In praise of Terence Conran

A Conran legacy

I was a big fan of Habitat in my twenties and thirties. I loved the clean design of the furniture, kitchen wear and dinner sets. I’m typing this blogpost on the 23 year old Habital dining table (now my working from home desk) seen in the photo, while drinking from the pictured 31 year old coffee cup from the store. Somewhere I still have a Habitat fondue set and towel rail.

It’s all thanks to Terence Conran, who has died aged 88. Conran was one of the entrepreneurs who changed the face of Britain, bringing fresh, modern design to the high street and the home.

“It is hard to overstate how uninteresting London was then,” Conran later said. “You could go along a terrace of houses, and every living room you looked in was the exactly the same, with the same extremely dreary furniture.” (You can see a glimpse of that world even today in many chintzy guesthouses.) Design was a hugely under appreciated discipline, as a glance at almost any household product would show. Conran opened the first Habitat store in 1964, and the stores quickly became a symbol of the Sixties. Over time, Habitat made the duvet (or continental quilt as my parents and grandparents called them), beanbag, wok and fondue part of everyday life.

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Gloucester: the must-visit motorway services

Gloucester M5 service

We drove to Wales the old way today, along the A40, before cutting down to the Severn Bridge on the M5. There was a bonus: discovering the wonderful Gloucester services.

Most motorway services are awful: overpriced identikit Burger King, Costa and Starbucks. Gloucester is different. A farm shop with local food and drink, beautifully presented.

We had brought a picnic with us so we bought some cakes and drinks to go with it. Had it been a fine day we’d have eaten outside the building, which is beautifully set into the landscape. Such a contrast with the usual ugly buildings at motorway services.

By a strange coincidence, today’s Guardian carried a feature about good places to stop for a meal away from the motorway. It featured Tebay M6 services. There’s a wonderful story behind it: John and Barbara Dunnings owned a hill farm in Cumbria that was cut in half when the M6 was opened. They saw an opportunity and opened a cafe serving home cooked, local food. It became a much loved M6 institution. Later they opened a similar venture on the M5 at Gloucester. I saw that the food and drink came from Gloucestershire and neighbouring Wales.

This felt so different from Leigh Delamere (westbound) or Stafford, my previous favourite services. Judging from the VW California parked with awning up, this is a destination in its own right. The ethos is right – a family run firm that thinks local is best, and global mass produced fast food is best avoided.

What better tribute than this family firm of motorway services featured in that Guardian article headlined ‘Skip the Services’!

No more queues: choose and order takeaway with PayPal

I’ve never had lunch in three restaurants on the same day before. But a ‘safari’ lunch was a great way to show journalists PayPal’s in-app services: order ahead, pay at your restaurant table and picture payment – all on your mobile phone.

Rik Henderson from Pocket-lint has posted a great account of how PayPal is saving time through the order ahead and pay at table services. Rik concluded, “We’ve never really experienced such an intuitive and speedy system of ordering and paying for lunch before.”

Pay at table at Prezzo Here’s how it worked. We started at Prezzo in Glasshouse Street, London, for a starter. We ‘checked in’ to the restaurant through the PayPal app, giving the waitress a code (above). We split the bill between us – all from within the PayPal app. I had the bruschetta, which was delicious. No waiting for a paper bill or for the waitress to bring a card machine.

Picture perfect at GBKThe pizzas looked tempting, but it was time to move on. A brisk walk through Soho took us to Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK) in Frith Street.  Once again, we checked in through PayPal’s app, this time paying with our profile pictures, which appeared on GBK’s till. Being a creature of habit, I chose GBK’s Smokin’ Joe burger, with coleslaw and salad instead of a bun. 

Ordering ahead from wagamama

It was now time to show the journalists how easy it is to choose and order a takeaway on your phone. As we were finishing our GBK burgers, we opened the PayPal app again to check in to wagamama‘s Lexington Street, Soho restaurant (above). The wagamama take out menu appeared and we ordered for collection 15 minutes later. It was obvious who was still hungry – I went for peppermint tea, but others went for teriyaki, ramen and cheese cake! Next time, I’ll go for a bento box.

Everyone went away with an insight into how the mobile phone can make save us time when we use it to order and pay. At PayPal, we’re intrigued by the possibilities. And when I accidentally left my wallet at home today, I didn’t go hungry: I paid with PayPal at the excellent Cook & Garcia cafe in Richmond.

You can download the PayPal app here.

Disclosure: I am PR director for PayPal UK and Ireland.

PayPal Here and Greedy Goat at Mobile World Congress 2013

Mobile World Congress is quite a show. Over 70,000 people descend on Barcelona for the annual mobile industry expo. It’s not just about handsets: it’s about everything related to connected commerce, from phones and tablets to payments and even connected cars.

