Room 7. ( Anita)

7

A series of stories all set in or around the same Hotel Room. Room 7.

The young girl on reception looks at him and smiles.

“Room 7?”

He nods.

“Yes please. “

She takes a key from behind the counter and places it in his hand. She doesn’t have to tell him where Room 7 is, he’s a regular. Same room, same time, every Tuesday. Regular as clockwork.

He walks along the corridor, third door on the right-hand side. He stops outside for a few seconds and then turns the key in the door. Time to see Anita.

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Anita was a dancer at his favourite club in Shoreditch. It was 1998 and Shoreditch was still a shit hole back then. It was where the East End met the City. An adults playground where you could get drunk, snort coke, shag yourself senseless, be sick on the street then walk across the road into a different postcode, straighten your tie and suddenly become respectable again.

She was from Ghana and had the body of a black goddess. That first night he spent a fortune getting her to dance privately for him in one of the booths at the back of the club. Every time she finished he gave her another tenner to start again. At 2am when her shift was over, he was waiting outside. He hailed a cab and took her to the Wentworth just a few miles outside the City.  Although it looked like a posh Hotel it was the kind of place where, if you asked discreetly, you could pay by the hour.

She pulled a CD from her bag and inserted it into a player next to the TV. “Funk Classics From The 70’s”. This was HER music, she was obsessed with it.

“Yum Yum” by The Fatback Band boomed out loud as they explored each other’s bodies, she grinded down hard on him as each bass note shook the tiny room. When they finally laid back exhausted and covered in sweat she insisted on listening to the whole CD. All seventy minutes of it. After each track she told him who the artist was, who wrote the song, who the bass player and drummer were, what year it was recorded. Yep, she was obsessed with the music.

It became a regular thing. Every Tuesday after her shift she’d meet him at the Wentworth in Room 7 and every time she’d bring along another CD. The Ohio Players, Fat Larry’s Band, Brass Construction, Parliament and War were all played loud in that room.

They became close.  He never asked her about her work or if she saw other men and she never asked about his private life. He doubted she ever knew about his two failed marriages and three kids. Probably for the best, no point in complicating things.

They both had habits. He knew she was using. But he never judged. How could he? He snorted coke, smoked weed and drunk the best part of three bottles of Scotch during the week. It’s what got him through the day. An escape from the reality of what was a really shit existence. Her habits were much harder, but then they would be, her life was harder than his.

Then one night she just wasn’t there. He waited until it was light then went home. He went to the club the next day but there was no sign of her. In fact, he went back every day for the next two weeks until one night he heard the news from one of the bouncers. Anita was dead. Found at her flat. Overdose.

That was two years ago. He still sees her. Even though she’s gone. But he has to play the music, HER music. In THEIR room. She never speaks, just smiles, then dances. Sometimes she’ll blow him a kiss or give him a wink. That’s enough for him, it gives him the strength to carry on.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

He takes the CD from his jacket pocket and slides it into the player. He hears the familiar click and whirling sound. He waits. “Galaxy” by War booms out and suddenly she’s there. Standing in the corner smiling at him. And she begins to dance…

 

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Butcher Boy2. Post Office Days 19.

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Monday morning came around and we all noticed an empty seat. Graham announced that Sheila from Aldershot would no longer be on the course. She was a mum with a six year old child and hadn’t realised how much time the training would take up. Apparently she told Graham on Friday before she left. So now there were fifteen of us.

Graham began week two.

“Today will all be about objectives. Setting them and achieving them.”

My first thought was…boring!

Graham continued.

“Every time you go to a sales call. You need to write down what your objective for that call is. Everyone agree?”

We all nodded. Seemed logical.

Graham continued.

“Good. Let’s say it’s a customer you’ve never been to see before, but you know they spend a thousand pounds a week with another Parcel carrier. But that’s all you know. What would be your objective for that call?”

Danny spoke up straightaway and shouted out.

“Go in and get all the business.”

Graham smiled.

“Okay. But…you don’t know the name of the other carrier, you have no idea what they’re paying for the service, you have no idea what products they send or what weights they are, you don’t know if you’re seeing the buyer or his assistant or just someone in the postroom. You don’t know if the parcels are sent from the premises you are visiting or somewhere else. You don’t know if they go to the UK or overseas. Still think you can just walk in and get all his business?”

That threw us a bit. It was possible, but unlikely.

Graham wrote five letters on the flip chart. SMART.

“All objectives have to be SMART. Specific…Measurable…Achievable…Realistic…and Timed.”

We all took a few seconds to take it in, then Graham went into detail.

“I’ll give you another scenario. You’re going in to see a new customer. All you know is that they sell Photocopier paper and the name of the buyer. Would your objective be to get all their business at the first meeting?”

I spoke up.

“No. Because it’s not realistic?”

Graham nodded.

“That’s right. It’s Specific, because you’re saying ALL his business in the first meeting. You could even say it’s Measurable, because you’ve said ALL of it. It’s Achievable, because it could happen, and it’s Timed because you’re saying in the first meeting. But it’s certainly not Realistic, not in just one meeting. So what should your objective be?”

Danny shouted out again.

“To get SOME of his business?”

Graham looked over at Danny and shook his head.

