Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Happy Christmas!

I have no tales of my adventures in and around Aberdeenshire to report as I've barely left the village for what seems like forever!  Everything looks absolutely beautiful covered in snow, but all roads other than the main bus routes are still covered in lethal ice and I'm not going out unless I really have to.

We are very fortunate to live at the village shop so whatever the weather, we just walk through from the house into the shop - safe, warm and dry. 

The weather has undoubtedly had a negative effect on business at Starfish Studio.  On several days the main coast road (A92) has been treacherous, and the dual carriageway (A90) not much better so people have been staying at home whenever possible. 

The A92

My daughters have had several snow days off school - Eilidh usually travels to Stonehaven on a school bus but, due to the road conditions, they were cancelled for ten days in total.

Even the village Primary School was closed for 8 full days and 2 half days.

Many of the people who visited the shop throughout the year and said they would definitely be back for Christmas shopping just haven't appeared - and I don't blame them!

It's difficult enough for small businesses to survive without the additional problems thrown our way by the weather.  What I desperately hope is that Christmas shoppers haven't just been making one trip out to a giant supermarket and doing all their present buying along with their food shopping.  The amount of money pouring into a very small number of businesses at the expense of many thousands of small, local businesses is really very alarming.  In the last 2 years, Tesco alone have opened an additional 392 stores, but don't get me started on that again...! 

I have to admit that I do love the snow, and although it has been very bad for business, I've got to spend some lovely extra time with my girls - largely involving building Lego masterpieces and baking naughty treats!

Now there are only three sleeps to go until Christmas.  After the big day I'll be open on 30th & 31st December but will then be closing for 2 weeks to allow time to repaint the shop walls and (weather permitting) get out and about a bit myself.

It just remains for me to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year.  Thank you very much for your interest, custom and support throughout 2010.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

An enjoyable shopping experience?

Since opening my own shop I have become acutely aware of the whole shopping experience and how it varies enormously from one shop to another.  I know what kind of shopping environment I enjoy myself and I absolutely promise that at Starfish Studio you will always have the opportunity to browse for as long as you like with no pressure to buy anything.

Yesterday I went to the Brechin Castle Centre - a garden centre with a large outdoor country park and play area.  I went specifically because they do a lovely lunch there and, as with all big garden centres these days, it has an interesting foodie section with unusual treats for yummy Christmas pressies. 

As I wandered around the store I became increasingly irritated by product videos playing over and over, demanding that I buy various items.  I kid you not, I counted FIVE different ones and they each ended with the line, "Take your magic bubbles/ cheese slicer/ advanced geared bypass loper (yes really) to the till NOW". 

One even said, "Take one or more 'handy clearaways' to the till NOW"

There were actually two separate videos for different types of cheese slicer - am I a bad wife and mother for risking life and limb in our kitchen by only having a terrifyingly dangerous small knife for this purpose?

I can't think of anything more likely to make me NOT buy something than an irritating sales rep's voice telling me what I want to buy over and over again.

Then I started to imagine how Starfish Studio would be with video clips from my suppliers all telling my customers what they need...

Quirkycat : 
"Do you despair that your necklaces can only be worn one way around?  With a necklace from Quirkycat you not only have the excitement of varying your look with our beautiful double sided necklaces, you are safe in the knowledge that each one is completely unique as they are all handmade by me in Inverbervie.  Choose from a wide selection of colour combinations and take your Quirkycat necklace to the till NOW."

Ceri White :
"Do you have a blank piece of wall that makes your home look dull and empty?  Worry no more!  The solution to your predicament is a unique ceramic tile handmade by me in my Fife studio.  Just imagine the compliments you'll receive from visitors for years to come.  Choose from a selection of styles and take your Ceri White tile to the till NOW."

Lazy Daisy Glass :
"Is there a room in your house that is seriously lacking a clock?  If so you run a real risk of missing that all important appointment.  You must rectify this situation immediately by choosing from a selection of Lazy Daisy Glass clocks.  Each one not only ticks, it tocks too and is handmade by me in my studio near Keith.  Take your Lazy Daisy Glass clock to the till NOW."

Ness Soap : 
"Do you ever have the need to wash your hands?  If so you need to immediately purchase several bottles of Ness Soap's lovely liquid soap in a variety of scents.  Our soaps, foam bath and body wash are made in the Highlands as a social enterprise project.  Take one or more bottle of each variety to the till NOW."

