New Year’s Day 2019 was crisp and cold; the weak sun shone out of an impossibly bright blue sky – making it an ideal morning to investigate the Phoenix Green Annual Classic Vehicle meet.
At any other time of the year, Phoenix Green in Hampshire is more of a transit village than a destination. Lying astride the main A30 trunk road, two and a half miles north east of the town of Hook, its normally just another “A” road connecting Staines-upon-Thames with Basingstoke.
All of that changes on the first of January every year.
The main focal point of the village is the Phoenix Inn, a magnificent old building, dating back to the 1700s.
It is also the ancestral home of the Vintage Sports Car Club, which was founded at the Phoenix Green Garage, and is now a veritable mecca for classic and sports car enthusiasts and the vintage motorcycle fraternity.
This is the opening event of the year for the south-east England classic vehicle community, and attracts all sorts of historic vehicles, from military trucks to vintage and veteran cars. There are normally contingents from owners’ clubs, intermingling with private owners and collectors.
The event is in no way formally organised, and exhibitors and participants just arrive in the village and find somewhere to park. There is absolutely no Police presence, and vehicles of all descriptions are parked on the hard shoulder, the central reservation and the verges, and it all appears to run safely and happily.
We arrived mid-morning, and already the pretty old village was packed with vehicles, and there was a relaxed party atmosphere, as villagers and visitors wandered up and down, admiring the beautifully restored cars and motorcycles.
The Phoenix Pub is heavily involved in supporting the event, giving over their car park for restored cars and concours motorcycles to be displayed. They were also busy refuelling the spectators and drivers alike, providing mulled wine and hot food outside, in addition to serving meals and drinks inside the pub restaurant.
Having walked up and down both sides of the road through the village, I was a little surprised to have counted five McLaren supercars, each with a price tag of at least £160,000, an absolutely pristine Aston Martin DB6 with a provenance that valued it in excess of £500,000, £60,000 worth of Series 1 Land Rover, a drool-inducing Chevrolet Corvette in searing red which would purge at least £40,000 from the bank balance, and a wonderfully restored Scammell military truck with a street value of about £25,000.
Add in about thirty classic vintage motorcycles, and variegated other marques and models spanning both the last seventy years and the Atlantic Ocean, and the investment parked up haphazardly along the main road was in excess of £1,950,000.
This event is well worth a visit – unless you happen to be a motor insurance underwriter, in which case it would be best to stay at home.
Just in case.
So, better make a note in your diary for next year!
I’m sitting here in the early evening enjoying my back garden, listening to the birds as I mull over this article. My terrace is bathed in warm, golden sunlight, as Sol starts to dip majestically behind the trees lining the nature reserve.
I am so very fortunate. I have managed to make the right decisions – either by luck, intuititon, or skill, that have resulted in me living in a beautiful part of the UK. Or it could be SWMBO’s excellent judgement.
I don’t question SWMBO’s judgement – she is, after all, with me, so her decision making and judgement skills are refined.
I live in Hampshire which, like most of the UK, has a timeline of civilisation that extends 14,000 years into the past.
Roman Emperor Claudius invaded Britain in AD 43 and shortly thereafter (in the larger scale of things), Winchester became the County Town of Hampshire.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with the British concept of county towns – a county town was the ancient equivalent of of a capital city, but at county level. Traditionally, a county town is the most important or significant town in a county.
Winchester is not only the county town of Hampshire, but also a city in the truest sense of the definition.
In the UK, most people use the term “city” to describe any large town, but the status of a city was traditionally only given to towns that had a Cathedral – King Henry the Eighth establishing the first ones during his reign. To this day, the UK’s monarch has to grant city status to any town.
Winchester cathedral was consecrated in 1093, and is a wonderful old building, which seems to have history seeping out of its walls and emanating from its very fabric.
Winchester is about 24 miles west of where I live. It is a beautiful old city. It is where the ancient English King, Alfred had his royal seat.
The old part of the city, in which the ancient cathedral sits, is a maze of tiny cobbled streets and lanes.
The area in which I live is also historic. There has been a human settlement here at least since the 14th Century; the Roman army crossed the River Wey at Lindford, about 1 mile away, whilst en-route to battle in the west of the county in the early part of the the last millenium. The crossing over the local stream has been here since 1350, but the current bridge was refurbished in 2008.
So, we are in Lockdown.
According to Her Majesty’s Government (HMG), we are allowed to exercise once a day. So, this last Sunday, SWMBO and I decided that we would partake of some gentle exercise in the form a walk through the Deadwater Valley Nature Reserve.
It was a beautiful afternoon, with a light zephyr tousling the crowns of the trees as we left the house. A six minute walk up the hill took us to the entrance of the nature trail.
The trail is cool, the smell of damp sphagnum moss mixed with that wonderful, rich, loamy, peaty aroma. The sunlight pierced the canopy with spears of golden light, impaling the shy bluebells and forget-me-nots hiding on the floor of the woods.
We continue wandering, sowly, drinking in the scents of the woodland. The information board informs me that this is a home to Stag Beetles, Slow Worms, Sparrowhawks, Red Admiral butterflies, Nuthatches and Goldfinches – together with the occassional Roe or Muncjac deer.
