Am I an odd-ball or do more people have to endure much
more of a middle of the road life than the heroes from our television
screens may experience. For middle of the road, please do not read
"boring". I consider that I have quite an interesting active
existence, a challenging job and a regularly hectic home life, but I do feel
that in many instances my lot has fallen between two stools.
If I had been cleverer than I am, I
would be mixing regularly with the more wealthy, high-brow elements of
society and earn lots of money in high finance or something similar. My
social life would involve yachting parties, I would own my own dinner
jacket, drink good wine, or at least know the difference, and my children
would be in private education. I may even mix in the right circles to know
how to get a final ticket for Wimbledon, tennis not football!. If I had
been less bright, my personal ambitions may have been lower than they are,
and I may have fallen into a manual labour environment. Probably earning
more money than I do now and having a great bunch of buddies, drinking and
mating senselessly every Friday and Saturday night.
Falling as a do somewhere between the two, I find that I
am, in my own mind, a bit of a social misfit. I do have the ability to hold
my own at both ends of the class spectrum. However, my problem is, not so
much as whether I am accepted for these occasional soirees into the fore
and aft of the scale, it is more that I actually want to obtain a mixture of
the two. I want to be thought of as intelligent, well versed in matters of
the world, quick witted and consequently able to hold any conversation with
the higher echelons of society and, as such, be considered interesting to
be with. I also want to enjoy a good session down the pub, drinking
Euro-Fizz lager, playing darts or pool, making smutty comments about
"what I'd like to do with her" and talking about football with
As I said earlier, is it me that's odd, or is this what
a lot of people want from their lives. Maybe I'm fortunate in that I don't
fall fully into either camp, although I suspect those who I am friendly
with, toffee-nosed or low-life, consider me to be from the other bracket.
Throughout my relatively short life, I feel that I have nearly achieved
something in most things that I have done. Maybe I've not really tried hard
enough, not been committed enough to any one venture, be it education, work
or sport. I've had a go at most things and again this could signify an
underlying ambition to be a universal soldier, capable of being something
There are some things in life that you can do little
about, others you can. Even some physical elements of personal appearance
can be tweeked. I cannot help my long body and short legs but if I was
really committed to improving how I look, I could, and should, lose a few
pounds in weight. I could bleach my mousey hair to blond, but I don't feel
that would significantly change my appeal to the opposite sex. Knowing my
luck it would all fall out and I'd be given the choice of looking like
Duncan Goodhew or investing in a "syrup" a la Bruce Forsyth. I
could grow a beard or a moustache. But I've tried that and despite waiting
weeks for it to sprout I looked akin to a mountain goat. I blame my mother
for this as she has not got an ounce of hair on her body. Fortunately she
has plenty on her head, or she might need to follow the Burt Reynolds haute
I wouldn't describe myself as good looking, so have
always been unable to pull potential Page 3 models, but similarly am not in
the "ugly as sin" class desperate to accept a date with any old
dog. Am I nearly good looking, nearly slim, and nearly tall or am I nearly
ugly, nearly fat, nearly short? It's all a matter of opinion. Is the glass
half full or half empty? A friend of mine once spent six months completing
stage 1 of a course on positive thinking. He's now undecided as to whether
he should take stage 2. I'm also short sighted enough to need contact
lenses. Am I vain or just sick of that tell tale scab on the bridge of the
nose sported by all spectacle wearers?
My story that follows keeps returning to this theory of
nearly making it, or, at best, making it happen but with a bloody struggle.
I'll leave it to you to decide whether I could have achieved more if I'd
have tried harder, or if fate has been in control all the time and this is
what life's rich pattern has always had in store for me. I like to feel
that most of this story is true, apart from the bits on which I have bullshitted
for so long that it is now impossible to differentiate fact from fiction, I
hope that you find it enjoyable, enlightening and worth the time spent
EDUCATION - FORMAL
My first school was Whitmore Park Infants under the
educational guidance of the wonderfully named Mrs Towel. Her name will
always be easy for me to remember because, so I'm told, my first words were
"Tea-towel". Most babies manage "mama" or
"dada" as their initial utterance. Some, like my daughter, said
"ball" first. I, however, was brought into the world by a mother,
who spent a vast amount of her time titivating around the home, making it
the most pristine abode in the street, sorry road. My first word was bound
to be "Duster, Vacuum Cleaner, Polish" or, as it was, "Tea-towel",
because these were the items I saw most of during my learning years.
In my final two years at Whitmore
Park, I was allowed to walk home from school on my own. This, was quite
something to be allowed to cross 2 major roads, particularly as my mother
has always had an Ides of March-like ability to foresee disaster in
everything and anything.
We lived in a mid terrace house on a busy main
thoroughfare and I always came home down the back entry to avoid the
traffic, and only run the risk of planting a dirty footprint on one carpet
in the house. On this particular day, my mother heard a knock at the front
door, so went to see who could be calling at such a time. It should be
explained that my mother has never been at peace with the prospect of
surprise visitors. She much prefers appointment visits, as this gives her
time to tidy an already impeccable house. As everybody who knew us is aware
of this arrangement, she was, therefore, surprised that someone should be
It was me. As she opened the door, most surprised to see
me, I said, "You're a lucky woman?". "Why?", says my
mother. "I nearly drowned at swimming today". I was 10 and felt
fully justified that such an important statement should be announced at the
front door, not casually via the usual tradesman's entrance.
At around that same time, my father had been having
trouble with his teeth. He had actually been quite happy looking like
Popeye, but the time had come to improve his looks. The upshot being that
he was to have all his teeth removed in one go, and fitted up with a false
set. For some reason, I had been left on my own for a short time, while my
mother went with a neighbour to collect him. When they returned he was in a
real state, bleeding profusely and still under the influence of the gas.
While they were away, I had the kindly thought that it would be nice if I
prepared something for him to eat when he came home. So I made some really
tasty potato crisp sandwiches, nice and crunchy. Somewhat suprisingly he
didn't fancy them. I think that was probably the last time I've made a
I progressed through the Infants and the Juniors without
too many problems. I remember being given the slipper during my last year
by a Mr Avis, who was feared by all. Unlike many children of this age, I
didn't feel particularly hard done to when receiving this punishment. Those
who live by the sword, or in my case the gob, must run the risk of falling
by it, in this case the slipper on the arse. Sadly this form of corporal
punishment, a short, sharp shock treatment is no longer acceptable
behaviour from teachers, or in most people's views, from parents.
Personally, whilst not wanting to encourage the sick depraved types who
gain enjoyment from spanking little boys, I feel teachers of today have had
the fear element taken away from their armoury and, the resultant lack of
respect is all to evident nowadays.
I was considered to be intelligent
enough at 11 years of age to be invited to attend Bablake Grammar School,
Coventry, one of the best schools in the county, and, as such, should have
benefited from the superior education on offer. I should have ultimately
attained the standards necessary to reach a university of my choice with
many more useful qualifications than I did eventually achieve. Was this
because I couldn't cope with the demands of such an education? No, is the
reply. It was because my idea of whiling away my day was to have a good
time. This involved making a fool of myself and entertaining my classmates,
who laughed incessantly at my jolly japes, without ever really joining in
themselves and risking the wrath of the schoolmasters. Such ready wit and
repartee was not in accord with the expectations of my teachers and I spent
many hours standing outside classroom doors, missing lectures, feeling
disgruntled and generally pissed off that nobody appreciated such
Some may question as to why, if I was intelligent enough
to get to such a school, could I not come to terms with the level of
behaviour necessary to gain the full benefit from what was on offer. The
simple truth is that despite many efforts to control my gob, I just
couldn't resist the snappy comment or quick retort. It got so bad in German
lessons, that the sad excuse in charge, Uber-Grupen Fuhrer Hermann Morris,
would ask me before the lesson if I was going to keep quiet. I admitted
that I thought it unlikely, so I jackbooted out and invited to stand
outside the door for the next 40 minutes. At least we understood each
Twenty years after leaving the school, I returned, with
my wife, to a class re-union. An ex-class friend, now Church of England
minister, whom, I seem to remember, when most of us at swimming changing
had genitalia resembling a flacid green chilli flanked by two sun dried
sultanas, was hung like a Grand National winner, voiced the opinion that
the lecture rooms hadn't changed much over the all those years. For once my
quick response was pre-empted by some wag, who certainly hadn't previously
shown such speed of lip circa 1968, jumped in with "Well Covy, there
must be some of these rooms that you never bloody saw. Are the corridors
still painted the same colour?".
Nowadays, being a parent myself, I can understand the
deep-rooted annoyance and frustration that my parents showed after each
school report and parent/teacher open day. At the time I couldn't come to
terms with the fact that my failure to keep my mouth shut resulted in me
being treated in the same way as the school bully, maltreater of the Head's
pet Dachshund or the light fingered cat-burglar from 4C. Comparison, I felt
was grossly unfair, I never did anything pre-meditated or vicious. I only
wanted to have a bit of a laugh and entertain others. My mother would come
home in tears after meeting my various teachers, particularly after one
suggested that I was not too far away from being expelled. I still believe
this to be pure shock treatment, but it had some effect in quieting me down
for a while and also guaranteed that I made no attempt to stay on at the
school after I was 16. A working life couldn't come quickly enough for me.
I had moved on from the under 11 slipper to nearly a man
regular flagulation from the cane. Again, I have to admit that I cannot
recollect an occasion where I received an unjustified swipe. I recall one
particularly stupid prank, for which I'm sure I would have been given a
more vigorous spanking had the Headmaster not been fighting off the
laughter generated by my pathetic excuse, was when I managed to cut clean
through a mains electric cable with a scalpel during a Physics lesson and,
thereby caused the main fuse to blow in the Science block. "Honest, it
was an accident, sir, it slipped!" It must be quite difficult for him
to stifle a giggle and achieve full swing with the arse shattering bamboo.
My 5 years at Bablake, were not happy from an
educational point of view, despite having a natural ability for Mathematics
and being relatively coherent in English, but I made some good friends, had
a few laughs and enjoyed the sport opportunities. It was the latter which
allowed me to achieve at least one moment of getting my own back on those
school masters who often penned me as "a disruptive influence to those
who want to learn". I was fortunate enough to have been good enough at
Hockey to first represent the school, then captain the team to victory in
the Coventry Schools Knock-out Shield, represent Coventry and ultimately
Warwickshire Schools at under 16 level. Whilst this may not qualify me for
a seat next to Bill Beaumont on 'A Question of Sport', it did mean I
collected the Coventry Trophy from the Headmaster during a school assembly
to considerable applause from my peers. It didn't really help my school
career or appease my deeply concerned parents, who had naturally hoped for
better from their little soldier, but it gave me a warm deep-down glow.
