Thursday, October 03, 2013

This part of my bio is linked to Sunday Scribblings

 Previously in A Chequered Career……I saw myself at the helm of a timbered country inn, the type I loved to visit on rare days off………The Brewers Arms in the rural and completely isolated village of Vines Cross was ours… It was known locally as The Clappers………In retrospect, I made an unwise choice when I decided to get a pub to run alongside the Stage Door Bistro……. I installed a manager there to front up the operation on my behalf.


I don’t think we’d quite realised just how important the pub was to village life; everything that happened in Vines Cross was somehow connected with ‘The Clappers’. Suddenly we became fish in that proverbial fish bowl! We were even welcomed to the village in lights – or flames to be precise, because at that year’s bonfire celebration which took place soon after our arrival, the long torchlight procession which wound its way through the tangled mass of local lanes was headed by a flaming banner bearing the words Welcome Sarah and Keith!
       John, the landlord who had been at the pub for so many years was still fondly remembered.   In a lovely gesture, the brewery decided to repaint the brewer's head on the pub sign  with that of John.
       Sadly things were going downhill back at the Stage Door Bistro. I suppose I hadn’t realised how vital it was to have the proprietor on the premises; not only to keep hands on the reigns, but also to be visible to customers. Karen bless her did a great job. The kitchen was running well, but business was falling away. However, I soon received a couple of blows when both chef Lee and sous chef Helen left me. Lee went to assist his mother at her pub in another part of the country and Helen headed off to a ski resort to cook there instead. I replaced the chef and that is when things really went wrong. I wondered why we were buying more meat than we were selling, and I found out via a contact that he was supplying vast quantities of whole steak fillets and other cuts of meat to a chef friend of his at another pub. Between them they had a scam that lined both their pockets at my expense. Just as I was about to confront him about it, I received an early morning phone call from Karen who informed me that she’d arrived at work to find the cellar completely empty; literally thousands of pound of wines beers and spirits had disappeared overnight. So had the chef. The police never tracked him down. It was then I decided to sell the Stage Door Bistro.
       Finding a buyer was no problem at all; the bistro was a well-known and a much loved part of Eastbourne’s social life. But the people that purchased it had no idea what a good thing they’d inherited and they made changes which were not well received by their customers. It lasted less than a year. It was their turn to sell up, and they handed over the keys to a Thai chef who to this day runs it very successfully as the Sabaidee.
     It was all happening back in Vines Cross at The Brewers Arms. We became an event-led and gastronomic destination pub! Our menu was vast and the food amazing. We dared to be different. Whilst one section of our customer base ate in the quieter bars, the salon bar was always alive.
On Sundays we held a fresh meat raffle.  We paid next to nothing for our butcher’s left-over meat when he closed his shop on a Saturday night and we handed it out as prizes; there was so much meat that almost nobody left without something for dinner! The money we raised went straight into the Bonfire Night fund. We held charity race nights where horse and dog races were shown on screen. Before each race was played, everybody placed bets on the outcome. We held charity casino nights were we played roulette and blackjack. Every Friday we had a karaoke night; we had regular blues sessions with pianist Big Al, and frequent Irish Nights where our bearded songster Seamus entertained us with songs from his homeland. In the summer we put on hog roasts and held craft sales in the car park. We paid visits to breweries, took coachloads of customers to the races and even did a Christmas shopping trip to France one year. To celebrate the Millenium we put on a music festival in the pub field. We also had a gun club and every Sunday morning our members would gather for a clay shoot.      

But Bonfire Night was the biggie! We always combined it with a Halloween celebration rather than hold it on the traditional date of November the fifth to avoid clashing with the UK’s biggest celebration just a few miles away in Lewes. Consequently all the other villages in the area were able to send their bonfire societies over and join in our torchlight parade. There were over a thousand torches lighting their way, and several marching bands dotted in-between the fancy dressers and decorated floats. The event continued with the lighting of the bonfire which always had an effigy of a currently unpopular person on top; a prime minister, the tax man and so on. And then we held the part which cost the money – the firework display.
Because of the vast number of visitors from all around the area, the pub was too small to serve drinks to everybody, so we installed a long open air bar in the car park. I took on temporary staff on for the night, and we sold beer- mainly real ale – as fast as we could pour it! We cooked burgers, ribs and kebabs on an open fire, and fish and chips from a mobile van. There was even an auction of items and services donated by local businesses. That night we always raised a lot of money which we split between our favourite local charity and the Bonfire Society.     
  In 2003, The Brewers Arms was 250 years old. It had served beer every day since 1753. Even during WW2 when the public bar was commissioned by the government to be used as a classroom for evacuee children, the beer kept flowing in the room next door! We put on a big party and I got a local potter to make me a quantity of souvenir coffee mugs which I gave away to our regulars.
          I thought it would be fun to write a regular newsletter. Every month the Horam and Vines Cross Diary was popped through the letterboxes of all the houses of ours and our neighbouring village so I felt that wold be the perfect place to spread our news. And so I did. I took a full page each month, called it the Brewers Bugle, and before long it it became a feature most of the residents looked forward eagerly to reading.

 My customers loved to dance, and the later it got the more they wanted to shuffle around! As the evening went on the music got louder. Although the legal closing time was strictly speaking eleven o’clock,we knew the village policeman and if I decided to stay open later I just pulled the curtains closed and carried on whilst he turned a blind eye!  So that the regulars knew I was carrying on and the strangers didn’t, I used a coded message; At about 10.30 I played Mambo No 5 very loudly! Sometimes we went right through the night and in the morning leaned on the fence overlooking the field, coffee in hand, watching the sun come up!
         Unfortunately not everything went according to plan. I guess Sarah and I wanted different things from life, so after a while we went our separate ways. I continued at the pub and she stayed in our house in Eastbourne.

I wasn’t alone at the Clappers however, as my youngest daughter Penny moved into the spare room.

To be continued

Chapters  1     3   4   5   6   7    8   9   10   11   12   13  14  15  16   17  18   >  20


  1. Thank heavens you have continued your story, I was missing it. This may be the best chapter yet despite the problems you encountered.

  2. this is certainly one of the colorful chapters of your story. i really liked the way you find ways after disappointments and failures. you always seem on the go - positive side of life :-)



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