2 things, on an almost daily basis, I hear in my shop; one slightly more than the other. The first one being "it will be a nice one, won't it?" (an alternative version of "make it nice" is grouped into the same bracket). I often reply "no, sorry, I only do bad stuff" - if I think the person saying it won't be offended (these days you can never be too careful). It's actually quite an insulting thing to say if you really sit and think about it. Good job we're thick skinned (this will be repeated in a different scenario further into this blog entry too).
The 2nd is "Oh, I'd love your job. It must be so wonderful to 'PLAY' with flowers all day". One woman even said to me once "I wish I could just fiddle around enjoying my hobby all day for money". I'll be honest; I wanted to punch her.
Yes, I have a great job (the best job) one of the most rewarding, but I promise each and every single one of you, 'Playing' with anything, is not part of my job remit.
Let me explain.
This morning I've taken some photographs of my hands and forearms. I'd been at work for just over an hour when I took them and the first customer of the day said those words to me (the "I wish I was a florist" words). When I showed her my forearms, the look of shock on her face was one I would love to have recorded. At this point I had made only 2 holly wreaths - since then I have made another 3 dozen; I cannot share photos of how my hands and arms now look, for it may be distressing to some people to view. Each and every single red dot you can see, is where the sharp end of a piece of holly has burst a hole into my skin. The scratches were also caused by the ever-so-popular dark green, lethal plant.
The red dots on my left arm shown in the picture, are not part of my tattoo. Remember, these photo's were taken after making just TWO holly wreaths; I've made 38 in total now.
It's not all about this time of year though, about the holly stabbings and scrapings we deal with an on hourly basis - which by the way all have to be treated with antiseptic, just-in-case. It would take too long to constantly open up a tube of savlon, or germolene, so instead I have Surgical Spirit in a spray bottle, and after making a wreath, give my arms a spray. Try it sometime. Prick your finger, just one little prick, and then dab on some sugical spirit; then imagine you have a hundred of those pricks running up and down the inside of your arms, where the skin isn't quite so tough as your fingers. Welcome to the world of being a florist!! But hey, I'm just playing, right?
Of course, it's not always about this month, this time of year. Yes, this is particularly hard on our inner arms, but what about the rest of the year. Check out my gorgeous hand. I'm not a smoker, they are not yellow because of nicotine; they are that colour thanks to lilies and flower stems. Yes, that is spray paint on my hand. I spent 20 minutes last night with a nail brush scrubbing at my hand to get it off. In the end I saw blood, so had to stop; I'll try again later tonight to remove the rest. As for the ground in pollen and flower stem stains; well, they have to wait until I have enough time to soak my hands in bleach for an hour, to try and remove them. Still, I get to 'play' with pretty things all day, right?
So, how about the other stuff. How about the times I get to 'play' when I have people in the shop?
Let's take the man who was drunk the other week; to the point where he could barely stand. He thought it would be ok to pee on the plants I have out the front of the shop. He then came into the shop to tell me he'd done it, before throwing up on the floor and walking away. It's not the first time I've had that happen either, and this time of year the amount of alcohol fueled people through the door trebles; none of whom are customers either.
Then, there were the 2 guys a while back. It was one afternoon when I found myself alone; outside had been wet and miserable all day, so it was dark by 4pm. All the neighbouring businesses were shut. It was just me and in they came. Tall, well built, they towered over me. They somehow managed to position themselves one either side of me, blocking my way out of the shop, and my way to the workroom or office where there is a phone. I don't think I have ever felt so vulnerable in my life as I did that evening, especially when the one furthest into the shop picked up the scissors I had been using and started opening and closing them, while they both questioned me about what kind of day I'd had, how busy I had been and whether takings were good. Now, I am really lucky in that 99% of my business is card based. If I take £50 a week in cash that's a lot, and I did point this out to them, but that didn't make me feel any safer. The obviously (thankfully) believed me though, for they said they'd get back to me on what flowers they might be wanting, and then left. Still, at least I get to 'play'.
How about the days when I'm not quite feeling it? Let's take the day I got a call from my best friend to tell me the guy that I most likely would have ended up married too, had been found dead that morning - he was just 26 years old. My boss was away, there was just me and the office girl at work. I had to carry on through that day, a 10 hour shift, wanting to be anywhere but where I was. I remember one particular guy coming in that day being a right twat going on about buying some roses for his girlfriend. I wanted so bad to tell him to "fuck off" but I couldn't do that. That would not have been acceptable, so I stood there, for over half-an-hour with him, thinking himself funny, when a big part of me had just died inside, and my heart had been ripped from my chest. Fast forward a few years, and the daughter of my best friend (the one who had called me that morning with the news) was calling me to tell my that very same friend, the one I had spent over 20 years laughing with, crying with, was going to have zimmer frame races with when we were 90, had just died - she was 42. My only thought in that moment was getting down to her children (20, 12 and 9) and as I was just about to lock the shop door a family arrived, wanting to order flowers for their 98 year old Nan's funeral. I stood, I served them, they were in bits, and I wanted to scream at them about how their Nan had at least lived her life, yet I couldn't; when in a florist you have to behave in a certain way. Just last year - the 23rd December to be exact - I found myself in bits. My much beloved dog had been put-to-sleep the evening before after I finished work (I'd lost my cat just 5 months earlier; 2017 was not a good year). That day I dealt with drunks, people wanting Diamonds for the price of glass; my arms were ripped to shreads so bad I was covered in plasters, I was knee deep in leaves and stems where I'd not had chance to tidy (it was exceptionally busy); there were orders still to be made up for the drivers to take, people coming in wanting things "now" and getting shitty with me because I didn't have time to stop and make what they wanted immediately (I can perform miracles, still struggle with the impossible) and some woman said to me "I'd love your job; such an easy thing to just play around with flowers all day". I wanted to beat her to within an inch of her life, and I am not a violent person.
