Archive for the ‘Life Up North’ Category

Steenbergs: progress at 11 Hallikeld Close

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

Progress on Steenbergs’ new factory is moving along decently.  The joists have been put in for the second floor and most of the flooring.

The building work has created a mass of extra space that can be used to store our tea.  Building control have agreed the structural calculations, standards for fire rating and the shape and positioning of the staircase to the second floor.

We should get delivery this week of a new labelling machine from Norpak in Bradford to help with the growth in demand for our organic spices and seasonings – especially the mini jars that are going well in Abel & Cole’s recipe boxes and for gifts sets.  A new packing machine is also being built for us at Gainsborough Engineering in Lincolnshire which should help underpin interest in Steenbergs loose leaf teas and herbal teas.

A couple of photos are below:

Brexit, Steenbergs and the future

Sunday, June 26th, 2016

While I had been nervously expecting that Brexit result, it’s not until you hear it that the impact really hits you.  And while it remains a shock, we must look forward and deal with the additional risks that it throws at us, as well as seek out those opportunities that we have been told are on the horizon.

I voted for Remain for myself, for my children and for the business, and live in one of the few regions outside of Scotland, Northern Ireland and London that voted to Remain.  Brexit will be narrow the opportunities for everyone, but especially the young.  But we lost, that’s democracy, and it’s time to move on – you can’t undo a result you don’t like, because that’s undemocratic, abuses the just rights of those that voted to Leave and makes a mockery of the British – and yet I really, really don’t like this result.

So what to do.  It’s time to get down into the detail, and to hold those that pushed to Leave to deliver on their promises.  But I expect there to be a wide gap between the promises and reality – few savings and no extra cash for public services nor it even appears cuts in immigration because the labour provided by Poles, the Latvians etc is needed.  And we have many “Europeans” as relatives (my mum, aunts, uncles and cousins), friends and colleagues and we will do everything possible to protect us and them from any impact from Brexit, especially xenophobia.

But back to Steenbergs.

Firstly, as a food business that mainly sells into the UK, but largely imports raw materials and packaging from the EU and exports into the EU, as well as with India and Sri Lanka etc etc, I would like to know what the new legislation is going to be.

Why?  Because the whole of Steenbergs’ business is dependent on and completely based on primary regulation from the EU as is the UK food industry.  There is effectively no UK food legislation.  These regulations cover food safety, food labelling, food information, allergen declarations, organic imports/exports/manufacturing, food packaging, waste regulations, chemical residues in food whether from pesticides, mycotoxins etc etc.  We’re designing new packaging – what will the new UK labelling rules be?  The current regulations are not onerous, are good and protect customers and the give us safe food to eat each and every day, and they work from Ireland to Romania.

Also, not only is food and drink the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, but 75% of UK food and drink exports go to the EU (or £18.3 billion); the sector employs 3.8 million people, or 14% of all UK employment (IGD, 2015) – so how the UK government deals with this is vital for real people and their livelihoods.

When will this new legislation come into place and how will it differ?

Secondly, we want to continue to buy from the EU and sell into the EU.  What are the terms of this trade deal going to be?  What extra paperwork will there be?  My accountant will want to know how to treat VAT, or even if our whole accounting package is now redundant.  And so on and so on.

Ultimately, while the politicos say be patient.  I cannot wait 2 years for the politicians to plan, negotiate etc as we have staff that need to know next week what this means for them, and our current investment plans must now be put on hold while we wait for the powers that be work it all out.  We say get a move on.

Our suspicion is that the EU legislation will just become UK legislation and, for Steenbergs to be able to trade with our EU friends, we will need to meet EU rules and regulations for all the above (Soil Association, 2016).  So what’s it going to be.  Our guess: it will be business as beforehand with some wrinkles from the new empowered Westminster government (ex Scotland), but (and here’s the rub) Steenbergs and all but the smallest food businesses will still need to meet all (and we mean all) the EU food and packaging legislation, but our honourable friends in Westminster or our Eurocrats will not be at the negotiating table to determine what those rules are.

What will be the longer-term impact? Overall, I suspect not that much, except less control over how we run our business, plus a few extra hoops to jump through.  That’s less freedom and accountability, not more.

