Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Before I go to sleep

This evening has been all about catching up. Emails and invoices. Recipes and replies to comments on social media. A glass of wine, something delicious to eat and in the background the hum of reality TV telling us who's left the jungle this evening.

The final conversation I had with a friend was about my writing. How I love to write. The question was where and when and the answer had to be "always and everywhere". Writing for me isn't always about pen to paper, increasingly that feels awkward and difficult. It's about fingers flying across a keypad, or more often words taking shape in a space somewhere beyond physical paper or a keypad. Sentences forming in the space before sleep. Paragraphs putting themselves together whilst preparing for the day ahead. Thoughts and dreams and visions demanding expression or they will haunt and harass and confuse and control the daily life over which they really have no say...

Many moons ago I began a challenge along the lines of declaring oneself to be a writer. Following on from this came the commitment to write. Daily I seem to recall, which at the time felt like some commitment. Perhaps it was, but perhaps it wasn't enough. For every day there may be two or three or four or more times when the urge to write is so overwhelming that not to do so causes a sense of stress it is hard to describe...

But life is busy. There are always dishes to wash. Laundry to deal with. Work to do, calls to make, meals to prepare and people to take care of. Writing can feel like a self indulgent pastime. Something to do when there is nothing else making demands on our time.

Last week I saw my GP and for various reasons was offered a prescription for Sertraline. It could have been so easy to get the pills, take them as prescribed, and live life in the foggy blur that these drugs endow us with. An alternative may have been the NHS's "talking therapies" and I have a lot of respect for the counsellors, therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists who take time to unravel the thoughts of those suffering from depression.

Perhaps, however, the cure for some of us lies not in talking but in writing. Expressing how we feel in ways that we know will be read by others. Framing things in a positive manner whilst including the factual detail that was probably instrumental in where we now find ourselves.

I'm going to give it a go and would love others to join me on the journey - thank you!

Monday, 28 November 2016

Living the Dream

How many people visit a coffee shop, see the cakes on display, and say to themselves and others that this would be their dream?

Making tea or coffee, baking, and keeping the place shipshape are tasks that many people would love to do. So why oh why is it just so difficult to own a coffee shop and keep it afloat in these difficult financial waters?

This isn't a post I'd have written six months ago. At that time the shiny shop window you may have seen on Facebook was to be preserved at all costs.

Recently however I've been persuaded to return to writing. Alongside baking of course - but as a way of expression my frustration at the reality of trying to make a small business work in today's economy.

This post first appeared on www.thekitchencroxley.co,uk where you can read more, and also find ways of supporting local business. I'd love your comments and feedback please!


Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Write. Bake. Create.

This blog post has been a very long time coming. To say it was conceived in the summer may surprise many readers, especially those who follow us on Facebook and see the shiny shop window of a successful small business.

It may have been birthed in the Autumn...those days of mists and mellow fruitfulness when anticipation of the festive season brought a possibly false sense of security to those of us committed to community, determined not only to live with our vision but see it through the trials and tribulations that many promised would be a part of our life when we took on this project.

The decision to share more of the journey that has been "The Kitchen" is not one that was taken lightly. I was going to say that it comes down to the writer amongst us but checked myself as there are others in the family now who share my passion for what we used to call the printed word.

But the reality is that over the past few weeks, when things have been very tough, many friends old and new have repeated the same refrain to me.

"keep writing"

This is advice that I concur with on so many levels. Downloading our thoughts onto paper or the virtual equivalent is pretty much guaranteed to clear our brain of the stuff that goes around and around on a daily basis. Late night journalling, making notes in the middle of the night, keeping a diary - all of these things can help us "dump" and make sense of things that trouble us.

Some friends have suggested this type of writing - for  no one to see but myself. And there have been times when that has felt like an option. So I want to reflect for just a little while on why it is I am committed to blogging and the knowledge that this is out there in the public sphere and available to anyone who would like to read it.

