Thursday, September 17, 2009

Glazed Over

Once upon a time in a previous life, I was a failed double glazing salesman. I tried to be a successful one but following the realization that I was rapidly going insane, living on my nerves and becoming an embarrassment to my wife, I returned my demonstration kit to the company shop on Huntingdon High Street and found myself a “proper” job. Following two days training, I lasted four days of knocking on doors cold-calling and not selling a single pane. I was the world's worst salesman. As you didn't get any money unless you sold anything, I was on the fast track to poverty – not an attractive prospect when you have a wife and three children to support. This company was onto a real good thing, because as there was no basic pay for it's salespeople, they had a free workforce. You were not an “employee”, but a franchisee. You could slog around the doors for all hours the non-existant god sent, but unless you sold anything, you got nothing except totally pissed off , very frustrated and very, very tired.

When I found myself in the classroom with four other guys learning the trade the Company way, it soon became evident to me that this was not a very honest business, at least not in the way it was being presented. I felt a little out of place as I knew nothing about windows, house construction, or anything else related to the windows trade, so I found myself asking rather a lot of questions and feeling more and more like an ignorant Muppet. One of the things I felt uncomfortable about was that there was a fairly hefty “admin” charge which was tacked onto every quote. We were told not to show the admin charge on the quote as the customers did not like to see this – it was a turn-off. The way around this was to add a percentage onto every window (or door) on the quote. After a quick calculation it dawned upon me that this would often result in a much higher admin fee than what it should have been, and having a conscience this did not sit comfortably with me. When I protested to the instructor I was basically told that its a tough world out there so knuckle under and play the game. I think the instructor sensed that maybe I wasn't thick skinned (or dishonest) enough to stay the course, and at one point predicted that one of us would drop out during the first week.

Another thing I didn't like was that it didn't matter what the customer wanted – it might have only been one door or window, we were nevertheless to measure up and quote for the whole house. I decided there and then that I would only do this if that is what the customer wanted. Of course, it was in your interest to get the biggest order you could, but we were being trained to be really pushy and obnoxious.

Now you probably realize this already, but as one who has had first hand experience, I can confirm that no matter how wonderful the deal might seem when you buy double glazing – the whole thing is a con. Everybody likes a deal -we were told. So while we had a “book” price to quote, this was an inflated price from which we could quote various “one night only” discounts. There was a bottom line on how far you could go – beyond which the company would deduct the difference from your commission, so you would try and keep the price high, while making it appear that the customer was being offered an amazing deal. So my advice to you is never accept the first price offered...or the second......or even the third. You will be surprised how low you can go. Think about it – the salesman has been in your house for about the last hour trying everything in the book to make the sale. If he's on commission only, he HAS to make a sale, or its a total waste of time and he and his family don't eat. The whole thing is a game, so play it to the full and you will get the price a lot lower than the first quote. Also, don't be fooled by him ringing up the office to ask if he can quote you a special price – this is all part of the con. Don't be taken in. Just hang in being as awkward as possible. Don't blink first.

I came home feeling depressed and apprehensive. It was the weekend, so at least I could relax until Monday.

Monday came and I linked up with the area manager who was a successful super salesman who had knocked on more doors than I had eaten hot dinners. He had a nice house so I guessed he must have been doing well.

We picked up another salesman and drove out to Warboys where I had my introduction to being a local irritant. I nervously knocked at my first door and waited.

The patter went something like this:

“Good morning Sir/Madam, as we are in your area for this week only I would like to show you our range of home improvements. We can provide a range of windows, doors, room dividers, and conservatories. I would like to make an appointment........etc etc.”

Notice the implication that you are only around for a short time, so its act now or miss out on a great deal. Off course, this was all rubbish as we were always around and could call at any time we pleased. However, we were told we HAD to make the sale on the one night of the demonstration, and could not come back as any offer we made was for that night only. This put the “prospect” under pressure to commit there and then - no second chances. I felt this was a terrible way to do business and really was an intrusion on the way I wanted to conduct what was essentially my own business.

Getting the patter right on the doorstep took a lot of practice, as well as saying it with any real sincerity and conviction, which was not easy when you were being deliberately misleading.

I tried it for four days. After all the rejections and a certain amount of abuse, I began to feel like a social leper. Also, I wasn't getting any appointments which was most depressing. I did finally get one appointment, but after going to the house and doing all the business it was no go. The next day I went out one more time, but after being blasted on a doorstep by some snobby ignorant cow, I decided there and then to jack it in. The next morning the sales kit and samples were handed in and I felt as if a great burden was lifted off my shoulders and I had my life back.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Inglorious Tarantino

A few nights ago I went to my local cinema to see Inglorious Basterds. This was despite reading some very negative reviews. I'm glad I ignored them because I thought the film was far better than it was given credit for.

