South Petherton 2003-2005

2003-2005 in South Petherton


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With the change to Natwest Bank from the Bank of Scotland and the interest only commercial mortgage, Provender was cash positive once again and we could afford to take some breaks from work.

The internet business continued to grow as more and more people went on line. The speed of downloads was still a hindrance to commercial operations but high speed connections were becoming increasingly available and I began to think in terms of eventually separating the retail shop from the internet operation as turnover from internet sales rose to 25% of turnover.
Just like what happened at Ulstein with my software developer dying before all the program bugs had been resolved, the same thing happened again with the 'ShopAssistant' javascript developer dying prematurely. Fortunately this time I at least had a working knowledge of the language and program so was able to resolve problems as they arose.

Palma with the Palmer's.

Easy Jet Flight

In May 2003 we joined up with Mike and Pat Palmer for a trip to Palma in Majorca. We began (drinking) at Gatwick Airport so a better name for this holiday might be 'A piss-up in Palma with the Palmer's'? On arrival at Palma we transferred to a nice hotel beside the sea and with easy walking distance of the city centre which we explored extensively especially the multiplicity of bars.

Palma de Mallorca is the capital city of the Balearic Islands consisting of Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera. 'Yer Romains' came here in the 2nd century BC and founded the city followed by the Byzantines but nobody is quite sure when. In the 8th century AD came the Moors who eventually took control of the city under the Emirate of Córdoba.

Muslim rule was ended in 1229 by the Christian armies of James I of Aragon and after his death his son began the construction of the Cathedral of Majorca which is a remarkable edifice which we viewed through an alcoholic haze!.

In the 18th century the Crown of Aragon was defeated by Philip V of Spain and Palma finally became a Spanish city.
In the 1950's Palma and the Balearic Islands became tourist destinations popular with your typical British 'Yob' after a cheap holiday in the sun with loads of cheap wine and here we were upholding a proud tradition!

Well we were more than a bit interested in the island and it's capital and comparatively well behaved. In the 50's tourist numbers rose to 500,000 but by the turn of the century they exceeded 8 million. When we visited the population was in the region of 400,000.

Just like in Córdoba the Cathedral was built on the site of the Mosque which itself was built on the site of a Byzantine church. Although begun by James 1st son in 1229 it was not finished until 1601 and is in the Catalan Gothic style.

Our hotel was in an area known as The Rocks and our rooms had big balconies overlooking the sea from where we could relax with sundowner's except there was not too much sun around.

We discovered an old electric narrow gauge railway called the 'Ferrocarril de Sóller'. It climbs up the mountain to the little town of Sóller then you get on a little tram which takes you down to the little Port. Everything is little! You can opt for a return ticket but we decided we would get a big bus back along the spectacular coast road.
The railway is over 100 years old and was built to transport the citrus crop down to Palma from the mountains.

In the slide show above you can see the girls are keeping the alcohol level topped up and after about half an hour the train stopped at Bunyola Station where there was a distillery making this green liqeuer called 'Herbes de Mallorca' made from anise and other aromatic plants such as camomile, fennel, lemon, lemon verbena, marjoram, mint, orange, and rosemary.

Most travellers will have experienced the phenomenon of sampling a local drink in the place it is made and really enjoying it as we did on this occasion.
You buy a bottle to take home then months later you decide to have a glass and you wonder what happened to your taste buds that made you buy it in the first place. This drink fitted perfectly into that category!

When the train reaches the summit station it stops for people to take pictures of the town of Sóller.
The sun stayed obstinately obscure during our stay in Palma but it was a pretty spectacular view never the less. Because of the lack of sun we tended to sit in bars a lot!
The train then zig bags down to Sóller and everyone gets off and transfers to the tram for the ride down to the port.
As you can see from the adjacent slide show it was pretty crowded.

On arrival at the Port we sort solace in a local restaurant for aperitifs before tucking in to some seafood, a couple of bottles of wine and some good Spanish brandy with our coffee. We were prepared for the hairy bus ride along the coast home.

Coast road from Soller to Palma

We reached the hotel safely after that spectacular bus ride and the next morning caught our flight home. We arrived back to glorious warm sunshine and stopped for lunch (and a beer of course) at a pub on the way in an old converted mill.

Lunch back in the UK

So we ended a few pleasant days of our piss-up with the Palmers in Palma with some very good British beer of which there is no equal.

The sale of Provender.

One day Sue was in the shop and I was in the back on the computer as usual when in walked a bloke who had become a good customer of ours but was fairly new in the village.

His name was Richard and he was a property developer who had moved down from London and redeveloped the Hockeys old house in St James Street. He told Sue he had heard our business was up for sale and he would like some more information. Sue's response was predictable; "yes, pull the other one it's got bells on it" but Richard insisted he was serious and the penny dropped. Sue sent him through to see me.

I showed him the plans we had drawn up by the architect for which we had planning permission and Richard thought the idea was a good one. He and his partner eventually made us an acceptable offer for the business but their cash flow was in trouble and we agreed to accept stage payments.

It allowed us to begin to make plans for our retirement and we agreed to buy a barge and sail around Europe. The story of our search which finally resulted in the purchase of Harmonie II is told on this page under the subheading 'Buying a Barge'.


The Christmas of 2004 was our last one in Provender and our best in terms of turnover. We had previously made the mistake of not getting the Christmas stock delivered until mid November but we had learnt that people actually order well ahead and ask you to put it aside so all our stock was on the shelves by early October.

