Chocolate digestives and a call to arms

mier_prod-1 dark redI knew the tough times would come, and they have – I feel a need to be honest about it!  Things are still moving forwards, the lease on the property I want is now under negotiation between my property adviser and the estate agent, I have people investing in shares, I have an account for Tree House funds, I have a web domain and so on…it’s not that things are going wrong, it’s just that I am plagued by doubts, fears, a profound sense of inadequacy, an equally profound sense of loneliness in having to deal with these practical things, worries about money, worries about stock, worries about what colour to paint the front of the shop…  The latter is not actually true, though I would like to be at the stage of worrying about that – colour is much more fun than cashflow forecasts and wondering how much solicitors’ fees will be.

It’s at this point that I am close to walking away from the whole thing.  The stress is making life difficult, for me personally and for those friends close enough to me to be affected by this.  Perspective and organisation are what I need, according to one such friend; I am good at neither.  Well, perspective is easier for me than organisation; I lose and gain perspective, I never seem to get organised.  Not a good trait, perhaps, for someone setting up a business!  But there are people I can pay to be organised on my behalf, so I really shouldn’t worry so much – I am not really having to do any of the really difficult stuff, but perhaps that’s why I find myself free to worry so much about the whole project!

This evening three lovely people sat in my flat drinking tea and eating chocolate digestives and pooling ideas about what might be achievable in terms of events in the shop, coming up with contacts and other people who might be interested, thinking about how to organise space in the shop, what might need to be done in terms of decorating and DIY, and generally being encouraging and enthusiastic while I was feeling hollow and doubtful inside.  They left, leaving me feeling a bit bereft of excellent company and with a sense that the real problems had been left undiscussed.  I wallowed in this for a while, before realising that our conversation had been exactly what was needed.  This is the vision – what will happen in the shop, and the very practical ideas about how this might be done and who might want to help were much more constructive than worrying about all the legal and financial matters that will, with a bit of effort on my part, be resolved in due course and will then be over and done with.  I am lucky to have such friends.

I have to believe this blip will straighten itself out – I will focus on the things I do find inspiring, such as deciding what pictures I might want to put up, thinking about shelving (I *love* shelving), and I might even write a bit of a manifesto for the shop.  That would be fun.  I like a manifesto.  Not a boring party-political one, where you can’t get through the first page without falling asleep, but a rousing one.  To the barricades!  (Literary ones, of course.)

Paper & Pen

mier_prod-1 brownA new week in the genesis of The Tree House Bookshop, and despite the stresses I am feeling buoyant.  The premises I have found are almost within my grasp, and I should know more about that by the end of the week, I hope; this seems the key step, once I have premises, everything else will now follow, and the whole thing will be a reality.  So I have put my faith in the hands of my excellent property adviser, and now just have to wait, and respond to his promptings should there be any.  Exciting!

Another exciting development over the weekend is that I realised I had to hand the solution to my desire for some kind of logo for the shop.  I wasn’t sure if I needed one, but had been thinking for a while that I wanted some kind of design, to put on bookmarks, maybe on the shop window, on the website (I have set up a website, but no content as yet!).  I have been following the work of a lovely paper-cutting artist based in Bristol, Lisa Richards – and then the penny dropped that she is someone I knew very slightly when I lived there, or rather, I know several good friends of hers – it just hadn’t clicked that the Lisa Richards on the website was the Lisa who was the girlfriend of a former colleague!

Her designs are exquisite, and she loves trees and fairytales, as I do too, and this is a perfect combination for The Tree House – I wanted something magical, beautiful, I sort of knew what I wanted, but not precisely, and I was looking at her site the other day and realised she would be the perfect person to create a design for me.  I got in touch, and thankfully she is happy to do something for me!

There is a link to her site on the homepage of this blog – Paper & Pen is the name of it, do go and look – but I hope she won’t mind me adding a picture or two here to show why I think she is perfect for the job.  These are a few of my favourites (click on the images for a larger version):

Tree and Bird by Lisa Richards

Tree and Bird by Lisa Richards

Four Seasons by Lisa Richards

Four Seasons by Lisa Richards

Hansel and Gretel by Lisa Richards

Hansel and Gretel by Lisa Richards

Dancing Silhouettes by Lisa Richards

Dancing Silhouettes by Lisa Richards

In need of a stress-buster…

mier_prod-1 blueAnother step forward yesterday, with a second viewing with the estate agent of the premises I would like to rent.  There are some issues – mainly that I need to convince those that need to be convinced that I am financially in a position to commit to a lease.  There was also much discussion about how to convert the interior space, and that has given me a lot to think about in terms of what I would need to do straight away, what could be left for a later stage, whether the different spaces within the premises would actually work for what I am hoping to do.

