Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Part 7 My Story.

The Next big thing and death in my family.....

Although I finished part 6 of My Story by saying I sold Hamilton House at a substantial profit but it wasn’t until we lived in it for 18 months. The house as I said was 3 stories over basement and was let out in student bedsits when I bought it, it was only after the builders removed all the partition walls that made up each apartment did I realise just how stunning the house was. All the magnificent cornices were thankfully intact as were the marble fireplaces. At a guess I would think the house was built around 1918 and probably the home of some rich Irish nobleman. Interesting that the street was called Trafalgar Terrace and our house was named Hamilton House. I wonder if there was any significance in that, you know Lady Hamilton, Napoleon and all that??? In the basement that was the kitchens original I built a replica of Club Elizabeths but quite a lot smaller. I don’t know why but I suppose it was like a statue in memory of greater days gone by. I still missed the club terribly and all that went with it. Money was tight as I was tying up every penny I had in property.

I have two sisters and a brother. (photo: Left Gary Jane and Vanessa) My eldest sister Vanessa and brother Gary lived in America and my youngest sister Jane lived in Dublin and was married to an award winning chef, Paul Cathcart. Paul and Jane ran a small but very successful bistro in Dun Laoghaire Co Dublin; in fact Dun Laoghaire is where my mother and father ran their medical practise. Dun Laughaire is a large sea side town. I remember the town for two fond memories; as I said my father and mothers surgery was on main street

Secondly Teddies Ice Cream shop (see photo) . I say shop all it was, was a hole in the wall on the seafront. Almost every
Sunday our parents would take us for a treat to Teddy's for one of their famouse Ice cream cones, a tradition that still stands today for many Dublin families. There was something special about a Teddy‘s Ice cream cone and like Coca Cola the
ingredients were a closely guarded secret by the owners, Teddy and his partner Austin. Just up from Teddy was a terrace house converted into a tea rooms called The Mad Hatters. One day whilst driving past the tea room I noticed a for sale sign. I took down the name of the agents and called them the next day. I rang my brother in law Paul and sister to ask them if they fancied expanding by moving their Bistro to larger premises? After negotiating a good deal myself and my partner Louis Murray, my sister and her husband Paul shook hands on purchasing the Mad Hatters and set about opening what was to become one of Dublin’s finest restaurants.

The plan was to turn the basement into the main entrance and wine bar, the main floor was going to be the restaurant and kitchens with the first floor in offices and storage rooms. We employed a brilliant architect who designed the wine bar by using Liscannor slate flooring creating an atmosphere on how it must of looked originally with a large wood burning stove and dark mirrored walls along the staircase leading up to the dining room. The dining room was spectacular like nothing Dublin had ever seen before, the walls and ceilings were tented in a specially commissioned batik. I came up with the name Digby’s by simply sticking a pin in a dictionary and came up with the name Digby a former sea captain and seeing we were on the sea it was perfect. So there you have it my new Big Thing was up and ready to go. I saw to it that the invitation list included all my old clients from Elizabeth’s days, most I hadn’t see since that day in ’76 when I handed to keys over to Jodi Car .

There's always panicking on opening days, making sure everything is in place and that the builders have cleaned up and left (from all my past experiences the builders are normally putting the last lick of paint as the first guests arrive!) For the first time in my memory of openings the builders were in fact ahead of schedule and with 24 hrs to go they finished their work. The morning of the launch a group of cleaners were going over the restaurant and wine bar making sure it would be sparkling for the opening party. I was overseeing the final clean up.Paul was busy arranging canopies etc with his staff in the kitchen and Jane was making sure all waiting staff were versed on what they should be doing during the opening. I had wondered down to the wine bar going through my final check list when I was immediately drawn to how wonderful the Liscannor slate floor looked damp (the cleaners had just moped it) the dull look of the floor had come to life. I called the builder immediately and asked him if there was a quick drying varnish he could use on the floor to give it this sheen permanently. He arrived 20 minutes later with a special floor varnish from Sadolin and within the hour the wine bar floor looked spectacular.
He informed me that the drying time was around one hour. So we closed off the bar making sure no one would accidently walk on the wet varnish. It was around midday and the VIP guests were not invited until 8pm so plenty of time to really let the floor harden. About 3pm I went down to the wine bar and without walking on the floor I knelt on the last step on the staircase from the restaurant to test the floor. It was still soaking!!!! Shit. Maybe leave it another hour before panicking. I came down again an hour later. The floor was still as it was when the builders put on the varnish, soaking!!! I remember thinking why in the name of everything that’s sacred did I not just leave the floor as it was? 4 hours to go and I was in trouble. I called the builder he came immediately; he looked at it and didn’t understand what was wrong. I was panicking so I decided to call Sadolins Dublin’s head office. They put me through to the MD who said he’d come over straight away to see what the problem was. By this time I was in a terrible state,. The Sadolins MD arrived and requested to have a look at the tins we used, turning his eyes towards heaven he pointed to a notice on the tin that clearly showed that the varnish was ‘For Wood Only’!!!! With only 3 hours left he suggested we get hold of wire brushes and a large industrial gas blow heaters. By 5:30 we were all on our knees scrubbing franticly!!! By the time the first guest arrived we had removed a lot of the varnish but the floor was still sticky, you could hear the squelching of woman high heels and marks on our beautiful hand woven light gray Sheppard’s Weave Carpet that led from the wine bar to the restaurant. Our only saving grace was I don’t think anyone noticed and if the did they were to polite to mention it. Thankfully the party was a great success and the VIP guests loved the restaurant. From day one Digby’s was a great success mostly down to my brother in laws fine cooking. My sisters restaurant management skills and I suppose my draw on high profile clients.

Digbys restaurant like Club Elizabeth and Sachs became one of the top restaurant in South Dublin and was picking up awards everywhere. But restaurants and generally the food business is a hard market to make money especially at the top end where waste played havoc with profits eventually it was time for a reality check coming to the conclusion there just wasn’t enough money to be made for four partners so reluctantly Louis and myself agreed that Jane and Paul should take over the restaurant.

I was back at home again with nothing to do!!! Can you see a pattern emerging here? My life was turning into a seesaw one minute up the next minute down.

Earlier I pointed out that Hamilton House was featured as the house of the month in the prestigious Image magazine. One day the publisher Ann Rehill called me to let me know that someone had called her office enquiring if the house was for sale. She gave me the callers telephone number and suggest I might like to speak to him. I called him the next day, he was from Cork and had just sold his hotel and wanted to relocate to Dublin and would I be interested in selling Hamilton House. Well of course I was, so we met up and yet again agreed a substantial price. I was delighted with myself especially as I had now run up depts. Of over 80,000 pounds in Ulster Bank unsecured and my manger Norman Murray, who was hugely generous, was putting pressure on me. This sale would have seen my dept paid and a healthy balance left in the bank.

Wendy was as busy as ever and had just returned from modelling at Pret Porte in Paris but when I gave her the good news that I had agreed a sale on the house, rather than being happy Wendy was far from that!!! She said she loved the house and was simply too tired to move again. I didn’t know what to do except call the gentleman and tell him. I decided I wanted to deliver the bad news to his face, so we met for afternoon tea at the fashionable Hibernian Hotel. I explained that Wendy was the co signature on the house and she simply didn’t want to sell. The Cork man was furious and immediately up his offer by yet again a substantial amount I just couldn’t refuse. I shook his hand and promised that I convince my dear long suffering wife and in the end she agreed.

I was desperate to find another house when I spotted a picture of a house set in 5 acres for sale on the property page of Friday's Independent.. The house was called Glencarrig and was approached by a long impressive drive.
Half way up the drive there was a large paddock and stables then an impressive sweep up to the main house. It was very Hollywood in style all glass and brick set off by spectacular views of the mountain area, surrounded by lush gardens a mature trees. Standing separate from the main house was a huge studio style complex which included garaging for 3 cars.
Although I spent very little time overlooking the property I liked it a lot, it was very impressive.
Wendy was abroad modelling and hadn’t seen the property but I was sure she'd approve of it . So I took myself along to the auction (most real estate in Ireland at that time was sold by public auction) which was held at Arnold Gregory by my friend David Arnold. I was delighted that there was a small turn out in fact there was only one bidder against me, unfortunately he was as determent as I was to buy the property . The biding between the two of us was fast and furious, neither one of us wanting to back down. The price went way above market value but we both kept bidding against each other, in hindsight now I wish I had stopped and he got the property. In the end I was the highest bidder ending up as the owner of Glencarrig, but at an outrages price. I left the auction room with a real bad feeling about the house. Something I would live to regret!!!
It was shortly after Wendy returned that a brought her to visit our new home. I remember the day well; It was a beautiful sunny morning and sweeping up the long tree lined drive the house looked stunning. Wendy looked please at first, that is before we started some investigating. It didn't take long before we began to realise that I might have made a terrible mistake. In my hurry to buy the house I hadn’t bothered to get a surveyor to check out the property, big mistake! The flat roof looked as if it needed work. It was some time before we located the central heating and realised that the blow air system when started sounded like the engines of a battleship as the boiler is located in the middle of the house, the noise was unbearable! It was shortly after we moved and had our first rainy day that the roof started leaking and the large windows were were far from draft proof, all and all we began to hate the house from day one!. My bad feeling about the property was quickly becoming a reality!

Photo: A very rare photo of Peter Pepper and His Pepper Pots making a live appearance at the Olympia Theater Dublin with Colm Wilkinson taking center stage as The Sneeze. The photo on the right is the very talented Eamon Gibney this time playing the Sneeze at Parks Hotel Dublin.

Im not sure when are why but I co-wrote a musical called Peter Pepper with my good friend Peter Adler. I had met Peter, the son of Larry Adler widely acknowledged as one of the world's most skilled harmonica players, when he went to Trinity College in Dublin, He was a brilliant musician and also played in a band. I haven’t a clue what inspired me to write this children’s tale about a Pepper Pot getting lost in the Forest of Mustard. Peter and myself got together and wrote some songs for the fairytale, CBS Ireland loved one of the songs and agreed to release a single from the musical to be released.(Photo: Cover of the Peter Pepper single released by CBS Irl)

We staged a one off show at the Olympia Theatre Dublin. One of Characters in the story was called the Sneeze which I based on the the Fonz from the hit TV hit show Happy Days. The part was brilliantly played by Colin Wilkinson who went on to fame and fortune in both the West End and Broadway taking the lead in Les Miserable’s. (see photo) When it came to the week of the show, tickets were slow and are costs were very high I needed to come up with a plan to boost ticket sales. It was then that I got the idea of booking a school choir from one of the convent schools. The choir we finally agreed on had about 30 members and I knew that each would bring at least an average of 3 people therefore swelling our ticket sales to over 100!!! After the show. . Of course just being a one off it didn’t make money that was more or less that, my dreams of Walt Disney calling and signing the rights never happened and Peter Pepper and his Pepper Pots were no more.

My father (See Photo)called me one morning and asked me to accompany him to St Vincent’s hospital an odd request I thought, why would my father want me to go with him to visit what I presumed was one of his patients in hospital, but of course I agreed possibly because I was intrigued as to why he invited me along for the ride. He the explained that the reason he was going to hospital was that he believed he might have TB (Tuberculosis) and he wanted to check it . I was shocked as I don’t remember one day that my father had ever been sick, I always believed been a doctor he had built up an immunity from infection etc. I went with him as he was x-rayed. He came out ashen faced “What’s Up?” I nervously inquired “I have the big C” he sheepishly replied. I had never seen my father look so vulnerable. That’s impossible I thought, doctors don’t get sick, my dad was as fit as a fiddle, he didn’t smoke he drank very little and hunted with the hounds twice a week. No there had to be a mistake. A few days later I went along to visit the cancer specialist at St Vincent’s who had seen my dad. He explained that my father had a very aggressive form of cancer that was unfortunately impossible to operate on and that the best he could predict was 6 months and that he would need to start immediately a course of Chemotherapy!!! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, I was devastated. You never think of your father or mother dying, that’s something that happens to older people like grandparents not mums and dads. My dad took the news very badly and I suppose being a doctor he knew what was facing him. The weekly Chemo sessions made him very ill, he started to lose his hair, but he was a fighter, he continued to work and complained very little.
The six months deadline passed and dad was still with us. In fact he lived another two years until he finally gave up his brave fight to live. In the end his pain was too much to live with and his final day came as I relief for us all who found it so hard to watch him suffer they way he did. He was only 57 years old. To young , much to young. I much loved doctor and a great father.

Wendy and I were both very unhappy in Glencarrig, the house was a disaster and horrible to live in so we decided to put it on the market. I’d called Lisney’s ,Dublin leading estate agency and had a word with Tom Day the then MD. He explained that the market wasn’t showing good results at the moment but If I wanted he could put the house up for auction. I told him perhaps we should wait until the market recovers because I had a large investment resting on Glencarrig and need top money for the house.

I was sitting alone one sunny Friday morning in the kitchen, Something I seemed to be doing a lot of over the last 3 years, sitting alone that is, when a car pulled up in front of the house, I wasn’t expecting anyone. He introduced himself and explained that he heard from Tom Day that I might be interested in selling and that he was looking for somewhere that had enough land to stable his daughter’s ponies. I couldn’t believe it, without advertising my home for sale this was the third time a buyer has simply turned up, the first being the Greek Ambassador, the second the buyer of Hamilton House and now this. I walked him down to the paddocks and showed him the stables etc, and then I showed him around the house and gardens. He asked how much I wanted, I told him how much I needed, he thanked me and left and as far as I was concerned that was that. I’m not sure if I even bothered telling Wendy.

On the Monday morning I received a call from Tom Day informing me that the gentleman who visited my house on Friday wanted to purchase and could I come into is his office around lunchtime so a deal could be agreed. I called my lawyers to immediately send over a sales contract etc to Lisney’s in anticipation of signing that day. It was a very short meeting, the gentleman agreed a deal at the asking price, contracts were signed and I left the estate agents with the biggest smile you could ever imagine! Walking along Dublin’s St Stephen Green on a beautiful sunny day, I just couldn’t believe my luck and more could a delighted Wendy when I told her.

To be continued

Are happiness was short lived. My final business in Ireland goes up in flames and time in Dublin's high court......


No comments:

Post a Comment