Sunday, March 24, 2013

Previously in A Chequered Career  The registration number of my new car was LUC 949 K. Was that an omen? Probably, because it certainly was a fantastic job…… We bought a shop with living accommodation in the country village of Horam…….. we put a few little wooden tables and chairs in the middle of the floor and serve coffee, homemade scones and cakes…….  the IRA planted a bomb in a litter bin on the crowded upper floor. I can still hear the dull thud from above me and see black smoke billowing down the staircase…… And then I got itchy feet again!


I was always fascinated by cars. I had a friend who was a very successful salesman for a prestigious BMW dealer and I was a little envious of him with his sharp shiny suits and gleaming company cars. At the time I was earning good money in a job I enjoyed, but suddenly one day, my heart began to rule my head. He told me that he’d heard about a job vacancy at a multi-franchise car dealer deep in the Ashdown Forest, a stick’s throw from the Hundred Acre Wood and Pooh Bridge, the setting famously used by children’s author A. A. Milne. And so it was, one day in 1977 I became a car salesman, something which went down very badly with Sarah. In fact to this day she’s never actually forgiven me for leaving Miele.

Stonedean Garage was situated at the edge of the village, and we had two smaller showrooms in the village centre. The company also owned the Brambletie Hotel where we were expected to take lunch. Those were the days before drink-drive regulations, so taking a customer out for a test drive in a car carrying more beer than petrol was the norm!  The marques we sold each had a unique character. Honda was sensible. Lancia was bold, Citroen was quirky, Jeep flashy and Daihatsu out and out fun. The business was one of many owned by British motoring legend Peter Agg.  Stonedean was a bit of a hobby. His main business was that of UK importer of Suzuki motorcycles, and Lambretta scooters. He also built Trojan bubble cars and Elva racing cars. He was the boss of Heron who had petrol forecourts all over the land and he established the world beating Suzuki motor cycle racing team. His star employee (apart from me of course!) was world motor cycling champion Barry Sheen who later went on to become the World Formula 1 champion too! But his main love was his amazing collection of over 100 classic cars; mainly Bentley’s and Bugatti’s which he housed in a huge circular glass walled museum at his stately home cum head office, Effingham Park. 

He had a son, Charlie. Although he worked for his Dad, no one was quite sure what he did. He was character straight out of a P G Wodehouse story. All he needed was a monocle and a valet to complete the picture! He would occasionally roar onto the garage forecourt in his prized 1926 Bentley Speed 6, fill up with petrol, then with a shout of “what-ho” would lower his goggles, then roar off again leaving a trail of smoke and rubber behind him!

My immediate boss was the dealership manager, a dapper little man called Tom Goldsmith. He over-saw the main showroom from his mezzanine office at the top of the steps. Also looking down on us from an adjacent office was his personal assistant Maureen; she who must be obeyed!  Her matriarchal tendencies ensured that nothing happened without her say-so. Even Tom was a bit in awe of her. Her stern attitude was such that when she handed out our weekly commission slips, we were made to feel guilty accepting them. There were several other salesmen; they tended to come and go, but I formed a friendship with Steve Walsh that has lasted to this day. The man in charge of the servicing department, Don was also a part time fireman; every now and then the siren would sound in the village, and he’d down tools, rush to the fire station then charge off in his little fire engine to rescue a cat from a tree, or extinguish a wayward bonfire.

The Citroen 2CV was a wonderful little car, in fact I bought one myself in bright yellow; Sarah called it Custard! It was one of five I would go on to own. We sold them new for less than £800 back then! Potential customers always got confused by the strange push-pull gear lever and invariably shot off backwards! The Jeep CJ7 looked fantastic, but had severe behavioural issues above fifty miles an hour when it would bounce and hop all over the road! Lancia had problems with their fantastic mid-engine Monte Carlo sports car which refused to go round corners or stop in the wet. We solved the issue in our demonstrator by replacing the spare wheel which was located above the front wheels, with a hundredweight sack of coal covered with a piece of carpet! However, the thing that always springs into my mind when I think of Lancia was the day I was guiding one of my colleagues as he reversed a car into the showroom. There was a series of loud cracking sounds, the floor opened up and the car plus driver disappeared rear first down into the cellar below! Fortunately the only thing injured was his pride! 

Working in the middle of a forest had its problems too. I was driving on one occasion when three deer leapt a fence and ran in front of me. I clipped one of them on its rear and it flew up into the air. Try as I may, I simply couldn’t find it. I often wonder if it survived.

In 1979 my daughter Rachel was born. It was no longer possible to run our little shop, so we moved to a small house on an estate in the village. 

To be continued

Chapters  1     3   4   5   6    -   8


  1. I used to live in Farnham, Surrey until just after the war and your history this week reminded me of Hawthorn's TT garage where Mike Hawthorn grew up and became a hero along with Stirling Moss in our emergence as a motor racing nation. The showroom was but a short walk from my school. It is amazing what triggers you are pulling with your life story Keith.

  2. somehow I missed this one but I have read it now...strange, I have also hit a der that survived to run away but I alwasy assumed it limped away and died...hope not...i aslo had a marriage that ended...hope your ending wasn't as painful as mine. I really enjpy your pictures...

  3. sorry about the a hurry today...have to go roll Easter eggs..