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Making a difference when it matters



Ben

This is the 442nd blog.

That’s a long, long time of writing blogs. I’ve just counted up, and in so doing, I’ve spanned 11 years of writing, of memories, thoughts and ideas.  I suspect that some readers have been riding for the entire journey.  Some will be newer, but some of those will have – from time to time – sat down and read through the whole long funny happy sad story of life these last 11 years since I first posted on the 15th May, 2009, to announce the opening of our friend and neighbour Elaine Duigenan’s exhibition.

The funny thing is – there’s one comment on that first ever blog, from Mr David-Decker Drane, and it reads perfectly ‘Made it to the end. :)’. Thank you David!

The very  same evening, I wrote the second ever blog: Our Window is Broken but not Our Spirit.

I had posted that beautiful, poignant photograph of a London shopfront during the Blitz purely because it reminded me and Bridie so much of the gloss black painted shutters that we had proudly had made the week we opened our shop, and which have faithfully been opened and closed every day since. When were first planning the shop, someone told me we’d have to put in one of those hideous chain-link metal security grilles that mean spirited shops close down every night behind their window, operated by a little key – often leaving their fluorescent lights shining between the gaps all night long.

I’m afraid we’d have saved a fortune in shutter duties if I’d heeded that advice, but I’m so glad we didn’t.  It was the advice of a person who knows the cost of everything but the value of nothing.

– – –

Then, three years later, on a dark night in August 2011, nine years ago now, I found myself turning to that photograph again, but in sadder times…. As I wrote then, I didn’t think….

But the unthinkable had happened. London had rioted; a howl of anger had risen up, with terrible results.

It’s a strange thing, but I realise that this blog has been through it, over these times since Bride and I first put out our A-board on beautiful little Rugby Street all those years ago.

– – –

This afternoon, Bridie, lovely Emily, our brilliant store manager, and I sat down and decided that the time is right as of tonight – given this evening’s advice from the Government – advice that is echoed throughout Europe and the United States this evening – to temporarily close the doors of the shop until we all know better.

It goes without saying that for as long as we’re able, Marco our shutter man will still be taking the shutters down every morning and putting them up every evening, so that the delightful glow of 17 & 17a Rugby Street shines out for those passing by.  But the shop itself needs to close: to keep our loved ones, and the older loved ones of our loved ones, safe. This is the most important thing right now.

Looking at that photograph again, I realise there is something majestic about that beautiful woman’s smile – the shy smile, and the sideways glance, of someone who knows they are having their photograph taken.

But there’s something even more majestic in the simplicity of the message.

Now for the practical bit:

As the world as we know it enters uncertain times, we’re proud to say – our shopfront is lit up, the door is sadly shut, but the website is VERY MUCH open.

Just for a start I’d like to thank (personally, if I was able) the customers who have been so kind in ordering from us all through the weekend, and this morning.

It SERIOUSLY makes a difference.

We’ve been in touch with all our couriers, who are of course so happy to be dispatching parcels to you throughout the world, as always.  We’ve been in touch with our suppliers, and all is good too – it is, of course, at moments like this that I’m glad in a sense that for these last few years now Bridie and I have focussed so much of our attention on locally made and locally produced things.  I’m expecting the new batch of hundreds of new Ionic candlesticks to be dispatched from the factory in Stoke on Trent any day now.

– – –

But the world we suddenly find ourselves in teaches us all something important too.

This evening, when I’d sat down with Emily and Bridie to work out what next (and I hope you can see that we’re doing our best to stay open for all sorts of reasons), I walked back over to Lambs Conduit Street for a frankly much bigger sit down with the office, in the architectural and design practice.

And we ran through everything that we’ll all be doing together, and will have to do, over the next few weeks – who knows quite for how long – to keep the show on the road. I reflected on how incredible technology is to make this possible – not an option five or ten or twenty years ago. And I reflected on the great collaborative spirit of everyone who I am fortunate enough to have working with me.

I also reflected, if I may, on that still, crisp, blue September morning in New York, nearly twenty years ago, when I’d walked to work early on a beautiful Tuesday, with a spring in my step. All of a sudden, life as we knew it came to a hideous jolting end.  I was standing on Gansevoort Street, watching the dreadful sight of the first tower burning, with a small crowd of onlookers and the jovial humour of white-coated meat packing men, when at 9.02am, suddenly, a tiny speck on the horizon appeared from no-where. “it must be a government plane” cried one of the white-coated men, as we all watched as that aeroplane gently, almost slowly, drifted into the second tower and our lives exploded in total and absolute fear.

I told the office that tale, tonight, and of the deep, strange, penetrating sadness in the air in those months in New York – of the firemen of Engine 24, Ladder 5 who lost their lives that day, their fire station a short walk from my apartment – of the frankly surreal times that we lived through.

And the reason I told everyone – most of whom were too young to really know about 9/11 – this sad story, was because for me the overriding memory I have of that time is not the grief but the huge, great, sheer overwhelming good nature of people, supporting their fellow people; of love and friendship and unexpected kindness to complete strangers.

And that terrible, beautiful time does put what’s happening now into a sense of perspective, just as that beautiful war-time photograph of a simple shop front in London (“OPEN” “OPEN”! It declares) tells us how people before us have been through so much worse, so much tragedy.

And I’m a believer in the love in the world – as long term readers of this blog will, I hope, already know.

I also reflected, with all the people that make up our fantastic team, that perhaps there’s a silver lining to the dark clouds scudding overhead. Perhaps it’s true that we’ll all realise that life can be a little softer, a little less focussed on the plastic stuff shipped in on crates from China to be thrown in landfill a few months later, a little less focussed on relentless travel, a little more focussed on what’s real, what’s good and – let’s face it – on what we all know is good for our beautiful planet –

as we move from the world before to the world that’s maybe to come.

With, hopefully, as few tragedies as possible.

Bridie and I really hope – to coin the phrase that I’ve been using and reading so many times in the last 48 hours – that you stay safe, and well.  If you’re able to stay with us, and continue to support us, then for us all – and all the small businesses and makers and craftsman that WE support – well, for all of us, that will be a beautiful thing.

But even if not, for whatever reason, I feel sure that we will all find beauty out of darkness, just as we always have.

 

 

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