Amazing place, India. Take the streets. Can you imagine  a dual carriageway, say 3 lanes each side with a centre barrier? No-one drives to lane but drives to the nearest point of most progress.  Not just cars but bikes, scooters, cars, rickshaw bikes, rickshaw scooters, camels/donkeys and trap, buses, trucks…all fighting it out, horns blowing to warn approach.  Then add in cows, buffaloes, bulls, dogs, goats, pigs and piglets, pedestrians in endless numbers, some of them sleeping in the inside lane, cattle eating the foliage on the centre barrier. Then add in the drivers who drive the wrong way down the wrong side because they can’t be bothered to find the gap in the intersection further on.  Even on the motorways out of town it is just the same but with bigger gaps in the crowd.


Flight went to plan and we were picked up at the airport. Stayed at the Lutyens designed art-deco Imperial Hotel, Delhi, the history of the  English Raj on the walls.  Over 4000 old prints.  Great room, great food. There you realise just how closely the Brits and the Indians work together, the level of mutual respect.


There in Delhi the first temples and the first palaces/forts: a tomb built for the second Mughal Humayun by his wife Mumtaz;  the Lutyens designed new city with its magnificent government offices.


Two days later, a short flight to Varanasi and the Nadesar Palace Hotel where the Maharaja put his guests. Again good food, fine room and wonderful service.


Varanasi.  You have seen nothing yet.  The street scenes above and halve the road sizes.  Varanasi, on the Ganges, the home of the Hindu religion – ritual washing in the Ganges for all Hindus, cows and fakirs everywhere, bodies burning on pyres on the banks, mourners running thru the streets chanting, bearing their loved ones on stretchers, cymbals clashing, the new arrivals dressed in bright shrouds, faces bare, heading to the final journey.


Walk behind these stepped banks (ghats) and you find two metre wide streets, vendors sitting in cave openings either side selling all sorts from ready snacks to a haircut. Dogs, cows. bulls, buffaloes again abound – you push on past them, dancing between the shit that lies everywhere.


We were there during the festival when Shiva in his various forms is taken to the Ganges and thrown in – adorned Shiva trucks, crowds dancing behind them, traffic to a standstill – destination abandoned; but how do you get out of this meelee?  Here too, a visit to Sarnath where Buddha preached his first sermon and set in motion the Wheel of Law. Buddhist groups from Shri Lanka winding a cloth band around the commemorative massive while other buddhists from other countries looked on


Second flight to Khajuraho. Lalit hotel good but disfunctional. Never mind. We are here to see the Hindu temples.  13th & 14th centuries exquisitely carved in stone and still perfect. Karma Sutra too. Conjoining of man and woman creates the ecstatic state on the road to Nirvana.  ‘There are 85 positions’, says the guide. ‘This is number 69.’


Now a drive to Orchha where the magnificent palace was built over 20 years for a one day visit by the Murghal Jehangir, then a 2.5 hour train ride to Agra made one hour longer by delay. The whole world on the platform.  We are sitting on our bags watching the rats busily at home between the rails, waiting for the train with a first class the whole Western world would not choose to travel in!  On the platform, waiting with us, an American architect and his wife who live in Mexico City, dressed in flowing while cotton robes; and an tweedy English solicitor and wife from Northwood Hills. Agra we are here.


Agra is the Mughal town of Akbar and Shah Jehan, both liberal Mughals who embraced religious and cultural tolerance. Akbar we hear had three wives, Hindu, Muslim and Jewish (plus a 300+ strong harem just in case) but his influence on art and building is there to be seen.  We stayed at the Oberoi, a super hotel in every way, every room with a view of the Taj Mahal.  Magnificent.  ‘A tear on the cheek of love’, the Taj is a ‘must-see’ in your lfe at some time.  Absolutely beautiful, pure white, hard marble, perfect symmetry, finely carved as wood and inlaid with semi precious stones. It seems to float.


Then forts and palaces in abundance, clearly an amazing wealth and culture – beautful design and finish on a grand, grand scale. People, beggars, hawkers everywhere.


Now for the nightmare car journey to Sawai Madhopur to see the tigers at Ranthambhore National Park, much of the road as bad as a farm track, the best bits with vehicles coming in every direction; and the usual crowd of dogs, cattle, bikes, dogs, etc.  Long and exhausting.


Arrived at the Maharaja’s Shooting Lodge later in the evening.  Hold it. This is’nt a Maharaja’s shooting lodge.  This must be where he kept the tigers.  Now, as you can imagine, Maggie is not one to be ‘penned up’ in a place like this. Her Beloved springs into action. Only the Oberoi Vanyavilas would do.


You should put these hotels up on Google. Look at this one.  Elephants on guard at the gate, awaiting intrepid tourists. We slept in a beautifully coutured, tent-designed bungalow, the daylight washing pale through a roof fabric embroidered with tigers in gold thread.  What a bijou experience! Dining in a luxurious courtyard with staff falling over themselves to serve; a chef who took us under his wing to introduce the different foods of India. And we even saw a tiger on one of the drives. And a kill!


A shorter journey by car again and on to Jaipur, the pink city home of the Man and Jai Singhs. Another huge culture of forts and palaces. And the Rambagh Palace (now) Hotel.  How can you describe it?  Fit for a Maharaja with a huge, internal square of formal gardens. Again, it is run by the Taj Group and, perhaps because of the lodge fiasco, they have upgraded us to a suite. A woman’s paradise too of fine cotton, embroidered chemises and finer Himalayan mountain goat pashminas. Fine jewellery too. The only test in acquiring them: the negotiation.  The choice will be yours: either ‘really quite expensive but good value’ or ‘amazingly cheap’.


