On arriving back in the UK and before travelling up to Edinburgh I left Sue with my Sister in Bridgwater and flew over to Norway to talk with my prospective new employers.
I flew to Oslo then on to Aalesund where I was met by Per Svino. From there we had to get to an offshore island by ferry and the small settlement of Hareid on the island of Hareidlandet then drive across the island to Ulsteinvik, the small town where the shipyard was located.
The following day I was introduced to Andor Moldskred who was the Financial Director and in the evening to the managing director, Idar Ulstein.
Andor and I had already discussed my ideas for opening a sales office in Edinburgh and he seemed to be in agreement with me but we had a hard job to convince Idar that the ideas made sense.
Idar envisaged a sales office in London where most of the large the shipowners were located. I explained that my day to day contacts and visits would be to shipyards rather than shipowners and the shipyards were mostly located in the North. Furthermore the smaller offshore oil and fishing vessel owners were centred in Scotland and it was here where I saw we could sell Ulstein equipment in the power range we had to offer at that time. I pointed out that the existing agent had not sold a single unit in the years he had been operating in London and that regular visits to visit the London shipowners and brokers could be made easily with the hourly air shuttle service between the capital cities.
My arguments eventually won Idar over, We agreed my salary, working capital of £100,000 was transferred to a new Ulstein UK Ltd. account with the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) in St Andrews Square in Edinburgh and I flew back to London to set things in motion.
I was now employed as the managing director of a company still to be set up but could sign cheques, pay myself and approve my own expenses and draw a salary. My first appointment was with RBS and I was shown into the board room of their impressive head office where there was an assembled collection of the banks high head 'yins. I began by saying my name was Roger Biddle, I was here to start a new company and I did not have the first clue how to go about it. This caused a number of guffaws around the table.
It was explained that I should first appoint solicitors and the bank proposed Brodies who turned out to be the most expensive lawyers in town. Secondly they recommended R.G. Moreton, a firm of accountants who became a firm who audited our accounts for 15 years and in their principal, David Douglas, gave us valuable advice until his retirement.
I purchased a Ford Consul company car and went in search of an office which I eventually found in the middle of George St. which is where all the banks used to be and runs parallel to Princes St, Edinburgh's main drag.
I had agreed in Norway that Sue and I would travel to Ulsteinvik that September on their return from the summer break for familiarisation of products and to prepare brochures etc prior to beginning UK operations in November so we had six weeks before we had to start work. I suggested to Sue that we head over to the continent and tour around Europe prior to driving up to Norway so we bought all the camping gear and headed South.
Our Tour of Europe.
This turned out to be one of the happiest times of my life. We first drove down to Hull and caught the overnight ferry to Zeebrugge.
Our first stop was at Saltzburg in Austria which is the bithplace of Mozart. Visiting the lovely city and the house where the great composer was born was of course high on our visit list but we also visited the nearby salt mines which are spectacular.
A visit begins by ascending a mountain and entering the underground system. You then descend underground, level by level, sliding down a series of wooden slides and crossing an undergroud lake until emerging at the bottom level and boarding a little train that takes you back to where you started.
Prior to getting married on a previous trip with my then wife Nicky and her parents I had travelled in an old Land Rover to what was then Yugoslavia. There I had met a few fellow cavers and had done a bit of underground exploration but wanted to show Sue some of that country's wonderful show caves so that was our first objective
Arriving at the Yugoslav border where we encountered a problem with Sue's nationality! I don't think those border guards had ever seen a New Zealand passport and Sue was promptly marched off at gunpoint in tears. Matters were eventually resolved and Sue was given a visa which we ought to have obtained before arrival.
We headed south first to Postojnska Jama, a huge cave system not far from Ljubljana. The underground chambers are immense and you travel through most of the cave on a miniature train. In one of the chambers they hold orchestral concerts and you can dine in a huge cafeteria in another. But as magnificent as this cave system is, in my opinion it is eclipsed by Skocjanske Jama situated a few miles towards the coast.
You enter the cave by descending into a huge shakehole formed by an underground collapse where an access tunnel has been bored though to the natural cave. You then descend through a series of wonderfully decorated chambers while all the time you can hear the noise of rushing waters gradually increasing. You eventually emerge into a vast underground gorge on a bridge a hundred metres above a turbulent river.
You cross the bridge and follow a walkway blasted out of the rock wall until you emerge into daylight where the roof has collapsed and climb out up the sheer rock walls. Truly the finest and most dramatic underground journey you will ever experience.
The water from this underground river resurges in the Adriatic sea offshore Trieste.
Our journey continued to Rijeka where we followed the Adriatic coast down to Split. There were very few proper camp sites then so we used to ask the locals where we could pitch our tent, usually by sign language as we were unable to speak Serbo Croat! At one place I remember we shared a site with a German couple. Memories of the conflict with Germany was still prevalent at that time and the local farmers wife would not sell us milk until she realised we were not German.
