Free rein

This year has been one of the craziest years I've ever dealt with in my 36 years as a florist (yes, I was just a  babe-in-arms when I first entered into this wonderful flowery world) when it comes to weddings. The rearranging of Covid canceled weddings, at times, gave me nightmares because a lot of them ended up happening on days when I already had other bookings. There has been one Saturday this year when I had 7 weddings on the one day. I couldn't tell any of my brides "no". It wasn't fair to tell the ones who'd already booked well in advance I was not going to be able to make their wedding flowers because I had to fit in covid-canceled bookings; it would have been unfair for me to turn away the covid ones because they'd been booked with me for ages. One bride in 2020 had actually booked with me back in 2017. How could I tell her that after 5 years I wasn't able to make her flowers because I already had bookings on her newly arranged day? 

It didn't strike me until I found myself in charge of a 6 year old during the August bank holiday weekend (which was totally exhausting - those of you who have spent any time with a 6 year old will understand) that my time away then was, in fact, my first time off this year. We've had extra bank holidays this year, on top of the usual ones, but because of wedding rebookings I've worked them all. Yes, there were days when the shop was closed; this wasn't because I was enjoying some time off though. It was because I was out-and-about on site somewhere, making bouquets, and setting  up wedding venues. My goodness, have I visited some venues this year. How blessed I have been with some of my weddings too. I've travelled to all 4 corners of our county this year.

I've decorated outdoor pavillions as the rain hammered down overhead; walked 5 miles through woodlands and over uneven ground collecting foliage to be used as "fillers" for another. There have been archways, pole garlands and wooden chandeliers. I spent hours outside in the midday sun during the heatwave (and we all know what I am like when it comes to the hot weather, and how delicate my lilywhite sensitive skin is to sunlight) setting up an absolutely incredible wedding where the bride and groom recreated a festival. It was a real joy to be part of their special day - even if I did almost end up with heatstroke (I am forever grateful to Emma at Ambience Venue Styling who saved me more burning, by offering to save me the time of having to go back later in the day to move a few bits and pieces, once the outdoor ceremony had taken place - my skin and overheated body owe her). To see my wonderful brides vision come to life that day was something quite special. 

For several years prior to covid I had considered not taking on wedding bookings any more. They can be the source of a lot of stress (and none of us need that in our lives) and where I am busy with everyday orders and funerals throughout the week, then being full-on each weekend as well with weddings (which have crept into Thursday, Friday and Monday with gusto in the past few years) I was finding myself working flat-out, 7 days a week (much like this year). If lockdown taught me anything it is was that my business can survive (and thankfully, thrive) without wedding bookings, so I made the decision to not take any more, with the idea I was going to stop completely. In my mind the very last wedding booking I took, was going to be my final one, for good. And what a wedding it was. It took place on Friday of last week - whilst it was my last booking, it wasn't my last for this year. 

It wasn't a huge wedding; just a bride, some bridesmaids, a few buttonholes/corsages, but I don't think I have ever looked forward to working on a wedding as much as I did this one (and as I've said above I've worked on some amazing ones this year, having the best time whilst doing so). The bride was (is) wonderful and like 99.9% of brides she had a pinterest board of ideas and the most amazing colour palette, but no real set idea on what she wanted. When we put a few ideas together in the shop the enthusiasm was just oozing from her. One of the last things she said to me before she left our appointment was "you know what; let's go big". We'd taken both our ideas and run away with them. She gave me a free rein and was open to all suggestions. There was pampas grass and feathers among a throng of roses, gerbera, eryngium and lisianthus, with grasses, ivy and eucalyptus. The teal coloured hydrangea could not have been more perfect if they had tried. 

I arrived at work the Monday before, tired, but full of wonderment and excitement about the coming week. I'd spent the weekend looking after my Mum who 5 days prior had been struck down with a viral infection (Doctor and NHS 111 thought covid, but none of the tests we'd done agreed) so I'd not had a lot of sleep, but that didn't matter. I had a plan. The first half of the week was all about the Halloween window display - you all know how much I love and look forward to that one, with the big unveil happening on Saturday 1st. Then Thursday was all about prepping the flowers for the wedding, with Friday morning being all about those feathers and grasses. 

Then life happened...

