24 October 2016

When your supplier becomes your competitor...

What would you do, if you found out that one of your suppliers that you've been with for years and years was now supplying one of your customers and selling to them at the same wholesale prices that they sell to you?

I am writing this with a sinking feeling in my heart, as I try to untangle the threads of making a living, running an ethical business, dealing with ethical suppliers and having fun. Two of my friends have set up a buying group and my supplier is selling to them at the SAME wholesale prices as they are selling to me! It is an unusual situation where I am very good friends with the two people that they are supplying and they have been very open with me and as their friend, why would I want to sell them stuff at a higher price than they can get it for? So, they are only doing what they need to do in these hard times to get by and who can blame them. I wish that I could be the one that could be providing them the service that they need, buying food at affordable prices.

I called the supplier today and it seemed to me the obvious solution would be for them to give me a bigger discount on the things that I am buying from them, so that I can offer my friends a more competitive price and then it is a sustainable solution for everyone. Everyone knows that to get wholesale prices you need to be a business and prove that you're a business and that some wholesalers sell directly to the public but they sell at the Recommended Retail Price, so that you are competing on a level playing field and the final decision is up to the customer. 

The supplier told me that they were not competing against me, or undercutting me....but I explained that if I buy a packet of tea at £2 and then sell it for £2.50 to the public and then if they sell directly to the public, for £2, a wholesale price they are most definitely undercutting me. They asked me what I wanted them to do and I suggested that they changed their pricing tiers so that their direct to the general public prices are Recommended Retail Price, their prices to buying groups are a bit lower than that and then the wholesale price is to businesses only.

Sometimes, when you phone up as an individual to offer feedback and suggestions, they can see you as just an individual with a one-off problem but this to my mind is a massive problem that could effect small, independent retails businesses across the UK, as if we are not already having a hard enough time of it already. You see, if the supplier shifted their prices ever so slightly, to protect their business customers, the supplier wouldn't lose out, the buying groups would still get a good price, if they wanted to put the work in and the retailer would still have a sustainable business. If the retailer is not supported by the supplier's pricing structure, then the supplier will lose their retail network and have to deal with individual buying groups and members of the public, which is fine, if that is their business model for the future but the business model that this supplier is using at the moment is not sustainable for all parties involved, which leaves me with the following questions as a retailer:

1/ Do I want to keep using this supplier?

At the moment, there is no motivation for me to keep using this supplier. In fact, for my business model to survive, I will have to track down a supplier that has cheaper prices for wholesale, lower minimum orders and does not supply to buying groups, or the general public at wholesale prices.

2/ Is it financially viable to keep using this supplier?

It is not financially viable to use this supplier, as they are more concerned about getting their income from anyone, no matter what, rather than having strict trading boundaries and price tiers for different buying groups.

3/ How can I make it more attractive for my friends to buy from me, rather than having a buying group? 

The only way that I can make it more attractive for my friends to start buying from me again is to either encourage suppliers to put up their prices for buying groups, or to bring down their wholesale prices even further for retailers. This doesn't seem to me to be a very imaginative answer but maybe there is another solution that I haven't thought of.

This situation, to me, is just a sign of the times, people are trying to live as good a life as they possibly can on the low income that they have and the internet has made finding information easier. Also, I am very open in business and get my catalogues out for people to choose things they want to order, Then when they see the name on the catalogue they go straight to the supplier themselves, who wouldn't. Then because times are tough, the suppliers are welcoming any business be it from traders, or individuals on equal terms.

When I called my supplier they told me that small, independent businesses are very important to them, I just hope they back that up by setting up a sustainable situation, that is beneficial to all the parties involved.

What do you think the solution is, what would you do if you were faced with this challenge, has this happened to you before, what solution did you find? Please let me know by commenting on this blog.

I have to say my suppliers got back to me really quicly and have offered to shift my pricing structure so that it is a fairer and more sustainable situation. I am now in a position where I can offer bulk items to my friend's buying group at the same wholesale prices that they were paying. This is great for me, as I don't lose trade, this is great for my friends as it should make it easier for them to budget and not have to accumulate such big orders, just to meet the minimum order level and it's great for the supplier too as they are protecting their independent retail customers and have made me feel the warm glow of loyalty towards them.

This is why I love dealing with ethical companies, made up of people who really do look at the bigger picture and the long term implications, rather than the short term gain. 

28 September 2016

Copy Cat Businesses and how to Cope!

