Targeted Following

All of us know that we get followers who are not really followers. They are trying to sell stuff.

This is getting worse, at least as far as my blog is concerned. Here are a few examples. I have not included links to their blogs, as I refuse to give them any publicity.

1) I write a post about acne in old age. It was a reblog from years ago, and I don’t have it any longer.

Next thing I know, I have two new followers. Neither of the blog names suggest anything remotely concerning selling, so I check them out.
One is selling ‘remedies’ for acne, and the other selling miracle cures for any skin complaint. These are 21st century snake oil salesmen.

2) I write a post about my wife having tests to see if she has breast cancer. I get an email from a new follower urging me to check out his site. It concerns the sale of some magical formula made from something like mushrooms. You can bet I spammed the blog comment they tried to leave too.

3) In my alphabet series, I wrote about how much I am disgusted by most forms of hunting, especially trophy hunting.
Tonight, I get a new ‘follower’ whose site is advertising the latest in telescopic sights for hunting rifles, slings to carry them with, and cases to keep them in.

This is the bad side of blogging, and I really don’t like it.

I won’t put ‘Followers’ on my list of things I don’t like though, as most of you are wonderful of course!

Jobs On The Street: Old Photos.

For as long as goods and services have been sold, they have been sold in public, on the street.

From Roman times, up to and including my own childhood, street vendors were an everyday sight on the streets of London.

A ‘Shoe Black’, plying his trade in the 1920s.

A milkman, during the early 1960s.
It was unusual by then to see a man still using a push-cart.
Though our own milkman was still using a horse at the time, that was soon replaced by an electric vehicle.

Hot Chestnuts.
Traditionally a cold-weather, seasonal occupation, these sellers could be seen all over London.

In the summer months, Ice Cream sellers were everywhere.
They rode around the streets until they sold out.
The largest company, Wall’s, had their iconic sign. ‘Stop Me and Buy One’.

Street musicians liked to work in busy shopping areas, passing around a hat after performing.
These two went so far as to transport a harp!

Peanut sellers favoured sporting events, exhibitions, and anywhere they could gurantee a large crowd.
Percy Dalton was the top selling brand of peanuts in shells.

Rag and Bone men originally collected unwanted rags and bones, as their name implies.
By the 1960s, they had branched out into the burgeoning antique market, as you can see from this man’s sign.
They also took away any potentially valuable scrap, including most metals and electrical wiring.

Changes in local laws, food sale regulations, and the growing reluctance of consumers to buy things from street vendors, have now all but consigned them to history.
Street entertainers still flourish though, in the most crowded and popular tourist spots in London. Also as buskers, all over the capital. These days, they have to apply for a licence to perform. Doorstep milk deliveries still exist too, but with most of us buying cheaper milk from supermarkets, their time is almost at an end. You can still buy ice cream from vendors selling it from a motorised vehicle. In places like here in Beetley, they drive around the streets in the summer months, playing tunes through a loudspeaker to announce their presence.

Most former Rag and Bone men graduated into becoming scrap metal merchants. With the public wise to the money to be made from scrap, they now usually have to pay to take away the scrap metal that was once left outside for them to collect for free. As for shoe-blacks, the popularity of trainers and casual shoes meant that few people needed to have their shoes polished anymore. They can still be seen in some business districts, where they have become something of an amusing oddity.

How to Develop Your Brand as a Book Author

Nicholas and Stewart bring you valuable advice about how to get your book noticed! Aspiring authors, and those already published, may find this extremely useful.

Nicholas C. Rossis

Stewart Dunlop | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's bookThis is a guest post by Stewart Dunlop. Stewart is a full-time content marketer at Foundr and part-time reader, gamer & footballer. You can follow or tweet him @stewydunlop.

How to Develop Your Brand as a Book Author

Build an author brand | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's bookImage by TeroVesalainen from Pixabay

From a literary point of view, we live in blessed times! Thanks to the development of modern communication devices and platforms, almost anyone can put their thoughts on paper (or the word editor of their choice) and release them to the world.

We now have access to printed books, e-books, audiobooks, and more. This allows the information to flow unhindered and creates a wonderful environment for those who love to read and learn.

But this level of progress has also led to a change in your role as the author. Back in the day, your job would’ve been over once you applied the last of the…

View original post 1,183 more words

Following your Followers

Today was the hottest day of the year so far in Norfolk. After taking Ollie for his usual walk, I was feeling pretty drained, and not really in the mood to spend much more time outside. There was little escape from the sun, and no breeze to speak of. I am not complaining though. After spending two years complaining about the rain, I am pleased to be able to enjoy some dry days.

I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon in the small room grandly called ‘the office’. With the sun towards the back of the house, and sitting on my usual backless stool, I was able to keep reasonably cool. My mission was to check out the blogs of my followers. I have mentioned before, that I am informed by WordPress that I have 350 blog followers, and another 50 or so who follow by e mail, or via Twitter. I sat at my desk, and called up the list on the stats page. Seventeen pages of gravatars and website addresses to work through. I decided to make a cup of coffee.

