Everything that you ever wanted to
know about the Covington name
A BETTER PLACE TO BE Ė My autobiography, Part 1 1956 to 1991
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 the boys.
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 to all.
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 coiffure experience.
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 reading it.
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 visiting mid-afternoon.
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 family tea!
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 vaudeville flair.
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 other's position!
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 it drop.
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 depressing.
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 would today.
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 to speak.
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 out once.
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 acrimoniously.
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 gorgeous, with lovely long brown crimped hair. Like myself, she loved rock music & we really clicked with each other, although she was younger than me.
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 few 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.
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, life experience and, of course, was earning money. The prospect of joint costs, wider horizons and a lively sex life 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 badly hurt.
The relationship with Chris started well enough, joint costs, wider horizons, but no lively sex, or any-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 go sometime!
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 old.
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 football.
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 own passes.
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 included.
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 the holiday.
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 Harbour 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 than her.
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 mother.
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 own clubs!
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 work".
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 humour.
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 nurse!
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", "No".
"Have you had any experience in engineering", "No".
"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 the sea.
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 bastard.
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 Norfolkers.
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 fitter.
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 office block.
"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 hands!
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 !