Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Finding a Way Forward

There have been fewer posts on here lately. Which isn't that surprising really. In the early days of lockdown, as we adjusted to the endless days with the fear and uncertainty, many people began, like me, to write.

Others created photo diaries and stories, using social media to document all that is going on around us and how they are feeling about it.

It felt important in those early days to have a record of what we actually did all day when there was little to do. And also to write down how we were feeling - especially if we were banned from meeting with those we'd usually share our thoughts and fears with over a nice glass or three of wine.

As the days stretched into weeks and now months many of them have naturally had a certain similarity. Zoom was a revelation - a Godsend! And now the thought of logging onto another quiz or call has lost it's excitement maybe.
Cooking from scratch was a great opportunity to try out new recipes - assuming you could get to the shops or get a delivery or just get the ingredients you needed. After the shortages of toilet roll and pasta came the great self raising flour scandal - where is it all?!

The weather here in our little corner of the UK has been a blessing, as has our garden. I feel for those in high rise flats, cooped up with children or teenagers, no garden and no respite. Not for me to judge those who have escaped to parks and public places, though I so wish from the bottom of my heart they did not do so too soon. And used common sense and stayed well apart, so that this virus stops spreading and infecting people so fast and so hard.

A friend said to me a few weeks back that this stage of the lockdown would be a challenge and I agree. The Stay at Home message was clear and unambiguous. The Stay Alert one less so, requiring as it does our common sense and compliance with the slightly eased measures. Some remain very fearful, believing the number of new infections is still too high to allow people to meet up in the park or for children to return to school. Others look at the economy - which is so much more than money and numbers and in fact refers to people's lives and livelihoods - and say we cannot stay locked down any longer.

I don't know the answer. We are going to tentatively re-open The Kitchen in the coming weeks but it will be a very different place that is certain. This blog was never about the business - that all happens over on our website. But when it comes to feelings about reopening it's perhaps worth noting that there is fear and anxiety at all there is to do, and how alone that feels. But also a sense that it is important to try and restore some sense of a new normality, and for the sake of the goodwill of our customers to do what we can.

Sunday, 10 May 2020

A Bleurgh sort of day

The weather changed overnight. From the warmth of the spring sunshine to grey skies and a stiff breeze. No sitting in the garden with a summer cocktail, and our walk this morning had a distinctly different feel to it too.

Clad in jumpers and jeans, with back up waterproofs, we walked briskly through the woods taking note of the changing landscape over the past few weeks. The bluebells have gone, the cow parsley is in abundance, here and there buttercups and forget me nots entice you to bend down and admire their fleeting  beauty - captured as everything else is for an Instagram post later in the day.

Today we took paths less travelled and found ourselves at a dead end on several occasions. It mattered not at all - the Ordnance Survey map on the iphone speedily directs us back to the public footpath or woodland walk. In Long Valley Wood we are rarely far from the sound of the Metropolitan railway line, or glimpses of the Grand Union Canal through the trees. Going down a dead end may of course feel like a waste of time to some as it doesn't get you anywhere. But is that in fact the purpose of this government approved exercise? Whilst racking up the steps we are there to enjoy the view and on several occasions it has been the rarely visited woodland at the end of a more difficult to pass track that has surprised us most of all with its beauty.

On arrival home, with it no longer possible to sit out in the garden, the day stretched ahead rather. Whilst working on a Sunday is a regular occurrence when The Kitchen is open, it doesn't feel like the right day to be responding to emails or writing revised Business Plans. The hourly news bulletins are full of speculation as to what the Prime Minister will announce at 7pm, with the easing of our lockdown on many people's minds. My nephew who lives and works in Madrid has smilingly commented that we haven't been under lockdown in the UK and certainly if you compare the restrictions on our daily life to those in many other countries that would appear to be the case.

Some said at the beginning of all this that the public would only tolerate a curtailment of their usual activities for a limited period of time. I think these people were behavioural scientists or some such. I wonder now if perhaps they were not far wrong! Looking at the way some people were out and on the streets on Friday, and the impatience from others to get back to normal, I begin to feel more than ever that not everyone shares my fears regarding the resurgence of COVID-19 and a second wave in the autumn/winter when it will be harder still to manage.

