Visiting The Clink Restaurant

I first became involved with The Clink Restaurant a couple of months ago after having unintentionally met the CEO, Chris Moore, on a train to London. He has been a friend of the family for many years and through catching up with the latest news on the way to London Victoria he began to explain his new role at The Clink Restaurant. I was immediately captivated by the project.

© The Clink Online

The Clink Restaurant opened in May 2009 and holds the title as the first commercial restaurant to open inside a British prison. The restaurant provides prisoners with the opportunity to learn an honest trade, achieve a national catering qualification and eventually escape the 40.1% reconviction rate when they leave prison. Chris Moore revealed to me that soon The Clink Restaurant will be shown on TV as a documentary and wanted changes made to the website.

Whilst their current website did the job of providing information about The Clink Charity; in my opinion it didn’t do this task in an aesthetically pleasing way or in a manner which would use the power of social networks. Working full-time for Microsoft is a time consuming and often stressful task but redesigning The Clink website was a project which I could somehow find time for after contracted working hours.

Over the last few weeks taking advantage of some after Microsoft hours and weekends The Clink website I’ve been working on is shaping up well. Currently only the old website is live but by the end of next month the new one should be up and running. Since starting the project Chris Moore has insisted that one day I visit The Clink Restaurant to get a real feel for what the charity is about. With permission from Microsoft I got to visit The Clink Restaurant yesterday on the basis of a volunteering day. Not only did I get the chance to have a look around The Clink Restaurant side of the prison but I was able to also use the day to continue website scripting. A welcomed reprieve from using up evening or weekend time!

The Clink is not the sort of Restaurant you can Foursquare yourself into. It is based within the confines of H. M. P High Down and therefore it is necessary for visitors to follow prison rules. All visitors must be over 18 years old, carry identification on arrival and abide by the list of prohibited items. Emphasis to: NO MOBILES, NO IT EQUIPMENT, NO DRUGS and NO KNIVES. All of which seemed to slip my mind as I entered the visitors entrance carrying two smartphones, 2 pen drives, a packet of Marlboro Gold and a lighter. I usually carry around a fairly sharp pen knife as well but thankfully this wasn’t on my keys. Not complying with the rules is a criminal offence, for this reason I went back to the car to drop everything off. In my case I was also given the strict instructions to not write any pre-tweets or pre-blogs concerning my visit. As you can imagine these prohibitions and restrictions are done for visitor personal safety. Giving news of my visit before arriving could never have a benefit, only risk a threat.

Despite the kerfuffle of safety don’t think visiting The Clink Restaurant is a stressful procedure. For security reasons I can’t explain the security checks or pathway through the prison to the restaurant. Neither can I disclose the names of the prisoners or ex-offenders who I spoke with or was served by. Once inside the The Clink Restaurant it is difficult to imagine that you are eating inside a prison. Earlier this week I was lucky enough to eat in a restaurant in the London Mayfair and I can honestly say that The Clink’s furnishings were on par. There is no doubt some furnishings are done with safety and security in mind, for instance the cutlery was plastic and the tables were glass. As for the food, exquisite.

Must confess that the prisoners almost seemed to be too pleasant and that collecting dishes on a couple of occasions was poorly planned but that is the point of the Clink. These errors are made as The Clink trains prisoners into a catering career path. The restaurant is a charity and the charity is a restaurant. They are one in the same. However I wanted to know how the prisoners viewed The Clink. Whilst speaking with an ex-offender he explained that many prisoners aren’t keen to join The Clink due to the working hours, it is a real job and some of which are simply not driven for. Working for the restaurant may pay more compared to other jobs in the prison but that isn’t the point for many prisoners, instead the prospect of leaving prison with a qualification is a better drive. It helps avoid reconvictions and introduced offenders back into society again.

Due to being involved with the charity I got the chance for a behind the scenes look about how the restaurant is managed. Again, I can’t explain any of this other than The Clink also caters for business meetings offering a well-designed meeting room which overlooks the restaurant floor.

Feel free to visit The Clink Restaurant’s website (my version of it will appear late March) and I highly recommend booking a table as a group to enjoy a great meal and a unique experience.

1 Pound 4 Ounces of Microsoft

1 Pound marks the course of one year for some of my Microsoft colleagues. It simply describes the hypothetical amount of weight one has gained by working in the office for 12 months. Working in the metropolis has its temptations of fast-food outlets, fancy restaurants and the usual grub found in the canteen which burdens the stomach with an extra load when the majority of your job requires being deskbound. There is no doubt about it, since starting my internship at Microsoft I certainly feel a little rounder. Not so much around the belly or thighs but rather the face – recently the checks have been looking far rosier, an uncanny resemblance to my other pair of checks after a good botty beating.

Yet the scales better prepare themselves for a few more ounces as I have finally received the news that my Microsoft contract has been extended! Originally I was preparing myself for corporate heartbreak at the beginning of June as that was the original end date of my internship (ie, contract cancellation). I suppose my main fear of my internship ending has been down to my love for Microsoft. No, I’m not writing this encase a colleague stumbles across this blog, I actually mean what I say I love Microsoft. This doesn’t make me an Apple or Google hater, it simply means I think Microsoft is brilliant and has its place in the technological arena and I would love to work within this corporate giant for as long as possible.