I can't write for all bloggers of course. But my own experience over the last seven years or so has been that writing with the knowledge that what I say may be seen or read by many others changes how I write.

My writing is no less honest. But it is perhaps more thoughtful. It is no less angry or emotional. But that anger and emotion will have been considered or processed and is now expressed in a way that will help me to move forward. And whilst it is much less likely to name names or mention individuals it will hopefully allow me to move beyond these people and see the bigger picture.

Saying all of this has taken up the time and space that would make up a typical blog post. So for tonight we leave it there - unless I get ahead and write another for tomorrow. Thank you if you have read this far. Linda x

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Not at all...

When we announced to family and friends that we'd booked a short autumn break in the sunshine it's fair to say that there was one assumption made by many.
That we would have opted for an all inclusive break. After all these offer good value for money and if you're in need of some rest and relaxation you barely need to move from your Sun lounger. What's not to love?!
Since taking on a small coffee shop I've become so much more aware of the challenges faced by small business owners. A few visitors to the village can boost takings and morale massively. We've sometimes said that if a new hotel were to be built in our town, bringing in many new faces, it would be a massive help to the local economy. Imagine however if it turned out to be all inclusive and how that could impact not just ourselves but the pubs, chip shops, pizza places and curry houses.
Thinking about our holiday I had the idyllic idea of walking down to the beach, finding a little cafe, chatting to the owner and sampling local delicacies with a glass of something they recommended. Fantasyland maybe?
Well after landing in Faro and driving to our self catering apartment we decided to wander to the beach. Finding a cafe with tables set outside we asked if we could get a drink and maybe something to eat. We'd had a croissant on the plane at 9am and it was now around 4pm. Hunger pangs were starting...
Within minutes we were seated. No menu was necessary as the waiter suggested we sample some fish. Sea bass caught off the beach where we sat, enough to share.
Perhaps sensing our hesitation he suggested I go with him to take a look...
He proudly displayed the catch and spoke to the chef. I joined in the conversation as we discussed how it would be prepared and cooked, and what it would be served with.
Whilst the chef got to work we were presented with a basket of assorted breads, olives, a fresh soft cheese and honey. A local wine was suggested, produced just 60 kilometres away. Fresh and crisp and with the bonus of a cork to pop!
Chef arrived with salad and virgin olive oil, then serving plates piled with baby new potatoes and the grilled sea bass on a serving platter. As promised he then filletted it for us, customers at the next table looking on appreciatively.
What did it taste like?
When food writers talk about tasting the sea, about flavours fresh and distinct, it's sometimes hard to imagine what they might mean. We had a little taste of that on the beach in Monte Gordo today.
Whilst we waited and as we ate we chatted with the waiter and chef. After many years this will be their last here on the beach. New restaurants are being built. The language barrier prevented an in depth discussion but we suspect they may be shiny and feature burgers and chips...
I'm not going to make any points or try to draw any conclusions. We simply had a wonderful meal and hope there will be many more to savour this week.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

The price of a slice

Social media seems to have got itself into hot water this week - over the price of a slice!

A cafe owner in York responded to a bad review on Trip Advisor by detailing the costs involved in supplying a customer with a cup of hot water with a slice of lemon.

The story went viral. Some defending his stance, others critical of him. There were many comments around the attitude of both the manager and his staff, but don't we all react differently in these situations and one persons assertiveness may be another's rudeness.

When it comes to the bare facts a cup or pot of tea is no more than a tea bag infused in hot water. The cost of a tea bag may in fact be less than that of a slice of lemon.

Managing The Kitchen has taught me that the costs involved in serving customers go way beyond the price of the ingredients. And when it comes to ingredients we refuse to compromise or use products that exploit workers or animals.

We've all heard stories of cheap labour, poor workmanship, exploitation of people. To rise above these and ensure staff are treated and paid fairly can be costly. We bear some of those costs but ask our customers to share in this too.

