Return to Civilian Life
My return to civi (civilian) street started after I left Intrepid in January 1971, I was posted to the Royal Marine Barrack, Eastney, Portsmouth, and when I got there, because I had done two commissions, I was rewarded with an cushy (easy) job, which was bedding storeman for the Band and Drums Company.
I was the only Marine in the company apart from the Company Commander, the Adjutant, everyone else was a bandsman. I got on well with the Adjutant. My first encounter with him started when the company was on leave, and I went down to the beach as the barracks were on the seashore. On my way back for lunch one day I was approached by what was obviously an officer who asked me where I had been and digging deeper, which company I was with. I told him that I was with Band and Drums and that they were on leave; he then asked if I was on leave. When I said I wasn’t he told me to report to the Adjutant and started to walk off. It was then I had to stop him and ask him who I should say sent me. “The Commanding Officer”, he replied. The Adjutant found that funny. When the post of company pay clerk became vacant, he offered me the position.
I always thought that I started at 8:30 so I would turn up at 8:25 as a good Marine is always five minutes early but, during our office Christmas dinner, I found out that we started at 08:00. I had noticed that everyone was there when I turned up each morning, but no-one had said anything to me. I didn’t change my timings.
In what was to be my last year in the Marines, the Tricorn Club in Portsmouth became an important part of my life and that was to have a significant impact on my future. I was in my room in the Barracks one day, when one of the guys was walking around and asked me if I was doing anything that evening. When I said that I wasn’t, he asked if I wanted to earn a bit of money on the door of a night club. I agreed and so started a part-time job as a bouncer. Luckily, I didn’t have to do much bouncing - I was able to talk most people out of causing trouble. In the year I was there, I only had one fight and that was with one of Portsmouth’s “hard boys”. The fight started at the top of the stairs and finished halfway down. Fortunately, someone stepped in and stopped it. I say fortunately, as by then I was starting to get the worst of it. However, after that, if I said to someone, “You can’t come in” or “You had better leave”, they left without a word.
I enjoyed my time working at the Tricorn Club. I got on well with the other staff and the customers, many of whom were regulars. After a few months I was made Box Office Manager responsible for the engagement of the door staff and arranging the work rotas. A few of the local hard boys became unofficial bouncers in that if I ever needed back-up, they would provide it. I even rigged up a light in the club, which when switched on was a call for assistance. If things were getting awkward at the door, we would switch the light on, and a number of the guys would suddenly appear. It did have a remarkable calming effect on anyone wanting to cause trouble.
During my time at Eastney, the Barracks did have a number of VIP visits, which included Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.
Prince Philip visits Royal Marine Barracks Easney
It was times like that that everyone gets involved, even the bedding storeman for the Band and Drums, so I was roped into the additional duty of a member of the Drill Display Team. From what I remember, the visit went well as did our display, but it did make me determine that I wanted to leave the military.
While employed by the Tricorn Club, I worked six nights a week, and that was also my social life. In addition, I was earning money and was spending hardly any of my wages. When the manager found out that I was leaving the marines he offered me a fulltime job, but I had made up my mind on what I was going to do and I had saved up enough money to set myself up in business.
Throughout my service I had been considering my life after the marines and had considered many options, but since working with Stuart on property I had determined that that was what I was going to do. That resulted in me devoting my leave to researching the property market in Lincoln. It also resulted in me buying a mini van as I would need that once I started working on property to carry my tools and materials to enable me to do the work.
It was after the visit of Prince Philip that I decided I was going to apply for my premature discharge. The marines had a system whereby you could purchase your discharge before the term of your engagement had expired and I had determined that the time then was right for me to return to civilian life. I was required to put in my application for discharge and then appear in front of a senior office. I was expecting all sorts of awkward questions, but I was asked just two, what I was going to do, whereon I said that I wanted to develop property by buying, modernising and then selling houses. He asked if it was lucrative, and I replied that it was. Application approved was his response. I had been told that your application was very rarely approved on your first application but mine was. I did wonder if my time in the Naval Detention Quarters had any influence on that decision.
