Thursday, December 31, 2020

Exciting Times chapter43



Now I was mobile the world seemed an exciting place with endless possibilities.

  At last I could think about getting a job but until both boys were at school it had to fit in with the couple of hours I had free each day.  Where to start?  Much as I loved having children I was beginning to lose my identity.  I felt little more than an adjunct: a mother to the boys, a wife to William (not a very good one at that) and a chatelaine to the house.  At this time in my life I found domesticity deadly dull.

    Answering an ad in the local rag for Beauty Counselors  (the idea was to sell make-up to women in their own home - similar to Avon Ladies) I was interviewed by a large charismatic  lady named Pamela who also gave me a free make up.  Pamela was a 'District' which meant she could recruit counsellors and also appoint 'Zones' who would be able to recruit and train their own counsellors.  I enjoyed the make-up and appreciated the fact that the ingredients were pure.  There was an icy cold pink cream.

 "The Duke of Windsor simply loves having this applied to his feet," trilled Pamela.  I had to pay for the smart grey make up box and after a few more sessions with Pamela I was ready for business.  It was right up my street - I loved helping people to make the best of themselves and could get quite messianic about skin care.  Predictably William was less enthusiastic.

"What do they pay you?"

"You get a percentage of all you sell"

"It'll be a while before you recoup the cost of the beauty box then."

After a while Pamela made me a Zone so I could start recruiting my own counsellors and earn a percentage of their sales.  I was good at recruiting - recognising the bored housewife syndrome and together we became inspired and enthused.  Above Pamela was Zed - a regular power-house married to an ex Spitfire pilot.  She organised frequent get-togethers with lunch and wine and targets and rewards.  Suddenly all we lonely housewives had a scintillating social life and even earned a few pence.

One of the women I recruited - Mary - became a close friend.  She was a decade older with just one daughter at senior school.  We enjoyed each other's company and would often do demonstrations together.  By this time both boys were at school so I had the day free.  One afternoon we were working in a Kent village hall where almost all the audience had wanted a free make-up.  By the end of the session we were exhausted  and had sold about half a dozen lipsticks.  Over a cup of tea we commiserated with each other.

Pat: "Wouldn't it be great if we had a shop where people came to you to buy?"

Mary "Funny you should say that.  I've got a friend down in Worthing I'd like you to meet."

We agreed to make it soon.

At dinner William surprised me when he said -

"Pat remember Alan the army officer I'm working with?"

"Ooh yes - he's the good looking one recently married-

" That's right!"

"I remember Amanda - she's an Australian actress 'resting' till their new baby is old enough to leave.  What about them?"

"I thought it might be nice to have them round for a meal."
"Good idea.  I'll give her a ring tomorrow."
The evening was a success- they seemed very happy and the evening ended with me volunteering to look after the baby whilst they had a romantic week-end in Paris.
  The next time I saw them they popped in for a cuppa, on their way to shop in Tunbridge Wells.  Mum was staying with us and Amanda kept her spellbound telling her about the wonderful time they had had in Paris.
"Did you take the baby with you" asked Mum?
"Oh no.  She was far too young.  No a very dear friend looked after her for me.  Now who was it?"
  I looked at her and was gobsmacked to see she wasn't kidding.  Shades of Marta and "people like you."
  I know I expect too much of people and I shall be eternally grateful to Amanda for encouraging me to join the local theatre club which over the years enhanced my life. 

Meanwhile Mary had made a date for us to visit her friend Ellie in
Worthing.  What was that all about I wondered.  They had known one another for years and Ellie, whose husband was a master at a renowned public school, had made a nice little earner for herself over the last few years.  She had started a shop with a partner, based on the old thrift shops out in Germany, where the partner had been an army wife.  The idea was you had a shop and accepted children's outgrown clothes and sold them for the client who then received payment - with a percentage going to Ellie and partner.  Basically it was school uniform but as time went on they included all children's clothes especially ski and riding clothes.  Ellie took us to see the shop which was bustling with mothers and children and obviously providing a deep felt need.  Like us they had prep schools, grammar schools and public schools in the area - all of which demanded expensive uniform.  No way was it an 'old clothes' shop- the key was quality and the clothes had to be dry cleaned and in perfect order.  At half the original price customers realised what a good deal it was and, as I had already discovered, many of them were struggling to  pay the fees to educate their children.