I could exclude those that I follow, as I know what they are up to. I was also aware of a few that I knew to be defunct, for various reasons. That still left me with over 320 to plough through. I felt guilty, as in many cases, I had not commented for ages, or read any recent posts. I was quickly able to whittle down the numbers. Blog after blog had been deleted by the ‘owner’. Many had not been posted on since early 2013, or even late 2012. Some had posts declaring that they were ‘taking a break’, or ‘closed for the holidays’. In some cases, those holidays were last year’s. Numbers were further reduced by being able to ignore any ‘followers’ still active, who were continuing to sell stuff, or promote religions. A fair number of the blogs were still posting near-identical posts about pets, cooking, or photography. Nothing wrong with that, not in my book. Some of the budding authors had come on sufficiently to be advertising their published works, or putting up links to where they could be found. I excluded these from the ‘sellers’. They are just blogging writers who have achieved their goal. Well done to all of you in that category.

By far the majority are still going strong. They are blogging with the same enthusiasm as when they first came to my attention, and their blogs have gone from strength to strength. They almost all have a great deal more followers than I do, so congratulations are in order. We had started on this journey around the same time, and most of us are still here, to tell our tales. Most of their blogs are great to look at. Colourful, strewn with photos, and full of guest posts, or tales of travel. I did notice that many have changed theme. It seems that black is the ‘new black’, usually with red or white type. Others have eschewed wordpress completely, and are blogging on different platforms, or have taken the .com route, to their own website. I wish them luck, all of them. Some of the sites are simple ‘re-bloggers’, where the site owner writes very little themselves, instead re-blogging articles from many other bloggers. I mean no criticism of this. I have benefited from this practice personally, and I believe that it is a great way to spread the word, and to get ideas and information to those who might not otherwise discover  it.

As and when I got the opportunity, I touched base with many of them once more. I liked a post here, commented on one there. Congratulated when appropriate, and encouraged if I considered it necessary. Some have already got back to me, no doubt surprised at my sudden and unexpected appearance. After a long afternoon into the early evening, I finally completed the list. It made me feel good, assuaged my guilt, and revitalised my community spirit, as far as the blogging community has one. I must be sure to do this more often. As I often say, we are all in this together,

 

400 Today

This is the 400th published post on my blog. Four hundred articles, tens of thousands of words, numerous video clips, but only two photos. Countless hours spent in research and verification, as well as avoidance of plagiarism. Many more hours spent physically typing the posts, tidying up the blog, replying to comments, and liking and commenting on other peoples’ posts. The time spent thinking up themes and ideas, recalling a long life, jobs, relationships, holidays and experiences; that cannot really be measured. It is a constant process, and has almost become an unconscious one.

When I started this blog, in the late Summer of 2012, I had no idea what to expect. I thought it would be perhaps a dozen articles, about moving to Norfolk, and discovering a new life in the countryside. I was very wrong about that. Despite ups and downs with popularity, times when it all seemed too much to bother with, and highs when I have received wonderful praise, it has become an integral part of my life. A day without looking at the blog, checking what others are doing, or thinking up things to write about, has become unthinkable. It is like a job. An unpaid job, but one that you really like doing, so you don’t worry about the terms and conditions, holiday entitlements, or dinner breaks.

I have seen blogs come and go during this time. Most, if not all far more entertaining than mine; better conceived, slickly presented, and glossily illustrated. I have been sold to, preached at, criticised, and applauded. I have been on the receiving end of misinformation, scams, mad people, zealots, and weirdos. I have had to learn to sort the wheat from the chaff, the genuine from the false, and the worthwhile from the worthless. If I had bought every book, get-rich scheme, better skin treatment, potion, lifestyle option, keep fit programme, and dietary wonder that I have had pitched at me, I would surely be bankrupt. If I supported every cause, every campaign, and championed all the worthy organisations that have appealed for my help, I wouldn’t have had time to write a word. If I had decided to follow all the different religions, cults, scientific pathways, and spiritual nirvanas proposed to me, I might well have ended up in an insane asylum. This is the downside of blogging, the constant bombardment of other people’s money-making schemes, and crazy ideas.

Luckily, I declined all of it; became a member of nothing, a consumer of nothing, and a believer in nothing. As far as I am concerned, they wasted their time. In the back of my mind, I do sometimes worry about the one percent that apparently fall for this stuff, and what it may have done to their lives. The Internet (and Blogging) has two faces, and you have to make sure that you are always looking at the right one. I consider myself lucky to have chosen well, and to be part of a small but valuable community of thinkers and writers who are all striving for much the same thing, and finding like-minded individuals to accompany them on their journey.

