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Poo, Pipes & Robots – from the Royal Marines to Fencing with Ash Poole

On this episode of the Engaging Marketeer, I speak to Ash Poole, aka The Fencing Bloke, who is one of the big names in installing fencing in the Northwest. He’s led a fascinating life, from the Royal Marines, to working in sewers, to being a bodyguard, to cheffing, to his specialis of today.

To say Ash is never one to shy away from a challenge is an understatement – in fact, being told something is hard or can’t be done only makes him keener to do it. He spoke openly with me about overcoming learning difficulties to hold his own in some of the most demanding vocations out there.

Oh yeah, and we talked about poo a lot as well! Here are some of the highlights:

Ash on his brand

Darren: What was the basis behind the whole “Bloke” branding?

Ash: Basically, I’m a bloke and I’ve always been known for doing really high-end fencing, so it just made sense. When people are trying to remember who’s been around to do a quote, they’ll say it was “the fencing bloke”, so why not make that my name? It’s always worked well and I’ve always been known as “The Fencing Bloke”, which is great within the industry.

…on his early life and career journey

Darren: What were you doing before fencing?

Ash: Really varied to be fair. It’s one of those stories you hear a lot, but I was always told I’d never amount to being anything. I’ve got learning difficulties which makes it difficult for me to read and write. I’m dyslexic and I’ve also got something called Irlen syndrome, which basically means that my brain doesn’t process what I’m seeing properly, so whereas most people see in 3D, I only see in 2D.

Inside my mind, I went from “I’m never going to amount to nothing” to “I’m going to show you that I will amount to something”, and so when I was looking for a career or something to do, it was always something really hard! I originally wanted to be a pilot, but as I’ve just detailed, I’m not very good at maths.

Darren: And you probably need to be able to see in 3D!

Ash: Probably, yeah! So I started thinking what else can I do that’s really, really hard. I left school joined the Royal Marines, but unfortunately got a prolapse disc in my back. Still, I wanted to be elite at something and that then went into other bits and bobs like close protection and looking after people’s assets, but I didn’t really want to work away, so ended up working as a sewer technician for a very well respected company in the UK. You’d amazed what you learn from this – if people are having a shower you know what shower gel they use because it goes down the sewers!

After that I became a chef (yeah, I did have a wash between!). Working as a chef is really hard – you’re always locked up wanting to create something beautiful for people to enjoy, so I worked in various restaurants around the North West making nice food and making people happy. But it’s extremely hard being a chef, with extremely long hours.

Darren: You’re someone who’s been in the Marines and worked in sewage, and you’re saying being a chef is hard?

Ash: Yeah, probably harder! Huge shout out to chefs, they’re absolutely amazing. But I decided that I didn’t want to do that anymore and wanted to go back to working outside, so I had two and a half thousand pound in my bank account and I spent it all on timber, and the rest is history.

Really, I should have spent all my money, bought some materials then learned how to make a fence panel and took it from there, but I started out as supply only then realised that the quality of the work getting done just wasn’t that good. So I thought, well, people are getting paid and they’re doing substandard work, so surely I can do a better job than that? So I went from supply only to supply and install, and now we’re one of the better known names in the area for supplying great-quality fencing to residential and commercial clients.

Darren: That’s quite a journey you’ve had there!

…on Irlen syndrome

Darren: Tell us about the diagnosis you’ve got. What did you say that was called?

Ash: Irlen syndrome. I was diagnosed with it in college. When I was in school my attention span wasn’t very good. If I’m not interested in something, then I tend to not really pay attention to it, so I was always classed as that naughty kid. I wasn’t really naughty; it was just I wasn’t interested and struggled with dyslexia.

I’d done Mechanics for a while at college and one of the tutors was writing on the whiteboard with red pen, and I said, “any chance you can write in a different color?” because I couldn’t see it. He said, “I want to get you screened and for something called Irlen syndrome”.

