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In case you were wondering…

… where I’ve been.

I posted in mid Jan with great intentions to get back on the writing horse, and then found myself paralysed with indecision about WHAT I should write.  I felt that I should recap everything that I’ve been up to since the end of October, but that felt like too big a job.  It would never be complete (and would probably not be 100% accurate either – I don’t have the best memory these days!) and I wouldn’t be satisfied with half hearted attempt.  Anyway, THAT is only reason I haven’t written anything for the last month.  Crazy really.

I’m jumping back onto it tonight, and from now on I’ll be doing my weekly roundups and any other stuff in between, just like before. I’m not going to try to backtrack, but if you have any specific questions about what’s been going on over the last few months, please just ask  (my memory’s not that bad ;-D) but I may well naturally fill in the blanks as I go along anyway.

The run up to the Christmas period was amazing, business-wise. I was busier than I had anticipated, and for that reason I’m still playing catch-up as far as stock levels go.  My current goal is to get to 1000 bars in stock over the whole range, and I every time I think I’m getting close, another big order comes in. Mind you, I’m DEFINITELY not complaining.

I’m making a minimum of 120 bars a week now, and if you follow me on Instagram (www.instagram.com/thesoapmine) you’ll know that Monday is my big ‘making’ day.  I’ll make four double batches every Monday (that’s my 120 bar minimum) and occasionally try to fit in another session later on in the week.

I’ve retired a couple of fragrances that weren’t selling so well – Delicious (a dupe of DKNY Be Delicious) and Boho Baby (Patchouli & Orange essential oils) have both gone. I don’t have any plans to replace them with anything permanent just yet, but if I come across a fragrance that I just ‘have to have’, I have the capacity.

This was the result of last week’s Monday session:

Four Double Batches of Soap
Four Double Batches of Soap

From left to right are Serenity, Welsh Rose, Tutti Frutti and Blodau (Flowers), and here are a couple of them cut:

Serenity Handmade Soap
Serenity Handmade Soap

and

Welsh Rose Handmade Soap
Welsh Rose Handmade Soap

I used slightly different colours for the Welsh Rose this time, and there’s a more subtle different between the pinks that I usually have (I’ve also just realised that this is such a fresh photo that I’ve not bevelled this one yet!) Anyway, I can’t decide whether I really like it, or I really don’t… Hmm… what do you think?

I’m going to leave things there for now, and not try to get too ahead of myself. I’ve already had some thoughts ping into my head for the next post, so I THINK I’m back on a roll. I’ll be doing my best anyway.  I’ll be back next Sunday for a full weekly round up, if not before…

Thanks for reading!

Vickx

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24 Tips for Giving a Soapmaking Demonstration (Blogtober 12)

24-tips-for-giving-a-soapmaking-demo

Last December, I wrote a post giving some hints and tips for giving a soapmaking talk / presentation, something I’ve been doing on a weekly basis for the last three years.  I also get regular bookings to do soapmaking demonstrations, which, unsurprisingly, take a little more preparation. It’s safe to say that it’s been an interesting learning curve, and I thought it might be helpful to someone out there if I were to note down some of the things that I’ve learnt the hard way.  Many may be no-brainers, but some of them might prove to be helpful. So no more waffle, here they are:

