Tuesday, September 28, 2010

GDP growth-something to hang your hat on or a load of old cobblers?

The average man in the street used to have no idea what GDP was let alone what effect it had on an economy. It was only when recession hit that it was fully explained to us in plain mans language what it truly meant. Just in case it is all a distant blur I will recap - the qualification for officially being in a recession is that the economy has stopped growing 2-3 consecutive quarter's in a row. At its most basic level it means that people have stopped spending money.This whilst undoubtably true became a self fulfilling prophecy though because the more the analysts and journalists wrote that people were scared to spend money the more we started to believe them and really stopped spending money.
Eighteen months later and everyone is now trying to be positive and the analysts are blithely announcing that GDP is up, confidence has returned to the world and we can all put a smile on our faces and get back to business as usual. What a lot of boloney! Whilst I  have no doubt that statistically everything is on an upward trend I think we have to be cautious with this information.Whilst I think the world most definitely needs to have analysts I think the world is in even more need of people who actually get out of their office and step into the big world for real and comment on progress.
One look at the CEE up close and despite all the positive numbers and lots of charts pointing in an upwards direction it is very plain to see that things have not returned to normal, whatever that might be! People are still scared to make long term commitments and are still worried about keeping their jobs . Cash is still King and yes, I will have my shoes re- heeled rather than just buy a new pair! What these analysts are very shy to tell you is that these numbers are all relative because they are based in comparison to last years figures. Last year in certain property markets we saw absolutely no movement whatsoever so anything is better than nothing! Doesn't sound so impressive now does it?

So what needs to happen to get things back on track? 

  •  Banks need to stop hoarding money and start re-lending. Am not talking the silly loans and mortgages that caused all this but sensible 'lets get this show on the road' type of lending. Lip service is being paid to this but at interest rates of 5% + who is interested in that?
  •  Don't stop going on holiday, just do it at home - stay-cations as we call it in the UK. Keep your money in your own economy!
  •  Support your local businesses and buy products at  farmers markets etc. Tesco and the big guns can afford to lose your business for a while but the small independents need our support.
  •  Pay your bills in a timely fashion- if your local tradesman does a job for you then pay him on time. One of the biggest blights in Central Europe is bad payment moral. Its like traffic lights - if everybody was to run a red light then pretty soon the whole traffic system will grind to a halt. Without paying your bill the tradesman cannot pay his suppliers and the suppliers cannot pay the manufacturer - vicious circle.

Can these things really help? The short answer is yes. Talk to your grandparents and ask them how things were after World War II. Everyone will tell you that things were hard back then but everybody pulled together and bit by bit things came together. Will it ever go back to where it was? I certainly hope not ! One thing is for sure though, we all need to take responsibility and do our part . Its all too easy to blame the politicians and bankers  for everything but ultimately we all need to become responsible citizens. Only then will we have a chance to prove the analysts and their GDP growth figures correct.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Work horse or work shy?

Have never really bought into the idea that people should know what they want to do with their life by the time they leave school and if truth were to be told at 42 I still have no idea! I do feel quite strongly though that as with a pair of shoes you have to try on a lot of pairs before you find the right fit.
As a student I had a fantasy list of jobs that I wanted to try out whilst I had the opportunity and whilst non of these jobs would ever have figured in my ideal career list I figured that it couldn't hurt to try out the world a little bit. Between the ages of 15 and 19 I held the following jobs:

  • Checkout girl - loved seeing into peoples world via their shopping basket.
  • Breakfast waitress - chefs are mean and Germans want breakfast far too early!
  • Barmaid - good source of boyfriends.
  • Amusement arcade cash desk - english coins stink.
  • Bakery assistance - the silly hats do not suit anybody and cannot look at a chocolate eclair to this day.
  • Petrol station worker - night shift  on the forecourt is the place to be.
  • Fish + chip shop chef - how on earth I got that I will never know.

  • Cocktail waitress - stuffy and dull.
  • Door to door Double glazing sales person - thankless task.
  • Telemarketing - cold calling sucks.

