Posts Tagged ‘business’

on food on the road

I say on the road, but mean food whilst travelling in general, regardless of mode of transport. My first experiences of having to find food whilst out and about came back in the mid 1970s when I was a salesman flogging lorry parts and hydraulic fittings around London’s East End and the North bank of the Thames. It was there that I learned my first and second important lessons in finding decent, affordable food; firstly, ask the locals and secondly, learn who to trust for advice.

There were some dreadful “greasy spoons” about, but there we also some gems, all of which I would have driven past if I had not been told to stop. It was around that time that I was introduced to salt beef bagels for example and these are something that I will still look for one the rare occasions I get the chance. Pub grub was not a big thing back then, but the Waterman’s Arms on the Isle of Dogs, whilst a little more expensive than I might usually want to got to, became a regular spot for a treat when I was having a good week.

Jobs changed and I found myself working in offices with canteens (sorry, staff restaurants) for a few years before heading out and about again some ten years later. Motorways were the quick way to get around, but their service areas by then were pretty awful places and to be avoided so I began to search out other options. One of my early successes was to find garden centres not too far off the motorway. They often had a cafe and, in those days of mostly independent operations, you got good, home cooked, food. There were also some good pubs around where lunch, or even breakfast on days with early starts, could be found.

My aim was usually to try and eat more healthy food than the convenient locations offered and the sorts of places that I sought out often offered seasonal food. One favourite stop for lunch in the Spring was a country town cafe where I could get a poached egg on top of a crumpet with local asparagus; much nicer, and better for me, than a Big Mac and fries. I have no problem with the big chains and do use them even now, but trying something different is important for me even if it does cost a little more.

After a time travelling the UK I started to get the odd trip overseas and there even more opportunities to move away from regular fare arise. On a holiday there is an tendency to get trapped in the tourist fare that is on offer, but if you are working then talking to colleagues from the area will almost always find you something interesting. I have experienced dive bars on the waterfront in China, a home cooked meal in Libya and been taken to eateries in many places that I found never have found had one of the locals not guided me. In Thailand the ladies in the office would offer me fruit and curries and, for the ones that I liked, write out the names of them, or similar dishes, so that I could buy them in the street market behind my hotel for my evening meals.

My waistline did suffer over the dirty odd years that I travelled regularly and I have lost 20 or so Kg over the lockdown period. My main business travelling days are now over, but I have many happy memories of places that I have been fed at, from dive bars to Michelin stars they all have given me pleasure.


on local trading

There are a lot of posts on social media exhorting the benefits of trading locally and supporting small businesses near you. It is all very laudable and I do my bit, but I question the anti big business argument that is bandied around to support local trading.

I have run small businesses for almost twenty years, but none of these have been targeted on my local area. My horizons have always been much wider and I have traded internationally from the start as well as UK wide, but I have tried to support my local business community both professionally and as an individual.

My motive has been purely selfish in that I like, regardless of whether I have my business or personal hat on, to be able to deal face to face with suppliers and I can do that without travelling too far then I am much happier. It saves me time for one thing, but whilst I am happy to deal with local suppliers I have no issues with using the big chains and, especially when not on my own turf, prefer them because I know what I am getting.

I don’t care if large corporations pay very little in tax. It is not their fault if those opportunities are available to them. How many of us voluntarily pay extra tax? Certainly in the days when I was paying 40% tax I never felt any need to ring up the Revenue mob and ask them to round it upon to 50%. These big corporations employ thousands of people around the country who all pay their own income tax and spend what they have in whatever way they can. Some of that will be spent in the shops where they live so that money goes into the local community.

There is this implied fallacy that all money spend with a global brand somehow vanishes into offshore pockets. It doesn’t all go that way. Shopping, and spending, patterns have shifted radically over the last four months and many large brands are in trouble. If they fail there will be a lot more people out of work than if a few local shops close. It isn’t just the stores; there are the warehouses and distribution networks, manufacturers and packers and many more who make up the supply chains. They all provide employment that puts money into local communities.

What the world will lo0k like in another four months I have no idea. Some of my spending has shifted to local suppliers because it has been easier to deal with them than with big chains that are temporarily closed. I have gained a fruit and veg box supplier and a fishmonger that I buy from on-line and have the produced delivered. My butcher has also expanded his on-line business and so I use that rather than drive to browse and choose from his counter.

