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Making a difference when it matters

16 March 2020
Ben Pentreath
41 Comments

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.

 

 

41 comments on this post

Rose Dwightsays:

Ur blog cheers me up & keeps me connected to the beautiful green isle. U r magic with words & the photographs give my eyes a feast to ponder. I also love ur books. Write more, maybe Scotland!!
I have a beautiful lampshade from ur shop, told my daughter when I pass away not let that beautiful shade go to Goodwill. Just rest & take care of ur health

Deborah Wagnersays:

Dear Ben,

I have just, based on your reference to your early posts, looked at the first ones, and I see that your lease on The Old Parsonage was up last June. I think it is safe to assume that you have renewed for another decade, and, whilst not applying any pressure whatsoever (because that would be completely counterproductive), if you are ever stuck for a subject for your marvelous blog, you might consider a retrospective of your occupancy of that lovely old house.

Also, I noticed that one of your earliest posts was about Peter Hone. I have to admit that I have long coveted his work, but the closest I have come to that is a small (easily packed in my suitcase) Beethoven roundel bought at P&H.

I wouldn’t have known about Hone if it wasn’t for you, and because of that, when I was pressed to find a suitable present for my husband’s 60th, I considered the large plaster of the bull from P&H, but I decided against it because I didn’t want to chance it breaking on it’s journey to the US. In desperation, I searched for similar casting workshops in the US, and found The Caproni Collection, in Woburn, Massachusetts, just eleven miles away. I took my husband there on his birthday with the instruction to pick his present, and we bought some wonderful pieces, including part of the Parthenon frieze. I mentioned this when I was posting on Instagram, and I think I gave the workshop a little boost—or should I say, you did, indirectly—in that a NY decorator was so excited that he and his partner made a special trip north to visit it. (Also, the workshop thanked me.)

So, if you ever wonder whether your blog makes a difference, please know that the happiness it brings stretches much further than your far-flung readership flicking through it over their morning coffee or evening whiskey or wine, and I’m sure there are many more stories out there.

Please forgive the length of this. I blame solitude in the time of the coronavirus, although I am frequently guilty of long-windedness.

With gratitude,

Deborah

Tracy Goodingsays:

Thank you so much dear Ben, your words are beautiful and echo exactly what I feel in my heart. There is always beauty in darkness and I have personally experienced so much love and generosity. I also believe that we will reflect on the way we have been living, and reverting to a much more simple and authentic way of life, where the priorities of family, friends, love, kindness and compassion will reign.
God bless you and Charlie.
Tracy

Christinesays:

Thanks to the Persephone Letter, I have just read your blog for the first time, and am moved to tears, both by your writing and by the comments from your readers. It is a shining light in a time of anxiety.

Pierre B.says:

Thank you, Ben. Hold on tight. The very best to you all.

Valerie Willssays:

Beautiful words. I’m in San Francisco and I have a staging business and a small retail store selling furniture and accessories. We’re currently on lockdown, day two. If the store is closed and we can’t go out for three weeks – I don’t make money – scary times – but I know we have to do this to stay safe. Made me smile that you get your candles from Stoke-on-Trent – as that’s where I was born 🙂 Also a couple of Christmases ago, my daughter and I were in London looking at King’s College and UCL and we happened upon your beautiful store and I’d been reading your blog for a while, so it was so lovely to finally be there in person. BTW, we keep the shops light on at night and all of the neighbours love our window and it’s contents. Hang in there everyone!

Dr Elizabeth T Hurrensays:

Dear Ben – Thank you for your heartfelt blog post – I have been following for a year, and met you briefly in person at your Bridport talk last September. I am an historian of the body and I live in Rutland, which may be the smallest county in England but thanks to your generosity of spirit is now connected this morning to words that will touch many people online.

I am replying for the first time because your post reminded me of something that my Irish Grannie taught me as a child – she called it ‘Lessons in Life Week 1’ – and it went like this – ‘There is not Love, only Proof of Love’.

If you think about its simple maxim, it is what we all hope to experience in our lives – not a declaration of love itself, but another human being proving through their act of kindnesses that they truly love us for who we are and what we need in times like this. It also happens to be the philosophical basis of every spiritual belief and secular ethics in the world, stretching from Ancient Greece to the present-day. My Irish Grannie always said, at the heart of all human stories that endure, are our loving actions, one to another, for that is the amazing energy and purpose of Proof of Love.

