Selling Yourself: Part Five

Part five of a series from 2013. This covers the time when my mother and I ran our own business. For the benefit of non-UK readers, an ‘Off-Licence’ is known elsewhere as a ‘Liquor Store’.

beetleypete

At the end of Part Four, I mentioned two more jobs, both covered previously, in other posts. These are behind us as we continue, and it is now 1976. My next sales venture was back in retail, though in a very different way from before, and for totally different reasons. I have touched on this earlier, in a post I called ‘Looking after Mum’, and I will now go into it in more detail, and if you will forgive me, at considerable length.

When my Dad left, and forced the sale of the marital home, I was working as a taxi driver in Kent, and Mum was working in an office job. I was in my early 20’s, and did not want to be tied to a mortgage at the time, especially one taken out with my own Mum. However, it was highly unlikely that we would have qualified for…

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Selling Yourself: Part Four

Reblogging part four in this series of six from 2013. I got another job, but didn’t enjoy it very much this time!

beetleypete

The reason the interview for my next job was on a Saturday, was because the staff started far too early, to allow for a weekday interview process. After less than seven days, technically unemployed, but paid until the end of the month, I was taken on by this new company, following the most basic meet and greet, and a quick driving assessment. They were so short of staff, even the top managers were out doing rounds, so as long as I could read, write, and drive, I was certain to be employed.

I was back on van sales once again, this time for a bread company in the Medway area, Betabake. Knowing that they had little hope of competing with the brand leaders like Wonderloaf, and Sunblest, they concentrated instead on the neglected ‘personal retail’ market. This was a posh term for door-to-door selling and delivering, something like a milkman…

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Selling Yourself: Part Three

Next part in the series of six from 2013. Part three of my early days of employment. This didn’t end so well! I think only Jude has seen this.

beetleypete

My time with sausages and pies was over for now, though I would re-visit this area of sales at a later date. Having sneaked a day off to attend an interview, I had a new job offer, and I was off, to sales pastures new.

The confectionery market is well-known to us in the UK. We have a national sweet tooth, and there are plenty of companies out there willing to exploit this. I saw an advertisement for one of those companies, although the sweets were only a small part of a more complex organisation. Jimmy Goldsmith, father of Jemimah Khan, and businessman extraordinaire, owned a company called Cavenham Foods, producing food of many types. As he is long dead, I feel it is in order to use the actual names.

One subsidiary of this, the third largest company in its field at the time, was an offshoot selling cheap…

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Selling Yourself: Part Two

As requested by some readers, here is part 2 of my 6-part series ‘Selling Yourself’, from 2013. I have decided to repost them all, and I think only Jude has seen this one before.

beetleypete

I was a bit fed up with records by now. I wanted to listen to them, collect them, and discuss them, not sell ones I didn’t like, to argumentative heavy metal fans, and old ladies. I researched new markets in which to invest my skills.

Food, and shopping for food, was changing dramatically by then. Large supermarkets, called Fine Fare, Safeway, and Tesco, were beginning to dominate high streets, especially in the suburbs. Even the traditional grocery shops, represented by Lipton’s,  J. Sainsbury, and the ubiquitous Co-Op, were enlarging their stores, and reducing the amount of goods physically served to the customer. Self-Service was the new shopping catchphrase, and working women were no longer the housewives of the past.

Along with the busier lifestyles, came the need for food that was easier to prepare, required less fuss and bother, and could all be bought in one place. It wasn’t quite…

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Bilking

This word may be unfamiliar to you, but it is well-known to taxi-drivers in Britain. Here is a general definition.

Non payment of fares – ‘Bilking’
Non payment of a taxi fare is called ‘bilking’ which is an offence under the Fraud Act.
Any customer unable to pay the full fare for their
journey will be returned to the original pick-up point or the local
police station. Passengers must ensure they have sufficient funds
to pay for the journey before it starts, or inform the driver
accordingly. The driver will be happy to give you an estimated fare
to your destination
.

During the short time I worked as a taxi driver in Kent from late 1973 until early 1976, I soon became used to the variety of ingenious ways some passengers would use to avoid paying the fare.

Some basic fare-avoidance tactics were obvious to anyone.
Suddenly jumping out of the car at traffic lights and running off.
Claiming to have no money at the end of the journey and promising to bring it to the taxi office the next day.
Offering much less than the amount due and claiming that was all it cost them the previous day.

Fortunately, they were not that frequent. But as a local private-hire taxi using your own car for pre-booked jobs, there was little redress available. Fighting someone for the money was not a good option, and calling the police was pointless, as it was considered to be a civil offence of non-payment of a bill. The more recent changes that made it an offence were not law at the time, and the police in Kent would never have considered attending an address to enforce payment of my fare.

