It seems I have been so fortunate in life to have had many a CHOICE. Early on, while on holiday from school or, later, university, I was a bus conductor on Southampton transit. By far the majority of that life consisted of hanging out the back platform waiting for the next stop and asking people for their fares, whereupon, I would strike a lever on my ticket machine and give them a ticket equivalent to taking them a certain number of stops, or fare stages, as they were termed.
As most of our buses were double deckers, I was kept busy running up and down the stairs, trying to get all the peoples fares up top before the cheaters down below could get off without paying.
It was certainly a job I enjoyed, even though it was all split shift work, sometimes starting really early to catch those going to work, then a rest for six or seven hours, during which I could enjoy a pick-up game of cricket with a few friends, then going back to ensure that all the workers get home safely by bus. In the three summers I did this, I had the same driver for two of them, a wonderful man who had been a driver for many years, but whose surname I have unfortunately forgotten. Jim and I bonded, even though he could have been my grandfather while I was sixteen. A gentle man who drove a double-decker as if he was driving a limousine for the queen.
Quite the opposite in the third year was Harry Martin: he was middle aged, but thought he was still a teenager driving in the Monte Carlo rally. When I was ‘up top’ and he was driving around bends in the road, I soon had to learn the best skills of balance without catching hold of anything other than leaning against the back of a seat, my ticket machine and leather purse into which I dropped the pennies and threepences and sixpences and shillings and florins and half crowns or a paper note and having to withdraw the correct amount of change and striking off the ticket for the customer. At the end of the route, with Jim, we’d lounge around the engine or in the bus regaling each other with thoughts of the day, or how the Saints (Sothampton’s football team) were faring, or what life was like in his days compared to my days: it was different with Harry, he would immediately light up his cheap Woodbines, which he rolled himself, and offer little conversation. Except that when he first met me, he was, “Oh, !***!, a kid!” Well, our relationship never got anywhere near that of Jim and me, but he did mellow when he realised that I was fast with taking the fares – apparently in previous experiences with ‘kids’, the kids were slow, so this meant that he would have to wait sometimes at stops while some of the passengers’ fares were collected as they got off the bus. That meant he was late or never early at the end of the route, so did not have time for a Woodbine. That never, but never, happened with speedy me, so he did mellow quite a bit and, as I recall, he didn’t swear or blaspheme at me ever again, though he did at car drivers who cut in in front of the bus!
The next CHOICE was to stay at university studying Music, English and German, but where I was also notably enjoying myself learning to fly and, simultaneously, get paid for it in the university Air Squadron – similar to the University Officers’ Training Plan (or UOTP or ROTP) in North America – OR the other CHOICE, join the regular Royal Air Force. You know which choice won out!
The RAF sent me to Canada, where my flying skills were honed on piston-engined and jet aircraft, thence returning to England and flying twin-engined Meteors with the RAF.
After leaving the RAF, I had another CHOICE: I was offered a job as a test pilot, but having just married My Beloved, that was considered by me as too risky, although it had tremendous appeal. Besides, we had jointly made the CHOICE to emigrate to Canada.
So, for about a year, while waiting for a ship to bring us to Canada, my CHOICE was to learn the business of being an optician’s technician at a firm called Husband’s. I measured eye centres using the frame the client had chosen so that the lens would be centred with a simple ruler and to measure the length of sides needed. When the new lenses came back from the factory, I had to check
the lens was in accord with the prescription using a focimeter, a device to measure the power and axis or axes of an optical lens, then shape them by grinding them on a wheel until they fitted the frame the customer had chosen. I would then ensure by heating and bending the sides that they were a comfortable fit, a trick I have used many times since to adjust friends’ frames. I also learned to make sure the tiny screws did not come out by filling the holes with acetone (nail varnish if you don’t have the real stuff). We made our own acetone by melting down old frames. No, not metal ones!
I enjoyed being a technician and enjoyed the staff of Husband’s, except for the pompous optician who was the manager. The other two opticians were very nice and one would sometimes take me at the end of the day in her little Morris Minor and drop me off at my home. The sales girls were delightful: I well remember one, Shirley, a pretty dyed yellowish blond, frequently singing the popular song of the moment, Love and Marriage (go together like a horse and carriage), for she was going to be married soon after My Beloved and I had left for Canada. I remember leaving her a wedding present before we left.
So, we arrived in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, with no jobs, but lots of friends I had made in my over one year of pilot training there several years before. The CHOICE then was one of three:
- Join the RCAF – they would have snapped me up as I had been ‘top gun’ in my course.
- Join Max Ward’s bush pilots up in Edmonton and the North. Later he formed Wardair and I could have been a pilot for it.
- Look for work in Moose Jaw.
