Friday, 24 November 2017

ms-havachat discovers Inspirations in Sunninghill

Inspirations gorgeous shopfront
54 High Street, Sunninghill Ascot, SL5 9NF

This morning I met a friend for a coffee before art class. With time to spare before class, I decided to stroll the High Street in Sunninghill and discovered INSPIRATIONS, a truly delightful gift shop.

The strange thing about where we live, indeed for most of us these days, independently owned boutique retailers are few and far between, thanks to the multi-national global branded retailers. `Just walk down any major High Street, or visit a shopping mall (ie: centre) and you'll see the same retail outlets, varying only based on the socio-demographics of the area. Trying to find a privately owned, one-off, independent retail outlet isn't easy these days.

Bricks'n'mortar shopping is struggling to compete with online retailers so things like customer service, product differentiation, product knowledge are what's able to set them apart. The gaps can be huge if bricks'n'mortar retailers invest in their staff, their physical shops and products. I throughly enjoyed training my retail staff, and the interaction with our customers, the rapport and trust that developed all of which resulted in increased sales.

Inspirations is a text-book independently owned shop. Owner/manager of 18 years, Judy and best friend Janet are warm and friendly and know their stock intimately. They take pride in sourcing the best of British made products as often as possible,  and love finding British designers whose products will sit well in the shop. Their suggestions for gift ideas was most appreciated!

Judy on the right, with Janet. 

What a little treasure trove of loveliness. Fashion accessories like hats, gloves, scarves and bags are displayed creatively amongst ornaments and photo frames, while the jewellery is set to one side. 

There's a lot of stock in a small shop, and it's lovely!

Everything is well displayed and easy to see.

There's a bespoke toy section too  that offers high quality
brands and a selection across young ages.

Janet loves stocking Sea Witch candles that are made in a small village in Cornwell, while Sam Wilson, from The Cotswolds is another very popular British range.

There's a great selection of cards and wrapping paper AND they gift wrap!

Very true!

You won't find Inspirations online. They believe in 'word of mouth' recommendation from their client base, many of whom have been with them for 'years'. They smiled when the explained how happy it makes them knowing they are serving generations of customers, from near and far. 

I'm so pleased I discovered Inspirations this morning and was 'inspired' to take a few photo's and have a chat, so I can share it with you.

If you're in the area, do pop in and say ms-havachat recommended you.

With Friendship

Saturday, 18 November 2017

ms-havachat loves Huffkins

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If you're ever in the Cotswolds area of the UK (and I strongly recommend you make time to do so), you must visit Stow on the Wold (the most picturesque story book village in the area) and you must have a tea (or coffee) and eat at the famous Huffkins Tea Rooms.

Started in 1890, the business has only had 3, yes, THREE families own/manage/run the business.  Topsie and Faith are sisters and have been the proud owners for 18 years.

I was lucky enough to meet Topsie when we popped in for morning tea. There was a sign on the counter top that read ' We Supply our Handmade Fruit Cakes to the Royal Palaces' and I asked 'how does a small business in the Cotswolds achieve this honour?' which started a delightful conversation with a very lovely lady - just look at that smile!

A very proud Topsie showing off their status
as provider of Fruit Cakes to the
Royal Palaces

Turns out, you just rock on up to Buckingham Palace on designated tasting days, when Palace officials are sourcing new providers and wait in a long line with others doing the same thing.

About 18 months ago, Faith took a few fruit cakes to Buckingham Palace on such a day and the cakes were tasted and very much enjoyed. They submitted ingredients and other paperwork and voila! Huffkins provides the Royal Palaces with Fruit Cakes.

They also provide fruitcake to Fortnum and Mason and several other London stores, as well as their own tea rooms throughout the Cotswolds and even Japan! 

In 5 years, they will be eligible to receive the Royal Seal which will be simply another well earned recognition in the businesses esteemed history. 

The Royal Warrant is a fascinating English tradition dating back to 1840. It started because there was such fierce competition from local business and farmers to do business with the King, that a criteria was established and only those who could at the minimum meet them were considered. 

There are around 800 Royal Warrants today. Click here for the full list

Huffkins is in incredible company, and deservedly so. We absolutely enjoyed our delicious lunch, the coffee was great, and the cakes DIVINE as you can see in the photo's below. 

We look forward to following Huffkins (and returning one day for another visit) as they bide their time over the next few years, waiting for their Royal Warrant. 

If you see Topsie or Faith, please say ms-havachat from Sydney says hi.