Yesterday evening, whilst cleaning my teeth for the fifth or sixth time of the day (there are no dentists working other than for the very worst kind of emergency) my mind was full of what to write about today. I wish yet again that I had dragged out the laptop and written this then. Or even that I had made notes on my phone or a piece of paper. But try as I might I cannot recall what it was that felt of such significance at 11pm last night. When I awoke at around 8am this morning those ideas had evaporated or perhaps they were absorbed into the disturbing and disruptive dreams which I know I am not alone in experiencing.

As the days go on it is surely harder and harder to take each one of them at a time. Many have jokingly compared the experience to Groundhog Day, and it is true that for many of us it's become almost impossible to remember what day of the week it is. The awful irony of this of course is that many of our key and frontline workers are working harder than ever. Twelve hour shifts in difficult and demanding job - whether in hospitals, supermarkets, or as delivery drivers, carers, postal workers and so many more vital roles. Whilst others amongst us are unable to work at all.

Some of course are furloughed from their regular employment - but how long will that last before companies reluctantly have to make more workers redundant? Others such as the self employed and small business owners are worried sick as to where they will find the money to pay the bills, even with the grants and loans offered by the government. These are of course a lifeline but how long is this going to go on for? If businesses such as The Kitchen are only able to reopen for takeaways, collections, or with just three or four tables there is no way they can be profitable. They will inevitably die a slow death, the danger being our unwillingness to accept this and to keep borrowing or pumping in personal cash until we end up with nothing.

Of course this worry is nothing in comparison to that of those who are unwell, who have friends and family infected with or at huge risk from catching the virus. And at the start of Christian Aid Week my thoughts go out to those in developing countries for whom the threat is greater still with overcrowded living facilities and a lack of good - or even basic - sanitation.

Last night we watched The Darkest Hour, and were taken back to the difficult decisions Churchill had to make at the beginning of the Second World War. Along with entering into his angst I became so very aware of the years the people of the UK spent enduring the fear and suffering of wartime. Who's to say we won't be living in similar uncertainty for several years? We hope and pray that treatments will be found, that a safe and effective vaccine will be developed, that many people will be found to have acquired immunity, or that the virus will in some other way be defeated. But until that time we need to see our loved ones, educate our children, and earn a living. Yes we may be able to forgo the cinema and sporting fixtures, international flights and holidays. How we care for those whose livelihoods depend on these industries is another matter of course. But we cannot remain locked in our homes forever, and perhaps at some point we do need to venture out and live with the new norml.

For this to happen however we need to have confidence that the virus is at the very least under control and that all possible precautions are in place to prevent it from further spreading and peaking again and again.

Well that is all for today. Where has the time gone? A few cake boxes ordered, and cupcake cases for a charitable order this week. Two children's stories read and recorded for some of our younger customers to enjoy. Social media updated, emails and messages replied to. And now of course this blog post written and ready to be shared.

The week ahead feels a little uncertain but as someone said to me yesterday that's how change feels - a little scary at times which is why it's not always popular or something we welcome. At the beginning of the pandemic I had planned to use this blog as more of a daily diary. Documenting what we did every day, with little in the way of analysis. To an extent that is how it begun with daily updates on the sourdough starter for example!

More recently however I feel it may have become a little more reflective. Less regular maybe but perhaps that isn't a bad thing. It's no longer a necessity to record everything we do, as the days are so often very similar. Much of what is happening at The Kitchen is on our social media pages, with the website blog also updated every week or so and email newsletters sent to our mailing list. We are recording podcasts too, so there is no shortage of information as to how this business and indeed this family are spending time during this pandemic.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

A Bloggy sort of day

Yesterday we commemorated 75 years since VE Day. Parades, parties and other celebrations had all been cancelled due to the pandemic. But posters began to circulate on social media and I found myself tagged in some of them. People were being encouraged to decorate their houses with red white and blue bunting, and to sit in their driveway at 4pm to enjoy tea and scones, or coffee and cake. A two minute silence would be observed at 11am and at 9pm everyone would sing "We'll meet again" in the street.

