Monthly Archives: November 2009

village Oxford

Oxford is such a beautiful city and well visited by tourists from all over the world, and yet when you live here you realise how diverse parts of the city are.  In this part of leafy north Oxford, North Parade Avenue is quite often termed as a ‘village’ by locals and visitors alike. Part of the charm is the way you get into conversation with total strangers and even people you’ve known for years – and you find you have something in common.

For instance. Occasionally, Rory McGrath pops in the pub when he’s in Oxford, and I went to the same school in Redruth, Cornwall. He often recalls his Cornish roots when he’s being interviewed and once when we were chatting about his visits back to Cornwall, I found out his family lived in the same lane as my brother.

Where am I going with this?

I told the tale of my meeting Penny & Dragan recently, and a lovely relationship has begun following a brief chat in the Rose and Crown. Remember?

Well, this morning when Penny dropped in our regular daily delivery of bread, we got talking about the shop, the weather – and the words I’d written about her and Dragan on the blog. She told me how she had mentioned this to her parents – who live in Cornwall. (If you dip into this blog, it isn’t hard to notice that Cornwall is BIG in my heart – I have relations across the county).

Not only does Penny have links there, but she also grew up in Falmouth!

One big villlage – Oxford.

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it’s my birthday today

That’s it……just thought it may be worth mentioning.

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just another day

If you’re around my age, you’ll recognise that as a title of a Paul McCartney song in the seventies…or was it Wings? I know, I know, Paul McCartney was Wings!

Anyway, yesterday (another song…) was worth rambling on about.

Our delivery of fresh bread from Wolvercote started early, which coincided with me being late (Elly had been unwell the night before), but luckily enough Pete was here early. The smell was fabulous and didn’t last long as all loaves were gone by the afternoon.

As we were getting the ready for the day, Dan and Claire turned up with their delivery of Mabel and Rose garden accessories. So we’ve now got bread, vintage planters, trugs and fruit baskets……and we’re still getting the shop ready. Quickly I’m distracting Dan and chatting about a North Parade Avenue website (more to follow on this) and other webby stuff I have little or absolutely no knowledge of.

Then Neil appears…..I’d arranged to meet up with Neil upstairs in our cosy office. Normally it’s used by Hugo (more to follow), but we’ve begun to use it for our event management meetings.

Ah – forgot to mention that I continue to be involved with events, even though we have the store. Pete manages everything now, and I continue to work with Red Head Productions – formed by Neil some years ago. Yet another rambling to come soon.

So, I’m busily introducing Dan and Claire to Neil, when along comes Mari, who runs a video production company – good mutual contacts formed there.

Dan and Claire depart, and Neil and I realise we’re running out of time to discuss some upcoming events and potential contracts – and we’ve got Linda coming along to discuss a business development role with Red Head.

However, a great two hours of discussions later, and we possibly have a new member of the team. Sometimes it just clicks with some people.

Neil and Linda depart, closely followed by Pete who’s meeting up with his girlfriend for lunch…..so I take over control in the shop.

This co-incides with two deliveries – watering cans, tools, christmas gifts and a whole host of produce in the form of preserves, chutneys and condiments. having that much activity always attracts even more customers – but hey, I’m not complaining!

Before I know it, the day is almost over – no time to put a few words together for the blog, but enough time to reflect on how manic the day has been. Great feeling.  Corporate life?…..doddle.

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love bread

Across the road from The Town Garden is probably the most unique pub in Oxford – the Rose and Crown. No mobile phones are allowed, no music, no swearing, no Sky TV….and definitely no mention of the other place (Cambridge) or else you’ll get fined – or worse.

The Rose and Crown is my stopping off point after the store is closed, and where you never know who you’ll meet or see – MP’s, celebrities, church figures, the odd TV star, a rock star or two…….or just someone like me, having a quick beer and a read of a paper.

What I like most, is how Debbie and Andrew have this brilliant knack of introducing strangers to one another – with uncanny results.

