to see social media adding to people’s lives rather than polluting it. The way brands use Facebook is so horribly embarrassing. I’d like to see brands and people talking together in more interesting ways.”

And with that, Nadja foxtrots off the yellow sofa at BL-NK, ready for the next challenge.

Language: with extra chilli sauce

‘Arrange the langoustines on top in a wigwam fashion’. This instruction caught my attention when I was cooking dinner the other night.  I’ve never made a wigwam of langoustines before, but this was an admirably clear piece of stage direction. Of course, if the shellfish had been alive it might have been tricky. But as it was, the cooked langoustines perched together perfectly, holding claws on top of the risotto.


Roger Horberry: language wrangler

When I went to hear Roger Horberry give his ‘Pimp my Words’ talk at the Language Consultancy Association the following day, the langoustine wigwam matephor/simile* sprang to mind.

Soundbites from a Grand Sherpa

Roger says he’s an enthusiast rather than an expert on figures of speech, but frankly, that’s not true. As well as being a highly respected copywriter and prolific author, Roger is the Grand Sherpa of the Metaphor Mountain. The Purple Prince of Paradox. And quite possibly the High Priest of Hyperbole.

Here are a few soundbites from his talk:

  • Irony just is, whereas sarcasm usually has a purpose.”
  • Chiasmus adds instant profundity.” (Chiasmus uses mirroring e.g. ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’.)
  • Paradox creates a mental double take. It makes you slam on the brakes.”

“Figures of speech are not widely appreciated or understood,” says Roger. “But they add spice and seasoning to our everyday words. They’re the chilli sauce of language.”

A thrilling journey from anadiplosis to zeugma

Roger took us on a whistle stop tour through figures of speech, from anadiplosis to zeugma (but not in that order). His talk was all about using language to create little jolts of verbal electricity to capture people’s attention.

Uncle Fester

Living in shame and the suburbs

We kicked off with zeugma, where a verb or adjective applies to two or more nouns. As when Uncle Fester from the Addams Family said: “I live in shame and the suburbs.”

Next up, anadiplosis – repeating the last word of a preceding clause to create a list. So we have Yoda saying: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

The third example was tmesis, where you split a word or phrase apart and add an extra word for comic effect. For example, “abso-bloody-lutely”.

Entry level word play

According to Roger, some figures of speech are relatively easy for anyone to pick up. His entry level figures include metaphor, simile and alliteration.


Open happiness. Not literally, obviously.

“Metaphors and similes are word pictures that are tailor-made to create striking images in a reader’s mind and pack plenty of meaning into a minuscule space, making them useful if your word count is restricted,” says Roger.

A metaphor makes an implicit comparison between two unconnected items. Recently, journalist Caitlin Moran described Twitter as the Electric River, which created a wonderful image of people throwing tweets into the water and watching as other people’s thoughts flowed past.

In contrast, a simile makes an explicit comparison between two unconnected items, and is usually signalled with the words ‘as’ or ‘like’. The best simile I’ve come across recently is “as happy as a rat with a gold tooth”.

Flying Fish

Alliteration: don’t come a cropper with a carp

Alliteration is the repetition of the initial consonant, as in ‘Guinness is good for you’, ‘Beanz meanz Heinz’ or, my favourite, ‘Fend off Flying Fish’ – an Illinois campaign about protecting yourself from jumping Asian carp.

Taking an idea for a walk

Roger showed us a wonderfully written example of prosopopoeia, more commonly known as personification, which involves attributing actions and character to inanimate objects.

Three sisters

Personification: the Ellipsis Sisters aka Dot, Dot and Dot

In a series of ads for Penguin Books, punctuation marks come to life and become characters in short stories. The Three Ellipsis Sisters do everything together, but have a bad habit of leaving conversations hanging…

This reminded me of a brilliant story by my friend Sean Murphy. In The Tale of THE, a definite article decides to leave the safety of his own paragraph. His grandmother tells him he just needs to find a nice noun and settle down, but he ignores her and sets off to seek adventure outside the margins.

The power of two; the magic of three

Roger talked about so many figures of speech, it would be foolhardy to try to name them all. But let’s finish with parallelism, one of my personal favourites.

