The Phantom Atlas

Cartophiles and book lovers found themselves at the Hungerford Book Shop’s latest author event at the Town Hall in Hungerford on Tuesday night for a talk by Edward Brooke-Hitching on The Phantom Atlas: The Greatest Myths, Lies and Blunders on Maps.

Edward Brooke-Hitching.jpg

Brooke-Hitching’s latest work is a beautiful-looking tome incorporating stunning antique maps displaying various “phantoms” – islands that can be found on maps but not in real life, plus other geographical misnomers such as the Kong mountain range across Africa and ghostly seas in Australia.


With an obvious passion for his subject, Brooke-Hitching guided the audience on a whistle-stop tour through some of the jaw-dropping stories of how these mistakes came to be and an insight into their longevity.


When you consider that each squiggle on the map reveals an adventure by an intrepid explorer, these mistakes can arise in a variety of ways from mirages spotted by sailors, to traps created by map makers to help catch counterfeiters. Some were just “whimsy” such as the entry of The Painter’s Wife’s island in the Strait of Magellan just drawn in so she “in her imagination might have an island of her own”.


There were tales of breathtaking fraud too including various conmen whose discovery of fictitious islands aided them in securing future funding. There was the sad story of Gregor MacGregor, a Scottish explorer who returned to London to sell shares in a land called Poyais that he claimed he had discovered in South America. He was never brought to justice for sending a boatful of poor unfortunates there, many of whom died of tropical diseases in Honduras.


In an uncertain world, maps are an authoritative source material that we tend to rely on without question, which makes these mistakes seem so unlikely. And they’re not a thing of the past; the island of Bermaja in the Gulf of Mexico was ‘discovered’ in 1539 and stayed there for nearly 500 years. It was 2009 – just seven years ago – when meticulous scientific searches revealed it was a fiction.


First appeared in the Newbury Weekly News Thu 15th December 2016

The nativity

The nativity ranks high amongst the proud moments of a primary school mum.


Small son hadn’t told us about his involvement so I didn’t even know what part he was playing until the day of the performance. I happened to get there early and then saw him standing near someone who was getting into the donkey costume, leading me to think he was the back end of the animal for a second. I then had this exchange with a child in his class:

Boy: “Your son is a nincompoop.”

Me: “a nincompoop? Now that’s a word you don’t hear often enough”

Boy: “no you don’t, but I said ‘innkeeper'”

But it turned out that small son was the innkeeper. So then of course, I worried he was about to tell the holy family that there WAS in fact room at the inn. Fortunately, it was a kind of tableau, so the story was told via songs rather than words. Phew.

The teacher told small son to walk slowly and elegantly down the aisle. Which he did until he’d seen me, whereupon he started running like a long jumper, before leaping into position, right through the gap between Mary and Joseph.

He then started dancing like he’d seen a dance floor for the first time. I wondered at first if he’d got something in his shoe that he was trying to shift, but then realised he was dancing. No amount of gesturing from me could stop it. I then hit upon the brilliant idea of pulling my ears out and sticking my tongue out at him. It worked! He stopped dancing and then pulled the same face back at me, in full view of every parent present.

He wasn’t the only one actor that made me giggle. The readings from the smaller children resembled the Brit Awards presented by Sam Fox and Mick Fleetwood from 1989 and then another set of prayers was delayed while the children got stuck in their pew, desperately trying to get the door open.

But aside from all that, it is great to hear the nativity story told by children who are experiencing it themselves for the first time. The church was filled by heartfelt singing and it was a beautiful service.

Happy Christmas!

Christmas countdown – Karen Garley from HR Vision


Tell us about yourself and your business

Karen Garley, Managing Consultant at HR Vision Limited.  I set up HR Vision in 2001 with a view to providing businesses and individuals with HR expertise.

What brought you to Newbury? 

I worked at Bayer in Stoke Poges and relocated with them to Newbury.  This meant moving my daughter who had just started secondary school in Burnham to St Barts.  Massive change for both of us.

How did you get into the business? 

Loved HR from the word go and when I was given responsibility for it I decided to become qualified.

What are your main challenges? 

It’s the ebb and flow of the workload, and the fact that when it is extremely busy there is a lack of time to market the company properly.

How do you manage your time ? 

I have an excellent time management app that I use which helps keep me on track. I plan the next days work at the end of each day.

What do you do when you’re not at work? 