On a side trip to Sarajevo we discover Mostar and its beautiful slender bridge.
The bridge was built by the Ottomans in 1566 and destroyed in 1993 by the Croatians during the civil war when Yugoslavia was finally split up into its different countries. The bridge was rebuilt in 2004 at a cost of over US$15 million.
Dubrovnik was our final Croatian Adriatic city and another place that suffered shelling during the civil war. I remember wondering what possible strategic advantage could the Serbians hope to gain from destroying such a beautiful place.
We were unable to travel further along the Adriatic coast as in those days Albania was closed to all except Ted Clayton. More of him later. We therefore headed inland over the mountains on terrible unpaved roads into Macedonia which was still part of Yugoslavia until 1991. We crossed the Greek border, turned right towards Athens and found ourselves beside the Aegean Sea on a camp site owned by a Dutchman.
The plan was then to drive as far as Athens, spend a few days sightseeing before catching a ferry from Patras to Brindisi in Italy. We found a nice camp site on the coast near the city and began to see the sites including a son-et-lumiere of the Acropolis at which an American tourist was heard to exclaim "it's like a Greek movie"!
We decided to buy our ferry tickets to Italy and the ferry company's office was right in the middle of Athens in Syntagma Square opposite the Greek Parliament.
As we drove into the city police were stopping cars and putting people in them. They signalled me to stop several times but once they saw I was driving on the right hand side they waved me on. When we arrived at the shipping office it was closed but I saw someone inside and knocked on the sash widow. It was opened and I asked if we could buy tickets to Brindisi. The reply was "if I were you I would get out of Greece quickly" to which I repied that was what I was trying to do before the window was shut!
We went for a dip in the sea wondering what was up then returned to the camp site where the manager told us that Turkey had just invaded Cyprus and the British Embassy in Athens had been stoned that morning! The leader of Greece's military junta, which controlled a guerrilla group in Cyprus, ousted Archbishop Makarios who the Brits supported and who went into exile. Turkish officials believed that a Cypriot union with Greece was imminent and invaded to protect Turkish Cypriots. Here we were driving a British registered car as Greece prepared to go to war with Turkey.
Cyprus was a British protectorate until independence in 1960 with Makarios as president. The camp site manager suggest we drive down to Patras to see if we could get aboard the ferry so we packed up the tent and headed there. On arrival the ferry was berthed alongside and we noted was registered in Cyprus so there was no way that ferry was going anywhere. We went to a cafe for a meal and were treated to a disdainful display of trying to ignore all the customers by the waiter with a fag hanging out of his mouth, flicking the flies off the table cloth with a napkin, much to the disgust of another couple but to our amusement.
We decided that the only way out of Greece was to head North back to the Yugoslav border so we set off the next day. We followed military convoys and tank transporters all heading North for the Turkish border. When I tried to refuel I was told that all petrol was reserved for the army. Within 60km of Yugoslavia I pulled in to a service station where the army officer gave me the same story. I told him "you want me out of your country and I need petrol to do that". He called his superior and they gave me just enough to get to the border.
We joined a large queue of emigrants at the border and I told the Yugoslav border guard that it was a pleasure being back in a civilised country but he did not get the joke! The next morning we set off on the long and boring drive North to Zagreb. On the way we stopped for fuel and were approached by a young Brit asking if we could give him a lift. This we did and he kept us entertained for the rest of the journey.
He told us he had hesitated to approach us as we looked like toffs.
One story he told us I can remember was him going for a job interview where he was asked to take a seat so he picked up a chair and left the room! We dropped him off at Zagreb where he planned to get a train while we continued towards Trieste.
As much as we enjoyed the simple food of Greece and Yugoslavia we were pleased to get to a country with a more varied cuisine and one we both loved.
We drove around the top of the Gulf of Trieste and found a nice camp site on the shore of the Adriatic Sea at Lido di Jesselo where we could get a fast ferry into Venice to see the sights. From here we travelled across Northern Italy to Lake Maggiori. We had a long way to go to get to Norway so could not spend time here but fell in love with the area and vowed to return.
Over the Simplon Pass into Switzerland we experienced our first Swiss wine and it was terrible. Then on to Zermatt as I wanted Sue to see my favourite mountain, the Matterhorn. We went up to the glacier by cable car and marvelled at a dinkum dunnie where you sat looking between your legs at the turd splattered glacier a thousand feet below!
By this time we were running really short of time so we raced through Germany and found ourselves in Copenhagen where we saw our first porn film. We did see all the usual tourist sites but it was 'The Devil in Miss Jones' that sticks in the memory. The Scandahooligans have a different attitude to this sort of thing and our comparatively sheltered upbringing did not prepare us for such cinematic offerings.
