The Whistler – October 2020

Idly flicking through the TV the other day, I chanced upon “Dad’s Army”. Haven’t seen it for ages, but still it’s so familiar. The  bumbling incompetence, the mind-numbing arrogance, the hubris. The idea they  know what they’re doing, but behind their eyes we can see that even they know they’re absolutely clueless. But then on closer look, I realised they were wearing suits, not fatigues and I was actually watching a Government briefing about the new Covid guidelines.  

Oh well. Strange times. As The Whistler goes to press, we don’t know whether there’ll be a second wave or a second lockdown, whether six people is a group or five is a bubble. As ever, the people who do best are the ones with the  positive attitude, like Mark and Hatt at The Eddy, like Pam and Philippe at The Red Snapper.  That’s what we’re buying into here. The positive. And as long as it’s linen suit and straw hat weather…. it’s all  good. 

Finally, a quick and very large “Thank You” to Joanna Bettles for her time as designer of The Whistler. For Jo, as for the rest of us, new challenges await.

And don’t forget – if you’ve got something to say, drop us a line. Join in. Life’s better that way. XX 

OBITUARY: Alistair “Jacko” Jackson

LOCAL HERO, charity fundraiser, pillar of the community and all-round good bloke, Alistair Jackson – known to everyone as Jacko – died August 7, aged 77. 

Born in Southport, Lancs, in 1943, Jacko left home at 16 and joined the RAF. He served in Bahrain, the Persian Gulf and Singapore, where he married in 1965. He moved to Brighton in 1970 and joined the Bright News team in 1993. A top sportsman, he raised money through charity runs, but it was as a community friend that he made his mark. If someone needed help, Jacko was there. A delivery, a hand, a word, a smile… being a top man. Jacko was there. 

Back home for one more adventure

What do you do after the jungles of French Guiana and Chicago? Jed Novick finds out

I’m outside the newly revamped Eddy, enjoying an afternoon drink and chat with Mark and Hatt, the new guardians of this particular galaxy. A car comes down the road and stops outside the pub. I don’t even notce, but Mark’s up and over there. Hatt turns, looks, smiles, carries on. Seconds later, a young lad, all muscles and tatts and with a face like a kid who’s been told to clear up his dinner plates, is walking over to the recycling bins carrying a lone bottle. He drops the bottle in the bin and throws us a half-hearted sneer, but Mark’s already back with us and the story is done. “He was just going to leave the bottle on the pavement” says Mark. “This is our community. We live here. We all live here. Have a bit of respect”. 

Hatt – Harriet Eaton – and Mark – Mark Reed – took over The Eddy in January and from there till now, it hasn’t been a straight line. But one look at Hatt and Mark and somehow you know they’re familiar with picaresque journeys. They’ve got stories.

She’s all bangles, tattoos and rings. An artist. Originally from West Sussex, the road to West Hill hasn’t been a straight one. Went to Paris when she was 18, worked in fashion, married a doctor. “He wanted to specialise in the tropical diseases. So we went and lived in South America for three years in French Guiana in a place called Maripasoula, right in the middle of the jungle. It’s like a tiny plane or three days on a boat to get out. So that was interesting. Mostly”. 

As you do when you find yourself in the middle of the jungle days away from anywhere, Hatt set up a textile business “because that’s what I’d done in Paris and that went really well – beach towels and robes” but then life intervened – kids, parents, school, the usual – and the path led back to Brighton working behind the bar in a pub not far from where we’re sitting now. 

Originally from Hastings, Mark also took a few detours before getting the keys to The Eddy. “I had a few pubs and clubs in Hastings, pubs and clubs in Brighton”. Anything I’d know? “Yeah. The old Club Savannah, which is where Club Revenge is now above Harry Ramsden”. How far are we going back here? “This is back in the early to mid-Eighties. Then I moved to America and I worked in the music industry in America, going on tour with bands for a number of years, lived out hotel rooms for about five. I worked for EMI and then I was a writer for a while and then my…  Then the music industry career got parlayed into partnerships in nightclubs and bars and restaurants in Chicago, um, over, uh, over a long period of time. And then alongside that, I also got into the car industry and worked for a major US Volkswagen dealership”. But then Mark’s life intervened…

So Mark came back after 25 years away, and Hatt taught herself how pubs worked and when the landlord of the pub where Hatt worked moved on… Well, opportunity knocks.  

Opportunity knocks and then opportunity pulls the rug away.  In January they got the keys. A couple of months later… the world stopped. Words like “global pandemic” and “lockdown” probably weren’t in the original business plan. What was the conversation like on March 19th, the night before the lights went out?  “We’ve got a lovely little film of the last night before we shut and there was great atmosphere and everybody was wow, this is our last night for a while.

“I think people just thought it was going to be about a month or a couple of weeks, and then we’d be back open again. And I think that we were sort of ignorant of how long it was going to be. But, you know, things happen and it’s just a question of how you look at it. For us, lockdown was fantastic. We just completely embraced it and changed the pub to who we are. Re-painted everything, cleaned everything, changed everything. The cellars, the toilets, everything.  It’s like being in my front room really, you know, we really, really have made it our own.

One sweet thing that came out of lockdown was that the idea of community really kicked in. “When we closed down, John at The Yeoman created a WhatsApp group for the four pubs on the block. We called ourselves The Manor and there’s definitely a sense of care between us, but yeah, it’s very sad that some of these pubs are too small to open. John’s been there for 15 years and his whole business plan has had to change. And it’s really tough”.

What do you want from all this? “The last owner was more…, um, he didn’t really understand the concept of the community, but that’s what we love. We live here. We live above the pub. It’s our home”.