EDUCATION - SOCIAL
My social life between eleven and
sixteen again highlighted the afore-mentioned cross class experience.
Nearly all my mates went to the local Comprehensive or basic Secondary
Modern School. Only one, Nick, went to a Grammar School, that being the
other one in Coventry, but he was from a relatively financially poor home
background having lost his father when still quite young, leaving his
mother to struggle to bring up 5 children on very little money.
I was an only child. As I mentioned earlier, my mother
was very house-proud and always very keen on worrying "what the
neighbours might think". Although my friends were never stopped from
playing at my house, they were left in no uncertain doubt, from an early
age, of the conditions necessary to gain admittance to the indoors. Only
two at a time and definitely no shoes on in the house. It didn't quite get
to requesting them to rub their shoes before entering the garden gate, but
it wasn't far from the truth. Needless to say we congregated around Nick's
house, where everybody was welcome, no restrictions existed and we could
play loud music, smoke and drink anything we could get our hands on.
Four or five of us were smoking by the time we were 14.
Anything and everything would do. This ranged from Capstan Full Strength to
rolling our own from nub ends. The final straw was not being able to afford
cigarette papers for the "ashtray specials" and having to stoop
to rolling up dried tea leaves rolled in toilet paper. they tasted like
nothing on earth, and were guaranteed to remove all hair from the upper lip
and nostrils, as the Izal caught fire. This is probably why I was never
able to grow a moustache in my growing up years!
We would visit the local "offie" to persuade
some gullible barmaid that "We were eighteen, luv" and that she
should serve us with two bottles of Manns Brown, 10 Consulate and a sherbet
fizz. If all else failed we would try and convince her that the beer was
for our Dad. The only problem with this technique was that having admitted
to being underage we were, therefore, ruled out from getting served in the
bar for some considerable time. I was quite lucky, in that my long hair and
a few facial dot-to-dot spots apparent between 14 and 17 years of age,
meant that in most places I could get away with being 18. My first pint in
the local was when I was 15. Quite an achievement, I felt, as most of the
old codgers in the bar, knew my old man, and exactly how old I was.
EDUCATION - THE FAIRER SEX
Lesley was the first. It all started
on 5th November 1970. We had known each other since junior school and for
weeks I had been trying to build up the necessary strength of character to
ask her out. I'd had a few aborted attempts at getting a regular
girlfriend. Aborted basically because they chose to go out with my mates
instead of me. Actually there had only been two, and, to be honest, I
hadn't even asked one of them at all. But, being young and inexperienced in
these matters, I began to think "I'll never get a girl". Pretty
impatient at 14 and threequarters, but it was beginning to get me down.
As I said, Lesley was not originally number one choice.
Not because she wasn't pretty or had some sort of personality malfunction,
but she was a bit quiet and a Sunday School helper to boot!. I won't go
into my opinions of religion, for fear of some Church of England reprisals
of the Salman Rushdie kind, other than to say that the thought of me
"going out" with a Sunday School helper is now about as far
removed as Rudolf Nureyev playing Rugby League for Wigan.
Anyway, come Bonfire night, I decided to have a go for
it. At least a dozen false starts, mostly caused by interruptions to our
privacy, and just before we were all to leave the bonfire party at her
house. I just spurted out "How do you fancy going out with me,
then?". Hardly Mills & Boon but nevertheless effective, as I got
the right reply.
Our relationship lasted some 16
months, with the odd hiccough on my part, and we learnt everything there is
to know. Well, at least everything you need to know at that age. Ask
anybody and they'll always be able to recall their first. I even remember
the date, March 3rd 1971. Not a memorable "Did the earth move for
you?" occasion for either of us, I suspect, after so much expectation
and cajoling, but definitely a memorable experience.
16 months together between the ages of fourteen and
fifteen is a very long time and we managed to keep the relationship going
despite a major lack of finance on my part. I was smoking ciggies with what
pocket money I had and we managed few real nights out. Another stumbling
block was my mother, who, despite not having anything personally against
Lesley, blamed her for my "difficulties" at school. This, of
course, was not true, as previously explained it was all my fault, but,
mothers need something to latch onto and me being out most evenings with
Lesley served the purpose. Many, many rows ensued, which made me even more
rebellious and determined to spend even more time with Lesley. I recall one
occasion, after being told that if I wasn't in by 10.30 pm the door would
be bolted. I rolled home at 11 o'clock, tried the door, which was bolted,
so went round to a mate's house to ask if I could sleep the night. No
problem, but did hell break out the next day? Supposedly, I was expected to
knock the door, so mater could come downstairs, let me in and give me yet
another piece of her mind, all of which I had heard all before. I was not
at peace with the world and certainly not flavour of the month, year or
decade, with my parents.
I should at this stage explain my situation with my
parents, as I saw it then, and, to be quite honest, the rages of time have
not changed my view dramatically since. My mother has always taken it on
herself to be a one-woman crusade to eradicate my lack of morality, as she
saw it. I simply did not conform to her idea of how her son should behave.
It is naturally very easy for me to criticize this approach to my
upbringing and, of course, it is possible that everything I did was totally
unacceptable behaviour. However, apart from the odd run-in with the
schooling heirarchy, I was never in trouble with the law, never involved in
fights and above all, I had good friends, many of whom, I still see today.
So in my eyes, I can't have been all that bad. But not in the eyes of my
mother. Her son had not turned out as she expected. I had very long hair,
preferred to be seen in scruffy clothes, liked loud rock music, wasted my
time with a girlfriend, when I should have been studying and was generally
not something she could be proud of.
Pride has always been the underlying
reason for most of my mother's actions. Be it house proud, child proud or
simply self proud. She has always considered "what would people
say" as being more important than what I thought, wanted and needed. For
my part, confrontation simply made me more determined that I was not going
to be molly-coddled. In my eyes, my younger years had been spent as some
sort of shining example to the rest of the family, and indeed to anybody
else who came in contact with us, of how a little boy should look, hair and
clothes, and above all, how he should act. For 13 years I had been the male
living equivalent of a little girl's Barbie doll, dressed just so by mummy,
speaking only when I was spoken to, and probably considered by everybody as
a stuck up little ponce.
As I said it has been a crusade, which to this day is
still fought with continued vigour. It makes our relationship frought at
times, and although I love her, as any son does his mother, we have to cope
with each other in small doses. I still get criticized for my attitude and
lifestyle. Marriage to Melanie has given her somebody else to criticize,
which I consider to be grossly unfair and generally unacceptable. After
all, wife criticism is my job! Like a dog with a bone, she just can't let
My father on the other hand, is a "Give peace a
very good chance" man, who always chooses the option which will give
him a trouble-free and quiet life. He has achieved an ability to switch
himself off from confrontation, be it with me, with my mother or as an
arbiter between the two of us. He has even pioneered work in the field of
self-inflicted deafness, so that he can keep out of rows. This approach to
life has not generally helped to settle these regular differences of
opinions and has not been welcomed by either side, in not supporting my
mother, or occasionally, me.
My mother's values on life are
deep-rooted and I'm sure are generated from her childhood, where my
grandfather was an all-powerful father, who ruled his home with a
strictness and verbal brutality towards his wife and my mother.
Surprisingly not towards his other daughter, which of course, simply made
my mother even further indisposed towards his arrogance. She considered my
grandmother had a sad life and certainly had no intention of marrying
anybody remotely similar. Enter my father. A really nice, caring man, who
wouldn't upset anybody intentionally and has always been willing to do what
she wanted and keep the peace for himself. Sadly she considers me as a
throwback to my grandfather's style. So, I, keep having to be told where
I'm going wrong.
She has often told me "You wait
until your children grow up and let you down". A strange wish from any
grandmother, but she may be right and I'm sure they will at some stage
disappoint me with their actions. However, over the years, by first hand
experience, I've learnt how not to deal with it, if, or when it happens
I didn't have an unhappy childhood. I had more than my
share of presents at Christmas and Birthdays. I was well fed and looked
after. My clothes were always immaculate. Above all, and I totally believe
this, my mother, for all her rantings, honestly believes she "does
it" for my own good. My only real grievance is that my opinion on how I
should live my life has never been considered as being good enough.
Anyway back to Lesley, unlike most other people who have
important relationships such as ours was and break up, we are still very
good and close friends. I was best man at her wedding to my best mate,
Nick. She, in turn, is godmother to our son, Ian. Her marriage to Nick
didn't last very long, him being too ambitious and her, not being ambitious
enough for either herself or Nick. If, we had stayed together, I believe we
could have made it work, she simply needs a bit of a shove every now and
again. But, it was never meant to be and I now value her as a friend who
understands me and would always be there to offer help if I needed it.
Nick had an older sister, Shirley, who had had numerous
ill-fated marriages and relationships resulting in two kids and her own
house. This necessitated group baby-sitting and the opportunity for us lads
to party without any pressure from parents. Although my own sexual
initiation took place in a field one sultry evening, party nights at
Shirl's became one big chase the crumpet occasion, with each of the lads
exchanging conquest details later in the week. At least four of my mates
lost their plum under Shirl's roof. Some of them literally under the roof
in the loft. This was usually considered a safe haven for a little privacy
and the opportunity to use the silver tongued knicker-lowering techniques
necessary to settle the girlie of that night's nerves. Sadly some
inebriated oyk would stagger up the step ladder. Girlie and stud would hold
breath, usually with mouths adjoined, and hope oyk would go away . But no!
Oyk also has sweet talked his own girlie into the loft, hoping for the
right level of response. Stumbles over cast off kiddy's roller skate,
plunges headlong into the darkness and plants hand on a semi-bare arse,
generating lots of "Ah, Sorry" and "You dozy bastard"
all round. End of fun for everyone!
Naturally enough, sex was a constant topic of
conversation, speculation and down-right bullshit amongst the boys. Our
only problem seemed to be that we were not adventurous enough to go
sampling outside our local area. Well not much during the first couple of
years. This meant that everybody knew everybody else and their respective
reputation or in some cases lack of one. I've often wondered how life for
youngsters in a small rural community ticks along particularly where the
boys outnumber the fairer sex. If you're getting plenty it is probably very
pleasant, but if you're the ugly duckling of either sex, life must be pretty
As I mentioned, most of the time with Lesley I was a
good faithful boy but occasionally got to play away, without too many risks
of being caught out. This included an early holiday with my parents to a
caravan site in Aberystwyth, where it rained solidly for the whole week. I
was 15. On the first night, a Saturday, I escaped to the site youth club. A
hut with a Wurlitzer and a guy selling cheap-line copy Coke. I remember
starting a conversation with a guy called Paul. He was 17 and I wondered
why he hadn't made the effort to go for the "grown-ups" club. As
I've become a grown up myself and spent the odd evening in numerous
appalling cattle sheds, where everybody has to sit in canteen style rows,
waiting for the statutory Bingo session to end, I've begun to understand
why the youth club had an appeal on that particular night and probably
Within ten minutes Paul was telling me his life story.
