A quick check this weekend revealed that my options on the island all still remain. Whilst this may not bode well for the businesses concerned it also reflects the poor state of the trade. In a recent survey of job satisfaction publicans were firmly at the bottom, not just low the trade was the very last entry. I spent some time reflecting on my chosen career and really can’t see why it scores so low.
The hours are long and the financial rewards are low but this, of itself, doesn’t make for unhappiness. I think this cloud of depression is the result of ‘up selling’ and it’s a legacy from the boom of pub companies. Even now the pub companies sell a dream, after all that is their business. In the golden days they would hand keys to anyone who had a redundancy or early retirement cheque and liked a beer. This marketing trapped people in the trade, not having the skills to cope with the business or the love to drive through the tough times they became commercial prisoners.
For the rest of us this is a great trade. Of course volumes have decreased and costs have increased, times seem perpetually tough. The licensed trade is not a road to financial riches, it hasn’t been for some years. It is a road to being part of a community, a place in people’s memories and it can support itself. Most importantly as my mate Andrew likes to remind me “once you’ve been bitten” for some of us it’s just in the blood.
And so it was that on Sunday I was looking at parking options for the, now landlocked, site in Ventnor. Then a couple of hours spent sketching the new bar arrangement which, I must say, looked rather good. Is it the site? Will it be available and achievable when I finally regain some traction and my life comes off ‘pause’? Who knows but it never hurts to be prepared does it. . . .
In other news a weekend of wearing sweat pants has given my knee a much needed chance to heal. Taking no chances I have protected the left knee with a piece of tubular bandage and was most gratified to find it looking good when I got to the hotel last night. I have to take my hat of to Helen for the insightful questioning on Friday. Having stated the obvious about planning and knowing I had to return to work I responded with “it was a long weekend”. Obviously she knows me too well because without a pause she asked which day I had carried out the work, the answer of “Sunday” didn’t help me!
I had a sudden brain wave over the weekend, I know who would have thought it? My mission for the last two long years has been to resolve the outcome from my accident and reposition myself to hit the market again and restart life. I know that there are more hurdles on the way but remain resolute, I just have to keep knocking them down until I get the keys to my pub after all life is just a game isn’t it.
Not being directly in the market does not mean that I don’t keep a watching brief, I have tried to keep my nose out as it where but it has proven far too difficult. So I am aware of sales and movements in the one market that is critical to me but also those in other markets that provide indicators, trends and benchmarks. One constant fear has been the gem, the risk of watching the one offer that is too good to pass up slip out of the market. The licensed trade is a complicated beast burdened by more pessimists than would seem fair so it is not as simple as opportunities being sold, the real concern is opportunities being sold at viable rates. Where venues are taken off the market at untenable or naive prices I consider this to be nothing more than a change of caretaker, so far my opinion has been proven to be right. But what about that little slice of perfect, sold at a realistic price and potentially out of reach for a generation?
There was always a back up of ‘buy and board’ but this presents significant commercial hurdles and as such can only be applied to real bargains. But I have now seen another option, perhaps encouraged by some progress in my return to the market, locum management. Don’t misunderstand me, I do not consider this a viable way to operate a commercial enterprise, but to preserve an opportunity I think that it has legs. There is nothing more soul destroying than working to fund an empty pub, I remember running between meetings and calling Shorty to hear “nobody has been in boss” and still wince at the thought. But like so much in life it is a matter of perspective, I funded the Ship because I believed it could wash its own face and, bless the old girl, she proved me right.
This option has reinvigorated my view of the world and restored my passion, there is a new business plan that enables a holding period if needed. There are three venues that are on the current list and their numbers are all being revisited, not as decision makers in themselves but as gates to see whether decisions should be brought forward. Once again I find that I am astounded by the passion that the subject stirs in me, I keep waking up surrounded by piles of floor plan sketches and scribbled notes on operating costs. The new option is not preferred and it certainly doesn’t lend itself to every option but it does provide a grappling hook to snag the one that is getting away and that is more than I have had for some time.
I have some more, recent, “you know when you’re ….. when…..” examples to share with you today. The first was when I awoke to a news article and the presenter was saying “later on we will be speaking to a games industry expert” I honestly wondered what he wants to be when he grows up. As I walked back past the TV I was fully expecting to see a scruffy schoolboy and not the adult who was being interviewed. Having considered that this was a moment of ‘you know when you’re old when’ I consoled myself with the fact that he was obese so at least one of my assumptions was correct.
Checking in at the hotel I walked into some of the management and this gave another example. Having exchanged pleasantries I was told “we have to arrange drinks soon so that you can meet the new GM General Manager)”.That has to be an example of ‘you know when you have been in a hotel too long’. The manager that I spoke to mentionioned that a lot of our team has now moved on and she was eager to ‘replace us’. I wondered off wondering if she really did think that we could just rustle up a few hundred room nights for the benefit of the hotel. Do they think that we are like lemmings, you lose some so you breed some more? I shall have to explain to her that we are a unique and rare breed and simply irreplaceable.
In other observations it is funny how the licensed trade is so insidious in one’s life, but at the same time comforting. I got out of the shower last night to find the tail end of a soap opera playing on the TV. In the soap someone was standing gloomily in a pub cellar and I noticed that behind him, close to the cellar door, were cards of peanuts. The thing that caught my eye was that there were packets missing from both cards indicating that they were in retail use. The bar in this soap is open enough to allow the cards to be displayed and the cellar location is such that having the snacks just inside the door would make no sense. The thing is that I don’t particularly watch soaps and I certainly have no interest in them, but I sat and contemplated this for a few minutes as if it was important.
My conclusion was, of course, that this is simply a trade-off for the purpose of television. In real life the bar is the sales space that attracts a premium and its use is maximised. But in the world of television this would present a cluttered and confusing back drop and detract from the characters. So I guess I must congratulate the continuity experts for ensuring that peanuts were presented for sale somewhere. To all the directors out there, remember we are checking, well I am anyway.
I think that the darker mornings have helped to develop another aspect of my aspirations plans. I have often pondered adapting to a static rural life from the frantic city/country/continent hopping that my life so often involves. I live in a place where many people rarely get as far as the next big town; the Isle has many more of the same. My morning walk through the dark city, the air heavy with diesel from the station, is comfortable and routine. I am at home in the sprawling manufacturing complex that is my office and the myriad interchanges of the metros of so many countries are second nature. The intention is to settle into a small village environment and the licensed trade ensures that I will rarely leave. In time there will be holidays but not the exploratory last-minute visits to unfamiliar countries and strange cities.
Will I miss the world that I currently inhabit, yes I probably will. But I am looking forward to cities being memories and to the quirks of local life. The thing that keeps me going, despite the soul-destroying delays and lack of progression, is the thought that carries me along the dark morning walks. I will consider that I have moved forwards when a visit to ‘serious shops’ ends standing on the gangplank at Portsmouth and boarding the cat to get back home. It may only be the first step but when all of my return tickets end on the Isle and when a trip to a big town involves crossing water then I will know that I am on the right path.