A BIG CHEER FOR WAYNE DEAR November 12 2018
As much as I try to write a blog each month and keep our customers updated, there always seems to be one more thing to do. Looking back the last blog I wrote was in July!
One of the things that slowed me down was the size of our export card order to Switzerland in September. We sent out approximately 40,000 cards and card packs all packed by hand. ( Well done Samantha on packing the largest part of the order) There were 4 pallet loads on a lorry that went out to Geneva and every single card had our 'fame' seeking reindeer Wayne on it.
Yes Wayne Dear and his mates 'The O'dears ' seem to be growing in popularity each year, not only at home , but also abroad.
So much so that in March of this year, I sat down to write what I thought might be a few nice words about Wayne.
This had been largely prompted by the fact that last Christmas Eve he'd dropped in to visit us rather unexpectedly.
And I mean literally dropped in!
I’d woken up with a start around 3 am, expecting to see Father Christmas. I looked nervously around the sitting room , wielding a flashlight in one hand and a poker in the other.
I carefully inspected the chimney and yes the old boy, or be it his reindeers had already been. There was soot down the chimney, reindeer hoof marks everywhere, half eaten mince pies and the carrots outside in the garden had been munched. And of course there were loads of presents for the children.
So what was going on ?
There was another loud clatter of what sounded like hooves trying to get a grip on the roof and then suddenly a large crash in the garden!
I peered outside into the dark night.
There was Wayne all tangled up in the clothes line with flashing lights in his antlers.
"Whatever are you doing?" I hissed at him."Arn't you supposed to be with the other reindeer?" "By the look of it they've been and gone quite a while ago"
"Erm ... well its a bit of a long story " blurted out Wayne whilst untangling himself and at the same time almost pinning me to the wall with a flashing antler.
" Give me the short version " I said as I needed to get back to bed and I also didn't want him to wake the children.
And so he did.
His story; the 'short' version was all about his life growing up with his friends and family The O’dears at the North Pole . It actually went on for half an hour.
After 5 minutes into his story, I decided it was better we both take the weight off, so I beckoned him to a chair and we both sat down, cross legged by the still warm chimney and munched on leftover mince pies , port and frozen carrots.
He was really happy and excited about his story and kept talking about an urgent present he needed to deliver before Christmas morning .
He thanked me for the carrots and asked if I'd write a little bit about him when I had time. And then with the usual reindeer magic and flashing antlers , he was gone again into the night.
And so I thought about his story and the pictures I have of him and his friends and slowly a few words turned into a few more .
I mean I wouldn't really have called myself a writer or author as such, until now. Yes, I can draw and illustrate , but I must say I enjoyed writing about Wayne Dear,as he's such a fun character. I put his story together in rhyming sentences to make a little uplifting and courageous story all about family and friendship.
Its an odd thing sitting down to write a story, it doesn’t just happen all at once, it sort of evolves over time. I devoted all the month of March to it and developed the pictures around a loose story I had in my head. But all the rhyming couplets had to then be worked into the plot. And the pictures had to register in turn with the words. And all that to get a story that is told over 26 story pages and about 1000 words and one that can be read at bedtime in well under 10 minutes.
I stress under 10 minutes because I consistently recite The Ugly Duckling, by Hans Christian Andersen , which I know by heart from reading it so many times, and that's how long it approximately takes me, unless I add in a few duck quacks and rooster noises . I can usually get Sophie and Edward to sleep in around that time. It must be like a hypnotist listening to me, "now listen to me.. you are getting very sleepy" droning on in a monotone and boring voice. But it works every time and depending on my own tiredness level, I can put myself to sleep before I get to the last few sentences.
After I'd finished illustrating and writing it, I then chatted to our printer and I thought we'll try and turn the story into a little book for this Christmas. Of course all this got held up with the busy year we've had and all our shows and packing orders and before you know it , we are just a month away from Christmas!
Well it is now finally finished and is on sale. So I’m going to be very interested to see what response it gets and hopefully Wayne will find his 'fame'.
I think possibly Wayne and I have defied the boundaries of traditional children’s books , maybe not a wise thing to do, but we like doing things differently. I had been told that children's books have to appeal distinctly to a specific age range, and fall into certain categories, or they won’t sell.
I hope to prove the traditional thinking wrong. You see I believe my book can be read to Edward who is 3 years old , who will get excited over the pictures that daddy has made. It can also work for an older reader like Sophie at 8 years old, who will read the rhyme herself and delight in the language, alongside the pictures.
But there’s also some big overgrown kids out there like you and me, who get to do the reading and who’ve still got a part to us that’s never grown up.
And Christmas being such a very special time, well I think there's a part in all of us that still seeks the imagination and magic all over again. Much like watching a Disney/ Pixar film like Toy Story , there’s something else in there quite unique, just an extra bit of dry humour, with a bit of a twist and a happy ending for the grown ups as well as the little ones.
And that's where our reindeer book comes in , (like our cards and the dry humour attached to them) I think it can work on all levels and age ranges and transcend those traditional boundaries.
A BIG CHEER FOR WAYNE DEAR is out now and priced at £6.00
The book is 23CM X 23CM in size, glued and section sewn (to handle the rough stuff from kids) and is printed on uncoated paper.( it fits the square format and look of our cards) It totals 36 pages front to back, with a glossy cover and is all printed in Sheffield.
So thats my blog now complete for November .
In December , well the blog might be another ‘story' all together. I'll have to let you know!
Either the book becomes a runaway success story; or I might get paid a... "I know where you live! " roof visit at 3am by not just Wayne Dear , but all his mates demanding royalties in carrots . Or worse still asking why the book hasn’t sold and them all pinning me to the wall.
So please have a read of some of the extracts on our website and various other blogs that are happening soon. And if you happen to buy one between now and Christmas Eve please give us a mention and let us know what you think on social media.
As I say we've gone about it in a non traditional way and keeping it quite select we'd like it to gain traction in an organic way, rather than it going straight onto a mass Amazon style site and being swallowed up.
Hopefully if I can get a few nice comments back from customers, I can then pass them onto Wayne in good time to avoid being roughed up and lynched by his reindeer mates before the big day.
Here's hoping we get A Big Cheer For Wayne Dear.
