Saturday, 14 June 2008

Notes From The Coffeeground

What would make a usually mild mannered member of the public turn into an hateful accuser? What would cause a lady, wearing NHS id, to spit venom at an innocent cafe employee? Splitting multi-packs and selling the contents individually, apparently.
I hold my hands up. I do on occasion split a multi-pack of pop or crisps. I justify this with the argument that it saves me a few pennies and helps keep my prices down. The manufacturers don't like this. They would like me to pay much more than the supermarkets for my stock. I have checked with trading standards and there is no actual law banning me from sourcing my stock in this way. Of course the ingredients labels etc must still follow regulations. But, no law saying thou must not split. 'Not to be sold separately' is guidance from the manufacturer.
A couple of days ago one of my staff was challenged very angrily over a 45p bag of cheese n onion. The vitriolic outburst obviously shook her. We were 'breaking the law'. The customer 'hated' this type of thing.
Hmmmm. I'm not causing starvation in a once prosperous country, while preventing any form of democracy. I haven't imprisoned my family in an Austrian cellar. I am, however, breeding hate!
This has brought back memories of working in Our Price at the time of Princess Diana's death. The public was unified in a surge of grief but more importantly they had to have Elton's tribute single the moment it was released. We were unprepared, short staffed and mostly indifferent. The main problem being logistics. Delivery companies couldn't keep up with demand. On the morning of release a queue of approx 300 people had built up. Us poor record shop monkeys tried not to meet their stares as we waited for the stock to arrive. An angry woman approached the counter and announced 'If it was Oasis yers would have it in stock!' She held a look of pure hatred for us. Probably in equal measure of my contempt for Oasis.
My point, if I'm allowed one, is when did it become acceptable to rant at innocent, unsuspecting workers? How and when are we encouraged to take out our petty grievances on easy targets. Is it the meek lady behind the counter at the petrol station who has increased the price of a barrel of oil?
Anyway, must dash. Asda are selling Dr. Pepper 6 packs in a 2 for £2 deal.

Monday, 2 June 2008

The Legend of Fanny Crowe

Work on the cafe was crawling along nicely and we had come to the exciting bit. It was time to let the world know who we are. Time to consign 'The Bakers' "to the dustbin of history".

I arrived at the cafe a few minutes late after failing another macho test at a local hardware bullring. Stu my plasterer/handyman had already taken down the lightbox sign and it appeared I now owned a business called 'General F. Crowe Dealer'. Eh? 'It's the old sign from under the lightbox. People keep stopping and pointing'. A bit of history, nice.

After my usual debrief of 'wee couldn't dee wat' I was called outside to speak to a local lady who remembered the old sign. Looking like a Beryl Cook painting and resplendent in C&A coat she told me of Fanny Crowe who had owned the shop up until the 1960s. Fanny was a big woman in bright red lipstick with a house full of cats. I was touched by the obvious emotion and memories this sign, hidden for almost 50 years, had brought back. A passing gent told me 'This road was the old A19, a cinder track back then' and he'd be sent on messages to Ms. Crowe's shop as a boy.

I'd like to say crowds began to gather, weeping and reminiscing. I'd like to. People were double checking the sign though. And pointing.

I thought what any pre Thatcher Youth socialist would think- free publicity! I did what any self respecting pillar of the community would do- ring the local paper. The local paper being the Sunderland Echo. Now, I've been informed the Echo has a demographic with a reading age of 12. I don't buy the Echo unless, say, I hear Ryan Giggs is signing for us. Then maybe.

With excitement in my heart I ring the Seaham news desk. "Elloah Sunlun Echoah". I inform the lady of the scenes of emotion in Seaham that very morning. She gives me another number for the girl i need to speak to. I ring the number. "Elloah Sunlun Echoah". She's given me a number for the girl at the next desk to her! The girl is still on a call. I leave a contact number and wait. I imagine the headlines 'Piece of history' 'Childhood memories jogged'.

Later that day we find two hypodermic syringes while clearing rubbish from the waste ground at the back of the cafe. The local paper hasn't returned my call. I think of informing them of our more sinister find. I imagine the headline 'Cafe Hell-Drug Den Uncovered'.
The local paper never returned my call. The next day we had to paint over the sign. Fanny Crowe R.I.P.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008


After almost 6 years working for one of the 'big four' banks I can hear the death rattle of my career. For 3 years I've looked after a portfolio of wealthy clients. People who find it acceptable to complain at length about which shade of blue is used on their statements. People who fear Gordon Brown had a personal vendetta against them and the fortune they would be leaving behind to their children.
I can clearly remember the beginning of the end for me. Sitting in a corporate friendly room of a generic hotel on smoggy Teesside. We were being trained in 'the appearance of truth'. Apparently odd numbers are more convincing. When putting a lending proposition together we were encouraged to up the fees using odd numbers. A fee of 4% could become 4.37%, giving the impression more calculations had been carried out and , at the same time, making more profit for the shareholders to hide from Gordon. The reactions in the room were overwhelming. Everyone commited to giving the appearance of truth. Everyone except me.

I've now become a client. I am spending, what I feel, is a large amount of money on kitchen equipment, new floors, 3 phase electric, intraction units and extraction filters. I have no fear of Alastair Darling casting a jealous eye over my legacy as it is being spent by the hour.
The work should be finished by Wednesday, giving me 3 days to practice with the shiny new equipment. No-one seems to move very quickly. The contractors smoke in a studied and zen manner. They are eager to tell me what they will be doing tomorrow and why it can't be done today.
The project manager is a burly Yorkshireman who has disappeared from view now that i'm committed to the contract. He reminds me of one of my more forthcoming clients at the bank. In as much as I appear to be trying to keep him happy every time we speak. He acts wounded if I ask any difficult questions. He needs constant confirmation that I trust him. He is in charge and he is spending my money.

Although there are signs in the window explaining why we are closed I am still turning away hungry customers. They wander into my beautiful building site and ask about pies or specials or something called a 'chicken stack'. I'm tempted to set up a barbecue outside and start making a living.
For the moment I'll check over todays invoices. Checking for odd numbers. Searching for the appearance of truth.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Turning Point

I stood staring at the locked car door. For a May morning the yard felt cold. I stared through the drivers side window at the steering wheel. The thought of opening the door and climbing into the car was more than I could cope with. The thought of a 36 mile journey to an office made me feel sick. Pulling on my socks earlier had been an effort but this was different. Something was very wrong.

Ten months later I am standing in an empty sandwich shop listening to the hum of refrigerators and I can't remember feeling this excited. The smells of stale cooking oil and long forgotten food scraps are overpowering. My boots slip on the grease covered laminate floor. I discover yesterdays forgotten sweet and sour chicken in the microwave. Overwhelmed by the cadaverous stench of the meat fridge I yell 'dirty bastards'.

I've just been handed the keys to 'The Oven'. I now own it. I am now a small business person. I am no longer depressed. I am no longer suffering crippling anxiety attacks. I am going to open a cafe, a sanctuary and a future. To quote a song which has spun around my head for ten years, a 'Reason for living'. But first I am going to rescue an onion from behind a gas oven which breaks every health and safety regulation.