With friendship

Sunday, 8 October 2017

ms-havachat discovers Burlington House and More

Fabulous exhibition, and doors, and building

Henri Matisse is one of my favourite artists and I've been fortunate to see a few exhibitions showcasing his work. Matisse in the Studio is currently showing at the Royal Academy of Arts in Burlington House is really special and there's so many pieces I've not seen before.

The audio guide was very interesting too, tho of course, several days later, I can't recall a thing LOL.

What my companion and I always find fascinating about Matisse is he can still be considered relatively modern (1869-1954) though for some reason, most of us think he's from a different generation of artists altogether.

After an hour or so enjoying the exhibition, we started our exploration of Piccadilly by walking across the road to the iconic Fortum & Mason. The store started way back in 1707 and soon became the most fashionable place to shop in London, even being good enough for the Royal Family.
Simple, stylish unassuming entrance to the store

Today, the food hall is one of the most popular places in London to visit, and like a Harrods shopping bag, a tin of Fortum & Mason tea or shortbread biscuits is a London-must-do thing. Recommend buying an extra one for you to have on your way home. They are delicious. The cake and chocolate counters on the ground floor are works of edible art!

Cakes and chocolate like no where else

The Fortum & Mason tea tin.
Too pretty to be thrown away.

Famous Fortnum and Mason Christmas Hampers.
Sales people were busy preparing and wrapping
bespoke orders for destinations
near and far.
It's too early for Christmas decorations and hampers but
here they are

We were VERY surprised to find that not one Christmas decoration had a Fortum and Mason logo on it - not even a stamp underneath the £40 tree decorations. We might have bought one or two as gifts had they had the famous logo somewhere on them (note to Fortnum and Mason's Christmas marketing department for next year maybe)

Harrods has it's Bear, and the Bag, and some Christmas decorations have Harrods on them; my cloth Winchester Cathedral is obvious, as are other decorations. Just think they've missed something here.

Anyhow, we enjoyed our look-see, and by now were a little thirsty and peckish so we indulged ourselves with morning tea at Fortnum and Mason.

Tea, Apple and Cucumber sorbet, avocado on toast.

Did you watch the TV Series, Selfridges? I think that's why I have an fascination with these old established retailers in the UK. To think they've been selling pretty much the same thing for hundreds of years is impressive. That ladies were employed in some of the first salaried jobs, that cosmetics made their debut on the ground floor, is a bit nostalgic.

Feeling refreshed, we walked across the road to the Burlington Arcade for a stroll. Reminded me very much of the Strand Arcade in Sydney (tho not as pretty) and many arcades in Melbourne. The Burlington Arcade was built in 1818/19 at the request of Lord George Cavendish, later the Earl of Burlington for his wife, so she and her friends could shop in peace and quiet (London was rowdy and a tad dirty back then).

The Burlington Arcade is 'destination jewellery' of all types. From diamonds to pearls, all types of watches (upper end of the brand scale only) and a few silver shops. The lalique shop borough back a flood of memories!  There was even a Manolo Blanik shop! It was an interesting stroll, and fun to have a photo with the Beadle. However, the retailers on the OTHER side of the Arcade were something else. It reminded me of walking along Ginza or 5th Avenue, just different architecture.

Every exclusive brand is represented with a stand alone store

There were security guards on all shop doors, and some doors were unlocked to welcome customers, but remained locked otherwise. The window displays were elegant, there were no price tags on show (hehehehehe), and in most cases, we observed there were more staff than customers (several shops were empty except for staff)

We throughly enjoyed our day in and around Piccadilly and Mayfair . I wouldn't necessarily put it on the bucket list of things to do when in London, but it's easy walking and helps fill a couple of hours.

I'm sure there's much more to these iconic areas of London, and I wish you well exploring them.

Wish friendship

Saturday, 30 September 2017

ms-havachat visits Waddensdon Manor

Thanks Google Images and someone from trip advisor
for posting this amazing aerial shot.

Waddensdon Manor is half way between where I live and a friend, so it seemed the logical place to meet for a coffee'n'chat.

Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild wanted an escape from London, where he and his family could relax and unwind, entertain friends. Land was purchased in 1874 with money he inherited, and the foundation stones were laid in 1877.

The Manor was designed in the style of a French Chateua and competed in 1883. Six years later, electric and running water were added. (don't know about you but I often wonder at how electric and water, and indeed bathrooms were added to existing buildings without extensive re-work)

After the war, the Manor was bequeathed to the National Trust, and was opened to the public in 1959.

It is managed by The Rothschild Foundation on behalf of the National Trust.

You visit beings as you drive through these impressive gates,

continue past fields and follow the signs to the car park,

and as we did, think 'where's the manor house?"