Picture by Anne-Marie Sanderson

I am feeling so annoyed having read one of my friend's posts on Facebook where she tells us that whole chunks of her website copy and ideas have been stolen and placed on someone else's website and business literature.
It's made me think about all the times that Gunter and I have suffered from this same copycat syndrome. It doesn't stop there, they will go after your client base too. We even had a business that tried to steal our name and our logo, let alone the ideas!
The gratifying factor is that they copy the things they see but they will never know the true secret to your success that they try to emulate, that's not to say that copying doesn't undermine your business and take the bread out of your mouths but it does mean their days are numbered, their longevity is questionable and their ethical sensibilities are none, even if they insist their business is ethical.
When someone copies you, the usual response from well-meaning friends is that you can choose to see it as flattering, however if someone steals your car, no one says that is flattering. I prefer to look at it this way, the threat to your business is a challenge for you, a challenge for you to focus on the positive and not the negative. Choose to concentrate on your business and all the good things you do and choose to ignore the other business, do not support it, or help to promote it. The one thing that I have noticed is that people that copy are intrinsically negative thinkers and struggle to realise their own brilliance, when they realise their own brilliance, they won't have to rely on yours and in that lies their weakness, if they take on you and try to compete against you, with your own ideas, not their ideas, then how will they ever win that battle? They can't! Their days are numbered because once you cut them from your circle and you are not so generous with your time and your ideas, they will have to stop copying you.
It is a long, slow and painful lesson for them to learn but copying just does NOT WORK. It is a simple equation a business that copies = FAILURE. That business will not last long because copying someone else means that faced with their own challenges in business, they will not have the resources, the though processes, or the experience of how to deal with challenges, they only know how to copy.
So, to anyone, especially my friend, who feels copied in business and stolen from, please take comfort in this, as long as you focus on your business and your positives, you will succeed no matter what, unfortunately I cannot say the same for business owners that copy. They say jealousy is the sincerest form of flattery, that's what they say about copying too......but copying only cheats everyone involved, the business owners and the public.
The one that copies will almost always be a friend, a friend who asks your advice and then takes your secrets for themselves, they'll treat you kindly and then take from you, rather like a conman....'He always seemed so nice', people say after their life savings have been taken, think about it, he wouldn't have been able to take your life savings if he seemed nasty, would he! Yes, it will feel painful cutting them out at first because you're a human with a conscience.
Having been in this situation many times over the past 7 years in Enfield and in Shepton Mallet. I know the way forward for you is to know your positives and concentrate on them.
It is hard to focus on the positive but keep going and blank that business out from your radar. Focus on your goals and your aims and what you are doing.

6 September 2016

Schmeese Vegan and Gluten Free Pizza

Right now, cooking in my oven is a Schmeese Vegan and Gluten Free Pizza!

I've got to blog this recipe quickly, as it only takes 15 to 20 minutes to cook and I want to finish this, so that I can eat it! Yum, yum!

So, this is how I made my Vegan and Gluten Free Pizza:

First of all prepare the Schmeese!

1/ Put one tablespoon of coconut oil into a saucepan and heat.

2/ Then add one tablespoon of buckwheat flour.

3/ After about half a minute add 1/2 a cup of almond milk slowly to the pan, whilst stirring.

4/ Then add two tablespoons of Engevita Flakes and stir them in well.

5/ Put this on the side, whilst you prepare the base.

Now, prepare the base.

1/ Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius.

2/ Prepare a baking tray or pizza tray by putting grease proof paper on it and oiling the paper really well.

3/ Put the following into a jug or bowl;

1/2 a cup of Buckwheat Flour

2 tablespoons of arrowroot

2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed

1/2 a teaspoon of baking powder (Gluten Free)

1/4 a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

a pinch of salt

4/ Mix well.

5/ Add 1/2 a cup of water to the mix. You may need to add more buckwheat flour as you go to make it combine into dough that can be rolled into a ball without being too sticky to handle.

6/ Put the ball of the dough in the centre of the baking tray/pizza tray and flatten then spread out by pushing towards the edges with your fingertips. Keep going until it is a nice round or rectangle shape.

7/ Then spread the following on top of the pizza base:

1 tablespoon of tomato puree

Freshly crushed garlic, or powdered garlic.

Chilli Flakes

Mixed Herbs.

A touch of Tamari Gluten Free Soya Sauce

8/ Then sprinkle a grated carrot over the top and lay out some spinach leaves.

9/ Then drizzle the Vegan Schmeese Sauce over the top!

10/ Put the pizza into the pre-heated oven and cook for 15-20 minutes.

Well, my pizza finished cooking, about halfway through writing this, I presented it on a bed of salad leaves from our local Shepton Mallet Friday Market and it was delicious. The salad leaves come from Tasty Leaves and most of the ingredients to make the pizza are available from our online shop, or come and visit us in Shepton Mallet. My Coffee Stop, 34, High Street, Shepton Mallet, Somerset, BA4 5AS!

29 August 2016

To Burkini or Not to Burkini

Wow! As a woman, I cannot stand the idea that if I want to spend time at the beach wearing modest clothes to go swimming and to deflect unwanted attention and leering eyes, it is now a subject of controvosy and newspaper articles.

The burkini is a fabulous invention and gives some protection from the sun's rays too. Is it really true, in this world I am living in, that women can be told by the law what to wear? Especially something so modest!

I've seen newspaper headlines screaming 'Burkini Banned in France' but how is that enforced? Where is the line between a burkini and a very modest leotard? This is just such mixed up thinking, to my mind. Now I read a headline mentioning a police officer in Britain challenging a burkini wearer! How does that work? 'Excuse me love, could you please wear less clothes as we find burkini wearing offensive, come on now, I'll just help you take this off, that's right step out of it immediately, with your hands above your head.'

What is wrong with us? What is wrong with our attitude? Have we decided to target burkini wearing women because they are easy to victimise? Easier than say, someone wearing a suicide vest? Talk about misdirected focus.

Leave burkini wearers alone and concentrate on the real threat to lives and peace. A burkini ban solves nothing and messes about with our freedom.

