I feel’s like ages since I’ve blogged. In fact it really is and it’s a miracle I’ve managed to finish this post off today. The past few weeks have been such a whirlwind of activity that I’ve barely had the opportunity to think about what to write, let alone actually spend the time writing it!
December has sped by at an alarming pace and now unbelievably it’s Christmas Eve. I thought perhaps I needed to do a bit of writing before we hit next year. The level of activity picked up around the 5th of December with the Bangor Free shop for which I’d offered to give my time and donate hot soup to stall holders and passers by.
In a previous post I explained why I was doing this; sharing not shopping, recycling, building community and giving people the chance to try healthy, home cooked food that doesn’t cost the earth to make and creating an alternative sustainable economy. Friday night was spent cooking and preparing three different soups (including a meaty, veggie and vegan option) whilst panicking about my lack of biodegradable paper cups in which to serve it. I took an 11th hour trip to the wholesalers and although they didn’t have biodegradable ones they had plenty of others. Unfortunately I couldn’t prove I was a ‘business’ as of course I am not….and was unable to get a day pass as I wasn’t able to pay with cash (didn’t have enough, chip in card broken and no cheques allowed) oh well, back to the drawing board.
I finally got them in a local hardware store cheaply. But again not biodegradable, can’t have it all I guess. So, on a cold, damp Saturday morning with the sky hanging heavy with grey clouds, I finished my preparation and headed off to Bangor wrapped in layers of waterproof clothing. Armed with a two ring camping stove, a calor gas bottle borrowed from my mate and three large saucepans of soup (which I hoped wouldn’t end up all over the boot of my car) I drove gingerly up and down hill avoiding speed bumps and sharp bends at all costs.
The others had just starting setting the stall up as I arrived and we all pulled together to transport goods from the bottom of the care park to the stall. Bangor is pedestrianised and impossible to access after 11am in a vehicle, so having unpacked I had to try and scrape together enough cash to put into the parking meter….I just hoped it would be enough! The rain mercifully held off for the first couple of hours, soup was well received and lots of people took copies of the recipes to make themselves….we had good support from local musicians and buskers who came to entertain us and passers by (Stacey Cohen local singer / songwriter being one of them). Observing the publics reaction was hilarious. So set are we in our consumer society that the idea of a ‘free’ stall is often met with suspicion. Many people just don’t get the concept of everything being free
“Where’s the catch?” I heard someone say. Well, there is no catch, if there is something you want or need, take it. Everything on the stall was donated by someone who had no need or use for it. I was donating warming soup and free recipes. A number of people attempted to make donations despite continued insistence that it was all free. We encouraged people to give their donations instead to a busker who sat opposite us on the High street. At one point I nipped over to ask if he wanted some soup. He informed me it wouldn’t go with his beer….but later he did come and get a cup.
The soup was all gone in two and a half hours and I was frozen solid. I packed up my remaining damp leaflets, enlisted the help of one of the stall helpers and plodded off to the car park only to find that I was about 10 minutes late and I’d been slapped with a parking ticket by the over enthusiastic traffic wardens in Bangor. So much for good deeds!!!!
It was the Monday morning following this that I discovered that I’d been featured in the Western Mail. I only found this out because I’d received an email from Anna, researcher with the Jamie and Louise show on BBC radio Wales. I checked out the article online and then gave Anna a ring. They wanted to interview me on the show at 9.30am the following day…panic!!!! Exciting, but on top of this I was nursing a sick daughter who was recovering from swine flu (at this point I was still being woken up at 3am every morning as she was administered Paracetamol) and trying to plan supper club, do college work, make Christmas presents and last, but very certainly not least, earn some money. Amazingly, despite the severe sleep deprivation the radio interview went ok. Thank god it wasn’t TV, the bags under my eyes would have given me away and the constant caffeine input that kept me going had led to me seriously needing the loo as soon as I got on air…hence I wriggled throughout…I would have looked totally barking on camera.
