Wednesday 23 December 2020


 You know what I’m unexpectedly missing in this weirdest of all runs up to Christmas?

The drop ins from friends ,family, suppliers, customers, (anyone really) that’s usually accompanied by an impromptu seasonal glass of something and a bit of a natter.

Don’t get me wrong, the drop offs are still happening but the social part is gone.

A quick hello on the doorstep is the best we can hope for in this strangest of years.

Got my first Christmas gift yesterday-a marvellously kitschy decanter and sherry glass set which i’m going to fill with the ghost of Christmas past -has to be Harvey’s Bristol Cream.I shall be having a nip every time the DPD van goes past.

Yes, the thing i’m missing most every day is vey simply HOSPITALITY.

Tuesday 24 November 2020

Rishi Knows Best

Can you believe that back in January MY BIGGEST CONCERN  for the business was how many logs get chucked on the fire on a daily basis??

 At least we have another memorable summer to keep us going, maybe we can forget about the long hot summer of  '76 now....

The heady days of THE FIRST lockdown which we settled into quite nicely after the first couple of weeks  seems like a lifetime ago.The transition from running the pub to a life of no structure brought with it a weird sense of grief and lack of purpose which I don't mind admitting I struggled with at first.

Chef, however, was like a pig in shit from day one, we got stuck into the garden, enjoyed long walks and YES took the wonderful weather for granted.

The highlight of the week became Gardeners World, I say this genuinely-I can't remember anticipating anything so much since:  live from Norwich it's the quiz of the week it's *drum roll* The Sale of the Century'...A show which led me to believe Norwich to be a very glamorous place, a fact which was later confirmed when I found out Delia lived there.

I digress..

Is there anything as soothing as the pause to hear the birds tweeting in the Jewel Garden followed by Monty's dulcet tones?

Nope thought not, gardening is definitely good for mental health.

All good things come to an end though and just as I was thinking we've got until September at least, Rishi gave us a two week green light to get the show on the road again.

There was a 45 page Government guideline document to trawl though, much of which was open to interpretation due to the 'wherever possible' clause tagged onto the end of each recommendation, which  the requisite Risk Assessment for reopening the business was drawn up from.

We didn't open on the first weekend.We weren't really sure what to expect but I was SHIT SCARED , I hadn't been around the public for three whole months.

We'd planned to keep some staff on furlough part time but within a week we had everyone back and had employed three additional staff.

Things were chugging along quite nicely, consistently busy every day, business was better than we could have ever hoped and for the first time in my long career in hospitality people were stunningly FLEXIBLE.
At first I thought I'd misheard as I took the first call from a customer requesting a prime 8pm slot, usually people are so specific about time and often will not accept a reservation with even 15 minutes deviation from their preferred time, and even if they do accept a slightly different time they will still turn up at the time they'd asked for in the first place.Anyway, we were pretty booked up already and wanting to keep the kitchen happy with the spacing out of the bookings and having been away from the show for three whole months and wanting to kind of ease everyone else (me) in fairly gently too, I replied:
'I'm very sorry we can't do 8pm, the only time I have available is 4.45pm'
With no hesitation WHATSOEVER came the response
'We'll take it'
And they were GRATEFUL to boot.
Reader,I could not believe my ears, they even THANKED me for fitting them in for a nursery teatime slot when what they were after was a grown up dinnertime.
I ran straight through to the kitchen to report the news:
'Bloody Hell' said Chef looking up briefly from the chip production line.
What I assumed to be a one off turned out to be a repeating pattern.People were so desperate they would accept widely ranging times and our plan to address the thirty covers down inside table deficit by offering the full menu all day, thus spreading the bookings out over the afternoon, WAS BLOODY WORKING a goddamn treat.
So much so that we decided to cap the bookings and do last orders at 8pm and *win* no more hanging around on a Monday night for a 9pm booking.
There was a creeping realisation that what we were experiencing was a definite shift in power.I was frightened to acknowledge it at first in case I jinxed the situation but after two weeks of controlling the bookings in a way I'd not seen anywhere before we actually became quite, well I wouldn't say blasé, but quite confident about not being able to defer to diners first choice of times.I no longer had the inner voice of doubt that's niggled me throughout my working life that made me incur the wrath of the kitchen (it's  always a glitch on the booking platform eh?) by squeezing people in at a time as close to their request as possible in case they ended up not coming.
Kitchen/FOH relations were at an all time high.
I'm not saying the customer (and I say customer not guest-a guest is someone for whom I will pick up the tab, not someone who has entered into a financial contract whereby we provide a paid service and therefore there are certain expectations to be met by both sides.Also BTW a guest will not come into your home and start rearranging the furniture.. I REST MY CASE..) is no longer king, but I think this shift is important on many levels and might just signify a new era of equality for those of us working in the industry.
Anything that makes people realise the intrinsic VALUE of the hospitality industry can only be beneficial in the long term especially at a time when people need to understand the cost of serving food in a restaurant setting.Respect on both sides is not too much to ask for is it? 
As someone said to me recently, the tail has been wagging the dog for TOO LONG.

Let's hope it lasts.
Dream on...

Then came Eat Out to Help Out.

As if being confined to quarters for three whole months wasn't enough incentive for people to get out and about, who knew that the great British public's appetite for a bargain, specifically a maximum of ten pounds sterling per person, would have them chomping at the bit like Dominic Cummings on the last day of the Specsavers 2 for one offer.


We had to stop answering the  rang incessantly so I recorded a message to say we were too busy to answer and directed people to our on line booking platform to make a reservation.This was a huge relief until people started turning up in person without a reservation to tell us that our on line system was broken.

'We did try to book but your booking system isn't working'


We prayed for nice weather every day so that we could maximise use of the garden and catch up on the the three months lost prime trading time that generally gets us through the winter months.

As fast as money came in it flowed out like a bloody drain.
Everything started to break, in the first four weeks:
  • Our coffee machine
  • A double fryer
  • Robot coupe
  • telephone
  • Kitchen Extraction
No to mention the PPE, sanitiser stations, masks and additional FOH aprons purchased due to the increased daily boil washing in line with the Covid precautions, no getting two days out of anything. AND MY GOD how I wish I had shares in Blue centrefeed roll..

Then, HORROR during the height of EOTHO and  after we'd downloaded the APP which worked out the discount on each individual bill, our till system started to run painfully slowly
The discount wasn't as straightforward as you might think, and as expected the great British public weren't that sure how it worked either..most were fixated on the ten pounds discount regardless of what they'd spent.
One couple ordered two meals then asked for a spare plate for their grandchild and when it came to settle up expected a ten pounds discount for the empty plate:
'But our grandson ate too ?'
Did anyone else interpret a plate as a diner? 
I fleetingly wondered if they'd brought another two grandchildren we'd potentially be in negative territory and could end up owing them cash..
After three months spent in the garden at home I was grateful for some continuing decent weather and enjoyed frequent trips outside to our bursting at the seams garden.
In the early days, on one of these reconnaissance trips, a dead ringer for Bob Hoskins at the height of his 'its good to talk' period called me over and cheerily asked if he was allowed a coffee top up.
Buoyed by the confidence of the new and hitherto unseen flexibility of the diners I kind of pushed my luck.
"I can bring you another coffee' BEAM. Note intonation of 'another' indicating a fresh order and not an extension of an already supplied good/service..
His wife shuffled uncomfortably in her seat and laughed self consciously, despite clearly being out for the bargainous  discount on offer, nobody wants to be seen as a cheapskate.
I laughed and could see he was playing along.
"Nice try- but we've been closed for three months.. '
They both laughed,I went to fetch the fresh (charged for) coffee and gave him an extra complimentary Speculoo for being so understanding.
My generosity knows no bounds.
Pride cometh before a fall though..
The till continued to play up and of course anyone working in hospitality will know that nothing ever goes wrong on a Monday.., so on a VERY BUSY prime day the little circle of dots that chased each other slowly round the terminal screen whilst information was loading up, became an increasingly unwelcome and regular feature.
I made sure my new Day Carer was always on the bar in case I had any issues with making out detail on the bills, new glasses plus the visors we were wearing were too much together so one had to go and unfortunately it was the Geps.
We were finding the visors marginally better than masks due to the median age of the customers and with the lip reading being a necessity rather than a luxury and LORD we all want to  keep our distance and avoid people shouting forcefully in our faces to make themselves heard in these times..
The other unique and unexpected advantage of the visor was the Hannibal Lecter effect.No dipping in the chip tray on the frequent kitchen pick ups, which was a notable blessing due to the surplus lbs amassed over lockdown.
`Every cloud eh?
 And of course a greasy splodge on your front windscreen, however humorous to witness, was not an aspirational look on any of us.
Cue more blue roll..

