Monday, December 26

some things the small brain has learnt

This could have been a boring entry about the setting up of your own business, however the small brain wandered so you now have a list of things learnt this year!

1. No mattter how fabulous your yoga teacher is there are some bends that are just impossible, and her giggling at you while struggling does not make you feel better 3/10 must try harder
2. 20 pairs of shoes do not fit into a bottom of the stairs basket without them escaping just when you go to find the matching pair - and you are always running late when this happens
3. Home made wine tastes a lot better with someone else to share it with
4. Your girlfriends can always be relied upon to remind you of the gaffs made - Ivor Novello, I rest my case and trump you the Normans
5. You will always forget what presents, decorations etc have been purchased during the year and suddenly find that you possess 3 sets of christmas crackers hidden in a box
6. Your cat will always want a cuddle with muddy wet paws just as you are ready to go out in your best party frock - safest to just buy animal print fabric and say it's part of the design!
7. No matter how you dress it up, camping is still cold and wet - but good fun so you still go and immediately remember how cold and wet it actually is!
8. When someone tells you it's complicated - that's code for I can't be honest enough to tell you the truth and run away, preferably to the girlfriends who will remind you later while howling at the gaff - again I trump you the Normans!
9. Spamalot audiences do not dress up, and you will stand out while clinking coconuts through the foyer and asking where the grail is hidden
10. When combing two households into one - where do all the lightbulbs come from??

And now some resolutions for next year - probably all be forgotten by February, but the act of blogging about them offers a level of guilt and reminding that they may make it till April!

1. Remember to post more blogs - some of the lovely comments received during the year made me realise how many people actually read these ramblings, so thank you x
2. Create a range of products that more accurately fits with the Hippo home, there are interests which we haven't explored and should have - again, thanks for the feeback from those of you we've had chance to discuss the ideas with x
3. Might sound silly, but try to enjoy it a bit more - yes, it's a business but also meant to be a way of life and that old adage of working to live not living to work runs true

Daren't make any more - 3 already takes me way over my usual limit! And as for the personal ones, they'll probably be chuntered about on twitter or facebook but am not brave enough to have those laid open to public scrutiny!

Hope you all have a fabulous 2012, Angie xx

Friday, October 21

Scary and exciting times ahead!

Oops, now have to put on serious business woman head, this could be dangerous!

The New Year is going to be terrifying and exciting at the same time, I'm currently employed on a temporary contract which ends in December so intend to put all my energy into making this a really successful business. I don't want to look back in a few years and go 'but it could have worked' that isn't my style. My close friends will tell you this, words like fearless come to mind in terms of me saying 'right, this needs to be done' and off I toddle and get it done. But as many of you know, it's a terrifying prospect! What if people don't buy things? What if the kiln breaks? What if there are no craft fairs suitable?

However, and I shamelessly draw on Pooh Bear for this - things have a way of working out right if you put the right energy into it. You could spend hours filling a whole notebook of all the things that could go wrong but then it could go right and you get to do what you love doing, you get to potter round making lovely things for lovely people and they pay you to say thank you that piece made me smile. And that's not a blinkered Pollyanna approach, just a realistic one of put the hard work in and get the pieces and the marketing right and you can make it work. Yes, there's lots of small businesses that fail but there's also ones that succeed - and unless I try I'll never know which camp we're in.

Been getting pretty good with the clay lately - made these for tree decorations:

but this is the one most proud of:

my poor tutor has so much patience - however on telling him that I'm going to bore you stupid as want to get better he just said go for it as he's a thrower too and loves teaching others to throw - result!! Really must try and get some pictures of his work because that's a definite we're not worthy when you see what he can do with a lump of clay and make it look the most natural thing in the world. One day in about twenty years time I may get somewhere close to his skill level (I hope!)

The one aspect of working from home that scares me most is that I must make the effort to get dressed and not spend the whole day pottering around in pjs while sending out parcels to customers. Perhaps I need to do some research into day time pjs? Angie xx

Thursday, October 13

Do I like cheese??

I sense that this will become the catchphrase that the boy has to forever live with! It came about while we were doing his food stock up before sending him off to uni, while trundling round the supermarket he picked up the cheese and said "do I like this?" from the child that lives off cheese on toast, omelettes etc etc. While they carried on I was unable to move due to howling with laughter. In his defence he didn't realise there were different types of cheese, thought there was just one - the one in the fridge! He does know now.

