I’ve been conspicuous by my absence recently. I was loving the research for the blog, coming up with new lotions and potions – but as is often the way of the world, life got in the way.
Most of you know that I’ve been running a pub in Hertfordshire over the last few months. What you don’t know is how much of my life it consumed, and how much, ultimately, I lost because of it.
I should probably warn you that in the process of writing this post, it will probably turn into an exercise in catharsis. You may not want to keep reading, I won’t blame you if you don’t!
Taking on the pub was an amazing experience. I was head over heels in love with Chef – I felt that he was the love of my life, and we’d often joke that we were “stuck” with each other – our way of saying that we would never go anywhere without the other. I still feel that I’ve never had as much in common with someone as I had with Chef. I was excited to be running my own business, and we were both raring to go. What we didn’t count on was being stuffed over by the brewery, to the point where they had a strong hand in bringing the already frail business to its knees, and with it, our lives.
I remember very clearly the day I moved in. I sobbed during the whole drive to the pub – my mum was in pieces because I was leaving, and the realisation that I was not going to be able to see my family and friends as often as I was used to was starting to dawn on me. Plus, I had to leave my beloved Roxie behind for a few weeks, whilst we organised our lives. Driving through the country lanes, sobbing my heart out, was certainly an experience.
When I pulled up at the pub, Chef was there to greet me and hold me – he knew how hard it was for me to say goodbye to my family – but the comfort was short-lived, as bailiffs were on the doorstep, ready to cut the electricity supply – unfortunately the previous landlord had been unable to pay the bill for some time. This very first day should have been a warning to us, but we continued, because we believed in the pub, and our ability to turn it round – Chef with his amazing food, and me running the front of house.
And indeed, our first few months was amazing – we were building up the business – things were good – the pub was absolutely packed for our re-launch night. We were constantly tired though – there was, obviously, never any respite, as we were living and breathing the pub – every day centered around it, whether it was open or not. During this time, however, I did become incredibly home sick, and struggled to make the adjustment, and I put Chef through hell for a while. Christmas came and went – mostly, it was busy – we had some fantastic Christmas parties booked, but on the nights were there was no party, the pub was dead – this should have been another sign that something was wrong. (I should mention at this point that prior to this, the brewery were completing structural works on the pub, and it looked, outwardly, like a building site – we looked closed, and we quickly lost any good will we had built up during our opening months. The brewery had also told us they’d decorate the front of the pub – they never did, so the outside did not match the effort we had put into the interior – they simply were not bothering to renovate any of their properties).
Christmas day 2012 was fantastic – we decided to open for drinks, then close so we could have dinner with our families. It was a fantastic day, but of course, the rest and relaxation was short-lived, as we had to open again the next day, regardless of a hangover!
The first time we truly realised that we were trying to do the wrong thing in the wrong location was New Years Eve. I won’t go into details, but it wasn’t a great night – made worse by the fact that I came down with the flu, and was in bed for a week. (I really don’t think I’ve ever felt as ill as I did that night).
My illness for that first week in January was one of the events that tipped us over the edge financially. Not only was it dead – really dead – with literally no customers walking in on some evenings – but we also had to pay staff to cover the shifts I was unable to do (Bearing in mind, that most of the time it was only Chef and I running the pub). Things got so bad, that we decided we had to approach the brewery for assistance.
So, approach them we did. And their response to our plea for help? “We’re selling the pub. It will probably happen quite quickly, you could be gone in a couple of months”
To say that we were deflated was an understatement. Whilst we both recognised we couldn’t continue as we were, we didn’t feel ready to give up, and we’d put together an amazing case to present to the brewery – we’d been convinced that they would see how hard we were working, how much we wanted to succeed, and we thought they’d help us.