So here we are. One more week to go, Jodpur and Udaipur in our sights. Two more palaces to stay in, then on to the Oberoi, Delhi to recover in time for the trip home.  This is approaching a trip of a lifetime.  We are both well, though Maggie has been struggling with a bit of a cold.  Delhi belly is so far held at bay. Seems Indians understand this problem.  Bottled water in abundance, everywhere.  Care taken on what we eat and, with wine 30 quid a bottle at least, you are not tempted to drink two. The vegetarian Hindus make their Western visitors pay for their meat, in fact generally slaughtered by Muslims.


As we turned into Jodpur, a cupola reminiscent of St Paul’s Cathedral rose in  front of us. “I suppose you’re going to tell us this is our hotel”.  “Yes” came the reply.  The Taj Umaid Bhawan Hotel.  Luxurious again, the finest marbles and service. And, just to make us feel quite at home, a squadron of vintage Rolls Royce and Bentleys, sitting gently on the manicured lawns, mostly delivered from England in containers and rallied by ancient English gentlemen and their wives.  Jodpur is the blue city, painted blue apparently to discourage mosquitoes; and a major trading centre in history. As if magically, we are escorted on a journey to the town, passing through doorways and ante-rooms and into larger rooms piled high with fabrics of every shape, size and brilliant colouring, many, it was said, shared with Gucci and Chanel. We had now entered a world of finely woven silk fabrics, far too beautiful to leave behind.


A pleasant drive to Udaipur, in the land of the Rajput warrior caste.  We stayed at the City Palace Hotel on Lake Pichola, built by the Maharana to house his harem. The ladies had left; so the hotel took a little time to understand.  But it had great charm, including small, modest turrets on the walls, ideal for the ladies to use for their make-up; and a grassy square for a courtyard where we met an English gentleman, recently recovered from dengue fever but still determined to throw his pennies building his own palace overlooking the lake.  Udaipur must be the target finale for any Indian visit.  Meandering down the stone paved, sloping hill from the palace, through the walled city gate, past the temple on the left swarming noisily in prayer and offerings, on to narrow painted streets and through small doorways: suddenly an emporium of fine cotton and worsted fabrics with fine tailors ready to reinvent any lady’s wardrobe, almost while she waits.


A perfect ending for our visit to Rajasthan: a land of forts, the Taj Mahal, and palaces you can stay in, imbued with India’s deep Hindu culture finely carved in well preserved stone, without a moment’s discomfort in terms of food or living conditions; and leaving dressed in elegant clothes,  with bags full of presents for the families.  A husband’s dream come true.  A short plane ride and we were back in Delhi for a fine meal at the Oberoi’s Italian restaurant, before a good night’s sleep and the flight back to London Heathrow.


A trip to the land of the Zulus or……

It all started at Cape Town airport. The plane, of the new low cost airline Mango, coded Manx in case you are trying to check-in online which you find you can’t, was meant to be leaving for Durban (we had all the destination road maps from there!) at 10.15 but, at the last minute, it was postponed to 1520.  “You can’t do that. We have to be at our destination at 1800 otherwise they lock the gates; and that’s somewhere several hours NW of Johannesburg.” Quick shuffle and we were on our way to Johannesburg by 1000. OK, maybe 1.5 hours more on the roads but we should make it round about 1800. 2 hour flight either way.


We arrived, swapped the Budget car hire, ate a nice snack at the Intercontinental; and off we set. I’d do the driving. Maybe potholes or madmen on the motorway. We could see on the map that the N3 went in the right direction.  So we needed to turn left on to the N11 after the toll…about 4 hours to get there.

So here’s the toll.  There must be one of those big motorway junction signs.  That’s funny: nothing there. On we went, maybe 28 kms, still no N11. It’s not here. (In fact they changed the turn to before the toll but hadn’t shared the information on a sign) “We’ve passed it”, cried the map reader. So we turned off on to a by-road and back we went to Ladysmith. Name familiar? Only 45 minutes lost!  We could still make it. Phoned ahead.  “We’re coming. Don’t lock the gates. We’re on the road to Dundee. Is there any shortcut?” “Are you coming from Johannesburg or Durbam,” asked the girl.  “We’ve passed that point. Do you know the road?” “No.”  “Keep in touch.”

Arrived in Dundee. Bit of fuel. They’ve dug the centre of the town up. Where have you put the signs?  Another half hour plus lost.  Getting dark.  No dusk in SA. Just blackness. The maps sent from Fugitives’ Drift Lodge added an air of mystery as to the whereabouts of the destination. Gates shut at 1800.  Were there real fugitives there?

Down the road Dundee to Greytown. We come to the famous name. Rourkes Drift.  That’s it.  Is it a place or a historical site?  If you get there, where then is the Lodge. Phone the Lodge. No answer. Phone again. No answer. Tried one of the roads. Smoke.  Maybe a bush fire. Immolation?  Don’t fancy this.  30kms of dirt road to find a gate which is maybe locked even if we survive the fire!  Tried the Lodge again.  No answer.

Go back to Dundee and get into a hotel. Must be best for us both.  Return tomorrow when it is light. Back we go. Another half hour.  Only one hotel. Not a dream come true but saved the discussion: fully booked. “We’ll have to sleep in the car”, came the suggestion.  But where can we park it to be safe.  What in the f*** shall we do?  Phone the agent.  In Tanzania??!!  Spoke to someone surprised by the late call. Oh my God. But she did get the name and 20 minutes later, now past 2100, a call from the agent in SA.  “You’ve got to help. We’re beleaguered. I have my lovely lady with me. She doesn’t want to sleep in the bush.  Neither do I. We don’t want to die!”  Wait another 20 minutes and the phone rings again. The lodge. “I’ll direct you in. Can you get back to the dirt road? You bet.”

