When I was a kid… (Part 7)

Some people wake up in the mornings and dread having to go to work. I’ve been so lucky in that I think there’s only been one job so far where that was the case, but more of that another time (The Orange Scurge). I seem to be the job hunter who steps in the proverbial dog shit time and time again. Systematic Marketing was another case in point. Before I go into detail, I’d like to give you a bit more detail of one of the reasons I seem to fall into “Accidental Empires”.

It’s no secret that I have an absolute passion for computers. From playing with the old 8 bit home computers in the 80′s, to working with old 8 bit CP/M machines at my first job and finally progressing to full blown PCs, both at work and at home. In all that time, the thing I have always tried to do is learn more. Once I’ve become proficient in one thing, I’m always looking for the next big thing. You wouldn’t believe the luck I’ve had in finding the right thing at the right time. With Systematic, this big thing was a programming language called Delphi.

Delphi is a programming language based loosely on the classic programming language, Pascal. The thing that really made it different and made many programmers sit up and take note, was the new environment that made this RAD (Rapid Application Development), suddenly become a realtive breeze. I saw Delphi being reviewed in computer magazines and receiving glowing praise. It was relativly inexpensive, so I decided to pick up my own copy.

Working with Delphi was very different to the programming I’d been used to, but I managed to get up and running pretty quickly and must say it was the first time in ages that I actually enjoyed programming. This all happened sometime in the middle of 1995. By the end of 1995 I was gainfully employed at Systematic Marketing as a Delphi programmer.

As with my Loot interview, my time at Systematic started with a decidely shakey interview. Now it’s funny I’ve told this story many times, but I can’t for the life of me remember if I was hours early or hours late, but regardless of this balls up, I was asked to join and was thoroughly looking forward to it.

Now before I go on, let me drop a few names of people I worked with and also some people I worked around, I’ll expand of some of these later: Russell Weetch, Andy Zienkiewicz (Zink-A-Vich), Georgina Marett, Tara Edenborough, Sonia Cowell, Alex Petre, James Bunting, Robert Issac, Sean Bonham, David Tate, Simon Hollingsworth, Tim Huxford, Jenny (brain freeze), David Wallace, Sue (brain freeze), Charlene Politano, Louise Todd, Rod Geoghegan (Griplomax), Brian Doyle and not forgetting Chris Godbolt. I’m sure I’ve missed some names, sorry, but some of these people I haven’t thought about for a few years.

Anyway when I first joined Systematic, we shared an office (or rather sublet) from a company called Ten, which was as far as I can remember some kind of advertising company. Also subletting was a media company who’s name eludes me, a small company called Pen to Paper and a few other small companies.

I can remember Georgina showing me around the first day. We were upstairs and she asked me if I smoked. I replied in my usual witty way “Only in bed”, but that joke went straight over her head and the lack of response left me feling a bit self conscience. As always, it took me a while to settle in, but I had many things to learn so that left me pretty pre-occupied.

Systematic was situated in the centre of the West End. Actually our office was on Charlotte Street, which is apparently the restaraunt centre of London, and where you find restaraunts, you’ll find pubs. Lots and lots of pubs. One of the things I miss most about living in London/England (apart from friends and family of course), is the pub culture. I got to know eveyone at Systematic and the surrounding companies very well, partly through work and partly through the afterhours get togethers. I could tell you stories to make your hair curl, but will try to keep it tame here, if you know what I mean :-)

While pottering away at programming with Delphi, I was becoming more and more interested in the Internet. It helped a lot that Systematic also owned a search Engine called UK Index, which had the potential to be a real player in the search engine , but nuff said there. Anyway the skills I picked up at Systematic would stand me in really good stead later on. It also helped that I worked on some really good systems for some pretty prestigious clients, including The Economist Group, The National Trust, The Caravan Club and Lloyds of London. I also got to do a little bit of travelling going to New York and Hong Kong, which was really nice. Again I have some stories there, but I can’t cover eveything here.

As before I’ll list a few snippets or rather teasers, which I may or may not go into in depth, but it should peak your interest.

1. Taking care of the client is number 1
2. Double Contact Lens
3. Happy 31st Birthday to Me
4. Wooble
5. Drunk in Style
6. Riding Down the Stairs in Style
7. The Amazing Sean Bonham and the “Scrubbers”

It was whilst I was at Systematic that the now infamouse “Escaltor Incident” happened. As I’ve detailed elsewhere this was partly due to me being a bit of a daredevil, but mostly due to the fact that I was sozzled. Drinking was an integral part of working in the centre of London. It’s just so nice to pop down the pub at lunch time for a couple of beers. In fact it was not too unusual for a Friday lunch time drink to expand into Friday evening. Don’t get me wrong work didn’t suffer because of this (not until the end anyway, but that is again a different story), working hard also equates sometimes to playing hard. Often at Systematic I’d be at work around 7 or 8 am and stay till the early evening and on the rare occassion all night, not to mention the work I also did at home. But when you work for a good company, where you feel relaxed it feels natural to work this way, for me anyway.

