Stories of the Covid-19 lock-down from a small-time salesman and his dog

Month: May 2020

Day 10 Level 2, Sunday 24th May

It’s been a while since I have had the time to write. Work is flat out and I don’t think people understand how hard we are all working with limited resources. We don’t have enough staff numbers to open seven days a week, but as we have so much work myself and my sales colleague have been using the weekend time to deliver vehicles. The abuse we received yesterday from the general public was unbelievable. I won’t go into the specifics but let me be very clear. We are all working flat out, it’s not unusual for us to be fielding phone calls and answering emails late into the night. I can’t remember the last time I had a proper day off and I am not alone in that statement. Please be patient, as of next we should be back to some sort of semblance of normality. But for now we are just head down, bottom up; working as hard as we can to deliver the service you all require.

Today is a special day, today I have a round of golf booked with a dear friend I have not seen since all this lockdown stuff began. I have slipped and checked and answered a few emails but now my phone is going in the draw until tomorrow and once I have finished this little piece my laptop will be following it. Today is about friends, golf and maybe a beer after. I am not expecting either of us to be setting course records. Last time out I shot a very embarrassing ninety-nine. But I know we will have fun, the slightly overcast weather won’t dampen our spirits. Today will be a good day.

I have a wonderful story of a motorhome sale to share with you, for reasons that will become clear later I can’t write the story quite yet; so I thought I might tell the tale of my greatest sale and possible the greatest customer. I have changed a good deal of the information in this story to protect the identity of said customer, but the crux of it is all true.
Back in the day I was working for a large dealership selling brand specific vehicles. As a good salesman I would work my database and speak to customers I felt could benefit from an upgrade. I had a lovely chap we will call Dave that had a small car that he used for his daily commute. He was desperate to change and we would talk, email or text regularly about his car and how it was time for a change. Dave became a bit of a mate, we would chat about all sorts of stuff.
He knew he had to change his car; it was rotten. The heater had long since given up, it was using water and fuel in equal quantities. The drives side window had fallen out of its fixing and was now stuck open about two inches. In short it was old and needed to go.
Dave was keen to upgrade, just by a few years to get something that worked. But every time I found him something, his wife would find something else to spend the money on. It was always amazing things to, foreign holidays, a new kitchen once it was a swimming pool.  I was never quite sure if this was just something he said to keep me from pestering him or what was genuinely happening. But like I say it didn’t matter because he was like a mate now, so we just chatted, laughed and moved on.
One day we had taken in a lovely little manual car that was right up Dave’s street. I took a few pictures and emailed him the information. Also taking the liberty of sending him some pictures of a sporty little number we had for a bit of fun. The sporty beast was in a completely different price bracket but I thought it would be a talking point.
Anyway; with about an hour Dave is on the phone asking why I had sent him the pictures of the sports car. Turns out this just happened to be his dream car and could he come down to take a look. I was really thinking he just wanted to have a look, maybe a drive to get it out of his system. Then we could talk about the little cheapy I had for him.
Quite the opposite. Once Dave and seen it and driven it he was more smitten than ever. A long chat with our business manager and with a bit of finance Dave could afford his dream; the car was his.
We had a little bit to do on the car to get it ready for him so we agreed he would collect it in a few days.
The next morning Dave is on the phone, saying his wife has gone mad at the idea of such a car. Midlife crisis and divorce had been banded around, but anyway not to worry he was going to have the car whatever. I didn’t think this was his smartest move and mentioned the little car was still with us but that didn’t matter, he was having it and that was that.
Roll on the next day and I have the mother in law in the office shouting and going that I can’t sell him such a car. Her daughter is going to leave him if he does something so selfish and stupid. She takes a look at the prospective new car, rants some more so I show her the little runner I had originally tried to sell him. Much happier with this option she starts trying to negotiate on the car on his behalf. Not wanting to get into this conversation I tell her I will do the same deal on this car as he got on the racer. The same deal incidentally was what was on the window, but she seemed happy and was off home to tell the daughter what was happening. I called Dave and he told me not to worry, the dream car was coming home with him and that was that.
It goes quite for a couple of days, then out of know where I get a call from Dave; “do I still have the little cheapy?” Without batting an eyelid and more out of fun than anything else I say “we do, do you want to buy both?” Yes he does and this is why Dave became the best customer ever. The plan was he would use the cheapy for his commute and the sporty number would live in his mate’s garage for weekend fun. This guy has a pretty expensive motorcar hiding in his mate’s garage, on a good bit of funding that his wife knows nothing about!
The day comes to collect; Dave drives down first thing in the morning in his old banger, swops to his new runner and tells me he will be back in the afternoon with his mate to pick up the other. The afternoon comes round and like a Cheshire cat Dave appears with his mate to pick up his new toy. As I watch him drive away I turn to his mate and ask if he thinks he will get away with it? “Oh definitely” he says, “she never found out about the motorbike!”

