Today I have been sober for 21 Days.
Today I will get back to my past story.
MOBI’S STORY (PART 7)
THE “INSURANCE” YEARS.
It was September, 1983, and I had arrived back in England with my Thai wife, her daughter, aged 7, to live with and take care of my ageing mother who lived in a council flat in East London, on the fringes of the County of Essex.
Unemployment was high, I had been out of the UK Job Market since I was around 21 years old, my step daughter spoke no English, and apart from a 2 week trip with me to attend my father’s funeral in the middle of winter the previous year, my wife had never been out of Asia.
The first thing I did was sign on at the local “labour exchange”, as they were still known in those days, and then I started looking for work. I recall all too vividly being told by one major employment agency that it would be extremely difficult for me to find work, what with not having worked in England for many years, having no formal qualifications, and the competition for jobs ‘hotting up’ during a period of high unemployment. He actually told me that he could not help me find a job, but that if I ever did mange to get a job under my belt, then he would be prepared to take me on and look for something better. Thanks very much!
Meanwhile, my wife, whatever her faults, was not lazy, and she made some friends with local mums whose daughter went to the same primary school as ours, and before long she had obtained a job as a cleaner for one of the more well off families in the area. It wasn’t long before this led to other part time jobs of a similar nature, and in addition to evening baby sitting assignments, we were able to make ends meet, and for a short while I became a “kept man”.
I registered at literally dozens of employment agencies in the London area, but despite many interviews, I rarely got further than the proverbial ‘short list’. After a couple of months, I received a call from the local branch of a major agency, with the news that a firm of insurance brokers were in desperate need of some temporary accounting help, and would I be interested? Well of course I was interested, and although I had no way of knowing at the time, this was the start of a 20 year insurance career.
If anyone had told me before this date that I would end up in such a dry, uninteresting business as insurance, I would have laughed at them. How on earth could this “man of the world” who had worked in many far flung danger spots with oil prospectors, and more recently had been managing radio stations and organizing rock concerts in exotic Thailand, ever end up in the English insurance industry?
Although the company I went to work with at that time was also based in East London, it was in fact a major broker in the London Insurance market, and in fact was very active at Lloyds of London.
I have no idea if it is really true, but there is a belief that goes around the London Insurance market that the rich upper classes who have their sons educated at the exclusive “public schools” (private, actually), send their bright sons to work as merchant bankers in the city, and the stupid ones to run Lloyds’ Insurance Brokers. This is on the premise that you have to be reasonably smart to be a banker, but any fool can be an insurance broker.
If the subsequent melt down and major financial collapse of Lloyds was anything to go by, this belief wasn’t too far wrong.
So although I knew nothing about insurance and had virtually no knowledge of the then current trend towards computerized accounting, I still had my brains, (still only slightly pickled by alcohol at that time), and it wasn’t long before I proved my worth and started to rise above the dross that the company employed.
The first task they assigned to me was to try and sort out their main operating bank account which was strewn with errors and hadn’t been properly reconciled (agreeing their book records with the bank’s statements) for many months. This was right up my street, and within a few days I had sorted it out and provided a full reconciliation of outstanding items. They all thought I was a genius, as many had tried, including my boss, and all had failed. The ground was all set for a rapid rise.
My boss was half my age, fairly smart, but with no real accountancy experience under his belt, and within a short time I became his trusted right hand man who basically ran the department for him.
I was still employed as a temporary accountant, which meant I still had no proper employment benefits, such as sick pay, holiday pay or company pension, and I could be laid of at a day’s notice at any time. But in spite of my obvious expertise and the fact that the department head relied on me more and more, the company was extremely reluctant to offer me a permanent position. I just didn’t fit. I wasn’t qualified, I came from the “wrong side of the tracks”, and I spoke my mind a bit too often, and I “knew too much”.
But eventually after almost 2 years of this uncertain existence, they finally put me on the payroll, as I was making a lot of noise about quitting if they refused.
