by Andrew Foote
The summer season had been kind to the Nelson resulting in us actually turning our normal meagre profit into a handsome one, but Mum was looking increasingly tired and I could tell she'd had enough of it.
She had made a full recovery from her ulcer problem and with no other underlying health issues, it was shortly after I turned eighteen that the business was put into my name with her just keeping tabs on things.
She was spending ever more time visiting my Aunt and Uncle in Plymouth, then in October she announced that she had put in an offer on a small two-bedroom bungalow in Bere Alston, a small village on the Tamar estuary just outside Plymouth. Her offer was accepted and shortly after the New Year, she moved out.
Was I sad?
No, not sad exactly but I missed her, however it was the right move for her and it was very noticeable when three months later when Aruno and I paid her a visit, just how happy she was.
Our fishing training was fun if bloody hard graft! At first we just went out with Marion – Conqueror not being suitably equipped but that was going to change as one of Mr Penfold's old crew taught Aruno the art of net making. I'd lose him for hours on end only to find him sitting cross-legged on the deck, marlin spike in hand and reels of rope strewn all over the place as he worked. "This is so much fun Mimi-cu!"
Mr Penfold really didn't like being out there so we would be shown the basics, return him to Tresgillith then put back out and see how we faired. We had bad runs but then we began to see some encouraging results which we'd land at Penzance before making our way home.
Cathy took and passed he Master's Certificate and I had Aruno sit his radio licence and attend some general safety courses with the idea that once he turned sixteen, and all assuming he was still living in the UK, he might also sit his Master's. The thought that he might return to Brazil was always in the back of my mind but if he did, I would follow him.
A quiet winter at the pub only opening Thursdays, Fridays Saturdays and Sunday lunchtimes, gave us time to hone our trawling techniques to something approaching half-decent. Summer was fast approaching and with it the news that permission had been granted to redevelop the tin mine into a sort of living museum with a café, a gift shop but thankfully, no alcohol licence.
Work on the mine began in May which meant mining engineers and a significant boost to our trade.
They had erected temporary accommodation in the form of static caravans on site and off duty, the engineers invaded the pub. Our barrelage sky-rocketed which caught the attention of the brewers, each of them vying for our business with promises of significant discounts if we signed up to them as our sole suppliers.
We're a Free House and I was having none of it, but then in August, we had a visit from the Business Development Director of a particular West Country Brewer.
It was Rob who saw him.
"No, sorry. He's due in with his boat at any time now. I'm just managing the place while he's gone.
Can I be of assistance?"
"Thanks but probably not, it's him I've come to see.
When is he due back?"
"He's overdue but if you care to wait, I'll see if he's back in the harbour."
We were, so Rob phoned me.
"Simeon? You have a visitor who wants to talk to you."
"Who is it mate?"
"I didn't ask but he looks the business. You know, flashy suit and a posh car."
"Okay. Tell him to give me fifteen minutes and I'll come up."
I asked Aruno to run me ashore then left him to square things away on the boat and on walking through the door, Rob pointed out the guy who needed to see me.
"I understand you need to have a word with me? I'm Simeon Woolacott."
"Ah, Mr Woolacott. A pleasure to meet you. I'm sorry if I've dragged you away from important business?"
"All done now. We just needed diesel but I need to go to Penzance to get enough of it. How may I help you?"
"A business proposition and one that might benefit both you and I.
My name is Alan Priestman and I'm the Business Development Director for the West Country Brewing Company."
"Okay Mr Priestman, let's find ourselves a quiet table, then you can tell me all about this deal."
We took a table by the window and I indicated to Rob that I'd like a pint of something other than what this blokes Company supplied us with.
I have a deep distrust of salesmen, and whether or not this chap was a Company Director, he was still going to try to persuade me to enter into something which undoubtedly he'd come out on the better side of.
"You have a very nice establishment here if I may say so."
Beware the sales pitch Simeon!
"Thank you. We like it."
"And so you should.
We've noticed your increased orders and with this in mind……"
"Look, I'm sorry to interrupt you, but if you're going to ask me to sign you up as sole suppliers, I thought that I'd already made my position perfectly clear.
We're a Free House and as such, we like to serve a diverse range of drinks to suit our customer's tastes, your range being one of them and popular as it is, my answer is still thanks but no thanks."
"I understand your position. I've read all the correspondence so that wasn't what I wanted to discuss with you."
"I understand that this isn't your only line of business. Am I right?"
"We fish but I can't really call it a line of business, we've only just begun to turn a profit and even that's a slim one."
"You are obviously aware of the mine project?"
"Are you also aware that the same organisation applied for, and was granted outline planning permission to build a theme park together with an hotel complex right next door to it?"
"No. That obviously passed me by."
"No matter, you can always look it up on the County Council's website.
It's only outline permission so far but if it were to go ahead, your business model would have to undergo some pretty drastic reviews.
Don't misunderstand, I'm not trying to teach you your business, but to make the most of the opportunities such a development along those lines would bring with them, as a businessman, you would have to pay close attention to your hours of opening, staffing, expanding your premises, kitchen facilities, the list goes on and I wonder how you might feel about it."