On leaving the Marines in February 1972, I returned to Lincoln and moved back into my family home. I always got on well with my parents. I was the apple of my mother's eye, and my father supported me in anything I did, so moving back wasn’t a problem. Most of my time was taken up working, which amounted to 15 hours a day, seven days a week.
My move was into the property business. Like a lot of moves in my life, it felt predetermined. I owe that to Stuart Edinburgh from 41 Commando. He lived near me, so when we went on leave, we tended to travel back on the same train. One time while we were returning back from leave, he suddenly got up, rushed out of the carriage and returned with a young lady, which really impressed me. It turned out he had been up a few weeks previously and met her on the train then. Her parents had just moved to Birmingham and during the conversation, I mentioned that I had a friend in Birmingham and that if she gave me her phone number and I was in Birmingham, I’d give her a call, which she did. When she got off, Stuart asked if I really wanted her number or could he have it. I let him have it and a couple of weeks later he went up to see her and they started a relationship. It turned out that her parents had moved into a house that needed renovation and as Stuart had worked in the building industry, he was able to do it. On one job, he needed a hand and asked if I’d help him. I wasn’t that keen until he mentioned that she had a nice sister. That resulted in me assisting him on a regular basis and learning a great deal about repairing and renovating properties. We soon found that other people were asking us to do work for them, something we did have to restrict ourselves on. It did, however, give me a good understanding of the requirements regarding property repairs. Stuart eventually married Joan, the lady from the train. I was delighted to be best man at their wedding.
Stuart and Joan's Wedding with their parents and Joan's sisters as bridesmaids.
On leaving the Marines, I was able to grow my hair and also a long moustache, which were very popular in the 70s.
Me in 1972
I bought a terrace house that needed a considerable amount of renovation work. It had no bathroom, it had dry rot and needed rewiring, replastering, and numerous other repairs and renovations. Most of the work I did myself from the skills I learnt from Stuart, but where I needed to I would bring in others to do the specific work. I bought the property for £600 and when complete I sold it for £2,000. I then bought two more properties and repeated the process. So started my career in property development.
As with most things in life, it is not just what you know, it is also who you know, so I made an effort to get to know the estate agents and establish a good working relationship with them. After a while they would contact me if they had a property that they thought I might be interested in, so I would on many occasions buy them before they even got on the market. Some eventually became friend and we would frequently meet at social events held for the Round Table or Lions.
For several years I did really well. I bought numerous properties, specialising mainly in small terrace houses that needed modernising. Grants were available and the local authority was giving mortgages. Initially I was doing all of the work myself but, as business increased, I employed other people. I had offices and a nice house. Life was good.
Although I was working all hours, sometimes 15 hours a day, seven days a week, I did manage to get a social life and extended my interest in folk music I acquired while in Aden. When the person who managed the local folk club decided to call it a day, I offered to take it on. I had become friends with a number of the local resident singers. One of them, Mo Robinson and his wife Crysse, would invite people back to their place for coffee when the club finished, so we became friend, and it was not just one day a week as we had a very active social group which resulted in a party most weekends. From managing the club, I started to manage some of the artists and that in turn led to me producing a couple of records for the people that I managed.
Life for me at that time was very good. Then came the slump. The market for the properties I was dealing in dried up. The government ceased to give grants and the local authority stopped their mortgages. I had several properties that I was not able to sell. I had to let my employees go and close the office. I sold a couple of properties at a loss to bring down some of my bank loan. I also let some of the properties, but it still left me with a big financial problem despite selling my own home. There were two options open to me: I could either go bankrupt or hold on and ride out the storm. I decided that I would try to ride it out, as the thought of going bankrupt was abhorrent to me.
At that time, London Transport was recruiting nationally for bus drivers, so I applied and was invited down for an interview and a test drive around the block in a car. I passed both and was offered the opportunity to attend their driving course. Life was pushing me along and try as I may, I simply didn’t have many options, and so in September 1975, off to London I went.
