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In 1971 James Onedin sailed his ship, ‘ The Charlotte Rhodes’, up the river Exe, past our offices at Topsham, which didn’t exist then and eventually tied up at the Quay in Exeter, opposite the Customs House.
The blockbuster television series, The Onedin Line, charted the changes in business and shipping in the middle of the 19th century.
If James disembarked at the Quay now he would be amazed at the changes taking place at the beginning of the 21st century.
Gone are the crinoline dresses and parasols of his day. Now the quay area is awash with tourists, resplendent in their Craghoppers and Nikes. James would be more than a little confused by the accents. Gone are the westcountry burrs, replaced by New England’s drawls and Japanese chatter.
No braided and tricorned custom officials would be stepping out of the Customs House now to check his cargo. The Grade 11 listed building is now Doctor Ink’s Curiosities, a Victorian themed cocktail bar, offering Sing Sing Slings and The Bee’s Knickers in a glass.
Next door, the old warehouse that would have been stacked with James’ goods is now the new Exeter Bavarian Bierkeller, where lederhosen wearing customers are served German beer in steins, eat Bratwursts and listen to the resident Oompah band.
Shortly, this historic area of Exeter, where Romans, Normans and 18th century Dutch landed their armadas, will see the opening of another award-winning Rockfish Café, the creation of master chef Mitch Tonks.
If you haven’t found an eaterie to suit you, stroll up Quay Hill, past the old Roman Wall and take in the splendour of the Norman Cathedral before stepping into the High Street. Facing you is the magnificent Guildhall, the oldest working civic building in Britain.
Surrounding the Guildhall is the recently developed Queen Street dining quarter, where you can choose whether to chow down on Caribbean at Turtle Bay or try the Lebanese food next door. For burger lovers there is the Terrace with its amazing deck and views over the rooftops of the city.
Yes, of course Exeter has all the ethnic restaurants from Asia, Europe and the Middle East, together with the usual group offering from Bill’s, Wagamama’s, Cote, Carluccio’s etc, as well as boasting of the oldest coffee house in the country.
Little wonder that Exeter has become the administrative, cultural, retail and hospitality centre of South West England.
The proliferation of eateries cropping up recently, together with more planned in the new Paris Street development will create a mecca for gourmets, gourmands and food writers. So significant are the choices available that I wouldn’t be surprised if TripAdvisor opened a regional office here.
With a lifetime’s experience of financing restaurants and their contents I naturally take an interest in the culinary comings and goings in the UK and Exeter in particular. Gone is Jamie’s Italian, (well there’s a surprise, not!!) but how long before Rick Stein see the potential of this great city.
If Theresa May gets fed up with all the bickering I’ll buy her a train ticket to see what all the SMEs are achieving in this ‘backwater’ – that will cheer her up and energise her for the comic knockabout in Brussels.
Ps Watch this space for a positive critique of Michael Caines’ new hotel and restaurant, Lympstone Manor, (just down the road from us), due to open in April.
Did you catch the BBC Four series, Vienna: Empire, Dynasty and Dream, Presented by Simon Sebag-Montefiore? Having visited Vienna I was struck by the enduring sense of history in Austria’s capital – no Shard or Gherkin to draw your eye away from St Paul’s or The Tower of London. Vienna is all palaces, magnificent buildings and The Opera House. The presence of Strauss, Mozart and Klimt is all surrounding. Every building and statue and faiker reminds you that this city was once the centre of Europe.
In the series, Sebag relates the importance of Vienna and the Habsburg dynasty that ruled much of Europe for nearly a thousand years.
In order to maintain their control over The Holy Roman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, The Habsburgs made alliances with France one minute and chasing Napoleon around the next minute. They asked Russia to help them defeat the Ottomans one day and then resented Russia’s hold over them the next. Running Europe resembled the school playground with the ever changing fallouts and makeups. However it did make for fascinating and enlightening television and well worth seeing on Catch Up.
I was struck at the end of the series how Brexit, for all its column inches and prime time coverage, is nothing new. Most European nations cannot remember who their allies and friends are from one century to another.
How many times would you protect Pierre in the playground if the next day he is calling you names behind your back? Isn’t it better to find out who your true friends are and then stick with them through thick and thin?
A dynasty, a playground, a marriage – can you, can we, be relied upon – for better or worse, for richer for poorer …………
One of the many passions and delights of financing start-up businesses throughout the country for over 40 years has been to follow the fortunes of individuals who through vision, hard work and dedication have got their businesses off the ground and prospered. One such businessman from the Westcountry I wish I had met and been involved with has been James Dyson. Dedicated to innovation and quality of his products, he has become one of the most successful British entrepreneurs in my lifetime.
Another such artisan that I have followed over many years but never met is Richard Bertinet, baker of Bath. How odd that both Richard and James are Bath men. From his origins in Brittany, Richard brought his bakery skills to the Westcountry and opened a school in Bath to teach aspiring bakers the art and individuality of quality bread and patisserie creation.
Thanks to Richard and his dedication, focus and ability he has added two shops in Bath and a second manufacturing bakery in Milton Keynes to his ever expanding empire.
On occasions, the appetite to expand causes entrepreneurs to take their eyes off the quality of their product and listen to the siren voices of their accountant, dictating on costs rather than quality and service. All too frequently this change of focus is the death knell to an otherwise brilliant business. (Lesson: the accountant knows how to manipulate figures but he doesn’t know how to bake bread or sell it. Treat your advisors as you do with your dough – take a large pinch of salt with whatever they are saying !!)
Back to the plot – recently we were in Bath and called on Richard’s New Bond St Place shop. If we eat with our eyes, I fed like a king that day. With arms full of croissants, brownies, ciabatta and focaccia we headed home.
