Previously in A Chequered Career……the Stage Door was well and truly on the gastro-map……..the pre-theatre meal however was a victim of its own success. At around six o'clock every evening we would go from empty to full within minutes and find ourselves turning people away…..It was not long before the performers discovered us…….even today, whenever I sit down in front of the TV I can guarantee seeing several celebrities I’ve cooked for…..he made more of an impression on us than all of the stars added together. He was Professor Britten…….he last thing he said to me was 'Goodbye my dear friend'. He was buried in a cardboard coffin under a tree in a copse.
CHAPTER 18 - A PERFECT FACE FOR RADIO!
The Stage Door Bistro had become a firm favourite, especially among the theatre going public. The local paper loved us and provided us with welcome free publicity. Our humorous adverts on Sovereign Radio were often commented on, so much so that I was invited to host a weekly cookery programme live on air every Friday. I worked with a DJ, Paul Martin who spun discs at intervals during the broadcast and pretended to be assisting me in our imaginary kitchen. Listeners actually believed we were cooking live on air even though we never actually said we were doing so! The idea behind the show was to offer a two or three course menu for which I’d give recipes and cooking tips. I’d also suggest suitable wines. I also took a few listeners questions. At this point I should remind you that I had no formal training. All my preparations were concocted by guesswork with a sprinkling of good luck thrown in. Whilst my recipes generally worked, I had absolutely no idea about wine and I consulted reference books to come up with my wine tips! As for the questions, I refused to take them live on air, and I chose which ones to answer after thumbing through a trusty off-the-shelf cookery book!
I had always hankered after running a pub. I saw myself at the helm of a timbered country inn, the type I loved to visit on rare days off. In retrospect, I made an unwise choice when I decided to get myself a hostelry to run aside the Stage Door. Glutton and punishment are the two words which retrospectively spring to mind! I approached Greene King, one of the UK’s oldest and most respected brewing companies. You may recall that I mentioned a while back that my wife Sarah was a teacher and therefore only a part timer in tour catering endeavors The thing was, Greene King had a strict policy of only employing live-in couples. So Sarah bless her heart accompanied me to the interview and managed not to let on that we would be continuing with her full time job of educating the young folk of Eastbourne. Well, we got away with it and viewed a few suitable boozers including the Kings Head at Rotherfield which has become well known recently as the regular haunt of Lisa Marie Presley Well, we didn’t choose that one, and instead settled on The Brewers Arms in the rural and completely isolated village of Vines Cross. I should remind you that whist all this was going on I was still running the Stage Door Bistro, although I was little more hands-off as I had a manager by the name of Karen fronting up the operation.
The Brewers arms had been serving beer uninterrupted since 1753, even during the Second World War when one of the bars was used as a schoolroom for evacuees from bomb ravaged London. The locals called it The Clappers a name which went way back over the centuries and is still its preferred title today. The building was half original, with an additional piece tacked on the late 1800’s. In the old part it was necessary to duck under some of the beams to avoid bumping your head, whilst in the comparatively modern section, the ceilings were incredibly high! The heating was supplied exclusively by three fireplaces, one of which was in a cosy inglenook. There was of course a beer garden and it overlooked open countryside, an area officially designated to be one of outstanding natural beauty. We also had a delightful little children’s play area with a slide, climbing frame and swings. There were just seventy small houses and cottages in the village and the only other business was a car repair garage and body shop across the road. The was a tiny church affectionately known as the Tin Hut due its corrugated iron construction.
That was pretty well it. The pub was well and truly at the hub of the community with all sorts of outside activities going on such as club and council meetings, music festivals and the famous Vines Cross Village Bonfire and firework celebration which had forever taken place on Halloween night; more about that later!
We had the traditional setup of rooms. The Public Bar was where the locals congregated to drink. From the high ceiling were hung eight antique bicycles including tree penny farthings. Also suspended above our heads were ancient wheelbarrows and various farm implements.The walls were adorned with groaning bookshelves and decorated with dozens of pictures by local amateur artists,. Above the wood burner was a blackboard with our menu scribbled in chalk. It was what is termed today ' shabby chic'!
The Saloon Bar served as a quieter place to drink as well as being a more formal place to eat. There was also a little snug which housed one long table and then a small room at the far end known as the Clappers bar where the walls and even the ceiling were completely covered in china plates, dishes, cups, saucers and tea pots!
The pub had always been known for its wonderful displays of flowers especially in the spring and summer
months We had twenty hanging baskets, about ten half barrels and even an old toilet overflowing with petunias. Half of the building was covered in Virginia creeper which turned a shade of deep red in the autumn.. It was magnificent. Thank goodness for the automatic watering system I had installed!
For about thirty years the pub had been run very successfully by a Welshman called John. He was much loved in the village and when he suddenly died he was great loss to the community. His son ran it in a kind of care-taking roll until I came along to take over the reins. John was to be a hard act to follow and I had to make a good impression from day one and I was determined not just to carry on with the traditions but to add to them. I inherited an excellent troop of staff members including Lynn who had been pulling pints behind the bar since her 21st birthday twenty five years previously! I employed a new chef at the Stage Door Bistro and installed my trusty cook Scott in the pub kitchen. It worked! In no time at all Sarah and I had become absorbed in village life.
To be continued