We could have been really adult about a red cross parcel to him, however it seemed a wasted opportunity on our part not to enjoy it! So, this is the contents of the parcel sent to him!

There are some sensible things, but also the day to day essentials such as kinder eggs, pink wafers, haribo, Beano plasters, cheese - but only the stuff he likes!

Oh, and those are real smarties with E numbers from my secret stash!

Thursday, October 6

Day 8 - must have a triangle

This is an idea we've been working on - glass tea light holders, and look get four triangles into the photo! Should be on the web site soon, just playing about with colours

And yes, for the observant amongst you that is a photo in the background of me and my brother - outside No 10 Downing Street, so even when little was political :)

Damsons! and now lots of jam

The little damson tree in my tiny urban back garden which is only in it's third season decided to go mad this year! It produced over 35lb of fruit, which is fairly impressive given its age and size.

So, down came the jam pan, scales, sugar and off we go - lots and lots of damson jam :)

Found a really simple recipe years ago, which is basically same amount of sugar to fruit - so for every lb of fruit same of sugar.

basic destructions -
you will need to put a plate in the fridge first (honest!)
jam jars and lids that are washed and dried - personally find it best to dry in a warm oven that way you know they're cleaned properly

wash the fruit and remove the stalks, but don't drain too thoroughly and add to a large heavy pan (I was lucky enough years ago to find a preserving pan in a junk shop)
let it simmer so that the fruit starts to break up - and as it's doing that you need to try and catch all the stones out of it; sadly with damsons no easy way so just trial and error as to how you find the best way. I have a strange little dim sum catcher from the Chinese supermarket that I use as a mini sieve and just plod through them.
Once you're happy that you've got all the pips, and the fruit has broken up add the sugar - equal weight of sugar to fruit and stir it all in to dissolve
once it's dissolved, bring to the boil and rapid boil for about 10 minutes - I always put the timer for 8 and test from then on in, no fixed science on time
to test - take your plate out of the fridge (told you you'd need it!) and pour a little of the jam onto it. If it starts to set and you can push it into a shape it's done, be careful it's extremely hot at this stage. May need a little longer, so just keep boiling and testing till you're happy with it.messy bit - pouring into jars! After trying without, I really would advise getting a funnel pourer as it's so much easier but if you haven't just try not to get it everywhere!

as soon as you've filled your jars, seal the lids and let the air create it's own vacuum - add pretty labels if you wish, especially if you're going to give the jam away as presents.

The astute amongst you will have realised that 35lb makes far more jam than shown, you would be correct! So in happy hippo style we also made: damson wine, damson gin and damson vodka!

It may be a very hiccupy Christmas this year, especially as there's no yeast in the wine yet and it's already fermenting like mad!

Monday, October 3

Delores - who says papier mache is for kids?

I was lucky enough to go to Paris one year and see a Niki de Saint Phalle piece outside the Pompidou in Paris. Wow is the only word that springs to mind, I love her use of colour and just the scale that she worked on was truly amazing. Over the years I've been to many galleries and exhibitions but there was something about her work that just stays with you, just nibbles away at you and says 'I want to try that too'. Not only was this an exploration into sculpture for me - having never worked on either sculpture or scale before, but also an exploration of how I see myself. As for many women there are times when we either cannot or will not see ourselves as we truly are - and for some reason many of us only choose to see the negative. I would urge anyone to have a go at doing this, if only for the self realisation of seeing yourself as others do - which is usually as an amazing person, we just lose sight of that all too often.

This was the starting point - and as usual, there was no part of me that considered how on earth to achieve this or think about details, just a 'that's what I want to make'!

So, with that in mind I went off in search of: chicken wire, newspaper, modroc, paint, heavy tape

And this is what happened! My parents visited at one point and saw the chaos of the dining room and just went 'oh, what you doing this time?' luckily they are now used to the randomness that occurs around here and just move a space to put their tea down safely.

Phase 1: create a chicken wire outline - this was done by wrapping me in chicken wire and carefully rolling out from underneath it!

Phase 2: wrap in papier mache to create the bodyPhase 3: mod roc!! every house should own tons of this stuff, it's great!