So let’s get down to it, and make the best of what this new path throws at us.  Finally, I doubt that I will ever forget those who took us down this wrong path.

Reference

IGD (2015) The UK’s food and drink industry, accessed 25 June 2016
Sawyer, M. (2016) Soil Association Certification and the EU Referendum, The Soil Associations, 24 June 2016, accessed 8 July 2016

North Yorkshire Nature Notes – May 2016

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

 

Flowering hawthorn and cow parsley on the verges by Upper Dunsforth

Flowering hawthorn and cow parsley on the verges by Upper Dunsforth

Spring sprung really late this year.  Today’s another bitterly cold day – overcast with a biting wind.

The wisteria in our garden never really came out, so even by the second May bank holiday, only a few fronds were dangling down.  A real disappointment – normally there’s a full wall of deep purple and a deep buzz from the insects busily hunting out nectar along its length.  But this year, nothing much before the leaves came out.  It’s a good test of the year, because usually the wisteria is at its peak or just over for the Aldborough May Day on the first weekend of May, but it was not even out then.

It is more a sign of a long winter than an especially cold one, but it dragged on without particularly ever warming up.

The swallows were, also, late, and I bet they dream of Southern African skies.  Only four were here by early May, but now the skies are full of their diving and darting.  They also have a joyful, insistent chatter as they sit on the TV aerial gossiping away.  The best time to see them is in the evening circling above the house or over the village green.  In amongst them, there are swifts scything their way through the sky.  It is the swallows that I really love, my favourite of our migrating birds.

There are two robin pairs in our garden.  Sometimes you see the red-breasted males scampering across the lawn, glaring at each other facing themselves down.  While I read my book in the back yard, one male robin watches me, challenging me as the intruder into his space.

By late May, North Yorkshire’s hedgerows are covered in the snow blossoms of flowering hawthorn, with road verges covered in the whites of cow parsley, sweet cicely and nettle flowers.  Buttercups brighten some verges in cloaks of yellow.  By Ornhams Hall, a neglected copse with a liberal smattering of rubbish has the unmistakable sweet aroma of crow garlic.

On the corner with the old Great North Road going towards Marton-cum-Grafton, there is a verge that’s coloured by bluebells and celandine.  I always ponder whether they were planted by a farmer’s wife to brighten up the boring verge or are a relic of an old copse that has given way to fields.  They’re much more natural looking than the ubiquitous splashes of daffodils on verges and roundabouts across the vale.

Springtime Reaches Aldborough

Sunday, April 10th, 2016
Dere Street, now Boroughbridge Road, With A Really Wide Verge

Boroughbridge Road Near Marton-cum-Grafton

10th April: today was the first day that really felt like spring in Aldborough – bright blue sky, no wind and a little warmth that seems to have enlivened everyone.

When I went out for my Sunday cycle and run, there were definitely more people out compared to the much poorer showing for most of the winter months.  Fellow cyclists, walkers, runners and cars – even about thirty cars squashed in the lane between Upper and Lower Dunsforth from the Yorkshire Searchers, a metal detecting club.

Birds seen: black birds, crows, dunnocks, linnets, magpie, sparrows (we’ve several living in our roof), woodpigeon, wrens  and the canary-yellow of a yellowhammer; no birds of prey, but have seen recently: kestrels, a red kite and a barn owl that tracked down the road by the hedgerow until it spotted and swooped onto a mouse or shrew, then flew off.  Sometimes, there are buzzards and a sparrowhawk.  Later, Sophie and I walked in the sunshine on the levées by the Ure, carpeted in golden flowers of lesser celandine and dandelion, and watched sand martins pirouetting in the sky above the river-bank by Ellenthorpe Hall.

Flood Defences By Ellenthorpe Hall

Celandine Flowers By River Ure By Aldborough

Spring must be here, finally; next, there will be swallows, but not yet.

Everywhere, you see rabbits nibbling at the grass verges or darting across country lanes.  A few weeks ago, a roe deer scampered out from copse between the A1M and the old Great North Road (now the A168), and sometimes there’s a flash of russet as a weasel scampers from one side of the road to the other.

