Except for one summer spent sleeping inside a truck in a concrete yard in Northern Ireland, Guy Martin has lived within 20 miles of the Grimsby hospital he was born in, on the 4th November 1981. But that hasn’t stopped the professional truck mechanic from winning multiple international road races, plus scoring fifteen Isle of Man TT podiums. Nor has it prevented him from becoming a regular face on prime-time Channel 4, presenting critically acclaimed documentaries and travelogues, as well as his popular returning series Speed with Guy Martin. Did we mention he’s also the author of three phenomenal number-one bestselling memoirs? Not bad for a truck fitter.
Here’s an extract from Guy’s new book, We Need to Weaken the Mixture, where he talks about saving his local pub from closure.
There wasn’t much time between finding out Kirmington’s pub was closing and me thinking I should buy it. I look back now and realise I bought the Marrowbone and Cleaver for the wrong reason. Becoming a pub owner was purely an emotional decision not a business one. As far as I was concerned Kirmo, the village I grew up in and still think of as the centre of the universe, had always had a pub and it needs one.
Once the thought had lodged in my brain things happened quickly.
At first I didn’t think anyone was going to take it over, then I was told that someone was going to buy it. That turned out to be rubbish. Then someone else was going to buy it and turn it into a house and that didn’t happen, but I was worried someone would so I rung the pub chain that owned it, Enterprise Inns, and put a bid in. They had another couple of people in the running, or so they told me. A few days later they accepted my bid. Now what? I thought. From it closing to me handing over the money was no more than a month.
For what it is, a pub, with parking, a bit of land and outbuildings, it wasn’t expensive, it might have been a bit over￡140,000. I’m not Richard Branson or a property tycoon, and I’m not flash or owt, but I’ve got a few quid, so I thought, let’s keep it going as a pub. So many pubs are being converted into houses, and I understand why, but it wasn’t right for Kirmo. I’m not sure if this one had planning permission for a change of use, but how long would it have to stand as a boarded‑up eyesore before the council changed their minds about that?
I didn’t need to get a loan or mortgage. That meant I didn’t have to ‘waste’ money on a property survey. The Marrowbone was a bit of a shit tip by the time it had closed, I could see that. It was tired around the edges especially the kitchen, which was a bomb-site and wouldn’t pass any kind of inspection. It was what I’d describe as grufty: sticky around the door handles, and a bit of hair in the congealed fat in the corners. Even though it was years after the fag ban, there was still a stale smell of cigarette smoke about the place. Food is such a big part of most pubs’ livelihoods now that it was a priority. So we needed to do it up. A bloke from Kirmington, Phil Tate, who my dad knew and lived opposite my sister, was chosen to manage the refurbishment of the place. He’d lived in Kirmington for years and he ended up doing a great job.
Phil explained the options. ‘We can do it up or we can do it up or we can do it up.’ I said I wanted it doing up, but not a hundred grand do it up.
Even though I always wanted to keep it operating as a pub I didn’t want to have anything to do with the day‑to‑day running; that was the furthest thing from my mind. The Marrowbone had had the same landlord for 20 years, Robin and his wife, Ros, right from me being a lad. He was a good bloke, and would serve us underage on a special occasion. He got bollocked for it by my mum when I went home pissed on New Year’s Day and puked up over my younger brother. If you had a picture of a country pub landlord, that was Robin.
After he retired it went through a few managers and landlords in a hurry, none staying for more than two years and some a lot less than that. I had a word with the couple who had been running it when it closed, and they were nice, but they weren’t the right people to take on the new business. Then I had a word with my older sister, Sal, when we were out in Bonneville for the Triumph land speed job. She had previous experience in the bar world. She was the manager of Grimsby’s Chicago Rock Cafe, where I’d also worked as a glass collector for a while to raise money to go road racing in my early twenties.
When I asked her if she’d be interested in running it I told her there was no pressure, I was just giving her the option. She’d been accepted on, and was just about to start, a nursing course, following in our mum’s footsteps. I knew she was interested in running the pub, though. She couldn’t stop thinking about it.
