At break in point

Christmas is an amazing time of year for most people, unless you are an independent retailer and then its a stressful nightmare.

Financially the Christmas period is a juggling game of cash flow, with goods arriving in August which may not start to sell until late November/December. That’s at least three months of stressful bills with few sales until a few weeks before Christmas, when it all kicks off.

It is a hectic and stressful mixture of predicting pre-ordered stock that you hope to sell, mixed in with massive overheads such as business rates, utility bills, wages etc. It’s that age old saying “If you’ve not got it, then you can’t sell it.” On top of all that financial stress, you have the added stress of sending out goods to people on tight deadlines hoping that they don’t get lost in the postal network and hoping customers don’t pretend that they haven’t had the goods when they have. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve caught people out on fraud!

It is truly a fine art balancing everything and still offering the best customer service you can, whilst keeping a roof over your businesses head!

Well it’s the Thursday before Christmas, December the 20th, and I’m sat feeling like death on the sofa after coming home an hour early from work. Long days and nights working are taking their toll on me. I’ve a low immune system and I’m having treatment tomorrow and god, don’t I know I need it. Two other staff members have had a day off each due to illness, but I work for myself so taking a day off work isn’t an option, especially at Christmas. So I carry on the best I can covering their job roles and my own.

Suddenly the door bell rings and its my friend holding out a packet of cough sweets. I’m thankful as now someone’s in to make me tea, but mustering up the energy to become sociable is harder than I think. Like a vegetable I’m sat there unable to do much as Tams, my friend, runs round fetching me tablets, food and drink – my husbands gone to Milton Keynes snowboarding with the staff and team which when you are this ill, is a blessing as I just wanted to die quietly on the sofa.

We nattered, but Tam’s knew I was slowly dying from a cold and kept saying she’d leave. I had treatment in the morning in Oxford which I had to get up early for, and had zero energy. I remember sat wondering how I was going to even manage getting up in the morning at that point.

Unfortunately we hadn’t sat down and nattered just the two of us in months, so had lots to talk about, but I was extremely concerned that she was going to catch this cold from me, so didn’t want her to stay long. We’ve said goodbye 5 times by this point, but one of us would say something which would keep us chatting a bit longer. I said that night there was a reason for her spontaneously coming round.

Suddenly my phone rings, my home one. We both looked shocked as Tam’s knew it would be one of two people calling; My mother or our burglar alarm company. Looking at the time and knowing I was ill, the likeliness of it being my mother was slim. I answered the phone and asked them to repeat who they were.

I looked shocked, as I stood up reaching for my jacket and keys. “A sensors gone off, I need to go.” Tams instantly said she would come. Half of me thought its one sensor, not two, so it’s most likely a box which has fallen in the warehouse. I know I’m going to have to drive fast and safe because its wet. I make sure she’s got her seatbelt on for the ride.

It wasn’t long before some boy racer was at the side of me trying to race me. I decided to go another route as I didn’t want to cause him to have an accident, let alone me.

We joke that its going to be a box fallen over and that I’m going to want to kill someone on Friday morning, but in the back of my head I think this is going to be a real call, as I wasn’t on the phone long enough to know if two sensors had tripped.

We get closer to the warehouse and I ask Tams to look, as we drive past a car park which is behind our warehouse. There’s a small silver car driving around – looks like a Vauxhall Corsa, the old shape one. It could be nothing, but it could be something?

We drove into our warehouse car park, my eyes adjusted, I couldn’t work out what I was seeing as it was raining but shouted to Tam’s to call the police. My hand firmly on the horn as I wanted to scare anyone out from inside the wrecked building, but no one came.

The warehouse shutters were ruined. I couldn’t work out what had happened. At first I thought we had been ram raided but later on discovered that 3 men had spent about 2 hours in the rain ripping the shutters apart on and off. Was it worth it for them? Well for about £4k’s worth of damage they took less than £100 in total, which divided by three people wasn’t really worth all that effort?

Even the kids at the skate park knew that most people pay by card. What stupid idiot thought that it was worth spending two hours in the freezing cold and rain for the till float?!

Most of the items in our shop are £100, so no one comes in with much cash, its just that simple! Plus all cash is secured off site in the bank!

We sat for a couple of minutes in the car calling friends and family over to help, while we waited for the police. Two friends even kindly left the Cotswolds to come to my rescue. To them I will be eternally in their debt.

In just minutes the police arrived closely followed by the police dog – Swindon police were amazing.

