With governmental guidelines in constant flux, and the potential of even greater restrictions looming on the horizon, the UK has borne witness to one of its most turbulent years in recent memory. With many of those whose work revolves around interaction forced into vocational limbo, BN1 spoke to four of Brighton’s most talented residents about how lockdown has affected business, creativity, and their plans for the future.
How has the pandemic and the continuous changes in lockdown regulations affected your working environment?
Brodi Snook, comedian and writer: The panny-d hit at the beginning of what was to be my biggest professional year so far. Having just won Chortle’s Best Newcomer Award, within the space of a fortnight I had lost 12 months’ worth of work. Zoom gigs appeared almost immediately and I’ve only done a select few. I honestly find online performances more depressing than not gigging at all. Live comedy is soul crushing at the best of times, but nothing compares to a dark, damp, perfect-breeding-ground-for-a-virus comedy cellar with a microphone covered in beery spit. God, I miss it.
Harriet Tamsin, cake designer: Baking sets my heart on fire and I truly love what I do. One of the most satisfying aspects is sharing in the excitement of couples planning their big day but this interaction has now largely disappeared. The nature of my work means that generally I work alone, so in that sense my working environment has remained the same. However, I really miss people dropping in for a chat, which makes a working day already at risk of being lonely, becoming even more so.
Nick Hudson, composer and writer: The UK government seems absolutely compelled to destroy the arts sector. Being full-time self-employed, most of my work has tended to be home-based. Though beyond home recording and promotion – and with the live event industry completely tanked – it’s taken on qualities of solitary confinement.
Isolation, coupled with severely strangulated revenue streams, has led to a fairly bumpy few months, and I’m certainly not the only one who must be close to overdosing on their own mind.
Elizabeth Caton, caterer and event planner: At the beginning we were very naïve. After the lockdown in Italy sent ripples through Europe, we emailed all our clients who had weddings booked in March, April and May, explaining our COVID policy, should their wedding be affected. When restrictions were first eased, we were able to cater for a few small, socially distanced events. Lots of our couples, who were devastated after having already scaled-downed their weddings were shocked with the government’s sudden announcement of a reduction to 15 guests. The confusion and uncertainty have led to stress and heartbreak for clients who should really be celebrating the happiest periods of their lives.
While some have found inspiration amid these seismic social shifts, others have found the situation stifling. How has the ‘new normal’ changed your approach to work and creativity?
Harriet: Most of my work involves baking and decorating wedding cakes, but I’ve begun branching out to cater for other occasions. A lot of clients have wanted to thank friends or work mates for their support with many ordering ‘cheering up’ cakes.
With the NHS stretched to capacity, I enjoyed making batches of brownies and flapjacks to send into Brighton hospital via doctor friends, to say a small thank you for the tireless work the staff were doing. Ultimately, I’ve only been perhaps a quarter as busy as I might expect over the summer, and, of course, my finances have suffered.
Nick: What I found most stifling was that musically I had just begun to expand into utilising natural acoustics. With all that suddenly nixed, I found myself developing huge digital fatigue. The only two Zoom events I’ve attended are a wake and a music interview. Fortunately, my band, The Academy Of Sun, had finished our new album before lockdown, meaning we were able to release it without it totally sinking. I was supposed to be undertaking two exciting tours of the US and the UK. Obviously, they didn’t occur.
Elizabeth: Cooking for events took up so much time that I couldn’t experiment as much as I’d like to, but this strange year has also provided an opportunity to explore new creative avenues. Together with my sister, Charlie, who co-owns the business, we’ve read countless recipe books, concentrated on growing vegetables, and tasked ourselves with making meals which don’t involve buying excess shopping. Volunteering at Fareshare, where we make lunches for vulnerable people using whatever food is left over from food banks has been a real inspiration.
Brodi: Ironically, before the apocalypse, I felt I was working too much to write new material. And then, when all I had was time, I couldn’t get inspired. I was in a slump – why write if there’s no gigs? There were brief points of productivity, usually followed by gloomy cynicism, and then episodes of Tiger King. To be a bit kinder to my brain, I started working on long-term projects such as a television script I’m developing. It’ll most likely never see the light of day, but it got me out of bed (some mornings). Fortunately, I have picked up some other writing and broadcasting work which has challenged me to evolve my skill set and forced me to swear less.
Has this unprecedented period led you to discover things you might incorporate into your future work?
