Carnaby Cavern

Carnaby Cavern
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Carnaby Cavern

   The Christmas Window

Our windows were the brightest and fullest you could ever imagine. Well, it was to be expected as Colin, a qualified window dresser, was my new manager. I had bought a turntable (I have always believed in movement in a window) and Christmas 1963 was shaping up to be our best window ever.

I had the idea that I could create an enormous shirt display - I wanted to have sixty shirts turning in the centre of my larger window - and had worked it all out with copious drawings….. it would need to be eight feet tall with a base of over five feet! I measured everything up and bought an enormous amount of timber. It would have to be built upstairs but still seemed possible.

Everything had progressed nicely and the evening in mid-November arrived. At first, it all went smoothly, but when we reached the turn in the stairs…. Disaster! The thing got stuck and no amount of cajoling would persuade it to go either forward or back! The jammed monstrosity completely filled the stairwell so, somehow, we had to take it apart. We had started at 6.15 p.m. and it was well after midnight before we got it down.

The two lads helping us insisted that they'd had enough and it was time for them to go home, so there were Colin and I, left alone to re-assemble my 'masterpiece'. It took us until 4 a.m. and, on trying it, the thing actually worked, but we still had to spend another five hours on the dressing until the window was finally complete at 9 a.m. With my vulgar sense of humour I had spent days making the window tickets. On the top left hand of each was a Christmas display - little metallic spirals that swayed in every draught and two little brightly-coloured glass balls, one on each side.

Yes, I had to admit that the end result looked slightly 'phallic' and many customers giggled at my 'faux pas'!
Actually, I was delighted that they were spending time looking in the window and reading my tickets.

Carnaby Cavern

Those windows brought us our most successful Christmas ever and we were finally able to pay off the last remaining outstanding bills from our Colindale debacle. Soon after this Colin became a Director, fully merited by all his hard work and loyalty. My biggest failing in my business career had to be 'stock control' - quite simply, I had none! Staff stole from me and I could do nothing about it - it was my greatest problem, even though I was mainly successful, so I asked my brother-in-law (another Colin) to come along and advise me.

He was a city banker/accountant and his first question was "What's your stock turnaround?" I had no idea what he was talking about! He explained to me that I had two stock turns per year and, in simple terms, I had twice the stock needed for my turnover - all my profits were going in stock….. I took Colin's advice and brought my stock levels down.

The turnover went down slightly but profit levels increased - I had learned an important business lesson! Colin went on to become MD of a major bank. I will always remember his comment when he first saw my stock room: "What's this - a bloody wholesale warehouse?"

I look back on another Christmas with somewhat mixed feelings. I was having dreadful trouble with my bank…….. My brother's company had gone into liquidation. His health had been bad and he needed a serious operation. His company hadn't been able to survive without his leadership and control. My problem was that, a few years before, he had introduced me to his bank manager, a good friend, and suggested that I move my account to his branch in Hanger Lane. It was miles away from any of my shops, but I foolishly agreed. In our businesses we had no connection whatsoever - his was a wholesale knitwear company and mine was purely retail - we didn't even trade with them. However, I was called in to see the bank manager to be told that the bank had lost money due to the closure of his company and that my own overdraft was to be paid off in six months! This action must have been pure spite - I could think of no other reason for it. I still recall with horror the weekly phone calls from this so-called 'friend' (more like 'fiend'). "How much are you banking?", "What will you be drawing out for wages?" - it was a complete nightmare……. but I still had one trick up my sleeve with Christmas approaching. We had a really good Christmas and, in the New Year, I noticed that there were no more cheques outstanding - my account was strongly in credit!

I travelled to Hanger Lane on the underground in order to pay a visit to my tormenting bank. I told the teller in no uncertain terms that I wished to close my account and, moreover, I wanted the balance in cash. She was shocked (to put it mildly!), but nowhere near as much as my 'friendly' bank manager. Hurrying out of his office in somewhat of a panic he said "Please come in, Dan". Note: not the 'Mr Benjamin' he had been calling me over the phone for the last few months. He spoke of his surprise at my wishing to close the account and, surprisingly, of our 'special' and 'close' relationship. How could I ever consider moving my account? Did he really consider the weekly phone calls a friendly action? You can have little idea of how they made me feel. I dreaded them - they made me feel almost physically sick. To repay a loan over such a short period was a near-impossible task and that we had won through wasn't much short of a miracle.

He then tried a different tack…. The bank didn't have that amount of cash to hand. I insisted. I was going nowhere. I wanted my money. It was now after 5 p.m. and if they wanted to get me out they would have to physically throw me out as I wasn't moving without the cash. I finally left with a large plastic bag full of notes and coin! My advice is: Beware of banks! Bank managers have little authority and just do as they are told, so don't ever expect help when you need it unless, of course, you are seriously wealthy. Banks have a 'special relationship' - when you are in serious trouble they will happily charge you heavily for the pleasure of overdrafts, loans and insurance, but friendship? Forget it!

copyright Danny Benjamin 2017