Tuesday, 30 August 2022

the shop 1995-2007

November 1995. Aged 48

Leaving Brocante in Rectory Grove quite why I turned left instead of right, fate perhaps, but it was to  change my life forever. As I drove slowly along the Broadway I noticed an agents board on a small butcher’s shop. Stopping suddenly I jumped out of the car and enquired at the shop next door who told me it was owned by the Chop Shop a few blocks up. Summoning up all my courage I entered and as I started to make enquiries was completely ignored by the owner Dave. Persevering I told him I wasn’t some pikey outfit selling tat but high class linens and patchwork quilts. Still not looking up as he chopped away at a side of beef he motioned to one of the boys to give me the keys and said that there was also a flat upstairs.

Keys in hand I noticed first the glass door was broken and as i entered a terrible stench of rotting meat hit me and looking around glimpsed two enormous chiller cabinets which I knew would be impossible to remove, certainly on my budget. They took up half the retail area and guessed what was left was around 200sq ft.  The fluorescent tubes were filthy and encrusted with dead flies. A quick recce of the uninhabitable flat - as i expected - but thought it would be ideal for storage for many of the bulkier items like pillows and cushion pads.

Handing the keys back told the butcher I’d be back in a couple of days with my brother Alan for his invaluable advice,  he was a big-time linens retailer and had come second in the Businessman of the Year.

Two days later Alan looked around and then went outside to check the foot flow,  undaunted by the state of the interior he advised me to take it subject to the rent/rates etc. The owner told me I could have it on a short term for four months. The first month payment upfront cash £400: no receipt just a bone-cracking handshake.

So i was now a retailer, something i swore i would never do again after the disaster with the cages business. Alan estimated I could be up and trading within four days. I secretly thought it impossible but he sent in some of his workers, and was completely overwhelmed by everyone who helped.  My old boss and dear friend Ted helped me paint the exterior. Celia and her friends helped with the merchandising once the racking was in place. Bill came up from Hampshire and fixed all the lighting.  Sure enough within a few days we had a really lovely shop interior with a beautiful window display which Celia did. On the Thursday as my brother was folding towels - amusingly in his Armani suit - he looked at the gathering crowds  outside and said ‘you have to open tomorrow’ but i was anxious it would fail and putting it off.

FIRST DAY OF TRADING Friday 1st December 1995

The next day we opened and we were mobbed, the relief and joy were incalculable.  My car needed an MOT so asked Toby if he would come up and sort it for me. About 11am I saw him outside the window with a strange expression on his face accompanied by a female policewoman and a policeman.  Rushing up to him I demanded to know what the problem was and they told me he’d been involved in an accident and a pedestrian, an old boy, crossing the road had been killed instantly.

Grabbing the policewoman I demanded to know if it was my son’s fault. Both of them looked away and didn’t answer.  My son’s eyes were blood red and he was in a state of shock. I pulled him to me and hugged him and asked the girls who were upstairs to take care of him. I too was shaken, he’d come up to help me out.  Later it transpired there were two vehicles and no witnesses, I felt the police were fairly sure the fault lay with my son, not least his hippie appearance, long hair and a souped up Mini, lowered body, twin chrome exhaust’s, fat tyres and the all-important chrome trims. Guilty by assumption.

Trying to keep it together I rang Alan, after a few minutes conversation he said ‘sorry I can’t deal with this right now, too soon after Marie’ his eldest daughter had died suddenly at school two weeks earlier. Marie kissed her mum Stella goodbye that fateful morning and an hour later she was dead, inexplicably collapsing in the school. It was a huge tragedy Marie was only thirteen years old. Friday 13th October 1995. A date never to be forgotten.

Despite the drama first day of trade was a huge success, fortified by the good fortune of opening on Leigh Lights day when the Christmas lights are turned on attracting huge crowds and we were right in the centre of it all. Takings were way beyond my wildest expectations, none of the banks would give me an overdraft because of the bad credit history over the cages business. Fortunately I never needed one from that day on. But I needed a bank account to deposit the large amounts of cash we were taking so picked the branch nearest that i could run to.