I think my customers would run screaming from the place - I know I would!


Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Wellies & cardboard animals

This is my trusty pair of Hunter wellies that my mum bought for me to take on my week-long 6th form geography field trip in 1985.

At the time I was pretty embarrassed as all my friends had bog standard, plain black wellies and I felt very self conscious in my 'posh' green pair!

Not surprisingly the soles have become worn and they don't grip as well as they used to, so I decided that after 25 years I was justified in buying myself a new pair!!  I chose Hunters again, because if I get 25 years out of the next pair I think that'll be pretty good value for money.  Incidentally, a little shopping around saved about £15 on the Hunter list price.

So these are my new wellies - much more attractive than the old pair.  Interestingly, they don't have 'Made in Britain' stamped into the rubber like the old pair, so presumably they're not.

I had to laugh when my daughter (almost 13) borrowed them to pop round to her friend's house - literally for 5 minutes.  She complained that they didn't go with what she was wearing.  Eh?  They are wellies for goodness sake!!  Maybe if they still just came in a choice of black, black, black or green things would be easier?

On the subject of good quality purchases, my younger daughter (age 10) spent some of her recent snow days making animals using this set that she bought in Edinburgh.  She bought it with her own money and at £8 I was surprised that she was willing to splash out.

There are a lot of cut out and make type of products around, but I can highly recommend this one - well worth the dosh.  The animals are printed on good quality card with an interesting design on the back.  The instructions are very clear and they are relatively easy to make.  I ended up doing the cutting out as she was scared of accidentally removing some essential body parts, but as a joint effort it was lots of fun with really good results.

Having been housebound by the snow for several days we also made lots of naughty cakes and traybakes - every cloud has a silver lining :)

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Snow & geese

Well the forecasters were right - the North East of Scotland woke up to snow this morning. 

As we are right by the sea we tend to only have a light covering here, but the main coast road gets pretty heavy snowfalls.  As a result, the school transport taking children to secondary school in Stonehaven is often cancelled when there's hardly any snow in the village.  My older daughter was delighted to hear that her bus wasn't running this morning, and when it was announced that Johnshaven Primary would also be closed, her wee sister was chuffed too!

 Beside the harbour this morning.

I'm not complaining - I hate the thought of Eilidh travelling to school in bad weather.  My dad and I had a terrifying experience in dreadful snow 20 years ago, and it's something neither of us will ever forget.

I was a student at Worcester College of H.E. and he was due to pick me up to go home (to Sutton Coldfield) at the end of term.  The Midlands had been hit by very heavy snow to the extent that the M6 was closed and no trains were running.  We were told that we could stay in the halls of residence for an extra night, but by the time I phoned home to tell my parents this, dad had already set off. 

Of course, this was in ye olden days when there were no mobile phones, so I just had to sit and wait and hope that he'd arrive safely.  When he eventually got to Worcester, we loaded the car up with all my belongings and set off home. 

Beside open fields near Kidderminster it was still snowing heavily and snow was drifting from the fields on to the road when we came across stationary traffic.    Dad managed to stop our car in time but the vehicle behind us drove straight into the back of us.  The one behind that did the same, shunting us off the road, smashing our lights and making a terrible mess of the back of our car.  Bear in mind that ALL my stuff was in the boot!!

The snow was still falling thick and fast and we were concerned that we would be stuck for hours and spending the night in the car but the police appeared, declared the road closed and helped everyone to turn their cars around.

We set off back to Worcester in a blizzard, in a white car and with NO lights working on the back of the vehicle.  We were virtually invisible to other road users.  We crawled along very, very slowly and I was absolutely terrified. 

Finally arriving back in the city of Worcester we were still crawling along when the windscreen wipers stopped working.  Dad had to stop every few metres to wipe snow off the windscreen, but with no brake lights to warn the car behind that we were about to stop, it was nerve wracking every time.

Eventually we arrived safely back at college and dad spent the night in my friend's empty room.  If only he'd stayed at home, if only we hadn't set off from Worcester... it's easy to be wise after the event.  At one point, as we were talking to the person who'd driven into us, I'd been hit on the legs by our car as it was shunted by the second one, but neither of us were injured, just very frightened.

