Tag Archives: pub

The NHS revisited

I eulogised recently about the almost impossibly good treatment of my Dad at the Royal Surrey hospital in Guildford.

Over 10 days – initially in A&E and then in a surgical ward – the care and attention lavished on his ailing 87 year old body was remarkable.

But, in view of the explosive population growth – through a combination of increased longevity and net migration – is the NHS sustainable in its current form?

I experienced A&E myself yesterday, at first hand. Well, middle finger.

I managed to slice open a large flap of skin over the knuckle of the third finger on my right hand, courtesy of a shattering cafetiere resisting being wiped up. Feisty things, these coffee making gizmos.

My first instinct was to avoid going to A&E if at all possible, not wanting to waste their valuable resources on a minor domestic injury.

Actually, that’s not true. Before doing anything else I had to enjoy  my freshly baked bread, the crust of which was still warm and oozing with butter, and just crying out for its strong cheddar cheese partner.

A man’s stomach waits for no one. The blood gushing from my wound was temporarily addressed by a rustic dressing of a couple of absorbent sheets ripped from the kitchen roll dispenser.

At 1 pm, I called 111, the NHS non-emergency number, hoping I’d be sent to the GP’s surgery rather than A&E.  15 minutes later, after a thorough series of questions and assessment,  I was sent to A&E.

It was 2:30 by the time I registered with the 3 A&E receptionists. I’d parked at the distant Tesco’s, as the usual Orwellian scenario was unfolding at the vast hospital car park. And I’d stocked up on coffee and a newspaper, in anticipation of the inevitably tortuous afternoon ahead.

“It’s a quiet day, you should only have to wait 30 minutes to be seen.”


“That’s just for the initial assessment.”


Sure enough, I was seeing the triage nurse not much after 3.

“Fingers crossed” – ho ho – “we can get away with sticking a steri-strip on this. Less restricting than stitches”.


All cleaned up and sent back to the A&E waiting room, always an interesting study of humanity.

It was close to 4 by the time I was called through to see a young A&E doctor.

I explained again what had happened.

“Has this been cleaned up?”.

“Yes. And the nurse thinks a steri-strip might be enough. And better than stitches?”

“Hold on. I need to speak with the Consultant.”

5 minutes.

“I think I’ll glue it. But let’s have an X-Ray first, to make sure there’s no glass left in there.”

A 20 minute wait outside the X-Ray cubicles.

15 minutes inside the X-Ray theatre, taking a couple of artfully posed snaps of my offending digit.

Back to the always entertaining A&E waiting room, elevating my wounded finger like an assiduous schoolboy attracting teacher’s attention.

Finally called back to see the young doctor at what must by then have been after 5 pm.

“OK. Good news. No glass in the wound.”


“But let me check something with the Consultant.”


5 minutes listening to my case being discussed on the other side of the curtain.

The Consultant and the young medic return.

“I think that needs a couple of stitches, I’m afraid. Better than gluing.”


I got to know the lovely young doctor as she whacked some local anaesthetic – 4 separate, painful pricks – into the bony top of the finger. She’s hoping to do a year out, in an Australian hospital, before returning to focus on a surgical career back in the UK.

We talked books, as I’d asked the Consultant if it would be ok to have a pint at tonight’s book club meeting in the pub.

After 2 stitches – “I’m a perfectionist” – she called the Consultant back in. The wound was still bleeding – quite a lot – and she didn’t want to sew it up prematurely.

“Squeeze it out, and ask him to elevate the wound before closing up.”

1 final stitch. Bit more chat. Done.

Sent away with a pretty rustic dressing, and a couple of spares, told to keep it dry for 7 days and get the stitches taken out at the GP’s surgery.

Finally home at around 6:30, after a cheeky cappuccino at the hospital’s insanely busy Costa outlet, waiting for some feeling to return to my poor finger before driving home.

Again, what remarkable service. But does it really have to take all that time getting processed through A&E, with highly trained resources who somehow don’t communicate as efficiently as everybody would in any commercial organisation?

