Delay in writing the memoirs

I will have to have a bit of a delay in writing the old memoirs as I’m back into the world of work guys.

All said, the memoirs weren’t progressing that well to be honest.

It struck me though that some people may be interested in my career path to date as it’s been fairly eclectic and it will be good for me to get it straight in my mind as to what actually happened.

So here is a quick run through of how I got to working in The Pompadour at the age of 59.

I started off at St Andrews University in 1979, ostensibly to read computer science. I say ‘read’ loosely as I had failed my higher English and it is a wonder really that St Andrews accepted me at all. My overall grades were very poor. However I scraped through the clearing system, I think on the back of the fact that comp sci was a bit of a new subject and not overly in demand then. I am not academic. In fact I’m convinced I edged in on the back of my 3 golf handicap.

I slogged through four years and got a Desmond in economics (that’s a low second class, Two:Two) which got me a job in London as a trainee chartered accountant for Thomson McLintock, which I delayed for a year as I was rather more attracted to the offer of a job in Val D’Isere as barman cum plongeur. In effect my career had ended before it had started. I had too much fun. The whole career thing was rather dull thereafter.

However I dragged myself to London for 3 dismal years auditing and trying to get qualified as a chartered accountant. What was I thinking of? Not a lot obviously. This was torture in extremis. I flunked my exams and ended up in Edinburgh having rented out my flat out in Borough. I then met a lass and got a ‘proper’ job in Edinburgh in finance as an admin guy for the fund manager Ivory and Sime. I got chucked, met another lass from Brighton, lost faith in the financial services industry and the 9 to 5, separated from the Brighton lass, met a lass with three kids, started teaching skiing at the dry slope in Edinburgh and then headed out to the Alps again to work in Val D’Isere as a ski guide and resort rep.

I came back from Val D’Isere and then ambled along for a few years doing jobbing gardening and carrying on the ski teaching at Hillend. I taught golf one blissful summer for Club Med in Marbella and another I toured England as a roustabout putting up and dismantling a Theakston’s mobile bar at country fairs. Came back, got sensible. I started gambling on the gee gees and sold wine for Cockburn’s of Leith for a bit, then started a ski trip gig called The Big Fun Company with a chap called Ambroggio McLintock (Ricey) which was seriously big fun. I then attempted a golf tour company, Highlander Golf, with an old pal at St Andrews who’d seen the light after a serious stab at a law career (two years diploma at Edinburgh Uni and then an apprenticeship at Brodie’s!). They both didn’t work. But I’m not awfully sure law careers work either to be honest. Ask Donald about that one.

Then one day a chap called Gavin Cherry bumped into me off-piste at Hillend and asked what I was doing. Apart from stating the obvious that I was talking to him off-piste at Hillend, I said that I wasn’t doing that much. He said that he was looking for someone to do the accounts at a nursing home he owned. He also owned a hotel and a flower shop and worked from his ‘office’ in Kays Bar. I started doing the books for the flower shop too and I soon found myself getting into the flower industry. After a fall out, the manager John and I, opened our own little enterprise in a garage in sunny Sighthill and scooted around town delivering flowers to bars and restaurants and all those who needed flowers. Actually ‘scooting’ was not far off the mark as I would often use my bike to deliver flowers hastily down town in heavy traffic. And I am convinced that Mr Deliveroo chap nabbed my idea when he clocked me one day flying down the Mound with my flower bouquet under arm. ‘Deliveroo’ obviously has it’s roots in ‘gardez-loo’ and our cut flower enterprise in Edinburgh. All this led to further shops called ‘Bloemen Ecke’ in Morningside and Murrayfield. People would see me weaving through traffic in the centre of town, bouquet under arm, and exclaim ‘bloomin heck!’ (sorry but I now jest!)

