Life Lessons from a London Bus

The Nottingham Graduate

In order to avoid getting the tube whilst temperatures reach astonishing highs for England (over 15 degrees) I have began to do my entire commute on a bus. Sounds hellish I’m sure, but I always get a seat, I can sit by a window, I can read for two hours a day and, much to my surprise, I’ve learnt some rather surprising lessons. Here are some life lessons for a London Bus

1. You never quite get over being picked last in P.E lessons

Sitting on a bus enjoying a lovely commute it steadily starts to fill up. In true British character nobody would choose to sit next to somebody they didn’t know if there was a pair of seats available, but of course at some point there comes a time where you have to sit next to someone you don’t know. Now, as a chooser in this position you…

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Social Club Virgins…

We’ve all been there haven’t we. You’re on holiday or away on business somewhere and you fancy a drink or two. You see what looks like a nice pub so you go in.

Immediately you open the door,  the pleasant sound of local chat ceases and you find x number of pairs of eyes staring. You have a choice to make now: cut a swathe through the animosity that stands between you and the bar or yield to this seemingly impenetrable forcefield and resign yourself to the overpriced, hyper cooled excuse for a bitter that the hotel sells.

I suspect that,  to many, that is what they feel will happen if they decide to pay a visit to a member’s club. Instead of walking into a bar where one table doesn’t know the next,  you’re the stranger. Isolated. Alone.

Members, it’s true, can be creatures of habit. Some will always sit/stand in the same place (if they can),  though I’ve never heard of complaints if they can’t! Some would talk to a stranger.  Some wouldn’t. The latter isn’t a major issue as our staff make anyone feel at home! 

So how should we attract new members?

Safety in numbers seems a fair idea. No need to be so brave when there’s 2 or more of you! It’s fact that your combined body mass simply pulverises those stares.  So maybe we appeal to groups of people.
Go along with a  friend who’s already a member. Even better. Gets you into that ‘member’s inner circle’ with little effort on your part! An ‘introduce a new member’ offer for existing members maybe?
Teams. Definitely. We have some domino masters who would surely teach the uninitiated… Albeit at a personal financial cost to the newbies if they played for money! But the chance to learn the art from Sensei Fred and Sensei Matt far outweighs any monetary inconvenience (we’re only talking 20p a game!).

There are some more controversial ideas of course. Advertising strippers on certain nights was one.. But how many would stay when they realised that they were part of a redecoration programme is debatable!

Press Gangs was another but I’m sure they don’t comply with the law, though I don’t think they did at the time either!

Ultimately, whatever tack we take will need to work. We have the basis and load of great new members to build on.

Maybe it is just that that’s putting people off… Membership.

Perhaps we should just put fake tudoresque beams over the external brickwork and change our name to something like ‘Ye Olde Dog and Duck’ and lure people in on the pretext of being a pub?

Or… Should we just celebrate what we are… Market how good we are…. And draw people in because, hey, we’re worth joining!

On the latter point I’m adamant and passionate. Cos we are good and we are worth joining. The more the merrier.. And the more members we have the better we are too!

Seconds away….

… Round two!!

Well.. Late April and we’re in to the second year of my term. The AGM (Annual General Mider) is but a distant memory and we’re finally completing a refurb of the bar.

For anyone who hasn’t experienced even the most minor of alterations to a member’s club it can be likened to a cynical description of football: a game played by 22 players and several thousand referees! In this case it’s decoration done by a few and judged by many. The difference is that the fans actually gave up time to go and watch their team whereas, well, I’ll let you draw your conclusions there! However, to be fair we’ve had loads of positive comments too.

What’s changed, you ask? Well, the retro (possibly original) 1950’s bar top and front is no more. The (frankly dangerous) flooring has been replaced. The lighting is now subtle and relaxing instead of the industrial office flourescents that made you feel like you should be studying a report, instead of having a relaxing chat!

