IN THIS CHAPTER:
- First real job
- Industry context
- Selling the hard way
- First sale
- Demo incidents
- First event managed
- Getting married
- Plymouth flat
- Down from then Lunnon
- Saltash – first house
- D-Day v2.0
- Deals mean trips
First real job
Ken Turner, the District Manager of Sweda Cash Registers, interviewed me and hired me. I was suddenly on £750 pa plus commission, but I had to supply my own car and pay for the extensive travelling that proved necessary. As a trainee salesman I earned an eighth of Ken’s commission for the first six months. On anything I sold he would get seven-eighths.
Ken totally reshaped me and taught me the practical principles of selling, but he also played a part in shaping my family life. When I was having trouble with cars he loaned me the money to buy a sensible Morris Traveller ‘Woody’, and when we were away on sales trips he kept me in the card school rather than going out on the lash or whatever. He was also to become my best man when I married Jane. Many years later he moved relatively locally to us while we were in Spain and we still routinely message each other and meet up. On our Golden Wedding anniversary Matt read out a note from Ken congratulating us.
These were early days for self-service stores and many shops still had a central cash desk and drawer rather than a cash register. These were often served by overhead cables that flew the bill and tendered monies to the one member of staff trusted to handle cash.
My local grocery store was a Pearks (Maples and Home & Colonial were very similar). It had this Lamson ‘Rapid Wire’ system that was fascinating to a child. Customers went to various counters and the staff collected the items together and with paper and pencil worked out the total payable. Their workings and the tendered monies were placed in a wooden cup and screwed into an overhead device which a lever propelled above the heads of customers to a little glass cubicle. The trusted staff member would check the arithmetic, prepare the change and direct the canister back to the server. In department stores the overhead cables were replaced by a ‘pneumatic tube’ system that shot the money containers down pipes between floors.
Training at Sweda was initially quite cursory. Ken was busy so a lovely guy, Harry Rhodes, came down from London and talked to me of cash control systems in different businesses. He was a gentle soft-spoken guy who knew his stuff and fired my enthusiasm with his superb breadth of anecdotes.
For stores like Pearks, Harry had a little routine where he handwrote sums and in totalling them showed how 1s and 7s, 5s and 6s, 8s and 9s, were very easy to confuse accidentally. He then talked of all the tricks that staff might use deliberately to defraud.
He told me about James Ritty who in 1882 owned the Pony House bar in Dayton Ohio. Ritty realised, despite being busy, he was not making as much money as might be expected. His bar staff were pocketing too much of the bar’s takings and he sought ways to control this. Seeing a mechanism that was counting the revolutions of a ship’s propeller he thought it might offer a solution to his problem and engaged his brother John to develop a device that would count the cash taken.
The first attempt resembled a clock that displayed what the bartender had entered, the hands showing dollars and cents instead of hours and minutes. It meant Ritty could sit at the bar and compare what he saw being served to the customer with what was entered at the machine (thus avoiding ‘sweetheart’ charging, the name the industry coined for the deliberate under-ringing of an amount for a friend). However this method proved to be inaccurate.
A third attempt was the breakthrough. Keys entered the amounts, though as yet there was no cash drawer. The machine could not do the arithmetic to tot up a round which the ‘barista’ still had to do mentally before entering the total. In 1879 this was patented as Ritty’s Incorruptible Cashier. It was sold on in 1884 to become the National Cash Register Company or NCR.
NCR later added a cash drawer beneath and a bell to alert the owner whenever it was opened. There was later a paper roll to retain an audit of the day’s transactions. This roll was punched in virtual columns so the amounts could later be summed and checked against the money in the drawer. A visible indicator displayed what had been entered.
Harry talked of Sweda’s origins and explained that we were ‘speciality salesmen’ as our registers were not the cheapest. We sold cash control systems and the benefits of Swedish engineering and stainless steel. How could you fail to be motivated by this sort of industry folklore?
And better yet, designations could be specified to the factory regarding the processes the register was to perform. It’s only in writing this that I realise I must have had some sort of fetish about designations – I consumed badge designations in the book of boy scout badges to find the most obscure ones to tackle; I relished job designations at the Ministry of Labour; now I set about learning Sweda’s technical designations.
