Monday, 26 April 2010

Mercury Awards...

For every industry there is an awards ceremony and just as the movie business has the Oscars the airline catering industry has the only slightly less glamorous Mercurys. After spending many soul-destroying months trying to speak to airline food buyers and getting no-where someone pointed out that if we won one of these little beauties it might be easier to get taken seriously in the industry.

After completing our entry and sticking a stamp on the envelope we realised that to afford the entry fee we would have to clean out the bank account and then reach down the back of the sofa for loose change. Walking back from the post box Abi pointed out that now we’d coughed up to enter we’d better win (no pressure)

The next 6 weeks were spent building an imitation air steward’s trolley, deciding what to wear and rehearsing our presentation endlessly rotating our parents, friends and Nana in the role of the judges.

By the time the day of judging came we were nervous but also strangely excited, we got such a warm welcome by the competition organisers that the whole day turned out be less of a test and more of a fun Grassy outing. Abi dressed up a scientist, I wheeled the airhostess trolley and the judges were lovely. It was only on the drive back from Heathrow that we realised that after all that hard work and all that excitement we REALLY wanted to win it….

Friday, 19 February 2010


New product development is a process that the food industry takes very seriously. Whole teams of food scientists are hired to handle it and they call it ‘NPD’. For Grasshopper it means that Abi and I phone up lots of companies and get samples of different kinds of dried fruit, maple syrup and cereal and then eat them. We are currently working on NPD.

One of our investors brought back a packet of cereal from America for us to use as inspiration for our NPD work. I was so inspired by it that I ate it last night while I was watching Midsomer Murders (Our friend Kirsty is a detective on that and has to say things like ‘Let’s do this the easy way shall we?’) After I had eaten it I had to wash the pot out, measure 60g of gravel into the pot and glue the lid back on so that it can be used for NPD research.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Business is great

In business it’s important to give the appearance of success. That means that when people ask how things are going and you want to say ‘OUR SUPPLIERS HAVE GONE BUST, WE HAVE AN ORDER DUE, IF WE DON’T DELIVER IT WE’LL LOSE EVERYTHING’ you are not allowed. You have to smile and say ‘Business is great’.

Grassy recently lucked out by getting backed by a pair of lady investors. This ended a long period of ‘yeahbutnobutyeahbutno’ from the bank and gave Grassy a new lease of life. To celebrate our investors invited us to a posh, Women of The Year event, our first chance to impress them and present an appearance of success.

It was at the Dorchester, neither of us had ever been there before and when we saw Dr Foxy from Capital FM in the lobby next to someone who looked a LOT like Lionel Ritchie we became hopeful that the lunch would be a star-studded event like the last one (where I ate Ether Rantzen’s bread roll and Abi shared a hand drier with Dame Vera Lynn) We were not disappointed when the first person we spotted as we walked through the door was Woman’s Hour broadcaster Jenni Murray. Needless to say we made friends with her straight away and ended up discussing lots of things including genetic variance in Chihuahuas and cultural isolationism in New Zealand and the surrounding islands. It might have been sometime between those two subjects, that the ‘Business is great’ rule slipped my mind a TINY bit just for a moment, I’m not exactly sure.

Our chat was cut short when our investors arrived and we sat down for lunch (which consisted of food items that can be described using the words ‘mousse’ and ‘jus’ but not ‘bap’). After managing to appear professional for nearly an hour lunch ended and the award ceremony began. Abi and I were delighted when our new-best-friend Jenni Murray was called up to the stage to receive an award and we clapped in a ladylike way (when only half your hand touches).

Jenni paid tribute to the esteemed company in the room and talked about the financial difficulties that businesses are facing. Then out of nowhere we were thrilled to hear her talking about us…
‘I have just met two young women’ she began
‘Who started a porridge business from their kitchen and now they sell it in Waitrose!’
Abi and I looked at our investors and beamed with pride. For about one and half seconds it felt like we had really arrived, that we belonged that we really were a success. Then the thing happened that always happens, the Grassy effect…
‘Which is remarkable’ Jenni went on,
‘Because last year they nearly went BANKRUPT’.
Abi shot me a look that said ‘What did you tell her?’ and I smiled back weakly and tried to remember for next time ‘Business is great’

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Grassy day out: The Women of the Year Awards 2009

Abigail and Fleur enter a parallel universe...

