Irish Fire-starter Michael Fitzalan

Abens Retcuno by Michael Fitzalan

Chapter One

At the office of the Dabwasser Brewery, in the town of Fitzalan, on the Island of St Michael. We arrive at the office of the island’s largest brewery. The office is spacious an old factory storeroom, high ceiling and vast, the desk in the by the industrial factory framed windows looks dwarfed. Sitting behind the desk is Sven Boon, Managing Director of Dubwasser Brewery. Jaysen Blunt, chief accountant at Forensic United Chartered Accountants, strides confidently across the room like a prosecuting barrister returning to court to deliver the winning argument.

Ben: How was your flight?

He does not rise to meet his guest. Why would he? He has been taught to, but he considers himself far too important to adopt ‘common courtesy’, the clue is in the common. He is one of those social climber that believe that captains of industry are not hidebound by convention and frankly he cannot be bothered

Jaysen: The flight was a smooth as silk.

He ignores the slight, he is used to it, self-important people, in his view, believe that they above all others and can behave like medieval Lords, in the deluded belief that manners do not make man. Jaysen is used to entitlement removing the need for common decency.

Ben: Brilliant, we’ll be joined by our office manager William Sturgeon. I hope you don’t mind.

Jaysen: Of course, I know that the Abens Retcuno took over the brewery. Can you talk me through how this led to you falling from the premium brewery on the island to becoming a struggling entity that I am visiting to try to prevent receivership.

Ben: Take a seat. Are you familiar with our product?

Jaysen: Of course, these seats are very comfortable, I can smell the leather.

Ben: Thank you, finest Connolly leather with goose down filling, nothing but the best for the boardroom and my office.

Jaysen: Absolutely and so much more pleasant that plastic. No doubt the refit was tax deductible, and you needed the office revamped when you moved in.  When did you take over as M.D?

Ben. Absolutely, but we’re not profligate. Look the Abens people say we have to save money, so when we replace the carpets in the office we’ll replace the Axminster from Wiltshire with the polyester carpet from China.

Jaysen: But isn’t polyester toxic and responsible for sick building syndrome.

Ben: It won’t be in the executive offices just the support staff.

Jaysen: What if they find out that you’re systematically poisoning them?

Ben. No matter, they won’t mind  They’re too terrified about losing their jobs to make a fuss. The oil companies have been poisoning people for years. First lead in petrol and then formaldehyde in diesel, no one cares. In fact, the rich people’s switch to diesel is scandalous. They could all afford electric cars, but they don’t care. Unemployment is rife on the island, we pay them a pittance. but the shareholders are happy.

Jaysen: Not for long with your bottom line.

Ben: That’s why you’re here.

Jaysen: I thought so.

Ben: Someone has to carry the fuel can.

Jaysen I suppose you drive electric?

Ben: Certainly not, I have a farm track to negotiate. We need a diesel. Formaldehyde,  acetaldehyde and acrolein, there all there. I’ve no children to worry about.

Jaysen: Even if you do it wouldn’t matter I saw that detective show on BBC, where the detective drove an X7,  she had a wife who was pregnant, and they still did it. That car’s massive and they’re twice the price of an electric car. They were a modern couple I thought they’ll have an electric car especially with a baby on the way

Ben: See what I mean. We’ve known diesel is more toxic than petrol for years, but the P.R. people go hold of it, told everyone it was less polluting, and they believed it, even got Gordon Brown saying so.

Jaysen: I thought that, too.

Ben: Gullible, or what? Have you seen the sooty black clouds coming out of the exhaust when you start the engine. Diesel has been shown to be four times as polluting.  Who cares? So, we’ll save money on the carpets in the office and the Abens people will be pleased.

Jaysen: That’s very good, sir. Sadly, I read that you sell ninety per cent of your product to the carpet weavers. If everyone does this they’ll be a disaster.

Ben: Don’t worry, I met the Managing Directors and they’re all doing it. You shouldn’t be so melodramatic, we’ll get the sales team to get new markets and they’ll do the make up the  same sales we’ve lost in other markets.  All will be well.

Jaysen: So why am I here?

Ben: To give me a reason to sack my office manager, Sturgeon, he should be with us soon.

Jaysen: That’s not really what my job is, sir.

Ben: It is now.

The intercom on the desk, a small white box, from another era, lights up. Ben presses a button talks into the speaker to invite William Sturgeon into the lion’s den.  They all greet each other, and Will is offered a chair.

Jaysen: Good morning Mr. Sturgeon, I’m Jaysen from the forensic accountants, we’re here to see what’s going wrong and how we can fix it.