With the lack of wind and because it was early, the soundscape was wonderful – the birdsong joyous along the hedgerows – with only the faintest hint of cars passing.  Even the long train of Yorkshire Searchers were quiet as they were stationery at the time.  A natural chorus of: chit-it chit-it, klep-toowit, oow-oooh, tiddle-iddle-lu-wi, trrrrrrrr, and who cooks for-you ohA lapwing heard, not seen, on Lower Dunsforth Common.

At the end of the day, May Day dancers practising on the Green.

Update on 17th April: I saw a couple of pioneer swallows whilst out cycling today.  The rest should come in the next few weeks.

Autumnal Colours In North Yorkshire

Sunday, September 13th, 2015

I have always liked autumn.  The weather is cooler than summer, or at least in theory – this year’s been a washout.

But I also like harvest time and autumnal colours.  The corn is in from most fields around us, the apples are turning a russet colour and the elderberries are a deep black, hanging heavy in the hedgerows, having given us heady elder flowers at mid summer.  Brambles all dark and healthy.

Then in the garden, there is the late yellows of rudbeckia and the purples of sea hollies.

Elder berries ripening on elder hedgerow

Elder berries ripening on elder hedgerow

Apple ripening in our garden

Apple ripening in our garden

Autumnal yellows of rudbeckia petals

Autumnal yellows of rudbeckia petals

Purple colours of sea holly

Purple colours of sea holly

A Walk Along A Country Lane In North Yorkshire

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

Last night whilst Sophie was playing tennis with our son, Jamie, I went for a walk along the River Ure with our daughter, Poppy.  It was a beautiful evening with swallows and sand martins out in abundance and only a few others around.  The river flowed sedately past while a father and son fished at one of the fishing piers.  At Boroughbridge lock, a boat was passing through.  But I had forgotten forgot my camera.

So this morning after a bike ride, I retraced some of the walk.

Why?  Because it was amazing to realise within only a couple of miles of walking, we had passed almost all the main types of crops (barley, oats and wheat), as well as cows around and about.  But we never really think about it, because it’s all we’ve ever known.  Then  along the hedgerows, the elders were forming their berries and brambles were developing.

Wheat Field

Wheat Field

Close Up of Wheat

Close Up of Wheat

Barley Field In North Yorkshire

Barley Field In North Yorkshire

Close Up Of Barley

Close Up Of Barley

Field Of Oats

Field Of Oats

Close Up Of Oats

Close Up Of Oats

Potato Field With Cows in Distance

Potato Field With Cows in Distance

Elderberries Beginning To Develop

Elderberries Beginning To Develop

Axel’s and Sophie’s quirky guide to running a small business

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Here’s our list of things we have learnt over the last 10 years of running a small start-up and a guide to the way we do business. It’s all rather homespun and certainly will never find its way into books on how to run a successful business nor in any business school. After all, we are still a tiny business, even though we have been around longer than Facebook and Youtube. While these things might not make you rich, they help us sleep easily at night with a clear conscience and make us happy.

• Never wear a tie or suit
• Like your colleagues
• Avoid meetings
• Living is more important than making money
• Take time out to watch your kids and friends playing sport and music and acting
• Smile, laugh and cry
• Sing, however badly – and we’re really bad
• Never grow up
• Work hard – roll your sleeves up and get stuck in
• Be patient, act swiftly
• Don’t get hung up on sales or profits
• But keep a tight focus on cash-flow and balance sheets
• Don’t do budgets, except if the bank asks for one!
• Always pay your bills
• Avoid customers who are too posh to pay – this is an attitude of mind as opposed to a statement on anything else
• Never become that business or person that talks aggressively about “killing the competition”, just be different to them and do your own thing
• Never become that business or person that lies to get a call taken or to get money off
• Be compassionate – we’re all real people, with real lives
• Be honest to yourself, your colleagues, your customers, your suppliers and everyone else we’ve forgotten
• Reinvent the wheel – it can always be done better
• Break the rules
• Make mistakes
• Admit to your mistakes, understand them, then try not to do it again
• Spend your money wisely
• Spend your money morally and compassionately, doing good things that help make the world a better place
• If you’re not comfortable with it, don’t do it
• Don’t be bullied by customers and suppliers
• Best practice is just average practice with a positive spin
• Don’t trust suppliers who drive flash or expensive cars
• Don’t waste company money on flash cars
• Make teas and coffees for everyone
• Eat breakfast, lunch and tea
• Eat cake, biscuits and pies
• Listen to what everyone has to say – everyone knows more about stuff than you do
• Ask questions, however stupid
• Be fair
• What is fairness? Sharing risk and reward equitably
• Treat people how you would like to be treated
• Try and only deal with people you like
• The customer is not always right
• Never do favours for people you don’t really know, because they are never reciprocated, but bend over backwards for your friends and favourite people
• Shit really does happen
• Everything seems better after a cup of tea and cake, or a bath and a sleep
• Keep on dreaming