“No you crumpet! Think of SMART. Is getting SOME of his business SPECIFIC? No it’s not. Is it TIMED? No it’s not, when will you get SOME business? Today, tomorrow, next week, in a year’s time?”

We all began to understand what he meant. Danny started to go red faced. Graham asked him again.

“Come on Danny, think about it. What SHOULD your objective be, using the SMART technique?”

Danny took his time. We could actually hear the wheels in his brain going round.

“Okay. My objective for the first meeting would be… to gain as much information as possible about the buyer and the company and then set a date for a second meeting.”

Graham smiled.

“Well done Danny. It’s good. Not quite correct but it’s better. If you’d have said set a date for a second meeting within two weeks, then I’d have given you a gold star!”

Graham laughed and we all joined in. He had a way of knocking you down then building you back up again in just a few minutes.

What he was telling us made sense. The rest of the day was spent looking at different scenarios and setting objectives for them used the SMART technique.

The second week was more intense than the first. Long days in the classroom and evenings spent discussing what we’d learnt ready to do a presentation the next morning. Of course The Naughty Boys were always the last people in the bar and quite often we’d raid the Wine Store and pour good red wine into mugs and take them into the lounge and pretend we were drinking coffee just in case anyone turned up. But most of the time it was just me, Danny and Greg talking about the course like excited school kids.

By the end of week two Graham had taught us how to set objectives for a sales call, gain as much information from the customer about his business by using open and closed questions, and how to identify potential problems within his current situation. We’d done countless role plays and then watched them back so we could see where we needed to improve our technique.

Friday came and we all left Coton House and headed for home. The next week I had to report back at London Sales Office to spend the week out with an experienced Sales Rep.

His name was Tony and he covered parts of the City. Two postcodes to be exact, London EC1 and EC2. He’d been in the job for two years and been with the Post Office for sixteen. He was around forty and looked every bit a salesman. I instantly liked him.

“Hiya mate. You drew the short straw and got me for a week. We’ve got loads of good appointments booked in and we’ll also be doing a few cold calls. Sound okay?”

I nodded.

“Yep all good with me.”

He poured us both a coffee.

“Did you drive in this morning?”

“Yeh, I parked in the car park behind the office.”

Tony seemed surprised.

“Leave it at home this week mate. Get a train in. In the City we either walk or take a train. Keep all the tickets and we’ll fill out an expenses form on Friday and get one of the Managers to sign it off.”

Music to my ears. I get a Company Car, yet use the train and get my fares refunded!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Butcher Boy2. Post Office Day 18.

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Our session in the bar wasn’t massive, just a few pints and in bed by midnight.

The presentation was written out on a flip chart and all three of us were prepared to do it if called upon by Graham.

At 7.58am all the class were sitting at their desks and waiting for Graham’s arrival. At exactly 8.00am he walked in, put his briefcase on the desk and pointed a finger at me.

“Joe. Over to you.”

Now I’ve never had a problem speaking in front of lots of people, so I wasn’t nervous. Working in the Butchers Shop was, at times, like being on stage, you always had an audience watching your every move. And working for years with a character like Roy had made me a bit of an extrovert. But just as I was about to start, the door opened and in walked John Fowler, the Head of Sales and Marketing Training. This was the guy the Post Office had paid a fortune to get from The Mars Corporation. The whole room, including Graham, seemed to sit up straight and pay attention. It was like royalty had just entered the room. He looked over at me and nodded.

“Don’t mind me. Just carry on.”

That was easy for him to say. He wasn’t the one standing in front of fifteen students, an experienced Sales trainer and quite possibly the best Salesman in the world!

For the first couple of sentences I could hear the tremble in my voice, but after a few minutes I was in full flow and enjoying the experience. I even chucked in a bit of humour and made everyone laugh by mentioning how Danny had almost bought a tie during his role play the previous day. After fifteen minutes I was done and sat back down. Graham then went round the class asking each of us what we’d learnt from the evening’s discussion.

John Fowler continued to sit and watch until Graham had finished. Then he stood up and walked over to where Graham was standing. I was looking forward to another one of his motivational speeches.

“Okay everyone. Good work so far. I want you to remember one thing. Selling is just a conversation between two people. But it’s a conversation that you have to be in control of. You have to direct it where you want it to go but without the other person realising that it’s happening. It’s a skill that hopefully you will learn by the end of this course. It doesn’t matter what you’re selling, it could be a product like a tin of beans or a service like Office Cleaning. It’s all the same process. Now then…any questions you’d like to ask me?”

The room was silent for a few seconds then the guy from Croydon raised his hand and asked a really good question that I hadn’t thought of.

“I noticed that you said “hopefully” we will learn these skills by the end of the course. What happens if we haven’t? Is there more training?”

John Fowler smiled.

“That’s a good question and something I’m pleased you’ve brought up. There are sixteen of you on this course. It’s unlikely that sixteen of you will still be here at the end of it. Personally, I think twelve of you will make it. One or two of you will quit before the end. You’ll realise that it’s not for you and Sales isn’t really your thing. Others will be told by my team that they’re not good enough and haven’t achieved the required standard.”

There was a stunned silence in the room. No one had expected that we could actually fail the course.

John continued.

