Whilst 2020 will go down as the year, the world over, when we all went through the same emotions of lockdown and coming to terms of living in a global pandemic. But the impact of Covid-19 on ourselves as individuals has been very different. Here Victoria Sharples, wine buyer at St John Restaurant in London, shares what it has been like to have been on furlough for most of 2020, and how it is actually been a hugely rewarding time to stop and reflect and make the most of our unique circumstances.
At the start of 2020 few of us actually knew what the term ‘furlough’ meant, but it has become a way of life for so many in the drinks and hospitality sectors as Victoria Sharples explains.
We have all had to adapt to a very different year due to Covid-19 – how do you look back on it as a whole?
It has been an incredibly fascinating and rewarding year. For the first time possibly ever, maybe since being at school (!?) I had no demands on my time. This is the first time where I was not tearing around to tastings, travelling to wineries, blending wines, and responding to the daily demands of a fast paced, ever-changing, work environment.
The work obligations (and joys) were gone. Of course the anxiety and stress of knowing (or rather not knowing) what laid ahead were significant. I count myself lucky to live near Hampstead Heath so I could take full advantage of the beautiful summer. Being amongst nature has huge restorative powers.
I kept in touch with friends and family and found huge solace spending time with four-legged friends. I feel stronger, clearer and more driven than before.
How did it impact you personally and the St John business?
Physically: The fear of losing my sense of smell and taste was a primary driver for me to keep safe and cautious. While many have had their senses return I am not convinced it comes back completely. Some fear drowning or fire, I fear losing my sense of smell and taste.
Emotionally: So many unknown’s only reiterated to me how crucial it is to keep open and honest communication. That’s easier said than done. For me it was a significant insight which I will draw from for the rest of my days.
What did you do to respond?
While it was stressful and anxiety-inducing, especially being on furlough this entire time. The period was invaluable. It proved a time to take stock and reflect on what is important, and a means to really find a balance to life, career and how as a society we operate. Life moves fast here in London and to be able to slow down has been extraordinarily precious.
It has given me time to brainstorm for six months. And as a result has allowed me to re-ignite a passion to embark on my first project here in London on my own.
It’s not been a great year for highs – but anything stand out for you?
The co-operation across the scientific community across the globe researching and coming to grips with the Covid-19 virus. The advances and achievements in under 12 months is extraordinary and as a former scientist, it warms my heart at what they have achieved.
What did you for Christmas and your plans for New Year?
Well it was a quiet one. There were several video calls from friends and family back in Melbourne – celebrating vicariously through them. More walking through London – I just adore London between Christmas and New Year in an ordinary year, this will be no exception. I suspect I’ll be an early riser on New Year’s Day – being out at the crack of dawn – start the year as I intend to continue.
What did you eat and drink on Christmas Day?
Turkey. Nothing says Christmas to me quite like turkey, other than oysters and prawns, of course, which really works best in warmer climes such as those lazy Melbourne summer days. So it was Turkey, cranberry sauce and if I could have found a bottle it would have been some Seppelt Show Reserve Sparkling Shiraz. My way of combining the Australian and English in me. However I did have a very pretty, feminine elegant yet slightly boisterous Pinot Noir from Burgundy.
Any favourite Christmas films – or films you watch at Christmas time – and why?
This may be my guilty pleasure. I am a hopeless romantic and The Holiday has to be one of my weaknesses and it seems to be programmed on TV every Christmas.
Favourite Christmas related songs?
That’s tricky. There are at least three that give the full monty of northern hemisphere yuletide: Last Christmas by Wham!; Do They Know it’s Christmas – Band Aid; Happy Christmas (War is Over) – John and Yoko; Bing Crosby and David Bowie – Little Drummer Boy (Peace on Earth).
I recently discovered Canadian musician Chilly Gonzales who has just launched A Very Chilly Christmas. That will be on my playlist for sure. And a little bit of Australia? It has to be How to Make Gravy – Paul Kelly (easily one of Australia’s greatest song-writing talents).
Any family festive traditions?
I still like to leave a pillowcase by the Christmas tree. Weirdly I think Santa may have lost my details but I remain ever hopeful.
I am hoping to reinstate a Melbourne tradition (not this year obviously) of having an Open House on Christmas Eve where friends drop in for a glass of Champagne, an oyster or two, mince pies and some more Champagne – did I mention Champagne?
Any favourite guilty pleasure to drink?
Sparkling Shiraz – that elusive bottle of Seppelt Sparkling Show Reserve with some age. A magic wine and perfect with roast turkey – and yes a BBQ.
What are you most looking forward to doing once Covid-19 is over?
A trip back to Melbourne to see my whippet (and my parents and friends – yes in that order.)
Where are you most looking forward to travelling to?
Any final thoughts on 2020?
There is no question at how extraordinarily challenging the year has been and the journey is far from over.
We must, as an industry, acknowledge the stress and strain on those who are working longer, intense hours, far more than normal, taking on additional responsibilities in order to keep businesses afloat, and hopefully furloughed jobs alive.
We have some incredible leaders and innovators whose drive and determination and passion for the industry and its people, only strengthens our chances to bounce back, stronger, leaner and fitter than before.