Holding screwdrivers and conversations: the art of being a Compleat Landlord. Episode 4: Greengrocer’s and their apostrophe’s?

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It’s not just customers and staff that landlords have to deal with – it’s suppliers too. They’re a mixed bunch, from the faceless corporations who deliver 15 days late and then want to charge you £12 because you’re one day overdue with payment, to the little men: the butcher, the baker and the……greengrocer (candles are never an issue) with his myriad superfluou’s apostrophe’s. It’s not actually fair to single out one particular retailer for grammatical error’s – I’ve bought my share of pork lion chop’s; the fishmonger once sold me 2kg of Hadd Ox (he had just arrived from Bulgaria) and I’ve even seen a hand-written invoice from a wine merchant for two dozen Servant Mont Blanc (just assume the person is tee-total or new and ignore it).

Greengrocer’s are special though. Some of them have been at it for generation’s. My wife admit’s to being confused about where apostrophe’s belong because, as an avid and early reader, much of her grammar was learnt from shop sign’s (that and the fact that she’s from the north). Here’s something my greengrocer Alf said to me the other day. He didn’t breathe when he said it and he tells me something similar most days.

“I says to my missus I mean my ex-missus cos we’re not togevver anymore you can’t move to Cornwall coz I get up at one firty every day six days a week and then I gotta drive to fuckin St Ives to see my daughter and it’s not fair I know you don’t like me but it’s not fair on her and my new missus never gets to see me cos she‘s in Derby waiting for her divorce to come through and her and her old man just lived off credit cards and had all these fancy holidays but then they had ninety grand on credit cards with all that interest and I turned round and said to her if you wanna live like that you better find someone else cos mum and dad offered us a free pitch on their site and we could live in a caravan and all I’ve gotta do is buy the caravan and she turns rounds and says she don’t wanna do that she says I’m not living in in caravan and I turns round and says why not all you’d ave to pay for is your food and you’re in a sorry state if you can’t afford to eat I live by what cash I’ve got in my pocket and I ‘ad a Beamer on trial last weekend the dealer wanted forty five grand and I turns round and says I’ll give you forty cash and he said I can’t take that kinda cash and I said I don’t want it then ‘ere mate do us a favour can you pay me that thirty quid from yesterdays delivery cos im going out tonight? I don’t wanna keep working like this I turns round and says to my old man why don’t we sell up and live on the costa del sol and play golf all fuckin day and he turns round and says he don’t like that my old man but I don’t see the point what is the point you don’t have a life do you if all you do is fucking work and I’m gonna dump my missus anyway what I wanna know is how everyone in town knows my business I don’t like it they’re all talking about my personal life? It’s not right.”

He delivers that sort stream of consciousness as if it’s a free gift that comes with the order. It might as well be wrapped in a brown paper bag and be charged for by the bunch. The speed of delivery, lack of hesitation, political correctness and volume are all Olympian. Dizzying even. Even more dizzying than the fact that, in his conversations at least, no-one can say anything without “turning ‘round”. A party at his house must be like a Whirling Dervishes’ rehearsal session, with a peculiar rule that you can’t start a conversation with anyone until they’ve turned their back on you. Or perhaps they actually turn ‘round’, inflating like human balloons each time they speak.

I’d like to hear him do it on a shrink’s couch, with the tape spools running ever faster simply to keep up. I’ve reached the point of hiding in the attic when I see the van or even borrowing three carrots from a neighbour to avoid having a delivery. It’s not a conversation, it’s a Cockney monologue that would benefit from a few bits of rhyming and two chords from Chas ‘n’ Dave. He could write an Eastenders Christmas Special in fifteen minutes; chuck in a couple of discharges from a sawn-off and he’d knock off two series of the Sweeney in a week. He means well but don’t we all? Like when you ask after a customer’s husband to find he’s emptied the bank account and run off with the au pair – possibly not something she needed urgently reminding off.

There’s his van now. Must go, I saw two rogue wild potato plants in the back field. If I can dig up 5lb, I might not have to have a delivery tomorrow……

Holding screwdrivers and Conversations: the art of being a Compleat Landlord. Episode 3: how much of what the customer says is real?

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They don’t look very convinced, do they?

