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Perspectives and things

Summoned this week to lunch with the Rust’s proprietor at one of the most prestigious and expensive restaurants in southern England I soon found myself bobbing and weaving on the ropes, fighting to keep my head above water, as he quizzed me  on my views about everything from the unhinged state of the nation, Ben Stokes’ epic Third Test innings and the crisis over the apparent increased breast cancer risk of prolonged use of HRT by menopausal women – none of which, with the best will in the world, could ordinarily be described as within my range of interests or expertise.

It is nevertheless fascinating to occasionally come within the orbit of those whose daily concerns and indeed lifestyle are altogether different from one’s own.

There’s an undeniable degree of voyeuristic “observing how the other half lives” to the process, of course, because variety is the spice of life and every individual’s ‘journey’ is unique to themselves, as becomes all too apparent whenever ‘reunion’ gatherings – organised or informal – occur.

And yet human relations decree that, for the most part, people gravitate towards others like themselves, a statement that is simultaneously a truism but also multi-faceted.

Anyone in the field of ‘sales’ will testify to this.

Going back some forty years now, a chap I grew to know quite well socially through family friendships – sadly killed in a car accident in France in his late twenties – made himself a stack of money by selling photocopiers.

One couldn’t be remotely jealous of his success because of the fact he was exactly the same person when he had it all as he had been a few years before, when he began with nothing.

I once asked him how it had all happened. He was candid enough to put it all down to chance. Academia was not his thing – he had left school with barely an ‘A’ level – but in sales much of what mattered was being in the right place and taking one’s opportunities.

He had two big breakthroughs. Amidst a group of classic ‘salesman-type’, slightly spivvy, colleagues, the first was that one day his manager had the foresight to select him (almost certainly because of his public school background) to go to see a prospective new client who happened to be the chairman of a multi-national company.

It worked. Largely because of his easy-going sociability and familiarity with the likes of horse racing, sailing and the Henley Regatta, he was immediately on the same wavelength as his ‘target’ and came away with an order, not for the ten to fifteen photocopiers hoped, but one for no fewer than three hundred and eighty. Overnight he was ‘made’.

His second watershed was the moment he realised that the key opportunity with sales of photocopiers wasn’t the ‘sale’ itself at all: it was the way the transaction was structured.

[Things may be different now, but back then, as I understood his explanation …] from an accounting point of view, buying a photocopier outright as a capital item gave a company an asset that was depreciating from Day One.

Increasingly, he noticed that as a matter of preference clients were ‘leasing’ them – via this route the copiers appeared in their accounts as a ‘cash items’ or expenses, a detail which to all intents and purposes didn’t trouble the ‘assets and liabilities’ section of their balance sheets.

A simple accounting matter, if you will.

So, with a pal, my friend quit selling photocopiers and office machinery and set up a lend-leasing business.

In simplistic terms [and maths isn’t my strongest suit] they borrowed the money to buy a photocopier outright for say £5,000 … and then leased it to a business that needed one for say £2,000 per annum over seven years. Everyone was happy. The client was spending £2,000 per annum and had a photocopier that worked and got serviced for free – and, as important, no depreciating capital asset – whilst (as the financers of the deal) my pal and his mate had a guaranteed £14,000 coming in over the period.

Last night I watched an item on the local news about an exciting archaeological discovery of a Roman mosaic in a private field in Berkshire.

It was about to be open to view by the public for a single day before then being buried again for its own safekeeping.

See here for a reports on the website of – BBC NEWS

Hordes of volunteer archeaologists had been working on it and one of them, a lady I should say in her late sixties, was interviewed. Her evident passion for her subject was infectious and impressive. I envied her for it.

It struck me that – with all this Brexit stuff going on – sometimes it serves us well to remind ourselves of different and sometimes more important or even mundane things.

Whatever happens on a day to day basis on the news front, life does go on.

As it happens yesterday I began re-reading a book that I had recommended to someone a couple of months ago, the autobiography of someone for whom I once worked.

I came across a copy of it  by chance on a coffee table and dipped into it, partly out of interest and probably part of an urge to ‘put myself in the position of imagining how much it might have interested the person to whom I had recommended it’.

The opening chapter begins with a vivid description of what turned out to a pretty nondescript aerial dog-fight that took place on 28th May 1940 in the skies over Dunkirk.

The author was flying in the second wave of a group of Spitfires who spotted two Fleet Air Arm planes below, hurtling towards them pursued by ME109s. He watched as trails of smoke came from the first 109. This five second cameo was a lightning introduction to what he describes as ‘the terrifying quality of air fighting’ for immediately afterwards his group and another wing of 109s were ‘going at it’ in a state of total chaos. After one tight banking manoeuvre behind his section leader he saw a 109 also banking and coming towards him:

Again I saw the ripples of grey smoke breaking away for it and the lights were winking and flashing from the propeller hub and engine cowling. Red blobs arced lazily through the air between us, accelerating dramatically as they approached and streaked close by, across my wing …

A second or so later another 109 flashed in front of him and he fired a burst of his machine guns at it (“quite ineffectual”).

In the next paragraph he continues:

… When at last I felt it safe to straighten out I was amazed to find that the sky which only a few moments before had been full of whirling, firing fighters was now quite empty. It was my first experience of this curious phenomenon, which continually amazed all fighter pilots. At one moment it was all you could do to avoid a collision: the sky around you was streaked with tracer and the thin grey smoke-trails of firing machine guns and cannons. The next moment you were on your own. The mêlée had broken up as if by magic. The sky was empty except perhaps for a few distant specks.”

The author was just 19 at the time – barely three months before the commencement of the Battle of Britain – and later became one of the youngest squadron leaders in the RAF during WW2 at the age of 21.

Somehow reading that passage yesterday helped me to put another perspective upon what’s going on in the UK at the moment.

About Henry Elkins

A keen researcher of family ancestors, Henry will be reporting on the centenary of World War One. More Posts