19 March 1999

shoe manufacturing area meant that it was possible to turn the idea a reality.

"A friend who is a leather dealer, helped me find the cutting knives and the people to make patterns – Northampton was renown for shoemaking and we still have people with the skills living nearby," explains Victoria, who bought her machinery from redundant shoe factories. "I started gradually and the most expensive machine was the cutting press which cost £1500. It cuts leather rather like a pastry cutter."

But it wasnt all plain sailing. "One thing I wont do again is buy the leather in bulk. I did it to ensure quality and colours – £20,000 worth. It was a big mistake because it tied up so much money, it cost me so much to finance and I had to store it. I had this awful sinking feeling when I realised what I had done," says Victoria. Now she has three leather suppliers and buys off the shelf at competitive prices.

&#42 Patterns cut

The patterns are cut and the shoes despatched from her father home but they are stitched in the homes of outworkers and the enterprise employs four full-time and four part-time workers. Victoria does the leather buying, general management and is responsible for design. The shoes come in plain colours, animal prints, tartan, patent, and with an array of motifs; teddies to tractors, hearts to ladybirds, fish to flowers and more.

"I get a lot of inspiration from the things the children play with and I know what children like. I am continually updating and looking for new ideas," she says. "My own favourite is the racing car motif. It is easy to do girly things but more difficult to find something for the boys."

The shoes are selling very well at home and abroad. "We have just sent 400 pairs to a shop at a country club resort in Malaysia and still dont know how they found out about us." Victoria is constantly asked when she is going to makes something for older children and even adults.

"We are looking at bigger sizes now, we need something for two to five year olds", she says. She seems confident that she will come up with an idea that will have a happy ending.

Inquiries: 01604-505616

EARLY one cold, dark Monday morning found Cherry and I driving off to Lisieux together. She to get the train back to Paris following a short break after some mock exams and myself off to work.

Heading along the road to Livarot we saw signs of some sort of action – flashing lights and, yes, smoke, lots of it – and it was coming from our dairy Graindorge. There is a new by-pass avoiding Livarot centre, the old road goes right past the factory and this was cordoned off. Flames engulfed two ends of the factory, it made me feel quite ill to see it, bringing back memories of the fire we had here a few years ago.

According to the news after, it took a total of 25 fire engines with 100 firemen from seven different brigades to control the flames which extended along 15 metres. 90% of the factory was destroyed. It was a new building, we went to the official opening three years ago when the French minister of agriculture came to officiate, it is going to take more than a year to reconstruct it. Meanwhile, however, Graindorge lorries are still collecting our milk and local dairies are helping out.

Tim went to the Paris Show on Monday and was very impressed to find Mr Gallot (our dairys right-hand man) on a Graindorge stand which showed photos of the fire, but, was still bravely promoting their very good products and we reckon this took some courage.

The factory is important for local employment but 100 employees became instantly jobless with the total destruction of the production line. We sympathise and wish them lots of luck over the coming months.

Just along the road on the way to Deb and Josss farm we are very lucky to have a friend whos a beautician. What luxury out in the country. She has a cosy little room at the end of her home and both Deb and I take advantage when we can to unwind and have a generous application of Polyfilla on our faces to combat the effects of being outside in all weathers.

I treated oldest and youngest daughter to a facial in half-term, and when I went to collect Beth we all had some tea and a chat. Martine told me she was going to Debs for a cuppa the following week and would I like to go too? Yes, fine.

"Then Ill take you on the back of my new bike." (A Honda 750.) "Uh, OK."

So it was that, dressed in leather trousers and boots – must look appropriate – wearing Martines hubbies helmet and jacket we set off looking like two Hells Angels for tea at Debs.

French roads are long and straight. As we accelerated I instantly regretted my decision. But as we slowed down for the winding bends I relaxed and began to enjoy it (not forgetting to lean when the driver did).

Deb was painting her bedroom when we arrived and hearing the bike and giggling was expecting young B&Bers, not her two friends in their 40s!

"I expect you want one of your own now!" Someone said. No thanks.

South-west food initiative

A dinner of the very best of West Country food and drink was served at Bath, Avon, to welcome board members of the new South West England Development Agency which comes into being in April, and to launch Policy to Plate – the South West Regional Agri Food Strategy.