A shop next to our Murrayfield premise came up for rent and I took it over to start a little cafe which failed miserably. However a bloke I’d met at Valvona and Crolla took it over and made a go at it. I took up the violin, achieved my ambition of getting into The Really Terrible Orchestra by sending Alexander McCall-Smith a wee note and a bunch of flowers and went to Crail for the summer. I got a job caddying in St Andrews, started my blog and a wee column for Hong Kong Golf Monthly (don’t ask how). I wrote an article on the R&A and was reprimanded by the St Andrews caddie master for bringing the ‘reputation of caddies into disrepute’ (I have framed this letter by the way) for using the word ‘elitist’, but mainly over a jocular comment about two nice old buddies having a bit of a post-lunch snooze on a comfy sofa in that very reputable and esteemed Royal and Ancient clubhouse. I was cautioned, banned from working on the Old Course and sent back to the Castle course for my misdemeanours. I didn’t curry favour overly though by titling my next article ‘Banished to the Castle’. I then went to caddy at the Fairmont and had a wee fling as a breakfast chef at The Albany and mixologist at Hotel du Vin. Both jobs lasting a month.

My pal Mick has much more money than me and I had an option to buy the flower shop and the cafe properties. Mick then bought them both and we were able to indulge our dream of setting up a bistro. But that’s when things got a bit complicated and a bit sour and a bit disastrous. I gave up my fifty per cent interest in the flowers as part of the deal with John (in order that he forsake the premises) and got a bad name as some stupid people thought I’d done the nasty on him (actually he did pretty well, waltzing off with a hundred per cent of quite a successful flower business, albeit he forewent the opportunity to buy into the premises).

Mick, me and the other chap then opened the bistro which lasted four months. Subsequently I got a worse name as we had got rid of our chef/other proprietor (the chap who had run the cafe) after 3 months and some stupid people thought I’d done the dirty on him too. But I hadn’t (he was in fact the only one that made any money from the doomed enterprise). He had about as much clue of how to run a professional kitchen as I have of sheep shearing. Nevertheless I got some pretty nasty phone calls along the lines that I was not the flavour of the month in Upper Roseburn.

Then Covid struck and I licked my wounds and laid low in St Andrews and I thought about writing my memoirs.

A few weeks ago though, we started negotiating the purchase of a wee pad in Edinburgh close to my wife’s work and I thought it would be quite a rum thing to start working again. I’ve missed Edinburgh and I suppose I’ve missed working (well working with good people I mean). So at 12.45 on a clear Tuesday morning three weeks back, I took the bull by the horns and swaggered into the Waldorf and up to The Pompadour where I was fortunate to come across the general manager of the new Dean Banks restaurant there. I had a brief chat and a text from Marek three hours later, getting me in for a Thursday trial.

The rest is history in the making.

A bit of a blast of a week

Wow. That’s my first week finished back at work in two years. And what a week.

As you know, I’m now working at Dean Bank’s restaurant at the Pompadour in the Waldorf at the west end of Princes Street.

Is it fun? Yes. Is it a bit stressful? Yes. But that is the nature of the beast that is top notch hospitality. It’s a pretty high octane environment for sure. However, I’ve lucked out in meeting a very decent bunch of workmates to be honest. They are a class team and an extremely nice lot into the bargain.

It’s worked out pretty ok on the accommodation front too as our wee pad is around the corner. I’ve already got into a kind of daily routine which involves dropping out of bed at about 7, going to Greggs for the best deal in the world which is 3 slices of bacon in a roll and a coffee for £2.60. The coffee is seriously good with a rich crema and a fully rounded flavour which honestly begs the question of all the ‘artisan’ cafe’s around town which are now charging ridiculous prices for often lacklustre fayre.

Anyway I then troop into Starbucks so I can use their Wi-Fi and get my unlimited filter coffee (for £1.75) and a warm comfy seat. That’s not too shabby a deal either! My mate Al usually pops in and we have a good chin wag and put the world to right and talk horse form. I then pile up the road to Bruntsfield where I have my chat with Angus and Bob the butchers at WM Chiristie and Son. That’s always more than entertaining. They were intrigued as to how my first week went and we had a good crack about all that. The shop started getting a tad busy and on leaving I mentioned that I’d been given my p45 when I left the previous evening, except I said it in that sort of serious and dead panned way which stopped them a bit in their tracks. I maintained a serious face and they said ‘that means you’re sacked’ with a certain degree of concern for me which was rather sweet. I carried on the bluff though and said, ‘no, you always get given that at the end of your first week in a new job’. And they kind of looked at me with that expression of utter perplexity (with which a lot of people often look at me) as I sauntered out of the shop smiling and looking as earnest as earnest can be.

