A rather rambling, disjointed, humorous, honest and very personal version of the events before and since buying The Wharf. If you feel up to it prepare to be transported into the sometimes weird and wonderful world that is the ruminations of ‘A Most Unlikely Landlord’.
May I start by saying that I make no pretense about being ‘A writer’ in any way, shape or form? The following is merely a selection of musings from someone who is aware of the saying that there is a book in all of us.
What follows may not be grammatically correct in places but I have made an effort to spell check, although I’m sure that someone somewhere will be able to spot something I’ve missed, in which case I blame my dyslectic keyboard!
Everything that you will read here is true. It all happened, although I can’t stand by exact dates, old people do tend to forget things. The dates in themselves are not really that important unless there is someone out there that wishes to sue me for some obscure reason.
This book is about The Wharf Inn and how we came to be here along with the many directly connected events that have occurred while running the pub. But, I trust that you will forgive me for including chapters that are ‘off topic’, stuff that is in no way linked to the pub. These, although coming across as my own indulgencies are, in most cases, still about what went on while here at The Wharf.
You will find bits of the book that are funny, some sad and others that annoy the hell out of you, but I sincerely hope that above all you won’t find any of it boring. You will note that at times I will break into a rant or veer off at a tangent and discuss something that is totally at odds with the core of the book, for this I apologize. If I get anything approaching acceptance as far as this book is concerned (more than one person reading it to the end will for me count as acceptance) then I may very well feel encouraged to write another before my memory fades into oblivion, what was I saying?
I do hope you enjoy what you are about to read.
A most unlikely landlord
Chapter 1 – The beginning
Chapter 2- The male takes an idea and runs with it
Chapter 3 – The search is on
Chapter 4 – The breakthrough
Chapter 5 – Paradise found
Chapter 6 – Perfection
Chapter 7 – The raw truth
Chapter 8 – Finding the wonga
Chapter 9 – Next- will they or won’t they sell
Chapter 10 – On the right track
Chapter 11 – Sods law prevails
Chapter 12 – The offer
Chapter 13 – A government of idiots
Chapter 14 – Stamp duty
Chapter 15 – The long wait
Chapter 16 – A short break
Chapter 17 – The big Move
Chapter 18 – My first big problem#
Chapter 19 – Time to get serious
Chapter 20 – The new floor
Chapter 21 – Time for a rant
Chapter 22 – A customer to remember
Chapter 23 – The return of sods law
Chapter 24 – Our first fight
Chapter 25 – Environmental health
Chapter 26 – No smoking
Chapter 27 – A falling out
Chapter 28 – Grass and more grass
Chapter 29 – Fire bugs
Chapter 30 – Mr Tom
Chapter 31 – History of the Wharf
Chapter 32 – Out first chef
Chapter 33 – The function room
Chapter 34 – Manni
Chapter 35 – Where have all the glasses gone
Chapter 36 – Fireman Sam
Chapter 37 – You don’t want to do it like that
Chapter 38 – Boundary wars
Chapter 39 – Goodbye Merc
Chapter 40 – Mr Imran Khan
Chapter 41 – Search for a boat
Chapter 42 – The great flood
Chapter 43 – Calendar boys
Chapter 44 – The man cave
Chapter 45 – Going underground
Chapter 46 – Water world
Chapter 47 – The big clean up
Chapter 48 – The insurance company
Chapter 49 – Another victim of the flood
Chapter 50 – Pod issues
Chapter 51 – Flood update
Chapter 52 – The great wall of …. Worcester
Chapter 53 – The holiday home
Chapter 54 – Pub for sale
Chapter 55 – Once in a lifetime
Chapter 56– My Dad
Chapter 57 – What do they do at home?
Chapter 58 – Anyone seen my keys?
Chapter 59 – We have a buyer
Chapter 60 – The bottom dropped out of my world
Chapter 61 – You couldn’t make it up
Chapter 62 – 12 months later
Chapter 63 – My new workshop
Chapter 64 – Goodbye
Chapter 65 – Hurricane Irma
Chapter 66 – A new beginning
A most unlikely landlord
The story of The Wharf so far, by Mark & Kelly
Chapter 1 – The beginning
It all started in early July2011, as I arrived home about 7 o’clock, when Kelly handed me a sheet of paper.
“I was walking by the estate agents in Highcliffe, and I don’t know why but I looked in the window and saw this” she said.
It was a sales sheet containing details of a house in the town which had been split into 3 flats, but of more interest to me was a row of six garages behind with a decent area of hard standing.
Now, we already had a house in Walkford near Christchurch with a very small mortgage, you probably know it if you’ve watched ‘One foot in the grave’ starring Richard Wilson as the cantankerous old fart Victor Meldrew. The house was used for 8 years for filming the outside and garden scenes.
We also had a commercial unit in nearby Milford on Sea, all paid for
Compliments of Volderwart, my last wife, who spent in excess of £40,000 trying to stop me from getting my share of the home when we divorced. The woman who made me understand the meaning of ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ but that’s another story and quite a funny one in places, and one which I may find time to tell at some point in the future should time permit). My workshop was used to store my tools of the trade and assorted rubbish, the sort of rubbish most men can’t seem to throw away.
I’d bought the unit three years earlier and it was my ‘Playroom’. A place I would disappear to when I wasn’t working. Rather like a garden shed that most men, real men that is, covert as the place where no woman is allowed, where secret mechanical things are constructed, experiments are carried out and all the dirty books are stored. Yes it was like that, (but without the dirty books) only bigger, much bigger, about 1100 square feet bigger! I can almost feel the resentment from all those shed bound real men out there!
So, Kelly and I went to take a look at this house with the garages. The thinking behind it, from my wife’s point of view was that if we were to live in one of the flats, we would have some form a passive income from renting out the remaining two flats, and with the row of garages at the rear replacing my workshop, thereby relieving the pressure on me of having to work as a kitchen fitter well into my 90s just to provide an income for us both.
Good thinking, it made sense, female logic at its best and something I had never considered, but then, I’m just a mere man. The problem was, although it was within our financial means, if we sold the unit and the house, we could get in there with no mortgage and begin to ease off on the work front. From my point of view though there was problem. It just didn’t seem quite big enough. If we were going to take a step like that, then let’s make it a big step. Let’s get a house with 6 flats and twelve garages and do it properly, let’s employ male logic!
Well that’s how it all started. One sideways glance in an estate agents window and our world was about to change forever.
Chapter 2 – The Male takes an idea and runs with it.
I don’t think I’ll ever know if my wife realized just what could happen when she gently fanned the spark that was glowing in the mind of her man. And although she has shown nothing but total support for the giant leap we were about to make, there are times when I know that her feet were experiencing a slight cooling effect to say the least. But one thing I do know for a fact. I could not have done it without her, and I don’t mean that I couldn’t have done it without a woman behind me, I mean her specifically.
She is uniquely talented in many ways, not least of which was her skill in the strange world of the computer. Where I have problems setting the DVD to record a program she will press a few buttons, blindfolded if necessary, and put me to shame. I often wondered if anything happened to her, just how I would survive in the technological world of ours. O.K. I can manage a cooker, and the microwave at a push, but my world of entertainment would be limited to four channels of TV and only at the time the programs I wanted to watch were showing. Yes, my woman is central to my world. Without her my life would be very limited, so Kelly Southgate I want the world to know that I love you, and if you do go before me please leave operating instructions for all the magical black boxes under the TV in your will.
I knew now that I had an idea I could expand on and the first place to start was the estate agents, not just any estate agents but ALL of them. We were looking for a property that was big enough to live in, with slightly more space than we already had and a couple of floors that would convert into flats. Oh, and a 1500 ft barn out the back would be the icing in the cake, yes that would do it, priced around £100,000 or less if we could swing it !
There are places like that out there, I know there are. Condition was not too important, as long as it was livable. I was in the trade, had been for most of my life and could do everything myself, with the possible exception of plastering. Tried it, couldn’t do it. The first time I had a go, the damn stuff went hard in the bucket just as I was trying to pour it out onto the spot board. See, I know all the technical terms. Mind you that particular experience might have something to do with me finding the said plaster in the shed, I knew we had some I often come across it when having a rummage over the years!
But yes, I could turn my hand to almost anything. I remember many years ago when I’d purchased my first house in Manchester at the age of 26, I had a quote from an electrician to rewire my newly acquired end terraced house and bulked at the price of £300. I had shot straight down to Smiths and found a DIY book that had an electrical section, flicked through it and thought ‘I could do that’. So with my new purchase tucked firmly under my arm off I strode confidant of the hundreds of pounds I was about to save myself.
I refurbished each room in turn over a period of some six months and when finished all I had to do was connect my carefully installed electrical system to the mains. Setting aside a complete Saturday and starting early to make the most of the daylight. At the bottom of the stairs was a small cabinet which housed all the electrical gubbins. I broke the little lead seal on the mains fuse that protected the power prior to entering the meters. I should point out at this point that should you be considering the same course of action then best you don’t, as I have since found out that to do so is now illegal, probably was at the time but I knew no better.
With the power isolated I now ripped out the 6 or 7 little black fuse boxes that together controlled the different services within the house. I had, the previous, day purchased a brand new consumer unit with the new, at that time, miniature circuit breakers. No fuse wire needed here I was bang up to date if there was a problem and if the fuse ‘blew’ then all you had to do was press a button to reset it, in 1981 this was ‘the dogs dangly bits’ no mistake.
Anyway, it took me hours, but what a work of art it was when finished. Every wire came in from the recently installed fittings in each room and were perfectly straight, all clipped in the same place, all entering the new fuse box at the same point and it look the business. I plugged my electric shaver into a power point in the kitchen, returned the fuse box and pressed the button.
I plugged it in somewhere else.
I tried the light switches.
I had no idea where I had cocked up but it was blatantly obvious that none of my newly installed, money saving work of art was doing what it should do. Yes, I had saved myself a small fortune, but at what cost?
Out with my DIY Smiths book with the special electrical section. Room by room I started to dismantle the sockets and then the light fittings each time checking my newly installed wiring against the instructions in the book, and on each and every occasion I was sure that I had installed my new ‘ring main’ (see, I told you I knew all the correct terms) as per the instructions in the book.
Well, I went through about three cups of coffee and at least six cigarettes before I realized that I had forgotten to put the mains fuse back in. It really is that simple to cock it up and I had surpassed myself!
Anyway, over the years I have accumulated a fair degree of working knowledge and as I said can tackle almost any job needed to refurbish a property to an acceptable standard. So it was with this wealth of experience behind me that we started the search for our ideal property.
Chapter 3 – The search is on
We soon found that the place we had in mind did exist but at far and above the amount of money we had available. Two courses of action were now open to us, the first, squatting, which held no appeal to my better half, I have no idea why, I still had, at the ripe old age of 56, some of the rebel left inside me but I couldn’t convince Kelly of the benefits of sloping into someone unlocked house under cover of darkness and claiming it as our own!
The second option held more promise. The brewery industry was in turmoil, financial mostly. This lack of fermentation industry finance lead them to decide that the best option was to dispose of a fair amount of their premises and inadvertently played straight into our hands.
A PUB! Totally perfect in almost every respect. Usually the buildings themselves were of the larger variety, a good proportion had a decent sized car park. Most had cellars, some even had out buildings as well. And the best bit, they were CHEAP!
Now, O.K, cheap is a relative term. For a building worth having you still had to come up with £250,000. Sure there are a lot of old pubs for sale out there that were a lot cheaper, but for a reason. They were either in a very poor state of repair or an undesirable area, they were too small, or in a village with no other pub which means that the local authority wouldn’t look too kindly on any proposition to convert it back to residential accommodation thereby denying the local community of its one and only watering hole. Totally oblivious to the fact that as a pub, it had obviously become commercially unviable as a purveyor of fine ales, or any kind of ale come to that, thereby condemning the property to being boarded up because no-one could run it as a successful business and by not allowing someone to simply live in it a lot of them just became unused eyesores that detracted from the aesthetics of the local area.
The law may very well be describe as an ass on some occasions but believe me when it comes to local authorities with their ‘rules and regulations’, their logic at times simply defies belief.
A case in point. I once bought a house in Keyhaven, Hampshire. A small cottage built in the mid seventeen hundreds, it was the last surviving salt marsh cottage in the area. During the 60s, obviously when rules were quite lax, some ‘Doughnut’ had, with the blessing of the local planners, built a flat roofed extension on the property.
Bearing in mind that 40 years later this cottage based in the New Forest was now within a conservation area and quite sought after. I wanted to extend the place and the obvious way to go was knock down the flat roofed eyesore and extend with something more in keeping with the original building.
O.K, dead simple, employ an architect, come up with something that was an improvement on what already existed and bingo. Result, straight through planning no problem, but conservation, not a hope in hell! Right, get hold of whoever was in charge and find out what they felt was wrong with our plan and what in their mind would work better. Male logic again!
The lady in charge couldn’t suggest any alterations to my plans and when I suggested that anything would be an improvement on the flat roofed extension that was currently attached to a 250 year old cottage, her response was, and I quote, “what’s wrong with a flat roof extension” ! Female logic?
Anyway, I came to the conclusion that she was obviously a male hating lesbian so the next plan of attack was to employ a female architect, sneaky huh? Well, it just so happened that I knew such a person. So, confidant in the knowledge that one female could talk to another and make things right, I spent another few hundred quid for some more plans. Result, straight through planning no problem, but conservation, not a hope in hell! Male logic starting to let me down here!
The next plan of attack, find a gamekeeper turned poacher. He came in the form of someone who used to work in the planning department and was now semi-retired, drawing up a few plans now and then just to keep his hand in. Well, in his hands this time was another few hundred pounds of my money. Result, straight through planning no problem at all, and conservation. Well, all he did was go into the office where he was obviously well known, had a quite word in a few ears and BINGO, sorted. Which tells you one thing. It’s not WHAT you know but WHO you know, and all those silly ridicules rules that some jobs worth has spent years making up can be overcome if you speak to the right person.
Anyway, leaving the jobs-worth’s, ineptitude and lack of common sense of the local authorities behind for now, ( because even as I write this I just know that I will encounter them again on my journey) let’s move on to the next step in my story.
Chapter 4 – The breakthrough
The internet is a marvelous tool and yes I have become familiar with the basics, I can send emails, buy great mounds of rubbish (remember I have 1100 sq. ft. to fill) and some bargains off Ebay but more importantly I have learned the mysteries of how to search on Google. And search is just what I did. There are a plethora of sites out there only too eager to show you what wonders they have for sale and one of those sites came up with a pub. A BIG pub. Not too far from Gillingham on the edge of a small village. Boarded up and looking a little forlorn, it was built of stone with a slate roof, had lots of rooms and an outbuilding that was used as a skittle ally (might just keep that!). But, and this was the decider, it had a car park that was HUGE.
Now this is where I digress a little, (again) Ever since I was a small boy and my father bought me a Minic motorway set (think Scalextric but smaller) I have had a fascination with all thing car related. To an extent that apart from having owned more than 100 vehicles during my driving career of some 39 years, I have even manufactured my own car! Impressed huh? Well, I say car, it was a kit. From my small factory in Bury you could purchase a hand built chassis and fiberglass body along with a whole assortment of other bits that were available like leather interior, shock absorbers, springs and such like, take them home and delight in spending hundreds of hours creating from scratch a replica of one of the most iconic cars ever built, the Cobra.
I have always had a thing for these cars, along with hundreds of other people. Go to any kit car show and you will see many, many examples of this fine car, all built to varying standards but all equally loved by their owners. I have never lost my love of the Cobra even as I have aged, to such an extent that before the ‘pub thing’ came along I had six other vehicles and every intention of buying myself a Bentley. I had decided the exact colour combination that I wanted, blue with cream leather interior. I knew how much I was willing to spend. I had promised myself a Bentley for so long that I knew if I didn’t bite the bullet and buy one now then I might never get around to it.
So with that specific criteria in mind, off I went to find my Bentley. And came back with a Cobra !
My wife expressed a concern that I might be just a little too old for one of these hairy chested macho machines with its 5.7 liter V8 engine and wind in the hair (for hair, read head) motoring, but no, I was adamant, this was just what I needed to extend my feeling of youthfulness !
The following night I returned home and with my first words of greeting being “you’re looking particularly gorgeous tonight dear”, the response was instantaneous “what have you done”? to which I replied “Isn’t it amazing, you wait ages for the right Cobra to come along, and then two turn up at once” ! Well, I had bought another one. I had gone to view it with the notion of using it for spares for the first one I had purchased, only to find that it was almost complete and much too good to break. So there I was the proud owner of two of these beasties. And then the pub idea raised its ugly head, what a cruel world.
Back to the story. This pub in Gillingham had the most enormous car park. With a little imaginative parking I could get at least 100 cars in it. I could be an instant car dealer! Any thoughts of how the local council my view my ambitions hadn’t occurred to me. The blind rush in, so they say, and this ‘Bat’ simply didn’t have clue where the ‘on switch’ for his sonar was.
But, it didn’t happen. On making enquiries about this particular bargain, it seems that someone else had seen the opportunity a little earlier than I and snapped it up. The swine. It was then that I realized that I was not the only one who was aware of the enormous benefits of buying an old pub. And so, back to Google.
Chapter 5 – Paradise found
While in my workshop one day hunting down the next big bargain before some swine beat me to it. I came across a site that specialized in selling off pubs for breweries. Perfect, a whole site full of large buildings going for next to nothing, a veritable large building buyers nirvana. Sydney Phillips, estate agent for the disconcerting pub purchaser. I was like a pig in poo.
I spent what must have been the rest of the day (I forget what I was supposed to be doing that day, but it wasn’t as important, whatever it was) I checked out every pub that was within my budget and brought up each one on Google Maps, examined it from the aerial view, the street view and any other view that I could think of. There were many that were discounted immediately due to their positioning, too small, the car park wasn’t big enough or they just looked crap. All the possible’s were printed off for ‘research’.
I took great (casual) delight in proffering my ‘research’ to my beloved on returning home and was more than a little delighted when she took a keen and immediate interest in flicking through the colorful literature. “No, no, no, that’s nice, no, oh no, I like that” and then it happened “oooh, look at that one, and right on the river”
That was the defining moment for us. I’d seen the place earlier when going through the piles of paperwork that I had accrued but discounted it purely on the basis that it was near Birmingham, not that there is anything wrong with Birmingham, but it was miles away, one hundred and sixty miles to be precise. It simply never occurred to me that my other half would be prepared to ‘up-sticks’ and traipse half way across the country. I had assumed that this place we were looking for would have to be somewhere near, at least near enough to visit her immediate family members. There were two sons who lived within half an hour drive, a sister who was about an hour away and various friends that she could get to within minutes.
My own family is distributed over a much larger area. My father lived in Lincolnshire, my mother, Bridgewater, I had a sister in Bristol and a brother who lived in Spain! Also I had no problem driving long distances to visit my family, I loved driving, had done all my life. Now the first pub we had considered, the one that was boarded up, was in fact quite close where her sister lived and would have been less than an hour away from her two sons. And me, well I didn’t mind living close to Kelly’s relatives I was quite gregarious, being a fairly social person I got on with just about anyone. Probably just the right sort of person that would make an ideal landlord!
But here was the love of my live making all the right noises about moving a long way away just to achieve our aim, of owning a big house with plenty of room to do almost anything we wanted and most important it had a large car park!
An ideal opportunity
I must admit, it did appeal. It looked idyllic. But then again most things do in a photograph. The main picture showed a collection of buildings, not up close but from a position about a quarter of a mile away from across the river. There was even a narrow boat in the picture gently chugging its way up river. On reflection, the photographer must have waited ages for that shot, because on the two occasions that I had visited and spent time at the premises, and we’re talking of around a total of four hours here, I’ve never seen a narrow boat go past!
Narrow boats however (or lack of them) were not our immediate priority. Google maps was, and getting a hold of this place before anyone else. The aerial view showed what was to us, fantastic potential. This place had everything. A large main building with around 5000 sq. ft. It was in the countryside, next to a river, had a car park that would accommodate about 50 cars and still had a fair amount of ground that could be used for a variety of purposes. Perfect.
Chapter 6 – Perfection
And so the idea was set. We had to go and see this place, delve into the detail and see if it really was the place of our dreams. Establish whether or not we could spend the rest of our lives here in perfect tranquility. Surrounded by everything that was perfect for us, including about 50 cars!
O.K, so my idea of perfection may not be to everyone taste, but it worked for me. The property had already gone to auction a week or so earlier and had failed to reach the asking price which according to the estate agent was offers around £250,000. It was bid up to £240,000 and had not sold, to get within £10,000 of the asking price certainly sounded like ‘offers around’ to me. But the fact that it did not sell was to our benefit. We just had to view it.
The information we received from the Sydney Phillips was not what we expected. The client, Punch Taverns, had installed a ‘temporary tenant’, apparently this was cheaper and more secure than getting the place boarded up, that made sense. But, this tenant would only allow viewings on Mondays and Tuesdays! Sounded to me very much like’ the tail wagging the dog’ but our contact at S P (Sydney Phillips) assured us that their client knew of this restriction imposed by their tenant and approved it.
Now I don’t know about you, but if I was keen to sell a property I think I’d make damn sure that any viewing could take place, within reason, at most times of the day and certainly more than two days out of seven. However the restrictions were in place and if we wanted to view, which we very much did, then we’d have to play ball.
It was early July one Monday morning when we set off to Worcestershire and one hundred and sixty miles later we pitched up at The Wharf Inn to set eyes on what we very much hoped (subject to viewing) would become our home for the foreseeable future.
And what a home it was. Not in the best of condition from the outside, the chimney stacks need some work, the exterior paint could do with some attention but for the money being asked, it was an obvious bargain. Our contact at SP was late but no matter, it would give us time to have a look around and survey the prize. When he eventually arrived we were informed that he had no keys for the premises and we would have to await the arrival of the ‘tenant’. We waited, and waited, no tenant. After a few phone calls by the now highly embarrassed SP representative we learned that the tenant would not be turning up to the viewing, and it seemed had made no alternative arrangements to allow us to view the pub.
There was, apparently a woman somewhere who had keys to the premises, but on one could track her down. There was a static caravan on site the occupant of which should have access, but if she was in there, she wasn’t coming out. Stalemate. What a farce this was turning out to be. An early start, one hundred and sixty miles, and for what, a quick look around the outside!
It was then that a couple of bar staff turned up, surely they would they have keys? Would they hell! It seemed as though our temporary tenant had no intention of letting anyone view the premises, the reason to us seemed obvious, and he must be on a damned good wicket here. Obviously being charged little or no rent by the brewery he could rake in the profits with minimal outgoings and with his bosses sanctioning his restrictions on viewings, he could well be here for the foreseeable future. Clever man!
So, there we were, Kelly and I, two members of staff and our man from SP, stood outside of The Wharf Inn and no way or getting inside to access the potential of our prize. Or so we thought. Someone had left the gents toilet window open and so keen were the staff the get inside and start work that one enterprising young lady decided that she would try to get through and within 5 minutes we were in.
Chapter 7 – The raw truth
What a depressing place. It was so dark and dingy, like entering a cave, and within 10 seconds we were fully expecting to see stalactites or buffalo wall drawings at some point (we did actually see some drawings on the wall but they didn’t resemble any kind of four legged beast drawn by a cave man, Neanderthal maybe, but not a cave man). The floor to the entrance area was quarry tiled, as was the bar and the hallways, toilets, dining area, function room, you name it. If it was horizontal and at floor level it was quarry tiled. Everywhere was deep drab red and so depressing.
The walls were no better. There were the occasional breaks in the monotony of paintwork (if you can call it that) of exposed brickwork, but whether it was intentional or all the plaster had fallen off and nobody had bothered to repair it, I don’t know. It was awful. However, having spent some 27 years of my life in refurbishing offices and many, many of my own properties, I could see the potential. Maybe there was a lot work involved in putting this place right, but it was defiantly possible.
There was, in addition to the main area, a separate building which, according to the blurb was divided into six bedrooms, and one with on-suite facilities, how up-market was that? I was quite eager to see these as it occurred to me that there was potential to use it as letting accommodation. As a first thought it was great, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that the reality was something totally different. There were in fact six bedrooms, some apparently occupied by still sleeping staff members. Those that we did get to see were not in any kind of shape that you could legitimately rent out to members of the passing public desperate for a night’s sleep. They were small, unclean and the on-suite left a lot to be desired.
The function room attached to the main bar area was an inspiration. Not to me maybe but defiantly to whoever had painted the ceiling purple and the walls blue!
Apparently this place had been well known for its live music, not of the mainstream verity, but probably of the head banging, garage, or lock-up type or whatever it’s known as! And while it’s not my place to criticize someone else’s choice of music ( I was a D.J. myself when I was 18) given half a chance, if we were to get our hands on this place any music emanating from these four walls would defiantly be from a different era.
The only other area that we needed to see was the living accommodation. With the tenant not around, (apparently he didn’t live on the premises), and the staff on site not having a key, access to the upstairs was a nonstarter. After further probing of the staff, it turned out that they DID have a key, however they were under instruction not to allow us access to the upstairs. Now there was no way that I was going to make another 320 mile round trip just view a few bedrooms, and eventually they relented.
There are times since then that I wondered if the experience of viewing the 1st floor was a good idea. Certainly it’s not something I’ll ever forget. The tenant had kept six dogs on the premises at one point, admittedly there were now only four, and confined to the kitchen but the stench was unbelievable. Most of the rooms were to some degree dilapidated but the kitchen had been destroyed! Anyone who would keep animals in these conditions should be sectioned. Admittedly these dogs didn’t appear to be suffering from any form of malnutrition, but to be left on their own with limited human contact, it’s no wonder that they had physically destroyed their immediate surrounding for entertainment purposes!
I am very much an animal lover and couldn’t bear to see any dog, cat or whatever mistreated, and I really felt for those dogs. The excitement they showed just to be in the presence of a human showed me that they were desperate for any form of contact.
It was obvious that the ‘temporary tenant had no intention of turning up to the pre-appointed visit and would do whatever was necessary to make the viewing as difficult as he could, to the extent that he would restrict the viewing to some or all of the premises if at all possible. He must have been very keen to hang on to his tenure and shame on the brewery allowing him to do so. It was only later that we learned he had ‘done a runner’ leaving money owed to certain people and staff without wages.
It was at this point that we suddenly faced the reality that we might not simply be looking at another home here. This place was still trading, albeit at a reduced level, (apparently, each time they needed a barrel of beer to sell, they would have a whip round between the customers!). It was at that point, we decided that if run properly this place had enormous potential, (I have no idea where that came from, I don’t even drink!) maybe even a restaurant as well.
I should state now that I have never been ‘a drinker’. I remember many years ago at about the age of 17 when I worked in a local fish and chip shop in Berrow, near Burnham on Sea. I would start work at around 5pm and work through until 1am getting a half hour break about mid evening. Just across the road was a working men’s club and I would pop in and spend my break with a pint of lager and lime. It wasn’t too long before I was consuming two pints and then 3 during my half hour break. My boss at the chip shop asked me one day what I did during my break and on telling him, he worked out that I was in fact spending almost half of my weekly wage over there. The following evening I went on tonic water and haven’t really drunk since. O.K. I do on the odd occasion have a glass of wine but I’m talking about once or twice a year. So I would not describe myself in any way, shape or form as a drinker.
I must also admit to not frequenting pubs apart from when going for a meal. When asking for directions, people would often describe the route by saying “just turn left at the ‘Dog and Duck’” thinking that any normal person would have at least some idea of the watering holes in the area. But no, not me, I wouldn’t have a clue. I have often said to my spouses (I’ve had three!) that I couldn’t imagine anything worse than running a pub for a living. And yet here I was actually considering doing just that! Was I mad? I’m sure that at some point in the future I would find out.
Chapter 8 – Finding the Wonga
The normal process of buying and selling a house can be fraught with difficulty. If you already own your own home you are no doubt aware of the problems that can make it seem like the world and its wife are hell bent on stopping you at every turn. Apart from the simple things like deciding which estate agent will promote the sale of your existing home, you also have to find its replacement that’s in an area you like at a price within your budget that isn’t already under offer and not inundated with interested parties, because of course, you don’t want to have to pay the asking price.
Then there’s raising a mortgage. Based on what you expect to get for your existing home, you have to try to arrange a further advance that will cover the extra you need to purchase your new one, taking into account the cost of estate agents commissions, solicitor’s fees, valuation costs, removal expenses and a host of other charges that come as part and parcel of moving home.
Assuming that everything has been taken into account, you then have to hope that when you find an interested party who really wants the home you are trying to dispose of, they will be prepared to offer the amount you need to make the deal add up. If not, then you have to try and raise a little more.
Even if the sums work out, you are on a knife edge for three months or sometimes more just hoping and praying that everything goes to plan. The ‘chain’ (both in front and sometimes behind you as well) is quite normal in most house moves and well known to be subject to breakdown at the slightest provocation. If it does, then the lives of countless families can be thrown into disarray and confusion for days and sometimes weeks.
And on the day of the move, well, you then have to trust in not only your solicitor but every other solicitor in the chain. Will they all transfer the money at the right time? Will you be able to turn up at your new home and collect the keys to the front door? if not, then the removal men are stood there waiting, subtly informing you that if they don’t get started soon they won’t finish on time and you’ll have to pay more to keep them there. Your delay could affect the job they have booked in for tomorrow causing unknown disruption to yet another chain.
Why oh why do solicitors, building societies and banks not have the money transferred the day before the move. Is our system not capable of coming up with a way of transferring money to some kind of holding account so that all is required is a phone call by the responsible parties to release the promised funds ? Are we still so backward that we are unable to come up with a system of money delivery that can pre-empt these continuing moving day dilemmas?
Well, if you don’t own a home, or do, but have never moved, I am not trying to frighten you into staying put the rest of your life, but, believe it or not, these are just some of the realities in 2011 of trying to move house, at times you really do wonder just how advanced we really are!
If you think moving house is stressful, just try buying a pub.
The first thing we had to do was work out how much money was involved and whether or not it was within our financial means. In most cases when you buy a house all you have to work out is how much you can get for the one you’re selling. Then how much your new one will cost, factor in a new kitchen and/or bathroom along with the associated removal expenses and the work out if you can afford the difference.
Buying a pub is oh so different. Yes we know how much we could expect to get for the two properties we already owned and we also knew the price of the property we wanted to buy. What we didn’t know was what was the cost involved in running a pub/restaurant.
