All things very bright and rather wonderful.

Hands up if you love a good festival… especially when it’s FREE!

On the 9th and 10th of July Hillsborough Park will be completely transformed; bursting with activity and buzzing with Summer festival vibes. Live music, entertainment and art will prevail as a celebration bringing the local community together.

Local business and Sheffield gem; Cupola Contemporary Art Gallery has been open for business for 25 years this year! Owner, curator and probably the most enthusiastic person I’ve ever met in my life; Karen Sherwood decided she wanted to thank the community for supporting her business. After discussion with the residents and neighbouring businesses, they decided to push for a large scale ambitious project; “A local event with international reach.”

Keen to put Hillsborough back into a positive light, shining with local talent and community spirit. “The festival aims to show how creativity is essential to ensure a compassionate, energetic, innovative, entrepreneurial and cohesive community”.

Karen and the team have been working…

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Apologies for the lack of posts recently.  Bad Karen.

Sometimes you can feel like you’ve had the stuffing knocked out of you.

I’m sure everyone has felt like that at times. Nothing dreadful has happened thankfully,  apart from the election, of course, which I am not going to comment on as other people do it much better and with more knowledge.  I shall steer well clear of that one.

When you have that feeling, we all reach for different forms of comfort.  I’ve been finding comfort in painting mostly and launching a crazy new project just to keep myself positive and motivated.  However, this evening I didn’t feel like painting and didn’t really want to work on my crazy new project on my one day off per week, so I dug out some old photographs.

Old photos are wonderful aren’t they?

You know the ones I mean – the printed ones in the old packets you used to get from the shops that developed them.  Thirty pictures or so in each packet, some dreadful, many you don’t even remember taking and some that just capture that memory.  I have hundreds of photos, most of which have not been put in albums or been sorted into any kind of date order. Many are no longer in packets at all.  I’ve been promising I would sort them out for years and one day I will get round to it.  I promise.  But for now I’ll just have to work with what I’ve got. So, what shall I share with you?

Fairly early on in the history of the gallery I managed to befriend a couple of benevolent and talented photographers who kindly took photos of the gallery exhibitions out of extreme generosity and kindness and occasionally in exchange for framing services.  I’ll always be very grateful for their skill and service in leaving me with a lasting memory of the gallery exhibitions.

The first photographer was called David Short and this is a link to his current website:

He took the photos for the first printed brochure I had made back in 1994.

I still have many of the large negatives from the early years and remember the first time he invested in an enormously expensive digital camera.   How times have changed!  Following David, Nigel Barker then kindly helped me for a number of years before the prices came down enough to enable even me to invest in a digital camera, which then meant that, sadly, I ceased to get prints made of the photographs. Here’s a link to Nigel’s website:

Both are very talented photographers to whom I’m extremely grateful.

Here are a few photos from the early years.  I honestly can’t say who took which of these photos and any of the not so good ones will have been taken by neither David nor Nigel.  I’ve just scanned in or snapped the original prints using my phone so apologies now for the quality.

A christmas exhibition. No idea which year.

A christmas exhibition. No idea which year.

I’m pretty sure this decoration of our Christmas exhibition, whose title currently eludes me, was based upon this phrase ‘Everytime a bell rings an angel gets its wings!’ from the film  ‘It’s a wonderful life.’  There was a hanging illustration by the talented Lyn Hodnett and the line of decoration hung high on the walls were cast chocolate angels!

Dinner Party 2000.  In the year 2000.

Dinner Party 2000. In the year 2000.

The exhibition illustrated above was ‘Dinner Party 2000’ for the year 2000.  Everyone was talking about celebration and so I thought it might be fun to try to have an exhibition highlighting a different approach to a dinner party where each place setting, table and chair was made to suit the needs and personality of each guest.  Hand made, tables, chairs, plates, mugs, cutlery, glasses etc.  Not a thing was to match!!  I did cause a bit of a furore with this show though as I struggled to find any ‘hand made’ cutlery in Sheffield – the steel city!  I sent out a press release ‘Sheffield shamed’  which caused a storm.  It resulted in several trips around cutlery factories though.  No permanent harm done and I learned a lot!

I think this is part of 'A whiter shade of pale' exhibition.

I think this is part of ‘A whiter shade of pale’ exhibition.

I’m pretty sure this is a photo from an exhibition titled ‘A whiter shade of pale’.  I had a number of colour themed shows around that time including a very popular one titled ‘Paint it black’ – and no, I didn’t play either of those songs during the exhibition…. 🙂

'Joy' a ceiling mural commissioned by artist Elenore Somerset for another Christmas exhibition.

‘Joy’ a ceiling mural commissioned from artist Elenore Somerset for another Christmas exhibition.

At Christmas I always like to consider a theme.  My gallery has no subsidy and needs to sell work all the time but especially at Christmas I never want to lose the idea of a ‘curated’ or ‘thoughtful’ show.  Therefore, this time I commissioned Elenore Somerset, a talented Trompe L’oeil artist, to paint a small mural for the gallery ceiling.  This resulted in one of my favourite press release title sentences, which read:

“The Sistine Chapel comes to Cupola – well not quite but do read on…!”

“Mini Squares’. An exhibition where are the work submitted had to be square and outside frame size 8x8inches or smaller.

Over the years the gallery has had a number of small or miniature exhibitions, which is not surprising as when I started the gallery was only one space 12x14ftx10ft high and I like to give people plenty to look at and offer space to as many artists as I can.  It is SO lovely now to have four exhibition spaces plus an award winning sculpture garden, giving a combined total of around 2000ft of hanging space!  Storage is a nightmare though, but that’s another story….

'Treat' - any delightful surprise.  Another Christmas show.  This is a detail of a 10ftx10ft advent calendar made by the talented Ross Gilbertson inside which we put artwork on display.

‘Treat’ – any delightful surprise. Another Christmas show. This is a detail of a 10ftx10ft advent calendar made by the talented Ross Gilbertson inside which we put artwork on display.

Another Christmas exhibition!  This was was ‘Treat – any delightful surprise’. I loved this.  I commissioned the multi talented Ross Gilbertson to make an oversized advent calendar inside which artworks were to be on display behind the doors.  This was great.  I’m not sure we had 25 doors but whatever we did have was wonderful.  Thank you Ross!  Shame we had to take it apart after the exhibition.

Aha! Photos of me taken to publicise our exhibition 'Remembering Versaci' This would have been 1998 or thereabouts.

