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The Man Who Put Me Back On Track
James Skinner

“Please fasten your seatbelts”, announced captain Reza Bokhari over the intercom. I was on Iran Air’s London to Tehran flight IR945. “We’ll be landing at Mehrabad airport in 35 minutes”. I had my eyes closed. My mind was cast back to that unforgettable day at the White Hart in Theobalds Road, London - 13th of October, 1975. I remembered it well.

As we are born with the ability to question, I have often fallen into the human trap of looking at my own life through the mirror and asking: “where do I go from here? What should I do next?” I can count on the fingers of my left hand the number of times that a serious decision may have altered my course. But this particular one that I took, very nearly doomed my future for the rest of my life.

We all follow a long trek through time that can take many twists and turns. Like sweating through a jungle, or clambering over a mountain range, it continues, it goes up and down, but never ends, or so it seems. Multiple paths are presented with luring alternatives. Delicate options constantly dance in our minds. Decisions are taken over and over again, some in haste, some through meditation and others, well, never at all. But the outcome, the results, even the final destination – hopefully not yet – are irreversible. One false move, and… yes, our lives could change dramatically. And yet, as someone once said: “there are always two possibilities”. Optimism is key to survival.

As an international employee I was given a special mission to explore new business opportunities in Central America. The success was meant to pave the way for my immediate promotion. After six months, I walked into my boss’ office and presented him with a stack of files and folders. Umpteen number of projects, statistics, financial and technical analysis, contacts, charts and business plans were laid in front of him. You name it, I had covered it. He took one look at them and said: “Jim, these are great, but you’re too late. I’ve decided that we’re no longer interested in the area”.

My heart sank. For a moment my mind went blank. I walked out of his office and simply thought: “shit. You sod!” I never did see eye to eye with him. I took some leave that was due to me and went on holiday. As my wife was Spanish, we returned to her parent’s home in Spain. I spent the next couple of weeks sulking and brooding about my future. Suddenly, within a flash, I sent my boss a note which read, very simply: “I’ve had enough. I resign”.

I had just chucked in fifteen years of a lifetime career and had no idea what I was going to do next. It didn’t take long for me to realise my mistake. I tried to have a go at starting a translating agency but failed. I had no customers. My brother-in-law offered me a job as a plant manager in an aluminium window frame factory. That was even worse. I finally ended up on the beach digging for cockles to drown my sorrows. My wife, ironically, was now supporting the family having landed a job as a teacher in one of the local schools. I literally caved in.

No, I did not attempt suicide, nor did I go to the local pub to get pickled. I called my boss, and very sheepishly asked him the vital question: “can I come back please?” Within a week I was reinstated.

Pension rights restored, I returned, alone, to the London headquarters. My family remained in Spain. My boss greeted me with his usual sadistic smile. “I knew you’d be back. Cold out there isn’t it?” he said. “You realise you’re now confined to the UK. Your overseas career is over”. Hell, this is not what I was expecting. I couldn’t see myself starting a life of commuting every day. Taking the 0740 to Liverpool Street or Paddington from some dreary suburban station. I was used to dirty smelly buses in third world countries, or driving to work in a broken down Landrover on some Caribbean island. Civilised monotonous 9 to 5 was just not for me. But what could I do?

Two months had gone by, I was still living on my own, had no home as yet and my wife and family continued in Spain. There was a pub on the corner of the office where a great deal of us would go for our luncheon beers and sandwiches. Although it was not my cup of tea, working in London, in those days was fairly routine and relaxed. No computers, no stress, no incentives and no bonuses. Just strictly boring. I remember I was on my third pint with some of the lads when a senior overseas manager I’d known for years, walked in. With three pints, one tends to speak one’s mind. I told him of my woes.
He was on his last assignment and was rounding up a team of experts to go to the Middle East. He needed one more body. Without batting a eyelid he said: “how would you like to go to Iran?” A million thoughts went through my head. I’d lost count of the sleepless nights I’d had trying to sort out my future. And here it was, the opportunity to go back to the wilderness, metaphorically speaking. Had never been to the desert before! “You’ll have to sort it out with my boss, John. As you know, I’ve been stricken off the overseas register”.

“That’s not your concern. Do you want to come or not?” he emphasised. “Yes” I said. All hell broke lose the next day when my boss called me in. Every conceivable insult and abuse was thrown at me. “You bugger off to Spain. You resign. No sooner have you left, that you plead to come back. I turn heaven and earth back here to get you back and this is what you pay me with? Get out!”

I opened my eyes and diligently fastened my seat belt.

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