Tuesday, 9 July 2019

End of an era

Today I find myself taking a very pleasant stroll down memory lane, yet at the same time there is a melancholy feel to it, also. 

I need to go back to 1988 (yes, I am aware that is a whole other century ago). I'd spent the previous 2 years training to become a florist - it may sound like it was a prettiness and wonder; I can assure you it was anything but. I went to college 2 days a week (leaving home at 5.45 each morning, returning around 7pm). I then worked the other 4 (having Sundays off) again, with travel, I was out of the house at 6.30 each morning and returned home around 7pm. Pretty much like 90% of the working population. 

My bosses were 'old school'. My jobs included making tea (lot's of tea) bleaching and scrubbing vases (every Saturday I was sent out to a storage area out-the-back where I had to line up all 300 vases, pop a drop of bleach in each before filling them to the brim with water where I then had to scrub them and rinse them; this wasn't bad on a nice day but during the winter when the temperatures were below freezing I would find icicles forming on my fingers (and I love the cold; just not when my hands are constantly in water). Thursday was 'floor scrubbing' day and as it was the 80's this was done with a bucket and scrubbing brush on my hands-and-knees. Every morning I was allowed to "play" with flowers when I had to strip the leaves from the bottoms of all their stems, cut them and put them in their vases. After this was done I then made my way into a vaulted storage area (which I also had to tidy once-a-week where others had been in and grabbed bits out without any thought for the mess they were creating) where I would then collect up the wire frames needed for the next day, grab a bag of moss and proceed to 'moss up' the frames. I never knew what I was going to get when I put my hands into one of those bags. Occasionally there would be a branch of thorns (I went home so often with gashes up the inside of my arms). Often there were worms (I rehomed all of those) beetles, centipedes and spiders (I wasn't quite-so-keen on those). Then there were the ants nests; I hated those. Red ants bite worse than mozzies. Again, during the winter these bags were often frozen, and when it had rained and they were filled with water it was bloody awful. Imagine shoving your hands into a peat bog; that's just how it used to feel. The frames were never finished properly either leaving edges jagged; catching yourself on one of those was no fun. I had to start wearing long sleeves to cover up the state of my arms; even now I still bear the scars of those days. Once the frames were ready I then had to attach ribbon. Have you ever used pins when you're fingers are so cold you can't feel anything? I spent as much time mopping up my own blood as I did actually doing any work.

Between my lack of hands-on flowers and my tutor at college (who did not like me) even I was amazed when I passed my exams. 

Newly qualified the world was my oyster and when a passing conversation between my Dad and a guy he worked with saw me going for an interview for a job in a small village 10 miles from home. I never dreamed I would be offered the job, knowing there were people with far more experience than I had, but it was offered to me there-and-then and a week later I started. I went from having just one week off each year, to having three. From being stuck out in a cold shed by myself, to having my own workbench amongst everyone else. They didn't use wire frames and moss; instead they'd progressed to foam bases. For the first time I went home from work without a single scratch and lost not even one drop of blood. I went from a take-home pay of £23.70 per week for working 6 days a week, to £71.25 working only 5 days each week (although I worked still 6 days, 2 of those I finished at lunchtime which equalled out to a 5 day week). 