The rest of the week was taken up in frenzied preparation for the weekends two supper clubs. The ordering had been completed the previous week and on Monday. Both were full houses so I had a lot to collect. Cheese was first from Cwt Caws and Derimon. It felt most surreptitious and illicit as I crept into the College where Gwen works. I approached the reception and stated in hushed tones “hi, is Gwen there I’m here for some cheese”….the receptionist stared through me. “Follow me, she’s out the back” she replied I found Gwen sitting at her desk…she gave me the cheese and money changed hands. But the strangeness of the act was lessened as we sat and chatted happily about supper club and the recent media interest before I headed back to my car to go off on more food collections.
At the butchers I collected the Poussin and sausage meat and then went off for the vegetables. By the end of Thursday I was uncharacteristically well prepared….having said this, it has to be known that I did not manage to do any of the other jobs on my list (especially the earning money bit), supper club had the priority slot. I managed to get a fair amount of prep done as well on Thursday. Mince pies and truffles, stuffing for the poussin and mulled wine sorbet. This was necessary for several reasons; the other half was not going to be around on the Friday, he was working all day and then was planning on sitting down to eat since it was his work colleagues who had booked supper club for the staff Christmas party. I was also down two waitresses, for obvious reasons my daughter wasn’t 100% and Hobz had dumped me for a higher bidder (you know who you are if you ever read this ggggrrrrr) teenagers, such unreliable staff!!
In addition Fat Steve thought it would be a good idea to help me unpack the poussin which were in a large crate on the kitchen floor wrapped safely, as i thought, in plastic. I nipped to the loo, got side tracked on the way back down, took a bit longer than intended, but returned to the kitchen to find that Steve had bravely hunted one of the poussin and was in the process of dragging it out of the plastic. He looked suitably guilty, but also a wee bit smug (if cats are able to look smug) as of course the poussin became his and our other cats dinner. I wondered if Bubbles (the other cat) was secretely congratulating him on his efforts, but her disdain for Steve probably meant that even if she could, she wouldn’t.
Hobz actually felt so guilty that she very kindly enlisted her mother to help me out… (I know, you thought I was going to say she dumped the higher bidder…no!!). Luckily her mother and I are very good friends and Serena was fantastic at helping me get it all together. I felt bad that she mostly got to scrape vegetables, when she is a very good cook herself, but I was very grateful to her for standing in at short notice. We also acquired another stand in waitress, Sara, my daughter’s friend who was well and truly chucked in at the deep end. The pair of them came up trumps with the Christmas quiz they designed (the first one had in excess of 100 questions which would have kept our guests going until Christmas Day, the final version with 20 questions went down a storm).
Hubby encouraged the dinner guests to rendezvous at the local pub (a local pub for local people). The gang wished they’d worn their wellies and brought their banjo’s and cackled like mad as they trudged up the hill to the house. You could hear them coming half a mile away.
As poor Sara answered the door she found her self gripped by two hands as the lady attached to them said “hello, we’ve met before, you must be Sean’s daughter”…Sara with a slightly scared and bemused face assured her they had never met and she probably meant Ro, before scuttling back to the kitchen looking somewhat traumatised.
Despite the inevitable stress and adrenalin, the night ran fairly smoothly. The only minor disaster, being the slightly overcooked vegetables that accompanied the main course and the fact that the Pumpkin soup with chilli and ginger ran out before everyone was served. Luckily I’d also made carrot and coriander which the remaining couple of people were happy to have as an alternative.
With a dozen festive social workers in the house and numerous bottles of wine consumed, the inevitable happened. Spontaneous outbursts of Christmas carols filled the room. The littlun poked his head round the banisters and asked if he really HAD to listen to this…while Ro in true sulky teenager mode stated
“I thought they were social workers, aren’t they supposed to CARE for children”?
The night finished with the other half being claimed as “tea bitch” by the winning quiz team, another round of Carols, some photos and singing in the street…it was exhausting but huge fun. It was also lovely to be given presents by guests. The sweets and flowers were much appreciated, so thanks Rhona and the LAC team.