However, it was the more talented fraudsters that could cost you the most money. Often employing elaborate scams, and being so convincing, I was frequently left having to admire their talent, despite being out of pocket.

One morning, I was asked to attend the office of a respectable local Estate Agent. As I stopped outside, a well-dressed man walked out. He was carrying a heavy box, and turned in the doorway, calling out “Goodbye, Anita. I will see you later”. The young woman inside waved to him as he got into the back of my cab. He asked to go to Lewisham Town Hall, a distance of around nine miles. On the way, he told me that he was taking a box of papers to the planning department, as the Estate Agents were acting for the builders of a new development in the Lewisham area. On arrival, he asked me to wait, and to take him somewhere else after.

The man reappeared some twenty minutes later, minus the box. He got back into my car and asked me to take him to Westerham, a small town in Kent. This was a further fifteen miles to the south, and I guessed it would take around an hour, in traffic. When we got to Westerham, he pointed at an Estate Agent’s shopfront, and said he was going in there before returning to the place where I had picked him up that morning. I couldn’t park close to that, but found a space at the other end of the shops, agreeing to wait. By now, the fare due was considerable. Including waiting time, it was almost fifteen pounds, and in 1974 that was equivalent to around £150 at today’s values.

After thirty minutes, I went to have a look through the window of the shop, and he wasn’t in there. I went in and asked for him. As I didn’t know his name, I described his clothing and appearance. The young man inside nodded. “Oh yes, he was a potential buyer. He asked for a leaflet about one of the houses in the window, took it, and left”. I walked back to the car realising I had been conned. The man had obviously wanted to get to Westerham, and had staged a really elaborate ploy to get a free taxi ride without making me suspicious. No point wasting any more time, so I drove back to the original Estate Agency in Bexleyheath where I had picked him up. I wanted to know if he had any connection with that company.

When Anita had finished a phone call, I asked her about the man, without telling her he had bilked the fare. “Oh yes, he was nice. He came in carrying a box, and was asking me about a property in Bostall Heath. He said if I could ring him a taxi he would go and look at it from the outside, then come back in the same taxi to arrange a viewing over the weekend if he liked the area. When he didn’t come back, I presumed he didn’t like the look of the house Why? Was there a problem?”

I told her he had left a pen in my cab, and I was going to return it. I was too embarrassed to tell her the truth.

Selling Yourself: Part One

Back in 2013, I wrote a six-part series about my life before I became an EMT. This is the first part. I warn you, it is quite a long read. Not many of you have seen it before ( Except Jude and Vinnie) so it may interest you to know more about my early working life. If you enjoy it let me know, and I will re-post the rest in order.

beetleypete

From the time I left school, until I joined the London Ambulance Service, was a period of less than twelve years. During that time, I had an unusually high number of jobs, all but one of which involved selling, in one form, or another. I have written about some of those jobs before, but I have recently reflected on just how easy it was to get work, to come and go as you pleased, sometimes starting and leaving three jobs in the same year. In today’s world, of high unemployment, no-hours contracts, reduced Trade Union rights, and a return to the Victorian era. with no paid holidays, or sick leave, it makes me realise just how easy it was, to live in the 1960’s and 1970’s, compared to the present day. My own employment history, before settling down in the Ambulance Service, may seem like a poor CV. In those…

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Winning The Pools

Long before there was a National Lottery, or instant-win scratchcards, in Britain we had the Football Pools. This was a weekly gamble on the results of football matches played all over the country, and the companies involved employed door-to-door collectors.

They would come at the same time in the evening, on the same day each week. After taking your completed Pools Form and the stake money, they would hand you a new form for next week’s matches. They always wished you ‘good luck’ as they left, as it was not unknown for any lucky winner to tip their collector handsomely.

I started ‘doing the pools’ as it was known, quite late in life. I was already married, and attracted by the increase in jackpot prizes that had been widely publicised. For a modest outlay, I had the chance of winning hundreds of thousands of pounds. Considering a very nice house in Wimbledon had just cost us only £27,000, a prize approaching £500,000 was a life-changing amount.

This was no random gamble in the form of a lucky dip, or selection of numbers. It involved betting on which teams were more likely to win or draw, and whether they were playing at their home ground, or away. Not an easy job for me, as I had not been a football fan since I was eleven years old. However, I did buy newspapers, and could read about the current performance of football teams in the sports section.