Aha! Photos of me taken to publicise our exhibition ‘Remembering Versace’ This would have been 1997 or thereabouts.

Well, this was fun!  We had an exhibition titled ‘Remembering Versace’ as he’d recently died and I thought it would be fun to make a cupola version of ‘That dress’ – the Liz Hurley one with safety pins down the side.  My version was made using two dresses from charity shops and aluminium coke cans in the shape of Cupolas down the side.  The dress was made by Helen Moore, a talented printmaker, knitter and dressmaker.  Heroin chic was the ‘in style’ at the time – hence the old coat hanger in my hair (courtesy of the fabulous Elton from ‘Hair by Christmas’ as it was then and ‘Betty Tigers’ as it is now) and the pale face & black lipstick – styling (ha!) by me. I had been told around this time that I’d had a local press editorial bar due to having received far too much free publicity.  However, when these photos landed at the press office – how could they not publish them?!  They were published…..

'Vases &  Flowers'.  Quite an early exhibition.  Maybe around 1994.  There were even some of my paintings in this exhibition!

‘Vases & Flowers’. Quite an early exhibition. Maybe around 1994. There were even some of my paintings in this exhibition!

And the last one.  Again a fairly early exhibition.  I tended to have mainly mixed group themed shows at that time as that allowed me to show more work by a number of artists which was preferable to solo shows early on.  I wanted artists to know about the gallery and this was a good way of engaging more people as well as offering more opportunities to artists to exhibit.  This was also a very accessible and pretty show – I love flowers!    I invited artists to submit contemporary images of flowers and contemporary vessels.  I wanted to show a contemporary alternative to the traditional decorative painting of flowers in vases.  And I got the fun of filling the gallery with cut flowers 🙂

More soon. Thanks for reading.


Welcome back.

Exhibitions!  I want to talk about exhibitions!

Sorry to get so excited but there is a lot to get excited about. The opportunity to host exhibitions was, and is, a core ingredient of the gallery and the reason Cupola is not just a ‘shop’.  I don’t mind people calling the gallery a ‘shop’ as selling things is how the business survives, but without the exhibitions, which are often not cost effective, I honestly would not bother to carry on. Exhibitions are the icing on the cake for me, and anyone that knows me, knows that I do have a tendency to eat the icing in preference to the cake 🙂

However, when I set up the gallery I had scant experience of putting on exhibitions; I had put up my degree show and held a one off event in a flat above a butchers shop; I didn’t really have a clue.  However, you have to start somewhere and now was the time to get stuck right in!

My very first exhibition was a group show – no theme, just a collection of work gathered from whoever I could convince to let me have work.  I’d visited studios, talked to artists and gathered an exhibition together.  It was a start.  There was good work and it was varied. It is this variety that has become the hallmark of Cupola in many ways.  It was an interesting experience too, talking to artists and asking them to show work in an unknown gallery, in what many considered an odd location, run by a 23 year old recent art graduate with no experience.

An artist recently, for my 2oth anniversary year, very candidly recalled her reaction to being asked by me to submit work to the gallery all those years ago.  She said she had rejected my request in a fairly dismissive manner, but later, having visited the gallery and seen work on exhibition by the now extremely well known potter/artist, Edmund De Waal, changed her mind.  Edmund exhibited with Cupola on a number of occasions before he moved out of Sheffield and down to London.  In fact, my mother in law still has three of his pieces, unlike me, who managed to break the coffee pot I had.  I believe they still have the prices on the bottom £16.50 on each vessel and £38 for the jug.  Not likely to get any of Edmund’s pieces for the price now!!


Edmund De Waal's Atmosphere at the Turner Contemporary 2015

Edmund De Waal’s Atmosphere at the Turner Contemporary 2015

Edmund De Waal talking about his work at the Turner Contemporary.

Edmund De Waal talking about his work at the Turner Contemporary.

Edmund doesn’t seem to have changed much by the looks of this picture.  Just like me I’m sure lol!

It was only really after my wonderful mentoring experience from David Butterfield (see earlier post) within a few months of opening that really helped me get my exhibition programme off the ground.  And once a structure was in place, I was off!  I never thought of myself as a ‘curator’ at the time and don’t really think that of myself even now.  It is the correct term I’m sure, but I think of myself simply as someone who tries to host interesting, thoughtful, exciting and importantly for me, engaging exhibitions.

Suffice to say, I have had, over the years, exhibitions of every conceivable type including:

  • solo shows
  • two person shows
  • painting
  • sculpture
  • printmaking
  • glass
  • textiles
  • fashion
  • jewellery
  • photography
  • furniture
  • performance
  • dance
  • poetry
  • comedy
  • music
  • installation
  • multimedia

Plus literally, by now, hundreds of themed exhibitions exploring politics, colour, gender, humour, nature, scale, process, light, time, religion, myth & legend, identity, recycling etc – the list goes on.

An example of a fairly early quarterly schedule detailing three upcoming exhibitions.

An example of a fairly early quarterly schedule detailing three upcoming exhibitions.

Oh look!  I found a picture from the time of ‘THAT’ fashion show.  Here he is…my boy in a bikini!  Richard whitely (Yorkshire TV) SO missed out on this one (again see earlier post).

Models for the Fashion show held at Cupola in 1993.

Models for the Fashion show held at Cupola in 1993.

After a bit of a rummage, I have found some early photos but it is hard to remember quite what happened when, as I am happy to admit I wasn’t exactly ‘systems woman’ in the early years.

I know this was an early exhibition as it was my friend Shaeron Caton Rose – previously Shaeron Hill, who had kindly helped me in those early years.

Solo show by Shaeron Caton Rose in the early years of Cupola.

Solo show by Shaeron Caton Rose in the early years of Cupola.

This was a pretty early show too – Lyn Hodnett (painting and printmaking) and Hanne Westergaard (ceramics).  Both these artists are still represented by the gallery.

Two person exhibition by Lyn Hodnett & Hanne Westergaard.

Two person exhibition by Lyn Hodnett & Hanne Westergaard.

I know this was an early exhibition partly because at this point the door to the gallery was still an entrance and the frame and window ledges were still plain varnished wood.  They have been white for a number of years now. In addition the floor was re-covered many years ago making it impossible to gain entrance to the gallery through the door you can see in the shot.