“Parallelism is the copywriter’s friend,” says Roger.  “It involves presenting two or more parts of a sentence in a similar way to give the whole a well-defined, regular form.”

The bicolon is also known as ‘the rule of two’. Copywriters have used this form to create lines such as ‘Everything you want, nothing you don’t’ for Nissan and ‘Takes a licking and keeps on ticking’ for Timex.

The tricolon, or ‘rule of three’, is a powerful tool for any copywriter. Words, phrases and sentences in sets of three are memorable because they have a satisfying rhythm and sense of completeness. They can also have a natural linguistic timeline, encompassing a beginning, a middle and an end. Think of Caesar’s famous phrase – ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’.

“With a little imagination you can use parallelism to present a complex group of ideas in a way that doesn’t read like a list,” says Roger.

If you’d like to know more, check out Roger’s recent two-minute summary of figures of speech. Meanwhile, I’ll get on with the successor to my langoustine wigwam: a potted shrimp simile.

*A ‘langoustine wigwam’ is a metaphor, because you’re saying that the wigwam is literally made of langoustines. In the recipe, though, it’s a simile, because it asks you to arrange the langoustines in a ‘wigwam fashion’ – ‘like a wigwam’.

How sound can tell a story

What can creatives learn from the way that Jacques Tati uses sound in his 1958 film, Mon Oncle? As someone who works with words, sometimes it’s great to come across storytelling that does away with them altogether. This article, written for a 26 / D&AD project, The Story Works, reveals how sound tells a story in Mon Oncle by Jacques Tati.

Jacques Tati investigates bouncing crockery in Mon Oncle

Jacques Tati investigates bouncing crockery in Mon Oncle

I love Mon Oncle. I love the way that Monsieur Hulot ambles through this 1958 film, with his pipe, his too-short trousers and his billowing mac, trailing chaos in his wake. I love the way he’s at home in the shambolic old district, but a flounder out of water in the modern world.

But most of all, I love the way that Jacques Tati (who directed and starred in the film) tells the story through sound rather than words.

So here are some of my favourite sounds from Mon Oncle, together with some thoughts on how they tell the story.

The kitchen that bites back

M Hulot is visiting his sister and brother-in-law, M and Mme Arpel, in their immaculate modern house in the suburbs. In contrast to the animated market in the old district, Mme Arpel’s buzzing, bleeping kitchen has all the charm of an operating theatre. The cupboards are booby-trapped and every appliance produces sound and fury but little that you’d want to eat. The machines have got the upper hand, but they can’t boil a decent egg.

The manic lawnmower

As Mme Arpel tells her husband that M Hulot needs some order in his life, we hear a rhythmic ticking, like someone cutting daisies with tiny scissors. The couple look out from upstairs and see their imperious blonde neighbour manically pedalling a lawnmower in ever-decreasing circles around her miniature lawn.  The insistent, repetitive clack of the lawnmower tells us that there’s madness in her method.

The fish fountain

Mme Arpel activates her metal fish fountain to greet important guests. We hear the ‘buzz-gurgle-buzz’ motif as people ring on the intercom, the water jet starts and the garden gate opens. She turns the fish off when a carpet salesman appears at the gate. She then frantically turns the fountain on again when she realises that the carpet salesman is actually her neighbour waving a poncho. During a tea party, M Hulot breaks the fountain and the genteel afternoon disintegrates into chaos as the fountain springs a leak and spurts gravel over the guests. Mme Arpel’s attempts to control  her environment are outwitted by M Hulot and a big metal fish.

Sausage pipes

M Hulot is given a job at the plastics factory and asked to keep an eye on a colleague’s machine. Soothed to sleep by the rhythmic roar and slow hiss of the production line, he wakes up to find tubes snaking across the floor. The machine judders, hiccups and starts to disgorge pipes that bulge with air pockets.  It then shifts into a pop-pop-pop rhythm that produces a stream of sausage-like links. Rhythm and efficiency reliably dissolve into disorder whenever M Hulot appears.