19 August 2016

Chocolate Beetroot Cake with Frosting

I had such a lot of fun on Facebook this week asking for cake flavour suggestions and then I promised that the one I picked as the winning flavour to bake, would have a free slice sent to them through the post! The overall flavour winner was a Lavender and Vanilla cake suggestion, which sounded wonderfully summery and unusual too, so the lucky lady that suggested it, actually did receive a slice of her bespoke, specially created flavour cake through the post, just a few days later and she was delighted. That recipe however, is for another day!

There were so many excellent suggestions that I have decided that I will indeed bake every single one that I feel could be attractive and appealing and made my way. Cakes made my way are wholesome, vegan and glutenfree.

I would make myself bankrupt sending off a free slice of cake to everyone who had made a suggestion, so I have decided to give back in another way, by baking the cake and tweaking it and then sharing my recipe so that anyone can make it!

An important point for me to make is that I don't like faffing around in the kitchen, making things complicated and fussy, I want quick and tasty results. When I work with a recipe, I want it to be easy to read and not have to weight out lots of ingredients first, into lots of bowls and create lots of washing up! No way. I do not like washing up and cleaning up, so space used is minimal and ingredients are measured out with cups, rather than weighed out on scales, a lot easier. This is why my recipes don't have an ingredient list at the beginning. The way to use my recipes is to read through them once to check you have everything you need, or suitable substitutions. Then follow the step by step instructions.

Chocolate Beetroot Cake with frosting.

The Cake

1/ Preheat the oven to 180°
2/ Line a 9" x 9" brownie tin with greaseproof paper and then grease it with vegetable oil.
3/ Put the following ingredients into a large jug and stir well:
1 cup of Essential Buckwheat Flour
1/2 a cup of Doves Farm Gluten Free Plain Flour
1/2 a cup of sugar
1/2 a cup of Divine Cocoa Powder
1/2 a teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of Bicarbonate of Soda
1/2 a smashed up bar, 100g of Divine Dark Baking Chocolate
4/ Put the following ingredients into a blender and blend well:
1/2 a cup of cooked beetroot
1 cup of water
1/3 cup of vegetable oil
1 teaspoon of Vanilla Extract
2 tablespoons of Biona Apple Cider Vinegar with Mother
5/ Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir well.
6/ Pour the batter out into the greased and lined baking tray and pop into the preheated oven for 20 minutes.
7/ Take the cake out of the oven and cover with foil, then bake for another 10 minutes, or until a knife stuck into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
8/ Leave the cake to cool, with the foil taken off.

The Frosting

1/ Combine the following ingredients finely in your blender:
Just ripe peeled and stoned avocados x 2
10 x tablespoons of Agave Nectar 
1/2 a cup of Divine Cocoa Powder.
2/ When the cake is cool smooth the frosting over the top. If you are lucky, there might be some mixture left in the blender which you will have to eat, to make cleaning easier!
3/ Slice this cake into 8 equal slices, or even 16 little cubes and store in the fridge until you are ready to serve.

This cake didn't last for one day, as everybody loved it!
If you have any questions about this recipe, please let me know in the comments.
Thanks for reading and I'd love to know how you get on when you make yours.

13 August 2016

Could Online Shopping Help to Regenerate Our High Streets?

Karen Mercer, My Coffee Stop. Photo by Anne-Marie Sanderson.

Save time by not reading this article and just buy something straight away from my website, to see if my theory is correct!  

Ok, if you must, here is the article, enjoy! 

Where does my money go to, who do I buy from?

I specifically ensure that my money is mostly spent on independent local businesses! So, when you buy from us, no matter whether it's from our shop in Shepton Mallet, or online, you know that we filter that money back into the local, independent and small business, circular economy. Buy from us and we make a concerted and conscientious effort to spend it in our local high street. We go to Peppers, The Hive, Denela's, Dredge and Male, Steve's Fish Restaurant, The Swan, The Bell, The Club Lounge, Hidden Treasures, The Dusthole, Anna's Attic, I-do Vintage, The Furniture Workshop, Minsky's Barbers, C.H. Penn the Jewellers and Starlight Studios and support numerous home businesses and charities in the local area, doing what we can. I've probably missed a very big one out there! We even support Haskins by choosing to shop at Aldi and other shops in their building! So, when you buy from us, you are absolutely supporting your whole high street because we make damn sure you do!

I'd really like to do more and for that, I need your help, please!

What I am asking for you to do is to please help my family and myself to contribute even more to our town. 

Since closing our shop in Enfield, we are totally reliant on you making a conscious effort to buy from us. I know it's hard to come into town when you've been working all the hours that you can, that's why I have created a website, so that you can still support our family and our business ethos, by ordering online from us. We deliver FREE to you if you live in the BA4 postcode area, we also have click and collect as an option. If there is one thing that you can buy from us instead of a supermarket, then please do just that.

What if you can't find the healthy, or vegan, or gluten-free thing that you want on our website? Then please just comment on this blog post and tell us the product name and size that you are looking for and we will update our website, to sell you the things that you are looking for.

We don't lead an extravagant lifestyle, we don't have massive needs but we would like to provide you with a business that you want to use and sells the things that you want and need at a fair, reasonable price. We want to create a business that is successful here in Shepton Mallet. 

When we closed our shop in Enfield, I thought that our customers/friends would love to buy from our online shop, I imagined people buying our Yogi Tea Bags, or Protein Powders, or our Coffee but this hasn't really happened but I still feel sure that it could, maybe I just need to say, please buy from us, we need you to help us and we would like to be give the opportunity to sell you the things that you need.

