April A-Z: K is for Key Worker

Our Key Workers have pushed through it all

Many struggle, some stumble and fall

Yet they keep going strong

Working hard for so long

Though exhausted, still answer the call…

Throughout this pandemic, some people have continued working as before, perhaps in an even busier environment than usual. Doctors and nurses and other healthcare workers are an obvious example, but what about teachers and supermarket staff and postal workers and refuse collectors, taxi drivers and bus drivers and train drivers and myriad others. Life behind the scenes and beneath the surface of lock-down has continued to function regardless, so I just want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has kept things going for us throughout – your ongoing contribution is much appreciated ❤

For this year’s April Blogging from A-Z Challenge I’m aiming for an alphabetical exploration of my personal thoughts and feelings on the continuing Covid 19 pandemic one year on, using a mix of poetry, pics and ponderings…

April A-Z: E is for Empty

By the time this Covid 19 pandemic is finally over – whenever that may be – I wonder how many previously busy retail stores will lie empty across the UK, how many High Streets and city centres will become facsimiles of ghost towns, how many other businesses will have failed? One way or another this virus has killed more than people; it has taken both lives and livelihoods.

I was made redundant last month as the department store I worked for has ceased trading for good, and so my last two weeks of work after my furlough ended (the first two weeks of March) involved packing up all the stock to be shipped out elsewhere. So even once lock-down is lifted there is no longer the potential hope of everything going ‘back to normal’ for me because like so many others in a similar position I now no longer have a job to go back to.

It was so strange and sad for us to see the store slowly being emptied department by department, but oddly enough the packing up process itself somehow helped give us all some closure on the final closure of the business – a bit like a funeral ritual, at least it gave us a chance to say our goodbyes…

For this year’s April Blogging from A-Z Challenge I’m aiming for an alphabetical exploration of my personal thoughts and feelings on the continuing Covid 19 pandemic one year on, using a mix of poetry, pics and ponderings…

Pottering, Pondering and Planning

I’ve spent a good few hours of every day this week outside in the garden, just pottering about, pondering and planning. I’ve been feeling really low lately after recently having been made redundant when the department store I worked for finally closed down for good due to ongoing financial difficulties exacerbated by continuing Covid restrictions.

So in order to try to keep any lurking depression at bay I’m spending some quality time clearing away the last of the winter debris and detritus in my garden, letting nature soothe me and start to heal my hurt, just thinking things through and letting my troubled mind wander, deciding as I go along where my garden plans might take me this year…

When we first moved in to this house in the autumn of 2019 we inherited a mature South-West facing front garden and North-East facing back garden that had previously belonged to an elderly man who had clearly loved gardening and had spent a great deal of time looking after his plants. But it seemed that as time passed he had also clearly grown too old to notice the slow decay of his pride and joy, or to care for it all properly by himself.

Family had kept it ticking over and tidy for him, stopping it from looking completely neglected and preventing it from becoming too obviously overgrown, but they had not loved it in the same intensive way he had in the past. On the surface and with only a cursory glance all looked fine. But behind the scenes the garden too was starting to feel its age, infrastructure crumbling around the edges, losing its integrity a little like a fading bloom. Recognisable still as the garden he loved, but no longer so robust.

The garden had been laid out to suit his personal planting preferences – formal rose-beds set around a rectangular lawn in the front garden, and in the back garden there were two sagging greenhouses for propagating bedding plants, a rickety old wooden potting shed, and a modern metal shed for storing garden implements. The pale ghosts of myriad circular marks on the patio and pathways showed a predilection for plants kept in large pots as well as in the flower beds edging the central grassy area.

Ornate painted but rusting hanging basked brackets adorned every possible surface. Four fruit trees of varying ages and sizes took up quite a lot of space, but there was no sign of any vegetable plot. There was a rhododendron bush and a large overgrown flowering cherry tree, a camellia, a fuchsia and a couple of unidentified bushes – at that point I still wasn’t sure what they might be. And oddly out of place, one large ten-foot-tall stark tree stump standing sentry to the no-longer-functional-but-full compost heap hiding in the back corner.

