Common Courtesy

Another brief trip down memory lane…

Exactly seven years ago this month, most days seemed endless and extremely boring. I was in the early stages of living life without gainful employment and even though I would often grumble about the daily routine of work, it does give a purpose to each day. With typical dull, cold and wet British weather, I had little incentive to venture out of doors, thereby exacerbating an already strenuous situation. Almost daily, my life was taken up with searching for new employment. For anyone not over familiar with this task, it is an extremely time-consuming and wearisome occupation, endlessly scanning the plethora of job sites available on the internet. One of the most frustrating things I discovered was that jobs were not classified under sufficient headings, so in order to find potential opportunities, it was necessary to search under almost every category. Once the slowness of page downloads was taken into account, the hours of the day quickly passed by! Of course, this was in the days before ADSL broadband connectivity was widely available!

In order to try and numb my boredom, I participated in the National IQ Test 2003 via interactive television. This was the one bright spark in a gloomy month… Normally, I’m not one to blow my own trumpet (perhaps that’s where I have been going wrong in life!) but I achieved an IQ of 136 which compared very favourably with the national average of 105! This was also in a period when the average IQ had been falling.

With only twelve days of employment remaining, it was very evident that certain people were keeping their distance. It never ceases to amaze me just how many individuals see a person for what they do rather than for who they are; indeed, inconveniences such as a period of unemployment (through no fault of my own, incidentally!) can prove to be a real test of true friendship.

Looking back, I made one of my final day trips to France. This was predominantly for the purpose of stocking up on some cheap booze…I anticipated being in need of copious quantities to drown my sorrows! There was also time to enjoy some of the local scenery in close proximity to Calais and the weather was fine, in marked contrast to that in Britain at the time. I stated that it was one of my final day trips for several reasons. Firstly, the costs of such day trips are now much higher since the abolition of cheap day ferry tickets. Secondly, the cost of alcohol in this country is now comparatively lower than several years ago, and thirdly, I no longer live within reasonable travelling distance of Dover for the short crossing to northern France. The trip from my local port takes in excess of 6 hours and lands in Brittany!

A final word on the subject of seeking new employment. I found it both frustrating and extremely discourteous that companies seemingly ignored applications and correspondence. Even jobs applied for via e-mail failed to generate a response, despite the fact that it takes but a few seconds to acknowledge a communication with minimal cost. Incidentally, nothing has improved with regard to replies from companies as recent experience will testify. Perhaps I am old fashioned and expect too much from people, but if more common courtesy was extended between human beings, then the world would be a far better place.


Frozen Assets

Playing team games on the North Yorkshire moors, the imminent invasion of Iraq and being informed that redundancy was looming…

Yes, in March 2003, details of my impending redundancy were finalised and I was informed that my finishing date would be in mid May rather than early June as I had anticipated. Apparently the effective date was calculated from when the Company entered a so-called consultation period, even though I was not personally consulted with regard to my future! Still, certain members of senior management revealed their true colours, namely that none of them were to be trusted with regard to anything. Redundancy had been looming for over two years as the company failed to achieve targets and meet objectives. A new man at the helm made his first line of attack a reduction in the workforce… not the highly paid and incompetent senior managers, but the real workers who had taken everything thrown at them in recent years in an effort to rebuild the business. C’est la vie!

The spotty-faced HR clerk and my assistant line manager asked how I was feeling about the situation and I really wanted to tell them exactly how I felt. Fortunately, discretion overcame me and apart from a few choice words, left everything else to their imagination. For heaven’s sake, how did they expect me to feel? Perhaps they should have regarded the situation as though they were being made redundant and then they might have just understood!

Whilst some of my former colleagues benefited from ‘garden leave’ this was not offered to me despite my pointing out that it was discriminatory to offer it to some and not to others. Of course, I knew beforehand that they would have an answer to that point, and I was not surprised when they informed me that it was on the grounds of security risk. I did my utmost to persuade them that I could also prove a security risk to the business, but apparently that risk was not considered too great and they insisted that I worked every day right up to the final hour. Little did they know… and several migraines suddenly manifested themselves!

For nearly three years, the company had instilled the values of respect and encouragement but in the culling of so many staff, there was little evidence of this quality being demonstrated.

