Escaped! Paradyne UK 1983 - 1990
1982 was mainly filled with interviews around the country
to provide myself with a living after leaving the cosseted life of the RAF.
I was offered a position at Rank Strand, even having the interview in an office
on the Great West Road which was the exact location of the Bencard Allergy
Unit of Beecham Research Laboratories which I had worked in briefly 17 years
earlier! Deja vu. That brought back a few memories - Kathryn Barnard, Andrew
Fraser, Roseanna Pendrey et al - somehow you can never escape your past.
As usual, after a number of good offers from established companies, I chose the high risk option,- an American company starting up in the UK - Paradyne - at that time situated above the Army and Navy stores in Windsor. There's a connection there somewhere! The main benefit was a higher than average starting salary, relative freedom, and regular trips to Florida. As an engineer, my region included everything from High Wycombe to Glasgow and Belfast, so I could work from home and that could be just about anywhere. With my usual adventurous nature we chose to move back to Burnley. My first company car was a yellow Vauxhall Cavalier, known throughout the company as "the banana car". It survived 35,000 miles and 12 months before the garage wrote it off during repair! Now there's customer service for you!
To cut a long story short (not a natural attribute of mine) after 18 months they decided to move me south to the new offices in Watford. Following the age old adage of "if he can't do the job - promote him", after a number of rapid promotions I ended up after 5 years as European CS Manager. Now I had Europe as my oyster, the traveling increased proportionally. Through trial and error I discovered all sorts of useful tips such as - never engage a Norwegian taxi driver in conversation about pollution, that Turkish toilets don't posess toilet paper, and finally never, NEVER talk to a Cologne taxi driver about how new everything is - "Zat is because you British bombed it all during zee var!" He will then warn you that the dimensions of the Channel Tunnel are just large enough to take a German tank!
I don't know about you, but airports tend to make my brain switch off - all that waiting around - most of it usually spent in the duty free area (as was). I well remember discussing the pro's and cons of various malt whisky's in the duty free at Geneva airport, blissfully unaware that the well presented gentleman, with the gentle Scottish accent, was Sean Connery. The girl at the checkout was literally drooling! Similarly at the Bureau de Change at Birmingham International when I was in a hurry and asked the guy in front to please hurry up - Rowan Atkinson was not amused!
The promotions were probably a wise move for the company. On one visit to our Logistics centre at Headley Park, I was trying to send a fax to Head Office. I could hear the ring tone at the far end, and someones voice. Some bright spark in the office told me that I had to tell them to switch on their fax machine - imagine the embarrasing scene as I screamed down the fax machine trying to get the guy on the other end to hear me - not noticing the telephone handset that was parked nearby. I was never allowed to forget the incident - "and you call yourself an engineer?"
Probably the most memorable experience was one of the trips to our distributor in Athens. Angelo Zagarakis was a charming guy, I used to bring him English tea and he used to reciprocate with Greek Brandy - a fair trade I thought. Peter Dellman and I arrived late one evening in Athens. After helping Angelo with a bid in progress and, suitcases still in hand, we set out to eat. The meal was enormous and lengthy, only surpassed by the copious amounts of Retsina we drank. Angelo, who had been talking virtually non-stop all evening, suddenly passed out in mid flow, his head hitting the table with a crash. After confirming that he was still actually alive, Peter and I fell silent, wondering what to do next. After 15 minutes or so, he came around again and muttered in broken english "It must have been the ice cream"! Clearly unfit to drive (he could hardly stand), Peter offered to drive his beaten-up Peugeot back to our hotel, pour him into a taxi and bring the car to the office the following morning.
I took up position in the passenger seat with Angelo in the rear attempting to direct us through the madhouse that is central Athens. After five minutes of the blind leading the blind I heard the sound of violent retching at my left shoulder! (I was still wearing my business suit and didn't have a change with me). This continued until we reached the hotel (I didn't dare move or look over my shoulder - I could smell what was happening and I feared the worst). We finally found a taxi driver that would accept him, at which time I gave close inspection to my suit - not a mark! Suffice to say, thank God for the pocket in the rear of front car seats - it was full. We didn't drive the car to the office the following morning, as far as I know it's probably still parked outside the hotel with an exclusion zone around it!
The other notable experiences were not directly associated with work. Martin Dell and I used to do the audio visual presentations for the UK and European Distributor conferences - something to take our mind off the day to day routine. I well remember the drives down to Cannes in the South of France, and to the Algarve in Portugal - loaded to the hilt with AV gear. Dodging customs (there was no free market in those days) and turning our rooms in some of the best hotels on earth into film processing labs.
There were many trips to remember, the conferences in Colorado and Florida, skiing in Vail, visiting the Grand Canyon, and the annual conferences at Stratford upon Avon, and visiting every country in western Europe numerous times. I joined the RAF to travel - and didn't. Somehow Paradyne made up for all that.
Of course, it couldn't last. The company was taken over by AT&T and the night of the long knives began. By 1990 the axe fell and I found myself unemployed for the first time - a sobering experience. The only consolation was that the company made a mistake with the exit package - a simple error of inserting an "and " instead of "or". I and three others ended up with twice as much money, but the fifth person in was daft enough to query it and the mistake was rectified. So all the poor sods after him missed out - I won't mention his name in case someone out there still holds a grudge!
So the 1980's ended in a low point - but was I disheartened? - ABSOLUTELY!