I know that it may seem that there has been an avalanche of posts recently but hey welcome to the winter. Tonight I had a conversation regarding the removal of the middle wall, a job that is committed for October (2 weeks away) and my friend ended the conversation with the famous, and incredulous, words “how much?”
I don’t want anybody to think that I am sleeping well at the moment. The sheer enormity of the task, the disruption and the cost is far from understood and, to be fair, that terrifies me. It is a task that is needed, it is way earlier in the schedule than anticipated and, following a poor summer, way earlier than I am comfortable with but it is the right thing to do. If there is one legacy that I want to leave the Plough with then it is doing right by her.
So we will complete this task, it may be by hook or by crook but it will be done. The pub will look better for it and all agree, I am not sure that I will look better for it but that remains to be seen. For those who know me they will know that this level of risk is way outside of my comfort zone, I am not the man who bets his shirt on a horse (well I wasn’t). So there are two people whose odd philosophies guide me now and neither have their well deserved fame.
Both have been mentioned before in posts but, since I am awake and stressing, I will give them a more formal recognition now:
- Anna Marie Damgaard Kristensesen (AMD) – A business turnaround executive who gave me the most wonderful, and at the time overlooked, insight into the need to spend your way out of failure. Every time that I pay a works invoice I remember her philosophy and think that she is probably making somebody else sign another invoice!
- Andrew Raymond – In the face of adversity this man can find a shilling and throw it at the problem, admittedly the problem probably needs a pound but he will throw that shilling bloody hard anyway. Every time that I stock my cellar at least one keg has his words ringing in my head “if you haven’t got it you can’t sell it”. Most importantly Andrew introduced me to the snowball effect where you keep throwing money at a problem and eventually it will be ok, or the snowball will get bigger and end us all. Luckily neither myself or Andrew know the end answer so we just keep throwing.
I can’t finish the post without thanking Dave Rose for being the mucker that kept me up for another half hour to write this bloody post! I love the Plough and if “it will all come right in the end” isn’t a business plan then clearly it should be.
I recently had cause to visit the dentist for a tooth filling. This was not due to pain or difficulty on my part but was noted from an X-ray on a previous visit. Now I openly acknowledge that I am terrified of the dentist and my dentist is very aware of this fact.
So we started the procedure with a clear difference of understanding when the dentist enquired as to whether I wanted anaesthesia or we should ‘see how we go’. Oh yes my friend I want anesthetic, I want a bucket of it and a bloody big straw that is what I want! Having carried out the obligatory stabbing with a needle that is presumably designed to sedate horses we were ready to go with the immortal line “let me know if it hurts”.
To be clear I hate the dentist, anesthetic helps by removing any risk of pain and therefore needs to be maximised. Why on earth are you people rationing it? pour the bloody stuff in with a funnel and make certain I can’t feel anything. I couldn’t care less if my face is numb for a month I would rather that than the Russian roulette of ‘let me know if it hurts’. Since the dentist was clearly on some sort of conservation bonus for the anesthesia I proceeded to immediately yelp and take a second round of stabbing, you have to get up early to catch me out sunshine.
In other news a recent conversation with a customer revealed their jealousy at the easy lifestyle that I have and the fact that I own my own pub. Before I commence this can we be clear that I love my pub and everything about it. The pub is doing her best to pull in a good crowd and a reasonable income and I continue to do my utmost to facilitate that but let’s be clear it is a constant struggle.
Hidden in the depths of the pub is a money pit which I have to continually throw money into. In fact, I find it best to throw the money in as soon as I have accounted for it and extracted enough for the bills. Despite all the positive words and the fact that the plans for the building are roundly approved the ability to raise the capital and, perhaps more critically, the contingency weighs heavily when considering Capex projects. Whilst it is commonly argued that I have ‘years’ to achieve the tasks the truth is that each one of them impacts on the businesses ability to generate cash and therefore complete more tasks. She is not an easy mistress by any means.
In the absence of a Lotto win I will continue to balance the day-to-day repairs with the more significant Capex tasks whilst doing my utmost to realise the stock assets on hand. I am already conscious that we are rapidly heading out of season and by the end of this month my inventory needs to reflect this, yet another part of the juggling act that is the Plough.
Amongst the serious and stressful tasks there are nice highlights and this weeks would have to be my returning German tourists who brought with them a bottle of Jägermeister bearing the English flag. Apparently this was a special edition but, since nobody recalls seeing it in the UK, perhaps it was only issued in Germany? Maybe as part of some Brexit punishment?
For the first time in ages I have a burning desire to post, to record the thoughts that are in my mind right now because they are an important part of my story.
Last night I closed at midnight, it wasn’t particularly busy but it was a nice crowd and it seemed fair to allow them to stay. When I finally closed and locked the doors it was with a happy smile, it was one of those days where the pub was what I want the pub to be.
