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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Pictures of the car

Max called the car Mr. Bottle, we have no idea why, but it sort of made sense. Sadly Mr. Bottle is no more as you can see.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Journey to Oxford

I left the pub at approximately eleven o'clock on New Year's Eve with my mind in a whirl. Was Helen trying to spare me worry by saying that they were okay? Surely, if they were okay, why the need to go to the hospital. The journey took place in a daze. I took a couple of cans of Red Bull from the bar and also bought a packet of ProPlus tablets from a garage en route. The road was empty and the weather was clear, at least this was in my favour. I had my mobile phone handy and hoped that Helen would be able to contact me with an update, but I knew that she had left her phone in the car and the fire brigade had not let her return to it. Although I had drunk the Red Bull and taken a couple of the Pro Plus tablets I was still very tired, I had slept less than four hours in the past forty one hours and I was aware of how hypnotic motorway driving can be. It took about two hours to reach Bristol and by the time I got to the Gordano service area I was very close to falling asleep at the wheel. With discretion being the better part of valour I decided to stop for a small nap and cup of coffee. I pulled into the car park, dropped my seat back, set the alarm on my mobile phone for fifteen minutes and shut my eyes. At this precise moment my legs started to cramp. I was in agony and I hobbled out of the car. Now you have to remember that it is approximately one thirty in the morning and anyone who happened to be watching would have seen a man who is now bent double, fall from his car and proceed to hobble around the car park like a demented duck! So much for sleeping. I eventually managed to get my legs back to normal and straighten myself up. I went to the men’s washroom, splashed cold water on my face and then headed off again onto the M5. I drove for an hour or so; all the time I was worrying about what I would find at the hospital, my mind was creating all manner of scenarios that are too painful to put down here. Eventually I stopped at the Leigh Delamere service area on the M4. Rolling to a stop I didn't even bother to put the seat back, I simply set the alarm, closed my eyes and drifted off. My mobile phone started ringing and I awoke with a start. It was still dark, so I figured that I hadn’t slept too long. Looking at my watch showed that I had only been asleep for five minutes! It was Helen, checking up on my progress. I didn’t want her to worry so I didn’t mention my tiredness, but decided I should press on. I drove for the next hour and a half until I finally got to the hospital. I rushed inside and was pointed to a treatment unit where I was told Helen and the boys would be. I found them in a side ward. The two boys were top to tail on the bed fast asleep and didn’t appear to be injured. Helen was sat at their bedside and looked tired and worried. I won’t bother detailing the next couple of hours as it was all very emotional and trying for Helen. She was in a very self accusatory mood and nothing I could say would change her outlook. To me it had been an accident, a bad one granted, but an accident all the same. They were all okay and able to come home with me. That morning I took them back to our home in Northampton and set about sorting out the insurance, vehicle recovery and a myriad of other details that this sort of thing throws up in its wake. The car was taken to a local garage for assessment and later that day I went to see it. I was staggered at the state of it. How anyone could have got out alive is beyond me. Anyway, I arranged for Helen and the boys to come back down to Devon with me later that day and we attempted to get back to normality.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

New Year's Day

As mentioned previously, I was up early on New Year's Day to get breakfast for our overnight guests. I have to say that Karen Tucker came to my rescue and helped me with the fry up - That woman is a godsend. Three and a half hours sleep had not left me feeling on top of my game, but there was plenty of work to do. The cleaning up of the bar area was the first order of the day and my brother-in-law Melv assisted me in removing all of the debris left over from the previous evening's revelry. This done I started to replace bottles in order to be ready for the lunchtime session. The cellar needed attention too. I removed all of the empty barrels and made sure that the temperature was okay in there. I couldn't afford to let what beer I had left (half a barrel of Spitfire) get abused. This was going to have get me through until my next visit from the dray man. Lunchtime was relatively quiet. We had a few people in and when we shut the doors at two thirty I prepared to say goodbye to Claire, Steve, Kelly and Alex. They had been a massive help and it had been wonderful having them around during a really important phase of my time here as landlord. They left at about three o'clock and Helen and I sat by the fire with the children and Mon and Melv. I was feeling quite fed up. The whole Christmas/New Year thing had been incredible, but now it was over and it all felt a little anticlimactic. Furthermore I was about to say goodbye to my family and although I would see them the following weekend I was still feeling down. They left for Northampton at four thirty after lots of hugs and kisses. Max, my four year old had a 'Jedi Knight Light Sabre' and was prepared to use the force if necessary! It would soon be time to reopen and I was hoping that it would be a quiet evening. Mon and Melv were staying an extra night and this softened the impact of saying goodbye to Helen, Max and Joe. I had given the kitchen staff the night off and planned on getting an early night myself. If only I had known! From seven o'clock that evening people started to arrive in steady numbers, it was obviously not going to be the quiet night I had planned. By eight o'clock I was flagging, but Mon and Melv kept me plied with coffee and apart from my concern with having only one beer available, everyone seemed happy. I had spoken to Helen earlier on to check on her progress and I figured she would be home between nine thirty and ten. It always takes longer with the children on board as you have to stop for more comfort breaks. Anyway apart from needing a bottle of ProPlus pills to keep me going, everything was ok in the Provi'. At nine thirty the telephone rang and I expected Helen to tell me she was home. Instead I heard her say, "Tim, don't worry, we are all okay, but there has been an accident." My heart missed a beat and the most fearful images raced across my mind. A vehicle had come towards them with its lights on main beam. Helen had moved to the left thinking the other vehicle was too far over towards her side of the road and we think she suffered a blow out. She then lost control of the steering and careened across to the opposite side of the road hitting a tree; the car spun and then rolled over ending upside down in a field. Thank God for seat belts and child seats! I was stunned and couldn't concentrate on what was happening. I told Melv and he took over behind the bar for me. I had to wait nearly an hour before Helen was able to talk to me again. She told me that they were all being taken to the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford for checks, but that they were relatively unscathed. I made the decision to go to them there and then. I'll tell you more later on this week as I have to go now and prepare the bar for tonight's session.