Since closing our Enfield shop, we have had to claim Housing Benefit, to help us be able to pay our rent. I don't want to have to claim housing benefit, I want us to be able to sell our friends and our family the things they want, at the price they feel able to pay.

In writing this blog, I might earn a few pennies from advertising revenue and I really mean, a few pennies! In creating my website that takes many hours, I have sold a few things but it could do a lot better. I need my friends and my family and my children's friends, to make a concerted effort to use it and if there is something that you want to buy that is health food or whole food orientated, then please let me know. 

I understand that you can't always get to visit my shop in person, or even get to it EVER, BUT please support my family and I in our venture to continue our Coffee and Health Food shop on the high street of Shepton Mallet.

Anna Perra's shop on the high street is closing this month, I haven't been able to visit for ages to buy at least a little something because I just haven't had the money. I've seen Penny's Sweets go, I've seen No 21 go, I've seen Nostalgia go, Tina's Pet Pantry, Fred's Shop, Twice as Nice, Mendip Fireplaces and Just Jo all these shops added character, personality and enjoyment to our high street and now Anna Perra is going, there'll be another empty unit. Anna is keeping her business going as an online shop and doing events too, so she's cutting one massive overhead from her business and concentrating on creating an income from decreasing her overheads. Seeing another shop close is always a shock to residents and especially, I feel, to other shopkeepers. It is a reminder of our own vulnerabilities and how needy we are for your continued support. Yes, I look at Anna Perra's shop closing and feel scared, very scared for the future of my shop too.

I want to support the high street, I want people to know about the shabby chic charm of Shepton Mallet but I cannot do it on my own, I need you to help. This is a two way process, I will help you get the things you want and you can help me to stay where I am on the high street, adding a big dollop of personality and charisma to our wonderful town!

People used to say that online shopping caused the demise of the high street, I see online shopping as a tool to help regenerate the high street and keep supporting those little independent shops that you love, even if you're working so hard that you don't even get a chance to visit them!

I look forward to receiving your order today!

24 July 2016

Listen to your inner voice!

So, last week, I went to my youngest son's sports day. To my surprise there was a race at the end for the ladies, the MUMS, in other words. I was just going to sit back and watch the others run in the sunshine and heat, then one of the teachers cajoled me and said, 'Come on, come on, you can do it!', well it didn't take much, after a few verbal nudges like that, I was 9 years old again, good at running 100 meters and ready to RUN! Just let me point out here, that if I do anything to keep fit these days, my choice is not running but anything that involves dancing and music to lift me up and along into the realms of exercise, that ethos was quickly shoved out of my mind as I imagined the glory of winning, especially after Elijah had just used Sports Day to display so beautifully the fact that he hasn't picked up how to skip whilst running yet, the slow painful embarrassment that I had felt watching him would soon be turned into a success for the Mercer-Hollenstein clan and our family would climb up to grace once again! I stood on the white line, waiting to begin and as I did so, I looked down at the boots I was wearing and thought, loud and clear, if that is possible, 'No, I shouldn't be doing this!', the thought was so very loud and clear that I almost stepped away from the line to go and sit down again but the logical part of my brain saw no logical reason why I should not take part in a fun little race, so there I stood, poised for action. Whilst my mind was off in another realm, 'Go' had been shouted out and as I saw the other Mums set off in slow motion, it seemed to me and stretch out far in front of me, I knew I had to close that space and catch up, overtake and win! There was NO WAY I was going to lose, I urged myself forward, pushed my toes into the ground with extra might and found myself flying, NOT towards the finishing line but towards the ground that was now rapidly coming up to meet my face and body. I lay on the ground, completely shocked, then for some reason, decided it was important to get up and finish the race. I don't know what lesson that taught the children watching at that young impressional age, at this stage of life, maybe keep going even if you're a loser, or don't let your Mum embarrass you at sports day ever again, (That one probably a personal one for my son Elijah).
After going over what happened in my head, I realised that it is very important to listen to your inner voice, in particular for me, my inner voice. I took this as a message from the universe, as a warning, a little hand life tip to heed for my future and to help me make important decisions and to tune into my instinct. I told Elijah the story about how, even though I had managed to fly in the race, I had missed the opportunity to listen to my inner voice.
Today, I had the perfect opportunity to listen to my inner voice. We went with some friends, our children and their child, to Glastonbury Abbey and Joshua my 13 year old, was doing commando rolls all over the place and running and jumping, just yesterday we were watching some Parkour videos on YouTube and having studied gymnastics when I was a girl, I noticed Handsprings, Somersaults and  Arabsprings (Are they still calles that?) buried in the sequences. Of course when Joshua started doing all this, I revert to my 13 year old self and try to copy what he's doing, not very successfully, so I decide to show I am quite good at some things still and do a nice little controlled headstand. Having built up my confidence, I do a quick little cartwheel, then decide I show Joshua how to do an Arabspring, 'Er, should you be doing this, ' my inner voice said, 'You don't want to hurt yourself!'. Then my logical brain responded with the logical and end conclusion that there was no reason that I would hurt myself, can you recognise a pattern here?
'This is how you do an Arabspring Joshua', I eaxplained, as I took a run up and did the preperatory hop on my left leg, before going into the spring which would be where I would go upside down on my hands.....I didn't get to the upside down on my hands bit, my sequence was completed with the hop and a tightening in my left leg and a cramp like searing pain, as I crumpled to the grass, screaming out a very long ow!
Just as with the running experience, I lay still at first, this time, on my back and Joshua thought it might be a joke but it wasn't. I have bloody hurt my left leg so much, after having not listened to my inner voice that I am now in bed, worried about going to the toilet and getting there in time, down our very long corridor with two sets of steps. I can't walk properly, only with a limp and if I do a wrong move, it makes me yelp with pain. I need a walking stick, tomorrow is Monday, I do not know how I will cope in our shop and on Tuesday, a TV crew is coming to film us, with Heather Bryson-Banks, Columnist from The Shepton Mallet Journal and her family, in our shop and I am lying here and hoping that it will all be sitting down stuff. At this moment in time, my inner voice, rather than stomping off in a mood, has decided to look at my situation and laugh at me, jumping up and down with glee whilst shouting out, 'I told you so, I told you so!'. What kind of childish attitude is that for an inner voice to have? I can hear my inner voice saying back to me, 'Yup, the same kind of childish attitude that I have to put up with from you, when you choose not to listen to me!'.
'Yeah but what about feel the fear and do it anyway?' I question, stubbornly.
'Not at Forty Six Years old, just ACT YOUR AGE.' Inner voice replies in frustration.
It's taken me years to even get to this level of maturity, I do NOT accept the age 46, in which case, I feel there are a few more injuries to be had. I am still wondering to myself how I can make sure I do my Arabspring correctly, with no injuries next time, in the meantime, when you see me hobbling around Shepton Mallet, let it be a reminder to listen to your innervoice, your instinct and take heed.

