Note to self: condense and rewrite to ensure to alertness of the reader
Note to self 2: It's late, if they don't want to read it all then they don't have to
So I was wondering whilst laying awake at 3am (like most nights for past 3 years) whether I should introduce myself properly to you now that we are almost best buddies and against my better judgement I think it's a good idea. I would like this little blog I have started to be as inclusive and open as possible so I think a warts and all overview of who I am and what makes me me is in order. I'm not sure it's going to be that interesting but for those who would like to know, here goes... deep breath now.
I am and always will be slightly odd. Not odd as in I wear green pyjamas to work or eat raw beef for breakfast, in that way I am quite normal (ish). More like I feel different to everyone else around me, like I'm out of step with the vast majority. Not that I'm complaining you understand, I like it this way, it appeals. I guess my mother had a lot to do with it, she's quite left field, even now she's always on the go with some new scatterbrained idea, of course I love her deeply. My father, on the other hand, he's left field in his own way, twenty six years in the army can do that to a man. I still, to this day, look up to him.
I went to art college just as I turned sixteen, learnt how to do lots of creative things on a superficial level and enjoyed every second of it, my real taste of freedom you might say. From there I went to Poly to study furniture design. I'm not sure why I chose to specialise in furniture, perhaps I thought everyone will need a chair to sit on and bed to sleep in, even when the world goes pop. It was a real eye opener during those years, you could say I was very green when I first turned up and came out well a bit murky coloured, like when all the Plasticine gets smushed together. All the better for a few life lessons it has to be said.
A good twenty to thirty attempts at different career paths later (including barman, salesman, computer man, project manager man) I decided to go it alone and set up my own business. My thinking was that if was going to work sixteen hour days and drive all over the country I would rather be doing it to line my own pockets rather than the pockets of anonymous share holders. I set up in an annex we had in the garden (nothing grand nor fancy, it was a terraced cottage) and spent the next four years alone but extremely busy. It does send you quite mad on occasions, all that loneliness, you find yourself talking to anything that doesn't answer back. The point where it all got a bit much in that little annex was when I was asked to take photographs of the entire jarred product line of a well known supermarket, all sizes, all products, front, sides, back and top. I was then tasked to model each jar up (I work with a fairly complicated 3D CAD modelling software but it was far removed from my furniture design training) and apply all the photos to the models. I looked up from my screen at 1am to be confronted with trays of jarred product stacked so high I couldn't see any walls at all. As I recall it took me over two weeks to complete and I was paid £2000 in total. Gods knows what they did with it after that but I was asked to hand the product back (I confess, I did stick my finger in the chocolate spread jar!) and I never spoke of it again, until now.
It got a little cramped in the annex, especially when my best mate joined the company as co owner. We soon moved out and into a smashing little office, side by side fifty other creative agencies and we started to generate a real buzz. We did all sorts of work over the next few years, dabbled a bit with web design and graphics (not with much success it has to be said) until we got to a point where we felt we needed to launch our own line of products. It would be easy, design the products, get the patents, and it would be a nice little silent seller, running in the background, virtually taking care of itself. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
And so it came to pass that we designed a great range of products designed to tackle the huge problem of waste within the exhibition industry. All of our products were made from recycled cardboard and they could in turn be recycled or pulped back into the system. We did our homework, we knew what we wanted to achieve and we succeeded in getting backing from the bank and private investors to push on and push on we did. It consumed our lives for a large chunk of four years, designing, developing and launching to market. It was well received too, we had interest from all sorts and then the orders started coming in. We had our little slice of the market well and truly sewn up, we sold a lot and I mean a lot but it never seemed to turn into hard cash, whatever came in went straight out again on development of the next phase of products. We never did get our gold plated watches or the jet packs we were promised.
At the height of the operation we had a large order from Innocent drinks to fulfil, two articulated lorry loads to be delivered in Paris, the biggest order we had ever received! We handled the order with aplomb and everything was manufactured and delivered on time until disaster struck, there was a mix up with the artwork and the entire consignment was rejected and sent back to the UK. Now, to this day I don't know why all of it was rejected because when it came back into the UK we went over the order with a fine tooth comb and most of it was just fine. About 10% of the order was eventually consigned to the cutting room floor and we sent the remaining goods back to Paris along with the 10% reprints, all at our own cost. To cut a long story short (and this is becoming a long story in the truest sense) we ended up footing the bill and penalties and we were stung for more than we could afford.
We limped forward from then on in but you could say that was the start of the demise. Not even a `Most innovative Product for Industry` award could save us, not even our best sales figures ever could save us and the company went down one year later. Now I'm not moaning about Innocent, in fact they were very good to us in the early days but we were constantly living on the edge, we always spent any capital on further development so there was nothing left to fall back on, it was inevitable I guess you could say. All of this coincided with the biggest melt down in the economy the world had seen for almost one hundred years. I was in deep, no discernible income to speak of, the house was wrapped up in security for the company and I was in debt to the tune of a six figure sum. The better half of me was beside herself with worry and we had two young kids to feed and clothe. The calls started, pay up or else we take the house, pay up or we will send someone round to take an inventory of all your assets (laughable as we had nothing to speak of). These calls were constant, around six or seven times a day, seven days a week. We were in the middle of our very own nightmare.
