I was thinking this week that we have known each other for 26 years now since meeting in the first week of University.
We worked together on assignments and after leaving University worked together in the “real world” of working life. In fact, you gave me my first opportunities when contracting to do web development, which I am forever grateful (although sometimes hide it well ;).
You’re a charismatic chap with a fascinating background with an enormous number of stories. From your formative years traveling when growing up, being in the Army, competing for Great Britain in Pentathlon, and your professional life.
So, let’s find out a bit more about you David, and I promise not to use your nickname that I coined at University of Dodgy Dave. Let’s jump straight into this with my first question.
1. Can you give us a little background information where were you born, and first went to school?
So I was born in Zambia (then Northern Rhodesia) in a town called Kitwe which is in the Copper belt and close to the border with the Congo.
Not many people know about the Copper belt but it’s in the name, there’s lots of copper it should be a rich country but it’s just been exploited in the 1960’s it was American Mining Firms.
We lived in Chingola then Ndola (All in the copper belt) and finally Lusaka where my Father was the headmaster of a School. They were fun times we even had lion cubs as pets for a while.
I can’t remember the name of my 1st school but I do remember the name of my 1st school when we moved back to the UK and that was Friog Junior School in North Wales it was a bit odd it was a Welsh nationalist school and they refused to teach the lessons in English (It was the 1960’s), which for a year meant I learned pretty much nothing.
My parents thought I was just struggling with the Welsh accent for almost a year because when they would ask me what I was learning at school I said they’re talking in another language, parents being parents translated that into it must be the accent.
I’d been at the school about 6 months when my mum was talking to a local and they said “it must be tough on David as I wasn’t a Welsh speaker, finally the penny dropped, I wasn’t as stupid as they were starting to think! At the end of the term, I was packed off to a boarding school.
2. You joined the Army when you were just 15 years old. Did you always want to go into the Army or was this encouraged by your family?
So technically I enlisted at 15 but I arrived at my training Regiment just after my 16th birthday and for a short time I was the youngest person in the army.
My family didn’t encourage me, far from it, it was the 1970’s and I was joining through the other ranks, my family does have a history of Service, my dad was a Flight Leftenant in the RAF, my uncle was a navigator flying in Lancasters during the war and my Grandfather was Navy during WW1 and was at Jutland.
Anyway, my family certainly didn’t expect me to leave boarding school and join at 16 they were expecting me to go to officer training.
There was a bit of friction about this, but I guess I was as stubborn as my father, and eventually, they gave up, I think my father realized I would simply have failed if I had stayed at school.
The thing to remember is when I joined the Army, the UK was a very different place, we’d had the 3 day week and what you could do you with a hyperactive kid who had no interest in academic work and jobs were pretty limited!
3. For many years we would joke about your many “Berlin Stories”, often remarking they reminded me of episodes from Dad’s Army ;). We would try and limit to one per night out, so it’s only fair to give you a shoot of telling one of your Berlin Stories here.
I don’t think it’s fair you limit everyone to one, perhaps we can do a sequel later?
You, of course, know about the many little scrapes I got into in Berlin as well as elsewhere, abseiling down the Funkturm (Where Hitler used to give his speeches) with a friend of mine, being chased by the Royal Military Police, being Chased by the American Military Police, come to think of it being chased, but anyway here’s a story I can tell in an open forum!
I caused an international incident.
Tom Hanks did a film a while back called The Bridge of Spies the bridge in question is called Glienicke bruecke, the bridge goes from West Berlin towards Potsdam which is in East Germany & not East Berlin, for a while I used to go over this bridge every day because I was doing some work at the British Military Mission, it really did look a little like the picture but just with East German Guards.
To make a long story short I was an Engineer but I was also a Military Diver more on that later. The place we were doing some work at was very interesting but what I was doing wasn’t, the houses will be worth millions now they bordered on a lake there was a jetty for a boat and the house was huge, but it was very run down, so we were doing repairs, etc.
Here’s a map.
To excuse myself and subsequent craziness I was bored as hell, I was much more of a let’s go blow stuff up sort of Engineer than a let’s go fix something type.
Around day 2 or 3 I’m talking to the Sgt Major of the mission about what a beautiful spot it was the lake etc and asking why the motorboat they had was tied up to the bank instead of the jetty.