27 June 2016

Why did my partner vote to leave?

After the 2nd world war, to encourage peace the EU was created. Britain joined in 1973, when I was just 3. So basically I don't have a concept of Britain not being a part of Europe.
In 1995, Austria became a part of the EU. In 1996, I went over to Austria to work and met and fell in love with Gunter Hollenstein. I was able to stay there without a problem, open a bank account easily, be taught German, have a job as a singer and a dancer and sometimes barwork too, all easily because we were united. Gunter came with me back to the UK to live and to work, he easily got a NI number, he easily got German speaking jobs and a bank account. I went on to broadcast the traffic and travel news for ten years and we had Joshua and Elijah on the way. Then Gunter and I decided to open a coffee shop in this country and for a while we had two coffee shops in this country.
Then one day, somebody decided we should have a referendum about something that I thought had already been decided in 1973.
So, I went along and voted. Gunter is Austrian and wasn't meant to be able to vote but he had a polling card and his name was on the list at the polling station. I told him he'd better vote, just in case he is allowed and he did.
We are living history, that is why both sides of the debate feel so passionately, that I can see but what I don't think I'll ever understand is why an imigrant in the UK would vote leave, after enjoying all the freedoms that EU gave him.
Why would a man with two sons in Britain and two sons and a Dad and brothers, sisters and lots of family in Austria vote for the UK to leave the EU?
Being in the EU was a strategic idea to keep the peace, that worked. I still do not understand why my own partner would vote leave. I wish I could.
At the moment I am in bed with flu, I'm calling it the Flexit virus because it bowled me down on Friday when the Leave win was announced.
Illness always makes me think things through and think about life and I've been mulling that one over big time, I can tell you. When I saw the online petition stating the grounds for a second referendum, I thought that it was a very good idea. I posted it onto my Facebook profile to encourage a friendly discussion but generally leavers accused remainers of 'Throwing their toys out of their pram' and 'Childish-like tantrums' and yes my glee was delightfully childlike when it was revealed in the press that the petition was started in May by a Leave campaigner, in case the vote hadn't gone his way!
Like many others, I am left wondering why a person so close to me voted for something that would tear his family apart and give his two youngest sons less opportunities than they ever had before.
Hey, forget the 2nd referendum petition, the poll wasn't run properly and no one is even admitting it.
The truth will out in the end but at the moment each one of us is living with this great divide, this great rift and one day, when people read our history they will wonder why we let it happen and how it came to pass.

22 June 2016

Bin There, Done That But...

What a great job, in front of the iconic Pyramid Stage!

The reason that I find it difficult to imagine enjoying Glastonbury Festival is because I do not enjoy being in any type of queue, the traffic chaos of last night (June 21st) is something that I would not be able to put up with at all, I cannot tolerate changes in temperature very well at all, especially cold, so being wet and muddy and feeling cold doesn't appeal to me whatsoever. For many years I thought I was just a snob, as I felt the only way I could enjoy the festival would be in a special bit away from the crowds and with no queues and looked after properly. Then after photographing Collett Festival, the other week and being able to go backstage and right up in front of the stage, to get my shots, I realised that perhaps I need to be just working at Glastonbury Festival, in order to enjoy it, rather than being a member of the public. I need to be involved from the inside. I find the whole concept rather overwhelming and the space huge and the amount of choice of what to do just incredible, so for me the whole thing is about getting myself accustomed to the sensory overload that I would experience in these conditions. I've suspected for a long time now, that I am on the high functioning end of the autistic spectrum and that is why I have these issues, that 'Neuro Typical' people just don't seem to have. So, when a very special family, customers of our shop, told us that they were organising bin painting at the festival, I was very interested in seeing what it was about. They told me that if I did 10 shifts of bin painting, that I would be able to get free tickets to the festival! I didn't know if I would like the vibe, or painting bins, or even if I would be able to do it, or anything, so I just kept saying 'No'!