“You’ll be assessed every two weeks. You’ll be told your strengths and weaknesses and what areas you need to improve in. The rest is up to you. Improve, work hard and learn and you stay, do the opposite and you leave. The people that we want representing The Post office need to be committed, skilled, professional sales people, and that’s exactly what you’ll be if you complete this course. Okay, I’ll let Graham carry on.”

And with that he walked out of the room.

His words really hit home with me. Up until then I’d thought of Coton House as one big jolly up, but now I realised I had to take it seriously. Failure just wasn’t an option.

The rest of the week we worked long hour’s fine tuning our opening techniques. The format was the same, lots of role plays and then evening discussions followed by a few drinks in the bar till midnight. At 1.00pm on Friday afternoon Graham told us our first week was over. I was completely knackered. But I’d loved it.

I have to confess I slept most of Saturday and before I had time to take it all in Sunday afternoon was upon me and I was once again heading up the M1 towards Coton House.

By 8.00pm The Naughty Boys were once again sitting in the big lounge and drinking large amounts of our special “coffee”.

 

Swimming In The Rain.

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A fictional short story in under 500 words.

That summer.

How can I describe that summer?  The word “Perfect” seems appropriate.

I was thirteen and on holiday with my parents in a beat up old caravan owned by my Dads sister. Aunt Sheila.

Mum and Dad were going through a “bad patch”. A term used a lot in our family. I remember when I was seven staying with Nan and Granddad till things were “patched”. And after two weeks they came to pick me up and I heard Mum saying “It’s okay, everything is patched up now.”

I never liked the word “patch”. I associated it with bad things.

The Isle Of Sheppey sounded mysterious. I told my mates at school that I was spending the summer holidays on an Island in the middle of the Ocean. Only certain parts of that statement were true.

Sheppey was where the North Sea collided with the English Channel and Leysdown-On-Sea was where the water was bitter cold and dark in colour. But it was the sea, and sea needed to be swam in.

I swam in it every day. My teeth chattered and my body shivered but I had to go in. My swimming trunks were handed down from a cousin who’d outgrown them but were still too big for me and I spent most of my time trying to keep them up. I swam with one hand while the other held onto the trunks. I swam in circles.

One week was all we could afford. We didn’t have to pay for the Caravan of course but there were still expenses. Petrol there and back, a few drinks in the club house in the evenings and fish and chips for tea every night. And Dad gave me fifty pence everyday for pocket money.

I went out at ten o’clock in the morning and came back in time for tea at six. I walked for miles during the day and tried to explore as much of the “Island” as I could. I found small bays where I caught crabs on a hand line and tried to sell them to the local shops for just a few pence. One day an old man bought seven and gave me his loose change. It was over one pound. I felt like a millionaire.

I swam in the shallows and dived for Oysters hoping to find Pearls. I found Cockles and Clams and even a small Dogfish, but no Oysters. It didn’t matter I was on holiday and that was good enough so I threw everything back into the murky water.

On the last day I was swimming far out. I was about fifty yards from the beach near our Caravan Park, I started to swim to shore. I saw two figures on the beach. It was Mum and Dad. I stopped and trod water. I saw them kiss and then embrace. It started to rain.

As I said. That summer was just perfect.

 

Butcher Boy2. Post Office Days 17.

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Graham wasn’t kidding about the long hours. Although our hangovers had passed by lunchtime our brains were now aching from taking in so much information. We went through open questions, closed questions, when to listen, when to speak, when to pause, when to lean forward, when to lean back, observations about the buyer, observations within the room, how to recognise a buying signal and how to recognise a potential objection and all this before lunch, which today would only be thirty minutes.

In the afternoon we put our theory into practice with role plays, splitting into groups of four.  One person would be the salesperson and another the customer, the other two would watch, take notes and identify the good bits and the bad. Each group was being filmed so they could watch it back later in the day.

Each role play would last twenty minutes, it wasn’t a full sales interview, just the opening to see if we could get the buyer to open up and give us as much information as possible about the company and just as importantly the individual sitting in front of us.

Before we started the person playing the salesman was given a short written profile with some basic information about the customer. Just the Company name and what they did and the name of the buyer.

The person playing the buyer was given a much longer written profile with much more detailed information. It was the salesman’s job to try to get as much information as possible from the buyer without it sounding like an interrogation!

Danny was in my group of four along with a lady from Nottingham and a guy from Croydon. We each took it in turns to be the Salesman or the Buyer and then do the critique. After about two hours we’d each had out turn and were sitting in a small room, just the four of us, waiting to watch the replays. It was the first time I’d ever seen myself on film. It felt weird. I suddenly noticed every small detail of my behaviour and mannerisms. To be honest I thought my performance was pretty poor. Twice I ran out of things to say, I paused just a little longer than was natural and it was obvious I was struggling to think of the next question. But Danny was worse than me. He completely lost the plot after ten minutes and started asking the most ridiculous questions.

“I really like your tie. Where did you buy it?”

The guy from Croydon who was playing the buyer couldn’t keep a straight face and began to laugh but composed himself and answered.

“Marks and Spencers. Six quid.”

Danny kept going.

“Which Branch?”

Again the Croydon guy answered but was giggling as he did so.

“High Street in New Addington.”

Danny didn’t know how to respond, he had run out of ideas. The words were just tumbling out of his mouth.

“Nice colour!”

