What’s A Bob? WoodChips In London

Sometimes you can do all of the study in the world, but you will not understand until you actually put it to use.
Travel is the best teacher.

An English pub looks a bit like a franchise chain

I heard some unsettling news this week from my friend Gerald in London.  Gerald is an ace copywriter and well informed gentleman with Drayton Bird Associates, who also seems to know just about everything concerning internet marketing, websites and their construction.

So I had mentioned how much I enjoyed the pubs during my extended time in London in the late 70′s.  And he informed me in the course of that email conversation that many of the pubs are becoming franchise chains – not the authentic thing as I recalled.

Images of rubber-stamped lookalike pubs and McDonald’s and Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken flew through my head, stomping all over those good memories.  Good God, I thought, of all the places I had hoped to hold with their tradition, surely England and the pubs were two of them.

Not that we’re so good at that, really.  Here in the States, it seems things change so much that if we hang on to something for just ten years or so, it warrants the attention of an historical society or something.

Perhaps sensing my consternation, Gerald quickly followed up by adding that there were still plenty of real, authentic, genuine pubs to be found.  I was much relieved.  I had, apparently, let my imagination run a bit too wild on his initial news.

But with just cause, I tell you.  Because I had a great start on my very first night in London, in my very first pub.

It all started as I flew from St. Louis to London with Ken, a friend and business associate.  We were going to install a large computer system we had written for the May Department Stores International London office.

Since this was my first trip to England, I had dutifully studied up on the country’s currency of pounds and pence, and even looked over a map of London, although not for long as the streets all seemed to go off in different directions.  That detail aside, I was satisfied I had done my due diligence, and even felt a bit the sophisticated world traveler.

Anyhow, after a long flight across the Atlantic into Heathrow Airport, Ken and I arrived in a taxi at the Rathbone Piccadilly hotel in London.  As I was getting out of the cab, I realized all my due diligence and international studies had not included gratuities and tipping.  Not wanting to make a bad first impression, I rushed into the hotel to the clerk behind the desk.

The following sophisticated world traveler conversation ensued.

Me:  “How much should I tip the taxi driver?”
Hotel Clerk:  “A bob.”
Me: “What’s a bob?”
Hotel clerk: “5p.”
Me: “What’s 5p?”
Hotel Clerk: “A shilling.”
Me, again – a bit flustered — pulling out the change in my pocket: “Which one of these coins is it?”
Hotel Clerk, pointing to the 5 Pence coin:  This one.
Me: Oh—got it—5 pence — Okay—thanks.
Me again—rushing out to the taxi driver, overcompensating and giving him 10 pence: “Thanks, man.”

Note that this was in the mid 70’s – I think the appropriate tip has gone up since then.  Note to self – include study of gratuities and tipping if you go to England again.

That little sophisticated world traveler thing aside, Ken and I checked in and rushed upstairs, stopping just long enough to throw (literally) our bags in our rooms.  We were on a mission from God – very focused, that is to say, on finding the nearest pub.  It was late, and we had been on a long, dusty trail.  It was time to slake our thirst and get rid of some of that trail dust.

As luck would have it, the nearest pub was in the basement of the hotel.  We scurried downstairs and began quaffing pints of Guinness, which I took to immediately.

However, right after we got settled in, the bartender rang a bell and said they would be closing shortly at 11:00 PM.  This was a real problem, as Ken and I had just gotten started.

Now you may not believe what I’ll tell you next – but this is how my experience with English pubs got off to a grand start.  Somehow, throughout our alarmed conversation with the bartender, he told us he would just leave the pub open for us if we would close up and lock it when we left – an honor system kind of thing.

We agreed, amazed at our good fortune.  Some hours later, having taken full advantage of our situation, we left a generous stack of pound notes for the bill and tip and closed up and locked the door behind us as he had asked.

So that is how my first experience in a pub, on my first night as a “sophisticated” world traveler in London, went down.  You can understand now, perhaps, my initial alarm at hearing many pubs were going the franchise chain route.

So that’s my What’s A Bob? story.  I’ll end it with a question.  Do you think a franchise today would leave the place wide open for me and Ken to lock up later?

What do you think?

Have a nice day – J. Daniel

P.S. Isn’t it funny that both myself and the hotel clerk were speaking perfectly good English to each other and couldn’t communicate?

It reminds me of the World War II fighter pilot that got shot down, bailed out of his plane, and landed in a tree hanging by his parachute 20 feet from the ground.

A few minutes later he saw an old man riding his bicycle up the road toward him.  The pilot, not really knowing if he was behind enemy lines or not, took a chance and said, “Excuse me, but can you tell me where I am?’

The old man looked him over and said, “Well, young fella, you are hanging by your parachute in a tree about twenty feet off the ground.”

The pilot said, “Tell me, man, are you an accountant?”

“Why yes, I am,” said the old man, “how could you possibly know that?”

“Because,” the pilot said, “Everything you just told me is accurate and true, and I don’t know any more than when we started talking.”

P.P.S. Not knocking the hotel clerk here – and sorry if you are an accountant (chuckle – in that case just substitute lawyer).

Leave a Reply