The culmination of EOTHO was of course the dreaded August Bank Holiday Monday.
Regular readers may well be aware of the carnage invariably unleashed on these days.

The day started badly as I pulled on my favourite bouncy trainers in anticipation of the marathon ahead ,I mean that literally, in some of the preceding days I'd clocked up over 25k ( that's kilometres not readies btw no trip to the Maldives on the cards just yet thankyou ).
Anyway, you know when you pull on your shoes and sometimes your sock gets riddled up in the toe?  At this point normally I would have taken off the shoe and straightened out my sock but I was running late and had an armful of baggage already so I leaned down, grabbed the sock at the back of my ankle and pulled hard whilst wiggling the toes to smooth things out.
We've all been there, no?
(*I will come back to this later..)
I took the traditional group photo of the staff prior to service.
Some hadn't worked a Bank Holiday before, never mind potentially the busiest one ever.I glanced wistfully at the photo before I uploaded it to Instagram and felt a pang of guilt when I noticed the enthusiastically naive smiles, full of trust and eager anticipation.
As usual there were diners in the garden prior to opening, the weather was glorious(as if people needed any further incentive)and we were definitely in for a 'heap lie on' sort of day.
The Larder Chef, having a clear view through the porthole in the regulation fire retardant kitchen 'out' door, through to the garden beyond, called me over just prior to the opening of the floodgates.
(Incredulously):Have you seen the size of the bloke on table 27??
I peered over.
I was more concerned with the fact that the party had spread themselves out over three premium six seater tables than his considerable girth and was working out how the ensuing conversation I might have with him would pan out.
Chef brushed past on the way to the pot wash with an armful of pans in the final leg of his pre service clean down of the decks and with only a cursory glance outside, and without even looking up from the task in hand, made the usual quip:
'I haven't got enough food for him'
I must have heard this one a million times over the years but oldies are always goodies eh? And thank the Lord our God for small nuggets of humour in the face of adversity however un PC they may be..
I had a little giggle then headed out to explain in simple terms to the party of 8 whom we'd generously allocated two tables, the logistics of them then not commandeering a further table of 6 thus taking up 18 seats when in reality they were only 8, and despite the fact that one of them was indeed currently taking up three whole seats for himself.. 

The infinite circle of spinning dots on the till was mesmerising me for notably longer than usual whilst the immaculately socially distanced queue to pay backed like a disjointed conga for as far as the eye could see, which in my case was not that far..
It's funny how easily people have become acceptant of queueing as a way of life.
My day carer checked in on me.
'Biff what are you waiting for?'
I looked over despondently, with bong eyes as vacant as a flatfish that's been quietly aging in the freezer for a couple of days. 
'The will to live?'

Self portrait

Just then miraculously the screen sprang to life.
I managed to extricate myself from the bar at the earliest opportunity but five minutes later I could hear my name being called again.
Overly dramatic sing sing voice:'Biff oh Bi...iff ,would you mind just going through how the discount works with this gentleman ?You're much better than me at explaining....'
Now maths is not particularly my forte (or even my fifty come to that) however with even a very brief scan of the bill it was GLARINGLY obvious what the craic was.The total spend was £58, the discount was £12.Crucially the majority of the spend was on BOOZE and whilst  we all know that Rishi sensibly drew the line at subsiding Joe Public's alcohol intake, try explaining this shiz in simple terms to someone who already has the £10 sterling discount per person prominently fixed in their beer goggles.
Picture the scene if you will:
  • Queue at the bar backing up by the minute
  • Day carer twitching to intervene with some carefully chosen expletives
  • A sudden and increasingly more urgent need to visit the ladies having tried several times already but  having been repeatedly pipped to the post 
  • Kitchen bell ringing frantically 
  • Glasses on the bar stacking up from arsehole to breakfast time
After several minutes making absolutely no headway whatsoever I made an on the spot executive decision, dipped into the burgeoning tip jar and without a word handed over the disputed £8. 
(Don't worry it was all in small change, not being great with numbers is not indicative of any impaired mental capacity)😂

The phone continued to ring incessantly, but we never picked up.
Well almost never....
Some fool happened to notice the same number repeatedly on the caller display and imagined someone getting increasingly frustrated with the lack of a pick up or maybe it might be a cancellation (which Lord we could do with now) so in a moment of weakness and glaring stupidity picked up.
'Hello (insert pub name) how may I help?'
'Can I book a table please?'
'Yes of course-how many are you?'
'Five people'
'And when for please?'
'20 minutes time'
'Oh.I'm very sorry we're fully booked today'

*Much later, to be exact sixteen hours later having just kicked off the trusty steeds which had tirelessly ferried me back and forth all day without respite, I happened to notice a strange black staining on the toe area of my left sock.
I peered down in confusion.
Only the one sock.
I ripped the sock off, the second toe was a greyish white colour, the flesh soggy, wrinkled and dead looking, exactly like a virgin potwasher's hands after a first Saturday night shift.
I grabbed the trainer and thrust my hand inside and when my fingertips came into contact with something cold and clammy I knew instinctively what had happened.
 Chef appeared just as a silent tear plopped slowly from my quivering chin.
Can you get rid of the slug in my trainer please...
We both gazed over at the trainer and would you believe it the abomination was unbelievably STILL ALIVE and currently making a break for freedom over the heel despite having been impaled on the end of my toe for sixteen long hours.
It's not often Chef is lost for words.
ME:'Slugs carry meningitis you know'
CHEF (shiftily):' I think you''d better get in the shower..'


And if that isn't a perfect metaphor for the current state of the hospitality industry I don't know what is...


Sunday 29 March 2020

Thursday 26th March 2020

The new cooker turned up today which was AMAZING given that Boris has decreed that all non essential work must stop.There seems to be a lot of debate about what IS essential work-at the minute some building trades seem to be going on. Of course I would argue that having no cooking facilities is an essentialwork.The builder doing the kitchen work sat in the van for two hours watching to see when the cooker people left.
'I don't want to be around strangers' he said..
I wondered if strangers were any more likely to pass on the virus than family or friends and recalled the weird Madonna in the bath video rant that I'd watched earlier on in the day about how 'coronavirus is the great equaliser'.
Well exactly..we all sit naked in the bath filming ourselves wearing nothing but rose petals on our bits in times of national crisis ..
As usual Chef asked me what my plans were for the day.
I turned off the news.
'I'm going to trim the prickly bush'
Which raised a slight titter.
I spent the whole day on the garden again, weeding and cutting back HARD rose bushes and climbers.I don't worry too much about the buds they always seem to come back stronger from a good prune 18 inches above the ground if you're interested.
And if you have your own organic compost which you've lovingly fed for two years ALL THE BETTER.
What you need actually is two compost heaps.One to decompose and one to fill with all the veg trimmings, some cardboard-egg boxes are great, newspapers, teabags, coffee grinds and also the aforementioned secret ingredient..
When you start off it takes two years for the first to be ready, but once you've got to this stage you have one to fill and one that you're using.

