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ANOTHER YEAR OVER – SO, WHAT ELSE HAVE YOU DONE?

Week 2 in our review of 2017.

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Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of Pompeii

Summer in Sorrento

Italy is one of my favourite places and especially the gorgeous Bay of Naples. The weather there is fantastic, the scenery breathtaking, sunsets that will stop you in your tracks, food to die for and the locals? Well, they seem to have a certain chic I believe can only be achieved if you are actually born with it.   I do adore the area, but whenever I visit I always feel a sense of something darker, something you can’t quite put your finger on.  It’s almost like everything is fine on the surface, especially for the pleasure of the tourist – and particularly those who give the impression of having cash – but you just scratch at that surface and….

Ah money, money, money… Here you are in Naples, the 3rd largest city in Italy, but also one of the poorest in Europe with a shockingly high unemployment rate.   Gritty is a word often used to describe it and despite the best intentions of the Neopolitans, tourists are still reluctant to go there because of it’s bad reputation, and the crime levels.   In fact, a local guide told us even some residents from the neighbouring town of Sorrento are afraid to go there.

Sorrento street
Sorrento street

Yet, hop on a hydrofoil and 40 minutes will take you away from all that grittiness, over the rainbow to the golden, hedonistic island of Capri.  Back in AD26 the Emperor Tiberius, packed his bags, waved so long suckers to Rome and headed off to Capri. There he stayed for the next 11 years, ruling the Empire and according to Suetonius, giving himself to “all the vices he had struggled so long to conceal”…. in what people charmingly referred to as the “old goat’s den”.  The idea of Capri being a playground in a private paradise stuck. Famous residents and visitors have included the Marchesa Casati, Clark, Rita, Bridget, Audrey, Jackie, Leo, Taylor and Swarovski family…. the list goes on; the blue island still captivates the rich and powerful. “Gritty” can never be used to describe Capri: beautiful people totter beautifully through the most expensive crowded, cobbled streets in the most expensive clothes imaginable.  Gorgeous is the only way of life.

Capri view
Looking out from Capri

Of course, not everyone can live up to Capri standards.  Here’s me: hair scrunched up, complete with tourist rucksack, comfy sandals, even comfier cotton shorts, perspiring and stopping every half hour to sit down and fan myself in the heat.  No competition for the Capri elite: full make-up (including non-smudge, non-melting winged eyeliner),  3” stiletto heels, not even glowing let alone perspiring, complete with at least 4 bulging pieces of designer shopping bags.  This is the place to see and be seen.  In Anacapri, a single night (high season) in Capri Palace Hotel with it’s 2 Michelin star restaurant can set you back almost £2k ($2834).   Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Naples anymore.

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Room with a view Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples

The Bay of Naples may be one of the most beautiful places in Europe, but it comes with a price.  Nature will inevitably have the last word – although the weather was awesome (a bit too hot for some, but hey, I like the heat) forest fires burned continually and there was an earthquake on Ischia whilst we were there.   

 

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Forest fires in the sunset

And then of course there is Vesuvius.   Of the 3m people living in the area around the volcano (which includes Naples), approximately 600,000 reside in what is known as the ‘red zone’.  This area will take the biggest hit should there be a major eruption, so why would anyone even still be there?   Yet there they are; all 600,00 of them, many in illegal housing.  Those living at the very feet of this threat carry on as though that huge, rumbling rock is just a brooding backcloth.  It’s there. What can you do?  It brings in the tourists – we’ll deal with it if, and when, it happens.  The astute observations of human behaviour in the bestselling series of Neopolitan novels by Elena Ferrante, perfectly encapsulates the outlook here.  It’s just the way of things.  

Back on Capri is the Villa San Michele.  The former home of Swedish born physician Axel Munthe (1857-1949) who declared: “my house must be open to the sun, to the wind, and the voice of the sea, … “ has some of the most stunning views and gardens I have ever seen.  However, in the midst of all this heaven on earth, there on the floor by the entrance to the kitchen is a mosaic of a skeleton holding 2 pitchers.  Not quite the interior design most people would choose to welcome friends and family to an idyllic dinner, until you realise many ancient dining areas had a similar image as a reminder to eat, drink and enjoy life, for tomorrow you may die. Sound advice for anyone, but especially for the people of this area.  Cash may be king and Vesuvius may be quiet today, maybe quiet tomorrow – but just over there, the ruins of Erculano and Pompeii are stark reminders that nature holds the trump card.

