Tuesday, 30 November 2010

So That's It Then

We are just a couple of hours away from retirement as I write this but I've still been doing a few figures for head office in Australia and when I finish the blog I'll be helping with a few simple book keeping jobs here in the office.

I'm dedicating my final Instanta blog to my mum and dad. Here they are with our daughter Sarah about 28 years ago which makes them around the same age that Marion and I are today. It's so very sad to think that my dad didn't get to see the end of the family involvement in what he developed although I am pleased to say that Mum is still very much around and not looking that much older than she does here.

The success of Instanta was built upon the "WB" series of boilers which everybody took to be short for "water boilers" but was, of course, William Brassey - a happy coincidence. He and my mum Ann spent most of the seventies and eighties travelling all over the country building the Instanta brand on a shoestring budget and creating the caring ethos towards both customers and staff alike that I hope that we have continued during our stint and I am sure will continue well into the future with our new owners. My parents always bent over backwards to offer the best that they could and took pride in building up a reputation for honesty,quality products, fair prices and excellent service.

So my final heartfelt thanks goes to them. Without their efforts, none of what Marion and I achieved could have happened.

So that's it from me in the guise of the Instanta blog. But I don't think that I can give up this manic addiction to writing and my future posts can be found here. There are no posts yet but I hope to have it up and running in a couple of days.

I'll end with a bit of self indulgence. I've always loved YouTube and it has given me hours of entertainment. Here is my all time favourite video. Nothing beats this for sheer joy and exuberance. Goodbye for now.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Some Final Toasts

Here's Marion raising a glass on Saturday evening as we toasted everyone at Instanta using one of the crystal glasses that were amongst the kind retirement gifts given to us by our generous staff. Friends joined us for a meal at home and we used a very fine vintage bottle of wine given to me for my birthday by son Paul and his wife Josephine - thanks it was absolutely fabulous.

Others who we must praise in this penultimate Instanta blog are Simon Smith of Dunk Ink who travelled all the way from Tunbridge Wells to be at our retirement meal on Friday evening at Ho Lee Chows in Southport. Simon has been doing PR work for us since way back in the early 90's and has hundreds of excellent contacts in the catering trade. Thank you Simon, your presence and generosity at the meal was really appreciated by both of us. Best wishes to you and to Sue.

Silverwood Exhibitions who have designed and built all of our exhibition stands for many years must not go without thanks. Barry and Mike are two of the most genial Yorkshire men you could ever wish to meet and their stands promoted the Instanta image to brilliant effect making us look much bigger than we were at first. They are the most professional exhibition stand designers that we have ever worked with and we can strongly recommend them to everyone.

I had hoped to put a photo of the Jackson family from BJ Eurosell Ltd on here as my final tribute for today but unfortunately, as I write, the photo has not arrived. Jim Jackson together with his wife Barabara and son Paul have been supplying Instanta since 1989. They source all of Instanta's boxes and insulation material and you couldn't meet a nicer bunch of people. Paul and Jim are regular fellow sufferers at Anfield and I sometimes see them on the trek up to the home matches. Sorry that your photo was too late to appear here but at least all your packaging always arrives on time. If you need to source any packaging materials BJ Eurosell are a wonderful supplier.

Of course our friends on Saturday had to eat early so that we could watch X Factor. All my money is on Cher Lloyd but her odds have drifted so other punters disagree. Watching this I simply don't understand why she is not favourite. If any of the contestants has the "X Factor" rather than can sing well look no further than this.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Thank You Steve From Kall Kwik

It's our final Friday here at Instanta and there has been a steady trickle of visitors, congratulatory cards and gifts arriving in the office and we're starting to feel quite choked up. We've written thanking everyone for their kindness but another special thankyou needs to go to Steve Bibby at Kall Kwik Southport. Steve has been supplying Instanta with all our printed materials like instruction books, letterheads, business cards, promotional material, rubber stamps and other stationery for over twenty years and has been another excellent supplier. Steve, like me, enjoys a flutter now and then but I think that his success rate exceeds mine by some distance (not too difficult I imagine). He has always been extremely helpful in getting our orders to us on time and the quality of our printed material bears testimony to his excellent service.Thank you for your support and your kindness Steve.