Driving home was a surreal experience, all the events of the day whirling around in my head.  As i entered the house suddenly an overwhelming exhaustion washed over me. The phone was flashing a voicemail and as i listened i started to shake, it was the police wanting to talk to Toby about the accident.

The next few days were a whirl of trading activity and our shop proved to be an overwhelming success, getting upfront payment back in the first few hours. however, the accident still haunted me, Alan went over the accident with Toby, drawing out a diagram and got the impression he thought it was his fault, largely because of his history of speeding. By midweek I was feeling distinctly wobbly, the thought of my beautiful son going to prison was unbearable so Bill suggested staying at his place in Basingstoke, Hampshire for day or so to get away. Remember feeling numb walking around his local supermarket but next morning rose early and he drove me round the local countryside which was covered in snow, quite beautiful and tranquil. I was ready to go back.

Christmas Eve, Dave called me over to say the bailiffs were coming and would take everything so I had to pull out. The news was devastating, we’d had just four weeks trading under our belts and now had to find another empty premise that would accept a short term let. There were a couple but on the other side of the road and further down. Footfall was considerably less but time was pressing and needed somewhere fast.

I signed a three-month lease but with a heavy heart. So again we had to go through repainting the exterior, getting a shop sign painted, changing telephone and address details and utilities. And another shop fit. We opened first week of January to - nothing. I could have wept. The entire block seemed dead. Eventually decided we had to move again. Another shop was empty a few shops along and this one was bigger and had a flat as well. After a bit of haggling with the agent we signed another short-term let this time for longer. More solicitor fees.

So, three months on we were in our third shop. Yet more sign-writing, repainting fascia, new shopfit and change of utilities. I was exhausted but decided to make it work and couldn’t face another move. Celia did the internal and window displays, they were wonderful and eye-catching. Although we were still off pitch there was a zebra crossing so when cars were idling they would see the window displays.

Luckily we weren’t entirely reliant on footfall as had built up quite a following around Essex and Suffolk thanks to our bed displays in antique centre's.

There were several police visits to the house, during one of them the policeman told me that in all his time dealing with RTA’s he’d never seen such a terrible sight. The poor old man’s brains were strewn across the road and he was worried for Toby that there would be deep psychological after effects and perhaps think about counselling. Toby also had to attend Coroners Court, which must have been agonising as he hated speaking in public.

Three month's later, early in the morning there was a loud knock on the door, it was the police, they came to let me know that Toby had been cleared. I ran up the stairs two at a time and threw myself on Toby, crying with relief,  he pulled back looking aghast ‘I told you it wasn’t my fault mum’.

His mini had been taken away for a police inspection and apparently when he went to collect it they were less than polite. When I saw it I shuddered, the floor pan was up to the roof and a total write off, how he survived with just some minor leg injuries I’ll never know but thankful it was all over and could  concentrate on making our business a success.

SEAVIEW ROAD

Bill seemed to like Leigh on Sea when he visited and started looking for properties. An old people’s home came on the market. A small Edwardian detached building in a sorry run down state, with dried dog shit everywhere and all round disgusting matching decor. However, the views were breathtaking looking out over the Thames with Old Leigh town to the right and with panoramic views taking in Southend pier to the east and Hadleigh Castle to the right, in the background the East Downs of Kent framing the stunning picture.

The house had a pretty awful extension  probably ‘seventies construction but had the best views, the plan was for him to live in the extension and rent out the many rooms in the house. The history of the house was interesting, it was  called Mount House after the original  owner Nancy Mount a local celebrity pianist and sister of actress Peggy Mount. We found an old photo taken in the house depicting a party and could see several of Elstree Studios finest amongst them and made me love the house even more.

We were so excited to have such an imposing house in our family and knew once done up would be a wonderful place for Bill to live and us to visit. 

LEIGH TRADERS ASSOCIATION

Dave Stephens and Dot his wife became friends and he formed the Leigh Traders Association making himself Chairman - naturally.  These meetings were held in the Grand Hotel in the faded grandeur of the ballroom upstairs. Fortuitously it had a long bar which was where we all tended to congregate, the meetings being a side-show. Nearly all the traders liked a drink - myself included - and would often get quite drunk, if a band were practicing there we’d end up bopping as well. One of the Grand’s famous regulars was Doctor Feelgood’s Lee Brilleaux.

