We’re all still trudging along with Melbourne having achieved the dubious record of highest number of days in lockdown in the world and sometimes it’s very hard to stay motivated. However, recently I received an email that spurred me on a little.
There are times when I explain verbally or in writing (to the not-yet-converted) that yes, these lovely pieces are expensive compared to mass produced, poor quality items from China, and they may have slight cosmetic imperfections because in the making, they have passed through many pairs of human hands, BUT they are beautiful, extremely durable and functional, uniquely crafted pieces which bring their owners daily joy.
I only post within Australia because the cost and logistics of overseas shipping is prohibitive and anyway, why would something as heavy and fragile as crockery be sent all the way from Poland to Australia only to make its way back halfway round the world again to go to a third country. This pottery is available now in many countries and the only place we’re close to is New Zealand.
Yesterday I woke to find an email from Tracy in the USA. She had sent a screenshot of a particular mug begging me, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE to send her four of them. She explained that her mother had broken her absolute favourite mug and the only place they could locate one in the whole world was on my website and she was more than happy to pay the postage.
Well, didn’t I feel like a unique and special snowflake, the only person in the whole world that could do this very small but greatly appreciated kind deed. Of course I couldn’t say no to such a heartfelt plea. And judging by my rapidly dwindling stocks of this very sweet pattern many of you will be able to empathise with Tracy and her mum.
I grew up in a very small country town and my parents were both very practical and resourceful as working class country people needed to be. At my secondary school girls compulsorily studied ‘Home Arts’ or ‘Domestic Science’ or ‘Home Economics’ (depending which angle was the currently PC one). Both at home and at school I learnt to cook and sew (very basically in my case) and knit and crotchet and to enjoy all sorts of crafts.
Despite this background, I have absolutely no memory of how nearly four decades ago, back in the early 80’s, I became enamoured of spinning. I was living and working at my first ever job in Launceston, Tasmania. I bought a second-hand, Ashford traditional spinning wheel and a friend taught me to spin. I don’t remember anything about it except that spinning was now in my blood. This was the era of people dreaming of self-sufficiency, beautiful woodcraft and mud brick houses, wild, woolly hair, and homespun woolly jumpers.
In 1986 I moved to Hobart and during that year I regularly attended a local spinning group. All I remember about this group was that it was fairly small, the other women where all much older than me and were very kind and helpful. I couldn’t wait for these Saturday afternoons.
Spinning is a very time consuming, messy, space-invading activity and after I got married at the end of that year, I never span again. However, throughout a lifetime of moving house I couldn’t bear to get rid of my wheel. I knew I would do it again one day because my body couldn’t forget how lovely it felt to spin.
The Hand-Weavers and Spinners Guild of Victoria is a few minutes’ walk from here. I’d often visited the guild shop to buy gifts or just be inspired by the beautiful handmade items and had promised myself that I would take up spinning again in retirement. I obviously haven’t retired but In the last week of May this year, days before Melbourne's COVID 19 restrictions began again, I started an ‘Introduction to Spinning’ course at the guild. It was so interesting, informative, stimulating and exciting - I’m like a new religious convert, obsessed!
My sons follow in their maternal grandfather’s steps and are very useful to have around. The younger one, Ashley is fascinated by the simplicity and ingenuity of the spinning wheel and was very pleased to restore my old wheel to working order. He grinned at me as he watched me using it for the first time in his lifetime and asked “Does it feel like an old friend?” It certainly did.
I have a new double-treadle wheel on order from New Zealand and to tide me over while I’m waiting the teacher of my course lent me a demo wheel. I found my son sitting at the wheel, gently treading away, saying “I understand why you love doing this.” He makes me smile!
When I enrolled for the course none of us were expecting more lockdowns and certainly not for this length of time. I’m not happy to be told you must do this, you can’t do that anymore than the next person but I’m very, very glad that I have this beautiful, creative, stimulating activity to occupy me and this is the perfect time to do it.
Hand spinning has come a long way since the 80’s. It has evolved so many amazing techniques and use of different fibres and textures and colours, - there’s so much to master and so few years left to do so. But, I have more lockdown time to “just keep spinning …”
Well, who has any idea about how this whole pandemic is going to end!
However, I’m pretty sure of a few general consequences, and one of them is that many of us are going to be much fitter.
Take moi, for example. I’m not big on exercise. I don’t like being hot and sweaty or feeling physical pain.
However, getting out for a daily bike-ride has become a much more attractive prospect in this current environment. Of the legitimate grounds for leaving home, I can only access two.
Getting out and exercising is not only looking much more attractive than the alternative these days but the very quiet roads have provided an opportunity to practice on routes I’d normally be too terrified to attempt.
