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The Summer of 2020: Part 1



Ben Pentreath

I am sorry it’s taken so long to write. It’s for all sorts of reasons.  Partly, you’ll understand, that for all of us, hours merged into days, days into weeks – time has drifted like no other time I know. The beautiful, restless, inexorable summer of 2020 has rolled along in all her strange majesty, a blur of statistics, fear, humour, disappointment, relentlessness, happiness, love – and her own sort of normality. I’m sure we have all felt changing emotions. The roller-coaster of the early spring, the panic of lockdown, the fear of terrible events unfolding, dissipated into something less strident but equally hard to manage in its way – the sheer eventlessness of life, in which everything somehow blurred into everything else. Do you know what I mean? But it has been good too.

We did begin to get things back to a new normal. The office renovation works completed, and we began in early July to reopen very, very gently. Can I admit that I, for one, love working with real people in real meetings, drawing on real paper and communicating with good old fashioned nuances – not permanently through the digital prism of the flat distant screen?  It felt good to be back in London, and watch day by day, week by week, as little signs of life returning emerged – Noble Rot opening on Lambs Conduit Street; more and more traders returning; the coffee shops re-opening, quietly at first, busier now. London still feels quiet and careful, cautious. The atmosphere of watching life coming back was not unlike watching spring unfold in Dorset earlier in the year – day by day you notice tiny changes.  Normally life hurtles by.  I think we will look back in years to come at this moment and realise that something good is in the stillness and the smallness of the world we found ourselves in, for a moment.

Summer in Dorset drifted on and was dreamy.  So here are a few snapshots of my visual diary of the month of July, which take off from the last time I wrote.

The first of the dahlias. 

Incredible, warm, golden evenings.

The meadow has never been better, filled with wild flowers.  I think some of the meadow will be giving way to Charlie’s need for vegetable and flower beds next year. 

As in the spring, we took our walk around the usual routes each mornings…

Up into the woods on the hottest of days…

Around and up to the top on fresher mornings….

This is one of the last photos of the ducks. I’m afraid a week or two later we had a fox attack, and they didn’t make it. It was very very sad, but it’s a part of life, as every keeper of chickens and ducks will know, and I’m sure that Charlie will be breeding more happy friendly runner ducks in the spring. Maybe not quite so many next time…?  We were down a chicken or two, too, but the bantams have now started laying tiny eggs, not much bigger than a quails. 

Sorry for that sad moment; for the meantime, the garden pressed on with its insane ebullience. 

On some still, clear mornings, the ground heavy with dew, there was the tiniest hint of autumn in the air. Here we are now, in early September, and it really feels as if the season has shifted. Back then, it was more of a whisper.  But I love those mornings.

Some days a sea mist blew in.

The next, clear as a bell. 

Beautiful unexpected combinations. 

Sibyl gives her famous side-eye to the camera.

Then, we were heading to Scotland. One last dreamy evening at the Parsonage. we packed the car, and went to bed early on one of the most beautiful nights of the year. 

We arrived in a beautiful, bright, breezy Scotland…

The cottage was SO happy to see us arrive. It had been locked up for months…. it felt so good to throw open the doors and let the sunshine and air in. 

Sybil and Enid exploring and remembering. 

(it looks a bit like the bucket of dahlias from Dorset was exploring too). We went for a walk to stretch tired limbs…

The astonishing view over to the Paps of Jura. 

The air, sea and sky sparkled.  Such a completely different atmosphere to sleepy, hazy, summery Dorset. 

We’d driven the chickens north, and in record time had assembled the flat-pack chicken coop. 

Charlie’s veg beds had turned into a wildflower meadow. 

The lowering sun.  Time for a drink. 

The following morning we woke bright and early. Team photo (sweater matching window optional).

And there we shall leave things; Part 2 will follow soon.

It hasn’t been an easy summer for anyone, I think. But you’ll forgive me if I don’t get political.  I know that one or two commenters on the blog, or instagram for that matter, want to have my views on this or that or the other; you equally all know, you’re not going to get them.

None of us are hiding our heads in the sand. America in particular feels like a nation in turmoil, but I remain confident that good things can emerge from times of change. But at the same time as having the eye on the big picture, you all know well enough by now that the way I retain my sanity – and the way I think you retain yours – is to breathe deeply and focus on what is in our control… to love your neighbour as you love yourself; not to expect everyone to think or be just like you; and above all – to stay curious – curious to the beauty of the magical world in front of you, curious to the world beyond.