In the early years the gallery only consisted of the two downstairs rooms and so it was essential that I made best use of the space and therefore often the exhibitions were ‘busy’ with many images on each wall  and sculpture or ceramics or other 3D work displayed on plinths as well as directly on the floor.  This is not always appropriate for all types of work but an engaging atmosphere was always really important to me and it was very clear that most people preferred the ‘feel’ of a busier space.  They had to come in just to be able to have a good look at everything and to see what was lurking around corners.  Luring people in has also become a Cupola speciality!

This is a shot of how busy some of my shelves sometimes became at that time, although not in the main dedicated exhibition space I hasten to add.  I think this must have been around Christmas time as these shelves seem especially tightly packed – I was really cramming it in then!  But, you know what?  I sold a lot of things!  People loved it.  The gallery is still busy now, but not like this as there is much more room to display works with more breathing space which allows each piece to really shine!

Displays in the gallery main entrance room in the early years.

Displays in the gallery main entrance room in the early years.

By the way I commissioned an artist, Simon I think his name was, to design and make that domed cabinet in the top picture as I felt there should be at least one ‘Cupola’ shape in the gallery.  A number of years later this cabinet actually fell off the wall and landed on a helper, but that’s another story…..

Although I have many many more pictures to share with you I shall leave you now with a quote from one of my customers from ‘the early years’.  She said:

“I like buying things from you as I feel I’m rescuing them.  They are always competing with so many other things that when I take them home I feel I have just made them that little bit more special.”

A photo of me back in the early 1991 or 1992.  What a jacket!

A photo of me back in early 1991 or 1992. What a jacket!

In the next post, rather than trying to find some of the earliest exhibitions I’ll talk a little about some of my favourites, the list of which keeps growing!

Speak soon and thanks for reading,

K x













After my last post I started thinking about changes;  all the changes that have happened and the transformations the gallery has gone through.  Amazing times.  I started the gallery in 1991 and most people now don’t realise that it wasn’t until 1994 that home computers really came into their own.  Email wasn’t the foremost method of communication in 1991.  When I started I had an electric typewriter as well as an outside toilet and no heating!  Yup it was pretty tough going.  Not really what most people imagine a contemporary gallery  to be like.  However, I’ve never been most people!  Not only has the gallery changed, but my circumstances have changed too.

In the early years I seemed never to live in the same place for too long for lots of different reasons. The gallery wasn’t what people expected and nor was I! Many made assumptions about me, my background and my lifestyle.  This is not surprising as I, and my gallery, do not fit the stereotype.  Many galleries, and I’ll stick my neck out here and say most, are either not for profit enterprises or run by people who don’t need to make any money out of them, partly because it is pretty darned hard to make money from a gallery which sells contemporary work from unknown artists.

Therefore, partly I’m sure, because of my ‘posh’ accent it was often assumed that

a) I was much older than I was


b) I came from ‘money’.

I joke now that my accent is my ‘bbc voice’.

I’ll never forget the look on my helper’s face the day I took her back to ‘my place’ to collect something I needed.  My place, at that time, (around 1991) was a room above a transport cafe just a few hundred yards up the road from the gallery.  My husband was working abroad, I didn’t own any furniture, or much ‘stuff’, so I didn’t need much space, and it was not expensive, which was an important consideration. She was clearly quite shocked and almost stunned into silence.  She manage to utter a very quiet ‘Do you live here?” and when I affirmed that I did, she wasn’t quite sure what to say. I asked her where she thought I lived and she said “I thought you’d have a big house out at Dore or something.”  And I’m sure she wasn’t the only one that thought that.  Dore, for non Sheffield readers, is one of the posher areas of the city with big houses and bigger house prices.  At one time I did managed to live in a housing association house in one of the ‘posher’ areas of the city but that didn’t last too long.  I lived there whilst the original tenant was living abroad.  It was very nice, but I was mostly at work so didn’t really reap the benefits of it too much.  The flat above the transport cafe was fine when my husband was abroad but it was less suitable when he was back, as there really wasn’t much room and not very much privacy.  I remember waiting for him to return one Christmas by sleeping in chair in a downstairs area, as he wouldn’t be able to get into the building otherwise. I’m not sure quite when he arrived but it was pretty late (early morning I think).  Quite romantic I suppose in some ways but not too practical.

Oh the things you do when young (not that I’m old now of course!)

When Chris and I were first married we lived in a shared flat above a butcher’s shop in Nether Edge with at least one other person, if not two.  We most certainly didn’t have our own home, or any financial security, as I’d spent what could have been money for a deposit on a house on setting up the gallery – oops! So, from there I think I moved to the transport cafe when Chris starting working abroad and then we moved into the housing association flat on Endcliffe Vale Road (posher side of town), then to Harcourt Road (everyone seems to know someone that has lived on Harcourt Road – not sure why), then we moved into the gallery – that’s a whole other story – and then finally into the house we are currently living in, which is close enough to allow me to walk to work.

When we had moved to Harcourt Road, the local press wanted to do a story on where I lived, because, I presume,  I was a ‘gallery owner’ that didn’t fit the stereotype. Picture below.  It wasn’t a great flat and was cold.  Really cold. There was no central heating, no double glazing and only an electric bar fire. We used to get ice on the inside of the windows in the winter and I used to tell people that I’d get into the bath with a top on until I’d warmed up! I honestly do think I did this once….

We once had a visitor who, on entering the flat, joked  “I’d forgotten what it was like to be poor.”   I have to say I’ve never felt poor. I’ve been cold certainly, but never gone hungry and always had somewhere to live and friends to support me and art to feed my soul.

Chris & I in our flat on Harcourt Road

Chris & I in our flat on Harcourt Road

Shortly after the piece appeared in the paper, I was stopped in the street by a business owner fairly close to the gallery who told me, quite seriously, that I should be ashamed.  Apparently the woman felt the article brought the world of business into disrepute as it was clear that I wasn’t making a lot of money.  I really didn’t know quite what to say, though I might have a little more to say now.

On that note, I think I’ll leave it there tonight.  In the next post I think I’ll talk more about my own painting and the shows the gallery has hosted over the years.  Thanks for reading.

K x

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I cannot believe it has been several months since my last post, so lets hope this one is a good one 🙂

After the marathon couple of posts about Supertram Hell – I felt I needed to dig up some of the more positive experiences I had in the early years during what was an incredibly difficult and stressful time. So, here we go…..