That evening we sat down to brimming bowls of tagliatelli carbonara and Richard’s high baked ciabatta with salted butter. Long after the pasta was devoured we continued to cut thick slices of the golden crusted bread and slather them with butter (don’t tell the doctor please).
Believe me, Richard may have expanded his business significantly but he certainly hasn’t taken his eyes off the product. That loaf was the finest bread we have eaten, anywhere in the World. No wonder that Waitrose sell Bertinet produce in their stores.
The thrill of finding dedicated artisans has never left me. Even at my venerable age I still get excited by British enterprise, skill and quality. I look forward this year to seeing many new businesses being created and developed with the aid and support of my colleagues at Armada.
As Craig Revel Horwood from Strictly would say “Amazingggg”. BBC Channel Two are screening a new series on Wednesdays, The Big Life Fix, presented by Simon Reeve. It takes designers, scientists, engineers and computer experts and asks them to solve major problems to improve the life of communities and individuals.
Emma, a graphic designer, has Parkinsons and the tremours prevent her from using a pen or doing any practical graphic work. One of The Big Life Fix team, Haiyan Zhang, who is a Microsoft executive was tasked with finding a solution to Emma’s problem. She designed and manufactured the Emma watch, which alters the messages from the brain to the hand. Download the programme and see Emma writing her name now.
The team have also found solutions to stop sheep rustling and to give a village mobile communication facilities where none existed before.
Graham, who was severely paralysed by a massive stroke and lost the ability to speak can now express himself, using a tablet which communicates with the sound of Graham’s own voice, collected from videos and tapes in his past.
The ingenuity and inventiveness of these young scientists and engineers is awesome. The series is a ‘must see’ for people of all ages.
Watching the programme is a bit of a tear jerker, not dissimilar to DIY SOS, but get over it, reach for the box of tissues and view this compelling series from a different perspective.
Our Great Britain is Great on so many levels. We are blessed by so many great minds, inventors and entrepreneurs. Who ever thought you could vacuum a carpet with a powerful, cordless, bagless machine until James Dyson came along.
We all have amazing talents, we just don’t know we’ve got them or we don’t bother using them. Ore Oduba didn’t know he could dance until he joined Strictly – now he’s in the final.
I would encourage everyone to use the forthcoming Christmas break and take time to consider what your particular gift is – everyone has one or more. If you are part of the silent majority who claim not to have a gift, you are wrong.
Light the candles, run a bath and lay back. Ask Father Christmas, The Good Lord or the ether, “What is my gift or talent?” Before long you find you have a special gift that you can use to help others and enrich your own life. You too can contribute to making Britain Great.
Last week we decided to spend a couple of days in the Cotswolds. As we frequently do, enjoying the beauty of the area and trying to dent the Christmas shopping list.
A quick whizz up the M5, through Tetbury and into a perfect long-term parking space in Cirencester, just in time for a couple of flat whites before hitting the shops.
While Madam was making purchases, I was designated to getting acquainted with the boot of my car. Soon it was time for a spot of lunch and when in Cirencester there is only one place to go, Made by Bob. Bob is a long term friend of Armada. Shock upon shock, the restaurant was undergoing a complete refurb. However, Bob sensibly has opened a pop-up café while the refit takes place. Two bowls of superb fish chowder and we were ready for the fray again.
The afternoon was spent in Burford, a fabulous and much photographed one-street Oxfordshire town. While the Boss was trying on outfits in Slate I decided to spend an hour in The Oxford Shirt Company. Boys, you’ve got to do it – there are thousands of shirts there, plus departments designated for Barbour, Gant and other major brands. I was in my element, bowled over by the choices until, while perusing a whole wall of shirts in every colour and style, a mature gentleman sidled up to me, looked me up and down, slowly, and announced “All those are slim fitting Sir!”. I didn’t know whether to cry, have a cup of tea or renew my gym membership.
After recovering my composure we drove to nearby Swinbrook and booked into the Swan, famous for being owned by Debo Mitford, aka the deeply missed Dowager Duchess of Devonshire. The Mitford sisters once lived in Swinbrook and although Debo’s estate still owns the property it is now run by Archie and Nicola Orr-Ewing.
After unpacking, dinner beckoned. The crispy squid with tomato and aubergine ragout, followed by Todenham Manor rib-eye did not look promising on the plate but one forkful in the mouth and you knew that this chef knows his onions from his scallops. An affogato and rather good wine and we were bound to get a good night’s sleep.
After breakfast I headed the chariot south, crossed the M4 and found another great parking space in the centre of Bath. More coffee, more shopping and then with a contented smile and sense of achievement we headed home.
Before the reverie had completely subsided we were engulfed by this week’s Autumn Statement, followed by truckloads of analysis, fear, doubts and handwringing over Brexit.
As I personally can’t do anything to alter the events of national importance I don’t believe in fretting about the what if’s or maybe’s but I was reminded of the correlation between our shopping escapades and people’s reaction to politics and the economy.
All the shops we visited in the Cotswolds, where the owners and staff were cheerful, helpful and positive, the customers were spending and enjoying doing so. Where the owner couldn’t look up from his paper to say “Good morning”, the shops were empty and counting the days to closure.
Why oh why do we feel the need and responsibility to understand politics and fiscal matters when we can’t influence them, instead of leaving such matters to the politicians and getting on with our lives in a positive and cheerful manner.
“Black Friday” doesn’t have to reflect our mood, after all, it is only seven days since all those positive, cheerful, hardworking children and adults inspired us so much during “Children in Need”.