I’ve been a cyclist-of-sorts for over 50 years and yet I’m not especially confident or competent. My original bike was one where you braked by pushing back on the pedals, there were no gears and I had a skirt guard to stop those flowing garments becoming entangled in the spokes. (My son has just asked me "what is a skirt guard?")
I need to be fitter and I need to have a better understanding of city bicycle etiquette and traffic negotiation. My ever patient husband has been coaching me in how to perform a right-from-left turn, avoid being tripped up by tram-tracks, watch out for car doors opening into the path of unsuspecting cyclists and thread my way through bike lanes bordered by bollards. I’m still struggling to perform tasks requiring simultaneous co-ordination of various body parts eg look over my shoulder and continue in a straight line or both brake and indicate.
My current bike is a 20-something-years-old Malvern Star. It’s one of those solid (very solid) old workhorses that just keeps going. It’s best feature is it’s beautiful colour. My son says I’d be surprised how much easier and more pleasurable I would find a new, lighter bike with brakes that actually work. Maybe …..
I’ve set my personal best top speed barrelling down Brunswick St, Fitzroy in the dark. We won’t mention that it is down hill with a tail-wind. It was fun! I’d never have the courage to ride there in normal times.
Looking out on the streets I’m pretty sure that many, many of us are exercising far more than before our enforced confinement. What are the other good things to come out of this?
Have you ever complained about the prices charged by a small business owner?
“Plumbers make a fortune.”
“Selling coffee is a goldmine.”
“ I’m not paying that price!”
“Can I have a discount if I buy two?”
“I can buy ten of those in K Mart for the price of that one.”
Observing a small business is like everything else in life - you don’t really understand the other person’s situation until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.
Not for the first time, I recently heard someone complaining about paying $4.50 for a cup of green tea in a cafe. I also read a remark from a very seasoned business adviser stating that shop fitters are the ones who make money from small business.
How can that be? How can someone be making a killing selling green tea for $4.50 a cup but not making money?
Well, here’s the answer.
When you pay for a cup of tea in a cafe you’re not just paying for a cup of tea. Mostly you’re paying a very small portion of the very significant cost of providing the space and making it operate smoothly.
Your $4.50 contributes to the wages and associated costs (workcover premiums, super contributions, insurance) of the people who purchased and delivered the ingredients, took, your order, made your tea, served your tea, cleared up after you and cleaned the premises after hours.
It pays for the furniture you sit on, crockery you use, your napkin and cleaning products. If you sit by yourself you may read a physical newspaper which is provided to entice customers to come in and stay a while.
It pays for the rent of the building and any work vehicles; most of the landlords outgoings: property insurance, rates, fire services levy. It’s retrospectively paying for the fit-out of the building and purchase or lease of all the equipment and appliances. It pays the business owners’ insurances: business, work vehicle and public liability.
It pays for the separate council permits for
You contribute to the cost of pumping out the grease trap (a mandatory piece of plumbing for a food premises), and to the cost of giving to all the schools and community groups who come asking for donations to use in their fundraising silent auctions.
All the essential services such as electricity, gas, water, internet, phone - most of which are charged at a higher than domestic ‘business rate’ and are a considerable cost to any business. You pay a few cents to the bank for transaction fees and to pay the accountant.
A significant portion of your money goes as GST to the government.
So you can see, most of your $4.50 is spent behind the scenes to allow your cup of tea to appear at your table.
On balance, I think you actually get quite a lot for your money.
Recently a girlfriend remarked on dinner in a restaurant with friends which she hadn’t particularly enjoyed. It was nothing to do with the food - it was the noise. When she described the nodding and smiling (whether appropriate or not - she couldn’t tell) which she had been reduced to because of an inability to hear most of what was being said, we all confessed to similar experiences.
Even a cursory search of the food section of “The Age” newspaper website is enough to confirm that the unpleasantly high level of noise in eating establishments is becoming a consideration for people of all ages - not just those who are old and hard of hearing. Excessive noise not only makes social interaction difficult but there are studies which conclude that salty food tastes less salty and sweet food tastes less sweet when noise levels are too high. In other words, high levels of noise detract significantly from the dining experience.
Does this signal the return of the dinner party? Perhaps not as we once knew it - cooking and cleaning all day in preparation and then washing the good China by hand (because of the gilt rims) once the guests have departed at midnight, is probably too much effort for too little reward.
However, at home we’ve been taking a more pragmatic approach these days.
We have guests bring a contribution to the meal and we use our extremely practical and robust Polish crockery. It isn’t as elegant as our Royal Albert ‘Old Country Roses’ which was a wedding present from my parents, but it is beautiful in a very cheerful and welcoming sort of a way.
