Monday, 21 October 2013

The History of Portmeirion Pottery

Portmeirion village

Portmeirion – the company, not the village – is a British pottery company, based in the Staffordshire city of Stoke-on-Trent, part of the aptly named “Potteries Urban Area”.

The much-loved company has been going for more than fifty years now, and so, in celebration of this fact (and because we just really like the stuff), we have decided to write a little summary of their history. Read ‘em and learn, potters!

Portmeirion – The Early Days
The company was founded way back in 1960, the year of JFK, Elvis, and Hitchcock’s Psycho. Susan Williams-Ellis, the pottery designer and daughter of Portmeirion Village’s architect, and her husband, Euan Cooper-Willis, took over A. E. Gray Ltd., a small firm specialising in the decoration of pottery.

Williams-Ellis had already been working with A. E. Gray for some time at this point, commissioning designs to be sold in Portmeirion’s (this time the village) gift shop. These designs all bore the stamp “Gray’s Pottery Portmeirionware”.

The next year, they purchased another company, Kirkhams Ltd., who had the capacity to manufacture as well as decorate. Combining the two businesses, Williams-Ellis and Cooper-Willis brought Portmeirion Potteries into the world.

Portmeirion – The Beginnings of Growth

Portmeirion pottery - TotemIn 1963, Susan put out “Totem” – a cylindrical piece, decorated with a bold and abstract pattern. This was to be the catalyst for Portmeirion’s success, putting them on the map at the front of popular design.

By the middle of the swinging ‘60s, Williams-Ellis had already picked up a reputation for putting out striking, memorable designs, creating the renowned and respected “Magic City” in 1966, and then the follow-up “Magic Garden” four years after that.

In 1972, Williams-Ellis was to create and launch the most famous and recognisable of all Portmeirion Pottery’s designs, one which is still made today in the same floral pattern – the Botanic Garden range. Arguably the most successful of these was the Portmeirion Botanic Blue pottery, which was to inspire even more success from the company over the following years.

Portmeirion – In Recent Years

Recently, more people have been offering up their own unique takes on the famous brand, such as interior designer and author Sophie Conran, giving us beautiful pieces like “Crazy Daisy”.

Portmeirion pottery - Crazy Daisy
Portmeirion Pottery has expanded in the last few years – following the fall into administration of both Spode and Royal Worcester in November 2008, Portmeirion Potteries Ltd. purchased both brands, on 23rd April, 2009.

This purchase did not include any of their manufacturing capabilities; it focused solely on the brand name and the designs. The manufacture of Portmeirion pottery continues to take place purely in Stoke-on-Trent, bringing Spode back into the UK from the Far East. Since the acquisition, the company name has been changed to Portmeirion Group.

This is a featured post from Portmeirion Pottery

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Life is fragile

I don't know about you but I'm guilty of taking life for granted. We all make plans for tomorrow, next week, a summer holiday next year, a visit to friends sometime soon and it doesn't occur to us that life might have other plans for us.

Then something happens that makes you take stock.

Yesterday I heard of the very premature death of a dear friend. He was 50, which by anyone's standards is a disgustingly early age to go. A man with a huge personality, full of life, love and humanity and one of life's good guys. I'm still trying to come to terms with his death, and wondering how his young family will cope with their loss.

It's at times like this that we realise how fragile and fleeting life is and how, despite our best-laid plans, there are only a limited number of tomorrows.

Last week after months of unhappiness I made a major decision, something that will mean a significant change for me and my girls, and something I'll be able to write about quite soon. Last week I was full of doubts about whether I'd done the right thing.

Now those doubts have gone and I'm sure it was the right thing to do because, quite simply, life's too short to be unhappy.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Decorating your baby's first bedroom ~ guest post

Your baby is on its way and it is an exciting time for everyone involved. But there are a number of preparations that need to be done before the big arrival such as buying all the clothes, bottles and getting a nappy supply together. You should also start thinking about decorating the baby’s bedroom for when he or she is ready to move from the Moses basket to the crib. This can be a fun experience and one which you can enjoy as a little project whilst you are waiting for the birth.

