Looking for a home.

If my life were to be divided into five parts, I suppose the first would have been everything up to my marriage to Joan in 1955, the second everything from then up to 1970 when I walked out as sales manager of Lily Cups in Liverpool. The third part would be with Sweetheart International from 1970 to 1987 when I found myself 'released' by the company. Parts four and five - the final forty percent - begin here.

These memoirs are labelled 'Me, My Life', but of course my life was always and continues to be touched by others, many others of more or less importance to me, making more or less impact on me. Top of my 'importants' list are or were my two wives, second my children and Dee's children, third our wider family, fourth my friends and after that all others. But yes, this is about me, not about all or any of them. After all neither I nor anyone else has a possibility to access a second party's innermost thoughts and deeds, nor to understand the how and why of events of importance, in turn, to them. It's no different when that second party is family. So I must leave them to speak (or more probably not speak) for themselves.

Having said that, it will not hurt at this stage to summarise ... That previous episode left  Delia and myself in 1987 about to take up my new employment at Dolphin Plastics (of was it Dolphin Packaging? I can't remember) of Poole in Dorset, and about to move from Hillhead on the Solent into a new rental in Sopley, a hamlet lying within the heart of the adjacent New Forest. At that stage I had just moved Joan into her new and quite luxurious nursing home, South Winds, near Southampton. My eldest, Kairen, and husband Roger already had three of their ultimately four children and were still living in north London - still are in fact. Roger was and is in construction management, Kairen beginning the studies which would lead to a degree and eventually her doctorate in psychology. Julie and husband Geoffrey had two of their ultimately three boys and lived in the Midlands, where they owned and ran a snooker club. Robert was travelling 'below the horizon out of sight' all over the country, (and Ireland), surfacing from time to time in hospitals and/or in need of funds. We met in such places and would continue to meet often over the next few years. Stuart had met and was living in Poole with the young and lovely Lorraine, his future wife, from where he was small boat fishing for a living having given up his itinerant life on the big crabber, Kingfisher. Dee's eldest, Max, had met with Tracey and lived in Dorset, shortly to move on to Tracey's native turf in a Manchester suburb. Rudi, our youngest, who had been with us in Hillhead, decided not to migrate with us to the New Forest, preferring to stay in the Fareham / Gosport orbit where I think he had already met his future first partner, Nina. Only two of these five original 'partnerships' were to survive intact, with Robert an inevitable, invisible question mark.

And myself? Battered but unbowed I think you could say. My much lower level new job was interesting enough as it combined selling (packaging) with packaging design and development. It represented a total change of business life-  which is probably just what I needed after the hiatus of the preceding years. I and my new colleagues were encouraged by the boss / owner, Harry Evans, to return to our homes each day, no matter how far the distance to and from our last customer appointment. Four hundred mile daily return trips were not uncommon. Harry detested hotel expenses almost as much as those entitled 'customer entertaining'. In the general office at Dolphin there was a chart on the wall where salesmen's movements, forward and current day, were recorded for all to see. Harry was a self-made, now wealthy man; a genuine obsessive and a genuine eccentric given to working all hours. That may well have been the reason why he lived alone, his wife having deserted, I believe. One day in his office he confided in me that his visiting housekeeper always left an unlit open coal fire in his living room for him. In front of it would be two armchairs, between them an occasional table complete with malt whisky decanter and two glasses. He said he would come home, set a match to the fire, sit down in one of the chairs, take a swig of the hard stuff  and ask himself a question out aloud. Any question; perhaps, he continued, how was your day, Harry? He would then move to the other chair, pour himself out another dram and answer himself at length, again out aloud whilst gazing into the flickering coals. And so on ... A conversation with myself, he said, which is a good way to leave no unanswered questions or unmade decisions about the business and allows me to sleep well; (that and presumably the whisky!)

I had a great deal of respect if not exactly a liking for Harry Evans. His finance chief had instructions to leave one piece of paper on his desk with just one number on it. With this one number, set against previous, he knew instantly the financial health of his business. That number? Exactly how many tonnes and kilos of formed plastic had left the factory yesterday on route to  customers.

Harry Evans was for me the perfect example of rags to riches on the back of a simple good idea forcibly implemented. He had been some kind of junior ship's officer sailing out of Liverpool when he saw in a pub how a metal suit of armour, part of the decor, attracted much attention. Knowing precisely zero about mould making and thermoforming, he spent a few hundreds on having made some silver plastic shells in the form of miniature, lightweight knights in armour, then selling them at vast profit around all the pubs within reach. To his astonishment his shining knights went viral, He bought a simple thermoformer to make them himself. Soon after that he was into plastic trays for such as sandwiches, convenience meals, multi-packaging of food product etc etc. If it could be thermoformed from pvc or. later on, any other plastic, Harry was your man. Soon he couldn't keep up with just garage production so he obtained finance for a 'proper factory'. The rest, as they say, was history. Dolphin when I worked there had a value nearer eight figures of pounds sterling than seven. Shortly after I left he sold out to a massive American packaging conglomerate. I believe he then took to his magnificent yacht, his intent being to sail the world. Good for him, although I have to say he seemed to me never the happiest of men, and definitely one of the loneliest.

But my presence at Dolphin lasted little more than a year. As I saw and felt it, I had dropped from the premiership of packaging to the next division down or even the one below that. I am sure Harry saw me as a catalyst for expansion and promotion but was unprepared for it when I began to instigate uninvited changes in procedures, technologies etcetera. He called me into his offices one morning. We had a good chat starting with, Bryan, I don't know where you're going - and I don't know where you think you're taking me. I left on good terms with a generous settlement that included the company's (now my own) motor car. We shook hands, wishing each other well. To tell the truth we had a good deal in common. It had proven of no real long term use to either of us.

Driving home to the New Forest and Dee I felt nothing but exhilaration; that sense of freedom renewed! I was fifty six. For the next twenty four years and counting I would work for nobody but myself. I think the mixture of joy, adventure and, yes, fear transmitted itself to Dee as we walked our pair of hungarian vizslas that afternoon, hour after hour through the New Forest. It was a lovely day. Shafts of pure sunlight made a multicoloured patchwork of the forest floor. I recall us eating our sandwiches sitting on the bank of a brook,alternately talking quietly and listening to the birdsong when out from under the bankside vegetation emerged a metre long snake, a quite wonderfully marked creature making his or her sinuous progress through the shallow, crystal clear water. We didn't know if he or more likely she was an adder and therefore dangerous or a grass snake and therefore just a harmless thing of exquisite beauty. Either way we bade him or her farewell and went upon our way. This was his or her home. We needed to find our own.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.