  1. Consider your fee before you’re asked so that you’re not coming up with a figure out of thin air (yep, that was me, and it was ridiculously low!)  It might be worth offering two options – one fee if there’s to be no selling involved and a slightly lower one if they’ll allow you to offer your products for sale after the demo.  In my experience they’ll always go for the slightly lower fee and you can take full advantage of the sales opportunity.
  2. If they’re happy for you to sell, make sure you take plenty of product, and some samples as well. If at all possible, make sure that you have plenty of the variety that you making on that occasion available for sale (ie if you’re making lavender soap in the demo, make sure you have plenty of fully cured lavender soap available to buy).
  3. Consider offering a discount to the audience on the regular price of the bars – I usually take 50p off the price of each bar for demo audiences. It’s not a huge discount by any means, and it’s doesn’t make too much of a difference to me, but it is appreciated by the audience.
  4. Take plenty of business cards.  You have a captive audience and a great opportunity to sell not only your soap (or other products) but your demo packages too.
  5. Be prepared.  Create a list (beforehand!) of all the things you need to take, and tick them off as you pack them.  There’s nothing worse than getting in front of an audience and realising that you’re missing a key piece of kit.
  6. Make sure that you know exactly where you’re going.  Google Street view has been my friend a few times when I wasn’t familiar with the venue.
  7. Decide how much preparation you want to do beforehand.  There are plenty of things you can do before even setting off for the venue.  I like to soap at room temperature, and so I prepare the lye water at home and transport it in a well sealed container.  I also prepare the oil/butter mix before I go, and depending on what facilities are available at the venue I may melt it down before leaving, or do it as soon as I arrive at the venue to give it time to cool (if you choose this option make sure that there is a microwave available to use)
  8. Wrap/secure oils WELL to avoid spillage.  Ask me how I know :-O  The passenger foot-well of my car has never been quite the same since the Great Oil Spill of 2016 😀
  9. Make sure you know how much space you’ll have. It’s also nice to have an idea of how many people are likely to be in the audience – is it likely to be 5, or 35?  (That will also give you an idea of how much product you need to take to sell)
  10. If you use a hand blender (or any kind of electrical equipment) remember to tell the organiser that you’ll need to be positioned near an electrical socket. If in doubt, take an extension lead.
  11. Be aware of your timings.  If it’s your first time you might unconsciously race through the process in record time, leaving the audience wondering just what happened there. Take your time and explain what you’re doing every step of the way.
  12. Let the audience know that you welcome questions at any time (providing you do, of course).  If you’re new to demos you might feel that having questions being fired at you could be offputting, but I’ve found that it’s a nice way to break the ice.
  13. Take samples of the ingredients to hand around the audience during the demo, eg fragrances (essential oils or fragrance oils), colourants, oils / butters in their natural state.
  14. Make sure you take plenty of towels and/or tablecloths to protect whatever surface you’ll be working on. I also have a roll of thin linoleum that I use to cover tables as I’d be mortified if spilt lye / raw soap and damaged somebody else’s property!
  15. Also ensure that you have plenty of cloths and/or paper towels to mop up any spillages.
  16. Don’t forget your safety gear.  It might be obvious, but it’s easy to forget the gloves or the goggles.  Make sure they’re added to your list (see point #4)
  17. Don’t ever use a new recipe or fragrance for a demo – make something you’ve made many times before, and that you know works. Don’t rush –  It’s easy to forget to add a fragrance or add the colourant at the wrong time if you’re feeling even a little pressured or anxious.
  18. Take a big plastic tub specifically to take home all the washing up.  I use big tubs to take everything to the venue and usually find that I can use just one of them to transport soapy pots and utensils home – you don’t want to be carrying them home in the same containers as all your non-soapy stuff.
  19. If you can, take some previously made soap in the mould to show the audience the unmolding / cutting process.  (And don’t forget your cutter!) It means that the audience can see full process from start to finish. I usually try to make a batch 2 days before I’m due to give a demo or talk, for this very reason.
  20. Consider talking about the wrapping process and/or  labelling rules & regulations.
  21. It can help to have some ‘interesting facts’ at your fingertips (eg history of soapmaking) should something take longer than planned. If, for whatever reason, your soap doesn’t trace as quickly as usual, you don’t want to be standing there in silence with an audience staring at you!
  22. Consider preparing a handout with a basic recipe and a list of resources should anyone want to try making soap themselves.  Not everyone is comfortable doing this, but in my mind it shows a generous spirit to be willing to help others get started.
  23. Know your audience language.  Now this is a  bit of a niche tip, I’ll admit, but I live in a bilingual area (English/Welsh) and while I’m comfortable giving a demo / talk in either language, I always make sure I know beforehand which language I’ll be using for that particular occasion.
  24. Try to enjoy it!  The audience will enjoy it much more if you’re having fun yourself. Smile a lot, crack a few jokes if appropriate, make it clear that you welcome questions and engage in conversation.

Hope they’re helpful to someone – if you can think of any more please comment below!

