Tuesday, 10 April 2018

ms-havachat discovers Vinegar Hill

Vinegar Hill, Windsor

I made a delightful discovery over the Easter Long Weekend.

A gorgeous, independently owned gift shop in Windsor called Vinegar Hill.

If you've been following ms-havachat on Facebook, you know I respect good customer service and great ideas and enjoy sharing them with you. Hopefully, those of you who are able, pop in and try them for yourselves.

To quote from Vinegar Hill website ABOUT US:

The name Vinegar Hill derives from a small town we stumbled upon whilst visiting the wonderful islands of New Zealand. As a business we really wanted a name that summed up what an independent store should be all about – unique, original and interesting. And so the name of our business was born!
Established in 1997, Vinegar Hill remains a close family run business. It is owned and managed by siblings Beth, Debbie and Richard Austin who have a passion for buying stylish and inspiring products from all over the World. Paired with a commitment to offering unmatched service, this has helped to develop a unique environment in our Lifestyle Stores.
The first store opened in Stratford upon Avon and with a lot of support from our customers and the great people who work for us, it became a success. As the business has grown it has never lost sight of its original values and identity – it still feels very much like an independent store and it is this philosophy that sees our customers return again and again.

The shop has a welcoming atmosphere; it's bright and busy, with stock displayed beautifully in showcases, nooks and display stands. It's hard to walk out without buying 'something'. The prices are reasonable too, which is always a plus. And they gift wrap!


Vinegar Hill, Windsor uses every nook and cranny, floor
and wall space to display their vast range of
quality products. 

Delightful range of cards and wrapping paper. 


Intimate toy section with unique items



Another lovely aspect of shopping at Vinegar Hill, is that when you buy a VINEGAR HILL or COCOA BEAN branded product, a percentage of the sale is donated to Love The One, based in India, which the owners have been supporting for a number of years.

Love the One, is a charity that strives to end poverty through sustainable steps. 

Vinegar Hills own label is available in candles, oils, jewellery, scarves and bags with more being added all the time, so there's many opportunities to buy a gift AND support a charity.

Beautifully presented, well priced pieces perfect for
birthday presents or a personal treat. 




With so many independent and franchise retailers leaving the 'High Street' in the UK, and all around the world, we really do need to focus on retail businesses to ensure there is a High Street to visit in the not-to-distant future.

It's the local independently owned shops we ask for raffle prizes or donations to help raise fund for local charities, schools etc and they do! Yet we shop online cos it's more convenient - except when 'we' need something. How is that fair? Asking a franchise operator for similar support can be done, and sometimes they can help, but sometimes it's a Head Office decision or edict on what they can or can't do. I know the philanthropy work I'm involved with in #berkshire #surrey is supported by small local businesses, despite the plethora of High Street franchises (if one more Starbucks or Costa coffee invades a 'village' I'll scream - why not a cafe/restaurant?)

Too many business owners blame online shopping, and while that's true to a point, maybe IF they provided quality customer service, through staff training and had enough staff on hand to help shoppers, it might be the difference between staying open or not.

I remember ALL THOSE YEARS AGO when the 'internet' launched, and online shopping was viewed with huge scepticism and questions, that businesses who launched websites were doing so to supplement and increase sales into areas (in Australia, it was the regional centres and country areas where retailers simply weren't setting up shops) NOT to replace the shopfront! It was supposed to be an adjunct to the bricks'n'mortar, not a replacement.

Before you ask, I do shop online occasionally but it's pretty limited to sending gifts to Australia is easier and less expensive that postage from overseas and you're guaranteed delivery on time), the occasional online supermarket shop if I'm unwell, and more recently clothes shopping for teen as time is limited and we have the same High Street shops in the malls around us, so it's repetitive.

I don't enjoy shopping, but I do shop in person as often as I can. I'm still surprised at the number of friends who say they 'only' shop online! If they need it now, they order it today and have it delivered tomorrow ...... not sure I've ever need anything that desperately heheheheheheh

Rant over :)

Back to Vinegar Hill.

There are 11stores plus online shopping so no excuse not to visit the shop. To find a store near you, click here to go straight to the website.

So, if you're looking for service, value and a selection of gifts, Vinegar Hill is the place for you (and me)

Vinegar Hill Windsor
20 Leonard Road, Windsor SL4 3BU


With friendship
x


Tuesday, 20 February 2018

mshavachat discovers a traditional fruit and veggie stall

Open for business

A week or so ago, someone posted on a Facebook community page 'just back from fresh fruit and veggie stall at Hilliers' with a photo. The first thing I noticed was the majority of the produce was loose, ie: no plastic wrapping.