Plus many more. Now some jobs lasted longer than others and some I did better than others ( will leave you to figure out which was which) but without exception I had a ball, earned enough money to keep me out of debt during college and definitely learnt valuable lessons at them all.
So what happened to this type of work ethic ? I don't see the younger generation in any hurry to go out and get any job - do they have too much money or are they just too precious to get their hands dirty? In Central Europe it is not uncommon for people to have their first job at 24! I just don't get it and more importantly how do we go about changing this mentality? Students leave university with such huge levels of debt these days ( tales of people still paying off student loans into their 30's) that logic tells you that the economic recovery is always going to be hampered if we do not instill a better work ethic into our youth. Jokes are often leveled at the Polish and Ukrainians and their willingness to do any job but my goodness give me this mentality any day over the sense of entitlement I see from the so called educated Westerners.
So, are there any jobs still left over from my fantasy list? Long distance lorry driver!!  I do, however , have some relatively new additions to this hypothetical list including working at Harrods in the music department and working on a cosmetics counter at Selfridges. Both of these are a million miles away from my current life working in the real estate sector in Europe ( which I love by the way!) and neither are motivated by money but who knows what will happen in the future? Its good to have a plan.
What fantasy jobs have you always secretly wanted to do? Drop me a line and share your story.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Easy Abs at Home - No Gym Membership required!

Girls, sick of going to the gym and not seeing any results? The sad truth is that the only thing that will happen when you spend time waving your arms around on the machines at the gym is you will be bored and disillusioned . Am sure, like me you have spent a fortune on gym memberships and machinery that claim to give you great abs in next to no time. The problem? 99% of these abdominal contraptions are just useless . With the right information you will quickly come to realise that you neither need machinery or a gym to get the results you deserve. These four exercises will have you working your way towards great abs in no time at all.
1) – The Squat – the ultimate exercise!
While the squat is primarily a leg exercise, it relies on the abdominals in order to keep the body straight. Squat as low as you can go but keep your feet flat on the floor.Don’t let your knees go over your feet. Once you get stronger and want to increase the intensity of the squat then you can use a weights bar, a plastic pipe or even a broom handle to hold above your head.  Move through the movement and keep your abs reasonably tense, and your chest puffed out. While your legs may ache right afterwards, it’ll be your abs that see the true benefit in a couple of months.
2) – The Sit Up
This is a classic but often neglected abdominal exercise, and is incredibly effective when performed alongside virtually any other lifting exercise . An Isolation exercise such as this is usually  best done at the end of your routine, as they stress muscle groups that have already been exercised . For extra intensity hold a weighted object between both hands.
3) – The Push Press
This is another weighted exercise, and one that also exercises your chest, shoulders and arms. Take a couple of small weights in each hand ( a tin of beans or bottles of water will do) and simply push the weights from shoulder height above your head, all the while using your abdominals to keep your body straight and upright. Once you gain in strength get heavier weights.
4 – The Leg Raise
Another great exercise to end your routine with. Lay on the floor with your arms by your side and your legs straight. Raise your legs until they form a right angle with your body  all the while keeping them perfectly straight and pointed.Don’t let your legs drop all the way to the ground though until you have done all your reps.Yes it will hurt but that shows it is working! 
So come on ladies - put your favourite music on LOUD and take positive action today!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mums and computers.

What most mums know about computers and the internet can be written on the back of a postage stamp, yet the over 55's are the largest growing market in the social media world!
With this in mind I am producing a series of short self help videos for my friend's mum for Xmas about computers and the internet. How to upload photos from her digital camera , how to create a file of important recipes etc etc.What do your mums / grandmas typically want help with that these videos might be useful for them too?  Would be great to get your feedback. Please take the time to click the link below to  fill in your answer and as a special thank you I will send you a copy of the videos once they are live!


Thank you!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I love blogging!

