Finally. After eight weeks I have a fully functioning, glossy new kitchen. The first four weeks went fairly smoothly, the old kitchen came out within a few days. The ceiling and walls were re-plastered and much excitement ensued as the new units went in. Sadly, things ground to a halt when some of the doors were found to be the wrong size. When the appliances arrived our fitter refused the dishwasher as it was badly dented and eventually a replacement materialised. Once the kitchen was almost finished the builder and his carpenter went away on holiday. The tiling and electrics were completed but unfortunately during that time the oven housing was damaged in several places and unsurprisingly no one knew how it had been done. I was absolutely gutted but our builder was pragmatic about it and in the seventh week the ovens and the whole unit came out so that the damaged panels could be replaced. It is such a relief to be able to cook proper meals again. I made a lovely chicken and leek pie to celebrate my new oven.
The final setback came when I tried to use the dishwasher for the first time. Half way through the cycle it began to make a continuous beeping noise and eventually I switched it off as the noise was driving us mad. The plumber came to check that everything had been installed correctly and as he took the plinth off water spilled onto the floor from a leak somewhere within the appliance. Consequently I am waiting for an engineer to come and look at it, I suspect it will need replacing which will mean more dismantling as it is integrated into the units but I am trying not to stress too much about it. We also had a water softener installed which should really help with the terrible limescale problems we have in this area.
I designed the new kitchen specifically to suit my baking business so everything is organised to make it easy for me to bake efficiently. I’m hoping that the local council will give me a good hygiene rating when they come to inspect as bookings are beginning to trickle in. This week I baked a special cake for a fundraiser my son had organised at his work. They were collecting for Marie Curie so my cake was decorated with their daffodil logo and tiny yellow flowers. It was very well received and I am anticipating getting a few jobs as a result of people tasting my cake. Right now I am working on a charity event to be held early in September where I will be supplying afternoon tea for the staff at a local hospice. They were the winners of my Facebook competition so I will be going all out to give them a memorable afternoon. All in all, things are looking up for Teacups and Sugar Lumps. Let’s hope I can secure some bookings so that I can invest in more stock and maybe some advertising!
When I was eleven years old my mum gave me a bottle of Oil of Ulay, as it was called back then. She told me to apply it twice a day every day to keep my skin soft and protect against wrinkles. It was the only skincare product I ever saw her use and at the time I thought I had been inducted into a secret club just for women. I treasured this little glass bottle of delicate pink lotion and used it religiously. I had always been interested in hair and beauty, spending hours putting rollers into my Girl’s Worlds’ disembodied head and applying make up to her face. I began to worry about the ageing process and read countless teenage magazines and self-help books, scouring the pages for skincare tips. I found an article about facial exercises and practised them in the mirror each night as my younger sister, with whom I shared a room, sniggered at me patting under my chin and mouthing exaggerated vowel sounds to my reflection. She still laughs about it now and if we go away together I have to lock myself in the bathroom so that I can do my routine in private, otherwise she collapses into hysterics.
My first job was as a clerical officer with the Department of Ministry, Agriculture and Food. I was the only girl on my floor, surrounded by mostly middle-aged men in the days long before sexual harassment was a thing. They thought nothing of patting my behind as I brought them their coffee or rubbing up against me as they squeezed past the filing cabinets and their language was often ribald but it never occurred to me to be offended, it was just the way things were. After a few years in office work I was bored to tears and decided to follow my heart and pursue a career in hairdressing. My family were not best pleased that I was considering giving up a good salary for an apprenticeship but I was an independent young lady and very headstrong. I was shopping in Caversham one day and I walked past a salon with a vacancy sign in the window. I went in, spoke to the manager Denise and left half an hour later with a new job as a junior. My job would involve making tea, sweeping up the hair and cleaning the salon until the September when I would start my college course. My wages were £15 per week, cash in a brown envelope, of which I gave my mum £5 housekeeping and put aside £5 for my travel costs. This left very little for my skincare products so for a few years I made my own face masks from store cupboard ingredients like oats and honey and requested creams and make up for birthdays and Christmas presents. The girls I worked with were my icons, I adored their huge eighties hair styles and neon eyeshadow. I soaked up knowledge like a sponge, eager to learn new skills and my colleagues often used me as a model to try out new products so my hair was always a different colour. In this new female-led environment I flourished but my home life was deteriorating. My stepdad didn’t feel that I was contributing enough money to the household so, at the age of eighteen, I took the decision to move in with my boyfriend. Now I was living in a tiny bedsit, doing my own washing and cooking and trying to study. Somehow I survived and even managed regular nights out to show off my latest hair colour. I was living my best life but my skincare routine was never compromised. Even if I got home very drunk and late I never failed to cleanse, tone and moisturise.
