Size matters: Inches or cm?

Crowded House

Thomas Woodham-Smith juggles his work-life balance


Back in the 1980s it was an accepted euphemism when members of staff announced that they would work from home.

It was understood to be a way of taking a day’s holiday without having to do it officially. Folk worked from home mainly on a Friday or a Monday. This was in the days before emails and mobile phones and consequently not being able to reach someone when they were so-called “working from home” was not anomalous or surprising.

It was understood to be a way of taking a day’s holiday without having to do it officially

My first boss would often arrive at work on Thursday wearing tweeds rather than a suit and leave shortly after lunch for the country telling us that he was going to work from home the next day. At the appropriate time of year he would have his shotgun in the back of the car. He also used another shorthand, which was when he left the office in the middle of the day to go to the bank. It took me many years to realise that his bank was a cosy wine bar in Avery Row.

Now it seems the world works from home, indeed for the last couple of months it has been compulsory. Under normal circumstances I live a hybrid life. My antique dealing I run from home and that job is predicated on going out, touring the country or abroad, roaming far and wide to find choice morsels to tease and delight existing or prospective clients.

I have no target or schedule; I just have to try and earn a living. So I am not much at home. My other life is as an Antique Fair organiser. This is run from an office with all its concomitant non-family ramifications. The peculiarity of my dealing life is that earning money is very “lumpy” — a sale can happen in a couple of minutes. Just find the right object at the right price and off you go, or it can take months of emails and photographs. So the function of the business puts one off regular hourly industry. The other life needs it. I must pay close attention to myriad functions and sources. Consequently, I have a strange push-me-pull-you approach to work.

Though it is crucial to current business the internet often does not work for me, but for some it does magnificently. I have a friend who is a successful carpet dealer based in darkest Wales. He buys and sells totally remotely, using intermediaries to collect, restore, photograph and deliver his purchases and sales. He makes a solid living and he will go many months without actually physically handling a rug. He has had 25 years of experience and he knows how to look at a photograph in the right way.

But I am not someone who can buy like that. Though it is an obvious canard, I often seem to get the measurements wrong; only too often a package arrives of minuscule proportions that I anticipated being huge.

So enforced confinement and a reliance on the internet is a bit of a liability. It can be a friend sometimes: I get emails from kind people requesting details and prices of items from my website and that can work quite well. But the random nature of the business makes a sale seem more like a lottery win than the product of hard work.

For the last two and half years I have had a further impediment to industry — the dynamic duo of chaos, Theodore and Joshua. Not only do these small boys generate mayhem but they also offer serious distractions apart from direct care. When I should be emailing someone about an object I find myself making apple and pear compote.

When I should be updating my website I clear out the nappy bin or tidy away their cars. Instead of writing my monthly newsletter I am making Bolognese sauce, for them randomly to spurn or consume with gusto. While I sit at my desk perusing auction rooms in rural France, Joshua will climb up behind me and drive his car over my head, snagging the wheels in my hair to some considerable discomfort.

Under normal circumstances they would be at nursery long enough for me to give the impression of work for around six hours a day, but given the current absence of nursery care they are my problem in the afternoon and my wife’s in the morning. I have given up taking calls, as they love the telephone and feel the need to contribute. If I move away from them to take the call they will be at each other’s throats within seconds. There is a particular truck that is an hourly battleground. I work in fits and starts, entering the world of art and antiques like an amateur.

In the square where we live there are people who sit in their cars for hours on end, sleeping, smoking and chatting, but primarily seeking solitary refuge from their home life. I have not quite resorted to that yet. I now yearn for the office and its acoustic backdrop of fingers on keyboards, like cicadas in tropical climes. I yearn for a meditative cup of coffee whilst a creative thought percolates. I dream of driving through Belgium with a car laden with potential.

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