We had a home that was valued at £220.000. We put it on the market with an estate agent, the manager of which I had known as a friend for some years. I also tasked him with selling my workshop with an asking price of £150,000. (Plus vat)
I was now vat rated. When I originally bought my commercial unit vat was on top of the £120,000 asking price, there was no way I could write off £20,000 worth of vat and so had to become registered for vat so that I could claim it back. Not too much of a chore but now I had to charge all of my customers a premium of 20% on top of the price of a job which to all intents and purposes simply made make a glorified unofficial tax collector. And lost me a few jobs along the way, well done HMRC, you’ve gained a little extra vat but lost a lot more in income tax. Smart!
Chapter 9 Next – Will they or won’t they sell?
Now the most likely scenario for the sale of our properties was that the house would sell first and we would have to find some form of bridging finance to cover the difference until the unit sold. Murphy’s Law now came into force. I received an offer of the full asking price on my workshop from the second person to view it within 7 days of it being offered for sale.
O.K, that takes care of the first £150,000, now all we had to do was sell the house and we were sorted. We expected the house to be right behind the unit as far as a sale was concerned but although it was in tip top order throughout, the amount of viewings were well down on expectations and there were no offers coming through, not even silly ones. So we looked towards bridging finance.
Now, prior to the unit selling, as I said we expected the house to go first so I had approached my Bank (HSBC) with a view to borrowing the £75,000 shortfall (£50,000 of which would be returned by the vat man quite quickly). When you bear in mind that I had been with my bank for some 15 years or more you would expect some kind of understanding or at the very least some sort of consideration of the request made. But it was not to be. “A pub? Oh no no no. Bank policy I’m afraid, we simply don’t lend for that purpose” I did check just to make sure that I wasn’t wearing my ‘I love to screw banks’ T shirt, but no, I was definitely in a suit and tie!
Now when you consider the general economic climate of the time, we were in a downturn, there were cuts in public spending, not a lot of money around (unless of course you were a bank executive who had just presided over the biggest subprime mortgage scandal of the century, then you were due multi-million pound ‘performance related’ bonuses !) We weren’t asking for a mortgage over a long term period, just a little help to buy our ‘Once in a life time’ dream property, (we would laugh about that later, I hope!). After all, we had £350,000 worth of security, it’s not as if the bank was taking any ‘risk’, once our house and unit sold we would pay the loan off. But, as far as the bank was concerned it was as if we were proposing to open a topless pole dancing strip joint situated between a children’s play school and a synagogue!
My appeals for a common sense approach to the proposal met with total and utter east to west head nodding. I’m pretty sure that I would have got a more positive response had I address my appeals to the blotter on his desk! My father’s word from way back in my younger days reverberated in my head, ‘A bank is an organization that will loan you an umbrella until such time as it starts to rain, at which point they will demand it back’. There’s a lot to be said for parental advice!
O.K, the next avenue of choice was an independent bridging loan. Plenty of those on the internet. ‘Next day decision and money within a week’ most of them trumpeted, yeah right. I will make this statement load and clear.
WHATEVER YOU DO, BEFORE YOU EVEN CONSIDER TAKING THIS FORM OF FINANCE, READ EVERY PIECE OF PAPER THEY SEND YOU, ADD UP ALL THE CHARGES AND LOOK AT THE TOTAL COST. DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING WITHOUT TAKING INDIPENDANT ADVICE.
We contacted a firm that purported to offer help in this situation and readily agreed to meet with one of their District Financial managers at our home. He quoted figures that were most appealing and defiantly affordable. The paperwork that followed was so at odds with what was discussed that you would believe we were dealing with a totally different company.
The numbers and rates of interest were nothing like those that had been discussed. On contacting the office, the information offered was also totally different to the paperwork we had received. We asked for written confirmation of what was being offered again. That came with even more discrepancies. If this company couldn’t get the basics right there didn’t seem much chance of them organizing this kind of deal with any kind of success. The following day I cancelled the cheque I had written a week earlier for £395 (their fee to organize the finance and then sent them a letter explaining the reasons why. I never heard from them again.
We then responded to another offer of help. A very nice sounding gentleman who ‘Handled our area’ was most helpful in confirming that they were able to help. And after completing a raft of paperwork told us that an offer was available for the sum we required. He would be delighted to meet us at our home, bringing with him the contracts for signing and all would be sorted within a week. When I asked to see the documentation prior to our meeting I was told that it was not normal practice to send the paperwork to a client first and that I would have the chance to read it during our meeting prior to signing
Alarm bells started ringing. There was no way I could plough through all the small print while he was, as he suggested, having a cup of tea. Eventually, after much insistence on my part it was agreed that the paperwork would be forwarded so that I could read it prior to my solicitor giving it the once over and then if all was kosher, we would sign. I’m sure you have an idea of what I’m going to tell you now.
Ongoing through the small print it transpired that the rate of interest meant that we would be paying in the region of £30,000 worth of charges and commissions to borrow sufficient funding with security levied against all three properties. Absolutely outrageous! On top of which once the document was signed a fee of some £4000 had to be handed over on the spot and to cap it all there was a line in the small print that stated that if the deal didn’t go through for ANY REASON, then all fees would be non-refundable !
After checking my reflection in the mirror I was relieved to see that I didn’t have the word IDIOT stamped across my forehead. No wonder they didn’t want to send the paperwork out beforehand. But then I suppose that companies like this exist because some people don’t read the small print or work out the overall cost. It’s a shame that the government don’t clamp down on what can only be described as legalized extortion.
On a much brighter note with regard to financing, we did, through a recommendation of a friend, receive the name of someone who did go on to help us raise the required finance at a rate that would turn out to be reasonable and affordable. The process was hassle free and the gentleman concerned (I reiterate the word ‘gentleman’) was a pleasure to deal with. He took all the information and processed it, passing it along to his list of contacts and within a very short period we had verbal acceptance, a valuation, and a little while later, a formal offer of finance, should we eventually need it
If you find yourself in the position of needing his help, please feel free to drop me an email and I will gladly pass on your details.
Chapter 10 – On the right track
If you bear in mind that from initially spotting the pub in question to this point was a period of about 6 weeks. We had spent a good deal of time during that period finding out about the intricacies of running a pub/restaurant and what a complicated process it is.
The first thing we needed to do was work out if the pub was a viable proposition. This meant we had to see some past accounts just to try and assess what kind of profits was being made, easier said than done. If a pub has been tenanted, the accounts are the property of the tenant and the brewery has no interest in the viability or otherwise of the pub itself. All the brewery is interested in is the rent they get while the tenant is in situ and whatever profits they can make from any ‘tied’
Interest they have in selling beer to that tenant. So there was literally no prospect of getting our hands on any accounts for the most recent years of trading. Strike one!
Strike two consisted of trying to get the brewery to come up with a list of what equipment was included with the pub when we eventually (hopefully) took it over. Dream on! When you consider that this particular brewery was trying to get shot of more than 1000 pubs just to keep their company from going under, you would imagine that they would be as helpful as practically possible towards any perspective purchaser of one of their properties, not a bit of it! Although to be fair we never had the chance to deal directly with the brewery itself, our only point of contact was with Sydney Phillips the agent responsible for the sale, and I do admit to getting the feeling that not all the responses we were getting from them were actually relayed from their client. But as we had no other form of contact we also had no other choice.
Their response to a request for some form of inventory was that there was none. As far as ‘their client’ was concerned we were buying the building and the land on which it stood, anything else we found in there on taking possession should be considered a bonus ! What a way to do business!
The only piece of really helpful information that I managed to get my hands on was the barrelage rates for the past 5 years. This of course was a tremendous help, especially for someone who had no prior experience of the pub trade in any way, shape or form. From this information we were able to establish that this pub was, albeit six years ago, a very successful drinking establishment. Admittedly it had gradually declined in sales over recent years but it also meant that if properly run it also had the potential to be great again. We had every intention of being responsible for that climb back to profitability.
Admittedly we didn’t have any figures at all for the wine or spirit sales but we figured that if customer who happened to be a man ordered a pint and had also brought his wife in with him (a rather sexist assumption I know) then the wine or spirit sales will naturally follow.
From the information received we managed to work out the figures needed to start filling out a business plan knowing that we weren’t just pulling numbers out of the air. The prospect of doing a business plan was not something I was looking forward to knowing that it was an essential requirement for borrowing money it simply had to be done. So, setting a few hours to one side my wife and I got stuck in.
On the internet you can lots of forms that will give you a starting point for cash flow analysis and we soon found a free one. We decided that a three year forecast was the best idea as it would show prospective lenders that we had a long term vision of the project ahead.
The ‘long term’ part of the previous sentence was quite appropriate as the few hours we put to one side was nowhere near enough to get the job done. It must have taken us the biggest part of a day to get the thing together. Constantly refining and updating the contents, making sure that the figures were representative of some sort of likely outcome.
When all said and done, all the numbers are just pie in the sky, simply guess work as to just how you think the project might pan out. For this reason I have never put a lot of store in cash flow forecasts and wondered just how banks could possibly lend money to someone who had obviously, quite simply, made it all up!
It was while we were completing this cash flow chart that a friend explained the thinking behind it. The object of the exercise is quite simple really, if you were to get into your car and drive to somewhere that you have never been before, you get out a map or switch on your sat-nav. If you didn’t, and simply set off in the vague direction of where you thought your destination might be, the chances of you getting there would be quite remote.
Assuming your journey was from London to Edinburgh, if, at the end of your first hour of driving you found yourself in Southampton instead of Watford, you would know that you were off course. So you turn right and head back towards your intended route in an effort to get back on track. A fairly simplistic analogy I know but it makes perfect sense to me. One other benefit is that once you start trading after the first week, you can look at your business plan and see just how accurate it was. If you’re falling short of expectations in one particular area you can address any issues that are causing problems.
After days of hard graft by us both we were fairly confident we had produced something that would impress anyone who might be likely to lend us some money, until that is we mentioned to an accountant friend that our profit margin on a particular drink was 130%. “You can’t have a profit margin of more than 99%” he said! Well, I don’t know about you but if I bought something for £1 and sold it for £3 then I would consider that to equate to a profit of 200%, right? Wrong! As it turned out I would have a profit margin of 66.6%. You can’t make a 100% profit unless the ‘item’ you’ve sold was free in the first place. You must take the whole sales figure, deduct your costs and the remaining number is your profit margin, which is described as a percentage of the whole.
Well with that little snippet of information we now realized that the entire blurb we put together to support our cash flow sheet was totally wrong. Had we submitted it to a prospective lender would be making statements about our profit margins that would lead them to believe we were a right couple of ‘Numpties’ who didn’t have a clue what we were talking about ! So back we went again and rewrote the whole thing to make it appear that we did in fact have a clue.
Now we had something that we could present to prospective lenders should the need arise, and arise it did. We had placed the house on the market some 4 weeks earlier and although we had a few viewings, (4 to date) no-one had shown any interest , at least not enough to make any kind of serious offer in fact any kind of offer !
So it was that (as described in the last chapter) we then decided to try and raise the extra money we needed to add to the £150,000 we had secured from the sale of the unit. I say ‘sale’ but up to this point we hadn’t exchanged contracts so until such time, anything could go wrong and sods law, it did, in a big way.
Chapter 11 – Sods law prevails
The unit next to mine was owned by a great guy by the name of Bob. Bob made cables, mainly computer orientated stuff, the sort that are built in when a building is constructed. Now Bob had owned his premises for quite a while and I had only known him since I bought my unit some three years earlier. In that time he had managed to survive with a staff of three or four guys but as the recession bit he had to let them go one after the other until he was down to just one employee.
When I told him that I was selling up, he declared an interest in the fact that if I managed to get the asking price for my unit then that would be incentive enough for him to sell his and so retire. When he heard that I had indeed managed to secure the full asking price he put his unit up for sale with the same estate agent. My friend, the manager at the branch came to see me to say that Bobs sale would be kept very much ‘under the radar’ until the exchange of contracts on my place had been completed. Good thinking.
I had within a few days of my unit going up for sale received an offer of £135,000 from someone who had viewed it, but unfortunately he was not prepared to pay VAT and although his business was VAT rated he wanted to buy it privately, so that was a no-go. However as Bob was not registered for VAT it would be ideal if that particular person know about his unit. Contact was made but unfortunately the gentleman concerned had already committed himself to another unit in nearby Christchurch.
A few days later Bob announced that he had been made an offer on his unit by someone who wanted it for a mast rigging business. Really? The chap buying mine unit ran a company called Red Rigging. Strange!
Bobs potential buyer lived in the village. Strange, so did mine!
Suddenly the reality of the situation hit, my purchaser had agreed to buy my unit saying that all he had to do was raise about half the capital, once done it was full speed ahead, and it was during that time he was still looking and bidding on other properties i.e. the one next door! This annoyed me more that you might know. This guy has specifically asked me when he made the offer, that if a higher offer was made prior to him exchanging, would I accept it. I made it quite clear that now I had accepted his offer, my word was my bond and the deal would proceed free of any gazumping.
So, what a situation. We had secured a buy to let mortgage against our home just in case it didn’t sell in time, and once exchange of contracts had taken place on the unit we would be in a position to steam full speed ahead into the pub trade !
And here was this guy making an offer on my unit telling me that everything was progressing fine while secretly making a lower bid on the unit next door!
What a GIT!
And to make matters worse there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. The guy had only made a verbal commitment so until we had exchanged contracts he was free to do as he pleased. I couldn’t very well expect Bob next door not to sell his unit to someone offering to purchase and all I could see our dream pub going up the swanny .
However, as is sometimes the case, I had taken 2+2 and made 5! It turned out that my guy had a company called Red Rigging, which made furniture and lived in the village. Bobs guy also lived in the village and had a company that actually made rigging. Trust me, I have never been more pleased to be totally wrong in my life.
Chapter 12 – The offer
O.K. back to the story of The Wharf. Once we had worked out exactly what the potential of the pub was and what we needed to get the place up and running, we had to make an offer. We had decided that the numbers suggested an offer of £232,000. Yes, it was less than had already been refused at auction, but we figured that this brewery had to offload an awful lot of properties and they might just be getting nervous or desperate enough by now to decide that they should take the money and run, so to speak.
Not a bit of it. Within an hour of the bid being made we were informed of a flat refusal, we had half expected that kind of response so it came as no great shock. The estate agents’ details had asked for offers around the £250,000 mark and so within 24 hours we were back with another offer for £245,000. The response this time took a little longer but came back in a slightly different form. Yes, they would consider it but it would have to go to the board for a decision. He couldn’t say when the board would next meet, it could be in a few days or a fortnight, In the meantime the property would stay on the market which for us meant that any old Tom, Dick or in fact Harry just might snatch the prize from under our very noses.
This was totally unacceptable. They say that ‘You never regret the things you’ve done, only the things you didn’t do’ and we really didn’t want not do this. The thought of someone else pipping us at the post was sufficient incentive for us to make an offer of the full price which was immediately accepted, on the basis that we exchanged straight away. I was even offered the opportunity to go into the office that day and sign the papers, remember that this place had already gone to auction so all the papers were ready to go, all the searches had been done they simply needed to find a buyer who had enough ink in their pen to make a few scribbles on the paper.
I don’t know about you but there is no way on earth, even given that we really wanted this deal, that I would simply sign my name to a paper that committed me to handing over £250,000 without first checking out the small print, and that was the job of an expert. Enter my solicitor. Mike Wilson of Moore & Blatch. They had handled my original purchase of the unit and had proved to be efficient enough for me to trust them further.
Bombshell number two was only a few emails away and when it hit the devastation was pretty effective. We had crunched the numbers, we knew more or less what we were due to have to fork out but believe it or not we had forgotten to allow for stamp duty! Or SDLT as it was now called. Stamp Duty Land Tax. I wasn’t unduly worried because at a sale price of £250,000 we only had to come up with 1% in addition, so that was another £2500. A hit yes, but one we could handle.
It was only when I found out that the SDLT was levied on the total price of the sale, i.e., including the VAT that we realized that as the price was now above £250,000 the Stamp duty raises to 3% and that meant an additional £8,850. Yes, taxed on tax. What a right bunch of thieving B*****ds this government was turning out to be!
Next – A government of idiots
Chapter 13 – A government of idiots
I had come across a similar scenario before. Many years ago I had been very interested in importing a vehicle from the USA. Cars were significantly cheaper over there and the Pound was in good shape at that time so it made perfect sense. That is until you check out the detail. A car over here that might cost you £20,000 was available over there for about a third of the price. A no brainer right? Wrong.
First of all you have to factor in a flight over to find your car, fair enough. Then you have to get it to the nearest port, that’s understandable as well. Then there’s the shipping, obviously. Plus insurance (not optional) O.K, just have to wait for it to arrive in the U.K, and that’s when you get hammered. First you have to pay import duty, not just on the car but also on the shipping and the insurance, then of course you have to pay VAT but not just on the cost of the car, you also have to pay it on the shipping, insurance AND the import duty ! Effectively you are paying tax on tax, as I said before WHAT A RIPOFF!!! And so short sighted. If the government were smart and encouraged people to import cars, especially cars of this type because it’s hardly going to impact on the sales of regular cars, then they would see many more benefits in the way of tax than they are likely to get from the import duty and VAT farce that exists at present.
For a start, there’s the road tax and insurance tax that they would benefit from the jobs created by the additional maintenance that would be needed. Then there are parts like tyres, batteries and such not to mention the extra tax gained by the government through fuel on theses gas guzzling monsters. This government (and others before it, just to point out that I’m not just picking on one or the other of the parties) consists in the most part of people who have gone through the higher echelons of education. Yet they seem oblivious to the benefits of encouraging people to spend money. Instead they seem hell bent on trying to get their hands on the remaining money that exists after they have taxed your money to death in the first place. Surely there is someone up there in ranks of the government who has a little common sense? It certainly doesn’t appear so at the moment!
Another case in point is road tax. Why oh why do they not simply add the cost of this tax to fuel duty? If someone as simple as me can see the benefits, then surely they can. A fortune would be saved in administration, commissions to administers of the paperwork such as the post office, a good deal of staffing at DVLA and their associated offices as well as the amount of money they spend at present desperately trying to track down and recover costs from people who try to evade it.
Those who do a lot of miles each year would pay a proportional amount of road tax as would the little old lady who goes to church on a Sunday and the shops just once or twice a week. On top of which no-one could get out of paying for it, it would be collected by a system that is already in place within fuel duty.
As you can no doubt tell, that’s one of my ‘pet hates’. Just don’t get me started on the money we send abroad each year, waste on committees and enquiries, I mean, £20,000,000 on a sixteen hundred page enquiry to find out why Rover when to the wall ! The company had gone bust, that’s it, and if the government weren’t prepared to help out, then it had to go down. But if they wanted to spend that kind of money why not just split it up between the men and women that lost their jobs, at least then someone might have benefited from it. Such wanton waste is rife amongst the idiots who run this country, can’t you just tell that it’s not their money they’re spending. If it was then this country would be back on its feet inside of a year. Hum mm… I feel another book coming on !
Next – Stamp duty
Chapter 14 – Stamp duty
Anyway that’s my ranting over (for a while at least) back to my story. Now where was I? Oh yes, SDLT. It was while on the internet trying to discover whether the VAT was actually considered part of the sale price that I came across an advert by a company suggesting that they had a way to avoid (legally) paying SDLT. Now this was worth checking out. Apparently they handle everything for you through their own solicitors and by using off shore companies and reselling the property you are buying, you manage to avoid paying SDLT. O.K. their fees are not what you might call cheap but at the end of the day as long as it saves money then it might just be worth a shot.
Personally if I don’t understand something then it’s not for me. In this case, for obvious reasons the company concerned was not prepared to disclose the finer points of how they went about their business. That was enough for me to discount this particular company and their tax avoidance scheme. However I did get a call from another company that I had asked for details from and they were very forthcoming in just how they set the whole thing up.
Apparently what happens is this. They handle the purchase on your behalf, again through their own solicitors, and after completion the property is immediately sold on to someone else. Not a third party but a Trust set up in your name. Now if you buy and then sell straight away you are not liable to pay stamp duty. Presumably because HMRC would expect you to sell it at a higher price and therefore they would collect an even greater amount of tax, not in this case though.
Because what happens is this, the trust that you sell it to would exchange contracts on the sale but are given one hundred and twenty four years to complete on the deal. This in effect means that the sale never actually goes through and as such the property still remains in your ownership. Clever huh. This apparently is all legal and above board and even if the HMRC were to challenge it, (which they have tried to do in recent times with a property in London that involved millions of pounds of stamp duty!), but there is no record of them ever having been successful in, but if they did, and were, then the company concerned that handled the transfer carries an insurance policy that would refund any fees that you have paid. Worst case scenario, you end up paying the SDLT, (and because you have taken professional advice from the company handling the transaction), with no interest payment, so there was nothing to lose, we were going to go for it.
I should point out that everything mentioned here was legal. As you may be aware, there is a difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion, one is legal, and the other is not.
Around 9 months later (almost to the day), we received a letter from the tax man stating that the stamp duty issue surrounding our purchase of the pub was now under investigation (once the nine months are up they are unable to take any further action, apparently!) But after a few months of scrutiny we were told that they were happy with the situation and would not need to look any further.
Phew, all’s well that ends well.
Chapter 15 – The long wait
All I had to do now was exchange on my unit. The buyer was taking his time getting his finance sorted but I knew just how long these things can take to arrange. The thing was that there was no way I could exchange on the pub until I could guarantee that the unit was in fact ‘sold’. So I simply had to sit and wait, and anyway I now had a little leeway because all the paperwork had to be transferred to my new SDLT solicitor, so at this point I reckoned that I was about a week, maybe ten days away from ‘doing the deal’.
Or so I thought! I now had the agent on my back asking when I would be exchanging contracts. I was in touch with my buyer only to be told that there was a small problem with his finance as his lender had raised a query and that was being passed back to his accountant, more delays. Although there was some good news in that an owner of one of the other units had now expressed an interest in mine, so now at least I had a fallback position if my buyer pulled out for any reason.
The paperwork had now got as far as the new solicitor and I was receiving emails concerning the searches that were needed. Luckily, the brewery had done them all ready for the auction sale so all I had to do was pass them on to him. One thing that we flagged up from a copy of the brewery conditions of sale we had received from our solicitor was the fact that they expected us to take on ‘’at the going rate’, any stock that was on site at the time of completion.
Now aside from any suspicions I had that it would be oh so easy for the brewery to load the pub with stock just prior to completion, committing us to some unknown outlay just at a time when finances would be stretched to the limit anyway, there were other reasons why we weren’t too happy about it.
For a start, we intended to close the pub down for a good six months for the refurbishment and I have no idea just how long beer will last but I didn’t, and to be honest, couldn’t afford to have money tied up in stock. I was also quite peeved that the brewery wasn’t prepared to move on the price and recalled their statement on the inventory issue. If they didn’t want to help in any way, shape or form, then why the hell should I give them the opportunity to offload a pile of stock at my expense! Well, that would be one for the solicitor to sort out, that’s what he was being paid for.
By now we were some six weeks into the venture and had no confirmed sale of the workshop and so were not even in a position to make a play for the pub, and then at all went ‘Tits up’ !
I had been chasing my buyer once a week. Never had he called me, not once so it was at this point that I decided enough was enough. I was going to approach the other interested party and let them know that my unit was available if, and only if he was prepared to move quickly.
Unfortunately for me he had, only the day before, done a deal on another unit not far away. He was really annoyed at the prospect of losing out on my unit as it was literally yards from the one he already owned. But, as he said, and you have to respect him for it, a deal is a deal and there was no way he could go back on a handshake.
So there I was, I had missed a prime buyer by waiting for someone who didn’t seem to be able to get his act together. The mistake I made was not to have continued advertising my property until such times as contracts were exchanged thereby cementing the deal and committing my buyer to the purchase. You live and learn. However this was turning out to be an expensive lesson. I had laid out a fair bit in valuations and solicitor fees already and had precisely nothing to show for it, but more importantly, I was in line to lose what I considered to be the opportunity of a lifetime.
I then received a phone call from the guy who had just missed buying my unit to say that he was considering purchasing my unit as well. Talk about a lifeline! He decided that he could rent out the first unit he had bought and use mine for his original needs as it was so close to where he lived. I was all for that, however I had to tell him that my intended purchase was based on selling my unit at the full asking price and nothing less would be considered. This didn’t seem to faze him at all.
Even better was the fact that he used the same solicitor’s office as I did, although a different individual. As we both had engaged our respective representative prior to this deal coming up there was no conflict of interest and we could continue the process, both using the same office. Another bonus was the fact that he already owned a unit on the same estate so was well aware of any issues surrounding the parking situation as well as the existence of The Milford Trading committee and all its dealings etc.
It was as I was walking away from the meeting with him where we shook hands on the deal that I received a phone call from my original buyer to say that his request for finance had been refused and although he was still trying to raise the finance from alternative sources he was effectively out of the running.
Chapter 16 – A short break
Just before I went off to Madrid for 10 days to work on my last exhibition contract before I ‘retired’ I signed the paperwork on my unit ready to be exchanged while I was away. As is always the case, that didn’t happen either. I returned on October 2nd to find that I was still no further forward and the brewery’s agents were still pushing for exchange of contracts.
Luckily, there were still the issues of the stock and tenants that were to be sorted so I at least had valid reasons for holding off. That was until 3rd October when I heard from my other solicitor to say that Punch Taverns had agreed to me not taking over any stock and that vacant possession would be available on completion. I now had no excuse not to exchange contract on The Wharf and it was time to chase my solicitor for exchange of contracts on the unit.
“Well, I’m not aware of any problems” he said. “I have sent the paperwork over to the buyers solicitor and I’m just waiting for him to get back to me” For god’s sake the buyers solicitor is just across the corridor, how difficult can it be? He promised to get back to me as soon as there was something to report. Believe me when I say that the days can move very slowly indeed at times like these!
Anyway, that was on the Monday. On the Wednesday I rang again to ask about progress only to be told that we were still waiting for the buyer’s solicitor to get back to us. Mine suggested that I contact the buyer to ask him to put pressure on his guy to get things moving, the buyer agreed.. Ten minutes later he rang back to say that there were no problems or issues and his guy was ready to go.
I rang my solicitor the following day to bring him up to speed, and again later in the day to ask about any progress, and again he following day, twice! Now we were into the weekend and still no exchange of contracts. And all this time Punch taverns were pushing me to exchange. What the hell is it with solicitors? O.K, I understand that we are not their only clients, but for god sake, it’s not as if they’re cheap! We pay top money for their services and here we are two people trying to do a deal, both with units on the same estate, both fully aware of any issues or problems concerning the property, both using the same solicitor and four weeks down the line from the time of instruction and we still haven’t got to exchange of contracts. FOUR BLOODY WEEKS!
It’s true I am not totally comfortable with delegation, I do like to be in control of a project, any project. Then if it all goes wrong, I know that it’s my fault, no argument. However I also understand that there are certain areas where I do need to rely on someone else’s expertise, in this case my legal man. This lackadaisical, no rush approach was bordering on incompetence and I couldn’t do a damn thing about it!
One week later, and I’m still waiting. The problem, if one really exists, is that there are a total of four persons involved in this transaction. A buyer, a seller and two solicitors. The one thing I have learned is that no matter what you are told by one of the parties, there is no way on God’s green earth that it will tally with what you are told by the other. It appears to be nothing more than a guessing game as to who exactly is telling the truth. Two weeks ago, the buyer told me to my face that as far as he was concerned there were no issues and he was ready to go ahead. A week later, I receive from the buyers solicitor, a list of questions that require answers!
By this time I am aware of a deadline that has been issued by the brewery. It is now Monday, they are insisting on exchange of contracts by Wednesday at the latest. I can’t really blame them. I just don’t have any control over the situation. According to Sydney Phillips, who has today spoken with my solicitor and confirmed that he is now happy with everything, I now have no good reason not to proceed with the purchase. Apart from the small matter of not having the necessary money because I have not yet sold my unit!
Well, after yet another visit to speak to my buyer on Thursday, I was assured that exchange would take place on Friday. On Saturday I was emailed by my solicitor to say that they were still waiting.
Now I had had enough. I had resigned myself to the fact that if it was going to happen then fine, if not, then it wasn’t meant to be. I would simply go back to work as a kitchen fitter and that would be that.
Anyway, I was away for the weekend for a surprise party to celebrate my mother’s 80th birthday, and there was no way that I was going to fret about what was going on back home. I got my mother a Kindle as a present. She reads quite a lot and it seemed the perfect gift. Mind you, I was a little nervous about just how well modern technology and shall we say ‘mature years’ would get on together, but luckily my step father is very gadget friendly even at the age of 80, and seems to embrace anything ‘techy’. Although I’m sure my mother is still a little skeptical about my claim that her new gadget can store 3000 books!
Monday morning and I was back in the workshop just getting on with my Cobra build. Phone calls started to come in enquiring after my availability. So I decided that I would plough on with working for a living and sod chasing solicitors etc. So I go to see a kitchen that needs a re-fit and agree to quote on it. A worktop replacement job receives the same attention and someone wants a shower retiling, great, busy, busy, and busy.
On Tuesday I get an email to say that signed contracts and a deposit has been received – bloody marvelous! All I have to do now is phone my clients back and tell them that I am now officially retired !
I have such a lot to do. I have to make sure that the completion dates line up, pack everything at the unit, inform my workmate that all his gear has to go by next week and sort out a lorry to transport everything from the workshop up to Worcestershire. But I can’t complain, this is what I’ve been working towards. I knew it was coming, but now it’s actually here the enormity of the task is suddenly beginning to show itself.
Chapter 17 – The big move
I’m lucky in some respect that I have to move just the contents of my workshop and not the home as well on the same day. I did that once before when moving from Sway to Keyhaven, both in Hampshire and only 5 miles apart. To be honest it doesn’t matter how far apart they are, if they were only next door, you still have to physically pick everything up and shift it!
I took care of the garage, shed and outside stuff while my then wife sorted the house move. Boy, am I glad I didn’t have to organize both. The house move was sorted hours ahead of my stuff, I was still going at it at 8pm. It never ceases to surprise me just how much stuff you can accumulate!
Anyway, I knew what was in store for me, I just had to order a 7.5 ton lorry that I would collect, fill, drive to Worcester, unload and return all on my own, plus anyone that I could beg any help from. My original plan included using the one remaining guy from the unit next door. Bob had not been getting a lot of work in and there were days when his man had to stay at home because of lack of available work, but sods law came into effect and Bob had plenty to keep him busy.