The Traders meetings became a great way of meeting my fellow traders who were quite a mix of eccentrics so felt more at home in Leigh than I did in my home town of South Benfleet which consisted of many commuters and families. And soon the Leigh traders became my good friends.

Leigh on Sea had an interesting bohemian mix of artists, actors and musicians and often recognised familiar faces on my way to the bank. Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac lived just up the road and used to play in the Cricketers Pub in Westcliff. Apparently Vivian Stanshall lead singer of Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band used to sit in the Wimpy Bar directly opposite my shop but had sadly died before we moved in.

Not least was Bill’s neighbour Dave Bronze who had been Eric Clapton’s base guitarist, Dave’s wife who became a customer and would tell stories of their experiences in California with some of the most famous artists in the world. It was thrilling to listen to her stories and apparently Eric would visit, dressed in a black fedora hat and dark glasses so he wouldn’t be 'recognised' and sometimes secretly jam in the upstairs room of one of the pubs. They became friends with Bill and sometimes I’d go along with them to one of the quaint old pubs in old Leigh, a charming place full of fishing history and still a healthy industry in cockles and whelks.

Another famous actress who was often spotted rummaging through our 99p bin outside was Helen Mirren who’s family still lived there, her mother lived just behind our shop and her sister was a regular customer. I mentioned to her that her sister never ventured beyond the 99p bins into our shop, she laughed and ‘said yes that’s our Helen, careful with the pennies’ though that was pre-Oscar period.

One of the first people who became a friend was Sue who owned Vanilla Hairdressing, through her I met many other women, mainly middle class divorcees left by errant husbands and bought off with a flat in Leigh on Sea. Not a bad deal I reckoned.  At first I was envious of their financial security but as time passed realised some were deeply unhappy despite the many face lifts and surgical procedures.  One of the wealthiest would occasionally take me to Newmarket Racecourse for the July Friday nights, always a good venue with famous bands and dancing later on after the racing was finished.

She had just taken delivery of a brand new convertible Mercedes but I was shocked when she asked me for petrol money, her multi-millionaire husband owned half of Southend seafront and used to fly there in his own aircraft. 

But I’d been here before when I lived in the Middle East, so much wealth, so much misery. 

After a while started to notice a lot of my customers were single men, and just like Long Melford, they were all gay. Likewise some of the traders, we used to have such a laugh sitting at tables on the pavement outside with our red wine viciously gossiping and bitching people. It was a low key Brighton without the leather and rubber - well outside anyway.

MARK

One of my fellow retailers Mark was huge fun and we’d often go out for a drink straight after work. He was a flamboyant character and became part of the family. One Friday night we had a few drinks in one of the wine bars and walking back he wanted to stop at a pub on the Broadway. It was packed when we entered and immediately started to feel uncomfortable, Mark went to get some wine and as he sat down I was aware of a crowd of young men sitting near us all looking over with menace. I suggested we leave but as we got to the door they raced over and proceeded to kick the shit out of him. Standing there helpless i looked to the people in the bar for help but they didn’t respond nor did the staff so i rang 999.

The police arrived in minutes and I was appalled at the state of his battered face. Strangely the police didn’t seem unduly concerned and as we walked back to the shop it appeared he had said something inflammatory to one of the them. Because I’d rung the police I was now targeted. A few days later the pressure started,  they must have known where my shop was and tried not to notice as cars slowed up outside and glared menacingly in at me.  My first experience of homophobia and hopefully my last.  Later I found out everyone in that pub had prison form for GBH.  A lesson learned.



DIANA  31 AUGUST 1997

Like everyone else I was shocked at the terrible news coming out from Paris.  Diana had been killed in a car accident along with Dodi Fayed and the driver. The next few days were a tsunami of grief  from the public and fawning hypocrisy from the media.  

In all the hysteria on the Friday Mother Theresa died but such was the fever it got barely a mention.  The only person who seemed to show any sense of balance was David Starkey and was vilified for his acerbic comments. 

Her funeral was planned for the Saturday and planned to open as usual. However, when I suggested it other traders were horrified and said if I did open for business I took the chance my windows would be bricked.  Non-plussed at this decided not to go in and  watched it all on TV..