But I took my property adviser with me, and he too could see the potential despite the issues that need resolving, and while he is anxious to help me remove the rose-tinted spectacles with which I have been viewing the whole thing, he was essentially positive, which is encouraging.

It was so helpful to have a second look around, and to discuss some of the details of the space with two experienced property specialists.  I now need to work on raising as many funds as I can (share option getting close now – watch this space!) and the property adviser will negotiate with the estate agent over the rent.

I am going through a period of major stress, needless to say, juggling different aspects, struggling through financial paperwork, biting my fingernails over whether or not I have a property to move into, whether I have enough money, what I will need to do to the premises and how much it will all cost.  I can’t open a bank account until the business has an address and a start date.  What keeps me going is that I know I only have to go through all of this once, when it’s done it will be done!  But it is stressful at the moment.  Perhaps it was the wrong time to join WeightWatchers… 🙂

More small steps, and Walker Percy

mier_prod-1 greenSo – having registered the company, I have now set up a domain name, and am in the process of building a website.  I love all these little steps forward.

I also have another appointment to go and view the premises I am hoping to rent, this time with a property adviser.  It will be good to see it again, and continue to think about how to use the space.  If this does not happen, I will definitely set up temporary, part-time trading in a space that is available cheaply, so that I can start to get things off the ground and publicise the venture in Kenilworth, until different premises can be found.  But I am hoping this one will work out, as both the space itself and the location seem right for what I want.

I am more excited than I sound!  Trying to be sensible and a bit cautious, so that I am not too disappointed if things don’t go to plan…

Once I have published the website I will also be able to start looking into selling books online, which is something I hope to do alongside the physical shop.

Meanwhile, and to make this blog post vaguely more interesting, I am reading The Moviegoer by Walker Percy, American novel published in 1961, I think, and it’s very good.  I have been meaning to read Walker Percy for years, though didn’t really know what to expect – glad finally to be reading him now.  Hope you are all reading something groovy!

Learning to stay calm

mier_prod-1 blueI knew when I got to this stage things would seem quite scary!  I have a sheaf of paperwork to read regarding the structure and accounts of The Tree House Bookshop, and my brain struggles to understand such things as fully as it needs to.  So my instinct is to panic – what if I can’t do this, how do I do that, how much of the other is possible…and so on.  I need to be a juggler, and I have never been very co-ordinated.  Women are supposed to be able to multi-task, aren’t they?  I think I missed out on that particular female gene.

Yet it really is about staying calm – easy to say, but in fact also fairly easy to do.  Dwell on what can be done, not on what seems impossible.  I can ask my accountant to clarify issues, for example, and demystify the terminology.  The words themselves are not difficult, it’s they way they are put together, and the sense of what might happen to me if I do something wrong.

So I need a clear plan of action, including working out what I still don’t understand and who I can go to for help.  I have made a list of what needs to be done, in the order it needs to be done, and that has already made things clearer and made me feel less panic-stricken and overwhelmed.  (I have a list-making friend who will be so proud!)   I have good advisers on my side and at the end of a phone or an email.  I have to accept that some things are within my control and some things aren’t – if someone else snaps up the premises I have set my heart on, I will just have to find somewhere else.  I will cry (it’s perfect!), but I will find somewhere else.  I will also do everything I can to secure it, though!

This is all a process, a set of procedures, that only has to be gone through once – that’s the thing to keep in mind.  The next few weeks will be tricky, but everything will get done and be paid for, and at the end of it is a little secondhand bookshop with its heart in the community.

That’s when the truly hard work will begin!


mier_prod-1 greenToday has been exciting – I have now received the certificate of corporation for The Tree House Bookshop Ltd, and all the paperwork connected with the newly formed company.  I can now open a business account at the bank, and start inviting potential investors to purchase shares.  I saw a solicitor this morning, and she has guided me through what will happen in terms of getting a lease on a property – hopefully the property I already have my eye on, and which is being negotiated for me by a property adviser – and what else needs to be done in practical terms.  It all sounds like a list of procedures that amount to little more than formalities, but I may be a little naive in that respect!

Naive or not, the reality of opening this secondhand bookshop and all the other things it will involve seems to be getting pretty close.  Today is the anniversary of the birth of Galileo, and it does feel as though the cosmos is in a particularly good mood!  My little corner of it, at least…I don’t mean to sound smug.