 

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ANOTHER YEAR OVER

So  now the Christmas decorations are packed away and the last of the tree pine needles have been vacuumed up (I wish – if it’s anything like last year, I’ll still be finding them in July) and I find myself in true John Lennon style looking back at ‘another year over – and what have I done?’

Well, 2017 was a bit of a mixed bag, but on the whole it was very positive.  I experienced so many wonderful things last year and I realise as I am getting older, I certainly tend to prefer experience over material things.  Gone are the days when I’d drool over the latest phone, jeans, trainers, handbag, computer or whatever.  It took a long time and a lot of hard earned cash for that particular penny to drop.  Oh, quelle surprise…those things never last – what was I even thinking – they aren’t made to.  The whole idea is to keep you hooked – always wanting the next new thing: just take out your wallet and open wide – this won’t hurt a bit (much).

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Now, experiencing a beautiful vista or work of art gives me a much bigger buzz – and for much longer.  They say experience is the best teacher, but it comes at a price.  Unfortunately, this is very true (soz Mr Bank Manager – but please, won’t you look at my gorgeous pictures of Vesuvius?).  I may have to work even harder this year to keep Mr Bank Manager sweet (I know… how about a slice of  Bakewell Tart? No? Well, wait till you hear this piece by Prokofiev…).

Any road up, back to what have I done.  I’ve deliberately left out the negative stuff at the moment – now is not the time or place to go there – instead, over the next couple of weeks here are some of the more positive things we got up to in 2017…..

SPRING AND ETSY

This was quite a big leap into the unknown for us.  Having made a few protest badges because of the political climate in the UK (what with Brexit and austerity), we decided to take the plunge and dip our toe into the choppy online seas.  We had read that Etsy was a tough nut to crack:  don’t get your hopes up they warned, could be weeks or even months before you see a single sale!  Undeterred, we thought we would still give it a go, after all, you don’t know if you don’t try, right?   

badges
Find our Etsy Store HERE

So last March we opened an Etsy shop, made ourselves a cup of tea, sat back and waited. Anyway, to cut a long story short, our very first week online saw our first sales (we were so unprepared, we hadn’t even ordered enough padded envelopes!) and since then we’ve gone from strength to strength.  It’s certainly taken us by (pleasant) surprise, in 10 months we’ve sent badges all over the world: to 30 different states across America, to 15 different  European countries as well as the far shores of Australia.   Sure, we’ve had a few challenges (with both equipment and customers), one or two requests have certainly raised an eyebrow and we’ve met (phew) tight deadlines, sent out buttons for weddings, schools, baby showers, parties, protests and graduations…. and it’s all been a blast.

 

We still get excited when orders come in and every single one, whether it’s for a single button or a 100 custom-designed badges, is pressed and sent out with the same care and attention to detail.  My colleagues may roll their eyes when they see me hunched over a 1 inch button pin with a magnifying glass, checking for lint and making sure the button is “clean”, but I want our products to be top quality and so far, our reviews are saying it’s all worth while.  Our aim at ButtonChops is to bring back a business sense of high standards, value for money and excellent customer service.  Old fashion ethics in today’s cheap and disposable world maybe, but I for one, was fed up with being expected to accept poor quality items and even worse customer service  (“that’s the way things are now – like it or lump it”).  I wanted to do something about it.

So here we are….

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JINGLE TIME!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.  And here at ButtonChops we really do believe that.  We love Christmas, in fact we could probably out-Elf Elf when it comes to all things Santa.

As part of our Christmas designs this year, we have introduced a range of personalised Christmas pinback badges.  They are a whopping 3” (77mm) in diameter and come in a variety of styles which can be customised with your own short personal message.  Each badge comes in it’s own drawstring pouch, so it is completely ready to pop into a Christmas stocking or Christmas Eve Box.

Xmas boy 77mm
Xmas badge available HERE

Our last recommended order dates are:

                                                          Australia and New Zealand   5th December

                                                                 USA and Canada                10th December

                                                                 Europe                                 11th December

                                                                 UK                                        18th December

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Xmas badge available HERE

So why not pop over to our shop on Etsy and have a little peek.  We’d love to help spread some Christmas cheer.

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WHO WEARS IT BETTER? November ’17

Every couple of months we have a little bit of fun with a feature called: ‘Who wears it better?’ – where we compare a couple of examples of how to look stylish in a pinback badge.