Phase 4: hard bit for me! waiting and waiting for it to dry so it could be painted and varnishedPhase 5: place on top of shed so she looks like she's sunbathing in all her glory! sit back and enjoy :) Do try this at home - it's such a fantastic exercise in what if? and it makes you smile every time you look, and the neighbours' reactions are priceless!

Sunday, October 2

Day 7 - current CD

Mary Chapin Carpenter - don't even know how I found her, but so glad I did

Blogger - adding pages and posts

Right, this thing has driven me daft over the last few weeks! Had seen other people's blogs and thought 'how have they added pages, and got separate posts?' so, with the dog with a bone attitude we set off to find out. How many forums are there?? However, it turns out to be really quite simple, and thought it only fair to share this information as I know other people stumped by it too!

It's all to do with labels -that's it! Honest, it's that simple.

The labels will relate to the tabs at the top of your blog and are linked to each post, so every time you write about sheep (sorry, first thing to enter brain!) you label it sheep and then point the tab to that label.

Clear as mud? Will try and go through it with you, are you sitting comfortably then we will begin ..

If like me you've tried doing it through adding pages, then remove them - BUT please save any posts first! I transferred them to a word document so I could copy them back in later.

In the Design tab on your blogger page add the widget 'label' to your front page or layout page:
When creating posts, make sure you add labels, bottom of the posting page - so to carry on using the sheep example if one of your page tabs relates to all things sheep any post you want on that page MUST have the label sheep at the bottom right of the page:

Now, go here to tell blogger to find your labels .... go back to the front design page and click edit on the labels widget, it will ask you which labels you want to find - up to you how many etc
Hey presto, you're done! Just remember to always add the label for each new post to 'file' it under the appropriate tab otherwise it can't find them

your own personal dictionary!

Over the years it has been brought to my attention that there is a certain vocabulary that you acquire by being around me too long! This has been evidenced on many occasions by the boy (who I didn't meet till he was 12!) yet is now quite fluent in Angiesm. So, in an effort to assist translation it was suggested that I publish a page with words and phrases that are often heard in my household. The list will be updated as I remember them or notice people giggling because yet again we are using made up phrases!

getting soggy - off to get in the bath and then ..

all clean and shiny - just got out the bath!

it escaped - where food has deliberately leapt from the plate (you cannot spill food it escapes!)

brave or foolish - shamelessly stolen from a good friend - aimed at a child who continues to defy or challenge you, are you feeing brave or foolish?

closely followed by - it is your personal choice to continue this behaviour, however ........

which basically means you've been found out, you are annoying me and I will take your toys away - now, do you still want to annoy me?

ahhh Bob! - this is one of those, oh I get it now moments when the penny finally drops on something and came from the film French Kiss where Kevin Kline trys to explain how to pronounce Bob in a French accent, was watching with Slug one year and it kind of stuck

slug castle - place of sleeping area that a child will not - under any circumstances - leave! First linked to a bright yellow sleeping bag and a child that got named slug for staying there forever!

Handbag call - this is when someone accidentally calls you, and it's usually from the bottom of a handbag so matter how much you yell 'turn it off!!!' the person calling you has no idea. Used to be called sofa calls as my ex MIL had a knack of sitting on her phone, accidentally calling me and then the phone fall down the sofa! I get a lot of handbag calls as I'm often the first person in their address book, often thought about changing my name to Xylophone :)

Day 6 - free choice, but must be landscape

Boy outside uni :D will put more details in the main blog later

Day 5 - a photo with 3 reasons why

This is a slight cheat on my part! This is a photo of my desk area/work space with all the bits and clutter that I like to surround myself with. Strange to think that while surrounded by toys and other odd bits I was able to write some quite heavy political essays for my degree!

But the really important piece is the little boy in the green suit with the yellow hair - he's the Little Prince, for those of you that have never read it go and get a copy IMMEDIATELY! No adult should go through life not reading it at least once. So these are my three reasons for including him by taking some of his words from the book:

1. It is tiresome for children to have to keep explaining things to adults

2. It is truly useful since it is beautiful

3. One sees well only with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eyes

I have given copies over the years to many, many people - some are able to understand it but others merely think it a children's book which is a shame because it is those people that could benefit most from it but as he says it is tiresome for children to have to keep explaining things to adults.

Day 4 - my favourite mug

This mug has been with me probably since I was about 10, I think!