Also available in white July 18 2018
At the risk of upsetting someone, I'll choose my next words very carefully.
The colour white for vehicles has become extremely popular, it is literally everywhere.
I'm told one of the reasons its so popular is because , it's a 'safe' colour. Apparently there's a higher percentage ( I don't know the figures) of being seen in a white vehicle and therefore you are less likely to have an accident.
Er... except of course when its snowing?
Another theory is that the colour has gained its popularity through all the white apple laptops? And then there's Big Fat gypsy weddings with the big white range rovers on tele... hmmm ... I'll say no more.
Samantha's theory is the best I think, because she reckons its started all the hand car washes that have popped up all over the country, so owners have to get them washed more often. Thats definitely a great conspiracy theory.
My association has to be with tradesmen. Whenever we need some work doing on the house , there's always a dreaded 'white' van with screwed on ladders on top (probably mine, the ones that went missing) that pulls up in the drive. And then that definitive, dull swooshing noise of the side door being opened, or slammed shut.
Usually there's nothing inside the ply lined cavernous interior, except a length of copper pipe, the ubiquitous Stihl saw, straight of a horror movie and a couple of spanners. Spanners being actual spanners; not the occupants of the vehicle. Although I've always wondered about the real meaning of 'No tools are left in this van overnight'
Well that's enough for now of that subject... because if I don't stop I'll get started on a rant about dodgy builders and cash in hand in white vans and ... and .... and .... please stop! Take a deep breath and calm down.
It is for that reason and the above association that I've resisted the colour 'white' and the word 'van' for so long.
But I have to say resistance is becoming futile. White vans are infinitely practical and I think shortly, I too will be joining the ranks of 'White Van Man'.
We have for years now rented vans from various hire companies. (That's another blog post... or rant altogether.) Hiring vans has its own set of problems, not least whereby the hire company tries to charge you for another renters scratches. Its usually such a hassle getting a van and signing your life away each time with every utility bill, passport, drivers license, national insurance number etc etc .. under the sun. Makes me laugh when you off hire it one week and go back the following week to rehire literally the same van and you have to go through all the paperwork yet again.... and ...and.... stop, stop!! Take another breath and calm down.
Okay so when we don't hire vans , we use my trusty old volvo estate, which in many cases for local shows works just fine . We can get literally everything inside with the seats down and go and set up a show.
I can actually get 52 of our wooden crate displays inside the car.
On the roof with my invaluable Halfords roof rack and rope, I can get two wooden trestle tables and two wire card spinners with the wobbly wheels, a fridge freezer and a cuddly toy... no its not the Generation Game, so the last two items don't count, but it does sound like it with the huge inventory the car manages to carry.
And so this was how I set off last Sunday afternoon to go over the pennines to set up early for Tatton Park RHS flower show.
Now the volvo I should add has been the best car I ever owned . It has got 236k miles on the clock. The distance to the moon from earth is 238,900 so its nearly got there. But a bit like Apollo 13, when approaching the brow of the very steep hill between Tintwhistle and Mottram, I had to announce..... " Houston, we have a problem."
My problem is the automatic transmission which has been on its last legs for a while now. It crunches and bangs in the low gears and is quite unnerving to fellow passengers who are not familiar with what's happening. I'm so used to its temperamental ways, I barely notice it anymore. I was warned by our local garage that it would just stop one day and not go any further.
So back to Sunday. Everything was gong well. I was cruising along Woodhead , not many lorries out with it being the weekend. I got through the lights at Tintwhistle and started the long slow slog up the very steep hill to Mottram.
This is a notoriously bad stretch of road where all the traffic grinds to a halt. So the volvo was doing okay but making clunking and grinding noises in the low gears , but still moving. About 5 cars ahead I noticed a lorry , grrrr... which then managed to stall right before the lights turned to red. The concertina effect behind it managed to make all the cars brake lights go on at once.
The lorry slowly moved again and so did all the cars , except me.
I put my foot down.
The car jerked and banged into gear. It moved slowly towards the light .
I was getting slightly nervous.
The weight of all the crates on board and the spinners on the roof, didn't help.
It inched its way through the lights as they went to amber and was just approaching the brow of the big hill, when it stopped!
I put my foot hard down on the accelerator, nothing happened .
I knocked the auto box into 1st gear; again nothing happened.
The engine was now revving loudly, but the gears would not work.
The temperature gauge shot straight into the red and behind me there was a queue of very angry motorists.
To say I was teetering just about on top of the massive hill, I was remarkably calm.
It was then I noticed four teenagers sitting at a bus stop on the other side of the road . I yelled to them for their assistance to come and help. They eagerly ran to my aid. I asked them to give me a push . They did and I managed to get the car into a higher gear and over the brow of the hill.
I meant to stop and thank them so much for their kindness, but I waved wildly instead and carried on for fear the car would just stop again with a massive queue behind me.
After pulling in to a petrol station further on and letting the engine cool down, I then decided to press on to Tatton park as it was all flat motorway , rather than calling the AA. I managed to get there and back without further incident, but i won't do that again!
The volvo is now sitting in the drive feeling sorry for itself. I'm now on the look out for a vehicle that can carry all the family around and Jack the dog and will double up for moving all our card stock, products and shop displays ... and that is looking very much like being a van.
I have to say they are extremely practical vehicles and you can see why there are so many on the road. I suppose I can always moonlight as a dodgy builder at weekends and practise sucking my teeth... " it's going to cost ya ... tell you what I'll do the whole job for cash.... how does that sound?"
Ermmm .... do they come in any other colours?
Ps. I have not got any related pictures of white vans, except our camper van card above, so here are some flower cards that are predominantly on white. Nothing of course to do with my story / blog !
And the winner is......? June 07 2018
If you've ever been to a wedding, 21st Birthday party, or generally any celebration bash held up north, ( I stress Up North and mainly farmers ) , then no doubt you will have heard the following...
Normally said in a male, slightly slurred Yorkshire accent, with a heavy emphasis on the U vowels...
"And I'd just like to thank the caterers for a luvelee spread ..."
( for anyone not acquainted to northern speak, its an acknowledgement of the food preparation and the hard working catering staff)
I think those few chosen words have always resonated with me and my family in a slightly tongue in cheek, half mocking sort of way, really by a lack of imagination of saying a 'thank you' after a few ales or glasses of bubbly.