The impending war to be waged against Iraq and its leader was imminent. Whilst I did not condone the actions of Saddam Hussein, I believed, nevertheless, that the governing of his country was the concern of the Iraqi people. After all, what moral right did the governments of both the United States and United Kingdom have to dictate to another country’s leader? The same principles could be levelled against the likes of North Korea and Zimbabwe to name but two other countries whereby normal people live under extreme regimented rule.

Obviously there was more to the situation than merely hatred towards a leader. However, it was pitiful that the arrogance of two once respected world nations should have been behind the uprising, undoubtedly with the preservation of oil supply uppermost in their minds at whatever cost to human life. Besides the obvious threats to both countries as a result of the invasion, the monetary cost would prove to be extortionate and it would have been far more prudent if the respective governments had addressed issues closer to home before utilising taxpayers money on what has proved to be a futile exercise. The United Kingdom has a health service that desperately needs further investment and modernisation. Money allocated to war would be far better spent trying to save lives rather than destroy them. The United States boasts one of the highest poverty levels in the western world, yet this is invariably hidden from the media as the country pours billions of dollars into space exploration and war mongering. Perhaps this is all being too simplistic, but I remain a firm believer in the route of diplomacy. After all, Iraq did not declare war on our country, but the dramatic irony is that we attacked Iraq to destroy so-called weapons of mass destruction that would have been built with components traded on a reciprocal basis.

In the days of cheap channel crossings, I made frequent day trips to my beloved France. Eight years ago this month was one such occasion when I took the opportunity to replenish certain wine and spirit stocks as well as do the weekly shop at far lower prices than in the UK. That was my first visit to mainland Europe since the introduction of the Euro, and it was noted that prices had not risen as a result of the currency changeover. I filled up with fuel at a cost of €38,74 (£23.63) which would have cost me £38.74 had I filled up in the UK! Even that UK price is cheap compared with what it costs to fill the tank today… namely £54.00! With hours to spare, the time was filled by exploring the local countryside to the south and east of Calais. Villages there still retain their local character with new building closely controlled, but it was amazing to see just how many new and unique houses had been built on single plots of land which, in this country, would accommodate three or four properties. This reinforces just how over-crowded the island of Britain has become!

In March 2002 and a year prior to my redundancy, I attended a team bonding seminar in the wilds of North Yorkshire. I had always been sceptical about such events, not least because most of the people with whom I had to bond were long-standing colleagues, and to the best of my knowledge, we had worked together in relative harmony for some considerable time. With no mobile phone signal and a lack of any TV in the accommodation, the only real entertainment was spending time at the bar. Some people had even placed bets on the amount of alcohol which they thought would be consumed by various individuals! Whilst this experience was better than initially expected, it was physically exhausting and very intense. Fortunately, the weather was reasonably kind for the various outdoor activities, being dry with long periods of sun, although the temperature was always low due to some bitterly cold easterly winds. The bonus was that the clear skies enabled us to appreciate the sheer beauty of the area!

The surprise of this seminar was a night-time orienteering exercise. No-one had been prepared for this adventure, but it soon became obvious why torches and weather proof clothing had been requested. However, for those who were not fully equipped with all the materials, the organisers had contingency plans, so that everyone was able to participate. In fact, because of the weather conditions, it was not imperative to wear waterproof gear, but at least we were all protected against possible accidents. After being divided into four groups of four, our task involved following a circuitous route of about four miles, two groups following a clockwise direction, and the other two proceeding anti-clockwise. We had to locate various pointers on the route to identify the next grid references, and although much of the walk was on the roadway or gravel paths, some of the route took us on to the moors where there was little evidence of any real track. Still, we all survived, and the experience appeared to have been enjoyed by all participants.

Despite my self assurances that I would not drink much, my consumption on the first night was relatively excessive (nothing much has changed there!) particularly when a bottle of Sloe Gin appeared on the scene! The bar worked on an honesty basis whereby everyone logged their drinks on tariff cards, with the objective being to settle the account upon departure. One rather nice surprise was when a senior manager leading the course said that the company would meet the bar costs… if I’d known that in advance, I might have drunk even more! Incidentally, that particular senior manager left the company soon afterwards so it was his parting gift! However, these extra-curricular events would have cost the business a small fortune, and for the many of us who were not that well paid, it would have been an extremely motivating gesture if we had received a pay increase instead of the money being frittered away so liberally.

Now something very silly to end with! What is the difference between roast beef and pea soup? Quite simply, almost anyone can roast beef!