Last night was one of those nights – Debbie introduced me to Penny and Dragan, bakers from Wolvercote, who just happened to be having a pint too.  They’ve been producing bread from their small bakery and supplying their local shop – we, on the the other hand, have been looking for such a supplier. Serendipity.

This morning, Penny popped in with two loaves of their ‘LOVE’ bread – complete with bread board, butter and knives. Unfortunately Pete wasn’t around so I left the bread for him to see when he arrived.

To say he was thrilled, overjoyed or whatever superlative you want to use, would be an understatement. Apparently he’d heard about the Wolvercote bakery and been dying to get in contact – today for him was as good a start to a day as ever.

We tucked into Penny’s breakfast gift – and then Pete was immediately onto the phone to say a big thank you and to start what we hope will be a regular delivery of bread to the store.

Pete isn’t just passionate about food, it’s also about the suppliers – local artisans and farmers. He summed it up perfectly when he looked at the heart made on each loaf…………”that’s put there by some one who loves and cares deeply about his work”……..say’s it all doesn’t it?

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a game of squash

i don’t like the cold, wet and windy days that call themselves winter and i can’t wait for the spring, but i do enjoy the big hearty meals that you can cook up without guilt at this time of year, with the big root veg, carrots, swedes and parsnips, and those dark earthy leaves of kale and cavollo nero alongside the bright orange onion squashes and creamy butternuts and potatoes, just waiting to be cut into chunks that you can just fit in your mouth with some beef or venison all in one pot with some rich gravy.

It’s beginning to sound like an advert for Marks and Spencers so i’ll stop there, but if you’ve never tried squashes then look out for these ones; ‘onion squash’ or ‘uchiki kuri’ is a deep orange colour and shaped like an onion, it has bags of sweet flavour, i made a soup from one, with some indian spices and it was fantastic, another one is kabocha which i’m reliably informed translates as squash in japanese, it is a dark green colour with a pale blue button on the base, it has more flavour than the commonly used butternut.

Another favourite of mine is cavollo nero, (black cabbage) long slender leaves with a deep dark green flavour and an earthy taste, they go amazingly well in creamy pasta dishes or stews, just remove the tough stems and chop them up and throw them in the pot for ten minutes delicious.

Well that’s what i’m eating this week, hopefully there’s a few ideas for you!

Pete

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working smarter

I feel as though I’m sounding like a management consultant, but since the arrival of Pete, I feel as though we’re working smarter. Pete has really turned the shop around, in look and style, content – you name it,  it’s not the same shop we opened in 2004 – it’s so much better and has so much more to offer.

When I left British Airways I thought I had a great grounding (no pun intended) in a variety of disciplines, but as anyone who has had their own business knows, small business ownership is a whole new ball game.

Having a stunning shop is easy to say – but there’s the management of it, the cleaning, the buying, storage problems, banking, keeping the website up to date…..the list goes on.

True to my character, I bounce around trying to juggle everything – and not succeeding in many areas. With Pete on board, it’s been so obvious from the start where our mutual strengths lie.

So, we’ve been slowly realising that Pete’s strength is in running the shop on a day to day basis, looking after the buying and general management – whilst I’m now concentrating on the website, marketing and promotional activities.

Pete has got such a better handle on financial matters too – so it’s a double bonus as it’s certainly not my strength!

I’ve also noticed most of our customers ask for Pete now, so I’m not that missed. Should I worry??

Steve

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mabel and rose

Not only does Dan Branigan design websites, but he and his wife Clare have a life long interest in the garden too. It comes as no surprise that they have now launched their own website mabel and rose – selling vintage garden furniture and accessories. We’re pleased to say that they will be exclusively using the town garden to display their range of eclectic goods. You’ll be able to buy direct from Dan and Clare on their website, but if you want to see anything in the ‘flesh’ – pop along to North Parade Avenue.

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