From left to right: Andy, Thali and Holly.

However, Holly, Andy, baby Thali and brother Sky, are lovely, lovely people and really encouraged me to do it, even if it was for just one hour. (Well baby Thali didn't encourage me verbally but he has such a lovely way with him and a gorgeous beaming smile too, very hard to resist!) My problem was I was just very, very scared! I was worried about going there, finding them, doing it and just everything. I was frozen by the thought of stepping a bit outside my comfort zone. So frozen that I dressed in old clothes specially for bin painting for three days in a row before I finally managed to convince myself to get into my car and drive down to where I didn't know where I was going.

When I found the Worthy Farm Festival site, the security where wonderfully smiley and welcoming and not intimidating at all and there was a very friendly lady in the office called Emma, who offered me chocolate biscuits as I awaited Holly to pick me up in her 4x4.

I eventually got dropped off in a field and Sky, Holly's brother was my leader. I was introduced to his team of bin painters and then given brushes, paint, a bin and instructions to do something happy and bright! So before lunch, I painted bunting going round my bin and then after lunch, which was a very delicious vegan option from Goose Hall, the onsite restaurant for staff, I painted flowers around the bottom half. I took a sneaky peak at some other finished bins to get an idea of the technique that I could use to paint some pretty flowers. I LOVED being let loose on a bin! It was a happy, relaxing time. I didn't really want to chat, I loved being in my own little world just happily painting, whilst someone blared out some tunes from their phone and a speaker. ( I think I was expected to interact a little more though, as John, another volunteer bin painter told me about the bonding exercise that they had done as a team and how it was really good to break the ice and so on). After I finished my bin, I said goodbye to everyone and planned to come back again the next day.

My first and only bin so far, with bunting and flowers.

The next day, I had to park up in a lay-by and then walk into the site. I found a great little spot to park up and due to my inexperience with Glastonbury Festival and where everything is, I ended up walking, not knowing where I was going for a couple of hours, I was completely lost and found a perimeter fence, there was a sign about a gas main and phoning the site office for permission to dig, so I decided to phone that number to find out where I was and how to get in, then as I dialled the number, Michael Eavis' office number came up, I described to them where I was but they didn't recognise it either, there are a lot of places looking the same, so they advised me in the end to just keep walking around the fence and I would bump into someone to help me eventually. I had actually got straight through to Michael and I was really shocked that it was him who answered the phone and he was just as shocked that it was me who was phoning, different reasons to my shock of awe and admiration, I think! After a quick chat his PA, was the one who gave me the guidance to follow the fence and there was I imagining special treatment, like a rescue helicopter loaded with food and drink for me and a special guided tour by Michael himself but I really should have known better!

Eventually, I came across the right people to help me and I marched all the way to the Bin painting field where I discovered, there was no-one and I realised that it was lunch! Yippee, so after walking all that way, pass The John Peel Stage, pass The Pyramid Stage and taking some pictures too, I arrived just in time for lunch. There was a queue, I didn't have a meal ticket but for some reason the very lovely security took pity on me and put me at the front of the queue and asked a bin painter, with purple paint marks on her face to explain why I would need a meal. Then I bumped into Sky! So synchronicity was starting to kick in at last and it kicked in so perfectly, that as I sat down to enjoy another beautiful vegan meal at Goose Hall, torrential rain banged on the tin roof of the structure we were in and I felt extremely lucky to be fed, watered and dry and not still lost!

In the afternoon, we were told that we wouldn't be painting bins but we would be painting a mural! Which sounds really exciting but I just wanted to go home, as I find working in a team really difficult indeed, unless I have my own role nicely mapped out, starting to panic a bit, I made a joke about there being no 'I' in team, so I'd better F@*"k off then but Andy told me to stay and paint my own little piece of wall on the end. That felt ok to me, so I stayed. It suddenly felt very not ok when other painters came by looking at what I was doing, maybe thinking I must be a really good painter to get my own bit of wall, until I explained to them that I'm rubbish at working in a team, that put the score straight for them and immediately lowered their expectations of what was going to appear on that wall. I was blown away by the murals that they were creating, I couldn't understand how they managed to communicate with each other within about 5 minutes what they were going to map out and how they were going to paint it, they were all extremely talented! The rain was relentless whilst we were painting but we kept going as luckily we were undercover. Then, when I finished my piece, Holly, Thali and her Mum picked me up and very kindly gave me a lift to my car.

Do I want to do this next year? Oh yes please! Would I like to do the ten days for a ticket to Glastonbury Festival? Absolutely! So yes, I've 'Bin There, Done That But...' I haven't done the festival yet and I really would love to because now I see that the festival is a place that pulls many like-minded people together! How could I, a lover of performing arts, not be involved in the festival in any way, when I live in the nearest town? So, yes, I am a convert, I admit it, I am a Glastonbury Wannabe and I want to paint those bins next year!

If you would love to be a volunteer bin painter for 2017, then you need to email Holly!

15 May 2016

Easy 5 minute Raw, Vegan Soup

Sometimes it is really hard trying to eat healthily and especially when you're hungry, rushing around, trying to do so much and have hardly a moment to think about nutrition. That's why I created this Easy 5 Minute Raw Vegan Soup Recipe.

