Friday 17 July 2020

A most upsetting experience

I originally wrote this post somewhere in the spring of 2017. At the time we didn't feel it was appropriate to publish. Time has moved on and there are many things that have changed, obviously the closure of the brewery, but many other things too that may bring me back to writing. If you are friends with me on Facebook you will know.
Meanwhile it is time to tie up the loose ends with the brewery and move forward. This post describes possibly one of the most upsetting things I have ever decided that I must do.

Spring 2017

I don’t cry often. I guess it’s a blokey thing. I mean, it undermines any macho image one might have and probably has some sort of deep, long-engrained social conditioning. But sometimes, just sometimes, the need is there to really just weep buckets and damn what anyone else might think about the fact.
I was stood in the kitchen of the cottage. I felt cold. It looked like it was a functional kitchen, if in need of a bit of repair here and there. The fridge, it was suggested, didn’t work. The hob and oven, built in, probably did. The washing machine, which was too big for the space and so stuck out a little, apparently would wash clothes, but might leak a bit.
The owner of the said property had made some gallant efforts to clean the place. It looked good considering we had earlier claimed to not care a jot. The ground floor consisted of a kitchen and lounge in a semi-open plan format. If there was an open fire it would be cozy, but some idiot years before had removed the wall at the base of the chimney, presumably to make a little more space.
Heating was by a combination of storage heaters and electric wall heaters. God, I thought I had left this sort of primitive life behind. Growing up I remember cold winter days in a house heated solely by storage heaters. The only room that ever got warm in winter was the living room, and only then when we lit the open fire and had the flames roaring up the chimney. So, just on temperature alone I was feeling just a little bit underwhelmed.
Upstairs was a bathroom and two reasonable bedrooms. Fitted wardrobes and a double bed in each room meant we could move in at a drop of a hat. As it was we were due to move in imminently, possibly the next day. This was to be a new start, a solution to some fairly large problems. A chance to wipe a few slates clean and move on.
I felt a huge sense of sadness; only surpassed by the death of my Mother some 17 years ago. We were selling our lovely four bedroom, centrally heated house complete with fully fitted kitchen, large garden for the dogs, garage, en-suite master bedroom and enough space for me to have a “creativity” room, and as the kids had all but moved out Ann was likely to get her own space too; all quite lavish really.
We had recently increased our pet population from one crazy, energetic but incredibly intelligent and fairly well trained Collie dog called Jester by adding a slightly less well trained, rather strong and bullish, if very friendly Springer Spaniel called Teddy. They got on well, too well, nothing was safe from their romps and were very firmly banned from the living room as the TV and associated multimedia equipment that are trappings of a comfortable life were completely at risk of annihilation. These two boisterous adolescent dogs tried out play-fighting tactics well beyond any reasonable creature’s fatigue levels would have kicked in. The lack of a garden for them to run around in was by itself starting to fill me with dread.
The fact we had Teddy was in itself a symptom of what was really a very positive influence on my life. A recently new friendship was certain to make 2017 a hugely pivotal year. Life is bound to be different in many ways and there are some incredible positives that should be capable of making me very happy indeed. None-the-less I was filled with the biggest and most dramatic sadness. The old over-used cliché of having a heavy heart felt so apt. The feelings were tangibly physical and I really, really wanted to cry; I could find no other way of making myself feel better, but still that deep routed macho thing was holding on to it’s stupid street-cred engrained principles.
We had convinced ourselves that we didn’t need all our capital locked up in the house and huge, unserviceable and expensive debts in the brewing business creating losses that were inevitably likely to take us down. If we didn’t do something, as a result of the way our debts were structured, we’d risk loosing everything within a few months. Suppliers were loosing patience, some had already removed credit facilities and others had us on stop risking the halting of beer production. HMRC was owed some money, and that is always a bad position to be in.
