ITS REALLY QUITE IRONIC that a country whose citizens were once renowned for their reserve, and their ability to spend a three-hour train journey without ever saying anything to their fellow passengers, should these days be awash with people who can’t shut up. It seems that everybody and their dog is now an expert on how I should conduct my life.

IF YOU DON’T BELIEVE ME just look at the non-fiction shelves at your local bookshop. Veritable rain forests of advice on every aspect of life from how to run your business (the five minute manager, the ten minute manager – is viagra the difference? – how to sell, how to negotiate, how to buy, make your millions my way, how to make the time needed to read all the bloody stuff) to how to live until you’re 100 by keeping healthy (never mind Atkins, I prefer the G plan diet-you can eat a suite a day!). The one thing all these busybodies agree on is that a holiday is good for you. Recharges the batteries and reduces the stress.

NOW, PERSONALLY, I ACTUALLY FIND that the most stressful part of my life is all the preparation that has to be done before I can go away and all the tales of disaster and woe that greet me on my return. But I do agree that the time away on holiday is time well spent. And it’s not just for the suntan or for eating yourself silly and giving your liver a two-week crash course in the art of pickling. I can remember my Dad telling me about his boss when he first started working. Passing my father’s office one day he instructed him to stop what he was doing, lean back in his chair and put his feet up on the desk. “Now what am I supposed to do?” “Think,” came the reply, “and I expect you to do that for twenty minutes every day that you work here”.

AND THAT’S THE VALUE of a holiday – it gives you time to think. As far as business goes it’s the time to think about the big picture – is there a future in our industry or would I be better off doing something else? – and the time to think about the smaller picture – where do I get the increase in profits from if I want a pay increase this year? It’s usually the smaller picture that is more fascinating.

SO THIS YEAR I WAS REMEMBERING how my shop looked in the early ‘80s. Small lockable cig gantry, two foot, freestanding Moffat sweet unit, stacks of gallon oil tins and loads and loads of fancy goods. Watches, clocks, pens, lighters, radio-controlled cars, bamboo car seat covers, flowers that danced to music, deely boppers – oh, my, what fun we had in those days. Then the oil companies discovered shops, spent money on actually providing shelving and fixtures and changed the whole product mix that we sold. “You’re a dinosaur,” one regional manager once told me, “and unless you change your ways you’re doomed”. Which I thought was pretty rich coming from someone who never ventured out of his office while I was out scouring the country for bargains, but then perhaps that explains why he was made redundant and I’m still making a living of sorts from an industry that I obviously didn’t understand!

SO FOR THE NEXT TWENTY YEARS we stuffed our shops with sweets and food and the like with hardly a fancy good in sight. Then along comes DSL which proves that we had been wasting one of the most valuable selling areas we had – the pump head. Call on virtually any independent forecourt these days and it’s almost impossible to actually see the pump under the weight of three or four different impulse-buy adverts.

SO THE IRONY IS THAT in order to pay for the rises in the Minimum Wage and all the other Government- imposed hocus pocus, I’m back selling fancy goods because I can’t grow my profits from my regular goods as their prices are already sky high. And this coincides with the hypers going non-food in a mega way because they’ve already got such a big share of the food market that they can’t grow their sales and they need to keep their prices rock bottom (ish!) to fight off their competition. It makes you think...