Wednesday, November 26, 2008
I am sitting in my workshop tonight having finished my last Christmas fair yesterday afternoon. That was the culmination of the best part of a month on the road - I have got lots of photos of the month, but haven't worked out how to download them from my wonderful, life-changing iPhone yet - will do that later, but for now the thing to say is this: retail life is definitely suffering in the current climate, but being out and about and getting to meet and re-meet my customers is great. Such good feedback and lovely comments about what I'm trying to do. While I was in London, the new and much improved version of the catalogue arrived and has since been sent out to a fairly limited list of customers - about 1800 in all. I have had so many messages from people saying really lovely things about it - thank you if you were one of them. The best thing is that this is now translating into orders and that is so gratifying - all those hours and days of work putting things together were worth it and people are liking what we're offering.
The past two weeks since the first catalogues went out have been slightly mad - I've been doing Country Living in London and Glasgow and the 'pick and pack' has been left to my unbelievably supportive husband here in Perthshire. There have been a few teething problems - mainly to do with stock levels - but we seem to be getting on top of those and a day back in the office has definitely helped. But I can't tell you how exciting it is to see piles of orders going to the Post Office at the end of the day - makes it all worthwhile.
Met up again with lots of great people on the 'tour' - it feels like a bit of a family now. Had my brother up from Somerset helping me in London - so great to see him and spend some time together and such a treat to have help on the stand - I suspect I took too much advantage of being able to wander off. (And, Tim, huge congratulations on the latest news!)
Had a great treat this evening when we went to hear Sarah Raven talk at Glenalmond - can't believe how much useful information she managed to fit into a one hour talk. Inspirational. And then a delicious dinner in Perth ... feeling very happy to be home.
Friday, October 31, 2008
I have been very successfully using on-line printers for a while to produce leaflets and postcards and invitations and have worked hard to improve my abilities in desktop publishing. So, when I made the big decision to do a catalogue I looked for the most cost effective way of doing it which was for me to do the design and then get it printed by the same printer. However, I could see I might struggle with formatting of the artwork and I wasn't comfortable that I would be talking to someone in Germany to finalise the proofs, so I changed to a UK company, who cost more but assured me that that bought me first class customer service and hand-holding. I thought it was a price worth paying and went for them. I was sent about four samples of different paper finishes and plumped for one that looked wonderfully matt which I thought was very fitting for Twice. What I now know is that this particular finish (called offset) leaches colour out of photographs - the result for my catalogue is that all the wonderfully vibrant colours have just disappeared. When you are asking people to choose a product on colour, that's really not a runner. Anyway, there was a sad little puddle of me sitting in the office last night at midnight having just got back from a two day sale in Yorkshire, wondering what on earth I was going to do with 5000 unusable brochures. I wrote the printer a very sad email and got one back this morning basically saying that it is like that because I chose that finish. As the experts, do you think that they could maybe have advised me that that would happen? I do.
So, where are we today? Well I'm feeling a little more chirpy and have called my local printer for help (who I didn't use in the first place because I thought they'd be much more expensive) and they are going to match the price and we are going to go again.
In the meantime, there are an awful lot of boxes in the hall that the online printers don't seem to want either!
Sunday, October 19, 2008
The first photos shows the apples being washed prior to being mushed up in the musher - electric one seems a much better idea than doing it by hand, and infact we had already discovered at home that a garden shredder is pretty effective.
Then the mush (proper name pomace) is put into nylon bags which are then put in the press. A quick twist and delicious fresh apple juice starts pouring out of the pipe at the bottom, straight into the demijohn ready to become cider.
After about an hour of processing we had filled 11 gallon demijohns with applejuice - it really wasn't too bad, although there were 10 of us, so I'm sure it will take us longer at home. It's a really good thing to get the children involved in - so that's half term sorted!
The other thing happening as part of the Orchard Weekend was that two fantastic old chaps were on hand to identify apples - the photo below shows Willy who instantly named three apples from our orchard. However, he was temporarily stumped by one delicious eater and we had to produce four apples from the same tree before he got it - and it was finally pronounced to be a Red Melba. Willy grows an unbelievable variety in his own orchard and he is shown standing beside just a few of them.
