By Rebecca Lomax, Ph.D.
My friend John Morgan is a child of the
‘50s. Born in southern England into a middle class family, he
was the middle child of three boys. His family was almost too
comfortable, he says, but certain expectations went along with
that comfort. Expectations as to his education, his vocation,
and his personal choices were part of the picture. He went with
the flow. It would be a long time before he began to question
these societal expectations or examine other options. And then
he would discover, to his amazement and delight, a whole new
world opening up to him.
John’s first job was working on a chicken
farm when he was home from boarding school. He was only 15 or
16, maybe even too young to work chasing chickens, but chase
them he did. After he caught them, he had the uncomfortable task
of holding onto the fighting birds while they were given
injections of some type. It was distasteful work, but he earned
spending money. Both of us wonder just what was being injected,
and are grateful for the option of organic foods. And, yes, he
does occasionally eat chicken today.
John’s next career path led him to the
geriatric ward of a hospital, where he had the unpleasant task
of cleaning up. The cleaning chemicals and sprays were not
pleasant, and he remembers the smells to this day. But it was
another step along the path to adulthood, and he learned from
it. He didn’t choose medicine for a career, though, and the
next job he had was in a supermarket. Here things get funny, and
he admits he was “sacked”. Actually he was sacked for being
a teenaged boy with limited experience. A huge bag of sugar that
he was carrying sprung a leak and left a substantial trail of
sugar on the floor. Then he took a wet mop to clean it up, and
the customers’ shoes stuck to the floor as they walked through
it. The vision leaves us both laughing.
John did not go to university. His father,
who was with the Bank of England, suggested that instead he
should join that honorable establishment for his career. So, at
the age of 18, John took a position with the bank and there he
stayed for 14 years. He got married; he had a daughter. He
worked. Life went on. And on.
Then his marriage fell apart, and for the
first time John began to question his life choices. On a holiday
with friends, they asked him, “What do you want to do?” He
wasn’t sure but he began to consider other options. He was
broke; divorces are expensive. So he took a second job at night
in a wine bar. He worked his way up to manager. He left the Bank
of England behind. The owner of the wine bar opened a new
restaurant, Ransome’s, and offered John the position of
manager. John had the people skills, the organizational skills
to manage an upscale restaurant, and his banking career had also
given him the financial skills. Ransome’s became quite trendy,
often hosting celebrity guests such as Jack Lemon and Twiggy.
Then came the 1989 property crash, and John began to think about
his future. Did he want to work for somebody else for the rest
of his life? The answer was a resounding “no”.
He left Ransome’s and bought an old
restaurant in Kent, named the “Wife of Bath”. He began
restoring it on a shoestring. He did much of the work himself,
and that would become his pattern for the next 13 years. As the
restaurant became established, he added guestrooms for overnight
guests. Celebrities found this restaurant also, and Catherine
Zeta Jones was among them. Meanwhile, John continued to do
everything, usually sleeping for only about 5 hours a night.
What are the most difficult things about managing a restaurant?
Managing the people, of course, but that can also be very
rewarding. John says that probably the most difficult, the most
stressful thing is that it’s a little like the theater. When
you open the doors to customers, it’s “curtains up” and
you and your entire staff are on stage.
He experienced two profound losses during
this busy part of his life. His brother died at the age of 40 of
a brain tumor, leaving a widow and two children. And a waitress
who had been a stalwart friend and employee died after being hit
by a speeding motorcycle. He was stunned. Although he is very
close to his brother’s widow and children, he says those two
losses so close together were overwhelming.
As John approached his 50th birthday, the
idea of retirement took shape. Two weeks after his birthday, he
sold the restaurant for a tidy sum and invested the profits in
real estate. He purchased an old house in England, reserving a
bedroom for his occasional visits there and renting it out. His
daughter had her 21st birthday about the same time that John
sold his restaurant, so he gave her – and himself – a unique
gift. They went trekking in South America together for three
months. It was a time to get to know each other, and to explore
their individual futures. His future began to be clear. He had
been a visitor to Thailand for about twelve years. He would
invest in condominiums in the country and move here to manage
them. And he did, I’m happy to say. He returns to England for
several months of the year to manage his investments there, and
then he comes back to Thailand.
There is a board game named “Snakes and Ladders” that was
invented in Victorian England. It’s a game of chance rather
than skill. John says that it’s like life. Sometimes the
numbers are right and you go up the ladder, sometimes you
don’t. John Morgan isn’t chasing chickens any more. His
numbers are going right up the ladder. Life is good.