All about how it wasn't until he was 16 that he met his 15 year old
step-sister for the first time. She having been born and brought up in Cape
Town, South Africa with his mother following the break up of his parents
marriage. I forget what the circumstances were that ended with them having
to suddenly all set up home together in Leicester, but his next revelation
had me mouth agape for hours.
It seems Paul and step-sister couldn't
quite see each other as being family and fancied each other from day one.
Totally agog was I as he told all about their first passionate kiss and
initial fondling sessions, resulting in the full business, followed by the
guilt, upset and tears. It was a cracking story with all the juicy moments
given in full unexpurgated detail. It was probably complete bullshit, but
it was the first time anybody older than me had fully explained what real
sexual activity was all about. Of course, I'd been through the usual mother
and father embarrassing parent discussion, followed by the school
equivalent, which only served to confuse the issue. I could never relate to
the reproductive organs of the garden frog. The juke box belted out
"Won't get fooled again", and I knew I wouldn't! Incidentally,
that particular Who classic is the one I'd like played at my funeral.
Really succinct and explains much of my philosophy on life.
As I mentioned earlier I wasn't a
complete novice, but this chat suddenly put the whole shooting match into
perspective and for want of a better description, yours truly suddenly was
gagging for more action.
Back to the youth club and totally out of the blue, two
cracking girls come in through the door. I should possibly explain that
with the exception of the 12 year old fake Coke salesman, Paul and I were
the only one's in the hut. At least that was until these two tasty
creatures glided into our world. To be honest, they giggled their way
across the floor and sat down on stools in the opposite corner to us. It
seemed difficult to disguise an accidental bumping into them, but we
casually strolled over, after at least 25 seconds and Paul used the classic
"Are these seats taken?" line. I was bright enough to let him do
the majority of the talking and although both girls were very attractive,
one, Ann, was an absolute goddess. Long black hair, tight figure hugging
short skirt and one of those lumpy jumpers us chaps seem to find
interesting. Needless to say Paul had decided he was going to have a crack
at that particular lumpy jumper and I could take my chances with the other
one. Although make no mistake, I wasn't complaining.
We both professed to being older than we were, I was 17
and Paul became 19. I had longish shoulder length hair at the time, so 17
was quite believable. The girls said they were 17. We didn't believe them,
but what the hell. It's amazing how when you're that age, age seems so
important. The older you get, the last question you consider asking a woman
is how old she is, and similarly you rarely offer to tell your own age. But
up to 18 and one of the first questions is "How old are you
then?". That is until they become glamorous grannies and suddenly want
the world to know how old they really are. Funny lot, women!
The evening went especially well. No other old enough
males came and threatened the situation and we seemed to get on well. A few
dances, a can of "Fake" and a couple of Player's Number 6 later
and we had really paired off. I didn't want to get too far away from
earshot of Paul's patter, so that I could use some of it for myself. He was
good, really good, but Ann, I felt, had heard it all before and was playing
it very cool. Mine, Sheila, was totally different. She was quite shy,
needed to be asked lots of open-ended questions (that's sales-speak for
asking questions that don't just get yes or no for an answer) and she
seemed to be living in her friend Ann's shadow. However, with my newly found
sexual understanding and poaching a few choice chat up questions from Paul,
I seemed to be moving forward at a tremendous pace. The time was right to
make a positive move to split the hut. I suggested we went for a walk on
the beach. Sheila agreed it would be fun and got up to leave, but Ann said
she didn't want to go, it would mess up her hair!
At this stage I thought I'd got no
chance of persuading Sheila to come for a walk on her own with me. Paul
seemed miffed, because he had obviously seen the potential of losing me and
Sheila somewhere on the way. To my surprise though, Sheila continued to put
her coat on and said that she'd see Ann later. I've never been a strong
supporter of the greater being, but for a short period faith was 'in
tacto'. We set off into the night. Now even with my newfound carnal
knowledge, I knew a first nighter was not on the cards.
She was a gorgeous girl with long curly ginger hair,
white pearly teeth and electric blue eyes. Ginger hair is an attribute I've
found exciting in women ever since. However, she was so goddam quiet. I
felt like I was chief questioner at the Spanish Inquisition. So eventually
the ideas dried up and I had to resort to physical contact. A helping hand
over some rocks and just forgetting to let go afterwards, followed by an
arm round the shoulder and eventually the close up face to face pregnant
pause. I've never really understood the term, pregnant pause, but I reckon
it perfectly describes that moment when you know that crunch time mark 1 is
about to be reached. Does she let me kiss her? Will she turn away? Will she
respond and kiss back? Tongues? or is a smack in the gob imminent? It
really is crunch time because depending on the result, you're either on
your way or on your way!
She kissed me back. Not passionately,
but softly. No tongues and absolutely no chance of a first nighter. We sat
on a sand dune looking at the sea, cuddled up, with the occasional foray
into necking mode. It was bloody freezing but was I hot enough.
Loon trousers were the order of the day for any self
respecting youth. An interesting concoction of tight-fitting hip-hugging
red cotton material with no pockets, which remained tight down to the knee,
before exploding outwards to a 20 inch plus bell bottom. We really must
have looked bloody daft and the tight crutch area was a major drawback to
the carnally excited.
The week past in an afternoon. Which
is unusual on a family holiday when you're 15. Sheila and I saw each other
nearly every day. Paul and Ann didn't get on too well. She turned out to be
a real stuck up bitch. Surprisingly Sheila told me this, if I hadn't
gathered it for myself and Paul was not a happy bunny. For some reason he
got the nark with me for lumbering him with such a moody cow, but I seem to
recall he had been the one who took the new ball in the first innings, so
We travelled home on the Saturday. Back to the regular,
as did Sheila, I never saw her, Paul or Ann, again. Oh yes, ardour was
consummated on the Thursday night on a sand dune. No details necessary,
just pure experience.
INTO THE WORLD OF BUSINESS ENTERPRISE!
Occasional interludes littered my sexual awakening over
the following few months, but always ended fairly quickly, not always by my
choice. The next major adventure was later that Summer when Nick and I got
a holiday job at Woolworths. In the immortal words of Ian Fleming, creator
of James Bond, this was "Licence to Kill". For some reason, in
those days, Woolworths had a personnel policy of only employing girls as
Saturday or holiday staff. That was until a friend of a mother of a friend
landed a job for Nick and myself in the Prep Room. This bastion of health
and safety is where the cold meats, cheeses and sandwiches are prepared
prior to transportation in a very old service lift to the shop floor.
I'm sure procedures have changed since
those days, or I may be facing a libel case, but a particularly charming
pastime was to recall cheese that had not sold on the counters and return
it to the Prep Room. The next task was to remove the cling-film wrapping,
scrape of the green mould, re-wrap, weigh, label and return it to the front
of the counter, so that it sold first. This put me off cheese, apart from
Edam, for some time.
Nick and I learnt a lot in those 6 weeks about the work
ethic, particularly how easy it was to get the sack. We were sacked and
re-instated at least three times a week, nearly always for some stupid
prank or other. These ranged from trapping the old cleaning woman in the
lift for 20 minutes, by letting a broom handle fall through the metal
gates, to food trolley racing through the store late on Saturday evening.
This escapade was made particularly funny by the rear trolley wheel falling
off, me slipping on a slice of bacon and careering with trolley into the
floor walker, a sort of store detective. All the girls along with Nick and
me were in hysterics, but the departmental manager saw red. Another
bollocking, another threat of the boot and working late unpaid to clear up.
We used to have a lot of fun with a
fiery Scot, surprisingly called Jock, who also worked in the Prep Room. He
was no more than 4 foot 6 inches tall and would wear the same size white
coat as the rest of us. We would wind him up so much, that he would chase
either of us around the preparation table with whatever implement he could
lay his hands on, ranging from a meat cleaver to a side of pork.
Jock often helped one of the older ladies, on the meat
counter to stock the display fridges. We thought he fancied her and she
always seemed to have a sparkle in her eye when he was about, but nothing
was ever proved. Every time Jock would lean over the edge to reach to the
front of the fridge, either Nick or I would be there to just tip him over
the top, so that he lost his balance. The old girl would tell us we were
"bad lads", but enjoyed every minute of the controlled language
which Jock the Scottish gentleman would levy on us. The full extent of his
vocabulary was saved for later in the lift back upstairs.
I remember one day, Nick and I sneaked
up behind him and slowly bent down, took hold of either side of the flap on
his white coat and yanked it upwards. The whole coat erupted apart, Jock
was lifted 2 feet into the air and all he was left with was the collar
around his neck. Needless to say, old Jock was not happy, and set off after
us. He didn't have to run far though, because we were rolling on the floor,
turtle fashion, absolutely destroyed in uncontrollable laughter. After
every swear word utterable had been utilised, Jock saw the funny side of it
and joined us on the Prep Room floor, cracked up with his dog-collar still
round his throat.
Anyway back to the real reason why 6 weeks at Woolies
was so special. 118 girls and 2 boys, me and Nick, is the reason. It was
unbelievable, we didn't even have to try to start conversations, we were
honestly chased all the time. On occasions it became really complicated. We
were meeting girls at tea break, lunch time, in the Fixtures & Fittings
Room and some times, 2 or 3 different ones, straight from work or later on
in the evening.
Very few relationships had any opportunity to flourish,
because we spent all our time deciding who we wanted to let chat us up
next. That was the only time in my whole life that I've not been
responsible for the chasing. Great for the ego but a massacre for the mind
and frustrating to come to terms with, after it all finished.
The only rumpy-pumpy that went on was with a bit of
rough called Maggie, the Fixture Room Queen. We would indulge while her
mate, Bev kept guard at the door, and then Bev and Nick took their chance
while Maggie kept watch. A wonderful arrangement, and we never took them
That Summer was without doubt the most exciting and
informative of my life so far, but it all had to end and it was back to the
corridors of Bablake School.
WHAT A MISTAKE-A TO MAKE-A!
