What are we, who am I?

When in 1970 I needed to undergo a three day physical and mental selection procedure for sales director (manager at first) of Sweetheart International I was required to visit one Dr Ralph Arnold, a diminutive, somewhat eccentric psychologist and a leading figure in his profession. For some three hours in the morning and two more in the afternoon he sat opposite me in his London office as I underwent test after test. Example: write your signature on this paper fifty times. He clicked his stopwatch. Having done so he passed me a fresh sheet of paper with the instruction; you are right handed, now do another fifty with your left hand. Stop watch on. And so on and on and on. No explanations, no apparent rhyme or reason. Sometimes the same 'test' repeated hours later. When I met my new boss, managing director Alan Watchman and co-directors Don for production and Richard for finance I learned that we had all gone through the same somewhat harrowing selection procedures.

Months later, after we had set up the factory in Gosport and our offices in Fareham Dr Arnold came down to see us all at work. Apart from the fact that the pocket dynamo did his level best to seduce my secretary I remember that visit very well. I learned that the main purpose of his assessment was to ascertain whether we, as a team, could act as a team or whether there would likely be destructive clashes of personality. He produced a square paper divided vertically and horizontally - 'my introversion / extroversion register', he told me; Your tests are collated and result in a dot on this grid; if your dot falls at the bottom left hand corner you are an extreme introvert, top right hand corner and you are an extreme extrovert. If you are beyond this square in one way or the other you are dangerously unstable, even psychopathic. Where, he asked, do you think you are, Bryan? Now, I had always thought of myself as a thinker, an introvert, somewhat inclined to being reserved, but nevertheless I felt a salesperson should always lean towards extroversion so I put myself low down in the upper right hand quartile but near the centreof the page. He grinned. Yes, almost everyone wants to be there - it's the fear of abnormality. He put a dot near the top right. You are an almost extreme extrovert. All top sales people are somewhere up there and all of you think you're introverts, wherever you put your own dot! No, I won't tell you where your colleagues are except to say that the group of you do have the potential to operate as a team. A load of  bollocks? I don't know but what I do know is that within three years I was the only one of that carefully selected team of four still employed by the company!

Anyway it's now 1985 and for me the roof is threatening to fall in. To the outside world I am a successful director of a profitable company which has, since its green grass beginnings fifteen years ago, wrested market leadership from all its entrenched opposition and which is now a major employer in its locality. Almost everything about Sweetheart International Ltd bears my personal thumb print. I have gained the respect both of the trade and the town. But what of me, myself, a forty one years old chain smoking, pub-going, speechifying family man - albeit with some unusual qualities, methods and habits at work and at home? In precise order I love my wife and family, Delia and her family, our boats, our dogs, nights in new cities with my team, the Highlands of Scotland, the folk in my sales office and of course England and St George. There are a few things I don't like, principally my crazy new world-travelling boss Roberto Gasparini and Margaret Thatcher, still busily closing down the heavy industries that had made our nation rich and powerful in favour of her and her husband's money-shuffling pals in The City of London.

So that's my best shot at a 1985 self-appraisal. You may recall my much, much earlier blog about how at school all we fifth formers were required to write and then have delivered 'in public' an essay - its subject, 'Myself as others see me'. I assure you this is not an easy thing to write and even less easy to hear being read out! I suppose it can never be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth because we all look in the mirror darkly, do we not? Nevertheless I tried my damnedest then and have done so again right here.

But as I say I am, in 1985, probably heading for a terminal clash with new managing director Gasparini and whoever the hell might own Sweetheart International this week, and I have a wife with advanced, untreatable multischlerosis and a son beset by rapidly escalating schizophrenia - plus of course plenty of bank borrowings. What happens, I ask myself, should I be fired or relinquish my job?

On the other hand I have a real and present saving grace - a secret or not so secret second family in Delia and sons. Looking back from the present I know Dee was the rock to which I clung throughout the wild waters of my life in the eighties. Had I been stronger or a more decent man I would or should have let her go and been swept away to God knows where.

I devise a plan that needs merely a legendary 'one mighty bound'. First I would talk through my plan with Joan and, if she concurred, I would ask our children whether or not they can accept such a situation. The solution? I would attempt to persuade Dee to come live with us at Lee-on-Solent where she could look after my wife and our joint families. If everyone agrees and when things have settled down I will sell our house, releasing its capital and wiping out my bank borrowings before raising a mortgage with a minimum deposit on another home for us all. So very simple! But that is merely step one. Step two, I shall resign my position with Sweetheart before they fire me, for I detest and will not tolerate for long, (or they will not continue to tolerate me for much longer), the way they want to run the company. After that I'll use my trade contacts as a base from which to build my own packaging design and logistics consultancy. Step three is just a background shadow as yet, disclosed to nobody; but I shall create an opportunity to go back thirty years and begin again: I shall at long last get down to the writing of fiction. I think I can write stuff worth reading and certainly I still yearn to do so - hopefully for money, by the way. Oh so simple; I told you I was an optimist!

Slightly revising my plan I met with our first born, Kairen, in London where she lived with husband Roger and, by that time, the first two of her children. I laid my cards on the table. I'm not sure if she said go for it, with or without great enthusiasm but she said she understood and thought it might work. So after that I spoke with Joan in our living room when we were on our own. I need not have worried. She was always at heart the pragmatist and of course she knew me, warts and all, better than anyone in the world, (even myself!). Her longstanding inability to be the wife and housewife was never her fault whereas my having taken a mistress was, if you like, my weakness. Whether she said yes or no to the plan I would abide by her decision I told her, and meant it. That would be that. We would continue as best we were able and she, Joan, would always be my wife. There were tears but by then tears were not new to us, for as I have recorded here her life had been really and truly unkind to her, to me and to our family. Eventually she agreed to give it a go but first wanted to meet with Delia. So, before speaking with the other three of my grown up children I  sat down with Dee in a Lee-on-Solent Cafe called the Bluebird, thoroughly expecting to have my plan rejected - killed at birth. After all, in spite of our longstanding relationship what attractive, sensible young woman would exchange her independence, her job as a legal secretary and the life she had made for herself and her boys for a man ten years older than her, a man carrying so much baggage and with with so much of doubt about his future? She heard me out in silence then looked me straight in the eyes; When can I meet with Joan? she asked quietly, adding, on my own Bryan, please.

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