tagLoving WivesBack to Bristol Ch. 01

Back to Bristol Ch. 01



Chapter 01

It was 11.30 in the morning of the second Thursday in February. I was sitting at my desk in ITI Corporate Headquarters in London's West End. I was just wondering if anybody would miss me for the afternoon, and whether I could sneak off after lunch and take my new car for a spin. A brand new Jaguar XK Coupe, it had only been delivered on Tuesday, and beyond driving it to the little flat I was renting, and parking on the street that night, I hadn't driven it a single mile. I commute by taxi, it's easier, and last night was a dinner with a colleague passing through HQ from the US.

The fact that they'd let me choose a new company car did imply they expected me to be UK based for a little while at least. But, I really wasn't very busy. This was my second week back at HQ, and they still didn't seem to know what to do with me. My new Jag maybe some reflection that I was fairly important to them, that I was wanted, but they weren't telling me what I was wanted for. They had brought me back to London because there was the possibility that they were going to takeover a prestigious soup manufacturer in London, and I was to be involved in the assessment and takeover. That promised well because the leading consultant on the team usually got installed as the Managing Director once the takeover happened. The negotiations fell apart two days before I got back to London. Now, there wasn't even a rumour of what I was to do next. I knew that I'd made a success of my spell in Holland, two years as Managing Director of ITI - NDF, but now I was back at HQ. I'd sorted out all the transfer stuff, I'd caught up with old friends and colleagues, and now I was twiddling my thumbs. I hoped that I wasn't going to be put back into the International Consultancy team, which is where I was before I got transferred to Appeldoorn, I wanted an executive management position again. Anywhere in the world would do, but my own show to run.

I hadn't even seen The Old Man, Stephen J Parkinson, CEO of ITI, since I'd been back. That was a bit of a disappointment, I thought he rather liked me. I was one of his protégés, and I'm sure I hadn't disappointed him ever since he'd made me Managing Director of ITI -Jamesons, back in Bristol nearly six years ago now. Only six years! It seems half a lifetime ago that I was an ambitious 29 year old, living in Bristol, when I saw the advert for an MD of Jamesons in the Sunday papers. I applied, not so much because I thought I could get it, but because it laid down a marker in my own life that I had applied, that I had declared publicly that I was ambitious and that I thought I could do that sort of job. And it was in Bristol, my home town, and where I was still working in those days. Of course I had a wife and family back then. A lot can change in six years.

I found out afterwards that I was by far the youngest candidate that they short-listed. Stephen Parkinson was on the interview panel, and I'm sure it was his influence that got me the job. I seemed to have a special rapport with him that I thought had lasted until now. But maybe not!

My phone rang: "Chris Bennett speaking" I answered.

"Hello Chris. It's Pamela. Could you come up and see Stephen now. He says you won't be too busy."

Pamela was Stephen's secretary, and by definition, probably the most powerful woman in ITI. I was heading for the eleventh floor.

I tapped on his open door and stepped in. ITI offices are not luxurious, it's not our style. But Stephen's is definitely impressive. In fact Pamela's outer office is impressive, the whole of the eleventh floor, the Director's floor, is impressive. But Stephen's is top of the list. He looked up, saw it was me, and immediately got up from his desk stepped round and held out both of his hands, shaking mine vigorously between his two.

"Welcome back to the UK, Chris. And well done on your performance at NDF. You did well, congratulations."

"Thank you, Stephen. It was fun, I enjoyed it, but it's nice to be back."

I took a visitors chair, whilst Stephen returned to his side of the desk.

"Well, don't make yourself too comfortable at your desk, I've got something for you. What's your degree in?"

"Physics. But I didn't think I wanted to be a physicist. Is that about to change?"

He ignored my question. "So why did you do it, and have you added to it?"

That was easy to answer, "Because I was good at it at school. But as soon as I graduated I trained and qualified as an accountant, but I didn't want to be a bean counter either. So, with an MBA under my belt thanks to a generous employer, I became a management consultant." I paused, wondering where this was leading, "But you know all this, and if you don't, well it must all be on my record. So why are you asking now?"