I left Bablake in 1972 and joined the
East Midlands Electricity Board as a Cost & Management Accountant
Commercial Apprentice. Great title, lousy job, highlighted by a spell
reading the meters. On the women front, I made a diabolical decision to
ditch a lovely young girl called Kim, for an old ex-Woolies flame, Chris,
who made my life hell for 6 months, constantly pressing me to commit myself
to marriage. I didn't have any honourable intentions, so that ended fairly
An aborted attempt to return to Kim
followed. I've always considered this chapter of my life as being the most
regretful and still, after all these years, wonder what life would have
been, if only! I had met Kim in 1972 in a bar that I later worked in, The
Lady Godiva or "The Dive" to the locals. I had really long hair,
nipple-length, and thought I looked the racing dog's bollocks, with my
denim jacket, bleached jeans and tie-die grandpa shirt. I started talking
to this pretty young girl, while her mate was buying drinks. We carried on
talking, after her friend returned. The friend diplomatically went to talk
to somebody else and we became an item. She was really very pretty, with
lovely long brown crimped hair. I knew she was younger than me, but had
absolutely no idea that, in fact she was only 13. By the time I found out,
it was too late. I was hooked.
Now many would be swift to criticise me for continuing
with the relationship, but I honestly thought she was 15 going on 16. After
all, I met her in a pub and I had been welcomed in her home, by her parents
as her boyfriend. When I found out the truth, what was I to do? She said
she loved me, and I was certainly in love with her. She may have been only
13, but she was much more mature than the 16 and 17 year olds I was usually
Our relationship continued after I had started work and
at first the age thing didn't pose me any problems, but I suppose deep down
the situation was becoming uncomfortable. What future was there in it? We
would have to be together for at least another 5 or 6 years before we could
consider engagement or marriage. It seemed such a long way off. The other
thing eating away at me was the ego trip. I was working now with men and
women, not boys and girls, and I wanted to be treated as a man. How could I
take my girlfriend to work functions, when she still had 3 years to go
before she took her "O" levels.
The crunch came, as I said earlier,
when Chris started working at the same place as me. I'd always fancied her,
and she me. She was a woman, in age, experience and, of course, was earning
money. The prospect of joint costs, wider horizons and right age safe-sex
were extremely tempting. Chris knew about Kim, and gave me one of her first
ultimatums, "me or her".
In a row about nothing, I ended it with Kim and started
seeing Chris full-time. I'd been a real shit. Thinking only about my own
wants and not caring about Kim's feelings, which I later appreciated were
The relationship with Chris started well enough, joint
costs, wider horizons, but no safe-sex, or unsafe-sex for that matter,
"until we get engaged". This was not an acceptable option in my
eyes. So, after lots of half-hearted long-term promises on my part, and the
occasional, but severely controlled petting sessions on hers, I gave up the
ghost and tried to re-kindle the flame with Kim. Sadly this was not to be.
She had lost her trust in me and I couldn't get it back. I still think
about her from time to time and hope that she's happy and with somebody who
loves her as much as I did, but treats her a whole lot better than I did.
Two years later, aged 19, I met the wife to be and left
the deadpan world of Accountancy for the shoot-yourself-in-the-foot tyre
industry. But more about career moves later.
BREAKING OUT ON MY OWN
Despite having got full-time
employment in a safe and steady industry, I could still do little right at
home and spent a lot of my leisure time in the pub with these mates
"Who'll never do you any good", drinking too much and regularly
getting sick. The final crunch came after an evening playing darts. As usual
I had had a skin-full and got home somehow, staggered up the stairs,
quietly, of course, and collapsed into a heap on my bed. The dreaded
pillow-spin soon began and vomiting was imminent.
I should explain that this was not the
first time such a state had been reached. My mother, ever pre-empting the
level of how I may bring down the family name, had always insisted that a
bowl was suitably placed under my bed for sick purposes. A discarded
flying-saucer shaped lampshade had also been stored under my bed.
What followed, could be best described
as unfortunate and, with regard to my future tenure of living at home,
terminal. Despite not being at all well and more than a little bleary, I
had enough control of my situation to know that a stagger to the toilet,
pre-puke, was not a going concern. I reached for the bowl,
technicolor-yawned into the bowl and lay my mangled head back on the
pillow. The morning, as usual, arrived within minutes, or at least it
always felt that way. Me thinks, "I've got away without the old girl
knowing I'd been ill last night. No bollocking for wasting my money on
booze. All I've got to do is take this bowl into the bathroom, empty it and
wash it out". So I lean out of bed and pick up the bowl. Only it's not
a bowl, it's the flying saucer lampshade, so designed that the light bulb
pokes straight through the middle of it. I now had a clean lampshade in my
hand. I also had a fully-congealed, perfectly-formed pile of regurgitated
chinese spring roll and chips rising like Mount Everest from my carpet.
I cleaned it up as best I could, leaving only a small
circular stain where the acidic content of the aforementioned pile had
taken the colour out of the carpet. However I had had to admit the
situation as all the cleaning items were kept in the kitchen, and I had no
previous track record of dustpan, brush and carpet cleaner usage. The end
was nigh and it was suggested I should get a place of my own and learn how
to treat property with some respect.
I left home and rented a house with
Roy, a colleague from the Electricity Board. We ate junk food for six
months, regularly got drunk and both became initially depressed and
generally pissed off with our lot and eventually became run down and both
became ill. But independence was great, well at least for the first week.
One brightish spot in our spell together was that we both bought identical
new mopeds, which brought a new-found level on mobility and the opportunity
to explore new frontiers, such as Leicester and Birmingham! We even
embarked on a youth hostel holiday to the Isle of Man, where we both
crashed, me on a sharp right hander and Roy in the centre of Douglas, in
the wet on some horse crap, further piles of which he managed to slide into
after parting company with his machine.
The highlight of this holiday, which had cost us about
£30 each all in, was the last night at the Douglas Casino. I remember the
Dallas Boys were the performing act and that we only had about £10 left
between us. I decided to have a go at the pontoon table, won £40, gave Roy a
tenner and we left with more money than we had arrived on the island with.
I've never played the game competitively since. Maybe I should have another
So back to the squalor of our shack.
Neither of us were much good at homely chores, so we agreed that Saturday
morning would be the time when we would do the weeks washing up,
launderette visit and ironing.
On Sundays, starting after a couple of weeks of moving
in, we would visit our respective parents, ostensibly for at least one good
meal a week. This soon resulted in us returning back with a mother-made
casserole in a dish, which would last another couple of days. After six
months I couldn't take it anymore and I allowed my parents to talk me into
coming home, for another try. Roy fortunately was also happy to return to
his folks, so we ditched the bachelor life for the comforts of home.
Within a few weeks of coming home, I
had a nasty motorcycle accident, totally the car drivers fault and have not
been back onto a two-wheeled death trap since. My father taught me to drive
in his car, despite my ploughing down the back gate when my foot slipped
off the brake onto the clutch while it was still in gear. I had two proper
driving school lessons and passed my test first time.
ON THE ROAD
My first car was bought off my father, a beige 1965
Austin 1100, registration DOC 921C. It was really a family mans car and
didn't have the street cred a newly mobile 18 year old required, so after a
year or so, I traded it in for a gorgeous Triumph Herald 13/60,
registration OOF 146G. Apart from wanting to pose, by this time, I was
travelling a lot to Weymouth, courting my now wife, so I felt a newer car
was needed. How wrong could I have been. This car looked superb,
unfortunately the bodywork and the inside the cabin were the only things
that worked. The gearbox leaked oil, the clutch went, the brake pipes were
corroded and needed replacing, a con-rod snapped and blew up the engine and
when this had been stripped down and fixed, the sump plug fell out and seized
the engine. Motoring was ridiculously expensive and in the life of that
car, I spent more time on foot than behind the wheel.
Further low-life vehicles followed including a Morris
1300 and an MG 1300, both absolutely useless and both, despite considerable
initial costs and repairs, ending up in that great scrap yard in the sky.
In desperation, I bought a Mark 1 Ford Cortina from a guy down the pub for
£40. It had 4 months M.O.T and I was told it wouldn't pass another one. It
was maroon in most places and the gear stick could be removed during
operation! This car ran trouble free for 4 months, despite looking a
death-trap. It looked so bad that my boss, with whom I shared driving to
Birmingham, refused to travel with me, so we only used his car.
My heart got the better of my head and having had no
real problems, apart from using nearly as much oil as petrol, I decided to
put it through the M.O.T. test. The tester was amused. He'd never had to
attach a second sheet to detail all the faults to his failure certificate.
He even pointed out that he didn't think it had legitimately passed any of
its previous 3 M.O.T. tests. I sold it via the friend of a friend for £50
scrap. So profit, after 4 months motoring, perhaps my luck with cars was
changing. But alas, no. A week after getting rid of it, I received a phone
call from the Leamington Spa police basically accusing me of being the
driver of a maroon Ford Cortina involved in a hit and run incident the
previous night. Now I'm no snitch, but self-preservation comes first, so I
told them exactly who I had sold it to. It later transpired that the guy I
sold it too sold it on as a going concern with a full M.O.T. certificate to
someone who, supposedly, had had it stolen from outside his local pub. I
never got to hear the final outcome, but at least I was off the hook.
When one is forced to drive cheap and cheerful old tat,
it soon becomes apparent that the local constabulary automatically assume
that you are a potential criminal. For no reason, other than that I was
driving a pile of crap, I was stopped at least 6 times during my first 3
years of driving, never booked, but always treated with contempt and
distain. Since I've been able to either afford newer cars or had brand new
company cars, I have never been stopped, despite regularly breaking the
speed limit, and regrettably on rare and stupid occasions probably being
over the alcohol limit
A blue Mini Van followed the Cortina
and covered many many uncomfortable noisy, rattly miles. Its fuel
consumption capabilities also helped me make enough money from travelling
expenses around the U.K. to pay the deposit on my first house. Future cars
included a Renault 12TS, originally green but later bright red, a Marina
1800 TC, customized black jobby, and then company cars, a Volvo
340,written-off in a head on with a Peugeot, a Citroen BX 17RD, a Citroen
BX 16TRS, a Carlton GL and a VW Passat. I've also bought an All Aggro
estate and a VW Golf for the wife, so have had quite a range of vehicles
over the years.
I enjoy driving, but need music or cricket to be with me
as it helps me to concentrate. I drive too fast, and as with many drivers
would probably fail the current driving test if I was asked to take it
tomorrow. Far too many bad habits after many thousands of miles all over
the U.K. and a few holidays to France and Holland have crept into my
driving style. One particularly bad technique I've developed is driving
with my left hand on the gear stick. All down to the joys of driving on the
M25 and constantly having to change gear. I now do it even on the open road.