High speed dirt road driving in the pitch dark. Directions were simple. Rourke’s Drift, through the huts, take the first left and stop before you hit the gate. 2230. We’d made it. Up at 0600, safe and sound by 2230. Can’t be bad.

“You deserted us. You didn’t answer the phone.  You knew we were out there. At risk.  Even if the girl knocked off round about 1900.” “Shame” came the reply!


But the lodge was great. A David Rattray creation built from small family beginnings to celebrate the Zulus and record the Zulu/Brit wars.  Nice big chalet.  Good food, well prepared but heavily calorific…going some way to explaining the very big bums on South Africans. But the place was full of English ex-public school boys and girls, plus a couple of Tiger Moth pilots and wives, who had seen the film Zulu some time in their lives.

Lovely modern library building, there to eat lunch with spectacular views across the hills and valleys along Buffalo river; and Fugitives’ Drift whence the few survivors tried to escape from the battle of Isandlwana, where 40,000 zulus massacred 1700 Brits almost to a man. 1873 or was it ‘79.  The general in charge had gone off to surprise the main Zulu force early; but the Zulus had taken another route.  A rather English story, I thought.

Toured Rourkes Drift next day where 17 men, mainly Welsh men boyo, had fended off 4000 zulus attacking their hospital with only Martini rifles, 20,000 rounds of amunition and mealie sacks and biscuit tins to hide behind. 11 VCs awarded in all, presumably to make England feel better.

Couple of buildings and a few stones there meant nothing much.  It all lay in the excellent telling of the story by David’s son, Andrew, much along the lines of David’s original script.  David had been killed by a gunman…those reasons were not clear. And the fields of Isandlwana where the slaughter the previous day had taken place…another 4 hour story, including war cries and the noise of the assegi as it goes in…. and as it comes out.  Tours finished and the rains came.  Typical of this time of year. Thunder, lightning & downpours. The next day we left for a 4/5 hour journey to Phinda (pronounced as a P) game reserve.


Again the drive is not one you would want to do twice. Dirt roads were OK but then you go up into the hills. Continuous rain. The land is lush with literally 100s of kms of eucalyptus (for paper and power by Mondi). Brightly coloured huts dotted about; and sometimes in groups, with cows, goats and corn in the small holding indicating that things are better for people who live here. But we came to the small towns, and the traffic, and the hills, and the cloud, and the fog, and the wheel destroying pot holes. But at last we were through and back to the N2, wending its way north from Cape Town.

Towns came and went, as did policemen with cameras hiding behind trees; a few more 100s of kms of trees, sugar cane and now pineapple (would you believe it – probably why there is so much pineapple around here; but we didn’t see any avacodo trees!); and an hour and a half later we saw the sign Phinda.  Down the road, thru the gate and we were off to our lodge, the Forest Lodge, passing giraffe, black rhino, endless deer varieties. And there it was, our chalet in the trees, guides to take us about in the dark in case we became the viewing.


It was lovely there, 4 days for 3, all you could eat and drink in the price. Sphe, pronounced Spay, was a star and, what we didn’t have, she got for us.  Up at 5 on a drive until, say, 9, breakfast and a snooze until lunch, another snooze until the evening drive, at 4 to 5 to 8 or 9. That was the good news.  Boy, did it rain. Two beleaguered Brits, perched up on the open landrover in capes trying to stop the water seeping round to the bum/crotch areas.

But we saw the animals. The big 5 as they say, mostly very close up and intimate, families of giraffe, lions, rhino, warthog and elephants; and, sometimes, it didn’t rain, like the last day when we drove around in the sun. If anything, the game in these big parks (this one was 25,000 hectares) is spoon-fed compared to the wilder, more remote, more challenging Botswana.

Staff were really impressive. Attractive, well presented, well spoken and handling the likes of us with relative ease. Makes you realise what is in store as SA takes off.  The guides were black too and more than competent. Beautiful room, great for a snooze! Sam, the chef cooked excellent raw materials then mixed them all up so they were inedible to most Brits but added even more pounds to the large South African bums, male and female. Most of them now could hardly walk. All seemed rather too good to be true after the start we had in going to Fugitives’ Drift.


It was. Come time to leave they had lost the car keys. Still a paid limo to Durban, a two hour flight, a taxi and then home sweet home in Franschhoek while the Lodge moved post-haste to return the hire car on time


Hope you’ve enjoyed the read. (2/2012)


A broken commercial contract, a High Court judgement, the purchase of woodlands with disputed access; and back to the High Court again, this time The Chancery Division, all within about 10 years.

The court hearing ran for around 10 days before His Honour Judge Paul Baker QC.  My side brought into the action two more parties who owned other land over which the ancient roadway ran.  Better to sort out the whole issue once and for all.  There were lawyers everywhere.  One or two solicitors for each party, a barrister and his pupil.  It was clearly going to be an expensive, though interesting, occasion.

There were many highlights in the hearing.  One of the regular users of the roadway was a certain ‘Dad’ or ‘Pop’ Redding.  He was a handyman who did odd jobs locally with his horse and high-sided pig cart. I had taken a bus load of interested locals, who had supported me, to court for one day to hear the evidence on their road.  Dave, from one of the long-standing Bellingdon families and another handyman, is now in the witness box.  He takes up the story (and I edit), eagerly awaited by his friends and neighbours.