Quality sieved compost

I have HIGH hopes for the produce this year as we also had a shitload of manure delivered a few weeks ago which we spread all over the veg patch.Bit whiffy at the time but you get used to it..
Whatever you do though DO NOT,I repeat,DO NOT spread farmyard mature on the area that you plan to plant root veg such as carrots.
If you do the tender young carrots will not be strong enough to fight their way straight through the bits of straw and you will end up with RUDE carrots..chortle..
*plants carrots in manure* 
News today;Prince Charles has Covid 19 this promoted a deluge of jokes most of questionable taste which I dare not repeat on here other than :
'Prince Charles has tested positive for COVID 19, however Prince Andrew has decided not to be tested and just sweat it out' haha.
At 8pm we all went outside to clap for the NHS which was nice if a little lacking in atmosphere up here,I couldn't help thinking it was a poor substitute for sufficient protective clothing for them.

I saw a  woman on the news in Russia who was happy to go into church and not observe the social distancing rules 'as the virus could not be spread in church' ..and Reader, SHE WAS A DOCTOR..
Maybe it's time we all found God.

Planted the early potatoes today; Maris Pipers and Pink Firs and returned the rancid compost heap specimens we found yesterday back on this years compost....

Thursday 26 March 2020

The Coronavirus Diaries

It's only five days since we closed the doors of the pub yet it seems like a lifetime ago.
God knows when/if we will open them again.
In the space of a few weeks this virus has gone from 'its just the flu' to a sweeping force which has put a stop to life as we know it.
Ive been keeping busy with the garden and avoiding binge watching the never ending news updates restricting myself to twice a day Breakfast news and the daily Boris show-enough to keep informed but not enough to have me in a constant state of panic.
I've had a gradual realisation  that this is our generation's World War and the fact that we are living through  history made me think I might as well document it.
Thankfully our house is pleasingly relatively isolated so following Boris' instruction to socially distance 2 metres (6 feet in old money) from other human life was no big deal.
In reality the vast majority of the population read 'stay at home other than for essential supplies and to exercise' as 'head out to the countryside for a stroll/cycle/run'.
Reader, in one day I saw more people pass my garden gate than I have in the last 2 years, it was more akin to Clapham junction than the usual bucolic calm we're used to.
The Chap spent the whole day barking at a succession of startled day trippers.
Particularly galling was the family of four who set off across the farmers recently ploughed field adjacent to our house.
'Good luck with that one if he spots them' said Chef..
I've spent every day in the garden and have AVOIDED at all costs the supermarket, picking up supplies from our local Co-op and butchers which are both fully stocked due to restrictions on the amount of items you can buy.The checkout woman told me that some are filling their baskets with the quota then going out putting the stuff in the boot then coming back in again!
Today the Coop introduced a 'one in one out' rule it was weird to see a queue of people outside waiting for their slot, all 2 metres apart and staring vacantly ahead, it was like a scene from Shaun of the Dead,I turned the car around and went to the garage which was FULLY STOCKED with groceries wine, crisps and chocolate and pleasingly empty apart from the extra staff restocking the shelves. I had a slight wobble when I paid with cash and didn't want to touch the change proffered so hurriedly grabbed the booze and ket and told the bemused lad on the till to put the change (over £5 ) in the charity box..I could see him furiously sanitising the counter through the window and glancing nervously outside, probably wondering if the virus affected peoples brains too...
At least our nation of shopkeepers is doing ok out of this thing.
We have zero food in the house due to being in the middle of a protracted kitchen refurb and having no cooker, sink or washing machine..
The toilet roll shortage has been well documented however, pleased to say we are fully stocked and haven't even started on the blue centre feed roll (niche catering product)or table napkins yet!

Thankfully the weather has been idyllic 17 degrees today its as if Mother Earth knows we need help..
This afternoon Chef appeared with a brand new Black and Decker drill an optimistic  Christmas present from his Dad gifted in December 2016 which had not yet seen the light of day.
After reading the instruction manual-'how to insert the bit' he managed to construct a rudimentary contraption designed to sieve the compost heap for dispersal on the vegetable garden.
Functional sieve

'I don't think much of your dove tails' I said
However miraculously the thing WORKED a treat and during the process we filtered out some lovely Maris Pipers which had been positively THRIVING in the abundant nutrients.
Appetising spuds

We'll have them on the BBQ for tea'
'Erm.. well no I don't think so' said Chef
Well I know now what the late night visits to the veg garden were all about... as Chef said its liquid gold...'only following National Trust instructions...'

Thursday 2 January 2020

Hello roaring 20's

I've been having a day of reflection and contemplation in order to evaluate where we are with the business at the close of 2019 and trying to formulate some sort of (very loose) plan for what we want to achieve in 2020.
Always start with a list of thoughts- this is mine for 2019:


Top of the list is always costs, keeping costs down is obviously fundamental to the profitability and ultimate survival of the business especially in uncertain times.
Which leads me on to our BIGGEST UNNECESSARY EXPENSE:
Something I've been thinking about A LOT lately is how to reduce our burning of fossil fuel in our lovely open fireplace, obviously a big draw throughout the year.The amount of money going up that chimney on a daily basis does not bear thinking about and has led me to remove the logs from the fireside and store them behind the bar so that the staff can ration the fire feeders that love to chuck six logs on there then stroll straight out of the door.
A Scrooge like move which has not been greeted with warmth by drinkers.
Admittedly this action was motivated by money and not for ethical reasons- though climate change has been the big issue of 2019.
A month or so ago I spoke with our log supplier who has an anal interest in the forensics of the fire and the log burning properties of each particular wood variety.I thought I'd ask him if he could supply logs with a higher moisture content so that they'd burn slower and longer and was not disappointed with his comprehensive response.I won't bore you but suffice to say you can expect the bloke who once provided me with silver birch 'show logs' for display purposes only, was indeed able to increase the percentage moisture content to an exacting degree.
Anally stacked highER moisture content logs

So for the last month we have been able to pleasingly reduce the amount of logs being burnt on a daily basis despite the regular 'your logs are a bit wet' comments from the drinkers, which I validate by playing the 'just doing my bit for climate change' card.

Whilst considering this I happened to be thinking the big trend for cooking over open fire and how it continues to grow with no sign of abating and happened to notice this article about the Connaught Grill being reinvented with YES another wood burning grill and rotisserie.
Whilst most restaurants aim to run in a sustainable way these days, I've not once seen any comment about the impact of these grills, I mean I know there's no doubt food cooked over flame tastes great but I wonder how the use of them sits ethically with business owners when there is talk of wood fired stoves in homes for example being banned in the future.
There must be some reading matter on this subject somewhere-but if someone has seen any please point me to them.I'm interested.
I seem to remember reading an article by Jay Rayner ( I think) about how the discovery of fire and rendering protein edible by cooking and how it enabled the human race to develop in that the eating of cooked food, not raw, enabled the the digestive tract to shrink and the brain to develop.
So it's a primitive pleasure rediscovered - how bizarre it could be contributing to our undoing.
It's an over simplistic view I know, but its full circle isn't it?

I was listening to an interview with Greta Thunberg's father the other day and he was asked the question 'Do you consider yourself a climate Activist?' He answered by saying no he wasn't, but he acted in a way that made his children happy and if that meant taking actions that they believed were right then he would do everything he could to support them.
I don't consider myself a climate activist but you can't disagree with that view.
The planet belongs to our children, not us.

We all know the basics-using local & keeping food miles down etc but changes we've made include reducing our plastic usage which has involved not buying plastic straws and drinks stirrers.
Reader,I cannot tell you the trouble this has caused -so much so that we've had to buy in paper straws at a cost of 5p per straw which we then CHARGE the customer for, in an effort to discourage them from using them.It seems some people are physically incapable of drinking from a glass receptacle  despite having an amazing shapeshifting object -namely a mouth -which can customise itself at will to any form(within reason) but seemingly favours the the most difficult shape -the tiny pursed hole to place neatly around the flaming straw. Moreover its seems many children are unable to drink other than through a straw which is beyond belief.

Keeping wastage down is a key to business success but also comes conveniently under the sustainability heading also.We do very well with this one, all the veg peelings, teabags,coffee grinds, cardboard etc go to our compost heap which feeds our vegetable plot.Some go to some local pigs which eventually end up on our menu also-I find this quite pleasing's the circle of life innit?