Ready to snap into a new life

“It’s not what you get with Deliveroo”, Red Snapper’s Pam and Philippe tell Gilly Smith

Panwad (Pam) ManeeTapho and her Belgian husband Philippe Ghenet are sitting at a table as the early autumn sunlight pours into the Red Snapper, until lockdown one of the most popular restaurants in Seven Dials. They’re talking about their plans to expand it into a casual lunch stop, a couple of tables outside and three inside. It’s all suitably distanced, which will add to the transformation of the busy buzzy evening eatery. 

The restaurant, which has always been a celebration of the fresh seafood and herb-flavoured dishes from their eastern Thailand home, has been replaced by a shop where customers can browse through the restaurant’s silver starter plates, the stacks of gluten-free fish sauce and Thai ginger shots stacked on the upcycled shelving. An orange 1977 Honda Novio scooter is the centrepiece, a cool, vintage reminder of where Red Snapper comes from. 

“That’s my mum’s” says Pam. The couple plan to use it for deliveries. “Imagine that turning up outside your door”, Philippe smiles. “It’s not what you get with Deliveroo.” 

Red Snapper is a triumph of creativity and lockdown lateral thinking. “We saw it coming” says Philippe who grew up in Italy and heard from relatives there what COVID was already doing to its economy. “It’s the end of the world, right? In a way it was like, come on guys, this is Nostradamus!”

At first, the couple held their heads in their hands, but they quickly realised that lock-down could give them time to think about what they really wanted from their life. “After 16 years of  working in the restaurant, sweeping, cooking, cleaning, it was spinning so fast that sometimes we didn’t have time to stop and think which way we want to channel the business”, says Pam who with her younger sister has worked with her parents in the restaurant since she was 16. “Four months of lockdown made us think, think, think, write down, plan, plan, plan. Which path are we going to take?” For them, it was always about the food. “We know what our customers like and what we can offer,” says Pam.  It’s the quality of the food. The flowery stuff, the service, the music, the smells, the incense, the candles… it all comes after.” 

They decided to offer the best take-away experience they could; while Pam and her father, Turmphan cook downstairs, Philippe chats to their customers upstairs, telling his stories and charming them with his laid-back style. “I like it this way. We’re done by 9pm and I can watch a movie with my son.” 

They first shared a flat when Philippe had just graduated in Media at Brighton University and Pam was studying Art, Design & Fashion at Northbrooke College, and they’ve spent months using their creativity, repurposing items from home for this cool, new look. “That was where we stored our linens,” says Philippe pointing to the beautifully battered vintage suitcase now housing an old set of scales and a pink neon heart light. “We choose to be our own bosses, so we might as well add our identity.”

He sees Red Snapper as a Thai market-style café. “Maybe you’re coming back from town; Churchill Square is closed but you still want to have a coffee”, he says. “We like to be a bit of a community market where you can pop in and get some ginger tea. Or maybe just a take-away.” 

As we sit in the late summer sunshine, nine-year-old Finlay is on his second day back at school and Pam and Philippe are feeling philosophical. As working owners, school is an essential part of the child-care, hence the move to daytime food which will reflect the ethos of the original Snapper; accessible, but made in-house from scratch. 

“We offer passion” says Pam. “This is our career, our life. Before COVID we were too busy, we had too much to lose. We might as well shape the life that we want.” 

Gold – you’re indestructible…

David Foot finds hope among the bitter pills and pessimism

SOMETIMES IT’S EASY to sit down and write a piece for the Whistler. Sometimes, it is difficult. Today is the latter. Generally, I have some sort of handle on what is going on in the financial world. Alas, I really have no idea of what may happen, in the next few months. Events have an unerring ability to shock and surprise, and markets react in peculiar ways to events. 

It feels like we’re stumbling towards the edge of a cliff. We’ve certainly been in situations before where, despite things looking gloomy, everything has turned out fine. Maybe I am suffering from too many months of “lock-down misery”, but I feel increasingly worried about the direction the UK is heading. 

The two massive factors influencing the near future of this country are what the long-term effect of the pandemic will be, and what will our trading relationship with the rest of the world be, after the “transition period” ending our relationship with the EU. What effect it will all have on world markets are complete unknowns. 

My short-term pessimism and long-term optimism, tell me that things will be horrible, but all right in the end. I may be wrong, but I fear that despite a mini-boom in house prices, due to the pent-up purchasing power,, there may well be some “bitter pills” to swallow – once the artificial stimuli are gone and things settle down. 

The long-term economic effects of coronavirus may prove to be much worse than we are currently given to believe. The willingness of our Government to flout international law, fills me with woe. How will those, with whom we wish to make trade agreements, look upon our nation, if our leaders cannot obey their own laws? Our future relationship with our biggest trading partners looks increasingly shaky. What happened to “the easiest trade deal in the history of trade deals”? Enough. If I dwell further on the subject, I’ll be in grave danger of making myself bilious.

One of the (few) investment upsides of this horrid virus, is that the price of gold (historically, a hedge against unstable markets) has increased a little more than somewhat. This probably has little effect on most of us, but one interesting aspect has come to my attention. 

One of my clients lost a gold bracelet and as part of the claim procedure had to get a valuation for a replacement item. It wasn’t expensive and was covered by the “unspecified personal possessions” section of their home insurance. Or so they thought. 

Fear not, this is not a horror story. However, it is something that is worth remembering. The replacement value was more than the “single item limit” on the policy, not by much, but the replacement cost was more than twice the original cost. If you have jewellery, particularly items that you wear away from the home, and you want to ensure that it is adequately covered, check the replacement value every so often. 

The insurer paid the claim in full, but insisted that the replacement was specified on the policy, to make sure there would be no problem, in the future. They’re not all monsters! Until next time.