We British are an Island race...
We built an Empire based upon trading opportunity....
How we lost an Empire is quite another matter....
International trade is the backbone of the British economy.....
The mere thought of international trade in Middlethorpe is more like a
EXPORT OR INEBRIATE !!
estling in it's own peculiar brand of congenial squalor within the
peaceful rural obscurity of Toddlesworth on the River Pee lies the
convivial hamlet of Middlethorpe in the Mire. Nestling equidistant
between these two quaint localities within it's own nauseating brand of
environmentally unfriendly fermentation emissions lies the Head Office
(indeed the only office) and works (indeed the only works) of Joshia
Stiffe and Reprobates, Brewers and Purveyors of fine traditional ales
brewed in the time honoured way from (river) Pee water since the turn
of the century. Well anyway 1950'ish
The Company could be described as a landmark, but was more often
described as an eyesore. That apart, today WAS a landmark within the
After nearly seventy years Ebineezer Stiffe , Chairman and Managing
Director, and Acting Chief Barrel Scrubber was retiring at the ripe old
age of ninety two.
"It's time for new blood" he had said in an interview with the Ferret
Racers Gazette. "I leave the Company in the certain knowledge that my
son (a much more youthful seventy three) will carry on our fine
tradition. He has ideas, vision, and is usually far more sober than I
And so it was that the oak paneled board room, with it's musty smell of
slopped beer froth, and lingering carpet odour of generations of
trodden in hops, rang to the strains of "For he's a jolly good fellow."
Then, beneath the portrait of his Grandfather Joshia Stiffe the Company
founder, who had never been seen to stand up quite straight, (and
neither did the portrait), final speeches were made, hands were shaken
and the old gentleman, encumbered with the traditional gold watch and a
beer bottle label signed by all the members of staff, was finally put
out to grass.
And thus it was that Joshia Stiffe junior, named, not unexpectedly,
after his great grandfather, known as JSJ to his friends and that
senile septuagenarian to his workforce came unto power.
Now Joshia Stiffe junior wasted no time in making his mark on the
The following morning George Pymme was summoned to the inner sanctum of
the board room. George was Sales Manager. Hitherto, his main duties had
been to 'phone a few local landlords like Fred Sumner of the Wise Owl
Tavern, take orders for the odd barrels, suitably arrange delivery and
then spend the rest of the week engaged in his favourite pastime of
writing his weekly piece for the Ferret Racers Gazette which amounted
to the only few column inches of that esteemed publication that
actually dealt with the serious subject of ferret racing.
"What you've got to realise George," began the new Chairman...."is that
we have to look for new sales, new opportunities. We live in a United
Europe. There are opportunities out there, ....Marketing opportunities.
..Profit making opportunities...
If we don't expand we'll stagnate."
(most observers would suggest by the smell of the place that stagnation
had set in years ago)
"Our new motto, George....EXPORT TO INEBRIATE !!!
Authors note.....To hell with the spelling....this sounds like
And so it was that George Pymme was charged with a challenge.
Investigate the marketing, strategic and financial implications of
exporting Joshia Stiffe and Reprobates fine ales to F R A N C E !
George was given a choice of companion for his epic voyage and chose
Timothy Witherspoon. There were both advantages and disadvantages in
the choice. Timothy new nothing about France, had never been there, and
didn't speak the language. However he did know the way to
Dover....Tonbridge, Sidcup and then right hand down a bit.
(Authors note: I have it on good authority that France was chosen for
two reasons. It is not only the closest European country, but is one of
the simplest to spell being only six letters beginning with "F".
George's early researches, however, brought home to him the vagaries
and inadequacy of the Middlethorpe Public Library, when, after
extensive searches, details of a country answering that description
were eventually found under GAUL....four letters beginning with Julius
So, now faithfully reproduced, and following his exploratory visit, is
George Pymmes confidential report on the subject.
My initial thoughts centered around the experience the Company had
gained in it's first ventures overseas when we made minute (but
substantially minute) market impact in the Isle of Wight.
Whilst one obvious similarity does exist, i.e. the necessity to cross a
stretch of water. it transpires, however that to transport across the
English Channel is far more difficult than slipping an ex merchant
seaman a few quid to make a clandestine voyage across the Solent from
Southampton and surreptitiously deposit a rubber dinghy full of beer
crates on Sandown beach under cover of darkness. This in itself would
not be profitable were in not self financing due to the fact that it
was possible, using dray horses, to corner the market in rose manure at
garden centres various on the journey through Hampshire.
Mode of transport is therefore the first point to be made. Upon
reaching Dover, (which incidentally is listed in the gazetteer as a
five letter place name beginning with "D") the first problem
encountered was choice of ferry. Whilst stiff, (or in our case Stiffe)
competition exists between fares charged by different operators. Few if
any welcome horse drawn vehicles. Remarks such as "Get those big hairy
monstrosities off my boat" were commonplace. We seemed to be faced with
the choice of P and O or travelling with Sally who incidentally had
nothing to do with the shipping line of that name but obviously knew
the ropes as she ably demonstrated by standing on the quay thumbing a
lift with one hand whilst brandishing her Student Union card in the
other. P and O I understand stands for Pacific and Orient and whilst
meaning them no disrespect we already had enough trouble with the
English Channel. So we chose to travel with Sally. She knew how to get
all the cheapest fares. I don't quite remember the name of the ferry
company we eventually sailed with ...all I remember is that the first
600 economy class passengers were given an oar each.. There were other
sound reasons for choosing this young lady's company . She thought the
horses had lovely legs, I thought she had lovely legs, it was cheaper
to share a cabin and she volunteered to act as interpreter.