The good side of Blogging is without compare. It brings freedom, friendship, the power to express thoughts and ideas, and to amuse, entertain, or inform. It releases weights, empowers people, and might even change things for the better, at least in individual lives. It develops skills, improves communication, and reaches out across the planet. There is absolutely nothing to compare to it. No best-selling book, or Oscar-winning film gives such a personal message, or records the life of someone so well. No eulogy can match the physical reality of a life’s work, left behind for as long as the Internet exists, for the edification of future generations, and the information of descendants. Most of us around my age have only some faded old photos, or perhaps some cine film to watch, or dried out letters to read. In the future, our blogs will be our legacy, our lives today there for others to see, in perpetuity.

That’s why it’s all worth it.

Selling Yourself: The Last Part

Despite my recent post about not posting for a while, I thought I would leave you with this to read, while I am away.

This is the final episode in the seven-part saga relating my experiences in numerous selling jobs. As I come to the end of this part of my history, it has occurred to me, that I have now covered a great deal of my working life; also all three marriages, as well as my day to day life at the moment. I have commented on countless films, and quite a lot of music, as well as voicing my opinions about world events, domestic politics, and other issues. Almost 330 posts, which I have to look back on, to even remember what I wrote at the time. Am I running out of things to write about? I have lived for sixty-one years, and almost covered that life so far. I will have to hope that this is not the case, and search my memory. I may even  try a new category, and write some Fiction. Any thoughts on that?

Anyway, I digress…

The cider company that I started to work for still exists, and is very well known. I will refrain from naming it directly, but it is long-established, with brands advertised by a tree-dwelling bird, and the use of arrows. At the time I was with them, they were still privately owned, by the West Country family that gave their name to the brand. They even owned the orchards that grew the apples for the drinks, and were one of the largest employers in their part of the country. Back then, cider was not the trendy drink we see today. There were no ice-filled glasses of Magners, or companies selling drinks pronounced ‘Cidre’, not Cider, and certainly no flavoured cider drinks like the ubiquitous ‘Kopparberg’. Two companies dominated the market; the one I was employed by, and the ‘other’ one, which was called Coates-Gaymer. They had the cheesy TV jingle that went, ‘Coates comes up from Somerset, where the cider apples grow’. They also had the market leader at the time, called ‘Old English’. We considered ourselves upmarket by comparison, and were going all out to become number one in this area of the drinks market, which was then in a period of stagnation.

The reasons for the decline in the sales of cider were many. Lager was becoming more popular, and imported brands, like Carlsberg Export, Special Brew, and Stella Artois, were all beginning to appear for sale in the UK. They were trendier, grown-up drinks, and had no associations with quart bottles, or smock-wearing West Country farm workers. Cider had unwelcome connections too. It had long been the drink of choice for alcoholics, street-drinkers, and the tramp-like underclass generally referred to as ‘Winos’. This was not a misnomer though, as these people actually did drink wine, the fortified tonic wines and sherries, like ‘Emva Cream’, or ‘Buckfast’, as well. Cider was a reasonably priced way to get drunk, and to maintain that state of drunkenness over long periods. The two-pint bottles ensured adequate supplies, and even had the bonus of a money-back deposit on the empties. It was easy to drink, sweeter than most other alternatives, and sold almost everywhere. It was the stigma of street drinkers that was really killing the sales of cider though. The shops did not want this sort of customer inside their establishments, and also did not want them sitting around nearby, on benches, on walls, or in parks, drinking the stuff that they had just bought there. They stopped stocking it, thereby solving the problem, at least for them, in one fell swoop.

It was our mission to get the product back into these shops, and to increase our sales in the outlets that still stocked it. We were also tasked with raising the profile of the drink in pubs and bars, pushing it as an alternative to real ales, and the new lagers. They did not suffer the same problem with unsavoury customers, as they could just refuse to serve them, and ask them to leave. This was not so easy, in an off-licence, or small supermarket. It was primarily in city centres, and large market towns, where this problem existed at all, and it was at its worst in Central London. This was the reason for the new recruits, like myself, and the increased investment in advertising and promotion that accompanied the larger sales teams. My area stretched from Bow, in East London, through the City and most of the West End, finishing at Edgware Road, which marked the Western boundary of my territory. This was potentially a graveyard for cider sales. The shops in the East were fed up with the alcoholics and tramps, and those in the City and West End were refusing to stock ciders anyway. The few pubs where we still had a foothold, were changing fast, with wine becoming more popular, and the latest lager beers taking over. It didn’t look too good, and I was starting to wonder if I had made a mistake.

These were ‘modern’ times though, and the company was set to respond accordingly. We had an arsenal of sales aids; posters, cut-outs, coupons, dummy bottles, and stickers. All of these were in line with the latest advertisements on TV, and in the press. We also advertised heavily in trade journals, and were always represented at conferences, and trade fairs, anything to do with the brewing, or drinks industry. If all else failed, we resorted to outright bribery. Most shops and pubs we traded with then, were owned by large companies, and run by managers. They worked for wages, and sold what they were told to sell; they had no favourites, and no affiliations. If we could offer them a free gift, handed over at the time the order was placed, then this was something for them, not the company, and made them feel that they were being respected, and involved in the sales process. These gifts ranged from free bottles of champagne, to sets of golf balls, even small tool kits, torches, sets of glasses, or kitchen implements. Theses incentives, as we liked to call them, were always packaged attractively, and never looked cheap and nasty. They would be dangled like a carrot, and the bigger the order, the more they got. This was also used to gain valuable display space on the crowded bottle and can racks, an issue that constantly affected overall sales potential.