In fact, the Pools was so widely played, newspapers would also supply ‘pools forecasts’ to help people filling out their pools forms, which were actually called (for some unknown reason) ‘coupons’. Big winners would often attract publicity, mostly bad, about how they had wasted their winnings. But there was a box to tick for ‘No publicity’. I always ticked that box, just in case.

My preferred option was called ‘Three Eight From Tens’. You had to pick eight score draws from ten matches played, and I played three lines of that, using different teams on each line. On Sundays, I would check in the back of my newspaper after it had been delivered, to see if any of my lines had won.

Sometimes there were small prizes, based on how many others had picked the same results, but it was the winner of the huge jackpot that we all dreamed of becoming. The only person in Britain to pick the eight score draws from just ten games.

For a long time, nothing happened. Then one day it did.

I had eight score draws on one line. I checked it at least a dozen times, and it was true. My heart was beating fast, and yet I was sure there would be some mistake. There was a number to telephone if you thought you had won, and I dialled it with trembling fingers. I used Littlewoods, the biggest of the pools companies, and I got through to a nice lady at their headquarters in Liverpool.

She checked my numbers, and confirmed that I did indeed have eight score draws, and should win a ‘substantial’ prize. I left my details, and she agreed that I had ticked ‘No Publicity’, so would be sent a cheque with my winnings. She was unable to tell me the full amount, as it was too early to have vetted any other claims.

To say I was excited would be an understatement. I telephoned some of my closest friends, and arranged to meet them at lunchtime in a south London pub. My (first) wife and I drove over there just after midday, and I told everyone the great news. I was free with the drinks, and wondering what I was going to spend that small fortune on.

We discussed buying houses for friends and relatives, exotic holidays, new cars, even giving up work and living abroad. And I was only thirty years old.

When the letter came a few days later, I could see the company name printed on the envelope, and almost ripped the cheque in my excitement to tear it open.

Despite looking at the numbers and typed figures at least fifty times, I had to face the disappointment. It was just £410. The accompanying letter informed me that it would have been £410,000, but almost 1,000 other people had also guessed the same eight score draws that week. Okay, £410 was over a month’s salary for me at the time, but it took a very long while for me to shake off the disappointment of not winning the jackpot.

In 1986, The Pools paid out its first £1,000,000 prize. By then, I had long stopped bothering to play. I reasoned I had missed my chance, and that pools numbers, like lightning, don’t strike twice in the same place.

Littlewoods is still running Footballs Pools to this day, though since the National Lottery began in 1994, hardly anyone ‘does the pools’ anymore.

Nice Times (5)

Ollie was born in the bungalow next door, and since lives with us in a bungalow on one level. When he was less than one year old, we asked our next door neighbours the other side to look after him overnight, so we could go to a wedding in Hertfordshire. We took him into their two-storey house to make sure he would settle there, and he spotted the stairs. Although he had no idea what they were, he ran straight up them immediately, then stood on the landing looking down at us. Then he rushed back down, repeating the process numerous times until he was out of breath. He thought they were a game, like a child on a slide in the park. It was so delightful to see him discovering stairs.

A long weekend in Rome, a present for my 50th birthday and my first time in Italy. On the first morning, we walked from the hotel to see The Colosseum. It was so much better than I had expected, and just took my breath away with its grandeur and history. Standing inside, I pictured the gladiators fighting on the sand of the large arena, and the crowds watching. Some things are more wonderful than you can ever imagine they might be, and that was one of them.

After the break up of my first marriage, I had to basically learn from scratch how to fend for myself. Determined not to fall into bad eating habits like microwave meals and shop-bought pizzas, I bought a copy of Delia Smith’s book, ‘How To Cook’. Following her instructions to the letter, I cooked myself a small joint of pork with roast potatoes, accompanied by red cabbage cooked with apples and spices. I sat and ate it on my own, in the small house I had bought in London’s Docklands development. It was delicious!

In 2000, I had moved from Hertfordshire into my flat near Regent’s Park, in Camden. My (second) ex-wife contacted me and said she was going to be shopping in the west end that Saturday with a friend I knew well, and asked if I would like to meet up. I met them in Soho, at a coffee bar in Old Compton Street that was known for selling delicious cakes. (Amato, sadly since closed down) The late Spring weather was lovely, and I was feeling good. We had a nice chat over coffee and cakes, and when they left, I wandered over to Charing Cross Road to look in some of the second-hand bookshops that the area is famous for. I bought three hardback books, and strolled home to the flat, stopping at a pub in Tottenham Court Road. I sat outside drinking a glass of wine, and flicking through the books I had bought. Happy to be back in the heart of the city.