Thanks for sticking with me so far, nearly halfway there! Back tomorrow #blogtobersoapers

Vickx

 

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When Fragrance Oils Go Rogue

My hands-down-most-popular summer special last year was my Lemon Verbena Confetti, so obviously I had to make it again this year.  It has a white base colour, is crammed with multi-coloured soap shavings and is fragranced with an amazing smelling Lemon Verbena fragrance oil.  I LOVE lemon verbena – it’s fresh, crisp and citrussy with herbaceous notes, but sadly, this particular lemon verbena fragrance does NOT behave itself in cold process soap.

I knew from my experience using last year that it was a fast mover, so I thought I was well prepared this time. The soap shavings were ready to go, the oils and lye were at room temperature, I didn’t discount the water, and was prepared to work quickly. It wasn’t enough…

Soap shaving ready to be added...
Soap shaving ready to be added…
I added my titanium dioxide AND the Lemon Verbena FO to to my oils, added the lye water and KAPOW!  it solidified immediately. I refused to be beaten.  I splodged the stick blender in and loosened it up a bit before adding all the soap shavings. How much soap shavings you use is entirely up to you – I don’t measure it out, I just mix in more and more until it looks like enough <not helpful sorry>:

Soap shavings added
Soap shavings added
I mixed as far as I could with a spoon but in the end I had to plunge in my (gloved!!) hands to give it a thorough mix. It was the only way to get everything properly combined without breaking up all the soap shreds with the blender.  I also used my hands to get the whole lot into the the moulds (one benefit of making confetti soap – two batches with added confetti makes enough soap to fill three moulds – yey!)

Moulds filled with confetti soap
Moulds filled with confetti soap
It was only then that I realised that one of my gloves had split and I had the beginnings of a lye burn on the end of one of my fingers – ouch 🙁

Two days later I unmoulded and cut, and the result wasn’t too shabby:

Confetti soap, the cut
Confetti soap, the cut
It has a few small air holes here and there, trapped during the mould filling, but it’s pretty good, considering!

Incidentally, the company from whom I bought this FO claim on their website that it causes no acceleration in CP soap, but when I asked in a FB group whether anyone else had had an issue with this particular FO, it seems to be fairly common. Ah well, forewarned is forearmed eh?!

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Castile, a quick update

I made the first batch of Castile soap back in mid January and, while convention dictates that it should cure for at least 6 months before use, the devil on my shoulder insisted that I try it out this week, a mere 10 weeks later.

I helped myself to the thickest of the end pieces, and snapped a quick photo:

Castile 10 weeks in...
Castile 10 weeks in…

It’s already a very hard bar, easily as hard as my regular bars after their full 6 week cure. This surprised me somewhat as I’d read that one of the reasons for curing for so long is because it needs longer to harden up.

Detractors of Castile soap often use the word ‘slimy’ to describe it, so I wasn’t expecting too much when I lathered up.  I ran a little warm water and started turning the bar over and over in my hands.  After a few initial biggish bubbles, the lather soon settled into a creamy lather with very small bubbles, an almost lotion type texture. I would definitely describe the feel of the bar as ‘silky’ rather than the ‘slimy’! I would have got a photo or a quick video but there were no spare hands around 😀 After rinsing and drying my hands felt soft and smooth, and I can see why Castile soap is recommended for dry or sensitive skin.

I’ve spoken to other soapmakers who say that they’re more than happy to use their Castile soap before the traditional 6 month cure is up. Others tell me that there’s a distinct difference in the texture of the lather if the soap is left for the full 6 months (or longer). I’m going to enroll an extra pair of hands to help and get a couple of photos or a video of the lather as it is now, and again in two and four months time. I should then have a better idea of the beneficial effect (or otherwise!) of the extended cure time.

If you have any thoughts about Castile soap, be they be for or against, please post below – I’d love to hear from you.