Back then the shop also sold fruit-and-veg and a year after I started another girl my age was taken on to cover the shop area as I was being left to sort out the flowers more-and-more. The trust my boss had in me was something I had never experienced before. She would tell me to work my way through the orders, never once taking anything from me to make for herself. I learned so much more in just 6 months of working for her, than I had in my 2 previous years. Anyway, the new girl who was taken on, and I, gelled thanks to a working lunch in the local pub one Tuesday afternoon. We laughed so hard during that meal, and didn't stop laughing for the next 8 years. Even after we stopped selling the fruit-and-veg, she was kept on a shop assistant/driver and we would still get customers who only ever came in for their half-pound of mushrooms still come in because they always knew they'd go away with a smile on their faces. I have never laughed with anyone the way I used to laugh with her; we just used to seem to attract randomly funny things to happen to us when we worked together. The other staff all used to tell us they loved working when we were on the same shifts because they knew our energy would keep them going during the day. It really was a great place to work with the most amazing atmosphere. Even the village itself seemed to buzz as well. If I needed a pack of ciggies I'd have to walk to the newsagents (half-a-dozen shops away) in my lunch break because it could take me an hour to get there-and-back with people stopping for a chat.There was such an amazing buzz about the place. We even all socialised with each other - including our boss and her family. I absolutely loved being part of something. The only spoke-in-the-wheel at times was my bosses sister. She worked part-time and came across nice enough but there was always something I wasn't sure about; I never trusted her and could never put my finger on why. To this day I still don't know what it was about her. 

Then, one day, it pretty much seemed to happen overnight, my boss changed. She went from being someone I would laugh hard with on a Friday night when we were there until midnight prepping for a wedding the next day, to someone you couldn't even speak to. Gone were the days when she'd smile with us as we laughed, knowing even we didn't know why we were. Suddenly everything we did annoyed her and she would do all she could to separate us. It took 27 seconds one day for her to break us up and she made a point to keep us apart all day. We didn't understand this, there was no reason for it, and at-the-time thought that maybe she was having issues with her hubby. After a year of walking on eggshells and tiptoeing around her, at a time when in my own life I had finally begun to grieve for my Dad who had died 3 years prior, I finally decided I could take no more. 3 of our other staff had quit in the past 9 weeks also, each of them telling us it was because they were no longer prepared to be spoken to in the way they were or treated as they were. The boss I had started work for those 9 years before would have been devastated to think people were leaving because of her behaviour; the  boss I walked out on the day was not the same woman. 

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I honestly think now that she had started her transition to the menopause; having entered this delightful (yes, I am being sarcastic) event myself I can see so much of her behaviour in how I was when it first started. Our leaving in the way we did (only 2 of the team we had remained) must have been awful for her, especially as none of us really did it in a nice way; I went home one night and never went back, popping my key through the letterbox (I don't regret many things in life, but the way I left is definitely high on the list of things I do). I think, had I also been in the right-frame-of-mind I would have stuck it out. I believe now all she needed was for us to talk to her; if she had explained what was going on we would have been able to accept it a little better (although making my work friend climb into a bin to scrub it was a bit below-the-belt) but she never and I never asked, and that-was-that. 

I never saw, or spoke, to her again. I regret that. Regretted it even more when a few years back she sold the business. To have been able to take over from her would have been the dream of all dreams. I love my little shop but to have taken over hers? well now, that would have proved me to that I really have "made it". I really hoped that whoever took it over understood what a special place it was; not just the business and the people, but the building itself too (stayed one night in one of the attic rooms above the shop and woke up to see an older lady sitting in a rocking chair next to the bed; shit myself but was fascinated at the same time. Thankfully I'd had a couple of beers during the evening before so once I got over the initial fear I rolled back over and went to sleep - I can still see her now). 

Whenever I have customers who want flowers out that way I give them the shop's number. Not because it seems the right thing to do (I also feel a bit guilty over how I quit) but because I knew that it was the best shop in the area for so many decades. 2 weeks ago someone told me they had called the shop but an answerphone message said it was closed. I assumed they were having a day off (I close mine every-now-and-then to give myself a day off). Turns out it isn't just a day thing as yesterday I gave their number to someone else to find out the closure is permanent. The business is no more. 

I never believed that a shop closing, of which I have had nothing to with in over 20 years, could bring about such sadness in me. I am genuinely sad to see it go. I was blessed to have been a part of it's history; I'm sure a little part of me is ingrained into the very fabric of the building, and I hope whoever takes it over (I'd love it to stay as a florist) walks away one day with as many happy memories of the place as I have.

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