I can't remember when I first came across Peanuts and their little gang with all their worries and fears so beautifully written out by Schulz. Growing up I identified mostly with Peppermint Patty, the ultimate tomboy! However, my time at baseball was short lived after ending up in an ambulance having been knocked unconscious playing catcher and a ball flew up my glove onto my face and broke my nose - oops! Still have a huge collection of Peanuts books, pictures, soft toys - someone even remarked once that you could find something in every room of the house relating to Schulz! And, yes that's probably true. My favourite Snoopy is probably the one that my Grandmother (or Nain to the Welsh amongst you!) found in a charity shop not long before she died. This mug is best for hot chocolate and as Linus says, it would taste even better with a ski lodge around it :)

Day 3 - something edible

Firstly apologies for the gap in postings - camera issues grr :(

given the name of the site it could only be this really -

I did warn you all that there would be a lot of hippos!

Day 1 - free choice

Oh no, the Hippo brain has too much to choose from in a house full of random items, so choice made:

How superb are these?

Some lovely friends know of my ahem slight addiction to all things Beano and got me these plasters as I can be slightly err clumsy too! However, the really sad part was that I actually wanted to create an injury that required me to wander round with Gnasher covering the cut - that's something small boys do!

Think the best Beano trick I ever pulled was by using old comics to decorate a downstairs cloakroom in an old house. Sadly no photos were taken, but it did look good. The estate agent that had to sell the house didn't seem to share this passion - if the potential buyers had kids he would show it first, if they didn't he'd wait till last - so funny to watch him squirm!

Day 2 - a pet - For pudding I could 'av you ....

This is Ted, or Teddy Edward or Teddy Bear depending on how loving / annoying / whingy etc he's being! He's 14 now, and still an absolute character, or legend in his own lunchtime as we like to say. I chose this picture because of the current Aldi fish fingers ad which makes me howl everytime I watch it. Think it's growing up with strong Welsh accents around me just adds to the giggle factor.

And here's Ted dreaming of pudding:

interesting new rules for photo a day!

I'd looked at the PAD (photo a day) challenge before and thought it seemed a lovely way to keep a record of the funny, strange and interesting things that happen which are often easily forgotten. However, I love the updated rules from Saturday's Child blog which I came across after reading Rabbit Arty and Crafty's blog and decided to join in! 

Okay i thought i'd spice things up a little and have a few rules to this post a-photo-a-day challenge. Its not meant to be serious so if you dont want to follow them, thats fine.

If you do want to play along then these are what i've come up with so far. Ill cut them into small chunks so we feel we are achieving something.

All photos must be taken on the day itself, if your camera has a date facility then you could switch it on. You dont have to write anything to go with the image but some of the rules do ask for that.

Days 1 - 7

Day 1 - free choice to begin with
Day 2 - a pet or if you dont have one a stuffed toy
Day 3 - anything edible
Day 4 - your favourite mug/cup
Day 5 - free choice but this time list 3 reasons why you have chosen it.
Day 6 - free choice but must be in landscape mode not portrait
Day 7 - the cd you currently have in your cd player.

*****Update*****Days 8 - 14

Day 8 - Must have a 'traingle' in it
Day 9 - anything 'yellow'
Day 10 - anything fluffy but not living
Day 11 - A cloud formation
Day 12 - Anything beginning with 'B'
Day 13 - 2 ingredients you will use in any meal today
Day 14 - The theme of 'time' interpret it any way you wishDays 15 - 28

Your lunch every day (you never know it may make you look at what you are eating in a whole new light.)

Woo Hoo, if you've made it this far, well done. Jump up and down and feel good about yourself and... oh okay enough of the cheesey phrases

- 0 - 0 - 0 - 0 -

Personally it was the woo hoo jump up and down that got me interested! So with that in mind I am off to find my first PAD, will post it later today

E-learning, how do you cross the road?

Question: when teaching your child (or a child) to cross the road would you:

a) give them all the theory of roads and expect them to remember it and use that information?

b) take them to a roadside, hold their hand and go across the road with them so they feel safe?

If you answered b you would be the normal person, who in their right mind would expect a child to understand the subtle dangers all around them when crossing a road ... but ... when it comes to safety on the internet we don't let them cross the road. However, once they get home they are on facebook, youtube, twitter, linked player games - and the list goes on. This shocked me when talking to a group of students - when they get a friend request on facebook they often automatically accept it without knowing the person - they just assume that if they have the request then the person must know them. When I challenged a group on this they just looked at me in such a way that told me they had never considered the possibility that the person wasn't who they said they were. So, still want your young people to learn to cross a road without seeing a car?