Its a bit like when they open the envelope at the Oscars..... (long pause for effect)
"And the winner is..........?"
Well yes, and no, not exactly.
Yes, we did WIN yesterday at the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show.
And no we didn't win outright, as the stars are marked out of 5 and then there is a best of show.
But we did WIN a 3 star Trade stand award for our 'creative talents' of making our stand look like a garden shed.
And are we chuffed? You bet we are!! We are really pleased.
Many stands don't get recognised at all and some stands might get a letter of caution, could do better, or even unsatisfactory. So to get an award that recognises our efforts, is really quite a big deal. Especially from the RHS.
Every year we exhibit at RHS flower shows, normally within the Country Living marquee and this is the first year we are at Chatsworth as a separate stand.
Setting up the shows is always so tiring with a huge set up on our part normally in preparation weeks ahead. Packing cards, buying new stock, preparing props and then some very long and intense days putting it all up on site.
Its usually me on my own doing the set up part on site , while Samantha runs the stand on the trading days; she's better at that side of it than me!
So lots of different types of work from both us, but all combined it comes together on the stand, with of course lots of support from the RHS.
And that is where I come to the part of mentioning the RHS itself.
Founded by John Wedgwood and formed originally as the Horticultural Society of London in 1804, it is now a registered charity that promotes gardening and horticulture throughout the U.K. Their membership is ever increasing with around a half a million members that put on amazing events like Chelsea, Hampton Court, Tatton Park and now in its second year, Chatsworth.
The RHS is in my opinion what makes a Great British summer ever so special.
I see the organisation as the ultimate vehicle for public awareness, which promotes learning, modern and traditional techniques and of course gardening skills. Most of all it allows its members and exhibitors to reach their full creative potential and in so doing it creates a stunning visual extravaganza for all of us.
All this run with total professional military precision.
To be on site days before the event goes live is to witness something very special indeed.
It is like watching a little town or community literally 'growing' out of the ground.
Everyone doing their own little bit. It makes me feel proud to be a part of it.
I am sure they must have a time lapse camera set up somewhere and if they don't , they certainly should. There is everything built on site .
From the temporary roads, drains, loos, staff catering, (yes of course caterers), electricians, joiners, tents, security, communications, traffic management, press offices, have I forgotten to mention anyone?
Well yes I'm sure I've forgotten loads of different trades and people that all contribute to this terrific event behind the scenes. They all make these amazing things happen each year.
A bit like growing plants or vegetables, the RHS, does just literally 'spring' out of the ground and provide something truly wonderful each year. Then as the show draws to a close, just like flowers being picked or vegetables harvested, so then the show goes slowly back downwards to the earth from which it came. And soon you'd never know it was there in the first place.
So for my 'Oscars style acceptance speech' ( Ha Ha ) to the RHS , I'd like to thank all those amazing people behind the scenes, that make it all possible.
I can't name them all as I'd be thrown off my homemade stage, so i'll just thank Sam Toro in particular who is our Trade stand coordinator and very capable, calm and professional ( and who gets a constant barrage of texts, emails and calls from me and deals with it all patiently ) and hope that she can pass on the message to all the 'behind the scenes' workers at the RHS.
Of course to the RHS judges, a big thank you.
I have to say we all had a glass of bubbly , or three last night to celebrate . I then stood up, nearly fell over after dinner, and pinged my glass for the family to quieten down, (that's hard in itself ) before I said in a slightly slurred very South Yorkshire accent.......
" And I'd just like to thank the caterers.... (no you silly billy, its not that speech again, my imagination has failed ME this time ...talking to myself) .... ahem (clearing my throat)
"I'd just like to thank the RHS for our very wonderful 3 star Trade stand award. It really does mean a whole lot to us and is very special, thank you.
Stand No. L72
3 Star Trade stand Award
RHS Chatsworth Flower Show 2018
Here's some pictures taken from my ipad.
Where does the time go? May 04 2018
I can't believe it's May already!
It seemed like only yesterday when the boiler had completely broken down right in the middle of all that really bad snow. I think one way of getting a grip on how the seasons change and how time passes by is to look at your photos on an i-phone.
It's quite incredible really. I was looking back at pictures of the kids sledging down the steep hill next to our house and trying not to end up in the river. That was only a few weeks ( or pictures ) ago.
Strange concept, time.
For the last two weeks I have been watching the cherry blossom budding in front of my office window. We've posted a few pictures of it on social media and now its in full bloom.
Its funny how time marches on.
When its the middle of winter and you see programmes on the tele like Antiques road show and they are always filmed on a hot summers day, its really hard to imagine what its like on a day like that. You are sitting there with the central heating on and its dark at 4 pm and you are huddled around a big log fire.
And now suddenly the weathers turned for the better, the days are longer and its starting to feel like summer.
Hard to then imagine it the other way around.
I'm writing this blog this morning with the office door open, listening to the birds chirping away , looking at the cherry blossom and Jack the dog is sunbathing contentedly on the doorstep.
Talking about time, we've just launched some new clocks. There are 5 designs to choose from. There are dogs of course, chasing their ball around the clock.
We've called the dog clock 'Pawever is a long time.' Lucy and Liam , our social media experts came up with some of the names and I think they well and truly fit our quirky style of products. So thank you both for these great names.
We've also got a snuggly sheep clock doing a 'Flock around the clock' so if you've trouble sleeping, do buy one and count the sheep backwards 12, 11, 10, 9, 8,...
Next come the rabbits with 'Hoppy hour.' Hare today gone tomorrow, enough said.
And out of hibernation and into the warm sunshine come the hedgehogs, With their clock name, Prickly dickory, dock.
Last of all as its approaching summer, we've got our fuzzy buzzy bees in the shape of Bee squadron. They're out of their bee hive and buzzing around the clock. We've called them Bee on time.
We think these clocks will look great in a kitchen and to compliment the clocks we have matching chalkboards of all the 5 character designs. Another reminder to write something down before you forget it and before you know it you are into the middle of next week.
Clocks are priced at £27.50 and Chalkboards at £17.50 .
At some point we will be offering personalised clocks, but we are going to see how these designs 'tick' along first.