Monday, January 22, 2007

East Prawle At Christmas & New Year

Well, I’m back. Sorry for the delay – BT has a lot to answer for, but more of that later in the week.

December 1st came around really quickly, Helen and I arrived in East Prawle on Thursday 30th November and had meetings with various suppliers as well as trying to make the most of our free time before becoming the new landlords of the Providence Inn, henceforth referred to as The Provi’. We visited our neighbours in the Pig’s Nose and then took some time out preparing for the adventure to come. Paperwork needed sorting and we also had to finalise the menus with our head chef Karen. Arnie, the outgoing landlord was given a great send off by the locals that evening and we popped in briefly to raise our glasses to him. I watched him taking the pats on the back and best wishes from his regulars with interest. I wondered to myself if I would be in that position at some point in the future, or was I about to make a major mistake. The enormity of what was about to happen hit me like an out of control train! I put those thoughts aside and Helen and I went back to the cottage to get an early night in advance of our new start. I didn’t sleep too well. Had I done everything that needed to be done? Had I contacted all of the suppliers? Had I…..

I awoke on Friday and remembered that Arnie had arranged to show me how the cleaning system on the gas assisted drinks worked. I shot across the road ready and primed for action. The pub smelt of stale tobacco and spilt drink, there was actually something comforting about this, it seemed right in a peculiar way. I stopped and looked around me, John the cleaner and generally good egg had yet to start his daily routine and spent a few seconds taking everything in. I was about to go to the other side of the bar and claim dominion over the stock, fixtures and fittings and for the first time say, “What can I get you?”

Although we opened at lunch time, things were very quiet. Our first customers were Mr & Mrs Crawford from Strete and we welcomed them with the first drink on the house, fortunately neither of them had a penchant for pints of Brandy! Helen put the closed sign up at two thirty and we went to our room upstairs where we had to start unpacking and sorting out our belongings, how did we (read I,) ever collect so much junk - Who says you can’t fit a quart into a pint pot? Before we realised time had moved apace and it was time to open for our first evening as landlord and landlady of the Provi’. Five o’clock prompt and the sign said OPEN; two chaps came in at half past and stayed for one drink, oblivious of the naivety of their server. At six thirty two locals who we knew came in and wished us well, they couldn’t stay long and soon we were on our own again. Helen went upstairs to make herself look presentable and left me alone in the bar. At eight o’clock I stood alone behind the bar in a nicely pressed suit wondering if it had all been a mistake. No one was in the pub, had they all decided that we weren’t worth the effort? Maybe they all had hangovers from the previous evening’s revelry. No need to worry, at a quarter past eight the door opened and people began filing in and it continued that way for the rest of the evening. I can honestly say that we met some truly lovely people; we were wished well and made to feel comfortable amongst the locals from the village and surrounding area. Helen stayed with me until the following Monday, sadly she had to return to Northampton and I won’t pretend it was easy saying goodbye, but at least I knew that I would see her again the following Friday. I soon got into my stride and found that I really enjoyed being on the working side of the bar. Arnie the ex landlord has proved invaluable to me. His assistance has helped me through a few tricky moments when I found I hadn’t got the faintest idea of what to do when certain things went wrong.