 

And finally…

Regular readers will have noticed that overnight the website has changed.  I am afraid that this is one of the other less exciting reasons why I haven’t been able to blog for a little while, since our return from Scotland – as the web elves fine-tuned the huge machinery of our new website, adjusting a knob here, tweaking a dial over there, tinkering and sorting.  It’s been a huge process.

This is the third big iteration of the Pentreath & Hall website. I’m always glad to say that we were one of the first small shops (of our ilk) to make a website, right back when we opened in 2008.   I’m equally glad to say that Joe, our lovely web designer in those early days, told me and Bridie in no uncertain terms – “Ben, you MUST write a blog, it’s what creates interest and changing content and makes people come back week after week”.   I’ll be honest – at the time, I didn’t even know what a blog was.  How much I have enjoyed the results over so many years now? I look back over the archive and feel like I dip in to a record of more than a decade of life, now, with all its sadnesses and happiness and change.  And I could never bear to keep a diary when I was younger!

The second iteration of the website, which nearly every reader of the blog for the last few years will be familiar with, came about 5 or 6 years ago now; Colin joined the shop, and built our new website from the ground up, beautifully designed by our friend Connie Barton.

But as is the way with these things, the system was creaking badly. Maybe you were one of the frustrated customers who bought an antique online, only to find that we had to write to you later telling you the annoying news that it had already sold in the shop earlier that day.  Maybe you were a customer who couldn’t quite place an order easily.  You were certainly a customer who would have struggled to look at the website on your phone properly.

So for the last year, Bridie and I have been re-working the entire website – at the same time, trying to keep it as familiar as possible to our MANY loyal customers and readers who have been with us for so long.

In the summer of Coronavirus, never has a website been more essential for the survival of a small, specialist business like ours.  I can’t pretend we’ve had an easy time this spring and summer, but I will definitely say that government support was focused and immediate when we needed it.  But then, more importantly, a very strange thing happened.  Many, many of our customers started placing very kind and generous orders even when we were still closed.  So a few months ago now, we were able to bring Emily and Kinga out of furlough as we needed to process all those orders. And much to our amazement they have continued to pour in.

Bridie and I cannot tell you, our loyal friends and customers, how grateful we are.  I guess we’ve always tried to do something special; and the shop has always tried to stay small, unique, friendly – a bit like a somewhat extended family.  And maybe that’s why so many of you have been looking after us right now, too?

Please will you tell us things you like or don’t like about the new site? You can leave a comment, or email me – ben@benpentreath.com.  It would be hugely helpful to have your input now, as we softly get things going before the autumn really kicks in.  But already – for us – the most important thing is that behind the scenes the system isn’t about to explode. So we can process orders and questions and shipping far, far more seamlessly than ever before; it’s really going to make a huge difference.

(One small thing I’ll say right now – if you, like me, enjoy reading the old blogs and then all the comments beneath them – that will be coming. we are shortly able to release an archive of all the old blogs WITH their comments.  For now, you can read them all here, but without the old comments I am afraid. A tiny point but one worth making. I’ll let you know when the archive site is properly running).

We’ve got more exciting news; in the autumn, we’ll be taking over a large space in a beautiful Victorian warehouse a short walk from Rugby Street; and early in 2021, we’ll be moving a lot of the operations of the shop over there, so you can look forward too, now, to warehouse sales and other events for regular customers in due course. We’ll never leave our beautiful homein Rugby Street, but it will be quite a good thing, all round, that we are not trying to cram all of our stock into a tiny Victorian basement of our tiny shop any more.

Covid has delayed some of our other plans, for the opening of the P&H townhouse with our rental rooms upstairs, but these are now getting back on track too. So as we slip into the autumn, it feels like an exciting time at 17 Rugby Street, and I wanted to take a bit of time to give you all an update on that – as well as goings on in Dorset (and, next week, in Scotland).

Please have a good browse around the website; please give us your thoughts and feedback – positive or negative, ideally constructive. And thank you again –

with best wishes from Ben & Bridie.

34 comments on this post

  • Peggy

    You were back five days ago!! Yes. Yes.
    All the usual loveliness with a sad touch of Nature’s way.
    Your blog is literally a substitute for our trip to England that was Covided. Many, many thanks.
    Can’t wait for Part 2.


  • Ingrid Haidvogl

    I can’t thank you enough for taking-and sharing these wonder-ful pictures (in the very original sense of the word) plus
    writing. ( Especially beautiful: that Scottish light… – I do so miss being able to go to Britain……)
    As always
    Ingrid ( Lake Traunsee/Austria)


  • Pierre B.

