I was born in Liverpool, in 1951 in a house overlooking Sefton Park where we used to watch the Billy Smart’s Circus. I have a younger brother Maxwell, who has lived in Stockholm for over 30 years. He teaches English as a foreign language to accountants and lawyers and also works as a translator for government and international bodies.
For the first twelve years of my life we lived in the Wirral, in a place called Leasowe and later moved to West Yorkshire because my Dad took on a business venture there. He’d always been in retail and had the opportunity to start his own business after his time as a department store managing director. My mother in those post-war years, brought up the children and worked, part-time as a telephonist for what was then the GPO. Eventually when we moved to West Yorkshire, she took a job managing an electricity showroom in Bradford.
I was schooled at Salt Grammar school which was in the Sir Titus Salt estate. Sir Titus Salt was a Victorian Patriarch who was a Mill owner and used to pay his workers in tokens so they spent them in his shops. He provided houses for them and they lived in a kind of ‘commune’. Saltaire is famous, as a world heritage site and Sir David Hockney now has a major exhibition within the Mill. Salt Grammar school it was newly built in 1963 when I started there. It looked a bit like a button factory but it was a newly built, just across the river Aire from Saltaire.
My brother Maxwell and I, in Sweden, enjoying a drink together
I enjoyed school a bit too much really, being very active in sports and social activities. I just didn’t try very hard academically which became a bit of a problem. I have happy memories of school days, leaving at aged 17. My education was disturbed a little bit by moving from the Wirral to West Yorkshire losing a year in the transfer, I left after taking my O’ Levels.
My first job was in Debenhams, working as an apprentice. I worked in the boys’ wear department but realised it wasn’t going anywhere so I took a Management trainee job with British Home Stores. I got the train down to London which was a big deal in those days and had an interview in Marylebone House and then started as a trainee in Wigan.
I spent the next five years getting married, starting a family and moving around the country and gradually getting promoted up the ladder until I got to Assistant Manager of the Newcastle store. I worked in Oxford Street, London, Middlesborough, Manchester, Bradford, all over the country.
Having a break in the Lake District, a wonderful place to sit and reflect . . .
I deepened my retail experience when I moved from BHS which was very regulated and disciplined. I moved into House of Fraser which was less so and more business orientated. So I had more scope for commercial decisions within House of Fraser. I eventually became a Store Manager with HOF and then a Regional Buying Controller and then a Regional Operations Director for seven stores in the North. From there after ten years I joined Moss Bros down in London, as their Operations Director for their stores nationwide. In my time, I was responsible for changing the format or opening seventy three shops with the Suitco concept, which was revolutionary for a very staid company. They went in for a reverse takeover with the Cecil Gee company and between Moss and Gee there were too many directors. I therefore left and joined an advertising agency which liked the cut of my jib because I appointed them to carry out the advertising for Moss Bros which really charmed them. They asked me to join their team where I spent a couple of years on the marketing side of things.
While still working in advertising in 1989, I opened up a health and fitness studio called Vitality, with the help of my then wife Patricia. But it became apparent very early on that I was required to be ‘hands on’ in Vitality and so I moved my entire operations there. I still did a bit of consulting elsewhere but in the main I spent the next 17 happy years making many friends which I have kept to this day.
Then when things drew to a close with Vitality I moved into second hand furniture under the name ‘Furniture Emporium’ with a friend, Dave Smith, in 1999 but that had its limits as to how far it could go and so eventually Dave decided to move on and I decided to sell 100% new furniture, changed the name to Cranleigh Furniture and eventually moved to a wonderful new premises in the heart of Cranleigh High Street.
Caroline and Greg on a family camping holiday in France
I was married for twenty years. I met Patricia, my ex-wife, while I was working for BHS in London. She was working in the Head Office and we got married when I transferred to Newcastle. The wedding took place in Hemel Hempstead, near her family home and we soon moved up to Newcastle to start a family of our own. We had two children, who were both born in Hexham General Hospital and from then on, we just followed my career around the country from House of Fraser, to Moss Bros, ending up in Guildford and subsequently Cranleigh.
I have two exceptional children – Greg who’s very outdoor orientated as a result of his upbringing. He learnt to sail, took on that skill and embellished it by becoming a Yacht Master and then using those skills to take himself all around the world to all sorts of places – Italy, Middle East, Sardinia, Turkey – where he taught water-based activities. He returned home to settle down and to work on the South coast in an outdoor activity centre in Calshot, where he met his wife to be. He took an outdoor adventure degree and that had been his career for a considerable amount of time until he decided to take up teaching. He gained a PCGE but unfortunately, the admin of teaching wore him down and so he decided to become self-employed as the Winchester Handyman which is what he does today, successfully building up his own business. He lives in Winchester with his wife Donna, a senior school science teacher and their two children. He tells me that his formative years of being immersed in sport and practical activities along with many evenings being read to at a very young age along with our camping and sailing adventures, laid the bedrock for his own family blueprint.