I used to work for Barclays and I am still relying on them for some of my pension. Banks are not very high in the popularity stakes with most people but our relationship with our branch and our business managers has been extremely good.From the day that my dad took out a loan from the then Martins Bank to buy the company we have been with the bank for forty years and they have seen us through thick and thin. Having the experience of working for the bank has been a big help as I know what makes a good customer and have tried to fit that bill but I must thank all the staff at Barclays St Lukes past and present including Sheila, Tracey, Kim, Allison, Gina, Rachel, Sue, Judith, Danni and Lorraine for their super friendly and efficient service and past managers Chris Wynne and Rosemary Riley for backing Instanta when we needed them. I must also thank Karen at the Preston Business centre for all her hard work, Paul Matthews who took over from her (good luck with the kids' football Paul)and finally Sharon Harrison our newest Relationship Director who kindly took us for lunch the other day. We have only had a short time dealing with Sharon but she is a great people person and I am sure that, with her help, Instanta's long and successful relationship with Barclays will run and run.

You will have read about the notorious Twitter joke trial. Just in case you didn't, a young man's visit to his girlfriend in Ireland was thwarted by snow closing the airport and he posted a jokeyTweet to the effect that if the airport didn't get its act together he would blow it sky high. Nobody in their right mind would see this as a terrorist threat but somehow the poor bloke, Paul Chambers, ended up with a criminal record and a fine to boot. He took it to appeal and everyone expected that to be the end the matter but, to amazement and total shock amongst Twitter users, the appeal judge failed to overturn the original sentence and Paul's criminal record still stands (and the police haven't given him his laptop back yet). He is now taking his case to the High Court and needs to fund this. Scott Pack, who tweets as @meandmybigmouth, works for Harper Collins and has offered to auction his services to read and honestly critique a manuscipt for the highest bidder. It's a brilliant cause, so I'm going to put in a bid before the auction closes. It will have to be a pretty big bid to compensate Scott for having to read my novel. You can read about his offer and bid against me here . Or alternatively, if you've no manuscript, you can find out more about the case and a link to make a donation to the legal fees here.

We have got our old friends David and Jane Haworth (sorry Dave, young friends who have been friends for a long time) coming round tomorrow evening so we're just off to Coldland to stock up.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Thank you Michael

No time for blogging yesterday as Michael Crouch came to visit Instanta and take me and Marion out for lunch. I must express my sincere thanks to Michael for taking the time and for travelling so far out of his way to see us. Michael is the Australian owner and founder of the Zip Group which he created over fifty years ago and which he has developed into the runaway success that it is today.

And speaking of runaway success leads me seamlessly to last night's Orange Wednesday offering at the local Vue. With the cinema foyer heaving with Harry Potter fans, we went in the other direction and watched the new Wesley Snipes film "Unstoppable". It's a classic old fashioned disaster movie starting with the introduction of the characters and then quickly throwing them all into the disaster mix. But there's nothing wrong with old fashioned and the film had this viewer on the edge of his seat throughout. It's filmed with great pace and everything about it looks very real which is a refreshing change after the glut of CGI in all the recent blockbusters. If you wanted to be critical you could pick plenty of holes in the film but, if you just want to enjoy yourself,  simply sit back and enjoy 98 minutes of great entertainment. Instead of watching in our staid British silence, we would have loved to see this in an American cinema as I am sure that the showing would have been enlivened even more by the unrestrained,  whooping and cheering that you get in the USA .

Although we don't retire officially until Tuesday, the staff at Instanta are giving me and Marion a send off at a popular local  Chinese restaurant tomorrow evening. We're looking forward to it. It will be very strange attending our last ever Instanta do. Please don't expect any speeches. I'm not sure that we could find the words too easily.