The other weapon in the war to increase sales, was diversification. We wanted to be more than a cider company, to add to the range that we could offer to bars and retailers, and my firm actually came up with some really good ideas to help make this happen. They acted as distributor for one of the premier champagne houses, selling the ‘third best’ champagne in the world at the time, which was actually the market leader in ‘pink’ champagne as well. They then outdid themselves, by becoming the UK supplier for Red Stripe West Indian lager, and arranging to sponsor the coming Test Cricket season. Things were beginning to look good, and were about to get even better. I finally had something to sell, that customers not only wanted, but also needed badly, due to public demand. On the back of this product, I was able to reintroduce some of the cider products, and even sneak in some champagnes. I no longer had to bribe anyone either, as the managers were being instructed to take our goods at last. This left me with a nice sideline in undistributed gifts, which I naturally wrote off as given anyway. Everyone I knew ended up with stuff, from golf balls, to free champagne. The good times were back.

My biggest problem, was where to park my car. Parking in Central London was becoming more and more difficult, and I couldn’t rely on meters, as I never knew how long I would be away. Instead, I would head into one of the NCP car parks, like Shepherd Market, in Mayfair, or Brewer Street, in Soho, and use them as a base for the time that I was in the area, travelling back and forth to the car, as necessary. If I was in the City, I would normally head for Finsbury Circus, a really useful car park, in an ideal location. The cost of this would have been crippling on a personal budget, but the company were happy to pay, albeit a month in arrears. This left me wandering around the busy centre, carrying cutouts of lager cans, or cider bottles, as big as myself, and laden with samples, paperwork, and order pads. I later added a tool kit to this, when we had another task added to our routine. The pumps in bars that dispense draught drinks, are a real front-of-house selling tool. The colourful headers, all facing the customer, are great advertisements, and have been shown to be responsible for impulse buys, as well as defining ‘choices’ for consumers. It was decided to change our branding and logos, which necessitated replacing all the headers in numerous establishments. Now, as well as selling, and managing accounts, I would have to roll up my sleeves, get behind the bar, and change these things too. We were also given an expenses budget to buy drinks for buyers and managers. This was a cynical ploy, hoping to buy us more time to discuss orders, display space, and promotions, as well as to build a rapport with these customers. But for me, this was the real deal. Money to spend, products that actually sold, together with new branding, a fresh image, and the buzz of the City and West End. Surely it couldn’t get better? Then it did just that.

The entire sales force was called to a meeting at Head Office. We had been told that something exciting was going to happen, and a new product was about to be launched. As I already had my new Vauxhall Cavalier car, and I was doing pretty well with sales and customer development, I was not apprehensive of unforeseen dismissal, or other reprimands. The meeting was brief, and concerned the agreement to distribute a product. This was not a new product as such, and for those of us who had travelled abroad, it was familiar. However, our company had arranged a deal to be the sole supplier in the UK, and they were very excited about it. We all had two bottles in front of our seats, one a litre size, the other a quarter litre, which looked tiny by comparison. It was Perrier Water, a huge brand in France, and some other countries around the world. Some of the sales staff were bemused. They did not agree that people in England would pay for bottled water, something available free from the tap. If this sounds strange now, when everyone seems to always be clutching a bottle of the stuff, wherever you go, consider that this was the late 1970’s, and bottled water was rarely seen here then.  As the representative for half of London, I knew different, as did my colleague, who covered the Western half of the metropolis. We were all too aware of San Pellegrino, Vichy, Evian, and others, and their popularity in the bars and restaurants of London. The company gave us all sales targets, which were modest, and to my mind, easily achievable. We were also given a car load of promotional material, and boxes of samples to give away. There was one problem though. The recommended retail price put this bottled water into the premium category, meaning it would cost the customer as much as a cheap bottle of indifferent wine, or a quality lager. As we left, the other salesmen looked glum, and made defeatist comments. Perhaps if I was facing the prospect of trying to sell this idea in Sheffield, or Wrexham, I might have felt the same. By contrast, I was bullish, and pleased to have anything to take the pressure off of selling cider, the least popular product in my own area.