"How I might feel about it isn't the issue here. We run this place for the benefit of the villagers and during the summer, we're happy to welcome holiday-makers, but expansion? Forget it."
"And get left behind in the process?"
He didn't wait for me to reply, he just carried on.
"To survive, expansion has to happen Mr Woolacott. Failure to do so would only serve to disappoint prospective customers, your reputation would suffer as you would be unable to accommodate the increased business, and so this pretty little harbour-side pub might well lose trade rather than increasing it.
If it was that you had agreed to my Company acting as sole suppliers, we would've looked favourably on the possibility of grants or low interest loans to help fund things, but as you have already made it very clear you're not prepared to entertain such an agreement, expensive business loans or a commercial mortgage would be the only avenue left open to you.
Actually, that isn't entirely true. There is one other option."
"You sell us the freehold."
"Oh right! Just like that!"
"No, not just like that. It wouldn't go ahead overnight but think about what I've told you.
A very straight forward question Mr Woolacott. Would you ever consider selling?"
"Every man has his price Mr Priestman, I wouldn't be so arrogant as to dismiss it out of hand."
"And what might this man's price be?"
"Oh no you don't! You want to buy us out, it's not like I'm gagging to sell, so you tell me what you're prepared to offer and I'll give it due consideration."
"Very well then. I'll have my office put some figures together, then we'll make you an offer.
Nice meeting you Mr Woolacott, and I trust we will reach a mutually satisfactory agreement."
"So there you have it Mum. What do you reckon?"
"That's a difficult one to answer. What this chap Priestman says is right, you either expand or kiss bye-bye to a profitable little business, but to go ahead and do what's needed would take more money than we could ever raise, and even if we were able, how long might it be before we saw a return on such a massive investment?
I can understand, and I'm in absolute agreement with you, a sole supplier would have you bound up in contracts that only Houdini could wriggle his way out of. They offer nothing by way of price guarantees, it's the typical Foot in the Backdoor trick and before you know it, they're dictating terms to you.
Selling is probably your only option but…… string them along Simeon, don't go with the first offer, you might even like to play them off against the competition in a Highest bidder buys the pub thing.
This Mr Priestman seems like he's a clever operator. He came awfully close to blackmail, telling you or rather, suggesting you might go out of business unless you signed on the dotted line. He's a shrewd cookie, so you must show him that you can also play that game. Hit him where it hurts the most…… in his wallet!"
It was now the time had arrived to, if not hatch my plan, but at least to explain it to the guys.
I thought I'd covered most things although there were still some major issues to overcome, so that evening after we'd managed to kick everyone out, I called a meeting.
First I told them about the visit from this bloke Priestman, his veiled comments about going out of business and the possibility of having to sell up.
"Was he serious?"
"Very. We'd already told his Company to take a hike when they wanted to be our only suppliers of beer, so he kind of made it pretty obvious that he'd not shed many tears if the Nelson went tits on us.
I talked to my Mum and she reckons we don't hold cards enough to fight him off but…… he's very interested in buying us out, so the best course of action is to play along, do deals, and secure the best possible price going."
"Oh, I don't know Cath, is it?
He's right in as much as we don't have the money to do what it would take, but allowing an agreement with them being our only supplier would just open the floodgates to more and more interference from them, so our take is to sell, but make life hellish for him in the process."
"But then what would you do. Fishing is fun, we all of us get a buzz from it but it hardly pays our running costs, let alone giving all of us enough to live on?"
"I know it, but I have a cunning plan My Lord. Wanna hear it?"
"Why do I just know this is going to be crazy?"
"Hear me out. I've really been doing my homework with this alright?"
"Okay, so what's this crazy Baldrick plan?"
"Aruno wants to go back home to South America and I've promised him that I'll go with him right?"
"We know that…… but how!"
"How has yet to be arranged except I'm taking Conqueror with me."
Rob coughed into his beer. "Oh right! How much fuel do you carry, five thousand litres? Best estimate, that might allow for what, thirty, thirty-five hours cruising at nominal revolutions…… might get you as far as the south of France!"
"I know that, but you're not paying attention…… I said I'm taking her with me, not bloody driving her there?"
"Not exactly cabin baggage Simeon."
"Alright, let me put you out of your misery shall I?
Conqueror is perfectly seaworthy right? I intend to hitch a lift as deck cargo on a freighter, probably not in one hit, but in dribs and drabs which will get me as far as the Brazilian coast then take it from there. Easy-peezy!
I've investigated visas, they are offering a five year stay so long as we're working and can offer proof of ownership of the boat. Some satellite systems will need software updates but the radio is already selectable between European frequencies, American and Canadian so no problem there. I take spares for the boat like filters, oils and so on and we're on our way. What I can't take with me, I import.
Oh, just one other thing? I'll have to open a Brazilian Bank Account but again, no biggie. I'm with Santander and they have subsidiary banks out there so it's just a simple matter of transferring funds."
Silence…… then Cath grinned at me. "You're completely certifiable, totally off your trolley, but…… I just love the idea!"
Rob looked crestfallen. "You'd go too?"
"Only on two conditions.
Dad was happy enough for me to take Marion and…… you came with me."
"Deal me in then!"
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