Influenced by the tastes of my customers and a lady who came in the other week and told me what I could do with my copious amounts of wild garlic!

This is so easy, so good for you and so very enjoyable, so, here goes:

1/ Put the following into a blender.

A handful each of WildGarlic, SpringGreens and Spinach.

A quarter of a Kallo stock cube.

3 generous teaspoons of MellowBrown Rice and Soy Miso.
Chilli to taste.

A drizzle of Clearspring Japanese Toasted Sesame Oil.

Organic Tamari Soy Sauce to taste.

A shake of Turmeric.

And around 600ml of hot but not boiling water.

2/ Whizz blender until required texture. I whizz until there are still little chunks of leaves but you might prefer it throughly blended and smooth.

3/ Pour into a mug or bowl, drink to your health and enjoy.

This recipe creates around 4 portions but of course that depends on the size of bowl or mug that you are using.

10 May 2016

Powerful and Passionate Protest Comments to Support Library Petition!

I started the Leave our Library Alone petition with just my own voice. I do have a habit of saying out loud what everyone is thinking, which usually causes some offence and is generally something I have to try hard to control but when it comes to creating a petition, that's when my weakness is a strength. I write it from the heart and write what I feel is my truth and if people agree with it, they sign the petition, it's as simple as that. A petition isn't just about what I as an individual think, it is a tool to accumulate power for our collective voices to be heard and that's why, I think that if you sign a petition, it's really important to write your own personal comment about what you think about the issue. A petition isn't always a perfect document and society is of course made up of many individuals, each with their own story or angle on the situation. The petition I have created isn't a list of perfect wishes of mine, that need to be magically turned into reality, it's a starting point to attract like-minded individuals, to campaign for what our town needs and to encourage discussion with Somerset County Council. The people on Somerset County Council are real people too, they are not some ogres and I truly believe that when they understand how much our library means to us, in the position it is, that we can come together and create a solution. Nope, I don't know what that solution is but that doesn't mean that I can't campaign against something that is just plain wrong!

So, the petition that I created has three main points:

1/ For our library to be left where it is at the heart of our town.

2/ For opening hours to be longer.

3/ For staff to be supported by automation and not cut because of it.

In just a few days, the campaign has been gathering momentum and there are several powerful comments already on the petition which is just about to reach the 400 signatures landmark!

Please join your voice with ours and get our message heard:

Please sign and comment on the petition, here. 

Please share this article on Facebook and encourage your friends and family to sign too.

Thank you so much for all your support so far.

Here are some of the other voices joining the protest.

It's a vital resource for the community, and should be kept in the centre of the community.

Mary Boston, Cranmore, United Kingdom

I do not think that Mendip will be happy until the whole of Shepton has become a dormitory town with only the shops at the top of the town to serve the town. This is a beautiful town and yet the agenda of Mendip is a brain teaser. LEAVE the library where it is, at least when people go there then they are passing shops who may benefit from a visit from them also, if it is at the top of town in Mendip then what is the point?
Lindy Wilson, Glastonbury, United Kingdom

Libraries AND librarians are a wonderful resource that help reduce crime, improve social mobility and make people happy especially older people and children
Helen Clemence, Shepton Mallet, United Kingdom

Libraries are important for the future of our children and should be kept in the heart of the town

4 May 2016

Leave our Library Alone!

have the opening hours of the library in Shepton Mallet Town centre have already been cut, to even less than than the short hours that were already in place BUT plans are being discussed about:

1/ Moving the library from the centre, to the so called 'Hub', on the edge of our town.

2/ Automating it, so that it is a self-serve facility. 

You know what, one day, they will tell us that it's all available online anyway, so why on earth do we need to pay rent for buildings to house books? Slowly, slowly and then not so slowly they are taking away and eradicating our library.

Please support our campaign and sign the online petition.

Why should our Library stay in the centre of our town?

In my mind the library is the cornerstone of all education. Reading is one of the most important life skills that we will ever learn, it is one of the most honourable pursuits of your time. Once we learn to read, we can learn almost anything because there is probably a book for every subject under the sun. Isn't it incredible that we can even learn another language just through the pages of a book. Reading is at the forefront of our education system, it is the backbone of our learning and the main centre of reading needs to be right in the forefront of our minds and in front of our eyes too. A library is a place to be proud of, standing where it is, right by our majestic looking Market Cross. Right in the centre of our town where it is easily accessible by everybody. 

The Friday Market is coming alive again and more and more people are enjoying this part of our town and altering their lives to either work in the market, or come and visit the market and then taking a look in the library, is an easy and natural progression of those visits.

Having the library in the centre of town reminds us to go and to use it. There is no way that such an important part of community life should be hidden away in the council offices.

I understand that in these economically difficult times we have to make cutbacks and sacrifices and we have to think sensibly about how we use our money. Maybe it is just not viable to pay the costs of a separate lease, when the library can be housed more cost effectively in the council's own buildings. However, maybe it is the council buildings that are in the wrong place and not the library! I understand that a few years ago, the council buildings were in the centre of town. Why did that change? Why make one mistake and then because of that mistake make another one and another one? In the short term moving the library will mean cheaper running costs. In the long term, a Library that is hidden away and automated sends out the message that reading is not important in our society, it is not worth investing in the future of everyone who lives in Shepton Mallet, it is more important to keep costs down. They say that actions speak louder than words, the action of moving the library from the centre of town to the edge of town says loudly and clearly that 'We don't care!' and the written words in books will disappear and not be read or 'heard', those words will be silent.