Once I passed all my exams and became a stylist I was earning much more money. I had moved to another salon to finish my apprenticeship and the clientele were generous tippers. I spent most of my spare cash on creams and oils for my face. I also started going for facials and quizzed the beauticians endlessly about the best products to use. I would think nothing of spending £50 on a jar of face cream with mixed results. I had given up on night cream as it seemed too heavy for my skin and made it breakout. After I had my first child my skin changed, as did my hair. I struggled with a very dry, flaky complexion and my hair went from dead straight and silky to wiry and wavy. For years I hated how I looked. After three children I was overweight and tired all the time. I looked in the mirror and saw an old bag lady. I was at rock bottom. I hardly left the house and retreated into myself, finding consolation in sweet, fatty foods which I binged on in secret when the kids were in bed. I remember turning forty and realising that life was passing me by in a blur and that I was deeply unhappy. I joined a slimming club and although it was hard work I lost almost three stones. I had so much more energy and my passion for hair and beauty returned. I got a new job as a receptionist and began having my nails done. I embraced my new curls and grew them longer, adding highlights to hide the emerging grey hairs.
In my mid forties I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. Initially it set me back, I was in denial for a while but now I have my head round everything and I’m on the right medication, my condition and my weight is stable. I discovered Clarins skincare after having a facial with them and I feel that my complexion is better than it has been in years. I turned fifty this year and although I’m beginning to feel the first symptoms of the menopause I like what I see in the mirror now. I’m hoping I can maintain this new found confidence into my sixties, seventies and beyond. So I think that beauty definitely comes from within. Once you have found an inner peace and acceptance with the way you look it shines through for everyone to see.
Last week Big and my son Callum went off on their annual boys holiday to Bavaria. They stay with a German family in Wallgau. They climb mountains, ride trains and embark on epic car journeys across numerous borders into countless countries. They bond bloke-style over salami and cheese rolls and local beer. They bring home bags of delicious speciality chocolate.
I stay home with the dogs and enjoy my own company, I’m a cool person to be around after all! This year though my daughter Shauna decided to come and stay for a few days. She has not lived with us for a few years now and sometimes I only see her every couple of weeks when she has a day off work so I was really looking forward to spending some quality time with her. We have a close relationship, the bond between a mother and her daughter is so special and I miss her. She has been dealing with some personal issues recently so we talked a lot, I think it helped her to get it all off her chest. I still have a temporary kitchen so we ate takeaway food and stayed up late, it was wonderful. I told her all my plans for my new business and what I hoped to achieve for the future. Being in her twenties, she understands the complexities of social media and the power it has to influence people so when she offered to help me with my business pages I jumped at the chance. We spent an evening photographing some of my china and making little videos. Then she spent ages editing them so they looked amazing. I’m not a complete dinosaur when it comes to technology but I could definitely learn more! She also understands clever use of hashtags so her Instagram posts attracted so many more views than mine. She has done wonders with my website, it is so much more attractive and user-friendly now. Because she works in retail she also had endless ideas for marketing and made me an extensive to-do list which I am now working on. I am planning to incorporate my love of baking into the business so there is a lot of work to do. I have signed up for a food safety course later in the year and I’ve registered myself with the local authorities. I’m learning all about allergens and how to properly label things. In short, I am fired up and buzzing with excitement for this new venture.
