Celtic Illumination, part 264, Izzy wizzy, let’s get busy
I was so uninformed about Civvie Street it was embarrassing. If all you have ever known is life in the armed forces then Civvie Street is a completely different world. In the forces you did the job, there was no thought about overtime or rates of pay, the job, being completed satisfactorily and on time was the whole objective. There was of course the basic understanding that most people were paid some sort of rate and your job was to aim as high as possible. I suppose if I had been money orientated I should have gone to air traffic control. Even in this day and age it is still spoken about in reverential terms. The job is boring in the extreme and could be done by a shaved monkey. However the one key element that prevailed in the forces and was, and is, endemic in the world of air traffic control was pretence.
Air traffic control is a career for average people who will think themselves special. It’s the same as social workers calling themselves professional. In fact in the air force there was a group of people from the air traffic control school in Shawbury who would visit units and examine the controllers. Can you think of any profession where you have to be tested every couple of years, in case you have forgotten everything. Air traffickers will tell you that this is not the case; they are very clever people who wish to maintain high professional standards. Yeah, perhaps we could have doctors and dentists examined every couple of years to make sure they haven’t forgotten everything. The job of air traffic was, for me, mind numbingly boring, I couldn’t stand it so there was no point in me even considering a career in air traffic.
I was lucky enough to find a job as an advertising executive in publishing. Impressed? Well don’t be, as I said, I had a lot to learn about Civvie Street. I was working for a company based in Lytham Saint Anne’s, a small seaside village outside Blackpool. I was given a company car, with telephone, and promised as much work as I could handle. The first problem was that there were no wages; I would be employed on a self-employed basis. No problem there, I was young fit and able man, hungry to succeed. Oh and by the way, you have to pay for the car and telephone weekly. So rather than start your week from zero and building on that, you started from a minus position, aiming for zero, after which you could start to earn money.
I was told that we were a publishing company working exclusively for estate agents and solicitors. Because the housing market was growing so rapidly estate agents and solicitors wanted as much of it as they could get. When people went into an estate agents office, or a solicitors office who dealt with property, any information given to them was presented in a lovely glossy file. If the information was to be sent out via the postal service then the envelope would be a glossy affair. My job was to sell advertising on these products. So you would be given an estate agent or solicitor and could spend up to two weeks with them, although the quicker you sold the product the better it was for you.
The job would take me all over the United Kingdom something I was looking forward to, as I loved getting out and about, meeting new people and of course getting together with old friends. I spent my first two weeks being taught the job by some fellow from Southport. We were in a town called Mansfield. The guy I was with was a nice chap, quite laid back. We arrived at an estate agents office and waited to meet the fellow in charge. I had been used to officers in the air force pretending to be posh but this guy was off the scale. For starters he tried to make excuse after excuse not to meet us; we could talk to his assistant or his secretary. His time really was very valuable indeed. He actually seemed to be in pain having to talk to us and I suppose he was the first estate agent I met who began to show me that they were in the same vein as air traffickers, it was all pretence.
Estate agents have no real training or professional background; they’re sneaky little salesmen and women who pretend they are professional. I will admit that certain estate agents do have some form of professional background such as surveying or the like, but the majority of them are salesmen and bad ones at that. Our job was to get a list of his contacts, or who he would like being associated with. For an estate agent we would want a local removals firm, a solicitor, a local builder, and basically anyone associated with house purchase or maintenance. We would then go away and telephone everyone on the list saying that if they wanted to get, or to keep getting, business referrals from the estate agent they should take an advert out on his new promotional product. The envelopes and files cost the estate agent nothing, the advertising paid for it all.
But well done to those of you who have seen through the veil of smoke and the wall of mirrors. What I was doing was not sales, I wasn’t really an advertising or publishing executive, what I was involved in was blackmail. Once again, successful sales people will tell me that I don’t understand what is going on, that this is business. I see, so, for me to say to someone if you want more business from this fellow you will give me money, is business. Why did I have an image of Robert De Niro in my head when I typed that, it probably is like something you would have seen in the gangster movie Goodfellas. I could see that I was not going to fit in with this job and I hadn’t even finished my training.
Being thick headed and in a bit of a rut I decided to give it a go anyway. My first estate agent was in a Scottish town called, Irvine. It was going to be interesting for a number of reasons. I had my sharp suits, blue briefcase and my lovely little car and telephone, so I looked the part. Only problem was that I had a limited amount of money. I had a choice, I could book four nights in a bed and breakfast joint and not eat for the week, apart from breakfast, or I could sleep in the car and eat. I opted for the sleeping in the car routine and was surprised that I was actually going to use my military survival skills for real. Irvine was on the coast so I was able to find a small car park surrounded by sand dunes where I would park up every evening and not be annoyed by passing traffic.
It was a tough week but I was determined to get through it. I have to admit that the estate agent was a very nice man indeed; in fact of all the estate agents I have met; only two could be considered to be real human beings and this fellow was one. We got on well together, had a laugh and I sold the whole publication in one week. The company were pleased and I was pleased. I even have to admit that I went over to Prestwick where there were a large air traffic set up, the Scottish Air Traffic Control Centre. I knew half a dozen of the guys there and managed to link up with some of them who shared a house. I spent one night on their couch and was able to have a decent scrub at a bathroom sink rather than a field shower in a car park with a bottle of water.
It was an interesting week but I had managed to get through it and earn some money. The next week I could afford bed and breakfast and I could eat too. My next estate agent was in Taunton in Somerset, the other end of the country, I was quite happy with that, not because of Taunton but because a very good friend of mine, Tim Lort, was working close by, I was looking forward to meeting up with him, I only hoped my liver could stand it.