So, as we type, order online, send much-needed commercial goodwill, and connect to a shared sense of community and belonging wherever we live and work, here comes Proof of Love – Kindest Regards, Elizabeth Hurren

Judithsays:

I read your first sentence and thought ‘oh no, this will be his last post, he’s signing off’ What a relief that I was wrong. I am happily living in germany, married for nearly 50 years, but still miss being away from my beloved England for most of the year. Ben, your lovely blog is real therapy; an absolute highlight. Thank you very very much and keep safe and well. Judith

Darlene Chandlersays:

Ben your words were so eloquent and so powerful. I love your shop and have for years and travel from Canada until at this point 5 times a year to visit and purchase something from your magical shop and this has been ongoing for many many years. Your staff are always so wonderful to me, patient and helpful with my purchases, even if small at some visits. This I believe we all will weather, as you say many things have happened in the past and some worse and we all got through the uneasy times and moved along. I knew from your last blog on developments that the tone had changed. First time I am able to again fly to London, I shall be at your shop first thing. The shop makes me happy for years and just quaint to stand and look at your window and reflect. I so look forward to your shop opening after we have weathered this storm and so look forward to your writings. Please take care and strength be with you. We will get through this. Thank you again for your wonderful uplifting writers for years and many more to come.

Barbara Tollensays:

Thank you for all the good you bring to the world – your shop, your work in architecture, your blog. I have been plodding stoically along – and then your last two blog entries brought me to tears, and filled me with renewed hope. Be well.

Dorothy Lindsaysays:

Thank you Leslie for that poem…
I live in London, and my position is the opposite of yours! My beloved first born is living and working in Australia. He and his wife had a baby six months ago.They were due to visit this summer, which ts is probably not going to happen now, but I am longing to see her and her little dimply elbows!!
Meanwhile, Ben, your postings are just the best thing…

Jacqui Graingersays:

This stands out from all the marketing team managed posts and made me feel really emotional. Persephone too, struck a personal and meaningful note.

Junesays:

The light you shine carries on long after your posts are read. This one is especially bright. Thank you. Stay well.

lisa D.says:

Dear Ben, thank you for this post. Upon witnessing the panic and over buying that is taking place in the US, and most likely in the UK too – I’m reminded what my late parents went through during WWII – rationing. Our supply chain here is fine. There is no risk of running out of things, yet people just continue with this buying frenzy. Some stores, wisely, are now limiting the amount of household necessities, such as toilet paper, that people are allowed to purchase. We will get through this, and if we just listen to the health care professionals and follow their advice, we come out of this all the better. Be safe and stay healthy.

Debra Mooresays:

Dear Ben. Well done on your responsible decision to close your shop for the foreseeable future if anything this pandemic has made us make priorities in order to protect the lives of others. The difference between this and other disasters is that we can can do our best to prevent loss of lives. I only follow you blog because you give so much joy to your readers both in words and pictures but mostly because you are such a good caring inspiring human being. Thank you for setting a good example of responsibility unselfishness and appreciation of life. Hope it won’t be too long before we are all back to normal. Let us hope we will have a change of attitude and priorities too. Glad Charlie is back home take care Debra.

Bridgetsays:

Thank you

Janesays:

Thank you for this wonderful perspective on what we’re facing today and the resilience of the human spirit. Indeed, those who came before us weathered worse with great grace, and with luck and prayers and the work of our great medical community, we will get past this worldwide challenge with as little loss of life as possible.
I am a New Yorker who discovered your shop, your work, and your blog long before my husband and I were fortunate enough to live in London for a few years. So, I always particularly relate to your New York memories and cherish your thoughts and pictures of London and the countryside.
We are back in NYC now and still love patronizing Pentreath & Hall whether in person or online.
Best wishes to all —- and indeed, stay safe and well.

Birgitsays:

Dear Ben,
thank you so much for all your words and posting this blog.
Scary times ….. things are not to believe !
Sending much love to you all, please keep safe and healthy!
With all my best wishes to you all,
Yours Birgit from Germany.

Birgitsays:

Dear Ben,
thank you so much for all your wonderful words and posting this blog. Scary times ….. things are not to believe !
Sending love to you all, please keep safe and healthy !
With all my best wishes to you all,
Yours Birgit from Germany

Gillsays:

Today, Here in Cork Ireland we couldn’t have a Patricks day parade, people, instead got together and had a car parade. Flags flew high, car horns blew, children inside cars waving flags dressed in green. It was a wonderful sight to see from my front door a real uplift.

Nicolasays:

Another unexpected bonus – more blogs from Ben! Best wishes, Nicola

Brent McKenziesays:

Thanks Ben for your inspirational words. Take care

Sarahsays:

Beautiful Ben, thank you. We must support local businesses at this time – if we want them to be there when things return to ‘normal’.