Good times – during the tough times…

As I’ve mentioned before trying to get the story of Cupola into some kind of chronological order after so many years is pretty tricky! In many ways the old press cuttings I have kept are one of the easiest ways to stimulate my memories of things that happened – good and bad.  Over the past several months I have been thinking and joking to myself and others that I have so many incredible stories but sadly many of them I couldn’t possibly publish until I was dead!! – No!  I shall not be tempted – well Ok I’m tempted but I will not divulge these particular stories…

So, good stuff…

Well, as previously mentioned some people were simply marvellous.  During the worst possible times of the Supertram works, I had customers who brought me food parcels and home made cakes and things that their kids had made completely out of the blue. People were wonderful.  They shared their stories and I shared mine. I’ve always had time for people and people I didn’t know were making time for me, it was very touching. Clearly I was young (23 in 1991), my husband was working away and I was trying to run a new business in difficult circumstances.  At that time, I was of course doing everything and I mean everything – all the picture framing as well as all the gallery work. I remember working on average 12 hour days 7 days per week as I changed displays and shows over the evenings and the weekends as well as driving to collect picture framing moulding stock before I opened in the mornings.  I remember someone local to the gallery complaining  once about my parking outside their house with the words “I wouldn’t mind if you ever went home!!” They did have a point…

Everything I have learnt I have learnt the hard way – by doing it wrong, making mistakes and having to pick myself up and try again.  I always joke now that I am an excellent business advisor because I have made every mistake in the book so can clearly point out what not to do and what not to try; “No, don’t do that, I did that – disaster!”

What seems to have helped me through tough times in this business is my passion for the arts and my keenness to share this with everyone and anyone.  It’s an amazing way to connect with people. I simply do not presume people aren’t or won’t be interested.  There is a standing joke that I drag people in off the street into my gallery and although I don’t literally drag people off the street, I do not allow anyone to look in my window for too long before I open the door and do my best to usher them inside…

…and so to one of many stories about people often a little too shy to takes the plunge and open the front door.

I remember once noticing a man sort of ‘loitering’ around the front door/front window.  Sometimes, he seemed to be looking at the art work and sometimes not, but he must have been there for a good 15 minutes – which believe you me is a long time to wait outside (not in the best of weather).  Anyway, eventually, he opened the front door very slightly and said “Do you mind if I come in?”.  “Of course not!” I laughed ” I thought you’d stuck!” I ushered him inside with my broadest of smiles.  After offering him a cup of tea, I asked him why he had stood outside for so long.  The answer still shocks me now…

” I waited to see whether or not you’d ask me to go away, because I might not be the type of person you wanted in your shop.”

I know from first hand experience that some galleries can be intimidating, but not mine – surely – he even called it a shop (not a gallery), but there it was, as plain as day. I continue to fight to overcome the prejudice that exists around the gallery environment, but it seems some views are difficult to shake.  And, to be fair I feel that the art world does seem to want it both ways.  It (Arts Council in particular) are always trying to sell ‘arts for all’ and yet many galleries seem to trade on the very notion that buying original artwork is aspirational and a sign of ‘class, good taste and good breeding.’

Here is another similar story. During the supertram construction works there were often workers labouring outside, or very near the gallery, and occasionally I would catch some of them peering through the windows.  Whenever this happened (as mentioned above) I would do my best to encourage them inside for a better look. On this particular occasion it was a pretty miserable day and the nature of that day’s job had made many of the workers particularly muddy.  However, as I said to them, dirt will clean and they were all made as welcome as I could possible make them.  Several stayed for a short while and one man in particular had a good look round before going back to the job in hand as it were.  Anyway, I thought nothing of it as plenty of people often have a look round who have no intention of buying anything, but I don’t mind this so much, as I simply can’t bear people not looking at all!  Then several weeks  later (possibly longer) a very smartly dressed man walked into the gallery and started having a look round.  After a number of minutes he looked very directly at me and said “You don’t remember me do you?  I had to admit I didn’t.  He said ” I was one of those mucky construction workers you invited into the gallery.  And because you weren’t rude and didn’t patronise me I’m gonna take, that, that, that and that,” he said pointing to a number of items.  The total wasn’t a small amount of money and he paid cash.

We both left the gallery that day with smiles on our faces!

I have many more stories, and I will share some more next time, but as it has been so long since my last post I shall end here.  Apologies for the lack of pictures!  I’ll address that next time too 🙂

Until next time…thanks for reading.



Yes, I’m back again.  Thanks for staying with me.  The Supertram works lasted a long time and I have many stories from that time which is why it is split into two parts.  Unfortunately it didn’t end so well….

Can Hillsborough recover?

Can Hillsborough recover?

So, lets ‘crack on’ as they say in the north…

I have checked back to see what I said in part one and I have covered most if not all of the direct action I got involved with during the works themselves for PR and, to be honest, to be doing something to stop worrying about how difficult the trading conditions were.  As I mentioned before, during this period I joined the Chamber of Trade, which has since merged into the Chamber of Commerce, in order to make sure my voice, as a small trader, would be heard.  I suppose this was my first foray into politics in its broadest sense.  It was an interesting eye opener for me.  I was the youngest member on the board of directors by about 20 years I think and one of only two women.  As with most things I get involved with, I threw myself wholeheartely into trying to fight for the other small traders in the area who were suffering so badly.  I organised meetings and worked with others to lobby for help, support and change.  Naively, I thought locally elected politicians and counsellors were there to help and make life easier, but so often our entreaties and pleas were turned into policy bashing or point scoring along party lines.  And the amount of times our complaints about the Supertram works were ‘spun’ into an anti public transport polemic was frightening.  In the end, every time I went on radio I would begin by saying emphatically “we are not anti public transport!!” before trying to make any sort of complaint or point.

Due to the horrendous road traffic management issues caused by all the construction works, there now began a campaign to try to argue for significant business rates relief as there had clearly been a ‘material change of circumstance’ which affected or should affect the amount of rates all traders were expected to pay.  So, as ever in these circumstacces, all the ‘chancers’ appeared and every five minutes someone new comes round offering to put in a claim for you.  They would then ‘only’ take a fee out of the money you would save.  Sounds fair enough doesn’t it? Until you realise that you could do it yourself with a single letter and it wouldn’t cost you anything!!  Safe to say I made my own claim….  There were many however, that didn’t.