I was brought up in the Eighties and this trade was all about shaking, what was then, small change out of punters pockets and buying a new Jag, I trust that we all appreciate that those days are gone. My great friends Andrew and Helen helped me to see that the community pub works it’s just what we do because we are here for the community not the other way around. When people ask me would I rather be somewhere else or would I rather be as ‘busy as’ I always answer that I am happy here and hey I am not as young as I once was!
During the course yesterday I helped persuade an inebriated person that it was better to leave and return than stay until air-dried following a washroom accident. I discussed various local issues with people and talked about people’s days and how/where/if they had watched the round the island race. Occasionally I allowed the Juke box volume to creep up for a song or two, quietly comfortable that music was popular with all in the pub.
I petted some dogs, gave some tourist advice and humbly accepted praise on behalf of the pub. I introduced some less educated palates to my selection of premium spirits and explained the relationship between cost of production and cost to purchase; this drives me to less known brands which don’t have the budget for heavy promotion.
This is what the pub is about for me. Sure a pub full of youngsters and loud music can be a commercial success but it is not somewhere that I would like to drink. Don’t misunderstand me, as much as this is my house, I am not a fan of all of the music, all of the people or all of their ways but in general this is a place that makes me feel comfortable even if I were a stranger. You can keep the party pubs, the drunken lunacy and the hard work I’d rather have a chat in my house over a beer. It is only when you talk to people that you hear such lines as “I am going to a party with my dance class, its Disney themed ” and, because you know said class is pole dancing, spend the rest of the day confused.
I was idly flicking through some social media postings from friends working abroad this morning and reminiscing about travelling when the first customer came in. I served the pint and was handed a rather wet ten pound note extricated from an equally wet wallet. As I walked to the till the words I least wanted, or expected, to hear came over my shoulder “sorry that’s piss”. As I washed my hands, thoroughly, I couldn’t help but think how different life has become in such a short space of time.
This is just one of the day-to-day challenges of a publican. Last night I acted as mediator between a customer and the local kebab shop. In trying to correct an order error made by his girlfriend my customer became frustrated and annoyed on the phone but it was ok because “they know me”. After pointing out that he had used his girlfriend’s cell and not mentioned his name at any point I could just see realisation dawning before the spark was extinguished with “Ah but they will recognise me when I collect it”. It took a further debate to confirm that it was better that they recognised you before they had cooked and wrapped your food and the tone of the resultant call was, I hope, far more conducive to a healthy meal.
I had a strange conversation with a customer this week initiated, as many are, by the long hours I work. Firstly I had to point out that ‘it’s great because you are a workaholic’ is not a line that any partner has ever used as far as I recall but then we got onto the ‘what ifs’. Most of you will be familiar with the what ifs, they are a series of internal challenges whose purpose is to prevent you ever doing anything. If you ask the question ‘what if’ enough times about any given challenge you will convince yourself that the risk is too high and the task should not be commenced.
This guy’s particular ‘what ifs’ were about my personal availability since the business is inextricably linked to me. As an inveterate single person there is no partner or family to step in if I am unwell and this challenge seemed to perplex this guy. What would happen if I were to break my leg or become incapacitated in some other way? The answer, which he just couldn’t grasp, was “I don’t know”. I don’t have a contingency manual planning for every eventuality, I pretty much just wing it.
The other ‘what if’ that our man had can be condensed into return on investment (ROI) and more specifically the ROI on the various tasks planned. Would opening up the main bar pay for itself in the long run? was the second bar viable? would a very limited food offer recoup the costs of the kitchen? Again the answer of “I have no idea” perplexed him. In this trade, as with so many, there is no simple ROI calculation or business case, the business is like an all-consuming boulder hurtling along. The business cannot stand still, investment is essential both to turnaround past neglect and to build capability and develop the offer. In a lot of cases you cannot simply look at a task and calculate the pay back period for that investment, it doesn’t work like that the value is in the whole rather than the part.
So next time you ask yourself ‘what if’ just remember that it isn’t having the answer that gets things moving its simply not asking the question.
I have always considered age to be like a set of conversational scales, allow me to explain. In one pan you have all of the people who, when you talk to them, understand the subject and on the other those that don’t. When we are young the scales weigh heavily in the favour of the ‘don’ts’ that language of youth differentiates you from the population at large because, quite simply, they don’t understand you. This is when the arrogance of youth tells you that your generation is unique and far superior to all those that passed before and will pass after.