The boys are back now and the house has already returned to its chaotic, messy state but I really did miss them. Hopefully my kitchen will be finished in the next few weeks and I will be able to catch up with some baking. I have a special tasting menu planned for friends and family to try. I’ll keep you posted on how it all goes.
Our bespoke sofa arrived last week from Italy. It took about three months but it was well worth the wait. It finishes the room off perfectly. The kitchen project is coming along nicely. My new oven and proving drawer went in today which was so exciting. I’m now planning what to bake once I can get back in there. I’m definitely getting bored of microwave meals and toast!!
Someone once said to me “Any man can be a father but it takes a special man to be a dad”. A deep and meaningful observation which struck me as particularly poignant because I have had two fathers but I have never had a dad. My biological father walked out on my sister and I when she was a newborn and I was a toddler. Mum struggled to cope with us on her own and eventually met the man who later became my stepfather. My father visited us occasionally and sometimes we would stay at the house he shared with his new girlfriend, however, he was away every weekend racing cars so we were always left with this strange woman who didn’t like us and resented having us there. Visits were strained when mums’ new man was around, so my father, encouraged by his girlfriend, decided to move to Australia and make a new life. They later got married and he fathered two more daughters. Ironic? Probably.
While my sister and I struggled to comprehend why our father would go and live on the other side of the world from us, my mum and her new boyfriend were making plans to get married. This was mainly a financial decision, pushed along by the discovery that she was expecting our brother. I remember being unimpressed by this news and resisted any attempts to involve me in the wedding plans. Back in the seventies, on the rough council estate where we grew up, if your surname was different to that of your mum you were singled out for special treatment which involved being called a bastard at every opportunity. Confused, I asked my mum what this meant and was even more puzzled when she said it was a name for someone who didn’t have a father. This made no sense to me at all as I had two!! My awkward questions prompted some heated discussions between mum and her husband to be, after which my sister and I were sat down and asked if we would like to change our surname to that of our stepfather so that we all had the same name. We were both horrified at this suggestion, neither of us had any warm and fuzzy feelings towards him and we certainly didn’t want to share his surname. I never knew how my stepfather felt about our decision and to be honest, I didn’t really care!
My little brother was born and my mum was over the moon to have a son. He was her beautiful blue-eyed boy, a symbol of her rising from the ashes of her terrible ordeal and making a new life for herself. She enjoyed her status as a newly married, respectable woman with a baby. She lavished love and attention on our brother (he was nicknamed The Golden One from an early age) but my sister and I loved him dearly too. He was not an easy child. If he had been born later he would possibly have been diagnosed with with an Attention Deficit disorder and, in the absence of love or respect in their relationship, mum and Clive’s marriage collapsed. They probably should have parted ways back then but they stayed together for the sake of their son, not wanting to cause him any unnecessary pain. This was discussed openly with my sister and I which, as you can imagine was a bit of a kick in the teeth for us but we had learned to be resilient. Eventually they separated years later, after my brother left home and my stepfather had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. It might sound callous but after receiving counselling, where I discovered that I could allow myself to be angry about the way I was treated as a child, I have not wasted a single moment thinking about either of my “fathers”. I see my biological father once in a blue moon, if he decides to appear on my doorstep but I don’t seek him out. I have set myself free from them both.