Suggestion - they are going to use all these sites - in exactly the same way they will cross lots of different types of roads - so, why not educate them to use them properly? Take off the firewall restrictions, let them blog, let them set up websites. But - and here's the big but, it must be done gradually and under supervision. Personally I get all my students to set up their own free web sites, but they must give me their passwords (which I do check each week) and they must stay safe. We discuss how not to give out personal information, how not to breach copyright of images, how to respectfully engage with others around the world and generally how to get the best out of the social media out there. They learn language, basic manners, e-literature and the list goes on. In order to gather information they have to research, check facts (Wiki sites are banned!) and reference where they get their information from. So actually they have to do some standard academic studying, all they are doing is recording it on line rather than on paper. The hard part is convincing some teachers and educators that it's worth doing, and worth doing well.

So, in exactly the same way that you would build a child up to cross the road safely by actually doing it - would you not rather a child learn to use the net and associated platforms of social media in a safer way? Just a thought.

CRB - slight rant, so be warned!

Please be aware from the outset that I completely agree that children and vulnerable people deserve to be safe and kept safe in whichever situation they find themselves, and likewise those working or volunteering need to prove that they are suitable and trustworthy to hold such a position. If you choose to twist my intentions about this entry that's up to you, but at no point am I advocating for a removal of safeguarding which is absolutely paramount and must be anyone's first priority at all times.

The CRB is a document which states whether you have ever had any criminal convictions, when and what for and whether they are now spent. An admirable document most would think - after all you would want to know your child is safe with a teacher or youth worker, surely? Any adult working with children or vulnerable adults is required to produce such a document, and quite rightly so.

However, and this is where my argument comes in - is this the best way? My reason for asking is that the paper document is only as good as the day it is printed and not a living document. Each time you work for a new authority or new organsiation you are required to apply for a new crb, even if it's 2 days apart. Documents can take weeks to be processed, they are all done at one place and the majority of the time they are done accurately. The organisation you work or volunteer for is responsible for securing the document, yet it is your information each time.

A solution - if the DVLA can manage a live document with your driving licence why can't we have similar with the CRB system? I have long argued to various councillors that a CRB should remain your personal property and therefore removes the demand for a new one each time you change employers. In theory if you are a supply teacher or a youth worker with 4 authorities (which can happen) you could have up to 5 current CRB's all processed at the same time and same place and all containing the same information and paid for 5 separate times. Even a child can see that that is ineffective and costly.

So, I propose that you apply once, get issued a photo id with a chip that is live, much like your driving licence and it become a national system that is recognised by all institutions. The main reasons for this are:

1. allow for the document to be updated as offences are known about or cleared in real time rather than waiting 3 years as can happen

2. reduce long term costs and duplication of information required

Given that the CRB is currently the single most recognised document amongst this group of workers, switching it to a photo id card system would not be a problem. Cost - ahh the sordid topic of coin - employers are currently asked to pay for each new crb and they are expected to be renewed within a two to three year interval depending on internal policy. So, all I'm asking is that the costs be switched around a bit. Yes, it would cost more to produce a laminated photo id card in the first instance but long term would be more effective. Plus, and this is the bit that irks me most - it needs to be a living document. That, I suspect would be the hard bit - asking courts and police to link up and provide the information. It would require a culture of push the information rather than pull as required. To explain further - if you apply the crb will 'pull' the information from police and other records, whereas the system I propose requires them to 'push' information which would mean systems being set up.

I accept that it needs more thought, especially around the detail of how the information arrives at the right place at the right time - but, if we really want to safeguard properly we really need to be prepared to think around the issue rather than keep adding plasters to an exisiting process. Just a thought!

Teaching Stuff

As many of you know I am a teacher, and I wanted to use this page to show you some of the debates around education today and some of the project ideas I use with my children. Given that I blog, tweet, play games online and generally have the mindset of a 7 year old there are times when I have used the most obscure stuff in lessons because it's fun - and basically if I get bored then it's pretty obvious that a student will be bored! Recently in the Times Educational Supplement there have been various articles about the changing curriculum and needs of our students and young people. I don't claim to be an expert, far far from it - the teacher that stops learning is a very bad teacher indeed. Equally the teacher that deems themselves better than their students and refuses to take ideas from them as to what interests them is also (in my opinion) a poor teacher. My partner is now studying to teach in further education and some of the dining room table debates can get quite heated and it just seemed wrong not to inflict them on a wider audience!