One day I'll own a sports car. i've
always wanted one, preferably a Mercedes Coupe, seeing as a Ferrari 308 GTS
is probably beyond my overdraft means.
SPORT, HOBBIES & MUSIC
From an early age, I've always been keen on sport, be it
participating or watching. My father was never a keen sportsman, but he
tried his best, playing cricket and kicking a ball around with me. He also
took me to watch Coventry City, the Sky Blues, when I was about 10 years
Football has always been my first love in sport and I
probably first played competiitvely for the Boy's Brigade from 12 to 16.
The Boy's Brigade has close links with the church and a pre-requisite of
being in it, and therefore playing football, was that one should attend
church regularly. As mentioned earlier, I have never been keen on this form
of faith, but football was football. So, we managed to work it so they a
couple of delegates from the team would be "on duty" every week,
to at least show the face and justify the support being given by the church.
An interesting facet of Boy's Brigade football is that
teams can have boys aged between 12 and 16. At least 8 of our team were the
same age. So for the first 2 or 3 years we took some real good beatings
from teams with 4 or 5, 15 and 16 year olds. However, our days would come.
In our final year, we were beating teams 10-0 and more. I scored over 50
goals in the season and we won the league. Unfortunately we lost a cup
final to the next best side, who just happened to have a striker who was
quite brilliant. I scored 3, another player, Dave Hayward scored 3 for us,
but we still lost 8-6 in extra time. The next season we moved up to senior
We expected the same sort of thing to happen again, with
so many of us being so young, but we were now fit and what we lacked in
tactics we made up for by being able to run the legs off this old men. I
recall scoring in my very first senior game, which we won 3-1.
I was never a particularly good footballer and, much
like school, wasn't renowned for my workrate, but I could put the ball in
the net. One problem I kept having was that of getting injured. Nothing too
serious in the early days, but I was getting caught by tackles, which were
slowing me down. A healthy appetite for food and beer also didn't help
mobility. I put some of this down to the fact that my eyesight has never
been very good. I wouldn't wear glasses, and, of course, couldn't play
football in them if I wanted too. I'm sure I'd have been a better player if
I could have seen the ball and opponents clearer. Contact lenses didn't
come earlier enough for me.
The team we all played was Phoenix Coventry F.C. We
never won a damn thing, but it was a tremendous social club. To this day,
long after the club folded, we have regular social gatherings, funded out
of the bank balance accrued from functions held years ago.
Despite our lack of success, we always
considered Saturday football as being the one to be taken seriously.
Sunday, however, was just a giggle. A few of us played for the, then,
Coventry Economic Building Society team. A long title for any side, so they
became known colloquially as "the Gnomes". Team selection was
nearly always based on who turned up on time. Fitness was not a
consideration as, on most occasions, neither was ability. Enter the
"Spoon Bothers". One worked for the Society, and could only kick
a ball by hooking his toes under it, thereby propelling it virtually
vertical. His brother, had less of pixie feet, but still could only boot
the ball straight ahead of him. Nobody bothered to chase it, because it
couldn't possibly be a pass to them, so "Spoon 2" would chase his
I, like most of the regulars, played
in every position. Again the team spirit was unbelievable. We knew we were
crap, so we just went out and had fun. We often won games.
Two particular incidents always bring a tear of laughter
to my eyes. The first was against a village team just outside Coventry
where we had to change on a freezing day in a room the size of a standard
house toilet. Some took the pitch wearing gloves and wooly hats. It was
extremely cold. after a couple of minutes the ball is hoisted high into the
air, probably by one of the Spoon Brothers. Alan Curtis calls for it to be
his ball, hoping to control it in midfield. As with many in the side, his
ambition exceeded his ability and having completely misjudged it, the ball
lands firmly on his cold and tender thigh. "ooh, yer cow",
screams Alan. The rest of the side are now in a state of uncontrollable
collapse. The opposition, not used to playing a bunch of comedians, go
upfield to score.
The second classic came in a game
against a West Indian side called Jah Baddis. Being somewhat portly at the
time, I was an unusual choice for left winger, not least because I am right
footed. However, this was the Gnomes and any position would do. Jah Baddis
were very keen and extremely well supported. Few people came to watch the
Gnomes, because it usually meant that they'd have to play. The Jah Baddis
support consisted of about a dozen dreadlocked, tea-cosied "bad"
dudes wearing sun-glasses in the middle of winter, balancing the statutory
ghetto blaster on the shoulder. Above the din of Bob Marley and his Wailers
they would encourage their boys with, "Jah man, everybody do it like
Donald does". A suggestion that the rest of the team should play as
well as their centre back Donald. Sadly Donald was to give us a first half
lead with a 35 yard backpass, drilled past his own keeper, much to the
annoyance of the now ganja-smoking supporters. Anyway midway through the
second half, I get the ball wide on the left, slip it past the full back,
leaving him on his backside and make for the penalty area, lining up, what
I trust will be a defence splitting cross. My attention is unfortunately
taken by one guy on the line who shouts out "Eh, Leroy, you not gonna
let that fat bastard beat you, boy". Totally wrecked I kick the ball
pathetically out for a goal kick.
After leaving Coventry, I ran a boys under 11 team in
Brighton and played in a reasonable British Telecom side in Norwich. On
moving to London, I tried a comeback with the works side, only to break my
arm and then a bone in my foot, so it was time to hang up the boots.
I enjoy watching the game and am still a keen Coventry
City supporter. Sky Blue fans will no doubt fully understand me when I say
that this is the most frustrating team to support. You just never know what
they might do. we can beat Liverpool one week and then lose to Sutton
United the following.
My other great sporting love is cricket. I played at
school without ever setting the world alight and still play today as works
team captain. I would describe my batting as a slogger and my bowling as
pedestrian, but I occasionally score runs and regular take the wickets of
batsmen whose eyes see glory as I come onto bowl. Again, as with football,
the game is taken seriously enough to always try our best, but without
losing any of the fun that makes team sports so enjoyable and rewarding.
Over the years I've played some squash, still dabble in
golf without really spending enough time over it and occasionally play a
mean game of pool.
Hobbies over the past few years have been photography, I
still have my own black and white darkroom set-up, and genealogy. I've
written a couple of books detailing "The History of the
Covingtons" and "Covington Locations Around the World".
Neither will be best sellers but a few copies have been sold here and in
the U.S. to fellow Covingtons, many of whom have contributed to the data
Genealogy, or "Playing with the
dead", as my mother calls it, is a frustrating hobby, but,
nevertheless, an infectious one. Each lead found leads to another, and so
on. This makes it very difficult to give it up, but it can be very
frustrating when you reach a seeming dead end. My difficulties in being
able to find out as much as I would have liked about my ancestors has, in
fact, inspired me to write this autobiography. So many people only leave
behind them a record of their birth, marriage and death date. Occasionally
one finds out where they lived and who their children and parents were.
Very few leave any details about their lifestyle, unless, of course, they
have a criminal record! This semi-autobiography can therefore be considered
as my epitaph and may, hopefully, help future Covington genealogists to
understand some of the things that went on in the mind of Martin Herbert
Covington, 1956 to ???.† †
Music has always been a major interest to me. Not
playing sadly, only listening. I now have very varied tastes, but have
always tended towards the rock and roll style of the 70s, e.g Rolling
Stones, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, Thin Lizzy, The Who, Free, Roxy Music,
Chris Rea, Judie Tzuke etc etc. I generally prefer singer-songwriters.
Somehow by being responsible for the words, their performance is that bit
more personal. During the early 1980s I ran a mobile disco, which probably
helped to give me a more varied listening base.
Some of the gigs were to say the least different. They
ranged from a 20 minute session after a cricket dinner's speeches had
over-run and the hall manager insisted on closing "at the agreed
time", to a 7 year olds birthday party by the side of daddy's outdoor
swimming pool. What a surprise when, one timid little girl was pushed in,
and had her pretty party dress ruined.
I recall a wedding for which my disco had been booked.
Weddings are always difficult because the DJ knows that he is going to have
to cater for all ages and tastes in music from Bon Jovi to Frank Sinatra.
This particular wedding booking hadn't mentioned any specific types of
music that they wanted, so I took a wide range of types and styles. Once
set up, the wedding party arrive at the hall. Enter a teddy boy dressed in
full drapes, but with a carnation button-hole and his new bride in white
rah-rah skirt. All the guests were also in full rock and roll gear. I'm
beginning to† think that my supply of
rock and roll classics could be stretched a bit over the next 3 hours, but
I didn't know the half of it. They only wanted Elvis music. I had one album
and two singles. I tried to slip in the odd Bill Haley, Johnny Kidd, Jerry
Lee Lewis track, but they just sat down and came up to me asking for more
Elvis. I played every track on the album, at least twice, and nearly wore
the singles grooves out. They loved it and I've never liked Elvis music
much since that day.
I had a go at a residency booking of a Sixties Revival
night in an old style dance hall, complete with sprung floor and revolving
light ball in Norwich. Both couples who attended on the opening night had a
good time, with plenty of room to thrash about when dancing. The following
week saw us double the gate, but sadly was marred when one woman tipped a
pint of lager over the head of another who was giving the eye to her man.
We closed the following week.
The disco business was a good source of income,
particularly when I lived in Brighton and despite trying to start again
after further moves I packed it in and sold the gear in the late 1980s.
I've still got all the old singles and one day would like to own an old
juke box to play them on.
During the summer of 1975 I had been seeing a girl
called Agnes, or Aggie to her friends. God knows why anybody would want to
make an already hideous name even worse, but she seemed happy with it. She
was completing a teacher's training course at a Catholic college some 15
mile outside Coventry. The place was run by nuns and discipline was said to
be quite strict. Now it has to be said that Aggie was no oil painting, well
perhaps a Picasso! The main reason for starting and continuing the
relationship was borne out of desperation, a lack of regular crumpet, and
the promise of free tickets for the end of term bash, Gino Washington
supported by Nosmo King and the Javells.
Come the night, myself and two mates
made our way into the countryside, fully armed with tents and sleeping
bags, with the plan to camp out, somewhere nearby, after the main event.
The evening's entertainment was excellent, but old Aggie managed to get
paralytic, so I did the gentlemanly thing and took her to her bed,
undressed her, decided that Aggie was indeed an accurate and descriptive
name for her, and left her to sleep it off. Back at the party, which was in
full flow, I was talked into staying the night in the college, with my
mates, by some of the girls, but using a room which was empty because the
usual occupier was ill and bedded in the infirmary. Great idea, we thought,
and what a buzz, sneaking around the corridors of an all girl, convent
college patrolled by nuns.