Will: Good morning, please call me Will.

Jaysen: Of course, and you can call me Jay. So how long have you been with the brewery.

Will: twenty years. I joined when we made beer.

Jaysen: And you don’t, now?

Will: We are no longer brewers but chemists.

Jaysen: Profitable chemists.

Will: Not now, if it weren’t for the Carpet Weavers Club, we wouldn’t have many sales at all. It subsidised by the company.

Jaysen: So, what’s gone wrong?

Will: Let me show you a film from fifteen years ago.

Leaning forward,  Will slips a phone from his pocket and stabs a few buttons and miraculously the far wall becomes a white screen, a projector slides from its home in the roof and projects an image of the brewery trade mark of a waterfall inside a pint glass. The logo underneath reads: The most refreshing Beer on St. Michael. The films starts when Will presses his phone keypad.

He explains the video was shot when Dubwasser moved to the island. The announcer speaks to the camera as he moves around stainless-steel vessels. Slowly. It dawns on Jaysen that this is Will in his late twenties.

Announcer: We only use the finest hops and best malt, apart from adding yeast and water those are our main ingredients. We ferment the beer until it reaches five per cent to give it a hit and fuller flavour. It’s a premium price but a premium product. You deserve a decent pint. Your hard-earned cash cannot be better spent if you’re having a beer after work or with friends at the weekend. The film pauses.

Ben: Young Will, here was part of a promotional video we put out that some bright spark decided to turn into an advert. In those days we had seventy-five per cent of the island’s market for beer and it was growing.

Jaysen: You  could do with those sort of sales now!

Will: We certainly could. But the quality’s not there, now.

Jaysen: explain what you mean, that’s interesting

Will: Let me take you around the factory.

Ben: Please limit your brewery tour to the bare minimum, I need Jaysen back for lunch at twelve.

Will: Shall I send up some beer from the sample room for your lunch?

Ben: Certainly not, it’s bilge, we have a couple of bottles of Chassagne Montrachet to drink. The sooner you leave, the sooner you’ll be back.

Will: Thank you, sir.

Leaving the office, Jaysen and Will walk towards the vertical flow brewery.

Jaysen: What happens here?

Will: This is the mash tun area where traditionally malt is boiled to create a mash.

Jaysen: I can’t smell malt.

Will: Oh, we add that later as an artificial flavour.

Jaysen: What do you use instead?

Will: Rice and sugar.

Jaysen: Why?

Will: It’s cheaper.

Jaysen: Is that it?

Will: It’s not for flavour.

Jaysen : What about your claim to only use only malt and hops.

Will: We no longer talk about malt and hops. We make no claims.

Jaysen: So, rice is the carbohydrate and protein, the sugar turns it into alcohol.

Will: You know it, it doesn’t taste the same, but the accountants insist we keep the price the same and make more profit, so we borrowed the idea from the mainland.

Jaysen: And here you add the hops?

Will: No, just hop flavour, it comes in a liquid.

Jaysen: So, no hops at all.

Will: we add hop pellets at the end, but they get smaller and smaller each year, more like a pill than a pellet. They used to be fuel cap size.

Jaysen: What yeast do you use.

Will: We don’t use yeast any more just enzymes. This is John Adams our chief chemist.

John: Pleased to meet you. Don’t let Ben hear you but we’re basically now just a chemical plant

Jaysen: So, let me get this right, correct me if I’m wrong. You used to use malt hops, water and yeast to make your product, which created its own carbonation.

John: Yes, that’s how brewing works, the sugars in the malt turn into alcohol when yeast is added to the wort or liquid and left to ferment, we add hops to balance the flavour of the ale and make it bitter, but you know all this surely, you’ve visited enough breweries, surely?

Jaysen: I just wanted clarity.  So instead of malt, you use rice and sugar, is that right?

John: yes, the accountants told us the malt was too expensive, it’s a complicated process, you have to make sure there are no impurities, breweries have blown up when that has happened, and the malt has to be spread on the floor.

Will: John’s right it costly as the cereal grain is converted into malt by soaking it in water, allowing it to sprout and then drying it to stop further growth, it takes skill, time and patience.

Jaysen: I get that. I understand. So why use rice and sugar which doesn’t have the sophisticated different flavours or top notes of say a chocolate malt or a pale malt?

John: Cost cutting. As the administration keeps increasing tax on beer, we have to save money, or the cost of beer will rise.

Jaysen: That’s madness, the product is meant to be quality.

John: The consumer doesn’t realise.