Dad seemed calm throughout the entire experience - it was only later that he admitted how scared he'd been.  He had recurring nightmares about it for years afterwards.

So, I am very much of the opinion that unless a journey is absolutely necessary there is no point setting off in the snow.  You just never know what's going to happen and I would much rather my girls had a day off school than I had to worry about whether they'd get home safely.

Whilst I was out taking photos of the snow this morning there was an incredible 'honking' sound as hundreds of geese flew overhead.  The photos really can't do justice to this amazing sight, but here they are anyway to give you an idea!

Oh, and here's evidence that the seagulls have been out for a walk together!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Chess, draughts and UTG.

The kids had a couple of occasional days off school on Monday and Tuesday this week.  I was able to leave the shop in Morag's capable hands yesterday and we headed off to Aberdeen to do a spot of Christmas and birthday shopping.

We always make a point of walking through the wonderful Union Terrace Gardens whenever we're in town.  Much has been made in the Aberdeen press recently about the need for greater connectivity in the city centre - what they actually mean is that you should be able to move seamlessly from one shopping centre to the next (covered, moving walkways have been mentioned). 

Well you already can move easily from one to another, and you can enjoy the oasis of calm that is UTG as you do so. 

To get from the Trinity Centre to the Bon Accord Centre you can either walk a short distance along Union Street (along with everyone else on the crowded pavements and all the cars, buses and lorries chugging by) and then walk through the St Nicholas Centre, OR you can walk through a lovely Victorian garden below street level where you escape from the mad city centre bustle for a few minutes.

Anyone who knows me personally will be aware of my horror at the proposals to fill this garden with a 4 storey concrete building with a 'garden' on the top.  It's beyond bonkers.  I could write pages and pages on this, but for now I just want to highlight the work of the Friends of UTG

I have a few of these stickers in the shop if anyone wants one.

Refusing to be daunted by the powerful businessmen and heavily biased local press that are pushing for this 'development', they are doing a great job of raising awareness of the threat to the gardens and tirelessly campaigning for them to be saved.

Recently Friends of UTG gathered volunteers to give the garden's old arches a coat of paint.  People donated paint, rollers, brushes and time to give a new lease of life to this major feature of the gardens. 

Yesterday was the first time I'd seen them in all their glory, and they looked great!  To find out more about Friends of UTG please click here.

Another advantage of taking this route through the city centre, is that you walk past the Art Gallery.  I don't usually get the chance to visit the gallery as it's closed on my day off (Monday) but as I'd managed to get a rare Tuesday off, we were able to visit the fascinating touring exhibition of the Lewis Chessmen 

These 78 beautiful pieces were discovered on a beach on the Isle of Lewis in 1831.  Dating from the 12th century, they are intricately carved from walrus tusks and shark teeth. 

I've only been to Lewis once - Ewan and I spent our very first holiday together there in 1994 and it rained ALL week!  We do plan to go back sometime, maybe on an island hopping holiday.

In Starfish Studio I don't have Lewis chessmen, but I do have a Lewis draughts set!  Mother and daughter team, Anna Macneil, make beautiful wall hangings and more on the Isle of Lewis (mother) and in Inverness (daughter).

The draughts board is made with embroidered Harris Tweed which is 100% pure new wool, handwoven in the Outer Hebrides.  The draughts pieces are a combination of embroidered Harris Tweed and wool fleece felted together.  A lot of work has gone into creating this!

Saturday, 13 November 2010


It won't be long until the trees are completely bare,
so to make the most of the autumn colours we went for a walk near Banchory last Sunday, kicking up leaves and enjoying the beauty of it all.

We started at Milton of Crathes and walked along the leaf strewn path to the grounds of Crathes Castle.

It was blooming cold, so we had to walk quickly to keep warm!!

Kirsty collected leaves of various shapes, sizes and colours.  When we got home she carefully positioned them in the flower press that my dad made for me when I was a little girl.

A beautiful array of leaves also arrived at Starfish Studio this week.  Eleanor Caie's stunning Raku bowls, jewellery and decorative leaves are now available in the shop. 

The colours in these pieces are just as varied and interesting as the autumn trees I love so much.

Brooch made with a real
raspberry leaf.

 To view earlier blog entries please click here.