Monday 25 July 2016


Years ago, I completed a personality quiz that asked if I'd ever stolen something, apart from stationery, from my employer.  If I'd been rigged up to a galvanic-skin-response apparatus, I would have tinkled the bell because of the 'apart from stationery'. I know people who are really rigid about this but I'm not one of them. The second job I had after leaving school, after a few months as a hospital orderly, was working as a rep for a major UK publishing company.  It was a cunning plan: I was given a map and a van and 100 boxes of primary school text-books. The Mission was to deliver a box to each pink-blob-identified primary school one week and collect them the next. I covered Devon, Dorset, & Bedfordshire before the school year petered out in June.  It was good fun if a bit lonely in the evenings.

I was paid buttons plus expenses and had to return to head office in Basingstoke periodically to give the management feedback on the uptake of the books and pass on a stack of receipts for diesel and B&B accommodation. For every B&B receipt, which were often hand-written and torn from a generic docket book, I could claim a per diem on the assumption that if I'd been away from home, I must have eaten lunch and dinner some place.  It's so long ago that the standard the cost of a night's accommodation was £1.50! Memorably, I rocked up to a transport caff one evening and got B&B and an evening meal for £1.25. The proprietor was at pains to have us note that he didn't serve chips - truckers ate far too many chips in his opinion - so we got meat & two veg and pudding and custard. I think I had to share a room for that price. After the first set of accounts and a debriefing (nothing to do with knickers here), my line manager (!!) told me that if I altered 
a night's B&B = £1.50
3 night's B&B = £4.50   [everyone would ignore the misplaced apostrophe]
then I could claim 3 per diems and sleep in the back of the van . . . just a suggestion, he muttered, they pay you nothing & sixpence and you're registering a significant profit for the company. Next accounting season, I brought a mat and a sleeping bag and only slept in B&Bs that were precisely £1.50.  The other mornings I woke up in some really nice places and some municipal car-parks. Once, memorably, I picked up two hitch-hiking sailors on leave from Plymouth and finished up getting legless in Tintagel. We all three fell dead drunk into the van long after midnight and woke to a spectacular cliff-top view full of Arthurian romance.

They started me off in a rented 2 tonne Luton-head van [R on ebay antiques] but this was far too big for the narrow country lanes of Devon. After I sheared off the rear door hinges reversing out of narrow dead-ends, I was transferred to a handier van which was a little too crowded for convenient sleeping. I learned a good bit on that gig: 
  • That the job of a regular sales rep was a bit of a doddle. I went for a week's training with the SW England sales rep who managed to clock in at 2 secondary schools a day and had a 2 hour lunch-break. If he was feeling particularly energetic he'd turn up at a couple of primary schools as well, but if none was convenient we'd knock off at 4.30 and head for the hotel bar.
  • That everyone in the B&B business felt entitled to charge £1.50/night despite a very wide range in cleanliness, hospitality and what was considered 'breakfast' for a working man away from home.
  • That no women were on the road in the sales business.
  • That insisting on strictly accurate accounting only made the accountant's own job harder.
  • That most people are kind
Your dropped wallet is safe with me, I'll find you and return it.

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