Monthly Archives: August 2009

Bill Powell’s Tips for Selling

I’ve been going through an oral history project that I did with my grandfather probably about ten years ago now in order to get it into a good shape to share the document with my cousins and my brother.  I came across this bit where I’d asked him his tips for selling.  Fairly straightforward…

Bill Powell’s Tips for Selling

Try your best to get something that people want.  And try your best to get it to where you can sell it a reasonable price and try to be nice and polite and kind to people.  Just do the best you can is all I know.  I have sold all my life.  I have found out what a prospect was.  It took me a long time to find out when a person was a prospect.  But a prospect is somebody that has the desire to buy and the money to pay for what he wants to buy.

You have to help people decide to buy what they want to buy.  I remember one fellow that looked at a tractor two or three times and talked and talked to me about this tractor and twisted around and couldn’t do this and couldn’t do that and couldn’t make up his mind.  It was Ellis Bryant.  And I finally said “Ellis, do you want this one over here or do you want this one over here.”  And he said “I believe I’ll take this one over here.”

And that’s what he wanted all the time, but he never would say “I want this tractor.”  So I had to help him say this is the tractor I want.  That’s called closing the sale.  And it took me long time to learn how to close a sale.   I didn’t know how to do it.  I’ve been to lectures and this that and the other always talking about closing the sale, closing the sale.  And I finally found out that that’s what you had to do. You had to try to ask people questions with which they would respond with a yes or in the affirmative.  And not be negative and ask them questions which would let them get negative with you.

I never did sell a whole lot of stuff, but I’ve sold all my life.  I’ve made a good enough living, I never had any desire to get rich.  I didn’t have any desire accumulate a lot of wealth.  I think I could have, if that’s what I wanted to do, but I just never did have any desire to do that.  But I always worked at something.  Trying to do this, trying to do that, trying to do the other.

I was raised up selling.  I was raised just like the Amish are raised now, we didn’t have electricity or running water.  We didn’t have a bathroom.  We didn’t have anything, ‘cept just plenty to eat.  We raised enough chickens and eggs and milk to buy our groceries.  And we raised enough hogs to sell in the year to pay the debts that we had on the farm.

And when we weren’t doing anything else my daddy would buy and sell mules. ‘Course that’s a longer story, the thing I remember is the fact is like Amish had iron-tired farm wagons with a bed on ‘em.  We would hook up to a wagon like that, two mules and take a gate and lay down on top of the bed and go up and down the road trying to buy little old calves.  And my daddy would try to buy ‘em for 25 cents up to whatever he had to pay for ‘em.  And then after he bought ‘em he tried to sell ‘em for various prices, but usually tried to sell ‘em for five dollars a piece.  But if along late in the afternoon, somebody offered him about 25 cents more than what he paid for the calf.  He’d say “Son, I believe we’re gonna let this man have this calf.  He might jump out of the wagon and break a leg or something and die before morning.”  He’d say “We’ll just let him have that one and we’ll have the quarter and tomorrow we’ll go buy us another one.”  So I’ve just always been selling.  Not a lot, but a little.

I really didn’t know anything about Ford tractors when I started selling ‘em.  I could have just as well been selling steam boats or outboard motors or anything else.  I know now that it’s important to find out a place where there’s a good market, where there’s potential.  Because there was a fellow in Columbia which is a town about twice the size of Lawrenceburg went in the Ford tractor business the same time that I did.  Now he wanted to make money, he wanted to make it bad.  That was his ambition.  And he made a lot.  But he sold a lot more tractors than I did, because he was in an area where you could sell a lot more, the potential was a lot greater.

But I didn’t know anything about that, I just started selling Ford tractors because they were available here in this town.  I liked the town.  My wife liked it here and I liked it here.  We just worked here together and did the best we could.  Lot of people have a desire to leave a big estate when they die, but I don’t have a desire to leave a big estate.  I’ve always given a fair amount of money to church and given a fair amount of money to my family and fair amount to this that and the other.  I’ve never tried to waste money.  But I have never tried to make money just for money’s sake.

Photo credit: Blue Tractor (150) from dougww on Flickr

How does your garden grow?

As I was developing my gardening chops back in Tennesse, I began to see England as my horticultural mecca.  Oh, the cottage gardens, the RHS shows, the gardens at the grand and stately homes of the National Trust.   My co-workers and I at a garden center in Knoxville mused over the gentle mild climate and the range of plant material that can be grown.