The clocks and chalkboards are launching soon, so do keep an eye out on the website. And we'll be sure to update everyone on social media when they go live on the site.
Social media, like an i-phone is a great way of keeping things in a timeline. It makes you think how much we do pack into our lives. There are so many different things out there, its having the time to do it all.
A good friend once said to me , you really need to be running 7 parallel lives all at once to gain all the richness that life has to offer. I know what he meant and he may be right and that would be pretty cool in a way .
But we can't, not yet anyway, maybe in the future there will be some 'Time machine' that will do that for us...Ha Ha!
For now, we are all original beings with one life , so make sure you pack as much in as you can everyday.
Go out there in nature, come rain or shine . Every day is so different and has something very special to offer.
Its all those small special things in life that really matter, like looking at the cherry blossom, walking the dog and playing with the kids. If you don't get out there , time will pass you by and before you know it, May will be December again.
On that note, its time to go.
Its time for bed with Jack's story April 05 2018
Jackanory... Jackanory .. Jackanory yawn.... yawn...
If my blogs generally put you to sleep,
Then here's one that might waken you up .
Are you all sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin...
Once upon a ... No! Forget that bit , lets get more to the point, or it will turn into one of my shaggy dog stories.
I'll begin again....
I've been a bit slow in my monthly blogs since Christmas. Here, might just be one of the reasons why.
We acquired a new dog in January.
It was Samantha's idea and it was a certainly good one.
He's got us all out walking again, miles a day, including the children who like to be in the garden more with Jack and he's provided a breath of fresh air.
That could be taken literally as he came at the worst time in all that really bad snow and very cold air, that all he's really seen is lots of snow and ice. I've added a few pictures so you can see him playing in the snow.
He could be Jack Frost!
But this morning he's sat outside with me in the sunshine, laid at my feet while I'm having my morning coffee and penning this blog.
Jack is what they call a Labrador crossed with a Pointer. So I'm not sure what that makes him ? A bit of a Heinz 57 maybe? But he certainly looks like a labrador . He's certainly got labrador traits. He's very greedy; always after food in the kitchen, so he's also known as the 'food hoover'. This is great as the children are constantly dropping bits of food. His middle name could be Henry.
He's also malting really badly at the moment, hairs everywhere! He likes to try and sleep on the sofa instead of his own bed. This gets his hairs all over the sofa. So every night we create a modern art installation, worthy of Tracy Emmins unmade bed. I might see if the Tate are interested.
The kitchen chairs are stacked up with Edwards baby Ikea lounge chair on top to try and keep him off the sofa.
The other night we all slept through it, but Samantha heard a big crash in the Kitchen. Jack had managed to somehow get onto a corner of the sofa by wriggling and sent one of the chairs on the barricade crashing off. He settled in for a cozy night on the sofa and yet more hairs!
Jack has come from the kennels as a rescue dog where he'd been for a long time. It was really quite sad, as he's only just over a year old which makes him still an overgrown puppy.
But he's now well and truly 'employed' at SM HQ as Head of Security, although he's pretty useless and never barks. And also more importantly as Chief Children's Entertainer.
Sophie and Edward have taken to him and love playing with him. He's very good and soft with them. Edward is pretty well inseparable from Jack at the moment.
There's a children's program that you might be aware of called 'Masha and the bear.' I'd never heard of it, until I saw Edward watching it all the time .
Its a brilliant Russian made animation series about a little girl who gets up to all sorts of mischief with a bear . The bear seems to be always looking out for Masha. We think Edward and Jack have much of the same similarities as the TV program and Jack puts up with a lot from Edward . This is mainly we think as Edward tends to slip him custard creams, when no one is looking!
Jacks name came from a shortened version of Jackson which he'd been given. We thought about changing it all together , but then thought it wasn't quite fair so he became Jack .
Quick and easy to call and he does come running back on walks.
He does get a few variations now and again .
I call him Wacko-Jacko , Ajax, or Mike, for short. I did actually introduce him to The thriller video on you tube the other day in the office . So maybe he might start 'moon-pawing' when we all go out and leave him in to guard the house.
He's also called "Jack-go to Bed", or "Jack- bed" which Sophie tends to call him when trying to get him to "GO - TO - BED- JACK".
So... Jackson Pollack, Jackson Browne, Wacko Jacko, ' Jack ' a Royal Navy term, "Don't leave me Jack!" Taken from Titanic ... whatever you are called , we all think you're pretty cool and love you lots and lots!
And most certainly its been worth spending a half an hour to write about you on a sunny morning in spring.
We'll no doubt keep you updated on his animal 'human' antics, that will likely fit in with all the other Sophie Morrell animal characters, and so much so, I'm sure that before very long there will be a 'Jack' animal character in print.
On that note , I think it's time for "BED- JACK - anory .... Jackanory Jackanory ... Jackanory.
The Christmas List November 17 2017
What are you getting for Christmas?
Have you thought yet ?
It's getting close.
I know what I want for Christmas... the complete box set of Dad's Army.
That should take me nicely from Christmas Day to New Years Eve without interruption.
Such classic comedy. Especially the episode with the U boat German captain when he says:
"Your name vill also go on zee list, what is it ?"
And Captain Mainwaring replies "Don't tell him Pike!"
I had sort of wondered what our furry creatures might be getting for Christmas. There are so many of them now, they've become a little army. Maybe we could get our customers to decide?
Anyhow they have made a list in their own language with lots of paw prints, so I'm sure Father Christmas will know how to interpret that, as he must get quite a lot of bad hand (paw) writing.
It does look like one of the rabbits is in charge from the picture. I hope he has got all the animals requests together. I know that rabbits are good at multiplying so that might help, but if I find out that little rabbit has left anyone off,
..... then his rabbit name will also go down on MY list!
The Creature Feature October 05 2017
It's here, all creative great and small.
Our new magazine styled newsletter that goes out to both trade and retail customers in two slightly different versions and we've called it The Creature Feature.
It is a monthly emailed update, styled to look like a magazine front cover. It has all our new card designs and current offers and bits of gossip about our animal characters.
There are the news headlines; who's dating who and who is the bestselling celebrity animal of the month.
Candid interviews with some of the creatures and how they coping with their pictures on greeting cards all over the world.