Don't fret - it's there .... beyond the National Trust Welcome House (aka ticket office). There's a small courtesy bus that takes you up to the House past the Stables. You can walk. We were told it's 20 minutes to half an hour (there's a small/medium hill) and as we were short on time (school pick up beckoned) we opted for the bus.

The first time you see the house it takes your breath away. Just look at it! And the blue sky! Both were spectacular.

So pleased with how my photo turned out!
The house is open from noon, and as usual we were early which worked in our favour as we had time to stroll the gardens and have a coffee. We didn't do ALL the grounds - that would take hours, but the areas we did see we enjoyed very much.

It's a self guided tour and simply read the sheets of information available. There are National Trust volunteers in some rooms who are only too happy to answer questions and chat.

Around the corner and BAM! the largest, most elegant aviary I've ever seen. The birdlife was intriguing and the sounds delightful. The garden in the front of the building was being prepared for winter flowers. 

Sorry about the shadows, but you get the feel for how large and stunning it is.

The gardens and grounds at the back of the house are vast - this photo from Google images is one expample of the spring flowers (we went last week, so most of the garden is being prepared for winter or next spring)

This photo and the one below really captured our
imagination. Princesses and princes,
castles and romance.

The grand drive way leading up to the front door made us think of all the grand parties and balls that would have been held here, of the famous (and not so famous) guests and the staff who would have been there to greet them (ok, maybe too much Downton Abbey viewing)

Once inside WOW where does one look? 

The Rothschild Family own one of the world's largest and most impressive art collections. The furnishings, desks, ornaments and statues were incredible. 

The decor is a dream study for anyone with an interest in historical interior design. 

It would be a nightmare for any domestic goddess to look after and maintain.

Fascinated that most rooms had a desk, if not two.
There were drawing rooms and sitting rooms everywhere.

It might be easier for you to have a look at Google Images for high quality images of the interior. Mainly because my phone's camera didn't do justice, and I was too busy reading and looking to take more photos.  

The dining rooms were sumptuous! The place settings and serving crockery and silver ware was beautiful. Again, we closed our eyes and just imaged the dinner parties that were enjoyed here. 

Top: Dining table.
Left: Wine service table
Right: Food service table.
The other fascinating aspect of the house were the number (and location) of guest bedrooms and bathrooms. 

We had a lovely day, but sadly weren't able to spend too long exploring as we both had long drives home and had to be back for school pick up.

There's a cafe and restaurant on site (probably best to book), not sure about picnics (but it's worth asking as the grounds near the car park are lovely). The village of Aylesbury is very pretty and there's places to eat close by. 

I can't wait to go back and continue exploring, taking more time to enjoy all that's on offer. 

If you've been, I'd love to hear what you thought about it.

With friendship

For more information:

Address: Waddesdon Manor, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP18 0JH
Waddensdon Estate

Thursday, 28 September 2017

ms-havachat finally gets to Wisley Gardens

We finally made it to Wisley Gardens! It was a glorious sunny Sunday. We had no plans. Teen was up to date with school work. There was no rugby on TV. Housework was up to date. Hubby wasn't on a deadline. There was absolutely no excuse NOT to go out. 

After cajoling my two to be outside and vertical, we headed outside!  

Wisley was founded by Victorian businessman and RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) member, George Ferguson Wilson, who purchased a mere 60-acre site in 1878. Today, Wisley covers over 240 acres, and is one of the largest most diverse public gardens in the UK (if not, the world!)

The gardens offer something for everyone - formal decorative, informal decorative, numerous glasshouses doing different things, there are teaching facilities as well has laboratories for scientific research and training. It's truly magnificent. 

The laboratory was opened in 1907 and received
Grade II Listig status in 1985.

We opted to join the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) as members as it worked out more economical than buying 2 x adults + 1 x children's entry tickets. Even if I just come back once with a friend, we've paid for our membership - anymore than that, and we're ahead! It's always a great idea to check Membership options in the UK as they are very affordable. We joined English Heritage and National Trust for the same reasons - it's more economical, it encourages you to get out'n'about and you're supporting these great institutions. WIN. WIN. WIN. 

The day we visited, the Surrey Sculpture Festival was on. It added a lovely expedition feel to the visit as we followed the events map around the gardens, looking for the various works on display. We walked and talked and stopped to comment on the artwork - we agreed on liking a few and disliking a few and other than that, we've very different taste. 