I sat there thinking I’d rather go in first than a police dog or officer – I wouldn’t want anyone or anything getting hurt especially a dog for our shop! A very beautiful, bouncy happy German Shepherd came out. The only thing he found was a tennis ball thankfully belonging to our shop dog Abbie. The men had left only minutes before I had arrived we later saw on CCTV.

I scrambled though the wreckage of our shop front and into the office then shop and broke down in tears. The adrenaline left my body and the shock hit.

I can’t tell you how crushed I felt looking at all the damage. 18 years of hard work making ATBShop into something our family could be proud of in ruins; Skate park and two shops for all to enjoy, smashed up in a matter of hours, made everything we had ever achieved feel worthless. I remember crying out “Its not worth it any more” as I covered my face with my hands feeling so overwhelmed. Tears rushed down my face. I was in pain, but it wasn’t physical. My heart broken. This building called ATBShop is our life’s work, practically our home and someone wanted to take that from us for their selfish greed of not wanting to work.

Standing there wet and cold from the rain, tired and very ill I felt like I couldn’t go on. Stood in a room full of people I felt so alone.

These vile humans will never know the extent of damage they have caused for the pitiful amount that they stole. Not just the £4k’s worth of shop front they’ve smashed and destroyed, £100 till they took and smashed over the floor and cash float they stole, but the fact that I didn’t get my treatment that week from Oxford. That I’m still so ill from being stood in the cold and rain I’m amazed I’ve not got pneumonia for the 12th time. The phycological damage of being on edge from the break in. They ruined our family’s Christmas. It was already hard enough drawing the energy to celebrate Christmas with a family member terminally ill, but this just pushed us into a worse fragile state.

These pathetic individuals are the lowest life form in my books; Stealing from a small family run business, who’s main aim is to only do good, keep children off the streets and into active sports. If you knew our family then you will know we are the kindest people you’ll ever meet and would literally do anything for anyone.

Thankfully we have insurance to cover this damage which will cost us approximately £4k, but this could have cost us our business and our staff their jobs if we weren’t insured, all because of a couple of people wanted to steal rather than to work. Totally disgusting and extremely callous.

It wasn’t long before everyone had raced over to our aid. I don’t have friends… I have super heros. My life long friends Ant and Sam had travelled an hour from the Cotswolds to help. I told them I’d be ok, but they said that they would come and help as I was on my own with Tams and the police. My pensioner parents had left their beds in the dead of night to come in, and the boys left the snowdome to come back and try to piece back together what was our beautiful shop front.

Even my wonderful neighbours walked our dog and tucked her in for us that night, as I had to leave Abbie at home wanting to keep her safe.

Felling hurt, crushed and ill, we dusted ourselves down and picked ourselves back up and fought back to open for midday the next day. It was hard as I was working on less than two hours sleep by the time we got back home and had to wake back up to get in for work. I have to say I hardly slept for those two hours and spent the day spontaneously crying which is very tiring .

I had to keep telling myself that yes there are some terrible people out there, but there’s also some truly amazing people who are out there, who have supported us.

Lots of people keep asking how they can help us. All we will say is please come in and support us by shopping with us. Buy a coffee from us, use our skate park, buy your next scooter or skate board from us. Pay and have your skis or snowboard serviced, just use us. Whether you snowboard, kite, mountain board, scooter, skate, longboard, surf, or wakeboard rider, then pop in and support us – its that simple.

We don’t need a go fund me page or crowd funding account, we just need people to come in and use us and we will be fine and will fight back so this doesn’t happen again. We have fitted more sensors and added even better CCTV and monitoring sensors so this won’t happen again but it was surviving the emotional stress that was the hardest and one that I still won’t get over.

A funeral and a car chase:

Today was the day we said good-bye to a dear family friend. Eddie, as he was more fondly known amongst all of his friends and family, was a lovely man who met my Auntie Jean whilst away traveling alone on holiday.

My lovely Auntie Jean could never leave anyone out, and after spotting this handsome chap who sat alone on a table, she instantly invited him over to join in with herself and her friends. That was it, Eddie became a life long companion to Auntie Jean and as they say “The rest was history.”

Auntie Jean’s family welcomed Eddie into their lives where he was accepted by all as a loving and caring companion for Aunty Jean. My mother and father holidayed with the pair several times and have a world of funny stories and beautiful memories.

Somehow 15 wonderful years flew by until Eddie peacefully passed away at home in the care of my Auntie. To say it was a shock was an understatement -although his health been deteriorating for quite some years, his departure from this world was sudden and with no warning, peacefully passing away on the sofa with no pain.