I’m incredibly grateful for the thoroughness and professionalism of all the staff, but I ask again….is the NHS sustainable in its current form, free at the point of entry?

I fear not.

By the way, I had a couple of pints at the Olde Ship Inn as we discussed the heart-rending novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North.  For medicinal purposes.





The Isle of Purbeck

In 1953 my Mum and Dad spent their honeymoon in Swanage, on the Dorset coast.

In the 1990s, we spent a couple of idyllic family holidays on the Isle of Purbeck. My two young nephews dug sandcastles on Studland Bay beach,  floppy hats protecting their youthful skin from the unexpectedly searing heat. We walked decent stretches of the vertiginous coastal path, from Swanage to Winspit and then inland to the quaint village of Worth Matravers. We explored the natural wonder of Brownsea Island, and we drove miles in search of elusive Solero ice creams.

And now, good friends have a home near Corfe Castle. We’ve been lucky to spend weekends there with them in recent years, and the love affair with this still largely untamed part of the country continues anew.

It’s a Famous Five, or Swallows and Amazons type of place. Its rolling inland hills, perfect beaches and plunging coastline remain relatively unspoiled, and driving through Wareham always make me feel like I’m returning to the innocence of childhood.

In reality a peninsula rather than an island, Purbeck stretches from Wareham in the north, east from Brownsea Island to Swanage and Durlston Lighthouse, and west as far as Worbarrow Bay along the scintillating – though sadly eroding – southern coastline.

Corfe Castle bewitches you as you drive on the Wareham to Swanage road, its ghostly remains perched high on a hill above providing a history lesson.  Fortunately, the Parliamentarians left enough standing in 1646 during the English Civil War for it still to be an interesting National Trust destination.

Swanage probably hasn’t changed much since 1953. It’s a charming English seaside town, originally a fishing port but developed as a tourist destination from the early 19th century. Enjoy its sandy beach, fish & chip shops, characterful pubs and restaurants. And abundance of Magnum ice creams.

Inland, explore Purbeck’s rolling landscape on foot or from a horse or bike saddle. The scars from old quarries, where the island’s eponymous marble and limestone have been extracted since the 12th century, somehow only add to the natural landscape, rather than detract.

The crumbling Jurassic coastline in the south is equally magnetic, pulling you in to walk its helter-skelter contours. Venture west as far as Kimmeridge and Worbarrow Bay, before heading inland to caught-in-time Tyneham.

Its villagers were suddenly asked to leave late in 1943, expecting to return after the army had finished its war training activities. Sadly, they never returned. The army retained the village and surrounding area as Ranges, but at certain times you’re allowed back to the village to see the church and school-house exactly as they were, more than 70 years ago.

Wander along to tiny villages or hamlets with beguiling names like Langton Matravers, Church Knowle or Steeple.

But, best of all, go to the wholly unique Square and Compass in Worth Matravers. There can be no better reason to live in England than to go to this charming village on a warm, summer’s day and find your way to its whacky hostelry, an alehouse since around 1776. Order pints of award winning beers or home-pressed traditional cider from cramped counters inside, listen to live music in the sloping garden and enjoy a pie or pasty from its unashamedly traditional, limited menu. This is as far from being a gastro pub as Nicola Sturgeon is from being English.

After enjoying 3 pints of mind-altering, coma-inducing Kiss-me-Kate cider at the weekend, listening to quirky folk music, sprawled in the sunny garden with old friends, I think I’d like my ashes to be spread here.

And I hope the Isle of Purbeck remains untarnished, so that honeymooners, 9 year-old boys in search of an ice cream and ageing scrumpy hunters alike can enjoy its special charms for many years to come.


BrewDog – so do you feel lucky, Punk?

BrewDog only started up in 2007, north o’ the border in Fraserburgh, as a small ground-breaking craft beer brewer. Their inspiration was to be everything that the global brewing behemoths weren’t.

