Novelist. Author of APSARAS and tales from the beautiful Saigh Valley. First person to quantify spiritual values.

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Tuesday 9 March 2010

The Plough, Pyrton -early days

In 1975, after ten years working for the Ministry of Defence in munitions factories, I decided that it wasn't the life for me. It wasn't that my working day was spent making items of mass destruction that bothered me; I could cope with that, as it was my contribution to the defence of the realm. No; it was the idea that every day, often before daybreak, I would get up, get ready and drive fifteen miles, often in appalling weather, to work for somebody else, returning, often in the dark, the same way. I know that others do it; I've two brothers who worked at the Southampton Ford Transit plant for over forty years, but it was not how I wanted to spend my working life.

My wife and I decided to take a pub. For sure the hours were longer, and we would no longer have the weekends off, but at least we would be working for ourselves. We signed up with an agent, picked from the 'Morning Advertiser', the publican's trade newspaper. They sent us details of several tenancies, one of which was 'The Plough' at Pyrton, an Ind Coope pub near Watlington in Oxfordshire. Pyrton was a small village with a population of about a hundred and falling, with an average age of what seemed like a hundred. Besides the pub, the village had a small church, which shared its vicar with several other parishes. The pub itself, situated opposite a farm, was thatched and consisted of one bar with a large inglenook at one end and a bar billiard table at the other.
We were sent on a five day pub management course at Boreham Wood, which was memorable for consisting mostly of eating, before the final takeover, one day in June 1975.
We had visited the pub a few times beforehand, so that we could prepare a business plan and find out more about the trade. It was, from the outset, going to be a challenge; the pub was a throwback to a bygone era. The outgoing tenants having been landlords for a large number of years, they were past retiring age by this time and not able to adjust to the new pub food revolution about to sweep the nation.Back in those early days pub food was restricted to crisps, pork scratchings and pickled eggs in jars on the counter.
Our first incognito visit wasn't good. Our drinks were served in glasses that showed the green ring of algae left after being used as a flower vase. It was clear that the customer base was very small, consisting of a few of the older villagers and friends of the landlord and his brother. Outside, in what was going to be the car park, were the remains of the old pig styes. Although it looked daunting and we were advised by friends not to take it on, the pub itself was lovely, the village and the setting was idyllic. We were not put off by stories that in the past the 'Plough' had a history of 'biker' problems and drugs. One story told of a visit by the police, who on returning to their car parked outside, found it propped up on bricks with all four wheels missing.
After the transfer of license, the pub was closed for a week for a thorough clean, before we opened for business.I remember that after we closed for the night, I slept on a camp bed in the bar, because our private rooms were being renovated. During the night I heard footsteps on the floorboards above. I was petrified, unable to sleep in case the footsteps should descend the stairs. I had already determined that if they did I was going to make a dash for the entrance. I reported this to the decorators next day and they recommended I get in touch with the pest control people. Sure enough after the laying of poison, the footsteps ceased and I found dead mice in the ingle.
The first day was marred by the previous landlord and landlady flouting the custom of not returning to their old bar. Sadly the old man became so drunk and such a nuisance that I had to bar him, then and there. Once outside, he lay in the middle of the road where his wife started to kick him in the side, all the time exhorting him to get up with colourful language. Having locked themselves out, our decorators had to climb into an upstairs window of their house to let them in.

It took sometime to build up the trade, having started from almost zero customers. We were one of the first to copy Berni Inns and serve steak and chips as a pub meal in the evenings, an idea that we were gratified to see emulated widely in the area. However, I remember one day, shortly after we'd opened when we saw no customers at lunchtime and none until ten o'clock in the evening when a local mushroom farmer came in. I was sat before a blazing log fire in the fireplace and it was with some reluctance I got up to serve our first customer of the day. He ordered a beer and because he was the one and only of the day I hadn't the heart to charge him. We bought his beer for him and invited him to join us in front of the fire. It was a very pleasant hour, making his acquaintance and he became a regular customer thereafter, that free beer being repaid many times over.

I mention this because, when I see Mojácar so quiet, the bars empty, I know exactly what it feels like to open up in the morning, hoping to do some business but without any expectation. How dispiriting it is to sit there hour after hour, your enthusiasm sapped by the feeling of despair and bemoaning your luck to be trading in a recession. So to the bar owners I say, it will come back if you have a good business plan; stick with it and remember sometimes, like my free beer to the only customer of the day you sometimes have to give something to get in return.

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Kevill Davies is author of 'Apsaras'. Available at most on line book shops.
Read more on his Indaloblog at

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