Sunday, 3 June 2012

Loch Fyne

This imposing structure is not, as you might think, the Bath branch of Gringolds, though it was the Bath branch of the National Westminster Bank in the days when banks seemed to be able to afford to erect purpose-built edifices like this, have dozens of gnomes sitting at high desks and the head gnome in a wood-lined office deep within it's heart.  These days, it is home to the mediocre (can there be any worse insult?) fish restaurant chain, 'Loch Fyne', and the Nat West has retreated to Diagon Alley.

I took this picture around the same time as I was being* insulted/insulting* (*delete as appropriate) by* the Californian tourists in the mediocre restaurant on the other side of the road.

When you look closely at this building - which, incidentally, covers about twice the ground area as shown in the photo - you see that no expense has been spared in it's construction.  The exterior stonework is heavily carved with detail including bearded heads for the keystones, vermiculated course-work on the ground floor, balustrading on three levels, over-engineered cornice, etc. etc.  Inside, massive, solid marble pillars with white marble, classical caps and bases hold up the ceiling - or at least pretend to.  This place was built to last and impress - unlike the bank.

The building holds at least two bad memories for me.  The first one when it contained the underground vault which stored the great pile of gold coins which was my fortune at the time, and I had arranged a meeting with the manager to discuss the finance for the renovation of a small property I had bought in the area.  'Meeting with the manager' - those were the days!

I knew the meeting was not going well when the elderly manager announced that unless I repaid my £300 overdraft off pronto, he was going to take steps to steal the little cottage I had bought with private finance away from me, and sell it over my head.  The old cunt had been lying to me right from the start, and decided he was going to have a bit of malicious fun with me before he was forced to retire.

I looked at him open-mouthed with shock and disbelief as he perused the thin, paper file which was my pathetic record with the bank I had put so much misguided trust in over many years, then he came out with the clincher.

"I see you are not the only member of your family to have become a property developer"

I knew he was referring to my brother, who had recently 'purchased' a farmhouse in the area, and had been convicted of fraud, becoming criminally bankrupt.  I suppose he had just seen the same surnames and put two and two together, coming up with about 345.

Knowing I had nothing to lose, I launched myself over his spacious desk and made a grab for the file so I could see what was written there myself.  These days, I could simply buy the file from him under the Freedom of Information Act, but about 35 years ago, everything was a bit more hands-on and physical.

The old boy was more sprightly than he looked, and leaned sharply back in his chair whilst simultaneously hitting a hidden panic-button under his side of the desk.  I was escorted off the premises, and closed the account immediately, telling them to take me to court if they wished, otherwise wait as long as I liked for the £300, which would be returned as soon as I had sold the property which they had forced me to put on the market.

30 years later and - hopefully - after the death of that bank manager, the whole building was bought by 'Loch Fyne' - a fishing enterprise named after the Scottish Loch - which started out with good intentions and food to match but, like so many others, fell into the hands of marketing managers who had nothing to do with the ocean, other than actually smelling strongly of fish.

I had responded to one of their nationwide marketing ploys by collecting a coupon from a newspaper which entitled me and my partner to have a meal in our local branch which - including a glass of wine - would cost £10 each, and one evening, H.I. and me toddled up the road and booked a table.

We were handed a menu and asked what we would like to drink.  I responded that we were entitled to one glass of wine, and as soon as the waiter heard this, he asked us to move to a tiny table which was right up against one of those marble pillars I mentioned, then he returned and slammed a massive chalk-board between us which had the set menu for skin-flints scrawled on it in such large lettering, that we had to stand up and move away to read it.  The message to the other diners was 'This Couple Are Skin-Flints'.

He then brought two of the worst glasses of white wine I have ever tasted - literally undrinkable.  The bottle must have been opened about a month ago.  I complained and insisted he tasted it which he did, physically unable to stop himself from grimacing in disgust.

The rest of the meal followed suit and this was the last time we have ever been to a Loch Fyne restaurant.

There's no such thing as a free lunch, and there's no such thing as a bank-manager these days either.    They are all called managers, no matter where they work.


  1. There exists an emporium of the same Monica in Brighton. When I saw that a dozen small oysters cost a STAGGERING £12,000 (tip not included) I decided to give it a miss.

    1. Tell me that you put the comma in the wrong place. A Dozen oysters would not cost any more than £40 in the Ritz.

    2. Alright then, £120. It's up to you to prove the 12 grand figure though.

    3. Can't find the price of oysters, but this should give you an idea:

      The Ritz, London

      £95 per person:

      Salt Baked Turnip
      Morels and Wood Sorrel
      Dressed Crab Roll
      Avocado and Charentais Melon
      Smoked White Onion Soup
      Sweetbread and Truffle
      Seared Scallops
      Smoked Eel, Bacon and Watercress
      Romney Marsh Lamb
      Smoked Aubergine and Rosemary Curd
      Braised Brill
      Salted Grapes and Cauliflower
      Exotic Fruit Soufflé
      Rum and Banana Ice Cream
      Coffee and Chocolate Semi-Freddo
      Walnut Cream and Candied Walnuts

      A £30 per person entertainment charge will apply to guests dining from the a la carte or tasting menu.

    4. Of course, I should say that the above is a choice of starters, Mains and deserts - one of each...

    5. OK, maybe I exaggerated a tad. But they were bloody expensive!

  2. Tom, your story about the bank manager was hilarious. I'm sure it had you royally pissed at the time, and probably still to this day, but the idea you reached across the desk and tried to grab the paperwork is worth cheering for.

    1. It was one of many occasions when I have lost my sense of humour. Usually, I think to myself, 'What would they least expect me to do now', when I run out of words, and when you run out of words there are only two choices: music or violence.

  3. Have you considered being a one man reality tv programme? I don't care for the genre, but would make an exception for you.