If you put your name on a restaurant, or over the door of a pub, then you invite feedback. Sometimes it can be helpful, pointing out things you have got wrong and need to remedy. But you also attract an element of sounding off that, try as I might not to let it, can get under the skin.
I have just received an epistle from someone who intriguingly describes himself as ‘local but international’, informing me that my presence at The Fox in Corscombe is ‘resented by locals’.
Anyone who listens to The Archers knows that a newcomer into a rural community takes time to settle in, usually measured in years rather than months, and we are only just coming up to the first anniversary of me re-opening the pub that has long been such a central part of this village.
So I have no expectations of being accepted as one of their own any time soon. Instead, I have set my sights lower – on keeping the local pub afloat in uniquely rough waters as a place where everyone can meet for a drink.
And on providing employment, as well as never saying no when approached to help out with local causes or events or charity raffles. In other words: slowly does it.
All of that goes with the territory. And, after all, I’m not down in Dorset to make a quick buck and disappear back up to London. This, I intend, will be my home until my fishing days are done. But there was something in this diatribe that puzzled me.
Amid the foul language and insults, he told me that my menu was dull, that it never changed, and that I really ought to start using locally sourced ingredients. I found myself wondering if he had confused The Fox with somewhere else, because we do precisely what he is telling us to do.
Friends in the same business have a golden rule of never replying to angry letters, but I’ve found over the years that sometimes a one-to-one telephone call can work wonders in taking the heat and irritation out of such situations by disarming the complainant. Not always, granted, but it did on this occasion.
He sounded a bit taken aback when he first picked up the phone and I announced myself, but soon enough he was suggesting I drop in for tea next time I pass his place.
Perhaps a pint next time he comes in, I counter-offered, and a chance to talk over his worries about the food at The Fox. ‘I hate to admit it,’ he confessed, ‘but many of my friendships start with me being rude.’
Human nature! The older I get, the odder I find others’ behaviour. They probably say the same about me. Anyway, watch this space and I will report back on any developments on that front, though it may have to wait until the local water company has left us in peace. We had a flood in the restaurant at the back of the pub the other evening.
Luckily, the last customer had just left, otherwise I might have got an angry letter about finishing their meal with backed-up water round the table legs. The problem, it seems, lies in the village’s main drain, but Wessex Water is on the case.
Having shared the thoughts of my sternest critics, I should add, by way of necessary journalistic balance, that we do have some customers who get in touch for positive reasons. Like one regular called Nigel, who for the past few months has been sending me videos of the piglets he is raising locally.
As they have grown, his messages have even singled out three of them that he told me were mine. He has just been in touch to say they have gone to the abattoir and will be with me soon.
As the father of three children, two now grown up, I know all too well how squeamish we can all get about eating animals that we build a bond with. Hence I have resisted any temptation (slight, I have to admit) to give names to Nigel’s piglets. My instincts are more on the unsentimental side of this argument, having learnt butchery skills on the job over the years.
But we all have our own red lines. One of mine is over roadkill. – – not least because I’d have no idea how long the animal had been lying there. Then again, perhaps if it was me who had been driving, and it was a pheasant, I might just be tempted…
As told to Peter Stanford