Rubbish, piffle, tommyrot, drivel and utter bilge

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Continuing COOK Saga

What the shop looked like when it first opened less than three years ago.
I've wittered on recently about the goings-on at the shop where I work, COOK in Tenterden. We know now what our final day is - we've been given an official date. The 28th of May will be our last day. I've mentioned the multi-hued reasons for why we are closing, but what it simply boils down to is this - we cannot afford to stay there. We've been struggling to make the numbers for a good few months, but when the company went to the landlords in the early part of the year to re-sign the lease, the landlords had decided to increase the rent (some say it was almost doubled), and the company decided not to renew as we cannot possibly run at a loss. This makes perfect business sense. You cannot spend more than you earn, anybody knows that.

Then I reported on the circumstances surrounding the closure of Shelly's Tea Rooms, our next-to-next door neighbour, under the same landlords, who disappeared overnight and the place then reopened a mere 19 days later as The Cellars Ice Cream Parlour, owned and operated by guess who? The landlord.

At this point I should tell you that our landlord is one Phil Edmonds, who along with his brother Pierre own most of the buildings in this town and seem to not be content until they own all of it and put one of their businesses in every place. Phil Edmonds used to be a cricketer for Middlesex and England, and was pretty good at it, by all accounts. He famously started to read a newspaper while fielding during a particularly slow match against India in the mid 80s. Colin Bateman, in his 1993 book If The Cap Fits states that Phil could be "cussedly abrasive or engagingly charming, but he could never bring himself to conform to the fist-clenching, grim-faced trait of most professional sportsmen". He was England's most successful slow left arm spin bowler during the 80s,  though he played less Test cricket than he might have done because he was perceived by selectors to be "difficult". In 2008 Mr. Edmonds came under fire for investing £120 million in Zimbabwe and for having links to individuals close to President Mugabe.

In his post-cricket career, Mr Edmonds has become the multimillionaire chairman of Central African Mining & Exploration Company (Camec), which bought a platinum mining business in Zimbabwe. Mr Edmonds was born in Rhodesia, which became Zimbabwe in 1980, and has retained close links to Africa.

The Edmonds Bros. own various properties in the area, one count being as high as 103 separate buildings. I should add, however, that this figure was just given to me in passing by a shop customer and is not substantiated, but I can sure believe it. Phil Edmonds has long been investing in property under such names as Grosvenor Land and Property Internet. However, I am not here to talk about their business dealings, and all of the above and more can be found on various sites on the Internet just by Googling Phil Edmonds+properties. So I am not telling anyone anything new, and I want to make that perfectly clear, because I don't feel like getting sued.

What I am here to talk about is what occurred yesterday. Yesterday was a Saturday and as I am pretty much running the show by myself on Saturdays now, my Area Manager, Karen, came down to help me. She's a little bit OCD, is Karen. She cannot relax and has to be doing something otherwise she'll go a bit mad. So she cleans things. And as our store is not always the busiest, she was doing a LOT of cleaning.

Outside the front door of our shop, the cafe next door 'Savannah' (an Edmonds-owned cafe), places tables either side of their wrought-iron railings. Karen was cleaning the front step with a broom and a bucket of hot soapy water just as the manager of Savannah was putting the tables out. She asked him if he could not place them there at that moment as she was cleaning, he said no, he had to put them out there, and things got a little heated between them. Long story short, he placed a call to his bosses.

I should back up a little here and let you know that on Friday afternoon Savannah placed an extra table, replete with chairs, menus and sugar caddy, outside our shop, directly in front of our window, on the other side of our 'A' board. I was mightily annoyed. I mean, I understand that Edmonds owns the property, but he can at least let us leave with a bit of dignity before clustering the pavement with his godforsaken tables and chairs. Nobody sat at the damn thing anyway.

Back to yesterday, when a little later in the morning I noticed The Brothers Grimm Edmonds, seated at one of the Savannah tables. I pointed them out to Karen. A few minutes later, as if by magic, in strolls Phil with Pierre directly behind him. Both these guys are over 6 feet tall and barrel-chested. In a scene that felt like something out of a '30s mobster movie, they came and loomed over the counter, muttered a couple of pleasantries and then said in their southern African burr, "So what was with the altercation with our guy?" Karen then went on to explain the situation and that we were highly aggrieved about Friday's extra table placement, even going so far as to walk outside with them and demonstrate exactly where the problem lay. They explained, or rather Phil did, that our lease only extended as far as the front door of our shop and that the pavement was theirs to do with as they wished. They added that as soon as we were closed they were intending to put even more tables out front as well. Karen's body language changed from one of explaining our position to one of 'OK, whatever' and she came back in and gave me a look that said "Unbelievable". Karen later rang head office to check on the terms of the lease. We're not certain. we didn't get a definitive answer, but if the company really did sign a lease with the fine print saying that we don't get to use the front forecourt, then whoever signed it needs their head testing.

That's fine, Phil. Do whatever the hell you want. You're right, you DO own a lot of this town. But you do not own its people. I have had conversations with various people over the past few months who either work for or have worked for Edmonds in the past, including staff at his luxurious London Beach Hotel in St. Michaels, which somehow got the go-ahead despite being located directly behind another existing hotel. All those I have talked to have agreed on one thing and I'm sure you can probably guess what it is. To me, they are nothing but school bullies in grown-up clothes. Nobody seems to like them, and they seem not to care. All I can do is just remember the old adage, "The bigger they are, the harder they fall". I love this town and care about it deeply. It's my hometown and I hate to see it filled up with a bunch of useless coffeeshops, dress shops, antique shops, giftie shops and estate agents, 90% of which are under the ownership in one way or another of Phil and Pierre,  when it used to have useful shops like bakeries and greengrocers and ironmongers and butcher shops in it. The only people that have a use for all the crap in this town now are tourists. I want my old town back. Instead it's in the hands of two guys with more money than they can possibly spend, that don't appreciate anything they have and are only interested in how much money they can make from it.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Jeff! Just found your blog! Thanks for putting a link to my blog on yours! I'll do the same!


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