Day 1, Level 2, Thursday 14th May

I have said before that I wake up knowing what I am going to write. I have also recently mentioned that I am struggling to find time to write. Well it appears having been laying in bed for a half an hour, writing this out in my mind; four o’clock in the morning is the time to write my ditties!

First day of level two. What a result for New Zealand. In what is basically six weeks, we appear to have put a hold on the spread of this horrible virus and maybe, just maybe moved in the direction of eradicating it here in Aotearoa. This is only a hope, team New Zealand still have a way to go, but the goal line is in site if we can stick to the rules; we got this.
So far so good, for what I have seen by and large people appear to be doing just that.
Auckland traffic is no way near back to normal. The morning rush hour is still noting like it has been previously. On day one of level two, traffic was notably busier than previous days but nothing like my normal commute. This gives me heart that peoples and companies are continuing to promote working from home. Sadly, this also might be a sign that the fall out of Covid 19 has started impacting people’s jobs already. Unhappily although both our true, I suspect the latter is more prevalent. Companies have to adapt to the new New Zealand and what this might look like going forward nobody really knows.
Its easy to see that tourism will be down for some considerable amount of time, the Trans-Tasmin bubble could help but it won’t replace the global tourism we previously enjoyed. The knock-on effect of this will shudder though the whole New Zealand economy. Business need to adapt now, change their model or they won’t survive to see the recovery of not only this beautiful country but the global economy as a whole.
We probably don’t even have a quarter of our staffs back on site and sadly post consultation I doubt we will be back to a full complement. Nobody will be immune. Just because I am working now it won’t preclude me from the risk of job cuts. Thl have been clear, we need to adapt to new times and they are right. But this change will impact many I am certain.
On the flip side of this potential doom and gloom, it will be a fantastic time to get out and explore your own backyard. We haven’t just opened the doors and gone back to life as it was before; but even on day one there is a feeling of determination from our customers to get out and start enjoying what this country has to offer. We concluded business on a couple of vehicles and there is a feeling that it will be alright. So, if your thinking of getting out and seeing a bit of New Zealand, now will be a great time. All our beauty spots will be quieter than they have been for years, travel will be easy and you will be doing you bit to help the local economy. Do get in touch, I know a guy who can help find that motorhome to make that dream happen.

Other exciting news from day one of level two, is I have had my hair cut. Like many it was well overdue. I normally sport quite a short hairdo and if left to long it begins to curl back into my ears and get quite lush and heavy. If left any longer it takes on a wire wool type quality that is best avoided, so I was thrilled to get an appointment and I was also buoyed to see how well it was being managed. We are all doing the necessary contact tracing; this will be the norm for a good little while I am sure and these guys were no different. But theirs was all managed though a app. You book your appointment time, pay a deposit and it allows you in real time to see how your appointment time is going. Sure, they were running late, well good I am glad they were. They were busy and by half past five by the time I got there you could see these lovely ladies were tired. Ambitions of working till seven pm, it was going to be much later than that by the time they caught up and finished all their bookings. I couldn’t have been more pleased, to not only see them back working. But being so busy and yes predictable enough they were busy; I am sure there are many people with mops like mine that need a trim or worse home attempts that need remedying. These ladies are going to be busy enough for a few weeks to come and they need to be. No income for six weeks, they have adapted the business model from a hundred percent walk-in to online booking service and its worked. Sure, a couple of tweaks but this is day one, nobody gets it right straight off the bat. To watch them in their masks, cleaning down after each sitting changing equipment, contact tracing. They were going to be alright, so get out there and support your local barbers or hairdressers. The Barber Depot gets my vote.

