Lift off: new frontiers

1971: Sweetheart had lift off. After that initial Lyons Maid order came another from Walls Ice Cream and yet another from Ross Foods. The old saying - you wait ages for a bus to come along then three arrive one behind the other. Then we got our first order for many millions of printed yogurt cups from Unigate in Frome (or was it Devizes?). Printing on curved surfaces; another new technology so more specialised, highly skilled incomers. Of course as our range increased the company's orders for costly product tooling were flowing across to the States faster than UK customer orders were coming in. In other words money out more than money in. No problem; we would soon enough be reversing that trend, or so I had to constantly reassure the Board. By that time I had been promoted from sales manager to sales director. I still have the letter from Chairman Sir Julian Salmon.

The major part of our monthly Board meetings consisted of my report on our sales and our prospects in the markets. I had spent ten thousand pounds on our first exhibition. A lot of money then, but it had succeeded in putting the company fair and square in front of all the major dairies, most of whom I then invited to come see our new operation in Gosport. In addition my 'lieutenants' Ted and Alex were beavering about, making themselves and Sweetheart known to the buyers and our competition - who were spending overmuch time and energy talking down this brash newcomer called Sweetheart. Much entertaining in between all the serious stuff. In those days relationships and the build-up of trust between industrial sellers and buyers were absolutely key. These days I am told that buying and selling is more about bids and offers on-line. How very dull. Is that, I wonder, a nett gain to anybody?

The girls were doing well at their schools, especially sixteen year old Karen who had been quick to make her mark at Bay House and had many friends amongst the boys and girls youth of Lee-on-Solent and Gosport. She was quite irritated when she heard they referred to her as 'the princess'. Julie was also popular, a bubbly and beautiful little girl, like her sister with a love of animals but especially the horses or ponies which she learned to ride at nearby Charque Farm. One Saturday our whole family went to watch her in her first gymkhana. She really looked the picture as she rode up to that first jump, then the horse stopped and our little lady didn't! Tearfully unhurt but mortified.Yes, pride does come before a fall!

The boys at their new schools were a different kettle of fish. Literally. Perhaps they had inherited too much of my love of fishing and my old disdain for conventional education, I don't know. Joan and I knew they were both bright enough, it was just that they seemed to prefer adventure (sometimes misadventure) to competitive school work. Robert especially was a worry. The other day I read through some of the eleven.year old's school reports. Dark shadows were already evident. Fishing dominated the lives of my sons - and my own  life outside of my career.

Living close by the sea and Lee's yacht club slipway it wasn't long before I gave in to the boys entreaties and bought an old boat from which to fish the Solent. 'Culash' we named her, which is phonetic gaelic for 'little fly'. Culash was no ordinary boat. She was really out of time and out of place; a very traditional seventeen foot larch on oak clinker built double-ender. I had one of the engineers at work make me a trailer which we promptly hitched to the back of my company Zodiac and journeyed seven hundred miles north for a holiday in Applecross. Our first taste of the Highlands of Scotland, and what a taste. When we arrived at the foot of Belach na Ba (the pass of the cattle) even daredevil Stuart wanted to get out and walk up. No way. But how I got that car and boat assembly around those then unguarded one in four S-bends, sheer drop-off to our left,  I shall never know. These days I service a couple of customers in Applecross, going up that pass in so doing. I never fail to think back to that first ascent. One of my fifty six landscapes features Applecross bay, and the card carries this verse. Each of my paintings have an associated verse, hence 'Pictures and Poems' as a trade name.   

a'Chromraich (Applecross)

Breathtaking, truly,

when you climb the twisting heights

of Belach na Ba (Pass of the Cattle)

first see the drop down into Applecross

look over the sea to Raasay, Skye

and think of Saint Maelrubha,

Irish monk, coming here by oar and sail

thirteen hundred turning years ago

with holy messages for Pict and Gael

'a'Chromraich' the Gaels called this place

'The Sanctuary' to me and you

and that is what it is, Applecross,

this lovely shelter from the storm,

from life's hard race

a race from where to where who knows?

who knows of where went

St Maelrubha's saving grace?
But what a holiday that was! We had used the boat as our trailer. After unloading it and pitching our tent we  introduced ourselves to the only other campers on that remore, near seaside field. Between us we gathered firewood and soon and a nice blaze going to cook our supper and deter those perishing midges. The boys and I had ventured into an adjacent stand of trees when a mighty, well-antlered shape reared out of the darkness, sailed majestically over a high fence and was gone in renewed silence. Unforgettable! Especially for we soft southerners whose only exposure to wilderness had been the flat and well trodden New Forest. 

We had trouble launching Culash but an old man - a very old man named Donal who spoke only the Gaelic, put us all to shame with his strength and agility. He took a real shine to Culash, drawing a diagram in the sand showing how such craft had been equipped with slanted mast and square lugsail in the old days. (A visit to the Nautical Museum in London bore it out, so the next year I rigged our Culash in like manner.) The boys and he developed a great sign language relationship throughout our ten days in Applecross. We fished and explored that ragged coastline every day from our boat. This was heaven for us. A very long way from anything any one of us had known before. 

Can you fall in love with a piece of land? Perhaps in thrall was a better word for how we felt about the Scottish Highlands and Applecross. We would return time and time again, then one day and many adventures later I would come to live a beautiful life in this beautiful place.

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