Brace yourselves for 2011

10 December, 2010

This is my 10th year in the same job. It seems to be a truism that the years speed up but time slows down. One of the things that marks the passing of time in our little shop is the move through the seasons.

Apart from a couple of temperate months in March and October, the shop is either too hot or too cold. We are on a corner, facing south, and so in summer the two huge windows let in enough sun which would boil the stock, were it not for us air-conditioning round the clock to counter this.

During winter, we don hats and fingerless gloves and look like market traders while a couple of heaters stop the stock from freezing.

It’s hard not to be reflective at this time of year – although for once, the view forwards is a little more distracting than the view backwards. With a VAT rise on the immediate horizon, a Budget in March, and a tax hike on higher-abv beers in late 2011, it could be a difficult time for those in the speciality beer market.

An argument has been made that the duty increase won’t affect the premium sector of the market, as if there is so much money sloshing about in strong bottled beer that a couple of added quid per case won’t make any difference. This is simply not true. The margins on these products are already tight, ground down by increased costs in production and transport, and worn thinner by repeated duty hikes.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the end of 2011 saw a 25% increase in the retail price of, say, Duvel, compared with the current price. As there is no slack in the chain to take up these rises – the consumer will have to pay.

But still, there are things to look forward to, the closest being our staff Christmas party at the start of January. In fact, I should drop the Christmas theme, call it an extended Hogmanay, and insist every­one wears a kilt and carries a lump of coal, bottle of whisky and takes part in the mandatory first-footing at midnight. Admittedly, January 3 is a bit late for first-footing, but hey, it’s a party.

ast year’s party started on the Trans­pennine Express with a bottle of Deus shared out in proper glassware, much to the bemusement of the homeward-bound commuters. This year may be a bit more modest, although given that we invite every­one who has worked for us in the past 12 months, we’ll have a decent team of people to shepherd round a few pubs.

In fact, to celebrate a decade of glorious retailing, maybe I should invite everyone who has ever worked for us, including the one who cleared off with about £30 of stuff left on his staff tab. He’ll be buying the first round if he turns up – and the second one, come to think of it.

Anyway, by the time this is published, you’ll be too busy to read it. There are a lot of shelves to stock, deliveries to put away, and once-a-year shoppers saying: “I don’t know what they like, could you suggest something?” – then ignoring your advice. This after you’ve spent five precious minutes with them depriving you of the chance to put the kettle on or bolt down a sandwich.

Have a great Christmas, make hay while the sun shines, and I’ll see you back here next year.

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English wine: a happy harvest for Christmas

All across England and Wales, vineyards are being harvested. Down winding country lanes come armies of welly-wearing conscripts wielding secateurs and buckets, ready to reap the rewards of our vines. Happily they come, their cheeks ruddy with pride. Half an hour later they’re crawling over muddy clods with lacerated hands, drenched in claggy juice and cold sweat, as if ploughing through an endurance race.

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