Selling the hard way
My second day was a complete letdown. I set out to cold canvass Stapleton Road. This was the street that Conservative politician Sajiv Javid described as Britain’s most dangerous street. While it was not what would be considered a prime shopping location it was never that bad. It did have lots of different specialist independent shops which seemed to make it a good place to canvass. There was no point in going to the Broadmead main shopping area as the shops were multiples where cash registers were purchased by head office decision.
No-one had told me how to initiate a sales call so I had to invent my own approach. I started by going in and asking, ‘Have you ever thought of having a cash register?’ and received the rather obvious ‘no’ response. I would politely say ‘Thank you for your time, and if you change your mind here’s my card’. I soon switched to asking, ‘Have you ever thought of having a cash register that could add up for you?’, but still got a ‘No’. I then tried not making it clear why I was there but that didn’t help because my suit and tie stamped me out as a salesman. I ended the day footsore without uncovering a single sniff of interest.
The second week I was sent on a course at headquarters in London and met with other new salesmen. Some were experienced in other businesses, others were like me on their first proper job. I received a more formal training across the week and returned to Bristol where Ken took me out on calls so I could learn how he did it.
While on the course I was exposed to the irascible MD, Bill Starkey, who shouted at one guy who introduced himself as Mr Smith. Bill opined that it should be self-evident whether he was Mr or Mrs. His anger was so quick and so violent that I have never used ‘Mr’ to introduce myself – ever!
ASIDE: As I edit this the newspapers are full of Edinburgh University’s Fresher Week (2018) where they issue gender badges to new arrivals. These display their preference to be referenced as ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘they’. The noise you hear is Bill Starkey’s head exploding!
This also brings to mind the team at Future Publishing in Bath in 1998. The Egg online credit cards were launched and the whole team applied for them. As a gag they all filled in titles for themselves such as ‘Lady’ or ‘General’ and their cards were issued bearing these fictitious titles. One of the marketing team who had configured herself as ‘Lady’ said it was remarkable to see the change in attitude whenever a shop assistant was tendered the card.
Can’t resist mentioning here that Matt had a neighbour in Princes Risborough who was rejected for social media accounts. His correct title and name was ‘Wing Commander Lovely’ but no-one believed him.
We were taught that the ‘average’ sale was achieved at the fifth time of asking, and that most salesmen knew only two ways to close a sale. We were therefore taught all manner of closing techniques. The most popular was and is the ‘alternate question close’ – asking do you want this feature or that? Do you want to pay by cash or lease? This way, in saying yes to a smaller binary question, they were agreeing to the overall deal without realising.
Sweda also taught the Winston Churchill close (in the USA they called it the Benjamin Franklin close). You explain that Churchill was a smart fellow and whenever he had a tough decision he took a sheet of paper and drew a line down the middle of the page. You then do this and explain that on the left side he listed all the ‘pros’ for a ‘yes’ decision, down the right side all the ‘cons’. You assist the customer in listing six or seven pros, then shut up and let them try to come up with the ‘cons’. Usually price is the only one. The list’s disparity makes a decision clear. Although I did once start a Winston Churchill close with a client who knew it and threatened to ram a pencil up my nose if I continued.
If they came up with price as a problem, I later learned an arithmetic approach to overcome that – add all the benefits of the decision, subtract all the previous problems overcome, multiply by all the intangible features, divide the price into net annual, monthly or daily rates. Simples!
We were also taught that, having asked for the deal, shutting up was absolutely vital. I recall an American 78-record Sweda played to us that listed more than a dozen closing techniques and then the presenter yelled ‘SHUT UP’ and suggested that whoever spoke first after the deal had been requested lost.
Ken Turner came up in the heat of a deal with a unique close. He was on a dem in Fulham when something dawned on him. He asked the customer whether he believed in fate and the guy confirmed that he did. Ken pointed out that the shop was in Dawes Road and Dawes was an anagram of Sweda – QED. I have never seen a sales technique system or book that lists this anagram close, and although I looked out for it I never found one I could use.
