I knew it was going to be hard, but hadn’t really realised how hard it would be. The job entails me standing at a sink, washing the heavy stuff of the plates and pans and thinks from half past 10until 5 o’clock. It is the standing that is the hardest part. The kitchen is quite small, so there is not a lot of room to move about which is made worse when there is a couple of the table team in there too. Still, I couldn’t stay on furlough forever, so the bullet was bitten and I was back in work again.
By the end of the first day (of two!) my feet felt like I had done the walk I used to do when I was in my late teens. I often walked the 5.7 miles from work to home, especially if I had spent all my money in the pub at lunchtime. They just ached and it was even worse the next day when it happened again. What made it worse was that the café wasn’t as busy as it was expected to be. People are still a bit wary of eating indoors, so there were more customers outside than inside.
Oh well, I’ll see how it goes over the next few weeks, then look at my options.
Thursday saw both of us at the Harrogate flower show, or Spring Essentials as it is called this year. I’ve been before and there used to be huge displays in the exhibition centre, but because of the current circumstances, all the indoor spaces were closed and everything was outdoors. There were two times when we could go, a morning session from 08:30 until 13:00 or 13:30 until 17:00. When my wife booked, only the morning session was still available as the numbers were limited to 5000 per session. So we arrived at 08:35 exactly. As the day progressed, it became obvious that we had got the better deal. By 12:00, it had started to rain, and from the pictures on the local news, the place became waterlogged very soon.
I finally got my haircut! The last time I had it done was just after the first lock-down in July. I was hoping to go again towards the end of October, but there was some issue and the place was closed on the day I had chosen. Then lock-down 2 reared it’s ugly head and that was it. The place didn’t open over the Christmas week so I had to wait. When they were allowed again, last month, the queues outside (they are only using one chair) were longer than I hoped. I tried a couple of times, but when I was told that the person at the front of the line had been there an hour, and there were 5 people after him, I gave up.
I was wandering past the barbers on Tuesday and saw that the customer was being shown the back of his hair, and there was nobody queuing, I bit the bullet and waited outside. I was in and out in about half an hour, and the look is now much better. For many years I just used to have my hair done with the clippers. Blade 3 on the top and blade 2 back and sides. However, I have grown to like the length and decided to abandon the clippers. Not sure what my colleagues will think, as I have also grown a full beard.
Talking of colleagues, my workplace opens up fully again on Monday, so I’m back to work. I’ve not worked since the end of October, so it’s going to be a bit of a shock to the system. To be honest, I could give up on the job. I have my works pension that I claimed when I left the Council under their voluntary redundancy scheme and on the 20th of last month my state pension became available. So I’m not really doing the job for the money, it’s more for the company and to get me out of the house (and my wife’s hair) for a few hours a week. It’s quite a physical job, but I think I should be okay. If not, I always have the option to leave or maybe ask for reduced hours. We shall see how it goes.
I had my 2nd Astra-Zeneca vaccine on Wednesday. Once again it was so straight forward. Well organised and staffed. The Vaccination Centre is located in a Park & Ride carpark on the outskirts of York. There were marshals every 20 or so yards guiding drivers to their parking slot, checking your details and explaining where to go and what to do when you leave. All the medical staff were friendly and helpful and all very reassuring. My wife is due hers at the end of the month, hopefully nothing will change much before then.
We actually went out for lunch yesterday. I’m still very wary about mixing with people I don’t know. They say “You go to the supermarket … “, but I can avoid people there, you cannot avoid someone if you are sat down. However, armed with my two does of vaccine, I was persuaded to go. After all, I had to do something to celebrate the first State Pension payment hitting my bank account. It was a nearby pub called The Crooked Billet in the village of Saxton and is famed for it’s Yorkshire puddings .
After a recent online chat with an old school friend, we both realised that he had forgotten a few things from those last days, and so had I. So, I thought it would be a good idea if I made a written record of some of the things I can still remember.