Of course, we’ve been blessed with our resident design guru (ACME). Good job really as, even though I’m chairman, I’m a bloke and don’t do colour, let alone ‘look and feel’!! Staff and members have also lent their skills with our assistant club manager showing he’s more than a dab hand with a paintbrush!

What we’ve now got is a space that’s more usable, versatile and, well, just immeasurably better. It’s also more welcoming. Members club we may be, but it’s the Southport community that we want to welcome, and the decor now certainly contributes to that good first impression.

Onwards and upwards 🙂

Southport Railway Club

 

Functions. Our life blood and the source of much merriment… and wailing and gnashing of teeth from time to time!

A myriad of entertainment for both guests and members alike…. usually. From my dog’s point of view it’s purely fuss and fake tan. He gets fuss off the guests and (for some unexplainable reason) enjoys licking fake tan off his latest admirer’s person! Only a Labrador can get away with that!

fly_on_wall

Functions vary enormously though.. normally dependent on the guest’s love of alcoholic beverages…and age!

Alcohol rich functions….
Who’s the more entertaining, adults or young ones who just ‘think’ they are?
Usually adults. From uncle Bob reliving his youth and ‘strutting his stuff’ thinking he’s 40 years younger to ( and this is my personal favourite ) the gentleman who had issues standing up so leant back on the wall… Only to realise he’d moved and there was only a door behind him (he only damaged his ego though!).

As for youth, trust me, 5 pints of Carlsberg and 10 Jaegerbombs does NOT make you god’s gift. Just an idiot. Your type normally ends up emptying the contents of your stomach in the taxi going home (or over a bouncer’s shoes in town after you’ve left the party) or you get dragged into an argument because your witty comment actually wasn’t!

DJ Less Evening Functions…
Bad idea… A good DJ will galvanise and interact with the guests. Play music at a volume that allows the talkers to talk and the dancers to dance.
Believe me… An iPod inspired play list just doesn’t cut the mustard when there’s nothing else going on to encourage dancing etc!

The funniest things? Well the bloke through the door is hard to beat, although the tipsy lady who was offered a Jaegerbomb, downed it in one and then dashed as fast as her stiletto’s would carry her into the Ladies comes a close second!

These are exceptions though. The vast majority of people book, decorate, party and go home happy. Sure, there may be more than a few sore heads in the morning, however, as long as the guests have enjoyed themselves  then that’s good enough for us. It’s a measure of how many people do that repeat bookings come in and the verbal recommendations that we’ve had are worth hundreds of Facebook comments.

There probably aren’t many things that we haven’t hosted , although I’m still waiting for our first Bar Mitzvah! The ‘Four Wheels’ contingent (Pram/Christening, Limo/Wedding, Hearse/Wake)  are well represented as are the ‘milestone’ birthdays and children’s parties, fun days, club presentations, race nights, etc, etc, etc.

These are the ones that I see as I flick through the diary, but occasionally I see a title of a party that seems slightly ambiguous at first glance. The ‘Coming Out’ party springs to mind here, I suppose, and the instant I’d read it I made a mental note to make sure that medics were going to be on hand to resuscitate Grandma  when they realised that their grandson/granddaughter was making a public statement of their sexuality! As it happened it turned out to be someone in the armed forces who was ‘coming out’ i.e. returning to civvy street! Panic over!

Still, it’s all part and parcel of the club’s life. A tapestry of member activities and guest functions. Managed supremely by ACME, supported by staff, it weaves a richer and more varied life for us all and links us more securely into the patchwork of the local and wider community we both want and need to serve. A firm foundation to build on as we continue into the future.

The Concise Social Club Phraseology

Many places have their own peculiar sayings and lingo and the club is no different. Here’s a quick guide as to some common phrases and words together with a short ‘translation’!

“You’re doing a good job” you’re doing what I’d do/you’re marginally better than the last chairman / you’re not…but I’m not going to tell you to your face.