As the Stylistics told us, first impressions are certainly lasting impressions but experience tells me that they are very rarely correct. A close friend of 20 years considered me ‘a cocky little gobshite’ on first acquaintance. It wouldn’t have worried me if I’d known because I thought he was ‘that boring, pompous accountant bloke’. As it happens, I couldn’t have been more wrong (although he was probably close to the truth, given that copious amounts of ale were no doubt involved). As a landlord, you learn that those people who enter the front door and immediately charm the staff and even begin to win over your own hardened, cynical view of humanity are the fraudsters, the fakes, the ex-cons and the Walter Mittys. Anthony and Loreen were those people.

I have no idea if these were their real names. Every attempt on the internet to find out more drew a minimal amount of information – Facebook accounts with no photos or friends, CV-less Linkedins, dubious addresses. They formed an unlikely couple – he, a poor copy of the Pilsbury dough boy, keen to remind everyone of his working-class roots but equally keen to hide any trace of an East End accent behind stock American sales-speak: ‘absolutely’, ‘you don’t say’ , ‘that’s unbelievable’. She was tall, extroverted, athletic, dynamic and very American. With a big job in IT, she travelled extensively, often bringing back expensive gifts for members of staff and customers she hardly knew. He rarely left their rented cottage before 4pm and, although he had been home all day, would arrive wanting beer at 10:50pm after everyone else had gone home. This, he explained, was to avoid infection, as he was undergoing chemotherapy for leukaemia, as was another regular. They shared a consultant and the same type of leukaemia. Mysteriously, Anthony managed to have appointments with her when she was on holiday, although he always had a back-up story to cover the time he was caught out. While our other customer went on to die, Anthony was cured of this incurable strain.

At night, his house glowed blue with flickering computer screens. By day, it lay silent. The rumours began that he was a spy. But how could he be, with so many mistakes and such a poor back-story? A former captain of industry, he had nothing. He had children in Barcelona and London but he neither visited them nor they him. He had lived in Paris for four years and once spoke fluent French but was now unable to understand the simplest of schoolboy phrases and made an obvious effort to steer clear of any French visitors.

Meanwhile, Loreen continued her extensive world tour, yet less and less of it seemed related to her power job. Instead, relatives and step-relatives all over the globe were succumbing to life-threatening diseases which involved her taking weeks away at short notice. This included three weeks with her grandmother in California. Who takes three weeks off work because their granny is sick? These relations were everywhere – North Dakota, South Africa, Amish towns, Rome, Las Vegas. She became a one-woman geography lesson. Although her lifestyle seemed unlikely, her cover stories were a lot better than his. Perhaps she really was CIA. One day, however, there was a fatal slip. Months before, she had told me that she spent a year living in China teaching English when she left college. The son of a regular returned from a similar post-uni adventure and I introduced them. Which town? he asked.

She visibly reddened and stammered, “Oh, oh I can’t remember”.

It simply didn’t ring true. You don’t do something like that and forget the name of the place. And surely a decent spy would have made somewhere up. Or just said Beijing.

The next day she compounded her error. “I’ve been trying to get hold of my girlfriend from college to see if she can remember the name of that town”. This reeked of trying too hard to cover the fact that she knew she had been caught out. It was never mentioned again.

People began to ask directly if her company were okay with her taking so much time off to nurse the dying and bury the dead. So, she quit (allegedly) to set up a pyramid selling scheme for natural beauty products. This is good spy cover.

One day she left the house with a huge trunk. He didn’t help her take it to the car. She called into the pub: “Just came to say goodbye, I’ll be away a few months this time”. Most of us never expected to see her again and we were right. One or two – wealthy but not street-wise – thought they had made a good friend but she never replied to anyone’s messages and in time, her on-line profiles disappeared. Loreen’s departure brought a side-story to the saga: the bar girls were disturbed that Anthony would be in the pub solo more often. His comments were inappropriate and creepy and none of them liked being alone with him.

Anthony never acknowledged that she had gone. He lingered on for a few more months, telling us what Loreen was up to when he ‘spoke to her today’. Like most other things, it was fantasy. Eventually, he was offered a wonder job in Seattle. Green Card instantly sorted. Great technical explanation of what the job involved, which we later discovered was taken verbatim from an internet article.

– What’s the name of the company? someone asked.

– Um, I can’t remember.

It seemed like a fairly basic piece of knowledge to be in possession of at this stage of a complex recruiting procedure.

There were no goodbyes when he left, purportedly for Seattle. We found out later that he was living between a plastic cabin cruiser on the River Cam in the summer and a caravan in a second-hand car lot in the colder months.

The people they befriended never heard from either of them again. They’re making new friends now.