Friday, September 30

Splashing the colour around!

Firstly, I never want to re-fit a kitchen again! At 5' 3" managing large sheets of plasterboard is not funny, especially when trapped under one - however much you try to convince yourself otherwise Mr B! One thing I was determined to do was add colour into the space, I love cooking and being in the kitchen as it's straight out onto the yard with all the herb pots so the space is forever linked to the outside. With that in mind we got out the pencil crayons and designed something unique for the space. The colours had to complement what was around it, and also create a welcoming focal point for the kitchen. It's only a small galley kitchen but glass has a reflective quality that helps the space feel bigger and more open which it's certainly done. So the tick list was:

1. something original designed around us
2. a sense of colour and fun
3. a focal point for the kitchen

and yay! we got all three, and loads of lovely compliments off everyone that visits.

Just to give a context of the kitchen, this is the window it backs onto!

The kitchen window is full of butterflies done in glass clings - every child that's every stayed or visited has to do one for me! And because the adults get miffed they're allowed to play too.

Angie xx 

Friday, September 23

In every stitch a memory

Just wanted to share this with you. I've been working on this for years now - probably be retired by the time it's finished! But, and this is my favourite part of this quilt - every piece of material has a mini history attached to it.

Each piece that has gone into the quilt has either been given to me by a family member or the fabric used from something that had a previous life of use. I love looking over the quilt and seeing my Mother's favourite dress fabric, or my favourite party dress when I was little.

In this close up I can see my Grandmother's apron and as I look at it can hear her giggling at being found out for cheating at cards round the dining room table while waiting for the chocolate cake to cook. She was a wonderful baker but a terrible card player and so naughty! She didn't make a sound when she had a fit of the giggles, just rocked on the chair while the eyes sparkled with mischief as the wrinkles told a whole lifetime of making stories. Also in this close up is the fabric from curtains I had in my first flat in Brighton. Again, so many stories that go with that place and all preseved in a simple hexagon of fabric. What's also fascinating is seeing the changes in fashion over the years as the colours and patterns of clothes change, clearly there was very little fashion sense happening in the 80's judging by some of the pieces! I will leave you to spot those pieces.

Having no idea of the history of patchwork it was a few years ago while talking to someone that was knowledgable who told me this is called a memory quilt because all the fabric pieces are off cuts or remnants rather than bought for the purpose of making the quilt. I love the technique and the calmness of the stitching but the impatience in me is growing steadily - it's so nearly finished and yet so much more to do. However, it looks so beautiful that I can't wait to get it done now and be surrounded by all these gorgeous memories and be able to wake up hearing the voices that go with them all - especially of those no longer with us.

Friday, September 16

eek the boy's off to uni, nooo he's still 12 surely??

What a strange couple of weeks, back to school (urrgh - but love it once back in the swing of it) and preparing the boy for university - eek how old is he?? Really should stop calling him the boy as he is now 18, but suppose it's just stuck now and will probably still call him the boy at 30 - poor lad! He has done so fantastically well - got an unconditional offer of a place based on his portfolio work. He's going to be studying post production and editing in London, really excited to see where his work goes and how he develops. For those of you that would like to follow his journey too this is his youtube channel, and this is one of my favourites from him:


He doesn't like it much anymore because it took him hours to sync all the graphics!

There will probably be teary photos on Saturday when we leave him in the big city - but what an adventure to be having! And love the fact that because of youtube we get to see the mad randomness that has leaked from his brain into a 'hey, I wonder if that could happen ...?' and off he trundles to try it and then we get to spend hours howling with him at the result. Joe - be most excellent to yourself! x

We have also been trying to re-organise stuff so that it's easier to work on projects, well that was an epic fail (as my friend Rachael would say). The level of organisation resulted in dismantling furniture, shoving loads of stuff into the loft and then oh yes just closing the door and expecting the fairies to do the rest. Hmm, clearly more work needed then. These pictures are deliberately shown in an attempt to shame me into getting it sorted:

However, once the boy is settled in London we shall return to the errant boxes, set up work benches and become more organised. I am still working on the old principle of as it's a new term at school as long as you have new pencils that match you will be able to get A's in class just because you were organised in a pretty way. And yes, to those of you quietly chuckling at this - you know who you are - there will be a very real need for pretty storage boxes and magazine files on shelves because clearly you can't work effectively unless this is done! Boys, you have so much to learn. I will return later with the ahem tidy space - or just hope the fairies turn up in the night!