The blinds on the window are still down because halloween will have to wait until this weekend now. The rubbish that needed sorting, the units that needed painting, the shop that needed rearranging are all exactly as they were before, because by Wednesday I too was in the throes of the virus. Having not slept because I had been looking out for my Mum, I was now also not sleeping because I too was rough. The headache started on Tuesday evening - today, the following Monday - it is finally feeling as though it's dissipating- a little. The coughing started on Wednesday. By Thursday I was ready to hand the shop keys over to someone - anyone - so I could stay home, tucked up in bed with a humidifier (dry air does not help) some benylin and as many aspirin as I could find. However, there was no way I was letting anyone else make my brides bouquet. Nothing was stopping me and so I found myself in work on Friday morning running a temperature of 102.4 (pretty sure those digits must fit a radio station somewhere! "Hi, welcome to Moonstones, 102.4" - said in my best DJ way) desperately trying not to cough, and wondering how best to draw breath - whatever this is I've never experienced anything like it for not being able to breathe; every breath is a real effort and a lot shallower than I am used to. I knew I just needed to get through that day (Friday) and Saturday morning, then I would be able to spend Sunday at home feeling sorry for myself. I was gutted to not be able to feel as much excitement at making the brides bouquet as I had been at the beginning of the week, but my goodness I did still love every second of making it. In fact, I loved making it so much, I "went big" and then some, to the point where once I'd made it I was worried I may have gone too big, and so then made another slightly smaller one just to be on the safe side. I sent my driver out with them both and popped a note explaining why they were 2 bridal bouquets and not just the one. 

You never know when you send out the bouquets if the bride is going to like them. Thankfully, of the many, many, many thousands I've made I've never had one phone me on the day to say they weren't right, and I've never had anyone come back after to say they weren't either. I am sure at some point there must have been one-or-two because nobody gets it right all the time, and a brides idea in her mind can often appear so different when it comes to reality. Friday I heard nothing to say there was anything wrong, so I carefully (and painfully) breathed a sigh of relief as I always do; in fact I am always on tenterhooks when it comes to the time between the driver leaving the shop with bridal flowers, to the time of the wedding itself. Everytime the phone rings during that period my heart stops beating a little. 

Saturdays wedding went off without a hitch too (my temperature was still over 102 on Saturday as well). I'm sure you can imagine how it felt locking the door to go home on Saturday lunchtime. Not that it stayed locked for long because as I was sorting out the weekly paperwork before leaving, a customer started banging on the door for me to let them in; they'd seen my car so knew I was still here. 

Prior to locking up though I recieved an email from Fridays bride, which reminded me again why I will make the effort for my customers, and why I dragged myself into the shop on Friday morning. The opening was... "Oooh, Sarah - you best believe I carried the massive one!". I cannot put into words exactly how I felt at that moment, reading those wonderful words (and the ones which followed - I'll keep those to myself though). For a few brief moments I forgot about how I was struggling to breathe, how badly every part of my body was aching, how my head felt like there was a lumberjack inside constantly whacking his axe against my trunk, and how very hot I was whilst being freezing cold at the same time. In those moments I was floating on a pink cloud through a beautiful blue sky breathing in such wonderful fresh air. That's how much this job means to me; that's how much my customers mean to me. That's how much a few words from a bride can mean.

I am still unwell, although my high temperature has finally broken (just under the 100 mark now) and last night I managed to get 3 hours of sleep - not all in one go but that's a lot more than I've had in the past 12 days. As a result of this I am reducing my hours this week (only for this week). I shall likely close at 1 for a couple of days just because I don't need to go burning myself out completely, and I have had to cancel a demonstration I had booked in for tomorrow afternoon. I didn't like cancelling, but as it was for a WI meeting I thought it best to stay away. I don't think I am contagious any more, but having seen how poorly my Mum has been (she is still unwell and is just coming up to her 3rd week) I don't want to run the risk of passing this on to any of the ladies there. Some of them I know are a bit more vulnerable than others. In the shop I am behind the perspex screen, have put a mask on, and have warned people as they've entered the shop giving them the option to also mask up if they would like. I was gutted Friday when one of my lovely regulars came in because he always gives me a hug to thank me whenever he picks his flowers up, and of all the days I really could have used a hug (he gives the best ones) Friday was that day. Instead he stood as close to the shop door as he could, I stood as far away from the serving counter as I could, and he was only able to send me a virtual hug.

As for weddings, what will I do now? I'm not sure. As I've said, this year has been the best year ever for them and the way I felt about Fridays, and several others this year, has been inspriing and reminded me why I love being a florist. I do know I am definitely taking a year off from them next year. Whatever else happens I will stick to that but from 2024 onwards, who knows? Maybe I'll work on some wedding packages; maybe I'll only book in a dozen or so a year, or maybe I'll stick to my not doing them anymore so I get the odd day off every-now-and-then, because at my age working 10 hour days for 6/7 days each week, for 10 months non-stop, is not quite so easy as it was when we first opened up here back in 2009. I've got so many customers and orders keeping me busy during the week with general occasions and (sadly) funerals maybe weddings will need to stay on the back-burner. We shall see. One thing I have learned in life is to never-say-never.

And for the record, I am having a week off (yes, a full week) in November. I'm going "up north" with family, courtesy of my lovely brother and brother-in-law. To say that break 'is very much needed' would be an understatement.


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