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Saving the Packhorse Inn

3 Apr

The Packhorse, South Stoke, BathApproximately 18 months ago I became involved with a campaign to buy back and restore the only pub in the village in which I live. The role I carved out for myself was running the social media campaign to keep the Packhorse in the news. Although I work in Cyber Security by day, it seemed to me to be a fairly good fit for what I’d been doing in the publishing world – not only did it give me the opportunity to use and hone the skills I learned when pitching and publishing the Ferret Files, I also had the opportunity to expand my circle of contacts within the media. I should add that the project to bring the village pub back to life was a community effort, with many hundreds of ordinary folk pitching in their time and skills for free. Over the course of a year and a half, thousands of people-hours were put into the garden alone. For the strip-out, we filled 25 skips with rubbish. When the call went out for a local stonemason to assist with the reconstruction of a (c)17th fireplace that was discovered behind plaster, an ex-lecturer from Bath University, now living in France, gave up a week of his time to lead the restoration work. From an insider’s point of view it seemed that the wind had our backs, and whenever we needed a specialist the right person with the right skills and attitude came our way at the right time.

The end result is a testament to what can be achieved by a small group of dedicated individuals who refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer and believe that they are capable of succeeding no matter what the odds. At the outset, the neersayers were many; we simply got on with the task in hand and left them in the dust, raising just over £1m in funds, which allowed us to purchase the pub, complete renovations and open debt free. If you want to read more about the project and the history of the pub, which is 400 years old this year, then have a rummage around the website: As resident PR bod I wrote most of the content.

The Packhorse Bath Opening Day March 18th 2018

The Packhorse Project Team – I’m far left

On the day we opened, it snowed heavily overnight. By 9am a team of 15 shovellers of all ages and sexes had assembled and together we dug out the village. We’d waited six years to reopen the Packhorse and there was no way a little bit of snow was going to call a halt to proceedings! The BBC covered the event and broadcast footage over two nights. More importantly, the story was soon picked up online by the Daily Mail, followed by the Mirror, the Sun and every other UK national. The feelgood story continued trending at number #1 for the Mail Online and was only knocked off the top spot by news of Putin’s reelection later that evening. The next day we featured in every single national newspaper, and over the following week appeared in publictions in South America, China and Germany. Requests for interviews followed and were duly answered. I did my first ever radio interview for BBC local radio. In retrospect it appears that our feel good story was one that the world wanted to hear, and perhaps due to the situtation we find ourselves in globally right now, was in dire need of.

The message that this story contains is pretty simple when you break it down. What appears impossible on your own becomes much easier once you have the right team in place. If you believe in your project and ask the Universe for help when you need it, help will appear. This is how we accrued our stonemason, our lead gardener and our interior designer. Most of all, by committing to take part in a community minded venture and expecting nothing in return, I ended up with a whole load of media experience and an immense feeling of pride in a job well done. Oh, and I now have a pub that serves great food and an unbeatable range of craft beers and real ales within spitting distance of my front door.

That’s what I call a job well done!

Here are the links to the various publications we’ve been featured in. More are being added all the time.

Bath Echo

The Guardian

Bath Magazine




Ali Vowles radio story (starts 20:24)

The Observer

The Sun

Daily Telegraph

Daily Mail

Daily Mirror



And again in the Metro

Bath Chronicle

Bristol Post

Good Housekeeping



Somerset Live


360 TV


And the international links:




Spanish (it’s actually Russia Today!)

Czech Republic





China / Chinese language




Human Engineering

4 Jan

male-and-female-relationship-signThis is a little off topic based on what I usually blog about, but as it falls under one of my areas of interest, here goes:

We each have three main senses with which we engage the world: our eyes, our ears and our physical touch/feeling. In psychology terms, these senses are referred to as: visual, auditory and kinesthetic.  Most of us don’t rely too much on our sense of taste or smell, although there are exceptions, such as those who taste wine or cook for a living. For the purposes of this blog post, I’m lumping taste and smell in with physical feeling. The majority of us use one of the three main senses as their primary sense and one of the other two senses as their backup sense. The third sense is not commonly used. In the world in which I grew up (1960s/70s), most men were physical/visual and most women were auditory/visual. Notice that most men didn’t use their ears. Equally, most women didn’t engage with the world physically, at least not in the sporty way that men did.