Roman Wall Blues

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Off to visit my parents this weekend for my Dad’s 75th birthday.  We live almost on top of the Roman wall outside of Corbridge.  I thought this poem that reminds you of what it must be like being a soldier away from home, whether Romans or Syrian archers back in the first few hundred years AD, or as a soldier nowadays in Afghanistan or anywhere away from home.

Roman Wall Blues

Over the heather the wet wind blows,
I’ve lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose.

The rain comes pattering out of the sky,
I’m a Wall soldier, I don’t know why.

The mist creeps over the hard grey stone,
My girl’s in Tungria; I sleep alone.

Aulus goes hanging around her place,
I don’t like his manners, I don’t like his face.

Piso’s a Christian, he worships a fish;
There’d be no kissing if he had his wish.

She gave me a ring but I diced it away;
I want my girl and I want my pay.

When I’m a veteran with only one eye
I shall do nothing but look at the sky.

W. H. Auden

The Sound of Northumberland

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

I have been to listen and watch Kathryn Tickell twice over the last month, once in Ripon and then at the Sage with her new show, Northumbrian Voices with her band and her dad – actually her dad, Mike Tickell, also came to the show in the Holy Trinity Church, Ripon.  She is a great virtuoso player of the Northumbrian small pipes and fiddle, plus there is a togetherness as the core of the Kathryn Tickell band is herself and her brother, so like all great traditional musicians they can move the set around, play different pieces and just wing it as they needed to do in Ripon with their accordion player not there.  And like all natural musicians who are completely confident with their instruments and repertoire, they are often best when they need to tweak, change and stretch themselves rather than just play the same old routine when they would rather have a glass of beer, wine or put their feet up and read a book!

I feel she plays her best when the songs are a bit darker and bleaker, or more frenzied and manic, than those that are lighter or the jollier dances.  Perhaps she laments, quite rightly, the loss of the traditional livelihoods that have shaped the North, whether it’s the fishermen, the pitmen or farmers that scratched a tough life from these beautiful, but unforgiving, lands, to be replaced by softer jobs in tourism or banking.  Somehow, the harder times made for better music, a deeper understanding and enjoyment in our landscapes and seascapes, as well as those times of rest and the spaces and gaps we used to have in our lives that were not filled with adrenaline kicking, speed filled modern media.  No time to reflect, no pauses and no spaces, as well as a detachment for the physical world we actually live in.  Also, perhaps a loss of contrast between the genuinely hard graft and relaxing down times makes it difficult to enjoy simple pleasures.

So her Wild Hills of Whannies is bleak, windy and wet like Steel Rigg, Haughton Common or the Cheviots up by Wooler, before you get the livelier and freer bubbling and flowing of the burns after the flood through the middle of the tune.  In contrast, Billy Pigg’s version has a more joyful, playful relationship to the same countryside.  And I loved the slow, mournful lament for Stonehaugh Community Centre that morphed into a livelier jig that brought back memories of functional community halls and dances, whether country dances or more often than not cheesy disco music.  Then later she played her version of Bill Charlton’s  Fancy.  The sounds were different but the function was the same, people came together from their farms, crofts and houses and had a good crack.  In the days before MP3 players, multichannel TV and digitised everything, that was the height of fun and it kept the mischief controlled and somewhere close by.  Innocent and largely without too much real badness.

But I love their sounds as her Northumberland is still my Northumberland, although for me a river always runs through it, the Tyne, and the smell of the sea is never that far away.  So whether I was swinging on a tyre swing over the North Tyne by Chollerford or swimming in the Tyne at Bywell, or holidaying by Seahouses, or playing kick-the-can in Bell’s Valley by Fredden Hill, her sounds have that doleful, dreich feel that is the bleakness and beauty of Northumberland.  But that’s its soul, my soul, and I wouldn’t have it otherwise.  Yes, there is, and always has been, much fun to be had, but it is hard won and deserved – especially for us who bear the cross of support for the Toon – and a laugh will be deep and unrestrained, but underneath there is not too much softness, more hard rock covered in moss.