A quick flick through the hire rates on Google showed that U-Drive was the cheapest at £351 including vat for 3 days. A quick phone call to check on availability took me through to central booking who confirmed that there was one available for the required dates.
“That’ll be £420 in total sir”
“That doesn’t sound right, I just checked on the net and the price was £351”
“Yes but that will be plus vat sir, which brings the total up to £420”
Now either I was going do-lally or my eyes were playing trick because I’m sure the price on the net was including vat.
“I’ll just get onto your site and check while you’re on the phone” I said.
Sure enough, I wasn’t losing my marbles. I confirmed that the price I had seen was indeed including the vat and at that point my, by then, phone buddy was convinced that she had a right numpty on the phone who couldn’t read a simple website, so she asked me to wait a moment while she would check to see where exactly I was getting it wrong!
About 30 seconds later, there came an ‘Oh’, followed by a “let me ring back” and she was gone.
Ten minutes later she called back.
“It would appear that you have alerted us to a slight problem with our rates” she said.
“What, that you haven’t up dated your website for the past two years?”
“No, that all our rate cards here at the booking center are wrong and we’ve been over charging our clients !”
“Does that mean that you’ve been losing bookings?”
“No, not at all, our bookings a up on last year”
So, that just means that you’ve been ripping people off!” I said
Anyway, I did get my lorry hire for the correct price and I would imagine there is some serious re-organization going on at U-Drive !
I did manage to arrange for the lad who worked next door to help. Luckily for me materials that were needed for the next job had failed to turn up so he was at a loose end and rather than spend time at home he agreed to lend a hand. Hindsight is a marvelous thing! He didn’t know it yet but by the end of the week he was going to be more that eager to submit to ‘death by daytime TV’!
it took us a total of three trips to get everything shifted and as I mention before, I will never cease to be amazed at just how much stuff we can accumulate.
That was phase one complete, we now owned a pub, albeit a pub with a significant amount of junk soon to be filling more than one of the rooms but hey, what a little junk between friends. I was now a Landlord.Chapter 18 – My first big problem
As I arrived with the first lorry load, I noticed that the ‘temporary tenant ‘, Mike, was loading up some of his furniture to go into storage. Apparently he had only been given a few days’ notice that the pub was due to be taken over. He was in effect moving out.
Following introductions, I explained that I was going to be traveling back and forth between my home and the pub until I had completed the refurbishment of the flat. I needed someone to be around at weekends for security. Mike agreed to take on that roll I suggested that as he was well versed as a barman, why didn’t he just continue to keep the pub open selling his own stock. That would provide me with security 24/7 and in return I wouldn’t charge him rent, rates, electric, gas, water etc., he could basically keep all the profit he could make.
On arrival for my first weeks work on the flat, I found Mike removing all his stock from the bar and creating it up. Asked what was happening he told me that his wife no longer liked it here and they were going. When I remarked I would still need to find someone to stay over at weekends to keep an eye on the place, he suggested that he would do it on his own. Great I said, while you’re here why don’t you keep the pub open at weekends and continue to sell your stock! This sounded like a good idea to him, so basically we were back in the same position that we were when I turned up the first time!
Mike continued for another week. Right up until he didn’t! The very next Saturday there was no sign of him, or on Sunday, or Monday. I had it confirmed that from one of the locals that he was well into horse racing and the Cheltenham gold cup was on that weekend which is why he eventually turned up on the Tuesday citing car problems as the reason that he became marooned many miles from home and unable to turn up to man the bar.
I remember mentioning to him that there were such things as phones now and it wouldn’t have been too much out of his way to pick one up and let me know. He maintains that he tried on numerous occasions to contact me but to no avail. When I suggested that the reason he didn’t was because he couldn’t, because more than likely he was in fact out of his brain for most of the weekend in question and any responsibility toward running a pub was far down the list of priorities as far as he was concerned. The telltale look answered the question for me and there endeth the lesson. Don’t expect any kind of loyalty from any member of staff until they have a long track record with you.
Trust me, as an employer you will get ‘dumped on’ on a regular basis by people that you rely on to help you run your business. People who you pay money to in return for them helping you keep your business running. There is no set of visual signs to help you detect which of your staff will let you down next but they will, and you will end up having to step in even though you’ve been up for the past 12 hours doing paperwork, out collecting stock, checking to make sure that staff have been paid, cleaning, restocking…. The list goes on. There were, as it turned out, many instances of being let down by staff yet to come, and again I will cover those in a later chapter.
Going back a little, it took a total of three 7 ton Lorries to get everything I had collected over the years in my unit safely deposited at The Wharf. I basically filled the little workshop and porta-cabin and then filled what was to eventually become the dining room. For many months to come the term ‘It’s in a box’ would be the shout whenever I was looking for something! And then the long troll through various boxes would commence until I came across (or not) the item concerned.
My first task once secreted in my new home (I use the term home very loosely, was to start on refurbishing the flat above the pub. There were two bedrooms a lounge, kitchen office and a bathroom.
Having a limited budget meant that most of the rooms would be given ‘a lick and a promise’. But no matter how much I tried to keep everything in proportion pricewise, there seemed to be no end of things that I just had to do and couldn’t really compromise on. A small hole in the plaster turned into large areas that absolutely had to be re-plastered properly. A door that wouldn’t close often needed a new frame because the old one was rotten. An electrical socket that didn’t work became a rewire for the entire flat, it was never ending to such a point that my original estimate of four weeks to get the flat ready turned into almost 10 weeks which quite conveniently meant that Christmas would have to spent down South because we wouldn’t have time to move in prior
the festivities. That turned out to be in our favor because I now know that whatever we may have needed over Christmas had we tried to move in straight away would have been ‘in a box’ somewhere and would never have been found.
Chapter 19 – Time to get serious
Kelly did eventually move in on the 17th of January and then the serious work of getting the pub refurbished started in earnest. The first job was to get the rear bar built re-built, mainly because the moron who was in charge of the pub for the brewery prior to us buying it had ripped the bar out!
Once the back bar was in a usable condition then we could close the main bar to strip it out and yet still have some where to serve the small number of customers that still frequent the pub. By ‘small number’ I mean some nights would see no more than half a dozen people in all night, takings would be very limited and a good week would produce around £800 to £900.
The main bar strip out showed us the state of the pub in general. A condition that would be fairly consistent throughout. No-one had spent any money on this place in twenty or thirty years. When the pub had suffered flood damage in the past, paperwork had shown an insurance claim by Punch brewery in excess of £100,000. It was blatantly obvious that only a fraction of that money went back into the pub. Bu then that seems to be indicative of tenanted pubs, breweries seem to be intent on just making as much money from the pub as possible with absolutely no interest in maintaining the establishment or helping the landlord to run a profitable business that would be a credit to them or their tenants.
All the built in seating was ripped out along with low level dividing walls. The wall paneling more or less fell off by threatening it with a crowbar, previous flood water had been left to dry out naturally causing the timber to retain a lot of the moisture. The carpet came up and the old bar was dismantled revealing the state of the floor below. How in God’s name that bar didn’t fall through into the cellar is anyone guess. With the old bar removed the floor boards resembled Italian lace, we couldn’t even let the dog walk on it fearing that he might just be heavy enough to fall straight through. The floor boards had to go then. Which in turn revealed the timber joists below. They were (originally) fairly substantial beams measuring 9 x 3 inches. They were still of that size but could quite easily be reduced to a pile of dust simply by crushing them by hand! The more floorboards that were removed the more rot and bits of patched up repairs were revealed. So it was that a new
timber floor complete with new joists was constructed, followed by a cement based strong board ready for the new tile finish. In the end the cost ran into many thousands of pounds.
The next item on the list for the main bar area was of course a new bar. The decision to reposition the bar was centered on reducing the length of the Python. This is the pipe that carries the beer lines from the cellar to the bar itself. Originally each beer line would hold around four pints of beer between the two points. By shortening the lines we could halve the amount of beer in the lines which in turn would cut the wastage at cleaning times by half. A saving of two pints doesn’t sound like much by when you multiply that by 8 lines (the different beers and ciders that were sold) and then by 52 (the times it would be cleaned over a year) that would be in excess of 800 pints. That works out at quite saving. Not only had that but the bar just looked better up the end of the room instead of in the middle!
The new bar was of my own design and even if I say so myself, it was a damned good first effort. When finished it really did look the part, and I am more than pleased with the result. The bar top was made from Greenheart, a very very hard timber that is no longer available here in Britain (to the best of my knowledge). It was many years ago readily available and used, amongst other things, as a base for bolting down heavy cast machinery in factories. It was at an auction in a field down south that I came across it many years ago. A stack of dirty old planks, some 14 feet long, four pieces measuring about 20 inches by 5. Scratching the surface with my finger nail revealed a hardwood of some description and I was pleasantly surprised to become the proud owner for the princely sum of £12 for the lot!
Getting them home at the time was going to be a challenge but a few quid in the direction of a friendly JCB had them squashing my poor little trailer and using bits here and there over the years had left me with just enough to use as a top for the bar. The main problem was going to be getting the planks split down the middle. Greenheart is a very hard timber and many timber mills will refuse point blank to cut it because it blunts, at best or at worst simply destroys their blades!
I eventually found someone brave enough to cut them up and after a fair amount of grunting and groaning managed to fettle them into
almost half a ton of new bar top finished off with four coats of a two part water based lacquer.
One of the other things that desperately needed attention was the chimneys. All five were very old, very tall and very drunk! Or that the impression they gave most were leaning at a very odd angle. We decided that they had to be sorted, sooner rather than later. It cost in excess of £1000 just to put scaffolding around them.
Once we were able to get up close it was obvious that they all needed some serious attention. One had at some point had suffered from a fire inside and was so weakened that I was able to simply push my hand straight through the brickwork. That one had to come right down and be completely rebuilt. Another, we had to straighten, our intention was to have one man knocking that one down. . However the first few taps with a hammer showed up a flaw in our plan, each time he hit it the whole thing swayed! So we had to have
One guy on one side of the chimney with his arms around it while the other guy dismantled it brick by brick.
It took a week or two to sort the chimneys out but at least they were now all stable, if a little shorter. But at least now they weren’t going to fall on anyone.
Chapter 20 – The new floor
With the ever present threat of flooding the decision was made well before we moved in to lay a tiled floor throughout the pub. At least that way if we were to suffer an ingress of water at some future point then the floor would simply need cleaning as opposed to replacing. It was with this in mind that prior to taking over the pub we had done quite a bit of research on tiles. On a previous trip to Madrid, one of my last trips abroad to work prior to my ‘retirement’, I took the time to search out tile warehouses. Obviously, Spain being a hot country where the majority of properties used ceramic tiles as a floor covering it was going to be relatively easy to source a supplier that could offer a tremendous choice at rock bottom prices. WRONG!
In the time I spent over there I came across only two major suppliers and although they defiantly had a wider choice from which we would be able to find just what we wanted, the price was in fact no cheaper than over here in the UK. We eventually sourced a three multi tile design from Tile Giant that they were prepared to import from Italy just for us at a ridiculously low price per meter. This meant that part of the eventual dining room area became home to 7 pallets of tiles, a total of 7 ½ tons of ceramic tiles that would eventually grace the entire floor area of the pub.
Trust me, you do not want to know how many bags of adhesive were used to get those tiles stuck to the floor. Each back contained 20 kilos and the original fifty bags that were supposed to be enough for the whole job ended up being just enough for the main bar! Mainly due to the fact that the concrete section of the floor in the conservatory area was so far out of level that we had to build up the tiles more and more until it resembled something at least close to level. In the end by the time the whole floor tiling exorcise was complete we must have used close to 100 bags of adhesive.
With the addition of new paneling around the whole bar area, built in radiator covers, a good deal of rewiring, plastering and painting, The new main bar area was ready for business. It may have taken a total of three months but the finished room was the dogs dangly bits and more than worthy of the many compliments it has since received.
One of the walls within the main bar remains un-plastered. This was due the fact the Kelly absolutely refused point blank my request to cover it up. In retrospect, she was quite right to do so because as one of the walls from the original building which was constructed in the mid-1700s it does show off some very old timbers and acts as a hanging space for a pub sign that was part of the props used in the One Foot in the Grave series. You may be familiar with the episode where Victor come out of the house one morning to find that someone has hung a pub sign by his front door which shows a painting of him with the wording underneath which says ‘The Pain in the Asrse’ When the series ended, Richard was kind enough to sign it and give it to Kelly. It, for many years hung at the top of the stairs on the landing but now has pride of place in The Wharf.
We have over a period of time added to the ‘décor’ by buying old and interesting objects that are now scattered around the main area. Most of which have to be screwed down to prevent the light fingered amongst our clientele from assuming that if they’ve purchased a pint of beer then that automatically gives them the right to take with them when they leave any item that adorns the surrounding window cills or ledges!
During the short time that we have owned The Wharf, a number of items have found new homes. A child’s high chair, two garden chairs, a hanging chain fly guard (for a doorway), a concrete frog – A CONCRETE BLOODY FROG , FOR CHISTSAKE ! What is it with these people? Who the hell goes out for a drink and then thinks, ‘Oh I know what I’ll do, I’ll struggle out of the pub with that 20 kilo concrete frog, that’ll really come in handy!
But guess what? I blame the government.
Chapter 21 – Time for a rant
I am well aware that there will always be some amongst us that will commit crime. They will see something that belongs to someone else and due either to the fact that they are too lazy to work for it decide that it’s far easier to steal said item and sod the consequences. In my humble opinion it’s the consequence that are at the root of the problem.
Many years ago the local booby was the one person that could stop the inherently young from becoming a criminal in later life. They had the power to step in and introduce an element of punishment and yes even fear, which was a good thing. Today, the local bobby doesn’t exist, in any way shape or form. Those that do police us have to a great extent their hands tied behind their backs. They exist only as a medium for transporting,(and on some very rare occasions remanding offenders for a period prior) to them being put before the courts.
That’s all very well, if the courts had the power to hand out justice as deserved. This is not the case.
Many years ago, I read an article about an offender who was in court accused of stealing a car. He was found guilty. The judge, sentencing him to community service, gave warning that if the offender was to appear before him in future, he would be looking at a custodial sentence. Fair enough you might think. No, as it turned out the guy in question had 18 previous convictions for the same offence, EIGHTEEN PREVIOUS CONVICTIONS!
No wonder the guy kept stealing cars. He knew that each time he got caught, all it was going to cost him was a few hours of his time to turn up in court and get a slap on the wrist! How many other times had he stole a car and NOT got caught?
In America a few years ago, one state introduced a rule called something called the three strikes law. Which basically means if you were convicted three times of serious offences you would go down for life, a minimum of 25 years. The first person to fall fowl of the law was charged with stealing a pizza from someone at the beach. He already had two convictions for serious offences and this being theft made it three, he got life. I don’t know about you but had I been in his position I would have seriously considered the risk of losing my freedom for twenty five years all for the sake a snack.
I really do believe that everyone deserves a second chance. Which is why when someone is brought before a court for the first time, they should get their wrist slapped (obviously not for serious crimes). And following the admonishment they should also be presented with a warning that should they end up in court again on a similar charge they would be facing an (appropriate) custodial sentence. The offender would then be aware that next time there would be no slapped wrist, but an automatic prison sentence of five years (or whatever) would be waiting for them. No telling off, no mitigating circumstances, if they were found guilty they would know up front exactly what they are going to get.
Also, five years should mean just that, FIVE YEARS. Not two and a half years with good behavior, five years with good behavior. If you don’t behave then their sentence gets extended. That would make a lot of today’s criminals think twice. New York adopted a zero tolerance approach a few years ago and the crime rate fell through the floor, why have governments around the world not picked up on this simple fact? Yes, we would have to build a few new prisons, but it wouldn’t be many years before we could get rid of some of the old ones. Unfortunately, the government does not want to spend the money. No foresight!
O’K, there are a few of you out there that could come up with arguments against my idea and no doubt it would need fine tuning to make sure that it could work to a greater degree. No, it’s not a flawless, but then neither is the system we have now.
Would I feel bad about someone going down for life after a third crime? I very much doubt it. As with any individual, we all have the ability to know the difference between right and wrong. We were all brought up with the knowledge that if the things you do are against the law and you get caught then you have to face the consequences. The only difference would be that instead of a police caution (a mild telling off) you would be well aware of what was waiting for you well ahead of the decision to commit the crime in the first place.
As a side note, I was reading an article in the Sunday Times this week about police cautions. In one case a single individual had been handed 50, YES 50, cautions! No wonder he was still committing crimes, being told ‘not to do it again’ on 50 occasions is hardly much of a deterrent, is it.
The reality is that I doubt very much if anyone with the authority or even the inclination to make changes in our society is going to read this and even if they do, given the ludicrously slow and impossibly complex system of implementing a new law, any law come to that, would mean that the practicalities of making those changes would be absolutely immense. So until such time as someone with a little forethought and who is even the slightest bit in touch with the real people of this society of ours, I suggest that you nail down anything movable that you own, especially any 20 kilo concrete frogs that happen to be around, they are obviously in demand.
On a lighter note I would like to bring to your attention something I read in a book by Alan Sugar , now Lord Sugar of course. Lord Sugar, like Jeremy Clarkson, is very much a ‘Marmite man’ in so much as you either like him of loath him. Personally I like him. I have a great deal of respect for any man who has created such wealth from nothing. I also like his straight talking. He tells it like it is. I have recently finished reading one of his books, ‘The way I see it’. I won’t quote him verbatim as it may be construed as plagiarism, but the general idea behind one of his missives is this.
He suggests that we put all the criminals in nursing homes and all pensioners in jail! Quite a radical suggestion I know but here’s his thinking behind the idea.
Pensioner in prison would get unlimited free prescriptions, dental, and medical treatment.
They’d get pocket money and would have no bills to pay.
In the case of a fall or needing assistance they would be constantly monitored on video.
Bedding and clothing would be washed, dried and ironed for them at no cost.
Meals and snacks would be delivered to them and they would be supervised on a regular basis.
Family visit would take place in purpose built suites.
Services such as a library, gym, pool room, counselling and education would be available on site for free.
Private, secure rooms would be available to all along with an exercise yard and gardens.
Each could have a PC, TV, and radio along with daily phone calls.
There would be a strict code of conduct for all staff and a committee to deal with any complaints with legal aid available to anyone that wished to take matters further.
On the other hand, Criminals would have to endure cold food, being left alone for long periods with no supervision, have to be in bed by 8 pm and allowed a shower once a week. They would be forced to sell their homes or belongings to help pay for the tiny room that would cost them around £800 per week.
You have to admit that there is some logic to that suggestion. The man talks a lot of sense. I’d love the meet him, but I very much doubt that I will ever get the opportunity. So I will have to settle for reading his books. Seriously, if you get the chance you really should take a look at his book ‘The way I see it’ – Rants revelations and rules for life, it’s a damn good read.
Chapter 22 – A customer to remember
A lady came into the pub one day, she was accompanied by her daughter and I was lucky enough to have the time to chat with her for a few minutes. As it turned out she had memories of The Wharf that went back to a time before I was even born!
Her name is Kathereen Gregg. She told me that her first visit to the pub was at the age of 23. She came with her father who would not (as was the custom at that time) not allowed to go inside the pub. It turns out that women, and I assume that includes all women, not just those of a certain impressionable disposition, were not allowed to spend time in what could be considered now to be described as ‘A man shed’!
So it was that she sat at one of the benches outside. A young man, whether instructed by her father or of his own volition, I have no idea, took the young lady a glass of lemonade. Now this small act of kindness would generally be accepted with a ‘thank you’ and perhaps a smile. But no, in this particular case, the young man whose name if my memory serves me correctly was Maurice, was rewarded some time later with the hand in marriage of the lady in question.
What a lovely thought. I never ceased to be amazed at the amount of goods and services available in a pub. Social interaction alcohol, food, entertainment, wives !
She went on to say that this was in fact her second visit to the pub, she was 92 years old! I did make a point of thinking that we were not going to make a great deal of profit from this particular customer, but the story in itself was well worth her visit, for me at least. The fact that this was only her second visit in last 70 years or so did prompt me to ask if the reason for her infrequent patronage might be based around the fact that she had no wish to find a second suiter, she declined to comment and I was left to ponder the answer to that particular question myself.
Around a year or so later she was kind enough to grace us with another visit and did expand a little. At the time of her first visit she was not exactly what might be described as ‘well off’. However it would seem that Maurice was. “He was a very generous husband” she said, “If there is anything you see that you would like, then just let me know” he had told her” What a nice man, I myself have been looking for a man like that for years!
At the age of 93, this lady, whom I believe to be at this time our oldest living customer did look a little more frail than the first time I met her, but God willing I look forward with anticipation her forth visit sometime next year.
I now know that last statement to be incorrect as just this week we had a visit from an elderly gentleman accompanied by his daughter. We got chatting, and apparently, during the war her father was given two weeks leave and he confessed to spending most of it here at The Wharf, he wanted to come back and remains a little while he still had the opportunity. He really was a very nice gentleman, one of the ‘old school’, do you know, there are times when I consider myself a very lucky man to be a very small part of some people’s lives, something I would never had the chance to experience had it not been for The Wharf.
Chapter 23 – The return of sods law
It was going to be a very productive day. I had it all planed. Then I dropped my self in the shit! Literally. I had a new strimmer all fueled and ready to go and a large area behind the old caravan that was full of fruit trees and extremely long grass.
Engine running, hard hat in place with goggles, ear defenders and wearing steel toecap boots, off I set. All went so well to start with and progress was rapid. It was when I disappeared down a hole as the ground gave way that spooked me! Luckily it was just the one leg that went down the whole which in some ways was not a particularly good thing because it was the leg that stayed above ground that suffered all the damage. I twisted my ankle and pulled all the muscles on the outside of my thigh.
I managed to hop/stagger back to the pub and crawl up the stairs before collapsing in agony. That made me pretty much useless over the next week or so until I could use the leg again to any for any purpose that resembled walking without looking like a damn good impersonation of Quasimodo having a very bad day!
Insult to injury was verify on the day I went back to the shed for yet another go at the long grass. It turns out that what had stopped me from disappearing right down the hole was in fact the strimmer. I was wearing a harness and as such the strimmer couldn’t get away from me, which in some way was lucky because it save me from total immersion in….well I’m sure you can imagine what in! But not so good in other ways because 18 stone of publican being dropped on you can do some real damage and so it did, poor strimmer. Anyway, an hour or so in the workshop soon had it straightened out, sort of!
Following the two weeks that saw me hobbling around, although I could walk in some sort of normal fashion, the ankle could never be describes as better.
It was at that point that I had to move a heavy stainless steel hot cupboard from the beer cellar to the kitchen. It would soon be time to start serving food, (something that we had put off since we moved in some 18 months earlier, another story entirely, which I will cover in a later chapter. Anyway, the cabinet in question weighed around 150lbs (70 kilos, to the metricized among you).
Two of us managed to man handle to unit into the kitchen with no problems. I then went back to the cellar and moved a box of lemonade syrup as used in the draught soft drinks, bent over, picket it up, at which point my back clicked and that was me buggered for another two weeks!
Talk about the walking dead. There I was, looking like a refugee from a tag wrestling match for almost four weeks. The ankle has still not recovered properly, I can only assume that it’s just one of the things about getting older, everything simply takes longer to repair itself!
Chapter 24 – Our first fight
I must admit that for me one of the down sides of owning a pub was the thought of having to deal with the Neanderthal element among us that can’t resist the temptation to start trouble, irrespective of where they might be. It could be a football match, night club, café or even a pub. What is it with these macho man that they feel they have to prove themselves in a physical way to try and show that they are the ‘head honcho’, the leader of their own pride of lions or the ‘silverback’ of the gorilla group the they happen to be attached to at that time.
Actually, the term ‘Silverback’ is quite apt. faced with a charging gorilla the correct action to avoid getting well and truly flattened is to look down, not at your adversary. To look that angry muscle bound brute in the eye is to invite a challenge to their leadership abilities. As is the case with your common garden pub pillock.
Yes, I am aware that in some cases an excess of alcohol can be the instigator of this sudden urge to show all those around you just how manly you really are, especially where members of the opposite sex have yet to be made aware of your physical prowess and your ability to protect your beloved from lessor men or even against those who wish to relieve you of your prize conquest.
But really, at what point are you considered to be above that particular level. At what age is reasonable to be able to say “Hey, you know what, I don’t actually have to prove myself to anyone. I have no overwhelming urge to show those around me that I ‘the boss’. I don’t really care what someone thinks of me, I am quite comfortable in myself, short of defending myself against physical attack, I have grown up, I am now a fully mature adult”.
Well for some that point comes fairly early on in life, maybe at the age of 20 or even earlier in some cases. In others they are still unable to grasp the concept of maturity while heading for their forties.
And so it was that one summer’s day last year a certain regular who shall remain nameless heard that his brother (who for some unknown reason he hated with a vengeance) was indeed in the pub drinking. Now I don’t know what his thought process was at the time (or even if there was one) but he had decided that rather than avoid confrontation by staying away it was his duty to court trouble in any way shape and form that was possible for a mid-thirties man to do.
I didn’t witness the initiation of the fight just the blood and guts that erupted in the car park after one had dragged the other from the pub, (a little consideration there maybe? I doubt it. More a question of available space in which to pulverize each other). In this instance, both men having their respective other halves in tow, you would have thought that the main concern of the women would be to cajole, beg or drag their men folk away from each other to avoid any further injury.
Not this pair, they went at it as well! While I and a few of the regulars were trying to separate the two men (and I use the word’ ‘men’ in its very loosest sense) the two women were rolling around on the floor like a couple of mud wrestlers (only without the mud). There were chunks of hair being torn out to such an extent that I was in two minds as to whether or not I might have to mow the car park afterward!
Well, the obvious conclusion was that a ban was appropriate and although a few other drinkers, who were friends of the couple involved tried on many occasions to get me to lift the ban, I have stuck to my guns. My thinking is thus. Many years ago and to a degree up until quite recently, The Wharf was known as a place where fighting was the norm and for that reason it automatically excluded a percentage of people who, and quite rightly to my mind, wanted to go out and enjoy a drink without the hassle of having to avoid the confrontations of the immature members of the drinking set that quite enjoyed it.
Another reason is that this is my home. Yes, I known that I open it up so that it becomes a place where people can enjoy a social situation with all that that implies, but it is still my home and anyone who is not prepared to respect that fact is not welcome here.
I did expect the ‘trouble’ element of running a pub to be more prevalent than it has been, I don’t know, perhaps I have been lucky but that particular incident is the only violent issue that I have had to deal with in the past two years. Perhaps that is indicative of the clientele that we are encouraging to use the pub now that it has been ‘done up’. Or could it be that people do actually want and respect a place where they can socialize in peace and without the hassle. I don’t know the answer, but what I do know is that The Wharf is gaining a reputation as a nice place to be, long may that be the case.
Chapter 25 – Environmental health
One day there was a knock at the front door and I opened up to e tall gentleman smartly dressed in a suit and tie. His greeting consisted of “Good morning, I’m Mr. Smith from the department of Environmental Health”. “Do you have an appointment” I said. “We don’t make appointments” was his reply, “Well, if you had done, you could have shut this place down years ago”!
I have never, ever, in all my time on this earth come across a kitchen so filthy, grimy and full of grease and crap as the one that was being used to serve food at the time we bought this place.
It was without doubt the most disgusting room in the whole building. The state of the ceilings, floors, walls and all the equipment that was still being used to cook with was absolutely abominable. The first thing I did after the completion of the main bar was to tackle the kitchen. Pod, (more about him later) our resident cellar man was tasked with the job of going in there and clearing it out, both the main kitchen and the prep room. He did the job much better than I could have managed.
When I eventually stuck my head inside to see just how things were progressing I realized that I perhaps should have been a little more thoughtful with my instructions. I said clear it out. Which he had in fact done. Gone was all the equipment which even if it had been steam cleaned would probably never have been good enough to be used ever again. Gone was the crap behind the benches and cooker. Gone were the tiles that adorned the walls. We actually gained five and a half inches in width where Pod had removed the tiles on top of the tiles that were on top of the tiles! Gone was the plaster! in fact, everything was gone ! There was nothing left but bare brickwork!
On reflection, it was defiantly the right thing to do. Ripping those two rooms back to their structure made it a very easy decision that the kitchen and prep rooms should be completely new from the ground up, so to speak, even allowing for the fact that the brick were still there, just.
Following that it was simply a case of re-rendering the walls, blocking up alcove to make for a much cleaner contour of the room, installing new electrics, plumbing, plastic clad wall boarding, new ceilings and non-slip floor tiles. All of which took a considerable amount of time and money as well as effort. The main difficulty was to fill the room with new equipment, the reason was the cost.
Commercial cater equipment costs an absolute fortune. I remember that during the very first week after we bought the pub the glass washing machine started to play up. Now I was always under the impression that the glasses were cleaned by turning them upside down in a bowl of water that had an upturned revolving rubber stump with tentacles on it. Apparently that form of glass cleaning is no longer allowed.
The glasses must now be cleaned in a machine that is basically a dish washer but with a much faster cycle. A two minute cycle. Which when you think about it makes sense. It wouldn’t be much use to you having to wait the 45 minutes or so that a normal dishwasher would take to complete a cycle.
Anyway, the machine that was giving us trouble was a stainless steel contraction about the size of a normal dishwasher and without it functioning we would have to close the pub. So, a quick call home, as Kelly was now installed in the pub yet, had Kelly tracking down a new machine. She rang back to say that there was one waiting for me at a commercial supplier in nearby Redditch, all paid for and ready for collection. Great, off I went.
On arrival I walked into the delivery point and was spotted straight away as the person coming to collect a glass washer. “There it is” said the helpful guy pointing towards the floor, with the paperwork just needing a signature I would be loaded and away in minutes. But for the life of me I couldn’t see a machine big enough that resembled the broken piece of crap that I had left behind at the pub. He pointed again after noticing my confused expression. Nothing registered.
When he eventually pointed specifically to a small eighteen inch square box on the floor. I knew that somewhere between me, Kelly and the supplier there had been a communicative cock-up! I needed a glass washer that was about the size of a normal domestic washing machine and here he was trying to palm me off with some toy replica.
As it turned out, this was the right machine for the job. It was not much bigger than a microwave oven and would take 16 glasses at a time, wash and rinse them inside of two minutes. If that was impressive so was the price. ALMOST £ 800!