Other things were added to this timetable such as the nation's toast but I didn't quite catch the correct timing for that. Some posters were suggesting a socially distanced street party from 4pm - 6pm with music, drinks and dancing. I wasn't quite sure what to think and asked for the thoughts of the lovely folk in my neighbours WhatsApp group. One member of the group is an ICU matron and her words resonated very strongly with me - that it would be difficult to observe a two metre distance after a drink or two, and her ICU is still well over capacity. She felt very uneasy and this reinforced my own feeling that it was too early to be doing something like this. There was also in my mind a paradox about the celebratory aspect of it all in the midst of a pandemic when we were after all commemorating lives lost 75 years ago too.

One of the lovely things about our neighbours group is the respect shown, as people listen to each other and the collective decision was made that we would save our celebrations for when this is all over. We agreed - during our 8pm clap on Thursday - that we would raise a glass at 4pm. Which we did, and it was lovely. But it was also clear to see how easily social distancing could be breached as folk moved around to say hello to others, and walkers and cyclists breezed down our street with seemingly not a care in the world.

I was very uneasy and came in early. A glass of Pimms had seemed like a nice idea - and it was - but it definitely felt to me at odds with the situation we find ourselves in. A nice cup of tea would have felt more appropriate. As a massive and compulsive overthinker I have begun to blame myelf for even drawing my neighbours' attention to the fact these posters were circulating, wondering if perhaps I had said nothing we could all have stayed indoors safe from harm.

Others however were more than happy to enjoy the sunshine, and would obviously have liked music and dancing. All over social media last night there were photos of parties up and down the country with folk sat two metres apart. But that was initially and as our neighbour had said - would it remain that way after a few drinks or if you wanted to chat to someone? Or if you were approached by someone wanting to chat? I fear that there will be a spike in infections in a week or so's time and feel very relieved that we did not have a proper party. Rather than beat myself up about having even mentioned what folk were doing I'm keeping hold of how I feel about all this and using it to influence my thinking with regard to re-opening The Kitchen. For yes there are things that we can do but the question in my mind is should we do them? A much more challenging one to answer perhaps.

The title for this blog comes from the fact that I just blogged over on the website www.thekitchencroxley.co.uk After a week or so of not writing I feel myself with the urge to do so. Call it withdrawal symptoms maybe! It helps me no end to dump whatever I am thinking and feeling onto a piece of paper or a virtual page here and leave it so that I can move on. This post however is precariously close to being long enough so time now to move on and create a new post about what's been happening this week?

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Why and When to Write

Over the past few days my inability to write anything has been bothering me a great deal. Having committed myself to writing something every day I did so enthusiastically at the beginning of this period of what some are calling Lockdown. I'm not sure why I stopped other than the days began to be sunnier, then busier, then sadder... The thoughts of what to write are always there along with the feeling that I am missing out and missing something by not recording them. But these long and lazy days pass by so quickly, there barely seems to be time to get anything done between the essentials such as getting dressed, touching base with the family, cooking a meal and of course at some point during the day participating in a quiz of some sort.

And then there are the messages of course. Group chats are busier than ever as so few people are "at work". They may well be working of course but perhaps it is easier to pick up a phone and send a funny video or quick message when you're not actually in the office or working on site somewhere. Emails also take up a seemingly disproportionate amount of time, but when it's impossible to have a conversation in person they do provide a pretty good way to keep in touch - especially when the post office is struggling to keep up with deliveries.

I've been updating the blog over on The Kitchen website today. Although we are closed it feels important to stay in touch with customers. I've been receiving probably 8-10 emails a day myself with help and suggestions on how to remain in touch  with everyone and can see the importance. It's been disappointing therefore to see a few folk subscribe from our newsletter this afternoon, having sent it out with  link to the blog. It's left me wondering if the advice to keep a relentlessly positive and upbeat presence is in fact correct.