Just a few examples of the varied work on display

My favourite of the day, tucked away in a
walled garden in the sunshine, 

The gardens themselves are very beautiful and diverse. We know nothing about gardening but still enjoyed waking around the various displays and checking out unusual plants. Wisley is a photographer and artists dream setting! There were several people taking full advantage the day we were there.

Several beautiful arched walkways lead you from
one part of the gardens to another.

There are so many places to sit and enjoy the gardens,
from picnic under the trees, to well places seats.

There's so many beautiful, calm waterways in the Gardens,
offering various places to sit and relax.
If you forget your picnic basket don't worry, there's
lots of places to buy food and drinks.

Definitely recommend wearing comfy walking shoes.

We thoroughly enjoyed our outing to Wisley and look forward to returning many times over the coming year. Next time, we might even take a picnic blanket.

Address: Wisley Lane, Wisely, Woking GU23 6QB

With friendship

Thursday, 7 September 2017

ms-havachat eats locally at Eliane

There's a new cafe/restaurant in the area and everyone's taking about it, so I went with a friend a few weeks ago for a coffee. Eliane is really different. There's a Sydney-kinda feel to it which I loved.

The decor is gorgeous! Open plan. Food displayed simply in front of you (some with food covers, some with out. It's the Aussie in me, sorry. Food should be covered tho it's not always here). Orders are taken on funky iPads and sent straight thru to the kitchen. They've spared no expense on the set up. Just look at the photo's to see how creative the decor is.

There's newspapers to read while waiting for take away coffees or food; and an open plan dining area well lit by huge windows that overlook the main road. Bright, fun artwork on the walls, and to die-for light fittings!

This cute little secret nook is up behind the serving area, near the kitchen and the door that leads to the back yard .............. it's perfect for a quiet meeting or a rendezvous.

Next to the nook, there's a small retail area with 100% healthy pantry items. The day we were there the fresh fruit section was low on produce (we were there rather early in the morning)

I simply LOVED the atmosphere created outside in the little terrace. The painted fence in bright colours, the cute tables and chairs, thoughtful umbrella's on a summers day (we needed it the day we went). There's no table service at all - so you order at the counter when you first arrive, receive a wooden spoon with a number on it, tell them where you're sitting and food'n'drinks are brought to you.

The service is warm and friendly. The lady who served us was very knowledgeable on dairy alternatives for my friend who is weaning herself off milk.

It's very much a breakfast, then lunch, then dinner place. There's a period of about an hour in-between 'menu' service where a cake or muffin with a drink is all that's able to be ordered while the next 'meal' is being prepared to be displayed on the counter. This is a little bit annoying when you want an early lunch around 11am and you can't order anything other than a muffin or piece of cake. But, hey-ho, live and learn. Just need to time our visits better.

I've not had lunch or dinner here yet but friends rave about it! A couple have ordered over the phone and picked up take away for the family dinner which is a great service.

I wish the management and staff of Eliane all the best for a successful business.

The area definitely will benefit from their being part of the community.

Have you eaten here?
What did you think?

Friday, 18 August 2017

ms-havachat ponders the Annual Clean Up of Facebook Friends

Do you collect Facebook friends or do you stick to only adding people you know in real-life?

How long do you know someone before you add them, or accept their friend request?

Is it ridiculous that even thinking about 'adding a friend' is even part of our thought process?

What do you tell your kids (age relevant) about adding only people they know in real-life to their various social media?

Why do I always feel compelled to write similar chats at this time of year?????????????? I do hope, that as our expat life and experiences have evolved, so have the chats!

As an expat, I think the propensity to collect online friends is much higher that local friends, simple because we have to start over in a new place every few years. The joy of living in the one place for
y-e-a-r-s escapes us, even tho as a child I lived in the same area (two different addresses) ti I moved out of home! Teen hasn't lived in the same city, let alone the same address for more than 3 years!

People are constantly arriving (and leaving) so the friendship circle expands and contracts constantly. The biggest movement happens over summer in the northern hemisphere, as school tends to dictate moves, and again a smaller migration over December for the start of school in January.

This movement of families is like Ground Hogs Day for long time veterans of expat life. There's the orientation day/s at school, where returning parents greet each other with hugs and kisses, and newbies often look like rabbits caught in headlights. I love seeing my friends after holidays but know that it's more important to fix eyes on a newbie and walk over and introduce myself, ask the 20 Questions we've talked about before in previous chats, and see where it goes ............

This is the tricky part - when do you send the Facebook friend request, or indeed, if they send you one right away, do you accept? Are you indeed friends at this point? Do you extend/accept simply to be polite?

It's Girl Dating all over again - is it too soon? Should you wait, and if so, how long? What if someone gets there before you?