Now all of this could have and perhaps would have buried a better man than me but a second disaster struck which changed everything. I can't say in too much detail what happened because I would like to keep most of this private but a very close family member was diagnosed with a terminal illness and the focus shifted immediately to making sure my better half got through this terrible time. In the meantime we still had the calls coming in and debts were mounting. I decided (in my wisdom) to set up another company doing exactly the same thing as before but with the added bonus of no staff and very little overheads. It was a massive undertaking, new company structure, name, logo, website, sales leads, suppliers but with an almighty push and over several sleepless weeks we managed it. We were back in the game, we were taking orders again and most importantly we were making money, enough to pay the bills and clear the back log. Things weren't exactly getting any easier but we could at least put food on the table (it does sound strange saying that now but that's exactly what it came down to, putting food on the table, not luxuries or meals out).
Our suppliers were great, they were young, enthusiastic about the products and flexible enough to work with as things changed rapidly. They then dropped a bombshell.... we've been selling your product to our customers and there's nothing you can do about it.... crushed, deflated, angry, all those applied at this moment in time.
Panic set in, we had lost our main supplier and we had direct competition using the very same products we had designed years back. We had a European wide design registration as protection against this sort of thing, it was fairly water tight too but these things don't stop someone copying your work unless you drag them through the courts, this of course would eat up valuable time and eat money we simply didn't have. I thought I would give things one last stab before resigning myself to starting again... again. I called our suppliers with fire in my belly but luckily with a clear head. I told them all about the design registration and that they were playing with fire if they thought we were going to take this lying down. I threatened them with legal action and told them to cease all activity at once, they virtually laughed down the phone at me and then hung up, that was that then, or so I thought. The very next day they called me back and offered to buy the company, the design registration and all stock (of which they were holding). It took about a week of negotiations but we eventually sold to them. Now some of you might be thinking that was a bit weak, selling out after bully boy tactics but I didn't see it like that at the time. I saw it as a way of paying back some of the crippling debt we had inherited when the company went down. I saw it as a way of reducing the overwhelming amount of stress which had become unbearable with the calls, the lack of money and the worsening condition of a loved one and to that end it was the right decision.
During all of this, strange things started to happen. We started seeing the kids as a pleasure rather than an inconvenience, we started enjoying the outdoors more, walks in the country, picnics by the river, we even managed to bag ourselves an allotment. We worked hard at the allotment, we knew/know nothing about growing veg but we were enjoying our failures as well as our successes (failures=tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, cabbage, parsnip, beetroot successes=courgette). We saw our family life grow and develop into something we treasured and the greatest moments were quite often the simplest of things. The triumph of fixing my own washing machine, making a bed for one of our little ones, the joys of camping in a tornado (no really.... it flattened the tent entirely but luckily we were in the pub enjoying a rare pint) and the joys of home baked goods, bread especially. Our whole outlook on life had changed in the space of a year.
After a very long, valiant struggle, the inevitable happened, he died. It was a crushing blow, life again was upside down and I think to some degree it still is. Once again, it was all about survival, lurching from one day to the next, not knowing if it was one we could cope with. At this point I had decided to freelance, I wanted to be at home to make sure things were good and if not good then better than they would be if I wasn't there. Things eventually eased, to a degree where you can think clearly again and start to see a way out, a future.
Work was intense. I was working every hour, doubling up on jobs, tripling up if I could, I don't think I have ever worked harder. Bit by bit we started to clear the debt (at least the what was left after we spent all the income from selling the business on other debt), small bits here, larger bits there, there still is some left even now but over the course of one year we had cleared almost three quarters of what was to be paid back. I could have gone bankrupt, it was an option we discussed for a long time but they would have taken the house.
Now bearing in mind, we had sold the terraced cottage and used a proportion of the equity to fund the failing business and moved into an even smaller terrace. It wasn't even worth fighting for, the biggest reason we fought it was that we didn't want the kids to get any grief at school and although the house was a mess when we moved in and it was beyond small for a family of four, it was ours, not theirs, ours. We hadn't wanted any of this, it was a good deal of bad luck and arguably bad judgement that led us to be in this situation. We decided we would, with all our strength fight to save the house. Over that long and arduous year of seriously hard graft, we did just that, the house is now safe and the kids have a roof over their heads for as long as we keep paying the mortgage. When we got the call that the house was no longer in danger, I secretly took myself off for a short cry, not that anyone knew.
You might think that this was all in the past, years ago and we are happily hunkered down, doing well for ourselves and a happy little family unit and to some degree we are but we only got the call about the house this summer. We still do have a hangover of debt which we are slowly but surely working off, we still live in that pokey little house we call a home (we actually do quite love this house now) and am still freelancing and working hard, admittedly not as hard as I did last year but I can't keep going at that pace. My better half has managed to carve out a lovely little sideline with her crafting (and there's the link) which pays for all the little luxuries in life. You know the kind of thing, chips and a pint in the beer garden on a Sunday, a Chinese in front of the telly box once a month and if we're really lucky a trip to the seaside when weather permits.
So there you have it, that's me in a nutshell, albeit a monumental sized nutshell, apologies for getting carried away but once I start....