A year later, in 2001, I made the unexpected decision at the age of 49 to leave the Ambulance Service and go to work for the Metropolitan Police. I had to attend the Police Training Centre in Hendon, and complete an intensive 14-week course. It was a pass or fail course, and I knew that if I didn’t get through I would be out of a job for the first time since my youth. I found it hard, as I was the oldest one in the class, and had very little experience of using computers. But when we had the final crucial examination, I passed in the top half of the group. As I drove home that evening, I felt I had really achieved something.

Nice Times (4)

Continuing my happy mood with more memories that make me feel good.

Taking my mum to The Ritz Hotel in London for the classic High Tea. A birthday treat for her 80th, and something she had never done. She was thrilled by the opulent surroundings, and the quality of the food served. Then some waiters brought a tiny birthday cake to the table, with one lit candle in it. They sung Happy Birthday to her, and the others in the restaurant gave her a round of applause. The look on her face was priceless. She treasured that cake, and kept it in its little box in her fridge for the next seven years. I found it still there, when I was clearing out her fridge after she had died.

Picking Ollie up from the Animal Hospital in Newmarket. He had just had his final eye operation for Entropion, and had been kept in for three nights after. His sheer delight at seeing us arrive to collect him brought happy tears to my eyes.

Standing on a hotel balcony in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Just across the street from that hotel was the splendour of the famous Registan temple complex. I had read about Samarkand and the silk route when I was very young. Now here I was, standing opposite that history. I felt every second of that moment, deep inside.

I was part of the ambulance crew that was first on scene at the Ladbroke Grove train crash in 1999, one of the biggest rail disasters in British history. Acting as incident officer, I had to request every available ambulance in London to attend the scene. As they started to arrive, I recognised one crew, a young man and woman from Fulham Ambulance Station. I asked them to help me triage the injured that were being brought to a central point, and for one of them to set up an aid station for walking wounded in a nearby school. At the debrief over six hours later, they approached me and said, “We were so nervous about going to that job, but when we saw you were there sorting things out, we knew we would be okay”. One of the best things anyone ever said to me, in my entire life.

Sitting in a lounge chair outside our cabin at the Kilimanjaro Safari Lodge, in Kenya. I was drinking a gin and tonic before dinner, looking at the distant mountain as thousands of wildebeest crossed the horizon. My wife was inside showering and getting ready, and I sensed a movement next to me. I was amazed to see a huge male Mandrill had come and sat next to my chair. Not much smaller than me, with its distinctive coloured facial markings, and teeth as big as a wolf. I was really scared, yet fascinated. It watched me closely for a few moments before walking away. It was completely non threatening, and I felt the connection with a wild animal that meant me no harm. A simply unforgettable moment.

Nice Times (3)

As much as I enjoy living in the countryside now, I will always be a Londoner. This post is about some beloved memories of that city.

An intimate gig at the famous Soho Jazz club, Ronnie Scott’s. It finished late, and after the club closed we walked across the street and were lucky enough to get a table outside the iconic Bar Italia coffee bar. Sitting on the pavement, heated by patio heaters, drinking lukewarm espresso at inflated prices. Watching the world go by in London at night. And then I had a glass of Grappa. Fabulous.

Standing on an almost deserted Waterloo Bridge, very early in the morning. Facing east, looking at one of the best views in London as the sun rose behind Tower Bridge. I loved being a Londoner that morning.

An evening trip on The London Eye (big wheel by the river) for my 49th birthday. Disappointed that the thing faces the wrong way, so all you get to see is the dull stuff heading west out of London. Then we walked down to Gabriel’s Wharf for one of the best pizzas in the city, an English Breakfast on a pizza. As we ate, we laughed about what a let down the London Eye is.

A late drink in a pub in Smithfield Market. When we left, the meat traders were setting up, much as they had done for centuries. The end of our day was the beginning of theirs, and it felt just right.

Sitting in a car in a street just off Brick Lane, east London. I had driven to the Bagel Shop in the middle of the night and bought two salt beef bagels. My mouth was watering at the thought of eating them, so I sat and ate them in the car, instead of driving home first.

Visiting an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, on the South Bank. I was on my own and had enjoyed the exhibition of historical propaganda posters. I had even bought some to take home and frame for my wall. (I still have them, now stored in the loft) I bought a large glass of wine from the Festival Hall terrace cafe, and sat watching the buzz of London life by the river. It was such an enjoyable experience, I had a second glass before going home.

Meeting friends at the Mar/Terra tapas bar, off Union Street, Southwark. Eight of us enjoying many small courses and lots of wine, for as long as they remained open. The owner was from Seville, and served some of the best tapas in London. A small restaurant, always full of atmosphere. A place to feel alive in.