Courts are not like Perry Mason scenarios.  The barrister asks the question and the witness advises the judge on the answer. The barrister asks about ‘Dad’ Redding.  Dave hesitates, turns to look at his friends and blushes a bright crimson: “I work with my hands, not my head Your Honour”.  Take your time, Mr. David” replies His Honour Judge Paul Baker.  “Well, Dad Redding was the local handyman with a pig cart who did odd jobs for local people like moving things.  When he had finished what he had to do and had a few pounds in his pockets, he would often drive down Ramscoat Lane to Chesham to go to the pub.  I think it was where The Cricketers now is and there was a horse trough outside.  Well, he would stop the horse and go into the pub.  The horse would turn itself round in the street all on its own and wait for him outside.  And when closing time came, he would come out to go home.  When I say ‘come out’, he wouldn’t just come out, he would be carried out.  He would be carried out, Your Honour, because he could not walk Your Honour.  He was carried out, and I don’t know quite how to say this, Sir, because he was…because he was…pissed Your Honour.  (Ho ho ho went the assembled audience of locals).  The people then would slap the horse on the rump and the horse would take him all the way back up Ramscoat Lane and home.”  Dave, as a kid then with his friends, would see the driverless cart coming up through the woods and tie the horse to a tree for a joke.  So when Dad Redding came round, he would have a clue where he was.

Over the days, evidence was gathered, barristers argued points of law and precedent; and expert witness said their piece.  On Tuesday, 18 July, 1989, His Honour Judge Paul Baker QC delivered his judgement.  We had run our course. It was gripping stuff siting there quietly as he went through each item of consideration.  It took him until page 35 to deliver those magic words: “Viewing all the evidence I find this an ancient vehicular highway used (from 1189 and…?ed) from time immemorial along the line of Ramscote Lane”.

I was told that this was the first time in English judicial history that a roadway open to all traffic had been ‘proved’ in an English Court of Law.  I suspect I have a lot to owe Dad Redding for this.  I should also add that almost within the next week all the neighbouring fences that had been blocking my other rights of way had been mysteriously moved.

The Judgement of His Honour Judge Paul Baker QC is attached (50 pages) -

Ramscote Lane – Judgement of His Honour Judge Paul Baker QC

The Diners Club money in damages was used to buy 3 mixed leaved woodlands in the Chitern Hills near my home, around 95 acres in all.  My approach was to buy poorly managed woodlands, if possible with a good variety in age and specie.  Cleaning the woodland to allow commercial trees to develop value gave me exercise, peace of mind; and a few quid in the pocket from log sales.

Ramscote or Ramscoat Wood was historically the most interesting, filled with ancient features as the land progressively moved from field and pasture to woodland over the centuries following the Black Death.  The woodland was long and thin and landlocked; and set on a steep hill side: a total of 56 acres in all.  It had last been ‘farmed’ in the 1940s. With ‘no-one around’ for years, neighbouring landowners had extended their boundaries, fenced off the rights of way and become intransigent to change. There was a lot to do.  It was difficult to pull out logs along the slope in the mud of winter.  The nearest exit point was the best.  Inevitably, it was the neighbour, reputed to use his lawyer most freely, who fired the first gun.  A writ of tresspass landed on my doormat.

I had driven down a leafy, green lane designated as a bridlepath, as easy access to the part of the woodland we were working at the time.  Bridlepath in the UK means at least a bridlepath, not a bridlepath or less.  The writ was from the owner of the subsoil.  As it turned out, he preferred a road past his house rather than my occasional use on a bridlepath!

Under the Act of 1949, Local Authorities gave all community rights of way clear designations.  One choice was RUPP or ‘road used as public path’.  Buckinghamshire County Council, however, preferred not to use this designation, leaving the local householders to fight it out in the courts themselves.  It was either a road, open to all traffic, or a bridlepath or a footpath. Ramscote Lane, now seldom used for vehicular traffic, became a bridlepath.

Our lawyers sent letters to each other.  Costs mounted. I rapidly became too involved to turn back.  If I went on, I had to win.  Going to court is always a gamble even though, through intelligent application, you can improve your odds.  The cost of losing after 10 days in the High Court had to be put out of the question.  I took 3 months off work to build the evidence. A small argument with my lawyers put me in the hands of a wonderful lady solicitor, Rosemary Jeffries. The ability to challenge points of law and fact with my lawyer set me off on the right track in preparing the case.

The road transport industry came into being in the UK after WW1 when army trucks were released to form the basis of the new road transport industry. The filigree of minor roadways across the countryside, that once linked the major roads, fell into misuse as local tradespeople increasingly parked up their horsedrawn wagons for good.

If you look at a map of Chesham, you will see the town is set in a valley surrounded by ridges: Hawridge, Chartridge, Ashridge and so on.  Trucks navigating from one ridge to another had to go down one ridge to the town and up another to their destination.  This was obviously far too far for a horse and cart which was able to move directly across country between destinations.

To prove an ancient roadway, you have to prove ‘user’, that is people who have either driven down the road or seen people driving down the road.  I spent days in the maps rooms of the County Council and the British Museum and found maps of every description going back over 300 years, like the OS maps that even showed the position of major trees in the 1800s and the Tithe Map (1836) which defined the ancient tithes to be paid for use of the land.  But I had to find the ‘users’.  This was now around 1987 so I needed memories that went back as far as the 1920s, people now in their 70s and 80s.

The local poeople all supported me.  They hated the way ‘newcomers’ had moved in and tried to change all the old rights of way.  As one old lady said: “When I lived here as a girl, none of these house had even been built. Now they want to change everything.”  I ended up with 12 of these sworn statements or affidavits, 4 or whom had even died before trial and whose affidavits became Civil Evidence Statements.  One old lady, determined to give her affidavit from her bed in hospital where she was receiving a check up, in fact died in the same early morning of her appointment.  God bless her.