It should be a chuckle to see their expressions next week!

Anyway I then romped up the road to my old patch which is Morningside and then onto the Pentland Hills. Ah the Pentland Hills! I used to walk regularly up from Swanston Village to the top of Caerketten and was never fitter and healthier. It’s such an antidote to working in a cooked up restaurant and everything calms down and is seen in perspective. Even bad and nasty thoughts about mortgage brokers and risk assessors and Bertie Bojo and Meghan Sparkle and Sally Nugent.

But what a beautiful walk it is as well. I figure I can leave the West End at 10am walk up to the top of Caerketten and back, have a considerable chin wag with the butchers and get back to the West End easily by 2pm, a saner and better human being. And by the way that’s one blast of a walk and a talk. You just have to go into Wm Christie and Son in Bruntsfield to see what I mean. I mean to hear what I mean.

I plan to join the Spa at the Sheraton too, so I will be able to fall into a hot jacuzzi and steam room and then collapse back in the flat for a wee rest before my shift starts at 5.

It’s funny as I was given a tour of the place last week and we got up to the thermal suite and who walks out but Chris Turnbull, an ex-colleague at Ivory and Sime, way back in the days. Small old world what? I’m not at all sure what Chris does but he now seems to float around the West End and be a bit omnipresent, all said. I’ll bet he’s thinking that of me too though.

It’s Tuesday and we are now back in St Andrews for a few days. It’s so lovely to get back here too. Of course I’m a bit of a St Andrean now as well I suppose as I’ve been here for 7 years. What strikes you after being away for a bit is the purity of the air here. It’s the most marvellous thing and rarely talked about. A friend reckoned it gave his father 10 more years of life after moving up from London and I fully get that. He was seemingly housebound in London and then was able to get out for a walk each day up here.

Anyway, I think I shall now pop down to the St Andrews Golf Club and pick up the medal I won this year on the Old Course, which will be presented to our pet pig tonight, the ceremony being shown on my Instagram account. Of course I say ‘pet pig’ in the loosest possible sense. Adrian is ceramic but that’s not to say he’s not highly sensitive.

And then I might just pop around the corner to Dean’s new restaurant in Golf Place and see how they are progressing with the renovation work as they’re due to open on the 14th of December. He is going to kill it here. He is an amazing chef who worked with Rick Stein and oh what a location he has bagged at Golf Place!

STOP PRESS There is a God in heaven. We have just had a mortgage offer come through from the Royal Bank after going directly to them ourselves!

However big questions remain over how our ‘broker’ was not able to get us this though? and charged £240 for not getting us this. Maybe I should talk him through how we did it?

Hmm! That’s not exactly giving me any more confidence over my deep rooted suspicions about the financial services industry, which ironically appears as uncompetitive and inefficient as they come. I mean it’s a fact that 92 per cent of fund managers could do better by lobbing their money into a tracker fund and swan off to the golf course to spend their monstrous and ridiculous fees. But don’t get me started. From my time in the industry, I’ve seen invoices from a top hotel in Madeira where two investment trust directors and their wives would swank off to in order to perform quarterly board meetings (I presume the two directors partook in the meetings and their wives gave moral support, a bit like the Ryder Cup), while also indulging in some pretty high-end cuisine and wine by the looks of it!

Bloody joke.

But he ho, as it’s all seemingly about having a competitively free market, commoditization, specialization etc. Which I think roughly translates as a bit of a gravy train for the boys (indeed I remember clearly the investment director at Ivory and Sime telling me at interview that it was a licence to print money).

Blawks. As Philip Larkin was apt to say.

Fare forward passengers.

And now for something completely different

Ok, the blog is now going to veer off in a slightly different direction and detail some of the antics in the life of the kilted caddie. A kind of diary I suppose but maybe a bit more of a vehicle to vent my frustrations at this ramshackle world, have a few chortles, while trying to avoid being a dreadful bore. No one likes a dreadful bore.

So let me vex on about our recent mortgage application saga, as we’re trying to negotiate the purchase of a wee pied a terre in Edinburgh. Firstly we went direct to the Royal Bank and had a painstaking two hour Zoom meeting with a nice lass from Kelso, who intimated that all was fine and rosy and the mortgage looked a done deal. However the next day we got a phone call explaining that the Royal Bank did not lend on properties under 30 sq metres. Well ok but couldn’t you have told us that before the two hour meeting?! I’m not good at two hour mortgage meetings.