And blow me, they’re making amazing progress.

I’ve heard of them over the last year or so, and may even have subliminally seen some of their beers on sale somewhere, but now I’ve actually invested in their latest Punk Equity round.


For a start, the current equity raising round of up to £25m is being crowdfunded, raised by themselves rather than through a generic crowdfunding platform. And certainly not via the traditional  investment banking establishment. As a result their total costs will be only £200k, compared with a possible £1m+ if they were using the banking community. I love this way of leveraging the power of the interweb thingy.

But more importantly, from an investment appraisal perspective:

  1. they’re already profitable, with an operating profit of £3.9m and post-tax profit of £2.7m in 2014, with healthy gross & net margins
  2. the top line is growing strongly, from £18m in 2013 to £29.6m in 2014, with massive growth potential in this country and overseas
  3. the senior management team includes the founders, who are clearly passionate about the BrewDog philosophy, brand and product. They’re also heavily aligned with shareholders’ interests to succeed
  4. their beers – and increasing number of own-branded bars – sound very cool, popular and positioned to succeed where traditional pubs are failing (younger, hip nephews who have been to one of their bars agree)
  5. the prioritised list of what they’ll spend the newly raised funds on is exciting and compelling
  6. I love their energy and innovation. They feel like an early-days Virgin, or pre-corporate Ben & Jerry, genuinely wanting to stay true to their values but not afraid to chase aggressive growth. Although only time will tell, of course….

Take a look at their Prospectus. I love it. It’s persuaded me to buy 10 shares for a total investment of £475. Yes, it’s at an aggressive valuation of the business based on a heady multiple of current profitability but, what the hell, this is fun and I’m happy to just go along for the ride.

They may appear edgy and anti-establishment, but they also look very professionally managed. From their track record, from the Prospectus and within seconds of investing, I had access to my shareholder page, with great discounts on beers ordered online and in their bars, and a huge range of other mouth-watering fun benefits.

BrewDog are not quoted on any public exchange yet, but they have an annual internal market  if you ever want to exit. And there’s always the chance of an IPO, or trade sale. I’m guessing that the founders will want to keep control for a while yet though.

I’d love to have got in on an earlier round and a lower valuation, but I can see these guys conquering the world with their great products, service, brand, innovation and management.

And even if they don’t, as a shareholder I’ll get a free beer every birthday.

And who else has the chutzpah to raise money via Equity for Punks?

As with any other equity investment, there are clearly risks involved. These are listed succinctly in the Prospectus. The minimum investment in Equity for Punks IV is 2 shares @ £47.50 = £95.

Cheers, BrewDog.


Melbourne – a nearly day

Day 18 – Sunday, February 01

Yesterday was our penultimate day in Melbourne before moving on to Tasmania. It was one of those days when everything was nearly good….but ultimately wasn’t. And ultimately is what counts, right?

I’ve admired crazy and original Aussie Baz Luhrmann for years. He announced himself to the wider world with that thrilling, ground-breaking version of Romeo & Juliet in 1996, starring a very young Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes.

Back in 1992 he had written and co-directed the Aussie film Strictly Ballroom. Well, he’s now directing a stage musical version here in Melbourne, and we had got hold of tickets for the Sunday afternoon matinee.

If you can suspend your disbelief completely, love sequins and a soppy storyline, this one’s for you. But you could smell the cheese in Adelaide, I reckon. The best part for me was the brilliant Latino dance that closed out the first half, and the rousing adage a life lived in fear is a life half lived, epitomising the need to be creative rather than to conform.

But sorry Baz, this musical was only half good, and a little piece of me died on a grey Sunday afternoon in Melbourne.

The pre-match curry at the Red Pepper Indian restaurant just missed the mark too. Well reviewed, the first signs were promising….pale wood floors, exposed brickwork on the walls, gentle service and intoxicating smells emanating from the kitchen.

But our Lamb Pasand and Chicken Tikka Masala dishes were so-so, served on cold plates and not overly generous portions. The best part of the meal was the tandoori roti bread….but man cannot live on bread alone. So near and yet….

