Holding Screwdrivers and Conversations: the art of being the Compleat Landlord. Pasartea hamar (10): Gnome Egg


It’s always a point of interest when you get a new member of staff who simply doesn’t fit in. That applies to any business but when you’re a small, stable team in hospitality, working long hours and often living in, it really feels like a cuckoo has laid in an egg in your nest. Worse in a way – it’s not like you nipped out to peck at some worms and some dull-looking bird who can only sing two notes put a foetus in your house. In human cases, with an ‘interview process’, you have invited them in. ‘Hey, come and grow up in my house, even though you’re three times my size. Make a lot of noise and eat all the food, why don’t you?’.

In my defence, the interview process (which could often be renamed ‘20 minutes on Skype with a world-class liar’) in hospitality can be quite restrictive. Firstly, your original candidate list will often consist of the sort of numbers of people you would usually find at Glasto. You can start filtering these by eliminating those who have attached photos – me in a funny hat by Nelson’s Column; me shirtless at a bar in Malaga with a fag on and a chunky gold chain; me posing in a state of undress suggesting I’m applying for a position as an escort. Or more likely, multiple positions as an escort. Next, we start on appropriate skills. “I am good mechanic on Skoda and Volvo but I too do like bake cake so would make good chef for you” wrote one prime candidate. Now we’re down to who can string two cohesive sentences together. These simple tests will weed out so much human plankton that we can leave matters like basic English and eligibility to work in the UK till last. References provide little comfort either when candidates list their last role as cleaner in the public toilets of a provincial town in Afghanistan. It’s a wonder anyone finds anyone good at all but in housekeeping and front of house, we had relatively few failures.

The alternative scenario is when just one person applies. This only happens when you are desperate because you’ve let your best people go back to Macedonia in early December, so they will be back in time for Christmas but they catch the Black Death or get a job back home as an astronaut or Foreign Minister or their brother signs for Fleetwood Town reserves, bringing their family hitherto undreamed-of wealth. It’s unusual in this situation that the applicant lives in the UK, is compos mentis, speaks English, has done the job before and can start tomorrow but that’s what happened with Vera. So, she started (and moved in) the next day.

Or someone moved in the next day because one of her first requests was that we didn’t call her Vera but called her Meg. I agree that not many people would want to be called Vera but Meg appeared to have been picked from random and was going to cause confusion as we already had a Meg (but we could cope with two Megs as we once had a Kathy, Kat, Kitty, Kate, Katy, Katey and Katherine (all blonde). We went along with it, although when her parents turned up unexpectedly after a few weeks and asked to see Vera, they were as confused as we were. Pre-existing Meg took it badly: “It’s not even her real name – she’s stolen my name!” she exclaimed. I consoled tall, slim, pre-existing Meg (now renamed Nutmeg) with one simple phrase, “Don’t worry Meg, she will never steal your clothes”. That was guaranteed, because Vera already had a nickname – Gnome Egg, not only because she was ‘no Meg’ but also because she had the physical characteristics of a cross between a Warcraft character and Humpty Dumpty. Her other nicknames came later.

Wherever Vera/Meg had worked before (winter at the hotel in ‘The Shining’ perhaps?) it involved some interesting skills. Not skills I really wanted in my staff but interesting ones anyway – doing everything really slowly and not very well; power napping during room changes; not smiling; not attempting to get along with colleagues; getting into confrontational arguments with customers about politics and religion and, worst of all, not liking our cat. The only person who liked her at all was the single customer who loved confrontational arguments (every pub has one) to the point that this one had previously insisted that Tolstoy had written ‘Lord of the Rings’ and that the sun rises in the north-east just to wind others into a frenzy. Vera/Meg/Gnome Egg wasn’t working (in more ways than one) and I made up my mind that she had to go. It just so happened that Nutmeg had asked for more hours, so I told her what was afoot. The new order was agreed and I prepared to finish Vera/Meg/Gnome Egg on Sunday. Perhaps I could use the words of the legendary Soho landlord Norman Balon: “I am not obliged to give a reason, I just don’t want you in my pub”. It’s kinder than his other one, “You’re so ugly you’re upsetting the customers” but he used to save that one for unwanted irregulars (ie everyone who wasn’t in the Coach & Horses twice a day. The regulars got far worse). As I cashed up at midnight on Saturday, she asked to speak to me. The tone and timing suggested it was something important. I wondered how I was going to hide my joy that she was about to quit, sparing me the conversation I’d had with at least fifty other hapless idiots over the past decade. I leaned back in my chair and waited for the words that would make my day.

“I’m pregnant”, she said. Plot Twist. The only barmaid I had ever employed that wasn’t the subject of a single regular’s fantasy. Even the other girls reacted with horror. We never established when Vera/Meg/Gnome Meg/Megnant/PregMeg found this out but we suspected that she knew before her interview. She had also told one of the other girls the previous day – it was only their second conversation and she hadn’t even told her mum at that time.

It’s almost impossible to terminate a person’s employment once they’ve said those two words to you whatever they’re ineptitude. You can’t ask them to speed up either. Or turn a mattress. Or carry a crate. Or stop taking power naps. Quite rightly too but it makes life hard when you’ve been so close to an alternative answer. We got where we wanted to be a few months later though. Which is probably the same for Vera/Meg/Gnome Meg/Megnant/PregMeg. Or whatever she’s called now. Mummy, I guess.

#pubs #publife #barstaffproblems #hospitalitylife #beerlovers #barmaids




2 thoughts on “Holding Screwdrivers and Conversations: the art of being the Compleat Landlord. Pasartea hamar (10): Gnome Egg”

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