Friday, May 24, 2013

Previously in A Chequered Career…… If our customers could have seen where we kept our stock of new Citroens they would probably have been shocked…… weeds and grass clambered over engines and grew through radiator grills….. suddenly we were informed that Hadley’s  had been sold to an Irish company……my position was to be a casualty of the cull…… I started a new job in Bournemouth - it was a tiny, miserable little garage…… time to call on my contacts again!


It was late in 1995 when I was told about a position up for grabs in Worthing. Apparently it was ideal given my fleet and managerial experience. I went for an interview and was offered the job on the spot, although to this day I was never fully sure what my role actually was! Once again it was a Citroen franchise, my fifth, but this one had a unique claim to fame having been the first Citroen dealer in the UK. It was a family business run by a father and son, Geoff and Richard Poxon respectively. Geoff was a dapper man who strutted around smartly attired with his head held high. Son Richard was in his early twenties and had been expensively educated at the exclusive private school, Lancing College. I remember him as a cross between London mayor Boris Johnson, and the TV comedy character Tim Nice-but-Dim; a quintessential Young Tory! He shared a large office with his pater, but quite what he did was something of a mystery to us. He did however often accompany my colleagues and me on our lunchtime visits to The Cricketers for a pint or two.

There was only one workmate with whom I felt I had anything in common, and that was Allan; we shared the same cynical view on the way the garage was run. Now Allan liked nothing more than to drive at breakneck speed. Many years earlier I had been a member of a car club and on several occasions daringly taken the navigator's seat in the odd rally car or two. I'd hang on like grim death whilst it sped through lanes and flew (sometimes literally) up and down rutted dirt tracks. Nothing however came close to a journey I  had one afternoon in the rear seat of a Citroen Xantia Activa  when Allan drove two colleagues and me down the snake-like A24 at what felt like the speed of sound! We were on our way back from exhibiting our wares at the Horsham Motor Show; one of the rare occasions on which we were sprung from the confines of our showroom. I'll never forget that trip and I never asked for a lift again!

Geoff was great friends with John Cooper, the racing car legend and brains behind the Mini Cooper which won the 1964 Monte Carlo rally in spectacular fashion and went on to upstage Michael Caine in The Italian Job. Despite everything he’d achieved he continued to run the family’s modest garage in Ferring just up the road.  He used to pop in occasionally.
On the domestic front, Sarah and I had moved east, and we found ourselves in a beautiful flat in Eastbourne. Sarah had now qualified as a teacher, Tim was launched and Rachel was at boarding school. Youngest daughter Penny was closer, so seeing her regularly was a lot easier.

Hadley Garages was a hard act to follow, and working at Worthing Motors was something of an anti-climax. But the money was pretty good: a basic salary of £21000 a year plus commission was very generous back then as Geoff always reminded me when we had a poor month. The task was undemanding, so I stuck it for a couple of years.On a day which was change everything I realised that Citroen and I had run our course. In fact I had become totally disillusioned with the whole motor trade.

I suppose it could be said that cars were in my blood, for several generations ago a relation of mine, William Hillman set up a factory in Coventry making motor cars. But my fascination with things mechanical had run its course. Once passionate about cars, I now saw them as nothing more than a means of making money and getting from A to B.

I had always loved food. Wherever I worked, and whenever a showroom buffet was required, I was the one to provide it.  From my first job at the Home and Colonial to the fun I had with my Deli, handling food seemed to come naturally. I loved cooking too. Over the years I had built up a wonderful collection of recipe books and I found them far more interesting to read than War and Peace or Lady Chatterley’s Bit on the Side. Often when at a pub or restaurant I would look around and think how I could do it better. And so it was I started about going into catering and starting a restaurant of my own. Everyone thought I was mad. I thought I was mad! After all, chefs were trained in colleges and worked in menial positions for many years before going it alone.  All I had done was cater for the occasional dinner party with friends or cover tables with piles of finger food. But I had this vision. I knew what I wanted to do. I was certain I could offer something different; something which would set my restaurant apart from the others.

Sarah was cautiously optimistic about my plan and we even managed to get the backing of a friend of her Mother, Mona who was to fund the project. For months I hid myself away in my office at Worthing Motors surreptitiously planning and scheming. Spare time was spent searching for suitable premises in which to bring my dream to fruition. We had a stroke of luck. Carlisle Road is a short street in Eastbourne which connects the promenade with the Congress and Devonshire Park theatres, the Winter Garden conference and exhibition centre and the international tennis courts. The road is filled with small restaurants of various
national persuasions, fish and chip shops, a huge ice cream parlour and a pub, the Cavalier. Next to the pub
was an ailing greasy spoon establishment called the Stage Door Café. Perfect!  An architect was employed, a building company engaged, and so it was that with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, one day in 1998 the Stage Door Bistro and Wine Bar started to take shape.

To be continued

Chapters  1     3   4   5   6   7    8   9   10   11   12   13  14  >  16

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