Restaurant Review: The River Exe Cafe

Here’s a review I wrote of the amazing River Exe Cafe for The Western Morning News. To read the full piece click here.

As I took my seat, I could see the twinkle of water beneath me – through the wooden slates of the floor ( a similar experience to walking on a Victorian pier). Add to that the gentle sway of the place – which became more animated when a large vessel passed – and I immediately understood that the joy of The River Exe Cafe is the dining experience itself. It’s immersive – although hopefully you’re not immersed – put simply, you don’t ‘go’ to The River Exe Cafe, you ‘do’ it.

Chris McGuire, West Magazine

Cycling Plus Features…

I regularly write features for Cycling Plus, the UK’s most popular cycling magazine.

“Imagine the scene: the sun is shining and the birds are singing. You’re on your bike, riding at that perfect pace: not too slow so you’re burning carbs, not too fast so you take in the vista around you. Your freshly-shaved legs are looking good in perfectly fitting shorts and your tan lines are maturing nicely – in fact, it would be easy to be mistake you for a pro. You chat with fellow riders who are great company, while other road users happily, safely and respectfully keep their distance. The only thing on your mind is what type of coffee to order when you arrive at the friendly little café that lies just beyond the crest of the next rewardingly challenging incline.

Too good to be true? Not necessarily.

At Cycling Plus we believe the perfect ride is always achievable. Here’s our guide to what you need for The Perfect Ride, Every Time.”

Better Latte than never…

Here’s a piece I wrote for the Western Morning News a few years back about how becoming a sleep-deprived parent made me completey dependent on coffee…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a coffee snob, far from it. I couldn’t tell an Arabica from a Robusta (I looked up the main bean types on the previously-mentioned search engine). I don’t mind if it’s freeze-dried, freshly ground or filtered through an old sock. As long as it’s black and buckling under the weight of its own caffeine, then that’s fine with me.

I’m well aware that coffee is no real substitute for genuine sleep. But when a decent stretch of sleep isn’t on offer, due to my baby son teething / having a cold / being hungry / doing a secret experiment on how long sleep-deprived parents can last before losing the plot, coffee is a great plan B.

They know me at my local coffee shop. I’ve gone from that annoying Lycra-clad cyclist (with footwear that sounds like tap-shoes), to that annoying pram-pushing dad (mumbling about night feeds and Old MacDonald).

During my son’s sporadic daytime naps, I often sit in the café, nursing a latte and watching the other caffeine users arrive for their ‘fix’. The customers range from an eclectic selection of stressed parents through to what I’ve come to know as ‘normal’ people – although normal may be pushing it. The other day, one man insisted on being given a latte without milk. “But that’s an espresso, sir!” said the barista, as politely as she could. “No, no, no,” he replied, increasingly irate. “I want a latte without milk!” So that’s what he got. A lonely espresso shot at the bottom of a huge paper cup. Another man, quite brazenly, opened his duffle coat and poured an entire container of sugar into a pocket. I can only imagine that anyone having a hot drink at his house, would find the sugar a fluff-laden affair.

There’s no doubt that coffee makes people act oddly! Or is it that odd people drink a lot of coffee? I think that, in my sleep-deprived state, I fall into the latter category.

In fact, the only coffee I won’t touch is the coffee crème chocolate that always lingers when everyone has eaten their favourite soft centres at Christmas. I sometimes wonder how sleep deprived I’d need to be before considering a nibble on one of those?

Let’s hope I never find out.

‘Tall, dark and strong’, Chris McGuire West Magazine – Western Morning News

For the full piece, click here.

The Olden Days

If there’s one thing I love to write, it would have to be newspaper columns. These 5 minute reads give a columnist the chance to take a 600 word flight of fancy.

Here’s one of my favourites, taken from my tenure at Western Morning News’ ‘West’ magazine.

“What was it like?”

This statement ended my daydream with a jolt. I ‘zone out’ a lot at the moment. It’s probably because, as a parent, I’m tired and increasingly good at ignoring the incessant noise that all children seem contractually bound to make.

“What’s that?”

“What was it like? ‘The Past’?”

My friend’s son waited eagerly while his father gave a ‘I can’t wait to hear how you deal with this’ expression. This week, I learned time is passing at a steady march. Things I thought were mere moments ago are now considered historical events. It’s so true: the past is a foreign country, they do do things differently there.