I exercise at a HiiT type class – Dawnbreakers – every morning, walking Bailey & Whiskey my Cockerpoos, enjoy the cinema

ell us something surprising about yourself 

I produce intuitive paintings for people who want something to happen in their life – the painting acts as a visual reminder of what they want to achieve.  Unexpected things can happen!

What are you most proud of?

Having started HR Vision 15 years ago.

How would you describe a typical customer and how do you help them?

A typical customer is likely to have an employee relations issue – capability, misconduct, grievance, potential ET claim etc and need us to investigate the matter for them.

What are your plans for the next few years?

We are launching a Virtual HR service to clients who need ad hoc support through the year?

What is your favourite song? 

Anything by Simply Red.

Christmas countdown – Steve Biggs from Biggsy Travels


Today we move away from West Berkshire and away from businesswomen  to a globetrotting friend of mine ! Steve Biggs is a friendly, genial bloke and happens to be one of the first people I met at University. Since then, despite thousands of pints of Snakebite and black, plus our dodgy taste in music, we’ve remained friends for (cough, cough, I must get some water) years.

I’ve always been impressed by the number of things Steve fits into his life, plus his incredible ‘can-do’ attitude!  He is always up for an adventure and willing to try new experiences, so it was no surprise that this IT whizz and geography graduate  would become famous on the interweb for his travel blog at

1. Tell us about yourself and your blog?

At my blog I try to only write about “unique” travel experiences. Ones that that nobody has written about before, or better still experiences that nobody has ever had before!
2. What made you get started?

I’ve been to lots of travel blogging meet-up events in Central London since 2012 and would always get asked for the name of my blog  – which I didn’t have at the time. So partly it was because I wanted to say I had one but mostly because I then realised I wanted to share some of my “unique” adventures.

3. What are your main challenges?

Deciding whether I am actually doing it simply for fun, or for some greater gains/master plan instead. I’m still not sure which.

4. How do you manage your time – ie between working and blogging

Work comes first but if something needs to be written about there and then, and it’s topical or time dependent then I just “get on with it”. I commute into London each weekday so that’s a full 5 hours free time to put “pen to paper”. So no excuses. Although I still have this romantic view that blogging should be done in a wingback chair, in a quiet coffee shop, in a fancy part of London on a sunny day, with a satisfying latté

5. What else  do you do when you’re not at work?

Running with my local club and cycling around on my Brompton bicycle

6. Tell us something surprising about yourself

Even though I’ve run 5 marathons now that’s still 859 fewer than my dad Roger!

7. What are you most proud of?

Becoming the UK running ambassador for maternal health charity ‘Every Mother Counts’ and helping to spread the word about their great work.

8. How would you describe a typical reader and how do you help them?
Probably time poor, in a rush, and wanting the byte-size summary. So I try to keep posts under 700 words and always think “what’s in it for them” (the reader)

9. What is your favourite song?

I’m currently loving Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’ after hearing a guy singing karaoke in Brighton in the Spring and absolutely nailing it.


Note from Marge – I genuinely thought he would pick this one!





Christmas countdown – Katherine Ledger

Well, they say you have to watch the quiet ones! Today we speak to wordsmith Katherine Ledger about her ‘copy that sells’, cheetahs and zipwires. Like Katherine, I’m also a big fan of Athena, Bigger Brighter Bolder and BuzzConnect and an early morning swim!


katherine headshot.jpg

Tell us about yourself and your business

I love sharing stories, generally late at night, with friends, a glass of wine or cup of tea! As a Marketer, in business, I found it sad that salespeople often spoke in jargon, a foreign language to clients. So I talked myself into a job as ‘The StoryMaster’ in BT, making complex products easier to sell by writing marketing content about the amazing people burning the midnight oil to help customers. It’s scientifically proven that 90% of client purchasing decisions are made on an emotional rather than a rational level, because they like and trust the salesperson even before they evaluate the product or service. So I set up a business called ‘Copy that Sells’ which helps smaller businesses show their unique personality in their writing; then I write their blogs, web copy, brochures and strategy. It’s a more natural way of getting customers to start a conversation with them, not someone else.

What brought you to Newbury/West Berks?

I get my best ideas when talking to other business people.  There are some great networking groups in Newbury (Bigger, Brighter, Bolder, Athena and BuzzConnect) which I joined.  I used to be  a Marketing Contractor at Vodafone in Newbury, seeing a lot of the town from their shuttle buses going to and from their HQ!