CHAMPAGNE CHARLIES 2001

Not having had much in the way of disposable income over the previous years meant I didn’t have much of a wardrobe or decent haircut. All that was about to change, not least because of the pressure to look good. The many independent boutiques and dress shops all sold the sort of clothes not seen in chain stores and we all seem to have the same taste. Because of all the physical work and not least the stress I’d lost weight and a size 10 so some of the owners were quite happy for me to wear their clothes as a form of advertising and indeed was often asked by customers where I’d bought various items.
This new found style meant I was attracting males though  remembered advice given to me early on ‘don’t shit on your own doorstep’ - this advice proved to be prescient. 

On my day off we often liked to meet up for a boozy lunch in one of the many bars and restaurants. On one such occasion there were a crowd of men seated at a table near us which was filled with empty champagne bottles. Pretty soon they engaged in conversation and asked if we’d like a drink and promptly a bottle arrived of what turned out to be vintage champagne, I only knew this because Sue my friend mouthed the word 'vintage' to me. That bottle was swiftly followed by several more.  After a couple of hours started to feel uneasy, what if they do a runner, we’d be left with a hefty bar bill. We decided to leave but before that they’d invited us to lunch again - asking if we like lobster as he was a wholesaler -  to our relief they’d paid the bill which was a staggering £1500:  just for alcohol. So we agreed.

The next week we met up as arranged, the men seemed an odd mix to my mind. One - a silver fox - was impeccably dressed in a beautifully cut suit and a posh accent, during his chat up lines learned he lived in Richmond and asked me out to dinner, he also suggested going upstairs to do a line of charlie. I was horrified not least because the bar owner was a friend of ours and any drugs found on licensed premises meant a licence revoke but also I didn’t do drugs. His friend was less posh, scruffily dressed and he owned a fishing business locally. One of his  other friends was extremely attractive, tall, well-dressed with a French accent and a yacht broker,  based in Antibes: hey, what’s not to like?

The two of us ended up going off together to an Indian restaurant close to my home. I wasn’t entirely sober by this time but did notice he struggled to pay the bill which was only about £25. We went back to mine but had already decided he was bad news. He’d strewn brochures of yachts all over my living room and thought with not a little amusement that he thinks I’m wealthy. I asked him to leave but he seemed reluctant, making excuses that he had to ring his friend in New York. I rang my friend Mark and told him what was going on and to stay on the line just in case things turned nasty. Mark seemed to find all this highly amusing which only added to my anger so I picked up all the yacht brokers brochures and threw them along with him out onto the garden path.

Sue and I both agreed these blokes must be dodgy and might be best to give them a wide berth. But a few days later the scruffy one appeared in the doorway of my shop and said he was throwing a party at the bar opposite my shop. I agreed to get rid of him but had no intention of going and glad I did as found out his card had declined later that day. As I knew the owner of this bar as well,  glad my instincts proved to be sound. I never saw any of them again until a few years later and was shocked at his appearance, he’d lost a lot of weight and had a grey pallor that generally derives from a spell courtesy of her Maj.

The clues were there, fishing boats, flashing the cash: drugs dealers. A lucky escape. And I don’t know many French yacht brokers who end their sentences with ‘innit’

Some months later us women met up for lunch upstairs in the same bar. The food I'd ordered wasn't good but instead of sending it back just left it - something I was to regret a few hours later.

We all adjourned downstairs and ordered more drinks.  Sitting alone in the corner of our long table was a strikingly handsome young man, very tall and dark haired with an athletic build, he could have been a model. We fell into conversation and transpired the scruffy champagne charlie was his uncle. What threw me even more though was when he told me he was a policeman which seemed a dichotomy to say the least. 

We got to chatting about policing and remember regaling him with my thoughts on policing in the Broadway as we didn't feel safe being cash businesses so were vulnerable to crime. I was still smarting about being robbed some time previously and felt the police had been inept in their dealing with it.

I don't remember too much of the conversation after that except for him suddenly leaning towards me telling me I was beautiful and in the next instance kissing me full on the mouth. In retrospect that could have been to shut me up!