The last few days seem to have been designed to make me aware of the passage of time. It’s like aging his crept up and shouted ‘Boo!’ – causing me to mutter something about ‘kids these days’. There’s my hair for a start. Famously uncombed, it’s losing the battle against the grey. I had thought this made me look a little bit ‘George Clooney’, but yesterday an honest appraisal made me realise I’m the ‘Before’ man in one of the those ads that drop from the back of magazines…

Chris McGuire, ‘The Olden Days’

For the full Western Morning News column, click here.

In love with Zoom?

So, how is your day going?

Personally, I’ve had a busy, but productive, morning talking to clients over Zoom.

I don’t know about you, but I’m still finding ‘Zoom’ calls tricky.

Not the technology, it’s pretty straight forward for someone as technologically savvy as me. I say that with my tongue slightly in my cheek – although I do pride myself that, at times, I’m able to work two remote controls at once during a heavy Netflix session.

What I’m talking about is the unwritten elements to Zoom – the nuances that we’re all (slowly) getting used to…

For example, where do you look?

It may seem a strange question, but think about it.

Do you look at the other person (for ease of argument let’s assume there’s only two of you)? In any other context looking straight into the eye of the person you’re talking to is essential – but doing that is difficult in Zoom.

If you actually look into the eye that you see (on the screen), the other person gets you looking downward – which is subconsciously odd. Counter-intuitively, to look straight into the eye of your fellow Zoomer you must look into the camera – which means you don’t actually see them and miss a whole host of non-verbal cues.

Tricky eh?

To be honest, I often find myself looking at me. Rather than being driven by some narcistic urge, my fascination with my own fizzog comes from a growing sense of horror. It’s a similar feeling to when I have my hair cut – after 30 minutes of staring into my mug I find myself making mental promises to lose weight, moisturise and… well, you get the idea.

Will I ever act on any of these impulses for self-improvement? It’s unlikely. But Zoom is bringing these concerns into my consciousness on a far more regular basis than life used to back in the days where I could simply avoid mirrors.

Then there’s the time delay. I’ve gone from constantly tripping over the sentences of my co-Zoomer, to leaving such long gaps between speech as to make both of us check the connection hasn’t frozen.

And how do you say Goodbye on Zoom? Do you wave? Do you smile. Do you press ‘End’ and then realise you have to press another (additional) button to truly end the call, leaving you with the lingering feeling that your co-Zoomer’s last impression of you was one of frustration as you fiddled with the tech.

Perhaps it’s time to concentrate on the positives? Despite all the quirks of a platform like Zoom, imagine how tricky a pandemic would be without it. Personally, I’m determined that by the time we’re all Covid free, I’ll have mastered Zoom.

Watch this space.

End.

Really, that’s the end.

Western Morning News: Fancy That!

It’s all a bit full-on at the minute, isn’t it?
If there’s anything I’ve learned in life, it’s this: a bit of laugh always makes everything seem better.
Here’s a piece that I wrote for WesternMorningNews. It’s a sorry tale of green tights and bodypaint. Have a read of (and a chuckle at) my own personal fancy dress nightmare.


“I’ve thought about boarding up our letterbox. Nothing good ever comes through it. Recently we saw the least welcome arrival yet. An invite to a Fancy Dress Party!
“Will it be Fancy Dress or FANCY DRESS?” I muttered.
The former is a party where you turn up in normal clothes but take a token prop – hold a wand and proclaim you’re Harry Potter. The latter is FANCY DRESS where you’ve let the side down if you don’t need a team of dressers to squeeze you into your custom-made outfit.
“I think it’ll be FANCY DRESS,” my girlfriend murmured. I would be attending the party dressed as ‘The Jolly Green Giant’ while my girlfriend would go as ‘Bagpuss’. Don’t ask.
When the big night arrived, my girlfriend uttered the words every reluctant Fancy Dresser dreads: “I’m feeling ill. I think I should stay at home. You should go though.”
Cursing ‘Bagpuss’ under my breath, I walked to the venue…”

For the full column click here.

Should you always write about ‘what you know’?

“Write about what you know.”

Common usage

That’s what they say, isn’t it?

It’s one of those truisms that is so widely disseminated nobody ever stops to think if it’s actually good advice.

