Out of the Camp Ch. 41 – Changes
When the group, ‘Listen’, broke up and all the extensive national press coverage, the Parlophone record release, the BBC2 ‘Whistle Test’ appearance and the Radio 1 Pete Drummond session, in additional to all the other radio airplay, when all of this ultimately came to naught and further, my continuing search for another group plus the music publisher’s session work I was doing all led nowhere, Mary and I ultimately made the decision to leave London and head for North East Scotland and the burgeoning ‘Oil Patch’. I tell the story in a very early episode of how a chance London encounter had put this, heretofore, unimagined notion, into my head. There followed a search through Yellow Pages for potential sources of employment in Peterhead and, eventually, on the promise of a contract providing an ongoing source of work from a retail business owner, we were on our way.
We packed up our one-bedroom flat in Northfields, West Ealing, London, paid off the utilities, sent Mary and the boys off to Manchester to stay with her parents until I’d found until I’d found us somewhere to live. I, for my part, set off on the long 575-mile (925 km) drive to Peterhead. I realize that today, that’s probably not such a big deal with the developments in car design and the advancements in applied technologies, not to mention the huge road improvements that have taken place since 1974. In the days leading up to my departure I made myself a promise that I felt I had to honor if this highly speculative undertaking was to prove
successful. Up until that day when I set off from London where I’d lived since leaving home in Edinburgh in 1967, my main source of reading material was the music press and, in particular, the Melody Maker. This was the leading modern music publication of the day carrying more ads for ‘musicians wanted’ than any of the other competing periodicals such as the New Musical Express and the Record Mirror. I had in advance solemnly resolved to stop reading these as I was afraid of the temptation of a potential opportunity pulling me back south and jeopardizing any hope we might have of this huge long-shot paying off. I also vowed to stop listening to pop and rock music on the radio. This, I later walked back to allow myself some listening on long drives in the Aberdeenshire countryside which proved not to be a problem since music available on the radio in this remote Scottish North-Eastern region back then, other than traditional reels and pipes, was generally limited to middle-of-the-road tunes with a DJ interviewing guests between records, e.g. Jimmy Young and later, Terry Wogan, the latter of whom became a great favorite of mine. Years later I realized that there was a 6-year awareness gap in my otherwise extensive knowledge of the popular music of the day, but I’d become so busy so quickly after my arrival in Peterhead that I wasn’t aware of it, and I really didn’t miss it.
The day I arrived in Peterhead I’d gone straight to W.D. Allan Ltd., to meet my benefactor, the owner of the business, Roddy Allan, who had promised me on the strength of a phone conversation to give me all his business’s TV aerial installation work if I relocated there from London. His was one of many businesses in the region I’d made a written approach to. He was the only person to have responded. I only needed one! He proved to be a quiet, self-effacing man and was very pleasant and clearly genuinely pleased to me. He revealed to me that he’d been looking for someone to do this work for some time and, having had no success, he’d been forced to do the work himself in addition to running the business, the only TV, radio and electrical goods shop in the town. He introduced me to the staff who were clearly intrigued to meet this character who’d driven all the way from London just to install TV aerials but nonetheless, were very welcoming and later proved to be extremely helpful in helping me to acclimatize and become familiar with the store’s practices. Before leaving London, I’d bought some maps of the area and tried to familiarize myself with the immediate region.
In my earlier references to this chapter in my life I didn’t emphasize enough the life-changing opportunity this development had provided me and my family. Also, whilst acknowledging the warm reception I’d received from everyone, I didn’t really emphasize quite the extent to which this welcome rose where Roddy and his wife, Sheila, who without hesitation invited me to supper on the day I arrived in Peterhead and thereafter on countless further occasions. They also acknowledged that I was going to be looking for a store from which to run my fledging operation and made the suggestion that I contact Tommy Chalmers, a local businessman who owned some commercial properties in the town. This suggestion proved to be invaluable and led to an arrangement that provided me with a base that I operated from for the first few years of the business. I referred to Tommy Chalmers, the ‘scrapyard philosopher’, on a couple of occasions in earlier episodes.
Meanwhile, almost 14 years later …
Without getting into mind-numbing detail of preparation, logistics, travel plans, etc., we arrived in a sunny Los Angeles on December 27, 1987, and headed for our hotel, ‘The Sovereign at Santa Monica Bay’ on Washington Avenue just one block from the Pacific Ocean. The hotel, designed in 1928 by Hearst Castle architect, Julia Morgan, is unfortunately no longer there but gave us a brief glimpse of an earlier LA. We spent the first couple of days relaxing in the hotel and on the beach enjoying the sunny December weather in Southern California. I also always remember the surreal experience of flipping through the TV channels and finding the same program on every single station. I thought that there was some technical problem with the hotel’s system. It wasn’t until we left the set on a single station to find out what was going on with all these crowds of people lined along a street watching a seemingly endless procession of floats covered in flowers and people waving, bands marching and girls in skimpy costumes dancing along the street that we made the connection that this must have something to do with New Year celebrations which would explain all stations covering the same event. Of course, this represented our introduction to Pasadena’s annual Rose Parade, a first of the year national tradition since 1890.