It has been one of the best days of my life really – not only have I become the director of an incorporated business that I believe will be something really wonderful, but against the odds I secured tickets to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in the autumn (their tickets sell out in minutes – click on that link to see why!  God is in the House…).  I have what promises to be a luscious bottle of Argentinian Malbec from Kenilworth Wines to celebrate!


Wonderful stuff for booklovers

mier_prod-1 dark redNot a post about me or The Tree House itself, but an example of a good secondhand bookshop by someone who appreciates its qualities and its joys, and the importance of its existence.  It’s always so wonderful to read inspiring articles and blog posts about someone’s love for secondhand bookshops, and this one is particularly lovely:

Church Street Bookshop

It’s from a blog called The Matilda Project – have added this to the series of blogs and websites on the right hand side of my home page.  Thank you to Emily for a fab book-focused blog.

Again – we could have something as fab as the Church Street Bookshop – in fact, I think that before too much longer we will!


The Tree House Bookshop – it’s official!

mier_prod-1 blueThings are definitely moving forwards now.  The name of my bookshop has been registered with Companies House, and the accountant I saw a couple of days ago is forming the company for me.  So exciting!  I will soon be a company director…who’d have thought it.  Then I will be able to open a business account at the bank, and other things will begin to fall into place – collecting funds together, negotiating the property I want to rent (someone else is doing that for me too, which is wonderful!), and at the moment the momentum is good.  I am seeing a solicitor on Friday (15th).

The name The Tree House was already registered as a business, so the shop will be called The Tree House Bookshop, which was available – though no doubt I will still keep referring to it unofficially as The Tree House.

I am so grateful to Richard Davies of Warwick District Council (soon to be its chairman, I believe) for contacting me when he heard about the venture, and supporting it and providing such brilliant contacts – it has all taken off since he became involved shortly before Christmas.  He has put me in touch with all the people who have made it happen and made it so much easier than I imagined it could be.

So – will no doubt write a celebratory post once the company has been formed and the little secondhand bookshop is a huge step closer to being up and running!

Show me the money!

mier_prod-1 blueToday is another big day for The Tree House – I have an appointment this morning with a financial adviser/accountant.  This is great – really moving forwards.  I know the figures I have may not impress him as much as they might, though!  I am not good with figures.  But I need to convince him that the business will work – something I really am convinced of, so I need to use that confidence to good effect!

I still need around £7000, I think, to put together a really strong case, so am also of course still looking for grants, cheap loans, rich benefactors…  I know it will happen, though.  I am determined to get the premises I have found, I never expected to find anything quite so perfect in the centre of Kenilworth, so I am pressing on (through the slush this morning!) in the belief that the money is there somewhere.

I am hoping that once I have seen the accountant, I will be in a position to register the business, and am also hoping to talk very soon to an organisation in Coventry that can help me set up the shop as a co-operative.  Then I will be able to launch the shares, advertise properly in Kenilworth itself, and indeed in Warwickshire, to get the local community on board and involved.

So even if my business rookiedom fails to completely convince the accountant, I still believe wholeheartedly in the project – as a business, not just as something I think would be great to have in Kenilworth – and this morning will be an important step forward in bringing The Tree House to reality.

Please do what you can to spread the word, and let me know if you have any financial brainwaves for raising a few thousand pounds!

Save Farm Terrace allotments – community projects unite!

mier_prod-1 brownToday I want to use this blog to share something about another community story – the Save Farm Terrace campaign, set up to save some allotments in Watford.  Nowhere near where I live, and nothing to do with books, but it touches on something that will be a central part of The Tree House, and shows both the importance and the fragility of community, non-profit ventures.

You can read Pete and Wendy’s story on the original blog, with photos and of course all the other pages on that blog, but I’ll also post the whole of the story here.

PLOT 25                PETE AND WENDY’S STORY…….

Wendy and I are life time residents of West Watford.

A job opportunity was presented to me as I was approaching retirement. It meant I could walk or cycle to work. Then I discovered the allotments. I was hooked straight away, the nearest available, Farm Terrace, was only 170 meters down the road from work.

Venne Vidi Vichy! We took our pick and we started working plot 25, an over grown meadow. In a short time number 26 became available and Wendy decided to enquire. Within a week she was also a tenant of Farm Terrace. It didn’t stop there. Clare, our eldest daughter who was always down there helping, decided to have one of her own, enquiring about plot 7. Opposite plots 25 & 26 and on the top terrace it was a tougher project, more brambles but we all pulled together and made great roads into taming the land. Pioneers or what?

