I never asked to go on the course, I was just sent, our office had to send someone and so it was me because no-one else would go.
I was based in Newcastle at the time and we had another office in Carlisle where someone else had been compulsory volunteered to go on the course, and the course itself was in Bristol, or at least at our head office, a country house just outside of Bristol, a large country house that was once owned by the Wills family of WD & HO Wills fame.
The Group HQ looked after something like 100 separate offices of building sub-contractors and the dozen “volunteers” who were shoved forward to attend this course were all like me, surveyors within the electrical contracting division.
It was 1978, I was 22 years of age, had a company van and everything, lived through the week in appalling contractors digs in Whitley Bay – appalling when I think back to those halcyon days now but at the time it was just a right laugh, I’d drive back to Leeds most weekends to dump a weeks worth of dirty clothes (and you can get quite dirty on building sites) on my mother, get drunk all weekend and then pack another bag of fresh clean clothes and back to Newcastle for another week of driving around building sites and not doing much else.
So I was a bit of a scruffy bugger, my hair was cut once a year by myself, my appearance usually resembling Keith Richards on a bad day, Keith Richards when he hasn’t washed for a week, that was me, I didn’t care, it was so much fun I have to tell you how much fun I had, those pre-Suzanne days, ah where did it all go wrong ?
Not the sort to stay in a five star hotel then.
So I drove up to Newcastle on the Monday morning and I did the wages for our 80 electricians and then drove across to Carlisle to pick up the surveyor there who was also going on the course and we stood and looked at my knackered up old van and we stood and look at his brand new Ford Escort and we both decided that it would be good if he drove us both down the M6 to Bristol in the Escort instead of me in the van and rather stupidly I left the van at his house in Carlisle, forgetting that on the Friday I’d be heading back to Leeds from Bristol and had therefore instantly added another four hours onto my already long journey home.
We arrived at a hotel that we’d been booked into for the week and it was, how can I say this, a bit too posh for the likes of me, the name escapes me now but it was near Blagdon, Bristol, its was posh, very posh, in a 1970s sort of way, even had a helicopter landing pad, I was glad I hadn’t brought the Ford Escort van then.
Remember I was used to living in a room in a contractors boarding house, a room that had been divided by plywood partitions into three smaller rooms, rooms just big enough to fit a single bed into with six inches down one side, a wardrobe from a junk store near the door and a sink that you also used as a toilet through the night because the only toilet in the boarding house was three floors below – my company paid £4 a night to include breakfast and an evening meal.
The hotel in Bristol charged £4 just for a pint of beer.
And the company were paying all of the bills.
The first night I sat at the residents bar with my driver from Carlisle and some other people from companies within the group and my driver from Carlisle started to tell me all about Malt Whisky, he was apparently and aficionado, I had a bit of a taste for whisky but my taste was limited to Bells, which he declared not actually fit to scrub the doorstep with.
By perchance the back of the bar had a full shelf of particularly fine malts, and the company was paying.
Need I say more.
The rest of the week took a familiar course, a whole day of studying bollax at the head office followed by a four course meal in the posh hotel restaurant during which all of us tried to outbid the others in the sheer expense of our combination of dishes, I do recall ordering three different sweet courses one evening and signing a chitty for all of them, strawberries were in season I seem to recall, as was 18oz Aberdeen Angus steak and a fine wine to wash it down with.
And then we’d retire to the bar and my education on malt whisky would continue with a “Now where did we get to last night ?” and the waiter would point to the beer mat that we’d asked him to wedge between two bottles on the top shelf, we’d continue with an explanation of how this was a very peaty malt but a fine example of West Coast malts and would surely be deserving of a couple of double shots.
By the time the Thursday night came around our bosses from each of our branches had also been invited down to Bristol to have a presentation on the Friday of what we had been educated on, the course was actually on project planning and management and was probably relevant to our jobs as quantity surveyors in building trade sub-contractors, I couldn’t remember a thing, hadn’t taken any notes, I was pissed for the whole five days, through the night and through the days too.
We dined with our bosses on the Thursday evening and my boss, Derek of Newcastle sat next to me and stared at the menu in astonishment, “Have you been eating off this menu all week ?” he asked with wide open eyes, my friend from Carlisle had insisted that we make an early start on the malt whiskys that night as we still had eight bottles to go at before we’d sampled all of them so I was a little bleary eyed even at the meal, “oh no” I replied, “You should have been here on Wednesday, we had fookin caviar” and he gave me a look that suggested that he thought I was joking – I wasn’t, bloody awful is caviar.
The Managing Director of our group of companies joined us after our evening meal, gave a small speech and then retired to a corner of the room for a short meeting with our managers before leaving to pay the bill for the entire week at reception, I hear that the helicopter landing pad came in useful and they got him to a hospital quick enough to restart his heart in good time – surprisingly there were no more training courses after this one and to be quite honest I learned nothing about whisky at all other than the fact that it is quite possible to actually drink so much of the stuff that you fall off your stool, in true cartoon style.