The next week, I was out early, clutching my huge cutout bottle photos, and carrying a bulging case full of the small samples. There was a great Ad campaign running alongside our new product, and the company had pulled out all the stops. I hit Soho straight away, sure that customers in that area would snatch my hand off, for such a trendy product. What I actually hit, was a brick wall. I found myself dazed and confused; nobody wanted it. The bars and restaurants, the natural market for such things, were already tied into deals with other companies, and they were happy with their current sales of San Pellegrino, the popular Italian water. They did not see the need to offer alternatives, a far cry from the separate ‘water menus’ found these days. In the shops, they hardly sold water anyway, and actually laughed at me, and in particular, the inflated retail price. All I heard, day after day was, ‘who will pay that, for water?’. I found myself at a complete loss. The company had been expecting so much, and were getting nothing. The story was the same everywhere, and customers would not even take it on a ‘sale or return’ basis; we couldn’t give it away. Investments had been made, and pressure was applied. London was expected to save the day, and I could hardly sell a case of the stuff. I changed tactics completely, and began to call on wholesalers, notoriously difficult customers to even see, let alone deal with.

One late afternoon, actually on my way home. I pulled a card from my prospecting box with the address of a wholesaler that I had not yet called on. It was close to Blackfriars Bridge, in a run-down office above a shop in Farringdon Street. I parked on a meter near Smithfield Market, and walked around to the place, which looked closed. I went up, walked in, and was greeted by a young man. He told me that he had just taken over the company, and was too busy to see me, without an appointment. I left a product sample, and a business card, and departed, asking him to let me know when he was free, for a longer talk. I didn’t have to wait long. The next day, he left a message with Head Office, (no mobiles then, at least not in everyday use) asking me to call in to see him, at my earliest convenience. I did so, on my way home again, around 4.30pm that day. One of the truest things I ever heard, was the old saying ‘don’t judge a book, by its cover’. This was yet another example of how accurate this can be. This young man, a few years younger than me even, was a classic entrepreneur. His shabby-looking company, that no outsiders had ever heard of, was actually the largest supplier of various sundry goods to the restaurant and catering trade, all over London and the Home Counties. His client base was enormous, and did not include any of our existing customers, as we did not call on small restaurants, or catering companies. And he was interested in stocking the 25cl bottles of Perrier. Very interested, in fact.

He debated prices with me for a long time, too long for my liking, as I realised I wouldn’t get home until almost 7pm. However, as I was leaving, I asked him one last question. ‘If I can get that price, how much are you thinking of ordering?’ His answer simply staggered me, and I tried to look nonplussed, as if it was an everyday event. I had never been so excited by an answer, at least in all my years in business. ‘Let’s say a quarter of a million litres to be getting on with, but I want that price though’. That was a million bottles. I was light-headed, as I descended the stairs, and made my way back to the car. Not only was this ten times our entire target, for the whole country, it would get the brand into a potential new market of  thousands of outlets. I arrived home talkative and exhilarated, unusual for me, when it came to selling. The next morning, I delayed my normal departure, to get straight on the telephone to Head Office. It was like ringing up to confirm that you had won the Football Pools, and I expected nothing less that shouts of delight from the managers. I was surprised when their response was lukewarm, and they even had the temerity to ask if I had sold any litre bottles, to other customers. They said that they would discuss prices, and contact my area manager, who would get back to me later. After three days, I had heard nothing, and contacted him myself. He arranged to come and meet me for a coffee, near one of my calls in the West End.

In many ways, that meeting changed my life, and altered my future. He told me that they would not be taking the order that I had got. It was not a question of the price, rather security of distribution. In other words, they were too scared to sell so much, to one man. It would have solved their sales problem, but given them an altogether different dilemma. Perrier would have to deliver such a huge order direct to the customer, on large trucks, all the way from France, as we did not hold sufficient stocks in the UK. The underlying fear, was that this young businessman would steal the distribution away from us, and strike a deal with Perrier, as we only had an interim contract, that was not open-ended. Added to this, was the worry that Perrier would actually see a real opportunity in the UK, instead of a sideline, and operate over here themselves. I had never been involved in decisions made from this strange kind of logic before. I was told to contact my customer, and to tell him thanks, but we will not be supplying him. I made protestations to my manager. Why was I out there? What was the point of it all? Why make such a great sale, then be too afraid to supply it? It struck me that this was a small-minded company, parochial in outlook; their actual operation belying the modern nature of the marketing strategy. I took my leave, and continued with my day. But my mind was already made up, and I did not want to carry on working for them.

I reflected on my Dad’s maxim, delivered so many years earlier. I had never really sold myself. Nobody had ever wanted to buy me. I had spent years selling stuff of all kinds, without ever really selling it. I had ordered it, I had merchandised it, and I had placed it in shops, on sale or return. In retail, I had handed it over counters, placed it in displays, and responded to customer demands. However, I had never actually sold something to anyone, that they did not really want to buy. The only people who had been doing that, were some car salesmen, and direct sellers, like double-glazing companies, and some more unscrupulous con-men. The whole industry had the wrong name. It wasn’t selling, it was supplying, and distributing. I had spent years of my life living a lie, and making profits for companies that I had little or no respect for. I was sick of it, and needed a complete change. Time to go. Again.