So I went to see this really nice lady and realised that something as simple as putting a piece of blue plastic over text to stop the text moving around on the page could make a big difference. I was sent away with these blue overlays, and because of having a learning difficulty, I was then allowed extra time in college to do tests and I was also allowed help. Something as simple as that, something very small and very inexpensive, can literally change someone’s life. It turned out I didn’t need extra time on tests, but I had that little bit of backup – it wasn’t “what’s the answer to that question?”, it was “what does that say?” and “what does it mean?”

…on the Royal Marines

Darren: When you realised you couldn’t be a pilot, you decided “right, I’m going to join the Royal Marines”. It’s not an easy process, is it?

Ash: No, you’ve got to do something called a PRMC, which is a Potential Royal Marines Course. I think it’s three or four days of basically getting “beasted”. The first time I actually failed it because they do a run at the start of the course – I think it’s seven and a half minutes to run a mile and a half – and I wasn’t quick enough. That was the very first test.

Like everything, you can think of that as a failure or a lesson to be learned, so then I was told that you can either call it quits now, or you can accept that you’ve not passed this course but you can stay in complete the rest of the course if you want to. I chose us to stay on and do the rest of the course.

Darren: Yeah, I wouldn’t expect anything else!

Ash: So then you get beasted in the gym – it’s like press-ups and sit-ups in a certain amount of time, bleep tests, pull-ups, and various other horrible things which make you feel sick and make noises grown men shouldn’t make!

It turned out I passed the rest of the course but obviously failed at the first hurdle, which was because I was a little bit too fat to run fast enough to do the first test. So I booked on the next course available because I knew I could pass it, I just needed to run that a little bit faster. This time, I wasn’t told my time and if I’m honest I don’t think I was quick enough for the second time really, but people remember things and the people that were there the second time were the same corporals who were there the first time, and I think they saw the spirit that was inside of me and the determination. So I did pass somehow and I went on to pass the rest of the course, then was given a date to join up and start my training.

Darren: Was the rest of the course easier the second time?

Ash: You know what’s coming, so it makes it a little bit easier, but anybody can do anything. You can do anything if you put your mind to it, you’ve just got to have the hunger to do it.

Sadly, I had to pull out of the Marines with a prolapsed disk. I fell down the stairs and I wasn’t even drunk! So something as simple as wet stairs cost me my career in the Royal Marines.

…on close protection

Darren: After that, you became essentially a bodyguard?

Ash: Yeah, close protection, so basically looking after people and their assets. Sometimes you’d be looking after extremely expensive materials and other times you might be looking after a person or a family, or I even looked after a racehorse once.

Darren: And the obvious question – did anything kick off while you were doing it?

Ash: No, because we were quite good at our job! It’s more about being a deterrent than anything. Believe it or not, if anything kicks off, you leg it! Not on your own, but with your clients. You try and get your client as far away from trouble as quick as its humanly possible. So you don’t stand there and try and confront it head on if you can help it – sometimes you have to, but most of the time it’s just “let’s go, quick!”.

But if you’ve done your job properly, you’ll be able to see that there’s a problem that’s going to happen before it even happens. It’s all down to planning, like making sure that you know escape places, the floor plan, exit routes, fire doors and so on and so forth.

Darren: Did the training for the Royal Marines come in handy for that?

Ash: I presume it did, yeah. Not so much the fitness side of things, but you know, presenting yourself as a Royal Marine, you’ve got to make sure everything’s perfectly presented, folded up, properly ironed, and so on, and that translates into the close protection world because you need to look after your kit, your client and your team.

You’re not necessarily doing it for the money, even though it is nice. You’re doing it because you want a bit of pride in yourself, and you want to do a good job. It was the same with the Royal Marines as well. I think they’re the lowest paid soldiers in training because there’s the mentality of “if you’re here for the money, it’s not the right place for you”. You need to be proud to wear the badge, not just want to cash in and make loads of money and off you go.

…on sewers and poo

Darren: So what made you then want to leave the protection business?