Colour Scheme

The first decision you should make when decorating is the colour scheme that you want to go for. If you know the sex of the baby, this can be a little easier, but you may not want to go for the traditional baby pink or blue. Why not try a light yellow colour for a girl or a light shade of orange for a boy. If you want to keep the sex a surprise, then choose a neutral colour such as cream, as you can always accessorise with gender specific colours once the baby has arrived.

Once you have decided on a colour scheme then make sure that you do not go overboard as this could overwhelm the room and the baby. Keep the shades light and try to team them with white or cream so that the room has a soft feel.


There are a few necessities that you should invest in first such as a crib, a chest of draws for all the baby’s clothes and nappies, as well as a changing table as you will definitely be using this a lot. Try not to buy too much as if you only have a small room you will find it difficult to fit all the items in. The last thing you want is at 2am when you have finally got your little one settled, to walk into a piece of furniture and wake them up again.

You may find that furniture is easier to come by than you first thought and you could actually save yourself a huge amount of money with freebies. Family members who have resigned on the idea of having any more children so have a Moses basket or your old crib from when you were a baby could still be in great condition. With a lick of paint you could create a new looking piece of furniture, so make sure you ask around before you go furniture shopping.


Once the walls are painted and the furniture has been erected from its flat pack state, the really fun part is next. Adding little touches around the room can make the bedroom personal to your new addition and your family. For instance, add stickers to the walls of animals and pictures which the baby can look at. Bright colours are great for these types of decorations as it will stimulate the baby’s brain.

You could also add pictures of your family to the walls so that the faces become familiar and comforting. A lovely touch is to have a photo on canvas which you can hang up. This could be of you and your partner with the new born, or perhaps a family photo. This will become something the baby is familiar with, and as the child grows they will want to keep it as a comforting picture.

Soft Extras

We all know that babies are delicate and therefore adding soft extras throughout the room can create a snug room that the boy or girl will find easy to rest in. Soft toys, blankets and furniture covers are ideal to create this look. For instance, once the baby starts crawling there will be no stopping them, so covering the legs of furniture could prevent injuries.

This post was written by Amy Bennett who thoroughly enjoyed decorating a bedroom for her triplets last year. She ordered a canvas from Custom Canvas and was amazed with their swift delivery and the great quality of the product.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Born to Read: how you can help the UK's poorest children to read

Some of my daughters' favourite books

My girls are both teenagers now, but I still keep hold of many of the books they enjoyed when they were little. Like many parents, I read books to them from a very early age and some of the hardboard books they enjoyed as toddlers are now slightly chewed and dog-eared but all the more loved because of it.

Now that they're older, they still read a lot. Tall Daughter loves to read fiction and likes to read in bed. The Teenager is less keen on fiction but enjoys biographies, although now she's studying for her A Levels her reading is mainly text books.

Sadly, not all children in the UK can enjoy reading in the same way because shockingly 1 in 4 children leave primary school without being able to read properly.

I know from my own experience working in a primary school that the children who are encouraged to read at home are usually the ones who do well in school. It makes perfect sense. If a child can read well, it unlocks their potential. Almost every other lesson at school involves some level of reading and if they can't read....well, they struggle.

The first two years of primary school are crucial in developing reading and writing skills, and most of the children who fall behind even at this early stage never catch up. By the time they reach secondary school they're already at a disadvantage which translates into lower exam results and later on, lower job prospects.

By failing behind with reading at primary age, children can be limited for the rest of their lives and crucially, are unable to pass on a love of reading to their own children, which creates a cycle of poverty that is difficult to break out of.

Save the Children are trying to break that cycle by launching their Born to Read campaign.

They want to help disadvantaged children to unlock their potential by helping them to get to grips with literacy skills in the early primary years. And what's more we can all help - read about how you can become a change maker and really make a difference to a child.

You can read about other ways you can help over on Thinly Spread.