We plod on, hand in hand, humbled by the sheer abundance of plants, insects and wildlife.
We see few people on the trail; those that we do are keen to ensure that we all comply with the two metre separation. Sometimes, we yield to walkers coming towards us, standing in the undergrowth so tha they may pass. Natural selection seems to ensure that next time we meet fellow walkers, they hold back for us to pass.
However, the social niceties are maintained, with many “good afternoons”. “please”, “thank you” and “have a good one” as we contine our walk.
The trail isn’t crowded by any means; we are in solitude for most of it – just us, walking, talking, laughing. Soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying nature.
We continued on, walking generally north until we reached the exit point, where the new housing estate starts.
Not wanting to just return on the same route, we decide to wander through the small town suburbia and re-enter the reserve a little further down.
It’s a relief to leave the road once more, lined as it is, with high density housing, and populated with bus stops, garage blocks and parking bays.
We re-enter the reserve, skirting the sticky muddy morass near the stile, and test the waterproof capabilities of our footwear as we stride on through the silty puddles that surround the more glutinous mud.
Looking at the tracks in the earth, I immediately deduce that the trail is used by mountain bikers, hikers, walkers, children and dogs.
Eat your heart out Sherlock Holmes. Go back to your flat Hercule Poirot.
Whilst the nature reserve isn’t large, we have never visited before, so I was happy that I had a fully paid up account with the Ordnance Survey, and had access to excellent charts.
Using the app, we quickly planned how we would return to the end of the park nearest our home.
Our route back took us past a picturesque pond, which, according to the information board, was home to Toads, Frogs, Herons and Dragonflies.
Sadly, we didn’t see any of them, but it has given me an excuse to come back again to check it out more regularly.
I would not necessarily have discovered this wonderful place if I hadn’t been on lockdown – so something good has come about as a result of COVID19.
My day today has been filled with catching up on various tasks around the house, so maybe tomorrow I will dig my bike out, and go and explore in a bit more detail.
A great way to do an hours exercise without having to go to the gym, which I find abhorrent at the best of times.
Unless you have been living on the Cook Islands for the last few months, you will have heard of Corona Virus, now known as COVID 19.
The virus is officially a global pandemic, and is now rampaging across every continent, leaving a trail of dead.
Here in the United Kingdom, we are in a state of national emergency, and state-sanctioned lockdown is in effect, with only absolutley essential journeys authorised. All retail shops except those selling essential supplies such as food, maedicines and perhaps bizzarely, alcohol are closed.
The London Underground has shut stations across its network, and passengers figures are plummeting.
Working at home has been the norm for many workers. As a result, the economy is in freefall, with the retail and hospitality sectors being worst hit. Clubs, pubs, cinemas, churches, sports centres, museums and public buildings are now all closed for the immediate future.
The aviation and maritime sectors have been quick to feel the impact of travel restrictions, and many airports are struggling as flights have become virtually non-existent, passenger traffic stagnated, and many airlines now trying to mitigate their losses by flying freight.
Whilst the global shutdown is severely damaging both our manufacturing and financial economies, we are reaping some form of benefit; pollution levels have dropped across the planet, and air quality is improving.
It’s not just transport that contributes to atmospheric pollution – industrial and manufacturing activities have fallen across the UK and Europe as countries shutdown their economies to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
This shows that it is possible to stop climate change, but the societal costs are far too high to make this acceptable.
I do believe that when the virus is contained or burnt out, we will emerge from lockdown and social distancing as a changed society.
So, what may happen?
Many firms that up until recently were resistant to their employees working remotely will have seen that some of their “trust issues” have been proved to be unfounded and that staff have been as productive, if not more productive that when working at the office.
Bearing in mind the cost of office space, many companies may find the savings realised by using smaller premises make remote working desirable.
After a major pandemic such as this one, people may be far more cautious about personal hygeine, and become much more concerned to see that public areas are properly sanitised. This could have an effect on the practice of hot desking at work.
The travelling public will probably also need to see evidence that public transport is cleaned and sanitised far more regulalrly and effectively than currently.
The lack of public trust in the health security of public transport could trigger more car use, as people seek to protect themselves with more regularised self isolating. Even car sharing could become less popular as people choose not ot sit in close proximity with another individual on their commute.
Who can really say?
If thousands more people take up remote working, there may well be more economic pain ahead for public transport operators.
Railway and air journeys that used to be undertaken for business meetings may well now be conducted using video conferencing using internet platforms such as Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams.
Will our current level of communications network provision be sufficient to accommodate this?
Individuals that were reluctant to order shopping on-line, or use home delivery services prior to COVID 19 have now been using them out of necessity, and many of these people will now be sold on the advantages, leading to further decline of England’s high streets.
Individuals that were previously regular patrons of theatre and cinema will have become adept at streaming movies and watching “live” performances from the comfort of their own homes, using YouTube, Netflix or Amazon Prime.
The question is – will they return to the cinemas and thatres with quite the same degree of regularity as they did before?
It seems that the mainstream media have been focusing on the leisure and retail industries and whilst they do report on the struggle for our manufacturing industries, they do not highlight the underlying problems.