Now one has to remember that this is a Quentin Tarantino film, and so it is not going to be like any other, because Quentin Tarantino is his own person, with his own unique style of film making. You either love it or you hate it, but you can never be indifferent to it. I dare say that if I had never watched Pulp Fiction – which was my introduction to Tarantino, I would never have bothered with this, but I was kind of hooked.

Without giving the plot away, the film is a sort of a Pulp Fiction set in World War II occupied France. The film is a complete fiction – almost a fantasy. Its not really based on any true events either, its more like a WWII movie set in a different universe. While the main Nazi characters like Hitler, Hess, Bormann etc. existed and France was occupied – that's about as factual as it gets.

According to one critical review, it has no real plot. Actually, that's complete tosh, it definitely does have a plot.

Another report said it was mainly gratuitous violence for its own sake. Again, its a load of tosh. Yes, there is some wince inducing blood and gore, but that is not what you see throughout the film.

There is actually a lot of conversation - a throw back to Pulp Fiction. There is action, but its nowhere near what you would call an all-action-packed movie, but more a movie containing action and a lot of conversation. In true Tarantino fashion, the story unfolds in a number of chapters, like a book.

Finally, did I enjoy it?

Yes, I did.

Will I buy the DVD?

Probably, but only after its been out for a while and the price has dropped to about five or six pounds – as drop they always do.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

A visit to the pictures

Many years ago when I lived in Cyprus and believed myself to be a “born again” Christian, I got an invitation from a friend to accompany him to the pictures to see a film (what else?).

At the time, I was based with the RAF at a small Unit at Ayios Nikolaos in Cyprus. The year was 1976. About three years earlier I had been converted to Christianity, and that meant that I was superior to everyone else because I knew what life was all about, from whence it came and where it was going, on top of which I also had a hot line to God himself – so I had to be superior - didn't I? Of course I know now that I wasn't superior at all – just deluded (thanks Richard).

When I arrived in Cyprus, I knew there was a small group of fundamentalist Christians on the unit, but I did not want to overtly announce my presence lest they should mistakenly think I was as keen (or barking) as they were. However, one of their number, a guy called Bob, spotted the Bible on my bedside locker. After that, I was ensnared by the group, and then it was all downhill!

What you need to bare in mind about people such as these is that they see everything around them as “worldly” and sinful. That is, anything which brings any pleasure or joy to life, like a pint in the bar, watching Coronation Street, or holding hands with your girlfriend. Not quite sure where full-on sex with your girlfriend rates, but lets just say its very low down the pile, somewhere beneath the fires of Hell.

I have to say that although I broadly subscribed to the views of the group, I was nonetheless a bit of a rebel. So, when the rest of them were attending lots of devotional meetings (and I mean lots) over the Easter weekend, I shot off up into the mountains where the air was much purer than the self righteous fug I would otherwise have been exposed to.

At the time, the film “The Exorcist” was doing the rounds. Now this film was so shocking by the standards of the time, that it was roundly condemned by most Christians. There were reports of people being so emotionally disturbed by this film, that there were instances of people committing suicide after seeing it. Now that's a pretty high price to pay for a night out at the cinema. Add to this, reports that there were mysterious deaths during the making of the film, and if that was not enough I also read that when some of the original footage was developed, the resulting images showed something hideous – and not what was remembered as being in front of the movie camera's lens at the time of shooting. While this is all completely apocryphal, there are also reports that William Friedkin, the film's director, felt the set appeared to be cursed due to a series of unfortunate events including the set being destroyed by fire, Linda Blair being injured when her harness broke as well as Ellen Burstyn - who played Chris MacNeil, hurting herself for good measure. Of course, all this fed well into the Christian propaganda mill as the book on which the film was based was supposedly inspired by a true demon possession & exorcism event which Blatty stumbled upon while attending college. However, this supposedly “true” story (the possession and exorcism of a young boy) has since had much doubt cast upon its authenticity, to the point that the true story itself is another myth. Even so, the film and all the indignant hullabaloo surrounding it, served to give credence to Christian beliefs in the Devil, Demons yes, ….........God.

The Exorcist was a film I was already very familiar with, as I had not only read the book, but also seen it a couple of times in London. Much of the book is shocking, and William Peter Blatty, the book's author pulled no punches with the storyline. The film was very true to the book as well, so where Regan, the demon possessed girl informs Father Damien Karras that his dead mother “sucks cocks in Hell”, this line is faithfully reproduced in the film, along with her ability to turn her head through 360 degrees, vomiting projectile green sick on demand and masturbating with a crucifix. Lovely.