Given the opportunity, I would have stayed in Lincoln. I missed my girlfriend Linda who was now 120 miles away. Also, in many ways the job meant going back to the military lifestyle of being told what to do and when, something I had got out of. I loved being able to decide for myself what I wanted to do - to have freedom and flexibility - something that being my own boss gave me. Nevertheless, this change was something that I had to accept.
London Transport offered a good package, which included a decent basic wage with the opportunity for overtime. There was initial free accommodation for a maximum of six months in a hotel – it wasn’t exactly five-star, but it was acceptable, and it came with free transport on buses and tubes throughout London. I spoke to my bank manager, as in those days it was still possible to do that. We used to meet for regular lunches and when I told him about my plan to work in London, he was happy to support me as long as I was making some repayments on my debts.
The five other guys who joined London Transport at the same time were a good bunch and we got on well. So well, in fact, that when our free accommodation came to an end, we got a place together. I had no problems passing the driving course. Later, I found out that the head of the school had taken a special interest in me as he too had been in the Marines. On passing, we were sent to Holloway Garage. I was allocated the number 27 bus route, which was Archway to Richmond, although on overtime you could be on any route. Whenever I go to London, I still look at the buses to see if I have driven that route. There was plenty of overtime available and the money I earned went straight to paying off my debts.
The other guys and I shared a flat for some time before each moving on to separate accommodation. I moved into a house share with Linda’s sister and some friends. Eventually Linda and I called it a day, so I moved out and into the YMCA.
The YMCA time was quite fun as it was located in Crouch End where there was a nearby drama school. Several of the students also lived at the YMCA and became friends. My social life included invites to many of their performances and we would also go out to the theatre and shows.
In those days, bus drivers were in the cab up front, and the conductor sold the tickets on the back. You could work with different people, or you could work with the same person as a team. For some time, I worked with a guy called Chris Goodwin. He had a good sense of humour and we got on very well, which made the work much more enjoyable.
Chris and me at work with London Transport
Chris was a very friendly person so didn’t have any problems with the passengers, except for once. On that occasion, four youths decided that they weren’t going to pay their fare and started getting nasty with Chris. He gave me the emergency signal on the bell, so I pulled up, stopped, and went round and asked the guys to leave the bus. They did and then gathered in front of Chris and me. At that point, two other guys got off the bus and stood alongside us. It was then that the four youths decided that it would be better to catch another bus and left. Chris didn’t charge the two helpful guys their fare.
Another incident was when I came upon a car with diplomatic plates that had been left in the middle of the street on a pedestrian crossing with the door wide open while the driver went into a nearby shop. I waited for some time for him to return, but we were running late so I decided to proceed even though I knew that the chance of getting through the restricted space was unlikely. The bus took the car’s door off. The passengers were delighted with my decision and burst into applause. At every stop, I was expecting someone to come up and complain that I had hit their car, or to have a call from the garage manager but that never came either.
While in London, I was able to get to numerous concerts and shows and having got interested in spiritual things in 1978, I went to the Mind and Body show. During the show, I got talking to some people who were part of a meditation centre not far from where I was living. Their guru had published numerous books and had an ashram in Poona, India, where a lot of people would visit and stay. I looked though a couple of his books and they looked interesting. One of the guys said he was returning to the centre soon and that he would be happy to take me to have a look.
On arrival, I was shown around and when we entered the meditation hall, I noticed a young lady sitting on the floor who looked up at me and smiled. We held eye contact for what seemed an age. After finishing my look around, I looked for her and we began to talk. Her name was Mary and when I told her I planned on going to India, much to my surprise she said she would come with me, and that is exactly what happened.
I went up to Lincoln and saw my bank manager and told him that I wanted to go to India. He was remarkably understanding and gave me a three-month payment holiday on my loans. I returned to London and gave London Transport my notice, marking the end of my three-year tenure with them.
Chapter 7 - Travels in India