My daughter Caroline, in a more traditional way, went to Bristol University and took a politics degree. She followed that with a masters in international studies which allowed her to get a job in Brixton in local government and from Brixton she moved to the Houses of Parliament where she was working for Alan Johnson when he was the home secretary and shadow chancellor. She worked with him for some time before she decided that children were the order of the day. She now has three children and she’s a full-time mother although she works part-time as a teaching assistant and also chair of governors at the local school. She met her husband Thomas, when they were both at Bristol uni, he was studying Maths and they now live in Dorking.
Me with friends, from Cranleigh Baptist Church, on a Mens Walking Weekend in the Lake District
When the children were young, we had many fun times. I remember one day, when Caroline was little, I made her put on a Bosun’s chair boat harness and hung her out of an upstairs window so I could hoist her up to clean the outside of the window while her Mummy was out. Before we knew it, her mother came hurriedly up the garden path and shrieked ‘What’s happened to Caroline?’ as she was hanging out the window, with me holding her harness tight. My daughter says she remembers that occasion very fondly. Our children have been exposed to all types of excitement through their childhood. Since then, I am blessed to have
5 grandchildren who have brought glorious joy in later life – Rachel 8, Emily 7, Lucas 6, Theo 4 and Rhys 4.
I’ve been active all my life. When we lived in Northumberland my wife and I learnt to sail on a sailing holiday in Salcombe, before we had children. It was life changing.
Then my wife with her maternity allowance, surprised me by buying a sailing dinghy and it became our family hobby. We would sail most weekends. Northumberland is not a very cheery place weather-wise but we decided to join the Sailing Club at Derwent reservoir nearby for the focus of our sailing activities. That is after I capsized in front of the management and threw my wife into the water! The bikini, the gin and tonic all went out the window and she emerged like a drowned rat in front of the Club President!
Skiing in the Alps
When the children were a bit older and we moved to Guildford we bought a little sailing cruiser which we kept at Chichester. That’s what took us on our family holidays off to the Channel Islands and other areas around the Solent.
We had a couple of years doing that which was all very enjoyable. The high point of that time was a three-week trip around the Channel Islands. We sailed off to Cherbourg, then across to Alderney, down to Guernsey and back again. I don’t think the children will ever forget that holiday. It was wonderful!.
On a previous trip, on our first foray sailing outside of Chichester harbour, we were part of a flotilla with a cruising company from Chichester Yacht Club. It was at Easter time and we got separated from the main group due to fog. The main party in the flotilla sailed straight to Bembridge. I was worried about missing the Isle of Wight altogether and skipping down to the Azores! So in the fog, where we couldn’t see anything at all, instead of going to Bembridge I ended up going aground at Ryde! We stayed overnight on a sandbank. It was Easter weekend and we had Easter eggs and all that sort of stuff but it was very wet and cold and the leader of the flotilla came back to look for us.
Derwent Reservoir, mixed with the odd Gin and Tonic!
He flashed his lights at us and we flashed ours in return to him and we set a course to go and meet him so he could take us back to Bembridge to join the main group. But unfortunately, there were some illegal fishermen who’d put their nets down and my propeller fouled the nets, so we got stuck in the middle of the night, going nowhere with the propeller wound around all these nets. The fishermen came lunging at us in the dark, brandishing knives to cut their nets free and were very, very unhappy about it all. It was an extremely scary moment because they were quite threatening and abusive. We weren’t getting anywhere and eventually the Coastguard who’d been listening to our VHF traffic said, ‘We’ll come and get you.’ When they arrived my wife virtually jumped into the arms of the Coastguard professing her undying love for him which I thought was a bit over the top, but women can be so fickle.
They collected us and took us to Portsmouth where we were towed back to Chichester by the leader of the flotilla who came after us. It was a very scary, dramatic introduction on our first foray into sailing. After that it became a lot easier and we followed that with a trip to Guernsey and then to France which were all reasonably uneventful by comparison.
As the children grew up my career took various turns and we gave up the sailing boat at that point and I only really started sailing again with various friends, when I got divorced in 1997. I skippered yachts around the Med and the Greek islands which was a lot of adult fun, rather than family orientated. Things always happen when you’re sailing and people who say they don’t are telling lies, but in the main my sailing trips were some of the happiest times of my life.