How did you get into the business?

Last year, after falling off a ladder and breaking my back, I had a bit of unexpected time off from Marketing contracting. It’s then I decided to set up my business ‘Copy that Sells’ in April this year. I am a great believer in ‘Carpe Diem’ – seize the day. What does not kill us makes us stronger.

What are your main challenges?

As a small business owner, I have to do everything! From planning, networking, selling, scoping and writing proposals and copy to sending invoices. I find ‘selling’ hard. So instead I spend my time asking clients what stops them selling (usually how to reach their customers with the right messages) and create persuasive messages to help them attract the right audiences. Then they can focus on what they do best

How do you manage your time?

I used to be a late sleeper but now I am an early bird. I like to go for an early morning swim. I find doing what I love gives me the energy get out of bed. I meet people in the mornings, when I get my best ideas.  I write loads of goals and lists to ensure I stay on track,  learning new skills to help me keep up to date.

What do you do when you’re not at work?

I absolutely adore travelling. My last long trip was to Borneo where I saw turtles being hatched. I travelled into the jungle by long boat and shared a room with rats and mosquitos. Since my back injury I have concentrated on Europe. I love meeting new people and hearing their stories. I am writing a book at the moment and hoping to self-publish.

Tell us something surprising about yourself

I get out of my comfort zone when travelling. I took two cheetahs for a walk in South Africa and went zip wiring in Costa Rica in a hurricane. I am a bit shy but I do very brave things when on holiday!

What are you most proud of?

I volunteered to work for one of BT’s charities as their Marketing Manager. I ran a programme with Comic Relief and Children in Need to help young people with mental health issues and disabilities become leaders and ambassadors for mental wellbeing. Managing their illnesses, their confidence was low; they were scared of speaking on the phone, getting on public transport or doing sums. They overcame personal fears to join an amateur theatre group, become a youth leader, start a law and a physics degree. I was humbled when they called me their leader and they were recognised by Samantha Cameron at No. 10 Downing Street

How would you describe a typical customer and how do you help them?

Very good at what they do but with little time or desire to bring out their unique abilities in their marketing copy or write a Marketing Plan

What are your plans for the next few years?

To grow my business and make it succeed. To inspire other new business start-ups to do the same. To give back to the community by helping people with mental health issues, which affects one in 5 of the population.

Which song sums you up or is your favourite song?

‘I will survive’ by Gloria Gaynor. If I can pick myself up after breaking my back to start a small business then I can do a whole lot of other things and so can others! When I doubt myself, I write down what I have already achieved, dig in and spend time around positive people.  I work on my mind-set. You have to believe in yourself in business. You have to. Then other people will…

Contact her at or 07703545117


On the fifth day of Christmas…Teresa Gandy of ClarityCX



Tell us about yourself and your business

My business is ClarityCX – – I coach and support small businesses and sole traders on how to increase their profits through effective Customer Experience Management (CX).  After all, customers are the most effective free marketing tool there is!

What brought you to Newbury?

I moved here from Somerset in 2003 after returning from travelling Australia with my husband (then boyfriend!) – he got a job in Bracknell and we searched the commutable area and decided we both really liked Newbury – the location, size of the town and facilities were ideal for us (except the lack of cinema at the time – very pleased that has been resolved now 🙂 )

How did you get into the business?

Having spent a number of years managing customer experience strategies and initiatives within a large multinational corporate, I identified that this is a big opportunity that small businesses aren’t capitalising on – and there is no-one really helping them to do this.  As something I’m passionate about, and also having a lot of experience in creating new and bespoke tools, I felt I could really help businesses in the local area benefit from the customers they’ve already attracted through the experience they offer.  On a personal level, with 2 primary aged children I also wanted to change my lifestyle and run my own business so I have the flexibility to do well at my ‘other’ job – being Mummy!

How do you manage your time ?

I’m naturally a very organised person and have learnt from my years in the corporate world that you have to be firm with yourself when you also have childcare commitments.  My business operating hours are 9am – 3pm daily, which give me plenty of time to focus on my business and also my parental responsibilities.  (So sometimes I’m logged on in the evening too, but that’s more because I want to be working on my business rather than ‘having’ to).

What do you do when you’re not at work?

Mummy stuff! Meeting up with friends – we love the local pub quiz :-), always looking for the next holiday or trip somewhere. Tell us something surprising about yourself

I know shorthand, 90 wpm once upon a time – but now its primary use is writing Christmas present lists that no-one else understands!


