Five of us joined in 1967 from Day’s Lane Primary in Sidcup. Chris Hunt, Peter Mirkovic, Clive Stanyon, Billy Ford and myself. I was an average academic and my 5 middle of the road O Levels and my scrape through at Engineering A level, equipped me I thought, for what I wanted to be. An Accountant. This flew in the face of F Richmond Coggan’s advice that I try the Army, Customs and Excise or Air Traffic Control. Nobody in my working class family had ever been to University (even on a day trip) so that simply was not discussed. I told my parents that I had been offered a job and got the ‘that’s nice dear’ response.
I did America trips in 1969 and 1972 which were fantastic. Thank you Martin Carr – someone with whom I developed a love/hate relationship, sometimes on the same day. I endorse the words said by others in support of that great man but my goodness, he was a bully. His stepson Trevor was a contemporary at St Olave’s. A nice kid who would have been horrified to hear I am sure what his step father exhorted us to do to him on the rugby pitch. I think the ‘America boys’ who did sport got a better trip than others. I played better than average rugby until I broke my arm - not on the pitch – the lid off the playground incinerator fell on it thanks to a prank by Mick (dog ripper) Welch and I discovered girls. Not in that order but one did lead to the other and my early ‘retirement’ from regular rugby (undefeated Colts) going into the 4th year saw me doing other things with my weekends. I still have a passion for rugby. I held debentures at Twickenham for a number of years before moving abroad and in April I will be attending my 37th annual Hong Kong 7’s rugby tournament.
So I applied for a job in the Evening Standard as a trainee accountant at a City solicitors. They did and still do shipping law. I didn’t get that job (pipped at the post by someone with Accounts O Level no less) but I was offered the glamorous position of City Litigation Clerk with the same firm. I left CVTHS on Friday 16 June 1972 and joined the law firm (Ince and Co) the following Monday. I had passed my driving test on 12 June and bought what was to become the first of many new cars. Cars had been my fetish since I was old enough to say the word. The passion continues…..
I stayed with Ince for 36 years. I reached the position of head of Admiralty (the equivalent of partner) – dealing with marine disasters all over the world. We used to act in all the biggies including for those old enough to remember – the Torrey Canyon – which was the first oil pollution claim of any note which spilled lots of oil off the Channel Islands in 1967 and remains the UK’s biggest oil spill. I would like to say that this prompted my lifelong love of ships that go bump in the night, but it didn’t. I stumbled into the job.
City Litigation Clerk was in fact the Court Messenger. For two years I trudged around the Law Courts, The Temple, Companies House and other dusty old buildings. I acquired a knowledge of Barristers and Judges that still holds good to this day. I recently had G+T’s with a Law Lord in Hong Kong who I have known for 43 years, but that is getting ahead of the story.
I slowly moved up the ranks. For the first few months I decided that I wanted be senior partner of the firm but that required my taking the Solicitor’s exams and for those my Engineering Drawing grade E pass at A level (thank you Mr Parsons and his Land Rover 110) proved slightly underwhelming. So off to evening classes at Erith College where I studied Law and British Constitution at A Level. A tough call after an afternoon’s lunching and I take my hat off now to anyone who has qualified for a profession through distance learning. I have to say that I didn’t take to the academic world with any greater enthusiasm than I had secondary education. I scraped an O level in Brit Con and horror of horrors failed to even achieve that in Law – my chosen career.
I eased out of Court messenger duties after a few years and into a full time desk job and the world opened to me. Being a know all, I soon knew more than my bosses (of course) and it wasn’t long before I began handling marine claims files with little supervision. The firm acted for all the then big ship owning names and was the go to place for shipping law if you had a serious problem. Onassis (with Maria Callas), Livanos, Niarchos, Lemos, BP and the then world leading Lloyd’s insurance market were all regular Clients. Later the Hadjiannous became regular visitors to the office. I loved it and without giving the ending away, I still do. Before long I was jumping on aeroplanes to visit heavily damaged ships to investigate what had gone wrong. No business class in those days – only First Class if the journey was longer than 3 hours. My knowledge of things nautical was acquired on the hoof and from an extra large copy of the BS Bible which I consult regularly to this day. I never did qualify as a Solicitor and I don’t regret it. Much.
My travels took me to Asia for the first time in 1975. Hong Kong and the Philippines. 24 hours on a four stop BA plane First Class. And I was getting paid for this job! I fell in love with Asia and HK in particular. Many return visits ensued over the next few years and I became something of an old China hand (at the age of 24). In 1979 Ince opened (on large account due to my lobbying) their first overseas office, in Hong Kong. I was not the first choice to man the office but my ever expanding negotiating skills got me on the plane as the number two for the opening on 1 April 1979 (no fools in HK).