Jaysen: I beg to differ. You are the only lager brewery on the island and yet your sales have dropped. Why?

John: Maybe people are switching from lager?

Jaysen: I’ve done research. You’re sales have dropped forty per cent. Imports of lager have increased by forty per cent.

Will: Are you suggesting our customers are switching to imported lager?

Jaysen: Yes, the figures speak for themselves.

Will: But the imported beer is more expensive than ours.

Jaysen: Yes but it tastes better.

John: We know that you can’t compete if you don’t use malt, these imports all have eastern European malt in them, much cheaper.

Jaysen: Yet the product has been shipped miles and is more costly for the consumer. The customer you think doesn’t care or can’t tell the difference.

Will: I’m sure they can’t

Jaysen: They clearly can. What’s your solution?

John: We can’t change the process, we spent thousands on the new plant to cope with increased production we were anticipating.

Jaysen: Before you tried to cheat the consumer by changing the product and fobbing them off with an inferior product.

John: That’s a bit far.

Will: I suppose it’s true.

Jaysen: You’ve just told me you use rice, sugar and water, enzymes and hop oil instead of proper hops. So, what’s your solution.

John: Ben’s asked us to bring down the specific gravity to ten point three six.

Jaysen: You started off at five per cent alcohol, and you’ve brought it down to four point two and your ales have dropped and now you want to drop it to three point six per cent, weaker still?

Will: It will save us money on the duty.

Jaysen: Yes, but your drinkers are already drinking imports at five per cent, they will taste the difference.

John: Not necessarily.

Jaysen: Yes definitely.

Will: We will keep the price the same.

Jaysen: You former customers are  already paying twenty-five per cent more for a proper product.

John: I think the tours over.

Jaysen and Will watch John storm off.

Will: This is serious.

Jaysen: I reckon you’ll lose another forty per cent when the change occurs.

Will: Seriously?

Jaysen: At least; time for you to work for one of the other two.

Will: I’ve always enjoyed Godson’s beers.

Jaysen: The Black Horse is delicious.

Will: And five per cent. Strong enough.

Jaysen: I’d apply today. Who’s your largest customer?

Will: The carpet weavers, their bar is a social club, and they get a subsidy from the company so our beer’s half price.

Jaysen: So, people can drink twice as much. I get the picture.

Will: Yes, I think they provide ten per cent of our trade, it’s a big factory and the weavers have weddings, christenings and funerals there, well the receptions because the church is  a short walk to the next to the factory.

Jaysen: I’m afraid that ten per cent is going to fade.

Will: Because we’re diluting the beer too much?

Jaysen: No, the Island Business Consortium will kill it?

Will: The eye bee see? How?

Jaysen: Ben was telling me that all the business have agreed to buy nylon carpets from the far east for every single refit over the next five years.

Will: But aren’t they responsible for sick building syndrome.

Jaysen: Don’t worry, the executive rooms will have wool carpets still.

Will: The only executive room in the whole building is Ben’s.

Jaysen: Oh, I see.

Will: Without any new contracts, the carpet factory will close.

Jaysen: in eighteen months, I reckon.

Will: Taking ten per cent of our trade with it.

Jaysen: You still have the pubs.

Will: They’ve been losing customers as we refuse to stock other beers but our own.

Jaysen: This is a mess. What will happen to all the workers at the carpet factory.

Will: What about here?

Jaysen: They’ll all go eventually, you won’t be able to sustain the dividend and CEO’s salary. Ben will most probably go back to running a shoe factory on the mainland.

Will: It’s a disaster.

Jaysen: That’s what happens when you read the Ladybird Books, How to run a business in Victorian Britain and the W.H. Smith Guide to Cost Cutting in Industry.

Will: I’m glad you think me losing my job is funny. Why didn’t we listen to the salesmen and production people.

Jaysen: Why did you take the advice of accountants who know nothing about the business? Who have never owned a commercia enterprise and only ever look at the bottom-line.

Will: Ben thought we could cut cost and the sales force would make up any lost sales.

Jaysen: A sales force can’t compete with an inferior product. The consumer will always go with quality at a fair price. Try to extract more than the product is worth and they’ll but elsewhere, try and fob them off with inferior products and they’ll never buy from you again.

Will: Where’s that from?

Jaysen: The book of Common Sense.

Will: What will happen.

Jaysen: The weavers will go, the brewery might do a reciprocal deal with another so they swap products, but no profit will be made, the facility will be kept running.