We'll be doing a special feature on high earner Mr. Wayne Dear, the little reindeer. He'll be telling us all about what it is like coping with fame from an early age and how he has become a Christmas icon. His recent success in Switzerland with his picture on Christmas cards there being sold in very high numbers and how that has catapulted him to the stars and conquered his fear of flying.
There's a blog on our hedgehogs, how they love having fun in the autumn leaves and what its like being prickly and preparing for winter hibernation.
Our wise guys , the little owls share a book review and discuss what its like staying up all night and being a real night owl.
And lots more besides.
So we hope you enjoy our new monthly update that goes out to all our customers on our email list. The animals might just become the new Hello magazine of the animal world.
Introducing The Creature Feature...... All creative great and small.
Bee Happy July 25 2017
Its July and we've bee-n so busy with RHS Flower shows, Hampton Court, Tatton Park and the Harrogate Home and Gift trade show, that this month has literally 'flown' by.
So I'm just writing a short blog post for what is left of the month as we need to catch up on all the orders. We've bee-n busy bees.
Its always a lovely time of year to meet our customers face to face, both trade and retail and what always seems to come through in the great British summer is our great love of bees.
A couple of years ago I put together a little range called Bee Squadron and do you know its still so popular that we might even expand it with some new bee and floral ranges combined.
Reminiscent of Spitfires and their pilots from the 1940’s, Bee Squadron are their own little heroes and flying machines, all built into one. English country gardens, brimming with wildflowers and foliage are the setting for their oversized world.
Bee Squadron is led by a dashing little bee. Yellow Leader “Buzz” Bumble is seen here, pictured with his flying goggles.
Buzzing from A to Bee, he happily leads his bees on Mission Make-Bee-lieve.
You can bee sure, as bee cards, they are busy flying around the world spreading your written words...and honey of course.
Here are some Bee facts we've taken from the internet. Whether they are all true or not, I'm not sure, but they make interesting reading.
There are absolutely loads of facts about bees, but I chose eight as I'm feeling rather hungry and its time I ate some honey on toast. A great afternoon pick me up.
1. Honey bees must gather nectar from two million flowers to make one pound of honey.
2.The bees’ buzz is the sound made by their wings which beat 11,400 times per minute.
3. Honey bees communicate with one another by dancing. That's like one of our cards.. Beehive Jive.
4. A honey bee can fly for up to six miles, and as fast as 15 miles per hour.
5. A honey bee visits 50 to 100 flowers during a collection trip.
6. The average bee will make only 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.
7. When a bee finds a good source of nectar it flies back to the hive and shows its friends where the nectar source is by doing a dance which positions the flower in relation to the sun and hive. This is known as the 'waggle dance.'
8.The honey bee is the only insect that produces food eaten by man.
That's it................BEE HAPPY!
Unexpected item in bagging area... June 06 2017
Ever used one of those self service checkouts in the super market?
I'm sure you have. Well for me, until recently, it was a really big deal. The thought of standing and waiting for the cashier at the back of a long queue with a handful of shopping items can be rather irritating. So I thought I'd have a go.
I would say it works for me about 30% of the time before I get the voice... "Unexpected item in bagging area, assistance required"
In my reality I don't require assistance, that's why I've come to use the machine in the first place. I don't want to wait in the queue and I don't want to engage in conversation particularly. So the idea of a SACAT , or semi-attended customer-activated terminal to be correct, is quite appealing.
Because to me, it should just work.
You work left to right and scan the items across the barcode scanner and then place the items in the baggage area. At the end you add a bag, or not, and simply pay.
For me something invariably goes wrong. First at the barcode stage and then in the bagging area and the hovering attendant has to intervene. It's usually around a piece of veg like a carrot that has be looked up in the mass of on-screen vegetables, or a chocolate croissant which is in another touch screen look up table. The piece de la resistance is a bottle of wine. Yes I'm over 21!
So I feel quite humble ( the SACAT was actually invented by David R. Humble) and silly when the supervisor has to step in.
The attendants by the way are brilliant. They just punch in some keys and zap the terminal with a reset zapper and its all back to normal again until the next almond croissant causes mayhem.
It does remind me of a rather simplified version of when the computer goes wrong in 2001 A Space Odyssey. "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that"
Digressing here more than slightly into total irrelevance , the malfunctioning, bad boy computer in the 2001 film was known as a HAL9000. It had its name chosen for the story as being one letter either side of IBM , the original mainframe computers of the day. Amazing hey! And what interesting trivia , I hear you say, shall I quote more?
No, I'll get back to my point, or lack of it. I usually waffle on to the point of boredom. My point being I suppose is technology.
It should just work. And for me it doesn't.
These electronic contraptions should all be easy, you zap the item left to right , the machine works it all out and you just pay.
Devices are another thing. iPhones , iPads and laptops and ridiculous apps for everything , yes everything.
You can't do anything anymore, you need an app to do it for you.
Or when you get the app , you need to update it, or it won't work properly .
Why? It was working perfectly well before.
But then the little men inside the app who have been working tirelessly night and day to update the app to make it work even better for me , then send a message to 'log on' to do an 'update'. Log on to me is putting another log on the fire.
And do an update. Why? You need to re-enter your password. Why? You've forgotten your password. Yes of course I have. Why is all this necessary? Why can't it all be done for me ? Or everything remain exactly as it was before? I really don't need an update.
It is my age I'm sure of it. If I was young I'd just love tinkering with those apps , having millions of them for this and that and adding the right software to make everything work as fast as possible. But I don't like doing it at all, in fact I can't stand it , I just want it to work and not give me any lip, or send me trite messages.
On that note we are actually introducing a new website for our trade customers. This 'should' make their ordering experience easier.
Its a sister site that will sit alongside our retail site and be accessible only by password... oh dear I hear you say. It will give our customers all their trade pricing and access to the products and hopefully speed up the ordering system.
That's the theory anyway . We may however, end up with unexpected items in the baggage area and our customers will start getting almond croissants and carrots with their orders.
The Pup World Cup April 18 2017
Yup, its the Pup World Cup.
Our little Scruffy dog has taken the initiative and teamed up all his doggy mates to form a team for football and rugby. Right now he's got 11 players for footy and 15 players for rugger.