“Rumour” what people who don’t read the minutes say is happening

“Truth” what the minutes say

“I’d like to ask you something ” I’ve heard a rumour that…

“There’s something I’d like to raise with you” I’ve heard a rumour from a ‘reliable’ source, i believe it and am not a happy bunny.

“We’ve got a leak” there’s a torrent of water that makes Niagara falls look like a trickle pouring through the roof.

“We’ve a problem” the roof’s collapsed!

“You need to see this letter” this looks important and will probably involve paying someone.

“Someone’s been phoning asking to speak to you.” I think someone’s’ asking for money.

“You’re having a laugh!” I’m a loyal member! Surely that rule can’t apply to me?

“Why can’t we pay for this now? We had a really busy weekend and took loads of money over the bar!” I’m a complete business ignoramus who thinks that all the money that we take over the bar is ours…that the cellar fairy replenishes our beer, the utilities give us gas etc out of the goodness of their hearts, the staff work for nothing and the VAT man happily turns a blind eye!

“The beer’s too gassy and you should turn the gas down.” I’ve drank in loads of pubs and know exactly how to run a beer cellar.

“Don’t take this personally but…..” Do take this personally… You’re the chairman and therefore it’s your fault!

“It’s written in the rule book” Most of the rules in the book I couldn’t care less about but as I disagree with your suggestion/decision I’m going to use this to try and get my own way!

“£15 a year membership is too much” there’s simply no way I can afford 28p a week!

“So and so is a complete prat!” yeah… They probably are….depends who so and so is.

“We’ve always done it like this” I don’t care if it loses money…I’ll be happy

“You should ban him from the club” I don’t like him!”

“You want to be chairman? You must be mad!” hmmm…the jury’s out on that one!

Human Resources …This Time it’s Personnel

Human Resources …one of those annoying modern management phrases. Annoying to me because it makes it sound like people are just like a supply that you buy in and do what you want with. Annoying that it makes staff seem more like machines and really impersonal.
I prefer the words staffing or personnel. Much more, well, human and less like, well, resources!
In a way I can relate to the term. It probably makes the ‘hiring and firing’ process easier because it’s less personal but on a management level I just think it’s too impersonal and remote. Too ‘them and us’ …’blue collar versus shopfloor’ mentality. However, they are a resource. An important resource that needs supporting and developing.
If I’m honest our “human resource” at the club was “struggling” somewhat. Months of just thinking that a shift was just serving drinks and not having any structure when working had taken there toll. They should have been the “vorsprung durch technik” staff that worked and performed like a finely tuned engine. Instead they were more like British Leyland’s Austin Princess …the car that was advertised as the one “that got it all together” but that, in reality, didn’t!
So, sticking to our motoring analogy, what did we have? I suppose it was an amalgam.
A bit of the Ferrari: Looking good and serving drink after drink under pressure, but, if was left to idle, just preferred standing at the kerbside looking good.
A smidgen of Morris Minor: sturdy, good runner, a bit slow, prone to breaking down and being late but, hey, I’m still reliable (hmmm) and will get the job done!
And a whisper of good ol’ 1970’s British Leyland work ethic..turn up…and just do the job to a standard that avoids you getting sacked!
.
To compound matters, in the six months prior to the AGM, our ACME had had to do shed loads of extra work outside of her role. The staff were all ‘experienced’ and they turned up and served, her silent dedication not being noticed by most. She picked up the slack during the day when she had time. Her steadfast commitment and the need that she (thankfully) felt to keep the club open meant that the ‘team’, such as it was, increased her workload by not pulling their weight.
She was (and is) however,  the BMW of the team. Classy and ultra efficient…but….she was metaphorically pulling a fully loaded HGV articulated trailer which she wasn’t supposed to be. Drastically overworked, she hadn’t a hope of getting the staff into shape. Things had to change.
Fortunately ACME knows more about running a club than the total club membership put together. She knew exactly what was needed. The only interference from moi was to take over work that she shouldn’t have to do leaving her time to work her magic!

