Sunday, 7 April 2013

a trying day

When I started the car this morning the display on the dashboard read minus 2.5 degrees.  That was colder than I'd expected last night, and caused us problems when we tried to start work.  The first thing we needed to do was the watering, and the hoses were blocked by ice.  Two of us spent over an hour and a half dragging them into the sun to try and defrost them, then periodically testing them with the lances, and without the lances in case it was just the heads that were blocked, switching the taps on and off in the hope that the pressure might dislodge the blockages, but without success.  There were hard lumps of ice inside the hoses themselves, and as the sun went in again and a thin sea mist slid over the plant centre, we realised that they were not going to have defrosted in time for us to do any watering before we opened at ten.

A couple wandered into the plant centre at only ten past nine, and I had to warn them to be careful of the hoses, while apologising for pointing out the blindingly obvious, since they are bright yellow and you can scarcely miss them.  They promised they would be careful, but I thought the man was unwise in the nonchalance with which he strolled past the open ends of hose pipes we were struggling to persuade to run.  If the ice blocking  them had suddenly shifted a considerable amount of water would have shot out, and while we tried to make sure they were turned off when he was nearby, frankly he was in the way.

After the bad start with the watering the day never really got on to an even keel.  The boss eventually ran off the labels for some of a delivery of herbaceous plants that were sitting behind the scenes.  To attach the labels to the pots we needed to staple them, since none of the plants had more than a few centimetres of growth, and certainly no leaves or branches you could tie a label to. One of the staplers in the shop contained approximately six staples, while the others were all completely empty.  I looked in the stationery cupboard by the owner's desk but could only see staples for the staple gun, which is a different and altogether heavier beast.  In the end I went and robbed what looked like the last supplies on the potting bench over in the herbaceous tunnel on the far side of the car park.

The last time I noticed we were running out of staples I left a note for the owner asking if we could have a box for the shop, but all that happened was that she scrawled on the note in spiky handwriting that she had just given a box to the manager and left the annotated note for me to find the next day.  She may well have already given the manager some staples, but I didn't know that, and he hadn't left them in the shop.  In fact, it turned out he had taken them over to the herbaceous tunnel.  In the light of how it turned out last time I did not leave another note about the shortage of staples.

There were three of us on duty, and one was fairly fully occupied with the tea room from mid-morning onwards.  Two people are not really enough to operate the till, help customers find plants, advise on their gardening questions and answer the phones.  The boss picked up a couple of calls, including one that he only left to ring twice before taking it.  It can take longer than two rings to get your gloves off and extract the phone from your pocket, added to which the phone starts making a noise in the office before the roaming handsets outside start ringing, so he had a head start on us.  The boss asked irritably over the radio whether the phones were working out there, which is boss speak for Why aren't you answering the phones as included in your job description? The roaming handsets don't always roam as far as the herbaceous tunnel on The Other Side, and in fact for one of the missed calls my phone hadn't rung.

Bookings for the talk on herbs are not good.  There is a received wisdom, or at least if not received it gets trotted out in the broadsheet newspapers and on Radio 4, that one of the ways that retail businesses are supposed to beat the downturn is by offering more than just products.  We are supposed to offer Events and Experiences.  Hence bookshops are supposed to host book clubs, invite authors to do evening talks, create coffee areas and all the rest of it.  Merely selling books will not cut the mustard in the days of Amazon.  We are trying to offer Events and Experiences, but they aren't bringing people thronging in through the doors.  The owner discovered that the number of people coming to the herb day, and in particular the number of people requiring lunch, had been overstated.  She had consequently ordered too much food and was cross.  The names and phone numbers of the people booked on the course are clearly written down in a file, so goodness knows how anybody managed to overstate them.

By the afternoon the hoses had defrosted, and at four I started watering in the tunnels, as most customers had left by then.  Then I watered outside, which entailed dragging another hose out of storage and persuading a different tap to work.  That arm of the irrigation system had collected a small amount of mud and pebbles, which blocked the lance twice, meaning that each time I had to turn off the hose, go back to the tap and turn it off, turn the hose on again to release the pressure, and hold the lance as far from my body as I could while disconnecting it from the hose, following which it spat brown water over my fleece and my glasses.  By quarter to six my hands were getting jolly cold.

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