In a recent and rare interview with Scruffy, (pictured below)
he told us how he'd put his team together. The interview came about as part of our first instalment of sports writing for our new monthly trade and retail magazine, 'The Creature Feature.'
The Creature Feature lets you know all the latest news and what all the animals are up to. The latest headlines, gossip columns, new animals and the rising stars and who is dating who. There's a classified section, sports and interviews , homewares and gifts section and much more.
So Scruffy told his story through a visual intepretation which consisted of lots of tail wagging, yapping, whining, paw scratching and running around in ever decreasing circles.
We basically had to figure out what he was trying to say.
But it all became very evident when we met all his other doggy friends and they all began chasing his ball.
At first it was total chaos in the park and there were fights and arguments over whose ball it was. But they all eventually settled down and realised they were better when they formed a team and worked together.
All the dogs in the team are a mixture of abilities, breeds and Heinz 57 varieties and all come in different shapes and sizes.
For rugby it was easy for Scruffy to put his squad together and we can see from one of the card designs where he's placed them on the field. The heavier and bigger dogs are the forwards and the little faster ones are the backs.
For football there is less information available and little understanding of tactical positions, but we gather the team are made up of more expensive dogs and ones who are a little more precious.
Anyhow the long and short of it is there is a team in the making . So Scruffy as their star player, coach and manager wants to get them all playing in their first World cup.
So we thought we'd ask all our customers for some ideas and maybe we could form some new teams in different team colours and nationalities and bring them all together for a world cup match. What we need are some more types of dogs, breeds and non breeds to make it more fun. We could even have the 'odd' cat in there to show inclusion and diversity in these changing times.
We'd need to know the animals abilities, their form and if they can chase the ball and catch it, dribble, pass , tackle , bark, (meow, if necessary), scratch, wag tails, pant and generally work together.
We'll ask Lucy to look into it and put something out on social media and see if our customers might send in some pictures of their lovely pets with their balls and then we can base some more illustrations on the favourites and hand out a few Scruffy dog notebooks or cards to the owners of the teams that gets picked.
It'll be the first ever Pup World Cup!
Rap, wrap, rap and lots more wrap December 15 2016
Employee of the Month November 24 2016
The other day I was really taken aback. Those pesky little animals had answered back. While I was out the back , they had all got together for a little chat.
I actually know the ring leader is a little blue duck called Jack. Because he kept saying it's all water off a ducks back. Well it might be now, but when I look back, I can see that he liked to quack, quack, quack.
He's as sharp as a tack that little Jack and he's apparently been keeping track, studying our sales figures which are now well and truly in the black. So instead of just sitting back, little Jack was on the inside track and acted off his own back. He could see he was very popular and his picture was selling stacks and stacks and stacks. And that little duck liked to quack, quack quack.
So he decided to change tack and banded together all the other animals so they could have their very own little card packs.
He went behind my back did that naughty little Jack and he phoned our printers for a bit of a yack. I must admit that he had the knack for seeing our customers might like to buy our new and cute card packs.
He put a handkerchief over the telephone and spoke in a muffled tone impersonating me, so there wouldn't be any come back. Our printers went ahead and produced stacks and stacks and stacks of our new card packs.
A stab in the back from this little quack?
I was so cross, I blew my stack. I thought, I know... I'll hire a mafia hitman to give him a 'whack'.
Calming down I then thought there'd be some 'come back' and plenty of flack if the poor little duck received a sudden attack .
Instead I wouldn't hold back, I would hand him his P45, show him the door and give him the sack!
But he's a tough nut to crack that sharp little Jack, he'd know his own employee rights and that would be my draw back.
About this time the card packs arrived, right on track. I looked at the animal packs piled high in a stack and thought I've been a bit hard on poor little Jack. He's very entrepreneurial as a matter of fact!
If he entered 'The Apprentice' he'd give it a crack , but Alan Sugar would surely fire him, for answering back.
Instead we've now honoured bold little Jack and written his name on a special plaque, To Jack our very special 'Employee of the Month'
....this bit doesn't rhyme, as by now I've completely lost track.
There are 26 different card packs to choose from. We have shown a sample of them here.
Would you like roast duck for Christmas Lunch? I'm giving one away, but he doesn't know it yet!
He'd make a nice snack, would cute little Jack.
Half and half again October 31 2016
Half term has just ended and its back to normal for a while, until the next school holiday. What to do with the little ones to keep them entertained has always been a tricky one. Sophie and I found a solution.
I'm quite good at making paper aeroplanes. A grown up (love that word) showed me when I was very young and I've never forgotten. My planes look like Concorde in shape and do actually fly like a dart, doing a loop the loop, with a bit of skill of course. Sophie is very good at getting them to fly over the sitting room beams and then make them land on the beams and we can't get them down, except with a long broom handle.
So we thought we'd go a step further and bend a few bits of paper in half and give our animal card characters another dimension. I always thought Origami (the ancient Japanese art of paper folding) was too hard, or tedious to try. But its actually really good fun, at least at our basic level.
All you need is a piece of paper cut to a square. Its easy for us, as all our cards are square. The easiest thing is get some A4 printer paper and either guillotine, or cut it down into a square. We then found some very easy to follow instructions on the web and hey presto we were in business with some little creature creations.
When you have made the basic shape of your creatures all you have to do is draw in the facial features of the animal you've made. Admittedly we went for the really easy ones, but you have to start somewhere. So we can now make a dog, a cat, a rabbit and a pig. The pig is actually the same as the dog, but you have to draw it in and make it look like a pig.
Do I have your attention so far? And are you sitting comfortably... then I'll begin. I am just going to show you how to make a dog today. We have modelled the dog on one our cards, Scruffy the dog.
I am only going to show you how to make the dog, because if I make the cat and the rabbit, it might be a little long and you'll probably fall asleep. If you like how we make the dog, please let me know and I'll do another blog with the rabbit and the cat. They are all pretty easy really and just variations on a theme.
First take your square piece of paper. Angle it so there's a bottom point and a top point, see below.
Fold the bottom to the top in half and crease. You have a triangle.
Fold in half again, the left side to the right side . You have another triangle.
Open the piece of paper out again and flip it around through 180 deg,so the long piece is at the top and pointy bit at the bottom.