Oh and the rates relief when it came was a mess too.  Rates collections were suspended and then, when reinstated, people got bills for 2-3 years worth – some of which was simply taken by direct debit without authority.  It was just one fun time after another.  Oh how we laughed….

press cutting about the business rates farrago

press cutting about the business rates farrago

So, eventually, the works are finished and the Supertram is launched. We, the traders, were, or at least we tried to be, positive.  Middlewood Traders, the row of shops where the gallery is still located, held a street party with live music and everything!!  During the couple of days where you could ride the tram for free it was packed and then…..

press cutting about the Supertram launch event

press cutting about the Supertram launch event

Middlewood shops open for business too!

Middlewood shops open for business too!

Well, lets just say everyone was completely underwhelmed. No-one used the tram, bad feeling was extremely high, fares seemed high and people didn’t want to use the tickets machines or know where to get tickets from. In addition the tram didn’t serve anywhere the numerous buses didn’t already serve and guess what?  It was slow because of the traffic!! It was looking very bad.  I say no-one used the tram, but that is an exaggeration of course.  However, I believe that useage was less than 30% of what was predicted and the council ended up having to sell it off not long afterwards for a fraction of what they’d paid to get it built and operational.

Such is life and Hillsborough was left in a right mess.

Now, please for a moment, try to put yourself in the position of someone who has run a business for many years in a certain place and who wants to remain there despite the current difficulties because, however bad they are, you were promised that everything would go back to the way things were.  Ie the road traffic would be allowed to use the tram routes and that the road traffic management and therefore traffic flow would return to how it had been previously.  Now, imagine how you would feel if, after three years of trading hell, you had hung on to your business on this understanding, you were suddenly told that actually they had changed their minds!

The traders went berserk!

Many, had they known this, would have closed their businesses before the works, not piled up debt in  order to go bankrupt later!  It was horrendous!

Tram Gate Gate

Tram Gates - one of the many news paper articles

Tram Gates – one of the many news paper articles

I’ve called it Tram Gate Gate – as it really was an unpleasant affair.  To explain;  looking back, the only way to ensure anyone was ever going to use the new and rather expensive Supertram was to reduce traffic on its route in order to make it faster and more appealing as a mode of transport, and the only way to do that was to change the road traffic management system AGAIN.

Traders protested loud and hard.

This was so unfair on so many businesses and it signalled the end for a whole swathe of Langsett road as the new road measures meant that whole stretches of road were simply cut off from general traffic.  Unless you knew there was a business there you would never pass it.  Hillsborough, as a suburban shopping centre, once the largest and most vibrant outside of the city centre was now a shadow of its former self, with, it seemed now, no chance of ever recovering.  This was depressing and difficult.  Although the traders fought, they/we unsurprisingly didn’t win, although some concessions were granted eventually.  What the council in their wisdom decided to install was something they called a tram gate.  Yes, no-one in Hillsborough knew what they meant either at the time.  Real gates?  Metaphorical ones? Restricted access?  It is very difficult to explain unless I can show it to you but I shall try…

a screen shot of Hillsborough corner (crossroads) from google maps

a screen shot of Hillsborough corner (crossroads) from google maps

Hillsborough corner is, and remains, a very busy cross roads – Middlewood Road leading onto Langsett Road crossing Holme Lane leading to Bradfield Road.  The tram runs along Middlewood road and, at hillsborough corner, turns into Langsett Road heading into the city centre.  Middlewood is the tram terminus just outside the main hillsborough shopping areas.  There is also a short spur (no-one understands) which terminates on Holme Lane which is approximately 400 yards from Hillsborough corner.  Therefore, the tram runs up and down Middlewood road/Langsett road and every other tram from city centre  veers off to the Holme lane terminus.

Middlewood Road/Langsett Road runs parallel to the A61 which they upgraded into an urban dual carriageway (during the Supertram works just to make everything easier at the time).  However, In order for anyone to get to Stannington or Loxley you have to use Hillsborough corner whether you come from the A61 or from Middlewood Road/Langsett Road as there are no other routes.  I am going to draw a diagram to explain.  Essentially traffic runs on each road up to the cross road but now depending on which way you approach the cross road your choices at the junction are restricted.  From Bradfield Road, you can go left onto Langsett Road or straight on to Holme Lane, not right. From Middlewood Road, you have to turn off  (to the right) before you reach the cross roads, you cannot approach the junction.  From Holme Lane, you can go straight on or turn left onto Middlewood Road.  From Langsett Road you cannot approach the junction (unless you live very near the junction).  It is bananas and even now people get confused.


The tram gate was a sign  – just a large yellow sign – saying no access (except trams, buses and taxis) about 50 yards from the cross roads put up on Middlewood Road and about 150 yards before the cross roads on Langsett Road.  No-one knew where they were supposed to go instead or how to access the shops.  Well done everyone – excellently planned.

In 2013 the tram gate restrictions now operate from 7am-11am and then again from 4-7pm only.  And that took some fighting for!!  The regeneration of Hillsborough has taken a long time to bounce back from this biggest of changes and has never regained all of its lost vibrancy even to date.

Ninety four businesses went bankrupt or ceased to trade during and just after the completion of the Supertram works in Hillsborough.  That was one out of every four businesses in the area.  What a shameful legacy.

I am not entirely sure how Cupola survived but I am a fighter and customers as well as my family provided me with food parcels –  really!!  And I was grateful.  I was absolutely determined to survive as I just felt that if I was going to go out of business I went down because I did, not because someone else put me out of business – if that makes any sense?

Surviving traders and those that lost their businesses gathered together funds, £50 each from as many as could afford it to try to take a claim to the European high court.  Unfortunately this suit was unsuccessful.  However, there was some money ‘left in the pot’ so to speak and there was a meeting called to decide what to do with it.  There was around £2000 left.  I was not able to attend the meeting but my neighbour went.  When I later met up with him, I asked what the traders had decided to do with the remaining funds.  It pains me now to tell you what was decided.  In fact I find it very hard to even summon the memory without getting almost speechless with rage at the sheer stupidity of it…….

They voted….wait fot it….to spend the remaining money……..ON THE LOTTERY!!!!!!!!!!!!


