Tuesday, 1 June 2010

A Thousand Words is Enough for a Life Story

1933: born into Quaker family, third and youngest of three children – seven years after last sibling – home suburban Woking.

Father passionate gardener – prizes galore for hybridising irises – day job in electricity supply – post-nationalisation Chairman of London Electricity Board.

Sent away to boarding school in deep country one month after Dunkirk – fulfilling hobby-oriented school days – at prep school stamp-collecting, which sparked an interest in what happened when and where – started A History of the British Empire, Told on Stamps – at Leighton Park public school bookbinding and printing – bought Adana platen printing press aetat 14 for £4.17.6 (first "business") – won Minor Scholarship (worth a munificent £30 p.a.) to Trinity College, Oxford (exam having been taken to shorten National Service).

1952: RAF conscript – at Aircrew Selection Centre when KGVI dies – flying training in England and Scotland – basic training on Tiger Moths and Chipmunks – Oxfords (twin-engined advanced trainer) – skiing in Cairngorms – “wings” – Pilot Officer Randall – Meteors and Vampires (jets) – grounded after Korean Armistice – brief spell with Education Branch in Germany.

1954: hitch-hiking round North America – NY > Connecticut > Florida > Oklahoma > Highway 66 > California > Canada – spent 21st birthday watching Bannister beat Landy in Vancouver – Dreaming Spires – won (unofficial) University Shove Ha'penny Championship in the White Horse – read Modern History, intermittently – special subject Clausewitz and "Great Britain in the Mediterranean, 1797-1802".

1957: joined Shell on marketing side – fell in love before departing for year in Argentina – then Kano (edge of the Sahara in Nigeria) – visit by fiancée – jilted – sent roses and wrote sonnet – re-wooing unfortunately successful – married – Port Harcourt – six months later deserts – quit job – divorce proceedings start.

1961: Insead (business school in Fontainebleau, France) – jobs in consultancy in the UK (Sales Audits and Glacier Metal) – meet a better Julia in the Alps.

1965: at Jordans Quaker Meeting House (where Penn, founder of colony where Julia spent the war, buried) – "Friends, I take this my Friend Julia to be my wife, promising through divine assistance to be unto her a loyal and loving husband until it shall please the Lord by death to separate us" – started first company, Trenchermans (mail order delicatessen) – two daughters born – company highly seasonal and ultimately unprofitable – joined Rentokil to start French branch – during UK training successful in selling their new washroom hygiene service – French offer revoked – resigned, to start Waterloo Services Company – "where there's muck, there's brass" – third daughter born – moved from flat in Richmond to big house on the hill – seven years surveying washrooms in City offices – tedium relieved by starting Richmond in Europe Association – goal to twin Richmond with Fontainebleau – success after four years – followed by only foray into politics: chairing trans-party campaign in referendum to keep UK in EU – Richmond has highest percentage "Yes" vote in London boroughs.

1977: read about phototypesetting and prospects for small companies in The Economist – exploratory trip to USA – buy first Compugraphic machine and start Randall Typographic – over-trade – during civil servants' strike use tax money to keep going – Nemesis – but clever accountant ensures that key equipment saved from clutches of Inland Revenue bailiffs – all RT's trade creditors eventually paid in full – Waterloo Services continues as reliable cash cow – typesetting continues as Electronic Village Limited – with beginnings of personal computing and word processing, endeavours to find ways of turning authors' keystrokes into type without rekeying in composing room – ASPIC (Authors Standard Prepress Interfacing Codes) devised and promoted as The Way Ahead – unsuccessful with publishers, but principles adapted to dealing with tabular matter in tour operators' brochures and stockbrokers' publications, at time that modems were first being used for data transmission – highly profitable contracts with Thomson Holidays and Quilter Goodison.

1970s and 80s: family holidays either on narrow boats or camping in France, usually Britanny – Mirror dinghy on top of Danbury – then Volvo and trailer for Avon inflatables and outboard – one great trip aqua-camping down Dordogne, crew in one Avon, camping gear in other one, lashed alongside – three more going daily from campsite on Côte de Granit Rose to uninhabited offshore Ile Moléne. Not all sunshine and laughter, though – business downturn resulted in being unable to pay school fees – pain – periods of Julia's illnesses – general family grief – six month rift in marriage and separation healed by Relate.

1990s: business decline and fall – arrival of the laser printer and desk top publishing undermines phototypesetting companies, just as they had undermined hot metal ones fifteen years earlier – attempts to carry on single-handed in our empty-nester house, on the edge of Richmond Park – found keyboarding company in New Delhi to key manuscripts with ASPIC codes inserted – delays in freighting papers out and disks back made turn-round unacceptably slow for book publishers – abandonment, and start of frustrating attempts to develop electronic flashcards for foreign vocabulary learning in collaboration successively with Hungarian count, blind physicist and Greek Etonian – sold Waterloo Services to Rentokil – take in students at local English school to plug income/expenditure gap.

On holidays used to go as the cicerone, cavaliere serviente and chef for Julia and painting class ladies who took villas in Britanny, Andalucia, Tuscany and Provence – marketed and cooked while they painted –sat silently at dinner listening to their talk – what not known about stretch-marks scarcely worth knowing

2000s: Calliope CALL software developed with Muscovite company – but "with so much language learning stuff freely available on the internet, why should we buy yours?" – final throw of the dice with attempt to get EU funding for improved version fails at final hurdle –

2007: sell Richmond house to meet pension inadequacy – "More bricks for the buck in Buckingham" – develop web sites gratis for local organisations – take over cooking, to compensate for reluctance to do any of the cleaning of new house (had done enough cleaning to last a lifetime while running Waterloo Services).

Now: MA in Biography course at University of Buckingham – genesis of concept of From Clay Tablet to iTablet – "Death closes all: but … something ere the end, / Some work of noble note, may yet be done, / Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods" (Tennyson's Ulysses) – excelsior!

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