This is something we have very much enjoyed doing and have managed to produce a significant amount from our not huge plot.So its' definitely something we'd like to spend more time on and develop further.And with Brexit looming why wouldn't we?
Whilst I was thinking about this and attention diverted to what I could grow this year I started thinking about the nasty chlorinated chicken that might come in from the States and feeling quite self satisfied with how lucky we are that we buy all our meats locally.
Then I got on to thinking about all the amazing vegetables I've grown and how they're not uniform in shape and lovely and muddy when they come out of the ground but how beautiful and original they are once I've meticulously cleaned them..

It's not easy is it?
AND there are no simple answers...

Saturday 28 September 2019

The name's Bond,Basildon Bond..

I've been so flaming angry this week that I'm left with no other alternative means to 'vent my spleen' than to resurrect m'blog.

Wednesday was  one of those late summer days of gorgeous sunshine the type that unexpectedly lifts everyone's mood.We'd had a reasonably busy lunch for a midweek day this time of year and I just happened to glance out of the window to notice an elderly lady- arms under the shoulders of her slightly more infirm husband, attempting to heave him up from the rickety garden chair into a standing position..
To a seasoned pro like meself this looked like an absolute recipe for total disaster especially given the rather nice chilled bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon of which Sir had Im sure consumed the lions share during the leisurely lunch.
I dashed out to offer assistance by which time our subject had achieved an erect (no pun intended- further information later) position.
'Can I help at all?"
'Can you bring me the card doo-dah please? I'd like to settle my bill out here if I may?'
I thought I'd chance the card machine outside, sometimes the range isn't good enough for the far reaches of the garden but I was hoping they were near enough to the door to avoid any further unnecessary movement.
Our friend had managed to extract the card from his wallet by the time I'd returned and it was sitting ready atop the already proffered bill.
I picked it up and as I inserted  (we can all see where this is going) in the machine said:
'I'll just put this in here for you'
 I was NOT prepared for our elderly gentleman's response..:


His poor wife was MORTIFIED and glanced over at me worriedly to gauge my reaction before chastising him in a vey vey Margot Leadbetter voice:

'Gerry you can't say that!'

He grinned wickedly and winked at me as he replied:

'Yes I can - Im 84 -I can get away with it'

Reader, at this point I could not hold back I burst out laughing and could not stop.. the sound carried across the fields and valley and villages and reverberated throughout the nearby hinterland.

His wife raised her eyebrows knowingly and apologised, 'no need' I say 'its ok'.
'Yes but everything is so very PC these days- the humour has gone'

As I walked away I was feeling a bit guilty that I'd laughed and that I wasn't offended.
Did that make me non PC too?

As usual I sought validation from the kitchen,
I related the tale and they all found the whole thing bloody hilarious (females too I hasten to add).
As chef said: THE DORTY OLD DUFFER..

Later that afternoon there was another blast from the past as I flicked through the morning's unopened mail and among the usual easy to spot suppliers bills and junk mail something stood out.
Being a lifelong stationary addict I spotted the pale blue tinge of the Basildon Bond envelope immediately.
My heart sank.
A handwritten letter only usually signifies one thing-a complainer who isn't yet au fait with current technology and hasn't worked out how to access the internet and discover the seething cesspit of detritus commonly known as TripAdvisor.
My spirits raised slightly- at least it's a private complaint-no airing of any dirty laundry in public for once.
On opening the envelope I was surprised and delighted to find that it was a JOB APPLICATION.
We'd been advertising for staff and I'd asked for a short cover letter just so I could sort the wheat from the chaff before setting up interviews.
I'd been going through CVs many of which don't even give an address and one which had responded to my request for a short cover letter with (I kid you not) a 5000 word memoir which I'd lost interest  in after around 500 was like Groundhog Day.
So needless to say the handwritten letter was a refreshing and welcome change.
The applicant had taken early retirement and was looking for something part time to keep him busy.
I showed the letter to Chef.We both thought he sounded promising.Maybe someone with old fashioned values, a good work ethic-someone that might stick around for a while not just until the travelling around Asia fund had hit target..
I organised an interview.
Anyway I was full of expectation after he left the interview, he was personable and seemed pretty darned normal.
Past experience has taught me to always arrange a trial shift before offering work,I can't tell you how many times I've offered someone work, put them on the rota only for them not to turn up on the day.
So the trial shift was arranged.

An hour after he left the interview he returned with another delightful Basildon Bond envelope.
My heart sang.

Eat your heart out Julie

I beamed in anticipation of what must surely be a lovely thankyou card!
He left with a cheery wave and a 'See you soon'
No.Such Bloody.Luck.
It was a list of dates he couldn't work between now and mid November.
'Only six weekends, excluding two weeks in October when I can't work at all'
Eight weekends in a period of not many more weekends..

Deflated mode

A colleague who is far more measured and less emotional than myself suggested I ring him and say: Unfortunately due to the amount of dates for which you already have prior commitments we can't offer any work, however you are more than welcome to come along for the trial shift, get a feel for the place and maybe get back in touch in the New Year when you have less going on'
So that's what I did, fully expecting him to just say oh well I'll just leave it for now.
But no.
He intended coming for the trial anyway.
SO last night just before six he arrived.We already had a few tables in I wouldn't say it was busy but ticking over quite nicely for a midweek night with several tables in and a good crowd of locals in the bar.
I was taking an order when I saw him come in so I raised my eyebrows and nodded at him to acknowledge I'd seen him then continued with taking the order.
By the time I'd checked the order on and returned he was standing in front of the bar with a HALF PINT OF ALE IN HIS HAND.
And reader, he was supping it!!!
I headed over and avoiding being overly forthright with my outright disgust of his modus operandi on the occasion of a trial shift when any god damn fool knows OBVIOUSLY drinking alcohol would not be in keeping with the REQUIRED STANDARD, I copped out and pretended I hadn't seen the offending bev and went ahead and introduced him to the bartender for the evening, who thankfully was the aforementioned measured and calm individual, who I assured him would 'show him the ropes'.
I went back to the floor.
The redhead steamed over:
'He's here for a trial- I hope you're not being agist Redhead...'
She briefly flushed a similar hue to her own hair then replied:
'no no not at all its just I asked him if he was here for the trial and he said no MORE OF AN INTRODUCTION I'll BE STARTING IN THE NEW YEAR'
Will he indeed.
After a further five minutes passed I glanced up again and was stunned to notice our prospective employee once again at the front of the bar craicing on with the locals, looking like he was a piece of the furniture if you will and THIS TIME with a FULL PINT OF ALE in his hand.
He thinks he's some sort of romantic embodiment of a Mine Host from the 1950s who props up the end of the bar and pulls the occasional pint..or worse still one of those well known within the industry sorts who think they'll run a country pub when they retire!!!
I steamed over.
'Is everything alright here?'(as we all know this is industry speak for the multi purpose phrase 'what the fuck  do you think you are doing?)
'Yes' he replied 'I've just had a five minute Idiots Guide to the bar and I think I've got everything now, your bartender is a great teacher''
I'd say a more a fucking miracle worker if she's managed to teach him everything he needs to know in five minutes...
'Really?' (in as diplomatic a voice as I could muster given the circumstances) 'theres a lot more to this than meets the eye  you know'
He smiled a self satisfied smile, shrugged his shoulders and with a slight swagger replied:


I was fizzing.Our very calm and non emotional bartender who in her own words 'was rendered speechless' later informed me that he had INVITED HER TO JOIN HIM IN A DRINK !!


PS Spotted on twitter this morning...

