Money matters; so does life

Ever since the year 1500 the firstborn male in my family has been allotted the middle name, Henry,  I was told that this explained my own middle name and that John Islip had been made Abbot of Westminster on 27 October in that year. The abbot was a close friend and confidant of both Henry VII and Henry VIII, and therefore a Privy Councillor. Abbott Islip was also responsible for the building of large parts of the Abbey, including his own 'Islip chape'l. I have fine copies of his funeral roll here, and more on the upstairs wall of Kirkhill House.

Anyway Robert Henry Islip was born in 121 Yarningale Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham on a snow-bound January 5th in 1963. Because Joan had potential problems in childbirth the other three of our children were born in hospitals. (chronologically: Newmarket, Cambridge and Solihull), but Bob was a homebirth and don't I know it, for I assisted - albeit at a distance - with him whereas with the others I kept - or was kept - well away from the action. As I say, the snow lay deep and crisp and even when Joan's time at last arrived. I called the midwife. A couple of hours later the brave lady made it to our house, having several times had to call for assistance in digging herself out - and having had to park her car a couple of roads away. By this time Joan was making the most agonised of noises.Yours truly was in serious need of much alcohol. Fortunately I didn't have any in the house! I say fortunately because the midwife instructed me to go to her car and bring back a cylinder of oxygen. I slipped and slid through the drifts and falling snow, finally finding her car and struggling back with the cylinder, exhausted. At that I was told, "No, not that one. That's the air cylinder. Take it back and bring the other one - the oxygen." Joan then increased her weeping and wailing, adding a few choice epithets as regards her stupid husband!

But soon enough the midwife called me from upstairs. "It's a boy, Bryan. Come up and meet your son." And so I did, taking with me our two little girls, six years old Karen and two years old Julie. It's a wonder all the noise and kerfuffle didn't put them off child bearing for life, but in fact they've had seven of their own offspring between them.

At this time of my life I began to paint pictures in my spare time, often working by artificial light long after the rest of the family were fast asleep. At school, thirteen years before, 'art' had been one of my best and most enjoyable subjects. I now became obsessed with the French Impressionists, using artbooks borrowed from the local library to copy, in oils on Dalerboard, well known masterpieces from Renoir, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Degas etc. Then I progressed forward to Picasso and Braque and backwards in time to the old Dutch and Italian masters such as this, ('Fall of Rome' by, I think, Carravagio) only recently rediscovered after many 'lost' years in a corner of our Kirkhill attic...
And then came my own first original ... here it is. It hangs to this day on the wall in Kirkhill House. I recall the bananas becoming blacker and blacker as my painting days (or nights) progressed...

Soon after moving from Cambridge into Kings Heath, Birmingham I opened my first bank account with a small branch of The Midland in nearby Shirley. The manager was a keen golfer and I believe I was his only client well placed enough to take the occasional time off work to accompany him for a round. I should explain that a new friend, Ron Amos, a sales executive with DRG Group based in Birmingham, had urged me out on to the Coxmoor links and taught me the rudiments of the game.Being something of an obsessive I soon became well and truly hooked. Crazy! In fact I can remember going out on the course by myself one wintery day when my ill-afforded golf balls, well-driven, just disappeared - white in white! My bank manager's name was, I seem to recall, Norman Windebank. Quite appropriate, for although we became regular golfing buddies, age difference notwithstanding, the relationship enabled my very flexible overdraft to become much too flexible!

It wasn't until just before we moved away from the area that I learned about this typical suburban bank manager's wartime. Norman had been a pilot on Mosquito fighter-bombers. He was one of those unbelievably brave souls who went to bomb German's heavy water plant in Norway, knowing they could carry insufficient fuel to get them home. He ditched in the cold North Sea. The target was essential to Germany's efforts to construct the first atomic bomb. You can imagine, 'what if ... Norman and his like had failed.'

By this time the company's sales was regularly outstripping its production. I had little or nothing to sell! So one workday morning I called head office and asked if there was anything I could do to help in the factory. John Williams was quite horrified. "Bryan," he urged, "Don't be daft. You play golf, don't you? Just get out there and improve your handicap." Lovely. I needed no second bidding.   

Then came the hardest lesson in a business career; the lesson that says it's all about money, cash andcash flow, coin of the realm. I had obtained a large order from a well-spoken young guy in the entertainment industry. He was organising a giant jazz festival out at, I think, Earlswood Lakes. Nice office, big car, Oxfordian accent; solid gold new customer. The Saturday dawned sultry hot so Joan and I took our brood out to the festival. We sat on the grass, listened to the music, ate our hot dogs off 'my' paper plates, drank beer or lemonade out of 'my' paper cups. Brilliant. Free entry for us as 'suppliers' of course. On Monday my home phone rang. My company's finance director. The well promised Earlswood money had not been paid over, would I go see the man. Like, now!

I was just and only just in time when I literally burst into his office where I surprised him busily counting a huge pile of silver coins. Suffice to say I walked away with his invoice fully paid and a very heavy briefcase. Later on, I believe from a piece in the Birmingham Post I learned he had defaulted here, there and everywhere - including the poor jazz bands.

One day in 1963 I was summoned to Liverpool head office and promoted to area sales manager. New title, new responsibilities, new motor car and, very soon, new home. Oh, the giddying heights! To celebrate I brought home a fish and chips supper - just like Cambridge!

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