Chalk it up to experience

04 April, 2019

Don’t know about you, but I can’t help feeling that the year has not started well.

Perhaps it’s because I’m living in Britain, and the combination of winter, austerity and Brexit has taken its toll. Or perhaps it’s just an intense bout of post-festive blues.

But I am concerned that I’m turning in to a full-time grumpy old man. It is true, I’ve always had the potential. But I used to get angry about major things such as homelessness, right wing extremists, and the incompetence of Leicester City’s manager.

Now, though, trivial things are irking me. Like chalkboards displaying a bar or pub’s range of craft beers, gins or whiskies.

It is not an entirely new affliction. I have a totally disproportional hatred of bad grammar, and particularly the misuse of apostrophe’s. Thats a joke. So’s that.

I am not alone in this. The late and great comedian Bob Monkhouse once told me that if an apostrophe was misplaced on a restaurant chalkboard, he wasn’t able to eat there.

It’s a definite affliction. I have to restrain myself from correcting other people’s Twitter messages, because doing so makes me appear arrogant and pompous. But I strongly believe that, on a more general level, a chalkboard which mis-spells Johnnie Walker, Aberlour or Laphroaig, or presents the selection in scrawly, rushed writing, or sprinkles commas and apostrophes like confetti, leaves a very poor impression on the customer.

It came to a head over Christmas when a friend and I went for a meal and the chalkboard was brought to our table. It wasn’t the best, but it was Christmas so I swallowed hard and ordered the trout.

“We don’t have any trout left,” I was informed.

“OK,” I said. ‘The sea bass please.”

“Sorry,” said the server. “We’ve just sold the last one.”

That was too much.

“So what’s the point of the chalk board?” I exclaimed. “Why didn’t you just rub off the dishes you no longer have?”

“We didn’t want to upset the girl who did the chalk board by messing it up,” I was told.

Of course. Silly me.

But there is a serious point here. Our local pub has something of an artist on the staff. There is a highly tasteful and colourful display of gins, tonics and garnishes, complete with little pictures. It cheers me up every time I see it, and it definitely makes the premium price that it ends with seem much more palatable.

Chalk boards can be a force for good. They add atmosphere, a personal touch, and a sense that the portfolio of drinks is fluid and dynamic.

There is something bucolic and wholesome about a chalkboard. My favourite London pub is no longer with us, alas, as it was demolished to make way for a high-speed rail line. But it was known for its extraordinary turnover of real ale and cider, so the extensive chalkboards had to be changed on a regular basis. Eventually it became too much, so an electronic programmable display with garish bright red characters was put in. New additions flashed. It changed the atmosphere of the pub, making it more sterile and remote.

But if you’re going to use a chalkboard, make an effort. Make the writing legible. Check the grammar. Go for bright and cheery.

And make a grumpy old man happy.

Thank you.

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