"I wish I had remembered how well you're qualified for what I have in mind, it may have saved a few arguments. When we brought you back from Holland we had something else in mind, but.....Anyway, I've got something for you that maybe your track record qualifies you for better than I realised."

Now I was interested, "Tell me."

"We're going to send you back from whence you came. I hope you like that idea."

"Jamesons? I wasn't looking to go back there."

"No, not Jamesons, but back to Bristol. Actually, we're going to announce that all of Jamesons production will be switched to Peacocks Meat Products sometime next week, and Jamesons will be no more."

"PMP were always our biggest competitor in the South West. They have better distribution and a better site for expansion."

"Which is why we've bowed to the inevitable, and did a deal. It's not defeat, we take Peacocks' plant in Glasgow. It all makes sense."

"It'll be a pity to see Jamesons go, there were some good people there. Anyway if it's not Jamesons, I didn't think we had anything else in Bristol?"

"We didn't, but we do now. W R Franks & Sons. Do you know them?"

"A bit. They're into high tech medical kit aren't they? And aren't they owned by TDF, the German outfit?"

"There! You almost know as much as I do. Except they're owned by us now. If you remember, assuming you were awake at the time," He smiled "What we announced at the Group Conference in the Canaries about six months ago? It was agreed that we should open up the health field, it's a huge and growing market and we want our bit of it. Just as we were deciding that, TDF were probably in some other hotel somewhere deciding that they should concentrate on core industries and core strengths. Medical equipment was outside that definition. So, they wanted to sell and we wanted to buy. Good price too."

That upset me, "Oh! But, if I was marked as your man to take over down there, why wasn't I involved in the takeover and due diligence period? We always go in and draw up our own plan as to what we want to do and whether we want to buy it. I should have been a member of the team, Stephen, I haven't the faintest idea what you're putting me into."

In fairness to him, he did look a bit shamefaced at that. "First Book of Samuel, 26:21" He quoted under his breath, and looked at me and smiled.

This was a habit or skill of Stephen's. He could quote appropriate bits of the Bible at a moment's notice. Only he never gave the quote, he always gave the reference. Anyone senior in ITI kept a Bible in their desk draw. I didn't recognise this one, but I bet it was an apology. I'll have to look it up later.

I returned his smile: "So, what's the story?"

"Their old CEO was a Henri Bauer. A French-German, a bit stiff but a nice guy, I met him a couple of times. But, of course, we didn't want him to stay, we want our own man in there. So Herr Henri is back in Bonn. We were going to put in Charles Dyer, he was back from Spain; so he did the whole of the review stage, and seemed to do a good job at it. He certainly impressed TDF, they offered him a job and he's in Bonn too! So that leaves you. But, it's back to your home ground, you should be pleased. "

"Well I guess I am. I'll have to have a look at it. Do I have a say in any of this?"

"Of course you do. There's always the International Consultancy team?"

Stephen knew I was trapped. It was the price we paid for working for a major multi-national. You go where you're sent, smile sweetly and say thank you.

"Do I get a chance for any briefing, and when do they expect me?"

"How about Monday? You'll be getting Myra Hepsted, she's an accountant from the takeover team. She'll be coming down to join you. Have you met her? She's been here about a year now, may be a bit longer."

"Maybe, but I don't think so." I said, I didn't want to feel that I didn't know significant HQ staff.

"Oh, you'd know if you've met her. A very attractive young lady is Myra. You're not married are you Chris?" Stephen winked at me.

"I was once, you know that. But it's a silly game, been there, done that." I answered, making light of the tragedy of my life.

"Ooh, Myra could change your mind. Or she could mine. But then again, when I grow up I'm going to be a dirty old man. Just don't tell Frances, I want it to be a surprise for her."

Frances was Stephen's wife of God knows how many years. I lovely maternal lady that made all of Stephen's protégés (like me) feel that she's adopted us as a sort of extra sons. I always looked forward to the rare times of meeting Frances.

Stephen continued, "Anyway, Myra's on holiday at the moment, and she's still got things to do here, but she'll join you sometime in the next month. She comes from Bath and wants to get back to that part of the country."

"I look forward to meeting her. Any chance of some briefing papers and background reading? I know sod all about Franks or medical equipment?"