And all these things are truly wonderful, but I guess it’s human nature to think the grass is always greener on the other side of the pond.  For example, my garden is rife with slugs.  I can’t grow my beloved hostas. (This isn’t true of all of England, but it’s definitely true in my South London garden).  And the lack of a good hot summer in recent years has meant that it’s nigh on impossible to produce a perfect, sweet home-grown tomato served up fresh, still sun-warmed seasoned with a sprinkle of salt.  (Heaven).

Slug damage

Slug damage

My last tomato crop. Delish as fried green tomatoes, but still a disappointing harvest.

My last tomato crop. Delish as fried green tomatoes, but still a disappointing harvest.

However, in terms of just plain gorgeous flowers, gardening in England is bliss.

But what’s more interesting than the difference in growing season or bloom time is the difference in gardening culture.  Clare White has posted a piece on garden blogging at Talk About Local in which she observes that front gardens are not public spaces, not places to necessarily stop and chat or to make yourself available for social interaction with your neighbours.  Instead, garden chat is done through societies and in truly public gardening spaces – i.e. allotments.

Front gardens, if you even have one (I have a moldering overgrown hedge in a narrow strip between the sidewalk and my front window) are cool boundaries.   There is some tradition in the UK of front gardens as display spaces, but by and large people’s private gardens are just that…private. Clare cites the Watching the English book by sociologist Kate Fox for an analysis of English gardening behaviour.  A great book no doubt, but I gave up on it after the first chapter revealed that I had been doing the vital social ‘weather-chat’ all wrong.

Where I grew up, there’s a porch culture and sweeping gardens are the norm.  It’s true that modern houses in modern developments are more focused on the back porch.  But in older neighbourhoods (like Fort Sanders where I started gardening) there a sidewalks and wide verandas where people can sit out the front and make themselves available for garden chat.   Serious gardeners use their front spaces for display and for informal competition.

My good gardening (and it is pretty good) is completely private.  Even my next-door neighbours can barely see how my gardening puts them to shame.  I miss the competitive and showy elements of gardening – and yet I would never re-embrace that culture here by joining an allotment (there’s probably a 50 year waiting list anyway) or a gardening society.  I’d rather the passing world notice, stop and chat – than take my produce someplace else.   I could join the yellow book, open garden scheme – but I feel my tiny garden isn’t really worth that and I don’t want people coming through my house to admire my silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row.

Monkeys at the zoo

I always liked Curious George when I was a child so when I saw that the feature film DVD was on sale at the grocery store for a ridiculously low price I bought it both for my own enjoyment and in anticipation of the day when Bill would be old enough to watch the movie as a distraction technique.

And boy did it work.  I thought the Curious George movie was really just so-so.  Too much about the love life of the man with the yellow hat and just not enough monkey.  But Bill thought it was great.  So much so that I thought I’d look to see if I could buy a Curious George monkey toy (no, you can’t – not sold in the UK) And that’s when I discovered the Curious George tv show.  Apparently it’s a PBS show that was also aired – at least for a time – in Britain on Children’s ITV.  I bought one DVD and then a few more.  These PBS version is great – all monkey, very educational, and so cleverly done I don’t find it outrageously annoying after I’ve seen the episode 50 times.

And it’s not just Curious George that Bill loves.  He’ll watch pretty much any monkey (though George is best).  He loves to watch Monkey Business a reality tv series focusing on a primate rescue centre in Dorset.

And as for toys…it’s monkeys only.  His aunt and few other people have bought him some really lovely stuffed animals, but he cares nothing for them.  The only cuddly toy he’s ever had any time for is a monkey my mother bought him at a superstore in Calais.

Real live monkeys

Last summer I considered going to the London Zoo and taking Bill into the petting zoo area.  But apparently you had to sign a climate change pledge to stroke some goats.  For Simon, that was a step too far in the war on carbon.  But the ZSL (as they seem to be branding themselves now) have removed the pledge and opened a new area for kids called Animal Adventure, plus Bill’s monkey love has fully blossomed so I took him to the zoo.

It was my first time to take him into central London on my own since he’s been fully mobile (Simon wouldn’t go, still fearful of the eco-prop), so I was a little nervous.  He’s a willful child and prone to run.  Overall he was pretty good and we were there for over four hours. He was maybe a bit more interested in the toys and the play equipment than the animals.  And since I paid £18 to get in to see the animals, I wanted to see some animals , dang it.

Probably the best part of the zoo, from a two-year old’s perspective or perhaps the perspective of a parent as a two-year old was the animal adventure area.  You had to climb up high to see the Red Panda or the weird animal whose name I can’t remember but looks like a giant meerkat.  You had to crawl on your hands and knees to see the meerkats running around or see the aardvarks napping.  He loved it.