In the UK there is evidence that our contingency planning for a “Hard Brexit” triggered our government to closely examine our logisitcal supply chains with the involvement of the retail and distirbution industries, and this has surely helped ensure that truly essential items remained on the supermarket shelves, despite the media-induced panic buying.
The other aspect to this is the lack of resilience that our manufacturers have against supply chain failures.
Whilst numerous products are proudly made here in the UK, few are totally built here. Huge numbers of manufacturers import sub-assemblies, parts and components from overseas which are used to build their product.
The world’s biggest exporter, China, is, to all intents and purposes, the birthplace of COVID19, and also its primary exporter. The subsequent lockdown of the Chinese economy led to an abundance of British manufacturers struggling to obtain the raw materials, parts, components and sub-components needed to build and sell their own products..
This may result in a baseline realignment of our logisitical networks, and maybe re-initiate inward investment.
Who knows, we may see a slow transformation back into a manufacturing economy again.
This is a bit of a mixed bag then; at more localised levels the possible resulting drop in bus and train usage could lead to more cars on the road, each contributing to climate change. On the other hand, more people at home reduces traffic of any kind on the roads.
There are so many possible futures that could result from the aftermath of CV19, which only action at government level can establish.
This could be a great opportunity for each state to re-evaluate its’s strategies for handling pandemics, and may trigger new systems to increase the robustness of manufacturing bases.
Who knows, it may even give us the required impetus to design an improved model for society that will offer progress on controlling our nemesis of irreversible climate change.
Stellenbosch Airfield sits 414 feet above sea leavel, just to the South West of the small town of Stellenbosch, in South Africa.
Whilst Stellenbosch may be regarded as a medium-sized town, it does have a population in excess of 77,000 and has its own University.
Stellenbosch is also located squarely in the Cape Winelands, sharing this beautiful area with the towns of Paarl and Franschoek.
We had decided that we wanted to get to know more about South African wines, and what better place to discover the finer points than to tour some of the one hundred and fifty-odd vineyards and wineries along the Stellenbosch Wine Route.
Needless to say, we allowed for a full day of just cruising around the different venues, sampling the wine, and enjoying the Cape Dutch architecture, which I think has a timeless elegance.
So, having had a full day of cruising some lovely countryside, and meeting some really nice people, we drove back to our Bed and Breakfast accommodation to shower and change, and then we hit the town and found a place to eat.
The next day, I had cunningly (or not so cunningly, as SWMBO knew all about it) booked an aeroplane at the Stellenbosch Flying Club. The aircraft was booked for 1400, so we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, and then had a wander around the town.
Arriving at the Flying Club, I could see that the distant mountains were wreathed in clouds, but it was still VFR, and therefore still flyable.
I was flying with an instructor, as I wanted to see the local area, and after the swift obligatory checks of my licence, ratings and medical, we walked out to ZS-BFC, a Piper PA28-180 Warrior.
A quick preflight inspection and we started up, taxied out, and then we were off, climbing out to the north-west.
Our flight was to route via the Franschhoek Pass, and head south-east down the valley, and then once out of the constraints of the mountains we would turn back northeast, and head up to the small airport of Worcester.
You can tell that this area has been historically influenced by its colonists; Most of the town names were either Dutch-Boer or English – hence Stellenbosch and Paarl, Worcester and Robinson.
In fact, Stellenbosch was actually a British military garrison town during the Boer War (1899-1902).
The climb out was quite turbulent, as there was a reasonable amount of rotor and turbulence rolling off the mountains, and with three onboard, the aircraft was a bit of a handful.
Dirk, the instructor was happy to let me pole the aircraft around, and sat there pointing out landmarks, and giving me headings to steer to enable me to safely enter the Franschhoek Pass. By this time, we were flying quite high, and I was playfully stroking the cumulus with the wingtips, whilst ensuring that I kept in the middle of the valley.
It was alll updrafts and downdrafts, but great fun, and a real experience,
The most thrilling aspect of this for me was that I had never been true mountain flying before. A few years previously, whilst hours building in Southern California, I took training to get checked out to fly in to Big Bear (L35) which sits at an elevation of 6,752 feet.
Part of my lesson back then was to appreciate that even in a turbo-powered Piper Arrow with retractable gear, the rate of climb at 12,000 feet was negligible.
Once over the mountains, dropping down to Big Bear City was fairly simple, but decelerating on touchdown seemed longer. Take off was different too, having to lean the engine before I even lined up, and boy, I used up a hell of a lot of the 1783m of tarmac before I dragged the reluctant aeroplane into the air.
This flight was positively ethereal, creeping down narrow canyons, with the peaks rising majestically either side (and above!), and the dunn browns and ochres of the flatlands slowly morphing into flint greys and olive greens of the mountain passes.
At Dirk’s behest, I rolled the aircraft gently to the right, and the pass we entered almost immediately opened out into a vast valley, illuminated as if it were a religious painting by bright, golden sunlight that bathed the countless vineyards in a golden glow. This highlighted the variegated colours – deep reds, violets, yellows and shades in between.
I imagine that this is the South African version of New England in the fall.