Holding screwdrivers and conversations: the art of being the Compleat Taverner. Part Two: the Bard is barred.

I don’t suppose many of the cultured folk pictured above were chatting about the works of old Will as they sipped their nips of Courage Russian Imperial Stout with rum & pep chaser (fourpence three farthings) down the local. Even less so about the little known Henry IV Part One (unless they’d sat through it, in which case they would be discussing how much they could get for their tickets to Part Two on e-bay, or how it was at least better than watching repeats of ‘Goldenballs’ with Jasper Carrot). They might be worrying that it could be the worst sequel since ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control’. But they should have been indulging in Shakespeak – read on, from Act 2, Scene 1 (best done in an internal monologue with a Somerset accent, I find):

Second carrier: Peas and beans here as a dog and that is the best way to give poor jades the bots. This house is turned upside down since Robin ostler died.

First carrier: Poor fellow never joyed since the price of oats rose. It was the death of him.

Second carrier: I think this must be the most villainous house in all London Road for fleas. I am stung like a tench.

First carrier: Like a tench? By the Mass, there is ne’er a king christen could be better bit than I have been since the first cock.

Second carrier: Why, they will allow us ne’er a jordan and then when we leak in your chimney and your chamber-lye breeds fleas like a roach.

Brief translation of the last bit: They don’t even give us a bathroom. So, we pee in the fireplace and you know that urine breeds fleas like mad.

What we have here is a 16th Century TripAdvisor review:  The food here is rank since the new people took over*. The rooms are not cleaned properly and there are no en-suite facilities**.

*note that the old landlord died of the stress caused by rising wholesale prices.

** Management response:

Dear Second Carrier,

We are sorry that you were not informed that our cheapest room (because that is what you asked for) does not have en-suite facilities but that hardly gives you an excuse to piss in the fireplace……..


A landlord develops some peculiar skills, many of which are akin to a doctor’s bedside manner.  A good landlord can serve three people at once whilst calculating separate sums in his head (even though this one wasn’t allowed to take GCSE Maths) and remembering that when these three people are served, the people on table 8 want a dog bowl with no leaves in it and the little boy on table 15 needs a yellow straw next time but he can only have it if he stops running at the new waitress, who is nervously tilting a plate of hot gravy en route to table 10.

A good landlord can see three people at a distance of 100 metres and, by the time they’ve arrived and shaken the mud from their boots, have poured an apple and mango J2O with one ice cube, a pint of Diet Coke (no ice, green straw) and a large sauvignon blanc “to help me cope with my teetotal family”. He can remember who ‘hasn’t been in’ if anyone asks and what stage each currently divorcing customer is at with their current divorce, as well as how it compares to the last one. He can fix leaks and valves and things he didn’t know existed not that long ago and, while he is lying in the cellar in near-frozen fluid that he hopes is just water, dictate his weekly wine order into his mobile without consulting any notes.

Even though he went to bed at 3am a little worse for wear and having brought all the furniture back in (having taken it out earlier for the band he had on) he is not flummoxed by orders for ten hot chocolates with whipped cream and marshmallows at 1pm on a Sunday lunchtime despite the shortage of mugs brought on by the pot washer’s hangover-induced go-slow, nor by the people who ring up at that time to book a table for two on a Tuesday evening three months hence and not only want to know what the pescatarian options on the menu will be that night but also want to tell you that the person they are coming with is their ‘friend’ from Canada who they went to school with when they were five and they haven’t seen for thirty-three years. They speak without punctuation. He is flattered that his Bloody Marys are so bloody good that he is making eight of them immediately after the hot chocolates, although he wishes the group hadn’t all ordered them on the basis of, “That looks good, I’ll have one of those”, or at least that they’d all noticed how good they looked at the same time. The most positive thought he can come up with is, “At least it’s not Mother’s Day”.

Occasionally, when someone says they have been “waiting over an hour” (more like ten minutes, although it seems like an hour because they hate being with their unsmiling relatives but still want a chance of being kept in the will), he is given to outbursts like, “Well, we’re not exactly sitting on our arses” or, “I can send the food out raw if you’d prefer”.  Once when returning from the cellar, he was faced with a choice of two men at the bar. He served the first with two simple, speedy drinks. The second then said, “I was first actually”. The landlord replied, “Well, nobody fucking died, did they?” and the stupid fat bastard never complained or came back again. When he is short-handed, he really appreciates people telling him that he should have more staff on and is pleased that they are intelligent enough to realise that he is working at life-shortening pace out of choice.