Sadly, throughout the days optimism and excitement to get back to normal, there is always a dark cloud.
A great man has left this mortal coil. A man that will be known to a great many residents of Whangaparaoa, his charisma, charm, whit will be remembered fondly. A born entertainer, the genial host with most; providing many a pub quiz and much more besides. He leaves a wife, family and more friends than I think he will ever know. My thoughts and good wishes go out to all effected by this terrible and untimely loss and I will leave you with some immortal words that he may have burrowed from another great and now sadly pasted entertainer.

“You don’t get anything for a pair, not in this game“.

Day 48, Sunday 10th May

Keeping up with my blog is becoming a real challenge. It probably only takes me a couple of hours to rattle off some of my thoughts and memories, but finding those few hours is a real challenge.
Work is super busy; I am generally there for about seven thirty and still banging away after five. Couple that with the forty minute commute each way and by the time I get home I have had enough for the day. That and the wife gets a little sniffy if I don’t at least talk to her for a bit. But today on this beautifully clear, sunny autumnal morning. Wifey is at work, Lola is sleeping in the sunshine and I have some time to catch up with you all.
It’s funny how this has grown, I just stated it out of a whim, a couple of silly emails and the want of something to do during lockdown. Now I miss it if I don’t get time to write.
I have even started formulating what an Isolated Salesman might look like post Covid. I have some ideas but sadly despite everyone’s good work we are a little way off normality yet. Whatever that might look like? I don’t think it will be the same county we left nearly six weeks ago, or at least not for a good while yet. I suppose it does give us the opportunity to change. In my experience change is always for the greater good despite what it might feel like at the time.
Back in the UK I had the unenviable role of working with a team managing organisational change. The service I worked for was being transferred to another organisation. TUPE applied but even so there was a lot of worry and angst from the staff. There were redundancies but on the whole those who transferred across were happy.
I am sure in the coming weeks and months companies across New Zealand and the world for that matter will have to relook at their business model, a lot has changed in six weeks and will continue to do so for a good while yet. Those that don’t change and react to these new times will fail. Now is not the time to open the doors and think it will be business as usual, it won’t be and not for a long time to come. The decisions and choices we make now will define our futures.
Thl have been very open in talking about this, it’s already very visible that there are moves a foot to transition the business into a different direction. Foreign tourism will be a very different beast for a good time to come, and I am sure will no longer be the main driver of the business. How it will look is for smarter people than me to figure; I have my thoughts, only time will tell how accurate I am.

On a lighter note the opening up of golf courses has been a blessing. We can only play in our bubbles, I have been able to go out on my own and hide the embarrassment of what five weeks without swinging a club brings to my game. I was never Tiger Woods but right now I am worse than I have been for a long time. Hopefully at level 2 I will be able to get a couple of lessons and try and get my game back on track. Either that or I will have to take Lola as caddie/golf ball retriever.

Austria, my second favourite place in the world, you can all guess my first. When we left Italy and the lakes we headed north towards the Dolomites. The Dolomites are a mountain range located in north-eastern Italy. They form part of the Southern Limestone Alps and extend from the River Adige in the west to the Piave Valley in the east. The plan was for us to drive through the mountains to Austria. This truly was one of the most spectacular drives of my life and it would appear one I have very few pictures of. This drive is real Top Gear stuff, winding roads, hairpin bends, amazing scenery and the biggest bridge I have ever seen.