We continued to fly, eventually dipping down into Worcester, where we quickly gained clearance for a touch and go, and thence onwards to the smaller airfield of Robinson, to the east.
Another touch and go, and then we routed back to Stellenbosch using a more northerly routing, returning back via Duiwelskloof Pass, to the east of Paarl, and then back to recover at Stellenbosch.
After landing, and putting the aircraft to bed, we enjoyed a slow meander back into Stellenbosch, to enjoy a great supper washed down with some of the best wines in the world.
I look forward to my next trip abroad.
Maybe I should consider South America? Perhaps Argentina. They should have a few Cessnas and Pipers that I could lay hands on for a potter.
Tomorrow is the date at which the clocks go forwards by one hour, moving us instantly from Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) to British Summer Time (BST).
This has been happening every year since the Summer Time Act was passed by Parliament in 1916, whilst the Great War was raging in Europe. Placing the clocks an hour ahead gave workers an extra hour of daylight in the evening, enabling greater productivity for the war machine.
After World War One the annual changes to the clocks continued ping-ponging back and forth between BST and GMT.
World War Two started in September 1939, and by 1941 the UK was on Double Summertime (DST). This was achieved by putting the clocks forward in spring 1940 and not putting them back to GMT at the end of Autumn. In spring 1941, the clocks were advanced by an hour again – giving even more daylight to aid productivity.
This went on until autumn 1947, when the clocks went back completely to GMT.
Despite a parliamentary enquiry conducted in the late 1950s, involving 180 organisations, which concluded that there was a slight preference to remain on GMT +1 throughout the year, Britain stayed with the system
Why am I telling you all this?
Well, its because I’m in two minds about this.
Research conducted by the University of Colorado (Boulder) has shown conclusively that the fatal car accident rate spikes by 6% during the working week following the clocks being moved forward into Daylight Saving Time (DST). As the research only studied fatal accidents, it may be reasonably assumed that the underlying rate for all accidents will increase.
A further study published by Vanderbilt University’s Medical Unit shows that there is a negative impact upon health during the transition from statndard time to daylight saving time.
The cumulative effects of Daylight Saving Time can lead to increasing risks of heat attacks and ischaemic strokes
It appears that its not just the biannual one hour difference interfereing with our “body clock” or Circadian Rhythm – but the cumulative effects of this misalignment which takes up about eight months of the year.
It is the actual process of changing rather than which time reference is followed.
The European Union (EU) has voted to end Daylight Saving Time in autumn 2021. States within the EU have the choice of making their last change on the final sunday of March, or the final sunday of October, depending on whether they wish to have their standard time based on summertime or wintertime. This would naturally accommodate preferences according to geographic location.
So – moving the clocks back and forward is bad for health, and bad for accident rates.
On the other hand, there is a big argument for doing something more radical.
Lets stay on GMT+1 as our standard time.
Moving the clocks forward every spring, as we did in WW2, gives us effectively two hours more sunlight in the evening during summer, and one more hour of evening light in the winter.
Looking at this from an environmental perspective; extra light means less electrical demand for lighting in the summer, and during the winter months less demand for heat as well.
Research conducted by Cambridge University showed that an extra hour of sunlight every day during winter could save up to £485M ($604M US) annually.
A further benefit is a proportionate reduction in carbon emissions as well.
Now, lets think about trade. Disregarding Brexit, we still do a lot of trade with our neighbours in the EU. However, even the most western part of the continent is always an hour ahead of the UK, and eastern states such as Finland are two hours ahead.
This is an impediment to easy trade, so staying GMT+1 in winter, and GMT+2 in summer would keep us aligned with our european trading partners.
Tourism would also receive a big boost, with longer hours available when people are not working.
The Tourism Alliance estimated that an extra £3.5M ($435.9 US) of revenue would be generated in the UK as a result iof businesses staying open for longer. This would create an estimated 80,000 jobs.
Individuals would also gain about 235 hours of post-work daylight every year,
Now that’s got to be worth having!
What would people do with all of this extra daylight? Well., they would use the opportunity to play sports, visit parks and enjoy outdoor recreational activities.
This has a health benefit, as more people out exercising (Even if they are only walking or cycling to the pub!) means less people becoming unhealthy as a result of inactivity.
Human nature is such that we tend to stop outdoor activities when it gets dark. SImply readjusting our clocks so that “dark” coincides with “later” means we achieve more each day.
The extra hours of daylight could also reduce crime levels, as most criminals do like to do their “work” in the dark.
Well, I would like to use the old WW2 system of GMT+1/GMT+2. Ilike the idsea of an extra 235 useful hours every year. I like the idea of saving power and cutting emissions.
It does seem that on balance this could be the best option for business, the planet and us living on it.
When all things are connsidered, I have had a good life. A life that so far, has lasted almost 61 years,
I was born in 1959, one of the “end of the line” baby boomers.
To qualify as a baby-boomer you need to have been born between the years 1944 and 1964. That gives a current age range of between 56 and 76 – and I am a proud and upstanding member, of the baby-boomer club.
Disregarding my near-fatal brush with Scarlet Fever as a five-year-old, I have survived many global phenomena, some natural, and some man-made.
