Pensions, dreams and adventures new.

The second in line of my five Sweetheart International managing directors, Lionel Klackan, had many qualities that appealed to me and from which I learned. On the lighter side I remember some amazing nights out with him in various places home and abroad, notably Paris, Brussells and Amsterdam. Tremendous fun guy. He was good with my customers and senior staff . And he was extremely good at laying down feathers in the nests of his boardroom colleagues, including especially his own through the company pension scheme, sub-addendum 'Directors'. I am to this day a perfectly legal co-beneficiary of his expertise in that  area.

It is usually the directorate of a company that is, severally and in total, responsible for its employees' pension scheme. 'The Trustees'. But I was astounded by the potential for the abuse of company pension money by  those charged with its governance. I was also taken aback by the borderline machinations - call them sales efforts - of the pensions industry in their effort to grab from the Trustees and hold the lucrative management of company pensions. The poor old rank and file employees, whose money we are talking about after all, don't get very much of a look in even now after the revisions laid down following the infamous 1990 Robert Maxwell affair. It came as no surprise to me when that truly bad person took for himself, (then duly lost), the millions of pounds sterling of pensions money rightfully belonging to thousands upon thousands of his workers, aided and abetted of course by the New York / City of London gang of 'bankers' calling themselves Goldman Sachs. Naturally nobody went to jail. Of course not. Not under a Thatcher government, even as wounded as by 1990 it / she had become. 

Because of my grave suspicions as much as my desire to put everything Sweetheart International behind me, fairly soon after I left the company I withdrew my 'pot' of money from the company scheme - quite a substantial sum, and invested it in an annuity. A wise decision but I knew how vulnerable was the scheme to the ravages of predatory owners, invisible suits in the corridors of Wall Street. For the first time in my life I now had to look after my own financial affairs so I appointed an accountant. The wrong one. Two years later when we were still living in Sopley, in the New Forest, I received a lovely little letter from Her Majesty's Revenue demanding c. £20,000 in back taxes, or else. I called my accountant only to find him 'out' - apparently forever, and no sign of the receipts that I had been religiously sending on to him and of which HM Revenue had seen neither hide nor hair! Frantic enquiries in my man's home town  revealed that he had been spending more time in the local hostelries than in his office or home. Where can I find him now? I asked, to a miscellany of shrugs, downcast eyes, renewed mouthfuls of beer. I had to cash in half my annuity to pay the government. Self-employment is not always the bed of roses it might seem to the employed or the unemployed! (For the years up to age sixty five I made up in part for my loss by subscribing into my own private scheme).

Having left Dolphin and now on our own again I renewed my efforts to develop a business (or packaging) consultancy, making what can best be described as faltering progress. Fortunately we were always equally lucky with our rentals and with our landlords - that is, what little we ever saw of any of the latter. In Sopley Dee and I and the dogs lived the good life in that wonderful converted barn of a residence. The village, twenty minutes form Christchurch and the coast, consisted mainly of a classic Hampshire country pub complete with tinkling mill stream surrounded by a dozen or so old houses then miles and miles of heath, heather and woodland.

One day, like I don't know how many thousands of others in my kind of situation, I announced my intention to write a novel. With one mighty bound .... ! The house had a upper mezzanine floor completely unused. I carried my Amstrad computer up there, switched on and typed these words ...

Rose Feather 

Chapter one

She stepped inside, wrinkling her nose. The Brown Ball Snooker Club’s damp stair carpet smelled of the dirt carried in from the street on the soles of a great many shoes over a great many years. She unbuttoned her wet raincoat, took out her cue case. At the top of the stairs she opened the door, slipped into the dimly lit room, crowded, silent, made her way as unobtrusively as she could through the spectators. Billy wasn’t working behind the bar. There was only this big blonde woman she’d never seen before. Rose tried a smile but the woman, unimpressed, made no attempt at a welcome, just examined her in that familiar white woman way.

“What’s happening?” she whispered, not really wanting to know.