I also adopted a war-remorse close against a West German competitor, Anker. It posed a real threat of equivalent quality, so I resorted to two techniques. One, I then saw as subtle, by referring to the competitive German salesman as Herr Hepper and clicking my heels as I said it. I didn’t descend to using the Nazi salute but the implication was clear. If that proved too subtle I would add ‘Did you know they used to give Ankers away thirty years ago?’ ‘Anker is owned by Krupps, and they used to drop them out of planes!’ It worked with clients who still retained a WWII negative focus, which at the end of the 1960s was most of them.
My first solo sale had several oddities. An enquiry was called in to the office and I grabbed the details before Ken got back and drove down to Shirehampton to an auto accessories shop. The guy was one of those who used silence to get the seller to babble and hopefully reveal more than intended. I babbled out my designation knowledge, suggesting he needed a repeat bar that you could hold down when you sold four spark plugs. I talked of my suggested cash-drawer layout and that a stainless-steel hood would best reflect his sector.
He was a big guy and remained quiet throughout, until he asked a really strange question, the only time anyone has ever asked me this. He said ‘Are you scared of me?’. I confessed ‘Yes, a little’. He was quiet again and I broke the silence by asking what he was thinking. He said, ‘I’m not sure if I need the repeat bar’. Even I recognised that as a buying signal. I sold him a Sweda Simplex (a detuned Sweda 46) with repeat bar and stainless steel hood. I was so excited I promptly gave him £25-off the basic price of £241, so net £216, plus feature costs. This was something we were allowed to offer without impacting upon our commission.
I drove back to the office with a broad smile on my face and proudly handed Ken the completed order form. He exploded, first because I had the audacity to take what was his enquiry, which I might have blown, and secondly because of that discount which he saw as only to be used as a last resort. So not such a great start.
I had gone out with Ken to cold canvass. Our first objective was to try to get a retailer to agree to a demonstration. Ken pointed at a wool shop and bet me ten-bob I could not get a demo. He was on to a fair bet because wool shops were usually run by gentle ladies who would not see a cash register as compatible with their trade. I gamely tried to get this one to agree to a dem. When all else failed I asked her if she would like to earn five shillings. All she had to do was let me bring in a register and show it to her – she agreed!
Humping in cash registers to a demonstration was not without its problems. I recall bending over and splitting my trousers and having to do a demo in an overcoat on a very hot day.
But perhaps the worst moment in my early career lost me a potentially large deal. In Bath a dancehall had been taken over by a large London-based operator. Its national manager had found a Sweda there and challenged me to convince him to keep it as by instinct they were Automaticket users. Familiar in cinemas, this machine ejected a small ticket from a large roll. If I could convince him then there were tens of such businesses that might go Sweda.
I was shown through the empty cavern of a club to a scruffy back room where the Sweda was located. Someone there had already ‘salvaged’ the electric plug from it. You have to appreciate that in those days we had something like five different wall socket systems – 5-amp, 15-amp, 13-amp, each with different pin shapes and configurations. I therefore bared the wires on the Sweda cable and used another plug to force the wires into the socket.
The room we were in had institutional metal windows revealing the back wall of the next property. As the demo went on I assumed there had to be a dry cleaners in the adjacent properties as there was a strong smell. Eventually we both realised that the plug I had used was connected to a two-bar electric fire and the customer had put his state-of-the-art moulded briefcase in front of it. The plastic had melted and run all over his papers inside. I lost the deal and could not even offer to buy him a new one as I could not have afforded it.
I subsequently acquired what we called a ‘suicide block’ with crocodile clips to secure bare wires and a plug that had two thin prongs that were sprung so the gap could be adjusted to fit any socket – three-pin sockets still required the ‘shutter’ to be freed with a screwdriver.
Tony Pascoe, a fellow new salesman on an adjacent territory, had a worse experience. He had been invited to do his demo in a shop owner’s apartment above the premises. He said it was very smart with deep pile carpets, heavily-flocked wallpaper and a dramatic fabric-print three-piece. Tony set up the register on the coffee table while the owner made them both a cuppa. Tony put down his cup and saucer and started the dem. One of the things we were all taught to do was to comment on the sound of the register because this revealed its quality Swedish engineering. He pressed the motor bar and the empty cash drawer was flung outward. The opening mechanism had to be capable of pushing out a cash tray full of heavy coins; thus when empty it emerged at some pace. It hit the cup and propelled its contents all across the three-piece, carpet and walls.