That was it…all four of us just fell about laughing. Graham had been watching and shouted out.

“Stop, stop. What the fuck are you doing Danny? Who’s the salesman here?”

Danny looked at him.

“Me.”

Graham stared at him.

“Exactly, so why are you trying to buy his fucking tie?”

And with that comment Graham started to laugh out loud and I thought the woman from Nottingham was going to wet herself!

By 6.00pm we’d watched all the playbacks and had a really good laugh at every one of them.  Not one of us got all the information there was to get from the buyer and some, like Danny, had gone completely off track. It was obvious to all of us that this selling business was harder than it looked. But it was only day two and we still had a lot to learn.

Graham brought the day to an end.

“As you can see, it’s not easy. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover in the coming weeks. Tonight I want you to work as a team. Talk about the things you learnt from the role plays. What did you do wrong, what did you miss, what questions should you have asked, and what would you do differently next time. Make a list of all of those things and then nominate one person from the group to give a twenty minute presentation to the rest of us at 8.00am tomorrow morning. Oh yes, just one more thing. The Naughty Boys…take it easy tonight. I want you sharp and alert first thing in the morning. “

We all started to pack our things away. But Graham spoke again.

“No, listen up everyone. I’ve changed my mind. I think we’ll have one of The Naughty Boys to do the presentation in the morning. So Danny, Joe and Greg, all be prepared to do it and I’ll choose one of you at 8.00am!”

He smiled and then left the room.

The three of us looked at each other. Fuck!

We went to our rooms and got changed. After a quick dinner in the restaurant we all met back in the main lounge at 8.00pm and started our homework. By the time we’d finished it was almost 10.00pm. Most of the group went to bed, but not The Naughty Boys…we headed for the games room and the bar!

 

Butcher Boy2. Post Office Days 16.

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I might have given the wrong impression about Coton House. It wasn’t just for Sales Training. It was the venue that most courses for Management (PEC and above) took place.  They could be as diverse as Grievance and Disciplinary Procedures for HR staff or a course on Public Speaking for Postmasters.  At any one time there could be fifteen or twenty different courses taking place. The grounds were enormous with lots of new buildings built around the old Manor House. Some courses were just for one day, others might be three days and some (like the Sales course) were for full weeks. If people lived within just an hour’s drive away then they probably wouldn’t stay over.

But everything came to life on a Monday morning. By 8.00am the place was heaving with people. Long queues at reception with everyone wanting to know what training room they had to go to. The restaurant was busy with queues forming for the self service buffet breakfasts.

Me, Danny and Greg were greedily scoffing our eggs, bacon, sausages and beans by 8.00am. We needed it as our system was still full of lager!

At 9.00am we were all seated in one of the training rooms. The desks were in a horseshoe formation and there were sixteen of us on the course. Twelve men and four women. Our tutor was Graham the same guy that had taken me for the PSA course.

We started as usual with introductions. Each one of us had to stand up and speak for five minutes about our backgrounds and what we expected to get out of the course. Everyone apart from me was already a PEC and had just changed roles within their grade. But it was a young course. No one was older than thirty five and the average age was around thirty. All parts of the UK were covered. There were people from Cornwall in the South right up to Big Greg from Glasgow.

The first day went quickly. It was more about listening than doing. At 4.30pm Graham told us the day was over.

“Okay everyone. I’m letting you go early today. You’ve had a lot to take in and I’ve decided that your little brains might be going into overload. But…the rest of the week will be different. We’ve got a lot to get through in week one so the rest of the week I want you sitting here ready at 8.00am. You won’t finish until 5.30pm at the earliest and then you’ll have work to do in the evening in preparation for the following day. If we do that then I can let you go home early on Friday to avoid the traffic. That way you can get back to your families at a reasonable time. Deal?”

Everyone nodded in agreement. Graham continued.

“But as it’s Day One and I’m in an unusually good mood, anyone who wants a drink, I’ll be at the bar when it opens at 5.30 and I’ll be happy to buy you a glass or two.”

That seemed like an offer I couldn’t refuse. I went up to my room had a shower and changed into some casual clothes. At exactly 5.35 I was at the bar with a beer in my hand talking with the rest of the class about our first day. Graham told us what to expect for the rest of the week.

“This week is all about Sales structure. You’ll all learn how to conduct a sales interview. It has an opening and a close and a lot more in the middle. So we’ll be doing role plays. Each evening you’ll split into teams and learn a certain product. The next day you’ll be asked to sell that product to a buyer. You’ll be filmed doing it and afterwards we’ll look at the film and see what you did right and more importantly what you did wrong. These will be long days, so I don’t expect to see you in the bar in the evenings!”

I’m sure Graham was looking at me when he said those final words.

Graham lived just half an hour away and he left us at seven o’clock. We all went off to the restaurant and had dinner. True to form by 9.30pm there were only three of us at the bar in the games room. Me, Danny and Greg. We had a few games of Pool and then played Darts till the barman shouted “Last Orders”. Obviously we got a few in and stayed in the bar until the familiar security guard told us he was locking up and we had to return to the main lounge. We finally called it a night around 1.00am.

