The Best and Worst of Years: 1981

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Indy Lifestyle Online
In 1981, fresh from university, charged by the early fires of Thatcherism, determined not to become a wage slave, I spent a glorious year as a fledgling entrepreneur. Sound-tracked by the Police, the Jam and Steely Dan, trousers tight at the ankle, hair flapping like rodents' tails down the nape of my neck, I had it all mapped out: wealth, women and retirement before I was 30.

The first plan was horoscope paperweights. Simon, my partner in scams, had the idea to float a real scorpion in amber resin, the perfect executive gift. Bulls, twins and virgins we would come to later. I found tubes of resin in a modelling shop and Simon tracked down some scorpions: a dealer in King's Cross would flog them to us at pounds 1 a time. Pop them in resin, sell them at Camden Market for pounds 3; if we only sold a hundred a week we'd be laughing.

Two days after the plot was hatched, Simon went to collect the first consignment of scorpions while I experimented with the resin on a dead bluebottle I found on my desk. The champagne remained on ice: Simon returned with the news that the dealer dealt in live animals and neither of us had the heart to conduct a business based on wholesale slaughter of tropical fauna.

A couple of weeks later, while researching an article on the Royal Wedding (I had to do something to earn a living, and journalism was a way to tread water before the doors of international finance flew open at my approach), I came up with the next club-class ticket to doshland. Looking at a photograph of the Queen's coronation procession, I spotted that those at the back of the crowds flocking the Mall were watching the proceedings through cardboard periscopes, of the kind you often see at golf tournaments.

I immediately contacted a supplier of the objects who said he could furnish us with as many as we wanted on a sale or return basis for 50p a time. Sell them at pounds 3, we worked out, and we only needed to sell a thousand to be chortling. I borrowed a friend's van and collected 12,000 cardboard periscopes from a factory in the as yet unmodernised Docklands, which I franchised out to half a dozen mates to sell.

On the morning of the wedding (Simon couldn't make it, he had girlfriend trouble), I packed four suitcases with my heavy consignment of a thousand periscopes and waddled down to the Mall. There I discovered that I was not the only trader to have thought of the idea, and the market rate was only pounds 1. None the less, by the time the happy couple had sped past in their golden coach I had sold enough to have the pockets of my Levi's bursting.

Ironing out the pound notes on the floor of my flat later that day, I discovered that my profit margin had been severely depleted by my sales team: one had dropped a suitcase-load down the underground escalator and smashed the lot, another had felt sorry for the spectators and given most of her batch away, while a third was arrested in Fleet Street and had his consignment seized by the City of London Police.

Still, buoyed by pounds 300 profit, I decided to extend the periscope business to the golf circuit, and secured a deal to sell them at the European Open at Royal Birkdale. Simon, me and a hand-picked team hired a van and sped to Liverpool with 15,000 money-spinners in the back. The moment we arrived we discovered our mistake. Birkdale is built among sand-dunes - each hole is surrounded by natural grandstands. We sold one persicope - to an unnaturally small spectator - in two days.

On the journey home we picked up a hitch-hiker, put him in the back of the van and shut the door. We forgot about him, drove 100 miles past his destination and when, alerted by banging sounds, we finally stopped to let him out, we discovered he had broken dozens of periscopes in his rage.

It was as I handed back the unsold stock, plus a hefty sum for the damaged goods, and the supplier suggested it might not be a bad idea to sell the things to crowds at the Pope's forthcoming visit to England, that I realised I was not cut out to be a street trader.

Thirteen years on, the only hints of my year as an entrepreneur is a periscope in the loft, a Charles and Diana souvenir mug and an ugly stain on my desk. If you study it very closely you can see it is a patch of resin, with, in the middle, six perfectly preserved bluebottle legs.

Just a minute, that gives me an idea . . .

(Photograph omitted)

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