Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Well, I type this as a gibbering ruin of a man. My life for the last ten days or so has been bedlam, with a touch of chaos, a hint of anarchy, and more than a little fevered turmoil. I should start by saying that I have a slight touch of man flu. Which is real by the way. I looked it up, and it's classified by the World Health Organisation as "A virulent strain of normal flu which effects only chaps, and is entirely unfathomable to ladies". I am struggling heroically on, but fear that I may weaken before the end of this column (said the Duchess to the Vicar).

Anyway, to recap. A week and half ago we - that's me, Tam, Andy and Lucy - triumphantly threw open the doors of the shop at precisely 10 o'clock. We all stood behind the counter, beaming expectantly, and then the most extraordinary thing happened. Absolutely nothing. There was no rush, no gaggle of delighted punters eager to relive me of books and DVD's whilst pressing crumpled tenners into my clammy palm, all the while whispering "Keep the change" as they delightedly thumbed through their new volume of amusing tales about Reuben. Oh no. We just stood there for a while, as all around was a kind of embarrassed silence broken only by a slight cough and a vague shuffling of the feet as we all studiously avoided each others eyes.

And then, a man came in. A perfectly normal, nice man. On holiday with his family in Dartmouth. He just happened to be wandering past, and thought he'd pop in and browse. And browse he did, under the expectant gaze of all five of us, our eyes collectively boring into the back of the poor chaps head. And then....and...then...he picked up a copy of the sizzling bodice ripper that is "The Great Escape" volume one, plainly liked the heft of it, and said (as you would) "I'd like to buy this please."

Seldom can those words have created such an exhalation of relief, and a rush of impeccable service. One of us reverentially took the book off him, the other retrieved a "Monty Halls Great Escapes" branded bag from under the counter, another panicked and tried to make a cappucino from the coffee machine that wasn't switched on yet, and another just stared at the - now thoroughly alarmed - chap with the adoring gaze of acolyte. If Carlsberg made shop assistants, they would be exactly like us at that precise moment. Anyway here is a photo of the historic moment, consisting of an alarmed man and his lovely family, and a delighted new business owner.

So, the clock reads six minutes past ten, and we were seven quid up on the day. Keep this up and we'd be millionaires by August.

Happily the rest of the day proved if not quite busy, then certainly active enough to make us realise that we had absolutely no idea how to work the till. Modern tills are heinously complex bits of kit, with a brain bigger than ours and all manner of buttons. How I wished for an Arkwright style till with massive levers and drawer that went ding. Anyway, we muddled through, and were then into the evening and a little party we'd organised for anyone local who fancied coming along. Happily this turned out to be quite a few people, and so the evening passed in an increasingly burpy, amiable, glassy eyed way.

This was a potential survival situation as by this stage I'd been talking so much that dehydration was plainly a serious concern. Happily Suze spotted the impeding crisis, and every time I looked up she was walking towards me with a full pint which I drank in a medicinal manner. This proved to be a splendid development, meaning that each story I told became increasingly far fetched, with me assuming a more centrally heroic role every time. Here's a piccie, although I must say she appears to have taken a few sips of this one to test it (and has assumed the facial expression of the recently rumbled).

 Lots and lots and lots then happened over the next ten days. The best way I can describe it is in pictures. Suffice to say it was a great time with great people and we made about £2.50 profit in total as we were just trying things out. So here we go......

That was an experimental shorewalk with family, friends, and a few people who had gamely paid a reduced fee to come along. The people in the bottom picture giving me bist of seaweed are my big sister and her two brilliant kids, Charlie and Gemma. The whole thing was great fun, particularly as it came complete with a burbling drunk who got punchy in the car park where we met up, as he was off his face on Alcopops. Never let it be said that we don't know how to show our clients a good time....

This was out in the RIB testing the routes we're going to use / being suckered into going really fast by everyone in the boat yelling "I don't care if it's a razorbill or a guillemot, MAKE THE BOAT GO FAST!" So I had to.

This was Tam's photo as we set out on our first trip.

Anyway, we're hanging on in there, things are starting to make sense, and we're figuring out a plan for the bedlam of the approaching Summer. A massive thanks to everyone in Dartmouth who has been so kind to us, which is pretty much everyone in Dartmouth now I come to think of it.

More in a week or so.



Thursday, 5 April 2012

We (or rather they) did it....

We have lift off. The shop is opening tomorrow, and by jingo it actually does look quite like a shop. This, I should hastily point out, has absolutely nothing to do with me, as I have been off on a publicity tour for the new book over the last week or so. My contribution has therefore consisted of waltzing out of the empty shell of a room last Thursday, calling cheerily over one shoulder to the new staff members "See you in a week chaps, try to get the place ready if you can."

Book tours are great, as you tend to stay in lovely hotels, wear big fluffy dressing gowns, and everyone is very, very nice to you because they have to be. Over a series of sumptious breakfasts, whilst reading a recently ironed copy of The Times, I would occasionally phone the shop to find out how things were going. Things were going very, very well as it turned out.

The reasons for this are called Andy and Lucy. Andy has been nothing short of a man possessed, standing on the top of wobbly ladders balancing on one foot with a mouthful of nails, brow furrowed as he sorts another piece of overhead DIY phoned in by me in the manner of Lord Bufton-Tufton as I feasted on quail at the Ritz. Andy, in short, is made of the right stuff.

Lucy applied considerable elan and flair to the layout of the place, and plundered her own store to provide lovely chalk boards and odds and bobs to make the shop look what can only be described as chic and stylish. As these are two words that have NEVER been applied to me, it's obvious that the credit for the place looking so good really does lie elsewhere.

Not forgetting Jim, Jim, Simon, Josh, Steve who all worked on the project, and the many brilliant photographers who have submitted their works for display. It's been a wonderful effort all round.

So, we now have a shop. Here's a couple of piccies....

Andy, by the way, is the ruin of a man waving his arm in triumph behind the counter. Or possibly waving his fist at me and threatening legal action - I haven't quite decided which....

So it's the big opening tomorrow morning. If you're in Dartmouth come in and have a coffee (if we can figure out how to work the machine), have a chat (if we've figured out our staff roster system), or maybe even buy something (if we can figure out how to work the till). It's been a roller coaster ride, but then again they're quite fun aren't they?

Oh, and I've been told under threat of death by Tam that I need to pass on the new Facebook page for the business. There we go, done it. We'll use this to keep you posted about the shenanighans of the Summer to come.

Oh, and by the way here's a shot of our little Isla swimming. She's a chip off the old block that girl....

Oh (again) and there's some big news about the blog, but I'm sworn to secrecy - tell you as soon as I can.

Onward ever onward.

Cheers, Mont and the team.