1963: thrills and spills

1963: a solo summons to Head Office could mean only one of two things; I'm either getting fired or promoted. The company was going through hard times because of its inability to manufacture anything close to its rated potential, meaning that we salesmen had to spend much of our efforts on explaining short deliveries, having taken orders in all good faith. Industrial buyer/seller relationships were extremely hard won and therefore very valuable assets in those per-internet days. Damage could be permanent. I had to be aware of the possibility of redundancy. On the other hand I had been consistently high up on the company's sales graphs and my work had often found favour with the management.

Promotion it was; I was to be the new midlands and south west territorial sales manager. At a stroke, for me life changed, and I don't mean just business life. Nevertheless in terms of the latter I can understand why large companies often have policies to prevent one from a group of colleagues being promoted over the other members of same group. Especially in a solidly results oriented team and especially when the selected one is junior in years and in experience to all of the others - and not necessarily even the leader in sales results.

Some years later I asked my boss how come the finger had pointed at me? Finger is a quite appropriate word. At one of the preceding sales conferences John Williams had invited all his sales guys to prepare a short talk on any subject of his choice. We would all congregate in the hotel conference room to watch on TV whilst in a separate room, one by one, we presented our efforts to a closed circuit TV camera. I had just read a book about the South American policeman who'd discovered and developed finger printing technology. That book and a few of my homespun illustrations had done the trick!

It took me a while as area manager to find the essential ground between being overly authoritarian and overly egalitarian with 'my' team. In this I was assisted by being seconded on to several junior management training courses at head office. In that way I got to know others of my ilk in the Group - as well as the nightlife and pub life of Bristol! I remember that, for some obscure reason one of such training courses courses was all about 'public speaking'. For a week we would be taught the rudiments and then, on the final afternoon, we would each deliver a ten minute address on any subject we chose to the Group Chairman, Sir John Foster Robinson. 'Piece of cake'?! For goodness sake, weren't all we eager young managers expert with words? But unfortunately, despite the emphasis on preparation we spent little or no time on the essential evening homework. When  Friday's presentation time came around, one by one we made a bloody silly fool of ourselves. In common with all of us I found that ten minutes is one hell of a long time to talk about anything to an audience, impossible for almost everyone in the absence of specific preparation and much rehearsal. As I recall, when the last of us had huffed and blundered his way through, probably with many an embarrassing silence, Sir John stalked off, saying ne'er a goodbye.

Several things have remained fixed in my memory about our family times in Yarningale Road, mostly good things. We were very happy there for a start, although of course not always. I remember Joan's tears as we learned on November 22, 1963, via our rented TV, that President Kennedy had been killed. How, I wondered then, (and still do), could such a remote and, as we now know much flawed politician evoke such a depth of love? But we did love the man. At the time, expectations in his aftermath were a perfect and much worrying void. Anything or nothing, or nuclear disaster. 

And, from major to minor, I remember my best ever figure painting - maybe my best ever painting, period. Ready for bed in a blue nightie little Julie had fallen asleep on the settee. Stupidly I sent the resultant oil painting to my father in Hastings. I thought it might inspire him to take some kind of interest in us, especially since we had named our second daughter after his wife, my stepmother Julia. I know he received it but but when I asked after it years later he denied having had it. One for the rubbish tip. Thank you, father!

Then there was that awful morning when, driving eight years old Karen and her little friend to school, upon said friend getting out, a car came hurtling down the pavement, smashing her into the open rear door. The poor girl had a piece as large as half an orange gouged out of her thigh. The out of control vehicle ended up against a crumpled street light. At the inquest I learned the elderly driver had been dead at the wheel from a heart attack. What a rotten way to leave this world.

In view of our expanded family Joan and I decided to sell our semi and buy a larger newbuild detached in nearby, upmarket Solihull. My home made 'for sale' board hadn't been up in Yarningale Road more than a day or two before a young Asian gentleman came calling. It was the oddest house sale of the four I've made since then. He hardly looked round the rooms before making a bee-line for the garage, and, after detailed inspection nodding his approval. At that we went back to the kitchen where he opened his attache case and counted out the full asking price - in banknotes! Of course the Bristol & West Building Society took the majority of it but not before I had paid it into my depleted bank account by counting it out on to my somewhat taken aback bank manager's desk. Oh, temporary wealth!

Our new home was one of the first completions on the gigantic Damsonwood Estate, situated alongside the 'Rovers' (British Leyland) test track. We furnished the house mainly on the good old HP and added a warm water fish tank to the lounge. At the rear of our back garden I created a goldfish pond, (something I did in every subsequent new house purchase). With much ceremony.Karen planted a number of acorns and introduced Sammy the tortoise, who lived happily there until our next door neighbour's lovely little dog killed and ate much of him! So many tears!

For the first time I was now to spend much of my working week staying away from home in hotels, therefore fully exposed to all the temptations of the expense account flesh. Life's focus was inexorably shifting to the heady excitement of my burgeoning career. Like any reasonably nice looking, well dressed young business executive I was beginning to notice that most heady of wonders - i.e. that young ladies were noticing me!

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