Gradually the pieces started falling into place.  One long-time local, walking through the woods while I was working there, commented that we had cut down the old ‘gantry tree’ used during the war to load timber onto the lorries and which had navigated the same ‘roadway’ past the plaintiff’s house.  Then there was that exceptional local historian, Dr Arnold Baines.  It was his research that showed the fields at the bottom of the hill were the common fields for the village at the top of the hill, Bellingdon.  Some acre pieces were still there to be seen.  Clearly horses and carts and ploughs were moved via Ramscote Lane which ran through the centre of the woodland.

There are a lot of interesting things to tell you about defining age and use of a roadway.  For example, bluebells grow in ancient woodland.  You can estimate the age of a roadway by the distance the bluebells have traveled along the hedge.  And those hedgerow banks you see either side of a country lane are not a result of digging.  It was the thousands of footsteps and wheels that passed between them through the years that wore the earth away between the hedges that formed banks before the road was surfaced.

Let me leave these comments to Mr. Williamson.  In my studies on roads and maps, it crossed my mind there must be someone who must know the reasons why roads are where they are, let’s call him or her ‘a historical geographer’.  I started phoning around the Universities and there he was, at the University of East Anglia.  You can imagine my excitement when I showed him Ramscote Lane and asked him: “Is this a road?” to which he replied: “Yes Philip. This is a road.” His knowledge and his professionalism throughout the cross-examination of his evidence was a deciding factor in closing the door on our opponents.

Here is his c.25 page report – RAMSCOTE LANE, CHESHAM: A REPORT ON ITS ANTIQUITY AND STATUS by T.M.Wiliiamson, MA PhD 16 March 1989

Ramscote Lane – Report by T M Williamson 1989

Part 3 of 3 will be available on 3 September, 2013

Diners Club was my first big, ‘blue chip’ client after I had set up my sales consultancy.  They had a problem with their take-one boxes.  These are the simple frames filled with prepaid membership applications you see in places like hotel lobbies.  In the USA, I was told, they provided 18% of membership; in the UK just about none.  They had tried everything to succeed, even shipping over American ‘experts’.  Still nothing.  So the Board offered a contract to me based on my Rank Xerox success, without any termination clause and paying a fixed sum for each accepted new member.

I fiddled about with it, long lonely nights driving around London, placing boxes in different places and in different establishments. A few months passed. One or two applications came in, still just about nothing.  The Diners Club Sales Director was getting fidgetty. He saw it as an insult anyway I was even there on his patch!  He would just love to bring it to an end.  Then suddenly I twigged it, where the boxes should be placed and who should be rewarded for keeping them there. The applications started coming in ones and twos.  How could it be spread outside London?.  I found a theme here too.  Applications increased.  The sums on the commission cheques started growing month by month.  The Diners Club Sales Director complained I was excluding his team from the commissions. I brought them in too.  They were delighted. New membership spurted ahead again  The twos became tens, then twenties; the twenties forties, and so on.  Money was pouring in.  At the last count, we were generating 13% of new Diners Club membership.

As you see so many times in selling, success can make everything just look too easy.  Maybe the new Diners Club Manging Director, who was seconded from NatWest Bank, hated the monthly ritual of paying me huge commission cheques, maybe more than he earned.  Anyway, after a couple of years or so of the good life, Diners Club broke the contract.  No conversations.  They just broke it.  Lawyers became involved.  Injunctions followed. The contract staggered on until the court date was set: and there we were, battling it out in the High Courts of Justice.

Diners Club made a payment into Court.  My side, led by the eminent QC, Mr Fox-Andrews, took the view Diners Club should pay more.  They should pay to buy back the contract based on the future flow of funds.  Professors at the London Business School became involved, putting a current value on the future flow of funds.  The other side based their case on the damage done to me personally. The arguments swayed to and fro over 4 or 5 days.  The judge began interrupting to say the case needed to be settled without further cost. Clearly he was favouring the other side’s argument (though I still can’t understand why!).  We had to move to settle.

The screen set now moved next morning to the hallowed vestibule of the High Court, Mr Fox-Andrews, a tall man, bowed forward in thought and argument, back against and kicking his heels on the pillar behind him.  I put to him that I wasn’t very happy with the turn of events.  If we had to settle, we could at least argue to be added back payment of commissions re Northern Ireland, which we discoved Diners Club had withheld.  Very reasonable he thought; and off he marched to speak to his opposite number.

He returned happy with his discussion; but the delay in the decision seeemed interminable.  The pillar received a few more kicks.  “What are they doing?” he asked. “Probably phoning Diners Club in America for a decision”, I answered, “and the Director who is being woken up there will not be very pleased.”  We continued to wait. And wait. And wait. Finally the decision.  Diners Club were to withdraw their offer.  To put it bluntly, I was in the deepest of deep s***.  “I can’t believe I am hearing this”, my Counsel said loudly.  “I am going off now to tell them exactly what I think of them.”  “Oh dear”, I thought. ” It can only get worse.”

God took my under his wing that day.  Both QCs were so upset by the brazen Diners Club approach they marched off in tandem to Diners Club to tell them either to reinstate the offer or they were both off the case.  Diners Club submitted.  The offer was reinstated.  After costs were paid, I put about half of the value of the original Diners Club offer into my bank account; but I had lived through an exciting time, the injuctions had kept the commissions flowing for more than an extra year; and interest rates were now blossoming to 15%, even 17%.

What is all this about?  This is the money I rolled over into woodland.  And, through one of these woodlands, the ancient roadway ran by. It was the dispute over my use of this ‘green lane’ in a vehicle that was to take me back to the High Court again.