I had considered the emergency services at least twice before. I failed to get into the Police, as I was too short. When I applied, at the age of nineteen, they had a strict minimum height policy. If you were a male applicant, you had to be five feet eight inches tall, and that was that. I was five feet seven, (and a fraction) not tall by any standards, even wearing a large Police helmet. Despite having all the necessary educational qualifications, and some relatives on the Force, I was knocked back at the medical, with a ‘sorry son, too short’. By the time they scrapped the height requirement many years later, I was far too cynical about their role, to even consider a second application. I had also tried the Fire Brigade. Their medical was even stricter, requiring the carrying of a dummy around an exercise yard, and a breathing test, to see if you could wear the necessary apparatus in action. I failed on both counts, and was told that I could re-apply later, as long as I was ‘considerably fitter, and laid off the cigarettes’. At the time, I thought that both these jobs were worthwhile, and served the community, without making profits for multinational companies. Later, I was less sure about that. Unhappy at the cider company, I started to look around for a new job, one that definitely did not involve selling, and preferably something that had some social credibility.

I saw an advertisement for the London Ambulance Service in the evening paper. The basic pay was less than one third of what I was then earning, and I would naturally lose my nearly-new car. This would drop us down to a one-car family, for the first time since we married, and would mean that I would have to suffer the indignity of using a moped, to go to work on. After a brief discussion with my wife, about happiness, careers, and doing something useful for society, I applied.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Selling Yourself: Part One

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 days, it was very much a way of life for many of us.

I will probably write in more detail about some of these job choices at a later date. For now, this is something of a list, and a story about Selling. My Dad was a salesman, from 1959, until the late 1970’s. He passed on his advice to me in one phrase, something I later discovered was not his own pearl of wisdom at all, just another old salesman’s maxim. He told me; ‘Don’t try to sell the product. Sell yourself, your personality, and the rest will follow naturally.’ I took him at his word, and spent many years of my life trying to do just that. Sell myself.

After a brief non-selling job, taken as I waited to pass my driving test, I was soon off the mark. Selling cheap records in various locations around the South Coast. Or rather, not really selling them at all, as all I actually did was to ‘merchandise’ them, by checking the previous sales, and filling up the rack to the requisite number, then invoice the outlet accordingly. This was done from a transit van, inside which I also kept all the stock, occasionally making the long trip to the West London depot, to fill it up again. Luckily for me, the company decided to go ‘up market’ shortly after I joined. They replaced the vans with new Vauxhall Vivas, and we did the ordering in the same way, with the goods delivered later, by bulk drops. I loved having my new company car, which in those days carried no tax burden, and with careful accounting, could also provide me with sufficient fuel to use the car privately. I also got to see a lot of the South Coast of England, albeit mostly in bad weather. I wanted more contact with modern records though, and soon tired of selling rehashes of chart hits, and back-catalogue cheapies. So, I moved on.

Through another of my Dad’s contacts, I got a job in a Central London record shop, a stone’s throw from Piccadilly Circus. This was not my first foray into retail, as I had previously had a Saturday job, in the record department of a large store in Croydon. This was hardly comparable to my experiences in the West End though. I arrived at the shop, to find that I was to be the third man, to the existing pair that ran it. One was a likeable, smartly-dressed Jazz musician, who was only working there between gigs, to pay his bills. The other was a bearded hippy-type, overweight, and a heavy smoker. On paper, he ran the shop, in as much as he did the ordering, and banked the takings. In reality, he did little else, as he had numerous sidelines, that he used the shop as a base to pursue. The shop stayed open late, and traded at weekends, including Sundays, decades before Sunday trading was usual. The opening times were ‘flexible’, and dependent on when they turned up, not closing until they were fed up. Late starts, and later closing suited me well enough, even though I had no formal hours in my agreement, I was assured that I would get ‘extras’ to make up for the longer working week.  We played music of our choice all day, and took breaks whenever we wanted. I decided that I would like it there.

The life of the shops around this part of London; Leicester Square, Coventry Street, and Piccadilly Circus, was not your typical shopkeeping. Souvenir shops were plentiful, and kiosks selling drinks and cigarettes overcharged alarmingly, though not to fellow shop staff. When customers asked to pay in foreign currency, we would take it at a rate derisory for them, change it up later, and pocket the difference. I was allowed, within reason, to keep any records that I liked, and if any of our friends came in, they would be substantially undercharged for goods. If we wanted something from a nearby shop, like food, cigarettes, or cold drinks, we would tell those assistants to come and see us later, and give them records, or sell them some at laughably cheap prices. It felt good, it felt like a family. We were not unduly concerned about the profits of the chain of shops we worked for. Regular sales were through the roof, and our weekly take was phenomenal. This was the heyday of record-buying, and we sold everything we could get. New releases were in such demand, that customers queued outside before we opened, much as they do now, for the latest Harry Potter book. We offered no discounts at all, in fact we often acted as if we were doing them a favour, by actually taking their money, at full retail price.

