The Life and Times of Alistair Martin – Part 3
By Kathy Martin….
Writing Alistair’s story has given me a new lease on life – he has now reached 1974! After being on Can Gazi’s TV show and Denise Phillips Main Event, radio show I am going to have to come back to earth and would like to continue
MY LIFE AND TIMES – Alistair Martin
It was at Bulawayo airport that I met Kathy. Apparently some of the staff had us “married off” before we even met! Kathy had started at the airport as an “Avis girl” while I was on holiday in Britain!
The original Senior Traffic Officer (Carl Gadney) was promoted and transferred to Salisbury as Assistant Traffic Manager. No one got on with his replacement (Nobby Dean) who was an idiot. Eventually (and this was while Kathy and I were going out) I resigned. The following day I got a phone call from Carl. He asked if I could talk – presumably without anyone hearing my side of the conversation. I said that I could. Carl then asked if my resignation had anything to do with Nobby, to which I replied “yes”. Carl then said that if I withdrew my resignation he would have me transferred to Salisbury as a Duty Traffic Officer as I would be a loss to the airline. On the way back home that night with Kathy I told her about this and said it was a pity as I felt that I could spend the rest of my life with her. She then said “Go on then, ask me properly” “What” “Will I marry you?” “OK, Will you marry me?” “YES!”
So I was transferred to Salisbury and at the same short time later Kathy was transferred there by Avis. Although we lived in Salisbury most of our friends were in Bulawayo, so we got married there. Although Kathy was a (very lapsed) Catholic her father was a very strict Catholic and insisted (though he lived in England) on a church wedding.
So, to get married in Bulawayo Catholic cathedral I had to promise to bring up all children in the “one and only true faith.” I have met a few “reasonable” Catholic priests, but the one I made the promise to was a bigoted blinkered person, probably frustrated that he did not live in the age of the crusades when he could stick his sword into a few Muslims! Nevertheless Sasha was brought up (not very strictly) in the Catholic faith, as both Kathy and I felt that any religious basis in life is a “good thing”.
Shortly after our marriage I was offered a transfer to Victoria Falls on promotion. I jumped at the chance, as I had not been happy working at Salisbury airport. Kathy, (then pregnant with Sasha) gave up work and we drove to Vic Falls. The dog box for our dog (Streak – a cross Alsatian/Great Dane!) was too big to fit in a Viscount aircraft hold, so he travelled Salisbury/Johannesburg/Vic Falls on a Boeing 720 aircraft. Acting on our vet’s instructions, we tranquillised him, took him to the airport and then we drove to Vic Falls. We picked him up at Vic falls airport, he greeted us boisterously ran around a bit and then went to sleep for 2 days!
Life at Vic falls was very enjoyable (disregarding mortar attacks and the constant threat of terrorist attacks) but although we could “exist” on my salary, we could not “live”. Kathy was offered and took up the position of manager at the newly opened Avis office at the airport. Money was no longer a problem! Sasha went to work with Kathy.
She had a “walking” training device on wheels with which she used to “whiz” down the baggage ramp onto the apron! The security guards were kept occupied by bringing her back inside the building with many an “Ah madam, she is very naughty!”
We returned to the UK, to live (for a time) with my parents-in-law whom had a 5 bed roomed house. in a village near Hastings. Getting a job was not easy. I had no “paper” qualifications, and at that time these were regarded as necessary. I had no employment history in the UK. At 30 years old, I was too old to be a “junior” and too young to be a “senior”. The airline industry in the UK was becoming computerised, a field that I had no knowledge in. I tried the police, and would likely have been accepted if I had not been colour-blind. This I knew, as I was accepted into the BSAP only because I could recognise the primary colours. However, in the UK the “coloured dot” cards with letters or numbers that were “hidden” to me were used. Eventually – in desperation – I became a labourer at a breezeblock manufacturing plant near Hastings. The only enjoyable thing that I can remember is driving a JCB – lots of shovels and buckets! However I was (very much) a square peg in a round hole. I had nothing – nothing at all- in common with my workmates. I didn’t do any of the following: follow a football team, play darts, have any interest in horse racing, but I could read and even correctly pronounce words with 2 or more syllables! So lunch and tea breaks were lonely times for me. Indeed I was soon excluded from all general chitchat at work.
