Toils and spoils - work and play

1967. As if being promoted above my peers to area manager hadn't been difficult enough, being now promoted from area manager above the other two area managers to national sales manager was even more so. Both Tom Salisbury and Brian Thomas were my friends, especially Tommy who had been my first boss in East Anglia when I'd started with the company six years earlier. The three of us had become used to meeting up here and there to compare notes every now and then. Of course such get togethers had invariably involved a round of golf and a lunch or supper with plenty of liquid refreshment. (Before the drink driving laws, remember!) No more. It was neither possible nor desirable to maintain the same relationships when I was now the one questioning the use of  the sales force's time and expenses! ... Something about gamekeepers and poachers, perhaps!

This was my sales team at the first of our annual sales conference. I came up with the somewhat theatrical idea of importing a formula three (or fomula Ford?) into our Buxton hotel. Let's go. Go fast, was the message. I am second left with my foot on the car. My first boss Tommy Salisbury is in the driving seat and, in case you're wondering, the lady sitting on the bonnet is Mrs Sandy Ferguson, second in command of our design studio. Forty five years after I left the company I remember all their names. This was a truly great team. Trouble is, the car had little petrol. (Company did not produce enough, or sufficient quality product.)

My national sales manager John Williams had been promoted to the Board and I was now expected, as national sales manager, to spend most of my days at head office in Fazakerley, Liverpool 9. Therefore I had to move residence once more, this time from Solihull to a detached house in Formby, Lancashire.  Longcliffe Drive was about twenty minutes daily commute. Although Joan and the family did not protest and our new home was lovely, I knew that they / we had been more than happy where we were, and moving schools is never easy for children, especially Karen who had won her way to the best secondary school in Solihull. But by this time my career had taken me over, big time - and had probably taken precedence over my whole clan, whether or not they liked it. In seven years we had gone from a furnished bed sitter to a four bedroomed detached house in a 'nice' suburb. I was told -  in confidence of course- that my next move would not be long and would see me in the Dickinson Robinson Group tower block called Redcliffe Street in Bristol. ('Though that, as it happened, was not to be.)

I had become pretty good on Birmingham's parkland golf courses but I was in for a rude awakening when I tried out the ancient championship links up and down Lancashire's sandy coastline. I have a vivid memory of driving the ball over some mighty dune, hopefully towards a totally unseen green only to find it (if I was lucky) buried into the sand or into the whispy marran grass.And the sheer length of the courses! It wasn't long before Joan's oft repeated question; "Bryan, your family or your golf - which is it to be?" was answered with a sigh. "You, dear, you. I'm giving up the game." But in truth I now knew full well that I could never be a contender at that wonderful, exasperating, humiliating game called golf. From now on spectator sport would be my thing. Especially boxing but always professional golf. And over time many others - in fact almost all other sports.

When I did travel away from base anywhere in the UK it would always be to accompany a sales representative to sort out some tricky problem - or do my best to help make a breakthrough sales contract. But the ship called Lily Cups and Containers was beginning to spring leaks in an alarming fashion. It was the old problem; lack of production efficiency leading to constant short deliveries - or non-deliveries - and in consequence angry customers. At times I would almost dread getting to the office in anticipation of the irate phone calls. This was my real baptism of executive fire.

Our problem was the unions - or rather the company's relationship with the unions. Lily Cups' first managing director, the tall and imposing Bob Taylor, although an ex army colonel in WW2, had a special way with the shop floor. I had seen him grabbing a machine operator by the lapels and lifting him off his feet. But they loved the guy. More importantly they respected him and would strive to help the company out of trouble. Now we had a new M.D. called Graham Corner who was an absolute martinet, all too often idiosynchratic and distant. He seemed to do anything possible to get on the wrong side of  those Liverpool workers - and not just the workers, the office staff as well. It was he who instituted a 'directors lunch'. Although not a director I was included, I have to say against my instincts. The six or seven of us 'leaders' would assenble in a specially built dining room, there to select our wine and our menu and talk about anything and everything for two hours plus except, it seemed, the business that was paying each of us a handsome salary each month. He began his posting by getting in to the office early one day and sweeping all the papers on anyone's desk or inside the drawers into the waste bin. In future we had to deal with everything before going home at night, irrespective of whether or not we knew the answers. More customer alienation. I shuddered as production fell and the inevitable air of discontent eroded morale. Our profits turned into increasing losses. The one positive thing about the Mr Corner - although trivial in the context of Rome burning - was his insistence on all the sales guys driving cars with automatic gearing. They had to arrive at customers as fresh as possible, he instructed. Nobody liked automatics. They were for old ladies, we thought. But ever since then I have driven automatic cars, except when abroad when hired geared cars were more obtainable.

I reckon I must have been a pain in the proverbial to the directors of the company. Time and again I would warn them of the impending catastrophy. Nobody seemed overly bothered. One morning John Williams said he wanted me to go develop some export sales. "Where?" I asked. "Wherever the hell in Europe you like", came the answer. "Try Switzerland for a start.". This was my first time out of the country and how I likedthe adventure. I literally disembarked from the plane in Zurich's Kloten airport with the list of possible sales targets I'd obtained from the British Embassy in London and a bagful of samples, took a taxi to the city centre, found myself a good (very good) hotel and spent the evening walking the streets, trying out the odd bar and a restaurant. (Marvellous food.) This was a habit I always maintained when arriving solo in a new city. But now, to hell with the problems in our Liverpool factory. I travelled all over Switzerland by train and rented car, very seldom having trouble with the language as everyone seemed to speak pluperfect English. Berne was my favourite place but Geneva ranked high and, of all high places, Davos. And of course Zurich and the beautiful little town named Zug that overlooked (lake) Zurichsee. I sold some good orders then, and later, on return visits - even though we couldn't supply all of them - and made some good business friends. Suddenly my international goals seemed not only closer but also highly attainable. The only trouble was that bloody factory - or rather, my bloody bosses who didn't seem able to run it properly. By then the infamous lady leader of the local print union had well and truly dug in her heels.

Back home the girls and boys were fast growing up. Formby was such a lot of family fun. Longcliffe Drive led into a beach-side woodland with red squirrels everywhere, and the adjacent flat and sandy beach was immense. When the tide ebbed there it must have extended out the best part of half a mile and when it started to flow, if you were out at the edge of the water you had to walk back in something of a hurry just to keep your feet dry. Then there were the great sand dunes, populated by that whole, nationally protected tribe of natterjack toads. I recall one evening, returning home after taking Joan out for a meal, we tiptoed in the dark into the front porch only to tread on something squishy. I switched on the light. Everywhere there were these fat and knobbly amphibians shuffling and hopping about, except the one that would never see another dawn. They'd been captured and imprisoned by Robert and Stuart. It was after midnight before I caught them all (but one) and returned them to their natural homeland.

Trouble was, I was once again spending more and more time, and I guess I have to say more attention, away from home. I was never afraid of damaging my marriage. Indeed, having been subjected in my early life to the shock and trauma of my parents' split, I never wanted anyone or anything else. But my lovely Joan - the lady with whom I had shared so very much - had begun to show signs of rebellion at my absences. Just as had I started to rebel at work. The money notwithstanding, it was no longer plain sailing in either department of my life.

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