We’re a tight team here at the Crown and Sceptre. Chief driver is me: Stan. My wife, Sal, has the navigator’s position, although she’s on an extended leave of absence at the moment. Normally, she’s the one who deals with the brewery, makes sure the taps don’t run dry and that the bar staff wash the glasses rather than just empty out the drips and give the tankards a quick rub on their trousers. To keep the engine ticking over, I’ve hired a temporary deputy manager, Phil. He’s a teetotaller fitness freak but don’t let that put you off visiting. I’ve warned him off trying to persuade customers to have orange juice instead of a pint of bitter and compromised by letting him run a weekly boot camp in the field next to the motorway. He’s ex-Army so the nettles and the proximity of all those heavy goods vehicles don’t bother him. He’d love a few new class members. The old dears who stopped in on their way to the garden centre down the road didn’t show up for a second session. Half-a-dozen or so young people staff the bar. Most of them are the son or daughter of one of our regulars. Off-hand, I can’t remember their names but I’ve given them each a car make and made a rota using those names.
Maserati is my current favourite, MG’s not doing badly but Rover’s going to have to go. It’s not that he’s doing a bad job but he’s almost 21 and that’s the age when we have to find a reason to let them rev off into the sunset. I know it’s only an extra quid or so on their hourly wages but, with the cost of car insurance being what it is, I’ve got to save every penny. I’ll get my licence back any day now and I'm sure I’m not going to be rewarded with a discount. I've already tried arguing that the new speed limit sign on the village high street was obscured but the magistrates were dead set on insisting it was obscured only by my cataracts. I can't imagine the insurance company will be any more reasonable. When I’m really in a pinch, I co-opt my daughter, Soph. I try not to do it too often. Last time I asked for a hand, she locked all my garages and wouldn’t tell me where she’d hidden the keys until I’d scrubbed the pub’s floor, disinfected the bar and sacked the chef. Sacking the chef was a bit awkward. He’s my twin brother and, granted, he thinks cooking begins and ends with boiling water over a pot noodle but family’s family, isn’t it!
I haven’t yet found a replacement chef. I did offer the job to one chap but apparently the burger place at the service station half a mile up the northbound carriageway pays three quid an hour more than me. I’m never going to match that. I’ve seventeen cars, three chassis and a stripped out engine to maintain. Luckily, the garden centre café does take-outs. Every morning I send one of the bar staff to buy a large Victoria sponge and a carrot and walnut cake, which I'm told isn't a health food even though it sounds like one. The regulars looked a bit askance at first but I suppose cake doesn’t really go with a pint of mild. Still, they’re happy enough with the crisps Phil gets from the cash and carry, and even the kids behind the bar can cook oven chips. We did have a deep fat fryer but the fire brigade confiscated it after the fourth call-out in a fortnight. To be honest, I saw their point. There’s only a small yard between the kitchen and several of my garages. God forbid that any of the cars should go up in flames.