At Sweda 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 then whisked 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 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.
|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’s 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 Semandini. 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.