I’ve grown up a lot in the last 5 years, a lot of this is due to marriage, but nearly every company I’ve worked at up to the point, there would always be someone I’d fall for, what can I say, sometimes I was like some lovesick puppy. It can’t be helped to a certain degree, when you consider the amount of time you spend with people. Anyway I’m not going to name names, suffice to say when I look back over the years I can’t help but cringe at how sad I was. Some of the memories hurt more than others, actually hurt isn’t the right word, but it’s the best word I can think of at the moment. Anyway it feels good to be able to look back and smile in the knowledge that I have many experiences that molded me into the person I am today.

It’s so hard looking back over my years at Systematic trying to pick out the best of the stories. I don’t want to rant on here too much as I realise that the more I write here, the harder it is going to be to read. Many of the stories will at some point be later expanded, but for now I’ll just stick to stories one and two in the list above.

I’m not going to mention any names as looking back over this story, some of the things could prove embarressing. Anyway one night all of Systematic was due to meet up with one of our out of town clients. The night started off as a pretty ordinary drink up. I can safely say looking back on this experience, I have probably never drunk this amount at any time before or since. When the client announced that they wanted to go onto a club, everyone else pretty much dropped out. I can’t remember if I was asked to accompany the client or whether I just felt it would be good to continue the drinking, but it was left to me to bring up the Systematic rearguard and accompany the client.

Now when I said we went to a club, I’m probably stretching the point a little here. The club we went to was just off Regent Street in the West End. It is also what is commonly known as a clip joint. Basically the way these work is you go in, buy a drink and then suddenly a “lady” or two will come over to you and try to cnvince you to buy them drinks. This usually leads to Champagne which is 50 quid or more a bottle. Once the customer is drunk, the 50 quid champagne turns into 10 quid champane, but still charged at the 50 quid price. I can also remember having a few gin and tonics that tasted decidedly water, which is a pisstake when they are 10 quid each. Now I have to admit I wa not comfortable in that club at all. Some of the ladies had some intersting ideas, but I managed to kep myself chaste and sober enough (ha that’s a laugh) to make a sharp exit without raamping up a credit card or two. Looking back it was an awful experience, one I would never want to do again, but hey it all adds to ones character :-)

Something to be aware of and definately something I didn’t know at the time, out of town clients sometimes have very generous expense accounts. It’s no word of a lie when I tell you that I lost count of the number of bottles of champagne we consumed that night or should I say morning. I can remember all that night thinking that I had work the next morning. Anyway when the evening finished I cannot tel you, suffice to say I finally got home around 6am. Just a quick snooze will sort me out I though……

7 hours later I wake up in a panic, still rolling drunk and fretting that I was so late for work. I managed to get dressed and out the door, but still had my contact lenses to put in. I managed to do that at the bus stop while waiting for the bus. Strangely enough though, once I’d put my lenses in one eye was still blurry and the other was like an eye on steroids. I puzzled for a while, before I realised that I’d put both lenses in one eye. The day didn’t get much better. Fortunately my friend Dave came to see me around 3pm, so I used that as an opportunity to go down the pub for a bit of hair of the dog. Did it work? I haven’t a clue, but it was a nice way to cap off a rough day.

This little spot on the entry is dedicated to Plodderick Gaygun, Everyone has their own take on Plod. Some call him Plod, some call him Plodders, some call him Griplomax, but he’s still not letting on as to where that name comes from. I first met Plod when he also took space where our original office was. He was the MD of a company called Whathney, which specialised in handbags and other accessories that fragrance companies used as giveaways (If this sucks as a description Plod, feel free to correct me). Whathney later moved to an office next door and we moved across the road.

Finally no entry could be complete without mentions Mr Sean Bonham and Mr David Tate. Both were employed at Systematic as editors for our UK search engine UK Index (http://www.ukindex.co.uk). They were both radically different personalites, but they were truly interesting to work with. I can paraphrase the whole experience into a few short sentences. Nutty Toff digs scrubbers and Thai jail cell visits meets crazy, sleepy, gentle, yes I can ride my bike down those stairs, well spoken, unassuming bloke. Anyway as always they were a blast to work with and I do wonder what they are up to now.

Time to sign off. This has been a real blast to write and as with these things I know I have left a ton of wholes and bounced around the place, but I will one day collate all of these and expand on the whole shebang, including lots more juicy tidbits. Good by Systematic and hello……… Canada.

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