Sunday, March 23, 2014


Previously in A Chequered Career……The six year lease on the pub was about to expire and I had to decide whether to take on another six year tenancy or walk away. For the sake of my health I took the latter……. I came across an advertisement in the window of the local branch of Unwins wine merchants. They were seeking shop managers…….Things were really looking up. However, what happened next came as a complete surprise and a bit of a shock.

Unwins wine merchants had been trading from 381 stores since 1843. Then a few days before Christmas, December 12th 2005 to be precise, I received the news that this well-known and much loved beacon on every high street had gone bust. It was in administration. So that was that. Time to put on my job hunting hat once again.
I decided that rather than search through the job advertisements I would be pro-active and get out there in search of anybody who needed me. After all, people of my somewhat advanced years were known to have difficulty gaining employment. For some reason I’ve never understood, employers prefer to take on inexperienced and often unreliable youngsters to loyal and experienced older folk. I fancied cooking again so I contacted just about every food-led pub in the area. Bingo – I was offered something straight away with a little flat thrown in! I became a chef at the busy Mark Cross Inn
After six months I was nicely settled in. I didn’t particularly enjoy the job. It involved cooking huge pots of cheap food to feed the masses who flocked to this enormous cheap eating establishment. Quantity over quality was my remit. It was almost a relief when one afternoon all the staff were summoned to meeting and told that the pub had been sold to a larger national chain of identikit budget eateries. Not only that, but we were not required as the place was closing for at least six months for a total refurbishment. I moved in with a friend and started searching once again.

No problem. I found another pub looking for a cook and I moved from one job to another without a day’s space! I was now working at The Lamb in a tiny hamlet near Hersmonceux. The boss had lofty ideals and illusions of grandeur! Gastro pubs were becoming all the rage and he was convinced we could become one of the ever growing number of village boozers which were putting on airs and graces and trying to be something they could never be. I loathed it! And so it was that I started putting my feelers out for something more up my street so to say. And so I did. The nearest competitor to the Lamb was the Bulls Head a couple of miles up the lane.

And so, a year and three jobs after leaving Unwins, I finally found my feet and got stuck into a job I thoroughly enjoyed. I had delightful bosses, Linda and Gordon. I say delightful, but Gordon could be a tad difficult! He wouldn’t allow music to be played, not even quietly in the background. And he hated having children in the place. 'Shit machines' he called them. Linda was a very experienced purveyor of pub grub with a lifetime of experience, but with advancing years came difficulties, with hips and things needing replacements. Years of standing all day in a kitchen was taking its toll on her. The food was plain and wholesome; hardly a challenge. Traditional Sunday roasts provided the most customers, and a fish and chip night each Thursday was pretty non-stop with a healthy take-away trade as well. It was the fish night thing that provided me with the greatest opportunity and I started to introduce more adventurous fish dishes with a massive seafood platter at the top of the menu. They decided to capitalise on the popularity of my old pub, The Brewers Arms which was still sadly missed in the area, and so Linda advertised the fact that Keith Hillman was now heading up the Bulls Head catering team. And despite the fact that I was never actually the chef at the Brewers (I employed one) it worked a treat! I then decided to tap into the growing pensioner’s fixed deal market and from Monday to Friday we knocked a fixed price menu for those of advancing years! My goodness, we were busy! And the lunchtimers weren't much older than me of course - I’d celebrated my 60th soon after starting there!  I really enjoyed it. I had several helpers, mainly students in my kitchen and the whole thing ran like clockwork. A couple of times a year Linda and Gordon would go off somewhere for a while, often to Sorrento, and I would move in to the spare room to look after the place. It was during those absences that the pub came to life. I would hold at least one disco dance night, and music would be a feature throughout their time away!

The pub had an interesting history. It was supposedly haunted, not that I ever witnessed any strange goings
on when I was there. Centuries ago it had been a coaching inn and the local courthouse. In one of the cellars an enormous hook still remained from which one unfortunate soul was hanged having been found guilty of a misdemeanor. His name was Jacob I think, and he’s said to still haunt the place. Just before I joined, a well known group of ghost hunters came to the pub for a whole night and held a vigil. They sat around a circular table holding hands, they way they do, and suddenly the table started spinning knocking several of them backwards onto the floor. The grooves in the wooden floor caused by this freaky incident are still there. I have no doubt of its factuality since several of the locals, and Linda, were there to witness it! (You can read an article I wrote about the pub called 'Things that go Bump in the Night' HERE)
Linda and Gordon announced their retirement. The pub was to be taken over by another couple who were to do their own catering and so my services were no longer required. Yet again I was on a job hunt. I
contacted a pub a few miles away, the Red Lion in Hooe and they offered me a job as assistant chef. Having never had a day without work in my life, I took it until I could find something preferable. During my time there I thought long and hard about the future, and decided a change of direction was called for.

And so it was I applied for a job with a fitted kitchen company. It was called Betta Living and I was to stand alongside large displays of kitchens in the centre of shopping malls, a different location each week. My job was to make appointments for the salesman and I was payed commission if they were successful in signing my prospects up. After a short while I was asked to take on the roll of assistant to the area manager. My
task was to seek out new venues and negotiate with mall owners. I sorted out staff rotas and did their expenses. But I was really bored. I stuck it for a couple of years and then I heard about a recruitment campaign for salespeople in the energy business which promised extremely good money. Despite being 63 years old, I thought I’d apply and to my amazement I was taken on!

I was to work for one of the ‘Big 6’ energy providers, Scottish and Southern Energy in the newly formed Marks and Spencer store division. I would travel from shop to shop all over the south of the country and sign people up for M&S Energy. It was a doddle! Marks is probably the countries best loved store brand and with the lure of lots of gift vouchers, customers signed up in droves! I had never earned so much money in my life! In no time at all I was paying the top rate of income tax; something I’d never had to do before! I had wonderful colleagues too. What a ball we had. When I reached my 65th birthday I decided not to take retirement, but to go part time, and work 3 days week. I was still earning a huge amount so it wasn’t a problem. For the first time in my life I was able to afford to spend my holidays travelling to faraway places and see the sights I’d always longed to see.

Then one day in 2011 I decided to stop work! And that’s what I did. I had worked for forty nine years. I had never had a day without work, and apart from the time I fell down the stairs and broke a leg, I’d never had a single day off work for any sort of illness. I thought I deserved to take it easy.

Chapters  1     3   4   5   6   7    8   9   10   11   12   13  14  15  16   17  18   19  20


  1. Phew!! I'd say you deserved to retire! Enjoy!

  2. You certainly didn't let the dust settle anywhere Keith. What a great history to show what can be done in one's life! Having worked for many years in Hampshire, Surrey and Sussex this was a real treat for me.

  3. I agree..after all that you deserve to retire - and have a pint or two..(shit machines made me :)

  4. Yoah Bro it has been awhile could you drop an email my with you email addy I think I have your old one. Thanks for permission to use you pictures. They fit really well with the story. Have you thought of joining Bubblews? Take care
    Steve n Karen

  5. I really enjoy reading about your trips and the photos are a delight.



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