One door closes, another one opens - Josie Lewis' experiences during the first lockdown
I was fortunate during what I called the “fizzy pop virus” lockdown. I didn’t feel isolated as I am comfortable in my own company and always find something to keep me busy. I could also sit out in the garden and acknowledge neighbours as they passed by.
However, I missed cinema and theatre visits, jive classes, and day coach trips which obviously all got cancelled and coffee and cake trips out with friends. I’d been going to a little art class in Swindon every Wednesday morning in Theatre Square, Swindon, a social group run by one of the people I met at jive dance classes. That too got cancelled as did all the little village fetes and craft fairs I sold my hand painted cards and bags at.
I’ve learned in life that there are unexpected good things to evolve from what initially looks like a catastrophe in life. One door closes, another one opens when we are forced to look at life from a different angle.
The first door opened in the April Easter heatwave. I first initiative was to clear out all the unwanted stuff from the attic and shed, rig up two tables on the grass verge of my house along with all the stuff previously earmarked for car boots (now all cancelled), along with a big notice for people to help themselves for free and leave anything they did not want that may be useful to someone else on the said tables. It was a great success. Just about everything disappeared and it inspired everyone else to have a clear out too.
This ended up with a chance to meet my neighbours. I’d not long moved to from Gorse Hill, to Wroughton to a corner semi in a cul-de-sac, so I could sit outside with a cup of coffee and a chocolate biscuit, keep the garden up together in that lovely April heatwave, develop a nice tan and chat to neighbours ‘over the fence’ as they passed by to go to the shops, walk the dog etc.
Friendly faces appeared over the hedge checking it was OK to take this or that either for themselves or for a neighbour who couldn’t get out for one reason or another. A “new door” of discovery was learning that a host of tradespeople lived around the corner, along with a couple of taxi drivers, the window cleaner, welder fabricators, and even some people that I had not seen since the 1980s who now lived round the corner. A father and son having trouble with a car repair borrowed some WD40 to loosen some fixings. Also a lovely young lady delivered a prescription for me.
Neighbours brought stuff out they no longer needed. Unused underbed storage units, a Quadrophenia cinema poster which was immediately snatched up a passing couple as a momento of their “favourite film ever”. A virtually new birdcage. I gained a bench grinder for a friend and a neighbour cheerfully went away with someone’s unwanted electric saw.
My attic and shed now had bags of space and I’d topped up my tan from being outside and the garden was looking good.
Over the four gloriously sunny days just about all of it disappeared! Knitting needles, part balls of wool, bric-a-brac, nuts, bolts and screws, old pliers, a pack of clips for holding greenhouse glass in place, a pair of wroughton iron gates, a green house heater, dress jewellery useful for anyone into craft, remnants of fabric, part boxes of tiles and adhesive, wooden pallets, roofing materials, gardening tools and even two sets of sweep/drain rods which remained there for three and a half days until I suggested to a gentleman from round the corner that they would make good bird perches if anyone had an aviary~! A few minutes later both sets disappeared so it’s very satisfying to know that some nearby little birds will be chirping away comfortably roosting on the perfectly sized recycled bamboo sticks.
I also decided that the “bin and recycling men” deserved cake seeing that they turned up reliably every fortnight doing a sterling job whilst other workers were enjoying a leisurely life under furlough. So cake they got. Not homemade I’m sorry to say but they looked forward to their Tuesday treat ranging from doughnuts, cupcakes to chocolate fingers.
My hobby was handpainting greetings cards and cotton canvas tote bags, cushion covers etc which I sold at fetes and craft fairs to fund this hobby. These local annual events, of course, all got cancelled. They started with little floral designs and developed to cute paintings of dogs and cats, hares, mice etc. It had all resulted from attending a little Wednesday art class in Theatre Square which a friend at a jive class ran. Looking back my attempts were pretty grot but we’d been inspired to believe that our skills would improve as we progressed stage by stage and it did!
When the street markets opened up again I decided to phone Devizes Town Council and was allocated a space in the Shambles that complimented the outdoor Thursday and other market days, and also the odd Saturday or Sunday at Cirencester Corn Hall. It was stepping out of my comfort zone and accepting it was not a get rich quick scheme. It would just earn me enough to pay for my art hobby materials etc. allowing for social distancing.
I’ve got plans to sell other products and have a small website, but my skills don’t particularly extend to social media and sometimes it’s better to join forces with a like minded person so that our strengths and weaknesses balance our skills and abilities.
You learn what lovely people the other traders and crafts people are. We all support each other and give shoppers a welcome smile and cheerful hello.
The most interesting and encouraging thing I discovered all these talented craftspeople came from unexpected backgrounds. A husband was producing intricate appliqué work having retired from chicken and dairy farming, for instance. Others had spent a major part of their working life abroad, or in public services. The “fizzy pop” virus didn’t force them into it. They took the took the plunge years ago as they approached retirement age and always had words of advice for newcomers to the markets.
In the summer the little art group I’d previously attended in Swindon decided to hold sketching sessions in Queens Park or Town gardens. We could all draw safely distances with a packed lunch in beautiful surroundings comparing our efforts from several meters apart. It was fun. We were in the process of sketching a tree for instance but then decided to “just go for it” and see what evolved. We all had different styles in our amateur way. We caught snatches of conversations from passers by such as “Look at all those old people doing some drawing”.
I’ve still got a long way to go if I want to earn a living from art. Some days the markets are quiet so instead of having a sulk or being despondent I’d turn the day into a “coffee and cake day” and treat myself to a slab of homemade cake from a nearby stallholder or local baker. I could buy birthday presents without having to trapse round the shops because there was always something unusual on one of the stallholders. I got lots of encouragement to keep trading and lots of compliments on my artwork; although I’m never sure if they are just being kind!
The market managers were keen to see the market expand and thrive and be a welcoming place for locals and visitors to Devizes to experience. Mark Hill always welcomed me when I arrived with a carful of boxes and bags as did “Bill” who runs the market on other days. I don’t have to travel far either just straight down the A361 through lovely Avebury stone circle which I encourage visitors to go to if they can fit it into their schedule.
Most recently I was invited to tell my story of “lockdown” when the Wiltshire Museum and Independent Living came to the market. All lovely people I’d never have met if Covid had not arrived.