Will: I’ve seen it before on another island. The brewery brewed an imported lager that double their sales but the accountants insisted on cost savings so they made the product weaker and weaker until people used to say don’t take the wee out of Ostinato Lager it needs all the flavour it can get. Within two years the brewery was turned into conference centre.

Jaysen: Well, I’m off to see Batz Ice Cream and I advise you to start polishing up your C.V. before you face redundancy.

Will: Thank you for visiting us today, you’ve saved my bacon.

Jaysen; That’s strange, I think Batz use bacon fat in their products.

Jaysen walks into an almost identical office as the brewery he has just visited except that it the walls are plastered, painted salmon pink and have pictures of ice cream vans and different ice cream brands on them.

Jaysen: All the offices look the same.

Adam: I’m afraid we all use the same warehouses, all designed by the same architect and built in the same year, 1888, if I recall correctly. We were a fishing island, herring, the most delicious of fish or so my grandmother tried to convince me. We stored and smoked kippers here and when the fashion for fish for breakfast waned so did our fortunes. We were not so much kippered but scuppered.

Jaysen: You’ve been skipper here for two years?

Adam: In February, absolutely right. I’ve learnt a lot about the business.

Jaysen: So, you’re new to ice cream.

Adam: If you can call it that, yes, I’m not an ice cream man born to the ice cream van. I grew up here and went to the army, then business school and worked for  Zach and Mary, a premium ice cream operation in Maryland, we turned Maryland into Dairyland operation. I wanted to educate my children at home so when the post came here it seemed like a good fit.

Jaysen: Yet the company is still in dire straits, is that correct.

Adam: I’m afraid so, quality brands are outselling us three to one. We were the premier brand twenty years ago with 90 per cent sales, no we be lucky to muster twenty per cent.

Jaysen: So, what went wrong?

Adam: That’s what I wanted to know, I’ve asked for our production manager to come and see you here, he should be here within the next two minutes.

Jaysen: That’s very precise.

Adam: He is, that’s why we put him in charge of production.

Jaysen: Got it.

Adam hearing a knock at the door: Come in.

Tom: Good morning, Adam, your secretary said I should come straight in.

Adam: Absolutely, Jaysen, tom and I meet every morning at seven, so we’ve pretty much caught up. Tom Manning is our production manager and the most valuable member of the new team. Let me introduce you to Jaysen, Jaysen Blunt, chief accountant at Forensic United Chartered Accountants.

Tom: Please to meet you, ignore Adam, he thinks everyone is the most valuable member of the team, except himself, he never puts enough value on his contribution.

Jaysen: You seem a happy collegiate, buoyant steamship, so what’s the problem?

Tom: The amount of air in ice cream affects the taste, texture and appearance of the finished product. Higher aeration will produce a tastier and smoother ice cream.

Adam: A side effect of aeration is that the ice cream tends to melt quicker.

Jaysen: I appreciate you are keeping it simple for the layman, lawyer and accountant but we’ve all had our hands covered in ice cream when we’ve bought a ninety-nine or a Mr Whippy. It’s part of the experience.

Tom: The secret, I find is to bite a hole in the bottom and suck the ice cream through the end of the cone, it does involve titling your head back so you can’t eat it on the move.

Adam: I just demolish as much of the ice crema in a few seconds as I can, leaving a small alpine peak that does not leak too much on the crispy cone.

Jaysen: I think I’m the only traditionalist in the room, eat the chocolate flake first and then slowly lick towards the peak, maybe my technique is wrong, but I always end up with ice-cream on the back of my fist.

Tom: There’s no right way or wrong to eat ice-cream. It’s the right way of making it that counts.

Adam: We sell ice cream by the litre not by the kilogramme

Tom: Since air is free and ice cream is sold by volume rather than weight, economy ice creams tend to contain lots of air.

Adam: Whereas premium ice creams have less air, to create a luxurious, creamy mouth-feel, our brand has over seventy per cent aeration.

Jaysen: So, what’s the standard.

Tom: looking back at the records, forty years ago, when this ice cream had ninety-five per cent of the market, the aeration was five per cent.

Adam: Most economy ice creams are aerated to about fifty percent.

Jaysen: So Batz was a premium product and sold well, with its five per cent.

Tom: From the records, it would suggest that.

Jaysen: So, what’s the problem?

Tom: Most of our competitors’ ice cream consists of fifty per cent aeration, the other fifty per cent is made of fat globules, ice crystals and sugar.

Jaysen: Hence the fact you put pork fat in the ice cream.

Tom: Of course, but that’s never been the problem.

Jaysen: For Muslim and Jewish customers it might be.

Tom: True.