Food proved to be a most expensive item, especially for the horses. Hay
is not provided in the Duty Free shops and filling two nosebags with
the nearest equivalent...Ham, cheese and coleslaw sandwiches would not,
as your reaction to my recently submitted expense account clearly
illustrates, be an economic proposition for regular journeys. Water is
less of a problem but we did encounter a somewhat suspicious Safety
Officer pondering the need for the seemingly constant refilling of the
The voyage otherwise was modestly uneventful. We did have a brief
encounter with a steward who asked us if we wanted a beer, When we
replied that we'd brought four hundred gallons of our own, he asked if
we were taking the pee.....Well I suppose we were in a manner of
speaking. On arrival in France we encountered our first logistical
problem.....Them Frenchies drive on the right...that is the wrong...as
distinct from the left...side of the road. We didn't realise this until
we'd done about twenty kilometres and encountered some less than
friendly gestures from other road users. I won't trouble too much about
defining a kilometre, save to say that it's about three feet plus a
couple of extra big toes a thousand times over.
No matter how hard we tried we couldn't find anywhere to hire, borrow
or even buy left hand drive horses.
We stopped for a short break and then had what we learned later was
described as "un petite contretemps avec un Gendarme tres miserable".
Prior to the journey we had enquired about the rules and regulations
for travelers in France and were told we needed to carry a triangle and
a first aid kit. The triangle we borrowed from the Middlethorpe Scouts
Band. If you have a breakdown the triangle must be placed behind the
vehicle to warm oncoming travelers of an obstruction. Unfortunately we
were not told that the regulation triangle should have been large,
plastic and light reflective. Ours was small, metal and out of tune.
Similarly we regrettably jumped to the wrong conclusions about the
first aid kit. It was supposed to be full of bandages and plasters for
us, not for the horses and comprising of six spare horseshoes, a pound
and a half of farriers nails and a suitable sized hammer.
We eventually arrived in the village of Un Pont Sur l'eau que pelotonne
entre un melange de misere sordides Francais. We were met by Monsieur
and Madame Les Plonkes but, frankly, our reception was mixed. We had
previously sent a very polite letter of introduction which,
unfortunately had been somewhat literally translated. "Dear Madam" had
become "expensive..er.. member of the red light district". "We wish to
let you see samples of a variety of our real competitively priced
traditional ales." became "We intend to show you some things which are
stiff, have frothy heads, which are uniquely British and your's for
only two and sixpence a time...less during happy hour."
Thus we had to try to pour ale on troubled waters or in fact a queue
sixty eight thirsty Frenchmen proffering pewter tankards. Within in few
moments we had made sixty seven new friends. The odd one out proved to
be a German who had a glass about twice the size of everyone else's.
"Ein Stein" he kept saying "Ein Stein". We thought to ourselves if you
think that means you're going to get twice as much as everyone else,
pal, your not the bloody scientific genius you obviously think you've
been reincarnated as.
We were continually frustrated by the the language barrier and,
following her none too successful encounter with the French police,
Sally admitted that her fluency in French amounted to a rough
translation voiced in the direction of would be romantic French gigolos
of "No mine sewer, I'm not that kind of girl." or "I'm only here for
We had purchased a tourist phrase book on the ferry but this proved
none too useful. Phrases like "Ou est La Gare?" and "Quelle heure et
il?" are hardly commonplace expressions in cases of strategic
international trade negotiations. Since, however, we had been plied
with copious quantities of the local vin rouge, the phrase "Ou et le
toillette?" came in downright handy.
A number of things came out of our discussions. Firstly, the LePlonkes
would insist on four per cent proof. Four percent of what they didn't
say...or if they did by that time accurate translations had gone right
out of the fenetre. I am dubious about that. Frankly it was said with a
bit too much Chateau Rothchild and not enough "Vive L'anglais." I don't
think we should take the commercial risk of the other ninety six per
cent of anything on trust, Personally I'd be hard pressed to trust an
Englishman at that rate leave alone a Frenchman I wouldn't know from
that Madam Twoswords. Another fact which came to light...or was it
shandy...I can't remember.. I admit I was a little bitter by then...is
that the French are also negotiating with an Australian outfit to brew
their products under licence. Advertising hype has convinced them that
they could sell four times as much of the Australian beers as ours. I
looked at their figures but they just didn't add up. Finally I realised
why and spent several hours, all to no avail, trying to convince les
idiots Francais tres stupid that the four multiplication signs were
part of the Aussie product's trade name...not an indication of market
The visit could not really be described as a success.
Certainly not in terms of Anglo French relations. I think a letter to
the Foreign Secretary warning of possible repercussions might be
Frankly, I believe that logistically exporting our beers by road is not
a viable proposition. Timothy, however, did have a brainwave on the
return journey which he offers as a possible avenue for investigation.
(Personally I think it's a flippin' daft idea...unless of course it
works..) Perhaps we should talk to Richard Grandwilly in the village.
During the war he was involved in the PLUTO (Pipeline Under The Ocean)
project where they pumped petrol to the allied invasion force. Perhaps
he still has connections in the Ministry of Defence. Maybe Pluto could
be flushed out and reused....????. Then, with a slight modification to
Delia Duxbury's exercise bike, half a dozen plumbing fittings and a
yard or two of hosepipe we should be able to pump best bitter at least
as far as Normandy.
If not then I strongly recommend that we turn our attentions to other
avenues of the English market....somewhere mostly rural...where they
speak English and drive on the left...as distinct from the wrong side
of the road.
What about Warwickshire?.....I'm told it's nice in Stratford Upon Avon
at this time of the year.........