We then went to our lawyer who suggested we use their broker. We did and were informed that there were only three lenders who would look at that size of property. And then there were suddenly two! but they would only lend with security upon our unencumbered St Andrews property. By the way, that means that no lender will entertain properties under 30 sq metres!

In the end the broker said that they would not be able to get us the 110k we needed! Hmm! Really? Our flat is worth much more than that, we have above average income, very low outgoings and zero debt, so I’m afraid that I’m just not getting this security lark? Exasperated, we went back to the RBS who say they will lend on the security of our St Andrews property (pity they hadn’t mentioned that option 4 weeks ago after the aborted first attempt or indeed that the broker hadn’t suggested we go back there and try this route, but never mind. A broker has to make money and no Royal Bank employee is perfect, remember that Fred Goodwin chap).

So, we are now awaiting the outcome of a two hour Zoom meeting with a nice lass from Milton Keynes. How immensely frustrating. And we very nearly lost the purchase as the seller is wary of us given the time it’s taking and was about to take it off the market. She has now agreed to rent us the property at nearly a grand a month until we are in a position to buy it! So we are now rather unwilling renters. Lord give me strength or let me get my hands on a bank mortgage risk assessor. Any bank. Being risk averse is one thing but without brains another.

Now on a more positive note, this new flat is in the West End so I thought I’d try and get a wee job to tide me over the winter and help pay the rent. So last Tuesday I walked into the Pompadour at the Waldorf and met Marek, the general manager of the new Dean Banks restaurant that opened in June. I said that I would really like to work there and we had a good although brief chat. He took my number, texted me later and got me in for a shift on Saturday night. I love that. Bypassed all the CV and red tape nonsense and got me straight onto the shop floor.

And what a shop floor it is! It’s a fab place with really excellent and fun staff all round, offering a superb and uniquely sourced tasting menu (they have their own St Andrews Bay lobster fishermen), all served at a heady rate from a sometimes frantic but amazingly well orchestrated kitchen and front of house team who ran like a japanese bullet train. We dished out 6 courses to each of the 52 guest covers most timeously and even somewhat spritely.

What an outfit they are and it seems a very happy place to work too. Dean Banks seems like a man on a mission and he and his team appear to have all that it takes. Certainly, pitching up shop at the Pompadour is not a shabby gig and St Andrews desperately needs a first class restaurant like this. And what a location they have got at Golf Place! This Arbroathan is a smokin.

It turns out that Luke, the chap that I bumped into in Le Di Vin a few years back and got to set up the wine list at our ill-fated Leopardo, was the sommelier and had just left the previous day to go and help open the new Dean Banks restaurant, Haar, in St Andrews (opening December), which is the exact same distance from our flat in St Andrews as the Pompadour is to our new place in Edinburgh (a 2 minute walk).

Strange old world and small old world. Wait till Luke finds out that I’ve suddenly pitched up at the Pompadour! A tiny wee place is Scotland.

And you never know, I may end up working in Deans’s place in St Andrews and be able to regale customers with stories from the links as a golfer and ex-caddie and my time here as a young nipper of a student. I’ve got a few to tell. But in the meantime, what a week ahead as we await the outcome of the Royal Bank’s decision on our mortgage application. Do I see another Zoom meeting looming?

A further wee coincidence today as I was walking across the Old Course I recognized Jamie Skinner coming off the New. I haven’t seen or talked to him in 38 years since our final year at St Andrews! So I said ‘Hi Jamie’ and he seemed to recognize me too which is a bit of a wonder as I’m rather more aged and changed than him I think. Anyway we had a brief 38 year catch up and I feel he has been rather more prosperous than moi. He had a big number at Martin Currie I think and is now retired apart from a few non-ex jobs and is on the finance committee of the R@A where he is also a member. He is a nice chap.

Small old world.

STOP PRESS. I see now that Stanley Johnson has tried to defend himself viv a vis his comment about Caroline Nokes ‘having a lovely seat’ by claiming that he was referring to her position as the Right Honourable Member for North Somerset.