However. If a customer is unhappy we will do everything in our power to turn their experience around and make it a positive one. A slice of cake seems too small? Speak up - we can cut some more! Drink not quite hot enough - let us make you a fresh one. Serving hundreds of customers a week, and training young or inexperienced staff to do so, does mean that there may be times when we could do things better. Please tell us and not Trip Advisor!

We believe business is about more than money. Our business is very much about building community - hence our involvement with Link4Growth. We charge what we do to ensure our suppliers and staff are treated fairly, and our aim is to treat our customers in exactly the same way. 

Sometimes we give things away - every Wednesday cupcakes are buy one get one free! We sell our cake scraps for 20p. We offer a milkshake for £1.00 including a free cookie. We are happy for customers to use our staff toilet and baby change facilities. And we never charge for tap water.

But we understand the response of the business owner in York. If his rent was due, if he was worried as to whether he could pay his staff this month. If he needed to order stock that would disrupt his cash flow... a review like this on Trip Advisor could make him angry and upset and why wouldn't he seek to justify himself?

The answer to that may be because in doing so he didn't do himself many favours. But perhaps he did by igniting this debate and causing us all to stop and think for a moment.

A comment was made about other retail outlets, and how we don't question their costs. Some of us do I know but perhaps more of us could ask questions about why things are so cheap. Are workers exploited in making disposable fashion items? Is the fabric produced in ways that damage the environment?

I don't have all the answers but one thing I do know. Next time I am in York I will be popping in!

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Bore of the year?

It's quite possible that I may become #boreoftheyear as far as Link4Growth is concerned. Like a zealous religious convert I seem to have been telling all and sundry about the conference last week. I've handed out leaflets, lent people books, and I am proudly drinking my skinny latte from my Link4Growth mug.

I guess I'm a bit of an all or nothing person when it comes to personality traits. If I like something I throw myself into it pretty wholeheartedly (we're talking rock music, baking and in another life playing tennis...)  If I don't then I will try to understand, listen, engage and enjoy but if it doesn't float my boat I can't keep up just for the sake of it. (we're talking cricket here - sorry but that's just how it is...)

Link4Growth have been meeting at The Kitchen for the last year or so. Latterly twice a month. We've been part of several TV shows and interviews and I enjoyed several conversations with people I may not otherwise have met. It felt like something "they" did and "we" hosted. The people seemed very nice but I always seemed to be a bit too busy to sit down and properly engage with them.

Rather than write more - much as I would like to - here I am speaking about what I took away from the conference with respect to this. You will need to fast forward to about twenty minutes in but here I am - warts and all - explaining how I see my role in Link4Growth going forward!


Monday, 11 January 2016

A bit of an aside

Woken to some very sad news, that David Bowie has died.

At the height of his fame I wasn't his most massive fan. My teenage years were somewhat dominated by my infatuation with David Cassidy if I'm honest. As my musical tastes matured I bought albums from Bruce Springsteen, listened to T Rex and Queen, went to Genesis gigs and somehow Bowie didn't feature highly on my playlists. (I use the term loosely of course - playlists at the time often consisted of cassette tapes with fuzzy bootlegged versions of songs recorded off the radio but that's another story)

You could say that I slowly came to an appreciation of his music. On hearing of his death I looked again at some of his musical legacy and its honestly quite breathtaking. I'm looking forward to listening later to many of his classic tracks as I am sure the radio will be full of them.

Why then did I feel the need to write about the passing of someone I knew of but didn't know? Whose life was a million miles removed from my own and who didn't know I existed?

I don't have the answer to my own questions. Other than a sense that we never quite know how our life may impact others. I don't suppose for one minute that David Bowie ever considered a 56 year old woman in South West Hertfordshire would wake up and write this on hearing of his death, especially when she only ever bought one of his albums.

But his creative genius, softly spoken words, undeniable good looks and distinctive voice were there as I grew up and now I wish I had paid a little more attention. I'm also inspired to live my life a little bit differently, in the knowledge that we really never fully appreciate the impact we are having on others.

Rest In Peace x