Good luck with that🤯

Friday 8 March 2019

Shit Happens : Vol 2

If there's one event guaranteed to bring me back here it's  the dreaded Bank Holiday weekend.
I'd spent the days prior potting up an array of colourful bedding plants so the garden looked tip top ready for the holiday and was feeling pretty darn proud of my efforts,in fact I'd go so far as to say that I had in fact created The Chelsea Flower Show of the North but without the crowds..a comment surely destined to come back and bite me on the backside before the weekend was out.
Anyway, the sun was shining,I was chipper and I thought I'd get Chef outside to appreciate my efforts.
'Have you got a minute?'
Giving feedback on the status of my horticultural efforts is not exactly high on the list of Chef based priorities on the morning of a Bank Holiday but no matter I pressed on..
'Can you to come and have a quick look at my garden?'
I hadn't noticed nearby and within earshot, a  recent employee who has turned out to be, shall we say,a bit of a loose cannon..
There was a loud guffaw followed by
[More raucous laughter]
I briefly considered deploying a pious face,due to the fact that this particular lad has barely worked for us for a month but in the event I don't possess one and furthermore found the whole thing bloody hilarious.So despite the fact that I'm becoming increasingly convinced that I'm living on the set of Fawlty Towers,the day couldn't have started off in better humour.
A cursory glance at the laptop to check the bookings,just to see if we'd been inundated with last minute revellers overnight revealed a bit of an anomaly.As I peered in close to the screen, I happened to notice two bookings under the same name with the little speech bubble icon indicating there was some sort of special requirement.
Diners without special requirements are becoming an absolute rarity these days,from eating likes,dislikes,tables with good light,tables with a view,comfortable seats,chairs with high backs,quiet tables( it's a public house-rather self explanatory I would have thought?) to last week a first:
'I dont like the finish on the table can you put a tablecloth on it?'
In short-you name it we've had it.
So imagine my surprise to click on the little speech bubble to see the following rather peremptory comment:
'I've booked two separate tables of four at different times as I couldn't get availability,so seated at one table(8 guests) please at our chosen time 1pm.'
You may be surprised to learn that booking a table for a time you don't want then turning up at the time you DO want is a not unheard of activity,however, two separate tables at different times is what Chef would refer to as Fuckwittery on an Industrial Scale.
I spent the next half hour frantically trying to rearrange the table plan to accommodate this command which put me behind schedule, so consequently I was in a bit of a flap by the time I got around to mopping the floor in the gents (always with copious amounts of bleach-just to make sure there's no unpleasant whiff hanging around).
Being ever so slightly distracted, I didn't immediately notice that the cubicle door was closed.
A closed toilet door is an ominous sign, similar in nature,but one step down from a closed toilet seat.A closed toilet seat always incurs an audible groan,it’s a grim warning that there’s something not very nice purposefully hidden from view.
In fact a closed toilet seat is the Hellmouth of the catering world.
People will sniff out a shitter from miles away if they’re desperate,so the fact that we weren’t yet open was definitely no guarantee there was no one in there.Over the years I’ve walked in on various delivery persons,the postman(regularly) and one year several persons en route to Appleby for the annual horsefair, using our facilities as a complimentary campsite wash room.
‘Is there someone in there?’I called out,pausing briefly, head cocked to one side awaiting a response.. Reader,I nearly shit myself when the sorry sounding voice called back:
‘Yes it’s me’
I had no idea who *me* was.Shock can result in the blatantly stupidest of questions,but then you’d be surprised what people get up to in the bog out of the usual sphere of activities..(which reminds me there was a pair of NEXT undercrackers found on top of the gents HIGH level cistern last week-any ideas???)
‘What are you doing?’
Further another pause...then
'I’m not well’
‘What’s wrong with you?’
‘I’ve got a poorly stomach’
 I ditched the mop immediately and made a beeline to the kitchen to look for backup.As I related the garbled tale to Chef it began to dawn on me that I may well have recognised the vaguely familiar voice as belonging to one of our kitchen porters,Popmaster.
Popmaster was ten minutes late.
Popmaster is never late.
Ten further minutes passed with still no sign of the loo being vacated and I was getting tetchy,only half an hour till opening and I was now WELL behind schedule.
Just then Chef’s phone rang and he began pacing the kitchen,distractedly peering under the benches..
‘I can bring you a potato sack?’
Popmaster had called from the toilet cubicle asking for a spare pair of trousers.
In the absence of a ‘spare pair of trousers’ ever resourceful,Chef had suggested the next best thing.
There was a solemn brief two minute silence in the kitchen as we all gathered to watch Chef through the window as he entered the toilet block, handy spud sack in hand.
He reappeared immediately,eyes watering.
All was not well.
'I’ll have to give him an apron to wrap around himself- he’ll have to go home and get changed.’
Me,ever symapthetic:
‘You’re not getting one of my FOH aprons,can you not cut a couple of holes in the bottom of the sack for his legs?’
*Eye roll*
'Go upstairs and see if you can find him something..anything’ said Chef.
‘I know I’ll get him a towel-that’ll do’
I’m ashamed to admit that for some reason I was strangely drawn to the large blue Noddy towel that had been lying at the bottom of the airing cupboard since the fateful (never to be repeated) coach trip to the South of France when the kids were little and where tempers had frayed culminating in The Sensible One(in direct contravention of his name and reputation) standing up and planting an excellently placed left hook,one that Connor Macgregor would have been proud of, on the passenger in  the seat directly behind, in mitigation,after 5 hours relentless toe poking in the back.
I digress,anyway the beach towel had been shoved out of sight a sorry memory of times best forgotten.. I handed it to Chef with a wry smile,validating myself mentally that I hadn’t gone for the pink 'My Little Pony' option.
‘Tell him I don’t want it back’
A small audience briefly ceased working for the second time and peered again through the window with grim curiousity just as Popmaster appeared.
‘Thats quite an ironic site’ I said
‘How?’ said Chef
'Well considering the very person who asked me last week what had gone wrong in Lieutenant Tank's life to be 'waiting on at his age',is now climbing the back steps to the car park,Noddy towel kilt swaying in the breeze,clutching a large potato sack with unspeakably soiled undergarments contained therein..’
Wrap yourself in some Scottish Pride

‘That’s the last we’ll see of him’ I said as he disappeared from view,
‘Dont be ridiculous’ said Chef ‘he wont give  a shit’ (no pun intended)..
An hour later and well into the  rush there was still no sign of Popmaster and dishes were beginning to pile up.

Due to the trauma of the morning I was feeling slightly emotional(well more than usual) and sadly allowed the couple who  come in regularly for lunch and who complain bitterly EVERY visit without fail and have done for the last five years,to get to me.
Something snapped.
There was an unfortunate outburst,followed by tears(mine) only the second time in ten years a customer has managed to push me this far over the edge..

