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When you can mix old haunts and new haunts in the same weekend you have a recipe for bliss.

Last Saturday we caught the afternoon flight to Manchester from Exeter, touching down just 50 minutes after take-off. After a quick unpack in our favourite hotel in Didsbury village, just four miles from the centre of Manchester we had a short journey to meet up with friends and enjoy the evening over Champagne and a barbeque.

As soon as I awoke on Sunday I was chomping at the bit to get to the Italian Deli in the centre of Didsbury. The owner, Nenad and his staff always make us feel welcome and they do cook a great breakfast. Sat there in the sunshine you never know whether you are going to be sat next to one of the United or City players or it could be Jason Kenny and Laura Trott, who are also regulars.

After breakfast and several Americanos it was off to Lyme Park, or to titillate the appetite of our lady readers, I could refer to it as Pemberley. The grounds were charming but alas, no Mr Darcy or Colin Firth came out of the lake.

If you get to Lyme Park you must stroll up to the tower, from where you can view the Dales, Manchester, Liverpool and even North Wales. What a place to have a picnic – amazing!

After a day sightseeing we relaxed over tapas and Tempranillo at the Wine and Wallop Bar in West Didsbury, while listening to some live mellow jazz. After a few drinks it wasn’t just the jazz that was mellow.

We resisted the temptation to call it a day and instead took a short walk to more old friends at Piccolino’s, a very uber smart Italian restaurant. Nightcaps were ordered and conversation with the Italian staff about the success of the Italian and British Olympic teams created much laughter and bonhomie.

Another good night sleep followed by a medal table catch up on the iPad and then back into the village where we found another new Italian deli, Casa Italia. As soon as we walked in we were greeted by the Sicilian owner and were pressed to try his mouth-watering gelatos. A coffee and photo call later and we had our arms around each other. Within ten minutes new friends had become old friends.

Having spent so many years financing restaurants, many of which have been Italian, you can see why they are so successful. The warmth and friendliness of the owners and staff, the superb quality of their products, whether on the plate or hams, olives and focaccia to take out and their talent with coffee and ices, why wouldn’t you want to spend your cash with them.

At Armada we shall continue to support and encourage Europeans who want to set up businesses in the UK, who work hard, who spend their money locally and who create jobs. We are a multi-cultural society and the richer for it.

We can’t wait to return to our old haunts again!

Before setting up Armada, back in the 70s, I had always dreamed of being an architect (“Not a lot of people know that”. No it wasn’t Michael Caine who said that, it was Peter Sellers). Moving on, before you get bored or confused or both!

In the end it was the interest in lending to businesses that fired my imagination, rather than the desire to be the male version of Zaha Hadid.

Nevertheless, there must have been some remnant of fascination with quality design and innovation that lingered because my worst nightmare would be if Grand Designs and the Six Nations Rugby clashed on the telly.

Having recently been allowed back in the house after a straight eight hours gardening stint, I happened to catch a new Channel Four home renovation programme entitled ‘Inside Out Homes’, presented by practising architect, Zac Monro.

In the series Zac takes very ordinary homes across the country and remodels them inside and out. Using acres of glass, cedar and clever lighting, the homes and their outside spaces are transformed into ultra-modern, stylish and practical properties.

I am not the first person to label Zac a genius but you make up your own mind. If you haven’t caught ‘Inside Out Homes’ I urge you to download it on Catch Up. If you have seen the series I bet you didn’t know that Zac is an international Air Guitar champion, or that Monty Ravenscroft appeared in ‘Four Wedding and a Funeral’ as Duckface’s partner.

The mention of Four Weddings…… reminds me that Armada regularly finances production equipment for the film and television industry. Also, whether they are architects or other professionals we daily fund the fitting out of offices and studios.

Hopefully, Zac and the team will encourage you and your creative side.

We keep hearing about the demise of village life and the closure of our traditional pubs, well read on for a happy ending –

After years of the Olde Forge Inn at Curry Rivel being neglected, the local Macey family acquired the premises. For eighteen months workmen were seen coming and going. The roof was re-tiled, a major extension was constructed, in blue lias stone, to house the new kitchen and all the doors and windows were replaced in oak.

The thirsty inhabitants of the village wondered if the pub would ever re-open. Eventually, numbers of woodburners were seen being installed and the courtyard garden was planted up and paved. Excitement continued to rise but still no opening.

