Sunday, May 06, 2007

How it used to be

Having just flogged off the family business I have been asked several times if I am at all sad that as the third generation owner it is me who has "lost" the business that my grandfather and father worked so hard to build.

The answer is no.

The answer is an unequivocal no because the business we have today bears no resemblence whatsoever to the business that I took over in 1985 and if my father was here today then he would certainly have agreed to the sale of the business - I know that without question.

An old friend of his was a lot more upset than I am when I told him the news and he made the comment about how my father worked hard to build the business, in fact he rented premses from this old friend of his to store some of the hundreds of old mechanisms (like the one above) that he used to refurbish and sell - the old friend was astonished , but then not too suprised actually when I told him that most of the equipment that used to be stored in his premises was in fact stolen or at least of very dubious history.

My dad was the Don Corleone of our trade, he'd never use an honest method to earn a buck if there was an ever-so-slightly dishonest way to do it instead, he loved a "fiddle" and as a boy working for him in the school summer holidays he explained to me on more occasions than I can count, as he pressed an ill-gotten £20 note into my hands after we locked up the premises , "thats worth £25 you know", meaning of course that had he declared it for taxation purposes through the books then he would have had to earn that amount to get our £20 - everything he did had a "me" value and a "them" value with a rough rule of thumb that if a customer paid in cash it went in the "me" pocket, if they paid by cheque it went in the books for "them".

Try as I might though I could never buy £25 worth of goods with my £20 note.

He sold mainly refurbished equipment, lots and lots of it, so much so that he spent 60 or 70 hours a week at his workshop bench, drenched in fumes and amonia based cleaning fluids scrubbing up the brass parts until they "shined like snot on a blanket" (to use another of his quaint expressions) and at the end of the year our accountant would marvel at the profit margins that the business produced and my dad would point to the fact that he paid very little for the refurbished equipment as it came in the door and sold it for lots as it went out of the door.

If his accountant had ever questioned where the source of this refurbished equipment was then he would probably not have been his accountant for very long - Don Corleone my dad had a mole at the country's largest business in the trade , a company who were not interested in selling refurb equipment but who traded in lots and lots of old stuff every week, old stuff that was supposed to be broken up and sold for scrap but in fact found its way into the mole's car with the help of two accomplice's every week - old stuff that was then sold on to my dad at a monthly meeting in a layby several hours drive away from here.

As I swept the floor in his workshop during the days of my youth I heard the phrase "its your lucky day" more times than I care to remember and this phrase usually meant that he had another lucky punter on the end of the phone who was about to buy a refurbished machine with a dubious history and it wouldn't be long before the phrase "well if its for cash then its £300" would appear and he'd look over to me and lick his lips and rub his forefinger and thumb together in a cartoon "we're in the money" stylee, "Naupins lad" he'd tell me, "Naupins tonight", Naupins being his word for his fiddle money, no don't ask why because I don't know.

I'm ashamed to say that on several occasions I was actually party to the funniest of his fiddles, the times when he would go to a customers premises and take away their equipment "for further examination i the workshop", then the next day would ring the customer with the bad news that their equipment was knackered and beyond economical repair, just as the customer was ready to burst into tears my dad would console them with the fact that "this is your lucky day" and he would tell them of the identical machine that he had just finished refurbishing on the workshop bench and how it was ready to go out at the end of this week for the sum of only £300, in cash of course.

"Naupins lad" he'd cry, "Naupins tonight" as he dashed past me into the workshop to start work on refurbishing that customers very own equipment, respraying the case to make it look different, before selling it back to them at the end of the week - a brilliant fiddle and many legitimate businesses sent their equipment to us only to buy back their own property in a different coloured case.

So no, I am not sad that I sold OUR business, for OUR business has nothing whatsoever to do with the business that my father and grandfather had built, that was all left behind when I took over and Suzanne entered the office and declared that she would not be party to such dubious practices and I had to agree that I didn't have the bare-faced cheek to sell someone their own equipment back to them - my dad was disgusted that no more naupins would ever leave the premises again and would often ask in wonderment, right up to the day he died, if I could actually survive on a salary that was properly declared for tax.

And with the recent crushing of our spirit and ruination of our business through taxation I reluctantly have to agree that the old bugger was probably right - a business needs its naupins to survive, fortunately I won't be doing the accounting from now on.

The day the Health and Safety officer called - a page from the Jerrychicken biography

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