Moving in as we did at the end of the growing season, I decided just to tidy things up but basically keep everything as it was for the first full year, to see what the earth had hidden within, waiting for the garden to give up her seasonal secrets month after month. Throughout the winter everything inevitably lay dormant and dull, but sure enough by spring there were snowdrops and crocus and daffodils and tulips.

In the summer deep red peonies appeared along with yellow poppies and wild strawberries, lilies and honesty and golden rod. The roses bloomed and barren bushes became azalea and forsythia. Where clear empty dirt flower beds awaited their usual offering of annual bedding plants I instead added herb bushes – lavender and rosemary – and also a few heather plants to fill the blank space.

By late autumn we were back where we started, so again I cleared up for winter, with far more of an idea emerging as to how to begin to transform the garden to become fully our space, discarding what is not ‘us’ while still keeping as much of the original as we could. Winter passed cold and wet, and here we are in spring again. I’d carefully watched the position of the sun over the garden for that first whole year, to see where areas of dominant light and shade suggested one thing over another, and we’ve made some big decisions.

At least one of the greenhouses has to go altogether – perhaps both, as they are old and frighteningly fragile and we have young grandchildren who love to play in our garden. The old wooden potting shed is rotting away beyond remedy, the roof has clearly been leaking for years, and realistically the whole structure needs to be replaced with something dry and useful. We’re going to re-site the potential new replacement elsewhere, as the footprint of the current shed sits slap bang on the sunniest spot in the garden.

Plant-wise, we’ve sadly reached the conclusion that all four fruit trees will have to go. The two really old gnarled and twisted specimens, one plum and one greengage, are both too stressed and diseased with too much deadwood to be safe. Both trees have lost major branches since we moved in, crashing down into the garden with no warning – one see-sawing precariously across the garden wall, one breaking a pane of glass in the greenhouse below, having just missed hitting me on the way down.

Both large trees also badly overshadow the back garden space in too much of an overbearing fashion to be allowed to remain – making the most of the available natural light is so important to me. And the two small my-height apple trees, giving minimal inedible fruit, are just in the way, stuck into the middle of the grass like a poorly-played game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Not surprisingly the old tree stump needs to go. I’ve dug up the Goldenrod, as it was far too invasive and was choking the azalea bushes, and have tried to re-site some of the peonies, so we’ll see if that works.

I’ve always been a country girl at heart so really love having a garden again, and have always felt comfortably at home spending time outside, but I’m not a labour-intensive kind of traditional gardener. Ideally I like to work with and encourage nature rather than try to completely control and contain it in too orderly a fashion. I far prefer taming the random wildness of it all rather than planting stuff out in regimented rows like a formally set dinner table.

I like to do my bit to help out, but basically let nature have her way with a bit of guidance from me, creating an easy space for birds and bees and insects and people and plants to live together in harmony. Basically I garden to let me have a lovely outdoor space to relax in, not for the pure pleasure of the activity itself – I definitely prefer the enjoyment of the end product to the actual process of gardening, although to be honest I do enjoy the familiarity of routine tasks too.

So right now I’m off outside again with a cup of tea to sit on my garden bench in the spring sunshine, picturing in my mind’s eye how it will all look once we make all the changes we’re planning. As we haven’t got very far doing up the house yet, either, inside or outside, this vision may take some time to become reality, but I’m sure we’ll get there in the end – we usually do! 🙂

A Bittersweet Farewell

Even though lock-down here in Scotland continues potentially until almost the end of next month at the earliest, meaning all non-essential retail stores remain closed, I’ve found myself back at work this week along with many of my old colleagues. Thanks to ongoing Covid restrictions providing the final nail in the coffin, the department store I work for has now formally gone out of business lock, stock and barrel, so from 1st March we have been taken off furlough in order to pack up and clear the store of stock over the next couple of weeks.

As England is due to re-open non-essential retail at the beginning of April, all stock from the 15 Scottish stores that will now no longer be re-opening after the extended lock-down up here will be re-allocated in bulk to stores in England. And after we have cleared the stores here we will be made redundant immediately. The plan is for the English stores to re-open only to liquidate all residual stock over a 4-6 week period, and then they will be closing too, the end of a business that began over 240 years ago.