On my umpteenth circuit through the kitchen,with regular remonstrations to chef over the general unfairness of life,and with the sink beginning to look like a mini model of the Three Peaks challenge, suddenly a loud cheer went up as a freshly showered Popmaster reappeared.
‘Sorry I’m late,I had to hang around in the car for half an hour until the coast was clear’ 
With the window open,one hopes...
'Told you' said Chef,smirking.
Returning to the bar with a spring in my step,no need to lose a Front of House member to pot washing duties, I noticed a rather well dressed lady,the sort who would probably pop her hubsters sheepskin mules in the Aga for ten minutes ready for his return from the office at six, appear in the doorway,with two seniors in tow.I wouldn't say the elders were infirm, but judging by the speed of entry, I'd estimate they set off from the car park at 9am. 
I thought I'd better try and get them seated asap.
'Do we just sit anywhere?' said the more agile younger woman as she headed for the dining room,without waiting for a response.
I dashed over to impart the bad news.
"Im sorry the dining room is full today-but I can offer you a seat in our lovely bar area?'
I nodded encouragungly.
Now normally,the dining room is a hard sell,people want tables in the area where they can SEE the bar so this was a very unusual occurrence indeed.
'Oh no we want to sit in the dining room'
Herein lies another great unsolved mystery of the world of hospitality..
How can one sit at a table that already has OTHER people sitting at it??
Spell it out.
'Well I'm sorry as you can see the tables are all taken'
She was momentarly thrown,looking around for a better option.
I heard her comment irritatedly to the other two that it was a busy place and how they might go try and find somewhere else quieter.
Good luck with that one on a Bank Holiday..
The trek from the car park must have taken its toll however, so the three of them had a change of heart and decided to take on some liquid before pressing on.She indicated they would sit in the garden.
I'd almost forgotten about them by the time the more agile woman reappeared at the bar to buy the drinks.At this rate they'd be eating dinner not lunch by the time they arrived at the next place.
And imagine if the chill wasn't taken off the slippers at six??
End of days.
As I passed her the drinks and requested payment I thought I detected a slight hesitation as she handed over the cash,I wondered briefly if she wanted me to bring the drinks out for her,something I'd normally offer on a quieter day but the queue at the bar was beginning to extend out through the door and you could almost cut the air of impatience with a knife.
I needed to get some of these people away from the bar quick smart.The most effective method is to smile as you hand over the change then immediately make eye contact with the next person in the queue before the current has a chance to waylay you further.
Its like a living full stop, a live punctuation mark is how I look at it.
It works every time,thankfully she took the cue.
Now normally I'm like Action Man Eagle Eyes when it comes to the customers, but the unfortunate upshot of this technique is that you don't fully register the next person in the queue until they are right in front of you,due to the blinkered eye contact.
So I was surprised to see the Hyacinth Bouquet woman back at the bar again so soon.
' I think youve made a mistake with my drinks bill'
God Almighty.
'Really?' 'What was the problem?'
'well I think you've overcharged me.£10.30 seems rather expensive to me.Well actually its not expensive,its quite cheap compared to London prices but when I come up North I dont expect to be paying those prices.'
I could remember her drinks but top of my head wasnt exactly sure of the prices so had to manually look them up on the till,meanwhile the queue was reforming and all my hard work over the last ten minutes was defunct.
I could sense the outrage and was a bit worried the gentleman (I use this term in the loosest possible sense) next in the queue might not be responsible for his own actions before long.
Of course the bill was correct and bloody bargainous at that price for one Estrella,a gin & tonic and Fentimans Ginger beer.
I beamed in a self satisfied Sybil Fawlty manner and asked politely if she would like a copy of the receipt.
The gentleman next in the queue was by now visibly disgruntled and impatient for the bill for his food,I grabbed it from the check board and had just about got it all on the till when I was flummoxed to see an item which i couldn't quite make out on the order.It looked very like USP and desperately trying to decide what our USP was, I frantically went through the menu mentally scanning for a possible match.In desperation and in the absence of the culprit who took the order whom I'd just seen taking food outside,I made an executive decision and decided to leave the item off the bill.
Collateral damage,if you will.
Much later when things had quietened off and the bill omission came back to mind I pulled up the Loose Cannon to enquire politely what USP might be.
Small pause for a very self impressed grin.
'That's USA'
'USA.....its an Americano.......thats what *I* call it'
Reader, he was visibly swaggering in a worryingly Accidental Partridge manner like he'd just solved the Times crossword clue that nobody else could get. 
I looked him unfalteringly straight in the eye without so much a glimmer of amusement.
'Not here you fucking don't'

My next kitchen circuit gave further cause for concern.Heart sinking I observed Popmaster,fists clenched,eyes screwed up with obvious strain. ‘Oh no.. not again..’
‘It’s ok’ said Chef cheerily ‘he’s only trying to remember who sang *'Looking through Gary Gilmore’s eyes’
The fact that our KP’s knowledge may have extended to a forty year old song about a mass murderer by a one hit wonder punk band, on reflection turned out ot be the least surprising event of the day....

*Its The Adverts in case you're wondering..

Sunday 18 November 2018

Bless me Fadder.. fur oi haff sinned ...

It's been many a moon since I last saw the inside of the confessional box.
And in all that time I've not once felt the need to honesty I never really saw the point of the whole thing anyway.
Can you imagine being frogmarched off to church on a Saturday night before the dawn of on demand telly when the normal families were settling down to prime time entertainment fixtures such as the Generation Game and Doctor Who??
Yes,I admit this did not exactly fill me with joy.
Not that I NEVER did anything wrong of course,but coming up with a laundry list of weekly sins to confess was a big ask as a tender aged seven year old..especially if you wanted a bit of variation on the penance.
Most weeks I confessed to a lie or two and came away with a couple of Hail Mary's and the odd Our Father.
This became a repeating and ever more boring cycle.
Eventually,the time came when feeling particularly hard done by, I cottoned on to the idea that if I  upped my game a bit I could fabricate a an interesting but not mortal sin, to see if I could illicit a more serious response.
Subsequently,the confessional became a bit of a competition,a badge of honour to see what level of penance I could win.
I validated all of this with the comforting 'in for a penny in for a pound' line of thought and always tagged on at the end 'oh and I told a lie' which clearly cancelled out the preceding more interesting lie which formed the bulk of the weekly confession.
 In what i took for a  'plumping up the cushions' kind of gesture in anticipation of a forthcoming entertaining half hour,the priest would light up a fag when he heard my voice and I would hear the gentle rustling of paper as he discreetly folded up the Football Pink in favour of a more gripping narrative.Often a stray wisp of smoke would sneak in under the purple modesty curtain that he had on his side(only a tarnished square of wire mesh my side) and mesmerisingly snake its way slowly upwards, disintegrating at some point near the yellowing ceiling.
During the lengthy monologues I was never once silenced,only the odd interjection of  'I see' or 'go on..'
I took this as actual encouragement and confirmation that he too was gutted at missing JIM'LL FIX IT....
Some weeks I was on the kneeler for so long my joints would seize up and it was a struggle to achieve a standing position, I would hobble back out to the church pew bent over at right angles like a seventy year old with a seventy a day habit,to recover and race through the penance in record time before the priest emerged.
I can still recall the smell of the box which I referred to at the time as Fag Ash and Foist.
As the months went by the stories became ever more convoluted,culminating in the sorry tale involving the detailed description of the explicit graffiti artfully represented in permanent marker on the interior walls of the girls school toilet block, which was obviously and unjustly blamed on the students from the wrong side of town who were forced during multiple detentions to meticulously scrub off, aided only by a bottle of pine JIFF,a blue roll and some elbow grease and illicited the extraordinary TEN Our Fathers and SIX Hail Mary's.
A high never to be repeated.
Come to think of it the church was always highly ranking in the spoiler stakes of my youth.
Every year the whole family, grandparents included, would jet off to a different Pontin's for the annual holiday,all of which were an extremely lengthy and stressful car journey from us up North.
Always a fraught trip, one particularly memorable incident was the occasion I was denied a twentieth consecutive Barley Sugar Twist so decided in protest to hum a monotone single note incessantly throughout the journey.I kept this up for over two hours,by the end of which all family members including very even tempered grandparents were ready to strangle me.I was reminded of this many times on reaching adulthood which ironically is a miracle I achieved at all.
Anyway, on arrival, instead of availing myself of the exotic pleasures of the leaking wonky paddle boats on the two foot deep murky 'lake',not yet cleared of the discarded detritus of last seasons campers,which always formed the centrepiece attraction of the holiday village,we were all forced back into the car for at least an hours tour of the nearby hinterland with further arguments ensuing when the nominated navigator missed the turn (no satnav in those days).
The epitome of excitement

The purpose? -to seek out and identify the local Catholic church,check out mass times for the following Sunday morning,before we'd even checked into the foisty chalets.
Yes, foist and the church were the recurrent themes of my childhood.
I digress.
Last week I did something which I'm not very proud of and sadly for me I didn't make it up.
There's two main and very simple qualities required if you want to do this job reasonably well:
WORK HARD and BE NICE to people.
Last Monday night I'm ashamed to admit I wasn't very nice to some people.
The saga unfolded the previous Saturday night when during a very busy service Farm Girl took a phone call from a gentleman asking to book for Monday night and also could he could bring his own wine.
Caught on the hop and loaded down with some very heavy plates which annoyingly had mustard smeared over the edge and what with the overspill creeping dangerously close to one's white shirt sleeve and being a tad under pressure to boot, one was not entirely full of patience on being waylaid with such requests.
'No we don't do BYO you know that'
'He's willing to pay up to £20 per bottle corkage' said Farm Girl, eyebrows raised in anticipation fully aware of the rather hard to refuse carrot inadvertently dangled with intent.
Considering its unlikely I would make 20 quid on any bottle of wine in my exciting repertoire,as expected,I relented.
'Make sure you tell him it's not something we normally do,tell him we'll charge him the price of a bottle of house wine (16.95)'
I felt quite charitable having given him a hefty 3.05 discount on the £20 offer,deftly giving me the upper hand..
It's all about control isn't it?
Fast forward to Monday evening and with trade being decent for a dark November night,with plenty of early tables in so there was quite a jolly atmosphere come 8.45 when our BYO booking rolled in.
I sensed immediately they'd had a couple of sharpeners prior to arrival.
One of the party swaggered over to the bar with his cool bag,deposited the contents then turned to the table of six nearest the bar and shouted in a moderately loud voice that quite possible may have been heard through the closed kitchen door and above the din of clattering plates and the extraction fan,by experienced Chefs' having been subjected to many years of background noise resulting in dulled levels of hearing :
Reader, I was FUMING.
One of the party then set out on a photo taking tour of the pub which is not unusual in itself, recording every aspect of daily life for publication is normal behaviour these days isn't it?