As we mature so the scale starts to balance, when we have conversations we sit neatly bridging older and younger generations. This is actually more ‘our time’ than our youth, the subjects of our conversation are understood by the majority and there is the merest hint of weight in the other pan from the younger generation. I don’t know when this swing in your favour is maximised but I would suggest around the thirties/forties. As with so many things in life this is a fluid situation though and so the weight of youth gains and the scales swing again. The shift in balance is aided by a reduction on your side as you transition further along your path, the older you get the less people there are that are older than you and the more that are younger after all.
Before you know it you are more confused by items in a conversation and your own subjects are heard less often. Eventually you are looking at the majority of the population and wondering what the hell they are talking about, welcome to old age. I don’t claim to be there yet, I still have a few years in me, but how will I know the slide has gone that far? Well I have a suggestion for you, a measure by which you can gauge your travel along this path as it where. Select an item that was common place in all of your youthful conversations, it should be one that your parents paid some attention but never fully grasped and your grandparents never wanted to know. Occasionally review the item you have selected against a day or a weeks conversations, how many times does it come up?
I think that when you have to measure the time between uses of the word in years rather than minutes you will have reached the further end of the scale. My item is the cassette tape, beloved of my youth as a medium for that classic generation marker, music. When I was young there would rarely be a sentence that didn’t involve the word “tape” I notice now that more and more people humour me when I describe the item. I am not that old so there are still lots of people that remember exactly what I am talking about, of course then there are the youth who know nothing but MP3 but the later is growing in numbers. As the youth mature so they slip into my conversational environment, today they humour me and discuss “tapes” in order to fit in. Tomorrow there will be more of them and soon they wont need to humour me. Watch out for your technology it ages us all.
Over the weekend I had the opportunity to indulge in that greatest of pastimes ‘people watching’. A particular favourite were a family that have moved into town, watching as the concept of end of season starts to dawn upon them. The dad of this happy little clan is an IT something or the other, one of those cool jobs that involves a smart phone and an ability to read gibberish. The great thing about this as a career is that it can be performed from anywhere, hence the family relocation to the coast and a more relaxed pace of life. Mum has started making friends immediately but then that is what mums do isn’t it. Your average mum is equipped with two things that make new friendships easy. Firstly they have the children which are a natural talking point. Mum’s second weapon is the ability to engage with people that they don’t actually like, vital for school gate meetings and for when children visit each other.
So in the local pub. whilst mum discusses the price of small shoes and fish fingers dad find himself talking to dad. The dad conversation is a minefield, our usual common ground is work. Now your new man could doubtless wax lyrical over server speeds, consultancy rates and the evils of HMRC all of which would stand him in good stead somewhere. This is a small seaside community, work for most is the few hours snatched as and when they become available. House prices mean nothing because most property is rented here and a lot of it is state funded. The conversations that would have got you through in the summer when the tourists were here just won’t cut it in the winter.
Don’t misunderstand me, it’s a lovely town and full of genuine and nice people. It is just different here, that’s why you like it. You will learn to adapt, develop a conversation style that suits and work out who you want to talk to. That effort that you make today will pay dividends in the future as you integrate into the community. According to the forums that I have read for relocating to the Isle of Wight not that many people are prepared to make the effort. Perhaps they just don’t realise that the place they visit in the summer is different in the winter or that the small local community takes some time to accept you. How do I know this, well it was the same for me years ago, advice? support? hell no you have to make your own path after all I’m a local!
I have to give an honourable mention to a rather odd ‘couple’ seen in the pub on Sunday. I won’t go into the oddities because, well I didn’t really understand them and they add nothing to the story. After one drink the woman went to the toilet, nothing noteworthy there I know. Her partner immediately grabbed her bag, extracted her purse and took a £20 note from it. Holding the note in his teeth he quickly replaced the purse and bag and downed the remainder of his pint. As his partner appeared from the toilet he presented the £20 from his pocket like a mysterious treasure and gallantly offered to buy her another drink. I must have been standing staring in astonishment because a couple of locals looked over at me and indicated that my eyes had not deceived me. I take my hat off to this ma, reports of the demise of chivalry were clearly premature, it’s not dead it was just seeking alternative funding.
When did profanity cross the line into our normal vocabulary. This is an area where less is most definitely more but we have forgotten this. Everyday language is littered with profanity but I don’t know when this started. We still scold our children for swearing but as adults bad language has become the norm.
I love listening to a good speaker, someone with a wide vocabulary and eloquent tone. We have a rich language and for those that use it well it provides a superb tool. We all know that by allowing profanity into our everyday language we are being lazy. Not only does this detract from our conversation but it detracts from our emotional range. If you swear in normal conversation how do you show your ire? Increased volume and gestures seem to be all we have left.
I will be making an effort to push profanity out of my daily language. This is not a moral or politeness issue. I have a vast vocabulary and I want to exercise it to get my point across not rely on profanity. So if you speak to me and I pause or stall this is not early dementia, its silent swearing.