So, going back to the cost of equipping the kitchen, you can now understand the size of the investment we had to make to get the place up and running. By this time, with the amount of work that we had carried out on the pub money was becoming a problem. On top of the original purchase price we has spent in excess of £100,000 so far and would in future have to rely on the profit we were now making from trading to re-invest in any further work or equipment that was needed. For that reason it was well into the summer before the kitchen was up and running. More on that saga in a later chapter.
Chapter 26 – No smoking
I think it’s fair to say that the smoking ban that was introduced in pubs in 2008 is recognize as being a major factor in the decline of pub trade in general. I must own up to being a smoker myself and I can understand the arguments for and against smoking being banned in public places.
On the one hand you have the passive smoking stance whereby people who don’t smoke have to inhale smoke that’s in the air with all the negative health issues that come with it. On the other side of the coin you have people that now have to go outside and brave the elements if they wish to continue to enjoy a cigarette whilst having a drink.
There is widespread support for both sides of the argument, not that it makes any difference now. There is no way that the government will change their mind and reverse the decision no matter how much us smokers moan and complain. Even if, in a fantasy world, were the government to relent and allow smoking to re-commence, I doubt very much that the damage done to pubs could be repaired. Because we are now in a situation that any customers who started coming to pubs on the basis that they would not have to put up with passive smoking would simply stop, and anyone who stopped frequenting pubs because they could not smoke in the building would by now be so ensconced in their existing ritual ie, drinking at home, that they wouldn’t bother returning. So my conclusion is that to allow smoking in pubs again would probably do further and this time, irreparable damage to the industry.
Are you aware that at the time of writing, pubs are closing at the rate of three and a half per week! O.K. I know that you can’t close half a pub but it’s easier to relate to than seven pubs a fortnight. That’s getting close to 200 pubs a years, and it’s not just the smoking ban that has helped close all those pubs. I blame the government!
I know what you’re thing, ‘He’s off on one of his ‘rants’ again’. Well, yes, I suppose I am. You see, I simply don’t understand what the governments thinking is. Every time the budget comes around, it’s the same old routine. Hammer the motorist, the smokers and the drinkers.
If they were serious about creating jobs why not do something constructive like quashing VAT on alcohol served in pubs.
Now I must admit to being slightly bias in my argument here, I own a pub so I would stand to gain in the event of a change similar to my suggestion above, where it to ever come into force, (Oooh look, there goes another squadron of flying pigs !).
Just think about it for a moment. A pint of beer would be reduced by 20%. Most people would not instantly drink 20% more beer just because they have 20% more money in their pocket, they still have the same amount of time to drink it in so they would instantly be better off financially.
More people would go for a drink, so pubs would enjoy more turnover, not 20% maybe but there would be a definite increase in their profits. On top of which more trade would mean that they would need more staff to handle the increasing workload.
So what would the landlords, (all over the country, remember) do with their wage increase? They would spend it, we all do it, and money is there to be spent. Holidays, cars, clothes, food, it doesn’t matter on what, just the fact that it is being spent. That in itself will create increased trade in all types of industry. Even if saved it would produce a positive effect on the amount of money that banks and building societies have to lend. Think about it.
So, if the pubs are selling more beer they must be getting it from somewhere. That’ll be the breweries that are benefitting then. Which means increased production, more staff, more Lorries, more equipment. With each of those comes more buying in others categories which increases the turn over and staffing needs of the other industries involved. A continuing trend or chain then.
All these extra staff in all the connected industries are going to make a positive impression on the unemployment figures surely. More employment means more tax collected by the government. I don’t know about you but try as I might I just can’t seem to find a downside to my argument. The pub business in this country is huge, massive. It provides a lot of jobs throughout the industry, at the moment. And that is the point. Right now, pubs are viable, just.
Here at The Wharf we are in a position where the pub was in such a state when we bought it that just sweeping the floor would have made some impression as far as an increase in trade was concerned. Given all the hard work, money and time that has gone into changing its’ reputation and image, the only way this business can go is up. But only to a certain point and after that a lot of radical thinking will be needed to keep it viable. Other pubs may not be lucky enough to be in the same situation. They will either put in the effort or fall by the wayside. It’s a customer’s choice as to where they go out to drink, if they go out at all. Unless something is looked at from the governments side of the fence, and soon, they might just push the pub industry to a point where recovery is not an option.
I’m sure that the same rational could be applied to other industries. Perhaps the deletion of VAT could be a winning solution that would turn this country around, (My God, have I missed my vocation as a politician?). I think not, I doubt I could stand being hated by around half the population at any one time!
Chapter 27 – A falling out
At the time we first came to see The Wharf before making the decision to buy it, we made friends with the manager of the camping and touring van site that at one time was a part of the pub before being split and sold off as separate ventures. His name was Mark, or Pod as he is known by many.
He’d been around for a couple of years taking care of the camping and caravanning side of the site. We bumped into each other on one of my infrequent visits over the summer when I was trying to get an overview of how the pub was performing under normal circumstances as opposed to what we were being told by the brewery and their selling agent. In essence, I was a spy, but without the posh car and gadgets!
Mark proved to be a great help to us prior to our buying the pub and was always available on the phone to answer any questions that we had concerning different aspects of our intended purchase. After the deal went through, Pod became my ‘right hand man’ so to speak. Always there when needed, ready to lend a hand when things got difficult, a dab hand behind the bar and literally took over the running of the cellar making sure that the beer was always flowing and taking care of any issues that might crop up on the beer front.
During the refurbishing of the main bar area, he was the one down in the cellar when the floor was ripped out. Getting stuck into the dirty end of the work never phased him and I remember many a job that quaked at the sight of his shear muscle power, not much could stand in his way once he decided that it had to move. The kitchen was proof of that.
I’ve not met many people with a similar sense of humor to my own. We were very much on the same wave length when it came to having a laugh and there were many occasions when we would just fall about laughing for long periods at some small thing that had amused us.
Personally, I don’t go much on Boss/Worker relationships. By that statement what I’m talking about is the interaction between myself and my staff. I tend to prefer a friendly easygoing approach. There is nothing that I would ask a staff member to do that I wouldn’t do myself, and that includes for example, lighting the fire, restocking the shelves or cleaning the toilets. Some people might say that by not exerting a ‘higher power’ type of stance that I’m asking for trouble. That may very well sometimes be the case, but I still prefer the ‘all of us on the same level’ approach.
However, I may just have shot myself in the foot where Pod was concerned because although he was with us for around 18 months, doing a brilliant job of virtually everything he was tasked with I feel now that the old saying of ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’ might actually have some truth in it.
I had occasion to mention to him that his attitude toward a particular member of staff was not acceptable and couldn’t be tolerated. Unfortunately he didn’t take a great deal of notice and a month or so later I witnessed a similar occurrence. The problem was that as much as I appreciated all his effort and even his friendship, he was, as someone who worked within and for the pub a representative of the business. To have witnessed the incident and ignored it would have left that staff member open to further abuse and ultimately led to a lack of respect from everyone as well as leaving myself open to industrial action from that staff member.
It was at this point that we had to part company. For me it was a business decision, unfortunately Pod took it personally and has not spoken to me since. At the end of the day, this is a business and our livelihood, as such I had no choice but to take the action I did. One day he might look back and understand, but I wouldn’t hold my breath, he’s a proud stubborn man and being slapped down by a ‘friend’ must feel quite hard.
However, even after that experience. I doubt that we could have got as far as we have without his help and support, and for that I thank him. A few days after this was written he made it quite plain that his feelings were still hurting. At least that was my take, after his first words in three months included the term A**hole! Oh well, time heals so they say, but I doubt that I will have enough years left in me to confirm that theory!
His dad comes into the pub most nights, and when I told him that Mark had spoken to me for the first time in a while and called me an A**hole, his response was “Oh well, he’s mellowing then” !
Chapter 28 – Grass and more grass
The Wharf Inn is situated on by the side of the river Severn on a plot around one and a half acres. Aside for the building itself and the car park, the rest is mostly grass. Now not being much of a gardener in the past I didn’t really give a lot of thought to the upkeep (or should it be the down keep) of said grass!
What I did know was that a hover mower was not going to be man enough to take care of it. So the obvious answer was a ride on mower (every man’s dream, right? Well, mine at least!). Once a decision was made that was it and as fortune would have it, one of our regulars has just the thing. A small, cheap, bright yellow ride on mower. Job done.
On pulling the mower out of the shed one fine morning I noticed that it had a flat tyre. No problem. As someone with an interest in cars I had a compressor as a standard part of my kit. Sixty seconds later I was blowing up said tyre. Up went the tyre, check the gauge, no reading, a little more air, up went the tyre some more, check the gauge, no reading more air and up went the tyre, literally!
Well actually it wasn’t the tyre that exploded but the plastic wheel with a bloody great bang. The poor old wheel couldn’t take it anymore and simply disintegrated. When I checked the recommended pressure on the side of the tyre it said maximum – 4 lbs., when I then checked the gauge I noticed that the readings didn’t start until the pressure reached 10 lbs. – WHOOPS
So, three wheels on my lawn mower, sound like a song I used to know! On to Ebay and yes there was a new wheel available, but at £47! No way. Fortunately, there were also a couple of mower exactly the same as the one I already had but as spares or repair and in no time at all I was off to Cornwall to pick up my newly purchased booty.
On my return it took no time at all to break one mower down into its component form to act as a supply of replacement parts for the other two. Now I had two identical working mowers and was even think about mower racing around the car park!
The strange thing is that even with two mowers, getting that grass down and keeping it short was still a challenge. When both mowers started giving trouble, probably because of the strain they were under, I knew it was time to get serious. I now have a second hand Husqvarna ride on complete with a brand new trailer and various other extremely manly attachments that all real men would covet.
Well that was my excuse for buying them.
There is still the small matter of having to go out there on a regular basis and actually cut the grass but most of the summer Tom, the pub groupie (I’ll tell you a little about Tom in a later chapter) takes care of that particular chore. When he wasn’t around recently due to an operation that he had to have, I really quite enjoyed spending some time on the mower whizzing up and down the lawns making a hell of a din and a not inconsiderable mess, well, someone has to do it.
Chapter 29 – Fire bugs
Talking about smokers, (I think that may have been a page or two back, before I went off on one of my rants) someone must one day explain to me the logic behind story I’m about to tell you.
One day during the summer, a lady approach one of the bar staff to report smelling smoke in the ladies toilet. Obviously I ploughed straight in there. Any threat of a possible fire was serious enough to disregard any thoughts of embarrassment on either side of the sexes.
Yes, there was a definite smell of smoke as soon as I got in there. It was also quite obvious within seconds that it wasn’t just a smell, smoke was coming from one of the cubicles, believe it or not from one of the sanitary containers. It only took seconds for me to grab the bin and get it out of the pub.
Once opened, not the nicest of jobs, copious amounts of water soon made short work of what were by now small flames and the source of the problem was discovered.
Someone had been smoking in the ladies toilet. When they had finished, even though what they were doing was illegal, all they had to do was put it out. Now in that position, any normal person might have worked out that right between their legs was a source of water capable of extinguishing a what was left of a half smoked cigarette, but no. What did this pea brained excuse for a human being do? They wrapped the cigarette but in toilet paper and put it in the bin!
I know from experience that some people will do stupid things. A few guys think that punching holes in the ceiling of the men’s toilet is really manly, (they won’t when the new ceiling goes up in there, I’ll be using fire boards and anyone stupid enough to try it then will break their hand first!) And others believe tearing the fire safety signs off the wall is clever, brain dead, the lot of them! But here’s the thing.
Had someone not reported the smell of smoke to a member of staff, the consequences simply do not bare thinking about. Summer is a busy time for us here at The Wharf, with up to 100 customers in the pub at any one time, and one stupid, STUPID, small brained individual could well have caused unknown damage and perhaps, God forbid, endangered someone’s life, just for the sake of waiting 60 seconds before lighting up outside.
On a slightly lighter note. After that incident, it was decided that as certain members of our clientele either couldn’t read or if they could cleverly worked out that it didn’t apply to them and they could easily get rid of the evidence! We decided that the first thing we needed to do was install smoke detectors in the male and female toilets, just in case ‘Mrs. Don’t-ask-me-to-think-when-I’ve-had-a-drink’ decided on a return visit.
Because the toilets were quite away from the main bar it was possible that the sound of a smoke detector going off might not be heard especially if the pub was busy or if there was a function, the noise might easily be drowned out. The obvious solution would be to install wireless linked smoke detectors. If on goes off, within seconds it will set off all the others that are linked to it. Right? Wrong!
Yes, the link idea worked fine. When one went off, they all went off and what a noise, there was no way anyone could not hear them. The problem was getting them to go off in the first place. I sited one above a cubicle and sat there on the toilet smoking to see just how long it would take to raise the alarm. I sat there for a fair while, eventually blowing smoke right up in the direction of the detector. Nothing.
Next, I stood right under it and blew smoke at it, nothing. I was wondering just what it would take to get this thing to activate right now nothing short of a November 5th bombfire was going to interest this little sucker!
Eventually I had to hold my cigarette directly under it before it made the decision that there might possibly be a customer in the pub somewhere near the toilets actually ignoring the 2008 law that bans smoking inside public buildings, ‘oh and seeing as how I’ve got a battery inside I suppose I better sound the alarm ‘!
We ended up paying the thick end of £200 for a super duper no messing about smoke alarm that would activate if you were to breath on it having smoked a cigarette in the last 10 minutes. It activates a really load voice alarm in the main bar, and to Charlotte, our gorgeous barmaid on duty at the time I first tested it, I should have given you some kind of warning, But in retrospect, do you think you may have missed your vocation, You might actually be more suited to the Olympic high jump than you ever imagined, and I wouldn’t bother with the pole either!
Chapter 30 – Mr. Tom
Were you to be offered the opportunity to work in and around the pub 6 hours a day (sometimes more) six days a week, would you?
The job basically consists of taking care of all the menial (but none the less very necessary) tasks. You would first of all empty the ash trays, around the pub, about twelve of them, wash them if required. There are also a selection of bins that need emptying. On dry days all the plants will need to be watered. Before the grass has to be cut once or twice a week during the summer, the edges have to be trimmed with a strimmer. The hedges may need a trim too. The area to the front of the entrance will need all the cigarette butts picking up and sweeping. That goes for the back decking area too. We haven’t touched on a whole raft of other jobs that can be tacked onto those chores like painting here and there, fixing what has been broken the night before. Mustn’t forget to scan the hedges for the glasses that have been thrown in them or just left in various parts of the one and a half acres of land that make up the pub grounds. I think you get the general idea.
The remuneration, Not very much at all.
Tom is knocking on a bit, I don’t think he’ll mind my saying that, I hope not anyway, I’ll soon find out if all the heads disappear off my flowers! Getting on in years is not something that has slowed him down in the short time I’ve known him though.
Originating from Barrow in Furness, Tom has long had a caravan on the site near The Wharf. For many years he has been a fixture in and around the pub (both night and day!). He has carried out various duties for a long list of tenants, and from what I was to learn following my arrival with very limited tools and equipment.
Apparently, anything he needed to do the jobs he took care of was not generally provided. Any request fell on deaf ears so whatever was badly needed he purchased and paid for himself. What a disgracefull way to treat someone who gave his time so freely.
When Tom explained what had happened before, the one thing we had to do was to put that to rights. A sit on mower was the first addition to the new gardening ‘armory’. Then a new strimmer and a set of tools to make repairs a little easier.
Next to the workshop which was on the ground floor of The Boathouse, a separate building with letting rooms upstairs, was what used to be a small toilet block. As this was no longer in use, it seemed only sensible to knock out the dividing walls, remove the toilet pans etc. and create a gardening shed. Tom now had somewhere to keep his tools and equipment.
Although in time we had to replace the mower as mentioned in a previous chapter, the doorway proved too small to accommodate the larger sit on mower, so that has to park up in the main workshop which is probably just as well as the now numerable selection of gardening tools seem to fill the space with comparative ease.
I don’t have any set hours for Tom. I keep reminding him that he is free to turn up and leave at whatever time he sees fit and spend as long as he feels able doing whatever he pleases. But I can almost guarantee that he’ll be here first thing in the morning, break for lunch and then spend the afternoon beavering away at something. He says that it keeps him busy and he enjoys it, I say I can’t thank him enough for the time and effort he spends at the pub which keeps it in a far better state than if it had to rely on me.
Tom generally goes home when the caravan site shuts down for the winter months but as the grass growth slows down somewhat, it doesn’t need the constant attention that it receives when he’s here. But, when the leaves start to fell in the autumn I do miss him terribly. Spending whole days raking up leaves and then collecting them in one enormous pile soon brings home to me just how helpful it is to have someone like Tom around.
This winter Tom went home earlier than usual as he had to have an operation on his throat to tighten some sloppy muscles (could be cause by too much M+B mild, me thinks!) Anyway I missed him more than ever and look forward to his return this spring, it’ll certainly frees up many hours of my time to do other things.
Thank you Tom.
Chapter 31 – History of The Wharf
When first built it was originally known as The Old Coal Wharf, where the coal was barged in by river and then distributed around the local area, as well as being a ‘home brewed house.
It first held a liquor license in 1835 and was permitted to stay open as long as a bed (or a room if there was one) was empty. It offered basic accommodation, simple food and home brewed ales to ‘lawful travelers and bargees.
What remains of the original house dates from the second half of the eighteenth century and has been extended by various owners over the years but remains as originally intended, a friendly riverside pub.
Today the pub is a free house offering a variety of real ales, good pub food, and a traditional Sunday lunch. With ‘The Boathouse’ offering accommodation consisting of double, twin and single rooms.
Surrounded by The River Severn, open countryside, fishing lakes, static caravan park and also camping and touring van fields there’s not much that could add to the versatility of The Wharf.
Catering to resident static van owners, tourers, campers, locals, day trippers, dog walkers, river walkers, fishermen and boaters, The Wharf is no stranger to all types of varied and interesting individuals,
And so it seems it’s past bears that out.
Having been here just two years, we have no direct knowledge of the history behind the pub but have been told many stories from the past.
Apart from the customers whose first visits date back some 80 years or more, a couple having been mentioned in earlier chapters, it seems there are many more historic morsels being served up on a regular basis by passing customers re-visiting the pub for the first time in many years.
It has been reported that at least two people have been found hanged over the years. The fishing pond has claimed the life of a child and the river was used to throw people in on a regular basis just for a laugh but it is unknown if all in such unfortunates made it out again. A fisherman once had the catch that I’m sure he’d wished had got away. He hooked a body while fishing from the moorings and reeled it in. A past owner of the pub got into a fight with a customer and was unfortunate enough to be chased into the kitchen area where his opponent picked up a knife and proceeded to cut the landlords throat, apparently, he survived.
The function room has in the past played host to many now famous bands. Black Sabbath and The Stones have used the pub for practice sessions way back, along with many other well-known groups. Michael Cane is known to have visited along with the violinist Nigel Kennedy on his barge.
The pub was well positioned during the war as it was seen as a strategical place to position bunkers. One is positioned (and still visible) on the south side of the Holt Fleet bridge, the other just south of the pub itself is slowly disappearing beneath the river bank.
The pub has had a circus set up in the grounds and blue grass festivals of four days duration. Many car clubs have used the facilities for meetings and get togethers, (something I personally am keen to encourage again).
There are many, many stories that abound, some hearsay that may have been embellished over time, and others no doubt completely true but I can honestly say that I never cease to be amazed by the things I’m told that used to go on here at the Wharf.
Chapter 32 – Our first chef
While enjoying the sunshine one day driving around the grassy areas on my latest acquisition, a Husqvarna mower, I was approached by a gentleman. As it turned out, he had been speaking to someone on the site who had mentioned that we would soon be looking for a chef to complement our newly refurbished kitchen.
Dave, turned out to be a photographer for the past 10 years but with 30 years’ experience as a chef. Given the ability for people to take high quality photo’s on what now days are very capable cameras and with the added advantage of being able to produce their own more than respectable reproduced images on today’s excellent photocopiers, his talents were no as in demand as they were when he started out. So, with that in mind he was looking to get back into the kitchen by putting his culinary expertise to work.
We had a chat ’for a couple of hours’ (Dave was very good at talking) and as we explained where we were with the ‘food thing’, it was quite obvious that David was more than interested in getting involved. We agreed that he would come back and see us in a week or so with any ideas that he could muster.
And come back he did. With more ideas than you could shake a sirloin at! He was indeed very excited at the prospect of being involved from the very start of this new venture. We allowed him to plan and pick the various pieces of commercial equipment that was needed and in return he was able to come up with sample menus and his take on the type of dishes that we would offer.
He was, without a doubt, very enthused by the whole project and threw himself into it with gay abandon. The results of his experience produced in the main, food that was exceptional, with the odd cock-up showing that he was in need of perhaps a little more practice.
Generally, his attitude and expertise was just what The Wharf needed to get the food side of the business underway. The question of staff was a subject that he was also keen to get involved in and it was, we thought, only fair to include him in the interview process. Someone we came across with experience in cake making and an enthusiasm for cooking in general struck Kelly and I as someone who because she lived locally would be as excellent prospect as an ‘apprentice’ for our new chef.
David went to great lengths (and a good deal of talking (as was his way) to set out what he expected from his new helper and so it was that Kerry joined him in the kitchen in an effort to get our food experience underway.
As things progressed during the first few weeks we hit one or two problems with regard to the time it took to produce the meals and the order in which they were served. Problems that we address by having ‘team meeting’ with everyone present in an effort to find out what was going wrong, and then finding a solution. All in all they were successful and we began to improve both our serving times and the quality of what we had on offer.
It was with great regret (and not a little annoyance) that we received and email from out ‘new chef’ with absolutely no notice what-so-ever that due to health concerns he didn’t feel that he could continue and would be withdrawing his services with immediate effect ! I think that it would be fair to say that over the years as a photographer, that David had put on a serious amount of weight and it was that which limited his abilities to perform in the kitchen for extended periods of time, which unfortunately is the norm in commercial kitchens.
We were extremely lucky in that Kerry, our new recruit stepped into the breach along with Kelly and myself to get us out of the mire. Kerry had spent her time well watching out head chef and was more than capable of taking over almost all of the culinary duties. I say almost all because the thought of cooking steak frightened the bejesus out of her. I have no idea why, as I explained to her that the worst case scenario was an over cooked piece of meat, which we would have to throw away, no big deal. Yes, the customer would maybe have to wait an extra 10 minutes to eat but in the great scheme of thing it really was no big deal. It didn’t take her too long to get over her ‘fear of steaks’ and now cooks with gay abandon any part of a cow that you would care to name!
As the summer progressed, we did take on another chef who managed to integrate with the other in the kitchen extremely well. Unfortunately, as the pub is very much a seasonal business due to it’s’ countryside/holiday positioning in the area, trade gradually eased off during the autumn months and Jamie had to leave us. Luckily, due to is experience and easy going nature he was able to slip back into agency work and has expresses an interest in working with us again next season. I sincerely hope that we will be able to do just that.
Chapter 33- The function room
As I have mentioned in previous chapters, The Wharf has a function room. Not huge by any standard but able to seat around 80 people at tables fairly comfortably. When we arrived it did give the impression of being quite similar to a teenagers’ bedroom, very ‘Goth like’ in appearance, with different shade of dark blue and purple on the walls and ceiling, YUK!
Well, the first thing we did was to install a bar, there was one prior to us buying the pub but Imran (remember him?) ripped it out! I have no idea why he did it but all he left behind was bare brickwork. Following the completion of the bar, a new ceiling to the bar and reception area, and a new glass washer, we were ready to make use of the room, almost. There was still the small question of the colour scheme, but with a couple of days of effort we soon had the walls finished in a much more acceptable finish, magnolia !
We had to arrange for someone, anyone to play a gig here. We were very much in the dark when it came to organizing entertainment for our customers. We had no idea where to go, who to speak to or even how much is was going to cost!
But what we were already aware of was that in past, the pub had played host to some very famous pop groups, not that we could persuade or even afford to get those guys back here to play. What we didn’t realize is that The Wharf was very well known within the pub entertainment industry. Every time we contacted someone about doing a gig here they already seem to either be aware of it or they had performed here in the past.
Without exception, the feedback from returning groups or singers so was positive about the changes that had been carried out so far. It has literally spurred us on to want to make the function room something special. Hopefully, sometime this coming year, funds permitting, we are going to completely refurbish the room. A new MF ceiling with mood lighting to replace the nailed up painted v boarding the presently exists. Re-plaster all the walls and lay a new tiling around a solid wood dance floor in the center. To compliment the entertainer’s efforts we are also going to site a raise stage area so that they can be seen by everyone using the room.
Of course, time and money will dictate when all this happens but we have already done so much in the two years that we’ve been here, that it’s simply a matter of time, but I can assure you of one thing, it will happen.
While in it’s’ semi refurbished state we were able to put on a fair amount of differing acts. From karaoke to DJs and groups to individual singing artists. One thing I would like to organize in the not too distant future is a comedy evening that should be a hoot!
One Saturday evening we had a group of three guys performing 60s and 70s numbers when all of a sudden out went all the lights, and the sockets. The bar was still in working order, it’s just that no one could find it. We set up some temporary lighting so that we could work on trying to find the problem with the electric but after an hour it was pretty clear that we weren’t going to be able to sort it. We had to let the band go and get an electrician in the Monday. It was to say the least a bit disappointing especially after we had paid in excess of £6000 to get the electrics sorted earlier in the year!
We did at one point try to get a bingo night going but the customer support just wasn’t there at the time, we may try again next year, perhaps with a guaranteed minimum pot to see if that will encourage them to turn out, so we’ll see. Never give up!
We have a few ideas about how to make better use of the room as it tends not to be used very much for most of the week. Probably not for corporate functions just yet, at least not until the refurb but I have one or two things in mind that may just work, more on those ideas later.
Chapter 34 – Manni
From the very first day that we took over the business, one of our most regular customers was Emmanuel Farrugia, or Manni as he was known to us all.
At almost 70 years old Manni may not have been very tall, but what he lacked in stature he certainly made up for in spirit. Well known and respected but all most everyone he would go out of his way to do any one a favour.
He lived in a small touring caravan on a piece of land at the top of the hill owned by someone I have been lucky enough never to have met. Disliked and avoided by many, I understand him to be one if not the most unpopular characters in the area, I have never heard a good word said about him.
Manni was an animal lover. He had a field next to the caravan where he would chickens. He would collect and sell the eggs for next to nothing and during the winter period he would often give then away, eggs were never as free range or as cheap as Mannis were.
He also kept a few sheep and at some point got hold of some potbellied pigs. These particular pigs were supposed to stop growing at and remain small and cute, problem was, no one told the pigs! They were absolutely bloody enormous. The male must have weighed in at more than 20 stone! The huge great gammon joint on legs would often destroy a fence or two and Manni would have to get his mammoth porker back into the field and do some repairs. Getting the pig back in wasn’t a problem as he would follow Manni everywhere. He seemed to have a special relationship with animal. Maybe it was because Manni would look at him as a friend rather than a Sunday joint!
A couple of years ago Manni and the land owner had a falling out and he was threatened with eviction. It all went to court and the judge (quite rightly in my opinion) through the case out, dew to certain things being left out of the eviction papers so Manni had gained a ‘stay of execution’. However, knowing that if he had to leave, then the animals would have to go as well. So he was for a while desperately trying to find new homes for them but with absolutely no success. In the end I told him that I would take the big pig. Manni couldn’t believe his luck and asked if I was serious? “Of course I am” I told him, but I don’t want him all at once! If looks could kill, I wouldn’t be writing this now.
One evening lying in bed, around twelve, I heard what I thought was a shotgun going off, and a minute or so later, the same thing again. I remember saying to Kelly that it was probably Manni having trouble with foxes as was quite normal because of the chickens. A while later I heard a shout and a siren, I assumed that someone had called the police. I dropped off to sleep but was woken by the doorbell at around one in the morning. It was the police enquiring if I knew of Mannis’ whereabouts as the main house had burnt down.
Now I knew that Manni would not have been in the house, especially as he and the owner were not even talking. He had however been in the pub earlier that night and had left uncharacteristically early, as least it was for Manni. If he came to the pub, he would usually be here until last knockings or if he went home to lock the animals in he would come back later. This particular night he had left with Billy, another customer and previous tenant of the pub so we told the police he had probably gone back to Billy’s’ caravan and stayed over.
It was only the next morning that we had a visit by a reporter from the local paper wanting to know if we had known (past tense!) Manni. As it turned out, The police had given us the wrong information. That really annoyed the hell out of me. There is a fire, 500 yards away, they had attended the scene so they must have been aware that it was not the main house that had gone up but the caravan when Manni lived.
Why would they do that? Why give mis-information? I realize that it would have made no difference to the outcome but either they knowingly lied to me or they are totally incapable of telling the difference between a caravan and a house. Maybe the two police women who knocked on my door at one in the morning hadn’t attended the scene, possible, but that simply means that they have a serious communication problem! I have over the years been witness to awful insensitivity where the police are concerned, yes, in general they do a good job sometimes in difficult circumstances, it’s just a shame that they are let down by one or two that are not really tuned into their job responsibilities.
It was a really sad day for all who knew Manni, some like me who knew him for just a short time but others who had known him for many, many years. The load bangs we had heard turned out to be gas cylinders exploding, and the shout, someone who had been renting the main house. He had tried to get near to the van with the thought of getting Manni out but was badly burned for his efforts. People have suggested being burned to death was an awful way to go. I however would like to think that Manni (along with the two dogs that were in the van with him) would have been overcome by smoke long before the fire consumed him.
The Funeral was arranged a week or so after the coroner had eventually released the body and everyone at the pub had a whip round in an effort to help pay towards the funeral costs. They raised over £700. Manni was well liked.
On the day of the funeral which set off from The Wharf, I stopped the traffic on the main road as the cortege was led by an undertaker on foot in front of the hearse carrying our Manni, out of the pub and up the hill, over thirty vehicle followed, Manni was well liked.
The wake was held at the pub and many stories were exchanged about the man and his history. It’s still hard to accept, even for someone like myself who only knew him briefly that he’s gone. He made quite an impression in that short time. At the end of the bar where Manni would always stand, cut into the bar top is a small brass plaque, it simply says:
Chapter 35 – Where have all the glasses gone ?
