The first job I had when I left school was working for the pharmaceutical company ER Squibb & Sons, which is now called Bristol-Myers Squibb. I think the first job for anybody after leaving school is a difficult time in life because you slowly start losing contact with all your old school friends and start making friends in the “adult” world. Probably my first friend as an adult was a guy by the name of Geoffrey Hughes. I say friend but in reality it was probably a bit more like hero worship because Geoff was everything I wanted to be. He was fairly good looking and pretty handy with the girls and liked a drink or two. He was what you would call a typical man’s man of the time whereas I was only 17/18 and still wet behind the ears.
It felt strange at first, setting my own alarm to go to work rather than having mummy wake me up for school. I then had to get a bus and train to get to work and would clock in for 8:55am. I worked in creams and ointments production and Geoff worked in tablet production but seemed to spend more time on the packing floor chatting the girls up. He seemed to have a different one he was “knocking off” each week and appeared to be loved by many of the girls. I was probably still at the phase of going red in the face every time I went anywhere near the packing floor. It was full of women and I was just discovering that a gang of women was much more lethal than a gang of men when they got together. Their language and innuendo in everything they said was way over my inexperienced head whereas Geoff always had a come-back for them.
He was probably just as much a ladies man as he was a man’s man – looking back he was everything I wanted to be.
We used to finish work early on Friday’s and that was time to head off to the pub. Some weeks it was just for one or two; other weeks it would extend into a full-fledged pub crawl waking up on Saturday morning having no recollection of how you made it home the night before. There was like a roll call of who went home at what time. After work we would head for the pub just over the road from the factory and the first to head for home would be the married men. Then the men who had girlfriends and “had to get home or questions would be asked”, then there was the rest of us. The confirmed bachelors who lived a carefree life and enjoyed every minute of it. Within this later gang was probably about six of us who were always the last to head for home.
Some weeks there was just myself and Geoff left to hold up the bar and he would lecture me in the ways of the world. He would tell me how to get girls, how to treat them and how not to let them walk all over you. “Treat ‘m mean, keep ‘m keen” was his adage and I was awestruck at everything he said.
Some weeks Geoff couldn’t make it on our little Friday afternoon/evening benders because he was picking up one of the girls from the packing floor and taking them back to either his or going to theirs and “shagging the arse off” his unsuspecting prey. Oh how I wanted to be Geoff! Of course today, I realise that most of what he said and did was typical male bullshit but back in my impressionable youth I actually wanted to be Geoff so much. I remember one Monday morning he had a girl from the packing-floor in tears because he had promised her the world to get her into his bed over the weekend and once he had “sampled the goods” he no longer wanted to know the poor thing.
Then Geoff started chasing a girl from the packing-floor who was the apple of many of the guys who worked at the site’s eye. She was very petite and drop-dead gorgeous but unlike others similar to her she was not smug and conceited about her looks, she was bubbly and always laughing at life. I had even spoken to her a couple of times and although she was way out of my league she was always friendly and we had a laugh. She knew half of the male population of the factory was after her but she didn’t milk it and was even a little shy about it. However, this made her even more of a target for Geoff. Although, as far as I know, he never got anywhere with her, watching him try was an abject lesson in chatting up women. Every little chance he got he was there with a smile and some ready humour laced with insinuation.
Looking back I remember these days as happy and fun filled – my first foray into the land of men instead of boys. I only worked at Squibb’s for a couple of years before moving on to pastures new and so ended my friendship with Geoff. This was in the late 1970s, the days before Facebook and texting on mobile phones so it was a lot easier to lose touch with friends than it is today when some people you just can’t get rid of – no matter how hard you try.
One day, many years later, I came across a story in the local newspaper that Geoff had killed himself. I was shocked that someone so full of life and always there with some ready banter to make everyone laugh could take that final step. Upon reading the story further, I discovered that he had fallen head-over-heels in love with a girl who then broke off the relationship with him and, by the sound of it, treated Geoff in the same “treat ‘m mean, keep ‘m keen” way that he had spent his life treating them.
You might say that he got what he deserved and part of me thinks that in the end the “user” got “used” – but there was just something so harmless about Geoff. He was a nice guy, he just came from an era that thought that was the way to treat women. There was also something very sad in the fact that when I knew Geoff he was in his late 20s maybe 30 and I read the story in the local paper about 20 years after I knew him. That means at nearly 50 years of age he was still chasing round after young bits of skirt and there is just something very sad about that.
Today, looking back, maybe Geoff wasn’t really the guy to be looking up to with my young and impressionable eyes. In a way, he was probably one of the loneliest people I have ever known. His outward persona hiding many personal flaws – still waters fun deep and all that.