July proved to be a good month for magazine publicity despite the loss of the Chineham Chat and Popley Matters and for some reason the Link (Oakley & surrounds) for once, did not include our report about Richard Stettner doing business in Russia. However four magazines did us proud and the Basinga Extra carried the short version on their web site.
There was an element of calendar variances as three of the quarterlies caught up with our previous reports – the Winklebury Way used Stephen Thair’s report about meeting Prince Philip and two CommunityAd magazines – Bramley & Sherfield also had the Prince Philip meeting and the Old Basing & Lychpit Parish Council Community Newsletter ran with Chris Perkins’ Pyrean adventures.
Export or die was a common expression, along with permanent complaints by Government ministers about the balance of payments deficit. Yet there were many people involved in trying their best to right matters.
Probus Club of Basingstoke member, Richard Stettner, was one such person and he told of his experiences in trying to find export customers for products made by his employer, Basingstoke based Wiggins Teape in the 1980s. While most will know the company for producing printing and office type papers like the famous Conqueror range, there was a different part to the business that had specific industrial applications made by their mill in Stonehaven near Aberdeen. This was the Industrial Casting Paper section for whom Richard was the Export Sales & Marketing Manager.
This division made specialised paper which was the base material used by other companies in the manufacture of imitation leather for use in the automotive, clothing, shoes, fashion and upholstery industries.
Already doing business with some Eastern bloc countries, the thought was Russia surely had some potential? But where to find customers in such a vast country? It seemed logical that Russia operated in a similar way to the other Eastern bloc countries where Richard had wide experience. In these countries state trading organisations had the responsibility of buying goods and services needed by companies in these centrally controlled economies. What central buying organisations existed in Russia and what protocols needed to be followed?
Based in London, a Russo-British Chamber of Commerce has operated since 1916. Prince Michael of Kent has been its patron for many years being related through his grandmother to Tsar Nicholas 11. Annual trade missions took representatives of British companies to meet the Ministry of Light Industry in Moscow.
“Firstly, I had to submit to the Russian Embassy in London, details of our company and what business I wanted to develop in Russia” explained Richard. “Once accepted, other than receiving my visa and learning the name of the hotel I had no further information about who, when and where I was going to see in the seven days in Moscow.”
On the first occasion, arriving in Moscow there was no customs control at the airport, purely passport control, with the party’s luggage put into the coach to take to the hotel. Their travel guide explained how things would operate during the week’s visit. At the hotel, each member of the party was given an envelope containing their scheduled visits for the week.
Bedroom keys were handed out by a lady guardian on each floor, to whom they would be returned to each morning. Bedrooms were large and basic with an empty fridge.
“We had been educated by the trade mission about the various surveillance techniques that would be used to monitor our activities”, continued Richard. “The whole top floor of the hotel was given to monitoring the guest bedrooms so it was clear that while away during the day my room would be searched to provide some evidence of private activity that might be used as leverage against me at some future date.”
Each morning every delegate was allocated a taxi for use for the whole day, irrespective of the length of each business meeting. The driver would take notes of which offices were visited, the duration of meetings and how any spare time was used.
Like all Eastern bloc countries, the Russian currency of the Rouble was not traded in the West and so hard currencies like US dollars, Deutschmarks and Pounds Sterling were needed for any purchases made by the trading companies. Hard currency shops existed where only Western money could be used, and while $10 would buy a pack of 200 Marlboro cigarettes their value to the Russian public multiplied many times.
“Let me illustrate this in action,” said Richard. “One evening ten of us had a meal together and it was paid for by a pack of 200 Marlboro cigarettes.”
Consumer products were in short supply in Russia during Richard’s eight visits with the Chamber of Commerce, so he used to take products in his luggage to help maintain smooth relationships. Ladies’ knickers, sanitary products, toothpaste and cotton wool.
A further example of the surveillance techniques he encountered was the night he and two others went to the Bolshoi. That evening, instead of ballet, it was opera and rather than sit through the complete evening they decided to stay in the bar for a few drinks. They were the only customers while the performance continued except for a young woman across the bar. After a while, they asked her what she did for a living. She was a chambermaid at their hotel and worked on the same floor as their bedrooms. With the entrance to the Bolshoi priced in US dollars, meant few Russians had the currency to pay for the tickets and certainly unlikely for a lowly chambermaid. It was evident she had been set up to monitor their movements that night.
