Outsider In an interview at a famous Baker Street address

In my continued hunt for perfect happiness in my working life(!), I am currently testing the route of ‘portfolio career’, that is juggling several jobs at once.  It seems to suit my inability to commit to any one career path (prospective employers, please read “adaptable, multi-skilled and open-minded”).  More appropriately, perhaps, it offers the variety oh so sought after by me.

This quest leads me, this morning, to an unexpected happy ten minutes in a greasy spoon, thanks to beans on toast and a cuppa for an insignificant £2.90! Opposite Marylebone station, in this ‘proper caff’ – run by Italians but as London as it comes – service is fast and friendly, the clientele pleasingly varied, and the food astonishingly cheap.

But my trip to North West London wasn’t just to watch the world go by from Gino’s Coffee Bar.  I was waiting to go to an interview at “the world’s most famous address” – 221b Baker Street, of course.  Not that this is a real address just as its late 19th and early 20th century tenants, Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson were, I regret to reveal, entirely fictional.

Nevertheless, there is a deerstalker shaped space in my heart that he snugly fits into and I had thought, upon stumbling across an advert for positions at the one and only Sherlock Holmes Museum set at the made-up address, that it would perfectly break up the monotony of my primary sitting-at-computer activity.  What could be more antithetical than dressing up in a Victorian maid’s outfit and helping shuffle excited tourists around a teensy terraced house, ram-packed with old artefacts and make-believe?  Nothing!, I hear you cry.  Well then, that’s exactly why I’m here.

I could also – just about – kid myself that this could be filed under ‘arts, heritage and education’ in the career world, and so it sort of fits somehow into what my brain and pride can just about justify as ‘worth doing’, rather than merely ‘a bit of a laugh’ or, even, ‘laughable’…

When I make the move from my new favourite caff to Baker Street it is no hard feat finding the museum, thanks to the already large queue of people outside.  At the front is a young spotty man dressed in a Victorian policeman’s outfit (obviously) and he points me past the gift shop to another small shop-front looking entrance.  I step straight into it to find myself in someone else’s interview: arriving early has backfired as there’s nowhere to wait so I’m ushered straight back out.

Two false starts later and a solid blonde German woman is telling me about the job and asking if I have the required skills.  I patiently give her a verbal run through of my CV, as, curiously, she must have missed the fact that I PATENTLY do from the written version she’s obviously never read.  I think her main concern though is how much of my valuable time I’m willing to give over: the requisite three days I tell her.  All good.  But, I add, no two days back to back due to other work commitments…

Uh oh, wrong thing to say, as I find myself suddenly at the ‘do I have any questions’ for her stage of the interview, and calculating that we can’t be even ten minutes in.  I can almost feel a big fat X hanging over me.  Still I reckon I can erase it and win her over on charm, chat and the common ground of our fondness for the consulting detective…

.. or maybe not.  I am exiting the weird Baker Street shop-front office in the knowledge that I’m unlikely to receive even a cursory phone call or email from them: no news equals no job.  Turns out our solid blonde is not that chatty, nor that big of a Sherlock fan.  Well, I actually am, so I take advantage of her offer to visit the museum gratis (doubtful I’d ever part with £15 to get inside). Recompense for my wasted time, I think, queue-hopping and passing the Victorian policeman again.

My overriding memories of the museum are the narrowness of the staircases, slightly stale rooms stuffed to the garters with era appropriate furnishings and curios, the odd creepy wax work, and a small queue of visitors wishing to briefly warm the chamber-pot with their bottoms.  A lengthy video from the museum website shows you pretty much all of it without needing to visit.

I have a brief chat with a sniffly maid who is ushering visitors into different rooms.  Like 90% of the employees there, she is an actor, making ends meet whilst waiting for auditions and other jobs to come along.  Though she is generally positive about the people, flexibility and pay, I can’t help but find it all a little dispiriting, any enthusiasm I previously had now probably wallowing at the bottom of the aforementioned chamber pot.

I consign this experience to the dustbin and feel the wood and the trees closing in once more.  I read an article* recently to inspire those in a rut or transitional stage in their working lives, which persuasively argued that one should answer the inevitable ‘what do you do?’ question with what you aspire to do. My answer, therefore, is that I am an anthropologically grounded social impact arts, education and sustainable development activist, world travelling, multi-lingual writer and documentary maker.  Who says that can’t be a job?  No?

Bugger it, maybe I’ll just apply for the Foreign Office.  At least civil servant, with its sibilance, slithers off the tongue.

So, conclusion in all of this?  I’m sure finding a career shouldn’t be this complicated.  Plus, cheap baked beans and a good cup of tea – that’s one thing I’d go back to Baker Street for.

*annoyingly I can’t find the article now but it came from these guys.