Together we can make a difference.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Wherever you go, there you are

Creative Commons - Flickr
Things are improving.

I'm feeling stronger. Not in a Popeye kind of way, but in an emotional health sort of way. The very dark despair that was there a few weeks ago has lifted, and I'm now feeling more optimistic about life again, although that's a scary word to use - optimistic. I don't want to tempt fate or anything, but yes it does seem like the right word to use.

I'm still not out of the woods, but compared to a couple of months ago I'm much improved, and the way forward I noticed recently is making itself much clearer to me now.

I've been working hard to improve where my head is at without resorting to prescribed anti-depressants and for a while I thought I was going to have to relent and ask my GP for them again, but just recently that feeling has subsided and I'm happy to keep taking the St. Johns Wort and combine it with relaxation, trying to get some decent sleep - although my sleep patterns are still disrupted - and talking and being more open about how I'm feeling. That has helped, but I've been reading a little about mindfulness and will be giving that a go too.

I wouldn't wish depression on anyone because apart from the actual experience of dealing with it it's also a very misunderstood illness.

I'm sure that when some people hear the words 'mental illness' they immediately focus on the 'mental' part of it, with images of straight-jackets and asylums flashing through their minds. A combination of ignorance and embarrassment means that many people dismiss depression as self-indulgent self-pity. If someone breaks their leg, or has a heart attack,  it would be obvious to everyone that it takes time to recover from it, but recovering from depression isn't afforded the same amount of patience. It's a shame, because more people than you'd think actually struggle with it and don't speak out because of the misconceptions.

If you know someone who seems 'down in the dumps' or is finding life difficult at the moment, please let them know that you care, and offer a bit of support - maybe listening to them while they talk, or helping in a more practical way, but mainly just being there for them. It could make all the difference.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Have you planned your retirement?

Image credit: Flickr

While it can be very easy to worry about your retirement, it’s one of those things that can be better solved by tackling it straight on and planning well in advance. Whilst it can be easy to stress, giving yourself as much time as possible will be more beneficial in the long run, as you can plan more effectively.

Choosing your potential home is also a major factor, whilst you will always need to plan out your money. Likewise, don't forget to find time to enjoy yourself. If you take time to remember the benefits and free time involved in retirement, it might help you worry a little less too!


First of all, you need somewhere suitable to live. Your current home or apartment may not be right for your retirement. If you live in a flat, stairs can often be a problem whilst family homes can simply be too big to manage. Likewise, you should consider the safety and security of where you live as you get older.

Instead, a retirement apartment could easily be recommended. This offers enough space to be comfortable, yet in a secure area where additional health assistance is available.


Money will also be important, as it's one of the features that arguably define retirement. You'll be living off of your pensions and savings, so it helps to plan ahead and work out a budget.

Similarly, if you're looking for ways to generate additional money, you may want to look into saving more and other additional schemes. Equity release, for instance, can be used to generate money from your home. This can be useful if you want additional money to last your retirement or simply want to sell the house to get cash for a more appropriate retirement property.

Things to Do

Finally, don't forget that retirement is also a prime opportunity to enjoy yourself. If you're stuck for ideas, it helps to do a little bit of research. If you can get online, look at the tweets from McCarthy & Stone often highlight potential activities, useful links and competitions worth entering. Similar sources and feeds can also keep you updated on the latest news so that you’re never left behind.

Additionally, don't forget the power of a local community. Not only can you make close friends within your area but there is also the potential to keep an eye on local events and join group activities and outings. This should help make any retirement much more fun.

Don't forget that, as important as it is to sort out the important factors, you need to remember to enjoy yourself too. After all, retirement is about living life, so always make room to relax and do the things you want to do when you can.

This is a featured post.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Men we shouldn't fancy but do ~ The Hairy Bikers

A couple of years ago I wrote a couple of posts about men who, on paper, don't appear to be fanciable (e.g. Eddie Izzard and Jack Black). They're not traditionally handsome, or have an amazing physique, but there's just something about them that is very, very attractive, or at least I think so anyway. I suppose what I'm saying is that they have fantastic personalities.