I went purple, then speechless, then began to rant like a mad woman.  “On the lottery” I screamed.  “Are you insane?  Why not just chuck the money down the drain?  Or burn it?”  I could not believe what I was hearing. If they couldn’t decide what to do with it, Why not put it in a an ISA or give it to charity?  Or add to a Christmas decoration fund for the local shops or use it to match fund a grant bid for a local community enterprise?  Anything ANYTHING but that!!! I probably said a few things I shouldn’t have including something along the lines of certain people not deserving to have a business, but there you go.  Anyway, I was told very directly that I could have my money back (all £17 or whatever it was) if I didn’t agree with the decision.  I took my money back.

Phew! I think I’d best leave it there.  That’s enough angst for the time being.  I shall be a little more upbeat in my next post.  Promise 🙂

Bye for now.

K x


I am sure my apologies are not worth offering anymore as I struggle to update my blog regularly.  However, I do apologise for not having found the time recently.  Moving swiftly on to where we left off; the Supertram works…

For those that may not know what the “Supertram” is, it is a light rail network which runs through several parts of Sheffield. Now over 10 years since it was built, it is quite popular, however its construction, was a very different story.  Feelings ran very high, with many people swearing that after it was built they would rather crawl on their bellies into town than ever set foot on the Supertram!  In some areas the old tram lines from Sheffield’s old fashioned trams abandoned 10 years previously, had to be removed in order to put the new tram lines down.  This irony was not lost on some Sheffield people.

It was not as simple as just the Supertram works either; major pipelines had to be moved in order to make way for these new tracks and as soon as there was a big hole in the road, of course, all the utility companies dived in as well.  There were some impressive holes let me tell you. Twenty feet deep at times and BIG! Now I know everyone is used to general roadworks and the disruption caused, but these roadworks were not “the usual”, they were so much more.  It was a design and build project that meant the road Cupola was on transformed into a cul-de-sac for nigh on three years and the road traffic management of the area was horrendous.  Routes would change from day to day with no warning, where you could turn right one day, the following day you could not.  So it was unsurprising that people started seriously avoiding the area, and who could blame them really?

cartoon 'Road to Hellsborough' in the Sheffield Star Newspaper

Cartoon ‘Road to Hellsborough’ in the Sheffield Star Newspaper

one of the many heart warming images luring people to Hillsborough during this period..

One of the many heart warming stories luring people to Hillsborough during this period..

Well, local traders were concerned, as you might imagine, and we decided to do something about it. I was part of a group I have mentioned previously called Middlewood Traders; a small self run group of around 8-10 shops who regularly got together to discuss ways of improving the area. When trade began to be affected one of the first things the group did was to print t-shirts for everyone with the slogan “BUSINESS AS USUAL“.

Middlewood Traders take action.

Middlewood Traders take action.

Although this was great, it soon became apparent that if we, as a small group of traders, were going to survive what was turning into a nightmare trading situation, we were going to have to create a lot of noise and get noticed.  There was, and still is, a strong community in Hillsborough and many people were very loyal to their local shops but visiting by car was proving extremely difficult. Articles in the paper like “The Road To Hellsborough” did not do much to help matters either.  We had to get creative.  This is where I think I, as a gallery, started to embed myself and my business into the local community.  Yes, I wanted to survive, but not on my own, so I got fully involved in every way I possibly could. It wasn’t long before I became the unofficial spokesperson for our area and a regular on BBC radio Sheffield.  I wasn’t shy and seemed to have a natural flair for PR. Knowing that simply moaning about a terrible situation would soon become old news we got creative, clever, and a little bit naughty at times!

There were several things I and other Middlewood shop keepers did and I attach some of the press cuttings below, not necessarily in order.  I have not got all the newspaper cuttings relating to the tram works but the ones I have will give you the idea.

We hired a stilt walker to hand out promo flyers to people stuck in traffic..

We hired a stilt walker to hand out promo flyers to people stuck in traffic..

part of our extra promotion for Christmas during the tram works.

Part of our extra promotion for Christmas during the tram works.

I commissioned an artist Guy Tarrant to make an installation out of traffic cones

I commissioned an artist, Guy Tarrant, to make an installation out of traffic cones

Guy Tarrant is a conceptual artist now based in London. Guy created my “Holly” installation for my first Christmas in the gallery and really liked the idea of making a substantial piece of sculptural artwork from hundreds of traffic cones.  In the end this piece of work was never realised but we still managed to raise substantial press coverage for the idea.

A better image of Guy posing with his cones.  This piece was never completed due to planning permission lol!

A better image of Guy posing with his cones. This piece was never completed due to planning permission!

The Star 11oct1993 2.jpeg

I tried to think positive..

I tried to think positive..

Another notable thing I did involved decorating the cages. Yes, you heard right, I said cages. They were referred to as this because they were 6 feet high metal fences that caged in businesses on each side of the road, built in such a way that you had to walk nearly 200 yards to cross the road! This was bad, very bad. I knew something needed to be done as people weren’t even crossing the street any more, getting to each shop was too much hassle.  So I hatched a cunning plan.  I decided to decorate the cages with slogans, sayings, and paintings, but in order to do this I needed help.  I drove around gathering artistic friends very late at night from all over the place, getting some of them out of bed at 3am to help me. By 6am we had covered a long section of cages with large sheets of A1 mount board from my picture framing business painted with pictures, lyrics and cheeky statements such as “I hear the train a coming”, “work faster, shorter tea breaks!”. We also strung balloons on the tractors and diggers which we later gave away to local children, and yes, this did cause noise and attract notice! One local radio presenter saw our efforts on their way in to work that morning and gave us a “shout out”. And people began to walk round the cages to read the slogans finally making their way across the street again – phew!

However, it still wasn’t easy to get to us and we had to constantly work VERY hard. I remember getting a visit from a lady after another bout of successful PR had encouraged her to come and see us. I’ll never forget as she flung open the door in a most dramatic way possible when she arrived, it was as though she had just conquered Mount Everest!  She almost collapsed through the door and said “It’s taken me SO LONG TO GET HERE, I’d damn well better buy something now I’m here!” – and she did.

Another time, when large tents were over the tracks, I encouraged another artist friend Kate Jacob to come and help me paint them. Unfortunately this resulted in a lady getting paint on her jacket due to an untimely gust of wind when we were replacing the tent covers and I had to replace the jacket – but hey, you win some, you lose some.

During this period I was also approached to join the Chamber of Trade.  I agreed, but only if I could be on the board within 6 weeks, and I was. Sometimes you’ve just got to get things done!  I learnt a lot from the Chamber of Trade, not just about local politics. I’m glad I did it as it helped me establish my business within the larger business community as well as allowing me to fight for, and support, my local area.

