There is a brief moment of stress as I rummage through tracksuit bottoms, yoga gear and pyjamas looking for something to wear. The comfy old t-shirts and pull on plimsolls, my go-to wardrobe of choice over the last few weeks, will now have to be limited to moments in the day rather than the whole day. Old mugs of coffee now need to be swiftly retrieved and washed up, makeup applied and hair brushed.
It is Monday morning and today we have welcomed a few of our team back to what must seem to them a relic from the distant past: an office. John G is still wearing multi-coloured socks and bright trousers (apparently he has sorted out his sock drawer). That much hasn’t changed, although his hair style, like others, is more luxuriant than usual. It is both surreal and rather wonderful hearing familiar voices and inevitable laughter and actually rather comforting as it has been quite lonely at times.
My immediate thought is that there will be more hope of someone else remembering to pick up milk for coffees and teas. Shopping for all of us has been something of a project and, given the ever likely milk shortage, the choice has been macchiatos not cappuccinos from the tea room machine so that the milk supply will last longer. It is probably better for us anyway.
When the normal world dissolved into the stay at home life, it may have initially felt quite positive. Who wants to have to go to an office? They are a relatively new invention in any case. Think of Charles Dickens and industrialisation, and then today’s today huge banks and the tall high rise glass and concrete buildings into which everyone scurries from a morning commute.
There are advantages to a kitchen table, “loungewear” and zooming. Each person is, however, in their own bubble and the discussions, meetings and unified approach are countered by every single person emailing and telephoning each other constantly. As a result there is often insufficient time in the day to formulate answers and strategy.
Some of our new skills have been very useful and I am sure we will all continue to Zoom. There are however moments of panic when we cannot get a link, the laptop is on emergency power, someone cannot be seen or you are texting a new participant who is still on mute. It is so often rather stressful, and then of course I forget we were zooming so failed to dress smartly and my hair is in a pony tail. In contrast, the telephone seems something of a relief.
On the other hand I suspect the work/project based strategy rather than location/office based strategy might prove a good middle ground, reducing commuting but balancing it with the pleasure of seeing colleagues albeit on a less frequent basis.
Employment at Highclere is old fashioned as our team needs to be here on the ground so to speak. Most of them live either a walk or bike ride away or, at very most, not much more than 30 minutes in a car. The commute through the park is slow because everyone stops to watch the lambs play king of the castle on an old tree stump or to admire the sun on the trees. However, I am not sure I ever think of it as an office. That sounds grey and full of square work spaces. Our offices adapt old spaces for our team today, in the old carriage rooms or tack rooms. Some of the tasks have been the same for a 1000 years (in the gardens and on the farm) and some are new and somewhat different. The heart is the same: it is the community.
This Monday, like other businesses, we are setting out to dust ourselves down quite literally. Creaking and shaking ourselves out to rebuild the supply chains, from people to communications, from remembering what we did, to thinking about how we can do things better in a different world with fewer people. The next few weeks are about preparing to open our doors to welcome visitors. Luis is back to plan the delivery of takeaway food, we have worked out where we can put tables, he is planning his cocktail bar and we have lists of tasks pinned to every board.
Luckily I realised a room along the old corridor was just what we needed for more scattered tables for afternoon teas. Originally a buttery 100 years ago, it was then used in the 6th Earl’s time for ironing. Now once again it will be called the Buttery and, decorated with “downstairs” photos from Downton Abbey, it has a new role.
In June 2019 we were looking forward to summer, to roses in the garden, to the “Downton Abbey” film coming out in September and various short interviews about life here and our excitement at the forthcoming film. This June could not be more different but perhaps there might be another film, and picking ourselves up in spirit, it is Monday and something good can happen.