Supper club two was a less frantic affair. A lot of the preparation had been done on Friday and I also had Hobz back onboard. If anything I was overstaffed. I’m not sure what the collective term might be for a group of teenage girls? Something like a ‘waft’ or a ‘flounce’ would suit and this was pretty much what they did all night. They all got under each others feet, giggled in the kitchen, took pictures endlessly on their mobile phones (and not of the food either!!) and behaved in an altogether silly fashion.
When two of them in tongue in cheek fashion decided they were going to put an extra tin on the table with a sign on top saying ‘tips tin’ we decided to offer them a few “Don’t stand at the door and shout yes, more bread for the table of four in your loudest most abrupt teenage voice”…. “Don’t come into the room in twos, shout is everything alright? Giggle and leave again” The list could have been endless.
What I did find slightly nerve wracking was that a photojournalist was attending with a dinner guest to do a review. I’d had a couple of conversations with him through Facebook and said he would be very welcome to attend and review, but it was still nerve wracking and it did put me off my guard.
One of highlights of the evening was talking to a couple who had seen my flyer and booked unaware of the location. Two days before they discovered that we were in the same village, this added to the intrigue and excitement, especially as it meant they could both have a drink with their meal and only had a small wander home down the hill. It was also the Sean (the other halfs) birthday so we were in celebrating mood and we had friends in the house too!
Now I don’t want to end on a sour note and I know it is a risk you take running a ‘donations only’ supper club, but I learnt a hard lesson that night. I really don’t want to start checking to see if people have contributed or start selling tickets up front because it’s not in my nature. I’m very trusting and I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. I also don’t want to start banging home the fact that the money comes from my pocket to fund supper club, but I did lose out. Whether it was down to a misunderstanding, poor communication or whatever our journalist and guest did not leave their contribution. Now I’m fine with providing a good meal in return for a review (although I’m not sure it is the done thing in the reviewing world to go for the ‘free supper’) but I certainly didn’t offer free suppers for two. It’s not like I’m making a huge profit and this came out of my pocket….and there weren’t even tips for the waitresses which might have been one saving grace!…oh well, we live and learn.
In addition as you will see in this post, the taking of photos (of the food) fell by the wayside. Obviously the girls managed to get lots of pictures of THEM…but I really will try harder next year. On the plus side I woke on the Sunday to the sound of a text message arriving from my friend informing me I was on page 26 of the Sunday Times. The other half hopped out of bed and legged it off to the shop to buy a copy. There he was Fat Steve, immortilised, although if they’d heard about his poussin antics i’m sure the git would have been scarpped from the article.
As well as our Christmas supper clubs I have also been busy making Christmas pressies. The time and effort put into creating something yourself, then wrapping and giving it is so much more rewarding than nipping to the nearest department store for a job lot of pressies. That’s not to say I haven’t or wouldn’t, but having more time and less money is actually wonderfully inspiring. It makes you more resourceful and in doing so people appreciate your efforts so much more. I have for many years (even when working full time) made chocolate truffles as presents.
Last year I gave sloe gin and this year I just took it one step further with home made mini hampers….these included home made jams, mincemeat, chutney, sloe gin, truffles, some had cheese and one had a Christmas pudding.
And now after various festive excursions; Mother Goose at the Greenwich theatre, a candlelit night time visit to Dennis Severs house, where we listened to readings from a Christmas Carol and Christmas drinks with college friends, I think I’m finally ready to put my feet up with a Sloe gin and tonic. I’ve stuffed the turkey, baked the ham, made mince pies, jam tarts and bagels for the morning and the last thing I need to do is wish everyone a really big
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR
From all of us at Moel Faban secret supper club….hope to see faces new and old and look forward to Burns Night Part one and two….(Thursday 28th January and Saturday 30th January)
Much love Denise xxxxxxx