"Yes. They're being delivered to your desk right now. I can tell you that their strengths are a CT Scanner, made under license from the American originators, and laser eye treatment kit which comes out of their own research and patents. And I'm sure there is lots of room for expansion and growth of both products and services. They also are one of several operating theatre kit makers. I've told them not to release Charles's business plan, I don't want his thinking to influence you, go and make up your own mind. But as always, we will be looking for efficiencies as well as growth."

"I think you can rely on me to work out how I would want to take it. And will I have freedom to argue for radical change if I see it appropriate?"

"Of course, a completely free hand to propose anything you see fit. Just give us the market and the return we want. And by the way, I'd keep my head down if I were you when the shit hits the fan about Jamesons, PR department will tell you how. Now come back and see me in about a month's time and tell me how it's going."

"OK, Stephen. I guess I'd better go and sort out a hotel and the lease on my flat, and do lots of reading."

Suddenly he looked serious, "Oh, and best of luck, Chris. I won't say I'm out on a limb putting you in on this one, but I'm not on firm ground either. It's important, this is the start of a new strategic division of the Group. Don't let me down."

I shook his hand and looked him in the eye, "I'll do my best, promise."

"That's all any of us can do........Oh, and by the way, Genesis 3:23."

He sat down and immediately started working on some typewritten paper in front of him. My meeting was over, I was dismissed.

I returned to my desk, chanting in my head: 'First Book of Samuel 26:21 and Genesis 2:33' Sure enough there were three boxes of reports and papers on my desk.

I took out my Bible. The Samuel quote started to seem a bit odd, until I got to the last phrase: 'behold, I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly'. How does he remember them all? I guess that's the sort of mind that can also instantly recall people, figures and facts that make him CEO.

The other quote was a problem, I suspected I'd muddled the reference, and was getting it wrong. I'll have to read a lot and see if I can spot it.

So, here I am: Driving down the M4 to Bristol and it's 11:00 on Saturday morning. This is the first time I've driven this car since I drove it home on Tuesday, and it's wonderful. I'd also noticed I was eyed by a rather attractive blonde in the car alongside me at the lights in Hammersmith. So, obviously an OK looking guy in his mid-thirties in a brand new Jaguar XK was catching the ladies' eye. Life may be getting better.

Once I was past Heathrow, heading west, the traffic thinned. I could take the car up to the statutory 70 mph, even push it a bit, but they get upset and take your license away if they catch you going over the 100. I took it up to 90, but then I took it back down again and put the cruise control on at 75.

Sitting there quietly cruising along, I started to think: she still lives in Bristol, with my two sons and the love of her life, Peter Fucking Davies. Yes, she's Mrs Molly Davies these days. They moved home about a year ago, I don't recognise the address, but I guess it's better than the little rabbit hutch they had when he first stole her, I wonder if it's up to the standard of the house we used to have before she transferred her affections, I hope not.

Well, at least a few years back in Bristol will give me a chance to re-establish my relationship with my sons. Jamie is eight, and Ben is seven now. I've got joint custody, but she has residency, which is what I wanted for their sake. My life wasn't suited to having them with me for weeks at a time. I haven't seen them for five months, but maybe I can start seeing them every week. Maybe I can become part of their lives again, I'd like that.

Then it occurred to me that there weren't any little half-brothers or sisters to Jamie and Ben. Molly always wanted more children, it was me that had called for a pause at two whilst I absorbed my new life working at Jamesons, and I got used to paying the huge mortgage we'd taken on, but it was still discussed occasionally right up to the end. Maybe dear Peter fires blanks. That's a cheery thought!

I must stop this train of thought. It's no good, Molly fell in love with another man, and you can't fight that. It was over four years ago now, so it's a bit late to even start trying, not that I would. I just wish I knew what I did wrong, why she went looking for love and a better life elsewhere. She should have sent him packing the moment he introduced himself. OK, he was a randy bachelor who fancied an attractive girl in her twenties, but he was wrong to insinuate himself onto her and chat her up. She was wearing a wedding ring, and he would have very quickly learnt that she had two young children and a husband. That bit of it makes me very angry. If I ever meet him on a dark night, --- well I certainly would alter the pattern of their sex life for ever - then he wouldn't be firing anything!

