15 Jan The Storm Before The Calm
As we packed the last of the Christmas parcels in our not very appealing warehouse on an industrial estate outside Bedford, the utter grimness of the weather matched the utter grimness of the news unfolding. The dim grey daylight faded, cold rain began to hurl itself against the the roof, and the geographical circumstances of the UK – the fact that basically we live out at sea on a wind-swept rock in the high northern latitudes – was more than usually evident. It was the winter solstice. A dark day indeed. It was very easy this year to imagine one’s way into the mind of people long ago rejoicing at the turning of the tide – the slowing and stopping of the plunge into darkness and the promise, however distant, of a return to warmth and light – and to feel the profound relief oneself. A couple of weeks later and the grimness of the news continues, though leavened with occasional intimations of hope and reprieve. How infinitely welcome is the lengthening of the afternoons in January, a gain of one or two minutes each day. Back at home, the silence of the lockdown reestablished, there is once again time to notice these small details.
It must be said, last month was an intense time in the online retail business. More or less daily emails arrived from the Department of Trade and Industry encouraging us to prepare ourselves for a no deal Brexit. (They have now ceased: the worst did not come to pass. Hooray for small mercies!) Bulletins from couriers dropped into our inbox hourly, advising of system overload, massively extended delivery times and the rationing of their ability to accept parcels. The culmination was a maximally alarmist warning from one of the companies we buy cartons from forecasting the imminent collapse of the entire global corrugated cardboard supply chain. It is delightful to be on the other side of all that, looking forward to a new year which will surely be less hectic.
The internet is the reason, really, that a tiny company like ours can exist. It allows us to find, or be found by, customers and kindred spirits all over the world. But it means we are in company with the internet giants, like Amazon, who are so ubiquitous that they set the standard for what is considered normal, a standard that only a few years ago would have been considered no different from actual honest-to-goodness magic. Having benefited enormously from that magic ourselves (anyone who is caring for a chronically unwell person knows that Amazon is a godsend – practically another branch of the health service, and a more biddable and responsive one at that) we have no complaints. However, it does set the bar awfully high for those of us who don’t have an army of programmers tweaking their website nor legions of eager parcel-packers (elves?) apparently working 24 hours a day.
We pride ourselves, in ordinary times, on sending most orders out within 24 hours of receiving them. That was not possible in the run up to Christmas. Thank you, everyone who ordered, for your patience as we dealt with the rush. We did send our last parcel on the day of the solstice, and we are more or less caught up now with those orders placed over the holidays, so delivery times should be returning to something a bit closer to normal. Nevertheless, the foul pestilence is still having an impact on courier services and even Royal Mail is stretched. If you need to send a present in a hurry while we’re all locked down for what we devoutly hope will be the last time, you may like to know that we now sell e-mailable gift vouchers.
Home-schooling, cabin-fever, insufficient wifi, and the dark notwithstanding, we are managing to have some very pleasant times, back at our kitchen tables again and designing cards with sentiments appropriate to this strange moment. They’re not available yet but they soon will be. We hope you too are finding consolations as we all await the return of the light and the arrival of the vaccine. Happy New Year.