I went on to evolve my own prospecting approach. I recruited a coterie of other salesman, one who sold Berkel scales, another who sold fridges and a third who sold shopfronts and shopfittings. We all worked roughly the same patch and were not competitors, so we could freely exchange information. We would meet in a café every month and for my part I would have visited local planning offices beforehand, and provided a list of those shops that had applied for extensions, refits, new signs… In between café meetings we referred hot leads directly to each other (remember no mobiles back then!). I did well enough after three months to become a full salesman earning full commission on my own sales.
First event managed
Early on I was set a challenge that had nothing to do with selling. Ken’s district was to host a national sales meeting in Bristol and I was asked to find a suitable venue for an evening out. This would involve guys of all ages, all marital statuses and with extremely varied interests. There were no women among the team, and worse, to modern ears, one of the absolute must-haves was strippers – those were the times! I chose the Webbington Court Club, today a spa hotel, back then a club with strippers, gaming tables, a cabaret, dancing and a restaurant – something for everyone.
It was the practice back then to stay in twin rooms, sharing with a guy from elsewhere. I was twinned with a Londoner who worked a little too hard at being what we Bristolians called ‘fly’ (streetsmart). We laid on a coach to take everyone the twenty miles to the club and everyone settled in to enjoy the evening.
My room-mate was stood at the urinals when he heard someone talking strangely next to him. He turned to see the by-then retired middleweight boxer Terry Downes, aka the ‘Paddington Express’. He had held a version of the world middleweight championship in 1961-2. Downes either owned the club or was considering buying it. He was dressed in an unlikely lemon-coloured suit – he was a celebrity I suppose? As he turned my room-mate finished his last few drips down Downes’s trouser leg and where it hit it noticeably turned the material a peagreen colour.
My room-mate came flying out of the loos and I shepherded him to the coach where he lay on the floor at the back all night, occasionally supplied with food and drink, while Downes and two helpers were scouring the club for him. Terry kept asking ‘Where’s the dirty bastard who peed down my leg?’ The culprit was rather subdued for the rest of the weekend.
ASIDE: Talking events, at this time Monroe, Sweda’s sister company, produced an early electronic printing calculator that would be on our joint exhibition stands and at hotel presentations. It had very limited programmability but I learned that stretched to its most extreme you could get it to produce a temperature comparison chart. The task was to have it print 1.0C, calculate the Fahrenheit equivalent and print 32.8F, then clock up one to 2.0C and convert this and print it – repeating this from 1 to 100 C. It took all my skills across moments grabbed through the day and pushed all the limits of the calculator to achieve this. There was no memory at switch-off and it could not print out the programme when I had completed it. At subsequent exhibitions, in a Groundhog Day-like exercise, I had to work it out from scratch all over again. Today I could just look it up on the Net!
I was promptly awarded my own territory – Devon and Cornwall. I’d heard the term ‘Salesman’s Graveyard’ applied to the area, but it treated me well. Ken had once had a salesman based in Exeter who had failed, so I agreed to base myself in or around Plymouth. Jane and I were getting married and the two events merged.
We travelled down to rent a flat in Plymouth, just before our wedding. As we entered the city we laughed at one main drag called Embankment Road, saying how awful it sounded, similar to Gasworks Place or the like. It was of course where we ended up renting.
Ken was my best man, driving me to Tyndale Baptist Church at some pace. The whole day went by in a whirl, but I recall saying ‘I do slolemnly declare…’ In those days we did rather stupidly have the stag party on the eve of the wedding day.
ASIDE: One of Jane’s friends got married to her groom who was sporting a head bandage. He had hung from a roof beam and slipped at his stag. Matt’s best man, Brad, sported a large forehead bruise from a paintballing incident at his stag, but Stig Fack, a colleague at Hugin, took the biscuit. He woke on his wedding morning at Oslo railway station, the ceremony was in Stockholm. He found himself alone, completely naked and without any cash. There were no Sweden-Norway border formalities, and he managed to get back in time to marry wearing an Oslo station-master’s borrowed spare uniform.
