The Cottage Smallholder

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The Man Who Never Buys Drinks

The note that revealed everything

The note that revealed everything

It’s the last day of March and it feels chilly and blustery in this corner of East Anglia. The Min Pins and I have lit the stove in the kitchen.

I would like to share a story with you. So pull up a chair, pour yourself a cup of tea (if you’d like something a bit stronger be my guest) and I will begin.

When I worked in London’s Wardour Street in the Soho area, pubs (bars) were an important part of daily working life. That’s not to say that we were in pubs for eight hours a day – although a few desperados took advantage of the Wi-Fi and worked out of a corner of a pub, beer glass on hand.

Pubs were used for celebrating a new contract win, commiserating over a disaster, lifting a glass to the end of the week and they were fresh fields where you might hook a new client or boyfriend. Pubs were an integral part of the ‘90s culture.

It was in a pub that I heard this story.

John was a successful advertising executive. A useful man to know if you were looking for freelance work. He liked a drink and was often seen propping up the bar. The problem was that he didn’t buy a drink. Ever. Whenever it was his round he’d vanished.

Of course everyone knows the ground rules about drinking in pubs. Light years ago when I was a teenager my mum gave me the best advice ever.
“If you can’t afford to buy your round of drinks don’t go out to a pub. If you find yourself in a pub with friends and have to leave, buy a round of drinks before you leave even if you have only had one drink. Never buy just one drink for yourself, if you have to leave/don’t want to stay – it’s a cheap and tight way of operating.”

As you can imagine John’s aversion to buying drinks did not go down well at all and his reputation quickly spread as “The Man Who Never Buys Drinks”. Back then clients were treated to drinks, meals and even holidays by grateful freelancers. But to be seen cashing in on this massive stream of goodwill was considered dastardly.

So one day a group of friends got together and hatched a plan. Hints had failed. Pack action was called for.

I just need to explain one small detail here. Most people that worked around Soho had a handful of pubs that they visited. We all used each venue for different reasons, the ones on the outer edge of the map were ones that were free from the likelihood of bumping into clients. These places were reserved for meeting friends and just having fun.

After a couple of drinks with the group in a Wardour Street pub, John had been softened up sufficiently.
“Let’s go to the Toe and Crampit (made up name).”
“I’ve never been there.” John was intrigued “What’s it like?”
After a long pause and a few glances someone generously extended the invitation to John to join the party.

The pub was heaving with people who’d bought John drinks in the past. In the crush at the bar one of our group managed to stick a sign on John’s back without him noticing. The message was simple.

“My name is John and I don’t buy drinks!”

Of course, John was on the outside of the group. In no way would he pressing forward to fight for front position at the bar. Within seconds people were offering to buy him a drink.

John was ecstatic.

“This is a marvellous place! People even know my name! They want to buy me drinks!”

So many people were offering him drinks that he was overwhelmed. He already had four beers on the table and actually had to refuse offers.

Eventually someone brushed past his back and he sensed the paper note. He reached behind and found it. And read it. His ‘pals’ watched him in fascinated silence.

Note removed and a more generous spirited man is born!

Note removed and a more generous spirited man is born!

John stood up, ripped the offending paper into shreds and jumped up and down on the pieces in a red faced rage.

And I’m pleased to report that ever since then he has bought drinks.

  Leave a reply


  1. Claire

    To Kooky girl……I’m a vegetarian teetotaler……whenever I go to dinner with my meat eating, drinking friends I always split the bill and without fail pay approximately double the value of what I have consumed. I do it because it is what is socially acceptable and I’m lucky enough to be in a position to afford it, lots of people aren’t, if they have chosen to have cheaper items off the menu so they know their finances can cover it is it so wrong that they don’t subsidise other people’s meals?

  2. With out fail there is always someone that does not pinch in their fair share. As a pub owner years ago, I witness this first hand over and over again. Eventually people get the clue and the non-buyer is eliminated from rounds. All it takes is a whisper to the Bartender.

  3. Ruthdigs

    When there’s been times when I’m pretty broke but it’s say – someones birthday so I want to make the effort to show my face at least; if people offer to get me a drink (in rounds) I would politely decline and say ‘I’ll stick to my own tonight thank you’. If they’re friends then they understand as we’ve all been there.
    I used to know a guy like this at my old work twice removed. He would always get out of buying rounds when every single other person there either took their turn or stuck to their own. He was also one of those obnoxious indidviduals that would order doubles. One time myself and a friend were a little late out of work and on entering the pub where everyone else was ensconced we found the guy sneakily at the bar just getting himself a drink. (By this point people had started leaving him out of the rounds as we were all getting progressively more p*ssed off.) Myself and my friend bowled up and with one on either side so he couldn’t escape greeted him effusively with cries of ‘Oh hi Phil – We’d love a beer/whatever – cheers, thank you’ etc etc basically leaving him no option but to buy us both a drink. (We knew he had the money as well as he was always boasting about his surplus cash.) Strangely after that night he eventually stopped coming out sponging off us all… 😉

  4. Badcat666

    I had a mate like that and they never understood why I stopped going to the pub with them 🙂 I agree, when I’m broke I avoid going out as cannot buy a round for everyone or split the bill but when I have the cash am happy to waddle along. (and I’ve found it’s the peeps with the cash that are tight fisted little buggers and always vanish when it’s their turn at the bar!)

  5. veronica

    @kookygirl, ohh, I know exactly what you mean! That drives me crazy.

    I agree with casalba too. Yes, when I was poverty-stricken I didn’t go to the pub, or at least not often. If you can’t afford to buy a round every now and then, you should stay out of pubs. But in any case, the John in this story could clearly afford a round.

  6. Kooky Girl

    On a similar vein, what drives me nuts is when you go out fo dinner and are quite happy to split the bill equally between the participants, and then someone says, ‘Well I had a diet coke, my starter was 4.99, and my main 5.52 so mine comes to… etc.etc.’ You get the gist… Fair enough if someone has gone crazy on the champagne and caviar, but otherwise just split the bill!!!

  7. casalba

    Well, everyone should know the rules. You can’t just keep taking! Someone buys you a drink and you buy them one. Works on every level: someone invites you for dinner, you invite them back. You can’t keep being a guest – it’s downright rude. Not really to do with “rules”, but common courtesy. And, to be fair, Frances, Fiona was talking about an advertising executive in the 90s – no relation whatsoever with today’s economy crisis.

    Moreover, I’ll add another “rule”: you don’t have a single when it’s your round and a double when it’s someone else’s.

  8. Sylvie (A Pot of Tea)

    I think we all know a John or two!

  9. Michelle from Oregon

    I do understand Frances POV…But speaking in a profesional setting I also know people like this!
    Folks that work in your industry and they do “know the rules”, and they take advantage of their position. They know you have to be nice to them otherwise they will be less inclined to give you the next freelance project they have to give out. So they work their advantage for all its worth, letting people give them drinks and meals and never reciprocating in kind.
    Its enough to drive you nuts!
    Sounds like John got the point! Good for you all!

  10. Frances

    Actually – not Everyone knows the rules.And what kind of a life is it when people on small incomes shouldn’t go to the pub because they can’t afford to buy “rounds”. Agreed that freeloading is unacceptable but your story has made me very cross (though it seems to had changed while
    e I have been very carefully writing this)

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