My head was pounding when I woke up at 6.30am. I showered, put on my suit and went down for breakfast at 7.15. Most of the others were already there, all looking fresh and ready to go. There was no sign of Greg or Danny. I ate what I could and washed it down with lots of black coffee. At 7.45 there was still no sign of Greg or Danny. I thought about going to wake them but for the life of me I couldn’t remember what rooms they were in.

I got to the training room with five minutes to spare. I was relieved to see Greg and Danny already there, but looking like death. I took a seat next to them.

“Fuck me, I thought I looked bad, but you two…Jesus!”

Danny was as white as a sheet and Greg looked like he’d literally got out of bed and put a suit on. Then Graham walked in. He took a long look around the room at each of us.

“Well, well. I think I can tell who the naughty boys are!”

The whole room started to laugh. All except me, Danny and Greg, we just sort of smiled…

Butcher Boy2. Post Office Days 15.

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In late 1983 I became a PSR (Postal Sales Representative), but like everything in the Post Office, I had to be trained to do the job. Another thirteen weeks course at POMC (Post Office Management College). To be honest that was the icing on the cake. I loved the place. Who wouldn’t? It was like a five star hotel.

I picked up my new company car, nothing fancy, in fact it was the old pool car. A four year old, 3 door Hatchback, Vauxhall Chevette. I didn’t care, I was now an Executive with a company car, business cards and a briefcase.

Not that I would be let loose on the world yet. I still had my training to do. The first two weeks at Management College and then a week out with an experienced London Sales Rep.

I drove up to Coton House (POMC) on Sunday evening to avoid the rush hour traffic on Monday morning. I’d been told by Gary that the place was pretty much deserted at weekends and only really came to life during weekdays. There would be no bar or restaurant open and a room key would be left for me with the Security Guard. I had no idea how many people would be on the course or if any of them would be like me and arrive on Sunday night. I got there at 7.30pm. The car park was deserted. The main entrance was open but inside it was like the Mary Celeste! I shouted out.

“Hello. Anyone?”

No answer. I wandered around the main reception area and called out again.

“Hello. Anyone about?”

A guy in his late fifties with silver grey hair appeared holding a massive bunch of keys.

“What one are you?”

I had no idea what he was talking about.

“Sorry?”

He repeated the question.

“What one are you? I’ve got three people coming up tonight. So what one are you?”

Now I understood.

“Joe. From London Sales.”

He went behind the reception desk and grabbed an envelope. He gave it to me.

“You’re in room 22. Keys inside the envelope. Nothing is open but you can help yourself to tea and coffee from the kitchen if you like.”

With that he walked away.

I took my things up to room 22 and then returned to reception. I decided to have a wander.  The restaurant was in darkness but I could see the kitchen area behind and there was a light on. Once in the kitchen I could see a coffee machine with a full pot of coffee underneath. It looked like it had been sitting there for a while but it was hot so I poured myself a cup. At the far end of the kitchen there was a narrow corridor, I followed it. There were two doors, one to the left and one to the right. I turned the handle of the right hand door.

Fuck me, it was like an Aladdin’s cave. The room was about 10 x 12 and packed floor to ceiling with…wine!  Right hand side was red, left hand was white. Hundreds of bottles. I closed the door quickly just in case the security guard was watching. Then I opened up the left hand door. Oh dear. It was the door that led to the small bar in the main reception room. I pulled on one of the taps. Sure enough, cold lager began to pour out.

I was disturbed by a noise coming from the kitchen. I thought it was the security guard so very quietly I turned and walked out of the room and back along the corridor. I called out.

“Hello.”

A voice returned my call.

“Hello.”

Standing by the coffee machine was a guy about thirty. Dressed casually in Jeans, Tee Shirt and trainers.  We shook hands.

“My name’s Danny. I’m from Milton Keynes. You on the Sales course tomorrow?”

“Yeh. I’m Joe. From London.”

He took a mouthful of his coffee.

“Jesus this is like piss. Shame the bar’s not open. I could kill for a pint.”

Music to my ears.

“Stay there and look out for the Security guard.”

I took two coffee mugs and walked back along the corridor. I could see he looked confused. I returned a couple of minutes later and handed him his mug. He looked at it and then took a sip. A big grin appeared on his face.

“How?”

I told him about the two rooms behind the kitchen. One full of wine and the other was the bar.

“Great news. I think we might be drinking a lot of “coffee” tonight.”

We quickly drank our beers and I went back and got us a refill. We took our “coffee” to the large lounge area.

He told me his story. He was twenty nine and been with the Post office since leaving school. He’d worked his way up the ladder from Postman to PEC but it had taken him twelve years. He’d seen the advert in The Gazette for Sales Reps and thought he’d give it a go. When I told him I’d only been with the Post office for three and a half years he asked the obvious question.

“How the fuck did you get a PEC grade so quickly?”

I just shrugged my shoulders.

“Right place at the right time!”

We were interrupted by a broad Glaswegian accent.

“Hiya. You two on the Sales Course tomorrow?”

Standing at the main entrance was a big guy. Mid thirties, big mop of ginger hair, over six feet tall and about eighteen stone.

We both got up to greet him. We did our introductions. His name was Greg and he was from the Glasgow office. I went behind the reception desk and found his envelope.

“Here you go Greg. You’re in room 23, next door to me. Chuck your bags in the room and then join us for coffee.”

