Sunday, 29 July 2012


Workshops in the office

In the organisation where I work almost everyone is either being transferred to private sector firms or being made redundant (at a later date the few remaining will either be transferred to another public sector organisation or made redundant - I will be made redundant at the end of March 2013. To help its staff take the next step forward, my employer is running a series of workshops. This week I attended "getting you and your business on the web" and "starting your own business"...brilliant! Both workshops were really useful and have given me  bit more confidence to move forward, along with a better idea of my next steps.

It was so refreshing that both workshops had a real emphasis on looking at what you need to do and really want to do. The website workshop started off seriously looking at whether you need a website at all. It hadn't really occurred to me that people now market more with facebook and twitter, where you already have a connection with people. It can be quite difficult to set up a website so that it comes far enough up the search results page for anybody to bother looking at it. I think I do want a website, but I can keep it simple.

It was with this idea of marketing via social networks in mind that I joined Pinterest ( the other week. Oh my! If you have not yet discovered Pinterest, I have to warn you - it is both wonderful and terrible. Hours can slip away as your eyes glitter with the reflections of images, like a kid with her nose against the sweet shop window (or our old golden retriever sitting by the stove waiting for a batch of welsh cakes to cook). Pinterest is dangerously addictive! Even as I opened it in another tab to copy the URL to put the link here, I found myself lured into...'ooh lemon cheesecake in a jar'...'oooh pastel stars quilt'...'ooh vintage typewriter'. I had to force myself to come back to this tab...STEP AWAY FROM THE PINTEREST PAGE! Oh what the hell, go ahead and have a look!

The starting your own business workshop looked at how many small businesses fail and why they fail, what can go wrong and what personality traits and experience make you more likely to succeed along with finances, tax and the like. What amazed me was that I came away feeling quite empowered. I am quite a risk averse person and for me to take this chance of working for myself I have had to have a whole load of safety nets in place. It is not that I am a pessimist, but I am very much a realist. I need to know what the worst case scenario is and that if that happens I will still be fine. This workshop sent me away with a spring in my step, feeling that I am doing the right things; moving in the right direction; and that I stand a good chance of it working out...even though there are no guarantees and it will take time.

One thing the workshop presenter said was that every entrepreneur needs a 'Fantastic Four' - four people who you run your ideas and plans past, are completely honest with and who you can trust to be honest with you. It's actually quite hard to know who to ask. Well, the first two are easy:

1) Mark (my partner) who has a vested interest in my making a profit, and who, when I show him some piece I have made, wants to know what the materials cost and how many I can make in a day; and

2) my sister Helen who has had many years' experience of running her own business and has loved and supported me all my life, and will always tell me the truth.

It's not that I don't know anyone else, rather that I am spoilt for choice. I am lucky enough to be surrounded by intelligent and creative friends. The choice is not made easier by knowing that many of the most appropriate friends are hugely busy... This is going to need quite some thought and consideration.

Dorset weekend

Having had a few busy weekends, Mark and I have decided to spend a relaxing 4 day weekend in West Bay in Dorset. Why is it that when we are at home our cat Rio leads us a merry dance when we try to get him in for the evening, but when Mark's parents move in to cat and house sit, they have no trouble getting him in at all? (We prefer to have the two cats inside over night because that's when cats are most at risk of car accidents and the like, because their hunting instincts kick in and all they can think about is their prey).

On the way to West Bay we stopped at one of our favourite gardens; Mapperton Gardens near Beaminster. Last time we were there it was Spring and the garden was a mass of yellow, blue and white and we found birds' nests and sat outside the cafe wrapping up against the slight chill. This visit the garden had become far more exotic with hot pinks and reds, and we had to sit inside the cafe as it was too hot outside. The benefit of this was that I had time to admire the amazing stitched canopy draped over the ceiling!
Sawmill Cafe at Mapperton Gardens
detail of the ceiling at the Sawmill Cafe
detail of the fabric and stitching at the Sawmill Cafe 
The gardens start by the Elizabethan house (the tour was full, so we haven't yet seen inside the house) in a beautiful walled garden, with a huge lawn set up for croquet, with herbaceous beds and espalier fruit trees following the wall around the lawn. In the corner there is a large Summer house, set with chairs and a table so visitors can rest in the shade if they wish.
the orangery at Mapperton

the walled garden at Mapperton

looking back up to the Summer house
Mark under a canopy of roses
From the lawn, steps take you to the formal gardens sunk in to the natural valley. In the Spring the orangery was a welcome warm retreat, but this week it was too hot to do more than walk through, take one quick photo and rush outside again. Sigh...I would love to have a house with an orangery. It reminds me of my friend Irene's greenhouse that is decorated like a centre page for Country Homes magazine and is the most delightful spot for breakfast (or I'm told the odd glass of wine in the depths of Winter with snow on the ground and a starry sky above).
looking back up to the orangery
The formal gardens are full of treasures - little alcoves (with built in fireplaces) set in the sides of the valley, statues of fearsome lions, lily ponds and fountains. As you walk further along the valley there is a swimming pond - full of duck weed at the moment, but in the process of being cleaned, and other ornamental ponds. From there it becomes quite wild and blends effortlessly with the rolling countryside beyond.
guardians of the swimming pond
topiary along the line of ponds
If you have had enough of English gardens, please stop reading now. I confess I love to walk around gardens other people have to weed - and if there is a nice tea shop, so much the better. My mother says I was born middle-aged. In fact, when I was 11, my best friend Karen and I went on our school trip to London Zoo. The other girls were climbing on seats and shouting and generally being unruly, and our form teacher became concerned because she could not find the two of us. Eventually she spotted us sharing a nice pot of tea in the tearooms, well away from our noisy classmates. What can I say? I have always had refined tastes!

So yesterday we returned to another favourite garden; the sub-tropical gardens at Abbotsbury:
woodland stump - evidence of earlier storms

giant rhubarb (gunnera)
butterfly on hardy geranium
damage from the latest storms and flooding
the Japanese bridge
Mark with a gunnera parasol
plumbago and Summer house

reflections in the Jurassic pond

day lilies

more lilies
detail of a flower

Mark reflected in the fish pond
reflections in the pond

reflection of crocosmia lucifer 

water lily and reflection

It is expected to rain today, so we have booked lunch at the West Bay Hotel, so I am going to have to decide between the fresh fish I love and usually choose and the traditional Sunday roast Mark swears is the best ever (apart from mine of course!). Choices, choices....


  1. Why, oh why, do I not live in England?! We have nothing similar to those beautiful gardens of yours... may we please, PLEASE visit Mapperton sometime?

    My greenhouse is waiting for you (you may have your choice of breakfast, tea and cardamom buns or a glass of wine. Or all of this!).

    Sounds like the workshops were really great and useful!

    1. Well, I suppose we could visit Mapperton...of course we can!

      Mmmmm cardamom buns!