Looking across the table my friends were open-mouthed. It must have seemed bizarre but by now too drunk to care. I don't know what happened to my friends but vaguely remember standing at the bar and the pair of us outrageously wrapped around each other kissing passionately.  By this time the bar was packed with evening trade and as I was to find out later:  some of my customers. 

I don't remember his name or his uncles come to that but do recall his age,  26,  younger than my children. They must have arranged a cab but instead of dropping me off home first in Benfleet we all travelled together way out into the countryside. All I remember is looking up as we stopped and seeing one house all alone in dark countryside near the coast.  The uncle leaned right into the window and disgustingly slobbered  over me forcing his tongue down my throat. Gross. Other than that have no memory at all.  Was my drink spiked?  Will never know.

I didn't get out of bed at all next day, felt so ill and couldn't face the other traders but the following day as I unlocked the door, Alan,  a trader opposite me,  ran over in a state of  high excitement, his eyes shining saying he'd heard all about my behaviour that other night and laughing. Well they know more than I do.

As both my children and their friends frequented this particular bar thought it best to tell my son Toby before he heard about it from someone else. Celia was in Tenerife with Martin so would deal with her later.  Taking a deep breath I rang and explained I'd something to tell him that I was deeply embarrassed about.  Giving him a brief synopsis to my relief he laughed and said don't worry Mum you deserve to have some fun and then a pause 'but Mum,  how could you - a fucking copper!'. 

A few months later taking a cab the driver leered at me in the rear view mirror and said 'you've been in this cab before' and laughed.....

ALAN 1999

I met Alan through a dating site around August 1999. He lived in Shrewsbury, Shropshire and didn't seem remotely bothered at the journey.  We hit it off and were soon an item. Internet dating was still in it's infancy, my friends were shocked I was doing it but wanted to meet people away from my area and from different walks of life.  




DAVE STEPHENS - THE CHOP SHOP

Dave was a huge character and a lot of support in the early days, he was built like a bulldog and had a scary demeanour and gruff voice. A chancer who made piles and lost them again, one minute living in an enormous house with farmland the next in a squalid flat. It was no surprise he was friendly with east end gangland. He did look like a gangster. Dot his wife was about as diametrically opposite as you could get in humanity. Everyone loved her, a typical chirpy, cheerful cockney sparrow. Brimming with  kindness and warmth and could never understand what she saw in him. And a great asset for his business.

On my way into work I noticed Dave had changed his shop sign to Mandy's Chop Shop. I soon found out why,  Dave had left Dot for Mandy their step-daughter. I felt sickened for Dot after all the support she’d given him and a lot of us were disgusted at his treachery. I was also surprised as had always assumed she was a lesbian.

1997 50th BIRTHDAY PARTY 


My fiftieth birthday was looming and Celia, Toby and Mark did up the forlorn outbuilding so wrecked after years of neglect, the ceiling held up with several acrow props. Yards and yards of white voile cleverly transformed it using paste tables for the food. Dave and Dot brought huge amounts of meat and thankfully took over the barbecue.  He was a big party person and in his element and an even bigger drinker. Toby set up a music system and DJ’d for us.

The party contained a real mix of people, my family, gays, middle class couples, academics, neighbours and of course some of the traders. It was a huge success and still going strong at 6am.



CATHOLIC FATHER

One of my customers was a catholic father from the local church.  He was looking for bedspreads, as he emphasised ‘white’ and ‘single’ a deep blush rose from his collar and spread over his face. Smiling at his shyness we sorted out his order. A few weeks later he was in again, this time I was seated out the back in my office doorway busy reading, my legs were crossed and my dress must have ridden up because as I looked up with a start, aware of his bright blue eyes boring into my legs. He swiftly looked away embarrassed so I stood up and asked if the bedspreads were ok?

A few weeks later one of the girls said someone had left a present for me, curious I opened it to see they were, books, two, one a bible the other an understanding of the bible. Inside the cover was a hand-written message and realised it was from the Father. The passages underlined were from the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire something along the lines of being a fallen woman and could only assume he wanted to save me.

Several of my mates were seated in my office when the phone rang but when I picked it up there was silence so I waited and after a while a voice asked if I’d read it and realised it was the Father.  I looked across to my mates and mouthed who it was to almost instant hilarity.