When staff training commenced the buzz reached fever pitch – then the doors opened. That was just five weeks ago. What did the locals think of their re-named “Firehouse”? Let me put it this way – Somerset is the new Cotswolds.

As you enter the pub a large stone fired pizza oven greets you, with 3 chefs boarding up a range of thin based pizzas, which you can customise. If you can’t get a baby sitter you can collect and eat while watching your footie or Celebrity Masterchef.

The Firehouse is stylishly furnished on several floors, but check out their web site for the gallery and their menu – be sure to try the homemade pork scratchings with apple sauce while you are deciding whether it’s a steak or a burger you want.

Since opening, the place has been rammed. Kate Macey and her new husband Ed have a real winner on their hands. Birthday parties, guys dropping in after work, girls leaving the old man babysitting while they catch up on the goss over glasses of Prosecco, all are made to feel welcome and wanted.

Hopefully, in this era of post-Brexit we will all learn the lesson that the UK is infinitely more successful when we concentrate on delivering quality. Think of retail, Harrods, Fortnum & Mason, John Lewis. Think of the motor industry, Aston Martin, Rolls and Range Rover. Fashion and design etc, etc. We Brits know how to deliver on quality and style and the whole World loves us for it.

At Armada we have spent over 40 years helping and encouraging SMEs to build their businesses on quality.

 

www.thefirehousesomerset.co.uk

After months of hard work, preparing for my wedding day, I was really looking forward to the day out my friends had organised for me at The Haven Spa in Exeter.

We were greeted by beaming smiles and friendly faces, immediately putting us at ease and before we knew it, our jackets had been whisked away and replaced by a glass of bubbly  – bring it on! We were made to feel special from the off with fluffy robes and slippers waiting for us. A blissful 2 hours were spent in the stunning state of the art thermal suite, whilst sipping our fizz which disappeared far too quickly, but luckily there was plenty of iced water to re-hydrate. We moved between the sauna, aroma-scented sanarium, mosaic heated loungers, Jacuzzi and salted foot spas, finishing with the rain dance shower and for the brave, the heart-stopping freezing bucket shower!

Then it was treatment time, first up was a ‘deeper than deep’ hot stone massage lasting a heavenly hour, which was like nothing I had experienced before, releasing hidden energy from muscles I wasn’t even aware of. Then followed the obligatory manicure, ensuring everyone looked their best for the upcoming night out. We left feeling suitable relaxed and pampered and ready to take on what the rest of the weekend had in store for us.

The Haven lived up to its name – it was a very special day to put in the pre-wedding memory bank, spent in a stunning environment and most certainly would have been more relaxing if it wasn’t for all the giggling and chat which typically comes with a group of girlfriends.

On returning to work the following Monday and feeling not quite 100%, I was delighted to discover that Armada had actually funded the complete fit-out of the thermal suite. I, by pure chance had been able to enjoy using equipment we had financed.

Life can sometimes surprise and delight us when we are least expecting it.

On a recent trip to South Devon, in the middle of lush rolling hills and high hedges, dressed in campion, primroses and daffodils, we happened upon an old agricultural barn that has been converted into a retail unit and café.

At the entrance to the property, two corten steel gates announced that this was the home of Nkuku, a lifestyle store selling a wide variety of homewares. Mirrors, lamps, rugs and furniture sit alongside beautiful leather bags and folios and so much more.

When Ali and Alex Cooke were travelling in India eleven years ago they discovered a stream of local artists and artisans creating products that the couple knew would be appreciated by folk back home.

Harlal and his fellow villagers were hand stitching beautiful leather goods in Rajastan in northwest India. Puru and his friends were creating modern and practical pottery in Tamil Nadu while Nandu designs and produces a range of fine jewellery in West Bengal.

Through their contacts across India, Ali and Alex have developed a Fairtrade supply of rustic goods that are obviously appealing to a cross section of British home makers.

From their HQ at Hartbertonford near Totnes they have expanded to a retail unit in Brighton and another near Chichester, also in Sussex. So popular are their choices of imports that John Lewis and 1,500 other retailers are all wanting to sell Nkuku goods.

What a pleasure to come across these entrepreneurs and to enjoy their enterprise and hard work. It’s people like Alex and Ali, creating, employing and expanding that make SMEs in the UK so vitally important – and they have four young children to bring up as well!!