Adam: The point is that we went from five per cent aeration to seventy-five per cent.

Jaysen: Wow! Okay let’s get this right, seventy-five.

Tom: The accountants insisted we charge the same but find cost-cutting measures, once the production team had sourced the cheapest sugar beet rather than sugar cane, the cheapest flavours, aeration was the next step.

Jaysen: why didn’t you say something

Tom: I tried but they would not listen you cannot have much influence against accountants, I was just a flavour enhancer injector, nothing more or less.

Jaysen: That’s a shame. So, the product was compromised from the start.

Adam : Then, the American premium brands come in with 20 per cent aeration but with a superior product at a premium price and take away all our trade.

Jaysen: So, the public noticed the difference in quality and taste and were prepared to pay a steeper price for a product that delivered in taste and quality.

Tom: Exactly and the accountants told us no one would notice the difference. They chipped away at our costs consistently, and now we have twenty-five per cent of the sales, half the workforce and American brands continue to beat us hands down.

Jaysen: So why not produce a premium product.

Tom: We tried, test marketed and sampled it throughout the island but the trust in the brand has gone. People say you’d be bats to buy Batz ice-cream. We reduced the aeration, returned to sugar cane and proper vanilla pods from Madagascar but like a restaurant, once you get a bad reputation for poor quality, it’s almost impossible to shake off that stigma.

Jaysen: I presume you’ve been brought in to sugar the deal with the Americans and make their product under licence.

Adam: Precisely that, it’s the only way we can keep the factory going, we’ll have wafer thin margins, if you’ll pardon the pun but the workforce’s jobs will be secure, naturally lots will retire over the next five years and recruitment has been frozen, though I’d like to get some more sales people, my budget will not allow it.

Jaysen: so, you’ll be a satellite for the America company.

Adam: with correspondingly small status and cuts in salaries all around. The last CEO sent his children to the mainland to board school, I’ll be lucky to afford the nursery fees.

Tom: My wife is a nursery nurse, otherwise I’d be back on the ferry, looking for work.

Jaysen: At least the government invests in public services.

Adam: I wouldn’t bank on it, we haven’t made ap raft for five years so there’s no corporation tax take from us.

Tom: There’s rumours that Dabwasser is going under and that will take out another raft of tax funding. The island’s going to pot.

Adam: To hell in a handcart.

Jaysen: So why is that?

Tom: We’re bleeding people to the mainland. There are more opportunities there, salaries are higher and frankly a better infrastructure.

Adam: We’re allowing too much unfettered immigration. That’s our biggest problem, it’s putting a strain on services and leading to rising crime.

Tom: Not that old chestnut.

Jaysen: I’m confused, didn’t you invite people te come to the island as the population shrank so much during the war. You didn’t have enough people to run simple services and enough of a workforce to provide a tax take to run those services.

Adam: We did need some more people, but it’s gone too far.

Jaysen, not according to my figures, the population of the island has only just reached the size it was before the war.

Tom: And for the last fifty years, since the war, we’ve had signs saying: ‘No dogs, No pet snakes and No islanders’ outside practically every single lodging house on the island. It’s ridiculous and you’re an islander anyhow.

Adam: I know but we don’t need more of them.

Tom: So, they gave you a ladder when you were drowning and now you’re pulling it up, leaving them to drown.

Jaysen: Let’s move on, I don’t think my investigation into the financial health of the company includes political discussion.

Adam: You’re right. Which company are you going to see next?

Jaysen: I’m off to see  Damson’s , the brewery overlooking the dam.

Tom: It’s a wonderful place, you’ll love it. They do a wonderful lunch at the Devil’s Dam Hotel, their trout terrine and baked carp are famous around here.

Jaysen: Thank you both for showing me around and explaining the product.

Adam: To be frank, we were selling an inferior product, thinking the consumer was too stupid to notice. They voted with their feet and our reputation is in tatters. Our customers switched to a premium product that was imported because it tasted good.

Tom: I think Adam is right; we’re trying to rebuild the brand by increasing quality and ingredients but we’re in a nose dive and we might not be able to pull up.

Jaysen: I see it all the time, businesses follow some accountants’ advice to cut costs without regard for the quality of the product. I’ve seen it all over the place. The sales drop and then the product disappears from the shelves.

Adam: Accountants have too much say and too much power on the island.

Jaysen: I’m beginning to see that.

Tom: It think it might be too late, though.

Adam: We’ll be okay when the Americans take us over.

Jaysen: Will you really?