I taught both of my boys to read and the accessibility and visibility of the library meant that we had support and encouragement and it was very, very easy to incorporate it into our lifestyle. The position of the library is not just about convenience, or about people visiting to be too lazy to walk a little further, it is about the prominence of the library in our every day lives, the profile that it is given, its visibility and the respect that we give it. Moving the library and making it invisible shows us that the service is undervalued and will then be cut completely.

Why should we keep people employed in the Library?

A library with no one to serve us becomes a soulless place. A library isn't just a place to get books, it's sometimes a place to get warm, for someone on the streets, while they read and enjoy talking to someone about something other than their situation. A library for me, is sometimes a respite from the stresses of the outside world and that means the people who work in there too. I am not always in a good state of mind, sometimes I need help to look for a book and I need someone else's knowledge and enthusiasm and recommendation as a guide. Taking the people out of the library is just wrong. Those people are the very essence of the library, their helpfulness and personalities make the library a place that you want to go back to again and again.

Imagine an automated library! That would mean no person to interact with, no one, apart from you, again, to praise your child and encourage them when they choose their first book. No specialised personal knowledge, the knowledge that only comes from life experience and the infectious enthusiasm of another person, the kind of knowledge that can't be gleaned from a computer. There'll be no smile as you walk in, no chat at the desk, no sense of community. No-one for you to speak to, even if it's only about a book, if you've been on your own all day and have no family in the area.

Severing our links with our library is one of the worst ideas that I have heard of since I have moved to this area!


It is perfect where it is, right in the heart of our town. Right where everyone can access it easily. It is appalling that the hours have been shortened, it's appalling that they want to make it self-service and it's appalling that they want to move it from the centre of our town. No, no, no way will I as an individual resident allow this to happen. As individuals we are powerful together.

If you agree with me please like this Facebook Page, please sign our petition.

If you don't agree, come into my shop, buy loads of things and then I might spare a moment to listen to your point of view. 

Moving the library is almost as bad as suggesting Timpson's have a pod at Tesco!

3 May 2016

My Delicious Vegan and Gluten-Free Spicy Black Bean Chocolate Brownies

I am posting this yummy recipe, especially for one of our regular customers, who keeps asking me for it. So here is is for you.

I know most coffee shops and restaurants don't usually release their secret recipes but I am going to put them all into a cook book one day, so this is my little method of getting it all down before you actually have to pay for it! (I didn't want to write that bit but our customer Rob, who can hear what I am writing because I keep reading it out, keeps piping up with suggestions in the background and he said that he hopes you buy the book anyway, as a matter of fact, I agree with him).

I wanted to create a brownie that everyone could enjoy, the catch word I like to think of in our shop is inclusivity, (It's probably not a real word but it could be one day). I want everyone to be able to eat the same thing and not worry about allergies, or health issues, or weight gain and so on. So, I try to make things that all the different groups of minority eaters can enjoy together.

The great thing about these Brownies is if you swap the Divine Bar of chocolate for the Hasslacher's 100% Cacao option, they are perfectly suitable for a clean eating paleo diet, with no refined sugar in.

Here we go then:

1/ Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

2/ Take a 9" x 9" square brownie tin, line with grease proof paper.

Take one 400g can of drained black beans and put into a blender.

2/ Add two dessertspoons of Divine Cocoa powder.

3/ Meanwhile take 1/4 of a cup of Biona Organics mild coconut oil and put it in a warm place to melt. I normally put mine in a bowl of hot water.

4/ Take 1/3 a cup of Chantico Organic Agave Sweetner and pour into the ingredients that are already in the blender.

5/ Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of Taylor and Colledge Vanilla Bean Extract vanilla essence and 1/2 a teaspoon of Doves Farm Gluten Free Baking Powder.

6/ Take half a cup of gluten-free Glebe Farm Oats and add to the ingredients in the blender.

7/ Add a pinch of ginger and a pinch of chilli, or leave out, or put more in according to your taste!

8/ Pour your melted coconut oil into the ingredients in the blend and then blend. I use a smoothie setting on mine.

9/ Smash up a 100g bar of Divine Chocolate. This has sugar in it, so for a cleaner option, you could use Hasslacher's 100% Cacao. Just use about 8 cubes, as it is very intense, if you love bitter, you'll love it with this chocolate! Then stir whichever smashed up chocolate you have chosen into the mix.

10/ Then pour the whole mixture into the brownie tin and cook for 19 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

Get the ingredients now for the Hasslacher's Version

Get the ingredients now for the Divine Chocolate Version.

Nutritional Information.

This recipe makes 9 portions.

The Hasslacher's Version is about 127 calories per serving.
13.5g Carbs Sugars 7g
6.8g Fat Saturated is 5.8g
2.9g Protein
64.6mg Sodium
5.3% Iron

The Divine Chocolate Version is about 165 calories per serving.
20.5g Carbs Sugars 12.7g
Fats 8.7g
Saturated 10.6g
Polyunsaturated 2g
Monounsaturated 1.7g
Trans 2.3g
Sodium 394.4mg
Potassium 284.3mg
Dietry Fiber 3.8g
Protein 3g
Calcium 1.5%
Iron 8.5%