All in all a really great day - I feel inspired and love the idea that we can now turn all our wonderful apples into something delicious without getting it wrong. There was talk about putting together a co-operative apple day in the Carse - that would be good!
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
The photo above is the second workshop which was Nicolas Arcedeckne-Butler (pronounced Archdeacon), Master of Wines, giving us (I joined in!) a wonderfully informative and fun day on wines. We tasted 10 different wines over the course of the day and I came away knowing so much more than I had - I feel I really know something about the different grapes and which go with which foods and so on. It was a fantastic day and I can't recommend it highly enough if we do it again. Nicola is a great teacher - so knowledgeable.
Next up was Craig McAlpine doing a day on 'Easy & Impressive Dinner Parties' - he cooked rack of lamb, roasted butternut squash puree and boulangere potatoes for our main course for lunch and followed it up with Chocolate Fondants with Blackberry Syrup - that is the impressive chocolate put which should explode with runny chocolate when your spoon goes in - which it did! In the afternoon he ran up some delicious starter ideas - warm quail salad with caramelised beetroot -yummy!
These two photos show our final days - 'Preparing for a Hand Crafted Christmas' with Jane Lindsey. As always Jane gave everyone a really inspiring day - bulb planting, how to get your bulbs flowering when you want them, how to make a mossed wreath (see above) and, in the afternoon, these wonderful table centres and candle holders. She even had time to fit in some ideas on present wrapping.
I can't thank all my demonstrators and teachers enough - we had some great days and some really positive feedback - which is all I can ask. There are already enquiries about the next workshops, so I will have to get myself going for a Spring series.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Monday, June 30, 2008
~ 'Autumn Foraging' with the Forage Rangers
~ 'Appreciating Antiques' with Jeremy Gow, a restorer well known across Scotland as one of our foremost authorities on antiques.
~ 'Understanding Wine - an introduction' with Nicola Arcedeckne-Butler (pronounced Archdeacon) - one of the most respected female Masters of Wine in the country.
~ 'Preparing for a Hand Crafted Christmas' which sees the return of the wonderful Jane Lindsey.
and finally, booked today, 'Dinner Parties Made Easy' with Craig McAlpine, winner of Channel 4's Come Dine With Me, who runs a company called Bespoke Caterers which teaches dinner party cooking across Scotland.
I don't know about you, but I feel that we have a really good range here and some fascinating speakers. The flyer goes to the printer in a couple of days and then we're off again! I have to say, I find the whole thing so much fun - it really doesn't feel like work. And, actually, that was the whole point - to bring Twice home a bit rather than running around all over the country doing those blessed fairs. I have managed to contain my Christmas selling to three big fairs - Living North in Newcastle and Country Living in London and Glasgow. That means only three moves, which is heaven.
Once the flyer is out, I can slightly put my feet up and enjoy the children and the summer holidays. Big sigh of relief.
Friday, June 27, 2008
The gin and vodka have been brewing for quite a while. Just a sip of either of them makes me feel completely autumnal - and then, I expect quite quickly if I had much more, rather happy!
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
The photo below shows the board that Joa worked with as it was by the end of the talk - she really opened up so many possibilities to people in terms of colour. It is extraordinary how light makes a difference to colours - and even whether you are seeing them horizontally or vertically.
The one thing that I have really learnt from listening to all our speakers over the past few weeks is that you can think that you know about something but when you listen to someone who REALLY knows, it is extraordinary what you can learn.
I would like to thank all our speakers - Xa Milne, Fiona Houston, Jane Lindsey and Joa Studholme - for coming to Inchyra and giving everyone who attended workshops a really memorable, useful and inspirational time. The feedback has been great - we seem to have got it mostly right - and I am now busy organising the next series of workshops in September and October. I hope that Joa will be back later next year - so there will be an opportunity for those who missed this one to see her talk again.
Thanks also to all those who came to the workshops - we were probably a bit of an unknown quantity as we had no track record on them so was a slight leap of faith for people signing up.
If you are reading this and are near enough to come to Perth for the next workshops - please do email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll put you on the list to get the info.
Friday, June 20, 2008
It was also really nice to meet the lovely people who came yesterday - we had a very jolly lunch and it felt absolutely like having lunch with a group of friends. I have just posted a couple of photos from yesterday showing some very pretty little table centres that we made and also the wonderful hand-tied bouquets that everyone created. Mine actually looked good enough to give to someone - and that is a breakthrough!
