An Uplifting Story About My Fears…

BarCamp Manchester 9 happened over the 21st-22nd of September. A BarCamp is a user-generated conference, so conference delegates turn up and have an introduction to what a BarCamp is, then fill up the grid of timed slots with talks they can give themselves. Some people turn up with a prepared talk some don’t, everyone at the conference is encouraged to give at least one talk.

This year I started with the idea of a talk on Saturday and was able to write a slide deck (in Google) over the course of the weekend in order to perform my talk on the following day. I was pleased that people came to my talk and I was not living up to my fear of been left in a darkened room on my own.

Facing a fear

Just over a year ago I realised how much I hate public speaking, so as a result challenged myself to do it more often, so I can get over the fear of doing it. The advantage of BarCamp is you are encouraged to talk about what you love and also everyone who attends is supportive, it is a very safe place to get up and speak.

This year was my third BarCamp, I have spoken at all three camps, the first two I spoke with friends on event management, the first time was very informal and felt a lot more like a chat. Last year I spoke with Belinda a friend I met through the Manchester WordPress community, we spoke about running Manchester WordCamps.

This Year

My talk entitled ‘Usability, Writing and Cooking’ as I said, it was hastily put together the day before I presented it, and this is the first year I have presented on my own. I can see how this talk can be adapted to other things I work on, it was really a discussion around my love of documentation and where that love came from.

Odd places to find ‘document love’

Cooking may seem like an odd way into a love of documentation, but for me, it seems more obvious now than it probably did when I started talking about my love of good documentation and lists.

If you think about it a recipe is just a set of instructions, they help you create delicious food or at least something that should be edible.

My first cookbook was given to me by my mum, although she insists it must have been my dad. We Can Cook by Lynne Peebles was very much a book of its time having been published in 1979 by Ladybird.

Picture of We Can Cook by Lynne Peebles Published by Ladybird 1979
We Can Cook by Lynne Peebles

For the most part, this was a good cookbook even if it was a bit hit and miss in places when considered healthy food for children. The cookbook is important for me as I think it was something I was motivated to read, and not just look at the garish pictures. Finding something I wanted to read was a rarity for me at an early age due to crippling dyslexia.


Cookbooks lead me into poetry, when you think about it recipes sometimes look like poems, certainly, you can see this when people start quoting cheesy recipes for a happy life at weddings. But for me, I fell in love with poets like Wendy Cope who was clever with words but still wrote poems that often looked like a list.

Bloody men are like bloody buses —
You wait for about a year
And as soon as one approaches your stop
Two or three others appear.

The first paragraph of Wendy Cope’s ‘Bloody Men’.

My first real collection of books after children’s books was made up of poetry, to this day I still read poetry weekly, be it old poetry or new things on the internet.

I will just go back and mention Children’s books because one of the reasons reading became more important to me was because of my grandmother who in 1987 wrote ‘The Boy and the Swan’ for me. The request came from being asked what I would like her to write about for me, but also because I have always loved swans.

A picture of Catherine Storr my grandma
Catherine Storr my Grandma

Not finding it easy to read books when your own grandma writes them is disappointing probably more so when you feature in a few of them. If you can find the now rare copies of ‘Hugo and His Grandma’ (1977) & ‘Hugo And His Grandma’s Washing Day’ (1978) (Dinosaur’s Althea Books) good luck to you.

Back to Presentations

In my presentation, I fast-forwarded a bit now to my arrival at university. You might choose to picture fresh-faced new student but the truth I faced upon arrival was a daunting amount of outdated paperwork.

It isn’t necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice. There are two other possibilities: one is paperwork, and the other is nostalgia.

Frank Zappa

During my talk, I spoke about the introduction pack of four documents that I was presented with upon arrival at Coventry University which included a baffling 220-page document for dyslexic students written in horribly small Comic Sans text. For my first-year project, I managed to get this same document down to 5 single-sided A4 pages, the university managed to redesign it down further out of embarrassment the following year.

Future projects for me included writing instructions for using the Windows 95 calculator and in my final year rewriting with a fellow student Birmingham Heartland Hospital’s Major Incident Plan into RoboHelp.

My love of documentation continues today, I find myself writing GDPR documentation for digital agencies and their clients. I am adaptable like documentation should be, and my principles today are based around accessible understanding; making things as readable as possible at the same time as being informative. This follows into my new found interest in coding and adding comments for the purposes of record-keeping.

On the upside, I am now going to be adapting my talk so it can give it to Manchester WordPress User Group (MWUG) in February 2020. Of course, the talk will be adapted for this audience but the bare bones will remain the same.

I recommend going to a BarCamp it is challenging but also super supportive, plus you get the chance to meet many interesting people who all do talks on a huge mixture of subjects.

Need my help with documentation? I work both on my own, in collaboration with organisations and with other professional freelancers. Contact me.

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