He looked disappointed.

“Coffee? Is the bar not open?”

We both laughed.

“Don’t worry Greg. You’ll love the coffee here. It’s the best coffee you’ll have ever tasted!”

By the end of that evening, we drank an awful lot of “coffee” and me, Danny and Greg became mates. We would soon be known at Coton House as “The Naughty Boys”.

 

 

Butcher Boy2. Post Office Days 14.

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After Stan left, Bill became a different man. He smartened up, lost weight, took his role seriously and welcomed the fact that I was making him up to twenty appointments a week. But to be fair I only had him to look after and I could have made him forty!

The weeks passed and suddenly Gary was handing me a copy of the Post Office Gazette.

“Turn to page nine.”

I did as he asked and there it was. “Postal Sales Representatives Wanted. All regions.”

I read the article carefully. It mentioned that it was at PEC grade and was open to all Executives of that grade, but also to Postal Officers with the relevant service and experience. I liked that last bit. I turned and looked at Gary.

“So what happens now? I write a letter of application and send it off?”

Gary just smiled.

“No. Write the letter of course but bring it with you on Wednesday at the interview.”

That caught me by surprise.

“This Wednesday? But that’s the day after tomorrow.”

Gary nodded in agreement.

“Yep. Dave will be here at 11.00am. We’ll see you at 11.30 in my office.”

I was suddenly nervous. I’d been looking forward to this for weeks and here it was just forty eight hours away.

“But what do I need to prepare? What questions will he ask? What…?”

I didn’t have time to finish the sentence. Gary interrupted.

“Just be yourself. Listen, you’re better prepared for this interview that anyone else who’ll apply. You know what a Sales Rep needs to do, you know what we expect. You’ll walk through it.”

Forty eight hours later and I was sitting in front of Gary and Dave.  And the grilling began.

They acted as though I’d never met them before. It was all very formal and lasted for ninety minutes.  They asked a lot of questions about the Butchers Shop and seemed impressed that I’d run my own business at the age of just nineteen. They wanted to know how it all happened. I said that Roy had decided to emigrate to Australia and given me the opportunity to rent the shop for a year before deciding if I wanted to buy it. Not a complete lie as Roy could have been hiding anywhere in the world and Australia seemed a likely option. Then Dave asked a question that took me completely by surprise.

“Where do you see yourself in five years time?”

I thought back to five years before. I was a Butcher working in a shop in East London getting up to all sorts of skulduggery. If I’d been asked the same question back then the answer would have been easy. I always thought I’d have a string of Butcher Shops all over London, “Joe’s Joint” would be a household name and I’d be raking in the cash. It suddenly dawned on me, that ambition was never going to happen. My life had changed and possibly the trade I loved wasn’t going to be a part of it anymore. So I did what I always did in those situations. I came out with a load of bollocks!

“Well, I’m confident that I’ll be sitting right where Gary is at the moment. I’ll be a Sales Manager with my own team of Reps. Five years is a long time. I might even have your job by then Dave!”

They both smiled. I knew I’d said the right thing. If there’s one thing that these people liked was confidence and ambition. I was giving them both in one statement.

The questions continued for another thirty minutes and then Gary handed me a biro.

“Sell me this pen.”

It was just an ordinary Bic biro. So there was nothing special about it. Nothing that would make him want it. It wasn’t the pen I had to sell. It was the NEED for a pen! The sale began.

“What do you do for a living Gary? What’s your profession?”

“I’m a Salesman for Mothercare.”

I wasn’t expecting that answer but continued.

“What exactly do you sell for them?”

“I sell Mothercare Prams and Pushchairs to Stores all around Europe.”

“Do you try to make it as easy as possible for your customers to buy your products Gary?”

“Yes. The easier it is, the quicker I can get their order and the more money I make.”

“Do they have to complete an order form? Fill in some paperwork? A contract maybe?”

“Yes, everytime.”

“Do you fill out the paperwork for them? To speed up the process?”

“No.”

“Why is that Gary?”

“I don’t have a pen.”

I offered Gary the Biro.

“Buy this one. It does the job perfectly and will help you make the customers job much easier and quicker.”

Gary took the pen.

“Thank you. I’ll take it.”

It was an easy sale and not too difficult, but it did prove I knew the sales process. They both sat back and began to bring the interview to a close. Dave asked the question that I’d been waiting for.

“Okay Joe, I think we’ve covered everything. Are there any questions that you’d like to ask us?”

I’d promised myself I’d ask a certain question when the time was right. Now was that time.

“Just one. Have I got the job?”

The two of them looked at each other and both began laughing. Gary couldn’t help himself. The formality went out the window.

“I fucking knew you would ask that. I fucking knew it. Yes you’ve got the job. You start at Management College in just three weeks!”

I got confirmation the following week, offering me the position of PSR (Postal Sales Representative). My grade would be a PEC (Postal Executive “C”) grade.

I kept wondering, would this now be my new career? Was Butchery just a thing of the past? Only time would tell…

 

Butcher Boy2. Post Office Days 13.

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At 9.30am on Tuesday morning, me, Bill and Garry were seated in Gary’s office. There was no sign of Stan. Gary looked at his watch.

“Okay, we’ll have a coffee and give him till 9.45am, but then we’ll start without him.”