My contract has been happily extended until the 2nd September. By which time I shall immediately be travelling back to Cheltenham to complete my final year of Public Relations at the University of Gloucestershire. I can’t even conceive going back to University in some ways. Whilst having my independence back again would be great (not that I have lost much living at home during my internship), the feel of working for Microsoft each day is a feeling I’m going to find hard to forget. It is the number 1 and if, at the end of my extended internship, I find myself never working for Microsoft, then going into any other job might be difficult. Yet, time is a healer. Who knows what waits around the corner?

So here ends my happy news. A requirement from my University during this internship year is to regularly write blog posts or diary entries explaining my progress at the company so far, something which I have admittedly disregarded. I shall make an effort to do this more often, although it is time which presses upon me, not a lack of motivation.

My Heroes – Stephen Fry [series]

Inspiration comes in many forms. As part of my blogging in 2011 I shall be covering one of my heroes each month. This month I look at Stephen Fry.

Stephen Fry
Stephen Fry - iTunes Festival 2009

Think of this article has my public declaration of love. I cannot imagine what life would be like without having an influence so creative, humorous, intelligent or charming. With fear I have left Stephen Fry to my second ‘Hero’ of this year just to prove to people that there are others who inspire me also, however the level in which this man influences my own approach to life is vast. What’s more is that we should not be ashamed of having influences – inspiration from many sources still makes you unique. Stephen Fry just happens to be one of my “greats”.

Before writing this article I pondered to when my admiration for Stephen Fry materialised, it is very difficult to pinpoint. I suppose during my AS levels at secondary school I became aware of this celebrity in a fashion which was beyond fame awe. No doubt about it, Stephen Fry is an international celebrity but I hope “celebrity” doesn’t dampen the expectations to thinking Stephen Fry would be the sort of individual to appear in glossy celebrity magazines which are filled with drivel concerning only a personal fame. Stephen Fry is a true celebrity, a man who has become a public figure through his talents.

One of the reasons why Stephen Fry has done so well is because he presents a clear interest in others, this becomes apparent in many of his documentaries; The Secret Life Of The Manic Depressive, Stephen Fry in America, Wagner and Me, Last Chance To See and HIV and Me. Easily as a polymath stories could be constructed purely of his own observations but instead he relies on other individuals to construct the story he is attempting to explain. The virtue of charm expresses the need to oeuvre others. His pathway to the present wasn’t through the channels of serious documentary filming but instead comedy. When I consider classic comedies it is necessary to count Blackadder and a Bit of Fry and Laurie.

Stephen Fry is firmly written into my ego (of the Freudian sort) and will not budge. He has written great lengths in his autobiographies Moab Is My Washpot and The Fry Chronicles (Amazon affiliate links) and so I will not waste time devaluing my words against his and will instead travel straight to the purpose of this “Hero” article, to explain why Stephen Fry is an influence of mine.

You will notice clear characteristics between all of the individuals who I name influencers of mine as having the ability to relate to a figurehead is important, more than that, it is vital. My heroes will be thinkers, writers and comedians as these are the three characteristics and avenues I recognise talent. Of course there are those who create art (other than writing), maybe iconic sportspeople or even ventriloquists. All these skills are incredible but not paths which wholly interest me.

Michael White & Stephen Fry 2008
Michael White & Stephen Fry 2008

In my opinion the best thing Stephen Fry does is writing. Coupled with his intellect and sense of humour the words which splash upon the page are unlike any other writer I know. He doesn’t necessarily write in a manner which could be considered compact or neatly sown but uses the full leaps and bounds of the English language to paint his sentences with colour. The year in which Stephen Fry started blogging (strangely my first blog post was about mobile phones and a few days later I noticed Mr Fry’s first blog post was almost identical called ‘Devices and Desires’) I literally wet myself with excitement. This is not a man who is passionate because of money, he writes because that is part of who he is. I’ve often uttered that if I was told I could not write again then I would rather die, without writing, life is not worth living.

Over the years I have made a concerted effort to seek Mr Fry on his travels in a manner some may describe as stalking! The first time I met him was in 2008 in Cheltenham for his ‘Stephen Fry in America’ book. Proudly I was first in the queue and even managed to get a photo with him (A little later I saw how Stephen Fry doesn’t like the kerfuffle of photos at signings. Felt a little guilty but glad the photo was taken quickly) and within the book is written,

“To Michael White
Stephen Fry

First in the Cheltenham Queue!”

A few months after the signing I managed to watch several QI shows being recorded, watched a talk by him at the iTunes Festival in 2009 and last year I was at Cheltenham Racecourse where he and Mark Carwardine (also a great man) spoke about their documentary Last Chance to See.

I know for a fact that Stephen Fry is a very generous man in his spare time whom isn’t afraid to depart with money to support causes, quite the philanthropist. As each year passes I am constantly left in a state of open-mouth awe at how he brings various projects to life and just how talented he really is.

His attitude to life has taught me how to enjoy work, to be determined, always approach life with a sense of humour and how politeness goes a lot further than rudeness. I can’t ever imagine Stephen Fry retiring, for this I am thankful. There will never be someone quite like Stephen Fry.