Angie xx

Monday, September 12

Is it art or craft?

Apologies if this falls outside of the normal 'fluffy' ramblings of the Hippo brain, but lately there's been a raging debate about Folksy which I've mainly seen through tweets of friends - real and virtual. On a personal level we have not been affected as we don't sell through Folksy, but know many that have been. A friend we recently made at a craft meet up has been told her jewellery is not appropriate under their new rules. Basically the rules are now in place so that if you 'assemble' items rather than making every piece from scratch then you are not considered hand made. Apologies if I've over simplified, or misunderstood but that appears to be the gist of it. So it got me thinking - what is craft? what constitutes hand made? and how far do we need to take the definition?

I looked on the V&A museum website as a starting point and got this:

Caroline Broadhead

'What craft means to me is the making part, the how you make, and this is an exchange with materials - what you give to a material, and what it gives back. This exchange can be awkward, it can be a struggle, or one party can dominate, but if it is a productive exchange, then that's when it's worth looking at. But ultimately, it is the extra something that makes it special.'

So, with that in mind, does the jeweller assembling items not need skill and, as Caroline Broadhead says, add that something extra to make it special? I do, however, accept that there are different levels to this debate - otherwise this site would not have acted as they have. There will always be purists that say unless you have made every item yourself it is not truly handmade and there is some merit in that line of argument. For instance the crafter that buys items in and just paints one heart or similar and trys to claim a hand made piece. But, and this for me is the critical part, who decides? Where do we draw the line as to craft, hand made or assembled?

I suspect this debate will continue for some time, with no real satisfactory answer - but, in the meantime we would like to show our support for hand made by adding this to our site:

Support handmade, however it's made
here for the originator of this badge, and where we first came across the debate - Diddy Bears

For those of you that are affected, I hope you get a satisfactory outcome quickly and that it doesn't affect business too greatly.

Angie xx

Friday, August 19

Market research and cake

What an interesting evening. And I must say a huge thank you to my parents for their constant support. I casually mentioned that we could do with doing a focus group of some sort to gauge people's reactions to our products and next thing Mum has rung round her friends and organised just such an evening for us - how supportive is that? Slightly nervous as one of the couples had known me since I was 10 and didn't want them to think us unprofessional - but they were all so helpful.

Top tips for anyone else doing this:
1. cake always helps!
2. we gave everyone a thank you gift for giving up their time which was well received
3. be clear about what you want to get - we took ages to plan the questions and so glad we did
4. be prepared for some to have nooo idea what you're trying to do and be polite!
5. read up on a bit on how to manage focus groups
6. don't have more than 8 people as the discussion get too hard to manage otherwise
7. have a strategy in mind for those that talk lots and those that don't talk at all!
8. don't be shy about bringing the discussion back where you want it - this is your chance to find out what your customers think not what they had for tea!
9. plan the order of questions or sections, we deliberately asked the same question in different ways at the start and end to check pricing bands

What we did:
We showed people pictures from our website and just asked them for their opinion of the photography, the piece and how they felt they would use it or who they would buy it for. Any more questions and we would have overloaded the discussion so less is definitely more when it comes to asking people to write things down. We then asked them what they thought our logo was - most said Hippo and luckily most said it looked a happy hippo which was good to know. One lady there knew I was little hippo and started giggling as soon as she saw it and had to say stop it, you have inside information! The other amusement came from one person being a teacher who had worked with the (now infamous) geography teacher who told us to stop giggling all those years ago when the nickname came about - think she's already called him to say 'do you know what you created?'

What was really evident was that people love colours - was pleasantly surprised at which pieces were best received and kept being asked if we could do things in brighter colours. So, we have some tweaking to do on wording and a few photos but it was really useful and I would urge anyone else starting out to do the same. We're planning another one soon with a different age group to see if the comments are similar or different - and yes, cake will be provided (but can't make coffee cake like my Mum, best give her a call now!)