My next job was as a counter clerk at a travel agency some 50 miles away from Hastings. The pay was not as good as labouring, but at least I could hold a conversation with my colleagues and customers! It was during this time that Kathy got accommodation for us, as she was a sort of housekeeper for an author who was recuperating from an operation near to my place of work.
At this time we heard about the Scorpion Society. This was an organisation set up by ex-Rhodesians to help ex Rhodesians. I contacted them, gave my CV and was advised to contact someone in Dan-Air (Archie Monk) an ex Air Rhodesia engineer. I was told that Dan-Air was looking for a “Charter Liaison Officer” and strongly advised to apply. This was a newly created position – I was to sit in Operations and liase with the head offices of charter companies using Dan-Air in the event of flight delay/disruption. The job and responsibilities increased, I worked at Geneva airport during the skiing season, Faro (Portugal) during the “sea, sand and sun” season. During strike days in Spain and Greece I did “turn-rounds” – travelling out on an aircraft, doing the baggage handling, passenger check-in, return flight plan etc. In short I became a both a dogsbody and trouble-shooter.
During my time in charter liaison Dan-Air was given the “Airline of the Year” award by Intasun, then the largest Tour Operator in the UK. Harry Goodman (the Intasun chairman) told me that it was not because of our punctuality record – in fact ours was one of the lowest – it was because of the work done by my department. I also have a letter from the queen’s equerry (on headed notepaper) addressed to me thanking Dan-Air in general, but me in particular for the help and assistance given to Prince Phillip’s relatives when they returned to Germany after the Charles and Di wedding. This was a long story but I managed to sort a lot of problems out.
Sometime later, I got a phone call from the passenger Service manager (Dermott Mulveigh). He asked if I had seen the latest issue of the (internal) airline newsletter. I said no, I hadn’t, he told me that there was a job vacancy on the back page and suggested that I should apply. The first result was that I became Customer Services (Scheduled Services). The second result is that in November 1991 I made myself (and all other Dan-Air staff) redundant. Which? Airline magazine issued in 1991 named Dan-Air as the “Best UK Scheduled Service Airline Within Europe”. The UK flag carrier – British Airways- could not cope with this – so Dan-Air was bought out!
So there I was, jobless (and still with no “paper” qualifications) aged 44. I was now too old to be a senior and certainly too old to be a “junior”. Fortunately a neighbour (we were then living back in Pett following the death of my mother-in-law) managed an employment agency, and she managed to put some “temp” jobs my way. In December 1991 the (yet to be formed) Child Support Agency advertised for staff to start 2nd April 1992. I applied, was successful and worked there for 2 years until I was headhunted by and ex Dan-Air colleague to work for a tour operator at Gatwick airport. After 6 months I was again made redundant as the company was taken over by a larger tour operator.
So there I was, jobless (and still…..etc. etc) aged 47. I re-applied to the CSA, but was rejected. To pass the time (and enjoy myself) I used to go with my binoculars and bird book to the nearby “ponds on the levels”. These were RSPB managed ponds that would attract migrating and local birds. I would allow myself one (yes ONE) beer a week at the nearby Ship Inn. The dole (unemployment benefit) was then £44.00 a week; beer was £1.80 a pint. One week I overheard that a barman was required, I said, “will I do?” a couple of harrumphs later I was asked if I could start (on a trial basis) the next day. Could I?………I would have started there and then!
And so began possibly my most enjoyable and satisfying summer! I became bar manager – indeed the only bar staff after the other 2 left (with someone else’s car, and the money in the charity boxes). The other left because he could make more money in the building trade. It was the height of summer in a tourist resort; any “available” bar staff would only be “available” for reasons of dishonesty etc. So I worked mornings and evenings, my only day off being my birthday. Still it gave me/us a bit of money and I had made a reputation for myself.
But, with the onset of autumn, trade dropped off and the landlord could no longer afford to give me the hours or a living wage. The mother of one of the regulars owned a schools cleaning company, and he said that he would have a word with his mum. I was offered (on an hours notice either way) a job as a driver/cleaner. I had to get up at 3 am (yes that time does exist!) drive from Hastings to Maidenhead (50‑ish miles, pick up 2 cleaners and then go to Surrey (Guildford area) – another 50‑ish miles – and clean schools before they opened. As a driver I had to go round schools during the late morning/early afternoon replenishing cleaning stocks held by the janitors, and return to base to collect the cleaners. We would then clean schools after they closed and return (via Maidenhead) to Hastings – getting there at about 11 pm. This I did five days a week between November and March. As it was winter, the roads were frequently icy and occasionally covered in snow, which made driving interesting!
