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Clement's Corner: Never Ventured

Owen Clement tells a tale of ups and downs in business and marriage.

To read more of Owen's stories please visit Clement's Corner in the menu on this page.

It had been one of those days that made me want to take off, never to return. I had heard of men my age going through mid-life crises. This was no mid-life crisis. I was having a rotten bloody time.

I saw another of my hopes dashed when I heard the warehouse manager Henry Clarkson say to Bill Perkins, “I see a great future ahead for you Bill.'' Little did he know that Bill, only in his early thirties, was a big Blowhard and a useless piece of crap to boot? He often spent much of the day puffing on a fag in the toilet. Even the Assistant Manager, Alex Scott, seemed to turn a blind eye to Bill’s sloping off. He found it easier to let me carry out Bill’s assignments rather than have the hassle of nagging the lazy bastard. The company’s training motto was, “Use a capable assistant, a willing assistant and an assistant who has the time”. Fair enough, I thought, but what about one that’s unwilling and who is not capable like that dingbat Bill who will eventually become like a lot of useless Quango’s in government offices that are kicked upstairs to fictitious positions where they can do the least harm.

As much as I would have loved to have given notice, jobs for men of my age were virtually impossibleto find and, I still had the responsibility of Josie and the kids. I tried not to let on how I felt to them.

My eldest, Ron, almost fifteen, was a problem. No matter how much I tried to make him understand how vital it was to do well at his studies, although intelligent enough, he turned a deaf ear to me. His priorities were centred more on skateboards and surfing. Some day, I’d hoped, when it was not too late, he’d say: “I should have listened to my dear old dad.” Fat chance there was of that for a while I’d thought.

I was not worried about my sweet little Ellie. She knew where she’s going. She had always wanted to be a teacher and, I knew, had the will to see it through.

My wife Josie, was another matter altogether. She always managed to make me feel like a poor provider. It had not been my fault that various opportunities had been missed. Every time I’d wanted to take up a new venture she either resisted or downright opposed it. We’d be rolling in it by now if she’d given me more support.

Now with Billy Boy around at work, I could see that my chances of advancement were nil.

As I came through the front door one evening the smell of boiled cauliflower hit me, making me nauseous at the thought of food. Josie’s knowledge of vegetable dishes, because of Ellie wanting to be a vegetarian, was limited to say the least. Ronald was forever arguing with his mother on this matter, not that it did him much good. As much for myself I took the boy out for a takeaway once a week, he never saw it as a treat, only as his due. I was happy to get away from Josie’s constant complaints of money being tight. I wholeheartedly agreed with the cliché that, “Life was not meant to be easy, nor is it meant to be enjoyed”. Life had to be endured alright.

I’d noticed Josie quickly douse her cigarette in the sink and try to fan the smoke out of the kitchen window when I arrived that day.

“Hello Darl, bad day?” She had called out.

“Hello Sweetheart, Everything’s fine.”

Fine my eye.

I gave her a peck on the cheek,”Any mail?”

“Nothing dear, only bills. I’ll have dinner on the table by the time you’ve washed.”

I had recalled the Somerset Maugham’s, short story “The Verger”, where this guy takes off from his pathetic family and makes a successful life elsewhere with another woman. Tempting though it was, I could never see myself go off like that, for a start I’d be found very quickly, nor could I live with myself if I did.

I decided that the time had finally arrived for me to do something about it. Josie and I had to sit down and thrash out a plan that would suit us both. I could see no future in the company for me and I had no intention of spending the rest of my working life in a job without prospects. I decided that I would arrange for the kids to go to my parents for the weekend so that she and I could come up with something. It had to be done.

She was lying in bed with a book when I came out of the bathroom after my shower that night.

“Darling, you know I don’t like to have serious discussions at bedtime, but there is something that has been bothering me for some time now and I want it resolved.” I perched on my side of the bed.

“Can it wait till the morning, Dear?”

“No, I’m afraid not. I’d like to arrange for the kids to go to Mum and Dad’s tomorrow for the weekend and for us to go away so that we come up with a plan on where we’re going next.”

“George, we have been through this many times before.”

“This is different, it’s very important to me, please.” I cut in sharply.

“Okay if it is that important,'' she said in a resigned tone, “Will I ring your parents in the morning, or will you?”