Here at The Wharf we have a stock of 462 glasses behind the main bar. If you then add to that the contents of the back bar, and the total jumps to over 900, in 26 different types. I’m sure you’ll agree, that’s a lot of glasses. Then you must bear in mind that we keep a stock around 400 of the 26 different types as spares, just in case one or two get broken, by accident of course, it happens. Still with me? BRAVO!
What I fail to understand is during our first year we lost around 328 glasses! No, not down to breakages, 20 or so maybe but certainly no more than that. Laziness is one reason. I can guarantee that I can take the dog for a walk first thing in the morning and find up to half a dozen glasses.
Some I find on the car park where I can only assume that people are still drinking on the way back to their car and simply leave them on the floor as they get in. What thoughtless brain dead idiots. With luck, I’ll spot them first (the glasses, not the brain dead idiots) and they won’t get driven over and broken. When that happens it’s the dog that suffers or the motorist that has to buy a new tyre, assuming that he doesn’t suffer a blowout at speed on the way home!
There is always one or two in the bushes! Perhaps they were expecting to find tables on the car park and when they didn’t, well the bushes would be the obvious answer I suppose! At least one or two are to be found in the child’s play area, must make a mental note to check a few more IDs for possible underage drinkers!
Some are just left on the grass, or on top of someone else’s car, on the decking, under chairs, on the mooring and just the other day three were left in the rubbish bin! Probably thought they were disposable or perhaps they were bitten by the recycling bug! What makes that stranger is that I knew all the people that were in the bar that evening and I wouldn’t have expected anyone of them to throw empty glasses in the rubbish bin.
So even allowing for breakages and all the glasses we repatriate, we’re still down by over 300. Yep, they’re being nicked! O.K to a degree I suppose we must expect that among our clientele there is always going to be at least one ‘light fingered Larry’, ‘I want one of those warren’ or even the odd ‘I’ve paid for the beer so the glass is mine Gordon’
What I don’t understand is why anyone would want a dozen beer glasses in their cupboard at home. Yes, if you can get away with it and you really, really need one at home to poor the contents of your supermarket can into, 10 to 1, you’re going to walk out with a glass. Why on earth you would want to repeat the procedure a dozen times though is beyond me. All they’re doing is taking up space in their kitchen cupboards! I will guarantee that as you are reading this that you have glasses (not mine, obviously) in your kitchen cupboards that haven’t been out for years but you leave them in there ‘just in case’. You never know, one hot summer day 30 of your closest friends may just pop round for a drink, all at the same time!
Don’t get me started on your ‘best’ ones, you know, the glasses that Aunt Mildred bought you as a wedding present and still haven’t been used, but there’s always time, after all you’ve only been married 27 years !
The fact is I don’t really begrudge them the odd glass. A few customers have offered to buy a particular type of glass because they like the latest design that has been produced for their preferred tipple, I love it when they ask and just give them a glass, you’ll find that most people are like that, they simply like to be helpful and giving.
It’s the takers that annoy me.
Chapter 36 – Fireman Sam
One of the first things I did before I started refurbishing the pub was contact the local fire brigade. Having spent so many years building office partitioning and suspended ceiling I was well aware that fire regulations are very important when it comes to business premises, even more so where members of the public are concerned.
It was always the case when constructing a new office layout that the fire officer was consulted at the planning stage to make sure that there were no issues as far as being able to escape from a potential fire. Sometimes the walls or the doors in a wall would have to be fire rated, meaning of such construction that would hold a fire back for a minimum of half an hour, giving anyone in the office plenty of time to evacuate without the risk of injury.
So first order of the day was to contact the local fire safety officer and get him to come along to take a look at the project and share his experience as to how we can make this place as safe as possible. The response from the guy on the phone went something like this.
“I’m sorry but we don’t do that anymore”
“Does that mean that you no longer have a fire safety office?”
“Oh yes, we still have a fire safety officer but due to financial restrictions, he’s no longer able to visit site to advise on fire safety”
“What does a fire safety officer do now then” I said.
“He goes out to inspect premises to make sure that they are adhering to fire safety standards”
“Well, if he’s not able to advise me then how do I find out what the standards are?”
“You’ll have to go onto the internet to research the required standards”
Can you believe this CRAP! There I am, someone who is concerned enough to ask for advice on something as serious as protecting my customers in the event of a fire and all I get is some numpty telling me to go look it up on the net ! Anyway I tried again to get through to this guy about how concerned I was about getting it right, making sure that I didn’t operate a premises that was in any way potentially dangerous, but I have had more luck trying to sell pork pies at the local synagogue !
Not to worry. I had I had the internet and twenty seven years of office refurbishing experience to fall back on, surely that and a good dose of common sense would prevail, right ?
Wrong! When the fire safety officer eventually put in an appearance he wanted to shut the place down there and then, no kidding. It was only my immediate action of going straight out and buying remote wireless controlled interlinked smoke and heat detectors at a cost of several hundred pound that allowed us to stay open that night. And that was only a temporary fix. We then had to spend many thousands of pounds getting remedial work done on top of newly refurbished premises to make sure that we complied with a long list of additional requirements.
Extra fire extinguishers were just the start, followed by pat testing, consumer unit replacement, alarm rewiring, additional emergency lighting, staff training, extra signs (the door is this way !) and a whole host of other stuff that would bore the pants off you ( You may lose your pants now but at least you won’t burn to death !).
I don’t have a problem when it comes to conforming to safety criteria, it’s there for a reason. But when someone is asking for help to make sure that their customers can enjoy a drink in a safe environment and the fire service is unable or unwilling or too skint to provide any kind of service that could potentially pre-empt a catastrophe, you have to ask yourself one question.
Just what value do the bean counters put on a human life?
Chapter 37 – You don’t want to do it like that
In any industry you will always find the expert. The guy who’s done it all, been everywhere, seen everything and got all the T shirts. His is bigger, better, longer, (of course!) Faster, cuter, cheaper and I think you get the picture. Whatever you’ve bought, seen, done, thought of or imagined he’s already one step ahead of you with an ‘er’ on the end !
These ‘experts’ are sometimes amusing to listen to but in the end you just get bored with their version of ‘one-up-man ship’. Sometimes it’s difficult to sort out the wheat from the chaff. The guys who are making it up from the real macoys’ who know what they’re talking about. Personally, if I know what I’m talking about then I tend not to be shy about sharing my opinions with anyone who’ll listen. However if I’m a little light on the knowledge side of a particular subject then I tend to back off and listen to what others say, I’ve found that I can learn more that way without winging it and coming across as a pillock who doesn’t know his arse from his elbow.
What annoys me more than anything else though are the ‘experts’ who refuse point blank to take advice from the experts. You know what I’m talking about. The guy who even though he has been proved wrong, it makes no difference, he’s still right!
A case in point. I was offered the opportunity to go on a cellar course by one of the breweries that supply us with a traditional ale. Now for me it was a no brainer. It was the chance, my first as it happens to learn a little about the product I was selling, and also, I might just gain a some knowledge about how to look after their beer. I asked out cellar man if he wanted to go along as well. He jumped at the chance of a day off with a free lunch thrown in, can’t blame him for that.
After spending the day at the brewery being shown how the ale is made, what goes into the production and how best to look after it. We return home and I queried the type of peg he had used at the time the bear was tapped and vented (don’t concern yourself, it’s technical term, if you don’t know what it means, I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you !) Anyway he had been using a different type of peg to the one the brewery had advised us to use. His response was (can you believe this)? “I’ve been doing that way for fifteen years and I’m not going to change now They don’t know what they’re talking about”!
Well, what can you say to that? Here is a brewer that started from nothing many, many years ago. Built up a business into a very successful traditional ale supplier to hundreds of outlet, knows the industry inside out and has got ALL the T shirts. Now I know that the type of peg used is only a small thing, but what was the point in him going on a brewery course if no matter what he was told, there was no way the stubborn little git was going to listen. What was that upstart brewer thinking of, trying to teach someone of his experience what to do!
Of course while we were there, we were given the chance to sample the product. Small problem there, I didn’t drink! Well you have to taste it so that when asked by your customers, ‘what’s that like’ you will be able to tell them, you know the sort of thing, “OH, that’s a lovely full bodied ale with a hint of oak” or words to that effect. Anyway, as I was the one driving home there was no way I could partake.
But, I did try the cask ales a few days later and I was relaying the experience to some of the locals at the bar. “Yes, I tried two of those and two of those” to which they responded “what, you’ve had two pints of each and you’re still standing”? “Well, not quite” I said, “I’ve had two sips of that one and two sips of the other, but at least now I can now tell people what it’s like.
IT’S BLOODY AWFULL.
Well, that may not make me a true connoisseur of ales but at least I’m honest. And if someone in future attempts to put the wrong type of peg in a barrel when it’s tapped and vented at least I’ll be able to join the ranks of the experts and say:
Ooohh no, you don’t want to do it like that, you want to do it like this!
Chapter 38 – Boundary wars
The Wharf used to consist of the residential caravan site, two fishing pools the pub and a couple of fields used for touring vans and camping. Around 2006 the pub was sold off to Punch Taverns and a couple of years later the remainder was sold to a very amiable guy called Steve who already owned a few caravan site around the area. We get on well, he’s easy to talk to and deal with and our respective businesses complement each other.
We bought the pub from the brewery in 2011. In the deeds of the pub and caravan site there are what’s known as easements. These are provisions that allow us to gain access to owned land that would otherwise be inaccessible. I used the lane owned by Steve to get access to the pub and he can cross my car park to gain access to a fishing lake and one of his camping fields. This arrangement works well and doesn’t appear to cause any problems.
However, there were a few pieces of land that were retained by the original owner. One section ran alongside the main road up to the bridge that crosses the river Severn. This was kept back on the basis of rumors that the council was going to widen the bridge which would have meant widening the road as well. Obviously the owner of that land would be in for a windfall if the council needed it for the scheme to proceed. The project did not happen and so the owner then sold off the remaining land along with a small section at the side of the pub that was originally used as a bowling green which was used and maintained by the customers at The Wharf.
I did think at one time that the old bowling green would make a handy addition for the pub but funds were low and it so wasn’t a priority. As it turned out even if the funds had been there the land had already been sold to another chap, also called Steve. One day he turned up at the pub with a digger on a trailer, introduced himself as the new owner of the Bowling Green and informed me that he was going to cut a new entrance in the boundary to allow him to get his camper van in there. The idea was that he would use it at weekends to stay in while using his boat for fishing, (no idea why it’s called ‘fishing’, I’ve spent a day on the river with absolutely no fish involved at all, it should be called ‘rodding’!). The boat would be moored on his section of the river mooring. One minor problem though, the mooring belonged to me!
I didn’t have a problem with a new gateway at that time but I was adamant that there was obviously an issue over the mooring. So we agreed that no work would be carried out until everything was sorted out. We would both consult our respective solicitors tin an effort to clear up the misunderstanding.
I engaged a local firm to look over the title deeds and a (very nice, may I say, easy on the eye) legal eagle came to visit the site confirming my view that all was as I expected. At the next meeting with Steve I laid out how things now stood and suggested that if he would pay my legal fee which came to £100 I would let him get on with the new entrance way through the boundary. His response was that he had legal fees as well, my point was that I didn’t have a legal bill until he turned up claiming that he owned a section of the mooring, at which point he still insisted that it was his.
So, I suggested again that no work should be carried out until the matter was taken further and was settled. It was at this point that a boundary expert was called in and although it took quite a few months for him to go over all the title deed, documents and plans the end result was the same. Due to some rather shoddy work by the solicitor or set up the original sale many years ago, no provision was made for the mooring to transferred with the small patch of land that retained. The mooring in its entirety was sold with The Wharf, to the brewery and then onto me.
The other issue that came out of it was that although the easement allowed any new owners of the said land access to it via my land with or without vehicles, it was only through existing access points, in this case a normal sized pedestrian gate. On top of which there is a ruling that any existing gateway could not be made stronger, taller or wider. I was also advised by my expert not to allow any widening on the basis that it may create a president whereby if it was allowed it may be difficult to stop it being done in other places too.
So that’s where we stand at this point in time. If Steve had just paid the £100 pounds at the time he may well have been using the land this year for the purpose that he originally intended it for, and if his solicitor had done his homework perhaps he wouldn’t have bought the land in the first place.
Chapter 39 – Goodbye Merc
Before we bought the pub I had a collection of cars. As I may have mentioned in a previous chapter, I was nuts about car, to put it mildly. I had a Mercedes S class, a 3 series BMW, a Saab Aero, a Mini, a Mercedes Vito and two Cobra replicas. Kelly had recently got rid of her 360 Spider and replaced it with a Mercedes CLK 320 convertible. That 360 Spider was without doubt one beautiful car to look at and impressive to drive but the most impractical car ever made.
At the time, I was a collector of Pocher 1:8th scale model cars. These were impressive 2 foot long models with thousands of parts that came together to make very detailed show pieces. The window winders would actually wind down the windows. If you pressed the brake pedal the brakes would work, These are very sought after pieces of kit, especially since the factory that used to make them in Italy burnt down a couple of decades ago.
Anyway, I had bid on and won a Rolls Royce model on EBay and it had to be collected from Oxford. Three months later and I still hadn’t gotten around to it. So, I suggested to Kelly that we take a run up to Oxford one Sunday, have a meal out at a country pub and collect the model on the way back. Seemed like plan. The trip up was fine and the pub lunch went well. Turned up to collect the Rolls but do you think we could fit it in that bloody car? There was no room in the boot because that was full of engine. The front simply wasn’t big enough and it wouldn’t go across Kelly’s Lap because it fouled the gear stick. It transpired that once we got home some eighty miles away, I had to get in the van and drive all the way back to Oxford again to collect the damn model!
As it turned out the replacement Merc with the top down was just as fast with a little more room and a damn site more comfortable. As time progressed Keely was finding it more and more difficult to get into the Merc. Her hips were starting to give her trouble and the seat was quite low. As Kelly was now broken, I did briefly consider trading her in for a later model, trouble is with the newer versions, yes, they do look terrific and are so comfortable but damn are they expensive to run ! Better sticking to the devil you know, so we got another car. A nice cheap Citroen Picasso, a much higher seat easy to park and enough room to hold whatever we needed from the cash and carry.
The next thing to do was sell on the Mercedes. No problem there, Ebay to the rescue. On it went with a full honest description, having owned the car for three years we were quite confident that the car was reliable. It hadn’t broken down in the time we had owned it and had just passed an MOT just weeks earlier. So we listed the known faults that were minor, had it valeted and sat back to wait the 10 days that the auction was due to run.
The auction finished and the final price was as much as I had expected to get for the car. There plenty of that model around so it was not realistic to expect the car to reach anywhere near retail or forecourt price. The winning bidder emailed me asking for reassurance that the car had no other problems that I may have forgotten to mention, I assured him that the car was genuine and he would have no problem getting it back to Leeds where he lived. We agreed a time for collection, and he arrived a few hours late with a friend, but paid the agreed price and took the car away.
So that was that, or so I thought. About two weeks later I received an email. The car was not as I had described, according to him. He sent me a list of faults that he had found on the car which included a tyre that had been fitted incorrectly, brake pads that needed replacing, all the wheels needed refurbishing, to the wrong type of oil being used in the engine. In fact there was a list of 17 items that he was complaining about, ‘to date’! Most of faults according to him were MOT failures. I must remember to double check my car next time it goes through an MOT, just in case it’s not carried out correctly!
I did point out to him that we had owned the car for three years, it had proved totally reliable during that time and that any work carried out on the car was done so by a garage and not by myself. That he and his friend had spent two hours checking the car over from front to rear, under and over, in the boot and engine bay, going through all the old MOTs, taken the car for a five mile test drive, and even went to the trouble of having the car HPI checked to make sure that it had not been written off, stolen, or had any outstanding hire purchase on it. On top of which if according to him the car passed an MOT when it shouldn’t have, then he might be well advised to speak with the garage that carried out the MOT rather than sending me emails.
When you bear in mind what he paid for the car was less than half of the TRADE IN value, there’s just no pleasing some people!
Chapter 40 – Mr Imran Khan
For the record. I am in no way racist. I believe that there is good and bad in any culture, irrespective of color or nationality.
The person charged with managing the pub while it was up for sale by Punch Taverns was Imran Khan. When we came to view the pub for the first time, we got a taste of the sort of person he was from the fact that he dictated when we could visit as well as the fact that he didn’t turn up for the appointment and instructed his staff to restrict our viewing to the ground floor only.
If that doesn’t give you an idea of what we were dealing with, then I shall continue. We have over the two years been told lots of stories about this man but as you may well know, stories can sometimes be just that, fabrication. I have never met him and so I’m only able to judge his character by my own experience of his actions. So on that basis I will only relate to you things that I can substantiate, that I have personal knowledge of or information I have been privy to from official sources.
The Back bar had been had been ripped out, back to brickwork. The main bar was missing many of its decorative fittings and pictures. I think it’s safe to say that he was not liked by the customers, one had to be pulled off of him before some serious injury was inflicted. He was managing more than one pub in the area and had his fingers in other pies as well.
He was involved in a night club in the Worcester area. At some point he ordered 100 chairs, on delivery he had them transported to The Wharf and then contacted the supplier to ask where his chairs had got to! The company rep told us this while visiting the pub to try and sell us some furniture.
At a nearby pub that he was managing, when a buyer made an appointment to take an inventory prior to completing the purchase Imran explained that the two tills were included in the sale. He then went out and bought two identical tills on finance, selling the originals privately. When the new owner received a visit from the till supplier who wanted to reclaim the tills, the new owner explained that the tills came with the pub and were both on the inventory. Once the till supplier proved that the existing till were actually his by looking at the serial number it became obvious that a scam had been carried out.
On one of the weekends that I went home, there was a visit from a colored gentleman driving a BMW. Now I’m 6ft 5in and weigh in at 250 lbs. but apparently this guy made me look like Noddy ! He was asking for Imran but was told that he was no longer involved with the pub. When asked if he was owed money, he responded by saying “It’s not about the money anymore”! I can handle myself but I wouldn’t like to be in Imran’s shoes if that guy catches up with him.
We have had unpaid bills through the post in his name totaling in excess of £30,000. A couple of letters were from insurance companies concerning a claim for whip lash injuries which mysteriously happened just days after taking out vehicle insurance. Strangely enough, the mobile numbers given in the claim form was the same one as another claim made by Imran’s brother for a separate claim made a week earlier. Coincidently, he had his accident the day after an insurance policy was taken out.
When it came to looking for staff to work at the pub, a whole host of other unpaid debt turned up. One guy we offered a job to, who had worked here before accepted the job but phoned back later to say that he couldn’t start because he had sprained his ankle. It turned out that he was still owed about £800 in wages by you know who. His wife had vetoed the new job on the basis of once bitten, twice shy. Can’t really blame her!
During the first six month here, we had many demands for unpaid bills, numerous phone calls from companies trying to track him down and no end of visits from sheriffs, bailiffs and debt collectors. Eventually, the police turned up. Well, that’s it then things were obviously getting serious now? Nope, they were simple trying to find him with regard a speeding fine!
Here we have a real piece of work who systematically ripped people off, fraudulently obtained goods and services to the value of £30,000 plus and the police are looking for him because he hadn’t paid a speeding fine. Doesn’t that just take the bacon?
Chapter 41- Search for a boat
The moorings that came with the pub were in a pretty poor state. As with the rest of the pub it hadn’t been looked after and maintenance didn’t appear to have been a priority. A good few of the planks that were used as a walk board were rotting away and the risk to boaters using it was real. Anyone wanting to tie up and jumping from a boat onto the mooring could quite easily have gone straight through in some places. It was a priority before the first of the summer boaters arrived that something should be done to address the situation.
With thirty new 13 foot planks strapped to the back of my Dodge pick-up truck, the repairs were about to be carried out. The first thing that needed attention was the supports. The gaps between the main scaffolding were so wide that the spring in the boards turned the mooring into a virtual trampoline! I had many years ago bought 2000 liner feet of Iroka, a hardwood well suited to use where water was involved because like Teak which is a favorite where boats are concerned, it has a very high oil content and was just the thing for the job. Luckily I had just enough left to add additional support all along the length of the mooring. With that job out of the way all we had to do was replace all the rotten boards and ‘Roberts your fathers brother’ (think about it).
The only thing left to do now was to replace all the facing boards at the front of the mooring. That was a problem. Mainly because the only way to get the job done was to hang over the mooring while supporting the board and attempting to fix it at the same time. I was not really looking forward to going swimming and so the best solution to address the problem was to attack the job from the river. I needed a boat.
Now much as I liked the idea of owning a boat, my idea of getting ‘waterside’ involved a fifty foot Princess. Talking of which reminds me of a friend who lived down in Dorset. He started out in car sales many years ago and when computers took off had the bright idea of designing software for the motor trade. He eventually sold his software company for millions and basically retired. He did however, have a thing about boats. He’d buy one and then upgrade to another bigger boat, at the time I knew him he already had four. He simply didn’t seem to get around to selling off his last boat!
Anyway one day he rang me up to say that the most recent boat he had ordered was not going to be ready on time and the company (princess) had agreed to lend him a boat to use until his was ready.
Could I go down to Poole, collect the temporary boat and sail it round to Southampton where he had a mooring at Ocean Village? Sure, I could do that. It would make for a very pleasant afternoon out. I had sailed a few boats before, My ex-wife, Volderwart, had been well into sailing and we owned a 22 footer that we would go away for weekends in. I must admit to not being a fan of ‘Rag n Stick’ which is what sailing boats were referred to, I much prefer a cruiser and have spent many happy hours sailing boats of up to 46 ft.
Waiting for me at Poole was the harbor master who gave me a set of keys and pointed me in the general direction of the temp boat waiting at the end of a mooring. It turned out to be a brand new 48 footer with just test hours on the engine. Complete with a flying bridge it was the dogs dangly bits and no mistake. It did however take me some four hours to get to Ocean Village, not because I was being overly carful with the new craft but you just have to go across to the Isle of Weight and pose a little in that situation, don’t you? Well, it would be rude not to wouldn’t it?
A week or so later, my friend rang up again to say that he and his girlfriend were taking a trip along the south coast for a week and would ‘Volderwart’ and I like to come along. Ooohhh, let me think about that for a minute, do bears crap in the woods? Well a week or so later we were on our way. It didn’t occur to me to ask if my friend had actually got his day skipper license, I simply assumed that someone with that much of an interest in boats would have taken the course a long time ago, right? Wrong!
This I found out the hard way. On route around the coast from Southampton to Brixton there are some very rough stretches of water. One in particular is best traversed either half a mile from the shore or at least five miles out. But there we were, smack bang in the middle on wave that were so big, this twenty ton boat was going up and down like a bride nighty! The girls were at the back of the boat filling carrier bag like it was the checkout at Tesco’s. I was stood behind the ‘Captain’ watching progress when he turned to me and said “do you think we should turn back?” “Turn back?” I said, “If you attempt to turn this thing around, you won’t turn back you’ll turn over. Just keep going and ride it out” Twenty tons might seem a lot of boat but in water like that it was like a mere twig! I never did sail with him again.
Now, I needed a boat for The Wharf. As much as I wanted a large craft, firstly, it would be a waste of money as I didn’t really have the time to go boating on a regular basis and secondly, I couldn’t afford it.
Being practical was a necessity now and the pub was a much needier cause than my boating aspirations. All I needed was a boat large enough to work from that was stable and suitable for a bit of ‘rodding’ in the summer. A cathedral hull would give me the best chance of stability so I went looking for a ‘Boston Whaler’ type of boat. The Whaler is well known as one of the most stable boats around and always used to be advertised as a boat that you could cut the front off with a chain saw and it would still float. Absolutely true. They even had a picture in their adverts with a Boston Whaler, at sea, where a guy is stood on the floating rear half with a chainsaw in his hands after chopping the front off. Well, Obviously, if you are ever feel that you might be prone to attacks by ex-lumberjacks that have taken up piracy then trust me, a Boston Whaler is just the boat for you !
Now, the Whaler is quite sought after (the adverts obviously have people worried!) and so command quite a high price so it was a copy that I was after and there are quite a few out there. I eventually found what I was looking for on, yes, you’ve guessed it, Ebay. (God, I love that site). Unfortunately it was in Scotland. But, with the help of a good friend who lives here at the Wharf caravan site for 7 months of the year (and spends the other 5 months in Thailand and Goa, Lucky git!) We shot up to the Borders early one morning and managed to drag it all the way back down here to Worcester.
I now have just what I need. A very stable cathedral hulled 13 foot boat for next to no money, comparatively speaking, that just requires a little fettling and an out board. No not a 50 hp, just a 5 will do the job. And before you assume that I must be getting too old for the ‘wind in my hair’ feeling (what hair !), There is a speed limit on the Severn and outrunning the river police isn’t really an option as they’ll simple phone ahead to the next lock and tell them not to let me through ! Damn this new technology, spoils all my fun!
Chapter 42 – The Great flood
On occasion whilst driving through France I have notice the odd castle like building surrounded by a moat and remember thinking how I would like to live in a building like that. The thought of being protected from hordes of rebelling locals, isolated from pushy salesmen along with the ability to catch ones breakfast by sticking a rod out the bedroom window did, I must admit, have an appeal. I am now able to satisfy that desire on a few days each year.
We were aware when were bought The Wharf that there was a risk of flooding. The last time water entered the pub itself was in July 2007. On a couple of occasions (mainly in during the winter) the river has come up enough to flood the car park and we have lost a couple of days of trading because no one would want to wade through 6 inches of water for a drink, well, most people wouldn’t.
One of the reasons that we laid floor tiles in all the rooms that we refurbished was that if we did end up with water inside the pub at least we could wash it out and not as in the case of carpet have to dry or replace the flooring.
During the past two weeks the river has risen and fallen four times, as I write this the level is dropping but the car park is still two thirds covered with water. Nice to get a day off occasionally.
There are three rooms under the main bar area that suffer from an ingress of water once the river reaches a certain level. The water simply makes its’ way in through the brickwork because the ground outside must be waterlogged. I have installed an automatic pumping system in the cellar which will most of the time keep the cellar free of water but once it starts coming through the walls the pump isn’t able to keep up. Once last year I had a situation where the cellar had over six feet of water in it and I could do nothing but watch it rise.
I now have a dirty water pump which I can use to reduce the level by pumping it back into the river, but I do sometimes wonder about the logic involved! The car park tends to be attacked, if that’s the right word, from the sides and not directly through the walkway that separates the two main buildings. It’s very much like a pincer movement where the river reaches a certain level and the breaches its’ banks in the fields on either side of the pub, then come around to attack from the rear.
As I have a total of nine entrances to protect have decided to build a low level brick was around the rear of the pub with a flood gate that can be closed to stop the water in the car park linking up with the river. This will help me seal off 6 of the doors leaving me only three to worry about if the water does eventually reach a height that will threaten to come in. Not sure if I will get it built this year as all expected profits are so far spoken for on other projects, but we’ll see.
The only drawback, apart from the loss of a little profit is when the water does go away it leaves behind the must awful mess. There is a layer of mud over the car park and any other solid surface that is an absolute swine to get rid of. A normal pressure washer is just no man enough to move it along. Yes, it will clean an area but my car park must be around half an acre. The dirty water pump that I use to empty the cellar is put into service along with 100ft of two inch piping. It pushes out a hell of a jet of water but it still takes me a day or two just to clean the car park down. I then have to go to the river side of the pub and clear and start on the decking.
There is no doubt that it’s a lot of hard work but then it’s only once or twice a year so if that’s the penalty for owning a pub is such a great location then I’m sure that I can put up with it.
Chapter 43 – Calendar boys
I’m sure that if you cast your mind back a few years you will remember a story, and a film about The Calendar Girls. A group of ladies from the local Women’s Institute peeled off the clothing to be photographed for a calendar. Now I know to some of you that may not come across as a very appealing thought, but there were of course, items strategically places so that modesty was retained in all cases.
It occurred to my devilish nature that we here at The Wharf could do something similar but instead of flower arranging and baking we could use the pub as a theme. I approached all the staff members to run it by them and in the main received a positive response.
A few of our customers have also expressed an interest in becoming famous, although I have tried to impress on them that the chance of another film being made is not very likely. This didn’t seem to put them off so I’ve reached the conclusion that fame is not really their main goal, it’s just them jumping at the opportunity to get their kit off.
The idea follows the principles of the original in as much as we would produce a calendar based on the pub and encourage as many members of staff and customers as possible to divest themselves of their clothing in an effort to make a totally naughty but none the less tasteful version of a calendar that we could then go on to sell as a yearlong advertising project for The Wharf with all profits going to charity.
We ran the idea past the kitchen staff, the draymen, bar staff and not a few customers and we really think that we have enough volunteers to complete the project. We are at the time of writing looking into the costs involved in an effort to produce a 2015 calendar.
There are of course certain ideas that need to be pursued with regard to each picture and setting along with a slogan to accompany each of the months. These will need quite a lot of thought along with many different and appropriately sized items to cover the modesty of those involved. I am at present looking for something that may suit my own contribution to the calendar, although Kelly’s suggestion of a bottle of tonic is not exactly helpful!
If we do manage to get the project up and running and produce a calendar for next year then I will make sure that the resulting masterpiece will be available on the website.
Don’t forget that this is not a profit making venture and although we will be using it as a device for advertising The Wharf, all profits, and I really do mean ALL the profits will go to a charity or charities chosen by our regulars. We will keep everyone updated via the website as to what has been achieved.
Chapter 44 – The Man Cave
Every man, myself included needs a little space just for himself. As I mentioned at the start of this book, I was lucky enough to have a very large space that I could call my own. Somewhere I could store all my Man things and carry out Man work without interference from woman kind. By now I had been ensconced in the pub for more than two years and although I had managed to secure planning permission for my intended ‘Man shed’ we were not in a position money wise to start building it.
So for two years I had pined for a space of my own and then I had an epiphany. The Pool room. This was a space that had been underused since we moved in. Admittedly it was no more than a room that housed a pool table and acted as the thoroughfare to the toilet block but although there was no other possible use for it than that it would be ideal for a gallery of posters and display space for a collection of Man things.
In my case, as I may well have mentioned, Man things were usually of an automotive nature. Back when I moved from Congleton near Manchester, down to Sway which is on the south coast. I had started to collect 1/18th scale model cars. These are metal models about 12 inches long or so and the collection started when my father bought me one as a Christmas present.