It's at this time of year when I feel the urge to do a bit of a clean up, to remove the fair-weather friends ...... do you? Is it rude?

Do you go thru and remove 'friends'?  What motivates you to do this? What thought process do you go thru in deciding who to keep? We don't ditch 'real' friends so easily. How come online friends take up so much time?????????????

Seriously! This subject has been in my head for a few weeks now, so I thought a quick chat with you might help clarify things.

Let's consider things like how you met, how long you've known each other, do you socialise in each others homes or just out'n'about? What do YOU mean by the word Friend? Maybe that's it - maybe it's simply do to with your definition and nothing more.

The good friends I've made over the past decade somehow felt right from the beginning. Sometimes, it's just meant to be.

I guess I'm chatting about the acquaintances, the peripheral friends. There are so many words to describe friendship, just check out the Thesaurus.

Keeping all those words in mind, think about these situations .................

Expat Network:
Friends you've made in places you've lived. You've both moved on, some repatriate, others keep roaming ...... will you ever see them again? If they wrote and said they were coming to town, would you go meet them for coffee? They do come in handy if someone you know is moving to where they've been or are ........ you were friends, hung out together but moved away simply because you're expats.

Common Interests:
Nothing other than a sports club affiliation, or kids dance class, your neighbours who share the taxiing of kids to/from stuff, you're in the same club, or kids in the same class at school, or you're on a committee together. Guess hanging out in a WhatsApp group talking about the specific's of any of the above 'groups' makes sense, but Facebook? Where you share so much of yourself .... do they need to know?????????????

Instant Friend:
You meet at a school function or end up together at lunch, have an enjoyable time and next thing BAM! there's a friend request on Facebook from them. Again, Facebook? Where you share so much of yourself .... do they need to know?????????????

Politically Correct:
You're on the same committee, they are a well respected long-term member of the community, they reached out to you (not the other way round).

Those friends who never comment, never post anything. You wonder why they bother having a Facebook account.

Obligatory Friend:
The one you feel you HAVE to keep; they might be a long-lost cousin or friend from school, might even be an in-law, or someone who's just handy to have for those 'just incase' situations that arise from time to time.

The list goes on ....... just google 'cleaning up Friends on Facebook' and see how many blogs there are on the subject.  There's numerous tips and suggestions. There's even video tutorials showing you how to do it. Clearly a lot of people have the same issues.

Now open your Facebook page BUT COME BACK! - go to your friends list and slowly go thru it - recall when you first met, what you have in common, the last time you hung out together or Skyped, the tone of their posts/comments, the genuineness of the relationship  - if you start to smile, keep them! If not, think twice then consider deleting them (maybe). It's a tough call, right?

Or not!

What about keeping them and building a huge following of '000 like younger people do (gosh, am I old or what?)

Facebook has an option where you group your posts to family, friends, acquaintances etc, but to be honest who could be bothered? We tend to SHOUT OUT all sorts of things to anyone who'll listen, and hope someone will at the very least hit LIKE.

'Unfollow' is a great option as it allows you to remain friends, but you don't see their posts (this comes in handy when political comments take over your feed).

The Annual Clean Up of Facebook Friends tends to happen every summer in my circle. From time to time, I do see people posting that they are going to clean up their friends list and not to take offence if you're ditched. Have you ever done that? How did it go??????????????

Summer comes. People move onto new adventures or repatriate. You know you'll never see them again and that's ok. You genuinely wish them well, but 'outta sight outta mind' is fine too. However, sometimes it's a good idea to keep them handy, cos you never know when you or someone you know will be pondering a move to where they are/have lived and their suggestions might be useful.

Navigating friendships in the real world can sometimes be difficult, and adding online-friendships makes life way more complicated than it needs to be. There's only a handful of people I'm friendly with on Facebook who I've not met - they are other bloggers who I have followed for years and somehow one of us reached out to the other and voila! we're Facebook buddies.

Friends to keep are the ones, who in the real world are there for you; who you spend time with, who make an effort to stay in touch despite the geographical distance

And it's no longer just Facebook - there's Instagram, and Snapchat too among other social media. Navigating these as a business or personality is fraught with danger and so very time consuming, how on earth is the average person supposed to cope? No wonder we're all exhausted before we leave the house in the morning.

My question is not so much do you drop Facebook friends, but WHEN and WHY do you do it?

If you're an expat, how long a time between the farewells and removing or the arrivals and adding them do you wait?

You're suggestions are most welcomed,

Once I work it out, I'll pop back and let you know

With friendship