I in Team

OK…so there is an “I ” in team…sort of!
But in reality there can’t be. This was another missing link. As I’ve indicated, most staff were pretty much just serving and talking their wage. Mobile phones, laptops, playing darts, you name it, anything but working when things were quiet! To be honest it was getting annoying going to the club and hearing complaints about things that hadn’t been done. I wasn’t annoyed at being told …just annoyed that some staff were more content at maintaining their individual status quo’s and not taking any kind of initiative, even after some strong “hints” about what was expected of them. Job descriptions and meetings were a starter but only the beginning, as culture shifts of this magnitude take time. But the bullet had to be bitten and the road to staff eutopia (if that even exists) embarked upon!
The Ferraris had to stop just looking good…the Austin Princesses had to be scrapped…..and the British Leyland work ethic just had to go! We needed a staff that performed like a (pains me to write this) a Japanese car….reliable and a good runner. We didn’t need a Tom Cruise character from ‘Cocktail’ or a Bet Lynch that would just lean against the beer pumps all night gabbing!
A team in the true sense of the word is what we needed. A team that wanted to make sure that the next person to come on shift could just take their till and start; not come in and mutter choice expletives because the outgoing member had spent 80% of their shift watching YouTube on their mobile phone and leaving a pile of un-attempted work to be done!
Slowly but surely we’re getting there. ACME, as I knew she would, has engaged turbo drive and risen to all challenges now she’s doing what her job should be. Not only that, her experience and knowledge were, and continue to be, invaluable.
Our “Ferrari” has sped off and, for the most part, our 1970’s work ethic has disappeared, although some stubborn elements still survive. More pleasing is our “Morris Minor” who’s well on the way to becoming a Seat (was going to say Yaris but he’d prefer something more sporty …and, as they are owned by VW now, the reliability is getting there!).
Mostly, it’s all about support. Targets, expectations,etc. New staff  have helped as it’s easier to induct into a new era with good habits rather than an old eras bad ones. We still have to figure out a way to get others to ‘get with the programme’ too as certain individuals are still keener to criticise than see the progress made and praise the staff for the improvements. Have a feeling that’s a whole blog post of its own!!

Am I pleased? Yes! There’s still a bit of staff housework to do….a little bit of cleaning to do to bind the staff together, however, with a bit of spit and polish I’m sure that we can get there. Personally, I’m made up that ACME can even take a week off and her ideas and ethic continue to be enforced and applied and over the moon that that we’ve got a much better staff team than we had. However, I know that we’ve still a way to go.
Staff Utopia? Not yet and maybe we’ll never achieve that, but know that I can safely say that we’re closer to that than we were 6 months ago!

The VAT Man Returneth

“That’s a logical argument but VAT’s not a logical tax. It’s funny. ” our auditor told me last week. That would be “funny peculiar”, not “funny ha ha” I, correctly, assumed.
The comment came off the back of an email I’d sent which, in turn, was off the back of a rather unexpected letter (the ‘returneth’ in the title) I’d received informing us that we hadn’t escaped the clutches of the VAT inspection.
Oh well…c’est la vie, fair cop guv,and all that jazz!
Didn’t stop me trying to see if there was a way out though. But as the quote says it’s a funny tax and, judging by the number of examples given in an attached HMRC document, it’s one that plenty of others have fallen foul of! So it really wasn’t a Mega surprise when the penalty stood.

Our ‘crime’s, or to be totally accurate, misunderstandings, cold food. Now cold food is VAT exempt. However, if a customer asks you to buy a quiche for them and you take it out of its box and put it on a plate then, voila!
quiche a la VAT! Talk about them getting you in the end!

Fortunately it’s not a large sum (Mr HMRC had even miscalculated and it was even less than we first thought) and we’re not going to go under like others have in the past. But in a world where pennies count it would be much better to not have to pay anything really. I suppose what miffs me most is that we’ve got it right for the past three years …but the two prior to that weren’t corrected. Hey ho!

The moral of the story. Check before you submit. Those few minutes spent checking could definitely save you a bob or two!