Now to make the dogs ears bend the paper down at an angle on the left side slightly away from the halfway crease. Do the same on the right side. You should have two floppy dogs ears.
Then bend the front pointy bit at the bottom upwards and flat to create the mouth.Bend the tip of the triangle back again behind to create the top of the nose. Nearly done. Now bend backwards at the halfway crease to create the overall shape of the dog,
Lastly, start filling in your dogs features. Scruffy here always has a wet nose and his tongue out trying to catch his ball.
And that's it you're done. Here are some wacky creations we've done. Along with a few of the other animals. I hope you can guess what they are... we are still beginners!
It's really good and simple fun and you won't forget how to make these paper animals as they are very easy. You can also pass it on as a 'grown up' and score a few brownie points with some little ones you know at the next half term.
Scents, seasons and somewhere called home. September 01 2016
Do you ever get those sweet smells and special scents of summer that remind us of home?
And do you ever notice when the seasons are ever so slightly changing?
When its winter and dark and Christmas and we're unwrapping presents, its hard to remember summer, unless you get a special smell that reminds you and then you can picture it instantly.
But then its spring and things change again with all the tulips and skipping lambs . And then everything bursts into life in May and June and life is rich in colour.
I hope I don't get into trouble by quoting from Evelyn Waugh, but he had such an amazing way of describing England in the summer.
" I have been here before" I said. I had been there before, first with Sebastian more than twenty years ago on a cloudless day in June when the ditches were creamy with meadow sweet and the air heavy with all the scents of summer...
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
And that's it isn't it? It really doesn't matter where you are in the world, there's no place quite like home and England, (for me anyway) in the summer.
We sat out in the garden at a family gathering one fine evening in August and my brother commented on the rich smells at dusk.
It had been a dry sunny day with a soft warm wind and it pushed in the dusty scent of the wheat harvest that had just begun. That smell was coupled with hay from the meadow in front of our house that had just been cut the day before and was just like the scent you get before sipping a camomile tea. It was also ever so slightly damp and you could smell the wet earth, as the dew was starting to rise in the late evening air.
Once when I was traveling up the west coast of America, I stayed in a Bed and Breakfast, miles from anywhere in the middle of winter, in some small logging town in Oregon. The owner offered me a cup of camomile tea at bedtime and all those rich and hazy scents of an English summer came rushing back. I felt homesick.
So you see wherever you are in the world and it doesn't just have to be England, I only quote it as I know it so well, there's a rich smell and a reminder of home somewhere, for all of us.
It's the first day of September today and I've noticed the nights are slowly drawing in. The earth smells different again. The fields are getting ploughed up and there's that rich smell of the soil being turned upside down and it all smells fresh again. Its also a sign that the seasons are on the turn. Not quite yet, we are still holding on to summer but there's a change in the air. How long before we get the smell of wood smoke and leaves slowly drifting in the damp evening air? A few more weeks yet. We'll then turn our minds to autumn and winter and being cuddled up indoors by the fire and looking forward to Christmas.
So on that note I've broken up my self indulgent little essay and thought I'd introduce some of our new ranges that are heading your way very soon. We've introduced lots of the quirky animal characters onto products like oven gloves, tea towels, aprons, cushion covers, trays, etc.
Its kept us very busy producing and designing all these new products, so we can get them out and into the shops for September. So much so that this year, (like all the Snuggly sheep) has just skipped by.
Sometimes you just have to stand still, like we did that night in August and breathe in slowly through your nose and take note of all the beauty that is around you, wherever you are in the world..... and wherever you call home.
Here are a few images of our new Snuggly Sheep range that will be skipping your way very soon. They might even get bought up as presents for Christmas.
We've just launched a collection of new products this year.
So we thought now is a good time to fly the flag and shout about it. Here are some of the animals that wanted to be included in our little press release.
There are special ranges with the sheep and hens on them. Scruffy the dog, the foxes, the hedgehogs, the rabbits, the ducks, the bees, the penguins, the cows, the sheep.
I don't think I've missed anyone out?
Well its taken a lot of work and lots of time planning the new designs and how they are going to sit alongside our existing card and picture ranges.
We are also working with some new suppliers who have been very supportive and brilliant to work alongside and offer their extensive insight.
The best bit of it is, all our new and 'existing' products are made here in the UK.
So I am now and I am very proud to tell all our customers that everything is designed and Made in Britain. We always wanted to do this right from the start, as we feel it's very important to have British made products.
It's a short read this time around, but just to let everyone know that we have brought out new ranges of aprons, oven gloves, cushion covers, tea towels, bags, coasters, placemats, chopping boards, trays and notebooks... is that it?
Yes I think that's about the extent of it, oh yes I know I did forget there will be sheets of wrapping paper in time for Christmas with the reindeer on.... of course!
I mean who could forget Wayne Dear. He is famous, or he likes to think he is.
So keep a look out on the website as we will be updating the new product ranges soon. We are already selling them directly to retail at our shows and are introducing them to our trade customers next week to appear in their shops very soon.
So that's it for this blog. There will be more on our individual ranges soon and we'll be sure to let you know what's flying out of the door, it will be sure to include one very 'famous' flying reindeer who, will also be flying the flag!
Its a long road without a turning February 17 2016
Its a long road without a turning.
There's never been a truer saying.
But thats exactly what you must do.
Cheeky Monkeys February 10 2016My little daughter has a monkey called Leo and another one called More Leo.
Top Drawer January 24 2016
Last week we exhibited for the first time at Top Drawer, so I thought I’d write a few lines about it.
Top Drawer is actually quite a fitting name for our new visual retail display here at Sophie Morrell.
As some of our regular customers know, we use old potato boxes at our shows. These carry
the old family farm name of Morrell & Sons for storing seed potatoes. Something I grew up with
working on the farm.
Moving on a generation, I thought they looked so good as props at shows, I’d try and develop our own wooden crates. I wanted them to hold the animal cards so they could have a practical purpose and look good for selling. So alongside our new supplier, we developed a crate that could hold 8 separate designs of cards.
We made them so that they could sit horizontally or vertically, with a little ledge of wood at the bottom to prevent anything from falling out. All our crates are drilled so it makes hanging them up easy with a couple of screws. The beauty of it is they make a very organised and creative display on the wall; with infinite possibilities for presentation.