Someone once said that that everybody has a book within them. Not so sure about that but I certainly love blogging.
I started blogging in early June and now 3 months along the line I think about bogging practically every day. Its something I have even thought about giving my day job up for which is totally irrational. What started off as an exercise to see if I have the patience to write anything at all has rapidly turned into an obsession. My first month I went a little over board and published a blog every other day. Since then I have tried to temper my zealousness and get into a rhythm of writing around 10 a month which is I feel is sustainable.
Conservative estimates say that there are around 200 million blogs in existence. Some are just word blogs, some are just pictures and some are video blogs or vlogs as they are known. Everybody has their own motivation for writing a blog, some people want to earn money from their blogs by hosting adverts and some people just do it for pleasure. Some people like to write about one particular topic whilst others, like me, tend to ramble on about whatever takes their fancy. There are no hard and fast rules. Readership is another subjective topic. How many people read my blog is an irrelevance to me, yet I do know others who see it as a sign of their popularity. For me it is purely therapeutic and a form of relaxation that maybe one day I will be able to make some money from. Think I have a long way to go on that front!

I would urge any of you with a hobby to start writing a blog. If you love cooking why not write down all your favourite recipes and take a picture of the final result? If you like gardening write about the new flowers and weeds that have popped up in the last week. The possibilities are endless but more importantly it is a great way to catalogue a part of your life. Think what a marvelous legacy this would be for your Grandkids to look at when you are gone! Its really easy to get started and you do not have to be a computer genius. Just go to www.blogger.com and follow the instructions.
My mum wrote her first book in her 60's and it was something that kept her occupied the rest of her life and by the time she died she had written and published 4 books. I would love to know if she would have taken to blogging in the same way as I have.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fresh produce rules!

I have just discovered the farmers market in Ricany and am loving it! If I wanted to be churlish I could say that it is just a few stalls in the local market place but in this case its definitely the thought that counts. If there is anyone amongst you that has never been to one of these markets then I can thoroughly recommend it but be warned , you will never be able to buy produce in the local supermarket ever again. Don't be fooled into buying the produce from the BIO section, this is all just marketing BS designed to get you to spend more money . It is not the same as buying from the farmers market.
Todays pick.

It might sound obvious but all the produce at the farmers market is very obviously seasonal so don't go expecting to buy berries in February. You don't have to be an agricultural expert to realise that we don't have the hot weather to produce them at this time of year. Duh! Having said that I would urge everybody to experiment a little with what is on offer. I can't cook and quite frankly some of the vegetables I see I have no idea what to do with but I can tell that if its fresh and its a root vegetable then I can throw it into a veggie soup and odds on I will be pleasantly surprised. Roasting is another good option to get familiar with these vegetables as the roasting process takes the bitterness away but leaves you with the whole taste of the vegetable. Again nobody dies if you don't like that particular veg but at least you will know for future reference. It is only this year that I have realised that whilst I love green peppers in salads I hate them roasted.How many of us stick to the same old tried and tested vegetables for our Sunday roast? Wouldn't life be boring if we did everything the same year in year out- well the same with food!
Fruit is another fabulous thing to experiment with at the markets. It has to be said though that if you are expecting them to look as nice and shiny as they do in the supermarkets then I will say just one word to you. Chemicals! Yes the reason fruit looks shiny in shops is because they spray the hell out of it to make it look fresher and last longer on the shelves. Real fruit has bumps and bruises people!
For me though the real piece de resistance of the farmers market has to be the fresh farm eggs. For me the thought of buying eggs that have come from battery farmed hens is enough to make me cry. Am not saying that the nutritional value of the egg is any different but for me its a matter of animal rights. If that aspect does not have you racing to the market though then just crack open a fresh egg and the visual difference is astounding. The golden yolk is enough to tell you that this has to be better for you than the pale insipid yellow yolk of your shop bought option . Thought for the day - what do humans look like when they do not go outdoors? Yep, pale and unhealthy. Get it?!
Farmers markets are now a big thing in Prague and it seems that practically every district has them these days, usually on a Saturday morning. Again, some will be bigger than others and some will have better produce so shop around. If price is an issue ( although I would not say that they are any more expensive) then skip over the fruits that you can peel such as oranges and bananas as once you discard the peel you've also discarded any chemicals that might have been used . Stick to the real Macoy that you can see has come from the original source. Yes, am talking stalks on the carrots, dirt on the potatoes, fluff on the eggs. Go back each week and get to know the stall holders, they will happily tell you what to do with each product and when it should be eaten.
Get involved, your body will thank you!