And then it was time to watch Andy Murray play Novak Djokovich in the final of the Australian Open. We’d seen both semi-finals and were looking forward to another epic match between these two warriors. It would have good to be there at the Rod Laver Arena ourselves, but we’d been quoted A$395/£200 for a single ticket a few days ago and had already pushed the boat out for our Melbourne hotel and semi-finals package with Sportsnet.

So we found a good pub, the Duke – Melbourne’s oldest licensed premises – on Flinders Street, from where we could see the stadium lights. And the screens were so large it was almost like we were there….

That gruelling 1st set lasted for well over an hour and Novak edged it 7-6. It was going to be a long night.

We watched the 2nd set in the cavernous outdoor/indoor space by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, further along Flinders Street. Even longer than the 1st, Andy won another tie-break.

We watched the denouement from the comfort of our Langham hotel suite, but sadly Andy Murray succumbed all too quickly and lost his 4th AO final, and the 3rd to the Djoker.

Andy seemed in better physical condition than Novak, especially after Djokovich wobbled around like a drunken Bambi during the second set. But there are now accusations that Novak was play-acting and Andy admits he was distracted by these antics. After being a service break up in the crucial 3rd set, Novak won 12 of the last 13 games to win his 5th AO title.

Andy’s collapse in another Grand Slam final was woeful. He worked so hard and played outstanding tennis to get there, but he must control his emotions better if he is to achieve what is so tantalisingly within his reach.

But nearly just isn’t good enough, right?





Craster, Northumberland…..a new favourite place

Close your eyes and think of your favourite place….

Sitting on a bench in the Jardins des Tuileries in Paris spring sunshine, dozing under the welcome shade of a plane tree after a long, liquid lunch and too many moules? Strolling along a deserted Connemara beach, weak winter sun inevitably losing the battle against the wicked westerly wind? Your local café,  a haven of strong coffee,  comforting cakes and friendly faces?

We’ve just returned from a week in Northumberland and I can definitely add Craster to my own list.

Tucked away on the coastal Area of Outstanding National Beauty, between Amble in the south and Bamburgh in the north, it’s a tiny harbourside community punching way above its fragile weight.

Arriving as we did, past the beguiling hilltop remains of 14th century Dunstanburgh Castle and a long stretch of dramatic wave-pounded and gull-strewn shoreline, seemed to accentuate its remote attractiveness. As if you’ve finally managed to get a first date with the aloof girl who everyone at school fancies.

The harbour pulls focus, a combination of Local Hero and French Lieutenant’s Woman and photogenic enough to have its own starring roles in film and TV productions.

This is the source of the royally famous Craster kippers, thanks to generations of hardy fishermen who brave the ocean swell constantly waving a defiant fist at the harbour entrance.

Explore the village and you’ll stumble across L. Robson & Sons, smoking the fishermens’ kippery catches since 1906; the seafood restaurant attached to the smokehouse and offering a gull’s eye view of the harbour and, beyond, to Dunstanburgh castle; the cosy Shoreline Café, dispensing landlubbery food, coffee and cakes; The Mick Oxley Gallery, for artwork inspired by the constantly changing coastal landscape, the artist reflecting the moods, light and textures of this unique Northumbrian location.

And then drop into The Jolly Fisherman pub as we did, to cement Craster as one of our own special destinations. You know those rare days when everything just seems to fall into place, when you glow with smug satisfaction that maybe, just maybe, life isn’t so bad after all? Eating their famous fresh crab sandwiches and kipper paté with toasted sourdough bread, washed down with neighbourly Yorkshire Masham Black Sheep ale, and overlooking the simultaneously angry and friendly swelling sea was definitely one of those days.

We will return to Craster, and hopefully stay in one of its weathered cottages so that we can uncover more secrets of this idyllic community and its thrilling coastline in even more leisurely fashion.

J01_0312 Craster harbour.JPG