So, once again huge thanks to Jane and thank you to everyone who came. We are already organising days for the autumn - at the moment it looks like we will cover planting spring bulbs, planting indoor bulbs for the winter and also some autumn/Christmas arranging and wreaths. Be very interesting to hear if there is anything else that people are interested in learning about (workshops will be on 7th and 9th October).
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Then it was back to the demonstration room where everyone was shown how to condition the flowers before arranging. Jane had brought along lots of flowers from her own cutting garden and everyone picked the ones that they wanted to arrange. The flowers were all then conditioned - I will know more about this tomorrow but apparently it extends the life of the flowers once indoors from a couple of days to a week or 10 days, so it's well worth knowing. Once all the flowers were sorted out we all had lunch and a bit of shopping at Twice.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Last night we had more friends over for supper in the kitchen and we ate artichokes from the garden. As relatively new veggie gardeners, this was a significant moment. I took this photo of them yesterday - they really are striking plants and we have them in the flowers beds because they are wonderful to look at as well as to eat. And the photo at the bottom is something I couldn't resist putting in because it is quite special and particular (I believe) to this part of the UK. It is a Himalayan Poppy or Meconopsis. It is native, as if you couldn't guess, to the Himalayas but grows really well in this part of Scotland so I had to give it a go and it seems to like us. The blue is quite different from any of the others in the garden .
The other reason that I'm posting these is that I'm quite proud of the photography! Because of all the photography we have to do for Twice, I have a quite snazzy camera but I could never make it perform very well. On Friday I had a meeting with Shaun Ward who is a photographer who is going to be working with us on our first catalogue and while we were talking I said that I was really struggling with my camera. Anyway, he gave me a couple of pointers (ie. explained what two major buttons that I didn't know how to use did!) and suddenly I seem to be taking half decent photos which I couldn't resist posting! At this rate I may even be able to stop using the 'Point & Shoot' that I always end up resorting to in frustration at not being able to use the good camera. I am also going to enroll on a photography course because I really ought to know what I'm doing a bit more. Watch this space to see if I improve at all!
Friday, June 13, 2008
The day seemed to fly by to me and it was soon 3 o'clock and home time - everyone left looking very happy and clutching a goodie bag containing a signed copy of the book and a tub of nettle pesto. I have to say I was thrilled with the way it all went - and not a little bit relieved, after all these months of planning. I think that now the first course is done and dusted I will relax a bit - and I'm really looking forward to our two days of cutting flowers with Jane Lindsey next week.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
I will report back on how the workshop goes - I really hope that everyone has a fantastic time. I think they will.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Monday, May 12, 2008
Friday, May 02, 2008
The courses are all on subjects that I'd like to know more about - we've got Xa Milne and Fiona Houston who write a column for Telegraph Weekend and have just had a wonderful book called "Seaweed and Eat It" published. They are coming to take people foraging, show them what's good to pick and then do a cookery demonstration with what they've found. Nettle gnocchi appeals to me!
Then we've got what promises to be a really inspiring day when Jane Lindsey, from Snapdragon, is going to teach everyone which are the best cutting flowers to grow in Scotland, how to get flowers to last longers once inside (I, for one, will be very interested in that bit!) and how to arrange and wrap them to produce a really professional bouquet. I always prefer to give flowers from my garden if I can - but I can never get them looking really good, so this will be invaluable. I may have to reserve a place on this course for myself!
And I'm really thrilled about the last day we've organised in this first series. Joa Studholme is the colour consultant that Farrow & Ball call on when their clients need advice on which colours to use in their homes. She has years of experience putting colours into every conceivable type of building (the photo shows her in the Long Room at Lords cricket ground) and lectures on the subject around the world. I am so pleased that she has agreed to come and talk for us - it will be brilliant for anyone who is a little bit nervous about how to get colours right. Colour is one of those things that is often really hard to get right - but when you do get it right the results can be spectacular.