When I was ten, there was a pandemic of the H3N2/H59N influenza virus, known at the time as Hong Kong Flu. This outbreak spread through Eurasia and North America, killing about a million people in its wake.
In 1976, Ebola, a particularly frightening haemorrhagic fever broke out in South Sudan and the Congo. Unlike other deadly diseases, this one did not spread across the globe like wildfire and was mainly confined to the tropical regions of sub-Saharan Africa.
1981 saw the arrival of HIV -1 (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), a condition leading to AIDS (Acquired Immuno-deficiency Syndrome). My research seems to indicate that in 2018 about 37.9 million people were living with HIV and it resulted in 770,000 deaths that year.
An estimated 20.6 million sufferers live in Africa. Since AIDS was first identified until 2018, it is estimated that it has taken 32 million lives globally. This is a bullet that I have dodged, although I have known individuals who have contracted the condition through transfusions of infected blood products.
So far, all biological catastrophes. I dodged them all by chance – the capriciousness of fate and being born into a developed country with good standards of hygiene, healthcare and climate.
Don’t be disappointed! There are plenty of man-made disasters.
On the 26th April 1986, the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl Near Kyiv in Ukraine suffered a serious accident when one of its reactors exploded, creating the worst nuclear disaster in history. The open-air reactor core fire burnt for nine days, releasing huge quantities of radioactive dust, including Caesium 137 and Iodine 131.
A staggering 400 times more radiation than that released by the atomic bombing of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the war! The contamination drifted all over Western Europe, reaching as far afield as the Welsh Mountains.
I escaped that too…
2003 brought us the arrival of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Luckily for us in Western Europe, the SARS outbreak was predominantly confined to mainland China and Hong Kong. I say luckily, as according to the figures I came up with it had a fatality rate of 9.6%!
There is a more sinister aspect to this, as SARS is actually a strain of Corona Virus.
March 2011 gave us the Tsunami and Earthquake that caused three of the nuclear cores at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Station in Japan to meltdown. The meltdowns caused three hydrogen explosions which blasted huge amounts of radioactive particles into the atmosphere. The breached coolant system released contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean.
I could have been living in Japan…
In 2013, Asian Flu rampaged through China and Vietnam, but spread no further.
Most of these pandemics and disasters have been reasonably self-contained, and appeared to burn themselves out fairly quickly, and whilst they caused significant drops to the financial markets (which eventually recovered), they certainly haven’t caused the huge societal impacts that COVID 19 seems to have done.
This is the first time that I have personally observed panic buying to the obscene levels that are currently occurring in Britain’s high streets and shopping centres.
The first time in my life that I have seen our normally well-ordered society starting to unravel. The UK Government putting the entire country into lockdown. People were ordered to self-isolate. Public gatherings prohibited, with those choosing to ignore the legal ban facing fines. Ports closing, public transport shut down, and the NHS becoming overwhelmed. Shools closing and restaurants and leisure venues shutting their doors.
Thousands of workers being allowed, wherever possible to work remotely.
It must be truly bad, because even MacDonalds is closing its “restaurants” because of the dangers to staff and customers alike.
More seriously, my local branch of Costa Coffee has also closed its doors…
Adversity always brings communities together; volunteers helping neighbours, local businesses assisting their community, very often for free.
Those of us who are baby-boomers benefited from a reasonably good education; some of us had the privilege of attending grammar school where we were taught the values of self-reliance, respect and self-discipline.
It appears that some of the “snowflake” generation – those in their mid-twenties have such a level of ignorance and an over-inflated sense of their own self-worth that they feel it is their “right” to breach the social separation rules instituted by the government to reduce the transmission of COVID19.
Some younger adults in the UK are even holding Corona Parties despite the risks of infecting each other, and the obvious collateral damage to older people who have less resistance to the virus.
Its not just younger people who consider themselves above the rules. Older individuals, who, theoretically, should know better are still choosing to travel on packed commuter trains to go in to work in defiance of medical advice. I suppose that working as a middle manager in a stockbrokers office confers superior medical knowledge about the spread and control of contagion.
So now, we, in Britain, are facing a governmental lock-down – where we are now forced to confine ourselves to our own homes for the immediate future.
This is the worst situation I have ever faced. And I’m not referring to the loss of a local coffee shop.
As baby-boomers, we may not have the stoic resilience of our parents who lived through the blitz, and the horrors of World War Two. They faced their deprivations with good humour and the proverbial stiff upper lip for over five years.
As a posting on Facebook put it, we are not asking anyone to go to war, but merely to stay in the comfort of their own homes.
Unlike them, we have access to much better communications and infrastructure than they did. We have the internet, giving us access to the outside world and its many entertainments, Netflix and Amazon streaming services, Skype and Face Time for video calling, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and online shopping and food delivery.
We have fridges, freezers and microwave ovens. We have a huge variety of tinned and dried foods. The world hasn’t come to an end.
We have friends, neighbours and communities.
Maybe this is an opportunity to re-connect with better values.
So it is now time to just Man up and get on with it.
This is another modified extract from my forthcoming book, “A Salesman’s Story (Or Don’t Spend the Commission)
In the early 1980s, the cutting edge of office printing machines was an electric typewriter, and I sold many different models, from a simple “sit up and beg” typewriter, right up through the range to the latest electronic machines that offered a single line LED display, a 4,000 character memory and a Daisywheel printer.