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All you need is love a badge

First up in this month’s battle of the pins is the late, great George Harrison.  Now I have to own up, I loved George – he was my favourite Beatle back in the day, so I may be ever so slightly one-sided here.  But I digress – George is looking totally gorgeous and totally on fleek 1970s in this photo (taken in 1974).  The badge is a little oversized: big enough to see the illustration, but not too big that you look like you’ve just left a toddler’s birthday party. Personally, I would have stopped with just the 1 badge, but he is George – so he can do no wrong.  OK, yep that was a teensy weensy bit bias.

 

 

Next up is the Secretary of State for Health, The Right Honourable Jeremy Hunt MP.  Here we see Jezza unfortunately looking like he’s sat on an open pinback just as the camera

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Pickled egg sarnie anyone?

clicked.  (Oops, don’t worry Jez – we’ve all been there).  Jeremy is wearing his official NHS pin – although at first glance I thought it said MI5 for a minute (but then I do need new glasses).  And therein lies heart of the problem –  the size on the badge.  Basically it’s just too small.  Now I realise it isn’t Jeremy’s fault – after all, this is the official pin and he is obliged to wear it, but it is something to bear in mind.

Whilst a badge which is too large can look childish and attention grabbing, a miniature version can be just as off-putting.  No-one wants to get up that close and personal to read a tiny pin (and especially when it’s stuck onto a politician).  Not only do you get the message, you may well get to know what they had for lunch into the bargain.

RESULT:  

Sorry Jeremy, but George is the runaway winner here.  Got it right on all fronts (see what I did there?).  Tiny badges are not the way to go: no-one wants to get within 10cm of your heaving chest or smell the pickled egg sandwich you had an hour ago.  And personal space is well… such a personal thing.  So well done George! (from a totally unbiased panel of 1 judge).

 

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TREAT OR TREAT?

It’s October already (where has this year gone?) and here at ButtonChops we’re definitely feeling the nip in the air.  We’ve dug out the jumpers, the logs for the fire

Halloween monster costume
Badge details HERE

have been delivered and carefully piled up in the log shed (thanks OH) and, after much nagging from teen daughter, the heating has finally been switched ON (double thanks OH)…

 

 

 

Halloween best costume
Badge details HERE

We’ve also been preparing for Halloween (and even …. shhh, whispers…. Christmas!  Too soon?)  Teen daughter loves Halloween.  Hmm…whenever did that sweet little girl who used to dance around in fairy wings turn into a zombie, vampirette with attitude?  Does this transformation come free with every adolescent gene purchased?  

Halloween coolest costume
Badge details HERE

We know a lot of kids love to dress up at this time of the year and Halloween is becoming bigger than ever over here in the UK.  So we’ve come up with some cute(ish)Fancy Dress Award badges for different costumes.  They can also be customised with your own message or mix and matched at no extra cost – just let us know.  At 3” (77mm) diameter they are the biggest badge we do and we think they’ll make a great addition to any Halloween Party. 

Halloween badges

Happy spooking!

 

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BACK IN THE SUMMER OF ’17

ButtonChops had a good summer.  Alright, it might have felt like it had been pouring down for the first three quarters of it, but then we dusted the cobwebs off our swimsuits, bought some sunscreen (there were tons left in the shops – it had been raining constantly in Suffolk since the beginning of July) and headed off to Southern Italy and the WARM WEATHER.

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It was dark by the time we first arrived in Sorrento; our taxi had been stuck in a traffic jam in the tunnel for nearly an hour and our first view of the town was hordes of people and Vespas coming at us from every direction (including the pavement).  This wasn’t good I thought, we’ve made a terrible mistake – everyone we had spoken to back home had told us how wonderful this place was – but it just looked like Oxford Street at Christmas during a Scooter convention. Weary travellers, we collapsed in our hotel room, there was nothing for it, we were here now – we’d just make the most of it.  At least it was warmer than Good Old Blighty.  And it wasn’t raining.

So the next morning, we pulled back the curtains of our hotel room, looked out over the balcony and saw this…..

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Vesuvius

And everything was different.

Of course, it isn’t perfect.  This is no Nirvana.  The difference between North and Southern Italy quickly became quite apparent.  For one, the North seemed much more prosperous – the poverty in neighbouring Naples is heartbreaking.  Also, the environment: here Mother Nature is never far away with her pursed lips.   During our short stay, planes and helicopters were constantly dumping water on the hillsides trying to dampen down bush fires (a recent large fire had burned on the side of Vesuvius for 10 days – a large blackened, scorched scar stamped into it’s side).  A guide told us they hadn’t seen rain for so long that the olive industry could be under threat.   On the nearby island of Ischia, one person died during an earthquake and there, dominating the skyline, Vesuvius – sleeping…. only sleeping….

