Life Lessons from Old Ted … A Cockney, A Survivor and an Optimist

Crash! The door slammed open and a voice yelled, “Half a pint of brown ale with a dash.” Ted had arrived! I’d respond, “A dash of what?” and Ted would cackle, “A dash of speed, you daft Paddy.” Then he’d roar with laughter, delighted with himself.

It was the summer of 1968. I was tending bar in a pub in London … a country boy from the West of Ireland, trying to earn a few pounds in the big city.

Ted was a genuine Cockney, born within the sound of Bow Bells, sometime before the turn of the century. He claimed to be eighty years old that summer. Regardless, he was a character. He’d survived the German Blitz during World War Two, and regarded every new day as a blessing.  He owned a stall at the nearby Shepherd’s Bush Market and rarely missed his afternoon half pint of brown ale.

Old Ted would regale me, and everyone else in the pub, with jokes and stories … everything from growing up in London, to the Second World War, to doing business down at the market. We were very different, Ted and I. We were from different worlds, different cultures.  

Old Ted had been around for a lot longer than I. He’d lived through a time when whole streets, and the people who lived in them, were obliterated by the bombs overnight. He survived, started over and rebuilt his life.

Me? I was naïve. Innocent to the ways of the world. Awed by the contrast between the congestion of London and the tranquility of rural Ireland.

We were opposites in every way, nothing in common, yet I liked him. I also learned a lot from him.

Look, I’d be lying if I said I used those lessons right away. Some of them took many years to sink in. Some are only now making sense.

World War Two had a huge impact on Ted’s life and outlook. He learned not to take anything for granted. He came of age in a time when Winston Churchill said:

“ We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight on the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Those were dark days in London. People didn’t know how, or indeed if, they would survive. But they didn’t quit.
So, what did Ted teach me? Here are just a few of the lessons I remember:

Life is good. Sure, there are bad times, but they pass. The clouds go away. The rain stops. The sun will shine again.

Take care of your money. Ted enjoyed his half pint of brown ale every day. He carefully counted out the correct change from his coin purse. To look at him, you’d think he was down to his last shilling. Yeah, that’s really Ted in the photo above. Yet, he was a wealthy man. He owned his house free and clear of any mortgages or liens. He had a thriving business at the market. He had all sorts of profitable side hustles going on. 

He neither borrowed or loaned money. He had no use or time for bankers. He paid cash for everything. If he couldn’t afford it, he did without it.

Laugh a lot. Especially at yourself. Ted loved to tell jokes. He was the butt of many of them and he laughed loudest at those. Laughter, he believed, is the best medicine.

Don’t take yourself too seriously. Sure, life can be a serious business, but none of us is that important. Do the best you can. If that doesn’t work, try something else.

Don’t worry about what others think about you. At the end of the day, the only opinion that really matters is your own. It’s all about belief and self-esteem. Look again at the photograph of Ted. Do you think he cared about the latest fashion? Hell no! 

Stop and smell the roses. Yes, but keep your eyes open. Ted walked from his stall in the market to the pub every day. He’d stop and chat with everybody he met … the guy who ran the Fish and Chip shop, the local policeman, the news agent, the owner of the Indian restaurant. Usually it was just exchanging gossip, but sometimes he’d hear about a good deal. Then he was all over it, ready with the wad of cash he always carried.

Maybe times were simpler then. Maybe they just seemed to be simpler. Regardless, many of the rules we need to live by haven’t changed. Most of us are in such a hurry chasing our tails we wind up running in circles. Take a lesson or two from Ted. Maybe you’ll be more productive; certainly happier.

I’m Oliver Connolly and I help sales management professionals create sales teams that overachieve.

Oliver Connolly