Now being the organiser of this arrangement, and
convincing the guys that sleeping on the floor was better than in a field,
I acquired the bed. Two weeks later, I contracted chicken pox, having
caught it off the bed of the girl in sickbay. to make things worse, I found
out at this stage that I was allergic to penicillin and became a very
poorly little soldier. So much so that I was unable to go on holiday with 4
other mates to Paignton in Devon. My parents also cancelled their holiday
to care for me and eventually I joined the lads for the last three days of
What has this to do with meeting the wife? The plot
thickens. As I was still not fully fit, and consequently still on the sick
from work, I agreed to join my parents for a week in Weymouth, which they
had booked on spec, at short notice. I arrived Saturday afternoon to meet
them and we all went out, like happy families, on the Saturday night. Now I
should point out that while I enjoy my mother's company and sense of
humour, she would be the first to admit that sitting all evening in a smoky
pub, is not her idea of fun. She usually has a tendency to sit, bolt
upright, nursing her handbag, Les Dawson fashion, showing an air of disdain
and making one Cinzano and lemonade last an hour. On this occasion,
however, she was in fine form, but I still felt the need to leave her and
Dad to their own devices and went on the chat-up. I had spotted an
attractive girl, who it transpires was from Bradford on holiday with her
sister, who arrived into the conversation just as I seemed to be getting
somewhere. She was regrettably another deadringer for Aggie!
I had convinced the good looking one
to come to a night club with me, sadly with her sister in tow, but progress
was being made. I returned to the folks table and explained that I would be
going on somewhere later, got the expected "Don't be too late, you
know you're no fully well yet, and don't drink too much". Then the
fateful question that has been responsible for the direction that my life
has taken since that moment. All I said was "I don't really know where
there is a decent club in Weymouth". Not earth shattering, one would
think. Certainly not enough to completely change my future. But that was
the beginning. Enter stage left, Melanie Ann Sharpe. "Oh, I've been
talking to this young lady here. She's local. I bet she knows somewhere nice",
said mater dearest. Sat next to my mother was a pleasant looking, long dark
haired girl with a nice figure and really pretty eyes. I'd spotted her
earlier, but as she was with someone, I didn't give her another thought,
but here I was being introduced by my mother. Her chap had gone to the
little boy's room, but I still made no effort to chat her up and simply
talked about the night life, and where was the best place to go. She even
said that she might see me there later. I still didn't give it a real thought.
She seemed very chatty and keen to converse in words of more than one
syllable, and I found myself talking away with her even after the guy
returned. He didn't seem too keen at my presence, so I moved on, back to
Bradford's best, and said "See you, then".
The Yorkshire Sisters of Mercy, agreed to disco on down
and we went to the Harbor Club, as recommended. Fortunately, I wasn't
gullible enough to pay for them to get in. Mean bastard! A wise move as
within ten minutes and half a pint more each, which I had bought, the Ugly
Sister practised projectile vomiting before reaching the sanctity of the
khasi. A move that seems to always result in the whole of the congregated
masses to look round to see who the hell is with her. I made a hasty
retreat to the bar, ordered another beer, and finally turned back to look
in time to see the Bradford girls being assisted out of the establishment
by the door heavies. The evening's entertainment was not materialising as I
had hoped. As I was just thinking I may as well go back to the hotel, I
spotted the girl from the bar. The one who had suggested this place. She
spotted me. I didn't see the chap she had been with. It was if she'd known
me for years. "Where's the guy?", says I, "Oh, I put him on
his bus, he thinks I've gone to catch mine. He's a patients son. I'm a
nurse. He asked me out, but I don't really know him" she spouted
forth. the vision of this poor dumb sod, being "put on the bus",
always amuses me. The ultimate put down, I reckon.
We danced and talked all evening. She could certainly
talk. An attribute she has not since lost. I think I learnt more about her
in two hours than any other girl I'd ever known. Totally infectious. I
still kid her about the way she saw a good catch and set about reeling me
in. I also point that she cradle-snatched me as I'm three years younger
Three years and a difficult travelling courtship later,
we were married in Coventry and held the reception at a hotel on the site
of Keresley Hospital, where I had been born, 22 years earlier.
I recall the wedding rehearsal being tarnished by my
bursting into hysterical laughter during the "words". Tutting and
dirty looks all round. Typical Martin, never taking anything seriously.
However, I feel vindicated by my best man who later pointed out that the
vicar had indeed conducted the mock service with his shirt tail hanging out
of his gaping flies. This mode of undress was not assisted by the fact that
the vicar had a glass eye. Unfortunately, we had not got to know him well enough
to be totally confident as to which one was real and which was the marble.
So we weren't too sure as to who he was talking to.
The wedding day had more than its fair share of trauma.
My best man Nick, had to pull out the morning of the wedding as sadly his
mother had had a heart attack and, as we found out later, died. Step in
Ken, even more nervous than me, but fortunately not in such a state as my
We arrive at the church in good time,
about 11.50 for a midday kick-off and start waiting. Time passes slowly. A
message is transmitted down the aisle as the congregation wait patiently.
My father leaves the church. He returns in a couple of minutes to tell me
Melanie's locked herself out of the house, and the bouquet is still inside.
So Phillip, father-in-law, has left her there, standing on the doorstep,
whilst he comes to the church to get the key. By 12.15 and still no sign of
future spouse, Ken and I had settled our nerves, as we felt little else
could go wrong, so confidence began to swell. I then hear my mother's
anguished tones from the next pew, "My world's tumbling around
me", she bleats. Eventually at nearly 12.20 she literally runs down
the aisle as though she's in the Olympic 100 metres final.
The rest of the day went perfectly.
Super weather, good food and everybody, including my father-in-law,
behaving themselves. At about 6 o'clock we set off on the honeymoon. An
exotic trip by car to Tenby in South Wales. We finally arrived at the hotel
at about 10 p.m., only to find the hotel restaurant shut and no snack menu
in the bar. We had a drink and I settled to watch a bit of the football (we
were married during the 1978 World Cup). Melanie chose to retire to the
boudoir, and I said, "I'll be up in a few minutes. Just watch this
till half time.". Now it transpired that Argentina needed to beat Peru
by a big score to qualify for the next round, and, well it was a bloody
good game and it looked as though they might do it. So I watched the whole
game! Argentina scored 6 and much to my surprise, she was still awake, so,
so did I.
Melanie is a scatty individual, whose
tombstone should surely carry the epitaph "I didn't think!". In
the early days of marriage, she progressed from ironing an iron shape onto
an otherwise perfect nylon carpet, through putting used J-clothes down the
loo thereby blocking it, and finally shoving the plate glass front door by
the glass with her rear end, surprisingly shattering it completely. "I
didn't think it would do that". We moved from that house, before she
could do further damage. She is also an excellent cook, keeps a clean and
generally tidy house and provides the family life principles that I
sometimes neglect. Life is never dreary when Melanie is around. It is also
never straightforward, something akin to living within twenty foot of the
summit of Mount Etna. You can never be sure what's coming next.
More importantly though she has supported me in all my
career moves around the U.K. Setting up 6 homes, making new friends with
her infectious approach to conversation and above all she has put up with
many of my more selfish moments.
THE PATTER OF TINY FEET
We have two children now. I use the word
"now", because there is a nine year gap between the birth of Ian
in 1982 and Katy in 1991, the daughter we never thought that we would have.
Ian was born in Brighton, during our first soiree away from home, a three
year stint as a Branch Manager with the world's largest tyre company,
Michelin. All my moves have been with them, Coventry - Brighton - Exeter -
Norwich - High Wycombe. Each move has left it's toll on both of us. It is
really very difficult to put down roots as you get older and therefore a
social life is either an expensive luxury or, as is more likely the case,
something that simply requires too much effort. Nearly all of our social
contact, away from my work that is, has been generated by contact with
parents of friends of our children. A perverse way of socialising, but I
suspect probably typical of many parents of small children.
The pregnancy resulting in Ian, seems now to have passed
by so quickly and I recollect so little about it, apart from dragging
Melanie around West Hove Golf Course, for company one red hot summer day
about a month before the birth. Her choice, not mine, and I even carried my
The night before Ian arrived in the world was spent
tenpin bowling along with the 14 year old son of a near neighbour, who is
now sadly no longer with us, killed in a motorcycle accident in 1989.
Melanie had a go, but found it difficult to bend down and bowl the ball,
hardly surprising really. At the end of the evening we took Anthony home,
only to be invited in by his parents, Pauline and Geoff, for a quick drink.
A full tumbler of Jameson's Irish Whiskey later and I was ably assisted
home to my bed. Two hours later, the bedroom light's on, the emergency case
is being hoisted from the chair and she tells me "My waters have
broken". Still inebriated, I suggest this is rubbish and she's
probably pissed the bed. How rewarding an experience it is to have one's
fragile head thrust into the damp patch to prove that she's right and I'm
not. We ring the hospital. I get dressed. Sober up and we set off to the
maternity unit of Royal Sussex General. Through 2 sets of red traffic
lights, not even thinking of how green those crystals would appear should I
be requested to blow in the bag if stopped. We arrive at 1.20 a.m. Ian
doesn't bother to show up for another 10 hours and even then, has to
dragged out by the biggest pair of forceps the world has ever seen. I was there
dressed in a blue and white striped tee shirt and a surgical mask. I looked
liked some sort of latter day Captain Pugwash. I only needed an eye patch
and a parrot on my shoulder to complete the picture.
What an experience though. I firmly believe that you
can't really consider yourself as a fully fledged father unless you've been
at your child's birth. It is without any doubt, the closest I've ever been
to anybody. That joint effort to push that final push, through the pain
barrier. No man can ever experience the actual physical pain of childbirth,
but the psychological appreciation of it is so intense that it hurts deep
inside and should not be missed by any father. That moment when time stands
still, just after birth, is both awe-inspiring and extremely frightening.
"Will it cry?", "Has it got all it's parts?", "Why
is it blue?", and then once that first "Laaaargh" rings out,
"What is it?". Then the emotional bit where you both cry and
laugh at the same time. True happiness, pride in your chosen partner's
strength and fortitude, but moresoever such a tremendous sense of joint
achievement. These moments must be so rewarding to midwifery staff, but I
doubt if they can offset the few dreadful occasions when all is not right
and happiness does not fill the delivery room.
AND AGAIN, BUT DIFFERENT THIS TIME
Katy's conception and birth was a much more complicated
matter and a major example of modern science rather than the
straightforward, done by ourselves, bringing of Ian into the world.