Then there is the social infrastructure: here cash is definitely king, which is a surprise to many tourists who are advised not to carry a lot of money on them.  We visited a museum and restaurant on Capri, only to be told “no cards – cash only” – even our hotel would only accept cash to pay for pre-booked taxis and excursions.  It was also certainly more expensive than our last stay in northern Italy (although that may be more to do with the poor exchange rate – thanks Brexit).  And I came to the conclusion that a lot of locals were definitely looking out for No 1 rather than working together as a whole community – tour guides think nothing of openly criticising restaurants or boat trips in favour of others.  

The crowds were phenomenal (though to be honest, it was the busiest time of the year) and as for the driving, well that can only be described as absolutely nuts.  Stuck in a traffic jam in the middle of a 3km long tunnel? – no sweat, just do a 3-point turn and go back.  Stop signs? – hmm, they’re merely a ‘suggestion’.  Car horns? – an essential form of communication. Every few minutes in fact.   Family of 3 but only one Vespa? No problem, just put the kid in the middle….  

Why would anyone want to go there I hear you ask? Because oh my goodness: the place is like no other.  The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful.  The town is beautiful, the people are beautiful, the food is beautiful, the sea is beautiful, the boats are beautiful, the wine is beautiful, the weather is beautiful, the sunsets are beauti…. well, you get the idea.  

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There are lemons everywhere.  They can, and will stick a lemon on any and everything. And Lemoncello.  And shops. The shops smell of lemons. Or leather, or wood.  All beautiful smells.  And Art.  The artists selling their wares, the churches, the statues.  And restaurants.  The food is like no other.  Italians enjoy their food and it shows.  Even the most basic restaurant showed us a pride and care in describing the ‘special dish of the day’ and were concerned that everything was exactly right with our meal.  And at night, there is music.  Ok, much of it may be catered towards the tourist – Volare and Oh Sole Mio whilst you are eating your arrabiata, but who cares?  It wasn’t screaming at you; no-one was shouting to be heard.   People were enjoying themselves, the food, the atmosphere – just being there.  This was something I felt we had lost back home – sometimes the noise level in UK restaurant are off the scale.  What with piped music and people shouting over one another, nobody takes the time just to “be”.

On the Saturday we saw a local wedding:  the newlywed couple walked along the street with the all the guests dressed up to the nines, following behind, throwing rice.   Absolute strangers from all around the world had stopped to watch, some were even taking photos, although they had no idea who the bride and groom were.  The couple rewarded the crowd with a kiss and the crowd rewarded them with cheers and applause.  People were smiling.  People were happy.   For a moment, I think many of them had forgotten what was going on back home – and maybe that is what a holiday is supposed to do.

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Saluti

 

NOT REGISTERED ON ETSY?  NO PROBLEM…

With the new guest checkout feature at Etsy, anyone can browse, add items to the cart, and make purchases on Etsy without creating an account.  It’s a piece of cake…

 

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WE ARE STARDUST

The festival season is upon us in the UK.  The sun is shining, the music is playing and for a short time we can escape and enjoy the moment.  Who cares about getting the tent down or the queues for the loo – we can worry about fighting our way out of the car-park later…..

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LOVE 1″ button badge available HERE

I love music, it’s constantly with me, at home working, in the car or just walking about – it’s power is phenomenal. It can make you cry,  make you roar like a drunkard, bring you peace, wind you up, soothe your soul and make the hairs on your arms stand up on end.  You can remember a song from when you were a child.  You associate it with a special occasion – good or bad.  A song can put into words everything you couldn’t.

Peace and Love 1″ button badge available HERE

In the sunshine, everything seems so much better.  So if you can mix the  two things together – well, I’m in 7th Heaven.   So lets dig out our Boho dresses and flares, stick on a floppy hat, add the essential badge and embrace the inner flower child.  Now bring on the summer… and please don’t stop the music, it makes us stardust, it makes us golden (with thanks to Joni Mitchell)

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REFLECTION

I was going to post a blog this week – a flippant, whimsical little piece about the eccentricities of the British people and how our humour is always there, even when the world around seems a little cranky.

But today’s horrific fire in Grenfell Tower on top of the terrorist attacks in London and Manchester makes all that feel totally lost.  My thoughts instead are with the people so affected by what has happened. Not only for those who lost their lives, but for the families they left behind, those who were injured and the police, firefighters, ambulance service, as well as the members of public and medics who all fought to save those in trouble.

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And I will hold my daughter extra tight tonight and be thankful for what I have today, for I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

I wish you all peace. x