Tom: We won’t get more than a pittance for our license agreement, half the factory staff will go and so will the salesforce. They won’t trust us with selling their product as theirs is premium, they won’t want to taint their product with a salesforce that’s been selling synthetic flavours, sugar and air instead of ice cream to the public and treating customers like idiots over decades. It’s not really a win for the community is it?

At the Damson Brewery

Simon Atticus sweeps into The Devil’s Dam Hotel, he is wearing a wide brimmed fedora hat, a woollen, striped scarf and a brown, soft wool trench coat as well as a Devilish grin on his face. A firm handshake and eye contact faze Jaysen who can manage either but not both. Simultaneously looking down at his shoes and trying to grip Simon’s hand in a manly clench is too much for him. Instead of feeling embraced by Simon’s warmth, he looks awkward. He should have stuck to being a barrister, but he kept on getting details of the cases wrong and laughing at inappropriate moments. Figures did not have feelings, so he was happier out of chambers, away from the bar and playing with his abacus.

Simon: Welcome to the Devil’s Hotel, it’s our brewery’s latest addition.

Jaysen: It’s nice to be out of the warehouses in the docks. I felt like I was in the Victorian Workhouse.

Simon: Yes, this is the old turbine hall, but they thoughtfully put lots of window space in to cut down on use of electric lighting.

Jaysen: Well, the views are better. Warehouse onto warehouse wears a bit thin, the view of the hills reminds me of Shropshire.

Simon: I hope you like the carp here, caught fresh from the reservoir this morning, can’t get fresher fish.

Jaysen I’ve heard good things about their trout terrine here and I understand the baked carp are famous on the island.

Simon: You’re my guest. I thought we’d have the Pouilly Fume unless you prefer Sancerre.

Jaysen: I’m more of a chardonnay man, I see they have Cullen’s chardonnay on the list, I’ll get the wine.

Simon: As you wish.

Jaysen: So how are things with the company. I understand your family own the majority of the company, you’re CEO and Joseph Damson is the Managing Director with David Block taking over from you next year.

Simon: You’ve done your research.

Jaysen; You had a turnover of 30 million and your half yearly loses were £2.4 mill, readily available on the internet.

Simon: You’re not talking out of school. It’s well known on the island  that we’re in trouble.

Jaysen: So, what happened, you were telling me on the phone that twenty years ago you were unstoppable, you had doubled your turnover and were extremely profitable.

Simon: Joseph hated the fact that William Fitzwilliam had started the Doll-Fin brewery, which was the first brewery in Dublin since 1900 and he wanted to teach him a lesson.

Jaysen: But you sold more beer in the city than you did in the seventy pubs you own, so you produced twice as much as your pubs needed. Sounds sweet.

Simon: It was until Joseph had his brilliant idea. You see he was never a salesman and he forgot that despite everything, you cannot conjure up sales out of thin air. The free trade in brewing is cut throat. There is very little loyalty amongst the publicans unless your beer sells well.

Jaysen: And yours did.

Simon: Yes while Doll-Fin were looking after it, they got the beer into the yacht clubs, the universities’ college bars, the iconic pubs, restaurants and even into tied houses where the beer was meant to be only from one source.

Jaysen: So, what went wrong?

Simon: Joseph went wrong. He decided we no longer need an agent in Dublin, and we should go in directly.

Jaysen: Oh, no!

Simon: Yes, Doll-Fin had a network of salesmen on the ground, a reputation for great service and built our business up from scratch.

Jaysen: Anecdotally, I heard you dropped off a nine-gallon barrel in Kidney Bay and Will took it to a pub in a wealthy suburb. He built it up into an order of 72 gallons in two weeks and 154 in a month.

Simon: Full marks for homework, though we can the nine gallons a firkin, he very quickly orders four kilderkins, then four barrels, you are quite right.

Jaysen: within six months, he was taking a truckload every week, I’ve seen the figures, increasing the barrelage sold each year for seven years by about 12 per cent per year.

Simon: Again, faultless forensics.

Jaysen: It’s my job.

Simon: So, joseph decides to save the twenty quid they charge to deliver the beer and deal direct through our own distribution service, hoping that Doll-Fin, losing seventy-five per  cent of their trade, would fold and we would take their market share.

Jaysen: That didn’t happen.

Simon: Not exactly. We disappeared from the city completely except the automobile club, yacht club and one pub. Without the Doll-Fin sales team looking after the customers, their deliverymen were also wonderful, and their telesales were second to none. We had none of that, they had three salesmen, we had none.

Jaysen: That’s quite a story.

Simon: Then joseph was let in charge for another ten years, running the brewery into the ground.