ruck-1-smallClearly this is a generalisation, as we’re all capable of using all of our senses. It’s just that when we’re not paying 100% attention, we tend to habituate on a single, favourite sense. There are a few remarkable people who you’ll meet once in a while, who use all three senses the whole of the time. You don’t meet a lot of them, but when you do you’ll know about it because they’ll run rings around you! The differing use of senses I’ve described led to the following oft-cited comparison: men are from Mars, women are from Venus. This isn’t too surprising, as the primary sense that each sex uses to engage with the world is different. In my formative years men were always fighting each other, while women were always bashing each other with words. The one thing that both sexes could agree on was what looks right – i.e. they both had a shared secondary sense.

bill-sargent-photo-webHaving generalised, let’s examine the oddballs. Musicians tend to be auditory/physical or physical/auditory, which makes sense. The ears give appreciation of sounds, the physical awareness provides the timing. Evey once in a while (to borrow a slang term from back home) one runs into a ‘geezer-bird’ – a lady who is physical/visual, and hence more at home drinking and watching sports with a gang of guys. For my part, I’m auditory/visual, so I tend to get on better with women than men.

You get the idea.

Over the last 40 years something strange has happened, observable in the Millennials and the end of Gen-Y. Men & women and boys & girls have become sort of androgynous, as in they get on far better together than my generation ever did. I’m convinced that the reason for this is the massive upsurge in visual entertainment. All that TV and film has reengineered humans so that both sexes now use their visual sense as their primary sense, causing an entire generation to experience the world in the same way. When I was growing up we had a black and white TV, four channels only and no video recorder. My dad would use a reel to reel tape recorder to record Capt Scarlet or Thunderbirds which my brother and I would then listen to later, filling in the pictures in our heads. I’m sure this the reason that my senses work the way they do. That and a horrible accident when I was about 6, which caused me to switch off my feelings, to avoid getting physically hurt again.

goggle_twitter_picIf I was one of those conspiracy chaps, I’d now claim that Hollywood, run by the CIA, has been involved in a clandestine operation for the last 50 years to change the way that humans are wired, forcing both sexes to use their eyes as their primary sense, and forgetting about their ears and their feelings.  As I’m not that way inclined, I think it was an accident, although the result is the same: people get on far better than they used to. The downside is that now everyone uses their eyes first and foremost, the world has become a very uniform place.

Or perhaps I’m just getting old.

What say you?




Use your Common Sense

18 Oct

break-the-rulesI’ve always believed that rules are there to be pushed and bent rather than followed to the letter. The responsibility for this lies with my father. When I was growing up, if someone told him he couldn’t do something I guarantee he’d be straight on it. For instance, he once bought a piece of land that adjoined his rear garden and in the process of deciding what to do with it, a hostile neighbor told him there was no way he’d let my dad fence it off. Well, that one rather rash statement set in motion a series of events not unlike the recent Russian escapade with Crimea. My dad, my brother & I started digging holes at 5am one Saturday morning and inserting fabricated concrete posts. Over the course of the morning we were joined by a series of mates and friends on what we jokingly termed ‘Operation Stalag Luft Drei‘ (a reference to the film The Great Escape).

By the Saturday afternoon, the posts were fully in place and were shortly joined by fence panels. As we had a gang, the irate neighbor didn’t dare issue a direct challenge, but we did spot him later on with a tape measure, making sure that the fence in question was within planning regustalag-luft-iiilations. My dad was a loose cannon, but he wasn’t stoopid. Or more to the point, despite his healthy disrespect for the law, the one thing he didn’t want was PC Plod knocking at the door and asking to see the fence. Our neighbor cut off diplomatic relations with our family after that and issued sanctions, such as refusing to take parcels while we were out and telling my dad he wasn’t to park in front of his house. In the UK, the road kerb in front of a house is a public highway, so the neighbor had no right to issue such an ultimatum. Parking hostilities weren’t on my dad’s radar until the neighbor told him he not to do it. Red rag to a bull. After that, every once in a while my dad would park outside the neighbor’s house overnight as a wind up. Unlike me, he used to enjoy a fight before breakfast.

