Who Am I? Part Seven


My last visit to Germany. Detmold 1991 at John Bastock’s house.

It soon became apparent after a series of “goings on”, that it simply wasn’t working with me and Sonja living under the same roof. The branch manager at Sun Alliance put me on to an old acquaintance of his, who he said might be in a position to rent me a room. Enter Vic Davies; a lovely elderly man in his late 60s. I knocked on the door of 10 Dowling Street, just off Swindon Town Centre and no more than 200 metres from the branch office. Vic answered and I explained that Dave Hollister had suggested I come and have a word with him. Vic and Dave went back years and he offered me an upstairs room in his house. Vic was a lovely man, but he had the worst speech impediment I’d ever encountered. It was so bad that I would finish his sentences off for him. We got on very well and for a while a modicum of normality entered my life.

Of course, I was no longer living in cloud cuckoo land, which meant that the money had stopped flowing in. Because I had paid into the NAAFI pension scheme for under five years I was entitled to claim all my contributions back. This I did and my timing was perfect. I received just over £500. I mention the timing of it because it wasn’t long after I received the cheque that NAAFI sent me a bill for removal charges. It was over £180. I felt they were taking liberties as I’d had to leave stuff behind due to the lack of available space on the removals van. I didn’t pay it and they never caught up with me.

I should mention before going any further that during my time in cloud cuckoo land I had not been so aware of my deep-rooted psychological issues; I presume because of the constant flow of alcohol. I will also mention here that what I have tried to do with this series of posts is use language that is in line with my level of consciousness at the time the events took place. The idea is that the reader takes the journey with me and has the experience of evolving with me from the completely unconscious fool I used to be to the not so unconscious fool I am today; or something like that. I will also be adding details of my amazing experiences along the way, so that the whole story comes together with perfect precision.

The job was a bit of a wake up call too. The products we were selling were fantastic. The trouble was, and it’s probably still true today, that people have an aversion to life insurance. The truth is that most people don’t understand it. They don’t know how it works, they don’t understand the great value it has and will either avoid it like the plague or buy a policy that isn’t suitable for their needs. At that time in the 1980s there was a hell of a lot of money to be made in the financial services industry. The sky was the limit. This was just before the Financial Services Act of 1987 and commissions were very high. I soon realised that what you needed to do to be successful was to try to sell at all costs the products that paid the highest commissions. There were people in the insurance business back then, just ordinary salesmen, earning hundreds of thousands of pounds a year. Some of them would only make one sale a month, but it would have a massive commission. Invariably, I came into contact with people who didn’t have a lot of money and I wanted to help them. I wasn’t going to tell them lies. But the writing was on the wall from the start and I knew in my heart of hearts that it wasn’t going to work. I did learn something very valuable though.

At one point I decided to go to a hypnotist (I can hear you laughing) in order to be hypnotised into being an amazing salesman! He may or may not have been genuine, but one thing I will always remember is that he could, if he’d wanted, had me coming to see him indefinitely. But he didn’t do that. After I’d been to see him three or four times he said something to me I’ve never forgotten. He said, “I can hold your hand and lead you to the M4, but I can’t drive you to London”. For those who don’t know, the M4 is a motorway that stretches from near Carmarthen in Wales up to London; en route it passes through Swindon. It made me realise that the only person who could make me into an amazing salesman was me, and as my heart wasn’t in it, something had to give. I didn’t foresee what happened next though.

I was enjoying my new-found freedom and went out one night, not returning to Vic’s place until 09:00 the following morning. I saw the look on Vic’s face and he said to me, “have you been into the office”? I said “no”. I looked at his face and for some strange reason I thought he was going to tell me that my brother was dead. But instead he said, “your brother rang, your dad’s dead”. I couldn’t believe it; I didn’t have the understanding that I have now. We’d buried the hatchet nearly seven years ago but for most of that time I’d been living in Germany so we’d not seen a great deal of each other. I’d recently been to London and helped him with some work in their new flat and he’d taken me for a beer in one of the local pubs in Wood Green. For the first time ever I’d felt really close to my dad but now he was gone. I can’t remember what I did immediately after Vic gave me the news, but I know that at some point I made a phone call to London and said I’d be on my way soonest. I also remember going into the office, it was there that I shed my first tears. There was no way I could have driven so I went to the bus station and bought a ticket to Victoria. It was a surreal journey, with all kinds of thoughts going through my head. When I arrived at Victoria Station I went straight into the pub and ordered a double brandy. I knocked it straight back and then walked the half mile or so to the railway station. I got the tube to Wood Green and I remember as I walked to the flat that it was such a beautiful day for October. As I walked up the road I could see my dad’s light blue Ford Cortina parked outside. It was such a weird feeling.