For Part 2 of 3, visit 31 August, 2013


‘It could only happen to a salesman’

SALESMEN GET UP EARLY. They have to catch trains, negotiate motorways, get to meetings on time. It’s part of the daily sales task.

On this day, I was on my way to Kings Cross to catch a train.  The time was around 6.30 am, maybe 6.45.  I live in London on one of the wide, leafy, neo-Georgian streets north of Marble Arch. It was a beautiful late summer morning:  blue skies, sunny clear light. No-one about, no cars. ‘Not so bad to get up early on a morning like this’ I thought as I locked the front door.  I turned to walk down the street towards the station.  As I walked, I noticed a box van parked on the yellow line opposite the car parking bays.

The van advertised things like bread rolls and pitta bread from Park Royal.  Park Royal is just down the A40 from London and professes to a number of small bakeries. The headlights were full on. No-one in the driver’s seat.  ‘He won’t start that up in a hurry if he doesn’t get back soon,’ I thought.  But as I walked towards the van, I saw it move. ‘He must be in the back’. I walked round the back.  Surprisingly, the shutter blind was pulled down leaving only a small gap, perhaps 9 inches. I bent over and looked in.

What I saw, I have never seen before or since. It was the driver, a tall, slim, good-looking chap with dark hair.  He was crouched, reaching forward.   The thing about him was he was stark naked.  Not even socks. He also clearly didn’t need any Viagra; or he had just taken a couple of tablets. He reminded me of the Bayeux Tapestry, the scene of the returning soldier. I couldn’t see the object of his desires who was (hopefully) hidden amongst the bread trolleys.

He turned his head towards me.  ‘Your headlights are on’.  ‘Thanks mate’, he said and he gave me the thumbs up.  I continued on my way to the station.  I didn’t want to miss the train.

As walked down the pavement and away from the van, I mulled over what I had seen.  Why there? Who could the girl have been?  At least the bread trolleys seemed empty and the buns delivered!


The truck self-loading body was miniaturised to load and carry cars and lighter equipment. It was an ideal solution for car recovery at the time as cars increasingly became automatic, ‘softer’ in the front and lower to the ground.  A ‘spectacle’ frame was added to the back so a second car could be towed. Technical advantage was all about the weight of the body and payload, the loading angle and the gizmos that could be added to facilitate the task. We were lucky to have two good design engineers, Mike and Preston, which meant we could design for safety and produce repeats of the same design suitably modified to fit the range of chassis available.  The major customer group became the car recovery operators and the car associations.  Orders from the heavier equipment operators became the icing on the cake – higher values and bigger margins.

With increased cash flow, I became the Sales Director with direct line responsibility and a share of revenue. The ‘spectacle’ frame was now redesigned to fit a 3.5 tonne truck.  A fully fitted recovery vehicle with spectacle lift would sell for the same as the bigger, sliding car body.  Revenues began to soar as our speciality sellers showed their engineering competitors the way in closing out the orders.

With the new design of cars and the threat of damage, it wasn’t hard to persuade the recovery operators to move away from truck mounted cranes.  The problem was they were all scratching around to make ends meet as the car associations lowered the rates they would pay.  So the operators tended to buy just the equipment and bodge up their own bodies and lockers.  This equipment represented only a third of a fully ordinanced recovery vehicle.

At the same time, competition started to become stronger.  They couldn’t compete on the sales skills side but they could and did start cutting prices.  The recession arrived which hit the recovery trade.  Things were beginning to get tough. We put on our thinking caps and asked those vital, market-making questions: who else could use our equipment and why. Companies and people use the same equipment to achieve different purposes. For example,  Xerox makes copies. Customers don’t want copies, they want things particular to their business copied. So there is little purpose selling to a lawyer with the same vocabulary you would use, for example, with an accountant.

The answers to our questions became clear: car dealerships.  In the recession new car sales had fallen and the dealerships were looking round for ways to increase revenue.  Why not buy a fully equipped recovery truck, which would advertise your dealership, and use it to bring in breakdowns to your workshops and accident victims to your body shop?  A no-brainer. The names of the dealerships could be clearly identified and our sales team flew around mopping up the orders. Revenues had now increased sixteen fold.

The rest of the story was really about house-keeping rules. We kept marketing spend to areas like shows and activities where we could measure the response.  We had to keep our sellers amused.  We were in constant contact discussing their activities from their returns and offering such support as we could. Generally they were loners and liked to be the one there at the time the order was taken.  And they had little respect for their colleagues when it came to selling so we made a point of keeping them all fully informed who was selling what and to whom.  Otherwise we infilled with an occasional get together at to a patient hostelry so they could share their stories from the trenches and laugh at their management.

One sales tale worth a mention concerned our relationship with a car association.  We always did good business with them until one day their orders started drying up and going to a French company (which made good equipment too).  We then found we were becoming part of a self-fulfilling prophecy: being asked to quote on a very high specification only to lose on price to the same French company who then supplied at our original specification at a price higher than ours.  We had to face up to it.  There was no point sitting there year after year losing orders to a competitor for what seemed unfair reasons.  So off I went to see the boss.  I explained the situation as we saw it and hoped the Association would prefer to place their orders with a local supplier at a lower price, all other things being equal.  After I finished, he spoke these immortal words “You seem to be suggesting my managers are dishonest.” This was answered, as a good seller should, with SILENCE.  Anyway, to cut the story short, the orders started to flow again and everyone lived happily together forever after.

There are several key sales lessons in this.  You as a seller always have the right to go to the top when the shareholders’ interests are not being served by their employees.  As a maitre d’hotel of a top London restaurant once said to me “Always speak to God, never the saved”. If you are being mistreated, you must go high and face up to the hiatus.  You cannot lose an order you haven’t got.  Finally, if there is a row, there is always a tendency for the participants “to kiss and make up”.  The thing you must be absolutely sure about though is that you have right on your side.