Elainesays:

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

— “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays

Ann Fickenwirthsays:

Thank you, Ben. I am always inspired by your writing, and this week is just beautiful. Please continue, another 11 years!

Eve Chasesays:

I’m a novelist who adores your shop and blog. I’m writing my next book with one of Bridie’s alphabet pots on my desk. Your candlesticks on my kitchen table. Little things but I wouldn’t be without them in my bunker!

Thank you. Wishing you and the shop all the best. Keep posting!

Joanne Robinsonsays:

Thank you to the reader who posted the Pandemic poem.
In addition, I have been going through a difficult time in my life the last couple of years and love reading and re-reading your blogs for insiration. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Deby (in Canada)says:

Oh Ben…. you have me crying – your humanity and sensitivity is so cheering as is that wonderful image. Happy to know Charlie is back. Not easy to have loved ones far away and never has it been so important to ‘put the social in social media’. Keep well… much love Deby

Susan Toye Fergusonsays:

Thank you for all of your lovely words – I always feel better after I read your blog!

Health and safety to you, Bridie, Charlie and your fur babies as well… we need all of you in our lives!

S

Danasays:

I just realized Charlie posted last from down under. I hope he is able to get back to the garden and you.

Elizabeth Ksays:

Well said, Ben, as always, and best wishes to all. Over here in New England, I’ve been telling friends and students that this is our chance to show that we can summon Battle of Britain spirit when we have to. Your wonderful old photo says it all. — Elizabeth K

Ana M. Acerosays:

Dear Ben,

as always, your work, your words, your photos plenty of poetry and beauty make this a better world. Thanks a lot.

Jane Kaulasays:

Thank you Ben. We were reflecting this morning on how things will change in our business too and that there is always hope and kindness in the world: from the supplier who is personally making deliveries to ensure we can keep manufacturing, to the young man in M&S this morning who stopped everything to help a wheelchair bound customer. Wishing you and yours good health and, of course, continued optimism. JK.

Elaine Bambersays:

We need to reflect on how lucky we are and perhaps think about basics again. The disposable culture that has grown with no one caring about the consequences. Well done Ben – if only more people thought more and cared more we would all be better for it. Perhaps this strange situation will help to build back the communities that once thrived and people will know who their neighbours are and be able to work together for the common good. How is Charlie? It is spring and we can look forward to better weather and gardens growing – it would be so much worse if it was end of October and we had dark winter days and storms to face. The dogs will love having you home more. We were due to fly to Doha today to see our grandchildren and family for 3 weeks but having a staycation instead. E

Kathryn Reillysays:

I, too, have been talking about being in NYC on that day and the strange parallels with these days. We couldn’t imagine a future then but we have had one. I remember one day, weeks in, when I decided the fear was greater than the threat and I switched off high-alert-mode. It’s harder to do that this time but also good (sort of) to remember we can only do what we can and are not in control of this. In the meantime, it’s always cheering to see your beautiful photos and soak in your positivity, which shines through even in the hard times you’ve had recently. Bravo!

richard swallowsays:

Thank you for your posting, strange times. I left London last week and caught a flight back, the plane was deserted with twenty passengers on board. Nice Airport was deserted too and as we drove through the vineyards home, the only car on the road, I had no idea at that time how things would change in a week. So now, having shopped and filled the larder we are isolated on our hillside with the sun beating down until we come through the other end, which we will.
The words of Mother Julian come to mind – “And all shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be exceeding well.”
― Julian of Norwich

Nicola Lawrencesays:

Dear Ben – I am glad you have found a way to keep your businesses going through all of this. I for one have recently chosen to slow life down and enjoy the little things as they are and as they come along – and I am very much looking forward to reading back over the last few months or so your blogs – the ones I have missed – and the ones ahead (for some reason I don’t receive notifications now although I do know how to find them).

Love to all. xx

Patricia Lillian Taylorsays:

Thank you for this posting – as always you spread optimism
and peacefulness both of which we need so much at this time.

John Hartsays:

An inspiring piece, Ben, as are all your blogs.

Leslie Huntersays:

Thank you, Ben. So thoughtful, thought-filled, as usual. Sending this from one of our San Francisco poets. It seems just about right for the times. We in the Bay Area just got a “shelter in place” notice today. My beloved first born is living/working/reporting from London as I write. I love your shop and I know it will survive. This then, for London, with love.

Pandemic

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

–Lynn Ungar 3/11/20

Sue Grantsays:

Please will you keep posting your lovely words. So.as to keep me cheerful in these uncertain times.
Love to all the girls, I have 3 very pregnant sheep,Daisy, Maisie and Buttercup, just waiting for lambing. S.

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