Heading for Austria

Heading for Austria

First we wind our way out of Italy and into the Dolomites, the scenery is breath-taking. I have never been a skier and often wondered why people chose to throw themselves down a big mounting in the freezing cold. Especially when you can go in the summer months and experience the amazing greenery. The green hews, the flowers, this vistas, all quite stunning and I am sure not the same when it’s all cold and white. The idea was to drive the five hundred odd kilometres on one day but we weren’t prepared for how stunning it would be. Remember my old adage if you see something interesting stop, well we stopped more than we started. It got to the point where we simply had to drive past interesting and beautify looking things or we may well have been seeing snow in the Alps. Then we came over a small rise and looked down into the Brenner Pass.  The Brenner Pass is a mountain pass through the Alps which forms the border between Italy and Austria. It is one of the principal passes of the Eastern Alpine range and has the lowest altitude among Alpine passes of the area. This one hundred percent is where you are going to find Purple Cows. In case that reference didn’t cross the international divide, Purple Cows with it’s traditional cow bell was how Milka chocolate was advertised. Seas of purple cows in Austrian meadows eating the finest pasture and producing the finest milk for the best chocolate. That Milka was a German company was lost on the Austrians, they lapped it up. Next time you watch skiing on the telly and you hear the cow bells you will know where it comes from. Milka have been a massive sponsor of Alpine skiing for years.
I digress, we were at the border. These where the good old days of free travel around Europe, we had crossed many countries boarders and seen no one. Perhaps an abandoned hut would signify you had crossed but that was it. Austria wasn’t much different, only in their case they had a little place selling Vignette stickers. These stickers record that you have paid the road tax that allows you to ride on the motorways. There not a lot of money as I remember and we definitely needed one, we are still on track for the Europa Bridge. The Europa Bridge or Bridge of Europe is a 777-metre-long bridge carrying the A13 Brenner Autobahn over the 657-metre Wipp valley just south of Innsbruck, Tyrol, Austria. The bridge spans the Sill River, and forms part of the main route across the Alps. The longest span between pillars is 198 metres. It also hosts a 192-meter Bungee Jump, the fifth highest in the world. I won’t be trying that. I will however be negotiating our little VW along six lanes of motorway to Innsbruck, there is a downhill ski jump I want to see.

Day 40, Saturday 2nd May

Apologise for being a little lax with my posts of late. I am back in work now and like many businesses I am sure we are winding back in slowly. We have only bought a few staffs back onto site to begin with as we gage need and demand. That and as responsible employers Thl wanted to minimise the risk of our extended bubble. Despite not having a large number of customer contacts we have all been super busy. We have a huge amount of vehicles to delivery and very few staffs, we can do it but it would be fair to say we are all spinning a lot of plates right now. Our online store continues to be busy and vehicle sales are picking up too, Thl will be fine. We might look like a different operation once we come out the other side but we will keep going.
Anyway the point I was making about my lack of postings in my blog is I am shattered. I am spending upwards or nine hours a day, organising jobsheets, communicating with customers, sourcing and checking vehicles. Along with stock checks, more spreadsheets than I care to remember and all the while trying to sell a couple of motorhomes. By the time I get home I don’t want to speak let alone look at my computer. Don’t get me wrong I love what I do and do feel very honoured to be back in work. But I am glad it’s the weekend. I dare say I will still have a few emails to deal with and I know I have some clients to speak with but right now, it’s early; I have my coffee and I will spend a few moments speaking to you all.

The world cleaning championships must be nearing the results stage. I came home the other evening to a very excited wife. As well as the normal plethora of cleaning, polishing, dusting and floor scrubbing. Today’s adventures of the mop and bucket had taken an unusual turn.
I had barely stepped through the door when I am excitedly whisked into the kitchen. “Look at this” she exclaimed and my head is thrust into the dishwasher! “I have cleaned it”. Now I have to admit it did look very clean, but I have always considered the inside of the dishwasher to be clean. I mean it gets a good coating of soap and water once a day when it does the dishes. Giving it an extra little clean had never crossed my mind. Little Miss Olympic cleaner however had done a number on it and was very pleased with herself.
As I am straitening up I catch a glance of her smug little face and with a nod she says; “yup and I have done the washing machine too”!