And help us a little they did, but only on the proviso that we would allow them to sell the pub. Our home. Our livelihoods. They didn’t give us any choice, so we agreed, as if we had wanted to stay, they would not had offered us any help at all. For months they strung us along, and it seemed to take forever for them to actually put the property on the market – all this time, we had to keep this from our customers, all the while sinking further into despair – it became incredibly difficult for me to face the customers every day, and I started to resent a little the fact that Chef was able to hide away in the kitchen, and not have contact with anyone, as all I wanted to do was curl up and cry, whilst spending each evening on my own, on the bar of a pub that was open, but empty, just waiting for customers to walk in. I guess I was jealous of the fact that he didn’t have to come out if he didn’t want to – I was jealous of his self-imposed exile from the public eye, because I didn’t want to be out there myself – we felt we were flogging a dead horse, and the brewery did all they could to compound the issues.
Despite all of the stress, Chef and I were still very strong as a couple for most of 2013. But by the end of that year, I could tell there was something wrong, and things started to become very strained between us. The amount of stress we were under – financially, we had nothing at all – we had no lives, no way of escaping, both in each others pockets constantly – and we both became very down, and probably quite depressed. In the end I’m not sure whether we stayed together because we had to – no, that’s not true, not for me at least. I strongly believed that once we were free of the pub, we’d be able to have a life, go out on dates, and turn things around – look after ourselves and each other better – go back to the early days of our relationship where we had so much fun, and couldn’t wait to see each other. My health was suffering badly – again from the stress – I would say that around 50% of my hair fell out over the last few months, and although it is now growing back, it still looks terrible – and I was drinking virtually every night, as it was the only way I felt I could cope. Chef never really said anything about this, but I know it must have hurt him that I was drinking so much, and I’m sure I was terrible to deal with a lot of the time. I barely slept, I packed on the pounds – I was a complete mess.
In the end, the brewery sold the pub in February of 2014, and gave us a months notice. By then, the damage to our relationship was done, and Chef decided in March this year that it was time for us to part company. I had realised before this point that we were seriously on the rocks, but I tried to brazen through it, convinced that Chef’s deep depression was just as a result of losing the pub (His dream – he felt like a failure, but that’s really not true, I really don’t think we could have done more to make it work, it was doomed from the start). I really thought we’d be able to work things out, put it all behind us and rebuild what I thought could still be a great relationship – we still had so much in common, we just needed time, and space. But it was too late. I didn’t fight it, I knew his mind was made up, all that was left for me was to bury my grief in making arrangements for myself to move back to Northampton, and stay busy with packing, and wrapping up the business. As much as it hurts, our separation was for the best, and I wish him all the happiness in the world.
Clearly, there is a lot here that remains unsaid – some of it is just too hard to talk about, and some of it is meant to remain private. I have regrets, I look back and wonder what more I could have done to save our relationship – as, in the end, this was the only thing that mattered to me, the only thing that I wanted to salvage from the wreckage. But it was not to be.
So here we are. I lost my home, my job, I sold my car a few months ago, I lost my love and had my heart shattered. I had to move, on my own, pack up my life, on my own, (And get rid of a great deal of it). But I’m ok. I’m staying resolutely positive, because that’s the only thing to do. Yes, there are days where I feel dreadful – I feel so low, I don’t want to get out of bed. But then this ginger dog comes over and licks me on the nose, and I think – you know what, life is good – and those down days are becoming few and far between. I’ve stopped drinking, I’ve lost a stone, I’ve got my eye on a car (A beauty!), and my family and friends have been absolutely amazing – the support, the love – I couldn’t have done it without you all. I’ve got job applications on the go, and currently, the sun is shining in Northampton. Life goes on. The universe has a plan – yes, I do believe that everything happens for a reason. When I find out what that reason is, I’ll let you know. Life is a journey. It’s not about the end point – the end point for us, after all, is death – but it’s about life – it’s for living, being in the moment. It’s for taking those opportunities. For appreciating the beauty of spring, the bonds with family and friends, those quiet moments when Roxie is cuddled up next to me.
Everything is as it should be. Here’s to the journey.