Here in Britain things are hotting up. Indeed, they are already hot. Despite the rain towards the end of the month, July marked an official heatwave. At the start of the hot spell, I gave out the prizes at a girls’ school in the north of England, including one for fortitude. I remember thinking that all 600 people in the sweltering marquee deserved a prize for fortitude.
My colleagues also deserve one because, for a month now, our office, a Georgian town house with no air conditioning, has resembled a sauna. Our lease is up in two years and I suspect there will be uproar if we do not head off to somewhere with proper climate control, rather than to another building where the (unusable) fireplaces are all security tagged because they are so valuable.
Even the economy seems to be warming up – indications announced in July show that the UK economy grew more strongly in the second quarter of 2013 than the first. What is really encouraging is that this appears to be across the services sector, manufacturing and construction – so a broad-brush recovery, one hopes.
My company operates in the services sector and, for us, the real issue is not lack of work but the price that is being paid and how and when the cash arrives. Clients are far more price sensitive than ever and, at the same time, they are dragging their heels when it comes to paying. So while we are busy, we are working on lower margins and are having to employ much more working capital than was the case before 2008. Is that changing? No.
Nothing is changing at home either. The cost centres are all back for the summer, so working capital requirements have gone through the roof. The heatwave has also caused major changes in the Moneypenny house: for a start, we have had to turn off the Aga and restrict our cooking to a gas hob, a microwave and the barbecue. This has stressed CC#3 whose cooking abilities have hitherto extended only to “remove pizza from fridge and put in oven”.
My reaction to CC#3’s distressed state was to send him off to learn to cook. Not just any cookery course but to Rootcamp, a foraging and cooking course in the forests of west Wales that I thought might appeal to his sense of adventure. The course is designed for 15- to 21-year-olds and, before they arrive, they are sent the menus planned for the week of their stay. When none of the menus seemed to feature shop-bought pizza, CC#3 became even more apprehensive than he already was.
Still, off he went on the train, bribed with a new phone. I texted him on the first night to see if he had arrived safely. This is his reply, with which I plan to taunt him when he is older: “It’s OK here, the people are mixed. Some are from Glasgow. I can’t eat much of the stuff they give me because it’s just all green.”
Matters clearly improved during the week because he called me from the train on his way home to tell me what a great time he’d had. I asked him if he had learnt to make bread, and he said he had. Good, I was looking forward to him making some for me. “Why would you start with bread,” he asked, “when I can make things like lamb tagine and beetroot brownies?” Why indeed.
Our relocation to Edinburgh for a month will hopefully mean that I will experience a lot of this new-found culinary repertoire. I also hope not to be sweltering in a heatwave, and the Moneypenny family collectively will be taking the temperature of the economy too, as we see how ticket sales are going.
The Edinburgh Fringe is a good barometer of the economy: the 2013 festival will see 2,871 shows performed by 24,107 artists in 273 venues, a 6.5 per cent increase on last year’s programme. I can’t see the UK economy growing at 6.5 per cent any time soon but I do expect it to gather momentum over the next year or so – and then hopefully we will be in a position to afford a smart new office when we move. With air conditioning. And heating. Rather than lots of useless fireplaces.
Mrs Moneypenny returns to the Edinburgh Fringe in August at the Aga Showroom; www.edfringe.com