The crates are dipped and stained to make them look old like our original family crates and have
SOPHIE MORRELL written in the same style of font stencil along the sides.
We even recreated our logo on the back of a few of the crates.
They have been so popular at Top Drawer that customers asked to buy them as an add on; to tie in their selected ranges.
Of course not forgetting the animals, well they all loved the crates... and why wouldn’t they?
All creative great and small.
They certainly felt like the stars at Top Drawer.
The animals were all arranged by season and specific ranges.
You can guess who wanted to be up there first and try and get in the ‘best' position.
Yes Wayne of course!
So all the reindeer got together and pushed the Ice Cube penguins into second place and then came the cats and dogs, barking and meowing and then the hedgehogs and ducks and so on.
Occasionally Buzz Bumble ended up with Scruffy the dog and Wayne managed to find himself chatting with Sly Stallone, the fox.
And Sly tried his best to eat the chickens, but didn’t!
Every morning we had a little pep talk right before the show opened.
All the animals, both great and small were told to put on their best smiles and comb their fur and see who could make the most sales to the customers.
It all worked very well indeed and we had some super sales from all around the UK and Europe.
The animals all had their own little individual spaces, or drawers, which were framed by wooden crates on all sides. So much so from a distance they looked like they were sitting in one big wardrobe, with its own set of drawers.
Naturally the animals were competing for the 'best' sales each day and Wayne and Sly started acting out the scene from Top Gun.
Wayne said “I’m not wondering who the best is… I am the best!"
Sly turned to Wayne and said, “That’s pretty arrogant, considering the company you are in”
But those two weren’t starring in Top Gun, no it was about all the animals, great and small.
All great company and all competing to be the stars and be their own little...
…. Top Drawer.
It's drawing near...for Wayne Dear October 01 2015
Well Christmas isn't quite that near, yet.
But 'drawing' I certainly have been doing this year and hopefully staying in the clear.
Wayne and his friends have been busy recreating some excellent poses for the newly launched cards. We have got six new cards added to the range and some 'new' looks to old Christmas tree themes.
First of all there's 'Re-engineer' with the reindeer adding their own fairy lights. Like our 'Chandelier' picture last year, this involved even more planning and set up time. The reindeer managed to get themselves completely tangled up from the word go. Not surprising really with Wayne in charge. His organisation wasn't the best and before long the pictures got even more complicated so we called the next one 'Persevere'.
While maintaining 11 reindeer in a very wobbly position, we quickly managed to disentangle the fairy lights from the picture. And I quickly hid them in some trees and tried to distract Wayne.
We then placed some presents at the top with Loraine holding them. Getting the presents up to Loraine wasn't the easiest. It involved lots of hooves, antlers and wet noses.
About this time Wayne seemed to 'disappear' and then suddenly 'reappear' in the trees. I noted his actions as he was quite funny. I know he was looking for the fairy lights again. He then tripped over the lights and fell antlers first into the snow. For the last picture I drew Wayne, Loraine and Dwayne as they precariously managed to decorate one of the Christmas trees with yet more fairy lights and we called that 'High Gear'.
In all that time my fear for the Deer had been looking out for their well being. Constantly thinking they were ether going to be electrocuted from snow and a dodgy electric cable, or the balancing act would calapse with lots of fallings out and short tempers between the reindeer and a few of them being jabbed by antlers.
So this year I really had to play it by ear with Wayne Dear.
But hopefully my drawing is... somewhere near?
Fast Food September 11 2015
Lamb chops, Fried chicken, the Peeking ducklings, Buzz Bumble and the Bee Squadron, the Fast Food bunnies, Bacon roll, the Semi Skimmed cows and of course all the cast of Dogs Dinners and not forgetting the Cat Food bunch.
These are the names of some our cards as our regular followers well know and for all those not in the know, we are coming your way next week.
All the rabble of animals are lining up and piling into the van, crated up and heading on down to the big smoke for the day.
If a picture is worth a thousand words July 19 2015
If a picture is worth a thousand words, is a picture with a few special words,
worth a bit more?
It depends on how you look at it I suppose.
For certain, it won't cost anymore, but it might mean an extra special present for a loved one.
That said, we’ve decided to offer a few personalised print options.
And we've decided to let a few of our animals do the talking.
We had a little meeting the other day with the animals all sat around.
There was a show of paws ,wings and hooves of who would like to take part.
I think a few extra food treats and the chance of fame might have helped swing the vote as well.
We set up a photo shoot and the animals groomed themselves.
We couldn’t afford to pay for hair and make up this time.
Mostly we put the animals together in pairs.
It's sometimes nicer with a couple of names on a picture.
The cats had particular attention to detail, cleaning and combing their fur, as did the foxes and the ducks.
The two rabbits were just so much in love, they were in their own little world and didn’t even notice their picture being taken.
Betty, Bertie and the rest of the sheep were cooperative to a point.
They are a little scatterbrained and had to be herded into position by Scruffy the little terrier.
The reindeer; Wayne and Lorraine, got tangled up in the lighting equipment, yet again.
The hedgehogs, were nearly as bad as the rabbits for snogging and staring into each others eyes.
We had to separate them, with heavy duty gardening gloves and shout ‘Cheese’ to them. They had very little attention span, bless them.
Percy and Pheobe the two penguins' arrived late from the South Pole.
There had been a few flight delays, or so they said.
Judging by the size of their bags, I would say it was more likely they were stuck in customs with more John west tinned tuna than is safe to travel with.
Finally we got it all done and the animals were happy with the result.
They agreed to let our customers decorate their pictures with their
own choice of words, names, dates and occasions at no extra cost.
So maybe a picture and a few choice words, are worth thousands....
to the right person.
Scales from One to Ten May 26 2015
There’s not much happening in Antartica this time of year. For penguins, its likely to be fishing and maybe more fishing. It's winter down there, very dark and Christmas is still a long way off.
The Hedge Job May 01 2015
Hedgehog Awareness Week 3rd–9th May. At Sophie Morrell we'd like to raise money for the hedgehogs.
Spring has arrived! March 29 2015
All of a sudden everything around me is coming to life again.
It started very gradually with the first snowdrops in January and bit by bit, it got busier
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