 

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Wet Soap Wednesday……on a Friday

Today was the first chance I’ve had to make soap in a while, so this week’s Wet Soap Wednesday is a little late! I made three batches:

Clarity, Welsh Rose, OMH
Clarity, Welsh Rose, OMH

Clarity is fragranced with lemongrass and clary sage essential oils, and coloured with activated charcoal, green mica and titanium dioxide:

Clarity
Clarity

Welsh Rose is made with a rose fragrance oil, coloured with titanium dioxide and two pink micas:

Welsh Rose
Welsh Rose

And finally Oatmeal, Milk & Honey, made with an OMH fragrance oil and coloured with titanium dioxide and mica:

Oatmeal, Milk & Honey
Oatmeal, Milk & Honey

Three more days left of Blogtober 2016 – relief from this incessant posting is imminent 😀

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10 Tips for Organising a Craft Fair

10 Tips for Organising a Craft Fair
10 Tips for Organising a Craft Fair

Last Saturday I had a stall at a local craft fair. Not any old craft fair mind you, this was important to me for two reasons. First off, it was right here, in my village – the first one we’ve ever had. Secondly, it was the first craft fair that I’ve organised myself.  It was the culmination of a couple off months of planning, and, if I’m honest, a fair bit of anxiety.  I needn’t have worried – it was a great success, so I thought I’d share with you here a few things to consider if you’d like to organise something similar yourself.

  1. Do your research regarding other markets and craft fairs in the area and make sure your event doesn’t clash with another on the same day. As well as competing for visitors, you’ll also be competing for stallholders.
  2. As soon as you’ve decided on a date, secure your venue.  You don’t want to be inviting stallholders until you’ve confirmed your accommodation for the day.
  3. Invite / organise crafters as far in advance as possible. Many crafters book themselves into markets and craft fairs many months ahead.  It’s also worth considering asking for a deposit on the cost of the table – this decreases the risk of stallholders not turning up on the day.
  4. Ensure that all your stallholders have public liability insurance.
  5. Ensure you know how many tables you can fit into the available space. You don’t want to ask 20 crafters to attend and then find when you’re setting up that you can only fit 19 tables into the room!  It’s definitely worth having a trial ‘set up’ before deciding how many crafters to invite.
  6. Don’t double up on crafts unless it’s a BIG event.  There’s nothing worse for a stallholder than setting up at a fair of, say, 12 stalls to find that there are two or three other stallholders there selling something very similar. It’s not fair on any of them.
  7. Don’t try to charge too much per stall / table, especially if it’s the first time this event has taken place. You won’t have any idea what the footfall is going to be and won’t be able to make any claims as to likely number of visitors.
  8. Advertising, advertising, advertising. You want as many people walking through the door of your venue as possible, so this is an instance where too much advertising is never enough.  Get your event all over Facebook – on your personal feed (ask friends to share), on local selling pages, and on local community sites. Put a small ad in the local newspaper, a paragraph in the parish magazine, get it listed on’What’s Happening in Your Area’ type websites. Make sure there are posters put up in the area. Don’t forget your local tourist bureau and local hotels / guest houses if you live in a popular area for visitors – local crafts are just the thing that they’ll be interested in.
  9. Have a spare cash float or two.  It’s not unheard of for stallholders to arrive at a craft fair without their cash box.  Not me of course, oh no… well, only that once a few months ago 😀 and I was both grateful and impressed that the organisers had thought to bring along a couple of ‘spare’ floats for just that eventuality.
  10. Rope in as much help as possible.  Setting up, decorating the venue and getting plenty of directional signage outside and in the immediate area can take longer than you anticipate.  If you’re also planning on holding  raffle / tombola / lucky dip / cake stall you’ll need yet more hands on deck.
  11. A bonus tip – if you’re holding the craft fair or market to raise money for a local cause, consider also having a raffle / tombola / lucky dip / tea, coffee & cakes stall. Just make sure that you put out the call for donations well in advance
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Name that Soap! (Competition Time)

I have a brand new essential oil bar, and it needs a name… This bar is scented with lavender, lemon and lime EOs.  Heavier on the lavender and lemon, lighter on the lime, but it’s definitely discernible.

Give me a name!
Please give me a name 🙂

I’m offering a free bar to the person who comes up with the name that I eventually select, and you can either enter below in the comments field, or on the competition post on my FB page. It’s open to anyone, wherever you are in the world – I’ll cover postage costs too (last time I did this it the bar went over the pond to the US).  So don’t be shy – I know you’re a creative lot!!