A fond farewell for this well loved family friend needed to be planned over the coming weeks, and his hometown of Doncaster was chosen for his funeral and final resting place.

auntie, but one of a fanatic friendship forged over many years with my parents and grandparents – We are all still regarded like one of the family -invited to birthdays and events, so paying our last respects to Eddie only seemed right, even if it meant traveling halfway across the country to do so.

My parents and I drove up to Doncaster, Eddie’s hometown separately. They chose to stop over at a hotel for the night to break up the journey, whereas I chose to stay with one of my best Friends- Kate a newly qualified teacher in Derby.

After a long day at work and a long drive, I arrived in Derby. Kate and I sat up chatting until we went to bed at 11 pm as it was a school night and I had to get up to travel an extra 1 hour and 20mins at 8 am the next day.

The roads were terrible as it rained all day. There were many scary moments of aquaplaning, flooded roads, motorways and “A” roads. Cars would sit in your boot, metaphorically speaking wanting to overtake but never actually committing. Fortunately, I arrived safely in Doncaster. The funeral was lovely and worth the stress of the roads to say good-bye. I’m not going to lie, I did cry a lot, it was very emotional, as everything became very real. We all had such raw emotion, as we said our last goodbyes. For me the worst part was seeing the real love from my Auntie Jean for this amazing man – it literally broke my heart as we all did our best to comfort her.

After the two funeral services and wake, I set about driving back to Derby to say goodbye to Kate. Still full of emotion and tired from the long day I battled back to Derby. The roads were hell as drivers battled flooded roads. The motorway was dangerous as I struggled on several occasions to stop the car from aquaplaning. I had fully accepted that there was a very high possibility my car was going to get written off that night. Even now I could never fully describe how scared I felt driving. Someone must have been watching over myself and the rest of my friends and family, as it was a miracle we all arrived safely.

My phone started to lose battery as I approached the outskirts of Derby, nearly 2 hours after leaving Doncaster.

Annoyingly my phone was also my Satnav. I continued into Derby driving aimlessly around hoping to recognise a building or a road, which would lead me back to Kate’s house.

After what felt like an eternity, I gave up driving around Derby town centre aimlessly and succumbed to a pub in the hope of finding electricity to power my phone.

I pulled the car into a dark wet car park and walked into what looked like a “Hungry Horse” Pub. I was so tired I hadn’t even read the name of the pub. I ordered a latte after plugging my phone into the wall socket and waited for the phone to charge up.

After about 5 minutes of charging, my phone came to life. I was saved!!! I called Kate to explain my reasons for being so late and went on to explain I hadn’t a clue where I was. After sending her a location off my phone Kate explained in detail how to arrive at her home.

Completely drained from the day I only took in some basic details from her directions. Something about ‘left’ something about a ‘duel-carriage-way’ a turning etc.

After downing my Latte, I grabbed my phone and bag and headed into the dark wet car park. I switched my phone on to load speaker after programming Kate’s address back in I chucked my phone into my door pocket.

I drove out of the pub car park onto what I had believed to be a one-way duel-carriage-way. After driving halfway up the road it became quickly apparent this was, in fact, a two-way road, as I realised I was heading for another car head on. Checking my mirrors for cars I quickly pulled the car onto the correct side of the road.

I was in total shock I’d been that stupid. Fortunately, everyone was fine, and I was just a little shaken. I saw out of the corner of my eye that the car I nearly drove head on into had turned into where I had just pulled out from. I thought nothing of it at the time, as I pulled up to a set of traffic lights at the roundabout where the dual-carriage-way met.

Then as I looked out of my car window waiting for the lights to change, I noticed a small dark car pull up alongside me. The two men appeared to be staring at me. At first, I didn’t think anything was wrong until I realised they were still looking at me. I felt this was very unusual as normally people look away when you catch them looking at you, but they didn’t.

Then the passenger in the small black car said something to the driver and they both stared at me again. I instantly felt intimidated and wondered if it was the car that I had just pulled out on? Had the car in fact not pulled into the pub car park but instead turned round? My paranoia set in.

The lights changed and my left lane was clear to join the duel-carriage-way, so I began to drive away noticing the black small car had signaled to turn out of its lane and into mine and down onto the duel-carriage-way. I wondered if the car was following me, as each time I turned – they turned. After a couple of turns, I knew it… I was being followed.

I started to panic and was worried that the two young men were going to either have a go at me or damage my car. There were two of them and only one of me. The odds, as they say, were not in my favor.

I quickly realised my opportunity to avoid them as I pulled into a side street. I saw my opportunity as the street I had pulled into had a “T-Junction” at the end. I had seen a car pulling into the end of my street, so I knew with a car parked on my left that they would have to give way to the oncoming car if I pushed through quickly, which would hopefully buy me a few seconds.

