Straws that break a Camel’s Back

What do some of the words from the song Lily the Pink and Barry’s latest memoir have in common? Journey down memory lane with him and all will be revealed.

Straws that break a Camel’s Back
It was my own fault really – the hangover that is. In fact it was becoming an all too common occurrence: late night entertaining of selected company customers designed to keep them on our books at the expense of our competitors resulting in my eyes sending me sleep telegrams and my throbbing head leaking out of my ears.

The Goodyear Tyre & Rubber Company was intended to be a temporary situation. My hours of employment were said to be Monday to Friday 0800-1730 plus Saturday mornings 0700 to midday. In the meantime I would be looking around for a job that gave me Saturdays off so as to be available for youth work, weekend hiking and camping.

Initially I was responsible for all financial stuff. But because my work station was in the main showroom I would watch the sales staff ply their trade in the selling of tyres, wheels and other car and truck accessories. Sometimes I would be asked to help out with the smaller sales of puncture repairs and tube replacements.

They were a good mob to work with – especially an Irishman by the name of Dinny Clancy. Dinny was our number one sales representative. In fact he was always winning the big bonuses and we used to say he could sell spare legs to donkeys. He wasn’t overbearing like some of our peers. Instead, with his soft Irish lilt and infectious charm he would go quietly about his business and keep bringing in the big sales. He seemed always to be smiling, nothing was too much trouble for him and, as he would constantly remind us, the customer is always right. On top of which, Dinny was the most sanguine of men.

Let me tell you a little more about Dinny before I continue my tale. He and his good lady had purchased some land down near the beach in Scarborough, Western Australia. Well, if the truth be known, it was land adjacent to the sand dunes and wide sandy beach and purchased long before the high rise development now prominent from miles around. Quite unkindly one or two of Dinny’s peers indicated many times that he was more than a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic for such folly, and they would laugh at him when he suggested they too might like to buy near Scarborough Beach saying it was an investment in their future. Dinny’s response was always to wink and smile.

I saw Dinny long after I had parted company with Goodyear, and shortly after Alan Bond had just completed the first high rise development on the Scarborough beach front. Yes, you’ve guessed it, Dinny and his good lady, along with others so disposed to future investments, made an absolute mint. And when recalling those who had ridiculed his ideas his infectious laugh was an ironic footnote for his detractors.

Where was I? Oh yes, Lily the Pink. Did I say Lily the Pink? Sorry, more about that later.

Over time I began to spend more time on the sales counter and enjoyed the customer side of things far more than cashing-up and reconciling the books. Eventually I made it to truck tyres and industrial rubber sales and picked up some nice bonuses in the process. One day the boss came by and asked if I could stand in for him by taking out to dinner, plus a jar or two, a new customer likely to bring us good sales in medium size truck tyres. Little did I realise at the time that this would be the beginning of the end of my time with Goodyear.

Soon I was doing this sort of thing on a regular basis, and getting home late was becoming the norm. Plus, I went from light to heavy alcohol consumption in a short period of two years which, in turn, damaged my social life and put in jeopardy a budding romance.

There was a young lass working in the same store that did some bookkeeping and looked after the switchboard. Marjorie and her husband came from Manchester and were as different as chalk and cheese. She was vivacious, gregarious, and well shod. She rarely took time off work, was always in the middle for organising ‘Company socials and picnic days, took no nonsense from anybody, and was very clear where she wanted to be in the years ahead. Bruce, on the other hand, was Mr Introspective – a shy, hardworking and no nonsense sort of lad. In fact, you would be forgiven for not being aware of his presence at the ‘Company functions. But there was no doubting they were definitely made for each other.

Away from work Marjorie and Bruce were building a steel hulled boat. That is: they seemed always to be building that boat, and we were given weekly bulletins on its progress or otherwise. The fact they lived some distance from sea or river launching facilities did not, in any way whatsoever, deter them from their end goal. For them it was a nothing issue easily resolved when the time came.

Anyway, it was early in the morning when I woke to the screaming demands from my kidneys for copious drinks of water. The previous evening I’d been entertaining a disgruntled customer with a view to putting a deal together to save the ‘Account. Success was achieved, but it was an expensive exercise both for the ‘Company’s entertainment budget and my wellbeing. The car was in the driveway, but whether I’d taken the coastal or inland route home I could not remember. Worst still, my bedroom was spinning out of control and sleep had become impossible.

I telephoned the office around 0800 hours to say I would be in late and to leave a message for the boss that the ‘Account was safe – for now. Marjorie did not answer my call because, I was informed, she was home taking care of Bruce. It seems he had come down with a viral infection he could not shake off. I decided to call in and to see if there was anything needed before going in the office.

The sun was high when I headed out and the glare was hurting my eyes – even though I was wearing sunglasses. As I was descending down Hamilton Hill Road I could see the steel hull of the boat propped up on spare ground next to Marjorie and Bruce’s house. They had been priming it against the weather and rust. My eyes were now protesting vigorously as the glare from the pink priming paint intensified my pain. I was desperately trying not to look in its direction. Sadly my ordeal was not over.

Turning into the driveway of their house my senses were hit again when seeing the wooden picket fences were also painted in pink primer, and my head started to throb once more. Gingerly I climbed out of my car and walked uneasily to the front door. After gaining some composer I knocked gently on the door for to do otherwise would have compounded my misery.

Marjorie greeted me in a soft voice saying Bruce was asleep and ‘Thank you caring’. She observed my hung-over state saying something along the lines of after-hours customer entertainment beginning to take its toll on me. There was no disagreement from me. When I pointed to both the boat and picket fences being the same colour she said they were using up the access supply they had bought at a paint sale. With the ease of a charming hostess she ushered me into the family room and said she would be back soon with a very strong cup of black coffee.

Now I don’t know about you folks, but when I enter a building after being in the bright sunlight it takes a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the indoor surroundings. Somehow I managed to find a comfy chair and dropped into it like a sack of potatoes, my eyes were closed in a futile attempt to ease the throbbing in my head. Presently I heard Marjorie’s voice inviting me to drink the coffee. When I opened my eyes my senses were hit again because the walls of the family room were painted in the same primer pink as the boat and picket fences. My only hope for some sort of relief was to look up at what I believed would be a white ceiling. But instead of being white it too was painted, yes you’ve guessed it, primer pink.

After the visit I called into the office to give an update on Marjorie and Bruce, and to say I was booking off sick and going home to get some rest. To this day, whenever I hear the song Lily the Pink I am taken back in time to those important crossroads in my life.

I parked the car in the driveway and wearily made my way into my bedroom and slumped onto my bed. The time was around mid-day. It was in the early hours of the following morning that I was woken by the milkman doing his deliveries. I was still in my day clothes but, thankfully, my head had calmed down.

As I sat in the kitchen drinking a cup of coffee I began to review much of what had happened over the previous several years. There was no doubting that I loved working for Goodyear; that I had worked with some great people and made some good friends. But the nature of after-hours work had descended into nothing more than an ugly drinking culture costing me both socially and personally. Later that morning I ‘phoned the boss to say I was resigning with immediate effect. All attempts to get me to reconsider came to nought.

Sometimes I think that the sight of a boat hull, picket fences, walls and a ceiling all painted in pink primer were the straws that broke the camel’s back. But I will always remain indebted to that experience which served to bring into sharp focus those signposts at those most important crossroads in my life.

See you later…

Barry Edge
Western Australia
May 18, 2007

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