Although Factory Leader Tony Mercer did tell me a story yesterday that would go down well in an after dinner speech. He has saved this for now when we are retiring. Tony is our longest serving employee but tells me that he got the job entirely by accident. It seems that he was playing truant from school when his dad spotted him in Southport. "What are you doing out of school?" asked his dad. Always a quick thinker, Tony spotted the nearby Employment Office and, in a flash, said that he had been given time off to visit the labour exchange and look for a job. Doubting the veracity of Tony's claim, his dad insisted on accompanying him into the office where they saw the Instanta job advertised. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I'll leave you today with an ode to Gillian McKeith.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Where Would We Have Been Without KLH Electronics PLC?

It was over sixteen years ago that we were introduced to a young John Walkinshaw and his company KLH Electronics by a fellow metal detecting enthusiast and I have to say that this find outweighed any treasure that we have ever dug up as John's brilliance in electronic design transformed Instanta's products from being advanced for the industry to being more than advanced for any industry. With John's help we developed features never before found on water boilers and had the rest of the catering trade scrambling to catch up. Not one to rest on his laurels, John has always been ahead of the game and when the competition caught up and brought out service warning codes and ECO modes we were ready to move ahead again and launch another more advanced generation of boilers incorporating liquid crystal displays, timers and built in filter monitors. The printed circuits designed and developed by John have not only been advanced but also extremely reliable. KLH have invested huge sums in automated production and these robotic production lines ensure that every board is identical and have made Instanta the market leader in advanced water boilers.  

Every electronics company needs a brilliant designer like John but we must also thank his fellow director Carol Morris for the efficiency with which she has run the operation ensuring that supplies are delivered on time and dealing with any queries quickly and in a very friendly and efficient manner. We will miss John, Carol and her husband Tom and everyone else at KLH and must thank them for the major contribution that they have made to Instanta's success.

Before we used John's design skills, all our boilers incorporated bulky electro-mechanical thermostats like these. They are good and reliable stats but the bulbs are in contact with the water and can suffer from limescale deposits in hard water areas and they have fairly long differentials when switching.

These tiny thermistors introduced to us by KLH transformed  temperature sensing by being extremely accurate and operating on a small differential ensuring constant temperatures and, being fitted externally, less sensitivity to limescale and much easier service.

It looks like Cher Lloyd, my X Factor tip for this year, may struggle to win. She came in the bottom two on Sunday night despite being much better than Wagner and Mary so she may not be as popular as I thought. Mind you, no X Factor winner to date has ever been in the bottom two so there has to be a first time and, in the same week in 2008, KLS were in the bottom two and finished as runners up. Much depends on how big the Wagner bandwagon has become. The anti Cowell brigade managed to knock Simon Cowell's act Joe off the number one spot last Christmas and they could do the same sort of thing again now by voting Wagner to win. But the laugh will be on Simon's face as he's the one who stands to gain the most from all those telephone votes and there's bound to be some sort of get out clause in that prize recording contract. I'm keeping faith in Cher for now and will be interested to see how she performs on Saturday night (if our friends who are coming round for a meal are fans of the show).

Here's another example of the hilarious jokers those great British telephone voters are. They've crucified poor Paige for the benefit of Wagner, kept a leaden lump in Strictly Come Dancing and now they're putting the knife into Gillian McKeith. OK so she's not the world's most popular woman but, after a week of being chosen for those gruesome insect torturing trials, isn't it time to give her a break?

Monday, 22 November 2010

What Next?

With less than seven working days left, my mind is finally starting to look ahead and I am starting to think what we are going to do with an extra forty five hours every week. "A bit late now" you might say, but we've deliberately not thought about it before so that we could concentrate on the job in hand and make sure that our departure will be as seamless as possible.

We've been at Instanta almost every day this year and haven't had a holiday for almost thirty months so a holiday has to be the first priority but, with a replacement hip booked in for a week on Monday, overseas travel is going to have to be put on hold for a few more months.

Ebay just isn't profitable in the way that it was when it first arrived in the country. In those days you could put anything up for sale and there would be an eager audience waiting to bid on it. Today there are more items than there are willing bidders and, unless you happen to buy something at a bargain price, the chance of selling for a profit on eBay is slim.