So it’s a sad time for all of us and yet there are still things I can find to smile about. We are physically back at work for now, masked and hand-sanitised and socially-distanced as before, and that is giving us the chance to spend time catching up with each other in the workplace when all forms of socialisation with anyone outside of our own immediate household is currently against the law. We find we can chat comfortably amongst ourselves while we work, gossiping and joking and laughing together again, and that feels so good after nine weeks of nothing.

We can once more feel the familiar companionship of being an efficient and effective team working purposefully towards a common goal, and with no customers in our huge still-closed-to-the-public multi-level store we can all spend this precious time tentatively talking through our communal experience of becoming unemployed en masse in the next week or so, discussing potential plans and possibilities and hopes and fears and so feeling less alone in our sadness.

It is a bittersweet farewell, and of course no-one ever wants to face losing their livelihood, but in a time of unprecedented social isolation and loneliness we are at least there in person to experience the store being ritually dismantled in real time, and in doing so we are able to achieve some sense of closure at its disappointing demise. And of course we are also ending our time together as an employee group by building good work-family memories to take with us into the future, and that is something for which I’m sure I will be eternally grateful 🙂

Weekly Smile

Frayed Around the Edges

When it comes to my regular blogging interactions I think I’m possibly going to lie low for the next few weeks…

One way or another 2020 has not proved to be a great year for most people, and as we see the end in sight I for one am feeling more than a little frazzled and frayed around the edges. Coronavirus fatigue is frustratingly real – I’m still following all local and national restrictions as required but to be honest I’m starting to feel resentful when I see so many others around me bending the rules, or in some cases blatantly breaking them.

And added to the usual stresses of working in retail over the Christmas period during a pandemic (including working longer hours all through December), the large UK company I work for is no longer doing so well financially in these Covid times and we found out last week that I and all of my work colleagues are now facing the painful prospect of potentially being made wholesale redundant early in the new year.

So overall it’s proving to be a really difficult time for all of us at work just now, but in the meantime we still maintain the polite professionalism of helpful sales advisors and continue to give good customer service to everyone. Still smiling while social distancing, while breathing through a stuffy face-mask all day, while sanitising our hands after every transaction and keeping our cash points constantly decontaminated.

Right now I feel like I’m running on fumes, and it’s all taking its toll on me far too much. I’m tired of all of it, so its probably best if I just take some time out…

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Fumes

Naggy Bitches R Us

‘You’re all a pack of naggy bitches today – I’m leaving, I’m not buying anything and I’m not coming back!’

Yesterday was just one of those days at work. Customers – only a small proportion of customers mind you, not all – have recently been becoming quite complacent about following some of the necessary procedures in our store that have been put in place to protect all of us from coronavirus. And oh, suffice to say these unhappy few seriously do not like being reminded to behave differently, or being corrected when they so deliberately err from what is being asked of them!

Customers cannot try on clothing in store – in most stores actually, not just in ours. Notices are up everywhere. The fitting rooms are not only closed due to the difficulties of social distancing within such a confined space but because clothing cannot be tried on anywhere, by anyone, until it has been bought and paid for. Just before I finished my shift yesterday I was walking past an older woman who was clearly trying on a jacket from a rack in the middle of the store, so I reminded her very politely that she could not try on any items of clothing in the current coronavirus climate.

She took off the jacket angrily and glared at me, picked up her own jacket and bag with a flourish, then turned on me as she walked away saying very loudly to anyone who was listening ‘You’re all a pack of naggy bitches today – I’m leaving, I’m not buying anything and I’m not coming back!’. Apparently, as I discovered afterwards, this particular customer had also just objected to being asked to stand in a particular place at the cash desk to complete the return of an item she had bought previously. Oh dear!

I just stood there momentarily with what must have been a surprised look on my face had anyone been able to see under my mask, put the offending tried-on jacket in quarantine then carried on to the end of my shift. But her comment stayed with me, and rather than upsetting me it makes me smile at the sheer childishness of it all. We’ve all had some passive-aggressive barbed comments sent our way from people who project their own personal frustrations with the global situation onto us, whose rude ignorance hears individual insult in the politest of requests for collective compliance.