Was any business conducted? “A large order for 400 tonnes of Casting paper was achieved plus a subsequent smaller order, and at £1,200 per tonne was valuable.” Richard continued, “But as the forestry industry is an important component of the Russian economy and it made wood pulp, which Wiggins Teape constantly needed in paper manufacturing, there was an attempt to barter trade. We had one delivery of their wood pulp, but it was black and was of extremely poor quality meaning we didn’t use it. So that was the end of our relationship.”
Other Eastern bloc countries turned out to be more productive.
A full house for the June local magazines. All featured the story of Stephen Thair meeting Prince Philip in Papua New Guinea in 1977. Clearly the recent passing of the Duke of Edinburgh was the catalyst for the editors seeing this report as being pertinent for their readership.
My Memory of Meeting Prince Philip by Stephen Thair
Like most of the nation, following the passing of the Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh on 9th April, Probus Club of Basingstoke member Stephen Thair was sure that he was not the only member with reminiscences of this man who had been present throughout his life. One memory was from many years ago and in a far-off land.
“I was fortunate to meet him briefly on the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Tour of the Commonwealth in 1977, when I was working as a Barrister and Solicitor in the Department of Justice, in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea” explained Stephen. “With my wife, Margaret, we had arrived there In April 1975, and so were able to watch some of the ceremonies when the country achieved independence in September that year, when Prince Charles came to do the honours, so to speak.”
At the time of the Silver Jubilee Tour, he was running a Junior Scout Troup of mainly expatriate boys (the PNG equivalent of a Cub Pack) with another leader, an Australian Scouter called Geoff. The final engagement of the Queen and Prince Philip in Papua New Guinea before they left for the next leg of their journey was to inspect an assembly of PNG Scouts and Guides. They were lined up for the royal inspection in a giant horse-shoe on the Murray Barracks’ parade ground in Port Moresby, with the Guides forming one side of the horse-shoe, and the Scouts the other.
The Scouts and Guides being well-organised were all in position for 11am, when the inspection was due to commence, with the pipe band of the Pacific Islands Regiment behind them. However, 11am came and went, with no sign of the royal party. The tropical sun rose ever higher in the sky over the parade ground, and it was, to say the least, very hot. Eventually, at around midday, the Queen and Prince Philip and their escort arrived. The Pacific Islands Regiment band began to play, and the Queen and Prince Philip began their inspections, accompanied in each case by the great and the good of PNG Guiding and Scouting.
“Our troop was in line with me at one end of it, and Geoff at the other end. We had other Scout Groups either side of us. Prince Philip and his party were about two groups away from us on the inspection, when the boy standing next to Geoff fainted because of the heat, and Geoff had to carry him off to the shade of a tree where fortunately he revived. However, by then Prince Philip had arrived at our Group, and so Geoff missed out, and I was the only representative for him to speak to.”
“Prince Philip asked me what I was doing in the country and when I had explained, he asked if I was enjoying it – which I was – and then moved on. He was perfectly pleasant to me. I had been a bit anxious as my father had told me a story of a solicitor friend of his who had been introduced to Prince Philip at an event of some kind, and when he replied to a question from Prince Philip as to what he did, received the comment “Oh no, not another b* * * * y solicitor!”.
Thus, another interesting PNG experience drew to a close. Stephen always felt marginally guilty that Geoff missed out on a Prince Philip encounter, although in fairness it could just as easily have been the boy next to him who fainted!
Here are the results of our publicity in the local magazines for May.
The subject was the report by Chris Perkins about three mountaineering trips to the Pyrenees and full pages were given by the Rabbiter, Kempshott Kourier and Villager while the others used the short version. The Basinga featured the full report in their Extra web pages as did the Chineham Blog. We did not feature (again) in the Loddon Valley Link but we did appear in the CommunityAd magazine for Overton & Oakley. There is also a Popley Matters that was missed last month that features the report about Communist Czechoslovakia. This magazine has now ceased publishing due to the editor and her assistant, Cllrs Jane and Paul Frankum, not standing again in the recent elections.
Click on any magazine to enlarge so as to be able to read the text.
Probus Club member, retired RAF Squadron Leader, Chris Perkins MVO, talked about his recollections of three backpacking expeditions to the French and Spanish Pyrenees some four decades ago. They were “home spun” adventures involving experienced members of the Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Service, although the last trip was with those with little or no mountaineering experience providing a trekking experience second to none.