It's not that we are being negative, we are trying to remain realistic. It's not worth reiterating here all the reasons why we aren't open - they are here for all to see.

When it comes to feelings I find myself with something of a dilemma. Social media is swamped with images of sourdough, banana bread, gin-0-clock and many more of the things which have become associated with middle class "lockdown". I continue to question the idea of lockdown however as what we are experiencing here really is nothing compared to what some European countries have been through. Being unable to leave your home without the paperwork to prove you are on essential business is quite different to the way in which restrictions have been set out here. We can go out to shop, for exercise, to care for the vulnerable. There have been many cases of people taking advantage of this, with examples online and on the news of people giving ridiculous reasons to the police as to why they are on the roads. Politicians have resigned or at the very least come under criticism for visiting second homes and there has been something of a sense of vigilante-ism with people outing their neighbours to 111 for having friends over or sunbathing in a communal space. But there have been no hefty fines, with the police instead engaging and encouraging before enforcing the guidelines. This really is not a lockdown.

It's so hard to think back to how this snuck up on us. Probably two months ago we were laughing and joking about how if alcohol killed the coronavirus we just needed to consume plenty of cocktails and we would be okay. No one is laughing about it now, though there has perhaps been a rise in virus-related humour with the circulation of clever re-writes of Abba classics, expressing the frustrations of quarantine. And of course there have been the many re-writes of songs from Les Mis. And re-writes of The Specials and The Stones... historians will have so much fun analysing how we spent our time when not quite locked down.

Today there will be another news conference. The return of the Prime Minister who himself has been unwell with Covid-19 and just yesterday became a father again. The expectation is that this period of "stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives" is far from over.

The Time is Write

By way of explanation - this post was inadvertently saved in the drafts folder having been written a week or so before it is being published. It feels important to say this in order to make sense of the next post...

So at the beginning of this pandemic - or should I say at the beginning of the time when this pandemic began to directly affect those of us in the UK - I suggested everyone keep a daily diary.

And I did!

For a few weeks maybe, when I felt a constant compulsion to write and rewrite and spew and dump and in some kind of vaguely cathartic way make sense of what was going on by trying to write about it. But then something strange seemed to happen, in that there "wasn't time" to write. So what was happening in the 24 hours of the day that still seemed to exist, to make it so difficult to find half an hour at the laptop?

Well first of all of course there are the things that do still require me to be at a laptop. Running a small business is busy and stressful at the best of times and even though it may seem to some as though we are on "holiday" many aspects of that continue, and there are other, newer, factors to consider.

There may be fewer emails requesting cakes or wanting to book Afternoon Tea - of course. But there are lots asking about their wedding cakes, or private bookings later in the year. For many of these lovely folk there is so much uncertainty and concern around what should be the happiest celebration, we do not want to add to their stress as we have personal experience of this. So we have tried to be reassuring, to rearrange, and to accommodate whatever the customer requires from us. Yes we may have twenty cakes to make one week in October but if that's what is needed then we will call in the troops and make it happen!

There have been suppliers to pay and refunds to issue, discounts to negotiate and a whole heap of forms to fill in as we have applied for some of the help the government has been offering. At this stage a huge shout out and thanks to Three Rivers District Council for their amazing support and swift processing of a grant which means we do have enough money in the bank - for now.

Looking ahead however who knows? To reopen with limited covers would be unsustainable. The losses are already piling up as stock goes out of date and we continue to pay bills that cannot be deferred. It's a very worrying time but above all else of course the priority is the safety of our customers and our staff.

There have of course been lighter times too and we also want to give a huge shout out to Peter Taylor  the Mayor of Watford - and to Luther Blissett - former Watford and England striker - for the wonderful work they have been doing to support #watfordtogether.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Virtual Hens

When you are getting married in June and a pandemic breaks out in March and you don't really know what is going to happen as you are juggling a venue and suppliers and invitations and a myriad of other factors it's possible that the hen do(s) could slip through the net - especially if as is usual they are being organised by your Maid of Honour.

