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(WARNING – This story contains a few mild profanities).
Some weeks ago my brother Steve and I attended a Bernina trade meeting for the launch three new models. The event was held at an hotel in London, not far from Euston station. For as long as I can remember we have made the trip down to London every year or so to visit the Bogods, the wonderful family business that distributes Bernina sewing machines to dealers in the UK and Ireland.
We always stay at the President Hotel in Russell Square where, some years ago, those with demented minds blew up a bus and carried out further acts of inhumane cruelty across London.
The trip in the car with my brother is always an enjoyable one as it raises a certain frisson of excitement – with the chance to visit the capital and meet the Bogod boys again.
Anyway as Steve drove us along my mind revisited a happy tale that my father often repeated to us and one that was always accompanied by gales of laughter – You should understand, Dear Reader, that ours was a very happy childhood with Dad constantly repeating his own stories as well as those from Messrs Dickens and Kipling to name just a few.
Take a hold of my hand, tightly now, and together we shall fly across time and land – back to a trade meeting many years ago in Manchester, the Centre of the Universe. It’s the 1970’s and a bitterly cold day in November and winter holds the city tightly in her cruel grasp. Icy winds blow through the many corridors of the dark and snow covered streets. Workers and shoppers are wrapped in many layers and tears come to their eyes with the cold. The scene is the The Midland Hotel which, you may recall, was the meeting place of a certain Mr Rolls and a certain Mr Royce who went on to enjoy some success creating a rather grand range of motor car.
Unlike todays sewing machine trade meetings this was a very male affair and, it being in Manchester, it attracted more than the normal share of northern dealer. I’m not sure of the geographical or cultural equivalent in America but the 1970’s northern UK dealer was usually a very tough and sometines rough and certainly no-nonense type of chap.
Lets join this group of men in the conference room as they are seated around a long table The manufacturers agents and distributors were in attendance (the make shall remain nameless). Most, if not all of our group smoked and I mean the kind of smoking which gave most of them two deeply stained dark brown patches on their fingers Pater, as you may recall, easily smoked 80-100 Benson & Hedges King Sized cigarettes every day followed by a pipeful of St. Bruno Rough Cut tobacco after most evening meals.
So, the room, which was quite grand and ornate with a high ceilings and mouldings and cornices and thick good quality carpets was soon filled with a fug of thick smoke.
The meeting was to launch a new product and to further discuss how to increase the sales of the brand in question. One of the top executives posed this particular question to our group. So, each man in turn offered their thoughts and some were good and some were silly and some, who considered themselves to be at least as important as the President of The Mighty United States of America (there’s always one – still is) would groan on and on until someone told him to, put a bloody sock in it for Petes sake.
The question was finally asked of the last dealer, a short but very broad chap who sported a snugly fitting houndstooth jacket, tattersall double cuffed shirt with cufflinks and a knitted wool tie. He had a deeply weathered face which carried a magnificent pair of ‘pork-chop’ sideburns, the type where even hair from the ears has joined in to assist with the overall effect. Our man took a few slow puffs from his old and worn briar pipe, blowing plumes of thick smoke across the table in a similar fashion to a newly surfaced whale as it takes its first blows. He took the pipe from his mouth and the room waited in silent anticipation.
He looked the smartly suited and booted exec. dead in the eye and said, I haven’t had a shit for a week.
Well, the room erupted with howls of laughter and sides were split and tears ran down many cheeks. The President of the United States of America was outraged and stormed out, no doubt because the broad chap in the houndstooth had made the bigger impression and now our man sat, stoically, puffing away on his briar with no expression upon his well worn countenance. The meeting broke up and was called to a close. My father found one of his chums, a dealer from the Merseyside area – we shall call him Reg.
The room began to clear as dealers from further afield left to catch a train or make the long journey home by car. Meanwhile Dad and Reg decided that as it was only late afternoon they should investigate the opportunities for a few drinks.
After some wandering they came upon a large double door at the end of a corridor. Pushing it open revealed a huge room set with many chairs and tables. At the far corner of this room was a very smart and very well stocked bar, brightly lit and with a deeply buttoned, dark green leather frontage. Behind the bar stood a barman waiting patiently for a customer to serve. Dad and Reg sailed across the room in convoy and landed at the bar and gave the barman their orders. Slowly the room began to fill with various men and women and until the room was filled with laughter and chatter and drinking and smoking. A large side door openend and a waiter appeared to announce, ladies and gentlemen, dinner is served. The body of people slowly rose from their chairs and stools and shuffled along and into a gloriously set dining room. There were six large dining tables and dad and Reg took two places at one table and carried on chatting. Well Dad and Reg enjoyed an historic Christmas meal of turkey and christmas pud and all the trimmings washed down by a few glasses of nice champagne.
Suddenly, the chink, chink, chink of a fork being tapped against a glass. A woman, seated at the head of another table, had taken to her feet. The room fell silent. Dad thought he recognised the woman and some of the people sat at her table seemed vaguely familiar. The woman began to talk about how she wanted to thank all the cast and crew for all their hard work. It then dawned on Dad and Reg that the lady was an actress called Doris Speed and she starred in a very long running English soap opera called Coronation Street. Her ‘vaguely familiar’ fellow diners were the assembled cast of the show. Those who were not familar to Dad and Reg they believed to be the crew, producers and others.
Doris asked everyone to stand for the toast and Dad and Reg joined in and after taking their seats Dad and Reg looked at each other and wondered what to do. After a moment or so they stopped a passing waiter and asked for two more glasses of champagne.
© Alan Bamber 2016