What are you most proud of?

I think I’m really most proud when any of us (my husband, kids or myself), manage to achieve something we’ve worked hard at, or thought we’d never be able to do.   It takes a lot of courage to push out of your comfort zone and any time this is attempted, whether success or fail, is something to feel proud about.


How would you describe a typical customer and how do you help them?


A typical customer is the owner of a small business or a sole trader who cares about their business  and wants to increase their profits – but doesn’t have the funds for marketing campaigns!  I help them by showing how they can leverage more profit by changing internal procedures and implementing effective tools with their existing customers.  The result: creating increased number of advocates for their business – word of mouth recommendations are priceless to small businesses.

What are your plans for the next few years?


To grow my business, have fun, finish decorating the house (less likely!), sleep for more than 6 straight hours a night!


Which song sums you up or is your favourite song?

I love (Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding – I don’t really know what it is – but it always makes me stop and listen and has done since I first heard it all those years ago on Top Gun!


Fourth day of Christmas- Jo Francis


  1. Tell us about yourself and your business

My name is Jo Francis and I am a self employed consultant for Heritage Legal Estate Planning, which is a professional will writing company. My role is to visit the clients in their own home at a time to suit them to take their instructions to ensure that their wishes can be formalised into a legally binding will.

  1. What brought you to West Berks?

I moved to Thatcham from Ruislip 16 years ago due to my husband’s new job in Newbury. By moving to Thatcham my husband spends more time at home and less time on the M4!

  1. How did you get into the business?

I was very fortunate that at the same time I made the decision to reduce my working hours my good friend Rachel Harding was looking to expand her business and take on consultants.

  1. What are your main challenges?

Understandably, people don’t like having to think about what happens after they have died so making sure they have a properly executed will in place is not one of their top priorities even though it is one of the most important things you can do to help your loved ones at a difficult time.

  1. How do you manage your time – ie between working and being a mother

I have found this difficult but have now set my days/hours that I am working & I am trying to stick by it, easier said than done though!

  1. What do you do when you’re not at work?

I enjoy playing tennis, swimming and socialising with family & friends.

  1. Tell us something surprising about yourself

I was a professional dancer until the age of 22 and have danced in shows in Japan & Turkey.

  1. What are you most proud of?

This has to be my three children firstly but I’m also proud that Heritage Legal Estate Planning was a finalist in the West Berkshire new business awards in October.

  1. How would you describe a typical customer and how do you help them?

A typical customer would be either a single person, married or living with their partner with or without children that have not yet made a will and/or Lasting Powers of Attorneys. I visit clients in their own home at a time to suit them so they are in a relaxed environment. I discuss their wishes & take down their instructions to enable our legal team to draw up a legally binding will.

10. What are your plans for the next few years?

I want to successfully grow my business and build relationships with other local businesses so that we can all work together to provide a great service for our clients.

11. Which song sums you up or is your favourite song?

The Rose by Better Midler has to be my favourite song. It has a very poignant meaning to me & my family and my daughter sings it beautifully.




The 3rd day of Christmas – Ros Kitson



Tell us about yourself and your business

I’m an Emotional Therapist. I help people get rid of their fears and demons which enables them to reclaim their lives.   I’ve been doing this for 10 years now after receiving emotional therapy to give me my life back.

What brought you to Newbury?

I was an anti-road protester in the last 1990s and I stayed in the area afterwards.  This was the first thing I’d done in my life because I had a calling it do it, but it had a huge emotional cost and was the start of my journey into emotional health.

How did you get into the business?

Having gone a fair way with my emotional journey, I realised it put me in a unique position to be able to understand other people who were also struggling.  I therefore trained up as a therapist so I could help them effectively on their journeys.

What are your main challenges?

My main challenge is how to get more clients.  I’ve been told I’m a great therapist, but my marketing abilities still seem to fall short.

How do you manage your time?

Sometimes with To Do lists, but they have to be manageable and able to be completed so you get a sense of satisfaction.  Sometimes I just go with the flow of what I feel inspired to tackle that day.

What do you do when you’re not at work?

I’m involved with Amateur Dramatics, both on the stage and in the costume department.  I’m currently costuming the next Hungerford Town Show which is Mack and Mabel, due to be performed in February 2017.