A very good customer of ours owns the cottage. We sell them beer, we go into their pub and drink our beer just the way it should be. It’s a good pub, good beers, friendly staff, wholesome home-cooked food, great bunch of locals and Azimuth on-tap. The cottage front door is less than 8 seconds at a brisk run to the door of the pub. What is not to like?
We had mentioned to these good people that we might need a bolt-hole as we were due to sell our house. They have various properties and we just needed somewhere to rent. We agreed a mutually satisfactory rental and so planned to move in. We knew it wasn’t great, but just somewhere, for now, would do.
We were 48 hours away from completion. We still had a lot to do to get out of our house. We had moved some furniture to a friend who was a little in need and had moved some more to store in the brewery. I knew there was a mammoth task ahead of us to get it finished. We had not done anywhere enough packing, I guess because we really didn’t want to make the move.
I still felt cold. The cottage looked unbearably small. Where was I going to put all my guitars? The idea of setting up my baby grand piano in the centre of the kitchen, whilst possible, was clearly bonkers. Whilst we were at liberty to “borrow” bandwidth from the pub WiFi I knew it’d not be as good as our fiber broadband. Having cooked in a commercial kitchen, even the rather spacious and by domestic standards well-equipped kitchen we were leaving behind irritated me. The kitchen I was currently standing in was sure to drive me mad.
I don’t know if I said anything to Ann regarding my regret at having to make this unfortunate change of circumstance, but it felt like a huge fall from grace was in progress, and all because I decided to attempt to make an honest living out of a passion for beer. Ann was trying to console me, but to no avail. The despair just deepened and deepened. I still felt cold, the thick stone walls had yet to yield to the increasing spring temperatures outside and just prayed we would not still be there come the autumn, but had still to find that magic plan that would ensure we are not. The uncertainty about the business, our living arrangements and the general future just weighed very heavily.
“Let’s go home” I said, looking around in desperation for something to cheer me up. And then it came. I realized, this would be home very soon, and what I had just called home had already been emptied of large amounts of sentimentally precious stuff. I had yet to dismantle the glass-fronted bookshelf that survived in my Grandparents house through a V2 rocket attack in 1944. Once that was done the place was certainly not to be my home anymore.
I walked upstairs; mainly I think so as not to let Ann see my face. Daft really. Why on earth would she think worse of me? A grown man crying over a justifiably upsetting experience is probably, I expect, quite endearing to his partner. But cry I did.
Was it the thought of moving into this undeniably cold house, a house that was really just a little to small for our needs? A house that could be heated, without much trouble and anyway, summer is on the way. I’ve done this before and been very happy about it.
Ultimately no, it is the uncertainty of knowing where we are going with the brewery. This move is being made to free up capital to enable us to make the next step with the brewery. Relocate somewhere where we can more easily sell more beer.
And then, who in their right mind would sell their house,with over-saturation of breweries in the country, and significant price wars being raged driving down the wholesale price of beer below sustainable levels? Only a madman, am I right? Am I mad enough to risk my all? Here is the crux, I am not sure I am quite that mad.
To add to the mêlée of melancholy confusions I am left wondering where it has all gone wrong. Where did we fail with Hardknott? We were once the boldest and most progressive craft brewery in Cumbria. Perhaps we still were, but somewhere, commercially, there is a lot of work to do, and the beer-landscape filled me with a sense of doom. With an industry that is most certainly broken, and despite attempts to get great beer out to great people the barriers presented by legislation, taxation and dirty deals by bigger breweries leaves me uninspired.
I looked around upstairs and still couldn’t quite see where my guitars, stage piano and Mac were going to be accessible. By now I was really quite full of tears, and knew I had to just get out; no longer could I hide my total grief from Ann. Her attempts at consolation resulted in a frustrated brush-off from me. The instinct to be ashamed of my crying was still very still strong.
“We don’t have to do this” she said. “Yes we do” I replied with inappropriate anger.
I was angry with myself. How has this happened? How are we going to make things better? When will I again live in a reasonable house, which I own? Am I making a huge mistake in being dogmatic at keeping the Hardknott dream alive?