Sailing in the Greek islands
I’ve always enjoyed an active life. It began at school where I thoroughly enjoyed sport. I was captain of the school football team and school high jump champion which is amazing for someone who’s only 5ft 7in! It was sheer skill! In those days I was quite a good sprinter and had good muscular legs. I could push myself up and straddle the bar and jump my own height. I played football and tennis, and was involved in amateur dramatics, all when I was young but I didn’t do much studying which is why I didn’t go to university.
I subsequently ventured into the sport of mountaineering with some climbs up Ben Nevis. I went with a friend one Easter, travelling up on the overnight sleeper train from Paddington, to Scotland. We had a week hiking up and down the Munroes and it was fabulous though quite dangerous in places. A sign at the bottom of the mountain says on average 13 people die every year on Ben Nevis. The day we set off it was beautiful weather but when we reached the top it was a ‘white out’. I was in shorts; my legs were covered in icicles and we couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces, we were holding on to one another. It was a frightening time up there. If we’d turned the wrong way, we’d have come off the edge. Only our compass helped us find our way down.
I’ve had other difficult paths to navigate in my life. In 1997 I went through my divorce which I didnt really want to happen and it was very tough, but through this trying time, I discovered Cranleigh Baptist church. I found the ‘arm’ they put around me, spiritually and with regard to camaraderie, tremendously helpful and supportive. I’ve had more adventures too with friends from the church. Of course I am very lucky to have a brother who has settled in Stockholm, where he met his beautiful Swedish wife Maria and brought up a family of 4 children, all of whom are stunningly attractive. They are all forging ahead with their respective lives and visit us over here as often as possible and indeed welome us all over there for lots of good times.
At the top of Ben Nevis
I took up skiing when I was 55 when a friend Dave Saunders invited me to go. I said, ‘I’ve never skied, I’m too old.’ But he persuaded me to go and we went on an Oak Hall holiday, thoroughly enjoyed it and I’ve never missed a year since. I’ve skied in France, Switzerland, Norway, Italy, Austria. It’s the thrill of the speed and also the glamour, the beauty, that attracts me to skiing. It’s like a different planet at the top of the Alps – truly like the ‘chocolate box’ photograph you see. I’ve got some breath-taking photos of the Eiger and Mont Blanc. You take risks, grow in confidence and get your speed up. I do the black runs now which is great. I started at 55 and spent the first three years falling down all the time. Then after that I improved and it became more enjoyable.
Whether it’s with a church group in the Lake District, with my family camping around the country, going up Ben Nevis with a mate or sailing around Corsica, I’ve always liked to get out and do stuff.
Now I find myself in the new shop which is a new challenge. It’s the biggest venture I’ve ever undertaken, taking a step from two small shops into a big showroom which is nearly twice the size of the two little shops together, in the heart of the village, in a prime, zone A location. With a lot of money spent on the premises to make it good and right, an expensive rent to pay and an enormous amount of furniture to buy, it’s a huge risk. The shop opened on 2nd March 2020 and the first two weeks were magnificent and if I’d continued on that line all my problems would be little ones. Then suddenly it dropped by 80% in the first week of the corona virus and for now the store is shut altogether.
U N B E L I E V A B L E.
The new shop, hopefully the doors will be open again very soon
The age I am, to take on a new venture like this was to sort me out for my retirement, it was my ‘Last Hurrah!’ I had every faith that I’d got the skill, the experience and the energy to do it. I’ve been very fortunate to build up a small team of people who are absolutely superb and without Bonny, Kevin, Tim, Kerry, Marzena and James we would never have achieved what we have. Everything was looking really good until Armageddon.
Throughout my life I’ve had these blows; I was divorced, I had financial difficulties, which I didn’t really want to have, and some of the business activities didn’t work out so well. When I was employed some of my departures were due to redundancy and some of them were due to remodelling of the corporate structure.
Generally speaking life has not been a smooth run, but I think there have been some successes along the way, so all in all, not too bad. Some of my problems, even as I look at myself in the bathroom mirror and speak honestly to myself, were self-inflicted but so many weren’t. I was promoted through BHS and House of Fraser archetypically. I went from Assistant Manager in House of Fraser to Regional Operations Director for half a dozen stores in ten years. I was managing a buying team for seventeen department stores when I was 35. I’ve had a lot of successes.
Myself (left) and great friend Dave Saunders, both managing to stay upright on a skiing trip in the Swiss Alps
My pathway in recent years has been a little bit stilted, and bumpy and I really thought when we opened this new showroom that we’d put something together that was worthwhile. Initially we received affirmation that the public liked the new store because the turnover in the first two weeks was out of this world. So I know that we’ve done something right but it looks as though we’ve been knocked on the head by the present circumstances. It’s so unfortunate.
Even when the body blows of life knock you down again and again, you just have to get back up, open the door and start over. It’s a new day, spring is here . . . and the adventure has started to bloom!