Tip tap tip tap

Throughout the film, the ordered ‘tip tap tip tap’ of efficient feet contrasts with M Hulot’s meandering, often circular, lope. A secretary’s heels resound sharply along the corridors of the plastics factory as M Hulot marks out a conga of white footprints across the floor. The Arpels tip tap precisely along the paving stones in the garden while M Hulot teeters on edging stones then sploshes through a lily pad into the pond. Life in the modern world is all time and motion, but M Hulot meanders along to a different beat.

Devilish gadgets

Towards the end of the film, gadgets take over at the Arpel household. M Hulot’s nephew Gérard can’t be heard over the self-propelling vacuum cleaner, whirring kitchen gadgets drown out M Arpel and a shaver as loud as an aircraft silences Mme Arpel.  The family are alienated from each other by deafening labour-saving devices which eliminate all chance of human communication.

Lessons from Mon Oncle

  • Milk sound for laughter. As David Lynch said: “For Jacques Tati, every sound effect is an opportunity for humour.”
  • Dialogue’s over-rated. M Hulot mumbles and mimes his way through this film, telling brilliant jokes without saying a word.
  • Don’t talk, bark. “Dogs are marvellous comedians,” said Tati.  Like children and M Hulot, they represent freedom and chaos, and their barking underpins some of the best bits of the film (eg the genius ‘moonlit eyeballs’ scene).
  • Sounds reflect personality. The boss is an uptight ticking clock, Mme Arpel is an overpowering robotic vacuum cleaner and M Hulot is a canary that whistles in the sunshine.
  • She who laughs loudest won’t be invited back. If Mme Arpel ever invites you to tea, don’t laugh too loudly or take plastic flowers.

What else can I say? Watch Mon Oncle. Add your own laughter track. And listen to Tati as he tells a story without words.

Designer Soapbox: Dave Petherbridge

Dave Petherbridge is one half of the Two Teas design partnership based in West Yorkshire. As ‘Purveyors Of The Finest Pamphlets, Motifs, Slogans & That’, the agency works with clients including the RSPB, Kelly Hoppen, Motorola and WharfeBank Brewery.

They may work with a brewery, but these are people with a serious love of tea. Catch up with them on Twitter @Two_Teas, as they send their tweets from inside a giant teapot on top of a hill in Yorkshire, looking out at the world using a periscope through the spout. Just don’t mention coffee.

Here, Dave talks about what he loves about his job, what drives him crazy about writers and how to find inspiration in a packet of frozen peas.

All this - and a proper brew too

All this – and a proper brew

What’s your day job?

Being half of a small agency with some big clients, I share responsibility for everything from bringing in the work to taking out the trash.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Spare time is a rare and cherished thing for anyone with their own small business. Fun and fresh air are usually a top priority.

What do people get wrong about you?

Forgetting the sugar in my tea.

Why did you want to be a designer?

Every time we returned from the shops, my mum discovered me clutching anything from brochures and pamphlets to simple handouts, promoting everything from films to frozen peas – if I liked it, I picked it up.

Almost 30 years on and the attraction has become a career driving passion. I’m still collecting imagery, ideas and ways of working. Thankfully the collecting has become digital these days.

The supermarket as source of inspiration (see Sainsbury's Own Label book)

The supermarket as source of inspiration (see Sainsbury’s Own Label book by Jonny Trunk for striking 70s packaging)

What was your first job?

I started my career at a small agency in East Yorkshire with a despotic but brilliant Creative Director. It was both a baptism by fire and a wonderful way to learn my craft, at speed – especially after the indulgent deadlines of university.

How did your career develop from there?

I moved to West Yorkshire and spent the ensuing years working for a handful of very different agencies. Art Direction became a passion, allowing me to work with photographers and also directly with writers as more of an old school ‘creative team’. Working with passionate, creative, positive people is a wonderful privilege.

Traditionally a print designer, I have had to evolve over the last couple of years as our work is now 98% online.

What do you love about your job?

Every day is different. Things change so fast that even after all these years it still excites and challenges me. I’m fortunate to have seen such seismic changes in the industry. I started in 1996 on a drawing board (you may want to Google that, kids) and now find myself working in ways that seem to completely change with the seasons. I always said it was the best job in the world, and it is.