Without much delay we had to start looking for a place to live and were directed to an agency in Glendale that specialized in locating homes for rent. As I recall we saw one or two properties but very quickly decided on one in an area known as San Gabriel because, not only was it in a nice area, but it also had a basement. We knew ahead of time that were going to need the space since we had a lot of furniture and belongings aboard a cargo vessel on route to Long Beach. I learned later that, in addition to being an ‘area’, San Gabriel is also incorporated as a city and is very close to Pasadena. In addition to finding a home we also had to furnish it temporarily until our own belongings arrived which was going to take almost three months, we had to buy a car which might have been a problem had it not been for Mary’s Uncle in Orange County. He was so helpful in those early days. Left to my own devices I would have just paid for the car outright; it was a cheap pre-owned model which we intended to replace with two cars when things were clearer. Mary’s uncle explained that it was vital to establish a good credit rating and that the easiest way to achieve this was to allow him to help us establish a record of regular repayments on a loan by co-signing the loan agreement for us. And it worked! We also had to enroll the children in local schools which worked out really well as we had inadvertently landed in an area with some of the best schools in the Los Angeles area. In fact, when it came to buying a home some three years later, we remained in the area so as not to disrupt the education of the two children still in school. Our eldest boy had by then gone off to college. Within three weeks of settling in, Mary started work as a Registered Nurse at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital, the entity which had sponsored her H-Visa allowing her to work. Her UK equivalent certification – at that time, State Registered Nurse – had qualified her to take the California State Nursing Boards Exam. I started working from home following up earlier established leads at the harbor. The pattern that developed basically comprised a day at home and two, sometimes three days, either canvassing contacts in the Long Beach/LA Port area or in Ventura County at the port complex there.
My other business responsibilities, which included making periodic trips to the UK, was the monitoring of operations in London and Aberdeen both of which had stabilized at a rate of activity much lower than there had been prior to the oil price crash. This general pattern continued until a serious development occurred in London in July of 1990 which required me to drop everything and return immediately. After assessing the damage and the resulting situation in addition to the overall condition of the UK company, I decided to close the London office and consolidate our UK operations in Aberdeen which, among other things, included recruiting new support staff to assist in the running of the northern office. I hadn’t fully anticipated the investment in time that these changes were going to require. When the dust had finally settled at the end of it all and I was able to return to our new Los Angeles home, I had been back in the UK and away from my family for almost twelve months, apart from the three weeks I’d taken off during December to celebrate Christmas. On my return I resumed my earlier activities in addition to responding to an enquiry from a Long Beach shipping agent about the recruitment of English-speaking Polish marine engineers and other crew. To say that this came out of left field would certainly be accurate but, based on initial enquires with a crewing operation in the port of Szczecin in Poland, such bi- and multi-lingual specialists did, in fact, exist. I contacted and confirmed to the agent that we would very likely be able to help him with such personnel and he expressed his gratitude for our efforts. He promised he’d get back to me when they had estimated dates of arrival in L.A. of the vessels they represented. The delay was fortuitous since I was going to be in the UK within the month to assess operations and I would be able to combine this with a trip to Szczecin to meet with the agents there who’d be responsible for procuring the staff.
I caught a flight from Heathrow to Berlin Brandenburg airport, picked up a car and set off shortly after 7pm on what normally would be an approximate two-hour drive to Szczecin. I’d earlier telexed the hotel recommended by the agency advising them of my late arrival possibly as late as 10pm. The Berlin Wall had come down a couple of years earlier and I foolishly thought that crossing the German/Polish Border would now be a routine and straightforward procedure. I got approximately 50 miles out of Berlin when the traffic ground to a complete stop.
(1) Pete Drummond, BBC Radio 1 DJ. (2) 19 Windmill Street, Peterhead, Scotland. First office, storeroom & staff accommodation of Aeranamics Ltd., later Radioman International. (notable extensive improvements made since 1974!). (3) Peterhead Harbour. (4) 105 Cairntrodlie, Peterhead, Scotland. Home in Peterhead for approximately four years. (5) The Sovereign Hotel on Santa Monica Bay, our first California home for a week in 1987. Now a luxury apartment block with almost 100 rental units. (6) Port of Szczecin, Poland. (7) Szczecin, Poland.