There is still so much to say about this and so many stories to tell; not all bad! Suffice it to say I did survive these works, but many did not.  In fact 1 out of every 4 businesses in Hillsborough closed during the Supertram works, amounting to 94 business ceasing to trade. A horrendous legacy by any account and one that took a long while for Hillsborough to recover from as there were further issues once the works themselves had been completed!  I’ll leave it here and finish this extensive chapter in my next post.


See you soon,

K x


Thanks for staying with me here. After so many years of being constantly busy my ability to recall exact timings of events has definitely diminished. I have had a chat with my husband and it appears I missed a rather significant event from my last post – oops!  Therefore I shall include it now.

In the last post I had asked my husband if he was around for the fashion show and he said he was, so, I presumed that he hadn’t left yet. In fact it turns out that he had left, but then returned for the summer of the show.  Let me explain.  As I have previously stated, my husband did not have any interest in the gallery and was not able to help, despite having tried.  Indeed he was not best pleased that I had started it at all.  He wanted to pursue a career in creative writing and had thought I wanted to pursue a career as an artist. For very many years he did not understand why I gave that up to build and run a gallery. After almost precisely a year, I got home one day to my husband looking somewhat sheepish, and to say I was surprised by the announcement that followed was something of an understatement.  Chris announced that he had just secured a job abroad and would be going to work in Portugal for 2 years, teaching English as a foreign language. In all fairness, Chris had asked me about applying for jobs abroad and I had readily agreed he should as I was already pursuing what I wanted to do, but of course it felt very different when reality hit.  Yes, I did want him to get a job, and yes, he didn’t see me much anyway as I was always at work, but it was still still quite shocking news.  However, the deed was done and he was going to Portugal.

It was a very strange thing, but until the day he actually left the country I suppose I hadn’t really taken in the fact that he really was leaving.  I had so much to do and did work extremely long hours so I suppose I just didn’t think about it.  Chris said afterwards he didn’t think I was that bothered as I hadn’t been at all upset, and I hadn’t, until he actually got on the plane.  That is when the reality of it suddenly hit me like a tone of bricks and I broke down and sobbed.

What was done, was done, so I threw myself into the gallery.  I didn’t count the hours, I just worked and worked and worked.  When Chris left we were still living in the shared flat above the butcher’s shop; the site of my first exhibition and the sum total of my market research.  Sharing a flat as a newly married couple was interesting at times with the odd comment from our flat mate Graham on marriage gender politics tended to add a little spice … but I digress.

As I was spending so much time at the gallery which was across the other side of the city I decided to move and since we had very few possessions and no furniture it wasn’t difficult.  I moved into a small flat above Kate’s Cafe, a transport cafe just up the road from the gallery. It was small, cheap, furnished and close to the gallery, suiting my needs perfectly.

My ‘situation’ did raise eyebrows on one or two notable occasions. One in particular still makes me smile;

Quite early on in my Cupola journey, a young woman called Joanne started working for me on a part time basis, on a very poor wage I’m sad to say, but it was all I could afford.  I have a feeling that it was whilst working on the fashion show that I said to Joanne that I needed to go back to the house to get something and did she mind coming with me.  The look on her face when she saw where I was living was priceless.

“Do you live here?” She asked incredulously.

“Yes” I answered.  “Why do you ask?”

Looking slightly uncomfortable, she answered “Well, I thought you’d have a big house out at Dore* or something.

*For those non Sheffield readers, Dore is considered one of the ‘posh’ areas of the city.

I shouldn’t have been surprised as so many galleries are run by people that are certainly better heeled than myself, often by people who don’t need to make any money out of them.  Joanne could certainly have been forgiven for thinking that I came from a ‘posh’ background as I do have rather a ‘posh’ accent, or so I am led to believe.  I tend to joke that it is my ‘BBC’ voice.  I hail from a small village in the East Midlands, Kegworth, which sits on the borders of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire so I don’t really have any excuse for my accent, it just is the way it is.  Sometimes, it seems to be an advantage and sometimes it does not.  Sometimes knowing Monty Python’s ‘Four Yorkshiremen‘ sketch by heart has its advantages too.

Now, when my customers started discovering that my husband had left the country, their reactions were the most interesting.  I felt their comments usually said more about them than about me.  The two most common reactions were:

A) “I’d never let my husband do that!”


B) “Sounds like the perfect marriage!”

I always try to see the positive in everything, so used to quip that with my husband abroad I got 3 foreign holidays a year! This was true of course but it wasn’t easy, and let me tell you for the people who have not experienced this kind of thing, it is easier to leave than to be left. I found it much easier to visit Chris and then come back to the gallery than for him to come home and then leave again for work. People were brilliant though. Whilst looking after the gallery, one couple even cleaned my outside toilet until it gleamed,  and, I can assure you that wasn’t on my to do list!  I felt really blessed. I had both customers and friends volunteer to look after the gallery whilst I was away.  It was amazing really, though I did come back to some rather long lists and pages and pages of notes!


Supertram comes to Hillsborough.

Whilst my husband was still away the Supertram works came to Hillsborough!  Wow.  How could anyone have known was was about to ensue? The word chaos was an understatement.  During these works 1 out of every 4 businesses in Hillsborough closed down, equating to 94 business closures just in Hillsborough.  It was devastating. People lost their businesses, their homes and very tragically some even took their own lives because of having lost everything.

I, however, determined that I was NOT going to be beaten. During this incredibly difficult time, I possibly learnt more and faster than during any other period.  I was confronted with and had to deal with lies, stupidity, obfuscation, politics, misinformation, ignorance and bloody mindedness. But at the same time forged wonderful new friendships, experienced enormous generosity, kindness, determination, collective cooperation, passion, intelligence, creativity, selflessness and the will to survive!

cartoon 'Road to Hellsborough' in the Sheffield Star Newspaper

Cartoon ‘Road to Hellsborough’ in the Sheffield Star Newspaper


I have many stories and numerous press cuttings from this period which I will share with you plus all the details in the next instalment. It is one of the most challenging episodes of running Cupola I have experienced.


K x


Apologies for my tardiness.  I cannot believe how long it has been since my last post.  Please do forgive me. I am just so busy all the time!  Though I believe most people think that running a gallery seems to involve nothing more than sitting around looking glamorous, eating cakes and taking money (I wish),  there is rather more to it than that, as my recent work experience students can testify I’m sure!  Which reminds me of a story… However, I must not get distracted, so here we go with the next episode of the story of Cupola.

