3. Now John, a Kiwi (then)

It was all a terrible mistake…
I had my whole future planned out, and it didn’t involve ANY old blue trucks.

I had left New Zealand with one ambition (well two – if rowing at Henley counts) – to become an Airline Pilot.  Flying lessons were expensive (even then) and I had heard that the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm were recruiting, if you were desperate enough to fly Fairey Gannets.  I was already an RNZAF Under Officer (a Commission you get when you’re too young to hold a real one) – with a private pilot’s licence – and I figured that a short term Commission would see me ‘in and out’ by my mid 20s – with enough flying hours to talk to Mr QANTAS or Mr TEAL or…

at Henley
But I failed my hearing test at the QANTAS medical centre in Sloane Square.  80% deaf in my left ear.  Jeeez – I could have done THAT in Auckland!   

I had GBP600 to my name – and absolutely NO prospects.  So I did what any 20 year old does in a crisis – and when I sobered up (flat broke) I was washing dishes at the Overseas Visitors Club.  My two travelling friends had landed with their “bums in the butter” – Justin Ellis always wanted to work for Sothebys – and he did – Fredd Briggs was a talented graphic artist – and went straight in as Art Director for a top advertising agency.  And I was washing dishes at the OVC!

Justin, John & Fredd
I had no clue who Mrs Marks was.  The note simply said, “Mrs Marks would like to see you at 2.00pm this afternoon – in the employment agency”.  The OVC had everything – much more than I could see from the kitchen – and the Employment Agency was where everyone began their stay in London.  Gina Marks ran it – owned it – was married to Sydney Marks who owned the Alfred Marks Bureau – and was about to become my Fairy Godmother.  And (over time) a dear friend. 

She wasn’t gentle with me – questioned my apparent lack of ambition – washing dishes “with the education and background that you have” – wasn’t at all sympathetic to my truncated flying career “you can spend the next few years wallowing in self-pity – or you do something else – how about Hotel Management?”  ME? From a presbyterian temperance family? Why not!

“You start tomorrow morning – on the Reception Desk,” – and so I began my Hotel Management career.  A few weeks ‘on the desk’ before becoming House Manager of the OVC – and on (some time later) to become one of four ‘boy wonders’ – as the Duty Management Team was known by staff and member/guests!  At some stage during this period I was enrolled at the University of Surrey’s Hotel Management School – and although that appears on my CV – I just couldn’t bring myself to explain that all this happened at the old City & Guilds facility at Battersea – and not at the much more attractive (and impressive) campus in Guildford! I didn’t finish that course until 1971 – in OZ.

with Max - the Macaw
The OVC was a fascinating (and famous) place – and I am surprised that not much of its history appears on record.  I will do something about that on a separate page – rather than clutter the story here…

It was here that David Hodges strutted (he DID strut in those days!) into my life.  Lots of people entered my life at this time (and several strutted) – but there was something about this little bugger… banging on about Africa – Landrovers – Prince Phillip – Colonel Gregory – Gurkhas – Mauritania – West Africa – Nigeria – The Congo – round the Cape – THE CONGO? In 1966? (We KNEW about these things at the OVC!) Is this guy for real? – Kenya – fly from Nairobi to Simla – where the hell is Simla?

There was a touch of the Lawrence in all of us!
But – he got to me!  In those days (at age 20) there was a touch of the Lawrence in all of us – if NOT the required ‘pillars of wisdom’.

And so the planning began – Henleys were building our Landrover – provisions were being prepared – the team was coming together – Colonel Gregory was getting us advice on how to get through the Congo with our arses intact (something about a ‘quiet’ river crossing between Boma and Matadi) – and liasing with Prince Phillip – and then the 1966 Budget – and – no more Comex Expedition.

Peter had returned to the UK, I had resigned from the OVC, Keith still had several months (we thought) before he was due back in Ontario for Fort Henry duty – and the Hodge just kept on – being the Hodge.  “Damn it chaps – we’re going – and that’s all there is to it.”

And so we went…

A link – for those of you interested in The Overseas Visitors’ Club

There are 3 other chapters in this section;

In The Beginning… David
Later came… Peter
Then came… Keith


One Response to 3. Now John, a Kiwi (then)

  1. […] One test of a relationship is one that lasts for 40 years. It all began in London in the fall/autumn  of “66. Just out of University, and set to see the world, I met the limey (or was it the kiwi?) in the Overseas Visitors Club and…  more on my page ’Next was Keith.‘ […]

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