One of my friends was asking me about India and if we had seen the Taj Mahal. The answer was of course yes. You cannot in my opinion go to India without seeing it, especially if you are so close.
We were lucky enough to travel the fabled golden triangle. India’s golden triangle is a tourist circuit which connects the national capital Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Taking in the most amazing countryside in between. From our base in Delhi we headed first to Agra, home of the Taj. The idea was to travel down, spend the night in a hotel and go see the Taj Mahal first thing in the morning. The Taj Mahal is open from sunrise to sunset every day except Friday, but the absolute best time to go is right at sunrise. So this is our plan, we want to be there just as the sun is coming up.
We have booked a little treat for ourselves in a rather nice hotel. After our long journey we settle into the comfortable surrounds of the bar, enjoy a drink and peruse the dinner menu.
Our early night is rewarded with the most beautiful building I think I will ever see. You approach the Taj through a vaulted tunnel, for want of a better description; through the outer wall and into the gardens. At the end of this tunnel is two very large wooden doors, which are swung open at sunrise. It’s a real breath taking moment when out of the darkness you are greeted with pure brilliance of the Taj. The serenity and beauty of this place I really struggle to put into words. You really really must go.

Taj doorway

Taj Doorway


Taj Mahal

We also have here another examples of Indian’s loving to have their picture taken. We had done the touristy bit, re-enacted the famous Princess Diana photo. Walked the gardens, been inside the Taj and where just walking around the perimeter of the Taj itself when we stopped for another picture opportunity. My wife sits herself on the wall with the Taj behind and I snap a picture. Just to her left I can see a little girl in a beautiful blue saris. She clearly wants her picture taken with my wife so I usurer her in. My wife is happy and I snap another picture. Then her sister comes into view in another brightly coloured sari. She wants in on the action too. She sits herself down the other side of my wife and click another picture. Then we have a third sister, then a mother and to follow a farther and another elder gentleman I took to be some grandparent. Each time they would take up position to have their picture taken. We ended up with a chain of seven pictures, showing the growth of this Indian family around her. I thought it was hilarious, my wife less so. The best bit was when we got home. We started looking back through the pictures and there was this procession of changing expression on my wife’s face. She goes from all happy smiley to somewhere between uncomfortable and very annoyed. The last is one of this chain is my favourite pictures, but sadly I am not allowed it in the house and certainly not to be posted in here.
From Agra and the Taj we head to Jaipur. Jaipur is the capital of India’s Rajasthan state, more commonly known as the Pink City. Tomorrow we will go and see the Amber Fort. But today we will experience Jaipur and Hawa Mahal or the Pink Palace. Made with the red and pink sandstone, the palace sits on the edge of the City Palace, Jaipur, and extends to the Zenana, or women’s chambers. The original intent of the lattice design was to allow royal ladies to observe everyday life and festivals celebrated in the street below without being seen, since they had to obey the strict rules of “purdah”, which forbade them from appearing in public without face coverings. This architectural feature also allowed cool air from the Venturi effect to pass through, thus making the whole area more pleasant during the high temperatures in summer. Many people see the Hawa Mahal from the street view and think it is the front of the palace, but in reality it is the back of that structure. Either way it’s a stunning piece of architecture. We spent the afternoon exploring the city and then retire to our digs. Slumming it again we have found ourselves an original Jaipur palace. Purportedly once stayed in by Bill Clinton. I find this a little hard to believe but it is an experience and as it’s out of season so we have it all to ourselves.

Naila Bagh Palace, Bill Clinton

Naila Bagh Palace, Bill Clinton

Naila Bagh Palace

Naila Bagh Palace