London & Frankfurt, 1969
Until 1969, I had been muddling along in the ‘old technology’ of Quantity Surveying or Estimating, as it was known in the US and Canada. It was Singer Sewing Machines in London that gave me my opportunity to enter the relatively new world of computer programming. And I have never looked back.
Our office was in West London, on the Uxbridge Road, in Ealing Broadway. and it was there that we did our program design and coding on paper. As a recently inaugurated European division, we did not have our own computer; for program compilation and testing, we went to the UK Guildford office. I spent as much time in Guildford as I did in Ealing Broadway. And it was there that I first met Bob Baylis and ‘almost’ met Mark Samuels; our paths were to cross again in 1978, at P-E International, where Bob was employed and when Mark was the Managing Director, but that is a story for another day.
Now I won’t attempt to explain the intricacies of programming in the 1960’s; our world was one of coding sheets, punched cards and tapes, large air-conditioned computer rooms, and one or perhaps two compilations or tests a day. For the successful programmer, acute attention to detail was mandatory.
I thrived in the environment and was part of a small team sent to Germany in the summer of 1969, to test and install our new inventory system in the German head office in Frankfurt, near the central station and a few minutes stroll from the river Main. Our hotel was between the office and the station. The red-light district was adjacent; it took us perhaps one hour to completely orientate ourselves.
We could only have access to the German computer systems after daily production had been completed, so we started late afternoon and worked to very late every evening, rarely finishing before midnight. We usually met for lunch in a nearby restaurant and on the first day the waiter recommended a local white wine from Rüdesheim. It was #28 on the menu and we soon learned to order additional bottles of achtundzwanzig. It was delicious, and day after day, it contributed greatly to the eventual success of our project.
On one weekend, we decided to go to the source of achtundzwanzig. We took a local train from central station to the nearby river Rhine, and then travelled on a boat down the river to Rüdesheim. After ample ‘refreshments’, we took the local gondola to Niederwald. Almost silently gliding over the vineyards, gradually ascending, was an experience I will never forget. I was in love with life; nothing new there.
At the summit was Niederwalddenkmal, a patriotic monument, 38 m tall and finished in 1883. The view across the valley was stunning and the weather was idyllic.
On one of our last nights in Frankfurt, when the project was almost wrapped up, we went to a nearby striptease show called ‘The Dolly Bar’. It was luxurious, compared to the normal seedy dives that I had previously experienced in Toronto, the US and London. The girls were stunning, but what struck me most was experiencing the wall-to-wall sound; I had never heard such wonderful acoustics before. And it was the first time that I had heard Mary Hopkin singing, ‘Those were the days’.
That was 1969, and the sun had arisen and set many times before I was once again back in London; it was late-1984 and I was on my way to the wedding of my good friend, Laín Burgos-Lovece, in The Wirrall, south of Liverpool. I had a room in a hotel on Half Moon Street, just off Piccadilly.
That evening I went around the corner to an old familiar pub in Shepherd’s Market, a pub that I had frequented many times over the years. I bought a pint and sat in my usual corner. I had not been there since those bitter sweet days of the summer of 1978; bitter, because my personal circumstances at that time were a mess, but sweet, because I had been deliriously happy with the prospect of an exciting new relationship.
And then the juke box started to play…