Well, goodbye to all that! Last year was a right stinker for us and we were definitely glad to see the back of it. Wind back to 31st December 2017 and there we were, celebrating the arrival of 2018 with a rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne, a toast to the future, party poppers and a wish for everyone to have a happy, healthy and prosperous new year. The New Year however, had other ideas. It looked at our welcoming party and laughed in our face. Rather than being a welcome to the good life – 2018 decided it would be a total dirtbag and throw down a number of challenges one after another throughout the next 12 months.
Poor health, huge financial bombshells, both parents being very ill (mum had 3 separate life-threatening episodes) and even Louie the dog was touch and go there for a moment too. But here we are – we got through it So, on to the next year – and going by the premise that nothing can be like last year (I know, I know, don’t tempt fate), I can only hope/pray/wish that 2019 will be in a better mood. Of course, mum and dad and Louie are not out of the woods yet, there will also always be surprises (both good and bad) and then there’s always Brexit, which is likely to pee on anyone’s parade, no matter how you look at it. But there are also positives. The hospital tests mum had detected a rare congenital heart deformity, so they can now look to managing that in a way that can improve her quality of life. Dad’s radiotherapy treatment looks as though it may have put his cancer into remission. Louie is still with us and as for the finances, we may think it’s the end of the world, but I remember reading a while ago that: ‘no matter how bad you think your life is, there is always someone else who would see you as living the fairytale’.
Has the last year made me stronger? Hmm.. the jury remains out on that one. I still have regular wobbles and periods of self doubt about how I’m going to cope, but as Sir Elton John would have it – I’m still standing. And that’s always a start.
I hope 2018 was kind to you and yours and wish you all an even better and brighter 2019!
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.