The landlord must not mention the fact that the vicar was doing tequila shots after closing when she comes in with the bishop the next day. The landlord must not tell the agency chef that he is a cretin because it is 12 noon and soon some people will want to eat the cretin’s food without risk of him gobbing in it or simply walking out.

The landlord must graciously respond to Tripadvisor reviews, even from the idiots who think that it’s your fault that their taxi was late or that they got lost trying to find their way back from a gig, so they slept on their friend’s sofa yet you still charged them for their room (which they’d been playing hide the sausage in all afternoon). I have massively failed in this respect and I recommend everyone to read the responses by the Corner House in Winchester, who manage to raise their middle finger whilst giving a charming smile. The worst reviews begin, “We have been coming here every month for nine years and it is usually excellent but today…..”. These people will give a ‘Terrible’ rating yet have never considered writing a review about the 108 experiences which were so good that they came back again and again. Note: I only ever write good reviews; if it’s bad, I’m not going back and someone else may have completely different expectations to me, so what’s the point? We are all individuals (“I’m not”).

After all this has been said, I want to tell you one more thing: I bloody love Sunday lunchtimes. Fact.

#pubs #village pub #hospitalitylife #barstaffproblems #customerserviceproblems #beerlovers

Holding screwdrivers and conversations: the art of being the Compleat Taverner

Tales from the Other Side (of the bar)

This blog is the revenge of a retired landlord on that most loathsome of customers, Mr Joseph Public.

Even when there were lots of pubs, some people didn’t know how they worked and made the stupidest statements, such as, “We’d like something to drink and some food”. This is the equivalent of walking into Top Shop and saying, “I’d like some clothes and some worthless jewellery.” They also asked the stupidest questions. Now there are far fewer, the questions have got a whole lot more stupid……

  1. Do you have a toilet?

Strangely, in a licensed premises in the 21st century, we do have lavatories. Inside too. Although I prefer to say, “No” and produce a bucket. An extreme version of this enquiry is, “Excuse me, you wouldn’t happen to have a toilet by any chance?”.

  1. Do you know where the Gents is?

No, I’ve only been here for a decade and it’s such a big, rambling old building that I haven’t found the toilets yet. That’s why I walk in this peculiar way. I’ll let you know when I do.

  1. Do you do food?

Madam, the premises is littered with menus, specials boards, people clattering their knives and forks and waitresses carrying piles of plates. No, we don’t serve food, you’ve walked into a play.

  1. Are you still serving food?

It’s five past twelve. Noon. Do you think we serve for five minutes only?

  1. Are you still serving food?

It’s five past midnight and you’ve been in here since seven. Three times you have been asked if you are eating with us. Now fuck off.

  1. Are you open?

Well, all of the doors are locked (you know that because you’ve tried to pull them all off of their hinges). None of the lights are on and the bar stools are stacked on the bar, upside down. There is nobody else around and it’s 4pm on a Monday afternoon in February. You are standing in the garden, ringing me up to ask this question. What does it look like to you?

  1. Do you have lamb’s kidneys on?

We have a menu. The things that are ‘on’ are listed either on it, or on the various boards that your waitress has read to you. Everything else is ‘off’. If you want me to go and catch a lamb, eviscerate it, fill in the Lamb Evisceration Forms, cook it and serve it to you, you may have a little wait. Otherwise, read AND CHOOSE FROM the menu. Yes, I know you had lamb’s kidneys the last time you were in; that’s because then, it was on the menu. Now it isn’t. No, I don’t know when it’s coming back. No, I don’t know when I will know when it’s coming back. Yes, it’s still the same chef. No, he doesn’t know either.

  1. What vegan, gluten-free desserts do you have?

A carrot.

  1. Did you see episode three of that thing with wossname in it/ that brilliant Barca game/ the interview with Hitler last night? It was the best thing I’ve ever seen on TV.

No, I was standing here serving people like you ie people who like to rub it in and point out what long hours I must work when they are propping up the bar two hours after everyone else has left.

  1. Any chance of another one?

I started work at 8am with a delivery. It is now 11:40pm and the bell rang forty minutes ago. It is not my fault that you didn’t hear it. Do you wait until Marks and Spencer’s closes and then bang on the door asking to buy a shirt? Of course not, that would be the action of an imbecile, which is what you have become after five and a half pints.

Bonus question – How big is the soup?