Business was not without its occasional pleasures. From time to time various dealer conferences were attended in venues a littler warmer than off-season Eastbourne (my wife joining me for one welcome trip toMalta). Another memorable trip for a number of reasons was a visit David organised for 3 of us target busters to a number of our fellow European distributors. The great surprise upon gathering at Heathrow was being ushered like royalty through departures and out onto the tarmac where the company jet was waiting to fly us off to Copenhagen.
Our first evening passed fairly quietly and an early flight the following morning took us to Odense. After a very short meeting at our distributor’s office we were taken to a delightful restaurant where beer and schnapps commenced at around 11.30 and flowed until some time after 5.00pm. A very long evening and night followed and saw me the next morning (following about one hour’s sleep) suffering from a monumental hangover. Somehow I managed to survive the drive to the ferry and was dragged into the bar where I promptly announced I wanted to die. The barman took one look at me, poured a glass of dark brown liquid and instructed me to drink it down in one; I did and it had the most incredible effect. Instantly a deep calm settled upon my very fragile stomach and within another 5 minutes my head cleared. I had discovered Gammel Dansk.
The Beatles may have long departed but Hamburg was still memorable. Deciding to wash the travel dust from my bones and sweat out the remnants of the previous day’s alcohol, I joined one of my colleagues for a visit to the sauna in the Intercontinental where we were staying. Not realising it was for mixed sex we marched in as naked as nature intended to be greeted by a very Germanic blond (in similar state of nudity and using her towel simply to sit upon) with, “Hello English”. Given we had not uttered a word I am still trying to work out what it was that gave us away.
Dinner that evening was in a very upmarket restaurant in a converted wharf building. The conversion had been carried out in such a way that there were a number of tiered levels permitting a panoramic view across the docks through full height windows. The evening was relaxed with wonderful food, lubricated with David’s usual expensive selection of wine. The clientele was decidedly cosmopolitan, expensively dressed and generally decorously behaved; with one exception. Taking in my surroundings and glancing around the upper tiers of seating (which was in the main affording an expansive view of a sea of knees and the underside of tables) I couldn’t believe my eyes at a scene playing out one tier up. A couple, clearly the worse for wear were, not to put too fine a point upon it, pleasuring each other (probably in the mistaken belief that what they were doing could not be seen under cover of the table). This little demonstration of libidinous incontinence played itself out even whilst they were being served by staff, who effected not to notice what was going on right under their noses.
Richard, one of my colleagues, was strictly teetotal and had swept through the trip so far without even a sip of alcohol. Having missed our flight from Hamburg, we arrived very late inAmsterdam and rushed through check-in at our hotel to get to the bar, which we found was just closing. The barman said not to worry as he would rustle us up something to keep us going. True to his word, he reappeared a few minutes later bearing a large grin and an ice bucket filled to the brim with an orange fluid declaring “Screwdrivers!” “What are screwdrivers?” enquired Richard with a worried look. “Oh, it’s just a Dutch version of orange juice.” David assured Richard, who rapidly downed a large glass. He declared it very acceptable and said he would have another. And another and so on, finally becoming very animated when the bucket was drained, demanding more. The following lunchtime Richard announced he had by then realised the terrible trick that had been played on him….but would try a beer. He continued drinking through the rest of the day and most of the night. He never returned to his former self.
Walking back to our hotel that night my colleagues decided they wanted to see the red light district, so a detour to De Wallen was duly made. Our short (I promise) walking tour left me with two lasting impressions, one hilarious and the other deeply disturbing. We had wandered along one side of a canal looking at the wares on offer in the various little windows when a commotion started further along the canal. We elbowed our way to the front of what was a very jocular and large crowd to find a group of a dozen or more Scotsmen. Clad to a man in their national dress and very much the worse for wear, they were noisily negotiating terms with one of the ‘angels of the night’ through her open window. Finally a suitable financial arrangement was agreed, the door was opened and they ALL trooped in at once to a vast cheer from the assembled throng. The curtain was pulled and we drifted away with the crowd. The room couldn’t have been much larger than the bed it contained.
Further along the canal there were various small theatres offering ‘live sex shows’, which none of us had an appetite for. As we were making our way back to the hotel, a smartly dressed trio came into view. Probably husband and wife in their late thirties, the couple were hand in hand with an angelic looking little girl of not quite teenage years. They paused to look at the offerings of several theatres before all nodding agreement and walking into one that promised the most outrageous show. No objection was raised by the doorman and they disappeared inside leaving me feeling decidedly sickened, a sensation that has never left me and that returns whenever I recall the incident.
Quite what business lessons we learnt from this European study tour (despite the meetings we held with our various European distributor colleagues) I am not sure but certainly they have not stood the test of time. Suffice to say that I gained a much wider appreciation of the social customs of our near neighbours and that it was now crystal clear that my strict religious upbringing had done little to prepare me for some of the more mentally (and physically) challenging aspects of international travel.
Over the next few months I received a morale boost with a move to take over the Central London region covering the majority of our major accounts. My earnings continued to improve and I ended the year taking home more than three times that which I had in my role with my previous company. This was fine from a financial perspective but it was far from sufficient in terms of either job satisfaction or self-fulfilment. I continued to push both David and Peter at any and every opportunity for advancement; I must have been a complete pain in the a*$! Then, the situation began to look much more hopeful with the news that David was leaving. I liked David immensely, had enjoyed long ‘business’ lunches with him whenever we could fit them in and learnt a great deal from him, but I was aching for the chance to move on and up. I began to visualise myself in David’s role and was mentally planning changes I would make.
Almost immediately matters took a turn for the worse when Peter informed me that I was not being given the chance to replace David and lead the team; David’s role was going to Keith one of my team mates, another old hand from the photographic trade. My heart sank. A nice enough guy and great company socially but it was clear to me that I could learn nothing from Keith. Arrogance on my part? Maybe, but I had studied my team mates carefully for the last year or so and knew that they were now trailing me both in sales performance and the knowledge of how to innovate. A series of meetings with Peter & Keith culminated with a deal being struck; I would support Keith, he would keep out of my hair and the company would support me to fund a study programme to equip me for a bigger role. Courses at the Institute ofMarketing followed and I started evening classes once more.
One evening some months later I received a call from Peter. Could I cancel whatever I had arranged for the next day and come into the office to meet him and Angus? An urgent situation had arisen that he wouldn’t discuss on the phone. Had I screwed up somehow? Or, was this the chance I had been waiting for?
Images: Gammeldansk.com / Youropi.com