There used to be a large toy retailer here in the UK called ‘Toys R Us’, and all I can think of now when I remember this customer’s comment is adapting the catchy name for our own use as a kind of badge of honour – ‘Naggy Bitches R Us’ – because if supposedly grown adults are incapable of parenting their own behaviour themselves in an appropriate manner for any given situation, then they leave all us apparently ‘naggy bitches’ of sales assistants no real option in stores but to step in to that missing spot and help do it for them… 🙂

One Liner Wednesday

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Missing

A Bit of a Rant

Spot the deliberate mistake – yup, my Stream of Consciousness Saturday post is being posted on Sunday evening! Sorry, been busy at work this weekend, so this may well turn out to be a bit of a rant. It’s now been a whole month since I went back to work and in some ways it’s been good but in others, not so much.

Positives include still having a job to go to, and earning a full pay instead of the 80% wage we received on furlough (for which I was extremely grateful, as it was a million times better than earning nothing for the duration of lockdown). And seeing work colleagues regularly, that’s definitely good too. It’s also nice not to feel stuck in limbo any more, life is at least on the move again, even with the inevitable restrictions still in place.

And I must emphasise that most of the customers we serve over the course of the day are absolutely delighted to be out shopping for clothes in person again, are simply happy to see us and appreciate that we are out there doing whatever we have to do to make it possible, and understand that the store may be open again after a fashion, but any real sense of how things were before is still a long way off.

Negatives, however, include the very few inconsiderate customers who clearly seem to resent the lack of normality to their shopping experience and who choose to take their frustrations out on stressed-out staff who are simply doing their best to make the most of a difficult situation, by at least providing a limited service where possible. Reduced opening hours, reduced staffing levels, reduced options, granted – but at least we’re open.

So no, you can’t try clothes on in store, but you are free to buy them, take them home and return whatever doesn’t fit. We are not trying to inconvenience you, we are trying to keep you safe. Returned clothing then goes into quarantine for a couple of days before being replaced on the sales floor. And no, you definitely can’t have a bra-fitting – hello, social distancing, people! Bra fittings are well and truly up close and personal!

We may only have two till points functioning on a normal four-till pay desk, but that is to ensure we too can keep our distance from each other, so you may have to wait a little longer than usual in line to be served. And once you reach the till point we may ask you you to stand in a specific place behind a perspex screen while you are paying for your items and for the rest of your family to stand back for a very good reason.

Oh and please have patience with us as we regularly sanitise our hands and key-pad and everything else we (and you!) touch between each customer. Speed of service to your own satisfaction is not the only consideration. There is still a deadly virus out there, it may be on the wane but it is not yet gone, and we still have no available vaccine. So while we are happy to serve members of the public day in, day out, we will do whatever we have to do to keep all of us as safe as possible in the circumstances, like it or not.

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: Spot

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Inevitable

Still Here…

I’m still here, all is well with me but in the same way as it took me a while to get used to being in lockdown, now it’s taking me a while to get used to being back at work part time in a local department store.

We have opened with restricted daily trading hours, and without a full complement of staff in store – many are still on furlough until footfall and sales figures warrant a more complete return to business as usual. Fitting rooms are closed, as customers cannot try on clothing for size – they are required to buy the items first, try them on at home, and return them later if necessary. Returned items are then quarantined for several days before being replaced on the sales floor.

Visors and masks and perspex screens around till points and sanitising your hands regularly and keeping your distance, and to keep smiling at the occasional customer who thinks its OK to want to behave as if there were no coronavirus out there, who doesn’t like the inconvenience of the restrictions imposed and who wants to take it out on you verbally just because you’re there in front of them, doing your best to get on with life and in doing so, helping others get on with theirs.

But then usually behind the disgruntled cutomer in the queue to be served is someone who gratefully smiles back at you, genuinely and with feeling, and who thanks you for being at work in this pandemic at all and therefore allowing them to be out shopping in person, in public again, even with all the necessary restrictions in place. Most customers are wonderfully patient and understanding, but inevitably there are always one or two who are not.

Life is certainly not back to any kind of normal, but it is moving forward towards what I hope with all my heart will be a better place for all of us in our coronavirus-infected world. We all have no option but to accept, adapt, assimilate, like it or not.