Elizabeth: Refreshing our options has led to varied and interesting possibilities and now our previous clients have approached us asking for small celebrations designed to cheer people up. For one couple, we recreated their wedding menu from last year to be served in the garden to them and their family. We now prepare picnics and dinner parties for small numbers to be dropped off at people’s homes. We’re constantly thinking of ways we can help our clients celebrate in new and imaginative ways.
Nick: Well, it has been on the cards for a while, but this has certainly nudged it: I’m writing a tonne more prose and actually working on a novel. It’s a medium where one has total control over the production values and the financial outgoings are minimal, so for both of those reasons it’s extra-cathartic in these volatile times.
Brodi: New material, mainly. It’s my job to make light of the dark and that’s been a gargantuan effort this year. I have found no desire to buy podcasting equipment or find out what the fuck Tik Tok is. Life experience breeds material and there haven’t been many experiences this year. What there has been is a barrage of prickish behaviour to observe and ridicule: big thanks to the Tory government for the free-flowing fodder!
Do you think your working environment will every truly return to normal, or has everything been changed forever, for better or worse?
Nick: I think rather than things suddenly becoming bad, the COVID crisis and our government’s grotesque mishandling of it has exposed long-established, deep-seated cracks in the infrastructure of the UK music industry. Music seems to be the only art form people expect to consume for free. This isn’t the fault of the consumer, but more the unbalanced way music has been packaged, with artists inevitably being the last to be paid, if indeed at all.
With my sector trashed, and the Brexit transition period sauntering gloomily towards its NYE death knell, I’m also considering leaving the UK. Having already fallen through more cracks than a louse on a mosaic, my hunch is that it’s time to get out of here as I don’t see much good coming Britain’s way.
Harriet: I do think that things will return to normal, though I’m aware it may be some time before that happens. The pleasure and excitement for couples planning their wedding is still there in muted form and I expect wedding celebrations to come back in full force. Couples who have married under the rules restricting numbers often suggest that, when possible, they will have a much bigger event to celebrate their marriage. I hope that by some time next year, (fingers crossed), we will see weddings back to normal.
Elizabeth: With the virus being targeted in multiple ways, we do expect things to return to normal at some stage. We can’t wait for that to happen – unrestrained hugging, dancing, sharing a buffet and just being together joyfully without anxiety. We are optimistic about next year, which for us, is super busy.
The pandemic has underlined just how important it is to develop good relationships with clients and that flexibility is key. With some of our couples having postponed weddings more than once, it’s important to reassure them they will never have to spend money on catering for an event that doesn’t happen.
Brodi: I think like most aspects of The Old Life, things may eventually return, but in a very different shape. Needs must. I’m loving the sanitising and the two metres between me and strangers – that can stay, but the Zoom gigs can do one. I’ll be gutted to see venue capacities change, assuming there are any comedy venues left.
Who knows what the future of my career holds? 2020 has taught us that we know nothing. It could just be me, walking around a park, screaming muffled jokes through a face mask and shaking a change bucket.
What are your thoughts on a second lockdown and what potential effects could they have on you personally?
Harriet: A second lockdown would be a different matter – I think we’re all a bit exhausted by uncertainty. I imagine I could continue working in the same way I have since March, but I didn’t realise how much I would miss interacting with clients: long discussions about the type, flavour, size, cake decoration, and the huge satisfaction that comes from messages telling me how much the cake added to their day. It’s this kind of feedback that makes the hard work worthwhile. Like many others, I long to get back to a space where I’m able to do satisfying work that uses my talents.
Elizabeth: A heart-breaking thought. Now that events are reduced to 15, many people have postponed them until 2021. We are hoping to go on cooking for some smaller parties until then, but it’s looking increasingly likely there will be further restrictions and possibly a full lockdown. That would be difficult both economically and for everyone’s mental health.
Providing great food and making people happy means incredibly hard work and long hours but it is so worth it. To have empty days stretching ahead is challenging but people will always need to celebrate with food, so we try to remain cheerful, though it’s not always easy.
Brodi: If we were allowed to vote on a second lockdown – I would. It will be utterly shit, but not as bad as if appropriate action isn’t taken. The government dragged its heels earlier this year and look how that went. Closing the pubs at 10pm isn’t going to do shit. Auckland went back into lockdown when their second wave waved… and it worked.
Staying inside, drinking the cooking wine, cutting your own hair and resenting your loved ones really is the best survival kit. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we all need to copy New Zealand.