So there I was, in the games room where I was having a game of table tennis with one of my religious friends. I can't remember his name, so I'll call him “Mike”. Anyway, Mike ate, slept and drank the Bible. He was also a Charismatic. By this, I mean that he believed in the “gifts of the Spirit”, and the main one which everybody of this persuasion seemed to major in was “speaking in tongues”, or in reality, gobbledegook. Suddenly the atmosphere in the room seemed to change. Mike's composure suddenly became really serious. He said there was something he wanted to ask me. I knew this was heavy, and so I gave it my full serious attention. He then started on about the Exorcist which was showing at the “Astra” cinema, otherwise known as the “Camp Stack”. He then asked me to accompany him to the cinema to see this very evil and demon possessed, film. Shocked, I dropped my table tennis bat to the floor as I felt the blood rushing from my head and sensed the impending righteous judgement of God if I so much as hinted that I might be prepared to go with him. I could smell the very fumes of sulphur issuing from the bowels of Hell burning into my nostrils and the Hounds of Hades snapping at my heels as I considered my response.

I made my decision.

“Yeah, great – I'd love to come with you” said I without so much as a moment's hesitation.

Knowing how seriously I viewed the matter (not), Mike then proceeded to justify his request, which was, very roughly, posited upon the following:

· While we all knew that the film was Satanic and everyone associated with it was cursed even unto the tenth generation thereof, it was all very well criticising the film and condemning it, but if you hadn't actually seen it, then your utterings carried little credibility.

· Given that people were leaving the cinema emotionally disturbed and liable to top themselves, it would be good us being there so we could minister to the needs of these poor Satanically bothered sinners. Of course, we were highly experienced in this (not).

· Seeing the film would be something of an education into the activities of Satan and how he was garnering through such devious means more publicity for himself. Our new insights would enable us to be more effective in countering his demonic activities, as well as being able to speak with additional authority on the subject to our erstwhile compatriots.

Good, so that gave my friend the justification he needed, and no doubt he thought me too – though I wasn't in the least bit bothered by any of these considerations, as I thought the film was brilliant with all the gore, violence, obscenity and foul language. I just loved it and any excuse to go and see it again was all right by me. We agreed that our cunning plan was to be kept secret from the rest of the fellowship, lest our intentions becoming known might make waves amongst the brethren and cause others to fall into sin. A couple of nights later, under cover of darkness with suitable alibis as to why we weren't at the evening's Bible Study, we set out for our encounter with the Lord of the Underworld.

It was dark, very dark. It was a bit windy and wet, threatening further rain. We made our way to the cinema along with many others. I would say that there were forked tongues of lightning flashing around the roof of the cinema while giant vampire bats circled high overhead - but that would be silly! We took our place in the queue for tickets and presently sank into our seats in the packed auditorium where there was an atmosphere of edgy expectancy. Following lots of adverts and a few trailers the film started.

Meanwhile, our brothers and sisters in the fellowship were at a Bible Study and prayer meeting. Included in the prayers would have been supplications for the souls of the cinema goers. The prayers would not have been on our behalf however, as they knew not to where we goetheth.

The film ended. Amazingly, we did not witness anyone showing any signs of demonic possession. No one was slitting their wrists or running out screaming and throwing themselves under cars or jumping off the edge of cliffs. We hung around in the foyer for a while lest any poor affected soul should require our ministrations. It turned out as I expected to be money for old rope as everyone seemed perfectly OK. Of course, this was just a trick of the Devil - obviously concealing himself.

We parted going our separate ways. I decided to go to bed. How much excitement could I take in one night? Bob was still out at the Bible Study – they could go on rather late and during the prayer time some lovers of their own voices would get very carried away, spouting forth prayer after prayer, demonstrating beyond doubt their added holiness and sanctification to the others in the group.

I lay in bed in the pitch dark drifting off to sleep. Suddenly I heard footsteps and the door opened. I pretended to be asleep and lay still and silent. Bob lumbered past to his pit space and fell into bed having de-robed himself.

It was still. It was quiet. It was dark. The silence was broken – as expected.

“Are you awake?”

“Yes” (dozilly)

“I didn't see you at the Bible Study this evening.”




“I said I didn't see you at the Bible Study this evening.”


“No what?”

“No................I wasn't at the Bible study.”



“Why what?”

“Why weren't you at the Bible Study?”

“I went somewhere else for a change.”



“Just curious!”


“I went to the pictures.”

At this point it should be borne in mind that going to the pictures was considered a sin even if it was “May Poppins” you were watching. Of course, skipping Bible Study in favor of such a worldly sinful activity was definitely frowned upon, to say the least.

Long silence.

“What was the film?” (As if he didn't know).

“The Exorcist”.

Slight hint of a gasp followed by long silence.

“You shouldn't have done that.”

I didn't answer, but chose to ignore him and go to sleep.

Several months later, it was decided by the fellowship that an exception could be made on one particular occasion when it would be permissible to go to the pictures to see one particular film.

The film was “The Hiding Place”, a docu-drama about a couple of Christian sisters who were captured by the Nazis in World War II and sent to a concentration camp. One of the sisters was Corrie Ten Boom, who wrote several books about her life and experiences after the war. Most of the fellowship, including myself, went to see this film. It was inspirational, but I didn't enjoy it as much as “The Exorcist”.

So that was it. Going to the pictures was not a sin after all.

It just depended upon what was showing.