Outsider In a Guardian Masterclass seminar: How to create a successful blog

I am inside the Guardian offices in Kings Place, Kings Cross, picking my way over the free tea and biscuits laid on as a perk of the Masterclass (six choices of tea-type beverage!).  I cannily deduce that I am in the Guardian’s canteen and take my (first round of) refreshments to a seat where I enjoy a pleasant canal view, boats of all colours, sizes and conditions berthed along the water’s edge.  Not a bad spot.  Away from the tea, biscuits and view, I allow a tiny moment of wonder at being in the offices of the journalistic powerhouse that is the Guardian newspaper

My fellow Masterclassees begin to arrive, the first appearing to be at least 20 years my senior.  I am pleasantly surprised, half having expected many a young, vlogger type, and as the influx of people increases, so do the variety of ages, ethnic backgrounds, and shapes and sizes, with an even spread across the sexes.

The mood is friendly.  I suspect that part of creating a successful blog starts with networking and generally being agreeable.  This in mind, and also wishing to exchange stories with people in similar-ish boats, I strike up conversation.

Around me I discover: a charming Catalan cooking blog, with recipes that take me back to my time living in Barcelona; an ‘old granny’ (her words) taking a, so far short, journey back into the past; a consulting site looking partly to help out tech un-savvy buggers like me; and a German expat about to embark on a new life in, and blog on, the South of France.

So all here to learn the secrets behind ‘how to create a successful blog’, we are nonetheless at very varied stages in our blogging lives.  My fledgling Outsider In flaps around somewhere in the middle.

When called for the Masterclass to begin, we file with our tea, biscuits and chatter, into a seminar room where the 50 or so of us take seat facing a small stage, powerpoint already projected.  Pens and notebooks poised, we are ready to take in how our blogs could take off like those of the two professional bloggers here to speak today.

Three hours and another tea session later, my head is awhirl from a friendly and extremely useful barrage of information on how you can make your blog your livelihood.  Whilst all still fresh in the mind, and before I am surely to be ejected from the Guardian HQ glass fortress, I gather myself into a garish vaguely lip-shaped chair in the foyer and put pen to paper…

Professional bloggers and their tips

Our first speaker, Niamh, creator of Eat like a Girl was buoyant with passion and a love of her blog themes.  Sharing her story of miserable employee in the science sector to professional food and travel blogger, she was encouraging and entertaining and impressed upon us the importance of remaining ethical when making mulah from your blog.

Three things that stood out:

  • Humans are storytellers.  And bloggers are just storytellers in an internet age.  Ergo, blogging is not just self-aggrandising, arrogant and egocentric, it’s actually just normal human behaviour.  So there.  (I’m sticking to that.)
  • Be friendly, community-minded and social – even if this takes place primarily in the virtual world.  Reading other blogs, liking, commenting, linking, collaborating, promoting, sharing, responding and USING SOCIAL MEDIA, all get your blog to readers and readers to your blog.
  • Do not compromise content to generate income, and be transparent.  By having sponsored posts that don’t fit your usual style or content, you are not remaining true to you or your blog and you alienate your readers.

Our second speaker, Julie, is an American expat based in London and creator of the travel and lifestyle blog A Lady in London.  Banking professional turned blogging professional, with a seriously dedicated can-do attitude, she gave step by step building block advice crucial to laying the foundations of any successful blog.

Three important bits:

  • Time and consistency.  It may be no surprise but to maintain a blog takes time and it needs to be regular!  Julie used to get up half an hour early each morning before work to fit in blogging, and she now makes sure she blogs on the same two days each week.  Blimey, I better get a shifty on.
  • In the blogging world, 300+ word posts are considered long reads!!  And paragraphs are best kept to 3-4 lines.  Possibly need to work on my editing then…
  • Give your readers somewhere to go: at the end of a post, make commenting or sharing easy; suggest another post to read; have social media buttons for further connecting; have a search box for readers to find content etc.  Oh, how woefully inadequate my blog still is on these fronts!

Finally, two things they both emphasised to never EVER forget if you want to be a successful blogger:

  • Content reigns supreme!  Above and beyond anything else.  Substance over style (social media wizardry and search engine optimisation) every time.
  • Once you’ve got that down, though, Google and social media will be your constant companions, love or loathe ’em.  Bum.

Should I follow these pearls then Outsider In will be a showcase in transformation over the next months – although professional blogging was never the initial intention when I started.  What lead me to this point was an idle moment over the Christmas holidays, and an email alert from Guardian Masterclass, informing me of a discount on their vast array of career-, life- or creativity-boosting seminars.  A few clicks and £37.24 later and here I am.

If, however, I don’t decide that ‘monetising’ my blog is the way for me, then at least I have found myself in an attractive spot in London, on a sunny Sunday lunchtime with an open mind and a fresh experience under my belt.  I’ll have walked away with two (!) free papers and the ability to forever picture where the Guardian comes together.  Oh, and I also have this blog post, which may actually now be read by one or two of my fellow amateur bloggers!

Conclusions?  Impressed by the calibre of the Guardian Masterclass, I’d definitely sign up for another.  Professional blogging itself?  Watch this space.  Literally.