When we visited the Nashville Zoo, Bill really enjoyed riding the carousel and so he thought he’d love the London Zoo one, too.   There are two in London, one a big traditional one and the other more of a ‘children’s carousel’.  We were standing next to the smaller one when he demanded a ride,  and he enjoyed himself once it started but then he realized that the animals don’t go up and down and there was no music, he wanted off immediately.

No music, no up and down, get me off this thing

No music, no up and down, get me off this thing

I was very excited to see that there was a spider monkey walk-through area.  But sadly the monkeys had all retreated to their enclosure.  If I ran the zoo, I think I would have blocked that off while there were paying customers  on the premises.  Dance, monkey, dance – or no peanuts for you.

We did get fairly close to one monkey though, a white naped Magabey.  While everyone else was looking at the gorillas opposite, we had a look at the monkey.  Bill was very excited to be separated only by a pane of glass from the monkey.  Unfortunately the gorillas retreated and Bill’s excited squeal drew a crowd of competitors for the monkey’s attention.

Good thing theres some glass between us

Good thing there's some glass between us

On the way out, I was stopped by a ZSL market researcher who asked me all kinds of questions about our experience. (I try not to damage my survey karma)    It made me realize all the things we hadn’t seen, we hadn’t gone in the bug house, African Bird walkthrough, reptile house or aquarium.  We didn’t even see the penguins.  So it looks like we’ll have to go back another time.

(Photo credit: Curious George in a box from doc.neuman on Flickr, all others – mine)

Visiting friend

Simon’s friend Craig, best man at our wedding, is visiting.  This is his second visit since we’ve had Bill.  Last summer our boy was quite taken with him, but this year even more so.  Their re-introduction on Friday was a moment of shyness on Bill’s part and then excited running around and showing off since.

  Bill and Craig

Craig’s a late sleeper since he’s often working a night shift in his job.  Bill danced around the guest room door in anticipation of his waking.

I’ve been loving it.  It provides a fantastic distraction from the usual constant need for attention or cycle of destruction.  But it’s also meant that Bill’s been fighting bedtime even harder, not wanting to miss a single second of Craig time. He wasn’t asleep untill 11 on Friday and Saturday saw a nice and early quarter past ten.

It doesn’t hurt Craig’s arrival means a substantial shift in our diet.  Craig’s four food groups are meat, bread, fat and salt.  He eschews vegetables and lives on a diet of fast food and Pepsi Max.  Bill wants Pepsi Max, too.  Bill loved his KFC picnic lunch at Deen City Farm almost as much as seeing the horses, chasing the peacock and certainly more than seeing the sheep.

Peacock Picnic

He crashed out at for our walk at the park and barely woke up half way through Richmond Park.  Although we (as usual) didn’t remember to bring anything to feed the water fowl, we were able to free ride on others’ forethought and see swans and Egyptian Geese up close. 

I’m not sure if bread is good for birds, but I’m pretty sure that crisps are not.  But apparently swans love Walkers Jamaican Jerk Chicken flavoured crisps are not and cygnets will eat them out of your hand.

Balanced diet

Not that we would hand feed swans junk food.  Of course not, even teen swans can break your wrist with one beat of their mighty wings.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Trying new old things

Our local pub has had many incarnations.  When we first moved to the area it was a neglected outpost of a national chain and called the Freedom and Firkin.   As a foreigner, I didn’t quite understand the 70s tv allusion to the sit-com Citizen Smith which was set in the local area.  A colleague kept saying “Freedom for Tooting!” every time I mentioned the new area I was moving to. (The catch phrase of the eponymous lead.  Freedom for Tooting, indeed.)

On our second viewing of the house, we stopped in and had drinks to escape the rain and reflect on our potential future.  It wasn’t quite sawdust on the floor, in fact underneath the grime of use the pub is handsomely decorated with impressive wood panelling, but the surly, scattered patrons and the barely stirring retriever entangled among the barstools seemed to fit.   We thought “We can drink in this pub,” and we bought the house.

Not too long after, the pub became The George, presumably a free house and taking its name from the nearby St George’s Hospital, and it was essentially unchanged.  Off and on it offered food, deep fried fare, smears of meat on a bun which passed for burgers.  But it was cheap.  It was a good low-stress place to shoot a little pool or have a few drinks.  I liked The George.