FYI The other essential oil bars in my range are called Serenity, Clarity, Peace, Boho Baby, Flowers and Luscious Lavender.

PS – the winning name will be chosen on Saturday 29th October, 9pm UK time.

Go go go!!

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The Mermaid Spa, Portmeirion

It’s been a busy month on the wholesale front, and I’m so happy to introduce yet another new stockist of our luxury handmade soap – The Mermaid Spa in the extraordinary village of Portmerion.

Mermaid Spa
                     The Mermaid Spa

For those not in the know, Portmeirion is an Italianate village designed and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975. It’s situated on a headland on the north Wales coast, and the spa itself overlooks the estuary. It’s a stunningly beautiful and relaxing place to have a spa – the perfect place to visit for a bit of R&R if you’re in the area.

View from the spa
                    View from the spa

Yesterday they took delivery of a great selection of our soap – as if you needed another reason to visit such a glorious place!

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Luvit, Barmouth

I am VERY excited to announce that we have a brand new stockist!

Luvit is a gorgeous gift shop on the High Street in Barmouth, in the south west corner of the Snowdonia National Park.

luvit-barmouth
                     luvit-barmouth

Owena at Luvit is very supportive of local makers, and sells a wide range of lovely gifts, many of which have a retro / vintage twist. And now she now also stocks a selection of our luxury handmade soaps too – woohoo!!  Please pop in and have a look if you’re in the area 😀

Check out Luvit’s Facebook page too.

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International Soap Swap Part 3 – USA & Canada

My apologies, this post has been much longer coming than I’d hoped (or planned!). Things got very busy preparing for the festive season, but I finally got it finished. Thank you for your patience 🙂

Six of the participants in this summer’s soap swap were from USA or Canada, and this last post will focus on the lovely soaps that came all the way over the Atlantic into my eager little hands.

Just as in the last post, the following are in no particular order… apart from this first one. Once the soap swap had been set up, and we had decided the date by which all soaps should be with me, all there was for me to do was sit back and wait for the soapy parcels to arrive. I can’t tell you how excited I was the first time the postman knocked on the door with a soap filled parcel. That parcel was from Pam Leis of By The Sea Soap.

Pam was extraordinarily generous and sent me not only the full sized bar that each participant received but also FOUR extra treats.  You can see three of them in the picture below – a sample of her Newport Beach Sand soap, a flower shaped Sweetpea & Rhubarb soap, which has some natural sponge embedded in the bottom AND a ‘Black Bamboo – Detox bar, with some amazing white piping on the top.

They are all stunning, but my absolute favourite fragrance is that of the Newport Beach Sand soap.  It’s called Sea Moss by BrambleBerry, and I NEED to find something similar in the UK.  It’s described as  ‘a unique blend of Bergamot, Orchid, Jasmine and Violet with supporting notes of Ozone (air), Sandalwood, Musk and of course, Moss. This fragrance could be described as fresh, green and almost a little kelp-y’. It’s reminiscent of something I’ve come across before, but I just can’t recall it. If anyone has any ideas – please let me know!

By The Sea Soaps
By The Sea Soaps

Pam also sent me some beautiful dried rosebuds, and I’ll be using them on something special soon!

Dried Rose Petals
Dried Rose Petals

Here is Pam’s swap soap, and a closeup of the sparkly top. It’s called ‘A Pink Philosophy’ and I’m afraid the photos don’t do justice to this beautiful bar, but I can assure you it’s lovely!

A Pink Philosophy from By The Sea Soap
A Pink Philosophy from By The Sea Soap
A Pink Philosopy - Top
A Pink Philosophy – Top

You can find more of Pam’s soaps on her Face Book page

If you’re a fan of soapmaking videos, you’re probably familiar with Emily of Shieh Design Studio. She has her own You Tube channel, and I am only one of a great many people who enjoy watching her make soap.  Emily makes her own soap boxes, and they’re a testament to her perfectionism:

Handmade soap box by Shieh Design Studio
Handmade soap box by Shieh Design Studio

It seemed a shame to have to break it open, but, I admit, I didn’t hesitate for long 🙂

The soap I received was called Mayan Gold, and it’s a beautiful riot of colour. The fragrance is a blend of oriental notes and chocolate / vanilla.