We’ve created a lovely ambience conducive to easy conversation, eaten a delicious meal, enjoyed good company and taken most of the pain out of clearing up by loading the dishwasher a couple of times over the course of the evening.
I have to admit that last December was the first time the Royal Albert ‘Old Country Roses’ dinner set did not even have its annual outing, being usurped by lovely and far more utilitarian Boleslawiec pieces. I can’t see myself abandoning the Polishware any time soon.
Recently The Cup&Mug was the venue for a lovely event that has left me feeling more enlivened than I have for months.
It was the first collaboration between The Cup&Mug and Kasia Jacquot, Sydney-based embroidery teacher extraordinaire. Earlier in the year Kasia had sent me an email, suggesting she might run a day long Polish embroidery class in the shop. We agreed in principle, some time later confirmed a date, sent out our advertising and within a few days the class was fully booked.
In true Heather over-thinking fashion, I planned and re-arranged, moved furniture, made signs, tried to foresee every possible scenario, in order to ensure that it would all run smoothly - trying not to forget anything.
The first time you do something is always the hardest and involves the steepest learning curve - you haven’t done it before so you won’t anticipate every likely outcome. Whether it’s organising a gathering of some sort or an event or getting involved with a community project or a new venture of your own. Anything that takes a leap of faith and requires finding your way into uncharted territory.
And always, the day before the big event, I genuinely wonder “Why did I say I’d do this?” I know it seemed like a good idea at the time, but I just can’t recall exactly why.
And what do I always say the day after? That was such a good thing to do - let’s do that again!
Kasia originally contacted me because someone emailed her suggesting she run a class here. We met the someone! Gorgeous Paula, who has a Polish background and a hectic life with a toddler in tow, felt in need of having a craft she could easily pick up and put down. She suggested Kasia run a class at The Cup&Mug because it would be a venue she could easily get to!
Thank you, Paula. It turned out very well all round.
We had such a wonderful bunch of craft-lovers, from beginner embroiderers to highly skilled textile artists. From Brisbane, Canberra and Wangaratta as well as all over Melbourne. The day flew by as people learned to transfer a design to the fabric and applied particular stitches in various colour combinations to the traditional Polish pattern. It was a happy, friendly, inspiring day and just confirmed my belief that when you are doing something beautiful and creative with your hands it is so good for the soul.
A number of people have told me that they wanted to come but the class was fully booked. If you would like to be placed on a notification list for any future classes, please let me know.
Had you asked me six years ago where I pictured myself in the middle of 2018, the answer definitely would not have been writing a blog post about leaving the business I had been a part of for the last five years. You probably would have received an answer something along the lines of continuing my science studies and ending up in that field, or quite probably I’d have done my Masters of Teaching and would now be teaching somewhere. Little did I know that as soon as I’d finished my science degree I’d jump headlong into the world of small business ownership with my wonderful mother, together bringing you the remarkable Polish and Irish pottery that as a reader of this blog, you no doubt love too.
I have always loved working with my hands; building, creating, fixing (breaking on occasion too, though not necessarily intentionally!) A pivotal moment in my thinking about how I might spend the rest of my working life came when Mum gave me a copy of Matthew Crawford's book "The Case for Working with your Hands or Why Office Work is Bad for us and Fixing Things feels Good" (attempting the world's longest title?).
I’ve been thinking for some time about a career change, something more hands on. I started looking for apprenticeships with no real urgency, being quite picky about what roles I was applying for, knowing that I had plenty to do at the shop until I found the right job for my career change. I’d only looked for a couple of weeks before that role was almost handed to me on a silver platter so to speak. And so, I’ll no longer be at the shop full time as I have been for the past (nearly) five years. Don’t worry though, it will still be business as usual at The Cup and Mug. Heather will still be here, albeit with revised opening hours, and I’ll occasionally lend a hand on the weekends.
It has been a very interesting experience running the shop with Mum. There certainly have been hard times, notably, when we went to Ikea together and the whole thing nearly fell in a heap before even getting started. But lots and lots of good times too. I have learnt an incredible amount; about business, about myself, and about people. I’ll be off on my next adventure, but you may well see me at The Cup and Mug on certain weekends, and at special events.
When Tim and I started on this venture more than 5 years ago, people warned me that working with a family member was not always the best choice and I’m sure that in many cases it does ruin an otherwise good relationship. However, I can now say that working with Tim has been one of the greatest blessings of my life. He became not only my son but my business partner and close friend.
It has been a privilege to see my adult son at work - to feel astonished at how quickly and easily a ‘young thing’ develops new skills when they’re needed, adapts to less than ideal situations, deals with tricky customers, turns his hand to everything from manual labour, practical skills and cooking, to helping customers make aesthetically pleasing choices, photographing and writing for social media and rescuing his business partner when she has no idea about the technology she’s trying to use.