Thankfully, the day my Dad died I wasn't at work; however, I'd been there to take the call 18 months before telling me he'd just had a heart attack in a city 2 hours away. I had a boss back then though, and was lucky enough to have been able to leave and go up to him.
How about these (see the photo below). These are pretty, aren't they? Surely, I got to 'play' thanks to those? That depends on your definition of the word 'play' because before I could make any of these, I had to deal with the grieving relations of the 2 year old little girl whose funeral they were organising the flowers for. Now, while some of you may then see me 'playing' whilst making the tributes up, to me all I could think about was how a family were in the deepest depths of grief and that I should never be having to make any tribute for such a little person. If that is me 'playing' to you then you seriously need to think about what kind of person you are. Roughly 50% of my daily life is dealing with families at the most vulnerable and emotional time of their lives. I've had people in the shop so consumed by their grief they have been literally breaking down and falling apart in front of me, yet there I am 'playing' away.
I'd love to come into work, pick up a few flowers and play; how great would that be? In order for me to do that though, somebody else would have had to scrub all of the vases, top them up with water, empty them every-other-day and repeat the scrubbing/watering process. Someone else would have had to take each wrap of flowers, strip off every single leaf which will be below the water line, then cut them, place them in a vase, and rearrange them on the flower stand, each-and-every day. In order for me to 'play' someone else would have to answer the phone (one lady this morning talked for 7 minutes before I even got a chance to speak) sweep the floor (many, many, many times) and serve the customers who walk through the door. They'd also have to write the cards, keep social media up-to-date, and keep an eye the bag of stems and leaves which are slowly beginning to rot in the bin bag (composting spores can be quite hazardous) . Someone else will have had to counsel the grieving families who have been in to organise funeral flowers for their loved one and someone else will definitely have had to try and steer the local lady who has mental health issues and no understanding of acceptable boundaries, from getting up into the face of that grieving family before she can ask them "has someone died?" and "are you sad they are dead" usually followed by "how did they die?"
Will you be happy to spend 9/10/11/12-16 hours each day, 6/7 days per week, on your feet (which will be pretty much constantly soaking wet from all the water you are working with - you may, on occasion also need to wear support tights; not comfortable attire). Will you be happy to have hands so cold during the winter (there's no such thing as a heater in a florists) that you cut straight through your fingers and stab yours palms without realising you have done so until you start to notice there is blood dripping everywhere?. Will you be able to smile your way through serving a bigoted, racist homophobe, so he goes away thinking you genuinely like him (a florist has to deal with such things and smile sweetly; it takes 100 customers saying good things to earn you a new customer, but just 1 saying bad things to lose you 100 - believe me, 'sucking-it-up' is one of the hardest parts). Will you be able to put up with a Valentines Day (every person regardless of their job should have to do at least one Valentines Day in a florist - the respect we would suddenly earn would be priceless). Will you be able to stay professional at all times, whilst counseling a family through their grief?. Can you switch off your own emotions/feelings the second you walk through the shop door?. Can you cope with people constantly telling you how easy you have it? Will you be happy with people constantly telling you that you are "ripping them off" - a plumber or electrician charges you £80 just to come out to your house, before they've even done anything, whilst you, a florist (who has also trained for as long) is expected to work for nothing?. Will you be happy explaining (many, many times each day) the difference between supermarket flowers, and those from a florist (by-the-way - if the grower wants 20p per flower and the supermarket wants to pay 10p per flower, then the florist is charged 30p for the SAME flower, to make up the difference the grower has lost; that is why we have to be more expensive - we've paid three times as much). Will you be willing to tell a customer that the particular flower they ordered just the night before (which you never guaranteed in the first place) hasn't been available for the wholesaler to purchase which will then leave you subjected to all manner of abuse?. Will you be able to keep your calm, on one of the most stressful days of your personal life, while a bride emails you 32 times, asking you the exact same question just in different guises, when you have already explained to her (before she even began the emails) that the flower she wants, does not exist, at all, in the real world?. If you are happy with all-of-the-above and willing to never drink a hot drink again, and don't mind leaves, spiders, worms and bits of stem in those cold drinks, then maybe, just maybe, you too could begin a life 'playing' with flowers.
Oh, and I do all of this (and so much more) for just 2.36 per hour. But hey, I get to play all day with flowers, right, and am out there making a fortune from my hobby?