Finally seated and plied generously with their own wine I thought Id better approach and extract the order asap what with time pressing ever on and with further bottles of wine to be consumed and it being a Monday night in November and all...
The photographer was having non of it.
What unfolded next was rather unexpected.
The phone was waved in front of my face displaying a photo he'd just taken.
'Whats that?'
Now I'm not going to identify for reasons of confidentiality certain items captured on the photo but lets just say we are a characterful pub,and definitely NOT a posh pub therefore there are items thereabouts that certain persons may find,lets just say,not to their taste.
I identified the item as requested and awaited a response.
Further photos were waved in front of my face along with the same question.
At this point I decided not to play along,pausing briefly I looked him right in the eye and asked him what he meant,he could see exactly what the items were.
'Yes but WHATS IT ALL ABOUT?' came the rather sneering response.
Something snapped.
'Nothing you would understand,we like them but clearly YOU DON'T'
I may have told him rather defensively that we were country hicks up here and he wouldn't understand our ways.
Embarrassing behaviour  

One of the party looked a bit uncomfortable and started to shuffle nervously on his seat which in turn made me a little nervous due to his not insignificant size and you never know when these creaky old chairs are going to give up the ghost..
I thought I'd better change the subject and get the order quick smart.
I was halted by a rather cocky and self assured voice:
'Tell me...are your oysters delivered fresh every morning?"
You know the voice in your head that is normally suppressed silent whilst words of a more diplomatic nature spring forth??Well,on this occasion the inner voice came to the fore asserting its authority in a rather inappropriate and surprisingly rude and sarcastic manner:
'No they've been knocking about in the back of the larder fridge for at least a couple of weeks..'
There was a shocked silence followed by some nervous laughter following which the order materialised rather quickly, including eight rancid oysters for the larger diner.
When I returned to clear the starters,moving everything along as speedily as propriety would allow,and noting the suspect oysters had all pleasingly been eaten,I enquired had they enjoyed them.
'Yes,they were fresh'
 The correct response to this comment of course would be something soothing along the lines of: 'oh lovely I'm really pleased you enjoyed',along with a welcoming beaming smile which expresses more than a thousand words:

thank you for giving us your custom and please come again.

But no.
Reader, the hole digs deeper,far from accepting the proferred olive branch, I used it to practically whip the unfortunate creature into submission:
'I wouldn't have served them otherwise...'
Anyone Fancy a Fawlty Towers night?
I felt a bit guilty but decided to make it up with them by the time the main courses came out,at this point the rest of the tables began to leave and two of our BYO party got up to go outside for a smoke.
As they passed the bar one of them raised his glass,perhaps just a little too close to my face, and in a show of overt sarcasm equalling my own earlier effort, asked if he was allowed (accentuate this word) to take the glass outside.
I replied cooly
'If you wish'.
Due to the mass exodus of other diners(we turn in early in the countryside)things went a bit flat at this point.
I overheard one of them comment disappointedly that he was looking for some BANTZ and all they had for entertainment was the Evil Eyes Landlady..
Handy tip: If you're looking for 'Bantz' on a Monday night in November in a rural pub make sure you book in at 6pm not 9pm,the 9pm slot is a hard sell even on a Saturday non school evening.
However, they consoled themselves in the wine which looked rather expensive ( *made a mental note to keep the bottles and google later) and after the meals were cleared ordered Irish coffees which I made.
Apparently they were correctly made as I overheard a rather condescending 'oh at least she can make a decent Irish coffee'
The alcohol had a pleasing mellowing effect and they seemed to chill out a bit, I could see they were flicking through more pictures on their phones and my heart sank as they called me over,to what I expected would be more condescending comments on my Hillybilly country decor.
The picture that was flashed in my face was of a young gun maybe eighteen or so with a lustrous blonde quiff,reminiscent of A-Ha! in their 80's prime,youthful and slim.

I could see by the fashion it was an old photo of our larger guest in his heyday.
He looked quite proud of himself.
He was looking for feedback of a positive nature.
'What do you think of that?'
'Oh thats nice-is that your son?'
You should have seen his face.
I am Britain's Evilest Woman.

Aa they left,tails between legs, they thanked me for looking after them and gifted me a left over bottle of wine.

Later I felt a bit bad and was wondering what Fred would have done to claw things back..
I sought reassurance from Chef, as they'd spent quite a bit of money and I hadn't really treated them to the best of my hospitality..
'What has the money got to do with it???' said Chef 'You always say it doesn't matter how much money people spend they should all be treated the same'

Which went no way whatsoever in alleviating my guilty conscience.

So what do you reckon?
Isn't respect a two way thing??How would you feel if an invited guest in your home criticised your curtains??


IS the customer always King?

And Finally,

Can I have absolution???

And if so, is it a TEN Our Fathers offence???

*The Vivino'd wine turned out to be 150 smackeroos cost price..

Tuesday 2 May 2017

The Hot Soup Card

Bank Holidays should be water off a ducks back to a seasoned pro like meself.
I know what to expect:
By midday there's  at least a dozen lurkers all lined up outside champing at the bit for the door to open and the subsequent trolley dash for the best seats.
But this latest one started off a bit weirdly to say the least.
By half past twelve there was still no sign of a single punter.
A Bank Holiday without punters is indeed a worrying thought, especially in light of the extra staff you've drafted in,all swanning about on double time,not to mention the copious amount of prep stacked up in readiment in fridges bursting at the seams.
Ever the optimist,and with the years hurtling by,and with us already having passed the seven year well publicised lifespan of a restaurant and with us clearly now living on borrowed time,I retreated to the kitchen to inform Chef that this was it..this was actually the year we were going down.

Big time.

'Don't be ridiculous' said Chef 'they'll all be lined up at the bottom of the hill under starters orders perfectly placed so they can all arrive conveniently at exactly the same time'
Bizarrely this comment prompted a protracted discussion and much reminiscing about the Wacky Races and a failed attempt to name all the competitors and much hilarity that I hadn't at the time realised the irony of the name Professor Pat Pending,and how childrens programmes aren't what they used to be.This in turn led on to Captain Pugwash and we all know what went on there..
I digress, this filled in a bit of time..

Much as it irks me to say it,Chef is usually right..

Come 12.45 a bulging stampede,a solid mass of custom was squeezing its way through the very small doorway,making its way to the very small bar where the not very small barman was doing his best to control the rabble and direct them to tables so that WE could be in control of them and not the other way around..