By the time we had moved to Sway the collection had grown to around 200 examples. Now as you can imagine, a collection that size would need a fair amount of space to display them properly. I wanted to put them in the house and my then wife (Volderwart) wanted me to put them in the garage, so we compromised, and I built a 20 ft by 4 ft glass display cabinet, in the garage!
When we moved on again in 2002 to a smaller house in Keyhaven I found that there was no room at all for my now even larger collection of 300 models, and so I sold them to a friend in Manchester. As hard as it was for me to part with them was glad that they were going to a good home. Jeremy, a very good friend for many years was just as big a car nut as I was and the collection was going to be housed in a six car garage that he used to park his own full sized collection that included an Aston Martin, Rolls Royce Cloud, Mercedes SLS and Arial Atom amongst others.
So here at The Wharf was an opportunity that had to be taken. I could start a new collection of cars, albeit not quite as large as the previous one. At least this collection could be appreciated by so many more people, even if they were only on their way to the loo at the time!
With that idea firmly in mind I started making plans for how the room would look. There was a fair amount of wall space and provided I kept the cabinets at low level (I didn’t want pool cues taking out the glass fronts!) I could display quite a few models as well.
Within a matter of weeks I had accumulated around a hundred cars. With my last collection I would add anything that was the correct scale but as I was limited for space this time I decided to narrow my choice to supercars, modern classics and prototypes. All the Ferraris had to red (obviously), with no restriction on color with the others but they would be grouped and displayed by country of origin.
The cabinets were constructed in the workshop, fitted and painted to match the general décor of the rest of the pub and with mirrors at the back and lighting within the units to show off the cars at their best, I was ready to go. Unfortunately, as this was the now winter period, we had run out of money and the new fronts for the cabinets would have to wait.
I was able however to track down some fantastic photos of cars on Ebay. Most were of generous proportion (about 5 or 6 feet across!) and boy were they cheap in most cases less than £20 each. As the state of the plaster was not too good the photos couldn’t be mounted straight onto the walls. So I mounted the photos on some rigged plastic sheet and stuck that straight to the walls and what a difference they made, it transformed the whole room. Add a few oddball signs and poster and now the room was beginning to come together. Come the summer, I’ll get the models in the display cabinets and that’s another pub project out of the way.
You can see the results by logging onto ‘Thewharfatholt.com’ and take ‘Google Street walk’ type trip through all the rooms in the pub.
Chapter 45 – Going underground
If you are even very slightly squeamish, you might want to skip this chapter, on the grounds that it deals with one of the yuckiest subjects going, Poo. From when it leaves you, the journey it takes to where it ends up and what happens when it decides to stop going anywhere.
One thing that most of us take for granted is the sewage systems within and below our homes. Caravaners of the touring variety have a fair idea because they have the task of emptying a ‘cassette’ from the caravan every few days. But the majority of us go about life totally oblivious to the excrement traveling a meter or two beneath our feet.
In the case of the pub, like most places built long ago was fitted with a sewer drainage system made from clay pipe. Over the years, as the building has been added to the system has been extended but never up-graded to plastic.
Drainage systems generally work best in straight lines using man hole access points to change direction. The main problem with the system is that over the years it has been added to and changes direction like a sonar aided bat. It goes from one manhole to the other picking up new sewer feeds at differing heights and then changes direction sometimes coming back on itself all of which is slowing down the flow and causing backlogs (no pun intended).
Then it makes its way to a cesspit which has a pipe which feeds the liquid overflow to a spare tank, which then feeds to a soak away tank, which doesn’t! At some point, some forward thinking person (don’t know who, no one will admit to it) had the bright idea of laying a soak away pipe system into the adjoining field. Great idea, well done? Not really. You see, the idea is to lay the pipes from the soak away tank out into the field in tree shape with a main trunk with lots of branches coming off. Surrounded by gravel the pipes then filter any excess fluid into the field. Obviously the ‘tree’ needs to be laid slightly out of level giving the water a natural fall so that it can spread out across the field. The ‘tree’ did have a fall, unfortunately the fall went the wrong way, back towards the tank!
I know that it’s the thought that counts, but some people should just give up thinking, they’re just no good at it.
Anyway, at regular intervals, we will suffer a blockage. This can be caused by fractured pipes where a tree root has won a small battle with the pipe which has given up and cracked. That small movement can be enough to allow a buildup and this eventually leads to a blockage. We won’t know anything about it until the ground around the man hole starts to hold water on the surface, and that’s when things can start to get messy.
The cover has to be gently prized off and will generally be full to the brim with? Yep, you’ve guessed! Trust me you do not want to know what a man hole, two feet by eighteen inches and four feet deep full of excrement smells like. But, what I can say is this, it is by a long measure one of the most unpleasant jobs that I have to tackle.
I have to stand above it, not daring to breathe in through my nose, prodding through the effluent with a rod desperately trying to find the exit hole so that I can feed to rod through to the blockage and clear a way for the massive mound of floaters to escape. I must admit though that I do suffer from a mild form of satisfaction when I manage to clear said blockage, sad or what?
The remaining task is one that I wish I could pass on to someone else, and that involves cleaning all the drain rods that have been used to shove down the hole. I have never found a volunteer and doubt that I’ll ever get the opportunity to delegate said task. So for now I shall just have to put a brave face on along with a thick set of water proof gloves and get on with it.
At some point in the future I rather hope to be in a position, mainly financially but I suspect bravery will come into it somewhere, to dig up the offending pipe work, or what’s left of it and replace the entire system with plastic pipes. It will involve quite a bit of disruption and a fair amount of digging, but at the end of the day it does need it, if only to save me from one particularly yucky job.
Chapter 46 – Water World
I’m sure that most of you have at some point seen the film ‘Water World’ starring Kevin Costner. Well, during February of this year you would not have been surprised to see him filming a sequel on our car park here at The Wharf!
We generally have made a point of taking a holiday during the early months of the year as this is the quiet time. My sister Stephanie and
Her husband Chris very graciously agree to run the pub while we are away. With trade being slow I don’t expect them to be overworked or experience too many late nights. The best laid plans of mice and men wrote John Steinbeck in novel, well if I didn’t know better I swear that he may have had something to do with the rain that month!
Kelly and I had planned a simple hotel break in Egypt just for the purpose of kicking back and chilling out, with no agenda apart from reading, writing and a lot of relaxing. We also took an iPad. It was on the device that we noticed the flood warnings at home. The levels were getting dangerously close to the maximum we had experienced at any time since we have been at the pub.
The last time the water managed to gain entry inside the building was January 2008. We were aware when we bought the place that the water just might come in again at some point, what we didn’t know was when and how high. What we did know was when the water reached a level of 4.4 meters, any increase on that figure and it meant that the inside of the pub would be under water.
I had given Chris instructions on how to set up the pump before I left but honestly didn’t expect him to have to make used of it while we were away, I mean, what are the chances? We had been there for two and a half years, he covers for two weeks and in it comes.
We did consider flying home, but to be honest there would have been no gain. We would have only been able to sit there and watch the water subside. So we decided to remain in Egypt and sweat it out, literally! Chris meanwhile had the task of walking the dog, or that should read swimming the dog. The poor animal had to swim the first 100 yards before he had enough purchase on the ground to be able to cock his leg up! (That’s the dog, not Chris).
Within a few days the water had reached a level of around 2 feet deep in the main areas and then the power when off. Chris had managed to save all the chairs and put anything of importance out of reach, although he must have forgotten the fridges and freezers, they were floating around the kitchen! He then did the only thing a true sailor would do, he abandoned ship – and went home.
I can’t imagine how it must have felt to be at the mercy of the weather to the extent that you have absolutely no control over what’s happening around you. I have in the past spent all night keeping an eye on the ever increasing height of the water but it never reached a point where it has come in, so to that extent I suppose I was just lucky.
I must admit to having plans for a flood barrier on the carp park side of the pub. This would in effect seal off 6 of the total of 9 entrances into the pub. Unfortunately, money was at a premium last year and it was not high enough on the list of priorities to get done, trust me, this year it will. Plans are afoot as I write, and by the time this book is complete I expect this pub to be a flood free area.
There’s a lot to be done, including additional pumps to take care of the cellar beneath the bar and sumps to be dug to take care of any ingress from places we haven’t covered along with individual door coverage on the riverside where wall building won’t be practical. But by hook or by crook by the end of the year we will be in a position whereby I can invite Chris back to cover for us without him having
to resort to claiming that he has developed Hydrophobia!
Chapter 47 – The big clean up
By the time we arrived home from Egypt, the water had receded. The unfortunate thing about the water going back to where it came from was that it doesn’t take everything with it, like the mud. The first thing we noticed was that the front door had been boarded up. One of the glass panels had been broken which lead me to believe that we had been broken into as well as being washed out. As it turns out Chris had locked himself out at some point and the only way to gain entry was to break a window.
When we got in there are no words to describe the devastation that only water can achieve. The smell didn’t help either but that you can get rid of by airing the place out. It’s the mud that manages to reach into every nook and cranny. It was on the floor, walls up the doors in the grouting between the floor tiles along with anything that came in contact with the floor, tables, chairs, doors, skirting, cupboards, and fireplaces. You name it and it was covered with mud.
The first order of the day was of course to contact our insurance company. More detail on how exactly that went in the next chapter. Then next on the list was to get some power back on, until that happened there was no way we could even stay here, no lights, power to the sockets, no heating and no way of cooking a meal. So for that night we went to the local Travel Lodge and then organized a much better alternative in the shape of a B&B, much nicer.
Once we got ourselves connected we were back in and ready for the big clean up. In the next chapter it’ll become clear just why we ended up doing it ourselves. When I say ourselves, what I really mean to say is ourselves plus our staff. Not just our staff either, it also included a chefs’ mum, dad and brother along with staff that didn’t even work here anymore! We didn’t ask for the help it was just volunteered without any payment expected either! Now I don’t know about you, but if I were faced with one of the shittyist jobs you can imagine, spending all day on your hands and knees totally covered in muck and water, and not expecting any payment, yet, for a friend, I might just put myself out. But these people did it without being asked, for two weeks, and with such a positive attitude you would have thought that it was the one thing in life that really turned them on!
I spent most of my time trying to fix things that were broken. Concentrating on the fridges and freezers, I managed to take them apart, clean and rebuild them with a one hundred percent success rate. It saved the insurance company a fortune as well as the hassle of trying to get replacements and pay for the old ones to get taken away, (they wanted £600 for that little service!).
We had to use special cleaning fluids which met certain British standards as far as their capability to deal with microbiological threats. Once the main area was cleaned it then had to be sprayed with these fluids and left to air dry. All this time fans heaters and thingamajigs were going flat out in an effort to get the place dried out.
The beer cellar was a project on its own. The wall were in a terrible state after suffering 3 feet of muddy water so it was a case of clean it out sanitize and then reline the walls in something that would be easier to clean off next time. The brewery kindly offered to replace all the beer lines, just as soon as we got a certificate from the council to say that the cellar met microbiological standards of cleanliness. The council said it would issue a certificate once we got new beer lines!
At times I really do wonder if the astronomical rates we pay shouldn’t be used to send some of these people, who are there purely to serve us remember, on some kind of course that dishes out dollops of common sense! That would be money well spent.
The kitchen, well that was something else. Obviously, given its purpose, the greatest effort was concentrated on the kitchen. Not that everyone didn’t put their all into the rest of the pub, but here it was even more important. The environmental health inspector would need to assess the risk prior to us serving any food at all. Well, he turned up, had a good look round and then pulled out a small digital thingamajig. Apparently all he had to do was swab a selection of areas and surfaces with cotton buds (special ones, obviously) and then pop them into this machine which would give a numeric reading. He explained that any ‘score under 100 was a pass, but let slip that he had in the past taken readings in excess of 2600 in the past. Well I can tell you now, I was bricking it. The score……..3.
Kelly and I will be forever grateful to Kerry, Sandra, Dawn, Pete, Derrick and Tony for your help and support in getting us re-opened again in record time. Well done Team Wharf.
Chapter 48 – The Insurance Company
Pretty obvious stuff, insurance, I mean you insure against a risk and if the odds are against you and the risk that you are insured for actually occurs, then you just claim for the financial benefit that you insured yourself for in the first place. Simple. Not really, no!
There is always the small print. I’m sure you’ve all come across it at some point. You only find out after the accident that the wheels on your car are not quite as standard as when the car left the factory, only by half an inch, but that all it takes to void your insurance. You would have been insured on holiday against being bitten by a stray dog if the incident had happened inside the hotel complex, unfortunately the dog didn’t know that. There always seems to be a way out for those people who happen to be extremely helpful when they’re taking your premiums but not quite so when it comes to paying out.
We were insured. Much to our surprise when we took the policy out, we were insured against flooding, that’s what the policy said. We even followed up with a phone call just to double check, because this place was known to flood. Yep, defiantly covered for flooding. Unless that is you actually get flooded!
We informed the insurance company, NIG, as soon as we knew there was a problem. Then we waited a week for the insurance adjuster to turn up. O.K, a lot of people were in the same boat so the company must have been under a lot of pressure with incoming claims, but we couldn’t do anything until this guy turned up to take a look at just how bad the situation was. We just had to sit there and put up with the mud, and the smell. With the pub closed there was no money coming in and what we had was not much because the winter period is quite slow for us.
Well, a week later the adjuster turned up took a good look around and sat me down to explain how things worked. First off, he informed me that he was a totally independent assessor whose job it is to liaise between the insurance company and ourselves. Right, just in case you find yourself in the same position, let me point something out. Anyone who is appointed by and paid by the insurance company is NOT independent.
When you took the policy out you may have felt that you had some kind of relationship with them, it was YOUR policy, you were being protected by YOUR Company and if the worst happens then at least they were on YOUR side. That may have been the case when your premiums were flowing in their direction but be warned, when the money has to flow in your direction, that lovely warm cuddly insurance company will suddenly take a step back and rely on a ‘totally independent assessor’ to take act as a brick wall between you both. This guy’s job is to limit as far as possible the amount your claim costs the company, and he’s being paid handsomely for his services so don’t for any reason imagine that he will be pitching for you no matter what your situation.
So, apparently there are three stages to a claim. Stage one is where the company inspects the policy to make sure that you are actually covered for the loss. Stage two is where you have to work out with the adjuster and agree the actual costs involved, and stage three is where they reimburse you for loss once you’ve paid out to have that loss put right.
O.K. stage one. How long, once the adjuster have visited the site, seen that you are up to your armpits in mud and general ruination, do you think it should take to look at a policy, see that it says ‘covered for flood’ and send a letter to admit that they are liable?
How about a month! Yep, FOUR BLOODY WEEKS! But how about this for icing on the cake, they actually said in the letter that although they were unable at this stage to authorize any restoration or repairs it was important that clean up and drying works commence without delay in order to mitigate the extent of the damage! Basically, get on with it and sort the mess out yourself because we would hate for the situation to get any worse even though it’s taken us a month to look at a piece of paper to see if it says ‘covered for flooding !.
Then the proverbial really hit the fan. ‘Oh by the way, you’re under insured’. Now it’s at this point that I must hold up my hands and admit, yes, we were under insured, massively. If I had been on the ball at the time the insurance was taken out and checked for the amount we were insured for I may have actually questioned it, and perhaps we wouldn’t be in the mire that was now gradually creeping up our legs.
So before I carry on any further and without the intention of trying to teach anyone to suck eggs, may I say this, if you buy a house, no matter what you paid for it, do not assume that what you paid for it is what it would cost to rebuild it should it burn to the ground? The amount you paid for the house may very well be, as was in our case, the value of the property, but the rebuilding cost is likely, in some cases, to be considerable more.
If in doubt what it will cost to rebuild your home, simple Google ‘rebuilding costs’ and find a chart that lists where in the country you are and how much per square foot or meter the recognized rebuilding cost are for your area. Then work out the size of your house in square feet or meters and you will come up with a figure that you had better be insured for, or trust me, if the worst happens, your insurance company or some very nice helpful ‘independent assessor’ will screw you to the ground.
Our very helpful, independent assessor suggested that we were under insured by half, when I looked into it I figured he was right and, not one to shy away from the truth admitted as much. Then he started taking the piss. He suggested that the rebuilding costs were going to be two and a half times the amount we were insured for. Damn good job he was independent, if he had the insurance companies interests at heart heaven know what figure he might have come up with! Now he was getting my back up. At this point. I employed my own specialist to look at the numbers, shirt off my own back was one thing but this assessor was after my trousers and pants as well!
You would simply not believe the amount of time involved in working out just how much it costs to replace all the things you have lost when you get flooded, and you have to provide either receipts or proof of the replacement cost for each item. This along with the time involved in organizing for people to visit site and arrange to quote for the work that needs doing cost me weeks at my desk.
As I mentioned in the last chapter, wherever possible I repaired anything I could, we did the cleaning up ourselves, it would have been way too late if we had waited for the insurance company to authorize a specialist company to get involved. We were cleaned, inspected and reopened in five weeks. At the time of writing it has been eleven weeks since the flood and apart from an interim payment which represented less than 10% of the claim NIG has still not agreed to any of the figures. I’ll update this chapter at some point in the future.
Chapter 49 – Another victim of the flood
AT the time we bought the pub, Kelly was driving a Mercedes 320 CLK convertible. Nice motor, powerful comfortable and being a Merc, safe. However, Kelly had started to suffer some hip pain and getting down into the car was becoming a chore. So we decided that something a little higher off the ground would be a good idea. If should could open the door and just slide in that would be perfect.
At the time my father was driving a Citroen Picasso, 10 years old but with less than 20 thousand miles on the clock, it would do the job. I just had to talk my father into buying a new car. That didn’t work out too well. He didn’t see a great deal of point in buying a new one, he didn’t drive too far now and it would be just like parking a whole pile of money on the driveway and watching it gradually dissolve. He had a point.
So it was then that I started looking for an identical car. I spent forever going through all the car related sites looking for Citroen Picassos. By then end of a week I was all Picassoed out and virtually bought the first car we saw. It was quite tidy, had been owned for the last ten years by the current owner and was bought at the knock down price of £500. Bargain.
That’s her transport sorted. At least until we got back from our holiday to find out that although the Picasso was high enough to let Kelly get into it easily, it was also low enough for the flood water to do the same. BUGGER!
That resulted in one written off car and another 5 days on the internet trying to find a suitable replacement. I found one, eventually. A 40 thousand mile, one owner, full history, top of the range, full leather, full length glass sunroof, mint example 100 miles away. We both took a trip down there, checked it out, did the deal and drove home.
At least we tried. We got about half way home when someone on the inside lane pulled out without looking, Kelly swerved to avoid them, lost control of the car as the back end whipped from side to side and ended up leaving the motorway via the hard shoulder, down a bank and into some trees.
Luckily, the trees did the job of stopping the car side on and Kelly managed to get herself out from the mess that was just minutes before a mint example of a Citroen Picasso. The dealer had given us free 7 day insurance when we collected the car so that we would be able to drive it home. When we eventually got back, I rang the dealer to say thanks for the insurance, “no problem” he said to which I replied “Oh, and by the way, all the airbags work”!
Kelly was very lucky to walk away from that one with nothing more than a bruised knee and seat belt bruising across her shoulder. She was sore for about a week and then decided that a third Picasso was not the best idea! Writing off two in two months was a bit of an omen and the next car should be something different.
The best alternative to my mind was a Honda CRV. I spent the best part of a week trying to find a suitable car but was constantly surprised by the high prices that these cars achieved. I suppose it must say something about the car overall, the reliability was an obvious factor but paying a premium for what is effectively an old car did not sit well with me.
About a year or so ago, Kelly sat in a Lexus and declared it one of the easiest cars that she had been able to get in and out of and so with this in mind I decided that this was the way to go. So I set about trying to find suitable vehicle. Within a week I had gathered enough information about the RX300 to get a feel for the market. A ten year old car would be the best we could expect to get for the money that was available and so after making a list of suitable vehicles I made an appointment to view a car in Croydon, Surrey. I left at 5.30 am to miss all the traffic and got there well before the garage opened
The car was described as, and I quote, ‘A stunning example of this one lady owner car’. What a pile of crap! The advert and the car.
The first thing to start alarm bells ringing was the Range Rover
Masked up ready for spray work at the entrance to the showroom. When I got to the Lexus there were a few obvious give always. The paint smears on the driver’s seat, the whole rear end had been re-sprayed at some point and under the bonnet a lot of the fixings for the plastic engine cover were missing. I suppose they’re still looking for a sucker, I hope so anyway.
I knew that the next best car (by description anyway) was on the Isle of Wight. Nearly 100 miles away and at what was now peak time for traffic, I decided that it was a better bet to go and see it now as opposed to going home and taking another day off the following week. I phoned to make sure that the car was still available and set off. I got to the outskirts of Lymington intending to catch the ferry over as a foot passenger, taking a vehicle on the boat is horrendously expensive, I think that the Isle of Wight ferry is the most expensive piece of water to cross with a vehicle, (Jeremy Clarkson type pause) in the world, when I received a phone call to say that the dealer had just taken a deposit on the car, well bugger me!
There was a third car on my list that appeared to be a suitable candidate for the Wharf fleet, however, this example was in Hull! What the hell, I thought, in for a penny, in for a pound. Off I went, up the motorway towards Hull. It was near 4pm when I arrived to check out the car. It wasn’t perfect but with a full service history and just 60,000 miles on the clock it would certainly do the job.
A week later I caught the train back to Hull and collected the car. Since then it has been a faultless servant to the missis and hopefully will serve for many years to come.
Chapter 50 – POD issues
It has been many months since I had to get rid of Mark, our cellar man and general all round helper.
It seems that he has really taken umbrage at being sacked, and started a personal vendetta against the pub and all that it stands for. As I may have mentioned in an earlier chapter, Mark, as well as working at the pub, managed the caravan and camping site.
It all erupted over the winter period when as the wet weather had made the field very soft. I put notes under the windscreens of all the vehicle to say that as the fields were so bad they were free to use the car park rather than get stuck or turn the grass into a mud bath.
Mark stormed up and pulled all the notes off the cars, ripped them up and started to shout that I had no rights in the field. I then suggested that we bury the hatched and start again to which he replied that he wouldn’t talk to an A**hole!
From that point on he went out of his way to be as Bloody-minded as possible. Below is a running commentary of what he got up to in an effort to be a pain in the rear end.
He would not and never has returned the keys to the pub meaning that I had to change all the locks.
On every occasion that I have tried to talk to him, he just raises his voice and becomes verbally abusive.
He has a habit of stopping the pub staff as they drive in and accuses them of speeding, even though he uses the car park as a race track himself especially when he has a caravan in tow.
Sometimes he’ll put the main residential rubbish bins out more than a day ahead of when they are due to be emptied, and anything that gets spilt gets left on the car park.
When the camping site gets an excess of water he’ll pump it straight onto the car park instead of onto the gravel or grass leaving muddy puddles on the car park.
Following the February floods, he went around my grassed areas picking up benches, planters and flower pots that had floated all over the place. I thought that he was going to tip them in a pile somewhere but no, he ‘disposed’ of them somewhere. When I asked him directly about them, he denied all knowledge of their whereabouts but as I know him to be a very capable liar that doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.
When I asked him to move his vehicle from the car park as Easter was coming up and we were expecting to be quite busy, he left it there for three days.
He made a point of washing his cars and caravans on the car park.
He would tell fishermen that it was fine to park their vehicles on the pub car park instead of on the lakeside. At one point I had three cars parked on the side lane and couldn’t get access to the rear of the pub with my own car.
I gave him notice of more than twelve weeks to clear his tools from a static caravan which I intended to scrap. He then denied all knowledge of that on the day it was being scrapped, even though he had already shifted most of his gear. I had allowed him continued use of the van for storage even after all the crap I was putting up with and never once asked for a penny in rent.
At the point he parked his caravan in front of the entrance gate to my field so that the scrap merchant could get his vehicle in to load up.
He constantly uses the car park as a place to park his vehicles and vans whenever it suits him. I once spoke to him about this and his response was ‘I’ll move it when I’m ready you F***ing T***’, and that was in front of people he was showing around the site!
We had reports from customers informing us that:
After the floods he had told them that we would be closed for three months.
He had told them that the pub was closed, when it was very obviously open.
That the beer is rubbish and the food is awful. This from someone who hasn’t had a drink here for over 10 months at the time of writing and has never eaten here.
He has offered to drive campers up to The Fruiters (a pub nearby) and drive them back again after they’ve had a drink.
He has gone around the camping field offering people take away menus. Even on one occasion offering them to people who were staying in rooms at the pub!
One customer had asked me why we were going to close between October and March when we hadn’t done in previous years. Yes, you can guess where that little snippet from.
On one occasion, he borrowed a pump (a very load engine driven pump) to pump water into the fish pool. I assumed that it was to aerate the water. The problem was that he had situated it as close to the pub as possible instead of at the other end of the field. It was pretty obvious what the intended effect was designed to achieve. Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect and upset all the residential caravan owners.
His latest little wheeze was to approach a 16 year old lad that that works for us once a week cutting the grass with a sit on mower. He was stopped and told he had no rights on ‘HIS’ land to get access to my field to dump the grass cuttings. When I told the lad concerned to just ignore him, the following week Mark parked his caravan across the gate once again to prevent access. I find it strange that if I had no access on ‘HIS’ land, why he didn’t come straight to me to complain? No, it must be so much easier to intimidate a 16 year old.
I have on numerous occasions approached the park owner about Mark’s personal little vendetta, and to be fair he has tried to sort the situation by speaking to him, but it does appear that it’s Mark who’s running the site and will continue to do so until he’s reeled in, we shall see.
It’s such a shame that someone with his capabilities with regard to his work ethic and knowledge in his field (no pun intended) has acted in the way that he has. Given that he is somewhere in the region of 40 years of age, there is still hope that he will at some point grow up sufficiently to take responsibility for his own actions.
Some 3 months after writing the section above I noticed that Mark had taken down the small winter awning to his caravan. One of the locals had asked him about this and his reply was that he was expecting a new awning to replace it, his obviously felt the need to continue lying to everyone else as well!
A day or two later I was walking the dog a around 7 in the morning only to see that his caravan was no longer there. My first assumption was that as his parents used the caravan for the two months that their static site was closed (January & February), they had wanted to move to another site to avoid the flooding that had forced them to move further up the field during the February floods of 2014.
As it turned out, he had simply disappeared. No-one, not even the site owner had been aware that he was leaving. His reasons? Who knows? To be perfectly honest, who cares! This was one annoying distraction that I for one (and no doubt many others could well do without) and a fond farewell was wished by all.
In the time since, many rumors have been spread about where he now is and what he’s up to abound. Personally, I have absolutely no interest in him or his situation at this or at any future point. Now at least we can get on with the job of promoting the pub and all its benefits without some immature narcissistic male chauvinist with hurt pride spreading malicious falsehoods around.
Boy that feels good!
Chapter 51 – Flood update
Well here we are some 10 months after the flood. 1st January 2015 to be precise. Following his first visit he suggested that as far as the building insurance was concerned we were under insured by some 62%. I had to agree with him. My mistake and I wrote and told him so. We would just have to take the hit.
A while later, he suggested that we were actually under insured by 150%! It was at this point that I instructed a local builder and surveyor to come up with an actual re-build cost specifically for this building and believe it or not the numbers confirmed that we were under insured to the tune of 60%, not a bad first guess then from our friendly assessor.
Just before Christmas we received news from our independent assessor. He was now suggesting that we were in fact under insured by an even greater amount! He has yet to come up with a figure, even though I’ve asked him for a detailed breakdown. It wouldn’t surprise me if he was taking into account the rise in the cost of materials over the ten months it has taken him to get this far!
Chapter 52 – The great wall of….Worcester
Well, I know that ‘Worcester’ is not exactly accurate but it reads much better than ‘The great wall of Holt’.
The flood event made me think. What, if anything, could we do to prevent or at the very least lessen the effects of any further flood event? Was there something that we could do to protect ourselves from the next great ingress of water because as sure as night follows day, it was going to happen again, maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon. (Ooooh, I think I’ve just experienced a Casablanca moment!).
So I spent a while considering our options. The answer that most people suggested was to build a wall around the pub. Makes sense I suppose. Apart from the point that one side of the pub is very close to a river. The footings for such a wall would have to be so vast that the cost would be prohibitive. However, the other side of the pub is not next to a river which means that we have half an answer. Not being one to stand on ceremony, a plan was hatched.
The plan as it turned out was fairly straight forward. Build a wall that would seal off the pub from the car park. That’s where the water attacks from first. The fields either side of us are lower than the pub itself so when the river rises it floods the fields first and gradually encroaches on the car park, joining together from each side before making its way towards the pub.
By building a wall that would seal us off from the car par we could effectively protect the whole of one side of the pub, as for the river on the other side of us, well, we’ll deal with that later!
This wall needed proper planning and as luck would have it I was able to pick the brain of some of our customers who were skilled in the mystical art of brickwork. From all the advice I manage to drag from the sober brains, (discounting any nuggets of info delivered after the third pint, with the exception of Glen who is mysteriously able to drink at least 15 pints and still hold a sensible conversation while standing upright without support or effect a swaying motion!).
The final construction was decided. The main wall would consist of hollow concrete block with a brick outer skin that would be painted to match the pub with a cement render on the inside. The footings would go down far enough to stop the sneaky wet stuff from burrowing underneath and the wall would be high enough to give us 12 inches of leeway above the level we experienced in February.
After working out the quantities required I made enquiries with all the local builders merchants and was surprised to find that there was more than £1000 difference between the highest and the lowest quotes and that was on a material list totaling just £5000 In case you are in a similar position of needing a quantity of brick and associated brick type materials just go straight to Bradfords builders merchants, it’s save you an awful lot of time, and money.
The first order of the day was to dig out the footings and for that we needed a mini digger, god I love playing with those things (boys and their toys eh). The trouble with that was I had invited my brother over from Spain to give me a hand with the wall and he seem to be much better at playing with my toy than I was, so I let him do his thing.
The footings were dug quite quickly and you would be surprised at just how big the piles of soil you can accumulate. The next stage of the operation was to get some concrete in the hole before it filled with water. I chose to use a concrete supplier that mixes the stuff at the back of the truck. That way you only pay for what you use and don’t end up with a pre-specified amount that for some reason always ends up being more than you thought you wanted.
