The evening of Monday 23rd March is one that will stay in my mind for a long time. Having just had a reasonably prosperous day in the shop, I sat at home glued to the TV (as I’m sure much of the nation did) waiting for the seemingly inevitable words from Boris Johnson that I would not be open for business the following day. Although this news was expected, it still came as a shock to the system to actually hear it. The reality of the situation suddenly hit home for me. For the first time in eight years (excluding Christmas) my doors would not be opening to the public and I had no idea how long they would remain closed for.
I now had a lot of questions running through my head and the next few days were spent glued to the phone and computer, as communications with accountants, banks, landlords and business contacts commenced. Strangely though, I was feeling quite relaxed about the whole situation, the panic and worry that I was expecting was just not materialising. The endless list of jobs that needed to be done certainly helped keep me busy and I had little time to sit and wallow in any kind of self-pity, but I think the overriding factor that was keeping me calm was that the whole situation was both out of my control and not brought about by anything I’d done myself. As strange as that may sound, it created an attitude in me of ‘well, this is happening, so let’s get through it the best we can.’ It was almost a challenge and a very new one at that, something to get my teeth into! Sometimes the human psyche excels in times of need.
Alongside the initial phone calls and emails in those early days was the need to care for the live bait I had in stock. This consisted mostly of maggots, lobworms, dendros, lugworms, ragworms and whites. Daily bait care is of course nothing new to anyone working in the tackle trade (or indeed to most anglers) but I was going through my usual routines not really knowing what I was going to do with it all. The shop was shut, fishing was temporarily off the cards, so why was I looking after them? Midway through that first week, I decided to get rid of it all. The maggots were frozen down – this was an easy one as we sell plenty of frozen maggots, so no loss there. All the worms however would have to be rehomed and financially written off as a loss. The freshwater worms were rehomed to people starting up wormeries for their gardens and the marine worms were simply released back whence they came. Who knows, maybe I’ve started a new worm bed along Southbourne! For the right price I’ll tell you which bay it was…
Bait now disposed of, I had several fridges that were running empty so it seemed an obvious choice to switch these off. This triggered a spree of money-saving efforts and I think my mind went into survival mode! Any and all appliances, lights, heaters and anything else that unnecessarily consumed electricity was switched off. All my frozen baits were condensed from three freezers into two, meaning I could switch one off. Even the use of the kettle was to be restricted – well, it was only me in the shop anyway – although, naturally, biscuits were still consumed.
It wasn’t long until replies were coming in from most of the people I reached out to and nearly all were overwhelmingly positive. Landlords were waiving rents, trade accounts were happy to suspend payments, banks were offering money if we needed and news from the accountant was starting to trickle through that we were going to be eligible for some money from the government. There was a feeling that the whole country was coming together over this, we are all in the same boat after all.
My staff had been furloughed. This meant that they got to lounge around at home drinking themselves into a stupor while still getting paid a good chunk of money – living the dream (I am joking of course)! Being self-employed I wasn’t eligible for the furlough scheme but plans are afoot to offer us a similar package, it is just going to take a while to sort out. In fact, as I write this, I still have no idea what I’m going to get and when but so far the government has been superb with everything they’ve promised so I’m staying optimistic. The draught bill that I read in the early days indicated a possible 80% of average declared earnings (so similar to the furlough scheme). All those years of running my business above board and paying all my taxes may possibly pay off!
A few days into lockdown, I made the decision to close my online sales too. There were many reasons for this and Abby and I spent a long time discussing it, probably over a bottle of wine or two (so if it turns out to be the wrong decision at least I can blame the alcohol). To start with, there was the morality issue: I was very aware that I was sending out non-essential goods to people who really did not need them and this was putting undue pressure on the postal service. I was also unsure what the supply chain would be like, would I be able to restock the goods that I sold? I didn’t want to get to a situation where I’d sold all my stock online, not been able to replace it, then have to reopen my shop with bare shelves! There were other reasons behind my decision too and I feel to this day it was the right thing to do. This is not to say those shops that have decided to continue to trade were wrong to do so, it was simply my decision at the time and I respect everyone’s choices. After all, we were mostly making things up as we went along!
I have since, however, decided to reopen the website. By the time this goes to print, all going well, I will be trading online again after a brief ‘holiday’ of around six weeks. This decision was again deliberated at length and I feel we are in a better place to begin sending things out again. Who knows, this could be leading to the shop doors being reopened in the not too distant future.