It turned out they weren’t using the Jetty as they thought the Jetty could be dangerous and they needed to get it looked at. By this they meant they thought the wooden supports were rotting, which got me thinking, I’m a diver I can do that!
I have of course been made aware of the 24/7 365 days a year East German Observation Post across the lake that had several EAST German Border guards with powerful binoculars watching and recording our every move!
I’ve forgotten about them again, I was bored.
On getting back to camp that day I tracked down the dive storeman and signed out/borrowed some diving kit. I failed to mention I was taking it to East Germany, an oversight on my part I know.
The next day I load up the kit onto the wagon everyone is looking at me wondering what I’m doing so I just say I might as well check the Jetty while we’re here they think it’s unsafe.
That day I grab a couple of guys say look I’m going to check the jetty now, I’ll be about 20 or 30 minutes.
I’m dressed a bit like the guy on the right.
And I jumped in the lake all the time forgetting about those pesky guards, I’d only been underwater maybe 10 minutes when I notice these stones dropping around me, I ignore them, it’s the guys being idiots, but the stones get bigger and bigger at the point a brick just misses me I thought I’ve had enough, I’m going to tell then to stop screwing around.
Yup, you guessed it when I surfaced I surfaced to see the Sgt Major, several officers and the Head of the mission all looking at me and pretty much all of them are shouting at me, what the **** are you doing and point across the lake so where I can now see East German Border guards running around.. I look back at them I look at the Sgt Major and say well I thought I’d just check the Jetty out for you. I’m thinking I really am in trouble now, & then the Sgt Major started laughing said something along the lines of “Bloody Engineers” “Get changed come to my office and explain yourself!”
I got out of the water turn round and there are still East German guards running around, I get changed and no-one wants to speak to me, because they don’t want to be in trouble by association.
So off I go to his office, I close the door and the Sgt Major starts laughing, do you know how much trouble you’ve made? I’ve already worked out it’s quite a bit but he’s still laughing, this is very serious you know we go the message via HQ, who got the message via London and still he’s laughing, he finishes with, I’ve spoken to your Sgt Major and that was it, I left he’s still laughing.
When I got on the truck to go back to camp everyone is asking just how mad the Sgt Major was, there is no way I’m saying he just laughed at me, so I said you guys don’t want to know.
It wasn’t all a bed of roses when I got back to camp, my Sgt Major is waiting for me, it turns out in his words “Your little stunt has just cost you 10-weekend guard duties” yup for 2 & ½ months I was on guard duty every weekend I had to watch everyone go out partying whilst I was in the guardhouse checking ID cards.
4. It was during your time in the Army that you ended up training for Pentathlon and then onto competing for Great Britain. How did you get into Pentathlon and what are your crowning achievements in the sport?
I was always into sports but when I was a kid I was tiny, when I was 15 I was only 5 foot 1 so I was always at a bit of a disadvantage unless I was running, so whilst I loved running I also really loved swimming and many other sports, at the age of 8 I was climbing and canoeing and doing many sports that many people hardly knew about all courtesy of my father who was the warden of an outward bound center!
By the time I joined the army I was 5 foot 8 and starting to fill out, so I did pretty much every sport you can think of, but I still loved running and swimming!
When I was in Berlin one of the officers in my unit was a guy called Mike Montford who made the 1984 LA Olympics and I used to train with him.
I remember asking him about Modern Pentathlon because I was running faster and swimming faster. But, this isn’t a case of someone pointing me in the right direction, quite the opposite he put me off, told me that fencing was really hard and you needed to start young to get good at it!
I believed him so I started cycling Triathlon (this is very early days) had just hit the headlines in 1982, I was still doing other sports, cross country, cross country skiing, etc.
So Fast forward 4 years I’ve been posted back to the UK and I’m in the UK at a cross country race, I was doing pretty well at the time a solid top 10 finisher in the South West, one of the guys I would race against but in another unit was chatting to me after a race and I said sorry I’d love to stay and chat but I’m late for a swim session, to which his ears pricked up he asked my how fast I swam and 2 weeks later I was at the national training center going through my paces with the army team (I hasten to add I wasn’t in the Army team at this point it was a trial selection).
AS it started it turned Mike was telling porkies about Fencing and I was a bit of a natural at it, it always seemed easy to me, in that the point of it is, is to hit the other person before they hit you, boxing without the pain I would describe it as.