1999. The Internet

Ian from the Antique Bedstead Company where my bedspreads were displayed said he was getting fed up with customers asking for details of my business. I did consider that it would be a good idea to have an electronic catalogue, something potential customers could access online. I discussed this with Alan who I was seeing at the time and he consulted with the webmaster at his college.

The next weekend we started. We bought a Dreamweaver program and as he learned from the webmaster Alan in turn taught me.  in the ensuing months the monitor and all the walls were smothered in Post-its so if he wasn’t there i would be able to upload stock to the new website. It was very exciting to see images uploaded and write copy about them though I never  thought about payments as convinced people would never buy off the internet as it was ‘touchy-feely’ - how wrong I was ha ha.

This was before Google, Facebook, Amazon etc. So very early days but realised to be found online needed to learn how to be found. Gradually discovered directories, blogs, free copy for magazines, All of which was very time-consuming. At this time was working probably 100 hours a week as found it difficult trying to concentrate, so worked on the website after the shop was shut.

Also enrolled on a government programme for business startups but found I was about thirty years older than the rest of the class. One class I went to on Sales and Marketing I gave a speech on research, to my amazement was given a standing ovation with the trainer claiming ‘we can’t teach you anything’ so I never went back.

The new website to me felt like painting a picture and loved doing it. The crisp, clear images of beautiful bedspreads  and learning how to use Photoshop were all endlessly fascinating to me.  A whole new world. I had no interest in monetising it at the time and didn’t know how to anyway.

Meanwhile started learning about meta-tags`and relevant words in copy known as key words and how important they were to being found. Wished desperately I could learn code but knew I was too old.  But wasn’t too old for sales and marketing which I’d been doing my entire life in one way or another.

Next was finding a web host and uploading all the images online. After a couple of weeks  ready to launch but didn't expect anything to happen. No more paying ripoff rates for Yellow Pages etc.


2000 Leigh Art Trail and The Internet

Leigh on Sea  launched Leigh Art Trail to participate in showcasing local artists works. This was the perfect time to open up the upstairs flat as a 1st floor showroom. It was pretty disgusting , underneath the cheap nylon carpet was black underlay glued to the wooden floors. However perseverance pays off, took me about two weeks of back-breaking work but knew the effect I wanted which was drama. Painted all the floors white throughout the flat, got Toby my son to drape metres and metres of voile across the ceiling to disguise the unsightly fluorescent tube fittings.

Wanted to mix French antique beds with cutting edge chrome furniture and Celia came into her own dressing the beds and arranging cushions, it looked stunning. 

One of the girls said there was someone on the phone but she couldn’t understand them so I took the call and to my absolute amazement she was calling from Jakarta in Indonesia and wanted a double size duvet cover and pillowcases in Sasha design. My first thought was what the fuck do we do now?

I was utterly clueless but took her card details, address and guessed at how much postage would cost, scrabbled around for something to wrap it all in and marched off to the post office, standing impatiently in a long queue of pensioners and benefit bandits.

A week later another call, this time from Anchorage in Alaska and she wanted a patchwork quilt an expensive one over £300 and heavy too, again I didn’t have a clue what to charge for shipping and another trip to the post office.

As the website grew in size carrying some of the best lines,  my perseverance started paying off in search results. Once Google gained dominance in search engines found, to my delight, we were near the top of first page for many items.

There was a marked difference between ‘bricks and mortar’ and online marketing. High street presence required advertising in yellow pages and local paper coverage with articles along with classified advertising and expensive, along with striking window displays. Online businesses required being found amongst billions of other websites. The website brought many customers to the shop, some travelled hundreds of miles which meant considerable savings on print advertising.

Magazine journalists would use images in their articles and pretty soon we were  being featured in many including House and Garden, Ideal Home, Evening Standard, Sunday Telegraph supplement, and interior decorators bible: Interiors magazine, etc. Never once did I have to pay.

A combination of all the these brought a lot of success to the website and by 2005 my accountant friend John said I had to make a decision as the agents had informed me that the owner had died and my lease was up. If I wanted to renew his son wanted double the existing rate, would lose the upstairs flat as they wanted to sell it off, lose half my parking at the rear of the shop and some shop interior space as well.