Tell us something surprising about yourself

I’ve done 3 parachute jumps.  I did them while I was at university and gave up because the longer there was between the jumps, the more scared I got.  I’m very proud that I did them but I don’t think I’d do another one now.

What are you most proud of?

How far I’ve come on my personal journey.  When I look back at where I was in my life, all bogged down with stresses and insecurities and compare it to how my life is now, I’m extremely grateful that I put in the work and had the support around me.  It wasn’t always an easy journey but it was very much worth it.

How would you describe a typical customer and how do you help them?

A typical customer is someone who isn’t happy with their life. Maybe they have stress or anxiety or maybe they just know that their life isn’t what it could be and this is causing them pain.  The thing that makes them come to see me is the knowledge that they don’t have to settle for this state, that I can help them to heal.  And I do exactly that.  I help them understand why they are at the place they are and together we identify and clear the underlying stress which gives them back their wellbeing.

What are your plans for the next few years?

I never know exactly what the future holds. That’s part of its allure.  But I intend to carry on with my business and my AmDram for the foreseeable future.  I have plans (like many people) to write a book but I can’t say whether this will happen in the next few years.

Which song sums you up or is your favourite song?

About 20 years ago, I would probably have been summed up by “Life is a lemon and I want my money back” by Meat Loaf.  Nowadays, maybe something like “Let it go” from Frozen.  I’m not particularly a Disney fan, but the lyrics about casting off that which holds you back and standing in your power really resonate with me.



The 12 Days of Christmas! Penny Wright from Gardner Leader

On the second day of Christmas….today we talk to Penny Wright, a solicitor from Gardner Leader.

Penny Wright-portrait.jpg

Tell us about yourself and your business


The firm’s values, and my own, focus on giving peace of mind to our clients. It is important to me that my clients trust my legal knowledge and experience; and can rely on me to get the job done efficiently and sensitively. As a firm we provide legal services to individuals and businesses, and we have recently won and been shortlisted for national awards. I have two specialisms: one is helping individuals (many of whom run their own business) plan for the future, including preparing Wills and powers of attorney, giving tax advice and dealing with trusts and probate. My other specialism is charity law – setting up new charities, and advising existing charities on legal issues.


What brought you to Newbury?

I was brought up in Berkshire; after going away for a few years to university etc, I returned to Newbury in 1997 to start my training as a solicitor. Since then I have worked mostly in Newbury, apart from a few years commuting elsewhere. I joined Gardner Leader in March 2015.


How did you get into this business?

I read law at university and did several work experience placements at law firms. It is very competitive to get a training contract. Once I started my solicitor training, I realised that I enjoyed helping individuals and families with their estate planning and charitable aspirations – every client is different and has its own priorities and concerns; and the law is constantly changing so there is always a new challenge.


What’s your main challenge?


My main challenge is managing my time – there always seems to be so much to do and I strive to give my best to everyone. Of course I have to keep on top of legal developments, but I also like to be involved in Gardner Leader’s ongoing continuous improvement programme, exploring ways of delivering even better service to our clients.


How do you manage your time?


Balancing home life with work life is always tricky but Gardner Leader is very supportive of working parents and flexible working hours. It was harder when I commuted to other towns, but living and working locally makes it much easier to juggle everything (though if you were to ask my daughter she would complain that I am always late to pick her up from school!)


What do you do when you’re not at work?

When I am not at work I am mostly rushing round with my children to their various activities, also trying to squeeze in a bit of time to exercise, and catch up with friends and family.


Tell us something surprising about yourself


I practice yoga and can regularly be found in my kitchen doing a headstand. I love exploring – I have been to 43 countries so far.


What are you most proud of?


My children


How would you describe a typical customer and how do you help them?


Everyone needs to have a will so I draft a lot of those, but no two families are the same – each will is tailored to their particular circumstances. Often there will be wider issues to deal with such as mental capacity issues, tax, financial planning, business structures and philanthropic ambitions. I liaise with my colleagues in other teams (e.g. company/commercial, property, dispute resolution, matrimonial) and external advisers such as financial advisers, accountants, doctors, to ensure that everything is joined up.


What are your career plans?


I feel very settled with Gardner Leader so I don’t have any grand career plans. The firm is a very friendly and happy place to work, with a fantastic reputation. My intention is to continue to deliver a great client service and enjoy what I do.

What is your favourite song?

What a wonderful world by Louis Armstrong because it is important to appreciate the good things in life.