After the initial rush and feeling moderately self impressed with ourselves that we'd managed to retain control of the situation,our attention was momentarily taken by a bloodcurdling scream followed by a loud clattering not comparative to the size of the two sets of tiny feet making their way to the only remaining unoccupied table.
Mummy and Dada followed shortly behind,Dada grabbing at the copy of the Times left out for the convenience of the customers,most of whom would secretly prefer the Mail.
The two sets of tiny feet somehow dodged the seating at the table,Hector making a beeline for the service point nearby,heading for my new and beloved on line booking platform,left invitingly open,but no..chubby hands were already pulling at the little wooden drawer that contained all those little helpful items needed to get you through service.He already had his hands on the packet of Strepsils I'd placed there earlier, but not quick enough to stop me grabbing the attractive little purple discs of delight out of his grubby little paws.
Meanwhile, Xanthe was heading off down the service steps toward the kitchen,the ones which I'd noticed earlier that morning had a nose coming loose on the stair end and which in this event, to prevent a member of staff's(mine) toes becoming entrapped and subsequently going flying through the kitchen door,had helpfully placed a rather large rock sourced from the garden, at the far end of the step which in effect might cause serious untold injury in itself.
Locally sourced Little rock of Horrors.

Managing to grab her just before she reached the summit of the rock face I pointed her deftly back in the direction of the table.
At this point,ever practical,Farm Girl had taken it upon herself to comandeer the last two remaining high chairs and was hastily attaching them to the remaining two seats at the table.
By now, Dada had retreated into the safety of the Times,head and upper body completely obscured to the pandemonium around.
Mummy had also taken refuge in a large glass of the liquid variety.
Meanwhile,The Artful Dodger was now air rowing across the very crowded bar floor, a compact purpose built multiple trip hazard,arms flailing and legs akimbo,a clatter of silverware displaced by unchecked limbs scattered in his wake.
And I won't lie,the thought of the Bank Holiday cutlery shortage and the inevitable repolishing before further usage did not fill me with joy.
On the plus side I'd been thinking the floor could do with a buff up for ages.
Farm Girl passed for the umpteenth time giving a hardly perceptible to the untrained eye knowing nod and a raised eyebrow....I nodded back.

Message recieved and understood.

It was time to play the Hot Soup Card.
The Hot Soup Card is the penultimate and usually most effective piece of artillery in the Front Of House battalion of weaponry.A useful tool deployed only as a last resort,akin to a yellow card bookable offence,the one before relations break down completely and you red card the punters, ask them to leave and wave goodbye to the spend.
A small alerting cough signalled commencement of operations and I was poised for action.
'AHEM..,this soup is VERY HOT indeed'
The Hot Soup Card is evermore effective if accompanied by the elevation of the two soup plates high above the head for added drama.
'I would hate for you to get burnt'
It worked.
Mummy made a running rugby tackle for the Artful Dodger and attempted strapping into the highchair.
Several sets of sympathetic eyes half smiled at me in empathy and in validation of the successful outcome of the Hot Soup Card.
If there's anything that gets the punters on your side,even if they've been waiting a bit for their grub,its a badly behaved child and a parent with no control.
In a weird way it creates a feeling of camaraderie, a keep the home fires burning kind of feel.
At the table Mummy called for some bread.
If all else fails stuff 'em full of bread,that'll shut them up,then when they leave the actual meals that have been ordered for them, all hell breaks loose.
Dada continued,oblivious, face buried in the paper..Mummy had the time worn look of someone to whom this was not an out of the ordinary scenario.
Another crutch of Chardonnay would help.
The escalating situation was momentarily put on the back burner as a gent from a nearby table called me over.
'Excuse me-can you tell me how long my food will be??'
Reader,I'll be honest,I'd been so distracted with the goings on in and around table Four and with the mental list of jobs that I was ticking off in my head having now a serious backlog, I may actually have not realised what the wait time on food was and therefore had no concept if this bloke had waited overly long or not.
'I'll just check for you..'
He raised his hand calmly to silence me,indicating the fill level at around one third of a pint of his  glass of lovely hand pulled local ale.
'As you can see my glass is now one third full.Now, normally when I eat here my food arrives as my glass is around this level of fullness'(indicating with precision the half pint level).
Its not often I'm stumped for words.
Thoughts of the many variables which could be called into play in response to  this statement were racing around in my head,what if you had a quick sandwich or what if it was a steak or something which takes longer to cook?What if you went to the loo and there was a queue or godammit what if it was a HOT DAY and you were bloody thirsty and DRANK QUICKER??
Then I had a lightbulb moment.
Top EXHIBIT A up to half pint level.
My God.
Will that make it ok?
Of course I could spend the whole afternoon topping the glass up to half point level with no timeous arrival of any food.. had I finally and inadvertantly stumbled on a solution to the ever common problem of the punter waiting too long?
I bought him a free drink.
On delivery of the gratis pint and managing to extricate myself finally  from the drink speed/food arrival analysis,I was gestured over by Mummy.
By this time she was looking on the far end of the frazzled spectrum.
Never was a truer word spoken..
But herein lies another anomaly.
Granted, the seat was a clip on one, not a freestanding independant type arrangement,but it still had a harness,a seat and a tray.Which left one pondering what properties a 'proper high chair' would possess  over this one.
'What she's looking for is a straight jacket' said Farm Girl, ever practical,through near perfect ventriloquists grin.
'No I'm sorry this is all we have..'
On my next circuit of the table a loud clapping song which involved bursts of manic laughter and alternate deafening banging on the table had commenced.

The elderly couple on the adjacent table gestured for the bill.

Hopefully:'No coffees or puddings?'
Sympathetically:'Not today dear..just the bill..'

If allegiance was measured by value of tip, then the very generous one indicated these two were definitely Allied forces,which was of some consolation.

The kitchen bell had been ringing frantically now for several minutes,meals stacked up on the pass.
"where've you been?' said Chef without looking up,shovelling ever more chips on to the lovely vegetable dahl which was meant to be served with basmati rice,but which the punters were asking for with chips.
We'd both forgotten about the fateful Bank Holiday a few years ago when we'd served up Fish & chips with 'chip shop style curry sauce' which incidentally we'd spent ages perfecting,and in effect spent most of the Bank Holiday serving up chips and curry sauce without the fish for an excruciatingly low spend per head.
We never learn.
'I thought you must have been unblocking the bog' said Chef
'No not yet,Ive got the stick and the bin bag ready though' I replied,matter of factly.
Preparation is the key to running a successful business..
By now,the activity on Table Four had receded,but I could see Mummy impatiently gesturing me over.
There was rather an unpleasant smell.
In all the excitement it looked like The Artful Dodger had shat himself.

'Do you have baby change ?'
The fact that this question has to be asked is surely indicative of the acceptance that not all pubs have these facilities otherwise the question would be 'where is' not 'do you have?'
In effect,we dont have.
The impartment of this bit of information was not received with warmth.
At all.
I repeated.
'I'm sorry,we don't have baby change'
Mummy was now on her feet and threateningly a lot taller and angrier than I expected.


This is a situation that with the benefit of experience one needs to handle very carefully.
There is no point in making a suggestion,a half way house between a dedicated babychange facility and something thats going to blow back up in your face via the Health and Safety Gestapo, you know that's just going to end up all over a popular review site.
So with damage limitation to the forefront I replied calmly and with an encouraging smile :
'That's your decision'
 Dada peered over the top of the newspaper and spoke for the first time:
"I think we'd better have the bill please'
At last some progress.

Much later when Chef and I were in possession of a couple of well earned crutches of our own,and I was in mid flow with my usual post battle debrief over the highs and lows of the Bank Holiday trade,giving special attention to the babychange issue and how the family in question had proved far more troublesome to us and the other diners than the we had to them with the lack of a fold down plastic mat,and how people have such a sense of entitlement these days and how they need to take responsibility for themselves and how if the absence of a plastic mat was a deal breaker then they should have researched the aforementioned before they came.The rant had by now moved on to the setting of a global stage,I was now in full flow on the soapbox 'there are so many wonderful places to visit in the world ,many without even basic toileting facililties or running water,never mind a plastic mat and a packet of wet wipes and fancy closing yourself off to all these new experiences.'

Then the final thrust before I finally came up for breath:


'I don't know what you're worried about' said Chef 'it's not like we've built a massive play park out front and engaged a childrens entertainer,where you went wrong was not red carding them when you had the chance'

Roll on May 29th.


  You know what I’m unexpectedly missing in this weirdest of all runs up to Christmas? The drop ins from friends ,family, suppliers, custom...

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