I joined the 3M company in London as a trainee salesman, partly because they gave their salesmen a car. Little did I realise what a great move it would turn out to be. I managed to sell a few copying machines in the first six months and was offered a prime territory: Mayfair, and promoted to manager. After another six months, I was asked to run the training department.
The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company had a unique attitude to training and supporting their staff. Every Friday we dined at the Cock & Lion pub in Wigmore Street, who served the biggest and best steaks in England- sadly, no more.
They encouraged us to buy a posh car rather than drive around in a modest Ford. I went to the main dealer in Piccadilly and bought a new Jaguar. Other guys in my team bought a stunning selection of cars. Roy Headley had an American Thunderbird convertible; Freddy Krebs bought a Rolls Royce; David Brown drove a Mercedes and Campbell McVicar was the proud owner of a Bentley.
This philosophy really made us feel like kings. In fact it was so well known with the rest of 3M staff that their managers asked us not to park outside 3M House in Wigmore Street because it upset the staff who couldn’t afford such luxury.
In the thermofax division we were paid a basic salary, which was the same as the national average, plus a generous commission. It was a most exciting and enjoyable time. Everything worked so well that 3M co. in America contacted me and asked me to set up their national training department. A few weeks later, I flew to Dulles Airport in Washington DC to join 3M in America.
Apart from training, I was in charge of special accounts. This meant trying to sell to companies and government departments who had refused to make appointments with salesmen. It was tough, but I made some excellent contacts with politicians.
I enjoyed working and living in America, it was different. Of course, I visited the Pentagon and the White House in my spare time. The Pentagon is so big staff go around the corridors on tricycles. Being summer, everyone threw BBQ parties every weekend and there’s nothing quite like an American BBQ.
During these get-togethers, the wife of an Italian millionaire drank too much, so the guests organised a draw. They paid one dollar for a piece of paper with a time on it. The winner was the one with the nearest time to her passing out. The favourites would be 9:15pm and 9:30pm. After that, it’s not surprising that I missed England.
One morning, a customer phoned and offered me a partnership in his company. His family were well connected in Washington society. I made an appointment and went for an interview. He was in the real estate business and specialised in homes for diplomats which cost millions of dollars. He offered me 5% commission. That meant $50.000 on a million dollar deal. Negotiating with international government officials was very attractive.
I should have done more research because it turned out that the man was wanted by the police in Arizona for some kind of scam operation dealing in chickens.
Then I saw an advertisement for a car salesman in Alexandria, Virginia. Like most Americans, they were impressed by my English accent. They gave me a new car and everything seemed fine. One of the salesmen was Frank, a good-looking middle-aged man who constantly referred to his girlfriend as ‘Priddything’. He spoke with a strong southern accent but never introduced ‘Priddything‘ to any of the guys in the showroom.
One day he invited me to meet some of his friends who were having a party near Front Royal at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was about 75 miles from Washington DC and a motel room had been booked for me.
The narrow road up the mountain reminded me of horror movies like ‘The Blair Witch Project’ as it twisted through the pine forests.
It was like a maze − only worse. We were driving on a rough track, trying to avoid tree roots. It was so dark we couldn’t see the moon and our headlights made the trees seem threatening.
Eventually, we came to a clearing in the middle of nowhere with an ancient-looking log cabin. It was a bit scary, but we were reassured after we were greeted by Big Jim, a local lumberjack.
He was wearing the traditional red check shirt looked like he could wrestle a grizzly bear. On second thoughts − he looked like he actually had. There were about twelve men and a couple of ladies, who looked more like broads, sitting around a table loaded with turkey, ham, beer and wine. The fireplace was ablaze with pine logs. Even the men seemed to be smoking pine logs because it was hard to see across the room.
I was offered a drink which nearly choked me. It turned out to be ‘moonshine’, which was illegal, partly because of the tax evasion and also the possible contamination by lead and anti-freeze because illicit distillers often used car radiators as condensers. Many people died after drinking this stuff.
After the usual fascination with my accent, a tall, slim man started asking me about politics in the United Kingdom. I know that such conversations can be dangerous, especially when moonshine is involved. It was especially true in this case because he proudly announced he was a member of the American Nazi party and invited me to their meetings in Washington and to visit the home of Lincoln Rockwell, which was a few streets from where I lived in Arlington.
I remember when I first arrived in Virginia, a friend drove past the Rockwell house; the Head Quarters of the American Nazi Party. A very young guard stood at the gate and started to give a very nervous Nazi salute.
Meanwhile, back at the cabin, ‘Adolf’ droned on about the virtues of his party. It was now about 4 a.m.and I was past my drink limit and the battered banjo was done playing 'Ode to Billy Jo, (Tallahassee Bridge) and 'On top of old Smokey', so I decided to get a lift to the motel. No-one at the party was in a fit state to drive, but fortunately Big Jim phoned his long-suffering wife to come over and take us to our motel.
I climbed into bed and slept like a pine log for several hours. When I finally woke, I decided I needed a shower and some breakfast. I swung my legs over the side of the bed and placed a foot on the floor. It was two inches deep in water because I’d forgotten I had a shower when I got back and didn’t turn it off.
Where was my snorkel when I needed one?