All that said, the evening was good fun and people want you to succeed. Comments or criticisms were only raised so that we could make things better - don't feel bad about what could be considered negative comments. We're always told to listen and respond to customer comments but chances are if you're selling online you don't often get the opportunity to take feedback off someone that hasn't bought from you so trap them with cake and get their opinions - you may be surprised what you learn! Angie xx

Sunday, August 7

Clearly incapable of buying stuff unless it's pink!

Apologies, but this appears to be a running theme of mine - buying shoes! However, in my defence these are for camping and actually have some grip. The last time I went camping was to Lake Bala where someone kindly took me out on their catamaran. I only had my grotty trainers on that have absolutely no grip which was drastically shown to be true as I went happily down the entire side of the cat and the chap had to grab my other foot to pull me back on board! Slightly unerving to say the least, so have now purchased shoes that actually have some grip.

Also, as it gets quite cold in the evening we have discovered a love of burning things while recanting the entire Monty Python skit about burning witches, again a slight oops moment - however we like burning things and it keeps us warm.

And the other good pressie of the week courtesy of friends that used to live next door. While rootling round the old stuff their previous home owner had left they found this - and thought of me, how cute! I actually remember having one of these as a child, and driving my parents mad painting strange little bowls and not understanding why they weren't getting as excited as me - so I guess the love affair with ceramics goes back quite a long way! Dutifully trundled off for batteries and fantastic, it still works. One of the first pots still sits in their cabinet at home, will have to get a photo to show you - or maybe not as I was only 7 at the time!

Angie xx

Wednesday, August 3

Went out to play and found bumper boots!!

We've been thumping buttons for so long now that we needed a day out! Thankfully the website is now starting to look and feel as we first wanted it and gradually managing to get all the current work photographed and on there. Also, now that we're out of geek mode (apologies to all the serious coders out there) we can go back to creative mode and work on new pieces.

Bumper boots - many call them baseball boots but for some reason I have always called them bumper boots! No idea why, just that's what they've always been and over the years have gained and worn out loads of pairs. Today was another good day for the collection:

How cute are they? Think I lasted all of 10 seconds thought time before finding my size and trying them on. Not normally a Mickey Mouse fan but just loved the old style cartooning on them :)

Got another Hippo to show you -

This picture was painted for me when I lived in Brighton and working for an odd company (that's the polite version!). At the time I lived in a shared house and the chap that painted this did covers for magazines such as 2000AD and was such a fantastic artist. I came home from work and it had been slid under my door with a note that said 'hope this cheers you up' now that's what you call a housemate! It's been making me smile ever since.

No more buttons to thump so can get back to the sketching to make new pieces, Angie xx

Saturday, July 30

Long but good week!

It's been a very busy but productive week! Things are moving in the right direction and maybe Chez Hippo wasn't such a daft idea after all! Thank you to everyone for the lovely comments and support we've received as when you sit working from home all day with only the cats to ask 'do you like this one or this one best?' it can be a little brain tiring.

We have been working on some new pieces which should be on the web pages soon. The only snag is when we photographed the sun catchers in the garden I accidentally forgot to bring one back in because it just looks so lovely against the roses, oops! Have noticed that this is becoming quite a habit and as we were told at the business start up meeting "ahh, you're caring creatives ..."

The list of things to do is being munched through slowly, and now feeling a little more like a grown up as the rather pretty business cards arrived yesterday. However, I feel it would be better to have shorter pieces of paper so the list cannot be added to quite so easily! Angie xx

Wednesday, July 27

Hello and welcome to the Home of Little Hippo

Each journey begins with a single step, or in this case a first posting! Hello and welcome to Chez Hippo, where we have more time and space to show you the background to some of the ideas and where we get our inspiration from.

The background - I really am Little Hippo! During a very giggly geography class aged 12 with my best friend the nickname came about, neither of us can remember the exact details but it stuck. We're still friends now, some still call me Hippo and now their children too which is rather sweet. As a result of this my home is filled with some lovely hippos that have been gathered over a lifetime of gathering memories that go with them. I'll show you some of my favourites and their story.

Here's the first one I remember! He came from Covent Garden while on a school trip to London. He used to have a flower in his mouth but over time think he ate it, and he's travelled everywhere with me and still makes me smile.