My first ever brush with the world of celebrity was when at the age of 5 I was invited on stage at The King’s Theatre, Southsea to sing with Brian Cant from ‘Play-a-way’ during the Christmas Panto. I remember the bright lights, the confectionary thrust into my hand by a member of the chorus that my mother relieved me of as soon as I got back to my seat and more than anything I remember the applause. My dreams of being a child star were ignited at Miss Brown’s school of ballet where I made friends with a girl named Rachelle who had a rabbit fur coat and ginger ringlets. Her mum used to ferry her between dance classes and auditions smoking extra long cigarettes while simultaneously fixing Rachelle’s hair with Elnette (hairspray plus fag equals flame-thrower). I envied her slip-on shoes, her make up and her part as orphan 4 in the local production of Annie (‘YER NEVER FULLY DRESSED WITHOUT A SMIIIIIIIIILE’) She was to me, in her tee shirt made from man-made fibres with a transfer of kittens on the front; pure glamour.

In the 5th form Louise Burgess told me she that she’d seen Lionel Blair in WHSmiths and once when I went shopping in London with Mum we walked past Adam Faith and her arm brushed against his leather jacket. That was the extent of my experience with fame and celebrity before Grasshopper and the last bit doesn’t count, as I’m not really sure who Adam Faith is.

I have long since suspected that famous people all know each other and live in the same road where they can relax away from the rest of us. The name of the road is kept a secret and there is a special estate agent (the actor who played Max Farnham in Brookside) who contacts you and invites you to move in once you have been on the telly. Yesterday Abi and I attended the Women of The Year awards. The awards recognise achievement and I am not being modest when I say I have no idea how we got nominated to attend.

When we arrived Abi went to find our table and I went in search of the cloakroom. As soon as I got there I found myself SURROUNDED by famous people and felt like I’d opened the door onto a parallel universe. Fern Britten chatted to Joan Armatrading, Maureen Lipman to Floella Benjamin. Dame Vera Lynn waited in line for a wee while Prue Leith stood at the hand-dryer. Simultaneously thrilled and over-whelmed I rushed off to find Abi to tell her that my theory that all the famous people know each other was right and that they were all in the toilet right now and to come and see. I rushed through the doors into the ballroom at the Intercontinental Hotel and saw our table number 19 right in front of me.

I called out, interrupting her conversation and all heads turned to look at me. I was about to blurt out my news when I saw that the scene I had interrupted was Abi, sitting to the right of Dame Esther Rantzen, with the Prime Minister’s wife pushing past her, being introduced by one ITN newsreader to another. Much as I tried to act natural and adjust my expression from ‘stunned mullet’ to ‘friend to the stars’ I almost certainly failed and revealed myself as in interloper. Abi however, enjoying her starter, took to fame like a duck to water and is now on first name terms with Dame Esther.

[AE: Fleur has of course neglected to mention that the whole point of the lunch was not to meet famous people but to celebrate the achievement of inspiring women. Thank you, Women of The Year for having us to lunch, Grasshopper salutes you.]

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

My Beautiful Life

When The Mail published a piece about Grasshopper last year the response was unbelievable. Even though they dressed us up like Anthea Turner, slathered us in make-up and made us perch on the work-surface of my kitchen, Britain cheered and I even attracted an admirer from Sutton Coldfield. So when The Mail asked if I’d like to be featured in a Health & Wellbeing piece last week I jumped at the chance.

The weekly slot features a businesswoman alongside a breakdown of what she spends to keep her fit and well. Some initial Google action showed that the kind of thing they were looking for was

‘Nicky Clarke does my hair, I’ve known Nicky for years, in fact when my quins were born Nicky styled their as they emerged from the birth canal’ or ‘I go to The Spa at The Mandarin Oriental where 5 women work on my body at the same time using a mixture of diamond dust and ass’s milk, it takes years off me’

As my beauty regime amounts to soap and water followed by face cream scrounged off my mum I began to feel daunted. My trepidation grew when I discovered that the feature would include a full-length shot of me dressed and styled by the paper and reached fever pitch when I arrived at the studio for the shoot to see that the other subjects looked like Sheryl Cole.