It was soon obvious to me, that some creaming off was going on. The manager could often be seen stuffing wads of cash into his pockets, just before leaving for the day. I was told that I could drive in by car, and that it was alright to take the change from petty cash to feed the parking meter, as I could then give him a lift home to North London. It says something of the differences then, that I felt confident in driving to Leicester Square, easily finding a space on a meter, then feeding it until the cut off period, in those days 6.30pm, on a daily basis. I wouldn’t want to try that now. Once taken into trust, I was made aware of much more goings-on. Our musician was an alcoholic, and I could always smell drink on him. I soon noticed his regular runs to the booze shop,  a carrier bag full of records in hand, no doubt to exchange for drink. I was also allowed to go down to the cellar more often. This was supposed to be where we kept the extra supplies of top-selling discs, but was much more besides. At weekends, a steady stream of ‘special’ customers would arrive, and ask for the manager by name. I was told to allow them access to the cellar, where he kept a notional ‘office’. They were usually respectable-looking, well-dressed men, who were around middle age, rarely younger than 50. I had always presumed that they were involved in some kind of fiddle, involving currency, or rare records, something the manager also traded in, through his contacts in the shop. One Sunday morning, I found out the real reason for the visitors.

With just two of us in, our musician having played a late gig, and crying off sick, the manager told me not to open straight away. He took me down to the cellar, where I was startled to find a projector set up, and four or five assorted chairs placed in front of it. He told me that we would have some early arrivals, and that once they were all there, I was not to go down to get anything. He started the projector, and showed me a snippet of what they were calling on us to see. It was a reel-to-reel film, involving pornography, but not of a kind I had ever seen, or even heard about. Without going into offensive detail, it included scenes of young (apparently German) women, going about their most intimate toilet functions, as men lay underneath them. The second film, I was told, was to involve the participation of a Doberman dog, a farmyard pig, and assorted horses. I took him on his word, and looked upon our ‘visitors’ in a very different light, as each arrived, and sheepishly made his way downstairs, to the necessarily silent film show. As I later found out, the film mornings were free of charge. It was selling copies for them to take away, that made the big money. In the heart of London, yards from the notorious Soho strip joints and clubs, I saw first hand the real seediness, that lay behind the bright lights, and gaudy neon signs. It did occur to me that it was blatantly illegal, but for some reason, it didn’t really bother me in the least.

Eventually, the bubble burst, but not as I had anticipated it would. My all-too short venture into the exciting world of Central London retail, came to an abrupt end, when I was called over to Covent Garden one day, to see the Area Manager. It is so long ago now, but I think that I expected something good, perhaps promotion to another shop, or maybe a bonus. At the very least, I pondered, it will be a pat on the back, for a job well-done, and hours worked beyond the call of duty. When I was put in front of the Area Manager, he immediately bombarded me with questions about till shortages, sales of ‘unofficial’ items, and frequent staff absences. I shrugged to all of this, and launched into a form of defence; after all, I am only the new boy, what would I know? He offered to spare me further investigations, if I would just tell all about my colleagues, and confirm his fears of various scams. I kept quiet. Where I was from, you didn’t grass. If I thought silence would spare me, I was sadly wrong. I was dismissed there and then, wages up to date, cards in hand, even my personal stuff, already collected from the shop. Indignantly, I departed, fuming inside. I was only a small part of a well-organised machine in this tiny shop, yet I was the one being expected to fall on my sword. I tried to contact my former colleagues, but they would not let me into the premises, and refused to talk to me on the ‘phone. I had been offered up, in a carefully arranged set-up, designed to save their jobs. Lesson learned.

As was usual then, I soon bounced back. Through another contact, I quickly got another job, this time as manager of a small record shop in East London.  You might think that this would have been difficult, given the hasty departure from one of the few jobs that I was ever sacked from, and the absence of any positive reference. Not so. They knew ‘the game’, and they expected me to learn from my mistakes. As manager, I would be poacher turned gamekeeper, and expected to be on top of any strokes pulled by my two female staff. The contact recommended me to the owner, who was a then famous TV personality, and a leading radio DJ. Although he is long dead, I will not name him, as identification might lead others to conclusions that would be in error. This owner took me on face value, and I started the next week. This next episode in record retail was to be markedly different from the one that preceded it. The new shop was on one of the main roads of East London, and not too far from a well-used street market. Like many shops in the area, it took the biggest percentage of its takings on a Friday and Saturday, and weekdays were famously quiet. My brief was to try to change this, and to hopefully generate a steadier sales pattern, that could justify the employment of three staff all week.