On a personal level, I think we have all found out a little bit about ourselves during lockdown. I, for one, have discovered that I simply cannot sit at home doing nothing, it’s just not in my makeup (and I’m not talking about lipstick and eyeshadow). I am extremely lucky to have the support of my wife, who has allowed me to hide away in the shop whilst she does a remarkable job of home schooling our daughter, Millie. While in the shop I have turned my hand to almost everything I could think of.
Week one I was a YouTube sensation (well, maybe not sensation, but I raised a smile or two here and there), week two a carpenter, then a decorator, electrician, plumber, gardener… the list goes on. I’ve really enjoyed doing odd jobs about the shop and home, finally sorting out all the little things that I’ve been looking at for the last decade or so. The only tricky part to this was only being able to use bits that I had laying around the place or that I could pinch from a close friend (from a distance of course) as most shops were shut and, of course, I had no spare money for projects! Luckily, I am male, therefore over the years I have started (and not completed) a plethora of various jobs. Tins of paint, lumps of wood, bits of metal and even some LED panels for the ceiling were surprisingly abundant.
Something I didn’t foresee was my evolution into a delivery boy. Initially, the plan was to deliver fruit, veg, meat and drinks to various people who were self-isolating and couldn’t get out themselves but as the weeks went on and the UK showed it’s true alcoholic colours, the demand for wine, beer and spirits became so intense that it became almost a full time job! My good friend Jim from The Jolly Vintner Too just up the road from me has kept me very busy and Marc from Cycleworks even lent me an electric cargo bike to do rounds in. I’ve really loved the way communities have come together during this crisis and I hope this is something that remains even after lockdown.
I’ve missed fishing. Really, really missed fishing. More so than I thought I would. Living so close to the river and sea means I have regularly passed them both during walks with the family or runs on my own. This has only served to deepen my longing to wet a line, so much so that now I avoid running past water! All that glorious weather during April meant the sea looked as magical as it ever has done. I could almost see the plaice and early gars playing in the water (possibly too much wine).
Despite this, I have not once contemplated sneaking out under the cover of darkness to steal a few hours. To me this would have been wrong on so many levels and I’ve been saddened to see a very small section of anglers flouting rules to go fishing. What’s shocked me more is to see some brag about it online, even a couple of anglers who are in the trade! I know the arguments about social distancing etc, and I’m not going to get into that here – all I would like to say is, as a nation, we should act as a collective. Anglers to non-anglers, all come under one banner.
Generalisation is a concept I’d like to address here, in the hope those people who are going fishing will understand my point of view. How often do you hear phrases like ‘bloody dog walkers’ just because one has left dog pooh on the path? Or ‘stupid cyclist’ just because one is riding like a numpty? Or perhaps ‘typical BMW driver’ as one comes hurtling around a roundabout at 50mph without indicating? These are all generalisations. Most dog walkers are responsible owners, most cyclists are considerate riders and most BMW owners (including myself but excluding my wife) are sensible drivers – it is simply the minority letting the majority down. From an outside point of view it is all too easy to generalise but let’s be honest with ourselves, we all do it. So how does this relate to fishing during lockdown? Quite simple really, non-anglers (or, indeed, anti-anglers) will see one or two people out fishing and generalise that we are all doing it, i.e. ‘look at those people ignoring guidelines, typical anglers’. We are all ambassadors for our sport and I think now more than ever is the time to act like one.
Moving away from fishing but staying on a personal level, lockdown has made me realise how important the simple things in life are. Most of all, even more so than my own fishing, I miss playing football with my daughter and watching her play and train with her team. We’ve had the odd little kick around on the field behind where we live but somehow it’s just not the same. I can’t wait to watch her strap on her boots and get back out there with her friends.
It’s going to be hard to address the financial implications of this crisis, the true ramifications won’t emerge for a long time yet I suspect. All I can say with certainty is that the tackle trade has gone through some seriously rotten times of late. We’ve just endured a winter from hell, with five months of terrible weather having a serious effect on trade right across the country and impacting all angling disciplines. We then rolled straight from that into this current situation and, to add insult to injury (honestly, I’ve felt like crying at times over this), we’ve just had the best spring weather we’ve had for decades! All we could do was look out the window at the glorious windless sunshine and wonder what might have been! With this in mind, I suspect we will see quite a few shop closures in the coming months and there have already been a couple that I know of. So rather than finishing this article with the usual plea to support your local tackle shop, lets just take a minute to thank those that have lost their businesses for their service over the years and wish them all the very best for the future.