Even in the early 1980s, standard electric typewriters still had a market, particularly with solicitors, as the weight of paper used for legal documents presented a problem to the electronic machines, mainly due to the hammer not striking the character hard enough against the paper to place a successful image on the underlying copies.
Now, I should explain here, that the Eagle 800 was built like a tank, and normally printed via fabric ribbons, which were bi-colour, with one half of the ribbon being impregnated with red ink, and the other half with black.
When powered up, a motor would run, which would spin a powered rubber roller. If a key were pressed, the associated type hammer (bearing a cast image of the appropriate character) would press against the spinning roller, and be flung upwards at great speed.
A simple mechanical link would lift the ribbon carrier to coincide with the type hammer striking the platen, upon which the paper sheet was clamped. The type hammer would then fall back to its rest position.
Now, some of the keys were fitted with a repeat function. For example, the letter “X” key could be held down, and the letter x would be repeatedly typed onto the page, enabling lines of incorrect text to be obliterated from the page.
So, now you know the basics…
As salesmen, we not only had to know the basics, but also had to know every feature, advantage and benefit that each machine in the range was able to offer. To ensure that I had the necessary tools in my sales kit, I was sent to the manufacturers premises in Leicester to attend a product course.
Our instructor, a portly little chap called Richard Scratcher, was explaining the features, advantages and benefits of the Eagle 800 machine. He was extolling its virtues as a very tough and well-built piece of equipment.
“Now, I’m going to show you a very powerful sales technique, guaranteed to help you get the sale”. We all gathered close as he fumbled in his trouser pockets, finally producing a penny coin. He held it aloft like some kind of Devine talisman.
“To show how tough the mechanism is, simply hold the penny against the ribbon guide, and hold down the repeat “X” key, thusly”. So saying and with a very flamboyant flourish, he proffered the penny into the top aperture whilst holding the aforementioned key.
With a noise like a juvenile machine gun, the X type-hammer blurred against the ribbon guide, the carriage advancing at high speed with each impact, stuttering from right to left with a mechanical clatter.
The demonstration complete, the silence was deafening. He passed the coin amongst us; I was surprised. It was deformed, and deeply embossed with a capital X.
The theatrical impact of this would be impressive, and I determined to use this approach when I next went to demo an Eagle 800.
I didn’t have long to wait, and it was two weeks later that I received a call from Mr Rayne of Babbage de Chelwode solicitors in Crowborough. I had met Mr Rayne before when I sold a dictation system to the practice.
He was a curious individual, a cross between John Lennon, with his long, lank, greasy hair, and Marty Feldman, with his bulging eyes lurking behind large, round glasses.
He also had a bad habit of suddenly stopping speaking in mid-sentence, and after a variable amount of time would suddenly recommence. It was like his brain worked slower than his mouth, which had to stop until it had received the next packet of data. It was most disconcerting.
Anyhow, he was looking to upgrade a manual typewriter and had received my letter offering good prices on the Eagle 800.
So here I was, sitting across the desk from him, in the wonderful old Jacobean room that served as his office.
“Now, you see, we have legal engrossment paper here, Judi………………”
I waited. And waited. He was still staring at me through his glasses, like a scene from a Wild West poker game.
I leaned forwards. “Judy?” I ventured, hoping to re-activate his speech system.
“Yes. Judy. You know. Judicial paper for wills and stuff. It’s thick and that’s why we need a manual typewriter as it needs to cut a carbon copy underneath”
I nodded, explaining that there was no typing job the 800 couldn’t do, said with a confidence that was belying my uncertainty.
Paper is graded on its strength in terms of the weight it will bear, expressed in grams per square metre. To assess the standard weight of paper, a square metre of it is clamped into a frame, and weight is applied to it until it bursts or tears.
General-purpose paper is anywhere between 70gsm and 90gsm. Luxury and specialist paper is over 100gsm, with legal paper at the top end of the spectrum at 120gsm.
Naturally, a copy would be needed, so the carbon paper would be beneath the Judicial paper and the copy paper beneath that. My guess was that the total paper weight would be almost 200gsm.
I seriously wondered whether the Eagle electric 800 would be man enough.
I really shouldn’t have worried.
I had set the machine up in his secretary’s office, which was gloriously untidy, with files everywhere, flowing as if a waterfall from her desk, over the carpet.
Now was my moment!
I walked over to the machine and pulled a penny piece from my pocket. I could see they were both regarding me in confused silence.
“To demonstrate the power of the 800, I would like you to watch this”
With a flourish, I placed the penny inside the machine, locating it against the ribbon guide. Whilst looking them in the eyes, I confidently pressed the “X” key and was rewarded with the high-speed clatter of the type hammer reverberating against the coin.
I lifted my finger from the key and passed the coin across to Mr Rayne. He took the proffered penny, and held it up, examining its distorted shape and the deep impression cut into it by the machine.
“Wow!” He exclaimed. “Take a look at that Mary”, passing it to her.
She looked at it – a bit dubiously, I thought.