That’s not to say that we haven’t had our trying moments - the worst of which was our Ikea experience before we even got started, but in some ways it has probably been easier to sort things out with a family member because of the pre-existing strength of the relationship. The whole trying to teach an unwilling old dog new tricks on the digital technology front was also the catalyst for the exchange of some harsh words on numerous occasions.
I’m very sad to see him go but working together was probably never going to be forever. I’m thrilled that he’ll be working with his hands because this has long been his passion and area of natural skill. He’s always been happiest when making and repairing - fixing bikes, kayaks, cars and household fittings and objects, working with wood and most recently, turning his hand to clay throwing.
As well as all his practical skills and sound advice in the shop, I’ll sorely miss our daily word puzzles and philosophical discussions.
My former boss, Trish, was very fond of aphorisms, and used to say, “Don’t be sorry it’s over but be glad that it happened.” I often silently thank her for her wise words.
The Hobbs family at The Cup&Mug would like to wish you all a very happy, peaceful and fruitful 2018.
As many people do at this time of the year when the previous year has screeched to a halt and there is a moment of time to pause and reflect, we too have been thinking about the future and hatching plans to help us to grow and develop as a business and personally.
Over the course of the year we’ll gradually be implementing significant changes. Most obviously and immediately, we are no longer selling any food or drinks: just lots of pottery (we hope).
This is unbelievable, we know. In fact, we emailed the health department at the council to say we wouldn’t be renewing our permit and they obviously couldn’t believe it either – they rang just before Christmas and the conversation went something like this:
Heather: “Hi, Heather speaking.”
Council officer: “This is Joe Blogs from the City of Boroondara health department. I’m ringing about
your change of food premises status. You want to change your status?”
H: “No, we’re not renewing our permit. We’re not selling food or drink anymore, just pottery.”
C. O. “Coffee’s considered to be food. You’ll still need a permit.”
H: “No, we’re not selling coffee either - just pottery.”
C.O. “Oh, pottery. I thought you said coffee. We’ll cancel that then and someone will drop in to
physically check that is the case next year.”
Yes, not selling coffee, that is definitely unbelievable and so un-Melbourne. We’ll probably be reported to the relevant thought-police and have our reputations besmirched forever.
Seriously, we are sad about it because it was fun and we enjoyed being able to give customers cake and coffee and a quiet moment to sit while they gathered their thoughts. And scone days will be sorely missed - Heather does love making and serving scones and fresh homemade jam. Of course we had to force ourselves to do considerable taste-testing for quality assurance purposes. However, in terms of business it was not money or time well spent on shopping, cooking, cleaning, maintaining records and equipment etc.
Taking this step has enabled us to do a physical rearrangement of the store. Removing the café tables and chairs has allowed us to use more of our space to display pottery. We hope those of you who live close enough will be able to pop in soon to see the new look.
I’ve decided that the word “exciting” is the latest victim of over-use and blatant self-promotion.
It occurred to me very recently that I receive way too many messages via the internet that inform me of the immediate appearance of “exciting news” or an “exciting new” something. For example, this morning when I logged onto my internet banking, I was greeted with the following:
“Exciting news! Your desktop e-banking experience (including this page) will shortly be upgraded to a new modern platform.” Oh happy day - a new, modern banking platform! (LOL). I can’t for one moment imagine that I will ever be excited about my internet banking experience - in fact, I would feel my life had reached a new low if internet banking ever became a source of anticipated pleasure.
The philosophy behind this behaviour seems to be that if the promoter of the product can successfully convey their hyper-enthusiasm for whatever it is they’re spruiking, this enthusiasm will of course be transmitted (much like a virus) to the prospective consumer of the product, thus imbuing an otherwise very mundane experience with a spark of delight it doesn’t intrinsically contain. Of course, I could just be old and cynical.
However, I am now refraining from telling you that we are very excited about our new shipment which should be delivered in the next couple of weeks. (We are excited, as it’s such a rare occurrence it feels like Christmas, but I won’t mention it. There is also a sense of trepidation as there are always worries such as broken pieces).
So, stating it blandly, our new shipment is arriving very soon. We won’t be able to easily access everything immediately but if you do want anything in particular in the patterns and shapes that are coming please let us know and we will locate those boxes somewhere accessible.
Sometimes customers admire the small bowls but wonder aloud what they would use them for. These bowls are like many things - once you start using them you wonder what you ever did without them. Here are 11 suggestions to get you started but you'll think of many more.
The Cup and Mug
The adventures of a small business (more interesting than we would have ever guessed!)