    Very happy to know you are all fine. Your good spirit is much appreciated. Welcome back!


  • Birgit Theobald

    Beautiful blog Ben, your Scotland holidays are looking so wonderful, such a great weather too …… also beautiful Dorset and The Parsonage !
    Great you’re back again and all best wishes with all the new changes.
    Yours Birgit from Germany :)


  • Liu

    How beautiful is this blog, thank you for a great atmosphere!


  • Darlene Chandler

    I just loved this blog and all of the wonderful landscape pictures. With the mist in Dorset and the wonderful gleaming sunshine in Scotland. I loved the picture of the cottage and the pot of Dahlias and the baby chicks and all of your beautiful gardens. Sad to hear about your ducks and the fox. They were so beautiful. Love you new website. And really love the fact that Charlie’s sweater matched the door frames of your cottage. That was a wonderful picture of him and your dogs. So happy also about your comment about politics. I believe as you do and strive to positiveness always and the beauty around us. I will say all of the lovely photos were so inspiring. I so look forward to receiving them. All the best.


  • Janice Hughes

    So glad to read your blog again. So sad about the poor ducks.


  • Nathalie Vaandrager

    The photo of Charlie with the dogs and the matching sweater-window situation is fabulous – from now on, I shall be taking special attention to the sweater I put on in the morning and the window I plan to sit in front of.
    Your blog is a joy to read – highlight of many a grey Monday!


  • Pam Watson

    Dear Ben,
    I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your blog and gorgeous photographs. It is such a treat to see pictures of the house and grounds in Dorset, the dogs, and you and Charlie. I concur on your feelings of the Pandemic. It’s difficult to have our world turned upside down.
    We live in NewHampshire in the US and it is a much wilder landscape here. It’s quite beautiful but different from Dorset or Scotland.
    Thank you for sharing a part of your life.


  • julia hoskins

    just so much beauty. thank you, as ever, for sharing.


  • Patricia Taylor

    Just opened up computer to see if by chance there was a posting from you before I went in the garden
    to get on with Autumn chores – needless to say the start was delayed – so glad to see you are back and
    sight of your borders in Dorset will be encouraging me when I get in the garden – better have a coffee
    first ! Thank you.


  • jane

    glad that all is humming along, as normally as possible during this year of abnormalities.

    and hadn’t heard about the p&h townhouse until just now … what wonderful news!


  • MaryB

    So good to see you up & running again. :)
    Good new website layout, much easier for this old computer with its ancient monitor and operating system.
    Thank you for not talking politics and turmoil. I can find that everywhere else I look.
    Y’all are a gentle calming influence. Much appreciated!
    By the way, what ever happened with the old church roof? Is there an update on that?


  • Sally

    Thank you for another uplifting (except for the ducks, but still a lovely duck photo) and reflective post. Just as I’m planting dahlia tubers in NZ, it’s encouraging to see them blooming. In spite of all that happens around us, dahlias grow, wildflowers take over paddocks, and vegetable gardens are planned. The photo of Charlie and the dogs; the yellows, and the stones, is a wonderful composition. The look on Mavis’s face is the best thing.


  • Joanie

    Well then…what a beautiful compendium of light, nature, tragedy a la duck, and commerce. I had just been thinking that my morning coffee cup was missing a saucer. Thanks for finding the time to catch us all up. Retreated from Chicago in March and we have been living in wooded dune and shoreline on the other side of Lake Michigan. It has its own beauty, but have missed the gentle hills of Dorset and the lochs of Scotland. Looking forward to Part 2 and exploring the new website. Be safe and well, all of you at P&H.


  • Lisa D.

    Ben – your poor ducks! That’s so awful. How did the foxes get to them? I will always love your blog, no matter what changes you make. I know I have said this before, but I absolutely swoon over your pictures. The vistas of rolling green hills with huge trees remind me of the northern California that existed when I grew up here. Now, sadly, it’s over developed, overcrowded, doesn’t have enough water, traffic is gridlocked, huge populations of homeless people, fires everywhere, and our power grid is dangerously antiquated and we have rolling blackouts. Sounds like a third world country, doesn’t it? I apologize for my rant. I’m sure all of this social isolation and SIP doesn’t help. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful world. It’s a breath of fresh air, and it must be wonderful to live in such an oasis.