I never really felt that I’d had a remarkable childhood until I met my husband. After our first date I knew that he was The One. It really did hit me like a bolt of lightening. He was the man I wanted to share my life with and I told my family this, much to their chagrin. I had not long come out of a long term relationship and they naturally assumed I was rebounding but I knew my own mind. When I met Vern’s family I was amazed at how close they all were. I was welcomed into the fold immediately, they were warm, genuine and lovely and I was so happy. We had only been together about six months when I fell pregnant with our daughter. It was a bit of a shock and tested our relationship but once we got our heads around it we were excited. We were already engaged so we decided to get married once the baby was born. The birth was traumatic and I was quite unwell afterwards so Vern had to help out quite a bit. This meant that he developed a special bond with her which was so beautiful to witness. I marvelled at his patience as she cried night after night. He would lie on the sofa with her nestled into the crook of his arm, singing softly to her as she screamed relentlessly. I would often come downstairs to find them both crashed out, exhausted after the long night. Our three children had a positive and loving childhood, sure there were trying times, especially during the teenage years but their dad was the rock who anchored us all to the bottom of the sea. The complete antithesis to my fathers, he is loved and cherished by them all and has passed on to them his generosity, his wacky sense of humour and his strong work ethic, all of which has turned them into fine young adults. I hope that I have been a good mum, however, my childhood experiences mean that I always hold a little bit back. I overthink every cross word, every difficult decision. I lack the warmth which comes naturally to some people but I try my best to let my children know I love them at every opportunity. I hope they realise that I do. Best of all, now our son is a dad to our grandson, I see the same paternal qualities in him. He is a patient, hands-on dad and his baby son adores him. It is heartwarming to watch them together.
So the point I’m trying to make is that just because you don’t have great parental role models doesn’t mean you won’t be a brilliant mum or dad, but it certainly helps! Happy Fathers Day to all the wonderful dads out there, you are amazing.
Last year I launched a little business. After planning and hosting a spectacular birthday party for our mothers’ 70th birthday, my sister and I came up with the idea of doing something together, a joint venture. Although organising the party had been stressful at times, what we found most frustrating was waiting for the china to turn up. We had booked some vintage china from a local company and had found the whole process unsatisfactory. The owner was very difficult to get hold of before the event and despite having paid a deposit, we got no confirmation from her beforehand. On the day of the party we worked tirelessly for hours preparing the venue, catering everything ourselves and putting out signs to ensure all the guests could find us. The only thing missing was the china! I rang continuously without success and, with less than an hour until the party was due to start, we began to panic. What would we do if she didn’t turn up? When we were supposed to be glamming ourselves up, we were instead making an emergency plan to dash out and find tableware before the guest of honour arrived.
Eventually the china arrived with moments to spare. The owner was unfazed by our panicked faces. Apparently she’d had car trouble but had not thought to answer my calls or let us know she had been delayed. When we explained that we hadn’t known if she was going to turn up she simply laughed it off. Her china was beautiful but we found her customer care lacking. Once she had left we raced around like headless chickens setting the tables and had to lock ourselves in the bathroom to change once everyone had arrived. The party was a great success but afterwards my sister and I realised we could do so much better ourselves. I immediately set about building up some stock. Luckily Big agreed to fund me and I had great fun sourcing gorgeous cups and saucers, teapots and cake stands. I trawled charity shops for pretty pieces and searched sales ads for bargains. It quickly became an obsession as I researched makers and patterns. Once I had a good amount of stock I made an inventory of everything, took photographs and checked out my local competition. I registered a domain name, built a website and launched a Facebook page. Then I waited for the enquiries to come in. It has been about eight months and so far I have had a few bites but nothing has come of them. I have showcased my china at charity baking events and people are intrigued for sure, but I have never been very patient.
I’m desperate to show people what we can do. I want to do it right, provide excellent customer service and get glowing feedback, it just hasn’t happened yet. I was reading an article yesterday which said that on average it takes two years to get a business up and running. I designed some gorgeous watercolour graphics and had them made into eye-catching business cards which I will leave in local coffee shops and cafes, subject to permission of course. I’m doing everything I can to get some bookings so fingers crossed I guess. Does anyone have any tips for me they would be willing to share? All suggestions gratefully received.