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15 August 2020

Travelling (2)

Tag(s): Foreign Affairs, Languages & Culture
This is part two of my blog on travelling, occasioned by the cancellation of a cruise to Iceland this month.

I concluded Part One with the story of a visit to Paris to link up with my old friend Allan from Oxford days. Later that year Carmen and I got married. The decision had been made to close the Chilean company and I was to visit MacLean, VA to discuss my future. I bought tickets that allowed us to stop at four different cities in the USA. We flew to Miami where we stored our winter bags and then to Paradise Island for the first leg of our honeymoon. We then went back to Miami to change bags and on to England to introduce Carmen to my family and spend Christmas and New Year.

We returned once more to Miami, changed bags again and flew on to Jamaica for the third leg. This was less successful as we found the attitude of the hotel staff very unfriendly. It is my theory that socialism corrupts the service ethic. I had seen the changes pre- and post- Franco in Spain. This is not to defend Franco but to simply observe that in a socialist country people are encouraged to think that the world owes them a living and this is particularly bad for the service industries.

So after one particularly rude waitress had spoilt another meal I asked my new bride whether she would like to go to New York. She immediately agreed and we checked out the following morning, returned to Miami to change back to winter bags and flew up to Kennedy. At Kennedy I phoned the New York Hilton who confirmed that they had a room and so we took a taxi there. Checking in the desk clerk noticed that my British passport had been issued in Chile. He asked why and I told him adding that I was on my honeymoon with my Chilean bride. He exclaimed, “But I am Chilean!” and insisted on upgrading us to the Bridal Suite. Needless to say, despite the New York winter we enjoyed that leg of our honeymoon very much.

Life with Carmen gave me the opportunity to show her, Andrew and later Michelle much of what the UK had to offer. We developed a pattern of booking a country cottage in either the spring or autumn and taking a bucket & spade holiday further afield in the summer. We also liked to take the occasional city break and spend a weekend “doing” Florence or Paris. Over 37 years of marriage we have seen much of the world together though there is always more to see.

Business travel depended on the company. With Crombie Eustace there were few opportunities, and not much more with Pillsbury although it did give me a couple of chances to visit its Minneapolis/St Paul HQ and thus renew acquaintance with former Blake colleagues. I also had the chance to go to the Middle East for the first time. We had an excellent export business in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries and I visited these twice as part of our export efforts.

I found Saudi Arabia not much better than stepping back into the Middle Ages. Our distributor there, Abbar & Zainy, also owned a supermarket chain. The manager was a British ex-pat who had been there too long. He had suffered a brain tumour and Sheikh Abbar had flown him privately back to England for emergency surgery that had saved his life. Consequently Bob had a debt of gratitude that he felt could only be repaid by staying as long as Sheikh Abbar wanted him. As the host employer also held the expatriate’s passport this was likely to be a long time. Bob showed me round Jeddah and from time to time would turn to me and ask me if I thought he was OK. There was a cartoon strip in circulation among the ex-pats that showed a westerner turning progressively over 10 years into a monkey. Bob had been there seven. He told me of the time he had asked a boy to go and get some cigarettes for him
“What brand do you want?” the boy had asked.
“Marlboro” replied Bob.
“What if they don’t have Marlboro?” asked the boy.
“Oh! Get me anything.”
So the boy came back with a cheeseburger.

I also went to Dubai, long before it became the tourist attraction it is now. Compared to Saudi it was civilised and welcoming to the Westerner. I needed to change my travel plans and went to a travel agent. Seated at the next stool was the owner of the agency. When he heard my name he revealed himself as also the owner of the company we had come to visit and promptly invited my export manager and me to his home for dinner. This was an unusual privilege. His home was not far short of a palace. The women were all hidden away and we were shown to a table made of rosewood at least 20 feet long and laden with food. There were just four of us. We spent the evening talking and eating with the right hand. (The left is for another bodily function). I was full. Finally my host asked me if I would have some of the chicken. I reluctantly agreed. Then I asked him why he did not have some chicken.
“I don’t like chicken!” was his reply.

At Sony there was much more opportunity to travel but it was a mixture of exciting business trips to Japan, boring business trips to Europe and marvellous incentive and conference trips to many thrilling locations around the world.

Most of the trips to Japan were product-planning trips, which were quite intense and gave few opportunities for tourism. However, as these were often over two weeks I sometimes looked for adventure during the middle weekend. On one occasion I signed up for a one-day coach tour to Kamakura and Lake Hakone from where you can see Mount Fuji. It took several hours to negotiate the horrible traffic jams to Kamakura where there is a famous statue of Buddha. The guide gave us ten minutes to see the Buddha and we were off into the next jam to Hakone. We were due to have lunch there but were restricted to 15 minutes for lunch before getting on the boat across the lake. It was now getting dark and there was nothing to see. On the other side we went up to an art gallery which was closing and we had 5 minutes to see its treasures. Then it was back into the jam down the hill to the railway station. Then I took the train back to Tokyo. I got to my hotel at midnight having spent 16 hours travelling and less than half an hour sight-seeing.

That put me off similar excursions but on another occasion a group of us plucked up the courage to take the bullet train down to Hiroshima. We spent the night there and the following day visited the Peace Park. It is a memorable and imposing place and made a long-lasting impression.

I have countless photographs from my Sony years but often these were from snatched afternoons in the middle of a sales conference. More relaxing were those conferences where wives were included and Carmen came with me to European conferences in Berlin, Venice, Seville, Biarritz, Gleneagles and finally Lisbon where we made our farewells. She also joined me for UK conferences and incentive trips in Cyprus, Bermuda, Florida, Penang, Thailand and a superb South Sea cruse around the Tahitian islands thus allowing me to show her the beauties of Moorea and Bora Bora that I had visited on my own the year before we met.

Global roles with Pentland and NXT involved significant world travel but most of it was along familiar lines established with Sony. At Sony I had been able to sponsor dealer visits to Las Vegas, which I hated, while holding my own court for them in much more attractive places like Palm Springs, Santa Barbara, and Maui. Later one leading customer suggested that even the Las Vegas leg was no longer needed and we could hold our conferences wherever we wanted.  Dixon’s, my largest customer, got wind of this and its CEO, John Clare, pointed out his company rule that his staff could only visit company locations. “That’s fine, John.” I said. “Sony has factories all over the world!” and so we visited Penang, Bangkok and the Philippines in the next few years.

However, at NXT I was compelled to attend a number of exhibitions and conferences several of which were held in Las Vegas. I went there eleven times in 5 years and swore that I really will never go back.

I have crossed the borders of some 75 countries but that still leaves about 125 more to see.  There are many that I have no desire to visit even if the trip were paid for but there are still so many that I would love to find time and money to see. A particular dream is to see all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, nearly 1000 in all. However, they keep nominating new ones faster than I can get to see the existing ones so I will never fulfil that ambition.

P.S. I had intended to blog this week about V-J Day as it is the 75th anniversary. However, on re-reading my blog I wrote to mark the 70th anniversary in 2015 I find that I fully covered it then. If you’d like to re-read it go to It is important to me as my father fought in Burma against the Japanese and did not get home until October as first they had to repatriate the sick and the injured and the Prisoners of War. He had been away from my mother since early 1942. He was a member of the so-called Forgotten Army of which we haven so moveably reminded recently with the exploits of the remarkable Captain Sir Tom Moore who was also in Field Marshal Slim’s 14th Army.

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