Over coffee I told Ellie that as both of us had large houses we could
have the shop at one of our homes and cut out the expense of premises.  Ellie was horrified.
"Are you serious about running a business or are you just playing at it?  You HAVE to have premises and run it as business.  Are you sure you can run it together?  You are working happily together now but you Mary are working for Pat.  Are you planning on being equal partners?"
We assured her we were.
"Well get yourselves a partnership agreement then.  It's when you start being successful the trouble really starts."

It seemed that Ellie and her partner were now having difficulties which were beginning to seem insurmountable.  So sad and one could see the strain was taking its toll on Ellie
It was time to leave as we both had to collect children from school.
Ellie gave us one last piece of advice.
"You need a third partner who has no children.  Your business needs to be open normal shop hours and she can do the hours when you have to pick up your children."

Somewhat chastened we contemplated running a business from 9.30am to 5.30pm six days a week - with a complete stranger.
I could see Mary was as excited as I was;  I knew we could do it and couldn't wat to get started.  Ellie had given us excellent advice and we needed to give the whole project  a lot of thought.  I picked the boys up from school and after I had given them tea and bathed them there was just time to have supper with William and give him a brief outline of what we planned.  He wasn't sure how I would be able to manage but it was a rehearsal night at the theatre club so we postponed the discussion.
  As Pete the director worked in television he was often late for rehearsal and I was deputed to be acting director.  Much more fun than doing props and I determined to learn as much as possible about putting on a play.  The leading actor Alan Burns was a solicitor and during a break I asked him if he had much dealing with partnership agreements.

"All the time - in fact if more people had them from the beginning half my work would be eliminated. "

I told him what we were contemplating and he agreed to act for us.
That was the solicitor sorted, now all we needed were premises, a third partner, a name, stock...oh and some capital.  No problemo!

The next day Mary and I were off down the High Street, Ellie's voice ringing in our ears; our aim - to find premises before the day was out.
The first house agent we visited was a charming elderly gentleman who looked as if he had stepped out of Dickens.  He was courtly, with a pink and white skin, snowy hair and a waxed moustache.  He was beautifully turned out with a bow tie, waistcoat and pale grey spats on his shoes - a rare sight even in the sixties.  We told him what we were looking for - both of us burbling excitedly whilst he regarded us benignly.  When we were done he told us to wait whilst he looked at his files, and slowly retired to a back room.  We looked at each other and sighed.  We knew we had to be patient but there was so much to do and we doubted that dear old Spats could ever do anything quickly.  Eventually he returned holding a file and looking pleased with himself.

"Now this may be just what you two young ladies are looking for.  Look out of the window down the High Street.  Can you see on that building over there?  See the name Berkeley Cartier?  That is a gentleman who was an excellent tailor until he retired and he owns the building.  As you can see there is still a tailor's shop on the ground floor, there are offices on the first floor but the second floor is vacant."
"Oh PLEASE- can we go and see it now?"
Spats twinkled at me over his pince-nez.
"Well now it's usual for us to make an appointment first but I can see  you are eager to get on.  If my assistant is available I shall find the keys and he will take you to see the premises."
I wanted to hug him but restrained myself and Mary and I beamed at each other.  Some time later we entered a door on the street - next to the gentlemen's outfitters.  At the top of the stairs was a cloakroom which we would share with the offices at the end of the corridor.  Up another flight of stairs was a small room with a window looking out onto a back yard and a large room at the front with two windows looking out onto the High Street.  
It needed a coat of paint but the space was great and we were at the smart end of town - on the High Street no less.  We hugged each other with excitement.
"We definitely want it.  Can you be sure to tell the old gentleman please."

The assistant promised to do so and Mary and I went for a coffee to plan our next move.
"OK now we've got premises we've need a third partner - not just for the reasons Ellie said but also to help with the rent.  If three of us put in £50 each that should tide us over until we start making money."
"Do you think people will be bothered to climb the stairs?"  Mary looked a bit anxious.
"Of course they will when they see what we have to offer.  The location is excellent- two flights of stairs won't bother them in the least.  They're young mothers!"

None of our friends would be suitable as the third partner as they all had children and not free to fit round our commitments.
"We'll advertise.  Let's work it out now, then we can drop it into the Courier and it will be out on Friday.:
By now Mary was used to my 'do it and it's done' maxim so between us we managed an ad that was clear ad direct.
"Why don't we put in a second ad, advertising our new shop?"
Mary was doubtful,"But we haven't signed the lease yet."
"We know we're going to and this will give us  good start."
So the second ad announced the advent of our new shop and asked for local school uniform in excellent condition. 
 This did cause a few repercussions and when we visited Spats to sign the lease he looked sternly at me over his pince - nez.
"I say, you jumped the gun rather , didn't you?"