I need to make a few comments about my drinking career during this period.
In case you were thinking that I had cleaned up my act – not a bit of it.
When I first came back to England, finances were very low, and we had to be careful what we spent. The very first thing that went was cigarettes. I had been smoking up to 4 packs a day in Thailand, where cigarettes were cheap, and it was a shock to the system when the government announced a tax increase which put them up to the penal price of one pound per pack. To me that would be four pounds a day that I could ill afford, and as I had wanted to quit for many years, I decided that now was the time to do it.
I won’t claim that it was the easiest thing I have ever given up, because it wasn’t, but I was surprised how quickly the craving disappeared, considering the severity of my addiction – a habit that I had started way back in my early teens. Within a few weeks I completely free of the dreaded weed, although the craving took much longer to completely disappear – especially when I was drinking, and even more especially when I was drinking in pubs or wine bars.
The money I saved on cigarettes was put to good use in the consumption of alcohol. On most days a group of us at the office would go for lunch at a local pub and get a ‘skin full’ of beer. Not everyone would come every day, and most would just join us 2 -3 days a week. But for me it was every day, and I made sure that by the time I returned to the office I had a good buzz going. At that point in my life it never seemed to interfere with my work, and I was just as able to work half pissed, as I could sober.
Then I discovered the wonders of “Home Brew”. I had made my own beer back in my days in Libya, but then we had to be very inventive to produce anything that vaguely resembled something that tasted like beer. In England, there were no such impediments, as the country was full of shops that sold “home Brew” kits and all the ingredients needed to make very tasty, very strong beer.
So during that initial period back in England, I quickly fell into an evening routine of preparing and drinking my “home brew”. It was very strong stuff – I have no ideas how strong, but certainly powerful enough to put me into a state of ‘unconsciousness’ for most nights.
I was still relatively young though, and my powers of recovery were still very good, and I would rise at the crack of dawn, shake off my hangover, and do another day’s hard labour at the office.
In all I was at my first job back in England for almost 3 years. During the last 6 – 9 months I was there I was becoming increasing restless and unhappy. Even though I say it myself, I had done some wonderful work for them. From knowing virtually nothing about computer systems when I first went to work there, I subsequently designed and instituted a fully computerized accounting system; had completely revamped all the financial reports and had generally brought the whole accounts department into a much better state of efficiency. I received regular salary increases in recognition of my good work (at my Boss’s behest as he was always paranoid about me walking out), but no formal recognition was given to my position, and I just remained one of the “erks” even though I was virtually running things.
After all, I had cut my teeth managing offices in the oilfields of the world, and then in the rough and tumble of the cheating, lying and hypocritical world of Bangkok business. A close friend, who also had spent many years in Thailand, was to say to me much later: “Mobi, if you can survive in the business “jungle” of Thailand, you can make it any where. I think that there is much truth in what he said.
The final straw came, when I told my boss that it was time that the company gave me some formal recognition, and in particular I craved a company car, which at that time were given to almost every employee above the position of “clerk” – and even to some of them. My boss considered it a reasonable request, and referred the matter to his boss, the Company secretary.
My request was turned down and soon afterwards I heard through the grapevine, (not from my boss, but he later admitted it was true)), that not only did the bastard refuse my request, but made it clear that I would never, ever get the car that I desired so much. He didn’t approve of “me and my kind”…..
(Some years later I was to get my own back on that jumped up, Eton educated, “Hooray Henry”. I was learning that the London insurance market was a small world and it didn’t do to make enemies, and one day the tables were turned, but that’s another story).
I was incandescent with rage and full of resentment, so I immediately re-contacted all those agencies that had refused or had been unable to help me last time round, to see if I might have better luck this time.
I was back out in the job market with a CV that showed many years of senior appointments overseas followed by 3 years of outstanding work for a major London Insurance broker. Surely this time I would find something away from the boring and, in my view, class ridden insurance industry.