FINAL HB Great Curries_CROP
 The Hairy Bikers website
I've always liked the Hairy Bikers, and apart from enjoying their cookery programmes and their books they both seem like really lovely blokes. Really decent, good-humoured, would do anything for a friend sort of blokes, and I bet they're great fun at parties. But I have to admit to having a bit of a crush on Si - there's a touch of the Viking about him, and that's always an attractive quality in a man. Did I ever tell you about my boyfriend known as The Viking from years back? A great big hunk of a man he was. Oh, happy days...

I've had this post in draft for months, and only remembered about it when I saw Dave Myers dancing on the new series of Strictly Come Dancing at the weekend.

Awww, you've got to love Dave - he's not the world's most natural dancer by any means, but my God he's having a go and by all accounts he's having a great time too. Who cares what the judges say: vote for Dave!

Anyway, here's the link of him with his partner Karen Hauer strutting his stuff on Strictly last weekend. Bless.

Go on, who do you have a secret crush on?

A new kitchen blind, indecision and some wet paint ~ a review of Hillarys

The kitchen has been my least favourite room in the house since we moved in, mainly because the walls were dark green and the roller blind on the window was a manky beige with a big brown stain across the centre. I know, you're jealous aren't you?

Kitchen with dark green walls and no blind

So it's been in need of an update since we moved in and because it is quite a big project (the ceiling lighting also needs to be changed) it's been on the back burner for a while, but a few weeks ago I decided to try and spruce it up a bit.

The first thing to go was the the roller blind which was so disgusting I didn't take a photo, and because we live on a quiet lane and don't get many passers-by I reckoned we could live without a blind until the kitchen was decorated.

Then I tried out a few tester pots on the walls to try and find a colour that would brighten up the room and also go with the cream kitchen cabinets. I also looked at some window blinds, but because the kitchen window is quite big I would have had to buy a larger length and cut it down to size. I've done that with other windows and it's easy enough to do (although you have to cut very carefully) but the cut edge always looks unfinished and messy.

As luck would have it, I was contacted by Hillarys to see if I'd like to review one of their products. Would I? Yes, I most certainly would. And sure enough a few days later a very nice man called Steve came to show me their range of designs and wide selection of fabrics and fittings. While he did the measuring I made a cup of tea and dithered over the choice available.

Hillary's Blind sample bookTo be honest, I took quite a long time to decide on the type (Venetian, vertical, roller or Roman?) Or possibly a wood-effect venetian blind (which would have been my brother's choice, but he was away at sea so didn't get any say.)  Oh, and then I spotted the range of shutters - gorgeous!

I was genuinely surprised by the range available, which made it quite hard to make a decision but I have to admire Steve's patience because I changed my mind more than once (even when he was filling out the order form) yet he didn't bat an eyelid. We also arranged a time and date for two weeks time when he would come back to fit the blind

All I had to do in the meantime was paint the kitchen. Easy, right? Well no,.....I couldn't decide on the colour, and changed my mind a couple of times (are you sensing a pattern?)  Eventually, I decided on a cheery green colour - Melon Sorbet from the Dulux range - and painted the wall on the morning Steve was due back to do the fitting. Yes, I waited until that very morning to do the painting. What can I say, I'm embarrassed.

When he turned up - early, as it happens - the wall was still a bit wet and he wasn't sure if he could do the fitting but said he'd put the brackets up and come back later that day. At this point I was feeling pretty stupid and kicking myself for leaving it so late to do the painting, but somehow Steve not only managed to get the brackets fitted but he also put the blind up too. Given that the paint was still a bit wet, which made it awkward, he still managed to fit the blind in less than 30 minutes with no mess. I was officially impressed. 

Hillary's Blinds

I'm really happy with it. It looks great and really finishes off the whole room. And hats off to Steve for his patience and dexterity!

Disclosure: The roller blind was supplied and fitted by Hillary's for the purposes of this review, although I was genuinely impressed with the service and all words, opinions and photos are my own.