Then the pub was bought out and spent a long time in a metamorphosis phase – it emerged from its chrysalis as The Garden House, a chi chi gastropub like you might find in Wandsworth Town.  There was, in fact, no garden – but a brick paved courtyard stacked with disused furniture.  The menu was suitably faffy.  Football was banned, much to the disappointment (I presume) of the loyal patrons and followers of Chelsea FC.   The food was never quite right and the beer prices were significantly higher.  Our visits dropped off and after the birth of our son, we never darkened the door again.

Unsurprisingly, The Garden House did not succeed, and subsequently morphed into its current incarnation The Manor.  The Manor benefits from the refurb undertaken by its previous landlords, but we avoided it until this weekend, despite the fact that it was attempting to establish some good value credentials and the football was back.

Just where does The Manor source its meat?

Just where does The Manor source its meat?

We decided to try their Sunday menu and found that the atmosphere was somewhat similar to The George, but at a slightly higher tone.  The bar menu was largely traditional pub fare, Simon had the roast, I had the burger and Bill had egg on toast with chips.

The food was really good.  Simon felt his roast beef was a little on the cheap side, but very well cooked.  It came with roasted root veggies and a mash made of potato and sweet potato and a little something else.  His Yorkshire pud looked perfectly done and he said it was.  My burger was really yummy, served on a sort of sour dough bap with loads of greenery just like I like.  Bill ate all of his egg, so it must have been alright.  The beer prices were still a bit high, but it was nice having Peroni on tap.   We’ll be back.

Wimbledon Park

The other new, old thing we tried this weekend was Wimbledon Park.  Back in our child free days we walked from our house to Wimbledon Park (it’s a long way) one wintry afternoon and found it all a bit grim.  It’s not a good walking park, hemmed in by two golf courses.  But going again with parental eyes, we saw it in an entirely different light (and we think it’s been refurbed a bit, too).   There are two separate play areas, including some fairly dangerous climbing frames (we saw a couple of accidents while there, nothing serious but plenty of tears).  There’s a fabulous sand area and a water play area with fountains and sprinklers all on a safety impact mat.  We went too late in the day for that to be on.  Bill enjoyed the boating lake populated with Egyptian Geese and a single cantankerous swan.  He loved exploring the track and field area.  We set up the hurdles on the track on their lowest setting (which was probably a no-no) and one parent on each arm lifted Bill over them at a “sprint”.

We had to bodily carry him out when it was after eight and growing dark.  We’ll be back.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Trying Flock

I’m checking out Flock again… I’ve never really got the social networking browser to work for me, but maybe it’s time to give it another try.

It's getting late in the park

Mainly I’d like to be able to embed photos more quickly and easily into my blog posts  Sky over late summer grass

Like for example…these photos from my Flickr account, shots I took yesterday during our very long trip through the park.

Update…ok, that seemed to work a treat.  I was able to drag and drop photos from my flickr photo stream into Flock’s own blog editor which then posted to my WordPress blog.  Since I have more than one blog tied to the same account, I was relieved to see a little drop down window allowing me to choose which one I wanted to post to.

Now…. can I drag directly into the WordPress editing window?


Yes, apparently I can….

Shared with Flock – The Social Web Browser

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Why I don’t love the NHS

It’s been interesting to see the rabid foaming of the mouths on both sides of the Atlantic in the wake of the healthcare debate in the US. The anti-reformists in the US are all saying that it’s going to end up like the NHS if Obama gets his way. In contrast over here, there’s been a massive “We love the NHS” campaign on newspapers and social networking sites with a usual kind of sneering anti-American bias.  Even the Prime Minister and Stephen Hawing have got in on the act*

So who’s right? Well, I spent quite a while combing through OECD tables on health care quality comparitive indicators in the hopes of finding a juicy graph or maybe a killer statistical table and my conclusion is that whatever the basis of the argument is, it isn’t fact.   If you want to compare the US and UK on 5 year survival rates for cancer it very much depends on the cancer, but they often aren’t too far apart.  What are your chances of surving a heart attack 30 days after hospitalisation – you’re better off in the UK, which I found pretty surprising (though I already knew that on many indicators the UK comes off better).

The really interesting thing though is that while often UK and US figures were close – a couple points off one way or the other, they were often not as good than other rich countries.   So, that’s my first point – both sides are saying that their health care is the envy of the rest of the world – but that will only be the rest of the world without the ability to read a statistic table.  Looks like there are some much better health outcomes to be found in Australia, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, France, Germany…and so on.

I will say this about the US vs UK thing – the US pays vastly more for outcomes which are often not better than those in the UK.

Let’s leave fact aside

Since no one seems to want to argue on the basis of fact, I’m going to leave the numbers aside.  This is a battle of emotion and personal anecdotes, so I’ll give you some.

