Well, here we are, drawing into the final quarter of the year, and time for an update on the Temple team. To get myself back into the groove for adding to our blog I read our January 2020 news and it makes me smile to read it, full of optimism and promise for the year ahead – with nothing at all hinting at any possible disruption to our regular beaten lifestyle track. We just never saw it coming.
The timetables were printed, the office paperwork was up to date, forms well stocked, boxes ticked and legalities sorted. Never had Temple Seal Trips been so well prepared for a busy season with Lucinda and I positively smiling with anticipation of being so well organised (we felt we could take on the world), and, in fact, combined with Elsie and Tony running The Anchor, with literally every day and night heaving with people, food, drink and laughter, we just could not have ever predicted what Boris was about to suggest.
Friday 20th March 2020, huddled around the tv in our kitchen we were waiting for our next update from Boris. Close everything. Immediately. It was an incredible feeling hearing him say such words, and it took a minute or two to sink in. Then we swung into action. We went straight down the pub to do as requested, with everyone suddenly trying not to breath on each other. We were not popular thats for sure asking people to leave, and a few merry souls tried to breeze over the Boris directive, so we compromised and let the drinkers carry on outside, not knowing what we were supposed to do, or how we were supposed to go about it. It was surreal – emptying fridges and loading up freezers totally unaware of how long this was going to last. Cleaning beer lines and moving bottles out of sight – trying to work out the best plan of action! None of us had done a course for shutting a busy pub instantly, so we relied on good old fashioned common sense! It ended as quite a boozy night with all the helpers making it feel a bit of a jolly rather than a chore, so the hectic chaos of clearing was tinged with shock and laughter. We suddenly all felt in a crisis together (socially. distanced of course) , with true British spirit working its magic from the word go.
Lockdown was an experience we all had to learn together. Our instant change was the phone stopped ringing. In our house, as anyone that visits will understand, the constant interruption of the telephone is exhausting. Literally anything undertaken will be injected with an enquiry for the seal trips. To not have this occurring was our biggest instant change. It was incredible and we got used to the difference very quickly. On the second day of lockdown Lily celebrated her 18th birthday. Well, I say celebrated – it was absolutely gut wrenching to see her cope with her biggest milestone so far without her friends and much of her family. However, on a plus note, we had our first outing as a family without worrying about work. Time constraints had been lifted and it was liberating! We went to Cley beach and had a wonderful cooked breakfast with Elsie and her friend Abbi (socially distanced, which at the time was so very tough. We really hadn’t got used to it at that point) and we segregated ourselves completely so we could keep everyone safe.
We soon settled into lockdown timetable mode – it was fabulous. We felt relaxed, we had time to sit and enjoy what we were doing, we could venture out (once a day!) to our work environment (Morston quay and the harbour) for our exercise and experience it in a completely different way. Everyone we met we knew, we had time to chat, we never had to rush home for anything, and above all else we had the most amazing weather. Bike rides were through streets that were empty, stress free and so friendly. Again, everyone we met we knew and we had time to talk to them all. I loved everything about lockdown, and feel blessed I had the chance to experience it in my lifetime. One of the most positive outcomes of lockdown was seeing my girls enjoying where they live as I did, when I was young, growing up here. Living through lockdown was like experiencing our village life as it used to be. The ability to live in a local based community without the commercial aspects thrown in was heavenly.
We soon sorted a help line in the village to support anyone shielding or needing deliveries, although it took a while to realise we had more helpers than the needy, so we ended up working with our local spar to sort our own pickup/delivery rota for everyone living in the village, thereby keeping the footfall as low as possible. In times of trouble the community spirit thrives, which was special to be a part of.
So, as it happens, lockdown was easy compared to coming out of lockdown. The worry and fear of what would happen once we were all unleashed and able to travel about unchallenged was immense. Sifting through all the rules and regulations for how to unpick the best way forward was hugely challenging for both the pub and the boats. Risk assessments, keeping staff safe, logistics of who can touch what, how to wash hands, when to wash hands, access to hand sanitiser, what medium of payment to use, how to use it, download it or store it became a daily mantra. Every scrap of information offered by the government was scrutinised, noted, questioned and mocked. It was exhausting! We struggled to find where we fitted in the big picture, and longed to see what Boris had in mind for tourism on boats!! The pub was a minefield of reams of paperwork to digest and implement to keep everyone safe and it was no longer the exciting new business that Elsie and Tony had started out with. I offered them both the chance to opt out at this point, bearing in mind nothing was going to be the same, and indeed, possibly extremely volatile for the foreseeable future. Tony decided to keep ploughing forward, Elsie decided she was too young to be part of such an immense cog of uncertainty. Any elements of fun and success seemed to have been sucked out of pub life as we knew it. The atmosphere of a localised pub is a crucial element, and one that may well take a long while to recover.
So, on July 7th we restarted the boat trips – socially distanced, limited numbers, sanitised between trips, designated seats, no assisting to load and unload, and no landing on the Point (too tricky on the risk assessment to assist people on the gang plank that we use out there). Face masks and hand sanitisers were introduced, along with kicking ourselves out of the pub for ticket collection (reducing our footfall amongst their chaos) and setting up our camper van as a mobile unit on the quay. Thank heavens for that as it gave us a base, and the all important ability to make a cup of tea!! We had limited staff, an unsure limited income, and fear of who was bringing what into the area! It was awesome! Every element of the business had to adapt to the change, even down to chatting to our customers! Delivering any type of public speaking was frowned upon by the government guidelines, and so to start the season off it was eerily quiet on the boats (gradually we have all got used to this extremely sad side effect of covid). If it was a test of resilience we passed with flying colours. The whole Temple operation stepped up to the mark and we gradually became more and more confident with what we were offering. Daily tweaks enabled us to adapt often, and every member of staff, and family, were outstanding. It was tough, some customers were testing our resilience, but we coped and we feel we have made it to the other side. We definitely had to work the whole of the summer, without any of the play time we normally enjoy. The balance of work and play was completely off kilter, so we didn’t get the chance to pursue any of our normal downtime activities, but this year the world is a different place so we have all had to take that on the chin in one way or another.
So, on that note, the phone is now back to me for the afternoon, and we are still getting enquiries albeit not so frequently, so I will sign off. I am proud to say Temple Seal Trips has survived probably the biggest challenge of its day – so a huge thank you to everyone who has assisted us in such exceptional circumstances. Wishing everyone good health, stay safe and as Andy tells us often – Stay Alert!