The stylist looked me up and down while the hair and make-up lady asked me what I normally used on my lips (Vaseline) and how I usually added ‘texture’ to my hair (my hair has only one texture, fluffy). The first dress they picked out went over the top half of me ok but got stuck and shielded only by the curtain that divided me from the photographer/stylist and Sheryl Cole-alikes I tried to take it off again and got stuck in the manner of a puppy in a cardboard box. The shoot itself was mercifully brief and involved me standing with my hand on my hip in thick make-up, stilettos and a mini-dress with a swirly pattern (the only one that I could get on although as I wriggled into it I remembered something my mother had told me once ‘just because you can do it up doesn’t mean it fits’)

After I did the interview I reported back to Abi and told her how I had cleverly used the opportunity to mention some of our Grasshopper friends who had supported us in the past to try and get more hits on their websites. Jem Hall is a friend of ours from home, he went to St Johns and his dad is an expert on military uniforms and wears a hat like a French Revolutionary. Jem is a windsurfing coach but only teaches people who are already brilliant and want to learn tricks that range from very difficult to impossible. I told Abi that I had managed to mention him in the piece and she went quiet. Already nervous that I was going to look like an over-made-up Oompa-Loompa Abi took what was left of my self-esteem and dispatched it with a savage accuracy that can only be achieved by a member of ones own family.

‘Did you ask Jem first? Do you really think that he wants you as his poster-girl?’

The piece will run on a Monday in October, watch this space...

Sunday, 22 March 2009

The Lost City of Nutlantis

WARNING PLOT SPOILER ALERT: The squirrel gets it

Grasshopper is planning to grow in the next six months and in order to do so we have recruited an easy-going Tasmanian hockey player to head up the investment proposal. His name is Todd and on Tuesday we took him to the nut factory to meet the lovely people who make our porridge for us.

The factory is ENORMOUS and Grassy is its smallest ever customer. In fact Sue our account manager only took us on because we shared her interest in the history of British military vehicles. One whole warehouse is devoted to a 50 ft high stainless steel mixing machine that looks like a cross between a giant washing machine drum and The Wall of Death from Clarence Pier fun fair.

Half the factory is completely sealed off with plastic sheeting similar to when the scientists arrive at Elliott’s house at the end of ET. Behind the plastic screens is the area where the nuts get processed by special nut workers who are not allowed to talk to the non-nut workers in case they contaminate them. They are allowed to smile at them though through the special window in the plastic sheeting.

There is a new warehouse at the factory where they store hundreds and hundreds of tonnes of nuts and nothing else. Only the nut people are allowed in and the whole building is sealed off. Last autumn a lone squirrel managed to penetrate the layers of security and arrive inside what, to him must have seemed like the Lost City of Nutlantis. The discovery apparently blew his mind and before going out to tell his family what he had found he decided to have a spot of lunch. Unfortunately squirrels, like me, find portion-control difficult to manage and his light lunch turned into a lost weekend of constant eating. Sadly, having ingested hundred of times more calories than he had expended he became so fat that he got wedged into the hole in the ceiling that he had come in though and was discovered a few weeks later by the man that come to fix the roof. Having been unable to escape and spread the news of his discovery the existence of the lost city of Nutlantis thankfully remains a mystery to his fellow Rodentia, a place that the squirrels of Britain can only dream of.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Everything I know about sick leave.

Our mum is amazing. In the 70s she ran dad’s practice, threw regular dinner parties involving fondues and avocados, had 3 kids under 10 and dressed every day like Mia Farrow in ‘Rosemary’s baby’ If she was ill and needed time off people would say ‘You put your feet up and have a break, ooh just one thing…have you done the banking and picked up the kids from brownies/orchestra/kung fu?’ It is only now that we have our own business that we truly understand what that must have been like.

In the first year of Grasshopper Abi broke her foot and her arm, it made her cranky for around 6 months. Did she stop working? No…she didn’t miss one day of pestering unwitting members of the media and high on Tramadol she brought home the bacon time after time.

Last week I had minor surgery and, inspired by Abi’s example, the first words I uttered on regaining consciousness after the anaesthetic were ‘custard creams’


ME: (pushing my drip out the way and extending a shrivelled hand towards the tea trolley) ‘custaaaard creeeeeeeams’

I did one year of nursing training at King’s College London and was top in ‘Drugs Administration’ (mostly because the teacher had really lovely thick hair and I wanted her to notice me) Just as the school for tropical medicine has antivenom for different types of snake bites I can tell you with great authority that the antidote for anaesthetic medication is custard creams. The suggested dose is 6 every 20 minutes with a pint of tea.

If you have your own business or small children it’s the same deal, the only things which get you time off sick are bleeding from the eyes or coma.