Ash: It was because we were working away a lot all over the country doing different bits and bobs, so it was time to come home. I looked at different stuff at home, but didn’t really see anything that took my fancy, so I ended up going to the failsafe which was working away again with one of my friends who offered me a job working in the sewers. That was working all over the country as well, but it was it was good and I enjoyed it! We used to have these special camera robots and cutting robots.

Darren: Now you’re talking my language!

Ash: Yeah, I used to look after and maintain them. Cleaning them obviously, as you have to, but maintaining them as well. You know you’re living the dream when you’ve got to clean poo off your robot!

Darren: I’ve got to ask this – people flush all sorts of stuff, don’t they?

Ash: Oh yeah, there was always the usual wet wipes, earbuds and “nodders”, but back then the big problem they were having was fat. People pouring chip fat and stuff down the drains and then obviously as fat cools down, it goes hard, sticks to the edges and you end up with blockages. I think that’s what they call a “fatberg”.

Darren: I was just going to say that! Wasn’t there was a humongous one in London?

Ash: Yeah. I heard some people had found jewellery and stuff in the past, but I wasn’t lucky enough to find anything like that.

Darren: What about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? They were flushed down the toilet!

Ash: I didn’t see them. You see quite a few rats, but they tend to clear off as soon as you get too close. What else is there is to say about poo, pipes and robots? Hey, that’s a podcast title right there!
Darren: Yeah, I like it!

…on being a chef

Ash: When I came home, that’s when I went into cheffing, and I enjoyed that for a long time.

Darren: Did you have qualifications in cheffing?

Ash: No, it was a case of “can I have a go? This is what I’ve done before, and I work really hard!” To be honest they were probably just desperate and thought “go on, we’ll try this guy!”. I did enjoy it but it’s so hard being a chef – long hours, constant pressure, it can be unbelievably hot and you’ve got so many people relying on you to provide them with a good night out.

Darren: What sort of kitchen were you in?

Ash: I was travelling around the Northwest, so any kitchen really. I’ve done pubs and I’ve done restaurants. Some of it was really basic stuff, some was quite nice stuff.

Darren: What was your favorite thing to cook?

Ash: I used to like doing desserts! Pastries in particular. But you know how there’ll be a plasterer listening to this whose kitchen needs plastering, but he’s too busy making sure that everybody else’s kitchen looks fantastic to do his own? It was the same when I was a chef – I lived on beans on toast, because I didn’t want to cook food when I got home. And now, specialising in transforming outside spaces, you want to see my back garden!

Also, there’s only so long someone who’s worked outside all the life can work inside before they go “I kind of want to go outside again”. So with the cheffing, it wasn’t because I was sick of working away, it’s because I was sick of working indoors.

…on trades and fencing

Darren: One thing I wanted to ask about with with fencing. When somebody has a fence in their back garden, with a neighbour to the left, a neighbour to the right and a neighbour at the back, how does the payment work?

Ash: Oh, you’re throwing me under the bus there, Darren! It’s up to the client. If people want to share the cost, they can share the cost. If they want to pay for it themselves, they can pay for it themselves. I advise on both ways and whatever the client decides, it’s up to them, but we also offer stuff that’s neighbour friendly as well. We’ve got options that look the same on both sides, so there’s no “good side” and “bad side”.

But people like us or other fencing contractors, landscape designers, or whatever – they’re there to install the project. They’re not there to play negotiation with you and your neighbour. If you’re stood there talking to a next-door neighbour of your client, that’s taking time to solve an issue before you can carry on doing your job, which isn’t fair.

All it takes is a simple conversation of either poking your head over the fence and saying, “guess what, this is coming out next week and we’re getting a new one”, or going around and speaking to them nicely. It can solve so many problems and stops a headache for the contractor, and also stops a headache for you. There’s a little free tip for you how to keep your neighbours happy – just talk to them!

I hope you enjoyed this exciting – and pretty funny – chat with the charismatic Ash Poole. If you did, be sure to subscribe to the Engaging Marketeer podcast through your favourite platform if you haven’t already.

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