I’m off on my travels in a couple of days, so I’m hoping to write part eight later…

 

Who Am I? Part Four


The old staff hostel in Bielefeld, kindly provided by John Bastock. The right hand centre balcony is my old room. The lower balcony that Doug reversed my car into is out of sight round the back.

The old staff hostel in Bielefeld, kindly provided by John Bastock. The right hand centre balcony is my old room. The lower balcony that Doug reversed my car into is out of sight round the back.

I should mention here before I continue with the concluding part of my time with NAAFI, that in March 1980, just before setting off to work in Germany, me and my dad buried the hatchet; we settled our differences. We realised that we loved each other dearly and I further realised that it was a clash of egos that was at the heart of our conflict. Some years later I would fully understand why things had been the way that they were. Now where was I? Oh yes.. In Bielefeld drinking myself stupid.

My best mate in Bielefeld was Tony Black; a Scottish lad from Paisley. We went all over the place together and had an absolute hoot. My single biggest regret from my NAAFI days was that we fell out, and it was all my fault; I let him down badly. But I digress… The new sensible me (who was still drinking extremely heavily), started to go out with a girl called Sonja, a dependent who worked in Bielefeld NAAFI. Tony had been out with her for a while but he, very wisely, stopped seeing her. There was a ten year age difference between me and Sonja. However, she was incredibly mature for her age and I was the opposite. Her step father, Doug, was in the Royal Medical Corps and was only a couple of years older than me. He was also incredibly hen-pecked by Sonja’s mum Roberta, or Bobby as she liked to be called. Then there was Nicki, the sister from hell and Matthew the youngest of the siblings, who was the only sane member of the family. Bobby was about 13 years older than Doug, or DOUGLAAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSS as I called him. Because of the importance I placed on boozing I’d never learned to drive, but the new, sensible me decided now was the time.

To make sure I learned to drive I went out and bought a car. It was a VW Passat, which was being sold by “Smoothy Boothy”, (Steve Booth) the foodhall manager. He sold it to me via NAAFI car sales. Later someone told me that he’d ripped me off with the price, but it was a very reliable car and I got a lot of mileage out of it. I knew Smoothy from Gremmendorf; he’d been G&D manager before Tony Turner. Doug duly offered to teach me to drive, but the first thing he did to my lovely VW Passat was to reverse it into the rear lower balcony of the staff hostel. He promised me he’d get it repaired but he never did. Bobby gave me and Sonja permission to move in together so we got a flat in a nice location out in the country. In the meantime I’d passed my driving test via other sources. Bobby and Doug were not happy, I think they felt I was a bad influence, but they tolerated the situation. We were expected to go round every Sunday for dinner, where we would have to play out this charade of pretending to like Bobby’s cooking, which was absolutely atrocious. Because of her constant hen-pecking of Doug and her interfering we nicknamed her “BA”, which was short for battle-axe! Good old Nicki grassed us up, which just made the situation worse. However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom.

The new sensible me wanted another posting. Herford shop was a short drive down the autobahn and they had a Hi-Fi centre. The G&D manager from Herford had visited Bielefeld shop and I’d had a good chat with him about the chances of getting a move. He said that it seemed to him that I was the only one in Bielefeld G&D who knew what he was doing, so he would not have a problem with me working for him. Of course, that wasn’t true, it was just his perception, I worked with some really good people at that time. The assistant manager, John Bastock, for example, who I’m still in contact with today. It was John who somehow acquired the old photos that I’ve posted here in Part Four. And so it happened, I was to start work in Herford NAAFI, still with the job title of “storeman”, but working specifically in the Hi-Fi centre with a view to eventually taking over from the current Hi-Fi salesman (another Steve), who had ambitions to become a G&D manager.