Jaysen: I gather you were unwell and had to step down.

Simon: Yes, if that had happened we would never have severed our ties with Doll-Fin and would have had ten years of double sales, very quickly we settled back into our old turnover, which of course led to reduced profits.

Jaysen: The company is making a small loss, but you have an estate of seventy pubs. That’s got to be worth 3.5 million, surely?

Simon: If we’re selling our beer through reciprocal deals, we make no money. We take a lager from another brewery, and they take an equal value of beer from us and as a result no money is made. This is what the asinine scion of the namesake family does not realise. He sacrificed our mainland trade to bolster his prestige; the result is we have no presence on the mainland. The dullard thought our beer sold itself, needed no sales team or support network, no one to supply spiles, pipe clearing fluid and check the customer has everything and the product is selling well. The fundamentals of sales were ignored, and our beer was subsequently dismissed. You can find it here or there but again we are not selling it, we are swapping it for lager that generally doesn’t sell in our pubs.

Jaysen: I can see your problem and feel your frustration. If you had not been ill the lunatics would not have taken over the asylum and all would be well.


Jaysen: I’ll go for a walk in the park.

Simon: Enjoy the fresh air, it will be a change from the atmosphere of festering failure in this brewery.

Jaysen walks through the park in the summer sunshine. He passes a woman and a pushchair, smiling at the baby and the mother.

Jaysen: It does get easier.

She smiles at him but does not stop or speak. A cyclist rings his bell, but Jaysen ignores it. The cyclist stops beside him when the pushchair has passed Jaysen.

Cyclist: Didn’t you hear my bell.

Jaysen: Yes, I did  but I thought you were warning someone behind me.

Cyclist: I was letting you know you were in my way.

Jaysen: Surely this is a footpath, a shared space, if you want to go fast, you can stick to the road, it’s only a short detour of five minutes. You can share the space with cars and ring your little bell with impunity.

Cyclist: Are you trying to be funny?

Jaysen: Who has the power here, you. I don’t have eyes in th back of my head. You have control, you can speed up and stop much more easily than me when there is a hazard ahead.

Cyclist: I was only warning you I was here.

Jaysen: On a footpath which is a shared space? I think not. It is up to you to move around me not the other way around.

Cyclist: Why am I wasting my time talking to a knobhead.

Jaysen: Your use of insults shows you have lost the argument. If you want to use your bell, I suggest you use the main road where you have right of way; here I have right of way, the clue is in the title: footpath.

Cyclist: I ought to wipe that smile off your face.

Jaysen: A bully and violent, I suggest you get some therapy. I assume you used your bell because I was in your way, and you were late. Hadn’t you better get off?

Cyclist: Don’t let me see you here, again, or else.

Jaysen: I’m a blue belt in judo, if you got off your high horse, you’d find out that intimidation is not accepted in a civilised society.

Cyclist: Tosser.

Jaysen: Get help while you can.

Cyclist: Sod off!

Jaysen: I rest my case.

Cyclist: Bloody Mainlanders.

Jaysen: Again, you are wrong, you’d be screwed without us, we provide seventy-five per cent of your workforce, we get you to work, heal you’re sick, do the jobs you can’t or won’t and yet you despise us. Our help is scorned.

Sitting in a farmhouse next to an Aga, sipping a cup of tea, Jaysen, waits for Patrick to deliver a crumpet dripping in melted butter.

Patrick: You can enjoy that without feeling guilty, the Aga runs on electricity generated from our farm’s windmills and solar panels, we have under floor heating and heat exchangers in the dairy. We are totally self-sufficient for energy. We run our tractors on methane, our cars are electric or hybrid depending on their use. Our only problem is water but that’s going to be an issues for everyone with global warming.

Jaysen: Sadly, you’re right but you seem to be able to farm and brew without much trouble.

Patrick: On the surface, yes and we benefit from a well, if we had a spring, we could really do well.

Jaysen: So, I’ve seen a large brewery that is being kept float by one customer that will soon close.

Patrick: They say you can’t take the piss out of their beer, it needs all the flavour it can get.

Jaysen: I heard that from their brewing staff. Sorry, their chemists, I didn’t mean to insult you.

Patrick: No slight taken.

Jaysen: Then, I went to see a medium sized brewery that had sacked its agent in the mainland, failed to employ an adequate salesforce and were surprised when they could only grip onto a club bar where one of committee members was on the brewery’s board and the rest of their small trade was reciprocal. The agent on the mainland had sold more beer annually than the  brewery sold in their seventy pubs on the island. It’s all crazy. How can you survive with your brewery.