The footings laid, the block work was next. Damn, those blocks are heavy. It turns out that I had ordered the denser of the two types available. Made sense to me at the time. The denser the block the less chance that they would let the water through. But boy are they heavy. Their weight was made worse by the fact that you had to lift them over the re-enforcing bars that we had set into the concrete footings. These bars stood up a good four feet from the concrete and each block had to be lifted over the top of them before being lowered gently down onto the mortar that you had just laid out prior to picking up the block.
The brickwork was a different matter. Brick being so much smaller and not to mention lighter was the one part of the job I was quite looking forward to. Only one problem. I had never laid a brick before, how hard could it be? As it turns out, not very. It was simply a question of making sure that you used lines and levels with every layer of the wall. Never try to ‘wing it’. I did allow a retired bricklayer to give me a hand at one point, I thought it would help the job along for not very much money. He turned up with the intention of helping with the block work at first but when he found he was unable to lift a block up high enough to pass over the re-bar, we decided that he would be better able to lay bricks instead. We gave him the small wall to the left of the pub to build at his leisure. While it will pass muster with a quick glance, the finished item left much to be desired. The top of the wall was so far out of level that I had to build up one side so that the finishing coping bricks would line up on both sides. As I said before, I have never laid a brick in my life but by the time the wall was finished I have never been more please with my handy work. To be fair, my brother Lee made a hell of a contribution the whole project so I can’t really take all the credit. All in all a job well done.
We now had a defense that would stop water from entering 6 of the 9 entrances into the pub. Apart from one thing. We had to leave an opening for the customers to get into the pub, which to all intents and purpose would leave us with a hole in our defense.
Chapter 53 – The holiday home
During February 2015 Kelly and I traveled to Florida for a few weeks of R & R. While there, we took a look at the housing market and after seeing a few likely place decided to put a bid on one with a view to using it as a holiday home in the future and perhaps letting it out when we were not using it ourselves.
Well, as it turned out we were out bid and the idea was left alone until out return a year later. In the meantime, we had sold ‘Victor old lair’ down on the south coast and so had just enough to realize our dream on the return visit. During the three weeks we spent there we looked at about a dozen places and eventually settled on one.
As the property in question was what is called over there ‘a foreclosure, (where the bank has repossessed it because of non- payment), rather than get involved in a bidding war we simply offered the asking price. We were assured by our realtor (estate agent), that no-one else had shown any interest in the property so we were fairly confident that the deal was more or less done. What follows shows just how wrong that assumption was?
Anticipating a purchase while on holiday there, we knew that the bank owned property would demand to know how the purchase would be funded so we had brought with us copies of bank statement showing that we had the means to buy the house in cash.
However, the first of the small flies in the ointment were about to struggle to the very oily surface. We had to show the available funds IN DOLLARS!
O.K, I reasoned. It shouldn’t be that difficult, just ring our bank at home, the Halifax, and ask them for a letter that stated ‘ on this particular date, Mr. & Mrs. Phillips have X amount of pounds in their bank account and at an exchange rate of X this would equate to X amount of dollars’ Sounds fairly simple and straight forward, yes?
COMPUTER SAY NO!
Apparently, and I quote: To do so might compromise the security of the bank’ Unquote. Rather like the statements we receive from the bank each month then! Considering the amount of statements that are sent out each month the banks security must be well and truly compromised by now! The letter wouldn’t need to include any details of the account number or the sort code etc. It would simply need to include our names and the amounts along with a letter head.
Halifax is the ‘Bank that gives you extra’, not in this case. Not only did they not give extra, they didn’t give toss either. More on their inability to give anything at all later.
So it was that we were left with no option but to wait until we returned home and the get the total amount transferred to an American bank so the ‘proof of funds’ would show up as dollars. Simple eh? Wrong again. I think you might just be getting the hang of this.
While we finished the rest of our holiday we had to hope that no-one else showed an interest in ‘our new house’. If they had, and were in possession of an account full of cash (in dollars, of course) then all would be lost. In the mean time we would sweat a little and enjoy the rain, well it was January and even Florida has to get wet sometimes.
We decided to open a bank account with the same bank that had foreclosed on the property in question. It seemed to me to make so much sense. The Selling bank would, once we had returned home and transferred the funds, simply check the newly opened account and there in all its glory would be lots of American dollars which would prove that we were indeed serious about buying said house, A voila. Mission accomplished. Wrong.
On our return, the first thing I tried to do was speak to the Halifax again. Reasoning that a man in a suit, turning up in person and presenting, face to face, what was a fairly simple request for a letter showing an amount in dollars, would have much more impact than the aforementioned telephone request. Nope.
Same bollocks about compromising their security. (sorry about the profanity, I searched the thesaurus for a more apt term for their attitude but couldn’t find anything!)
I contacted a few brokers with a view to transferring the money over to the States, unfortunately, a few weeks previously the powers that control the interest rate in America had decided to increase the base rate of interest and that in turn had put pressure on the great British pound, devaluing it by lots. Which had the effect of the house costing a few thousand pounds more than if we had bought it a month earlier. Whatever, it was still a bargain compared to the property available here at home. So, in for a penny, in for a pound. Or in this case, a Dollar!
We found that the best broker for our transaction that we felt comfortable using (this was all new to us, and it was a big lump of money) was The Times (as in newspaper) currency exchange. So, all we had to do was send our money from the Halifax to the new currency account we had set up. Easy, right, (Yep I think you’ve got it), Wrong!
We came home on the Thursday morning and it was now Friday and no-one had yet made another offer on the house.
“Hello Halifax, please send a big lump of my cash to my currency account”.
“Can’t do that”
“It’s too much money sir, you can only send £25,000 per day”
“But, it’s my money, and I need it right now or I might lose this house that I want to buy”
“I’m really sorry about that sir (we get that a lot before this saga reaches its conclusion!) But the limit is £25,000 a day”
Okay, I figure today is Friday, if I send one lot today, another lot on Saturday, Sunday and again on Monday morning, then as it’s the weekend there’s not much chance of the Bank of America receiving any other offers of interest from someone else until Monday at the earliest. This could still work.
“OK, send the maximum now”
“Sorry sir (told you) but you’ll need to do it online”
I decided that there wasn’t a great deal of point trying to argue with thus guy, he was obviously just doing what he was trained to do, annoy as many customers as possible during his working day! Anyway I could do that, I could go online and transfer funds, I was a ‘Silver surfer’ after all. Well, a ‘pink surfer’ really, (that’s a reference to my being bald, not my feminine side!).
So that’s what I did. Friday, the transfer went straight through. So did the Saturday transfer. Sunday was another matter. This is where Halifax help line played a blinder.
“Sorry sir, (there we go again) but you’ve exceeded your daily allowance”.
“No I haven’t”
“Well perhaps you have tried to send it too soon. If you try tonight after 10pm, you shouldn’t have any trouble”
“O.K, but will I be able to send another payment after midnight on Sunday to take care of the Monday installment so that the total amount will be ready for a funds transfer to the USA at 9am Monday morning, if not I my lose the house”
“That won’t be a problem sir”
The little liar!
I actually spent more than two hours on the phone after midnight desperately trying to get the payments through by 3am the Halifax had made a payment, then within minutes it came back to the bank.
As the money had gone out, my daily limit had been exceeded, (work that one out!). So I had to transfer the funds into another account so that I could send it again. I did that twice that night.
The very helpful guy on the end of the phone assured me that there must be a problem with Barclays as there was no way the Halifax could snatch back a payment they had just made.
Interesting statement that. Because somewhere in all this confusion the Halifax managed to send an additional £22,000 (that I didn’t have). How do I know? Well my broker phoned me to confirm that the transfer had eventually taken place and asked what I would like to do with the excess £22k in my account?
So in a way The Halifax does give you extra, but they also tell whoppers because they obviously can snatch it back when it suits them, a couple of days later my broker account was bare!
And do you know the really stupid thing about all this? Apparently there is such a thing as a CHAPS payment, a service where the whole amount could have been paid in one lump. For some reason, No-one at the Halifax thought to mention it!
As the transaction was eventually completed, and my new Bank of America account showed lot of lovely new dollars, fait accompli. Or so I thought. Now my troubles were really about to start.
It seems that although my new American account is the same bank that owns the property I’m trying to purchase, I was informed that they can’t check my account to confirm its contents, (untrue, they can as they have a uniform computer system which is used throughout all departments). Simply another example of ill informed, badly trained staff or the banks feeding us, the customer, with bullshit.
I was now requested to take a screenshot of my online account. I did that. Then they wanted hardcopies of statements. Oh, and a deposit, please, $5000 would do. Not a problem. I happen to have an American bank account with dollars in it. I’ll simply go online and send the money straight through, right now. You know what coming, don’t you?
When we opened the new Bank of America account, we explained exactly what it was for, that we would be transferring the total payment for the house into it so that it could be paid for on completion with American dollars. We would not need a cheque book or a debit card at this time because we lived in the UK.
So, there I was, online. Please transfer $5000 to an escrow account which will hold the deposit for the house. They asked for the details of the receiving bank, yep, filled all that in no problem then right at the end of the form I was asked for details from my debit card! Eh, what debit card? I don’t have one. I don’t need one! If I needed one, surely the bank would have told me when I opened the account, wouldn’t they have? No, of course they wouldn’t have. God forbid they should listen to you when you open the account.
The only option open to me was to find the equivalent amount of pounds sterling, here in the UK, send via Western union to our realtor ask her to pay it into her own bank and then wire it to the receiving escrow account. Simple eh? Yep, you got it!
I looked up Western union on the net. That was handy. There was a Western Union facility in WH Smiths, just around the corner from my bank. Great. Only not so great. The maximum they could transfer was £1000. Not to worry. They gave me the address of a proper western union branch in the next town, which, surprise surprise, turned out to be a dress shop! Oh look, they said, just down the road is a Thomas Cook travel agent, they’ll be able to help. They couldn’t, but they did direct me to a Co-op that was a Western Union office. Now they could help, as long as I had two forms of ID. A driving license would do, and a utility bill. Well, I don’t know about you, but leaving home with a copy of a utility bill in pocket has never seemed to me to be a priority. However, from now on it bloody well will be, even if I’m only going to put the bins out. From now on I will make sure that I have pockets stuffed with rate, gas, electricity and bank statements, just in case. Well, you never know.
The money got sent in the end. And out very helpful realtor over in the States did her bit (Well she had put in soooo much effort up until this point that there was no way she was going to give up on her commission!). If ever you find yourself needing to purchase property in the USA drop her an email, Laurengause@gmail.com, she’s one helpful lady. It was only after we had signed contract from the bank that it dawned on me that we now had to pay the remaining funds on completion, and they were in the same bank, the bank that wouldn’t let me send $5000 to another American bank. Oh Crap. Here we go again.
Well, I phoned the bank. I spent two hours on the phone to America, spoke to three different departments but in the well-known language of a curtain ‘Little Briton’ character, ‘Computer says no’ The words ‘brick wall’ and ‘head banging’ came to mind, along with quite few other terms which to be honest are not really suitable to be seen here in print!
I appealed to them that there must be someone within the banks structure that had a modicum of common sense. Someone who could look at the situation and come to the conclusion that, yes, here was a situation that obviously wasn’t able to be dealt with by using ‘normal’ banking criteria. After all I proffered, I understand that the purpose of the banks rules and restrictions were to limit wherever possible any fraudulent activity, but if I were a fraudster, trying to relieve Mr and Mrs. Phillips of a large amount of cash, would I ask the bank to send the money to an escrow account for the purpose of completing the purchase of a house owned by the same bank and registered in the name of the same people I was trying to defraud? No. Obviously I would ask them to send it to another private account, draw it out and then do a runner!
COMPUTER SAYS NO!
However, the person on the phone did suggest one course of action.
And I quote: Just come into the bank and sign the wire request in person! God give me strength.
Thank you Bank of America. What a bunch of total Plonkers. There was a time that I considered America in virtually all aspects to be ten years ahead of the UK. But now it seems that they are at least twenty years behind.
Anyway, we did receive a bank card in the end and the final completion came through without too many hiccups. We became American home owners in late February with very little help from America, and I wonder, just how many people who, having the same dream, have given up and bough here in the UK because the process was just too wearing?
Now we just need to find the time to go over and visit our new home and install some furniture along with all the other knick-knacks that make a home, one day, soon hopefully.
Chapter 54 – Pub for sale
With the ladies toilets finishes and the men’s nearing completion, (just the cubicles left to install), we were facing a decision. Do we take solace in the fact that the pub can now be managed or run without the need to keep physically working on improving it, thereby freeing up a large chunk of cash that would otherwise be spent on materials and on the odd occasion imported skilled labour for tasks that were beyond my capabilities. Or is now the time to get out and look for another project that will keep us busy.
It was a decision that we didn’t find too hard to make. I was now class as ‘Old’ after hitting 61 (Kelly still refers to herself as in her early fifties, plus post and packing!). I am definitely feeling less inclined to over exert myself as although my mind is still relatively speaking, quite sound, my body is making the odd creaking noise which I interpret as ‘slow down you silly old fool’! The reality is that although I am in pretty good shape for my age (as in, no serious medical conditions’) I am starting to feel the effort require when I try to do what ten years ago would have been fairly easy.
So it was with those feelings in mind that we decided to call it a day. The function room was the last part of the pub that required attention so it was felt that if we were to advertise the pub for sale now, bearing in mind that it could actually take as long as a year or two to sell it, we would in any event be ahead of the game, told you my mind was still functioning properly.
We chose a commercial agent based primarily on the fact that we liked the representative that came to see us. Mistake. Although the company, and I won’t mention them by name because they did nothing wrong. It was that they were probably a little to highbrow for the business we were selling. After six months, although we received some interest nothing in the way of an offer materialized.
So, we contacted Sidney Phillips who specialize in pub sales. We were lucky enough to speak with the boss who in fact sold us the pub almost five years earlier. To date the pub has been advertised with them for just two weeks and we have already had more interest than during the first six months with the other agent.
Chapter 55 – Once in a lifetime
As you are already aware from my previous musings in this book I am very much a car person, loved um, lived um, built um and it was once my wish that I might be buried in one. However that last bit is unlikely to happen as I don’t think crematoriums are that accommodating.
The thing is I felt that I had worked really hard over the last few years and the time had come to reward myself for all the effort I had put in. Many years ago and I do mean MANY years ago I had a go at goal setting. You know what I mean. You decide what you really want in your life, picture it and then do everything in your power to achieve it. Well, mine went something like this. I decided that what I really wanted was to own my own place outright, have a Bentley and a million pounds in the bank.
I had the obligatory pictures in a little book that I could gaze at on occasion if only to remind me that I hadn’t quite got there yet and I should strive harder. Well, it was about this time that I decided exactly what I was going to do to reach one of my goals. I said to my Kelly one day “I’ve decided to cash in my pension and buy a Bentley, do you think I’m being silly?”
She responded with the question “Well, how long have you wanted one for” to which I replied “about 30 years or so” (it was probably a lot longer).I must admit that I fully expected her to say something along the lines of, well, isn’t it about time you bought yourself one then. Instead her reply was “well, you’ve waited thirty years, a few more won’t make any difference”!
That just about floored me. It was a short while later that I put the same question to one of our customers, Financial John, a very wise financial advisor of mature years (soon to be renamed retired John). I remember John taking a puff on his pipe looking very thoughtful, exhaling and then saying “well, let’s put it this way, if you don’t buy yourself one then what’s it all for?”
I shall always remember that as the real gem of all the advice I had ever been given. It made such a lot of sense. It was also the absolute justification I needed to go forth and search for my Bentley.
It certainly didn’t take long for my search to begin and within a month or so I was traveling the country desperately hoping that the next car I saw would be ‘The one’
The available funding meant that I was limited to the car known as the SZ series. They had been produced for around 15 years or so and in many guises, big square things, in various states of trim The best of the bunch being the RT which was the very last year of production and carrying the engines of the next series of cars Sort of like a testbed for the new model. Unfortunately, I could quite stretch that far and had to settle for a late model Turbo R.
Still a very competent car in its own right, the Turbo R was the best of the bunch. The most powerful Bentley in production at the time and with a lot of searching I could with all probability track down a 1997 model in decent nick.
After seeing quite few cars, I eventually settled on a one owner from new 1997 Turbo R finished in the classic colour combination of Royal blue with cream leather and sporting the extremely low 21 thousand miles. It was almost mint with just the headlining sagging (Leather headlining has a habit of coming unstuck over the years because of the weight). Well the seller agreed to get that sorted and after settling on a price the car was mine. I remember having to wait about a week before I could go and collect it, one of the longest weeks of my life not unlike a kid wishing away the final days before Christmas. The only difference being that while most Christmas presents would be all but forgotten by the next day, this thing was going to give me pleasure for years to come. And so it did. It spent many a Classic car show at the NEC ferrying people around in exchange for a donation to kids charities and I spent a good 8 thousand miles over the next two years constantly being amazed at how a car weighing in excess of two tons could project itself towards the horizon with such force.
I still own a Bentley only not the same car. I graduated to a much more modern GTC which for those of you not up on these things is a two door convertible. Drop dead gorgeous to look at, a superb driving machine that is if you believe it possible, even faster than the Turbo R. I love driving the new car with top down at every opportunity and it always puts a smile on my face. In years gone by I could never have imagined that I would spend so much money on a car, any car for that matter, But Thanks to financial John I can justify the expense simply by remembering that phrase, If I don’t buy one, then what’s it all for?
As for my goals? Well, two out of three’s not bad!
Chapter 56 – My Dad
My father lived in Alford, Lincolnshire for many years and about 18 months ago, his partner and he had a parting of the ways which is why he ended up in Harbourne on the outskirts of Birmingham. It was the nearest place I could find where he would be able to live with some kind of support and yet be close enough for me to visit on a regular basis.
I would drive up two or three times a week to take care of his shopping, spend a little time with him and generally take care of anything he needed. In the time he was there his needs were met by the care home staff and myself and although his health was fading he was lucky enough to spend his time in comfort with people around him that really cared. I can’t praise highly enough the staff at Wellington Court, a care home run by Waterloo housing association. They looked after him so well and he thought the world of them. Special; mention goes to Alison and Miriam who’s’ Christmas photos of my father are something I will always treasure.
Although he hadn’t worked due to a back injury he suffered more than 30 years prior, he had never claimed any form of benefit. Now being in a care home meant that he would be unable to support the entire cost from his own finances. So I applied for whatever I felt he would qualify for. It took four visits to the local job center, over a period of 3 weeks to submit the application for housing benefit etc. with copies of paperwork that they kept asking for even though they has taken copies of them on the previous visit. The DPW replied to the application saying that he was not entitled to any benefits. That was until I got a professional person involved who filled out exactly the same forms with exactly the same answers to the questions and exactly the same copies of documents.
This time Dad received what was due. I swear that the DWP has a process that involves turning down flat any first application in the hope that you will go away thereby saving them money. Well, it didn’t work on this occasion and my father was able to sustain a reasonable standard of living while in the care home.
In the 19 months that he spent there, he had a total of 15 visits to the Queen Elizabeth hospital, as an ‘In patient’. Periods from a couple a days to three weeks punctuated his time here in Birmingham and although he was not a fan of ‘going in’, he had nothing but praise for the ward staff there. The heads of department or consultants were another matter.
On one occasion I was promised that a consultant would be available to speak to me about my father’s condition. I was told that an appointment would not be necessary and to simply turn up any time before 8pm, announce my presence and his consultant would be along. I arrived at 6pm at which point I was informed that my father’s consultant had gone home, but the doctor from another department would come and see me. When I asked if the ‘other doctor’ knew my father, I was told that he had never met him. So I suggested that it would probably be more convenient for me to speak to the security guard outside in the corridor because he could probably read notes and had not met my father either!
I left saying that if I did not receive a telephone call by nine in the morning to arrange a meeting that I would take my concerns ‘upstairs’.
I got the call and the meeting the following day. Talk about over the top, six members of staff from the consultant to the ward manager were present in my father’s room to discuss his care and condition. It was probably the one area where the service lets itself down, communication by the top people. The people who make life or death decisions. We, the little people who are at the soft end so to speak, are the ones who place all of our trust in those at the sharp end. The very least they could do is make sure that whatever they decide is in our best interest is conveyed to the people that matter, the patients.
My father passed peacefully away at precisely 3 o’clock on 16th February 2016, with me at his side holding his hand.
The process of settling someone affairs is way more complicated than I imagined. I won’t go into the minutiae of it all, but I was luckier than most in that I had my wife Kelly to help me organize and deal with a good amount of the arrangements. My father and I had discussed his demise and what he wanted many months prior and his main demand was that as a non-religious person he didn’t want a service of any kind and I was to spend as little of what remained of his money as possible. “Just box me, burn me and get me down the river” was his instruction. So with that in mind, Kelly made contact with various undertakers asking for a costing on collecting my father from the hospital, storing and delivering him to the crematorium at the required time.
I realize that a service such as the one I wanted is the job of a specialist. It’s certainly not a job I would care to do. But, even with that thought in mind I couldn’t quite get over the quotes that we were getting. All of them, without exception were in the region of £3,800!
I even suggested to my wife that if we were to close the pub down and obtain planning permission we could turn the place into an undertakers and make fortune by providing a basic service similar to what we required but at a more affordable price!
It was later that day when Kelly rang a company called Pure Cremation. The lady on the end of the phone explained that their company could provide exactly what we required at a cost of £1100, all in. That covered everything, including the crematorium, doctor’s fees and a coffin. Looks like someone had already had my bright idea and acted on it.
Kelly then proceeded to give my details as the executor of the estate and on mention of my name, the lady on the other end of the phone exclaimed that she knew me, as she had had dinner with me recently! Well, I don’t know exactly what went through Kelly’s mind at that precise moment but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it included something to do with the XM15 assault rifle that she had tried out at a gun range whilst on holiday in Florida earlier in the year!
Luckily for me the ladies statement was followed up pretty quickly with “You were there as well”. As it turned out, Catherine and her husband were members of The Bentley owners club and we had all met for lunch at The Wagon Wheel pub nearby for a club lunch. They had at the time been a fully-fledged funeral directors offering all the usual services that companies of that type offer. They had recently redesigned their service to cater for those of us that had different requirements, and cost in mind.
The service they offer is as described by my father, with no ceremony, leaving you to arrange a memorial service at the wake or at some later point if you feel the need. You are more than welcome to attend at the crematorium for the ‘lowering of the coffin’. All the arrangements were just perfect and I can’t recommend Catherine and her company, Pure Cremation, enough. Everything was perfect, even though I was 15 minutes late for the funeral (my sat nav had lost the signal and I couldn’t find the crematorium in Reddich! My dad would have laughed at that. They operate through most of England and obviously have their own website, if it’s simplicity you require with the respect that goes with such a service you can save around £2,500 which might well be more productively spent elsewhere.
Anyway, the upshot was that Dad is now sitting beside me here in an urn waiting for me to arrange the scattering of his ashes on the river outside the pub. He did say that by being spread on the river, a little of him would be everywhere. My first thought was depending on wind conditions on the chosen day, he might well be right.
It was with that thought in mind that I decided that a ‘floating urn’ might well be a good idea. If you check out ‘Utube’, there are several clips, only a few minutes long that show a sort of packet type urn. This is filled with the ashes and then floated off down the river or out at sea. It floats for a few minutes and the gently sinks where it will gradually over a period of a day or so dissolve, allowing the contents to be distributed with the current. These ‘packet urns were £35! Back to the ‘Rip offs’ as far as I was concerned.
I don’t consider myself ‘tight’ as far as money is concerned, so please don’t get the impression that I would deny my father a decent send off. It’s just that, like most people, I do appreciate value for money.
Value for money was not high on my agenda when I came up with what I considered to be a great way of sending my father off on his last journey. Far from it. I always thought that the Vikings had the right idea. A ruddy great boat pushed out into a lake, the body mounted in the center and an archer with a flaming arrow to turn the whole event into a spectacular finally.
Well, I didn’t know anyone with a longboat or anything that resembled a Viking ship of any description come to that. And dad was now just a shadow of his former self, physically speaking anyway. But I could still do the whole longboat thing, just on a smaller scale! On Ebay I found just what I needed, a Viking longboat. 600mm in length, and an email from Germany confirmed that the hull was indeed hollow. A bargain at around £80. When it turned up and I found the hull to be of solid construction, the sender blamed translation for the error, so back it went.
After more searching I found a larger 800mm boat in America at around £200 this time, which again I have been assured has a hollow hull, we will find out when it arrives. I have taken the precaution of letting the other relatives know of my intention, just in case they thought it might be disrespectful but they have, without exception, given their blessing by basically saying ’go for it, dad would have loved it’.
My brother in law did happen to mention that dad had already been cremated and my actions would imply that I’m just making sure. But I told him that it wouldn’t be any different to ‘twice cooked’ chips. I hope you don’t consider this amount of levity to be inappropriate for what is generally a very sad occasion.
On many of the times that I spent with my father over the last 18 months, I took great delight in making him laugh. Laughter being something that I know was missing from his life for a good many years. Of course, there were occasions that laughter turned into coughing fits, for which I felt slightly guilty, but I know that he always looked forward to my visits because it cheered him up in what was a slightly solitary existence towards the end of his life.
On those visits, he always thanked me before I left, and now it’s my turn.
Thank you dad. I’m the man I am today because of you. You should be proud. You did good.
Chapter 57 – What do they do at home?
The worst areas of the pub when we arrived were the toilets. They were, to put it mildly, pretty gross. The disabled loo was passable with just the floor needing attention. The men’s stank from years of urine infested grout between the floor tiles.
The women’s toilets were the worst. The main structure was of timber which must have been put up some 30 years ago. The interior was woodchip that had been peeling for a while with a thick layer of mold in most corners. I think you have the general picture, definitely not a nice place to be, if only for a few minutes.
The state of the toilets was the main reason that Kelly did not want to advertise the pub, on the basis that any new customer that were attracted here would, after a visit to the loo’s, (especially women) would not countenance a return visit.
It was for that reason that when the flood wall was being constructed that I took the plunge, so to speak, and ripped down the ladies toilet, laid new footings and rebuilt it in block and brick. With a new roof, relined walls with ceramic tiles, a new none slip heavy vinyl floor covering along with new cubicles gave the ladies loos a new classy finish that any pub would be proud of.
The men’s followed the same approach apart from the fact that the main structure was already in place.
The problem I have is this. I realize that over many years the grout between the floor tiles will soak up the odd splash of urine. What I don’t understand is just why so much of the stuff ends up on the floor.
With the new vinyl flooring place it’s easy to spot wet patches below the individual urinals. And there is loads of it. So much so that I am tempted to put signs up saying ‘Please stand closer as it’s not as big as you think’ Why do guys stand so far away from the bowl and spray all over the floor.
The women are not exempt from criticism. I have lost count of the number of times I have had to unblock a toilet bowl because they have tried to flush a sanitary towel down it. And why do I have to drag half a bucket full of toilet paper out of a block loo? The amount of paper that gets left on the floor never ceases to amaze me. I once went into the ladies loo and couldn’t see the floor. I kid you not. I literally found it hard to tell what colour the floor covering was because of the amount of toilet paper that had been scattered around.
Now here is my question. Do they live like this at home? Do the men spray all over the floor? Do women bock up their own loos and scatter toilet paper over the floor and wash their muddy shoes in the sink and then leave it in a state for the next person to clear up?
I doubt that I’ll ever find the answer I don’t think I’ll ever be brave (or stupid enough) to ask someone if they were the one to block the loo by flushing their sanitary towel it or suggest to guy that he has a much smaller Willie then he might imagine!
But I guess that as a landlord of a pub, these issues (and many others) are just one of the things you have to put up with. But be aware that it certainly changes your opinion about the people who use what is let’s be honest, your home. Not all of them obviously, and you do have a fair idea of the people who are responsible.
But it does taint your views about those that show a total lack of respect for that which belongs to and has to be shared by others.
‘Nowt as queer as folk’ or so it’s said, Thank you to all my customers who know how to use the toilet.
Chapter 58 – Anyone seen my keys?
Once we lost Pod, the camp site manager, Julie and Will, the residential site managers took over the running of the whole site. A great team and just what was needed. Julie is a very forceful person with a great personality and sense of humor. Will, in his own way is a straight forward, no-messing-about kind of guy who just carries on, gets the job done and tells it how it is. I can respect him for that.
Both enjoy a good session at the pub and many is the night that they are the last out. The story of ‘the keys’ is one of those experiences that will go down in my brains history banks as something so memorable that it will no doubt be re-told on many future occasions.
The night in question saw both Will and Julie at the end of a session that bordered on 12.30am. When they had left I made my way upstairs to get fed and watered plus a few hours’ sleep before a repeat performance the next day.
I had finished eating and just turned off the TV when the doorbell rang. It was now just after 1am. Julie was present and looking for her keys. We did a quick turn around the pub to make sure that they hadn’t been dropped on exit.
I found a torch, and we made our way back to the caravan site shining the light left and right in a vain search for ‘The keys’. Now, this particular torch had a loose wire which meant that the light would occasionally go out. Not a problem, all I had to do was give it a short sharp tap to make it come back on. Not this time. I must have spent a good minute or so whacking this bloody great heavy metal torch up and down every inch of my right leg trying in vain to get it to re-light.
Thank god that it was after one in the morning because anyone watching this particular spectacle could easily assumed that I was prime candidate of ‘self-harming’ and had finally decided to end it all by beating myself to death with a torch at 1.15 in the morning half way up the car park, and Julie had agreed to witness the event!
When finally the torch decided that I had suffered enough, it came back on and we finished up back at Julie’s caravan with Will who had reached the conclusion that the only course of action available was to smash a window to get in.
This however did present a few problems. The main one being that their dog Bill, ( or Zebedee as I called him because of his habit of bouncing a good three feet off the ground whenever he got excited, a pretty remarkable feat for a dog that struggles to measure more than 9 inches in height when all four legs are on the ground!). If we had smashed a window to gain access then there is no doubt that the dog would have suffered cuts to his paws before we could get inside and subdue him.
The other main reason for my hesitation in agreeing to some form of glazial fracture (dead posh term, huh?) was that this was Julie’s new van. Well van isn’t really an accurate description as this was in fact twice the size of a standard van and was in fact a ‘Chalet’. Newly refurbished over the previous winter, the home had been installed on its new base less than a few weeks before. It was as immaculate as it was large and without a doubt Julie’s pride and joy. It is widely known that Will is not allowed inside with his boots on and rumored (in certain quarters), that it’s not just his boots that are taboo. For that reason, on the odd occasion that I have to pass the chalet, I make a point of not looking up at the window in case I encounter a vision that may end up being indelibly printed in my memory!
Anyway, it was around 1.30 in the morning when I ended up back at the chalet with tools that would allow me to remove a window. This done, it was Will that turned up with a step ladder and attempted to gain access through the new aperture that was once a part of the bay window. Bearing in mind that it was gone 1.30 in the morning and heaven knows just how much he had drunk that night, it’s either a credit to him that he had the foresight to remember or an example of the fear of god that Julie is able to impart, that Will actually stopped, turned to Julie and said “Julie, is it OK to walk on the carpet with my boots on”. Julie’s response is not something that I can share with you here as this book may very well be available to minors! However, I can assure you that I have never before in my life seen a man in such an inebriated condition disappear through a window so fast that it would have put ‘Bertie the burglar’ to shame.
The following day, as the story got back to the staff, it transpired that Julie had in fact handed the keys to Will prior to leaving the pub. Of course Will had denied any knowledge of such a thing, but then bearing in mind his condition that night you could have introduced him to Elvis and he would have denied on the basis that the all cemeteries are locked at night and he wouldn’t have been allowed out!
However, a quick search on the CCTV recording did verify that Julie had handed over said keys and that was very much ‘IT’ for Will. We had dropped him right in it. I did surmise that as we had not found the keys between the pub and the car park, it was unlikely that they had been dropped. Which of course meant that Will still had them, somewhere!
Now if I had been in his position and married to Julie, I know for a fact that if I had later found said bunch of key then they would have ended up in the lake in short order. But to give Will his due, when they eventually turned up, he very bravely ‘fessed up’ and took his punishment like a man. And before you ask, I have no idea exactly what form the punishment took. I suppose I could hazard a guess, but as someone who has never suffered from stress, thinking about what Will might have had to endure could actually introduce me to that phenomenon. No thank you.
Chapter 59 – We have a buyer
Around the middle of 2016 we were contacted by Sidney Phillips, the agent tasked with finding a purchaser for the Wharf. There was a certain lady that wanted to view the pub and would it be convenient. Yes, of course it would and a few days later, along she came.
She was very personable with some great ideas about what to do with the pub. She seemed genuinely interested and I made o point of suggesting that if she was that interested and wanted to consider making an offer it would make so much more sense to approach me directly rather than the usual farce of making your offer to the agent who then has to pass it on to us and then the response would go bake to the buyer via the agent. It’s a long drawn out way of agreeing a sale and I would much rather talk to someone on a face to face basis any time. There followed many visits over the next couple of weeks viewing the premises with various business associates and relatives and finally we sat down to discuss money. Within a short period we had negotiated a price and a deal was struck. Ten out of ten for this approach.
There followed the normal activities prior to the deal being formalized, surveys etc. and both Kelly and I were looking forward to starting afresh somewhere else, probably France as that had been the focus of our attention if and when we retired.
Now I’m acutely aware that a sale is not a sale until exchange of contracts and it was for that reason that we didn’t waste our time shooting off to France to look closer at the possibilities for our new home.
Just as well really. Because just prior to exchange we were contacted by the agent to say that the buyer wanted to reduce her offer by some £50.000. A common ploy buy some thinking that you were so geared up to moving on that you would accept a lesser amount rather than loose a buyer. Well. She bugged out there. Two points one she should have had the bottle to approach me directly instead of going through the agent with such news, that alone showed me who I was dealing with and secondly that is not the way I do business. I agreed a price and shook hands on the deal. Now while I agree that until the paperwork is sorted and signed by both parties then the buyer has the option to walk away at any point and I respect that right, But to try and screw someone for an extra £50,000 just before the signing is simply unacceptable, unprofessional and because she didn’t have the ball to approach me directly, I think cowardly is probably an acceptable term as well. I do realize that it was not personal, just business and I don’t know if that’s the way she normally operates but if that’s the case then I doubt she’ll ever get the very best out of people because by and large most have much higher moral values then her. Either way she lost out because there is no way I would do business with someone like that. I have no intention of naming or shaming the lady concerned but if she is reading this she will recognize herself instantly. All I have to say is, you had some great ideas and I bet you’re wondering what might have been if you had approached the situation in a more professional manor. Your loss!
Chapter 60 – The bottom dropped out of my world
At 7pm on Tuesday 25th July 2016, my lovely wife Kelly died.
Kelly had been putting up with backache for a couple of weeks before she decided that a visit to the doctor would be a good idea. The doctor, Gemma, in her wisdom suggested that my wife should go to the hospital in Worcester to get some x-rays, just to make sure it was nothing serious.
The results came through about a week later and the general consensus was that it appeared there was a blood clot in the lung. The next option was an MRI scan to get better detail on the clot and it was within the next week or so that we found ourselves in the company of a consultant who explained that it was not a blood clot but a tumor. The tumor was in her right lung but it turned out to be metastatic which basically meant that it had spread, in this case to the liver and the bones.
I must admit to researching lung tumors, prior to the consultant appointment. The internet described stage one a, and b tumors which with the right treatment could be beaten.
Kelly’s was stage four, as bad as it gets.
The prognosis was around three months without chemotherapy and the possibility of up to twelve months with treatment. While at the meeting, I mentioned to the consultant that the previous evening Kelly had appeared to be slightly confused. It was at this point that he suggested that they should take some more ‘bloods’ before we returned home.
We got back to the pub at around 5pm and Kelly fell asleep on the sofa. Good, she needed all the rest she could get. About 9 o’clock the phone rang. It was the hospital. The results were back and they were sending an ambulance as Kelly was showing an extremely high calcium level. Apparently a normal level was around 2.4, and hers was 4.2. 2.8 is the level at which most people would start to lose consciousness. Kelly had been ‘asleep for around 3 hours.
However, she did wake, and with great effort made her way downstairs to await the ambulance. She appeared to be fully awake when they wheeled her away, and I made preparations to get some things together and make my own way to the hospital.
I won’t go into the finer details but my confidence level in the hospital was not that high, especially considering my own experience in the same hospital a few weeks earlier. Suffice to say that by the time I had reached the hospital she had been assigned a cubical but the doctor that we had been told was ‘waiting for her to arrive’ had not been to see her and neither had anyone else in the two hours she and I had waited. I even had to take her to the toilet myself because not even a nurse has come to check on her.
Now before you think I’m ‘going off on one’, I know the doctors and nurses are busy, I know there are emergencies and people whose care is more time sensitive. But, just how long does it take to pop your head inside a cubicle and say “are you OK, is there anything you need”?
Over the following 5 days she was moved another 4 times to different wards. I would go into see her first thing in the morning and again after the pub closed at 11pm. I often wondered if she would still be where I saw her last. She was pretty much out of it most of the time and in constant pain. She would recognize me when I arrived and again when I left, but the rest of the time was a blur for her. I just hope that my presence was reassuring and she was aware that I was there for her.
That week I was constantly enquiring as to her calcium levels. They would take regular blood sample to test and the results would be in the records ready for when I arrived on the ward close to midnight each day. After doubling up on the treatment, her calcium levels did start to reduce to the stage when on Sunday morning she was just starting to become more coherent. But it was at around 7pm that evening when a phone call from the hospital suggested I might want to get there some time soon. When I arrived I was informed that Kelly had suffered a seizure. She was over it now and resting.
Kelly was indeed resting. She was now almost totally unconscious, with just the odd muscle tensing while I held her hand. I believe that at this point she was not in any pain, for the first time in almost a week.
Just ten days earlier Kelly and I had attended the wedding of her youngest son, Christopher. The wedding went like clockwork and the whole event was perfect. Kelly was a little unsteady on her feet and I had to support her when it came to steps. But she thoroughly enjoyed the event. I was under strict instructions that no-one was to be told about the diagnosis. Kelly said that she would deal with the task of telling everyone when her son had returned from honeymoon.
Although I had kept stumb, I manage to pull the wedding photographer to one side and commission him to take some photos of Kelly without her knowledge. As Kelly was camera shy to the extreme he was advised to take them from a distance because if she suspected what was going on I didn’t fancy his chances of doing another ‘wedding job’ with just one functioning arm!
Her son was in the USA when we phoned with the news that his mother was in hospital and things were not looking good. Kelly didn’t regain consciousness and passed away some 24 hours after her seizure. Christopher flew home straight away but missed his mother by about an hour. She wouldn’t have known he was there but I rather hope that he won’t be affected by the fact that he wasn’t told. None of us expected things to go downhill so fast, after all, the consultant had given her up to twelve months hadn’t he.
The death certificate states that she died from a chest infection with the high calcium levels and cancer as a supporting causes.
I was left in a state of total shock. No-one knew the true facts but even if we had, none of us expected this. At the time of the diagnosis Kelly was a rock. She didn’t flinch when given the news. It was as though she already knew. The night we first got an inkling of what was coming I simply went to pieces. I couldn’t sleep, kept getting out of bed and needing fresh air, would go out onto the balcony just to try and breathe. I was in tears. I was supposed to be the one supporting Kelly. Yet there SHE was supporting ME!
The day we got the bad news we had sat in the car just to talk for a while and she said to me. “You know, when I go, you’re going to be quite a catch” my reply was “that may well be so. The problem is that you’re going to be a hard act to follow”! And isn’t that the truth.
The Shock from everyone that learned of the news was obvious. They would say “but she was fine the last time I saw her” And they were right. It just all happened so fast. From doctor’s appointment to diagnosis, three weeks, and 6 days later she was gone. Just like that.
No time to get anything organized or a detailed will in order let alone sort out her affairs. She did mention that she would have to make a note of all the passwords. Never happened. I had no access to the bank account online. I didn’t have a clue how much was in the bank. When contacted, they were about as useful as a pork pie salesman in a synagogue. Three weeks later and I’m still writing cheques blind. I’m paying people in cash wherever I can just to help put off the time when the cheques start bouncing!
Many of our customers have been kind enough to offer to help in any way they can. But if, like me, they wouldn’t know where to start with a VAT return and I doubt they’d relish the thought of rodding out my drains, means that there are certain things that only I can do. But I’d like them all to know that although I may not have taken up their kind offers of help, they were still very much appreciated.
August 5th just gone was to have been our 6th wedding anniversary. It was also the 9th anniversary of the day we met. Kelly and I first made contact on Match.com. We arranged to meet for a meal at a local restaurant. We had our meal and then spent the rest of the afternoon in the restaurant garden drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and laughing. What the staff though about two 50 something’s giggling away like a couple of school kids, I have absolutely no idea.
But that afternoon more or less set the standard for the nine years we spent together. We had a LOT of laughter. We never argued once. Yes, we had the odd disagreement. Like the time Kelly bought a commercial version of Monopoly. Instead of buying houses and hotels you could buy land and commercial buildings. At one point we found that we couldn’t agree about each other’s interpretation of one of the rules. We never played that game again because the following day Kelly sold it on Ebay. Now there’s a woman with foresight.
During the last 5 years, we’ve practically lived in each other pockets 24/7 and yet we never fell out once. It might have something to do with the fact that Kelly would only ever argue if she knew that she was 100% right. The problem with that of course is most of the time she was. That meant if ever we had a disagreement and she didn’t back down, it basically meant I was definitely in the wrong. I caught on to that quite quickly and perhaps that’s why we got on so well. She was also highly intelligent. Most of the time, while watching University Challenge together she would come up with the answers before the contestants, and that was while I was still trying to figure out the question!
People say that there is one special person out there for each of us and I’m totally convinced that for me, Kelly, my wonderful, wonderful wife, was that one special person. The upside of that stroke of luck for me is that we had plenty good times, lots of laughter and a whole heap of good memories.
And that really is my point. It’s the memories that are the most important because they last not just nine years, but a lifetime. So make sure that the ones you have are imprinted on your mind. Because as well-meaning and generous as offers of help are, the one thing that will help get through times like these are your memories. So cherish them. Because I know I will.
Chapter 61 – You couldn’t make it up
About 2 or 3 weeks prior to Kelly’s passing. I was in hospital myself with a gallstone problem. The operation to remove it had been cancelled on three occasions. Now, some 4 months on, I had another appointment, this time for the operation itself. I went into Kidderminster hospital at 7.30am on 4th November, had the op and was back home by 5pm. I was pretty impressed by that.
All went well and by the start of the second week after the op I was standing upright again in not in too much discomfort. But 3 days later, things started to change. I became ill on the Thursday and by Saturday evening I knew I was in trouble. I called the out of hour’s service and after 3 or 4 protracted question and answer sessions I was informed that a doctor would visit.
As soon as he saw me he called for an ambulance suspecting septicemia. My manager was instructed not to let me go to sleep, and so sat on the edge of my bed shouting at me every few minutes just to make sure I was awake. About 30 minutes later he went downstairs to check and see if the ambulance has arrived. It was just pulling up in the car park so he dashed back upstairs to give me the news.
Meanwhile, one of our regular customers, a chap called John had come into the pub. He had obviously had a day on the beer and had come in for a final couple of pints before returning home. After his first pint he went outside to have a cigarette. Whilst taking his last drag of nicotine he dropped his cigarette on the floor and bent down to pick it up. It was while he was squatting down collecting the stub that he lost his balance and projected himself forward, headfirst into the concrete ashtray on the opposite side of the doorway some 8 feet away. Not being totally sober meant that the normal reaction which was to put his hands out in front to support his fall did not occur to him and he hit the ashtray head first.
Rolling onto his back, it was not apparent at first just how much damage he had sustained. But within 10 seconds of the incident taking place, two paramedics arrived at the door to find this 74 year old prostrate on his back with blood pouring from a head wound. Their first and obvious concern was for this man lying in front of them and it took only seconds to decide that his need for an ambulance was greater than mine. So with no further ado they threw him in the back and set off for Worcester Royal, ordering a second ambulance to take care of the very sick landlord still upstairs in bed being kept awake by a very shouty manager who was by now noticeably concerned that his new boss may not be around much longer which probably meant that neither would his job. Well, as things turn out, my transport turned up within another thirty minutes and I was then on my way to the Royal as well.
John and a customer who had accompanied him was already at the hospital, along with someone who had followed the ambulance. The staff nurse on duty at the time was one of our customers and when I turned up as well her first comment was to find out if this was a Wharf reunion!
Well, as it turned out, I didn’t have septicemia. I was simply unlucky enough to pick up a virus at a time when body’s defenses were at a low point which unfortunately for me made it seem worse than it was.
As it turned out, John was scanned and found to have no brain or skull damage which left him with the reality that he had only scalped himself. I say ‘only’, but it took 38 stitches and staples to rejoin the skin on his head which left a 10 inch scar from one side of his head to the other. He was to put it mildly, one very lucky man. He may have been seventy four years old but a very fit seventy four year old luckily for him. On top of which he had medical assistance within 10 seconds of the accident, now THAT is what you call service. It was just pure luck that the ambulance that was called for me turned up just at the right time.
We now have a sign on the ashtray saying ‘please mind your head’ and a picture of Johns scar in the bar and underneath it says ‘Don’t drink and dive’!
You just couldn’t make it up!
Chapter 62 – 12 months later
I write this now just after the first anniversary of Kelly’s death so as you might assume I have not added to this missive for some time. I am fast approaching some six years of ownership of the Wharf and still being challenged on a daily basis. I suppose it’s what keeps me going. Every day is different and throws up many different issues that need attention.
There was the time about three months after Kelly died that I started to get phone calls from my suppliers saying that their direct debits had been returned unpaid. Well, I knew that there was sufficient funds in the bank so it wasn’t my fault. After making contact with the Co-op bank I was informed that they had received a memo that one of the partners in the business had passed away so they had cancelled all the outgoing payment instructions! What were they thinking? Do they imagine that when one person in a partnership dies that the business just stops operating! Idiots. Anyway within no time they had reinstated all my direct debit payments. However, when a supplier gets a setback like that you just never know how nervous they might become in future about how viable the business is and whether or not they are likely to get paid on future orders. I can well understand the situation from their perspective even when I tell them that the bank cocked up. I doubt that some of them believed me. Worse was to come.
Later that week, arriving at the tills of the local cash and carry with two trolleys of shopping for the weekend rush I was told by the cashier that my bank card had been declined. So I rang the bank again to find out that as well as the direct debits they has also cancelled the bank cards. Did someone not think to check that when they reinstated the direct debits. Their response was we’re very sorry but we can’t do anything about it until Monday as the team that deals with it don’t work weekends. Now I don’t know about you but if I were in charge the first thing I would have done was drag someone back into work, weekend or not, to sort the bloody mess out.
What a bunch of incompetents. The upshot was that we could not provide food service that weekend and I have no idea just how many regulars we disappointed come Sunday lunch but the following weekend we bombed with a greatly reduced turnover and an obvious lack of custom. This continued to such a degree that the kitchen staff were so fed up sitting around with nothing to do that they went and found a job somewhere else, who could blame them?
Obviously I complained to The Co-op Bank and would you believe they actually had the audacity to offer me compensation of £50! No, me neither. When I refused to accept it they then took another look at the complaint and compounded the situation by putting £150 into my account hoping that the problem would go away. It didn’t. I then took the case to the banking ombudsman think that they might have someone with a little common sense. Think again.
The ombudsman had a look at it and suggested that £500 was more appropriate. In fairness to them, they don’t work at the sharp end of business and really have no idea of the financial impact I had suffered. After refusing to accept their decision it was referred to someone else who at the end of the day were just as unlikely to overrule a colleges assessment although they did increase the offer by a further few hundred pounds which I didn’t really have any other choice but to accept because the case wasn’t going to go any further. I shouldn’t really have expected any other result on the basis that the ombudsman is funded by the banks and so is primarily concerned with looking after it’s own on top of which it has no idea of how a business runs at ground level and simply couldn’t conceive the level of damage that the Co-op had caused me. The bank was given a certain number of days to make the payment once I accepted it and true to form they waited until the very last moment before paying up.
The icing on the cake goes to them once more, because I recently applied for a bank loan to build the new workshop/store that I have been sitting on planning permission for some five years now. After all the paperwork was filled in and presented the bank rejected the loan on the basis that they were not convince that the business could afford the repayments. Hogwash. I was looking to borrow a sum of money that was less than 10% of the value of the building that the loan would be secured against. That’s a building that was wholly owned by me with no mortgage, a business that has no debt, money in the bank and an owner with a net worth of around three quarters of a million. Bit of a no brainer in my book.
Just to press home the point of how incompetent they really are. Would you believe that they even told me that I had not informed them that my wife had passed away and that I would have to address that situation before I applied for the loan? This, even though I have sent them Kelly’s death certificate on two previous occasions and I even have a letter from them acknowledging receipt of it and telling me that they have scanned it into their system. Considering all that has happen it must be a really crappy kind of system!
They may never own up to the fact but I think they were still pissed that I took them to the Ombudsman and won even though it was their cock up that caused the issue in the first place. That’s banks for you. I think I may have mentioned it earlier in this book but I shall repeat it again anyway. My father always said that a bank is an organization that will offer you an umbrella but will want it back as soon as it starts to rain. Dad, as usual, you were right but don’t worry once the likes of Bitcoin gets into its stride then the banks won’t be able to wield the sort of power that they now possess. It may not happen in my lifetime but right now I bet the banks are crapping themselves!
Chapter 63 – My new workshop
When we first mover to the Wharf in 2011 one of the first thing I decided was that there was sufficient land to the side of the boathouse to build a workshop/garage/storage facility. And it was within a matter of months that we had secured planning permission for just such a building. Not without hassle I might add but rather than go through all that if I say to you that I was dealing with the local planning department I think you might by now understand just the sort of crap I had to deal with.
For example the granted permission lasts three years in which time you have to make a start on the building or loose the permission and have to reapply. I phoned the planning department to say that I was going to dig out the footing just so that the build was in fact underway. Only to be met with the response that footings alone would not be considered as starting the build. The Numpty on the other end of the line then came up with a classic. You might be planting potatoes he said. Oh sure, that’s the dream of many an allotment owner. Four rows of potatoes in a twelve meter square. What a bunch of Pratts they must employ at the local council offices. Where on earth do they find them?
In the end, I decided that I was going re-apply for the permission and relocate the building some five meters further to the left. Exactly the same building, same specification, just five meters away from it’s original intended position. “Oh, you’ll need to make a full planning application for that then” “what just to move it?” “Afraid so” And the reason for that is? I hear you ask. Well the answer is that a full planning applications cost another £1500. ! Not stupid are they? Money grabbing little bleeders.
And then they stated that the caravan and porta cabin that I was using for storage had to be removed prior to the build starting. When I explained that the reason for the new building was to house all the stuff that was being stored and I would need to keep the other two units until the new building as complete. Would you believe that I would have to apply for what is called a variation order which would allow me to get rid of the storage units after, and that would be another two hundred quid please!
Prior to the actual build starting I had to have a survey carried out to ascertain if the new building would compromise the habitat of any lesser spotted wide mouth frogs or any other wild nesting sites. Oh and you need to submit the survey with a cheque for £97 please. Even after the two planning application fees, the lesser spotted newt fees etc. I still have to pay for a license to self-build and then pay them to come and inspect the build at each stage to make sure that I am not constructing the whole thing from Balsa wood and string although in all likelihood, thast all I’ll be able to afford to build it from once I’ve finished paying off those money grabbing bastards!
Chapter 64 – Goodbye
There are two reasons for the title of this chapter. On reason is that this book is to all intent and purpose finished, with one minor exception, I have yet to sell the pub. And you can bet your bottom dollar that will be a chapter and a half, guaranteed. And the second reason you will come to understand only once you have finished this chapter. So read on.
As well-worn as the saying ‘Life goes on’ is. Life really DOES go on.
And so it was that after Kelly’s passing there came a time when coming upstairs to the flat above the pub each night became so much more of a chore than even I ever imagined that it could become. I missed having someone there to talk about what had just happened or to ask an opinion of. Discussing thoughts about our future together (as much of a waste of time that would eventually turn out to be)It was always fun to sit and watch TV together I would take the piss of some obscure program and Kelly would collapse into fits of laughter. It always made me feel good to make her laugh so.
And now to be honest life was becoming a chore, just something to do during the day until bedtime came around again. I was bored, and yes, probably lonely would be more descriptive.
I know for a fact that Kelly would not have wished that upon me and so the thought of looking for a new partner would never have burdened me with any form of guilt. Kelly would have above anything else want me to be happy.
So with a free mind I started looking at Match.com Hoping above all else that I might be lucky enough to strike gold twice in one lifetime. The object of the exorcise was not to replicate Kelly, I already knew for absolute certain that was not possible. When I said to her just a week before she died that she would be a hard act to follow. I wasn’t kidding.
Hard was probably the wrong word, impossible would be more accurate.
So I wasn’t going into this blind. I knew that whoever I met in the future would have to be their own person and I also knew that I was not looking to replicate anything from the last 10 years that Kelly and I had spent together. To have wished for that would have been a stupid and impossible task.
I met a very nice lady from the Leicester area first. We met at a neutral location in Birmingham so that we could ‘scope’ each other out, as you do. Just a coffee to start with and if we found each other mutually acceptable then perhaps another date elsewhere. We did and we did. But it wasn’t going to happen She was 10 years younger than I, also that she had been a lawyer and had been at ‘the Bar’ I said “well, there’s a coincidence, so was I, every night” We obviously didn’t have the same sense of humour and although I felt physically attracted to her I’ve no idea if the feeling was mutual because after three or four dates I walked away with a peck on the cheek and not the slightest idea of how this woman s mind worked.
The next lady I dated came from around the same area and was a totally different kettle of fish. Totally tactile and very friendly. By friendly I don’t mean overly so. I wasn’t looking for someone who was prepared to jump into bed with me at the first opportunity, I think that would have frighten the crap out of me more than anything else. But she was very easy to spend time with totally undemanding in many ways. But I got the feeling that as easy as it would have been to form a relationship with this woman I felt that she was also very needy. Again just the one kiss was all that was swapped before I decided that this was not my road.
It was a while later that I noticed one of the profiles online, a lady from Florida was strikingly different. We all have the same starting point. A photograph. Someone has to be physically appealing in the first instant. This lady was that to me. There were a lot of photos, in lots of different settings, this lady was a traveller, obviously. Then of course there is the criteria of what the person is looking for. She was younger than me, by some 15 years. Not a good start. What would she find appealing about someone much older than her?
The list of her preferences didn’t take long to navigate. She had set her age limit requirements just outside of my actual age. The height requirements didn’t meet my actual measurements either. As I perused her list of preferences, I crossed them off one by one finding myself not meeting any of them. For god’s sake, she didn’t even include English men within her roll call of acceptable nationalities.
So I wrote to her.
I explained that I was in fact, too tall, too old, too heavy, my religious bent wasn’t right. I pointed out that I was in no way what she was looking for in a man, with the exception that I was well endowed (you should notice that there is no ‘comma’ after that word!) with a great sense of humour, and would she consider that as a starting point?
I received a reply that same evening. All it said was “I’m busy at the moment, I’ll write later”. And that is how it all started.
She did write later and then I replied and so before long we were what you might describe as serious pen pals. In time she suggested that I download Skype so that we could talk to and see each other. I tried to explain that I might find that a little difficult as I was in fact computer illiterate. So she suggested that I find a 10 year old to help. Now Personally I could see an issue with that. “Yes officer, I know she’s only ten years old but I just wanted to show her something on my computer”!
The alternative was to try it myself, and as it turned out, it wasn’t as difficult as I had imagined. So we Skyped each other on a regular basis. One day she told me she was traveling to Spain and I decided to meet her there. It didn’t take a great deal of effort to work out where she was staying from the Airbnb picture of the apartment she had rented, So I booked a place about 100 yards away. I could have booked in the same block but I thought it might look like I was stalking her.
When we eventually met, it just felt so right. We spent a couple of days in each other’s company, driving around to different places of interest and the rest is history. I surprised her a couple of times just turning up in Florida, spending the weekends at her place and then traveling across to my own house in Tampa. Here we are almost a year later and I’m still smitten. We Skype almost every night and share the gossip.
What does the future hold? That I don’t know. Will she get fed up with me? Possibly. Only time will tell. Right now, I’m a happy man. Yes we may well live 3000 miles apart but hey, that may not be forever. Perhaps I may write another book to keep you updated on our future together. But that’s for another time.
And the second reason for the title of this chapter. My girl is Brazilian and her name is Sayonara. Yes, before you ask, it does mean Goodbye.
Chapter 65 – Hurricane Irma
I travelled to Florida during September for a two week break. Many are aware that the ‘hurricane season in Florida run from June to November. But the region had not seen a serious storm of hurricane proportions since 2005. So it was not surprising that Hurricane Irma made her debut during my two week stay.
It was, in the experience of most Floridians that storms such as these generally speaking tend to travel up the East coast of Florida, wreaking havoc from the Keys right up to Georgia, and sometimes further. That’s exactly what I was expecting to happen. So the plan was that I would travel over to Orlando, collect Sayonara and then go back to Tampa where we would wait out the storm while it did its thing some hundred or so miles to the east.
Well things didn’t exactly go to plan.
While in Orlando, we became aware that Irma ( just love the way they name their storms in the States, We tried that here in England just a few months later, and what did we come up with? Brian!). Anyway Irma didn’t do what was expected of her. Instead of hitting the Florida Keys and heading north up the east coast, she continued to track west and then started traveling up the west coast! Typical woman, never does exactly what you would expect!
So, there I was in Orlando, nailing down anything that would fly given the right wind conditions and there was this storm heading for my place in Tampa from there we didn’t know what it was going to do. If it hit Tampa and the decided to go cross country, I didn’t particularly what to be around to experience it.
So, we packed a few things and headed up country. Alabama seemed the most sensible place to head for because the predicted path of the storm was tracking just east of there. It took around twelve hours to drive up country. The motorway was absolutely packed, mainly because there were around five million Americans with the same idea.
Bunch of Pussies! Not really a fair statement on the grounds that I was an English pussy with exactly the same intention, to ‘get the hell out of Dodge’!
Around midnight, we found ourselves stopping at every hotel/motel only to be told that there was no room at the Inn. So we just kept on traveling further North, until we came across a place that had a room for the night. It was called The luxury Inn. How lucky could we get? They probably had rooms to spare because it was very expensive, I thought, but it wasn’t. But when we found the room it all became clear as to why there were rooms available. If I say that we slept on top of the bed covers that might give you an idea of how bad it was. Needless to say, as soon as I had got a few hours’ sleep we were out of there, gone by six in the morning.
Eventually we found a room at the Holiday Inn in Montgomery, the capital of Alabama that would suffice for a couple of days while we waited out the storm over the weekend and travelled back down to Florida on the Tuesday. The traffic was nowhere near as bad and we made it in about half the time. We went straight to my place as Irma had Tracked right over it. I must admit to not knowing what to expect. Would I have a roof? Is it possible that I would be flooded, as I was only about a mile from the sea and there was major talk of storm surges, the same as had happened in other cities along the storms roof.
Well, It had made a mess. There was no denying that. I had to sweep the steps off there were leaves everywhere! Apart from that you wouldn’t have even known a storm had come through. Even the trees were all in place. How lucky was I? Two schools of thought are apparent here. Either, as my house is only about 10years old, it was built to withstand this kind of activity or the fact that the storm lost some of its severity as it tracked north. I’m of the opinion that the latter is likely to be behind the total lack of damage and consider myself extremely lucky not to have to deal with major repair works to the property from thousands of miles away which would have been the stuff of nightmares.
We then made our way over to Orlando. A totally different story there. Trees down all over the place every house in the Winter Park area had large piles of debris at the roadside. Sayos house had only minor damage. A fan in the carport had lost 4 of the five blades, all snapped off and some minor tree damage. I find it hard to believe that when the storm passed over my place near Tampa, it causes minimum damage and yet in Orlando, some 100 miles or more away from the ‘Eye’ it caused havoc. Anyway no lives were lost in the area, and that’s the main thing, everything else can be replaced.
In the street where Sayo lives there was a loss of power, probably to do with trees taking out power lines as they fell. We were 7 days without aircon that was the hard bit. Trying to sleep at night was quite difficult. I woke one night at 2.30 with a headache and needed a coffee. After setting the machine up with a filter and coffee, trying to plug it in before I remembered there was no power. I got in the truck and drove down to McDonald’s at 3.00 in the morning just to get coffee! No matter your views on their food, you can’t beat them for 24 hour opening.
The power eventually came back on the day before I left to return home.
TO BE CONTINUED