Today Unmitigated England takes a very tentative step into the past and over the border. The reason is that I read this weekend of the passing of one of my clients at 90, namely Ena Baxter of the eponymous Baxters of Speyside. With her husband Gordon, who died aged 95 in 2013, they ran one of the most successful family businesses in the kingdom. As Martin Vander Weyer wrote in the current Spectator: "Gordon was an irascible chap- 'independent as hell' as he said- who ran the business founded by his grocer grandfather in a frugal style, free of debt and scornful of modern management fripperies, that was very much the tradition of the region, shared by some of the great malt whisky distilleries and such homely enterprises as Walkers Shortbread and Aberlour'. (I also did a job for the latter's distillery. Which was fun.)
I met Gordon and Ena with my colleagues at the Baxter's Moray factory fastness in Fochabers, in order to present ideas for new chutney jars and labelling. My designs were stared at intently, and I received a very stern telling off from the indomitable Ena for daring to suggest a faux stone jar as one of the options. "You have to be able to see the product" she said, waving a metaphorical wooden spoon at me, probably the one she used to personally dip into vats. Ena was right, but the ones you see were adopted. They needed tweeking, so a couple of weeks later I found myself early in the morning in a private wood panelled room for breakfast in Brown's Hotel in Albemarle Street off Piccadilly. I think they were both in kilts, but that may be my fevered imaginings. I put the revised jars on the mantelpiece for them to view. They were both so welcoming and kind, and very positive about their new jars. It was one of the most pleasurable jobs I'd worked on; for the jars and labelling obviously, but also for that very rare thing. To be able to work directly with a pair of household names face-to-face, instead of staring at the fluorescent lights in a focus group meeting. I shall go and buy a tin of cock-a-leekie for my lunch.
Footnote: The illustrations of the fruit and veg were beautifully executed by Andrew Riley.