“So, now let’s have a crack at your heaviest legal paper. By the way, if it does what you want it to do, will you be in a position to place an order today?”
“Oh, I think so….we really need to……………………”
Mary and I both watched him in silent anticipation, waiting for him to finish
“……..bring ourselves up to date”
I inwardly smirked. The 800 was superseded a couple of years ago by the golf ball typewriter, and the golfball was now being superseded by the daisy wheel. Up to date indeed!
I watched as Mary pulled the bail bar forwards, and wound the unwieldy paper onto the carriage.
She started pecking away at the keys, suddenly exclaiming “Oh…it’s not working”
I smiled as I reached forwards, switching the machine on “You now have the luxury of electric power. You don’t need to hammer these keys as heavily as on your previous machine”
The machine was quietly humming, and she hesitantly started typing, speeding up as she became used to the feel of the keyboard. At the end of the line, I saw her left hand reaching for the carriage return lever, which would have been used on a manual typewriter to push the carriage back to the right-hand stop, and advance the roller by one line.
“It’s a common event” I laughed, showing her the key marked RETURN. She pressed it, and the carriage smoothly moved. “Oh My,” she remarked.
Now she was up to speed, and we allowed her to type a few paragraphs.
She pulled the document from the carriage, and we all inspected the output. The print was crisp, dark black, and perfectly aligned. The carbon copy was just as good.
I dramatically passed the carbon copy to Mr Rayne, and he was suitably impressed.
Twenty minutes later, I was happily sitting in my car in the car park, filling out the rest of the rental agreement. Tapping away at my calculator I worked out that a thirty-minute meeting had netted me a cool £60* commission. Snapping my case shut, I started the car, wound down the window a crack, and stoked up a Bensons. I idly watched the tendrils of smoke being slowly and gracefully sucked out.
Twirling the key in the ignition, I decided to head back to the office.
I swung into the office car park in what I considered to be my exuberant fashion. The Managing Director referred to it as “You arsehole” fashion. I know this, as he indicated his feelings by bellowing into the car park from his office like a fairground barker, calling into question both my driving ability and my parentage.
I smiled, and waved cheerily up at him, which, judging by the further incoherent ratings, merely proved to enrage him further. I strode briskly into the office, charging up the stairwell two at a time, running into the Sales department, and plonked myself down at my desk. I bashed away at the calculator, which confirmed that so far, I was having a very good month, and would hit target without breaking a sweat.
I checked my diary for the next day and saw that I had a fairly relaxed day, starting with a local farmer, a simple drop off on the industrial estate, and then a visit to an author to sell a binding machine.
The next morning dawned bright and sunny, as I made my way to the rambling old farm in Turners Hill.
This was going to be a simple drop off, and a demonstration of how to set the machine up. I knew that he was pretty switched on, and would pick it up in no time. I was confident that this would be a mere formality prior to me raising an invoice for £400!
My assessment proved to be accurate, and I was finished with him by eleven o’clock. I drove sedately down passed the fruit farms and into the industrial estate, cutting through the side roads of Three Bridges.
Parking up at Worldwide Injection Moulding’s Goods Inwards, I hefted their new typewriter – still in its box – into the bay, and got the warehouse foreman to sign for it, and then I was off again, heading back south and cross country for the pretty village of Horsted Keynes.
The Author was an elderly American chap, called Cyrus J Whittaker. He was the archetypal hippie, with his long grey hair pulled back in a ponytail, secured with a bandana, and wearing a battered old straw hat which I think was actually an integral part of his head – I had never seen him without it.
He was always friendly, and frequently offered me some of his homegrown pot. Today was no different, and on this occasion, I decided to accept his offer. He passed me his tobacco tin, some papers, and a plastic bag full of leaves. I duly rolled a respectable reefer, and we both lit up.
I ambled back to the car, and pulled out the thermal binding system, which I was to demonstrate.
Once the machine was plugged into the mains, and up to temperature, I showed him how quickly he could bind a book. The folders all had pre-glued spines, and the required pages were simply laid into the spine in the correct order, and the whole book placed spine down into the mouth of the machine.
A simple timer would indicate when the process was complete, and the thermal glue had melted and stuck the pages securely to the book.
In his chemically-induced pliant state of mind, he readily agreed to sign the paperwork, which I happily secreted away into my briefcase – just in case he had second thoughts.
It was well gone one o’clock when I walked slightly unsteadily back to my car. I drove very carefully over to the next village and parked up at the Coach and Horses. I was a little disappointed, as none of my friends were about, so I ordered Ham Egg and Chips, and a pint of Harveys.
As usual, the food was excellent, but the combined effects of one large organically grown reefer, and a pint of Harvey’s Best made me very sleepy. I knew that I would have to sleep this one off, so I drove a mile or so up the road to Ghylls Lap car park on the Ashdown Forest, rolled back the seat, and took a restorative doze for a couple of hours.
I woke up refreshed and decided to finish off the promised deliveries. I would need to get a hustle on…
I finally arrived at Babbage de Chelwode’s at a quarter to five, so it would be a quick dash. Happy Jack the town’s parking warden would be on his way back to the Town Hall to sign off duty, so unless I was very unlucky, I could park on the double yellows for the duration of my call.