When the pub fitters got stuck in it turned out there was a leak here and a leak there and the place needed more than I had expected. It wanted a new bar because it was rotten, and the upstairs was a mess, so that needed to be gutted. We still haven’t done anything with the upstairs yet. Perhaps I should have had that survey . . . The pub closed its doors in August 2016 – some thought forever– and reopened on 3 December the same year. During that time I hardly had anything to do with it. Sal was sorting it, with a lot of help from Andy Spellman, the bloke who looks after the business side of the Guy Martin Proper stuff.
Sal soon decided she did want to run it, so we came to an agreement that for six months or a year, depending on how it went, she could get the place up and on its feet without any rent. After that she’d pay rent to me. When people ask me about the pub I tell them it’s not mine, it’s my sister’s, because I don’t want to sound like a flash Harry. If I wanted to be more accurate I’d explain it’s my pub, but her business. I have nothing to do with the day‑to‑day decision-making. It’s all up to her.
It’s gone from closing down, owing money to the VAT man and suppliers, to a right successful place, and that’s down to her. She’s a grafter, like my dad, my mum, all of us Martins. Some people don’t understand why I want to work so hard, getting up at stupid o’clock to work on the trucks in the middle of winter, but it’s been bred into us and we can’t shake it. The pub has taken over Sal’s life, but she’s doing bloody well. She’s grafting her hole off.
When it came to decorating the place I wanted it to look different. I wondered if we could have a farm trough in the men’s toilet, and we ended up with three metal buckets to pee into. I came up with the idea to have stained glass in the front door, and the design is the official emblem of the 166 Bomber Squadron, which was based at Kirmington air base, now Humberside airport, during the war. The bloke who made it did such a great job of it, with the bulldog in the middle and the word Tenacity, underneath, that if someone told you it had been there since 1943 you’d believe them.
There’s a little bit of motorbike stuff in the pub, some of it mine, some of it belonging to my dad. We put some ornaments and old bits and pieces of my bikes in there, bits of wrecked engines that I’ve blown up, but a lot of it was stolen by people visiting, so my dad went around bolting everything down.
There’s usually a bike parked near the kitchen door. The Martek, the Racefit Harley I bought from Spellman and the Yamaha TY80 that Sal and I shared as our first bike have all been in there for a bit. There’s a lot of bomber and Lancaster stuff, because it’s important to the local area. There’s a big antique map of Lincolnshire on the chimney breast, with Kirmo as the centre of the universe; a photo from the start of the 1950s race at the Nurburgring; instrument gauges from old aircraft; RAF patches and photos from the war. You can buy Kirmo T‑shirtsand our woolly hats. Ryan Quickfall, the illustrator from Newcastle who did the pictures in this book and has designed a load of T‑shirts and calendars for us, designed the pub sign. It’s Nigel the dog with a massive bone in his mouth, being chased up the High Street, past the church, by a butcher swinging a cleaver, while a Lancaster flies overhead.
The local brewery, Batemans, from Wainfleet All Saints, near Skegness, contacted us to say they could supply a special Skull and Spanners ale for the pub. We all liked the idea and sell a lot of nine-gallon barrels of it. Sal says it’s the second most popular drink after Carling. We’ve kept it exclusive to the Marrowbone and the brewery’s own visitor centre. The pub’s a free house, meaning Sal can buy her drinks from wherever she likes, she isn’t tied to one supplier, but Sal likes dealing with Batemans. And we sell Mr Porky pork scratchings, of course.
We’ve had a few bands playing. The opening night was a dead good covers band called Electric 80s, who I knew about because I met one of the members of the band, Terry, through filming Speed programmes. He works for Air Products, who supplied the helium for the balloon I was hung under for the failed human-powered Channel crossing flight.
The opening night was heaving, full of locals relieved that their pub had reopened and wasn’t going to be turned into something else. Sal was brilliant, proving right away to be the best choice for the job. I hoped it would continue like that and it hasn’t slowed down much since. That’s down to the good grub and friendly service.