As you may have read in a previous posting, the food side of our operation has kicked in and been really well received. The girls in the kitchen are working like Trojans (no horses on the menu – honest!) they have created a range of excellent dishes and people are coming back for more as well as spreading the word to their friends and associates. As we all know, a personal referral is worth far more than any other form of advertising. We also do Sunday roasts and they are going down a storm. Talking of storms, we have been battered by winds reaching speeds of over 100 miles per hour, torrential downpours and pea soup fogs, yet somehow, here in Prawle that all seems ok.

Christmas was soon upon us. Helen came down with Sam, Max and Joe and for me it was perfect. My wife, my boys, our new pub and new friends as well. I found Christmas Eve to be quieter than I had anticipated, but I suppose that I was basing this on my being in towns rather than villages in the past. Don’t misunderstand, it was still a very good night and we enjoyed the company of all who visited. It was really something when the local carol singers performed for us. Mince pies all round seemed the least we could offer in exchange. The following morning started with the boys opening their presents and they had a great time. Then it was time to prepare for the Christmas lunch time session. We were open from twelve o’clock until three. So many people came and stayed for the duration or like others moved between the two village pubs, there was a lovely feel about the place with smiles all around. Eventually we said goodbye to our last customers and cleaned up. Karen Tucker had kindly left me instructions on how to get our own Christmas dinner ready, so I kept popping back and forth between the bar and the kitchen. I needn’t have bothered. She suddenly appeared and proceeded to take over, finally producing a fine feast for us all, she even set a table for us. What a star that woman is. I secretly think she was terrified of the chaos that I would bring down on her kitchen domain had I been left to my own devices! At least this way she could keep an eye on me. On Boxing morning I had to take Sam, my eldest to Bristol where his Mum picked him up and took him back to Northampton. He had had a good time and even made a few bob as a glass washer.

The following week was busy with locals and visitors and we gradually prepared for New Years Eve. I was slightly unsure how best to approach this event. I had been told that the locals often wear fancy dress and this left me uncertain if Helen and I should join in or not. In the end we decided to try and look smart and hope that the locals wouldn’t mind. My sister and brother-in-law; Mon & Melv joined us as did our close friends Claire & Steve and their daughters Kelly & Alex. I loved having people close to me around and it proved invaluable in the days that followed.

New Years Eve was a bit of a conundrum for me, I felt that we would be busy, but at the same time had to work out the correct amount of beer, wines and spirits to order. I also had to factor in the bank holiday Monday when I would normally place my order for delivery on a Tuesday, I hadn’t got the faintest idea of what to do, so I tried to approach it from a more logical angle (well, more logical for a dunce like moi!) I looked at the previous years’ sales, added an amount based on what was suggested by my locals and then added on a slightly conservative amount for good measure. I actually then started fretting that I would end up tipping beer down the drain for ordering too much…

The night started with the arrival of approximately fifteen young chaps dressed in women’s clothing. They all had a pint and then headed off to their next port of call. They gave me a hint of what was to follow. We saw all manner of costumes through the course of the evening and what a night it proved to be. All of our locals turned out in force and spent the evening enjoying the beer and good company. There were some amazing costumes and a large number of gentlemen turned up in finely tailored dinner suits. Now I have to admit surprise at the number of men who turned up in women’s clothing. Some of these fellows are local farmers, but boy, do they make fine women! Too well in some cases – you all know who you are! By eleven I realised that the consumption of alcohol was inversely proportionate to the amount left in the cellar. Panic bells started ringing in my head. I hadn’t got my sums right. Shortly after midnight the Dartmoor IPA ran out, this was soon followed by the South Hams XSB, a local brew that has been well received here. Still the assembled party drank on. We were now down to our last barrel of Shepherd Neame Spitfire. Bottled beer proved popular as did the top shelf. All around were smiles and good humour, everyone was on top form and we couldn’t have wished for more. Our friends helped too. Kelly did a sterling job glass washing and I have told her she can work here in the summer if she wants. Her Mum, Claire served alongside Helen and our ever trusty barman Martin. With apologies to Martin, I must say that the three girls behind the bar were a far better sight than the normal male contingent of which I include myself. We sounded the chimes of Big Ben and then everyone sang Auld Lang Syne. I stood back and took it all in. Sorry for sounding feeble, but I actually had a tear in my eye. Everyone was happy, but they were happy and enjoying themselves in our pub. I had experienced a Christmas and New Year in East Prawle and it was one of the best experiences Helen and I have had in a long time. We found ourselves amongst friends, family and I think it is safe to say, new friends as well. Our last customers left the pub at a quarter to four in the morning. Helen, Claire, Steve and myself each had a glass of our preferred poison and then headed off to bed. I had to be up at eight that morning as we had two chaps staying for breakfast!

New Year’s Day turned out to be far more dramatic than I could have ever imagined, but that will have to wait until later this week when I post again. I still have lots more to tell you. Hopefully I’ll have a few decent pictures to post too.