John said the internet was keeping the shop and I’d be mad to renew and deep down I knew he was right but the thought of leaving broke my heart. The business was my baby, started from nothing and seen it grow both online and in the high street. I looked around for retail premises but none were right so John suggested I work from home. But how?

One idea was to do up the existing outbuilding in my garden, it was enormous at 240sq ft but in a terrible condition. The roof had completely gone and years of rain meant masses of black mould on inside walls. Three subsequent builders also confirmed my worst fears, the overall consensus was ‘burn it’.  John brought Mick his son-in-law up from Hampshire to look at it and also concurred with the other builders but must have seen my crestfallen expression and had a second recce. Yes. It would cost a lot but could be done. New roof, new interior timber work and plaster boards in insulation everywhere and new wooden floor. Plus complete wiring and broadband connections.

So while I  had the nightmare of subsidence work going on, plus complete rewire  and new central heating system through much of 2006 on my house weekdays, weekends were taken up with the building works on what would become my new showroom. Timing was crucial as had to be out of the shop by end of February 2007.

Having various different builders working at the same time created tensions, sometimes to boiling point and more than once had one of them come up the shop complaining bitterly.

LEAVING THE SHOP  February 2007

Straight after Christmas we put on a closing down sale and were mobbed from the start, as we were selling everything at less than cost price not entirely surprised, though as my Dad ruefully commented ‘it’s a pity they didn’t support you more over the years’. Celia was magnificent at selling off the stock, whipping up enthusiasm with customers. Working from the back to the front she gradually emptied the shop. I’d already starting taking home the office side of it with hundreds of folders, lever arch files, receipts none of which i was allowed to bin according to Company Law so most of it had to be put under the floorboards at home as there was no space for it anywhere else.

We gave away a lot of shopfit to the local charity shops so everyone benefitted.

The day I locked the shop for the last time was awful and cried as I posted the key through the letterbox. Now to start again in a residential area, not convinced people would buy from someone working from home.  Sales were phenomenal from the closing down sale and would keep me going for quite a while while we set everything up again.

Fortunately some of my suppliers now agreed to dropship which meant I didn’t have to stock so many items as before. In just a short while thanks to John and his valiant work creating a storeroom next to the showroom i was up and running. Getting the first few orders was truly wonderful and as spring burst upon my garden started seeing the benefit for customers when they visited, who didn’t seem to mind, in fact it was a bonus as no longer had to worry about parking and traffic wardens which are the bane of any small business on the high street.

And now had time to tend the garden, I hadn’t seen my home in daylight for 15 years and euphoria quickly set in. Life was becoming sweet after the chaos and upheaval hell of the last year.

Small businesses are used as cash cows, rubbish, energy bills  climate  change levies, business rates, by councils and the government.  I'd thankfully say goodbye to all of that working from home. 

JOHN

Life being what it is, my euphoria was short lived. On a sunny day 26th June a police car materialised outside my house to inform me my brother John had dropped dead. It was sudden and a terrible shock. A few days after his funeral a huge brown envelope crashed to the floor.  It was from the landlords solicitor who were suing me for the dilapidations of the building I’d recently vacated. They wanted £55,000.







mark colin and rod
nick the derivatives broker
141 wine b




Friday, 5 September 2014

The Joys of Bed

Apart from the obvious, we all derive a great deal of pleasure from our beds. Which is just as well as we spend a third of our lives in them. They are our battery charger, nothing is better than a good nights sleep. Beds also give us refuge and comfort, whether from illness, broken hearts or just a hangover. Or just to lounge luxuriantly/indolently, indulging ourselves in laziness. What is better than a lie-in on a Sunday morning? or late night reading. Bed is good. So, it seems only fitting that they should be treated with the very best of adornments.

This is an area where the division of the sexes is most noticable. A man's bed will have newspapers, underwear, magazines and the odd beer can strewn across it and a disturbing lack of cushions: something men hate.

Whereas a woman's bed will have four pillows, two different types of pillowcases, a duvet, a bedspread, and many, many cushions. Mine also has cats..... 

Rana Plaza, Bangladesh

Like many I watched in horror the tragic aftermath of the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in  Dakar, Bangladesh. A collapse it would appear because the owner had added three floors without permission rendering it unstable.