I switched the hazard lights on, and trotted up the steps, and into the cool reception area.
I was swiftly shown in, and Mr Rayne stood to greet me. I walked forward, extending my hand to shake hands, but he recoiled away. I soon saw why. He held his hand aloft, the thumb was thickly bandaged.
“Ohh – that looks nasty” I exclaimed “What did you do?”
He looked at me very sheepishly. “Well, I had a colleague from Bennisters here yesterday……”
He stopped. I waited. He was still looking at me, and I nudged him “Yes….”
“Well, I decided to show him how tough my typewriter was, so I tried your trick with the penny”
“Yes…” I said, encouragingly.
“Well, it must have slipped, and I engraved a letter X through my thumbnail, and about a third of my way through my thumb”
I visualized this, and immediately had to suppress the desire to laugh out loud.
“Oh dear” I sympathised “That must be really painful”
He grunted his agreement, and I carried on “Does he want a machine as well?
“He didn’t say – as I had to go to the Village Hospital to get the bleeding to stop”.
Flipping my notebook open, I swiftly jotted down that Bennsiters could be in the market for a new machine.
“So” I said, snapping my notebook shut, “I’ll be getting on then. I hope that the machine continues to perform well. I will get the engineers to pop over sometime within the next week or two just to check the adjustments.”
He continued to gaze at me through his glasses, not saying anything, so I picked up my case, and quietly left him alone, contemplating his butchered thumb.
The barmaid passed the pint of Forward Pass over the bar to me, smiling.
“Thanks” I grinned, holding my smartphone out.
Grabbing the electronic card reader, she held it to my phone, which dutifully chirped, signifying that the £3.60 had been transferred from my current account into the club’s coffers.
Taking my pint to a quiet table, I sat down, musing about the transaction.
Only two years ago, my club would only accept a card payment if the transaction value was over ten pounds. This was to cover the 2.0% transaction fee levied by the card processing company.
Not being a heavy drinker, I rarely spent over ten pounds during a post-work visit to the club, except on Friday nights, when I would meet with the “Last of the Summer Wine” crew and I would stand my round.
So, on Fridays, I would always hit the ATM at the Co-Op on the way home and withdraw enough cash to cover me for the weekend, and for coffees and snacks at work for the following week.
Two things have caused a seismic shift in how we pay for things.
In 2014 Apple introduced Apple Pay, enabling contactless payment transactions to be made using Apple smartphones. Initially, like a lot of people, I was suspicious of this as a means of payment.
However, six years of advances in security including the use of thumbprints and facial recognition technology has meant that I now feel much more comfortable with using my phone to pay for items.
Some retail outlets such as Tesco’s limit the maximum contactless transaction value to £30.00, but in many places, including department stores and garages it is still possible to pay using a smartphone or a debit card.
The other thing that initiated a quantum shift in payment methods is that the UKGovernment banned debit and credit card surcharges on January 13th 2018.
All of a sudden, retailers were no longer able to charge for the use of a debit card or credit card payment, so almost overnight the need to carry cash became far less urgent.
So, is cash being phased out as a means for paying for goods and services?
Cash has been with us for over 30,000 years, before written history – and evidence of accounting using tally sticks goes back to the later stages of the stone age.
The Ancient Roman author and scholar Pliny the Elder (AD23- AD79) writes of the best woods to use for tally sticks.
Cash is a meaningful and tangible token of worth, and is universally accepted within a society as having a standard value – as opposed to barter, where individuals trade specialist skills in exchange for goods and services.
Because of the universal acceptance of cash, both coins and notes, it is used as an instant way of paying for goods and services. It is also largely untraceable, so whilst two individuals may conclude a transaction there is no record of payment being made or received.
One of the advantages of anonymising transactions, is that it makes the use of cash attractive for the conduct of criminal activities, and in the past ransoms have been demanded to be settled in unmarked used bank notes.
Even otherwise honest members of society may unwittingly commit crimes by defrauding the government of income tax.
Tradesmen who would never steal from, or swindle their customers may routinely offer a discount for cash – meaning that such transactions never go through their books, and are therefore free of income tax or VAT.
This benefits the tradesman, as the cash received may be used for personal spending, and the buyer saves overall on the cost of the item or work.
There is, however, an indirect advantage to this, which is that the cash earned is frequently injected into the local community, either in the local shops, or pubs and clubs.
Call me a cynic, but the rapid introduction of digital banking is positively welcomed by governments globally. as all transactions will be traceable and identifiable.
Obviously, there are also advantages to a business becoming cashless. Retail premises such as pubs, clubs and restaurants may save money from not having to buy expensive sales terminals and then enjoying lower insurance premiums as a result of having no cash on the premises.
Intangible expenses such as employee time wasted in cashing up, and paying in money at the bank’s premises are immediately removed. The inadvertent acceptance of counterfeit money is also eradicated.
Losing cash forever, would, in my ‘umble opinion, be a bad thing, as the elderly, the poor and the disadvantaged would be unfairly penalised if their way of paying their way were denied to them.
The merciless march of automation and the ruthlessness of the digital economy may well change our society for ever.