The strategy aims to ensure the continuous development of the industry through training and marketing; improved competitiveness; beneficial partnerships with local authorities, government and tourism bodies, industry groups and service providers; and through focused planning.

Speaking after the magnificent seven-course gourmet dinner composed by Jonathan Fraser, head chef of the Bath Spa Hotel, food minister Lord Donoughue said British food and drink compares with the best in the world but that marketing is the future key to continued success and this had some way to go.

Ministers from the Continent had admitted they have never eaten British produce, he said. On a more local scale people should insist on buying local produce and he always refuses to eat in any hotel or restaurant that doesnt serve food from the region.

At the end of the evening guests had the chance to put their money where their mouths were by bidding for a range of West Country produce in a charity auction for the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Fund.

Bake a batch of hot cross buns for Easter

BUNS made with the addition of eggs and spices had been a treat for the wealthy from before the reign of Elizabeth I; with added currants and raisins they became a speciality during Lent, yet the hot cross bun for Good Friday appeared only after the Reformation.

Previously it had been customary for all loaves to be marked with a cross before baking to ward off the evil spirits that were thought to prevent the bread rising. By the 17th century the idea of marketing baked goods was considered "Popish" and the cross disappeared except for the one day when the symbol had its greatest significance – Good Friday.

Sybil Norcott

If using fresh yeast, cream with the sugar. (For dried yeast empty packet into 3 tablespoons of the liquid that has been warmed to blood heat, add a teaspoon of sugar and allow to stand for about 15 minutes until the mixture is frothy.)

Warm the milk to blood heat, mix about two-thirds of the milk and the beaten eggs with the yeast. Sift the flour, spices and salt into a separate bowl. Rub in the fat. Make a well in the centre, pour in the warm milk mix. Beat until smooth, add a little more milk if required, mix to produce a soft but sticky dough. On a floured board, knead the dough until it can be stretched like elastic. While kneading work in the dried fruit and peel. Oil the bowl before replacing the dough into it. Sprinkle with a little extra flour and cover with a damp tea-towel or an oiled sheet of polythene. Leave in a warm place to rise and double in size. Meanwhile set the oven at 220C (450F, Gas 7).

Turn the dough out again onto a floured board and knock down. Knead again for a few minutes. Pull off even pieces and form into small, round buns. Mark the surface with a cross using a knife. Space out evenly on a baking tray and leave in a warm place to prove until doubled in size (approx 15 mins). Brush the surface with the sweetened milk.

Bake for about 15 mins. Carefully remove from oven and brush again with remaining sweetened milk, return to oven and bake for a further few minutes until the glaze shines. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Super time in a city of learning…

THE FWC Cambridge weekend in February was well attended by members and their husbands from as far afield as Devon, Cumbria, Norfolk and Hereford and many places in between. The party was in full swing before the 6pm rendezvous of pre-dinner drinks on Friday night.

This first meal was held in the High Table Restaurant at the Royal Cambridge Hotel, a fine setting for people to get the feel of this city of learning as there is a mural depicting landmarks of Cambridge.

Saturday morning dawned with a downpour of rain but it soon cleared up for our guided walking tours – five guides were allotted to us and without the help of a sheepdog to round everyone up, I reverted to Girl Guide tactics and coloured cards. What a wealth of information these guides have stored up to tell the story of ancient Cambridge. We all had the chance to see inside some of the colleges and had learned how to dodge the bicycles by the end of the weekend. Early spring weather had brought out crocuses among the snowdrops by the river Cam and we watched youngsters punting by Trinity College.

The Amphion Ensemble led by Alex South on clarinet played beautiful music to us on Saturday evening, dinner was delicious but then the results of the Cambridge Quiz devised by me ended with a tie break of even more daft questions as I hadnt bought enough prizes. Making sure that everyone had a chance to mingle we had a game of matching up pub names and its still a mystery to me how I ended up with the Firkin Duck.

What better way to spend a Sunday morning than to attend Matins in Kings College Chapel, sunlight filtering through the stained glass windows and the choir singing pictures with music. The afternoon open-top bus tour was not for the faint-hearted as there were high winds and hail- stones that really stung our faces as we headed out of town. However, it was all summed up by one of our members; a truly memorable weekend of good friends, good food and wonderful music – what more does one want in life?

Jean Howells