Growing up as a teenager it all seemed like harmless fun. My dad must have been a nightmare neighbor for that one poor guy. However, he was as nice as pie to all the other neighbors, fetching shopping for the elderly, etc, which obviously infuriated the man next door, as he was unable to get anyone else on his side. What I took from this debacle and many others is the following: every street has an a-hole. Now I’m an adult, I’d like to add that if you can’t spot them, it might just be you…


Based on my experiences of growing up in a world with rules that were there to be bent, I’ve gone on to develop a healthy disregard for the Nanny State. They say you can’t legislate for idiots, but this doesn’t stop the powers that be from trying. When someone figures out how to bypass a rule, more rules spring up to try and plug the hole. It’s like Hercules fighting the hydra!  One of my colleagues once told me that at his school they had only one rule: use your common sense. Apparently, the governors figured that if they had a set of formal rules, a smarty pants would soon come along and exploit a loophole. The end result would be a weighty tome of donts instead of a page of guidelines.  So they distilled every rule they had down to a single statement which covered all eventualities and also taught the kids to use their brains instead of referring to a rule book.  This I applaud and my father agrees. If only common sense wasn’t so uncommon these days…





It’s Just a Bean

23 Sep

coffee-beansI have a pretty strict morning ritual that I like to follow, which starts with fruit tea, then breakfast and finally a shot of espresso. If I’m on the road for any reason, then between hotel breakfast and my place of work I’ll drop into a coffee shop. Nowadays, I stop at one espresso. Previously, I used to drink three or four, until I had an unpleasant episode and my doctor got involved.  I gave up coffee for nine months after that, until temptation finally got the better of me. We were in Italy – the home of espresso – when after a particularly enjoyable meal the waiter asked if we wanted coffee. I’d been there three days and said ‘no’ to espresso every time, but this time I cracked. It was seven o’clock in the evening when I drank that little cup of joy. Seven o’clock the next morning, I finally got to sleep.

The first time I had the coffee ‘swirl’ was back in my coding days. I’d been drinking coffee black without sugar for a number of years, primarily because one customer I used to visit always had a mug of coffee ready before I’d even taken my coat off. It came white, with a ton of creamer that tasted like stale plastic. So I switched to black. As I later discovered, the coffee machines of the 1980s dispersed a truly disgusting brew. Black no sugar came with a suspicious froth on top and tasted like the River Humber. After much persistence, my pals and I got permission to install a filter coffee machine underneath a desk and started brewing our own. Pretty soon, we had a lot of friends. There was a particular deadline for a drop of code and the only way to hit it was to keep on working through the night. I did a forty hour shift, kept awake by coffee. By four in the morning I was seeing colours and nothing around me would stay still. To this day, that experience remains my yardstick of too much caffeine.

An Espresso Shot YesterdayCoffee is one of those things that I’m passionate about to point of excess, along with real ale (aka microbrewery beer) and chillies. While I don’t have an espresso machine, I do have a ‘Presso’, which delivers hand-pulled shots. On the bean side of things, I grind my own using a burr grinder. I started out working my way through the widely available over-the-counter beans but no matter what I did, with the Presso machine it’s impossible to get a crema on top of an espresso shot. Hence I was forced to switch to an internet-based supplier of artisan beans. The coffee that comes out now looks like a miniature Guinness, which is precisely how a great shot should look. And it tastes divine. Heaven in a cup!

In the name of science, I did once try to recreate the original coca cola recipe using bags of mate de coca that a friend had brought back from Peru, along witcocaine2h ground up kola nuts obtained from a herbalist (a source of very strong caffeine). The result was lift-off, followed by a mid-air explosion. FYI: mate de coca or coca tea, which is made from coca leaves – the source of cocaine – isn’t available outside of South America. If you insist on typing ‘mate de coca buy’ into Google and following your nose, that’s entirely your business.

We now have a coffee shop on every corner in London, which is a massive step forward from the 1980s. The missus can’t understand what all the fuss is about. She’s happy with instant coffee from a tin and avoids Americano or Latte like the plague. Meanwhile, I’m busy browsing beans on my phones, winding myself up.

“It’s just a bean,” she says, shaking her head. “I don’t understand what you’re getting so excited about…”








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