I don’t love the NHS.  The NHS let me down.  It’s let me down on a number of occasions.  I had an appalling birth experience and I was left in pain for over a year and a half after my son was born.  The pain was in fact unrelated (ovarian cyst – although it probably was complicated by the caesarian), but because complications from my caesarian were dealt with so badly no one identified that I had developed the cyst and put it down to poor recovery.   It took quite a fight to eventually get the surgery which means I’m not in pain every time I brush against a counter or my handbag touches my side.

The hospital maternity ward I laboured for two days in was dismal and dingy, half the staff were uncaring and barely competent – the other half (I saw several shifts while I was there!) ranged from ok to good.  The approach was interventionist and unsupportive of a natural labour, no one asked or understood my situation well enough to support the natural birth I wanted (though this almost certainly would have happened in the US, too)  However, the anesthitist for my C-section was fabulous.

The ward I stayed on for two days after my son’s birth was a nightmare.  It was the worst experience of my life.  It made the labour ward look like a resort on the Riviera.  It was hot, noisy, cramped, and none too clean.   A nurse swore and yelled at me for refusing to take morphine.  I caught a post-operative infection, which I then struggled to get treatment for as each service thought I was the others’ responsibility.  I then struggled for over a year to get the hopsital to address my concerns.

I’ve visited the local emergency room on a few occasions.  They were pretty good when my husband was delusional from food poisoning.   When I got glass in my eye, I had to talk an unsupervised student doctor through washing out my eye.  That was after I removed the bloody bandages from the sink over which she sluiced my eye (the student doctor was afraid to touch them).   Still, she got the glass out and I didn’t catch anything nasty.  The time I sprained my ankle (different hospital) when I got caught in the doors of an Underground train, I got turfed out minutes before the national target time effectively without treatment and with no crutches – I couldn’t walk.  That was after I witnessed a single  (very good) nurse in my area being run ragged while a bunch junior doctors stood around doing nothing.

On the other hand, I’d certainly like to dispel some myths about the NHS.  I can change my doctor, I can opt to go private – and even private treatment in the UK costs less than in the US, I can even buy private insurance.   When I had a lump in my breast, my only complaint about that experience is that they were probably crazily over cautious even after it was fairly well established that it was a benign cyst.  I saw the same practitioners every time, they were pleasant and explained things well.  Oh, and I’ve never had to pay anything (except a flat rate for prescription drugs) at the point of delivery.  Yes, I do pay handsomely through my taxes, but it costs me less than a typical employee contribution and co-payments in the US.

Why I don’t love the US Healthcare system

Doctors offices and hospitals in the US are a lot nicer than they are in the UK.  And everyone but dental hygenists seems to have a more pleasant demeanor, but this may be more about US service culture than anything else.  There’s more emphasis on making you comfortable in the US, which is something that’s quite good when you’re not feeling so hot.  I’ve had fewer experiences of US health care, but the ones I’ve had were nicer. Mostly. When I was insured.

When I wasn’t insured, it wasn’t so good.  I paid exhorbitant rates for shoddy care at walk-in clinics.  I was chased by a debt collection agency for a bill I had in fact paid (it was the doctor’s office administrative error).  When I got out of University and was no longer covered, I lived in fear that my financial future would be wiped out if I got into an accident.

I know people who were forced to accept worse pay and condititions just because they had to hang on to their insurance because a spouse had cancer.  Others face pressure and worry of medical bills.  My mother knows people who probably died due to lack of care after TennCare (state funded health care in my home state of Tennessee) collapsed.

Don’t put your love in institutions

Any time, whether it be in the US or the UK, you think you’ve got the best thing since sliced bread or you persist in telling yourself so until you believe it – your doomed to complacency and quality less than you deserve.  There are some excellent features of both systems, but there are also some serious flaws.  It just isn’t right that so many people in the US have little access to adequate health care or that people barely in the ranks of the middle class are just one medical disaster away from a bankruptcy.

The love-cult of the NHS has allowed staff to become unaccountable and uncaring – underperformance just isn’t addressed, it’s always excused by lack of resources (which may sometimes be the case, but not always).   The love-cult of the US health care system has allowed insurance companies to become the “death panels” in deniers of service while raking in profits – all while not actually delivering a much better (and often worse) service in terms of actual medical outcomes.


* I find it rather ironic that people like Stephen Hawking are saying that they wouldn’t be here if not for the NHS as part of their argument.  If he’d been a professor at Harvard, rather than at Cambridge – I’m quite sure he would have had absolutely excellent health care.

Here’s another expat American blogging about the healthcare debate.