09 November 2006

Lets go back to the beginning

La Rochelle, South-West France, the city with the Ocean.

I am about to tell you my every changing story about life moving from London, England to La Rochelle, France. Why I did it, what emotions went with it and some of the funniest events that have ever happened to me or anyone I have ever spoken to. I am going to start today with this background as to who I was back then!

Feel free to add comments or ask questions, I have written this in a book format, don't let the size put you off!!

Day One..My ordinary life

Cuba, Havana, that is where we are going this year for our holidays.

It always started like this, the new working year.

17 days paid holiday ready to be sacrificed on a gamble of relaxation and all-inclusive happiness.
Why Cuba you ask? Well, it has culture, sea and winter sun, a place where mohito's are part of life. And what has Cuba got to do with moving to France? Bear with me after this and the second chapter, it'll make sense! Finally, a mohito is a wonderful drink consisting of Cuban rum, mint, sugar, sparkling water and loads of ice. Ask my two mates called Andy and Andrew, they'll vouch for it..the hangover too I suspect.

I am going to start my journey with you here because the reality was that this was all I had to look forward to back then, two weeks in the sun followed by 48 sodding weeks cooped up in the sweatshop of my sales office.

I wasn't unhappy with life, had a beautiful wife and two adorable kids and a cat. I lived in a nice house in leafy Hertfordshire, drove a nice people carrier and had a vintage Porsche to play with. I was what can be described as being pretty normal.
In the summer, we had a barbecue every weekend with either friends or family and played in my 15 foot splasher pool, you know the one's, they cost around £100 quid to buy, take a couple of days to fill.
We always went out as a family at the weekend, I did enjoy it but to be honest, I just wanted to collapse in front of the tv, I was always tired on a Saturday back then.

We enjoyed walking and cycling, this was of course when the weather was good. When the weather is good, England is a great place to live, it was only an hour to Frinton-on-sea in Essex. This was our treat, sit on the beach once a month and take in some sun. It was always strange though, we could never buy any fresh fish..

We normally got back from the beach and ordered a nice Indian takeaway to be delivered to the door (the town centre was a good fifteen minutes walk away), warmed up the plates and watched the nights reality show. This was a regular event for us, a takeaway and tv. We ate healthily during the week, I say we, they did, I worked!

When the weather was not good, we would have two chains of thought, what can we do and lets go shopping. To go shopping, you need to drive, if you are going to drive, you may as well drive to somewhere good, our petrol bill was around £50 per week.

Our personal choice of shop was Bluewater,a huge indoor shopping centre in Kent, near the Dartford Tunnel. The type that everyone has within one hours drive of their house, the kind of shopping centre that takes you all day to walk around.

Now, let's be honest, we actually dress up in our best clothes to go there don't we. Our Sundays were like this in the winter, wake up, eat cooked breakfast, jump in people carrier and drive to Bluewater.

The first hurdle was the traffic jam that is the M25, rain or shine you knew you would be stuck at some point on it, we couldn't get there quick enough. I was earning lots of money and needed to spend some to feel better and clear away my hangovers.

The second hurdle was always the parking, there is never quite enough. After one and a half hours travel plus park time, we are in. Rushing through John Lewis or M&S to get the main malls. We were always feeling stressed but after a few purchases, it always seemed to lift a bit.

After an hour of dragging the kids around, who by now had started to fight, we felt that they deserved the scrum called the food hall. What a choice..Chinese, Indian, KFC, Burger King, they were all there. "Can I help you sir".."Yes please, two kids things and a load more grease for me than her". It was always the same, find a seat, eat it quickly because it had gone cold, leave half a litre of coke and back to the shops, burping onion for the next hour.

We lived a great life, we thought.

Driving home was always a nightmare because we'd always pop in to Ikea on the way out, have a meal and buy a cupboard! Why does everyone that goes to Ikea buy a huge piece of furniture that they don't need, struggle to get it in their car but breathe a sigh of relief because even after spending another two hundred quid they haven't got, when they eat their cheap 35p hot dog afterwards, they always say "I don't know how they do it for that price" followed by " you couldn't make them for 35p".

I had worked in my computer sales company for seven years, most of which I was the sales manager. What my job consisted of was setting targets, monitoring cold calls and telling people off (commonly known as the bollocking). A perk was getting drunk with my staff and their customers.

