This week is National Coffee week in the UK. I’m not sure what that actually means to be honest, but hey, every day is a National this-that-or-other Day so I suppose it’s only right that coffee gets a fair crack of the whip.
Anyone who knows me also knows that I love coffee. I’m a coffee addict: my blood group is Skinny Latte positive. If I don’t start the day with a coffee hit, then look out happy people – there’’s a grump on the loose.
My morning coffee time is my quiet time: it’s when I get work done on the computer, or catch up on reading, it’s when I can sit and work on more designs. It’s a very valuable stop time – something I’ve learned to embrace and not feel guilty about. I used to fret: “what am I thinking, sitting here doing nothing when there’s so much to do”. And there you have it – the proverbial nail on the head – because there will always be more to do! We all strive to make more time, only to fill it right up again.
My coffee time grounds me (see what I did there?), it allows me to stop, sit down and take time out. Rather than feel guilty about it, I channel it into being a more positive experience and a creative opportunity. Coffee and creativity – perfect partners – now what’s not to like?
Autumn in England can be a beautiful time. I say can be, because like any season here, it has its moments. Admittedly, it rains…. a lot, and then there’s the gales and the cold biting wind…. and some days you just want to stay indoors with a hot cup of tea, letting the world go by. But not every day. Indian Summers are not unknown and a crisp, dry day under a blue sky will blow away the cobwebs and warm the cockles of your heart. Hey, I’ve even been known to take my cardi off in October (totally living on the edge, that’s me).
The weather was especially kind to us during our weekend in the Peak District, a beautiful area of central England with breathtaking scenery. Green rolling hills and trees turn to gold and red as they prepare to end the year with a fiery swathe of colour, the cold blue/grey of the streams, white bubbling over the cobbles. We made a quick stopover in Bakewell; very quaint with a padlock bridge and very crowded with lots of dogs (nearly everyone seemed to have one) and yes, we might have had a pastry or two…. it would have been rude not to.
Then on to the highlight of our visit – The stately home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire – Chatsworth House and the Five Centuries of Fashion exhibition*. My middle daughter (a Fashion Historian and avid dressmaker) and I are both historical fashion addicts, it’s a real passion for us. To see how things were so beautifully made so long ago, without the benefits of the machinery/technology we have now, never ceases to amaze and fascinate me. So when we heard about this exhibition we just had to go along and feed our addiction – and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
When Laura Cavendish, Countess of Burlington wanted a christening gown for her newborn son, James, her mother-in-law, the Duchess of Devonshire suggested a look in the Chatsworth Textiles Dept (as you do). Of course, my own Textiles Dept is a cardboard box marked “baby clothes” in the attic, but then my humble abode is not quite the ancestral home of Mr Darcy from Pride & Prejudice (Colin still nails it imo). Anyway, back to the Chatsworth Textile Dept; not only did the Countess find several christening gowns, but also a wealth of other items all carefully packed and labelled, many of which hadn’t been seen for years. So the seeds for the exhibition were sown and 6 years later a lavish display of gowns, robes and tiaras were set to tell the story of this wonderful house and it’s occupants.
Every room was a sumptuous celebration of the fascinating characters who have graced the grand staircase, from Bess of Hardwick, the first Lady of Chatsworth, through to the fashion icon of the 18th Century, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire right up to Deborah “Debbo” Mitford, Adele Astaire, “Kick” Kennedy and Stella Tennant. Livery, Coronation robes, fancy dress costumes, wedding dresses, mourning wear, bags, hats and headdresses, even a solid gold dog collar made for the 6th Duke’s spaniel and Stella’s old nose ring, it was all there, along with letters, notes and photographs – an eclectic treasure trove displayed perfectly in its own environment.
The Centuries wove in and out through the collection, from a 16th Century buckle belonging to Bess to a ‘punk room’ and a ‘Georgiana corridor’ at the end of which was a magnificent Galliano gown worn by Tennant – cleverly placed in front of a portrait of Georgiana, the fashionista herself – she could have worn it for sure.
Some of the items were quirky, like the 11th Duke of Devonshire’s monogrammed jumpers declaring slogans such as: “Never marry a Mitford” (he did – Debo) and “Bollocks” (not sure what caused that particular one) and a pair of Debo’s ‘Elvis’ house slippers (apparently she was a huge fan).
jumpers for every occasion
Bad day at the stately home
However, most were simply outstanding in their workmanship and craft, such as the exquisite ‘Queen of Zenobia’ gown made by the House of Worth for Louise, Duchess of Devonshire to wear to the Diamond Jubilee Ball in 1897.
The final display in the Great Dining Room was a curator’s dream. Thirty mannequins posed around the room, as though in conversation over cocktails at the end of the day – each wearing an outfit by top Design Houses: Chanel, Westwood, Dior and Balmain. We became immersed in this tableaux, marvelling at the elegance yet almost disbelieving the extravagant decadence.
Curated by the talented designers Patrick Kinmonth and Antonio Monfredo, along with Hamish Bowles (Editor-at-large from Vogue) – this was one of the best exhibitions I had seen in a long while. The setting and material helped of course, but their imagination and insight had made it an experience to remember long after you had left the gilded halls of the Cavendish Family.
*Five Centuries of Fashion Exhibition at Chatsworth House, Derbyshire has now closed
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.
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 theonly way of life.
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.
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.
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.
Villa San Michele
Come dine with me….
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.
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).
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?
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.
Cutting the design
Hand-pressing the final pin
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.
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.
Snowman badge available
Rudolph badge available
Angel badge available
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.
Our last recommended order dates are:
Australia and New Zealand 5th December
USA and Canada 10th December
Europe 11th December
UK 18th December
So why not pop over to our shop on Etsy and have a little peek. We’d love to help spread some Christmas cheer.
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.
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
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.
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).
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.
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…..
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.
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.
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…