When to Leave Alone

Ah, the Rugby World Cup final is on TV.

I have not one jot of interest in rugby – never played it, never watched it, never followed it.

But I remember the last time England won the World Cup. Commentators tell me it was 2003. I think. I wasn’t really listening.

I remember it then because we had gone out for breakfast in Salisbury. Saturday morning, yet all was dead. We wondered why, but weren’t complaining. At the final whistle, ecstatic rugby fans started to appear on the streets.

We’d gone for breakfast to David Brown’s. David Brown – we knew the guy slightly – was a butcher in Salisbury. He opened a café over his shop, which did nothing more than to sell the food, cooked, that he sourced from downstairs.

What an advert! This was really top-quality food, local sausages and bacon. Come lunchtime, roast beef baguettes were the specialty. To have sufficient confidence in your food that someone can just eat it in your café. If someone happens to try something in the café, and wants to take some home, it was a simple trip downstairs. I’ve often thought that supermarkets miss a trick here – they should have sufficient confidence in the quality of what they serve in their cafés that they should say exactly what it is so that people can later go down the aisle and put some in their cart. I don’t see that cost even comes into it, because if you sell a cooked breakfast, there is easily a 10x markup of the cost of the raw ingredients in any case. And if you’re also inducing people to then go and put your food in their cart, you have a double whammy.

So yes, David Brown’s. Best breakfast in Salisbury. When he finally retired, he sold the butcher’s, I suspect for a hefty premium, and started a catering business, providing the exact same food, just as something to keep him busy. Last I heard, the business had gone from strength to strength, and he was busier than ever. The guy who bought the butcher’s? Well, he tweaked the menu, he changed what he served and I guess he changed where he got it from, we didn’t like it as much, so we stopped going. He changed the name (if I were David Brown, I’d have probably insisted on it), so the original name is known only to old farts like me.

It’s funny. I hardly eat meat any more, but that was never because I don’t like it. And we live in a rural area, so it is no surprise that we can buy top-notch ingredients locally, if we know where to look. And so just a regular, small butcher’s shop could surpass any supermarket you care to mention.

Alas, I doubt there’ll be many ecstatic faces today – unless they happen to be South African 🏈 😪 🥓 😋.

Two Hearts

I’ve been happily married for over twenty years, but we were both fortunate enough to have had previous lives, before we met. With my ex-girlfriends, to split was ultimately the right solution, even though I maybe didn’t think so at the time. Not really any regrets.

One person I do have regrets about was Sue. Deliberately, that’s not her real name – she had quite an unusual name and I wouldn’t want her to be identifyable, or even suspectable, from this post.

It must have been 1987, I was nineteen going on twenty, in my second year at university- so was she – so it was an early relationship for both of us. From the days back when we believed in thunderbolts!

When I met her, Sue was on the rebound from a relationship which had been sufficiently serious that she’d been engaged, even at that tender age. But she assured me that it was over, and I was young enough to take that at face value – as I got older, I learned to be wary of “rebound” women.

A whirlwind romance. We were both penniless students, so how could it be anything else? We didn’t actually go anywhere, except to the local pub (bar).

It was not long after the start of the academic year, and we met quite accidentally. I had been drinking in the student union (another bar!) with her housemate, who I knew. We parted company at the end of the night, and on my way out I saw Sue. It would have been late, back then, things usually closed at 2am, so being the gallant chap that I am, I offered to walk her home – it was on the way to my place anyway. We got back to her place, and she gave me a kiss goodnight. A nice, long kiss, if you know what I mean. Use your imagination! I was elated – this gorgeous girl had given me a long, intimate kiss goodnight, so went home on a high.

A short while later I saw this friend on another night, and Sue was again present. As she apologised for being so drunk last time, she made it quite clear that she had no clear memory of what had happened, so I didn’t push it. We all make silly, drunken mistakes. The night ended again, and again Sue and I walked home together. Of course, one of her questions was to ask what had happened the last time, so I told her, including the kiss! She claimed embarrassment, so I was surprised when, on reaching her apartment, it happened again! There was no mistake this time, I don’t think either of us could have claimed drunkenness as an excuse. So, we arranged a date.

From that point on, we became inseparable, did everything together. I found out about her failed relationship – real grown-up things! She had become pregnant, and at such a young age, he’d suggested an abortion. At that age, I’d have been scared witless too and would maybe have jumped the same way. But it wasn’t me. She’d decided that she was not going to carry on with the pregnamcy if the father wasn’t supportive, but also to kick this guy into touch. She didn’t want to be with someone who’d be an unsupportive father. This had all happened just a couple of months before I met her, but as I said, as far as I was concerned it was just history.

Our relationship just got stronger. It was very concentrated, we became this “I love You” / “You Love Me” item over just a couple of months. Love? I was nineteen, what clue did I have about love?