Ad for the A.B. Art magazine. "The text on the strap is a day in the life of the owner," says Dave. "The writer typed the text into a mask I'd created,with me kerning the type to fit exactly. I just about drove him nuts."

Magazine ad for a.b.art Swiss watches. “The text on the strap is a day in the life of the owner,” says Dave. “The writer typed the text into a mask I’d created,with me kerning the type to fit exactly. I just about drove him nuts.”

How’s business?

Despite all the portents of economic doom, our clients have managed to continue to grow and be successful due to their positivity and ability to work smarter, as well as harder. Being a small, agile agency with a non-traditional model, we are able to service international brands and one-man bands without difficulty.

What do you enjoy about working with words and writers?

Words originally meant typography to me. During my time at university I was actually taught how to hand render type. Can you believe that? And I have been much the richer for it. Understanding type is key to working with it. Too often, designers confuse typesetting with merely typing in words. Letters are a thing of beauty to be individually appreciated. They can be kerned and aligned in order to create something beautiful. With more typeface and combinations available to convey and reinforce any point or emotion, words will always be an intrinsic part of how I design.

As my career developed I was fortunate to work with many, very different writers – each as individual in approach as the typefaces available to set their work. I have always envied good writers in the same way I do actors, for their ability to portray any character, delivered in any tone of voice – and especially their ability to switch between styles.

A Boys' Own style brochure for a brand strategy agency

A Boys’ Own style brochure for a brand strategy agency

What drives you crazy about writers?

Apart from envying their understanding of the richness of the English language, it does sometimes seem that writers feel the need to give us quantity instead of quality for fear of not earning the money.

How do you see the interplay between words and design changing in your work?

The way we use words as a company has changed drastically over the last couple of years, essentially due to the shift towards digital work. SEO changed words into a very functional element, removing the need for any real depth or audience engagement. Now that has all changed once more thanks to Google’s new machine-learning algorithm developed by Navneet Panda. Google Panda has seen the rise of ‘content’ as a driving force in search engine rankings. It has brought depth, interest and engagement back to the fore. Essentially it rewards site content that’s written by humans for humans – and punishes those who fail to engage. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for writers.

What’s your favourite gadget?

For my 12th birthday I received my very first Sony Walkman – half the size of a breeze block and about as sophisticated. Through countless evolutions, reinventions and more ‘AA’ batteries than I care to remember, the mix tapes have been replaced by playlists. My iPods may be infinitely more advanced, but the experience is still as enjoyable. That said, I do have real trouble rewinding MP3s with a pencil. It’s not all progress.

What’s your favourite place for creative inspiration?

I’m usually at my most inspired when I remove myself from any deliberate creative process. I also crack problems by going for a walk, and am regularly thankful for having a camera on my phone.

Who’s your design hero?

Harry Beck created a true classic with his 1931 London Underground Map.

10 public speaking tips from actor Sharon Duce

How to own the room

When we give a presentation, we turn into animals, according to actor and public speaking coach Sharon Duce. Our bodies break into fight or flight mode, anticipating an attack. Our hearts race, our mouths go dry and our jaws tense up. We scan the room for predators. Will they come from the left or the right, through the door or the window, or burst through the leaf canopy above our heads?

“We can’t help feeling nervous when we’re in front of a crowd,” says Sharon. “As an actor, my advantage is that I know how my body’s going to react, so I can consciously help myself to relax.”

Actor and coach Sharon Duce

Here are some of the physical and psychological tips that Sharon passed on to an audience of writers this weekend at Wordstock, a day of writing inspiration organised by writers’ collective 26.