And in the meantime I continue to wake up every day and smell the roses in my garden, grateful still to have a job at all in this global economic as well as health crisis. So I might not be around so much online just now, but don’t worry, I’m still here… 🙂

Weird But Wonderful

Yesterday was my first day back at work with real customers as well as just us staff in store (I work in the women’s wear section of a local department store), and to my relief it went fine – woo-hoo! On the whole customers wore reasonable face coverings, warily kept their distance, and calmly followed the correct procedures at the till without complaint. I felt a bit apprehensive to begin with, but as my usual sales-assistant work-mode kicked in I soon got used to the initial strangeness of it all.

We’ve been provided with full-face visors to wear at work, or we have the option of wearing our own masks if we prefer, and thin blue gloves are provided if we choose to wear them. Hand sanitiser is readily available for staff and customers to use, and we have perspex screens in front of the till points in use. I’m not fussed with gloves, I’d rather just maintain good hand hygiene, but face wearing some kind of face covering in all shops is mandatory here in Scotland.

In practice I found the visor to be really good to wear in regard to ease of breathing and still being able to see people’s faces when standing still or walking about, so fine when at the till point but not necessarily so practical for the inevitable lifting and bending and reaching when moving stock around – it got caught up and fell off or at got least shunted uncomfortably out of place far too often and I spent a lot of time yesterday adjusting it or replacing it, so the perspex became smudged and soon gave me a headache to be looking through it.

Hmmm… how best to overcome that little difficulty? I’m not generally great at having my mouth and nose covered directly for long periods of time – being asthmatic I tend to freak out at the feeling – but today I think I’m going to try to wear a face mask instead of my visor on shift. I’ve got used to wearing a mask when shopping myself, but coping for ten minutes here and there in and out of a shop is different than breathing through fabric for hours at a time at work. But it’s definitely worth a try.

Or I might take both visor and mask onto the shop floor, and change my face covering as necessary depending on the task at hand? The thing is, everyone’s in the same boat, no-one finds it easy because it feels decidedly odd for all of us. But we’re doing it because however restrictive and frustrating it is in the short-term it is helping us as a country reduce ongoing infection in the long-term, and that makes prefect sense. Sometimes we all have to do what’s difficult for the greater good, and that’s all there is to it.

Overall, though, even with my constant fiddling about with my face covering I really enjoyed my first ‘proper’ day back at work, and however tentative a beginning it may have been it is still a return of sorts to a normal life, or at least to whatever is going to count as normal for the next few months or so. Customers, too, were on the whole relieved to be out and about and enjoying a physical rather than virtual shopping experience. It felt good to have the normality of interaction with others again, even if at a safe distance.

Weird but wonderful is probably the best description of my day yesterday. It does feel weird to have to be avoiding yet accommodating a silent but deadly virus in every part of our daily lives, but at the same time it feels wonderful to have the opportunity to begin to end our lockdown limbo at last. Life goes on, cautiously and carefully, one small step at a time. But I’m taking nothing for granted, the threat to us all is by no means over yet. This virus is clearly here to stay, and the sooner we all accept that stark reality, the better for mankind.

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Tentative

Hugs, Hope, and Happiness

Today my youngest daughter, her partner and their three children came to visit, and to my delight I was able to have grandchildren hugs for the first time in four months!

It’s been a beautiful sunny day so we pretty much stayed in the garden, apart from the kids nipping in to use the loo or for one of us to make a cuppa, but now that lockdown restrictions here in Scotland have eased enough to allow us to meet indoors as well as outdoors (with adults still social distancing, but children not having to any more) it makes a family visit so much easier.

And I’ve been back at work since Friday, helping to get the store set up for customers returning when the business re-opens tomorrow, so altogether this week it feels like we have some forward movement in life at last – not too much too soon, but about right for where we are in the pandemic. I’m hopeful all goes well as lockdown lifts even further, and we can begin to find our way out of this coronavirus crisis as a community without causing any more harm to our health.

So my weekly smile this week consists of huge hugs, a heart full of hope, and the happiness of taking a cautious step or two in the right direction at last. Sending peace and love to all of you, because right now I feel like I have more than enough to share 🙂