Christmas holidays. I went back to my family, she to her’s. But we wrote to each other (on notepaper, we pushed the pieces into envelopes and stuck stamps on them. How quaint!) at least every other day, and we probably called each other as often. I still have those letters. Life was good. Had I really met “the one” at only nineteen? She had arranged to go back to her apartment just after New Year’s, and invited me to spend the week with her, before university started up again. How could I refuse?

We met up again during that first week of January. We’d only been apart for two or three weeks, but something had changed between us. For me, it was still plain sailing, but she was clearly troubled.

Toward the end of the week, I eventually received my explanation. At home at New Year’s, she had seen her ex- again. He’d begged her for another chance. I think she’d been with this guy from ever since, and she was conscious of walking away from that so she agreed to a tentative trial back with him. On the outside, I was rational throughout – what had happened had happened, and if she still wanted to be with him, more fool her. It was, however, immensely uncomfortable, especially as she kept me informed of the upcoming weekend with this guy. In the days following the weekend, I received the note that I had been dreading, that she wanted to try and make a go of things with him. All told, we had only been together around three months, a drop in the ocean. Crucially, not long enough for me to discover her faults.

What could I do? As far as I was concerned, I had been reasonable until the end, although the breakup came with sleepless nights for most of the next year. Everywhere I went, I just wanted to be someplace else. But at the time, I didn’t particularly fight. If she’d wanted me over him, or vice versa, she just had to think it through, it was all just logic. In fact, I saw Sue at various times – we were amongst a large student population, but students have their habits and our paths were bound to cross every now and again. I happened to see her when we graduated, but I was with somebody else by then, I’ve no idea of her circumstances. After we left university, we went our separate ways and we never kept in touch – it would have been too painful to re-open old wounds.

But, you know, I was nineteen, and life is all about learning. Plus, with hindsight, I know that the reason she was so perfect was just that I hadn’t known her long enough to discover the imperfections. I can look back at this and smile – I hope Sue is happy now and has done well for herself. Regrets? Well, I regret that the relationship never reached its full potential, but looking at how my own life worked out subsequently, I can hardly complain. There are even reasons to be thankful – I have been with the perfect partner (how rare is that?), who’d also been head over heels for me (how rare was that? 😀 ) For a few months, at least!

I shall end this post with our song.

As clear as if it were yesterday.

Postman Pat and Pushchairs

I posted yesterday about the trials we had with my daughter. But today I want to post a counterbalance because it wasn’t all bad.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, my daughter was a toddler. We’re talking pushchairs here. At the time I had not long been working up in London and had recently taken on a role in a prestigious bank. I figure it doesn’t do any harm to mention them since all the players have long since left the building – Coutts. That might mean something if you’re British, I’m not sure how international they became.

I had quite a decent role there, but in saying that, remember that I worked in IT, so everything is relative. My main role was to look to the future, but one of my hats was to look after the technical side of their existing client-facing web site. A good thing about Coutts was that they cared about their reputation, probably above all else – that was useful in practise because they usually chose “the best” over “the cheapest”. (If you happen to have a spare few million lying around, I’d still recommend doing your due diligence, though, because I’m going back 20 years, so things might have changed!)

One such area was in web security. They used a third-party add-on, and this third-party itself had the reputation as the best in the world. Still does. But best or not, they uncovered a vulnerability in their code. On a Friday afternoon. Could we be affected? My postcard analysis – unlikely but possible. From that moment on, reputational risk became the key, and the stops were pulled out. My weekend got cancelled.

Saturday morning, all was quiet in the City, but our team was all in, even the senior manager. At just one step down from the CTO, Pat was a politician in his mid-sixties and no use to us whatever. We had the supplier in fixing things, and frankly, we weren’t much use ourselves, until it came to making sure the new components boogied with our web site. But presumably, he felt he had to roll up his sleeves with everybody else.

Now, I was up in London daily, but my wife didn’t get up there much so decided to come up with me for the day to do some shopping. Complete with push-chair and toddler daughter.

For my part, I had not long been with Coutts, so didn’t know Pat at all well. I knew that he had the power to fire me in a single breath, but I also knew that I was good. I was, you know. I still am. And crises are great for bonding. By mid-afternoon, we were making progress on the problem, my wife returned to our office, all shopped out from her trip up the Central Line, and Pat came into his own. While I was working away, this senior manager took it upon himself to keep my daughter entertained! Over the next few hours, they became firm friends, he’d found his niche after all.

The episode was a win all around. For the bank, the win was that their clients never noticed any disruption and that they were protected long before this vulnerability ever became public knowledge. And, I might have lost my weekend, but it did attract overtime, which meant that we spent the weekend shortly afterwards at the Chewton Glen, one of the finest country house hotels in the UK.

And lastly, Pat and I became friends for the rest of our time at Coutts.