I got married in 1976 and my daughter Charlotte was born in June 1979. I was allowed back from HK for the birth and my daughter was two weeks old when I abandoned her and wife to the HK countryside (cheapest rents) while I worked my extremities off chasing business all over Asia. Our neighbours were Cathay Pacific cockpit crew (we lived near the old airport) and I used to fly more often than they did. A job I would love in my next life. Life was good. We holidayed in the region two or three times a year (usually on the back of a business trip) and had long leave (4 weeks) back in the UK during what passed for British summer. My son Ben was born in the Matilda Hospital (complimentary fully stocked mini bar) on The Peak in HK in May 1981. He still has trouble with that passport.
My time in Hong Kong would make a longer story than this. I would pop to Manila or Taipei for lunch. I travelled to Australia and New Zealand to be helicoptered on to ships that had suffered major damage. Singapore was a monthly visit. I represented the owners and insurers of a 100,000 ton tanker which managed to collided with the US aircraft carrier USS Ranger causing US$100m of damage to the ship, aircraft and people. I would have lunch with C Y Tung and his son CH who later became Governor of HK. I visited all the countries in South East Asia learning to love the places, the people and the business.
Exhaustion prompted my move back to the UK in 1984 and soon after that my wife and I separated. I met someone else and we have two boys- Jack (24) now working in the marine insurance industry (his choice) in the City having spent 4 years at Bristol and Barcelona and George (21) who is drinking his way through a 4 year Master’s course in Edinburgh. Both had a truly excellent education at a prep school in Surrey (Chinthurst) and Tonbridge. As far removed from Day’s Lane and CVTHS as you could get.
On returning to Ince London from HK, one of my lifelong pals (Alan Cornish - who spent even less time in CVTHS’ class rooms than I did) suggested we go into business together. His girlfriend (now wife) came from a family involved in Estate Agency and we thought – ‘why not’? Acorn Estate Agency opened for business in 1985 in Grove Park and at the start of the 2008 financial crash, had 30 offices and 300 staff. It thrives today after some serious touch and go moments when survival was threatened. I sold out of Acorn in 2005. My job had been to meet the bank manager when things were tight. I was the only one whose suit jacket matched the trousers and could park my (then) expensive looking car on his forecourt to impress. My day job kept me from the office but not sufficiently to avoid a spanking for being an estate agent at School Dinners on my stag night. I suppose a worse fate could have befallen a Court messenger.
In 2000 I started a legal and claims consultancy operating under the umbrella of Ince. The company acquired an interest in a marine surveying firm in 2005 and became quite successful. Too successful in fact because I was being offered instructions on cases against Ince Clients and their commercial interests. By mutual consent, I took what was to be renamed C Solutions Limited out of Ince in 2008 and into an office in the Lloyds Building. Several of my colleagues joined me. I remain the sole shareholder in the Group. My son Ben is one of two MD’s in Lloyds and before my two grandsons arrived (Oscar and Elliott), Charlotte was my PA. We now have offices in HK, Singapore, Sydney and Hamburg.
My ‘new’ wife Jacqui is a Geordie. She did French at University and when I met her she worked on the ground at Heathrow for Air Canada. Cheap tickets through that job meant that she usually accompanied me on my business travels and we saw lots of North America and the Caribbean as well as places in South America and lots of Asia. The story of the drug sniffer dog on one of our returns to LHR would also make a chapter.
Between 1984 when I returned from HK and 2008 when I left Ince I concentrated in pursing marine claims in Europe (especially Greece and Scandinavia) and the Americas where I was fortunate to get involved in some of the major cruise ship accidents for the likes of Cunard, Carnival and Royal Caribbean. Apart from holidays, I have never been to Africa and apart from Moscow (one of my favourite places) I have been to Eastern Europe only once. Turkey is one of my favourite destinations for both business and pleasure and it saddens me to see news of what is going on there now and on its borders. I continued to regularly visit Asia.
In 1989, we bought a flat in Southern France and upgraded this to a house in 2000 which is currently undergoing major rebuilding works to accommodate the expanding family. In 2004 we had bought a holiday apartment in Phuket. Just before the Tsunami in fact which we managed to sleep through. We invariably ended up in Phuket after a heavy HK 7’s for recovery so we took the plunge and purchased. Our UK house is in Rotherfield, East Sussex. I also took up shooting.
The Lloyd’s office business was going well in 2010 and Asia (re)beckoned. Our boys were at boarding school so we left them behind and moved to Phuket as a staging point before deciding whether we would live in HK or Singapore – the two centres of marine and insurance activity in SE Asia. Business came slowly but surely from all places but those two so we stayed in Phuket and commuted to where the action was. Just recently, Singapore has edged ahead of HK in the business stakes so we are relocating to Singapore.
The job has been good to me and allowed me to indulge my passion for cars over the years. Price constraints in Thailand and Singapore (300% duty on imports) mean that we are restricted in what we drive so I have to indulge my Mr Toad fantasies on the roads of Europe during what has become a 4 – 5 month annual business tour of the shipping and insurance centres on our way to summer holidays in Provence. It is a source of some regret that I haven’t stayed in touch with many of the friends I made at CVTHS. A reunion anybody?