I have lots of plans for more courses - so, I'm on tenterhooks to see if people are receptive to these first three so that I can go ahead with a series in the autumn.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
I had always longed to have a hound and when we moved to Scotland four years ago I was determined to make it happen. Initially I wanted a wolfhound but when I was researching it I came upon a bit of information that said that a wolfhound in full flight 'cannot be expected to differentiate between a rabbit and a small white terrier'. As we are also mad keen Lucas owners this was a non-starter and so we went the deerhound route - much more fitting anyway since they are the Scottish dog - and have never regretted it. They are an absolutely joy to live with - so gentle, so elegant.
Tracy - I will watch with interest to see how McDog's training goes - I'm not sure training is possible with these boys! Flinty has just discovered how to fly over fences (I was advised early on in my deerhound career never to let him know he can jump which worked for a while) and he will now just look at us over his shoulder and then pop over fences and off for miles. Sadly for him this now means he's on a lead alot of the time - but when he's let off and picks up speed it is quite something to see.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
The other thing which is happening in this organic (some might say, ramshackle!) way is marketing the business. The website happened because it felt like the most sensible way to be able to work from home and around the children's lives. Fairs have happened because I have met someone holding one, or another small business person has recommended one. And everything has usually been done because it felt like it was the right time. It is now feeling like the right time to put together a catalogue - but I am TERRIFIED! It is a major expense for the business both in terms of time and money, but I think it is the next step. I would be really interested to get feedback from anyone reading this blog and I've put a little poll in the top right hand corner - please let me know what you think. Obviously I realise that people who don't buy online are unlikely to be reading a blog - but any information is better than no information!
I've had a miserable day today returning a tiny pony that we got for our 8 year old daughter who has become a very nervous rider. He turned out to be just as nervous as she was, so we had to call it a day - but it's not that great separating a little girl from her new pony. Ow!
Friday, March 14, 2008
It also became apparent that life running these businesses is all ups and downs - one minute someone has spotted something you do and supported it and you feel fantastic, or a good order comes in and everything seems worthwhile and then the next, the orders have dried up and you wonder why you are bothering and the guilt about how much time you're giving the children kicks in! Can't win - but we'll have fun trying!
Monday, March 10, 2008
In the meantime, we are waiting for the gales from the South to arrive in Scotland this evening, so my hatches are being battened!
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
I'm holding a sale here at home, near Perth, next Thursday 7th Feb to clear out a bit more stock so that I have room to get lots of new in. If anyone is interested and near enough the invitation is below - you're welcome to come along - just give me a call on 01738 860066 and I'll give you directions and details.
The new stock is going to be great. We've got lots of wonderful things coming - my lovely sewers are busy making Lavender Hearts in the most delicious pink and red stripey French tickings and we're also making lots more keyrings. I made the first batch myself a few months ago and the whole lot went within days at the Christmas sales so they haven't ever made it onto the website - but the next lot will. We're also going to be putting things like our Range Towels on to the website - this is something Twice has always done with great success but again, didn't ever make it onto the site. And on Thursday I'm off to the tannery in Glasgow to organise the next editions of the Eleanor and Silvie bags and also, something which I'm very excited about, to work on the design of a new bag.
On the personal side, January has been incredibly frustrating. My New Year's resolution was to complete a dressage test on my horse. That might not sound like much but to put this in context I need to tell you a bit about the two of us. I have ridden all my life but I'm not good and have never learnt anything properly. My horse is Henry, a 14 year old ex-racer (he raced under the name Hailstorm which could also have described his character when he came to us). He has had tendon problems in both his front legs and when I got him three years ago he had been on bed-rest for 6 months. He was everything you might expect in a thoroughbred and there were moments when I thought I must be mad for even thinking about riding him as a hack. However, three years down the line, he is a different beast - gentle, incredibly willing to learn and, so far (touch wood), he has never done anything too unpredictable with me. So, this year these two aging rank amateurs at this new discipline are going to learn dressage - neither of us has the foggiest idea what we are doing but both of us are thrilled when we start to get something right. I will report back if (sorry, when) we fulfill my ambition - but this weather has meant that there has hardly been any riding - it's either too cold and hard or too wet and soft. My fingers are firmly crossed for something more normal.
I am feeling much more positive in January than I was in the 'Ups & Downs' post - which is surely wrong!? Shouldn't I be feeling blue and depressed at this time of year? But I just have a feeling that there are going to be all sorts of interesting developments at Twice this year
Anyway, a very belated Happy New Year to everyone -