“Whatever.”

The children were annoyed when they were told, but, as they love visiting their grandparents, they went along especially when I had given them each twenty dollars spending money.

It was one of those drizzly winter days where peering through the misty windshield made the three hour drive to the motel very demanding.

I didn’t bring up the matter until we had eaten and were back in our room that evening. I took our unfinished bottle of Chardonnay and poured each of us a glass. I sat on one of the lounge chairs while she propped herself up on the bed.

“I’m nearly forty seven now and I know that there is no possibility of advancement for me in the company.”

“How do you know, dear?”

I took a sip and looking over at her said, “I know that I want to quit.''

“I gathered that. What would you do then for an income?”

“I’m coming to that. One of the firm’s customers is selling his stationary business. He and his wife are getting on and are finding the long hours too much. He told me what he is asking, which we could afford when we sell our place.“

She was about to speak when I cut her off.

“There is a three bedroom unit above the business, so we needn’t worry about accommodation. I’ve been through the books. The place seems well cared for and won’t need any renovating. Before you say no, please come and look at it and you can check the figures.''

“But you know nothing about running a business.”

“The owner’s offered to help us for as long as is necessary. I’ve been calling on him for years and am familiar with the products. You, with your money handling skills can look after the books. A member of the staff who knows the customers will stay on the payroll as long as we need her.”

“Where is this place?”

“Not far, in fact we can walk to it tomorrow. I’ve given this considerable thought, Darl. I wouldn’t advocate going into something unless I was certain that it was a goer, believe me.”

I leant over to refill her glass. She covered the top, “No more for me.''

“Our lives have been pretty dull lately. It’s about time we brought back some excitement into it.''

She put her empty glass onto the bedside table. “It’s been a long day. Let’s talk more about it tomorrow.''

I switched off the light and slipped in beside her. It had been a long time since we’d made love with such abandon.

On her reaction at seeing the business and the upstairs apartment I knew that I’d have to work hard to convince her. Back at the motel, I tried to explain that with a bit of effort and fresh ideas the place could become quite profitable. She remained unconvinced. I put my foot down saying that I was determined to proceed and to force me to continue at the warehouse would kill me. Josie sat stunned at my ultimatum.

“Okay, I’ll agree on one condition,'' she eventually said.

“Oh, and what’s that?”

“That I have nothing to do with the business.”

Furious at her lack of support, I said, “Done.''

The children’s reaction was more positive. Living near the centre of town with the prospect of earning money by helping in the store, proved a winner.

To my good fortune a buyer for the house was soon found facilitating the purchase of the business.

With a place of my own I found extra energy to work long hours cleaning the shelves and setting out the stock giving the shop a fresh new look. Josie, finding herself on the outer with the rest of the family and noticing that the business had begun to prosper, started contributing to its operation. She became a new woman. She stopped smoking, took more care in her appearance and for the first time in our married life, became more supportive.

Young Ron happily contributed by stacking the shelves and he proved very popular with the customers.

Ellie blossomed in the more relaxed household and happily helped her mother with the household chores.

Sadly, it was not to last. In just under a year strong competition opened up nearby causing a drop in sales.

Josie’s immediate reaction was to start harping on the futility of the venture. She began smoking again and spent most of the time hiding away in the unit upstairs.

Having to do away with my staff member increased my workload and the stress of trying to make the business viable soon exhausted me. With no help from Josie I feared we’d lose everything. I started snapping at the children putting them off–side as well. Worst of all, my attitude began to adversely affect sales.

Remembering their offer, I called on the previous owners for their advice. To my delight they agreed to help having been through similar situations. They acted as my mentors with practical suggestions and even took over at times to give me the occasional break.

Josie, embarrassed and ashamed by their example, offered to look after the books. Before long the business once again began to show a profit.

We struggled on for eight years. By this time Ron had left for university to do a business management course and Ellie had just started at teacher’s college.

One evening while she was listing the cheques and writing up the takings while I sat across from her wrapping the coins and stacking the notes to be banked I saw that the strain had really begun to show on her face. “I reckon the time has come to put the place on the market, Darl,'' I said.

She looked up at me.

“But what about...“ she began. Then, covering my hand with hers with a determined thrust of her chin said forcefully, “Yes, why not?”

© Clement 2006


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