My plan worked perfectly – no car behind as I turned out from the ‘T-Junction’. I’d lost them for a second or two. I then saw another turning so pulled in quickly like I was in some criminal movie drama turning off my lights, trying to blend in like a parked car. Lying low, hidden in the darkness I looked through my rear-view mirror as I watched for them to pass. I thought that it being dark and wet that they wouldn’t spot me hidden down another road. I remember feeling quite proud of myself for my quick thinking. Unfortunately being a good driver and being very blonde I’d used my indicator to turn and failed to remember to turn it off, so my indicator was still flashing. Leaving my indicator going was like having a neon sign above my car saying, “I’m here, come and get me!!!”

Thinking I may well have lost them, I sat watching them drive slowly past looking for me. I was unaware at this point that I’d left my indicator flashing as they slowed down. Then as I watched intently through my rear-view mirror, I could see the passenger from their car looking up and down the road and then finally across directly at my car. He had spotted me and pointed directly at my car. I panicked and started up the car. I quickly realised as I slowly drove off that I had, in fact, turned into a block end. I was trapped and panicking even more. I slowly turned the car around and drove towards them but they pulled their car across both lanes of the small road so I couldn’t pass. There was no escape, they had blocked me in.
A million thoughts ran through my head, mostly what they were going to do to me, or my car if they got out and how I would escape. My heart was racing. Should I drive at them or sit still?

They spent a couple of seconds getting out the car, which felt like forever. Their car headlights beaming straight at my car really worried me. I have to say seeing a car pull across the road blocking all exits was very scary. One of the men all dressed in black stepped out of the car, he pulled out what I thought was a phone, like he was going to record something. Their car lights still shining at me, my heart raced as I could barely make out the young man’s face.

Weirdly I didn’t lock my doors but unwound my window to ask what they were doing, and to explain I wasn’t having a good day after being at a funeral. Before I could explain any further, the young man interrupted me.

Pulling out a badge he explained they were undercover police. I shook my head in disbelief. Looking at the car, it didn’t look like and an unmarked police car at all. It was small and what you’d expect young lads to be driving. I was horrified and mortified by their explanation, but somewhat relieved.

Apparently pulling out of a pub onto the wrong side of the road at an unmarked police car was reasonable grounds to stop me. I felt such an idiot. They thought I had been “drink driving”, so had a duty to stop and make sure I was ok and that I wouldn’t hurt anyone with my driving.

I explained that I wasn’t from around Derby and was completely lost in the dark wet streets and that I had pulled into the pub to call my friend, as I was lost and had been struggling driving around on flooded roads since Doncaster. Relieved and full of emotion I tried to hold back the tears.

I must have been talking at 100 miles an hour as they kept telling me to charm down and not to worry.

I explained that I’d only had a latte at the pub, which I think they could smell on me, as I had in fact offered a breath test, which they declined to do.

I then started to panic that the officers would think I had been on my phone. My phone sat live on satnav in my door pocket started spitting out directions again.

I hadn’t obviously been on my phone but was worried that they might well have thought that as a reason for my unusual behavior. It was in fact only seconds before leaving the pub that I was making a call after all.

I at this point just wanted to be left alone to travel on, but the two nice young policemen wanted to make sure I was calm enough to drive. They explained that they thought they might have scared me, so wanted to follow me at a distance to check I was ok and that I hadn’t been drinking.

After a few minutes, I had recovered enough from my police chase drama /ordeal enough to carry on. I thanked them very much for caring and apologised for my behavior.

Still pretty shaken I drove off down the back streets of Derby city centre. Questions flooded my head as I thought… “Why had they not used their blue lights?” “Had they got lights on that car?” “Were they real police officers?”

I guess I will never fully know why, if they were real officers that they didn’t use their lights. I wish now I could have thought to ask. I’m over 99% sure they were police officers because of their badgers, radio’s and the car but I guess I will never be 100% sure as it now seems a big blur.

Thinking back to why I believed that road was a duel-carriage-way was we think down to Kate’s directions. This wasn’t her fault, but in my tired and emotional state, I think I only picked out words such as “Left turn” and “Duel-carriage-way” so had confused myself into believing the road wasn’t two way.

Thankfully no one was hurt and I did make it back in one piece but I still believe that a little someone was watching over us all that night to keep us safe, as everyone’s journey back from Doncaster in the floods was dramatic. All the family phoned round that night to make sure everyone was safe and they all said the same.. “it’s a miracle we are all still alive after that journey!”

I’m dedicating this blog entry to Eddie and the love he gave to us all.