PLYMOUTH – flat – November 1968
We ended up renting a first-floor, one-bedded flat at 72 Embankment Road, above a shop named Drake’s Bazaar (what else?). The picture above, taken from Google Earth, shows it has changed to Harvest Home. We paid a local agent £16 3s 4d per month – under £200 a year! – for a good sized lounge, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom.
Before the wedding I arranged some sales calls down in Plymouth so I could not only drum up some business but also lay carpets and receive furniture deliveries. I later designed and built several rickety kitchen units and a wardrobe from timber, flimsy hardboard and Fablon-covered chipboard.
The Thursday before our wedding I was travelling back to Bristol and stopped to eat at the Maidendown Stage, a transport café. When I paid, I saw there was no register, so spoke with the owner who by happenstance had only taken over that very week. I took him out to my Mini van and demmed a Sweda on a manual-crank handle (it was late, and I was about to be married!). He was another who used silence, but when I asked what he was thinking he said he didn’t know whether he needed three or four analyses. Ker-ching! I was not sure exactly where the café was but fortunately it proved to be just inside the Devon border – so my deal!
I signed him up for four analyses but he then added a caveat that I had to deliver it that week. I explained I was getting married in two days on the Saturday. We couldn’t afford a honeymoon and planned to take the first week setting up our first home. He was insistent so I volunteered that I would of course be driving past him and as long as he didn’t expect me to set it up or do training then I was prepared to drop it off – but no more! He agreed.
So, when we got married and drove away from our reception in my Mini van, the Sweda proudly sat at the back doors above the tin cans tied on with string. I dropped it off and he had very kindly prepared us a wedding box of milk, bread and other basics. We drove off to our Plymouth flat – and married life.
After that Jane had to know what she had bought into. She spent many hours sitting outside in the car while I did dems. There were upsides. Much later, I would drop her and our baby at Watergate Bay in Newquay, go off to do my sales calls and join them on the beach in the afternoon.
Down from that Lunnon
Devon and particularly Cornwall were another world back then. We loved it. I remember Ken joining me for a complicated demo of a rates payment system to West Penryth District Council in Penzance, about as far south-west as you could go and still find a place that needed a cash register.
This was yet another quiet customer who listened in silence. I should mention Ken was a Londoner, so he started out on the back foot down here. I had another client in Penzance, a hardware store. He was from Yorkshire and despite having run the business there for over twenty years, locals still called him (jokingly?) ‘that bloody foreigner’.
Deep in the West Country they were still adamant that business shirts should only be white and Ken had worn a lilac shirt. Almost the first words the customer spoke were ‘look at that bloody shirt!’ But we got the deal.
SALTASH – August 1969
We bought our first house in Saltash Cornwall, just across the Tamar Bridge from Plymouth. This semi-detached starter home was built on a market garden, though the good soil had been carted away and sold off elsewhere. Google Earth currently has that dark-coloured van parked on the sloped drive in front of a garage it couldn’t use. The driveway was unmanageable on frosty mornings, but we loved our first home!
When the Ark Royal and Bulwark were at sea I was one of very few adult males in the street. We had stretched ourselves ridiculously to take out a 95% mortgage on this £3,700 property. At the time, when earning only £750 pa plus commission, it seemed we’d taken on a mountainous debt, and so it proved when Sweda failed to deliver my orders.
For perhaps four to six months my monthly income just about brought my bank account back to a zero balance. Each month I was summoned to meet the bank manager and showed him my order book and the Sweda POW sheet showing how well I was doing, but that did not change the fact that I did not get paid until delivery was effected. I would live into the next month by going into the red and what I could deliver cleared this, but it did not get me into the black. The reason the bank manager believed me was of course the impending ‘Decimalisation’ – every retailer had to adjust or replace their cash register before 15 February 1971 (more below).
Eventually Sweda got on top of production and then I earned over £6,000 pa which one inflation calculator suggests in 2018 would be the equivalent of over £90,000.