As a boy, in the immediate post war suburbia of south Birmingham, he always held an interest in the great outdoors. Birthday, Christmas and pocket money was spent sourcing items of ex-military maps, rucksacks and compasses. Only after embarking on his RAF Service in the 1960s could he afford to purchase up to date clothing and equipment and eventually joined the RAF Mountain Rescue Service.
A decade later, he was persuaded to put together a ‘trekking adventure’ to the French/Spanish Pyrenees. Being a military sponsored expedition, permissions had to be obtained and diplomatic clearance achieved for them to operate in the border area. They were challenged on the first two expeditions by the French National Gendarmerie as Basque separatists were active in the area. This worked to their advantage for the third trip as a liaison had been established with the Gendarmerie unit based at their start point in Bagneres de Luchon: an ideal location to securely leave valuables, a change of clothing, camp overnight and ‘clean up’ prior to the long rail journey back to base.
None had experienced travelling in the area during July. The scarce information that could be gleaned, described fantastic rocky ridges and peaks, permanent glaciers and high valleys holding year-round snow and ice. On the first expedition, they kitted themselves out with normal RAF Mountain Rescue winter mountaineering clothing and equipment as if tackling a winter trip to the Scottish Cairngorms or Glencoe. Combined with the heavy tentage of the time, all rucksack loads exceeded 60lbs with tinned food for a couple of weeks.
The plan was to set up a base camp just inside the National Park boundary and each day make exploratory excursions, some with overnight bivouacs to look at various glaciers, mountain huts and suitable routes to gain the frontier peaks. They looked very strange ‘apparitions’ toiling up the steep, but well-defined lower tracks loaded up and perspiring profusely. In temperatures well over 30 degrees, they were overtaken by folk trekking in their shorts, ‘T’ shirts and walking trainers, all carrying lightweight overnight sacs and plenty of water. They were bound for French Alpine Club mountain huts below the snowline where accommodation and food could be provided – at a cost. Utilising these ‘facilities’ and locating camps nearby, the RAF team were able to access the upper snowfield couloirs, peaks and frontier ridge thus saving the gruelling descent and climb each day.
Much was learnt from that first excursion into the area. Looking across into Spain more incredible mountain ridges were seen, and above the snowline, only a few experienced climbers and the alpinists of the Gendarmerie were encountered. Some access valleys and rocky passes in the area had been utilised by the Resistance during WW2 taking Allied Evaders into Spain. This knowledge set the scene for a return next year to expand the trip into a ‘lightweight trekking expedition’ taking ten days crossing into Spain, climbing the highest peak in the Pyrenees, Pic de Aneto and returning via a steep and rocky pass over the frontier.
Each trip they travelled by train from London, with the Hovercraft used to cross the Channel from Dover. Also, instead of sitting upright in crowded, bench seated carriages, couchette compartments were utilised. However, on the return journey some French passengers allocated overnight beds in a couple of their compartments, were unimpressed with odours radiating from two weeks of backpacking kit.
They had gained access to a remote and completely unspoilt, beautiful area of the Pyrenees for these expeditions. Unforgettable adventures for all and extremely gratifying. It is hoped that with the passage of decades, climate change causing glacier melt, mass holidays for all and the advent of motor vehicle incursion into those mountains, that the area has not changed for ever!
It was full of family tributes about David’s 35 years as a chemistry teacher and then head of science at Itchin Grammar school in Southampton, his love of chess and Bridge, classical music, sport and his walking holidays were amongst his many interests.
David joined the Probus Club of Basingstoke on 26th June 2012.
The funeral service for long standing Probus Club member, Jim Wragg, took place at Basingstoke Crematorium on Wednesday 5th May. Bearing in mind the current limit on the number of persons attending such services it was pleasing to receive an invitation from Jim’s son, David, for a representative of the Probus Club of Basingstoke to attend.
Geoff Twine was honoured to represent the membership.
For those unable to watch the live transmission of the funeral service it was recorded and available to view from 12th May until 14th June.
Here are the results of our April publicity efforts in the local magazines. Although the Link (Oakley and environs) returned to a printed edition they did not feature our report and neither did the Loddon Valley Link. You will see that the Chineham Chat displayed our report in their “Blog” and that we also appeared in the CommunityAd Spring magazine for Bramley & Sherfield. (The actual magazine is A5 size). However, we did not feature in the Spring version for Old Basing & Lychpit. It appears that the size of these quarterly publications changes from A5 to A4 dependent on the amount of information to hand before they have to go to print to meet their advertiser’s expectations.