In June, we said goodbye to Nan.
I don’t think she’ll ever know how influential she was to me and to Bramble & Fox. From my love of baking and house magazines, 60s flower power prints, hot Vimto and Fair Isle knits, her influence is everywhere.
I want to commemorate her and use this space to unravel some of her influence on me and the shop, so, in the words of Julie Andrew, let’s start at the very beginning - a very good place to start.
Nan was a grandmother in the truest sense of the word - she was my second mum. When I was little, her honey coloured hair was scissored into a neat wedge. She had a matching handbag and one-liner for every occasion. Her handbag smelled of Trebor mints, tobacco and lipstick and when I hugged her, she smelled of Roger and Gallet soap.
She had a fondness for angora twin sets in sugared almond shades, caramel trench coats and on shopping days, she wheeled a tartan shopping trolley.
A Glaswegian lady who dressed and handled herself with elegance and grace, she was as strong and no-nonsense as her cup of tea. She was sharp and politically minded, the latest copy of Private Eye would always be in the magazine rack, alongside a large stack of home magazines.
Nan had a knack for turning a house into a home and you could say that my interest in houses and homes came from her.
She always seemed to be shifting furniture around and could transform a room with a new layout and curtains made on her trusty Singer.
There was always soup on the hob too. We’d go to the market and she’d gather veg, broth mix and a handful of parsley, which she’d put in a glass of water and keep on the kitchen ledge. Scotch broth, potato and leek, rice and parsley or lentil, her soups were the stuff of legend in our family and probably why I often stock cosy soup bowls in the shop.
Brambles feature heavily in my favourite memories. Nan and I would walk the canal towpath filling up a collection of large coffee jars and plastic bags with the inky berries to take home for jam. Nan didn’t particularly drink, though I always remember in the far cupboard next to the fridge, a couple of bottles with masking tape labels were marked ‘Blackberry Wine’.
For me, brambles conjure up the slow fade of summer, leaves falling in dappled afternoon light and the beckoning of September. I often wonder how my mind knitted together the idea for Bramble & Fox but I know that these memories are significant to it.
When people ask me where my passion for baking comes from, the question is always simple to answer: Nan.
My earliest memories of Nan’s house come from playing bakery in the kitchen with a tray full of magnets. She had a fetching assortment of 1960’s Doris Day style aprons, which I’d dress up in and would write my own ‘recipes’ in her handwritten baking book.
As soon as I was old enough to hold a wooden spoon and stir ingredients in a baking bowl, I was lifted on to the counter and my baking days began. I’d watch how Nan would rub dots of butter into her pastry, fold it into three then roll, roll, roll to create light puff pastry or she would let me stir the cake mixture in the big baking jug and put the paper cases into the trays for spicy buns.
Nan lived in an old stone cottage with deep window ledges made for sitting on. Like Manderley was to Rebecca, Richmond Street was as much a part of this story as Nan. It was double fronted and bordered by cherry blossom trees, a wrought iron gate and rose beds. It had a gothic, church style door with a large metal bar that went across it at night. Dark beams ran along both front rooms that were decorated with paper chinese lanterns at Christmas.
The cottage looked out to fields and a loose stone path that led down the hill to the canal. Some years, there were Bonfire night parties. A makeshift shelter would be made and wallpapering tables held meat and potato pie, smoky chilli, cheesy jacket potatoes, cherry cheesecake and spicy buns.
Many a school holiday was spent climbing trees, exploring an ivy covered derelict mansion and curling up on a window ledge, spicy bun in one hand and home magazine in the other.
Sundays were the smell of bacon cooking, church bells and furniture polish.
Days spent with Nan at Richmond Street were where my love of cottages and all things cosy began and in many ways, laid the foundations for Bramble & Fox.