You now have all my secrets

‘It could only happen to a salesman’

I began my sales career by joining Xerox UK as a trainee salesman.  As a trainee salesman, I received the same money as a Centre Group Economist for Viyella International which was taking over much of the English textile industry at the time.

The Xerox office was in Great Portland Street, a modern 4 or 5 story building, just north and to the left of Oxford Circus.  Between Great Portland Street, and in and around Berner Street, lay the heart of London’s cut-and-make garment industry, small blocks with a myriad of fashion shops on the pavement side while behind them the infill of cut-and-make, low level sheds with sloping, black-felted roofs.

As a trainee Xerox salesman you were only allowed into the office on Friday afternoons to hand in your call reports and orders and to chat with your managers & sales colleagues.  Salesmen tend to be very good buyers.  They see the value benefit in all kind of things; so a lot of the jokey conversations was around ‘what did you buy this week’ followed by screams of laughter as the humourists pointed out the disbenefits.

So there I was in the office every Fridays afternoon, usually after 2.00pm.  With time to pass until the pubs opened, I would look across at the higher rise offices the other side of the block and look down at the sculptured effect of the shed roofs as they interwove with each other.  One day I looked across to the adjacent office buildings and` noticed something rather strange.  It was a low, narrow window with sight obscuring glass.  What was strange about it was there was a blob of purple pressed against it with what, as I focused on it, seemed to be shoulders.  Now I could see, above the colour, the longer hair of a woman.  Yes.  It must be a woman with her back pressed to the window.  There must have been a basin under the window for her to sit on.  Then, as I looked, a face appeared over her left shoulder; and, yes, the whole thing seemed to be moving up and down, not a lot but definitely moving.  It is difficult to remember how long it took until it went away – maybe 10 minutes, maybe more.

I didn’t say anything to my sales colleagues but, when I came into the office the next Friday, the same thing happened.  The blob of colour was there, sometime purple, sometimes blue.  Always about 4 o’clock. And the next Friday.  Obviously someone was collecting seigneurial rights before returning home for the weekend and the wife.

This went on for about four Fridays before I told my colleagues and, for a couple of Fridays, the office picture windows overlooking the sheds were filled with Xerox employees enjoying the break after a hard week.  Obviously people in the cutting sheds became aware of everyone looking out of our windows and they too came out onto the shed roofs to see what was going on.

I will never forget the last Friday.  It was a beautiful English day, clear, blue skies with the sun turning golden towards the later afternoon.  It looked like a scene from the Sermon on the Mount; or the Feeding of the 5000.  At 4 o’clock precisely the roofs were covered in people, hundreds of them,  looking up at the magic window.  They were dressed in vivid colours with a preponderance of black and the very white, white shirts and the white of their cutting aprons. A magnificent sight. The stars took their position. Slowly and purposefully the purple jersey and the 2 heads gathered and began to move rhythmically together. But clearly, for the face looking out the window, the colours had changed.  Instead of the sombre black roofs, there was a kaleidoscope of colour, of people laughing, pointing and talking with each other, drinking drinks and eating the odd leftover sandwich.

Then, as suddenly as it had begun, it was gone.  No more Fridays. Only the memory.  On both sides no doubt.

Instituting the right reporting process is an absolute key to fast lane sales success; and the key document is the Hot Prospect List. The rigour with which the information is gathered is a must in forecasting accurately the seller’s monthly turnover as well as the demand on production. The definition of the candidates for the list is critical too.  They must be decision makers who have said YES they will buy but haven’t signed the order for a reason out of their control, for example a meeting for Board approval or budget allocation.  So the list will include the company name, the decision maker’s name and telephone number, the item to purchase and its value and, finally but critically, the date of final approval  i.e. the day after which the seller can phone to confirm the order. Unromantically and rigorously run (i.e. excluding the temptation of wishful thinking) 60% of the value on this list will come to fruition.

The second most important list is the Good Prospect List which is the feeder to the Hot Prospects.  These are candidates who have been met, have expressed a strong interest and who, the seller has a strong ‘feeling in the water’, will develop through to a final decision. The list will contain much the same information as the Hot Prospect List except it will also show future actions to be taken by date and expected date of order.  Again, unromantically run and with strong criteria, 35% will come through to fruition.

How these two lists work together is simple.  The Hot Prospect List will show for each month the expected sales.  The seller will work out the number of names it takes to meet budgeted sales.  If the names are not on the list for this month and the next, the seller is unlikely to meet his/her target sales.  He knows clearly what he has to do to fill the list immediately to meet his budget. Maybe, in a normal month,  the seller will exhaust 6 names on the list to gain the 4 he requires.  These need to be replaced.  They will be replaced by names on the Good Prospect List or from the effort to build this list.  Let’s say he loses 12 good prospects to replace the 6 Hot Prospects he has lost. So the sales task is clear.  The seller has to do enough new calls to feed the Good Prospect List and well as find prospects who will go straight to hot or sold.  In this case he must find 12 new Good Prospects as well as 6 Hot Prospects to feed the order rate. So do the top sellers grow the stick they use to beat their own backs with.  Top sellers have one defining characteristic.  They have discipline, discipline in adhering to the framework of their sale; and discipline in the way they to plan and manage their daily activity.

