The Rocky Road to Davy’s Bar
I’ve always been interested in books. Typically, non-fiction stuff. And I’ve always been a bit of a hoarder. I suppose I hoard books because to me books feel like home.
And maybe both traits are to do with only having a couple of books in our house when I was a kid, alongside an innate curiosity to keep learning.
What’s certain, however, is how this lockdown has given me the opportunity to delve into what has become a rather extensive library of books (and shelving) that I’ve accumulated over the years; filing each away in turn (much to my wife’s annoyance) as I read and absorb them.
I like to think of Terry Pratchett’s words: “To a soul attuned to the subtle rhythms of a library, there are few worse sights than a hole where a book ought to be.”
Mind you, Pratchett also said that the trouble with having an open mind is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it. And sometimes you find that the backs and covers of books (and people) are their best parts.
I was reminded of this point during a recent Twitter conversation where someone referenced a Charles Handy title that I’d bought back in the 1990s called “The Empty Raincoat,” and which led to me delve into my collection where I found it (a signed copy no less).
It’s as jammed with great examples of the paradoxes faced by individuals and businesses during that era (and well worth getting your hands on a copy) as it is amazing to look back and see how accurate Handy was in what he wrote.
In my opinion, the best “story” in that title arrives in Chapter 3, called “The Road to Davy’s Bar.”
Handy writes about a visit he made back to his native Ireland to the Wicklow Mountain area, which he describes as “a bare and lonely place with unmarked roads” and where he tended to get lost.
And when he stopped his car long the way to ask for directions, a local walking along the side of the road said, “Sure it’s easy. Just keep going the way you are, straight ahead, and after a while you’ll cross a small bridge with Davy’s Bar on the far side, you can’t miss it.”
Charles replied, “Yes, I’ve got that. Straight on to Davy’s Bar.” To which the local then added, “That’s right. Well, except that about a half a mile before you get to Davy’s Bar, turn to your right and go up the hill.”
Now, as those directions sounded so logical at that moment in time, Charles thanked the chap and drove off. But by the time he realised that it actually made no sense at all, he realised he would then have to go all the way to Davy’s Bar, then turn round, drive back half a mile and turn left up a hill.
What I love about that story is that while it’s one thing to be inconvenienced by having to drive half a mile further than you need to go, it’s quite another when it comes to being guided somewhere that you can’t necessarily turn from that easily.
A good example of that is the guidance you get for your lifetime’s savings – the directions for accumulating wealth.
We don’t often get the chance to get to a destination like retirement with the wrong instructions (advice), while travelling in the wrong vehicle (types of investments), on the wrong road (strategy), and then get the chance to go back to where we should have turned “right” in the first place.
As Charles Handy put it, “By the time you know where you ought to go, it’s too late to go there, or if you keep going the way you are, you will miss the road to your future.”
Well, back in 1994, I began to be concerned about what I saw to be widespread mis-selling practices being carried out by an Insurance Company that at the time was the apple of the financial media’s eye.
Equitable Life was that company. And it seemed to me they were leading their customers down the wrong road towards Davy’s Bar, with no prospect of going back to correct the mistakes made and get them where they should be going.
Three years later in 1997, I publicly accused them of rampant mis-selling of pension plans.
They tried to sue me, but we fought them off.
It would be a further three years before the UK financial regulators finally closed them down, but not before their customers suffered terrible financial hangovers from arriving at Davy’s Bar.
Don’t let that happen to you.
If you want some simple and accurate guidance about where you want to go, just ask.