One day in February, in a supermarket car park, I met a friend of mine who still worked for the CSA. In the general conversation….”how are you doing?” Etc., I told him. He told me to apply to the CSA as they were “crying out for staff” – we had worked together in 1992/3 so he knew my capabilities. I said that I had, but been rejected. He told me to send my CV to him and that he would take it to Personnel himself. This I did. About a week later, I had to bring some broken vacuum cleaners from Surrey back to the “head office” near the Ship Inn. As I had about an hour to spare I went home for lunch. I had just finished when the phone rang. It was the CSA asking if I could attend an interview the following day. I was on an hours notice so I said “YES”. The following day at the interview (for casual staff on the call centre client help line) one of the interviewers took a hard look at me and said “I know you from somewhere, don’t I?” I replied that I was one of the staff who was on the original pilot “accounts help line”. A few hours later she called me to say that I had got the job.
I started as a “casual” on 0900-1700 basis, but on applying for re-instatement on a permanent basis was told that this could only be done if I worked “twilight hours (1200-2100)”. I agreed and became deputy manager of the twilight team. There was so much mis-management by senior management and disregard for staff welfare and morale on twilight that I had my work cut out! After about 6 months I had succeeded in all my aims, but the mental pressure was too great. One evening I when I got home I burst into tears. Kathy would not let me go back to work until I had seen a doctor. When I walked into his surgery our doctor (an acquaintance) took one look at me and said, “Good God, what have they done to you?” – he knew I worked for the CSA! I said I wanted a week off “to re-charge my battery”. He said he would give me a month at the least. We finally settled on a 2-week “stress and depression” sick note. As I left he said that was insufficient and that I would be back for more. He was right, I eventually took 6 months off (on full pay!). The new senior manager of CHL had known me for a couple of years before her promotion; which happened just before I “cracked-up”. She was also one of Kathy’s Weight Watcher clients, and so a discreet communications channel was set up. Apparently she told CHL (day and twilight) that in view of the previous management it was not surprising that I was off sick, the surprising thing was that I lasted so long before doing so!
While I was off, Mick D’Arcy, one of the landlords of my local (The Robin Hood) wanted some shifts covered and as I was available (and in CSA eyes was getting “therapy”) offered them to me. I took them. In fact, after I had returned to work fulltime at the CSA he asked me if I could take a week off so that I could run the pub while he was away on holiday, which I did.
I returned to the CSA, initially working mornings only for 6 months (on full pay), then fulltime on the day shift. Although on medication, I was still very easily upset and my sick record was appalling. At least in management’s eyes!
Our friends (David & Clive) invited us here (Kibris) for a holiday in March 2005 we had a wonderful picnic for our wedding anniversary on 27th March 2005 organised by their good friends Suzee Moore and Huseyin Alan (now our very good friends).
Suzee picked wild mushrooms and other tasty foods and, as Suzee had forgotten the grill for the barbecue, Huseyin made a grill from wild garlic stems, which lasted just as long as it took for the meat to cook!
We saw that we could afford to retire here (Spain was now out of our price range). They visited us (in St Leonards) in August 2005. After they left Kathy turned to me (she was also stressed and depressed and on medication due to her work conditions) and asked, “when can we go there to live?” I thought for a second or two and said “March next year”. So we did!
It actually took a while to sell our house but managed to move here on May 7th 2006. My index-linked CSA pension is now up and running. It is insufficient to live on in the UK, but here lets us live a very comfortable lifestyle. Now we are in our paid-for flat (we only have to pay “ground rent” at £40.00 a month, including the use of a communal swimming pool!) and as I am now over 65, so have my UK State Pension, we are living comfortably.
There was a book on pioneering/early settler days in Rhodesia called “Next Year Will Be Better” we are now living “The Next Year!”
Next the final parts of Alistair’s life story which will consist of some very emotive tales of the horrors he went though in the bush war in Rhodesia.