We hadn't particularly tried for a second child
immediately after Ian, as some couples do. This was partly due to upheavals
in my job, which meant we had another two house moves around the U.K., to
firstly Honiton in devon, and secondly Norwich within a 12 month period. In
between these two moves, I spent 15 weeks away from home on a sales
training course, so we simply put the lack of a second sprog down to
stress. As it turned out, Melanie had some how contracted damage to her
filopian tubes so, in effect, egg could not be reached by little fishy and
become fertilised. We went through the full hilarious gambit of indulging
only at the right time of the cycle, bottom raised during action followed
by the laughable site of the spouse trying to balance on her shoulders,
legs at 90 degrees to her shoulder blades, trying to ensure fishies are
helped on their way, utilising the force of gravity, as much as possible.
Once you get to this stage, the "Joy of Sex" begins to wear a
little thin and it certainly isn't helped by, later in the month, when one
is greeted from a hard day's labour by a sour puss face and "It didn't
Eventually, the National Health Service were summoned to
check out the problem, which as previously stated proved to be blocked and
damaged tubes. All that ungainly balancing and the poor bloody fish was
smacking his nose against something akin to the old Berlin Wall. After
numerous tests we were eventually referred to the Hammersmith Hospital IVF
Programme under the control of Professor Robert Winston. The only problem
was a four year NHS waiting list. We could have gone private at about £1500
a go, but simply couldn't afford it. Surprisingly the four years seemed to
pass quite quickly and, as things turned out, I was transferred to the
London area, so that when our turn came along, we were living within
reasonable travelling distance.
Make no mistake though, this was not the end of the
line. What followed, from then on in, is somewhat degrading, depressing and
occasionally very amusing, if you happen to have a fairly warped sense of
The first visit to discuss the treatment is an
experience in its own right. Bearing in mind that we have an appointment
card for some two years hence, giving the date and time of the appointment.
Reminders arrived closer to the date, but the details always remained the
same. Our appointment was set at 6 p.m. Unfortunately, so were about 70
other couples. Same day, same time. The waiting room was packed full of
hopeful desperate people all wishing for a miracle. To us the miracle was
that we were seen by 8.30 pm.
We were given all the details and told that we would be
given the chance of joining the programme on the National Health and would
be seen again in about eighteen months time. Once again time seems to move
very quickly, particularly when looking back and we were back in the same
waiting room in early 1991, raring to get going, but not before some more
tests. Laparoscopy for Melanie and a sperm count for yours truly.
For the uninitiated, a laparoscopy is a minor operation
to insert a microscope inside the woman to view the degree of damage to the
fillopian tubes. Melanie had already had one of these before, but each
hospital seems to only trust their own eyes, so another was needed. A sperm
count is also a form of operation but of a completely different variety and
requires a high level of sense of humour and self deprecation
By now, we had moved to a smaller but still communal
waiting area. This area was even sadder in many ways to the large
cattleshed as the patients here were at various stages of the IVF
treatment, some were just starting, others had had the treatment and others
were receiving the good, or bad news about the success or failure of their
attempt. Happiness, despair, hope and fear all reared their heads in this
room with differing attempts to disguise each of these feelings, so as not
to upset other patients. This, and the degrading sperm sample routine were
the worst parts of the whole treatment and despite the wonderful
revolutionary work that the clinic achieves does tend to treat human beings
as a herd of cattle waiting to be inseminated. Patients try to strike up
conversations during the eternity of waiting, and no doubt many begin good
longterm friendships, but we all know we are there purely for ourselves.
As we, unlike most of the other
patients, already had a child, we either needed to arrange a babysitter for
Ian, which was often difficult due to the unknown waiting time, or take
separate appointments. It was the latter that resulted in my being the only
single in the waiting room on the day of the sperm sample. Out came a very
camp male nurse, carrying a tray with pots on, similar to an ice cream
seller at the cinema. "And who have we got today, for a sperm sample,
then?", he pouted. A few half hearted raised index fingers, a bit like
an auction room full of bidders. But this was no discreet auctioneer. "Come
on, then don't be shy". So gradually four of us rise from our chairs.
Naturally the other three have their wives with them. I've never been
self-conscious in my life, but this situation made me grimace internally
and I felt a right prat.
Fortunately wives were not required to accompany their
husbands as we were asked to follow the mincing tray carrier. That is apart
from the white wife of a large black guy who, we found out shortly, was
called Leroy. She followed him, patently aware that his pride was not going
to allow him to join this degrading spectacle. She was right. "Leroy,
darling, please do it for me!", she bleated, "Leroy, Leroy, don't
walk off. It's what we want." If it wasn't so pathetic it would be
hilarious. Not a word from Leroy, as he set off at pace down the corridor,
brushing past our nice boy chaperon, who, whilst guiding us through the
busy corridors of The Hammersmith Hospital, was telling us how we should
mark and package our completed sample pots. The clickety clickety of Mrs
Leroy's high heels faded into the distance as did her pleas for Leroy to
come back and do the business.
I didn't believe it could get any worse, but it could.
When we reached our destination, we were confronted by a single dark brown
door and told "I'm afraid there's only one room, so you'll have to
decide who goes first and take it in turns, hee hee!". For the first
one in, all he has to worry about is the fact that two guys are waiting
outside the door. For him to finish himself off and then he's on his toes
back to proud wifey. For the other two, of which I was one, we had to stand
outside 'The Tossers Room', in the corridor, trying not to notice the
smirks from all the passing staff and wait our turn. It is at times like
these that the Old Bulldog Spirit rears its head and one of the two has to
break the ice. Subtle as a brick, I ask "Have you had to come far?"
My brother in arms unfortunately was
so wound up by the occasion that he failed to see the irony of such a
question, and told me "He had come all the way from Darlington?".
He was 43 and he and his wife had been trying for kids for 16 years. A few
minutes later, the key rattles in the lock and out comes number 1,
smiley-faced, with his pot, labelled and correctly inserted in its plastic
bag, with his name on the side. His ordeal is over. For Darlington Dick
it's just about to begin.
In view of his lengthy journey and the fact that he had
probably spent much of the 4 hour drive to London thinking about very
little other than his attempt to prove once and for all that 16 years wait
hadn't been his bloody fault, he went next. It was 12.50 pm. as he entered
the room. Time passes very slowly when you are standing in a corridor
outside a room waiting for your turn. Shades of my years at Bablake School,
but for a slightly different reason. I'd usually been sent out the
classroom for being what I was about to go in and do on this occasion.
1.10, what the hell was he doing in there?
1.15, what if he's had a heart attack?
1.20, he must have had a heart attack, I better get a
1.22, the key turns slowly, and with a heave and a
stifled grunt the door gently opens. I see before me a shadow of the man
with whom I had shared intimate conversation some 32 minutes earlier. He
looked absolutely shattered. I couldn't resist a quick peek at his pot.
Maybe he thought he'd got to fill it!
So in I go. A room, with a single bed, a wash basin, a
toilet, a towel and 3 or 4 girlie magazines. Yes, courtesy of the National
Health, copies of Playboy, Fiesta and Mayfair. An instruction to wash one's
todger prior to commencement was obeyed and after a brief inspiring ogle at
the reader's wives pages, I do the necessary and label my pot. Whilst never
suffering from premature ejaculation, when required a quickie has always
been a passing option. So the job was completed and I tidied up and left.
Now unlike those before me, because I lived locally, I
had arranged to return in a few days for my results. They were to wait for
theirs. I, therefore, was going back to work and set off out of the main
entrance. Hanging on to the reception door post, I espy, Darlington Dick,
lighting his second cigarette off his first, desperately trying to get some
nicotine-tinged life back into his bedraggled body. "See you
then", says I. In almost double-take mode, mouth agape, he looks at me
as though I'm some sort of ghost and in a broad Geordie brogue says
"Wor, bloody Billy Wizz, eh!"
Six months after this we started the treatment in
earnest. This included the wife sniffing some substance and having regular
injections. I had to take a course of anti-biotics to ensure good healthy
spermies. Eventually the day arrived for eggs to taken and it was back to
the dreaded room to produce 'quality sperm'. Eighteen eggs collected.
Eighteen eggs fertilized. Macho man! Three fertilized eggs were put back
in, so we had a possibility of triplets, but I'm pleased to say that only
one started to take. We are fortunate to have in our possession a radically
enlarged photograph of the fertilized eggs, taken prior to re-insertion.
Very few parents have such an early likeness of their child and it remains
a very prized possession. Many more visits to the Hammersmith Hospital took
place, mainly due to us agreeing to being a study project for the
programme. I had asked early on why we, with a child already, were accepted
for the programme, when so many childless couples had to wait their turn. I
was told that such a programme needs to have successes and that we were a
likely to have a good prognosis. Success encourages others to try,
particularly those who pay privately and help fund the program for NHS
patients. We, therefore, were quite happy to help as much as we could.
Melanie had been kept in for the previous two weeks to
Katy's birth with high blood pressure problems. A hectic fortnight all
round, with me dropping Ian off at school, driving into work, leaving early
to pick him up, making dinner, visiting hospital and all with a broken toe,
sustained playing cricket.
The usual hospital-visit-talk took
place. Once the basic conversation of "How are you", "Oh
everything's OK", etc etc, we move on to the whispered gossip about
what each of the other women's problems are and why they're in.
Opposite Melanie was the largest black mama I've ever
seen called Lucinda. Such a delicate name and so hopelessly misused in her
case. She was "in" because of high blood pressure and was the
high-priestess of the ward. She would sit in the middle of her bed, completely
obliterating any sign of bed linen and, dour-faced, make her pronouncements
on who was going to have what sex of child. Not surprisingly, her success
rate was pretty high, which all helped towards her growing reputation as
the childbirth guru. Unfortunately her run of "guess the kid"
success, came to a sudden end, when she had another girl, number 3, instead
of the designated boy.
It transpired that during a previous pregnancy, she had
so much breast milk that she helped out those mothers erstwhile lacking in
the tit stakes. This again was not surprising as it seemed likely she could
have comfortably nourished half of the western world. Some years ago a
plane carrying an Argentinian rugby team crashed in the Andes of South
America and to keep themselves alive they had to eat the flesh of their
dead team-mates. If Lucinda had been on board, they could all have fed well
and she could still have lived!
I was phoned at 10.15 pm on May 30th 1991, and arrived
shortly after. Melanie was wheeled down to the delivery room and suddenly
started having strong pains. A quick check by the midwife revealed baby's
head was on the way and I'm suddenly asked to plug that monitor in, switch
it on, untie those robes and help with the birth. Not like Ian's birth this
one. Katy was born within twenty minutes of Melanie being taken to the
delivery room at Wycombe General Hospital. She caught us all a bit on the
hop. Ironic when her conception had been such a contrived event spread over
months. Katy was born weighing just 4lbs 2oz, so we were pleased that all 3
fertilized eggs hadn't taken because their chances of survival at probably
very low birth weights would have been slim.