PayPal president David Marcus shows PayPal here to Sky TV

PayPal president David Marcus explains PayPal Here to Sky TV

For me, MWC 2013 was memorable for the huge interest in the UK version of PayPal Here, PayPal’s flexible and affordable way for small businesses to take credit card payments face to face. The PayPal Here demos were mobbed by everyone intrigued by the way PayPal had reinvented the original Here concept for countries like Britain where paying by Chip & PIN is standard. The UK version is a pocket-sized card reader that connects to a trader’s smartphone via Bluetooth.


Greedy Goat’s Craig and Mark at MWC with PayPal’s Narik Patel

The fun bit was having Mark and Craig from London’s Greedy Goat ice cream on the stand, serving their delicious goat’s milk ice cream. (I recommend the honeycomb flavour…) Greedy Goat is one of the businesses that have been helping PayPal design the UK flavour of PayPal Here. It trades at Borough Market, and it will be one of the first businesses to take card payments through PayPal Here in the next month or so.

Here’s the video showing Greedy Goat trying PayPal Here at Borough Market.

But there’s more to PayPal Here than just card payments. The future probably lies with something rather more 21st century than a card. PayPal is pioneering payment via ‘check-in’: a quick tap in an app to check into and pay a local business. This opens up so many possibilities for making life quicker and easier: for example, ordering your drink or lunch ready for collection, beating the queue. PayPal is pioneering ordering ahead with Jamba Juice in the United States.

Anyone interested in finding out more about PayPal Here can register their interest and get all the facts at

PS: we served the best coffee at MWC.

PS: we served the best coffee at MWC.

Disclosure: I am head of PR for PayPal UK.

Chorleywood: the best thing in sliced bread?

Chorleywood is a pleasant but unassuming village on the Herts/Bucks border. I take Owen there every Saturday for his football class. So it came as a surprise to learn that the village created the modern loaf of bread.

Back in 1961, the British Baking Industries Research Association, based in Chorleywood, invented a new way of making bread. The Chorleywood process was much quicker, with the extra benefit that loaves lasted longer. Low protein British wheat could be used to make bread easily and quickly. Eight out of 10 British loaves now result from the technique, which has spread around the world – even France. Yet critics say Chorleywood bread is low in nutritional values.

We buy our own bread from the Stratton Bakery in nearby Chalfont St Giles. The bread is made on the premises. Stratton also has a branch in … Chorleywood.

When cappuccino was called frothy coffee

Today’s Guardian carried a lighthearted editorial ‘In praise of … a simple coffee’. It praises Debenhams’ plain English coffee menu. Goodbye to latte, hello milky coffee.

The story made me think back to coffee time with Mum in 1970s Cardiff. South Wales has long been associated with Italian cafes: a legacy of the arrival of scores of people from Italy during the 19th century boom years. Mum and I used to go to Ferrari’s on Wellfield Road near Roath Park. I’d enjoy a frothy coffee after visiting the toy and book shops on Albany Road, or the library.

Years later, I discovered cappuccino. It took a while before I realised that it was exactly the same drink. But usually a lot more expensive – with the honourable exception of the 50p takeaway latte I bought in Giraffe in Richmond this morning!

We love Cornwall, Mawgan Porth – and The Park

Cornish delight: Mawgan Porth

We’re packing up to go home after a wonderful week’s holiday at Mawgan Porth, on Cornwall’s Atlantic coast. This is a very special place in a very special Celtic part of Britain.

Karen and I both have special childhood memories of Cornwall. Prompted by those memories, we brought Owen to Looe for his very first holiday, when he was nine weeks old.

We first stayed at Mawgan Porth in 2011, and loved the place and the experience. We were very lucky with the weather last year, spending most days in the pool and on the beach. We saw more rain this year, but we still enjoyed time on the beach as the rain cleared and the sun came out.

This is the classic family holiday spot. Small children enjoy the same kind of seaside summer fun as as their parents and grandparents. Timeless pleasures – splashing in the sea and rock pools; building sandcastles; relishing an ice cream as the day draws to a close.

You can’t catch me Dad!

We stayed at The Park, a lovely holiday village just 10 minutes’ walk from the beach. We discovered The Park when staying at its sister site in Dorset, Greenwood Grange. The owners took over a few years ago and have made huge improvements. We love the cafe-restaurant, with its great value homemade food (do try the halloumi cheese, haddock and lamb burgers if you get the chance).

There’s also a wonderful indoor pool next to the cafe – we had it to ourselves on Friday morning – as well as a heated outdoor pool. Our only serious criticisms? The sofa in our cottage has seen better days, and the cafe-restaurant was closed for a whole day for a wedding, which hardly seemed fair to everyone who had spent good money booking a week’s holiday.

Judging from our experience over the last 12 years, Cornwall has become a place to enjoy wonderful food and drink as well as seaside fun. Back in 2001, we discovered magnificent food at Barclay House in Looe under Nick and Kelli Barclay, who now run the Blue Plate Restaurant in Downderry near Looe. This week, we had a great lunch at Fire at Mawgan Porth and a delicious lunch at the Falcon Inn at St Mawgan, as well as our meals at The Park.

We hope to return to Cornwall in 2013.