P.S Just in case you needed some more persuasion - they always sell home made wine and spirits at these markets. Go along just for this!

Friday, September 10, 2010

On the eve of September 11th.

Is it really the 9th anniversary of the 9/11 atrocity? Time flies so fast yet for many this day remains engrained in their memories as if it was just yesterday.
Whilst I am not known for being a sentimental or religious type I always pause for a moment of reflection and thanks that I have never experienced this type of horror at first hand.
I also like to be thankful for the amazing job the emergency services continue to do around the world each and every day. In a world that is filled with so many selfish , self centered people its nice to know that there is still a small slice of humanity prepared to sacrifice everything for the good of others.
Many thanks to all these brave people .

Friday, September 3, 2010

Outlet malls - bogus bargains or the real deal?

Luxury items are a way of life today but how many of us are prepared to pay full price? The good news is that you do not have to. Welcome the era of the outlet mall!
Is there anybody in the world today that has never visited one of the all singing all dancing outlet malls ? From Woodbury Commons near New York city http://www.premiumoutlets.com/, Bichester Village in Oxfordshire bicestervillage.com, La Vallee within the Disneyland Resort in Paris http://www.outlet-malls.eu/ each and every one of these offer fantastic bargains for all the big name brands. They are not, however for the faint hearted and if you think you can just pop by and pick something up then you are a fool because :

a) You can never predict what they will have on sale. How this is determined is a complete mystery to me but I guess it has to do with the last seasons stock, lack of demand,seasonal nature or just the time of the month. Seriously if anybody knows drop me a line!
b) Size. Some of these places are so huge that you can get seriously lost just looking for the car park.

Precision planning is required for a trip to these places and thank God for the internet. Go to any of the sites above and they all will have a map of the stores. Get a big marker pen and plot all the stores you want to visit. Don't even think of trying to work it like a supermarket and go down the aisles because by the time you are at the store you really want you will be tired and grumpy, not to say possibly penniless!

So, are you really getting a bargain at these places or is it all hype? Sometimes you have to hold your scepticism but I think in the large part the answer has to be yes. I know from my own experience that the Dior handbag that I picked up for 600 USD was definitely discounted by around 50% because I had checked out the prices in Europe. The jury is still out for me  though on fashion items . Yes a 50% discount on a jacket is nice but if you are only buying it because it is discounted and not because you love it and had already earmarked it at the normal retail price then there is an issue. The one thing I do know for sure though is that with a bit of smart shopping you can get even bigger discounts than displayed. How many of you know that if you pop into the information centre before you start shopping they will give you a discount booklet that can give you anything from an extra 10 - 20% off in certain shops? Make sure you pick this up!
These days though you do not  have to even venture from your settee to grab an outlet bargain. The amount of internet sites promoting these discounted brands is phenomenal. It seems like almost every day I end up on some mailing list that promotes designer gear on a limited basis ( usually a 3 day offer or until sold out). Fashion Days in Prague is one such site www.fashion-days.cz and again I can testify that the system works but the offers on these sites are definitely hit and miss and you have to get up pretty early to read your mail as otherwise all the good stuff is gone before your first cup of coffee!
In short there is nothing stopping you these days from buying that  it bag seen on the arm of Alexa Chung or the latest season designer trench coats from Burberry but with a bit of planning and a strong constitution you can buy the shoes and scarf to match and still have change for that Gucci watch.
Happy Shopping!