The freshness and taste of the produce we produced was excellent. The bird life, flora and fauna where amazing. We have not seen any rabbits down there since about 2001. We don’t see as many voles as those first years. Watching the family of foxes emerging from their earth beneath my daughters shed, playing and gambling like new born lambs was a magical experience. The birds that inhabited the trees and bushes behind the rough ground of plots 5 to 10 were beautiful. Seeing my first ever grass snake just two or three years ago, in a pond, I made, on my plot, well it doesn’t get much better.

The value for money of these plots was wonderful and the view from the upper terraces, towards the south and west is superb. When you open the gates to Farm Terrace, your heart lifts and so does the temperature. We have lost count of the number of times we have described it as Heaven on Earth.

The first year was really hard physical work but bringing this ‘meadow’ back to cultivated life was so rewarding and satisfying.

We have been growing our own vegetables on the allotment for twelve years. We grow nothing out of the ordinary, everything you would expect on an allotment:

Potatoes, Onions, (red and white); Broad beans; Runner beans; Peas;

Mange Tout; Leeks; Brussels Sprouts; Cabbage, (red & green); Spinach; Cauliflower; Parsnips; Swede; Dwarf beans; Asparagus; Carrots Beet root; Sweet Corn; Globe Artichoke; Courgette; Rosemary; Thyme; Lemon Thyme; Mint; Sage; A 20ft Baytree:Salad crops, Lettuce Spring onions; Radish: Cucumber; Rhubarb;

Tomatoes (might give them up as a bad job!)Greengage; Raspberry; Strawberry; Rev Wilks Cooking Apples; Blue berry; Red currant; Black current: 2 small Eating Apple; Pear; Blackberry

The produce is usually very plentiful and if WBC could open their eyes and see what they have here they could produce fine healthy food for many of their citizens, or the hospital.

Our surplus produce goes to family friends, neighbours Then the surplus, surplus goes into Pete’s Whippendell Wine; Wendy’s Farm Terrace Chutney; Wendy’s Farm Terrace Jam; Wendy’s Farm Terrace Sauce

We go there for peace, solitude, fresh air, to get away from the TV, a change of scenery from the back garden, which although beautiful and well maintained is small. We are opposites; Wendy has a liking for privacy, whilst I’m a bit more gregarious and like a chat. So we have made a few friends and acquaintances over the years. Being terraced, unless you go ‘walkabout’ you don’t see plot holders from the lower levels. We are always ready to pass the time of day with anyone who wanted a chat.

Then things really changed. Watford Health Campus Partnership wanted to pinch some allotment land. After many meetings, there was a ‘gun’ holding us ransom to the emotional blackmail that the land was really needed to kick start the whole exercise for a new hospital. We would be the villains of the peace. It directly affected people on the top terrace, including my daughter on plot 7. Fortunately all plot holders were united in fighting to keep the allotments safe. But that wonderful triangle of trees, bushes, rose’s home to those beautiful birds, was lost to the development partnership.

In went the retaining wall; up went the block of flats; for essential workers at the hospital. We wonder how many tenants there are filling that role.

The peace, tranquillity and privacy gone. From not being overlooked, we now play to a full house. WE ALL REMEMBER THOSE FAMOUS WORDS – WE Won’t BE BACK FOR MORE!

Well, here we are, they want the lot.

If you work a plot, you know, it’s not just, blood, sweat, tears that go into the sod; it’s your heart and soul. We all have our lives to live. We all have differing agendas to work through. We would always pass the time of day and really enjoy that. What Mayor Thornhill has done, by approaching us in that manner in 2012 is to band a team of acquaintances into what can only be described as well honed, community based, fighting unit. United in our cause to KEEP FARM TERRACE ALLOTMENTS OPEN for the next 106 years.

That anyone would want to destroy a site like this is beyond belief.

Embrace them, nurture them, they are so valuable as what they are,


Pete & Wen

It’s a lovely and moving account, but also shows the need to stand up for community spaces and things that enrich people’s lives in ways that don’t generate income and don’t fulfil government plans and figures.  My little second-hand bookshop aims to do something similar; but I also believe wholeheartedly in the need for allotments and in the profoundly enriching experience of growing things, let alone providing your own food, and in the way such communal spaces do bring people together.  Do consider supporting Farm Terrace – read their blog, follow them on Twitter, raise awareness.  People have shown how collective anger can force a company like Starbucks to review its attitude to taxation; when we get together the communal voice and actions are powerful.

Here is a link to the Save Farm Terrace petition – it doesn’t take a minute to sign it:

Save Farm Terrace petition