Personally, as a concept, I’m not sold.

Why?

Well, it seems to me that people writing about ‘what they know’ can get too close to their subject.
If, like many content creators, you’re writing about a subject that you immerse yourself in 24/7 you can easily lose objectivity.

Before you know it you can’t see the wood for the trees – meaning that you’ve lost sight of what makes your subject of specialism, of expertise even, engaging to the average person ‘on the street’.

Too often, when I talk to a business’s in-house experts, I find they’ve lost their sense of wonder at what they do. They’ve become stuck in the minutiae of expertise, kept up at night pondering detail which, ironically, would send the uninitiated reader (or customer) to sleep.

The ability to step back and calmly assess how to tell your business’s story to your customers is vital. Which bits does your demographic NEED to know about? What will ENGAGE with them? What will leave them COLD? This process needs the input of someone with no vested interests. Someone fresh, an outsider with an interested, but not partisan perspective.

Think of the times when you’ve struggled to write your own CV. It’s bloody difficult.
Why?
Because it’s yours and it matters a lot – to you.

Then think of how much better your resume sounds if you allow a friend to write it. With their fresh perspective they can cut through to the interesting bits of your story – without becoming bogged down in the detail.

So what am I saying?

I’m not anti-expert. Far from it. What I am is pro-perspective.

When I write for your business I don’t bring baggage.

I don’t pretend to be the expert in your field – you are.

What I do is work with you to communicate the best bits of your organisation’s story in a way that is engaging to people who may not know what you do, but given the chance, might like to learn.

The most effective content is, in my view, created by someone who isn’t writing about ‘what they know’.

Know what I mean?

The Beach House, Exmouth Review

“I kept coming back to Agatha.

Although I’m sure, if I’d ever met her, she would have been “Dame Agatha” to me. Either way, I found myself thinking of the great mystery writer as I took this trip. It was so like a plot from one of her books.

“You’ll be met at the station,” was my only instruction.

Suitably cryptic. As foretold, I was greeted by a smiling guide who ushered me onto a luxury charabanc (if that’s not an oxymoron) populated with four perfect strangers. So far, so Christie. 

After a brief journey of well-rehearsed small talk, we came to a halt. Stepping from the coach onto an ocean of gleaming gravel, I surveyed what was to be our overnight dwelling: The Beach House. Such a pleasing, quintessentially English façade: the type of place where Miss Marple would have lived, if she’d won the lottery.

It had been a short journey, but it seemed we’d traveled back in time to an age of opulence. It pleased me greatly. The paintwork on the quirky windows and doors was as fresh as the sea air. A well-oiled, front door swung open and our gregarious host swept onto the driveway.

“You’re here, you’re here. So glad you could make it.”

As I took in The Beach House, beautifully finished in the Arts and Crafts style, I had to conclude that so was I.”

Chris McGuire, The Western Morning News

To read my full review of Exmouth’s The Beach House, see here.

Steph Bridge: Interview

Here’s a piece I wrote for Western Morning News about World Champion Kitesurfer, Steph Bridge, of Edge Watersports.

I arrive at Edge Watersports’ base in Exmouth, unsure what to expect. I’m a little bit nervous – it’s not every day you meet a World No. 1. I find Steph Bridge holding court. She’s in her element talking to customers and friends, it’s easy to see how the former quickly join the ranks of the latter. As she talks, Steph constantly does three things at once -answering phones, monitoring emails and organising appointments. Within minutes I can see that Steph, who spends half her time propelled by a kite, is the closest thing to a real life superhero I’ve met.

Chris McGuire, Western Morning News

For full piece, click here.

The Apprentice – Eastern Daily Press

Here it is, my latest column for Eastern Daily Press all about The Apprentice.

“It seems to me that the candidates on The Apprentice are getting worse. I mean if the express intention of the show was to bring together a collection of vapid egomaniacs with all the business acumen of a mouldy Tupperware set, then I’d understand. But these contestants are ‘supposed’ to be smart. Seriously! Unless I’m very confused, being good in business is about more than wearing a Topshop suit and high heels in the most inappropriate of contexts, while scowling from under a year’s supply of makeup and dropping the word ‘premium’ into every sentence. If it were that simple I’d be getting the heels and slap on myself. “

Chris McGuire, Eastern Daily Press

To read the full column, click here.