About 9 months after getting a Trial I went to my 1st International Competition which was in Munich it was an all military affair. The event went brilliantly for me (Initially) I came 3rd in the fence (Unheard of in those days) I rode ok, I’d had a decent swim and so I found myself in 3rd place come to the shoot with my best event running to come after.
It’s important to say in the military I was a pretty decent shot, but this was different there were TV cameras they stuck one in my face, it was all very different. In those days shooting was live .22 pistols and turning targets, it all went very badly I missed the target 5 times it went;
- 1st Five – Miss, Miss 10, 10 10
- 2nd Five – Miss, 10, 10, 10 10
- 3rd Five – Miss, 10, 10 , 10 10
- 4th Five – Miss 10,10, 10, 9
As you know there’s a name for this it’s called catastrophe theory where anxiety increases and performance reduces, which doesn’t at all describe what happened very well at all.
I was feeling pretty good just before the shoot, just before the shoot started when I noticed the camera I can only describe it as having the shakes. For the 1st shot of every 5 my hand was shaking, this is not a good thing when you have a pistol and you’re trying to hit a target the size of a saucer at 25m.
My shoot dropped me from 3rd to 36th (Out of 64) and I ran myself back into 12th place with the 2nd fastest run of the day, the only person who ran faster was the world champion 2 years later.
9 months after that I had my 1st full GB International Competition in Lisbon where I came 8th and it went on from there.
You, of course, know how my Career ended as you were there, it was pretty painful some might say that without your suggestion of “let’s go mountain biking around Beachy Head”.
I’d have gone on to do bigger and better things but as it stands my highest international ranking was 23, and in fairness, the accident was a blessing in some ways, as it meant that I put my head down with my course when it’s entirely possible I would have become distracted and wouldn’t have got the most out of my course, after all why go to university and ignore what you have gone there to do?
5. In the Army you specialized as a diver, we even joked that you were a MUFF Diver (will let you explain this one).
Hahaha Yes, that was a standard chat-up line, although I can’t ever remember it ever working; divers are typically self-proclaimed “MUFF Divers” and MUFF stands for Military Underwater Fighting Force. So when asked what did I do, my answer was I’m a MUFF diver and then I’d wait for the look on someone’s face.
I loved Military Diving the thing to remember is it isn’t Sub Aqua “going down” and looking at fishes to this day doesn’t really appeal to me, but I do love ice diving.
6. You left the Army after 15 years and then went to University where we met. I still remember the evening we met; we were dressed in schoolgirl uniforms dancing in a night club.
Yes, you say that’s when we first met, but it’s not really I remember when you arrived at halls, it was difficult not to notice you, with your hair cut on one side and down to your shoulder on the other. Given I was only just out of the Army it was certainly an unusual look.
My initial thoughts were, yup we’re going to get along, then fast forward to Shimmers quite possibly the worst club north of the south pole, we’re dressed up like St Trinian’s schoolgirls and very drunk, you were quite fetching as I remember and I am sure will never forget me hugging you in all its sweatiness!
7. We both studied Sports Science but ironically upon leaving University went more into IT as there were more opportunities there. What sort of work roles did you do?
I’ve gone through most of the different roles except development and yes we moved into IT because that’s where the money was.
I started in Training, moved to IT Support Servers Email then got my 1st role as an IT Manager, and then moved onto Longbridge and finally working for myself and with you.
And pretty much for a decade, we worked together on numerous projects.
And you may ask why, many do! ??
So honestly and to complete the “Bromance” that started at University I would call you up and get you a gig because I knew you wouldn’t let me down which as we grow older and wiser we know is one of the essential criteria for working with someone.
I knew that you would do the work, you would do it well do it honestly and importantly I wouldn’t get a call from you saying you hadn’t done what you were supposed to because you were at the pub the night before and couldn’t be bothered!
Working with you was always a pleasure.
In your intro, you mention how we worked together so I really should mention LiquidThinking and how but for a DOT Com crash (And a lack of sales experience on my part) we could have been those Billionaires traveling the world.
LiquidThinking was a brilliant idea by Matt it was light years ahead of the competition but the problem was timing 18 months earlier or even 18 months later, it could really have gone places.