This was the time of the Maud Report changing county and local authority borders. My car displayed a ‘Hands Off Saltash’ sticker as the town was proposed to be handed from Cornwall to Devon, and become a Plymouth suburb. Some Cornish guys suggested that the Tamar was its border with Devon all the way to the south coast from its source just 3.7 miles from the county’s north coast, so it made Cornwall essentially an island.
They further embellished this by saying that, when WWII broke out, they held a meeting to decide which side Cornwall should join. Good judges that they were, they picked England, the ultimate winner.
Bizarrely the Redcliffe-Maud Report led to unforeseen circumstances. In switching areas between Devon and Cornwall, both the leader of the Devon County Council and the leader of the Cornwall County Council found themselves no longer living in ‘their’ counties.
I joined Saltash Round Table and Jane its Ladies Circle and we made some good friends while enjoying a raft of different events.
We invited after-dinner speakers such as Blaster Bates, who talked of his explosive exploits, and the female Durex Sales Manager who packed in the double-entendres… There was a series of members’ occupational presentations, notably a vet who explained how he tied rams to a five-bar gate to castrate them from the far side – wince! He also related his attendance at Exeter races where a horse fell. As he ran to it, a policeman put out his fist to stop the crowd and managed to punch him on the nose. Dazed, he had to decide if the horse had stud potential and should be saved at all costs, or if it should be humanely despatched.
D-day v.2 15Feb1971
At Sweda we were much assisted in sales by the decimalisation of our currency. As mentioned above, this meant all existing cash registers needed to be either modified or replaced to fit the new coinage.
Too many NCR users were fobbed off by the company’s sales force suggesting their tills would be changed on the first morning. We had to patiently explain that perhaps the mechanics needed to go to BHS, M&S, Woolworth and other multiples first. Each register would take say twenty minutes and there were hundreds of them. (Intriguing that two of the three that leapt to mind here are no more!). Some customers still didn’t get it, but there was more than enough business to go around from those who did.
Sweda invented ‘Keyset’ which allowed the retailers to make the switch themselves on D-day morning. It had one downside in that the register needed a modification, after which until the big day it used not £sd but just shillings and pence. This proved acceptable to many.
I arranged to run a series of decimalisation talks for local retailers. We explained the timetable, showed the new coins and talked about how we could help. I recall part of my speech was to question the Decimal Currency Board’s pronouncement that we should not fear the vague translation of old pence to new pence, because on average they would cancel each other out. However, mathematically 2d would be 0.83p, so the nearest coin was 1p or 0.17p too much, 9d was 3.75p that converted to 3½p or 4p – losing or gaining ¼p.
I used to point out the reason my wife and I would stop at two children was because ‘on average’ every third child born in the world was Chinese. Or I referred to the six-foot tall guy who crossed a river that was ‘on average’ three-feet deep – he drowned in the eight-foot bit!
Deals means trips
We had a quota club each year, and if you hit or exceeded your sales quota you were taken off for an international long weekend as a prize. My first was in 1970 to Rome. We flew BEA Sovereign Service, in a propellered airplane that needed to refuel at Nice. This presented no problem as there was unlimited free champagne supplied on both flights.
We landed in Rome pretty far gone, briefly visited a Sweda facility and were thenwhisked to a medieval prison converted into a restaurant where we played Fuzz-Buzz drinking games with unlimited wine. You can imagine how bad we were, so bad that we started a riot.
It was Rome’s student ‘rag’ weekend. The students wore a hat rather like a Robin Hood hat but with an extended pointed front brim. They used the pointy brims to whip off their caps and you were supposed to insert cash or cigarettes, not for charity, but for the student. They all ended up standing around in the Via Veneto being well-behaved, until we arrived.
Our sales manager, Bob Cunningham, was an ex-regimental sergeant-major in the MP section of the Black Watch – they don’t come harder. He led us in chanting, culminating in a Knees-up Mother Brown that ignited the crowd who either joined in or did their own thing. Having got them going we went into a bar and watched a baton charge go through them, with police tossing the dazed and injured into Italian Black Marias. We were lucky!