We also knew from bitter experience that nervous breakdowns were obligatory at Christmas so we determined to give ourselves a break as soon as we closed on Christmas Eve. I booked a flight to Tampa on Christmas Day and a villa for 10 days on Siesta Key.

Our flight touched down at Charlotte in North Carolina and there we stayed for several hours as our onward flight to Tampa was delayed by heavy snowfalls. It eventually arrived but after a very bumpy flight we touched down in Tampa on the early hours of Boxing Day.

We collected our hire car and drove the 60 odd miles to Siesta Key. The Villa owner had told us how to get in. We were both pretty knackered by this time and went fast asleep when I was woken by someone talking. Further investigation revealed it was the bloody fridge that was talking through the wonders of modern networking of domestic appliances. I managed to stop it talking and went back to sleep.

The weather was clear and sunny but not exactly beach weather and we needed our outer coats on most of the time as you can see from the pinched look on Sues face in the photo of her on the beach.
We found a good seafood restaurant a few yards along the beach and the photographs of the sunsets were taken from that location.

73 miles South is the Edison Ford Winter Estate which was the highlight of our visit. As the name implies it was the winter homes of Thomas Edison the physicist and Henry Ford the car maker.

Edison purchased the site for his home in 1885 and completed the build the next year while his good friend Ford purchased the adjoining property in 1916.

Quotes 'wot I like:
"I have not failed. I just found 10,000 ways that won't work"
Thomas Edison 1847 - 1931.
The botanical gardens of the estate extend for 23 acres beside the Caloosahatchee River and contain over 1000 plants including a 120ft Banyan tree planted in 1920 and big strands of bamboo which Edison used for his light filaments.

The pair of them even found a strain of rubber tree that would grow in the USA and supplied domestically produced rubber in 1927. Thomas Edison died in 1931.

St Petersburg

The estate was opened to visitors in 1947 and you can visit both homes of these famous men. Henry Ford often stayed in the Guest annex of the Edison house and eventually bought adjacent house called 'The Mangoes' which is delightful.

The Edison Botanic Research Laboratory has been preserved in it's original state and was used for the rubber tree project with Henry Ford. You can also visit the Edison Ford Museum which as you can imagine features one or two historic cars with many inovations and inventions from the era for which the two of them were responsible.

On the way back to Tampa for our flight home we stopped at St Petersburg which looked an interesting place that perhaps we should have explored further.

The Guild of Fine Food.

During our ownership of Provender we were enthusiastic members of the Delicatessen and Fine Food Association which eventually became The Guild of Fine Food.
I was a member of the management committee which involved me in regular meetings in London.
At that time our chairman was also the CEO of Fortnum and Mason and our meetings were usually held in their boardroom.

Through our association with the Irish equivalent organisation, we used to get invited along to the Irish embassy now and again for lunch with the ambassador and his wife. A very grand affair with silver service and superb food and wine of course.
It was here I first tasted Clonakilty Black Pudding. Once tasted never forgotten and on a later visit to Ireland we visited the makers in the town of Clonakilty.!

Both Sue and I became judges of the Guilds yearly Great Taste Awards. Food producers of every description are invited to submit their products for a gold award in their category which is blind tasted by three judges and given a score. The highest cumulative score gets the award purely on taste.

Great Taste Award Logo
You should look out for the logo on winning food and drink as you will not be dissappointed.

The Welsh Development Agency once asked us to judge a food competition they organised of Welsh food and drink producers and retailers.
I spent a happy fortnight motoring all round Wales with some of my fellow committee members judging retailers.
We would walk into a shop, ask some questions about their foods and buy something before finally confessing who we were.

The food judging took place at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff and I was treated to a tour which included the changing rooms. It was 2005 and one of the years the Welsh Rugby Team won the six nations grand slam. Life size cutouts of all the players were positioned in front of their lockers and as we walked out into the stadium they played a recording of the crowd noise on match day from giant speakers on each side of the entrance tunnel.

Sue and I were invited to the awards presentation at the 5 star Celtic Manor Resort near Chepstow. We visited some of the winners after the event and went home laden with goodies!

Cheese Judging.

Under the tutelage of Bob Farrand who founded the World Cheese Awards I became a cheese judge myself. It used to be held at Olympia in London and judges included cheese makers, food critics, celebrity chefs and cheese retailers like myself. As you can imagine I met some well known household names on these occasions.

I remember once judging the cheeses with additives class and having tasted some pretty weird flavours wondered aloud how producers could ruin perfectly good cheese in this way. The sales manager of the Ilchester Cheese Company put me right saying he had orders worth £2 million for the cheeses I had just tasted from one of the big supermarkets.

As I have said many times before, never underestimate the bad taste of the great British public!

The highlight of my cheese judging career was when I was selected to sit on the panel to judge the world champion cheese which on that occasion was Le Gruyère Premier Cru by von Mühlenen of Switzerland.

We leave South Petherton.

2005 was the year of our 30th Wedding anniversary. It was also the year that Barf were beaten 20-12 by Leeds Tykes in the Powergen Cup final at Twickers and I was there! But most importantly it was when the sale of Provender finally concluded, we purchased the barge Harmonie II, sold all our furniture and most of our belongings and retired to live afloat that summer.

So this is the final chapter of our history pages and a new chapter in our lives began touring round Europe on a big Dutch Barge. Our story continues in the Barging section of this web site.

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