My CHOICE was 3.
My Beloved found a position immediately in the local hospital, where, knowing she had been trained in England, a doctor snapped her up as a lab tech.
A grandfather of a fellow trainee pilot, who had married a local librarian and not returned to England, knew the owner of the local radio station, “CHAB, Moose Jaw, eight hundred on your dial”, Syd Boyling. Syd, a great fellow, hired me as a newscaster to put together and read the news every half hour from six in the evening until midnight. I thoroughly enjoyed this. However……
…….after Earl Barnholden, news chief, fired me after just six weeks of newscasting for running the 1976 Hungarian revolution as my lead – to me that was important but Earl considered what the Women’s Auxiliary down the street were doing as most important – Syd called me in to his office and said, “I know you and Earl have had your differences, but I want you still; I would like you to become a producer.” Another CHOICE.
Well, the only ‘producer’ I had come across during my six weeks was a fellow named Lawton or Lawson, who used to come in at the end of the day and say he had produced three more ads, or however many he had produced that day. He meant he had been out selling ads to the local businesses. I had no intention of becoming an ad salesman, so I turned Syd down. Had I known then what I discovered later that Syd had meant me to produce programs, I might well have taken the job. How a different CHOICE there might have changed our lives!
Instead, I accepted a CHOICE offered by fellow church and choir member, Trev Seaborn, who ran one of the largest insurance agencies in the province. That certainly set me on the track towards being a general insurance (not life or health) agent in Moose Jaw.
Two and a half years after landing in that lovely little city of Moose Jaw and both of us being greatly involved in the St. John’s church and choir, another CHOICE arose: to become a general insurance underwriter, which meant a move to Winnipeg and…………
……….as a liability and surety underwriter, I was privileged to analyse the books of construction companies. One, BACM Industries, was on the cusp of becoming a very large international multi-faceted manufacturing and construction company.
Although this provided me with good training in the general insurance world, I was tempted to improve my lot, so left my job as underwriter with the General Agency, Osler, Hammond and Nanton, and the CHOICE was to join Prudential of England as an inspector.
Oh, boy! Just one week after joining the Pru, the Treasurer of BACM entered my office, shut the door and said, “I don’t know what you came to Prudential for in the way of remuneration, but we will double the salary and throw in a good car of your choice. Will you accept?” Yet one more CHOICE.
My Beloved and I chose a smashingly beautiful 1961 Pontiac Parisienne Hardtop – cream outside, scarlet leather inside. A great CHOICE and still one of, if not the, best CHOICE of cars we have made.
Five kids later (our mutual CHOICE), BACM was bought by a company of the Belgian Royal family, became Genstar, and we were moved to Montreal.
The CHOICE had been stay in Winnipeg and find a new job or move and gain more experience in Montreal.
Another CHOICE came when, in 1976 in the midst of separatism in Québec, Genstar moved its Head office to Vancouver and its Executive Office to San Francisco. I would have been moved to SF, but another CHOICE was made for me: I did not get along with the unimaginative Secretary of the company, a self-important, pharisaical fellow Brit, so we came to a mutual parting of the ways. Otherwise known as being fired. For the second time. This time, no Syd or Trevor to offer a new position or career.
A broker, whom I thought did not like me (brokers naturally detest consultants and that’s really what a risk manager is) turned out to be a fine friend and found me a position with another brokerage firm which had a risk management department. This is considered a conflict of interest, for the risk management consultant is trying to reduce the amount of insurance a client has and offer better strategies. But, after a couple of years working for this company as a consultant Risk Manager, a family conference provided another CHOICE: Stay with the brokerage company OR My Beloved and I could open our own risk management consulting, totally independent, Melanber Inc. The latter, a CHOICE we have never regretted, only enjoyed.
That was 1978, forty-one years ago. Wow!
We never regretted also to leave in 1986 our major banking clients in Montreal and Toronto and move to the Maritimes where we already had more varied clients. So, Halifax, Nova Scotia, was the CHOICE.
Over the past decades, was our CHOICE to retire? No. Not totally. And we still have one active client which seems to want to keep us. Also church and volunteer work with adult literacy and a not-for-profit Community Enterprise organisation have also been our CHOICE. We are constantly busy.
Sometimes with appointments with hairdressers, chiropractors, doctors, dentists and surgeons. Oh, yes, they keep us busy, too.
But not TOO busy to eat and have a good meal at home or at a restaurant, which inevitably leads to a CHOICE…………
Throughout all these choices, I know that we have been led by Our Lord God. Praise Him!
And He provides food for us all, including those stuffed lamb hearts My Beloved was braising and I have been smelling for a long time and which are ready right now, so I will bid you adieu until next Post.