Monday, 22 June 2020

A new 'Normal'

It wasn't until I found myself at home for 6 weeks (popping to the shop only to water plants and check the building was ok) that I realised how I had been living my life on the very edge of it's limit. 

For the first week of lock down I was in total panic mode, constantly questioning everything. 

What if we can't re-open in 3 weeks (as it turned out it would be a 6 week full closure, followed by 4 weeks of working behind a locked door). 

What if our customers go elsewhere?  You would think this a crazy question when the country was put into lock down but up-and-down the country there were florists still operating (supermarkets were able to get flowers in and some wholesalers chose to ignore lock down rules so these businesses were able to buy flowers - maybe not good quality but anything would do).

What if it lasts longer? With no money coming in (we (the shop) didn't qualify for the free 10k business grant and I, personally, didn't qualify for any government assistance) how will the shop bills get paid? 

Will my wholesalers be able to survive if it goes on for too long? What happens if they don't? Where will I go, who will I use? 

How safe will it be when we can go back, if I have a business to go back to? 

How long will it last? How will we pay the rent? What if someone breaks in? There were millions of different little scenarios going around in my head - as I am sure there were for millions of people out there. Let's be honest, none of us had a clue what was going on, or happening, because the people in charge didn't have a clue. 

There were also the personal questions each of us have asked in the past 11/12 weeks. With no money being earned in the shop I wasn't earning my wages and had no idea how I was going to pay my bills. Thankfully I have a great bank who have given me a good overdraft facility, had a big birthday during lock down which saw everyone give me money as they were unable to get to a shop to buy me anything, and I was able to extend my credit card limit; of course, the bank and CC still have to be paid back.

Then, week 2 arrived and I awoke on the Tuesday morning and suddenly realised I had slept for more than 4 hours the previous night - something I haven't done since 2006. I realised I had been drinking hot cups of tea during daylight hours, and eating my breakfast and lunch in one sitting, not having to quickly swallow down a mouthful of food to answer the phone, or jumping up from my seat in the office to serve a customer who has entered the shop. 

By week 3 the tummy issues I've struggled with for years just vanished. The neck, back and knee pain that I take daily pills for didn't need me to be taking quite-so-many. I noticed how blue the sky was, and how many birds - so many - visit the trees and shrubs in my garden. The reason I've not seen these things before is because I never had the time to sit out there. I found myself out there, every morning (even the one day it rained) starting my day with a hot cup of tea whilst watching the blue tits, sparrows, robins, great tits (pigeons, starlings, crows and magpies too) hop around my garden, listening as they chatter away to each other. It is truly remarkable how an hour outside each morning can help to make even the most stressful of days a little easier to get through. For 14 years I've crawled out of bed, exhausted, fumbled my way around the shower; slurped down a cuppa whilst getting dressed, then headed out-of-the-door to work, never having the time (or inclination) to take a look around me. 

Don't get me wrong; it wasn't all moonlight, roses and wonderment. I still had money stresses, and the garden wasn't anywhere near so peaceful once all the kids in the neighbourhood had woken and were out playing football on the green, screaming at each their siblings all day, or screeching when coming up to visit their families for a few hours. 

What those things did teach me though was just how much of my life was being spent inside the 4 walls of the shop. Just because the doors were only open from 8.30 each morning, and closed at 5pm each day, doesn't mean that's all I was working. Most days I was in by 7am each morning, often not getting home until 6/7 each evening. Not always because I was busy enough to be there so long, but because I felt as though I had to be; customers expected me to be. During the night people will email and message me at the shop, and some, personally via my own facebook page - as well as the shop facebook.  It amazes me how many of these people think I am going to respond to them in the middle of the night - one woman tracked me down through my personal facebook and got angry that I didn't reply to her immediately at 2am! That was the world we were living in at-the-time. 

That world has changed though, in ways I don't think any of us could have foreseen. What was once "normal" is not any more. Some have found it easier to adapt to than others, but it is something we are all going to have to learn to live with. 

As a result, I made some decisions regarding the shop and the hours I am here. I have also blocked anyone from being able to message me on my personal social media unless they are friends, and log out of the shops social media when I am not at work. Decisions that haven't gone down well with some, have caused others to seek out another shop to give their orders too. That's fine, I can live with that. 

I was forced to make changes in the shop, changes I would never have made, yet (oddly) they have worked out to be blessings-in-disguise. These changes have given me more time to organise my days so that I don't have to be here 11/12 hours each day (yes, including Sundays more-often-than-not). These changes have given me the most amazing work/life balance to the point where I now get (on average) 6.5 hours sleep - every night. When I was first allowed back into the shop I had to work behind closed doors. The thought of that terrified me, made me feel I was shutting customers out, yet those 4 weeks showed me that the new 'normal' is (for me, business wise) far better than the old one. Last week when everyone else was reopening at the same times they always have, I changed my hours. Now, the shop is not open until 9.30 each morning, and the door is closed at 4pm each evening (this will most likely change to 9 - 5 once the schools are fully back, although I'll play it by ear) and do you know what? I've just had the busiest 5 weeks of trading; EVER. I'm open less hours but dealing with more customers and sending out more orders. It's amazing how much difference a good-night-sleep, and that hour each morning with a hot cuppa and birdsong, can make to productivity throughout the day too. I'm working harder than I have ever done before, yet doing so with less hours (although this morning I was in at 7 - and if a customer needed me to be here earlier, or hang around later for them I would do my best for them) but it's different now as the pressure is off slightly; getting here and then not opening until 9.30 gave me an extra hour to get everything done.

I am so sad, and sorry, that so many people have had to lose their lives during this pandemic (which it not over yet, nor will it be for a very long time to come, no matter how some people believe it is and have told me the measures we have in place in the shop are "stupid" and "overkill) however, I am grateful it gave me the time to take stock of things (suddenly things which once seemed important no longer are) and I like this 'new normal'. As it turns out a happy, more relaxed florist, is also an extremely busy one. 

I thank each-and-every-one of you for your continued loyalty, support and understanding. I hope that you are (and remain to be) safe and healthy. 



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