Then Spellman’s band, The Lilyhammers, said they’d play the first New Year’s Eve if I agreed to get on stage with them and sing. It was the most frightening thing I’ve ever done, because I can’t sing and there was going to be a room full of people. On the way there Shazza (Sharon, my missus) had the song on the van stereo and was helping me learn it, Karaoke-style, to the original. Before it was my time, I was out of my comfort zone, sat shaking in the front of my van trying to memorise the words to ‘Place Your Hands’ by Reef that Spellman had printed out for me. I was like a rabbit in the headlights, but if I was doing it, I was doing it, so I was fully committed and trying to belt it out. Then I tried ‘Hard to Handle’, the Otis Redding song that’s been covered by dozens of folk. I suppose I was attempting The Black Crowes’ version, but I made a dog’s dinner of it. I think the crowd could appreciate my commitment to the cause, even if it wasn’t the best singing they’d ever heard. It’s good to get right out of your comfort zone, though, and whenever I hear those songs I still laugh.
We also had the Ken Fox Wall of Death pitch up. We wanted to set it up in the car park, but, when he turned up, Ken realised it wouldn’t fit. So, at the last minute, we set up on the playing fields opposite the pub. It was to coincide with the 166 Reunion weekend, when the surviving members of the bomber squadron turn up to the local church for a remembrance service. The pub raised ￡1,500 for the church that weekend, and I did two shows a night on the wall with Ken and his hell riders. What a life. I was riding one of the Hondas I’d learned on and the viewing platform was packed. There was a hell of an atmosphere, and even though I’d done it a good few times, there’d been a good few months since I’d ridden the Wall of Death and it takes some concentration and technique. Don’t clip the wire, don’t catch anyone’s eye in the crowd. Ken didn’t have to give me any reminders, or prompts from the middle; he let me get on with it.
Sal says the locals are the lifeblood of the place. She reckons it closing for four months made those who agree with me, that Kirmo should have a pub, really appreciate the place. There are some in the village who complain about the noise of the odd band we have or the racket from the Wall of Death, that was in the village for all of three days. Sal has had to deal with the council, and had inspections when bands have played and they’ve not upheld the complaints. It doesn’t matter that the pub has been saved or that we live next to a commercial airport – people still want to complain.
My mum and dad go in all the time. My dad loves it. He retired on 1 March 2018, after 55 years, and I reckon that one of the reasons he retired is so he can put his attention into the pub. He’s the handyman and groundskeeper. That one reason, that I didn’t consider when I made the decision at the time, has become enough of a justification for me deciding to buy the pub. My dad has my problem, or I’ve inherited his, that he’s addicted to work. In the extreme. Now he can concentrate on the pub. He’s not getting paid, but it’s enough to keep him dead busy sorting stuff out for my sister, polishing the pipes, organising the cellar, doing this, doing that, and he loves it. Sal tries to pay him, she’s fair like that, but he won’t have it. He’s dead proud of what she’s done there.
Another good thing about the pub staying open is that it’s employing local lads and lasses, 21 staff from Kirmington or surrounding villages.
And that’s all without me giving it much of a leg‑up. I don’t believe people turn up thinking I’m going to be sat at the end of the bar doing a crossword or summat, with a pint in front of me, but having my name attached to it is enough to make some people drive out and visit. It’s the good job that Sal’s done that keeps people coming back or telling their friends to visit. Sal would never tell me if she thought she made the wrong decision and should have gone into nursing, but I think she’s happy.
The decision to buy the place might not have been the best thought out I’ve ever had, but it’s all worked out for the best so far.
THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED
For your chance to win a copy of Guy’s latest book We Need to Weaken the Mixture as well as a Guy Martin book bundle including his previous three books (Guy Martin: The Autobiography, Worms to Catch and When You Dead You Dead) and a set of exclusive We Need to Weaken the Mixture beer mats please tweet us @GoodPubGuide telling us in your opinion what you think is the ingredient to a really decent pub. Entries close at 11:59pm 30th November.
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