The woman sighed. “You want a drink, dear?” then shrugged. “It’s a money match on. The Italian boy, Roberto ..”

“Yes,” Rose interrupted, not meaning any rudeness, taking off the coat, “I just wondered who was winning.”

All my life I had been thinking - dreaming! - of writing fiction. I had recently bought Diane Doubtfire's remarkable little book called something like; How to Write a Novel. Basically, you must create a strong central character, she advised, one through whose mind and life your story unfolds. This character will have a grand plan but he or she will in chapter one meet with a set-back. Each effort he or she makes to overcome that set-back only leads on to the next unexpected set-back. And so on, right down into the depths of despair. Eventually, with that one mighty bound he or she overcomes all odds and meets his or her well-earned triumph. Piece of cake!

Driving thousands and thousands of boring business miles over the years I had constructed whole passages of fiction in my mind, often stopping somewhere to write up the notes. So by now I had the strory-line fairly well mapped out. My main viewpoint character was to be the pretty young coloured girl, Rose Feather, daughter of Henry Feather, a super-gifted old rake and owner of a snooker club. This young lady would be bold enough to penetrate the heartland of the game of snooker, the sexist world of working men's clubs and political clubs (including Lady Margaret's places!) and she would be good enough to challenge the big snooker stars, all of them (then as now) male.And why the hell not? I remembered Barry Hearn's words back when my daughter Julie was one of Britain's first female snooker pro's. The first lady player to consistently make hundred breaks will be a millionaire!  Well, my Julie couldn't make it but my Rose would be that girl! Being something of a club player myself and having attended the world championship in Sheffield many times - plus knowing how great were the TV viewing figures especially amongst the ladies - I reckoned I knew enough about the inside and outside life of the game to make it the scenario for a novel that would sell and sell. Today the New Forest; tomorrow the world!

Filled with excitement I had consigned chapters one and two of Rose Feather to my PC's memory when progress was stopped by a single phone call. The caller was Brian Mullally, a business friend when I'd been at Sweetheart and he had been production manager with Northern Dairies. As it transpired, Brian had been head hunted and was now playing a similar role in Saudi Arabia. He wondered whether I might be interested in a consulting assignment for his new employers, Almarai Dairies in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Would I be interested? Would a duck like to start swimming? I took to the road and we met in the East Midlands Airport hotel. After that, for the immediate time being I forgot about being a novelist in favour of making some real money in the Middle East.

I had visited the nation whose Arab natives call simply The Kingdom some years earlier when exploring the potential for Sweetheart's export sales. I had taken with me Howard Cheek, one of my sales team who would shortly be promoted to manage our Scandinavia sales office in Stockholm. How vividly I recalled Howard's first encounter with Saudi Customs. He had brought in with him a softback novel, its cover showing a pretty lady with a moderately low cut neckline. The Arabian customs officer picked up the book, ripped off its cover and handed it back, without black-eyed expression and without a word,. to an astonished Mr Cheek.

I'll be writing about my first experiences as a consultant in Saudi Arabia in the next episode. And what an episode it turned out to be!

And my precious Rose Feather? I did continue with it in between times then, with ten chapters in the bag I approached a senior person in the world of publishing. I had no idea how stupid that move was. No publisher would look at a part-written novel and only one in two thousand submitted novels by unknown authors would see the printed page. But amazingly the lady in question, the head of the newly created Orion Books, thought enough of my submission to comment most kindly and request first sight of the completed typescript. I should have dropped everything and gone for it at that point. Of course I didn't, for things were moving fast in another direction. Ten years later I had the opportunity to continue. Eleven years later I stopped again. I now have nineteen chapters of Rose Feather on my PC, plus two other complete, self-published novels and two books of short stories and two books about life in the Highlands of Scotland. I do hope to finish Rose Feather before I die. Also another three parts written novel. One fine day ....

1 comment:

  1. And if you don't finish Rose Feather before you die... perhaps you can sit on the banks of a river, sipping good wine in good company, and write it there. :)

    There are books the world has never seen that still do exist. I've read from one, once.



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