This feeling for a land shaped by the hills, rivers and sea was even more closely followed with the Northumbrian Voices show.  For example, the Song for the North Tyne by Mike Tickell specifically told of the changes wrought to the Tyne and the valleys by the building of Kielder reservoir and forest.

This was a country music show that was pure Northumbria (except for the country sounds from Hank Williams’ Your Cheatin’ Heart) and was filled with stories and sounds shaped by hills, snow and sheep.  The music and songs were played by Kathryn Tickell, Julian Sutton (melodeon), Kit Haigh (guitar), Patsy Reid (fiddle and viola), Hannah Rickard (voice and fiddle) and Mike Tickell (voice).  Then there were words transcribed from conversations during the spaces in recordings, covering stories about traditional knowledge and ways of life that have gone or almost gone; whether these are how to look after sheep or how to look after the hill farms or passing down knowledge between generations in hefted flocks on where to graze. 

Yes, life is wealthier and there is more sparkle and glamour in towns and cities, where the shopping is way better, however I do agree and feel that somehow we are culturally poorer as we loose these simple bits of knowledge that have been learnt over 100s and 1000s of years, whether it is how to shepherd the hills or fish the North Sea, and how to dance a reel especial to a particular valley.  We have destroyed our communities, we have chucked away our local culture and replaced it with global media and music that has no connection back to the land.  I worry that there will come a time when we will need to go back to the land and our hands and heads will be too soft to know what to do and unlike the Pilgrim Fathers in America there will be no-one with the local knowledge to help us.  And as Clive Aslett in The Daily Telegraph wrote – who would want to bring up their children as country bumpkins – well, me actually.

Once again, I was drawn to the melancholic that seems to fit the sound of the pipes, so the Pipes Lament and the Carrick Hornpipe that told of cold winters and changes that continue to be wrought to the land, for better or the worse.  But perhaps, it was even better to just hear and sing some of the old songs that have no time to them but plenty of spatial context – Canny Shepherd Laddies of the Hill, Duns Dings A’, Hesleyside Reel and Small Coals and Little Money.

All in all, a bunch of really great shows and something we would be really proud of if we were in the USA, but here it is just so not mainstream and we prefer the fantasies of Britains Got Talent and X Factor than a more solid and honest local music.

St Wilfrid’s Procession In Ripon (30 July 2011)

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Today was the annual St Wilfrid Procession through Ripon.  This celebrates our city’s patron saint, St Wilfrid, who was one of the great northern saints and important people of early Northumbria.  He is very unlike the ascetic Irish (Celtic) saints that characterised the religious communities of Lindisfarne – St Aidan and St Cuthbert – preferring the lavish lifestyle of the Roman Catholic Church and brought the rule of Benedict to Northumbria and had a telling influence on the Synod of Whitby in 664, arguing for Rome over the Celtic tradition.

For Ripon, St Wilfrid provides a sense of pride, for here his relics are kept.  The procession is a fun day that allows the community an excuse to do some dressing up, drink a few pints and have a jolly church service later.  The Anglican and Roman Catholic churches join in the procession, but for most of us it is a few hours of fun during the gloom that is enveloping our world.  It reminds me that community is more important than anything else, and that our community is local not national, centred on Ripon, Harrogate and York, where the turbulence of the stockmarkets, bond markets and events in the big cities seem another world away, even if we will suffer the consequences of changes that these will all impose upon us.

Some photos will tell the story of the day (and there are more on my Flickr site):

St Wilfrid And The Wakeman Wait For The Horse

St Wilfrid And The Wakeman Wait For The Horse

Stars In Their Eyes - Red Triangle & Evolve

Stars In Their Eyes - Red Triangle & Evolve

Calendar Girls - Ripon Belles

Calendar Girls - Ripon Belles

Spare Tyres, It's The Pits! - Next Generation

Spare Tyres, It's The Pits! - Next Generation

Clown On Go Cart On North Street

Clown On Go Cart On North Street