The Summer of 2020: Part 1
5 September 2020
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.
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 – email@example.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.