But we were doomed by the disaster not because there wasn’t work out there but because people would call about content management systems that were in the tens or hundreds of thousands, ask for a bespoke system and wonder why they couldn’t have 8 weeks of solid work for £500 crazy, crazy times.
To this day the way it worked the built-in sign off publishing element worked is still better than WordPress.
8. Now, I really would like to share a particularly funny episode when we went skiing for one New Year. I am sure you’ll be game for outlining what happened?
Ok so on the record I pooed myself out Skiing, it’s a story of Love, Vengeance, and Betrayal and a lot of people wondering where that smell came from.
The “sanitized” version of this is we went skiing over New Year and this year there was hardly any snow, I was staying in a nice little B&B around the corner from you and courtesy of some not very well cooked eggs got a dose of food poisoning.
Which was all fine, but it just meant that I didn’t eat for 2 days (well hardly anything a bit of bread) come the 3rd day though and we’re at the top of the mountain, in the mountain restaurant, I’m starving it’s -15 outside and I make the fateful decision to eat ½ chicken and chips with mayonnaise and then head out down the mountain, all would have gone well if I had just gone straight down, but I turned right and from that moment I was literally “in the shit!”.
When I turned right down a track there was a 2 man lift going back up and about 50 m down the track my tummy rumbled. Now, this wasn’t just any tummy rumble this was a Hollywood someone has just fed someone a pint of laxative, tummy rumbling!
I am skiing with clenched buttocks! I get to the bottom where the Ski Lift is and it looks like the entire mountain is waiting for the same lift. I’m waiting my tummy is still rumbling and I wait some more, I eventually get the lift and ski straight down to the nearest toilets, except my luck is running out I’m taken out by a kid with a ski school, there is no way I can describe the pain or just how much my stomach is churning.
I take my skis off and waddle to the toilets, I’m still holding it together but I have 2 jackets on (It was minus 15 at the top!) but just as I lift my arms up yeah you know, I can’t hold it in, I have in a very real sense I shit myself.
It is at moments like this when you realize just who your friends are. I sent a text to Adam saying “Help I’ve just shit myself” and like a good friend he forwarded my message to everyone in his address book!
Karma does exist though as many thought it was him saying this!
To make this story shorter I’ll miss out on some bits such as despite this is a ski resort with a hotel and where the national team train the receptionist was adamant there were no showers, so what do you do?
I sent Adam off to buy more trousers and surprise, surprise there was only one pair of ski pants €450 yes €450 the most expensive crap I’ve ever taken.
The story doesn’t stop here though, I’ve just paid €450 euros for some new ski pants, but I’m not leaving my old ones so I wrap them up in several plastic bags and we head home but we have to go via a gondola a very hot sweaty gondola, about 1 minute after the gondola starts moving I can see everyone in the gondola looking around and sniffing, everyone is looking at everyone else, just like the Peter Sellers Sketch in the lift.
Which goes to show even in the most stressful of times there’s always something to laugh about!
9. You moved from employed positions to working for yourself and more recently looking to release your own SaaS product. What’s this all about?
Thanks very much for asking Adam, well as you know I’ve spent most of my IT career working for recruitment companies and recruiters and several years ago I had an idea for an app which I’ve called TalentFinder it’s a recruitment tool for both companies and recruiters.
Firstly it facilitates the job application process for jobs and it increases the number of direct hires to a company and additionally and more importantly for a business it provides a recruiting process/workflow, which many don’t have.
It has a couple of USPs as we know in this day and age it’s all about the USP.
1st it’s incredibly easy to get up and running, you can be up and running in 10 minutes, you just add the script to the page where you want your jobs to be displayed and bob’s your uncle, you’re ready to go and have a job posted in another 5 minutes.
The 2nd USP is that you can track all your jobs from point of origin without using cookies and then track applications and tally this against your adverts.
You work in this industry so you’ll know how hard it is to get accurate stats, cookies, tracking pixels can all be blocked by blockers now, our tracking isn’t affected by any blocker of any sort.
Check out TalentFinder Recruitment ATS
To give you an example you advertise a job on 3 different job boards, Facebook and perhaps you are using google adverts or even banners, we can track each and every advert break down your costs against views application and later suitability per advert and allow you to report, it doesn’t sound a lot, but in recruiting knowing the best place to advertise is a big deal because advertising is so expensive and hit and miss, I’m quite proud of it, it just needs to go live.