At 9.43am Stan turned up. He casually put down his briefcase and helped himself to some coffee. He was in no rush to join us. From the window in Garry’s office I could see him frantically looking for his diary. Eventually he decided to join us. He came in and took a seat next to Bill. I could see that Gary was struggling to control his temper.

“Ahh Stan. Thanks for joining us at last. Glad you could make it.”

The sarcasm was wasted on Stan. He was more concerned about his diary. Then he spotted it on Gary’s desk along with Bills. He spoke for the first time.

“How long’s this gonna take. I’ve got an appointment in East London at 11.00am.”

Gary smiled.

“Really Stan? Enlighten us. Who with? Because it’s not in your diary. According to your diary your first appointment today is at 12.30.”

Stan wasn’t used to being challenged and obviously didn’t like it. He shrugged his shoulders.

“Oh, I thought it was 11.00am. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. So, how long’s this gonna take?”

Gary completely ignored him and carried on.

“Glad you mentioned your diary Stan, because that’s why we’re here. I’ve got some good news for you both. You no longer have to make your own appointments. Joe’s started and I’m pleased to say that after only one day he’s got you your MAPS!”

There was a blank look on Bill and Stan’s faces. Stan asked the obvious question.

“What the fucks a MAP?”

Gary couldn’t wait to enlighten him.

“Sorry Stan. Sales jargon again. MAPS, stands for Minimum Acceptable Performance. And yours and Bills MAP is three sales calls a day. That’s fifteen a week. It’s no longer a target. Your TARGET is five calls per day. Three is the MINIMUM that we expect of you.”

Bill was silent but Stan wasn’t having it. He scoffed at the idea.

“And what if we don’t achieve our MAPS? What then?”

Gary was professional.

“Well then Stan. You’ll face disciplinary procedures just as you would in any other job where you weren’t performing to a certain standard.”

Stan wasn’t phased, he carried on in his usual fashion.

“That’s bull shit. No way. Impossible to do three a day. And five? Well that’s just total bollocks. There’s not enough hours in the day.”

Gary once again ignored his comments and continued. He looked straight at Bill.

“Joe was busy yesterday Bill, and this week, including today, he’s made you fifteen appointments all in the same area so you haven’t got to worry about travelling time.”

I think for Bill the penny had finally dropped. He could see that things were changing and this was the way forward. The days of doing exactly what he liked were now over. He accepted the inevitable.

Now it was time to give Stan the good news. Gary turned and looked him straight in the eyes.

“And for you Stan it gets even better. You’re in East London all week. Sixteen for you, that includes three this afternoon.”

Stans face couldn’t get any redder. I thought he was about to explode.

“Give me that diary. Let’s see what fucking sort of appointments these are. I bet they’re all a complete waste of time!”

Gary handed him his diary. The look on his face was a picture as he scanned the pages. Against every appointment I’d put down the name of the person he was seeing and why he was there. There was also information about how much mail they sent each day, how many parcels, how many went to the UK and how many went overseas. I’d also asked about their marketing and suggested our HDS service. Stan had nowhere to go. Then he spotted his 9.00am appointment on Thursday.

“Fucking 9.00am in Whitechapel? Impossible. Not doing it. I live in Romford, I’d have to leave home at 7.30am to get there for that time. No. Not possible.”

Gary asked a question nice and calm.

“Stan, you’re contracted to do an eight hour working day. Your working day starts when you get to your first appointment, not when you leave home. Understand? Or do I need to get a copy of your job description and working schedule for you?”

Stan was silent but was clearly thinking about his next move. Gary decided to go further.

“So that means Stan that if your first appointment is at 11.00am, I’ll expect you to work till 7.00pm on that day. Joe, you could get Stan some 6.00pm appointments couldn’t you?”

Up until then I hadn’t said a word. But Stan was acting like a spoilt kid so I chipped in.

“Yeh, no problem Gary. In fact there were a couple of companies I spoke to yesterday that would have welcomed a late appointment.”

That was it. Stan finally threw his toys out of his pram!

“This is total, total, bollocks and you won’t get away with it. The Unions won’t stand for it. You’re changing things without consultation and with no Union agreement. There’ll be strikes over this. They’ll all come out in our support. You mark my words, you’ll regret this and have to stand down over it. You’re making a big mistake!”

Then Gary played the trump card that even I didn’t know he had.

“Do you know where I was yesterday afternoon Stan? I was at Regional HQ just up the road. I was in a meeting with my boss and my Sales Director. We sat down with both the local Union officials and the National ones. We told them about your new targets of five calls per day. They thought that was a bit high so we agreed to three. But they agreed that three should be a MAP and not a target. It was their idea Stan. So you see the Union is in total agreement with us!”

It was as if Stan had been hit by a truck. He gathered up his things and stormed out of the office. Gary shouted after him.

“Don’t forget to photocopy the pages in your diary Stan. Wouldn’t want you to be late for any of them.”

The following week Stan went off sick with “stress”. He never returned to the office. After three months he was offered EVR (Early Voluntary Retirement) and accepted it. His days at The Post Office were over.

 

Butcher Boy2. Post Office Days 12.

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I must have driven my wife mad that weekend with all the talk about the College at Coton House and Graham the tutor and John Fowler the Head of Sales and Marketing. His motivational talk had somehow struck a chord with me and I was fired up and ready to go.