The third equally important document is the Weekly Customer Contact List.  This will show the breakdown, by number only, of the range of calls he has made in the previous week.  These will be physical face-to-face meetings.  Likely categories are new calls, follow-up calls, demonstrations, customer calls, technical calls and so on.  The key call is the new call. This is the first call to a new or existing customer where new business is discussed for the first time only.  This is a key definition.  New business comes from new calls.  It’s where growth comes from.  The list will form the basis of the conversation between the seller and his manager. After the 3rd week of conversation, it becomes impossible for the seller to perpetuate any ‘white lies’ as to activity. If he/she is spending too much time shooting the breeze in the comfort of customers’ offices, it will be picked up and noticed.   The higher the number of new calls, the more successful the seller.  You should be looking for at least 6 new calls per week.

The final document is the Monthly Expenses Schedule showing expenses spend, with receipts, by day.  It gives important information like where the seller has been, how much time is spent travelling and whether he/she is using expenses to make up short-falls in earnings.  But be generous and open minded. Finance Directors who take off the cost of an umbrella bought to replace one blown away at a meeting causes annoyance for small value; and he can rest assured the charge will appear invisibly somewhere in the future!

You will see, looking at these lists, they are lists the seller should be producing for himself to manage his territory properly.  In conjunction with a diary, they will clearly show whether the territory is being managed well now and in the future. The view should be the seller is running his own business on the territory and needs the support of sales management to facilitate his success.  He/she doesn’t want the feeling of fighting for the company in the field and against the company on return to the office. Clearly, with a manger who is giving him this full support for his activity, he will only too happy to share and discuss the information in the search for different and better ways to close more business. If the manager thinks there are customers he must interfere with, it is better he makes these (few) house accounts and off-territory.






“It makes you want laugh…. & cry”

Selling in a foreign language is never easy, never easy when you have to feel your way through to find the words.  French is no different.  Maybe, like me, you have had French hammered into you for years.  You have an immense vocabulary hidden away somewhere. You can conjugate and decline endlessly. But the words you want just don’t spring to mind when you need them most. So you rely on different devices.  You can say the same thing again, but louder, in the hope that a glimmer of understanding appears on your respondees French face. You can search your memory for synonyms of the word you are seeking, often synonyms with a faintly ancient feel or sound to them, and say these with a heavily French accent.  Many English words ending –ation lend them to frenchific-ation; or you can go to the verb and remove the –r in the hope you find the noun. In this story, this is what I did.

I was running the sales operation for a UK based truck-mounted recovery equipment company.  We had grown rapidly and were setting out to conquer Europe. We were at the Paris Motor Show. We had already just been to the Barcelona Motor Show.  We were exhausted. It was the third week on the trot. Our inner tubes were burnt with orange juice and late eating.  We had had enough. Perhaps we had become flippant.  Humour doesn’t always translate well into different languages either.

Selling car recovery (depannage) equipment in French isn’t the easiest either.  There is no international vocabulary available in this market. There are words like winch (treuil) and bodies which slide back (glisser) to know.  And the French use different concepts to the English in the way they choose words (one French agent suggested it was better to translate the English into Chinese first before finding your way to the French) In English we have the word the word ‘light’ (lumiere). Then we have all the lights: we have traffic light, headlight, rear light, flashing light and so on.  For the French, they have different concepts and words for each – feu rouge, phare yet feu arriere; & rampe.  And so the amateur linguist’s vocabulary must extend with no obvious connects.

So here we are at the Paris Motor Show, Tony the owner and me.  Exhausted.  Slightly bored.  We had to be there.  We were not doing much business.  Our customer group was the French vehicle recovery industry.  They come in two sorts.  Short, fat, bald-headed men, with fingers like sausages and the black, oily grime of years staining under and around their nails, still wearing their blue overalls and their steel toe caps shining from their boots.  Or they are well groomed, with tailored hair, leather jackets and imitation crocodile shoes.  I was in an interesting and interested conversation with one of the latter.  He was accompanied by his overpowdered wife, spreading rather too far into her 40’s for the tight fitting black skirt and jacket she was wearing, dyed hair worn bouffant style to accentuate the height of her 6” stilettos.  She was accompanied by a miniature Yorkie with the liitle bow on her forelock.

My visitor in due course left the stand to look around. The routine of demonstrating the equipment to the ‘tyre kickers’ returned; and so, about a hour later did my friend with the wife and the crocodile shoes.  He looked like an interested buyer for the equipment on the stand. We were interested sellers.  We certainly did not want to take it back to England.  We regreeted one another.  The stand was full of smiles. We talked for a while, the specification, the chassis constraints, and so on.  Then he held his own counsel for a few moments before he asked (in French) ‘What will you give me if I buy one of these?’ This is what is called in selling is called a buying signal.

In the car recovery trade, as you can imagine, conversations can become very basic.  All men together kind of stuff. So I launched myself on to a humorous, sale closing response.  What I tried to say, when translated into English, was ‘I will give you a discount of 20% and maybe even a kiss’.  But, sad to say, in my French it didn’t work out quite this way –

‘Je vous donnerez un remise (discount) de vingt (20) percent et meme peutetre un…’kiss. What is kiss in French?  Baiser to kiss. Take off the –r. Baise.  That’ll be it …et meme peutetre un baise.’

With these words, his femme (wife) swung round on her 6” stilettos and was gone. He lent forward, looked me hard in the eye and was gone too.  Not a single word. Never to be seen again.

That evening I phoned my Belgian agent, Michel a Walloon.  I explained what had happened. He laughed. ‘You didn’t say what you intended, Philippe’.  ‘What did I say, Michel?’ ‘You said you would give him a 20% discount and, how do you say it, sex.’  ‘Does the word you’re hesitating to say begin with an  -f, Michel.  ‘Yes, Philippe. It does.’  ‘Oh dear’.

Well.  Let’s face it.  I didn’t take the order this time but I did learn a bit more French.