From the virtual world, back to the real one

I titled my last post: Life, suspended. As the days and weeks drift by curiously quickly, yet simultaneously slowly, I think we may all know what I mean.  And now, if you don’t mind, I’ve been beginning to think about the return to normality – or as best a semblance of normality as possible.

Bridie and I are now preparing the shop for the day – as yet, unknown, but hopefully in the not too distant future – when we are able to open the doors again and welcome our customers in. It’s going to be a beautiful day, not just for us – but for all our wonderful neighbours on Rugby Street and Lambs Conduit Street, even if you are only allowed in one at a time and we have an industrial shower-vat of sanitiser at the door.  But we’re also now working out how and when we can re-open our website, even more immediately, now that suppliers are beginning to be able to provide us with new stock and our shippers (and us) have now got full process in place to collect and deliver without contact.  It’s like stretching out limbs that haven’t been used in a while and it’s a great feeling.

In the meantime, we are so grateful to customers who have continued to place orders on the website while we’ve been in complete lockdown, not even knowing when we’d be able to get back in and deliver. That has been amazingly positive for both of us. There’s been a run on Alphabet brush pots!!

So – watch this space, and we’ll keep everyone posted.

I’ve been thinking too about the office. When we closed our doors, on March 16th, which really does seem like another world away now, we left a building that was in a state little short of total chaos even at the best of times. We were a week away from completing the huge renovation of the new office space next door – as I’d found myself saying wistfully to a few people, what a strange time to have completed that particular hugely costly exercise!

But the builders are now back at work – finishing up the extension, working safely and carefully with reduced labour, at safe distance from one another, and that will be complete in a week or two.  We’re then going to be renovating the whole of the big office, which I cannot but tell you feels like the most emotionally satisfying way to finally come back to work – to a new, completely refreshed, clean, repainted and reorganised space – with a whole load of little niggles and problems and necessary repairs completed and fixed.

I think we’ll be coming back to a changed world, though, in which our relationship to the office has shifted.  So, over the next coming days, I’m going to be speaking to all my colleagues in the design studio and finding out questions like – who would rather work in the office full time? And who would rather work at home full time, just coming in for meetings or reviews?  Do some people want a mix? Here’s a question: do some people want to work less – so that they can split their time with other things and other strands of life? It’s all possible in the new world we are finding ourselves in – I think there are no rules, and that’s exciting, in a way.

Of course, we’re lucky. For better or for worse, we’ve managed to keep working pretty well for the last four and half weeks, and for the forseeable future, although I am sick of zoom meetings and I’m longing to be able to sit at a table with colleagues and clients and just draw things out together.

No, we’re lucky – my heart’s concerned for my close friends in the world of restaurants or bars or events or hospitality or hotels and travel or a myriad of other businesses, large and small, and industry – who will find their lives continuing to be turned upside down for long months to come. It’s going to be a long, long time before normality really is normal. And that’s worrying. I think it’s good to be worried – after all, that’s how we will consider problems and solve them, step by step. It’s definitely not going to go on for ever – the important thing is to make sure that we play a long game – give ourselves, as it were, mentally, physically, emotionally, financially (if possible) enough ‘runway’ to make a safe landing when we can.

As I’ve already written, the way I stay calm these days is not to freak out about things out of my direct control, and not to watch the news (there isn’t any), and – of course – to enjoy the simplicity of seeing things here in Dorset change slowly day by day; to think about the benefits that this ‘pressing the re-boot button’ of business as normal might mean. What is normal, after all, and do we want every aspect of it back again?

Having said all that;

If I was in charge – which I’m not – I think I would now be telling people in Great Britain – (accepting that each place and each country has its own nuances of timing) that it will soon – not just yet – but very soon, be okay for family groups to start visiting each other again… IF everyone is being responsible, which I think the last four weeks have shown, we can trust them to be.

I can’t bear to think of how my Mum and my Dad would have been by now, trapped in their flat (even with its sunny balcony): their main, perhaps their only real pleasure in life in the last two years, was spending time with family – grandchildren in particular. To have been isolated from them, or the cups of tea when we popped in to see them in their flat, or Sunday lunches here at the Parsonage, that we had together, for a month… well, that would have been an unimaginable pain – but to have to do the same for another two months would have meant a life no longer worth living for my parents.  I think they’d be saying that they’d rather have a short life spent with their friends and family rather than a long life without them.

I hope that the wonderful NHS is now up to capacity to cope – or shortly will be –  it feels like it. I’m not trying to be irresponsible but I have been thanking my lucky stars almost every day that my dear Mum and Dad didn’t have to live in that confinement.


But, most importantly of all, I’d stand up on the podium at 10 Downing Street tomorrow and declare open all garden centres again – with immediate effect.  Britain is a nation of shopkeepers and gardeners.  Okay – us shopkeepers can wait a little longer, we don’t mind. But spring is springing, and the gardens can’t wait. Time to let people buy plants.

Now, as you’ll imagine, I’ve got many more thoughts about everything but I think now’s not the time or the place for those; now’s the time and place to concentrate on the things and people we’re able to look after – friends, neighbours, colleagues, strangers.

– – –

Charlie and I have had our usual round of walks each morning, this week. Spring has been bursting in the valley; it’s been an almost surreally beautiful time. Some photos follow this blog, which is just the order I felt like writing in today…

But to almost conclude, a little note to this readership that today I’ve published a guest blog for my great friend Ruth over on the Bible of British Taste – reflecting on 12 years at the Parsonage, and the last four weeks, and with some photos of the house taken last weekend. Head over there if you’d like to have a look. Many scenes will be familiar to loyal readers of the blog, but some may be new. Double billing this week!

Sharp eyed viewers of the following photographs will notice two things.

First, the amazing changes that occur in just a few days (between the start of the pictures, and the end) with the leaf and blossom right now.

Second – and, if I’m honest, this is as distressing to me as the entire situation we’re all in now – this does seem to be the year that all the beautiful, wonderful veteran ash trees running down the valley are not going to make it. Ash die back has taken its toll.  And this was the week we noticed.  The landscape is going to shift for ever now.  The tree right ahead, at the junction of the lane – behind the 80s phone box (I never was quite sure why it’s not an old fashioned red box, here of all places) – is just one of many, for instance, that I think are now not looking right this spring.  I’ll be watching carefully, and will report on faltering progress…

But it’s time to plant more trees.

On that note – have a good week, stay safe, stay loving, and calm.

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