Another weekend, another event:
this time, a trip to Dinefwr Park & Castle (plus as pictured on the left their magnificent herd of rare White Cattle, which said runinants benignly kept me entertained throughout) for their Winter Fair. It was a crisp, dry, albeit overcast start; & with temperatures plummeting overnight as I hurriedly trudged around the Ffarm to do the chores it still felt decidedly chilly.
I decanted a hearty portion of chicken & pearl barley broth into a stout thermos flask, suspecting I was going to need it: after all, as I would be selling ice cream I felt I could hardly wear a coat – although when I’d arrived the previous day to prepare my stall, the marquee had literally been absolutely freezing.
However once I’d negotiated the icy roads & arrived at my seemingly sub-polar – or let’s just cheerily say, refreshing destination (not exactly a promising start), I discovered that I’d already had an early visitor to my stall – & a decidely wild & unwelcome one. For a start, a series of muddy pawprints (allegedly & fascinatingly belonging to a wide variety of guests, ranging from cats & squirrels to foxes & pumas) liberally decorated my elegant cream tablecloth; & my carefully-contrived display – consisting of our lovely milk churns, cream jug & liberal scattering of fresh fruit, herbs & spices. Alongside was an additional display of our specially Welsh-branded ice cream cones, from which spilled out enticing little chips of dark chocolate & cinder toffee – which were now scattered literally everywhere. Fortunately I swiftly managed to put everything as back-to-normal, as possible; & also,hide the worst of the damage. It was not only lucky but also prudent judgement on my part, that I hadn’t prepositioned my other elegant Welsh-branded cones which on hindsight would have proved a very costly mistake: because – if whatever-it-was had broken into the box – I’d have had to throw away the entire batch of several hundred cones: & as only the best will do for our customers (& our gelato, of course) they are of the finest quality available; & subsequently come with a similarly weighty price tag.
Meanwhile, the weekend passed at times, slowly…..but at least for Lovespoon, steadily. Alas, whilst the weather was brisk, the trade largely wasn’t – & I quickly discovered that I was not the only stallholder unfolding that particular misfortune. There was a constant trickle of people readily admiring the high-quality, artisan wares on offer; but unsurprisingly – owing largely to the credit crunch – very few actual purchases were being made. In fact the majority of stalls around me were so quiet, they sadly didn’t even make sufficient profit to cover the cost of their vehicle fuel to & from the event overall; let alone the relatively modest £80 it cost to hire a stall for the weekend. And as this for us was a ‘novice’ event, I gather that this was quite an unpleasant shock for the ‘die-hards’.
So, things were certainly looking grim; – & not least, for me – & when people refused to even accept a free taster of our lovely gelato, I really began to wonder why I’d bothered to attend, at all. Added to that it was absolutely freezing; & even trying to sneak the odd mouthful of semi-congealed soup during the quieter moments, really didn’t help.
However, by mid-afternoon when the tea room had emptied of enthusiastic diners – many of whom were there as much for the excellent cuisine on offer as for the Winter Fair – things did start to tentatively look up; so with my typically enthusiastic sales pitch, I soon had a steady queue of happy customers.
Added to that I completely sold out of the take-home pots I’d brought with me; & even had a brisk series of orders placed for the following day – thus had already made a fair profit; which considering the gloom the other stallholders were experiencing & especially as the unseasonable product I had to persuade people to buy, wasn’t bad at all.
As this was a very long & chilly day, I kept myself amused by trying to guess what flavour each shopper would venture to try – & again was met with an incredibly positive response, with lots of enthusistic customers even suggesting outlets I should approach as potential stockists – including one local ‘giant’ of the grocery trade, who offered me some excellent leads.
One particuar lady even proclaimed she absolutely would not try even a taste, simply because she postively hated ice cream – full stop….so I calmly countered that this wasn’t mere ice cream, but genuine, traditional gelato; so could she not be persuaded to even try a wafer-thin spoonful….? She was evidently determined to rise to the challenge – if only, to prove me resoundingly wrong. However to her absolute credit our discerning – nay, challenging – client, was prepared to be amazed….
After a single taste of the Madagascan Vanilla, she closed her eyes, critically savoured the experience, & delightedly admitted I was right – & then immediately bought a pot, on the spot.
Her newly-discovered pleasure was vivid. It’s that sort of reaction which makes every last moment of our hard work, so wonderfully worthwhile – like her, I couldn’t wipe the delighted grin from my face for the rest of the day. After a lifetime of largely issuing miserable paperwork, to give so many people even a single moment of such sheer happiness & delight in their day is honestly, pure joy for me.
Meanwhile….although we doughty stallholders had been advised we were required to stay open site until at least 5pm, by the time the freezing darkness had descended over the marquee a good hour earlier, it was apparent our guests had gone; so after mutually milling around one anothers’ wares just to maintain an air of literal busy-ness, we said our farewells & decided to collectively head for home.
Pausing desperately to ‘use the facilities’ before I departed (I’d been unable to leave the stall all day & had been crossing my legs more than a dancing pantomime horse), I trotted hurriedly through the maze of red-&-black, traditionally-tiled servants’ corridors; & rather nervously began to appreciate why the imposing magnificence of Newton House is reputed to be one of the UK’s most top ten most haunted buildings. To me, whilst it posesses an air more of stately home than fortress about it (bar for the darkly formidable front door) the silent passageways certainly take on an almost stifling, eerie emptiness once the shadows fall. Suffice to say I was relieved to be ‘relieved’ & thus take my leave, as soon as possible…..but was that the sound of rapidly-closing footsteps behind me, as I hurried up the old wooden staircase…..?
Thankfully it wasn’t until I was safely tucked up in our cosy cottage that evening, before I found out that visitors have reported the chill of icy fingers closing around their throats – which perhaps explains that stifling feeling I experienced. But with the weekend’s intensely cold weather, those ghostly fingers could only have served to have warmed me up! As I subsequently joked to my colleague from Zi, selling exquisite Italian jewellery on the neighbouring stall, it brings a whole new meaning to getting a ‘choker’! My, how we did – nervously – laugh……& needless to say, I’ve managed to cross my legs, ever since.
So therefore, a plea to those who regularly frequent such fairs & prefer to browse, rather than overlook a bargain purchase: please please please, appreciate that it costs a great deal for we humble purveyors even to put our wares display, to you: & at the Winter Fayres, there are many who have spent the entire year perfecting their products, just for such specific events. There is so much love & skill poured in to each & every article that they surely deserve our support….& having suffered the leanest of years imaginable establishing our own company, I have still made sure I’ve saved sufficiently to support the charities & small or fledgling businesses in whose ethical & quality services, we support & believe. So please, support our artisan producers – & as a result, you’ll doubtless enjoy an even merrier Christmas – as will those you’ve also helped, with your kind generosity.
But regardless of the ghosts, I’d highly & wholly recommend you visit Dinefwr – being such a wonderfully atmospheric place, as soon as possible – not least for the fantastic restaurant which boats some seriously slap-up nosh & the finest teas available in the local area (although sadly, not – as yet – including Lovespoon ice cream; although rest assured, their delicious food still slips down the tightest of ghostly throats, to spookily resounding acclaim….