  • Eve

    How lovely to read your blog again. But, oh, I’m so sorry about the ducks!


  • Clay McCleery

    Thank you for today’s blog! I’ve been wondering how you boys were faring, and am glad to see you both healthy.
    Life here is still pretty scary, as a good many still don’t/won’t take the virus seriously. So being alone in my home has been the norm, for me. Your blog brightens my day.
    Thank you again.


  • jenny jimpson

    What an absolute joy your photos are! They are sumptuous and restful and all things good.😄


  • Roger K Lindland

    Great to see you back. Your art, design and messages became a part of my life and they were missed. Now, all is going to be better.


  • Jane Kaula

    How wonderful to read your blog again, for us it brings with it a sense of joyful normality, something which has been missing over the last months.


  • Debra Moore

    Dear Ben
    It is so nice to read your blog and see your beautiful photos. I am so sorry to hear about the ducks they were a joy. I am not able to comment too much about your new website but what l can say is that your blog is always welcome and your photos of Scotland. You have helped keep our spirits up in difficult times love to you Charlie and the dogs keep safe.


  • Celia Hegyi

    I’ve been following you for years it seems and loving every post. I do many a screen shot to save some pictures but now there is that nasty ad below. Is there a way to be rid of it? Does it come from you? I would happily pay to read your blog if it would eliminate ads.


  • Deby (in Canada)

    Oh Ben … lovely to have this to enjoy over morning coffee. All your posts this summer have been a comfort in these strange times and a great reminder to enjoy what is right around us. Hugs to Charlie about the ducks … they were such treasures. I’m close to admitting we won’t get to beloved Herefordshire this autumn and your posts remind me that dear friends will still be there when the happy days for travel return. Now to cheer myself up with a good wander through that new website ‼️ xxx Deby


  • WEndy

    Oh Ben, greetings from Sydney. As usual, beautiful,emotive photos, to make my heart swirl. The pic of Charle and the girls. Amazing! Best wishes to you both🥳👌❤️


  • Deborah Wagner

    Good morning, Ben. I write this as my husband fries bacon at our weekend cottage in the woods of western Massachusetts, and your blog is about the best accompaniment to that I can imagine.

    The ducks. Oh, my. We lost our bantams to a fox when we were growing up. It’s the natural world order, but no less distressing to we humans. (The movie “Dean Spanley”, with Peter O’Toole and Sam Neill, which doubtless I have mentioned before, gave me some insight as to how animals view such things. It is billed as a comedy, but it is so much more than that.)

    Now, a pad to rent above the shop? Oh, God, you naughty man, dangling SUCH a carrot before me!

    Your blog is a balm, and you are right to keep politics out of it. The current world order makes the Bard’s, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” a bit hard to fathom, but we understand so little of reality. Maybe ask the dogs?

    Charlie has me lusting for a Fair Isle jumper. Reading your blog does get expensive.

    Best,

    Deborah


  • Allen

    Charlie’s gardens look so amazingly extraordinarily beautiful even though most of the blooming is past! Ben, your photos of Dorset are so evocative and transporting to someone who has been immobilized in NYC for months. I feel like I just made a small weekend getaway. :-) I can’t wait to look at the website. THANK YOU.


  • Patricia Childs

    After hearing we’re in for another 3 weeks of Stage 4 lockdown here in Melbourne your post, gentle words and beautiful photographs were so welcomed. Thank you.


  • Karen

    Dear Ben and Charlie
    So pleased to see you back and get your spin on recent Covid upheavals of life. Photos on Instagram are beautiful and evocative Ben, but it is your commentary that really lifts the heart. I hope you realise just how much you are cherished by all. You are a gentleman in the truest sense of the word. Thank you so much for sharing your life and thoughts with us all.
    Karen in NZ


  • Virginia

    Devastated to hear about the ducks, how awful.


  • Fran Tucker

    Always so lovely to read your thoughful blog and see your evocative pictures.
    Good luck with all the new changes .


  • Celia Slack

    A lovely lazy read on a sunny September morning. Thank you.


  • Madeline Lodge

    How lovely to have a new blog post to read this Sunday morning. The beautiful photos from Dorset and Scotland were a joy and I loved the reference to BOBT’s comment on Sibyl’s ‘ Kohl rimmed young Princess Margaret look, although sad to hear about the runner ducks. The new blog and website look great and all the other events in the pipeline sound very exciting. As always , thank you for sharing it all with us.


  • Joanne

    So glad your blog is back! It’s like missing an old friend.

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