Indeed, what might I have been doing now? I wonder.
It seems I have been so fortunate in life to have had many a CHOICE.
Mind you, I had no CHOICE in who my parents were, but I’m glad they were my parents and not somebody else’s. Let’s skip the early life where they influenced so many of my CHOICES or made them for me. So, starting from where mid-teenage boys know everything better than their parents, while on holiday from school or, later, university, I was a bus conductor on Southampton, England, 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, slung around my shoulders, 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 people’s 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 name I have unfortunately forgotten. Let’s call him Jim; and Jim and I bonded, even though he could have been my grandfather while I was sixteen. A gentle man who drove as if he was driving a limousine for the queen.
Quite the opposite 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 my ticket machine and leather purse into which I dropped the pennies and threepences and sixpences and shillings and florins and half crowns or an occasional 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: 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 instead of being taken quickly inside 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 people who cut in in front of the bus and made him brake hard.
The next CHOICE was EITHER to stay at university studying Music, English and German and where I was enjoying myself learning to fly in a
and get paid for it in the university Air Squadron – similar to the University Officers’ Training Plan (or UOTP or ROTP) in North America – OR join the regular Royal Air Force. You know which CHOICE won out!
As this is a piece about CHOICE, I will omit the years in the RAF, where you didn’t have CHOICE, but do as you were ordered.
After leaving the RAF, I had another CHOICE: I was offered a job as a test pilot, as back in Canada, I had been awarded the Top Pilot cup, but having just got married, 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. 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, a retired army Captain. 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 blonde, 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.
Another CHOICE, whether to get the first available ship, which was from Liverpool, or the ship which would leave from home port, Southampton. The latter was obviously the one, since our friends could stay on the quayside and wave goodbye to us.
So, we arrive in Canada and take a train from Québec to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, “Four days on a train?” mouths My Beloved, to astounded to voice the words.
We had no jobs, but we had many 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, subsequently WestJet, 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 fellow trainee pilot had married a local librarian and not returned to England and his wife’s grandfather 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.
After Earl Barnholden fired me after just six weeks of newscasting for running the 1956 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 Trev Seaborn, who ran one of the largest insurance agencies in the province, offered. That certainly set me on the track towards being an agent in Moose Jaw, and after a couple of years, a CHOICE to become an underwriter in, and a move to, Winnipeg and…………
As a liability and surety underwriter, I was privileged to analyse the books of construction companies for insurance and surety companies. One, BACM Industries, a family-owned company was on the cusp of becoming a very large international multi-faceted manufacturing and construction company. In fact, a couple of years later, it did become public and went on the New York stock exchange. As it turned out, I was the only person in the family’s trust, so I was allowed to go to the family’s head office to review the books, while the broker had to sit outside and wait.
Another couple of years and I 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. 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, having changed its name again, was bought by a company of the Belgian Royal family, became Genstar Limited, and we were moved to Montreal.
That time, we really had NO CHOICE.
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, so we came to a mutual parting of the ways. Otherwise known as being fired. Again.
After a couple of years working for a company as a consultant Risk Manager, a family conference had me opening our own Melanber Inc. That was a CHOICE we have never regretted.
One more CHOICE was to accept an offer of a Nova Scotia family business to come to Nova Scotia and help them. Another CHOICE we have never, no, not ever, had second thoughts about.
Was our CHOICE to retire? Not totally, as we still have one active client which seems to want to keep us. Also church and volunteer work have also been our CHOICE. We are constantly busy.
But not too busy to eat and have a good meal at home or at a restaurant, which inevitably leads to a CHOICE…………but NO CHOICE during CoVID-19, at least during the various lockdowns we have had and are experiencing now. We have ordered a few CHOICE take-outs over the past year and a bit. But that is not the same as going to a restaurant or having friends in for a meal.
And so my CHOICE today is to avoid the CoVID-19 issue and leave it for another post, meanwhile wishing you in the USA a Happy Memorial Weekend. And for the rest of us who had a long weekend last weekend, make a special Happy Weekend for yourselves. And, in the way of our former Premier, “Stay the blazes home and get vaccinated!”