  1. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Practise what you’re going to say out loud, even if the audience is only the bathroom mirror or kitchen table. The more you practise, the more secure you’ll feel during the presentation.
  2. Stake out your territory. Animals assess the lay of the land and mark their territory. For a speaker, this means checking out the room where you’re going to be talking and ‘occupying’ the space by placing your bag and papers around the area where you’ll be standing.
  3. Trust yourself. If you want an audience to trust what you’re saying, you have to trust yourself first. Boost your confidence by doing those practice sessions in the kitchen, and reminding yourself that this is not a life or death situation, however intense it feels right now.
  4. Breathe. Always recommended, but particularly during a presentation. Take deep breaths from your belly to calm yourself and get some oxygen to your brain so you can think more clearly.
  5. Slow down. Allow yourself to feel your emotions and breathe if you need to gather your thoughts. You don’t need to speed up to retain people’s attention. The opposite is true.
  6. Use a prop. Psychologically, we feel more secure when we have something to hold onto, which is why you often see speakers staying close to the lectern. Increase your comfort zone by holding a prop related to your talk.
  7. Imagine your head is a ping pong ball on a jet of water. When you tense up, your neck stiffens and adds to the ‘rabbit in the headlights’ feeling. Do the ping pong trick and you’ll relax your muscles and your head will move more freely.
  8. Relax your jaw. A closed mouth and tight jaw are clear signs of tension. Relax your jaw and you’ll instantly feel calmer.
  9. Wear flat shoes. When your feet are flat on the floor, you feel more grounded.
  10. Stand squarely on both feet. Don’t lean on one foot; distribute your weight evenly over both feet. It’s harder to push someone over if they’re standing squarely, so this stance will make you feel more powerful.

Sharon’s feet: firmly grounded, of course

And if you want to tap into some more presentation tricks, read my Guardian article on How to do hypnotic presentations.

How do you celebrate a petabyte? A party planner’s dilemma.

The other day, sitting in a yard in Shoreditch, in front of luminous orange glasses of Aperol and Prosecco lined up on a garden table made of an old pallet, Charlie announced that his boss wanted to celebrate a petabyte.

Well, of course you’d want to celebrate a petabyte if you had one, wouldn’t you? Although I wasn’t too sure what it was. Possibly a gaggle of gigabytes crossed with a distant breed of dinosaur. I visualised a giant hedgehog bristling with USB sticks, rumbling towards the horizon with storage on its mind.

A hedgehog: Charlie’s power animal

But, as Charlie patiently explained, a petabyte is not a giant hedgehog. It’s actually a million gigabytes. If a gigabyte can store 7 minutes of HDTV video, a petabyte can store 20,000 Blu-ray movies. (Apparently this is comparing apples with pears, compressed with non-compressed material. Let me know if you have a better comparison.)

But how do you usefully celebrate a petabyte? From a party planning point of view, the first challenge is understanding something that is essentially zeros and ones, digital soup floating in the ether. Charlie showed me a picture of a bit of a petabyte. Looked like the black pipes on the back of a fridge. Not very inspiring.

Charlie tried another tack. Apparently a petabyte has the same storage capacity as 40% of a human brain. High IQ or low IQ? We weren’t told. This was more concrete, and conjured up images of frontal lobes seeping with memory and knowledge. Still not very festive, though. A brain is essentially offal and even if you call it party offal, it’s tricky to get excited about it. Put a party hat on a brain in a jar and only its mother would call it beautiful.

A brain: party offal?

Three ideas

So after some thought (using only a tiny fraction of a gigabyte), here are some ideas of how to celebrate a petabyte in style.

1. Pet bites

The literal approach. Each guest brings a pet to the party and there’s a competition to see which will produce the best bite in a selection of fruit and vegetables. NB: Whoever has a tortoise is already the winner. There’s nothing more perfect than a tortoise’s gummy chomp mark on a slice of cucumber.

2. Brain dump

Everyone brings a memory to the party, writes that memory in unravelled brain lobes and throws it into a hot air balloon which is then launched into the atmosphere. In a neat reversal, a brain dump becomes a brain rise. NB: Try for sponsorship from a camera company, who’ll have the opportunity to save memories in a new and visceral way.

3. Gin mist

Fill a replica of The Golden Hind with gin and tonic mist, and let people take it in turns to sail it across Limehouse Basin while singing sea shanties. This idea bears absolutely no relation to a petabyte, but really, can you go wrong with a ship full of gin?

A petabyte fights back

Meanwhile a petabyte the size of a tick slides down the bottle of Aperol, falls through the missing slat on the garden table and hitches a lift on a passing cat. “Petabytes and party planners don’t mix,” it declares. “Me and a few gigabytes are off to the pub. Don’t wait up.”