The Looming Supertram.

With support from my new mentor, David, I began to organise and curate shows, bring in new stock and manage the picture framing business more effectively.  I was essentially running two businesses on my own which meant I was working all hours of the day and night, and often 7 days a week.  Looking back now I cannot for the life of me work out how I did it, but I did.  My new husband did try to help at one point but it was pretty obvious that was definitely NOT going to work.  He,  I am sure won’t mind me saying, is about as practical as a, well, a completely impractical thing!

Amidst this, with me working very hard to build my business, I remember being approached by someone doing a survey about building what is now called the Sheffield Supertram.  Of course I didn’t really know what it was all about or have much of an understanding of what the construction work was going to mean for businesses in my area.  Fortunately for me, the small number of businesses around me had created their own little network called Middlewood Traders and they regularly got together to try to help improve things for members in the area. They even ran their own weekly raffle, it was great stuff.  Kate, one of the members who owned a transport cafe knew that she would go out of business; our road was going to be turned into a cul-de-sac for approximately three years. When I heard about this, I knew something had to be done and was absolutely determined that if I was going out of business I would go out because I did, not because someone or something else put me out.

So I decided that I needed to do something to raise the gallery profile significantly and I hatched a cunning plan …

My International Fashion Show

Please don’t ask me why I decided to try to host a fashion show in two domestic scale shop units and a back yard for my profile raising stunt,  I know it was a ridiculous, impractical and a slightly unhinged idea, but staying true to form that was what I decided to do.  It meant a crazy amount of work but I didn’t mind that and it did help me make some amazing new connections with some wonderfully talented people. I can’t remember the name of the woman now who offered to help with the PR side and my amazing friend and customer, Matthew, helped in a way that can only be described as utterly selfless, verging on the masochistic. He volunteered to help me start work at 5 am, painting the cellar ALL NIGHT, leaving him off his head with the fumes so that he couldn’t even manoeuvre a table out of the front door which he had offered to store!

I advertised the opportunity for artists through Artists Newsletter and local fashion colleges. I ended up being sent work from Italy and London as well as getting work from local fashion students.  The Crucible Theatre offered to do the sound and lighting for me for nothing and I borrowed a catwalk from a school.  We also used a local model agency for our catwalk models, who had to change in my basement, which was cleared and painted thanks to Matthew.

Through all this, it was painting the naked models in the yard which caught the eye of the national press.  I think they would have been even more delighted had there been a tin bath as well as my outside toilet, keen on depicting the northern stereotype.  Whereas the men in the bookies next door formed an orderly queue to take a peek out of the back window …

independent wed 14 july 93

Here is the coverage I managed to get in the Independent, and what elicited my ‘good girl’ postcard from my mentor and friend David Butterfield.

Despite it being a ridiculous idea I did get an astonishing amount of press coverage; I had 15 articles in the local press, coverage in the nationals and a good slot on local TV wearing a dress made out of the colour separation sheets from a laser copier. The TV appearance was great fun, naturally there were a few incidents too.  One of the models managed to give herself a massive black eye the day before the TV show and had to use stage make-up to cover it up and one of the male models refused to appear, however, I definitely understood why.  One of the fashion pieces was a denim bikini for a man, which he had been happy to model for our photos shoot (I WILL find that picture), but he had not been informed by the model agency that the TV wanted to shoot that particular piece. He therefore had told all his friends and family to watch, so when asked to model the “boy bikini” he refused.  The TV tried hard to persuade him as they were desperate to use the tag line “and now here’s a number for Richard Whitely on his holidays” .  Yes, it would have been great, but a ‘no show’ on that one I’m afraid.  It would have become a classic I’m sure.

Here are a few press cuttings from The Sheffield Telegraph.

Fashion by Russian artist for Cupola's fashion show.

Front Page of The Sheffield Telegraph.

Coverage in the local Sheffield Telegraph

Coverage in The Sheffield Telegraph

I do have images of some of the fashion items somewhere and I will post them when I find them.  We had the denim wear and also rubber wear(!) as well as other pieces.  I now know that you have to use talcum powder to get rubber wear on … You really do learn something new everyday!

We had a national competition winner’s dress, we had boys in bikinis, we were ahead of the times (Mankini?)  Bah! Girls stuff Heh! Heh!

The lovely, talented, and amazing Elton from ‘Hair by Christmas’ as it was called back then (now Betty Tigers) did all the hair styles for the models for free too.  The way people helped out and pitched in was just fantastic, it simply would not have been possible otherwise.

So, how did we actually manage to fit in a catwalk into the rather small space? Well … We built the catwalk around from one room to the other and out into the back yard where we erected a marquee!  ‘Marquee Mark’ did a marvellous job attaching part of the marquee directly to the wall of the building and securing another corner to the staircase that led to next door’s upstairs flat.  It did restrict their entrance, but I bought them a bottle of champagne to say ‘thank you and sorry’ for the inconvenience.

The event was two shows in one day, and believe me, that was enough.  I can only tell you how much work it all was and then suddenly it was over, but we did manage to pull it off, amazingly.  Everyone seem pleased with the event except one artist who had come up from London.  She was clearly expecting something else when she arrived, something far grander I presume.  I say that as she declined to allow her work to be used in the show.  It was a shame as it was lovely work and we had allocated a model to wear it, but it wasn’t to be.  I offered to pay her travel expenses but she declined and simply drove all the way back to London again.  Such is life.

Anyway, the strategy clearly worked in terms of profile raising as we got huge amounts of press coverage across newspapers, magazines, radio and TV.  The feature on local TV even managed to impress my in-laws; no mean feat I warrant you!  I suddenly became ‘Our Karen’.

Mission accomplished; my new status as ‘press friendly’ was to become invaluable as the Supertram works were looming, little did I know how valuable.

This fashion show, however unrealistic, time and cost inefficient, was the most amazing experience on so many levels.  I met wonderful, creative, generous people, learnt a huge amount and delivered something no-one really thought possible.  I am not sure I would ever do it again, but it made me ambitious, adventurous and maybe even more daring than I was previously.  With that under my belt I was ready to tackle anything!  Or so I thought …

Little did I realise that my biggest challenge was just about to start.

I’ll try not to leave it so long next time.

K x