For the past few months, the media and online chatter has been elevated, educating us about the amount of single-use plastic taking it's toll on  environment and encouraging alternatives.

When you see images like this, you know we
have to do something!

As a result, I've been paying more attention to the amount of plastic and other unnecessary packaging we discard each time we arrive home after the supermarket, or other shopping (and we don't do that much shopping). Businesses have pledged to stop offering single-use-plastic straws, supermarkets are no longer offering free plastic shopping bags and charge for them while offering canvass or recycled plastic shopping bags (I am very proud of my collection of bags from each place we've lived).

The UK supermarkets wrap practically EVERY piece of fruit and vegetable in some form of plastic - from placing them on trays and sealing in plastic, to shrink wrapping cucumber and lettuce. As there's only 3 of us in our household, each with their preference to certain fruits and veggies, it's difficult to buy small amounts of anything, so we either do without or waste things.

With heightening awareness, we were filling the rubbish bin at home with plastic wrapping and trays each time we returned from the supermarket. I started to notice the amount of single-use-plastic bottles we have in the house - shampoo, condition, deodorant, soap, dishwashing liquid, laundry liquid, various sauces in the pantry, milk, pretty much all my cosmetics - the list goes on.

Are you feeling helpless yet?
Are you looking around your house, noticing maybe for the first time the amount of single-use-plastic there is?
Does it bother you?
What alternatives are there?

One thing I can instantly regain control over, is less plastic simply by shopping with Martin Lamb and his family at their Traditional Fruit and Veg Stall at Hilliers Garden Centre on the A30 in Windlesham! It reminded me of my local fruit shop we went to practically daily as a kid.

I was SO EXCITED to find a 'real' fruit and veggie stall/shop, that I introduced myself, explained I blog, and asked if I could write about them. I felt the overwhelming need to share and spread the word.

Martin Lamb started house to house deliveries of fruit and veggies in 1976, and established his first retail outlet in 1987 as a result of his professional relationship with growers and wholesalers at Covent Gardens markets. At the same time, their wholesale business supplying hotels, restaurants, pubs etc continued to grow and they knew that with the right mix, they'd be able to continue their own business as well as support the local growers who had come to depend on them.

Martin Lamb (left) and son


Like most small, independently owned small-medium business the world over, the rise of the supermarket quickly over took them, and in 1994 the retail business closed. With a healthy wholesale business, they were able to keep going ........ and reinvented themselves. In 1994, they started holding a mobile stall at Hilliers Garden Centre on Wednesday and Saturdays, and at Odeum (Fleet/Farnborough) on Fridays.

The produce is sourced from local farmers (which is super important these days) in the area and at Covent Gardens markets. I love the buy local shop local mantra in action and am very happy to support it.

The fact that most of the produce is sold loose, means that no matter how many or how few you need to feed, you can buy the exact amount you want! I'm finding the little and often mantra is paying off already - no wastage!

Check out the produce! 

When was the last time you saw this?
Mushrooms last longer in paper bags.

A real cash register!
And scales!
Memories of childhood.

One of the customers, MrsP from West End said, she loves shopping here because ' the friendliness and service is second to none. The quality of produce too' and I couldn't agree more!

So of you're in the area, drop by and tell them ms-havachat sent you, and take cash (no credit/debit card facilities)


With friendship
x

ms-havachat has news



This blogging business is tricky, and time consuming, and rewarding and challenging and from time to time I have a dream that ms-havachat has a HUGE following of expats from all over the world, chatting and sharing daily, creating an online community of people who like to pay-if-forward and share kindness, thoughtfulness and support with a lot of giggles.

So, while I don't blog daily, and I'm not going to start podcasting, I do feel like it's time to branch out and attract a few more chatters to the fun. I'll also return to more regular blogs here ..... I'm working on two series and enjoying the research.

mshavachat on facebook is so much fun! I love sharing posts from my favourite bloggers or what friends share ....... and adding my own photo's and observations is fun too. In some ways, the instant contact with you via Facebook overshadows this - the BLOG - the longer chats, where we have time to dig a bit deeper and share more and for that I apologise.

I've been thinking about adding ms-havachat to Instagram ...... using the same # and attracting a wider audience, who might enjoy my vignettes and follow the chats on Instagram, then LIKE the Facebook page and who knows, subscribe here.

After numerous mistakes, there's several empty ms-havachats on Instagram but thanks to my clever teen, ms-havachatuk is up and running on Instagram!

The ability to be out'n'about and snap a photo and pop it onto Instagram and Facebook is really attractive, however I also enjoy sitting quietly in our home office, music in the background, typing out a longer, more thoughtful blog.