Mayan Gold by Shieh Soap Design
Mayan Gold by Shieh Soap Design

The top is decorated with golden chunks of soap

Mayan Gold - top of bar
Mayan Gold – top of bar

Isn’t that just beautiful?

You can read Emily’s blog here or catch up with Shieh Design Studio on Facebook, You Tube, Instagram and Etsy.

Next up was Louise of SoGa Artisan Soaperie in Canada. Louise’s bar was fragranced with the ever popular (and delicious!) Black Raspberry Vanilla fragrance, and featured berry colours and a hanger swirl design. Here it is packaged:

Black Raspberry Vanilla by SoGa Artisan Soaperie
Black Raspberry Vanilla by SoGa Artisan Soaperie

And here it is in all its glory. I love the hanger swirls and the overall design really suits the fragrance I think.

Black Raspberry Vanilla by SoGa Artisan Soaperie
Black Raspberry Vanilla by SoGa Artisan Soaperie

The top of the bar also features some lovely shimmery swirls. I tried and tried to take a good enough picture of this top which adequately showed the beauty of the top but this is the best I could do. I can assure you that it looks much better in real life:

Black Raspberry & Vanilla Top
Black Raspberry & Vanilla Top

Louise can be found on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and also has her own website. Do check them out!

Next up was Barbara of Moon Goddess Garden. She sent this lovely flower shaped bar. It came shrink wrapped which kept it in pristine condition during its travels, and all the company info was on a label on the back:

Moon Goddess Garden
Moon Goddess Garden

Here it is unwrapped.  The petals are decorated with mica and the centre is created from poppy seeds which give a nice bit of exfoliation. It’s called ‘Summertime Taffy’  and the fragrance really is summery – bright and a bit fruity and JUST what I need at this time of year as the rain lashes down outside!!

Moon Goddess Garden
Moon Goddess Garden

Do have a look at Barbara’s Facebook to see more of her beautiful soaps.

Melinda, of Melinda’s Naturals, sent us each a bar of ‘Juliet’s Heart’:

Juliet's Heart by Melinda's Naturals
Juliet’s Heart by Melinda’s Naturals

Here it is unwrapped and you can see the fine swirls that adorn the inside and the top of the bar:

Juliet's Heart by Melinda's Naturals
Juliet’s Heart by Melinda’s Naturals

This soap was a special edition, created just for us, and is scented with a soft, warm floral essential oil blend. It features jojoba oil and illipe butter, and feels very luxurious to use.

You can find Melinda on Facebook, Instagram and on her own website

Finally we have Zahida of Handmade in Florida.  Zahida’s beautiful and hugely popular soaps invariably sell out within hours of their release, and she has a massive following on social media.

Allow me to deviate a little here because the box in which the soaps arrived was so exquisitely packaged I had to take a photograph of every step:

Handmade in Florida Packaging
Handmade in Florida Packaging

Now, given how difficult it is to get your hands on a bar of Zahida’s soap, imagine my delight when I learnt that Zahida had sent me (by way of a thank you for hosting) not one but TWO bars of her soap to try – Amber and Sensual Oudh. Let me tell you, they both smell wonderful, but my favourite is the Sensual Oudh, described as ‘a deep and complex blending of oudh, sandalwood, cedarwood, leather, patchouli, vetiver, amber, tonka, and vanilla’ – amazing!

Amber & Sensual Oudh by Handmade in Florida
Amber & Sensual Oudh by Handmade in Florida

And unboxed:

Amber & Sensual Oudh by Handmade in Florida
Amber & Sensual Oudh by Handmade in Florida

How beautiful are those swirls? In case you don’t know, Zahida is the original creator of the oft imitated butterfly swirl – check out her creations on You Tube, Instagram, Facebook, Website and Blog

And THAT, my friends, brings to an end this year’s International Soap Swap.  Of course, it’s not the end for those of us who participated, as we each have a rather large box of lovely soap to keep us going well into the New Year. Mind you, I have a funny feeling it may well happen again at some time in the future, so watch this space!

Thanks for reading, I’ll be back soon!