Indeed it was only on Friday that my daughter mentioned in our family WhatsApp group that Saturday should have been her family hen do. And because of this she had persuaded her fiancé to do girlie things all day. We added in a few suggestions ourselves - a manicure, facial, massage, cocktails and watching Dirty Dancing all featured in our list of course!

What Rachel didn't know of course was that the Family Hen Do WhatsApp Group had been busily buzzing ever since the days when we were looking forward to a do that would be anything but virtual! I won't mention here what had been planned since the hope is for that to go ahead on a future date. But suffice it to say we were looking forward to it very much indeed and did not want the date - April 18th - to go unmarked by us (even if Rachel and Rory were going to have the time of their lives...)

Plans were made to deliver Afternoon Tea to Rachel and Rory's flat in Croxley Green on the morning  of April 18th. At this point she was added to the WhatsApp group and told to make a bit of an effort at 3pm!

Originally the plan had been for a small group video call, with other friends sending photos of themselves with a glass of fizz and piece of cake to the group. It's hard to work out at what point we opted for a full blown Zoom call but that's how it ended up. Several participants did indeed have their own full Afternoon Tea and of course I had a carbon copy of Rachel's - in the same way that she had "shared" my birthday cake a couple of weeks ago.

Bunting and photo props were included in the surprise delivery along with a bridal veil and sash. At 3pm the call commenced and three hours later the last few slurry speeched ladies were still standing!

The highlight of the afternoon surely had to be the introduction of Deborah to the group. Divine in a blue dress with her blonde locks she made the event truly special.

We ate, we drank - a lot - we played games, we did quizzes. People came and went. Some had limited technology and needed flash cards for the questions. The bridesmaids and the flower girls (but we missed Hannah...) were there along with the Maid of Honour, Mother and Grandmother of the Bride, the Mother of the Groom and many more besides. It was an absolutely memorable event - aside from the fact that the amount of Prosecco consumed "may" make it difficult to remember every detail!

Sunday, 19 April 2020

We were on a break

Hello there,
I have been absent for a few days and to be honest that was a pretty calculated decision. After all it's not as if my social life has suddenly taken an upturn, keeping me away from home or even just the laptop for hours on end.
Rather, it felt as thought these entries were becoming rather repetitive, slightly samey and dare I say it a tad depressing. With little to do other than write, bake and create meals from the depths of the freezer I wasn't the only person comparing these days to Groundhog Day.
Aside from this there was great sadness on Friday with a wonderful local lady who was a dear friend  to many being laid to rest. In these difficult days funeral services are restricted to close family only with others unable to attend and pay their respects. For this lovely lady the church or chapel would have been full to overflowing but instead of attending we lit a candle, raised a glass and sat with our thoughts and prayers.
Sadness is a strange thing, and can be quite overwhelming at times. We are so fortunate here in having a large house with a garden that has a beautiful deck, comfortable furniture and the perfect suntrap. In any other circumstances it would be a joy to sit and enjoy the sunshine with a good book, a cuppa or a cocktail, and the sound of the waterfall.
Of course all of that is still possible but underneath the enjoyment there is the nagging fear of this deadly invisible virus. The doorbell may go with a parcel/delivery and rather than being filled with jo it is so easy to worry about unpacking it and disposing of the cardboard safely before washing our hands for the zillionth time. The  radio is on as background entertainment throughout the day but every hour the reality that is the news update breaks back into whatever we are doing and unfortunately no news seems to be good news at the moment.
Yesterday should have been our younger daughter's Hen Do. I won't say what we were going to do as that may yet happen and we don't want to be spoiling any surprises.
Rachel herself had reminded our family WhatsApp group that it was supposed to have been her Family Hen, and also announced that she would therefore be doing "Girlie Stuff" with her fiancé Rory. We had dived in with our suggestions such as a manicure, drinking cocktails and of course watching Dirty Dancing. But what actually happened? The next post will reveal all!