Another novel? I loved writing my novel in 2009. I had twenty copies printed and gave them to friends and family. Feedback was actually very positive but the couple of negatives were so discouraging that I gave up hope of looking for publication. Maybe a writing course and rewrite would be worth thinking about. If you took into account the number of words that I have written on this blog over the last twelve months that could easily fill another book so writing one shouldn't be that big a problem.

Spending more time with the family. Well I couldn't spend much more time with Marion as she has been at my side almost constantly for the past twenty years and that has been great. But perhaps we could see more of our kids Sarah and Paul although as they and their super partners Duncan and Josephine are both involved in pretty tough and time consuming jobs there won't exactly be too much opportunity there. ( I hear sighs of relief in St Andrews and London).

The one thing that I know that I can do well is management accountancy. I don't just mean book-keeping but understanding the books and acting on the information they supply.  I think that is the one area that has helped me most in my careers at both Instanta and with Barclays so maybe I should offer my services as a trouble shooter for small businesses who aren't very good with their books.

Or maybe I should just put my feet up,have a well deserved rest and watch some TV. If you get chance try "Raising Hope" the new offering on Thursdays on Sky1 -very funny.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Ony one week of blogging left

When compiling my list of thanks to all our wonderful Instanta employees yesterday, I said that Kirk was interesting. He's even getting mentioned on YouTube with this video being created entirely in response to his question.

Marion and I are off to the Northcote Manor in Whalley tonight for a meal out with friends Nita and Mark from Workhouse Marketing. It should be a great evening although I was one mouse click away from disaster as I booked on line and somehow managed to find another Northcote Manor in Devon. I filled in all the credit card non refundable booking but just before clicking the confirm button Marion spotted my mistake. Phew. We are going to make a weekend of it and , weather permitting, we hope to do some sight seeing around rural Lancashire on Saturday and then spend a night in Bolton before going to the big antiques fair at the Reebok stadium on Sunday morning. I'll be missing the match at Anfield but who in their right mind wants to go to a football match at 5.30 on a Saturday evening? Thank you ESPN and Barclays Premier League for putting us fans first.

There again our weekend could be ruined by our new dentist. For as long as we can remember our dentist was John Rostron who somehow managed to make going to the dentist a pain free experience. Sadly John retired recently and, on Marion's first visit to her new dentist, she was given a filling that involved thirty minutes' drilling and almost two weeks later it is still giving her terrible pain. Perhaps a few glasses of wine will numb her jaw for her.

I've been on Twitter for a few months now and I really like it. I find it keeps me bang up to date with all the important stuff that's going on in the world like Jason resigning from The One Show and the very latest virals on YouTube. You even get stuff on trivia like politics and current affairs. But the longer I am on Twitter the more isolated I feel and I am sure that I am not alone. Mere mortals like me can delight in reading the witty conversations going on between, for example, the wonderful contributors @IndiaKnight,  @GraceDent and  @CaitlinMoran and read the funny musings of  @SuePerkins,  @KateFlett and @ClareBalding but we are like Ebenezer Scrooge being shown the visions of a Christmas party by the ghost of Christmas present. We watch entertained  but will never be part of the party. Like the lonely kid in the playground we laugh at the popular kid's jokes but they never invite us to crack our own. We peer through the toy shop window knowing that we are going to find just a tangerine in our Christmas stocking. And if we do try to join in we face the rejection of being ignored or the worry that we are turning into creepy stalkers. So maybe we should all start following complete strangers who aren't in the public eye and create a group of sub-celebrity tweeters. And maybe we will then all begin to feel wanted.

Last year I managed to lose £200 betting on I'm A Celebrity without watching the programme and vowed never again. But the inveterate gambler in me took hold and when I heard that Jenny Eclair was going into the jungle I bunged £150 on her. She is such a funny comedian that she will surely go down a storm. Won't she? Still can't bear to watch it but I'm rooting for Jenny.