On Saturday 28 March 2020 at about 11am, I was going into the store to get some seats to accommodate the people coming through our doors at Carlin Hair on the Upper Cavehill Road.
It was like all the Christmas eves rolled into one. I walked back up the salon to Helen, my wife and the co director of our hairdressing business, and said to her it was time we closed the book. Local government hadn’t announced the closing date but we knew it was imminent.
Morally we felt that we had to close in order to protect our team and customers and had discussed this over the days leading up to this moment. We closed the book and contacted the clients that had appointments to let them know.
Our team are amazing. We have a deep bond and all have been with me for several years so the parting was very emotional — and made worse by the fact that one of the least demonstrative people gave me the biggest hug of all. But it meant a lot to me.
It felt like going into free-fall off the highest cliff ever. My heart and stomach were in my mouth and I felt like throwing up.
We had flicked the switch, the decision was made and we had to go with it because it seemed like the right thing to do. That night at nearly midnight the Executive made their announcement that businesses had to close. It made me feel good that we had made the decision already.
What followed were the usual house projects, keep fit regimes, banana cake baking and various other wholesome pursuits that filled our days. Although, I must admit that I still haven’t cleared the shed or the roof space. But I can make a beautiful version of Niall McKenna’s Guinness Wheaten Bread.
We have three dogs and enjoy outdoor pursuits so it was nice to have time for that. Throughout, I had to keep myself calm and just tried to switch off as much as possible.
Fast forward just over a year - and several openings and closures later — and we get our date for reopening. Hopefully for the last time.
Indeed, it was actually a few days earlier than we thought it was going to be which felt like a wee bonus. As we had presumed reopening was going to be the following week, we decided we would start on the Friday with just half a day so that we could get the team lunch and get everyone’s hair done in the afternoon.
It was lovely to have them all back and the half day went down really well.
With the benefit of experience from the previous reopenings, we realised that the pressure would enormous. We know now that opening back up takes longer because of the extra PPE and other variables.
We decided to spread the work out a bit and reduced our output by about 20 per cent, giving us time to cope.
We have clients that haven’t had their hair professionally attended to in over a year, clients who have allowed their significant other at them with all sorts of scissor-like cutting implements.
Then, of course, there is every hairdresser’s nightmare, the dreaded box dye which can turn many’s a great head of hair to chewing gum.
The decision to reduce our intake has helped our operation but the demands are still intense. And now, with being a few weeks back, we are working on the pastoral side of the team as they are finding the constant demand is taking its toll.
In a way last week were lucky when we had some last-minute cancellations as that meant people could get a breather.
We are also very excited as we are bringing in three new people, two apprentice positions and a Senior Technician. It always feels great to provide new opportunities for the next generation of our great industry.
Keeping the team happy has been the most important thing we have had to keep an eye on. I’m still working every day as a busy hairdresser so I feel the same pressures they feel.
We all want to put out our best work and get the best results for each individual client but we need to go easy on ourselves and remember we need to find our new post-lockdown rhythm and settle into it.