I was reflecting the other day on the start of my career in the bus industry, it started in 1983, I recall reporting for duty at the rather grand head office of the West Yorkshire Road Car Company. The training office was located adjacent to the Stray, the name given to the lovely park that lies in the centre of the very nice town of Harrogate, nestling in God’s own Country of Yorkshire.
On my first day I was instructed to report to the Company training officer the lovely and glamorous Mrs Kate Liversedge. I was dressed in my number one suit and was also sporting a rather smart grey Crombie coat and trilby hat. My mum and dad had generously taken me to Moss Brothers gentleman’s outfitters in Birmingham city centre. My dad had advised me that a hat was an essential piece of equipment, suggesting managerial qualities apparently. It also allowed me to be able to doff my hat at any ladies that I might encounter.
Looking back a nice, sentimental touch that I thought would be valuable, it also had the added benefit of keeping my head warm, whilst I resided “Up North’. So, suitably suited and booted there I was primed and ready to start my new career as a Senior Management Trainee of the then mighty National Bus Company. As I climbed the old wooden stairs to the training officers office, I knocked on the door at 0859, exactly, punctuality as you would expect was vital.
As I entered the office I was greeted by an extremely attractive young lady who was called Linda, she was Mrs Liversedge’s secretary. Somewhat taken aback at the vision of beauty sat before me, I formally introduced myself, and of course did the decent thing and doffed my hat. This was greeted with a charming smile and a suggestion of a small snigger, before she asked me to take a seat. She then knocked on the door of the office next door, and duly summonsed she entered, to be honest I tried hard not to hear the chat going on but it was laced with laughing and mirth. And couple of minutes later Kate appeared with Linda, I of course jumped up, popped said trilby hat back on my “napper’, as they call it in Geordie land and proceeded to doff said chapeau in the general direction of my new boss.
Yet again a beaming smile and a hint of ah how charming that is, fleetingly swept across her face. She was in fairness a really nice and considerate lady, who helped me greatly with my training. She invited me into her office where we went through the Company induction. Once complete she then took me on a tour of the head office, where I met the General Manager, Mr Brian Horner, a lovely chap, and everyone else, in every department. This of course lead to a significant amount of hat doffing to every lady from the different departments in traffic, engineering, and accounts. The accounts department was populated by a small army of ladies, for reasons best known to myself I attempted an individual doff to each lady. Looking back one large doff to the assembled masses would probably have been enough, but no in true trooper fashion, that hat was up and down like a yo-yo on red bull. Funny thing was that each doff solicited the same reaction, a smile followed by a badly hidden snigger.
Looking back my behaviour was a throwback to a lost generation, back then people did not doff hats anymore, they did in the nineteen forties, and early fifties but not the eighties. I found out some time later, that my hat antics had certainly created an interesting first impression, with an equal measure of charm, and eccentricity apparently. Interestingly my dad was a big fan of hats, he had an impressive collection that he used often. His favourite was what I called a Russian Cossack big grey number, he looked like one of those former Russian Presidents who you used to see standing on the podium at the Russian May Day military celebrations. The thing was he could get away with it, as the hat accessory was part of his generation, and he did it justice in fairness and he had one for every occasion, including the classic Sherlock Holmes Deer stalker, which he used to wear when we went to the pub. On his head it commanded respect, had I sported one it would have generated derision and sarcasm.
On reflection 36 years on I still own both the hat and the coat, they still fit although the hat is of course never worn in public places, even though I am of an age at almost 60 that I could possibly get away with it. Maybe for my next birthday I could buy a new hat, maybe one of those cloth caps that men of a certain age seem to wear whenever they drive anywhere, normally doing 30 miles an hour on a dual carriageway in the fast lane. Completely annoying the long queue of maddening motorists trapped behind them.
So, my advice to any newcomers about to start their career, do yourself a favour and get yourself a nice hat, to match your smart whistle and flute. And behold the mysterious qualities of courage, chivalry, good manners, and politeness that are the hallmark of a gentleman, be brave and be slightly deaf, that way you wont hear the after shocks of giggling that drift behind you.