Easier said than done. Shopping trends in those areas were firmly entrenched, and I had my work cut out. I tried what I knew, and hoped that West End methods could make the short journey across London to the East. Window displays were my first brainwave. The ones that I inherited were lame, at best, consisting of little more than piles of record covers draped around some material in the windows. I went all-out, with new display materials, and dedicated one window to a specific new release each week. arranging the covers of that record as imaginatively as I could. My staff consisted of two girls, one slightly older that me, the other the same age. They were fairly disinterested, but happy that I was of a similar age, as the previous manager had been in his 60’s. They spent a lot of time chatting to their friends, who would just hang around, and never buy records. I approached local venues, and offered to promote new bands, and to display posters at the back of the shop. I also introduced headphones, so that prospective customers could listen to records, without everyone else having to hear them. I even arranged for the famous DJ owner to make a personal appearance, and to play some records, in his inimitable style. It was all useless. We were taking 75% of our weekly takings on a  Friday and Saturday, even after my efforts. It was hardly worth opening the rest of the week, let alone staying open for the half-day closing, when all the surrounding shops were closed after lunch.  The travelling was also getting me down, as I had to drive through the Blackwall Tunnel, morning and evening, to get to and from Kent. This is a notorious traffic black-spot, and it was taking me well over an hour each way, sometimes two, to make the journey. Then there were the customers. Nobody was interested in unusual Soul records, as I was, or even the big progressive rock bands of the day. They liked traditional stuff, or rock and roll, and even the stomach-churning Country and Western. Save for a few big number one singles, even the stock was boring me to tears. I resigned, and recommended the older assistant for my job.

I hadn’t lasted long, but I already had my eye on something new.

Blogging observations

I have been having a look at various blogs over the past few days, while I was having a ‘rest’ from posting items. These included the blogs of those who had been kind enough to follow mine, or send ‘likes’ of some of my posts. I also looked, at random, at some others, including the most popular WordPress efforts.

As usual, I have made a few snap decisions, and arrived at a few conclusions, in addition to those well-known ‘sweeping generalisations’.

A lot of blogs are trying to sell stuff. Courses, books, lifestyle products, recipes, health supplements, Religions; all of these, and more, have their stalls set out, by numerous bloggers. I don’t mean the spammers, these are mainstream blogs. They often approach the subject with subtlety, masquerading as a thoughtful, inspirational blog, one that may bring you comfort, or give advice. Read on, and you will soon discover that they are flogging their latest book, or trying to get you to sign up for something. I have found this to be disappointing. I must have been very naive, considering that bloggers had things to say, and ideas to share. Most do of course, that goes without saying, though the number who are blogging for profit, seem to be on an equal footing with those who are not.

Many blogs have a simply massive following, with likes and follows numbered in many thousands. Others have daily views well in excess of what seems feasible. Some bloggers follow dozens, if not hundreds, of other blogs. This must involve almost full-time blog attendance, trying to keep up with all the extra comments, follow-ups, and new posts. Indeed, many bloggers spend a lot of time ‘re-blogging’ the posts of others, without hardly ever adding a new post themselves. Other blogs are little more than photo diaries, not a bad thing, but they contain little content, save a description of the place photographed, and some ideas about where to travel to next.

Some use the blogs as testing grounds, for novels, works of non-fiction, or as a marketplace to be discovered in. They put out a few trial chapters, a synopsis perhaps, and open themselves up for world-wide criticism, or praise. This is very brave, and is to be admired. However, few of us have the time to read 2-3,000 words of a new book idea, so I am left to presume that they are hoping that publishers will be scanning these pages.

Blogging spans all social classes, races, ages, and countries. That is the best thing about it. From a 16 year-old girl in the USA, to an elderly man in Indonesia, all can have their say, and all are equal on the blogs. This is an equality not enjoyed in other aspects of life. Simple access to a computer, connected to the Internet, enables people who may be unable to travel for various reasons, to share their lives, and experiences, with anyone on the planet. It’s fantastic stuff, if you pause to think about it for a while.

So, non-blogger, my advice is obvious Start a blog. It doesn’t matter if hardly anyone ever reads it, it will be your electronic testament, and there for anyone to see. It will be cathartic, and fulfilling, in ways that you could never have imagined before. For those already blogging, you know what I am going to say. Stop selling stuff, it isn’t Ebay! Otherwise, well done all of you. You have taken a step that you will never regret.

 

On Blogging

As you all know, I am a new ‘Blogger’. I would like to thank all my friends, and a few outsiders too, (Ecuador? Not Assange, surely?) for reading my blog. I am also privileged to have a few ‘followers’, something I found unusually exciting! However, those of you who have not yet embarked on your own Blog will be unaware of something very annoying.
When someone ‘likes’ your Blog, or an individual post, you receive an e mail telling you that they do. This also includes a link to their Blog, and their username, with an invitation to visit their site. When you have only posted a few entries, it can be very encouraging to start to receive these notifications. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, these ‘fellow bloggers’ are simply trying to sell you something. Whether it is by clicking a link in their Blog, or an actual direct request to purchase their book, recipe, ladder, travel services, cheap cigarettes, or information on how to make money from blogging.

I am not blaming you for trying to make a living, but I have to warn you all, that I am not going to buy your stuff, or click on your links. I am not writing this Blog to make you money, or for that matter, to make money for myself. I would really prefer that ten genuine people read this Blog, rather than ten thousand who are just in it for the money.