It is over thirty years since I ventured to London – just as Maggie Thatcher came to power in fact. I was reminded of this listening to a radio show yesterday where young Scots were talking about moving south in the search for work.
When I went as a nineteen year old, I couldn’t believe the jobs I was offered in the space of a week just popping into employment agencies. I was offered a good job by Michael Heseltine’s Haymarket Publishing, Avco Finance, Citicorp and various jobs selling office equipment.
I took one of these with Olympia Business Machines (how dated does that sound?) selling state of the art typewriters, photocopiers and a new fangled thing called a fax machine.
There was a good basic and commission a bonus scheme and most importantly, a company car (Firstly a Chevette Estate and then after a few months, a brand new Ford Cortina.)
I was Jack the Lad. The job I’d left in Scotland paid less than half of my basic wage in London and I was struggling to run an ancient Renault 12.
Reality hit when I was sent out into my area with a bunch of leaflets and business cards. Go forth and sell! was the cry. My ‘area’ was a square mile of London W1 bordered by Edgware Rd and Tottenham Court Rd East to West and Euston Rd and Oxford Street north to south. Whilst my area included Broadcasting House and many prestigious companies, the hope of selling to these organisations was remote at best.
Much of the area was occupied by the ‘rag trade’. Often owned by Jewish proprietors with one or maybe two, sometimes more, machinists making clothes. I would cold call buildings which could contain eight such businesses in places like Great Portland Street.
Some of the ‘patter’ of the owners of these operations was brilliant. I knocked on the door of one of them one day (Goldstein and Blood or something) and smiling, did my speil. At the end of it the trilby wearing cigar chewing proprietor said “Typewriter? typewriter? what do I need with a typewriter Scottie? I got a pencil! No! I don’t need no calculator – too slow for me you see! now time’s money son – good luck but I got work to do!”
I cold called the rest of the building and was leaving rather dejectedly when I heard the Yiddish tones of Mr Goldstein of Goldstein, blood out of a stone incorporated.
“Oi!!! Olivetti! Come here!”
“Olympia!” I said.
“Olympia Sholympia – whatever”
“Listen Jock my pencil’s broke! I’m gonna talk to you about discount on yer machines!”
It turned out he had had a thought of buying a typewriter for his daughter’s birthday. He ordered one of the better manual portable ones at about £100. I told him it’d be delivered next day by our van. “No no! Scottie! you deliver it in person and show me how to work the bloody thing!”
I did just that. The guy had secured the top discount but after me showing him all the features of the machine, he said “Thanks Scottie – nah ‘ere’s a drink for yer bovver” and handed me a tenner!
During my time in London on an almost daily basis I would pass rock stars in the street, I once sold a calculator to Chas Chandler (the Animals/Jimi Hendrix mentor) and helped a colleague deliver a photocopier to Alan Whicker.
Perhaps the most satisfying thing though was selling that typewriter to Mr Goldstein AND getting a tip!
The older reps in the office couldn’t believe it. They concluded that it had something to do with Scots being meaner than Jews! (their words not mine!)
I just thought if I could sell a typewriter in rag trade land I could sell snow to eskimos!
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