Instead, I think about Helene. I feel a bit guilty about her. She was my live-in girlfriend for the last eighteen months. She was sexy, beautiful and fun to be with. I never misled her, it was always meant to be just fun, good sex and companionship. And it was all of that. The sex wasn't as good as with Molly, I knew that. But Helene's body was better, but then it was five years younger and hadn't given birth to two sons. It was just that with me Molly had an ability to abandon herself to lust that was special ... Damn! Bloody Molly again. Obviously being sent back to Bristol is stirring old thoughts.

Back to Helene: I knew that for the last six months I meant more to her than I should. I always said that when I go back to England, when my job in Holland is over, she wouldn't be coming with me, but it still hurt her and left me feeling guilty. When somebody loves you, even if they shouldn't, you owe them an obligation.

We had a good final holiday after I packed up work at NDF. I tried to leave her on a high, but I don't think it really helped much. We drove down to Paris for a few days, then flew down to South Africa for two weeks of sunshine. Then back to Holland and the big, final Goodbye. I think there were more tears than laughter in the last few days, it really wasn't fun. But I couldn't, in fairness to her, change my mind. I'm no longer the marrying kind, been there and it bloody hurts when it gets to the end, I'm not going back.

I owe Helene so much: It was her that took a guy who had been playing rather wild for a couple of years. I don't know how many girls, and I'm not particularly proud of some of the encounters. The 'If you want to get yourself some breakfast before you go then please feel free, but I'm off to work.' greeting in the morning rather gave them a hint of what I expected. I'm sure I hurt some of them who probably hoped for a little more, at least a little kindness. I came to realise that I was probably hurting people, nice people, innocent people, and I liked myself even less. That's why I took to paying for it for a while, it was easier and simpler and no one got hurt. Then I got posted to Holland, and for a few months I gloried in their liberal culture. My only real friend was my right-hand, but weekends in Amsterdam let me explore who I was sexually. So many live acts on stage, so many porn films, and a new and exciting world to explore. But, again it only led to self disgust. When you find yourself jacking off to a film of a middle aged woman, who you don't find particularly attractive and she speaks a language you don't understand, getting fucked by a large black dog, and your watching it in a little cubicle at the back of a porn bookshop, well yes, you cum, but you feel dirty.

So I took to alcohol for a while. I became a regular in a pleasant café-bar in Apeldoorn. As soon as I walked in on any evening, the bunch of regulars would switch to talking English for my sake. That was both friendly and humbling in itself. Helene was a regular with her boyfriend Dek (I doubt whether he spelled it like that, but that's how it sounded). Then one week neither Helene nor Dek were there, and they weren't there for three more weeks. Then Helene started to come in by herself. And we got together, two broken people helping each other.

It was her that proved to me again that not all women are bitches that cheat on you and go off and fall in love with other men. I guess I showed her that not all men screw their secretaries whilst telling you they love you. Between us we re-learnt that people do remember birthdays, that guys can buy I bunch of flowers for no real reason, that women can wear sexy undies just to please their man, and eventually we even learnt to laugh again. I remember the night when we saw something that made us both spontaneously laugh out loud, a guy missed his mouth and poured beer all down his shirt just because a rather pretty girl in a short skirt bent over to pick up her phone which she'd dropped in front of him.

I used to be a nice guy. I met a girl, I fell in love, I married her, I worked hard and paid the mortgage, I came home at night, and I gave her all my love. I think I'm a nice guy again now, thanks to Helene. I just wouldn't like to have to answer for the years in between.

Good Heavens! The M32 turn-off for the centre of Bristol. My thoughts of Helene, and the quiet ambience of this car had got me to Bristol quicker than I expected.

I'd done a deal with Admin, and swapped six weeks fully expensed in a classy hotel for three months in a furnished and serviced one bedroom apartment. Either way, under ITI rules, you're on your own for housing after that. This apartment was very impressive, it had read well on the website, but it was even better in reality. It was in a nice quiet square, near the University and in walking distance of the centre of town. And there was secure off-street parking, which made me feel happier about the Jag.

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