Thursday, 16 December 2010

The Sleeping Salesman

Becoming a sales rep for an airline was not in my immediate plans. I had a much better idea that involved sex and travel. It was my dad who steered me away from my depraved plans by using his influence to get me into sales and I have never been sure whether I should have thanked him or not. Let me explain.

There were four of us. All good mates, working in the reservations office of British Airways and all with a keen interest in football, pubs, late night curries and the female of the species. The only small things we lacked were money, finesse and charm so one night we sat around a grubby pub table in Hampton and decided something had to be done.

I think it was Roger that had the idea. Why not become cabin crew? Most of the stewards we knew were wealthy and most importantly both gay and surrounded by pretty women in exotic locations. What if we with our heterosexual testosterone fuelled bodies joined up? It would be like a pack of horny foxes let loose in a hen house. Well that’s what we thought.

For some reason my mum and dad was appalled at the idea. They expected their son to become a captain of industry not a global gigolo and they immediately hatched a plan to divert me. Unknown to me they spoke to a godfather I never knew I had who was a big noise in Varig Brazilian Airlines who in turn told his poor UK GM to offer me a job in his sales department. So that is the route I took while my mates had a whale of a time until it became too much for them!

So here I was. It was my first week in Varig and I had been given the area of London SW1 to cover. I was keen as mustard to go out there and tell interested companies and agencies about the sheer joy of flying Varig to Brazil. I think my colleagues were less impressed as everyone bar me seemed to know how I got the job. Anyway, off I went with my squeaky new cheap suit and a shiny black suitcase my mum bought me with the same pride as my first school satchel. Shame it only contained a Sun newspaper and a tube of Toffee sweets.

Each rep had at lest one really big and all important office to visit and mine was a company called Wakefield Fortune (later to become HRG) in Milbank by the Thames. I did not know much about it apart from its importance and that I was to be ‘very careful’ by a helpful and possibly malicious colleague. So off I went with my eyes bright and my wits unprepared into one of the hottest days of the year. Life could not get better than this I thought as I strode through St James Park in the sunshine on the way to what became a very steep learning curve.

The entrance to the office was daunting. It was one of those very old and grand buildings and I marched through it with flagging confidence. The temperature changed immediately from hot to cool and there, ready to meet me was the manager called Peter. He greeted me warmly but in a similar way to that of Count Dracula welcoming Jonathon Harker into his castle.

He was very interested in me. He particularly wanted to know how experienced I was and promised, with a glint in his eye, to ‘show me the ropes’. He explained that it was pointless me walking around the office to speak to all his staff and it would be best if he sent them to see me in groups. He explained he did not have a convenient place to do this so he harmlessly suggested I based myself in the pub across the road and they would come over in shifts. How very kind, I all too innocently thought. It became a late morning, lunch and afternoon I would never forget. Actually that is not quite true because I don’t remember much, but what I do remember I will not forget….if that makes sense?

The first group arrived with Peter as a willing escort. Break the ice he said, buy them all a drink. I started trying to take their orders and Peter said not to worry as Reg behind the bar would be willing to do that and keep a tab for me. Oh what a fool I was. It turned out there were at least fifty staff and they all liked spirits and they were all thirsty. I tried to talk about Brazil but they were all far more interested in football, drinking and the opposite sex which was an amazing coincidence as they are my favourite subjects too.

Suddenly it was three in the afternoon and they had gone. I was sat there in the middle of a load of empty glasses and spilt peanuts with a queasy feeling in my stomach. The beginning of the mother of all headaches was growing behind my eyes and Reg was standing in front of me with a bill bigger than an entire month’s expenses. You bloody mug he muttered under his breath as I gave him all my money and tottered out of the door into bright sunlight. I even forgot the cardinal rule of all reps which is always get a receipt.

My head was spinning and the sun was burning. I started walking back through St James Park trying to rehearse what the hell I was going to say to my new boss. I had enough sense not to return to the office drunk so I thought I would just lie down on the grass for a few minutes until I felt more sober. Sitting on the ground I thought I can’t lie on my shirt because I would get grass stains on the it so I took it off and settled down.

I woke with a jump. Most people had left while I was asleep and there I was, two hours later, feeling like the living dead and probably looking like a corpse too. I then realised I was feeling something on me and, as I lay, there I pushed my chin down so I could see what was lying on my chest. The first thing I observed was that I was badly burnt. Then to my growing horror I realised that what was on my chest was my boss’s business card. The man had clearly walked past and seen me. He had not woken me, but simply left his calling card as a menacing invitation to visit him in his office on my return.

The horror of it. My first week in a semi resentful office and I had spent all my company money, got drunk and passed out in the local park. You prat I thought!
I gingerly got up and put my crumpled shirt back on to cover the worst of my burns. It was then that I noticed that he must have spotted me quite early because my skin under the card was as white as a sheet. In fact for the whole of that summer I went around with a lighter business card shape in the centre of my chest. It took a lot of explaining I can tell you.

Amazingly I survived my experience. Wakefield Fortune and Peter in particular were notorious and my humiliation was seen more as a baptism of fire than a disciplinary offence. Later in my career I worked alongside Peter and gained my revenge many times over!

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