There is a bridge now across the Oresund between Copenhagan and Malmo in Sweden but in those days you caught a car ferry and headed North towards the Norwegian border. Just before the border in the middle of a dense pine forest was a sex shop! Norwegian society does not have the same liberal views on sex as the rest of the Scandahooligans so some enterprising Swede must have sensed an opportunity for the many Norwegian 'perverts' to purchase their toys!
We spent the first night in Fredrikstad and found a lively restaurant where we got talking to a group of young Norwegians. They asked us where we were heading and we told them Ulsteinvik which they had never heard of. When we explained it was on a small island off the West coast near Aalesund they expressed sympathy for us and explained that was a dry area and you could not buy alcohol. Norwegians like any repressed society have a problem with alcohol and the government controls its sale though a monopoly called Vinmonopolet and prices are among the dearest in the world. They are still a nation of pissheads of which more later.
We still had another 450km to drive to Ulsteinvik so the sights of Oslo had to be bypassed as I arrived in good time to begin my new employment and our wonderful holiday was over.
We were billeted in a house within walking distance of the shipyard but our landlady was, to use an Australian expression, a wowser. This is someone who strongly disapproves of drinking alcohol amongst other activities so we had to be careful not to display empty bottles.
We were used to a big meat eating diet whereas the Norwegian cuisine is fish based. There was a butcher in town but boy did he know how to charge so we tended to eat more fish. I loved the open sandwiches of prawns, ham or cheese they served at lunch.
Idar Ulsteins father Magnus once took me out for dinner and ordered what he described as real Norwegian food he called Kjøttkaker which were very fatty lamb meatballs. I think he ate mine as well. After the main course he ate the most revolting cheese I have ever eaten called Gamelost with a dreadful odour of smelly drains.
Sue and I set to work designing brochures in English for Ulstein Propeller A/S as the only ones they had were useless. We worked in the Ulstein Trading office where I discovered loads of drawings of different ship designs each identified with a UT prefix for Ulstein Trading. They were mainly ships that had been built by the shipyard but little effort had been made to market the designs themselves.
|Quotes 'wot I like:|
If any single ship type deserves a place in shipping history, then the Ulstein Type 704 is it.
John Griffiths shipsnostalgia.com.
I needed to make a few visits back to the UK to progress the formation of the new company but Sue was left in Ulsteinvik going stir crazy. For the first time ever a Vinmonopolet (booze shop) was opened in Aalesund and we joined the queue that had formed outside. On the opposite side of the road a crown of wowsers stood hurling abuse at us pissheads! It is strange but in a country that so restricted the sale of alcohol you saw more drunkenness than in countries where it was cheap and freely available.
One alcoholic drink which was unique to Norway was Cloudberry Liqueur. These fruit were delicious and grew on the mountain slope which we collected at weekends.
Another activity to help pass the time was learning to speak Norwegian and I had purchased a linguaphone course to help. There are actually two Norwegian languages, Bokmål meaning 'book language' and Nynorsk meaning 'new Norwegian'.
In meetings at work they often spoke Norwegian and as I gradually learnt (Jeg lærte norwegain veldig godt!) the language and as many technical words were in English I found I could often understand what was said but could not speak the language.
We used to watch TV which was dire but not as bad as NZ. English programmes were subtitled in Norwegian and after watching a Shakespeare play one night I questioned Andor Moldskred how they managed to translate it into Norwegian as it is difficult enough for a native English speaker to understand. He told me that the translation was in Bokmål and he had no problems understanding.
Eventually the linguaphone tape broke so we only got as far as 'leksjonåtte' (lesson eight)
Eventually everything was complete and we planned our escape. I booked the car onto the overnight Bergen to Newcastle ferry and we drove down and spent the night in a good hotel where we could eat well and drink alcohol. The next day after wondering around the city we boarded the ferry and sat down to another excellent meal after which we retired to the bar as we sailed sedately down the fjord. I pulled 100 Norwegian Krone out of a pokie on the first pull and thought my luck must be in until Sue complained of feeling sick so we retired to our luxury suite.
This was one of the calmest crossings of the North Sea I had ever experienced and Sue was sick all night. We drove down to London after landing and I had to keep stopping for her to be sick.
I had found a house for us during one of my visits over from Norway in the suburb of Corstorphine. It was a two bedroom house which they called co-ownership. We paid a small deposit and then paid a monthly amount to the Housing Society who owned it but when we come to leave the total payments made would be calculated as a percentage of the old value and we would be paid back that percentage of the new value. This suited us down to the ground as it was far from certain if my new company would be successful.Sue found herself a secretarial job with Christian Salvesen, passed her driving test first time and bought an old Fiat banger for her transport. She quickly made friends, loved Edinburgh and her new job.
1974 was a year of achievement for both of us but would 1975 be as great? More of our life is recounted on the next page.