Please accept this invitation to join me on Instagram, and share with friends as often as you like.

The more the merrier,

With friendship
x




Saturday, 9 December 2017

ms-havachat goes back to Winchester Christmas Markets

Thanks Google Images


Trying to get a group of friends to visit Winchester Christmas Markets on a Friday night wasn't easy, but four of us managed to get the kids sorted, hubbies to commit to being home at a reasonably early time so we could head off down the M3 for a night of giggles and Christmas shopping.

It was the perfect, crisp, clear COLD December night to go to Winchester Christmas Markets. The forecast was for super cold weather (it snowed every so lightly around 10am) but we still braved it. Four mums out on a Friday night. Two had never been to the Markets here, one had (but many years ago), and one had never been to Winchester at all!

One was dressed in thermal, long sleeve t-shirt, with a polo neck jumper, Christmas themed cardigan, winter coat, gloves, scarf AND bought a gorgeous winter hat. The rest of us had coats, hats and gloves over every-day tops LOL. And it was cold!

So cold in fact, that there was hardly anyone there when we arrived around 6.30pm. The mulled wine on arrival hit the spot!

Note to self: arrive earlier next year. For some reason (maybe the cold weather, maybe because they start trading at 10am) the markets shut at 7.30pm on-the-dot. We walked into one shop ready to buy, only to be told, "sorry, we're closing" and that was that.

I've been several times, and love it. Didn't take any photo's cos I needed my hands in my gloves. Hubby was pleased it was so cold as I didn't take too much money out of my wallet LOL.

The Cathedral Close is probably one of the best locations for a Christmas Market as they nestle peacefully under the strong, towering walls of the Cathedral. The soft, emotive lighting of the exterior of the Cathedral is so tastefully done. The Chalets are the usual wooden huts, some set up for customers to walk into and browse, while others present their goods to you from behind a display counter.

What I really enjoy about Winchester Markets, and my friends commented on too, was the number of local artisans and craftspeople offering high quality, unique items at reasonable prices.  Two of our group have been to markets in Europe and said this was as good, if not a little bit better! As a past resident of Winchester, I was rather pleased to hear that.

In November, The Daily Telegraph listed Winchester Christmas Markets as one of the Top Markets in the UK. 

We all purchased gifts, and a few things for ourselves. If only we'd had longer (and it wasn't so cold)

Next year, we'll plan better AND book a restaurant for dinner (took several attempts before we found one that could seat us. I forget how popular dining out in Winchester is).

The walk back to the car was delightful - past the Guildhall all lit up, the Old Wooden Mill with the Itchen River flowing very fast under the bridge, past Bishop on the Bridge, The Black Bottle, No 5 Bridge Street and the Chesil Restaurant.

For  more information about the markets, click here. 

With friendship
x




Monday, 4 December 2017

ms-havachat has lunch at The Rose and Olive Branch, Virginia Waters



I've driven past this quaint pub so many times, but never thought to check it out until today when a friend made a group booking for lunch.

The Rose and Olive Branch, on Callow Hill is like stepping back in time into a quintessential local pub, frequented by the same old timers, at the same time every day for years. Even the carpet oozes old-world charm!

Who knew this small, quaint local pub, on a backroad in Virginia Waters had such an incredible history?!?!?!?!?


"Once an old beer and cider house , this Inn is between 200-250 years old and stand on what used to the the Crossroads at the foot of a hill in Windsor Great Park. This hill was known then as Gallow Hill on top of which stood at Gibbet, which was seldom inhabited those days, bot over the years has been corrupted to Callow Hill.

Like all old houses, during the Civil War in the 17th century, the Royalist and Cromwellian  forces met here to sign a Treaty, upon completion of which the leader of hte Roundheads presented the elder of the Cavaliers with an Olive Branch as a symbol of peace, and received in return a Red Rose. It was from this event that this Inn derived its name and it's believed to be the only of one of this name in England.

In our sign can be seen the Roundhead presenting the Cavlier with the Olive Branch and receiving in return the Red Rose. Whilst in the background  the rival forces are signing the treaty outside the Inn at the Crossroads."

An historic story told in a simple pub sign


The pub has a reputation is for serving 'great pies' and from the looks of them coming from the kitchen, and the smiling faces on friends, we'll be back to try them! I really enjoyed my baked salmon fillet and chips (real ol' fashion, pub chips), while the BLT, mushroom and chicken filo and other meals looked and smelled delicious. Interesting to note there is a gluten free menu.

Food and Food related signage

Ol' world charm interior

We had a lovely lunch and a good chat over good, simple food.


For more information, check out their website www.theroseandolivebranch.com

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
x




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
x