Other local businesses have lost my custom though, not through any fault of their own. The weekly pub lunches thinly disguised as business meetings have ceased as have the ones in coffee shops along with the casual spending in the shops in those nearby towns en-route from car park to venue. Much of the latter affects charity shops where I would inevitably emerge with a book or two if nothing else.

The reality is that we, the consumers, drive the market. Yes we respond to advertising and all that, but it is us who spend our cash in the way that we want to. If we don’t want to shop in the High Streets then we won’t and that is the way it is for now. This year has simply exacerbated things, but you cannot blame it alone. We are selfish people and will not pay higher prices locally when we can get stuff delivered for less. I am as guilty as any and, as I potter around doing something and an idea for a purchase flashes into my mind I am as likely as not to pull out my ‘phone and make the purchase.

Local trading was once the only way to buy, but the concept of the High Street is barley 200 years old. If it is going to die here it will as it has done in the USA and we need to accept that. Let’s move with the times and not waste government money, local or central, in trying to prop up something that is beyond help.

There will always be a place for the small business as much as there will always be a place for the big ones as long as both can offer us something that we want. It will be what we make it and we will live with what we get.

on back to normal

We are living in strange times, certainly here in the UK, but also in many other countries and we are all looking forward to an end to the restrictions that have become our current norm. But will we go back to what we had before?

Certainly there seems to be a political desire for us to get “back to normal”, and I can understand a desire at that level to try to be reassuring, but I am not sure that we will ever get back to where we were in, say, February 2020.

Change is inevitable and you can never really go back. I can remember my parents and others of their generation talking about how different things were before and after WW2 although I could not image it myself. Now as I approach my eighth decade I can look back and see change fairly clearly; it is not that long ago, for me, that as a salesman out on the road I carried a bag off coins so that I could call the office from a telephone box. I can also remember programming mini computers to run programmes through 1k of memory. The last sentence would probably take up 1k in a word processing programme of today and my mobile ‘phone has more processing power than we could have dreamt of back then.

But even the more dramatic changes that I have lived through pale in terms of what we have seen in the last three months and I cannot believe that whatever we get next will be less than a quantum change. Businesses are going to fail, especially in retail and hospitality, and the knock on effect through distribution to production will ripple across. All of this will affect the way that money flows through the economy and whilst we have been through recession a few times in my life I feel that this is going to be different.

Shopping patterns have changed, attitudes have changed and all of what the last few months have brought is going to make it a different world. I have no doubt that the economists are doing their best to predict the future, but I have. no idea what awaits us once Covid-19 fades from our priorities (assuming that it does).

This is not meant to be a doom and gloom post, far from it. We will come out on the other side and make the best of what we have; we always do. Change brings a level of excitement, it brings out the competitive urge and opens doors for those brave enough to walk through them. There is much that I do not like about 2020 so far, but it is what it is and I can’t change it. I can just look forward to doing my best with whatever hand I get dealt. If we all do the same we will be fine.

on a question of discipline

I wrote in a midweek blog recently about keeping one’s skills current when on furlough or just unable to work. With the Covid-19 lockdown continuing (this is being written two or three weeks ahead of publication) another skill comes to mind; that of discipline. Read more…

on a lack of interest in the truth?

Perhaps I have been a bit slow on the uptake here, but a casual remark led to some serious discussion and some, for me anyway, disturbing thoughts for it seems that in the world today people no longer want the truth, they want their view to prevail regardless of the facts. Read more…

is it the place or the people?

At the coffee shop the other day two ladies were enthusing about where they worked. It was nice to hear especially as it is so often that people want moan about their employers. Read more…

Are we nearly there yet?

“Are we nearly there yet?”, that familiar cry from the back seat, and sometimes from the front. The answer may be yes, maybe no, but how do we know? These days when we are on a day out we probably know where we are from our SatNav system and, if you have that set up to do so, it will also tell you whether you are going to arrive on time or not. At work we don’t have SatNav though, so whether we are looking at the day’s work or a project we need to have something else to keep track of where we are. Read more…

every man in the fleet knows what to do except the commanding admiral

These words were written by Ian Fleming for his creation M to utter in conversation with 007 and they convey an important leadership principle. Read more…

the power of words

Language has fascinated me for as long as I can remember; to listen to someone speak well or to read something well written is a joy. Language evolves though and even in my lifetime there has been a lot of change. Read more…

history is not bunk

Life is not simple, for very few things that we have to deal with are as easy as yes or no. In most cases there are a range of factors that have to be taken into account and these will include possible outcomes of each option before us; the consequences of our actions, and not only in terms of how these affect us, but how they affect others. Read more…