An easy job you say, try getting up at six thirty after two hours sleep, paraletic and getting the train to do it all again.

Every morning I was rudely awoken by Alan Brazil and Porkey on Talksport, this followed with the realisation that I am in bed and have a mouth like a flipflop, feel sick, have a huge hangover and need to take a quick uneasy shower.

I knew I was getting a bit podgy and knew I smoked too much but at least I didn't take drugs or sleep with prostitutes!! Yes, a bizarre reflection but at this stage in my life I was the normal one, in my office, I was the only person who drank just on weekdays and only smoked 50-60 cigarettes per day, most of the others had some serious vices, I felt proud of myself. I know at this stage, you may be thinking what did the rest do?

Ok, i'll give you an idea. Picture this..my boss was the owner, a very powerful man worth millions. He was and indeed still is, a man with few vices. Raised in Africa, he was brought up with slaves, his parents sent him to boarding school in England, he resembled a handsome Mr Bean in looks. He spoke with almost perfect diction and was commercially astute, never missing a deal or a way of further enhancing his fortune.

His vice?

He loved black girls and prostitutes. Not only that, his mistress (black too unlike his wife) and he would attend swinging conventions. They had 'big Nigel' in Birmingham, a guy of immense length that would be regularly shipped down to satisfy all needs, my boss wasn't gay nor did he touch 'Nigel', he loved to watch!

Other vices I had witnessed included going to a drinking den, sitting with Judges, police and gangsters. In these dens, anything goes, by that I mean anything goes in terms of drugs and occasionally women.

I have witnessed an old man of 84 sniffing cocaine and exclaiming "a gram a day and I'm still here"!!

I never took it nor ever will, I have seen many a colleague destroyed by the stuff.

Most of my staff were alcoholics and all but one denied it. Terry was the number one drinker, he was our secret weapon. Aged 47, balding with a beer belly, he was the champion of back-handers and meeting new clients by accident in pubs was a speciality, at one point, he was given special licence by the boss to spend the last thursday of each month (payday for most) in the pubs in the City..'networking'!!

If we wanted to get a heavy drinking customer to sign a deal, he'd be brought out.

Terry was a serious drinker, he knew it and we were all in awe of him. He had four pints everyday for lunch, he had been known to drink over 48 cans of beer during 'Telfest', a bi-annual drinking barbecue.

He was never ill, never late for work and when at work, he was a hard worker. He was a big gambler. He instigated the 'friday flutter'. This was an event where we all put £5 in a pot a then had a gamble. All we did on a friday afternoon was drink 'Belgian coffee' (Stella Artois in a coffee cup to hide it from the other teams) and watch the horses interactively!! "Come on my son!"" was often heard from our corner!!

I often wonder how many hours of work are lost due to online gambling in the UK.

Anyhow, booking a holiday was a traumatic event...I coughed to clear some remnants of Malboro Light from my throat "knock knock".."ahh come in dear boy" said the Boss, he always called me dear boy, he was 40 and I 30, a strange thing for me to hear but by now was used to it.

"I am taking two weeks off in Easter, I am off to Cuba" I started "I hope this is ok and you have no plans yourself at the same time"..I waited and waited.

Either he was ignoring me or he was studying something on his pc, checking the lastest business news I assumed. "Come and look at this" he said "this one lives locally"..as I wandered around his desk, I had another brief but clear glance into his world, he was looking at an online swinging exchange, he had just found a couple in Lewisham that were up for some fun. "Great news...sorry, what did you say?"

I repeated myself and knew it didn't really sink in, sod it I thought, I am going to book it anyway.

Before letting my wife pack my bags, I had one last almighty drink-up with my team, making sure they could not survive without me for two weeks. Normally, socialising in London consists of the following:-

Beer - 6 pints for aperitif
Whisky and coke - 4 or 5 for the road
Burger - in the back of a black cab on the way to a reputable lapdancing venue
Champagne - 2-3 bottles between 4 people in the first hour in the venue
Bottles of expensive lager - running out of cash due to dances and champagne
Cab home - at any price due to the fact it is now 2am and all train stations shut. Generally an unlicenced Ford Cortina driven by somebody that doesn't speak English.

That night was the same as ever, we did the above..

So, to continue the story, we went to Cuba for some sun, to see some old cars and watch virgins make cigars between their thighs, this was what I'd worked so hard for, a good rest...

More soon, let me know what you think!!!

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