When we got to the hotel, we English had each been put in a twin room and had to share with a German salesman. Mine was from Berlin and we got on fine. However, as the first plenary meeting the next day was getting underway, one Brit stood on a chair and shouted to the German group, ‘1918, 1945, and 1966!’, and sat down. Not a hands-across-the-ocean moment, but it didn’t result in strife as most Germans were still working through their guilt and didn’t react emotionally in return.
The next year we went to Vienna and I learned the importance of language skills. Bill Starkey worked closely with our American masters, and as we shared a language, it was expected he would become VP for Europe. However, Vienna resolved that he would not get the role. At the first meeting Bill led the session and the Swiss CEO then translated his words into French and German. By the end of two days it was evident that Bill was surplus to requirements. The Swiss led the session in all three languages and became VP.
ASIDE: There was always an appointed President of the Quota Club, the guy who exceeded his quota by the highest percentage. While in Vienna the President looked the wrong way crossing the road to our coach and was hit a glancing, though still heavy blow by a tram. Before he picked himself off the floor, one wag on the coach grabbed the courier’s microphone to announce ‘The President is dead. Long live the President’. But it wasn’t really dog-eat-dog!
While in Vienna I found myself split from the bulk of the ‘Club’ with an Irish guy who had a terminal case of the Blarney. He set about chatting up two local girls by saying he was Engelbert Humperdinck’s agent. I left him to it and wandered the back streets of Vienna to look for some recognisable building or street that would lead me back to the hotel. I decided to go into a bar and ask the way. I sat at a long bar and ordered a beer. The guy on the stool next to me was delighted to find a fellow Brit. We got talking and it turned out that our homes were less than 250 yards apart back in England. It is actually quite a small world.
Ken kept me out of trouble on these trips. We usually ended up playing Shoot Pontoon at some stage. There was one salesman who covered the West End of London, thus much envied, but he had the habit at some stage in the evening of falling asleep. He often did this while we were playing cards. You couldn’t wake him once he had nodded off.
Many of the other guys had stories. Ken Brodie (pictured in that quota trip mailer) as a young man during WW2 had been on Jersey. He was a dance teacher when the Germans invaded, and all surplus personnel were to be sent to Europe and who knows what. Overnight he became a baker and had amazing tales of dietary shortages, running late and getting home during the curfew.
Perhaps my favourites for entertainment value were the Kent team of Albert Sapiano and Kevin Semadini. They took their surnames seriously, wearing Crombies and playing up their Mob credentials – all nonsense of course. Albert had a demo mishap in a corner shop while working for a competitor, Gross. He pressed a cash register key into the guy’s hand and said, ‘Just feel the engineering in that’. Without pause he said, ‘Hang on and I’ll bring the rest in’. He carried in the Gross till (Note: our competitors made tills, we made cash registers or cash accounting systems!) and sat it atop a glass fixture with multiple internal shelves beneath the glass counter. He plugged it in and ushered the guy up close to it saying, ‘Just listen to this’. He pressed the motor bar and the till travelled down through the counter and smashed every shelf in its descent.
Tony Pascoe, from an adjacent patch was a keen falconer and roped me in to some of his exploits. He later pursued his hobby as a business, getting a contract from several East Coast USAF bases in England, to put up his hawks to scare off seabirds when the air-force was taking-off and landing. Later still he ran falconry safaris in Kenya.
Meeting these interesting and varied individuals was one heck of an educational experience.
ASIDE: While I was a member of Saltash Round Table we joined up with the Plymouth branch on an exchange with Brest Round Table in Brittany. Jane and I flew out on an old Douglas Dakota DC-3. I recall that as you walked up the aisle to your seat it had a relatively steep slope and we could see the ground through various holes in the fuselage. We needn’t have worried about the latter as we crossed the channel at no height whatsoever, no pressurisation necessary.
It was an interesting mismatch in that the French Table was populated with the elite of Brest, while the Devonian Tables were largely sales reps and retailers. Jane and I stayed with a French architect whose home had an eight-page feature in an important French glossy architectural magazine. Fortunately, they did not plan to come back to stay in our basic starter home in Saltash.
They were all very pleasant and welcoming, though the architect only had one English expression – ‘my tailor is rich’ – which was apparently a stock phrase from a popular French-English primer.