I was at the office early on Monday. I parked the old Chevette back where I’d found it, fired up the coffee machine and was going through all the sales leads when Gary walked in at 8.00am.

“Fuck me, you’re early. How was the course?”

I went into great detail about what Graham had taught us and mentioned about John Fowler.

Garry was smiling.

“So you met John Fowler? What did you think?”

I didn’t have to think about it for long.

“I think he might just be the coolest man on the planet!”

Gary had just taken a mouthful of coffee when I said those words. He almost choked on it. He put down his cup.

“Yep I agree. He’s from FMCG.”

I had no idea what he was talking about.

“FMCG?”

Gary apologised.

“Sorry mate. It’s Sales jargon it stands for Fast Moving Consumable Goods. He worked for The Mars Corporation. Supposed to be the best trained Sales Force anywhere in the world. God knows how much it cost to get him, but he’s ours now and he’s already rattling some cages at the highest level. He wants us to be the best, and to be the best it’s going to cost money. I guarantee within six months we’ll have changed beyond all recognition. For example, we only have Stan and Bill to cover all of East London, Romford and Ilford. That’s a total of forty seven different Post Codes. John wants us to have one Rep for just four of five Postcodes. That means that my team will increase from two to TEN Reps!”

I couldn’t help but be impressed.

“Bloody hell, he’s building an Empire!”

Gary nodded.

“That’s exactly what he wants Joe. He wants, Sales Assistants, Sales Reps, Sales Managers, Regional Sales Managers, National Sales Managers. Account Managers, Major Account Managers and not just in London. All over the UK. You’ve come in just at the right time. ”

Now I realised why I’d been chosen by Dave and Ray when I was back in Romford. They had to recruit people quickly and I just happened to be at the right place at the right time.

With this newly gained knowledge soaring through my brain I got on with the job in hand. I had Stan and Bill’s diaries in front of me. I wasn’t surprised to see that they were practically empty for the week ahead. My challenge was to get them to hit their target of three Sales calls per day, something they had NEVER achieved.

I started with Bill. His diary was blank for Monday and Tuesday, but he had an appointment booked for 11.30 in Ilford on Wednesday. So I planned to keep him in Ilford all week. I found it easy. I had telephone directories for all businesses in the area. In the next few hours I called about twenty or thirty of them. My pitch was simple. I was calling from the Post Office and our representatives were in Ilford this week seeing if we could streamline their Post Room or help them save costs on their postage. The word Sales was never used. To my surprise most of them agreed. I then asked them who they used apart from The Post Office for their parcel distribution. How many and how often. I tried to make it more of a general chat rather than a sales call. It wasn’t long before Bill’s diary was full for the rest of the week.

Now it was Stans turn. He had only two booked appointments for the week. Both in East London. By the end of my first day. Stan had sixteen appointments that week.

Gary had been busy all day, writing up reports in the morning, and then attending a meeting just up the road at Regional HQ. When he returned at 4.30 he got himself a coffee and took a seat opposite me.

“How’s it going?”

I pushed both Stan and Bills diaries across the desk for him to look at. His face lit up.

“Fuck me Joe. They’ll go mad!”

We both roared with laughter. He studied the pages of the diaries.

“You’ve even booked Stan an appointment in Whitechapel at 9.00am! I doubt if Stans ever seen 9.00am let alone been in Whitechapel at that time of the morning. This is great work Joe. Really great work.”

He looked at his watch, it was 4.45pm.

“If the pubs were open now, I’d buy you a pint.”

That was music to my ears.

“Funny you should say that Garry, but I know a place just round the corner that will open up for us, that’s if you’re serious?”

Gary locked his office door.

“Let’s go!”

We walked the short distance to the pub that I’d become a regular in when I was doing my Counter training three years earlier. I knocked on the door. Sure enough, Bob the landlord was still there.

“Hello mate, long time no see. You want serving.”

“Yes please Bob, if it’s not too much trouble.”

Five minutes later we were seated at the bar drinking pints of lager and tucking into a cheese rolls.

There were a few things that I wanted to know from Garry and now seemed like the best time to have that conversation. But before I could start he beat me to it.

“You do know that your name is already on the list for the next PSR (Postal Sales Reps) course?”

I acted surprised.

“Really?”

Gary smiled.

“Look, I know all about your conversation with Dave and Ray in Romford. You’ll make a great Rep and after that? Who knows?”

I still wanted to know how it could happen. How could I get promotion after just three years as a Postal Officer?

“There’s only one thing that worries me Gary. How does it all work? I mean with me getting promotion to an Executive grade?”

Gary put down his pint.

“Simple. Under normal circumstance you couldn’t jump up a grade that quickly, the Unions just wouldn’t allow it. But…Sales is different. It’s specialised. So we can get bend the rules slightly. I’ll recommend you. Then me and Dave will interview you for the job. We’ll send a glowing report to Ray, and as Director, he can sanction it. The next course is in just eight weeks.”

That made me smile. It was going to happen even quicker than I’d thought.

We had another beer and then both headed home. The morning couldn’t come quick enough. Bill and Stan were both due in the office at 9.30 for a meeting with Gary. It was going to be explosive!