So nearly nine years apart we finally had our perfect
family of a boy and a girl.
CAREER - MOVES
As I mentioned my first real job after
leaving school was as a Commercial apprentice with The East Midland
Electricity Board. My aims were to become a Cost & Management
Accountant, having always been good at figures. I remember the school's
career officer suggesting that such talents should be used in the
accountancy field. Sadly he failed to point out that to be an accountant,
particularly with a government controlled, as they were then, body, one
needed a charisma bypass.
Three years are inexplicable boredom followed. I would
always be the first to answer the phone in the Accounts Department. Not
because I was especially eager to work, but just so I could converse with
live people. The final crunch came when the chief accountant retired after
125 years service and they replaced him by merging the job with that of the
Admin Manager. No movement was to take place within the department. So I
started to look for another job.
My first effort was in fact the only failure I have ever
had in a job interview. Before the Electricity Board I had three interviews
and was offered positions at all three. The unfortunate failure was at a
company called Newage Engineering for the position of Assistant Buyer. The
interview went something like this.
"Good morning, Mr Covington"
"Have you had any experience of buying",
"Have you had any experience in engineering",
"Thank you, Mr Covington. Could you show the next
applicant in, please?"
Fortunately my next application was more successful and
on October 12th 1975, I started as a Commercial Clerk with the Michelin
Tyre Company, now PLC, in Coventry. The office moving in early 1978 to
Birmingham, which caused me a few travelling problems, particularly in my
extremely naff cars. During the first 4 years I spent quite a lot of time
travelling the country as a relief clerk. This was most rewarding
financially as, in those days, the company paid a set allowance and it was
up to the individual as to the standard of accommodation required. Needless
to say I stayed in some right dives, just to make some cash, which went
towards the deposit on my first house. In December 1979, I was offered the
job of Branch Manager in Hove, nr Brighton, Sussex.
As I look back today, this decision
has been, perhaps, the most important of my life so far. Although at the
time I suppose I took it fairly lightly. I had been brought up in the same
house for all of my 24 years. i had even bought the house off my parents
when I married. All my friends lived close by and I played football for 2
local teams. A move to the dizzy lifestyle of a seaside resort seemed most
attractive. I just didn't consider, at the time, how much of a change it
would make to my social life.
For my wife, Melanie, a native of
Weymouth, another seaside resort, the decision was not difficult. She had
no family in Coventry, apart from the in-laws, my parents, and although my
friends had become her friends they hadnít been together long enough to be
seen as† especially close buddies.
For me, an only child, the wrench was enormous. But these are my thoughts
now, at that time I couldn't wait for promotion, a new house and life by
We actually had a very good social life in Brighton. I
got involved in running a boys under 11 football team, I found a local pub,
where I was soon well accepted and Melanie found a good job, eventually.
Her first job in Brighton was as a nurse in the G.U.M. Department. For the
uninitiated, this department deals with diseases of the willy. Melanie has
always been a very outgoing person, who revels in the opportunity of
meeting and greeting former patients from her previous nursing on the ward
jobs. Everybody is all chatty and she loves to find out how they are, and
how their relations are that used to visit them. The whole meeting and
greeting scenario is very warm and friendly. Sadly persons who have
received treatment for social, or in most cases extremely unsocial,
diseases, tended to cross the street when they saw her.
Her next job was as a District Nurse. They even provided
her with a mini van. Her career was really taking off, finances were good
and holidays plentiful. Then she became pregnant and eventually had to give
up the job.
Although it would be totally wrong and grossly unfair to
blame the arrival of a child as the turning point in ones social life. It
is nevertheless a factor, in that no quick visits, together, to the pub,
for a curry, to the beach, a film, etc etc are now feasible. This situation
becomes even more apparent when one has neither sets of family nearby. The
arrival of Ian, whilst being wonderful and fulfilling, did make us think
more than once as to whether the move to Brighton was a sensible one.
The job that I had, was, without any
doubt, the easiest I had ever had, and, resultantly one of the more
difficult to be motivated in. By 10.30 every day, the paperwork would be
finished and thumbs would begin to be twiddled. I spent a great deal of the
free time available cataloguing my Polish stamp collection.
My Regional Manager, for whom I worked as his sort of
Admin Manager, was an absolute nut-case. I have never a true diagnozed
schizophrenic, but this man must surely have been close to it. He would
rant and rave at the most trivial matter. He would insist that my staff had
no respect for him and that I should get rid of them, just because they
only said "Morning", when he walked in instead of "Good
Morning, Mr Muden". On numerous occasions, he would complain to my
heirarchy that I wasn't treating him with the respect he deserved. Each
time he would later ring them back and say "Martin's doing an
excellent job, and it was all a misunderstanding". He was a real nasty
The level of work should have prepared me for the 14th
December 1983, when the decision was made to close various smaller centres.
Hove was on the list, so we were all made redundant. At the time my son was
5 months old, wife was not likely to return to work, I had a large mortgage
and Christmas is hardly a good time to look for a new job. From a financial
viewpoint the situation could hardly have been worse.
Fortunately in early January my
redundancy threat was removed and I was offered a company move to Exeter as
a relief Branch Manager. I started the new job, under difficult
circumstances, as I earned more than the resident Branch Manager and was
also perceived as a major threat to the established Commercial Clerk. This
relationship festered on, mainly because I deliberately didn't try to
compete with him, which made him even more aggrieved.
To begin with I lodged with one of the delivery drivers
and his wife, while my house move was going through. He was a qualified
snooker coach and a very good player, so my game improved in leaps and
bounds. I also managed to lose some weight and became quite fit, working
out at a local gym twice a week. We eventually moved into a house at
Honiton, which I lived in for about 6 months before my next move cropped up.
For some time I had become aware that the side of the
company that I was involved in was reducing manpower. Opportunities of even
returning to my previous status of having my own Branch were slim, let
alone promotion up the ladder. So much against my better instincts I
applied to be a sales representative.
With Michelin, such a transition is not a simple one.
Despite, by then, my 9 years service and Branch Manager status, I still had
to attend a selection board day in London. Ironically, my arch-rival had
also applied for the roadstaff training course, and we travelled to the
board together. As it worked out, he failed miserably and I was accepted
for the full 15 week sales training course. Another interesting policy of
this training course, is that one gives up one's right to a job should one
fail the course. Nothing like real pressure. Not difficult enough, being
away from the family for 15 weeks, video role-play, prospection calls etc,
the threat of the dole queue hangs over you throughout the course.
I completed the course, along with two others. Another
two were removed, unceremoniously, after 3 weeks. I found the training very
hard, not from an intellectual viewpoint, but from the loneliness of the
long distance salesman view. I remember an occasion at the end of a field
training day, during a three week major pressure session, where my trainer
had to mark all facets of my preparation, approach, sales ability, empathy,
et al. I returned to the hotel and was so unhappy, not only with the
training and the prospect of the pressure of the next day, but generally
not looking forward even to the future, that I was close to resigning.
At my posting interview, bearing in mind I now lived in
South West England, I was hoping for a sales ground somewhere nearby. The
then Road Staff Manager greeted me with, "Congratulations, Monsieur
Covington, you have successfully completed the course. You are to be posted
to Knorr Vitch". Now of all the places I had envisaged, Scandinavia
had not been on the list. I gaped at him. He was baled out my the Training
Manager, "Norwich in East Anglia". Hardly just up the road, me
thinks. Her indoors was not amused. She had got very comfortable, thank
you, in Devon. A visit to Weymouth to see her family was quite easy.
Norwich was not what we wanted.
Unfortunately, other than packing it all in, I had very
little option, so another company house move was to take place. We moved to
Taverham, just west of Norwich and I tried my best to sell to these strange
I had decided very early on that the reps life, long
term, was not for me. I enjoyed an office environment. Lots a chat and
building of working relationships. I hated virtually every moment of being
on the road, despite some amusing moments.
I had been asked to show a Nigerian visitor how we did
the sales job in the U.K. for a couple of days. He was a full blown tribal
chief, named Tunji Idowe. The bone through the nose was missing but the
tribal slash scars on his cheeks were there for all to see. Now, it has to
be said that the Nigerian Tribal Chief community in deepest Norfolk is
somewhat thin on the ground. So, much like a Royal visit, everybody came
out to see this strange looking creature with the Michelin man. Most were
very polite and asked sensible questions. That is apart from a fitter at a
tyre distributor in Norwich.
"Who had a go at you, then?", says he.
"Uugh!", says Tunji.
"The scars, who bottled ya, then?".
"These are my tribal marks, put on my skin to ward
off evil when I was baby", Tunji proudly explains.
"That must of ferkin' hurt!", states shocked
Tunji's next contribution to Norfolk
folklore was at an interestingly named abattoir, Pointers Pork. We
conducted the sales call amicably and set off from the workshop, across the
snow-covered car park towards my car, which was parked in front of the
"Tunji, need toilet", he bleats
"No problem, follow me", says I.
But no. When Tunji wants to go, Tunji has to go. I turn
to see him, unpacking his lunch box, peeing into the snow. He is using both
There is something infantile that comes over most men
when they have the necessity to pee in newly formed snow. This being, the
writing of our initials, yellow on white. It would appear that this pastime
is indeed universally followed. The only slight modification with Tunji,
was that he chose to write the full given names of his 6 wives and 11
children, all around the car park.
Social life at Taverham was quite
good, although most friends came via toddler groups and ultimately school.
I resurrected my football playing career in a very successful,
top-goalscoring season with British Telecomm.
But, my career aim was still to get
off the road as soon as possible, and this meant getting noticed. It was
very unlikely, in my opinion that a rep in Norfolk was going to get
anywhere and I could envisage stagnating, as did my predecessor, eventually
making calls on only 2 days a week and playing a mean game of golf. Looking
back, this may have been the better option, but at 29 years of age,
retirement was a little premature. The decision was made. I volunteered to
be transferred to London, where my previous Regional Manager had now been
posted. After one refusal the suggestion was taken up and we embarked on
our last house move, to date, to High Wycombe. I still hated the job, but
at least I was going to be noticed. I also figured that eventually I would
move into Head Office, which would eventually move to the Midlands and I
would make a killing on the sale of the house. Misguided as usual!
Everybody who was anybody, and a few that were nobody,
worked with me in West London and I obviously must have impressed somebody,
because I was brought in from the cold to front Road Staff Administration
department in Harrow, Head Office in 1989.
The rest of the story might be told, or it might not !