I continued living in Bielefeld and made the short commute down the autobahn every day to Herford. Tony thought I was mad hooking up with Sonja. He’d had a glimpse of what things were like with her family and had made the sensible choice to get out. Bobby had a history of mental illness and I found out the hard way that Sonja was a chip off the old block. Mine and Tony’s relationship was not what it had been anyway by now. Some of my behaviour towards him was not the sort of behaviour you would expect from a friend. But having said that, at this point, we were still mates but no longer close.

The thing with living outside of the hostel was that because I was not married to Sonja, I was not afforded the same financial perks as married personnel. So, with me still earning my single man’s wage, we were reliant on Sonja’s wages too in order to make ends meet. Now they say that if you stand on the edge of a cliff long enough, eventually someone will push you off. I actually just made that up. However, that’s exactly what happened.

Bobby and Doug announced that Doug was being posted back to the UK. At the time they were scheduled to leave Germany it would still be three months before Sonja’s 18th birthday, so Bobby took great delight in telling me that unless I made an “honest woman” of her daughter, she would force Sonja to go back to the UK with them. Bobby may have been unhinged but she wasn’t stupid. She knew that my single man’s wages would not be enough to sustain the flat, and also that I was under contract with the landlord. If she carried out her threat it would have put me in a very difficult situation.  My bloke mentality weighed things up, and one evening while Sonja was sitting on the loo I said, “I suppose we’d better get married then”. That was that; the roller coaster ride commenced. Things happened very quickly, we somehow managed to make some arrangements and got married in the UK at Wood Green Civic Centre; my wages immediately doubled. Result!

I also got officially promoted to Trainee Hi-Fi Salesman; it carried assistant manager status so as well as getting all the extra perks for being married I got a pay rise too. All of a sudden this boy from North London was in financial heaven.

Steve became a kind of trainee manager in G&D and then I got two more quick promotions. First to fully fledged Hi-Fi Salesman and then to Hi-Fi Salesman In Charge. Two more promotions meant two more pay rises! The only fly in the ointment was that we also decided to move to Herford, and it was only then that we found out that our landlord in Bielefeld was a bit of a crook. It turned out that certain things in our contract were no longer legal. To cut a long story short we had to get legal advice. There is a kind of tenants association in Germany that provides free legal aid for those who come up against unscrupulous landlords. We saw a solicitor who was absolutely fantastic. We didn’t get all of our Dm1,000 deposit back, but thanks to him we got about Dm720 back. For a time we were in cloud cuckoo land; we had money coming out of our ears. We ate out most nights of the week and the cupboards and freezer were always full. Sonja didn’t really drink, but I was able to carry on my favourite pastime to my heart’s content.  Sonja also found work in Herford so the money just kept flowing in.

Steve did so well in his manager training that he got his own department in another shop, and my partner in crime from Bielefeld, John Bastock, was promoted to G&D manager and moved to Herford. All was going swimmingly well, but as expected, eventually a few cracks started to appear. NAAFI was cutting back, so at the time I became a Hi-Fi Salesman the seminars in plush hotels were a thing of the past. There was still seminars to attend, but they were all held in-house, so wherever I had to travel to, the accommodation provided was always in the local staff hostel. We would still get taken out for meals and drinks by the reps, which I appreciated, but I was too late to catch the gravy train. If we were lucky, we would get a free t-shirt and the odd blank metal or chrome cassette, but that was about it. NAAFI no longer considered Hi-Fi to be exclusive either and the “powers that be” decided that it was no longer to be displayed in enclosed Hi-Fi centres. My little empire was closed and all the equipment was displayed in the G&D department amongst all the run-of-the-mill audio equipment. Sacrilege! The writing was on the wall. The job lost its glamour, my marriage was a sham and a disaster so it was only a matter of time before something had to give. Part Five to follow shortly…

Me looking like an axe killer! Taken in Bielefeld hostel during my Who blasting days.

Me looking like an axe killer! Taken in Bielefeld hostel during my Who blasting days.

Mr Sensible the Hi-Fi salesman. Taken in 1985 just before my time with NAAFI came to an end. It was taken in a photo booth (I think at Herford rail station but I can't be sure)

Mr Sensible the Hi-Fi salesman. Taken in 1985 just before my time with NAAFI came to an end. It was taken in a photo booth (I think at Herford rail station but I can’t be sure).