Patrick: We sell sixty barrels a week; people travel from the mainland to try our beer, we sell in Holland, Ireland and Scotland. In those markets, we’ve red of minibuses being hired to travel fifty miles to try our beer.

Jaysen: So, what’s the secret?

Patrick: Quality.

Jaysen: Really.

Patrick: Absolutely. We use the finest malt we can get hold of, the best quality hops and find a benign yeast that will not interfere with those flavours. Our Wilmot’s Hop Cone is the best bitter you can buy, and we make an IPA for export.

Jaysen: IPA

Patrick: India pale ale, basically a stronger product to help the beer last the voyage to India.

Jaysen: That could be a new market.

Patrick: When we can afford to install a bottling line in a few years that might be the case.

Jaysen: Okay so you have a good product.

Patrick: We pay a decent wage, too many companies try and cut cost by shaving the wage bills, we let our people know they are valued. Some supermarkets on the mainland have only just started paying their staff a decent living wage; it’s disgusting, they slave away at the shelves stacking them and sit at the checkout and yet they are still underpaid. We think low paid people deserve to avoid having to go to the foodbank, on the mainland they are quite happy to happy nurses who save people’s lives, less than they need to survive and are quite happy for them to finish a twelve-hour shift and use a food bank. The more we pay our staff, within reason, the more they have to spend in the economy, the rich squirrel their money away, yet they are the ones that get the tax breaks. Sorry, the short answer is we pay well.

Jaysen: Having spoken to local pubs before coming to the island, I know your telesales are second to none and they love your draymen who put the beer up on the racks after tapping and spiling them.

Patrick: All you have to do is go that little bit extra and it puts you ahead of the rest.

Jaysen: They also said your salesmen visit regularly to check they are happy and even you go and visit the accounts.

Patrick: It’s important to establish a relationship and for them to put faces to people. I want to show that I’m not some person who sits in his office.

Jaysen: I know it is appreciated.

Patrick: It’s a privilege for me and makes the customer feel valued.

Jaysen: And it works.

Michael Fitzalan’s first novel gained cult status and here are some others: Waterwitch was a hit with those who have ever sailed; two brothers battle storms and Spanish support for the Malvinas in an attempt to meet up with their girlfriends in Ibiza. They have to get from The Algarve to Ibiza, all very straightforward until engine failure and storms threaten to sink all their plans. The Taint Gallery tells the story of a modern Romeo and Juliet; the story is set in Cheslea and Fulham, not Verona, nevertheless, it is a doomed relationship. The book was shunned by big publishers for its highly charged and graphic sexual content and the small publisher who produced the book folded, copies are rare. A reprint is planned for its twentieth anniversary next year; it is still as pertinent and shocking today as it was back in 1996. Switch is an amazing mixture of Franz Kafka realism yet it reads like a Raymond Chandler thriller. Joe Ederer falls for a French girl but he is recovering from being dumped by his English girlfriend. A fish out of water in London, he chases her home only to be rejected. He hooks up with a suffocating drug addict and that is when his nightmares begin. Major Bruton’s Safari is the story of innocents abroad; a family invited to celebrate the coronation of the Kabaka of Buganda become indoctrinated into the ways of Africa. With an acerbic observer on hand, the family experience the warmth and ways of Uganda that help them to understand themselves a little better. IPG – Innocent Proven Guilty is about a teacher, Philip Hayward whose brother sold their shared flat and ran off to America with the proceeds. Philip bumps into his brother’s ex-girlfriend and she tells him his brother is back. Racing to the address she gave him, he arrives to find his brother with a knife in his back. As he leaves, his shoes leave bloody footprints and the police come looking for him. Carom – Finn McHugh and his team take on a swindler and smuggler, Didier, who is depraved in so many ways. They know he is smuggling art and drugs; he must be stopped before others take him out. The Cubans, want him dead, Finn wants to break the smuggling ring. Who will win? Remember the Fifth November – Guy Fawkes was innocent, Catesby was a broken man who brought his children up in the Anglican faith, yet Robert Cecil arranged for them to be portrayed as terrible villains. With a spy service second to none and with moles everywhere how could someone hatch a plot like this and fail to be discovered? The answer, they could not. Read the truth! One – Bullying does not go on anymore in schools. I would not bet on it. Weep as you read the terrible story of a school bully and the misery he dispenses to all the boys. Then, cheer as one of his victims takes revenge. Take a trip to a prep school in a time when kids built tree houses, danced and swung on Tarzan ropes!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *