Updated: Aug 13, 2020
Sliding Doors… do you remember the movie? It brought about a new expression, ‘a sliding doors moment’ for seemingly inconsequential moments that nonetheless alter the trajectory of future events…. Made in 1998 it showed the divergent lives of the lead character based on whether or not she got onto a train or just missed it.
Do you have a sliding doors moment?
This is mine.
Five years ago, at eight months pregnant I got made redundant from a job that I loved. I had been a geophysicist with a global oil company for 10 years planning and managing big surveys on land and at sea, using sound waves to map out underground rock structures. Feeling like a valued and respected member of a community, part of a family almost, I didn’t see it coming and it was a bit of a low point to say the least.
Not long after, while sitting pondering my new reality over a flat white in a busy café where space was limited, I offered the two chairs free on my table to a couple scanning the room for somewhere to sit down with their coffee and cake. They turned out to be Mike and Linda. We chatted a bit and they told me about Nicole, their Citroen van, and the little cake and coffee company they ran with her in the kitchen gardens of a National Trust property. I googled it and fell in love with their little business so when I was down in the area visiting a friend, I caught up with them. At this time however they were moving their café into more permanent premises and wanted to find Nicole a good home and so offered her to me.
Without doing any market research, or knowing anything about the industry, I just leapt in with both feet, thinking that with such a beautiful proposition it would be easy...
So that was my sliding doors moment. I could just easily have studiously avoided eye contact, been sat in a different café, or just been in a completely different place that day. From that point on, I guess my life has diverged completely from the course it probably would otherwise have taken.
My first few events were terrifying. I had stage fright, the coffee was a bit hit and miss. Driving this clunky, heavy old van: left-hand drive, with terrible brakes and lots of mechanical noise terrified me, but I kept pushing myself out of my comfort zone because, well, basically I’d left myself no choice! And slowly it all became easier, I met some great people, I made new friends, I found a co-worker, I got some successful events under my belt and it eventually became less stressful and more fun. I especially enjoyed events we did with companies and family parties.
It was a bit of a departure from geophysics admittedly, but I had always fantasised about having a food-based business. Actually, that’s not completely true, when I was about nine I wanted to be a vet, mainly because I loved All Creatures Great and Small. Then for a bit I wanted to be Chancellor of the Exchequer, as you do when you’re 12. After that I wanted to be a graphic designer, although I didn’t really know what that meant (but it sounded cool), followed by a diplomat and then a Formula One engineer. That was at the time that I was choosing my degree course, so I did a degree in Mechanical and Automotive Engineering. But, I have often mused on the idea of having a café or a supper club or a small b&b with French style tables d’hote. I have always been a keen baker and home cook, trying out new things and learning new cooking techniques, but being an engineer with a robustly mapped out career path, I always thought it would remain a bit of a pipe dream, or maybe something I would do in 20 years’ time.
While living in Australia on a year-long project, I worked my way through a Thai cookery book, did cheesemaking classes and made marmalade with the citrus fruit growing around the patio garden of my rented house in Perth. Living in a camp in northern Canada for the winter, I nurtured bread into life on the radiator in my office and baked it in the evening when I was craving something home-made and delicious and getting a bit fed up of canteen food.
So, although I had not really chosen this as a career path, or planned in detail a business based around a vintage van, when the opportunity presented itself, I just thought… I could do that! And so here I am, three years in. I have made the shift to a completely different way of earning a crust with all the ups and downs that that entails, balancing the needs of my family, doing the school walk, opening up avenues of creativity I never really knew I had, and somehow making it all work.