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My elder brother, Les, by this time was a Major stationed in Palestine. He wrote to say that he’d become engaged to a service girl. In my letter he said that she was Jewish and was I shocked. I replied that if he’d said that he was marrying a 25 stone African lady with 16 children I might have been surprised but not shocked. I’m not quite sure how it happened but they left the army, came to Northampton and got jobs with my firm although I was the only one who knew of the connection between the two.

Our family was pretty relaxed about Les’s choice of bride-to-be but it caused devastation in her family. Her father had always been very strong in the Synagogue against mixed marriages but now his own daughter was marrying out. “You’re killing your poor Papa. I’ll die. I’ll never be able to go to the Synagogue again.” They decided on a Registry Office wedding with no family members invited. I was the exception because two witnesses were required. The other witness was my friend Andy who arrived on his bicycle, removed the clips from the bottom of his trousers and came in.

Although I’ve had plenty of friendly acquaintances and colleagues I’ve only ever had two really close friends and that was Andy and his wife Sheila. They were unconventional and fun. I have many happy memories but will pass on only the story of how they became engaged. As a young soldier Andy was stationed in Sheila’s village and they became friendly. Returning from the pub one night they stopped in a cornfield. Andy said, “You know, if I’d had another pint I’d ask you to marry me.” Sheila replied, “And if I’d had another pint I’d accept.”

When my two years as a trainee ended the company kept me on as a clerk in the Claims Department. Shortly the bloke running it moved to another city and I took over. From there I became Assistant Export Manager. They then needed a Despatch Manager for their Swansea factory and I was chosen. I’m not sure I ever knew what happened to the previous incumbent. I’ve a feeling he was fired.

During the roughly 12 months that I spent in South Wales I had more kindness shown to me by total strangers than at any time before or since. In a strange town if you asked the way the person you asked would often insist on coming with you a fair part of the way to make sure you didn’t get lost. I loved the country, the people and the language. Long and strange looking place names were a problem at first until I learned how to pronounce them and also that in most cases they were two or more simple words joined together. I had to practice for a while before I could make the double L sound but the rest was easy. There was a destination sign on a bus in Swansea that baffled me until I was able to break it down into its constituent words. Mynyddbachyglo. At first sight impossible but this is what it really means. Mynydd (muneerth-mountain)/bach (bark-small {qualifying adjectives came after the noun})/y (pron like a short I-of)/glo-coal. Little mountain of coal.

Now I had my own office, a clerical staff of about 6 and warehouse staff at the other end of the factory of about the same. I realised that I had probably reached as far as I could go. I also remembered something Les had said at Northampton. He said I should try to acquire a poker face because what I was thinking was very plain to see. I rejected that advice and wondered whether I needed to find a field where an expressive face was an advantage rather than otherwise. My landlady reported that a man who was the area representative for Aspro (a firm founded by the Australian Nicholas Brothers) had been talking about what an easy job it was but he was leaving it. I wrote to them saying I heard they needed a new rep and I wanted to apply. The fact that he was leaving was news to them. Perhaps he was only shooting his mouth off but he did leave and I got the job.

When I met the Sales Manager at their head office he proudly showed me a framed copy of a press advertisement from about 20 years previously. “Of course we wouldn’t be allowed to do that now.” I thought he regretted it. The ad said “Aspro costs more than aspirin. Does not harm the heart.” That was downright dishonest because Aspro bought their ingredients in bulk from the same manufacturer as all the other aspirin makers, turned it into tablets, packaged and sold it. But for many years the public believed that Aspro was somehow different to aspirin and bought it in large numbers.

In advance I thought that a selling job would bring me into touch with many interesting people and provide stories that I could later use as a writer. (I still had that aim.) But in 8 years on the road I learned practically nothing although I did come across the following in Wales. A middle-aged chemist passed on something he had heard from the still older man to whom he’d been apprenticed. The incident reported may have happened in the 1920s or perhaps earlier. In the village there was the chemist and no doctor. Over the years he built up a reputation for being able to diagnose ailments from urine. He was in the back and heard two women talking. “Dhu! Dhu! (dew, dew, an expression of concern. It probably meant Devil, Devil) you look terrible. What’s ‘appened?” “It’s Dai (pron digh). He fell down the stairs from the top to the bottom. It’s a wonder he wasn’t killed.”

The chemist decided to have some fun. He came out, expressed surprise at seeing the second woman and then appeared to notice the bottle of urine she was holding. “Hello, Mrs Jenkins. Oh! That’s Dai isn’t it?” “Yes he….” “Don’t tell me.” He took the bottle, shook it, held it up to the light. “Poor Dai he’s had a bad fall ‘en’t he?” “Yes, he fell…” “No. Don’t tell me.” He shook the bottle again. “I reckon he must have fallen down half the stairs.” “No he fell down all the stairs.” He studied the bottle some more “No. Half the stairs definite.” “But Mr Rees I saw it he fell all the way from the top to the bottom.” “That’s strange. Did you bring me all his water?” “Well, no I threw some of it away.” “There you are then.” next