No doubt this move was made to house more workers in the textile factories it housed so was generated by greed.

I'll tell you what's wrong with the NHS

Twenty years ago it was accepted the NHS was a white elephant, a creaking dynosaur that was haemorraging tax payers money. Then Labour came into power and decided it would be run like a business, with managers, targets, budgets, marketing. Except it isn't a business, there are no sales, profits or accountability.

If it was run as a business most of the management would have been sacked. And the wards would be clean and nurses would look after patients first, not fiddling targets, completing endless charts and paperwork. HELLO it's not a business.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Remembering Dad five years on....

Today is exactly five years since my father's funeral, made all the more memorable because we realised on the day it actually coincided with Halloween. At first I was horrified but realised afterwards Dad would have roared with laughter about that. So while I'm contemplating what a wonderful father and grandfather he was tonight my thoughts will be accompanied by a raised glass and a crescendo of fireworks.

I found something my daughter had written about him today: her eulogy and was so touched by her words I'm adding it to my blog as a fitting commemoration to him

'My Grandad was a brilliant man, I will miss him enormously, from a little girl to who i am today he played a huge part;.

I had the great luxury and honour of getting to really know him again in the last few years of his life. I loved taking him for picnics with Mum and sitting in the sun cracking up with him, . that's what I will always think of Grandad as a really funny, decent, solid and good man. He always had time for me and was always interested in everyone in his family.

I am glad we had his 90th birthday at his WRVS hall with Toby, Donna, Mum and me. I made some recordings of his war memories and am amazed at what a trooper he was. I only recently discovered what immense hardship he encountered in the war, from the loss of his first wife Alice from TB, to the phenomenal 'death  march' of seven hundred miles, imprisonment in the prisoner of war camp where he worked in the mines over five hundred feet beneath the earths surface. Sometimes I think he must have been invincible to have endured what he did and I am immensely proud of him.

Since he has passed away, in his ninety-two years of existence he seems to have left the same impression on everyone he met. A 'good old boy', a 'gent', 'old school', that's what I keep hearing.

He kept up his Army exercises until recently and would often refer to the time in 24 hours, to the nurses and carers which was amusing. He walked everywhere, which is how he kept so fit, thinking nothing of walking to Pitsea from Benfleet even well into his 'seventies.  He still walked through the hilly areas of Benfleet into his 'nineties and only gave up a year ago. He would sometimes go missing and would often find him here, there and everywhere merrily chatting away to anyone and everyone and pick him up and take him home.

I'm lucky to have had him for my Grandad will miss him enormously.'





Photo taken in desert Abu Dhabi, some of our happiest times together and he always said how much he loved it there and I think this photo says it all


Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Patchwork quilts

Patchwork quilts - like lace - are enjoying something of a renaissance of late. Their history is well documented going back hundreds of years to the early settlers in America. Originally the concept came from thrift, sewing scraps of fabric together, using embroidery and applique to personalise events such as marriage or birth and even sometimes death hence the term 'comforter'. And a way of keeping warm during the bitterly cold winters and often brutally spartan living conditions.

They also provided a very important social function for the women who were often left for long periods of time while the men were away looking for work.  These social gatherings were called 'sewing bee's' where the women sat around exchanging gossip and news whilst busily stitching away, keeping their spirits high.


Thursday, 9 May 2013

How to reupholster a foot stool in patchwork



Funky and cheap ideas for the home

I had a large foot stool that I originally made back in the ‘eighties that was looking a bit well: ‘eighties. And thought about giving it a makeover but couldn't decide what, then hit on the idea of patchwork. I had some absolutely gorgeous Malabar silk and linen and embroidered swatches in vibrant colours and thought they would make a stunning patchwork covering.

So hauled out the machine and started sewing the pieces together. I wanted to create something quite exotic and unusual.









I found some vintage (old) bullion piping in the shed to finish the seam off and some bright turquoise bobble fringing for around the base.

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Tools required:

Staple gun

Piping cord

Upholstery foam

Bobble fringing

I painted the old-fashioned cabriole legs bright turquoise with fuchsia pink detail and reversed the colours on the back legs.