From early on in my final year, there were rumblings about students going to university. It is interesting to note, that in year five, we were now students as opposed to being school kids. The previous year saw 20% of the students go on to university and the teachers (yes, they were still teachers and not tutors) were hoping to improve on that percentage. The previous year had twenty students, but my year had only 16. That meant that if the same number of students went on to university, the percentage would rise to 25% which had the teaching staff chomping at the bit, so to speak.
We had some informal discussions with our form teacher regarding what we wanted to do, what we could do and what was expected of us at the end of year five. I had this idea that I would have liked to be a Technical Draughtsman. I was excellent at Technical Drawing and coupled with my math skills, meant I had a good chance of realising that ambition.
In January 1971, the formal career discussions began. I outlined my ‘ambitions’ to my form teacher who also happened to be the Careers Officer for the Education Authority. That discussion, which lasted a mere twenty minutes shattered any dreams I had of becoming a draughtsman. It was explained that I would first need to go to university for two years (pushing the university theme again) followed by a three year course at a technical college, with a two year apprenticeship after that. The very thought of another five years of full-time education, and then earning a pittance as an apprentice was not something I wanted even to consider. I was told to go home that night, have a talk with my parents and come up with some other options. He said I should have a think about the things I liked to do, hobbies and such like. I didn’t think I could become a professional Airfix model maker or eastern European stamp collector, which were my only hobbies at the time.
It was a neighbour that came up with the cooking idea. I did like cooking and was, even though I say it myself, quite good at it. But then again after discussing this with my form teacher it became obvious that it would be a two year full time course at catering college.
At the time my maternal grandmother, who had recently retired from a clerical job, was working for her next door neighbour. The family owned a local Italian restaurant, and my grandmother was washing up three nights a week. For some reason, she had been invited to have a meal with some of her close family as a celebration. I have an idea that the place had been open for five years. Whilst we were eating, the owner was told that I was interested in cooking for a living, but that I wasn’t happy doing a full-time catering course. He said that he could only take on trained Italian chefs but would keep his ears open.
It was then that something, which I still find a little bizarre happened. A fellow diner at the next table apologised that he had overheard the conversation but wanted to offer a suggestion. He explained that his younger brother had wanted to be a cook but had had no luck in finding anywhere suitable. He told us that his brother had then seen an article in the local newspaper advertising a training scheme for cooks at one of the local hospitals. He went on to explain that his brother would be in a working kitchen, earning money but at the same time going to college one day a week to learn how to cook professionally. It sounded like a great idea, and it could be just what I was looking for. Training and getting paid. Best of both worlds. We asked at the local career’s office and they investigated it for us.
At the beginning of September, I had left school and was working as a porter at a large department store in the centre of Leeds. I received a letter one morning asking me to come for an interview at the Leeds General Infirmary. My Dad went with me, but if I remember correctly all the questions were directed at me. It seemed to go well, and I was quite pleased with how I had handled the interview. A week later, I received another letter asking me to go back for another interview. I was convinced that I hadn’t got the job. But everyone told me that you don’t get a second interview if you haven’t got the job. They were correct. I was asked if I was still interested, to which I seem to remember blurting out “Yes please!”
I was asked to start at the beginning of August and had to explain to my manager at the department store that I was leaving. I was told that I should have given a months’ notice, but as I had only been there eight weeks, a months’ notice would not have been very practical.
Work at the cafe is going through a funny phase at the moment. My hours are normally 10:30 until 17:00 on Monday and Tuesday Usually we are quite busy for the start of the week but for the past three weeks, cover numbers have been dropping. From an average of around 65, last Monday the covers dropped to 31. This was so low that the owner told me not to come in until 12:00 the next day. The numbers were slightly up on the previous day, but not to such a great extent. This lead to the boss saying that she would ‘let me know’ what hours I would be working this week, by the end of the week.
To me, the ‘end of the week’ meant Friday, but it did not happen, and I resorted to texting her on Saturday evening. The answer came back more or less straight away. It was to 12:00 until ‘finish’ both days and that ‘we can take it from there!’ The problem I have is that my job as a kitchen assistant/porter is a zero-hours contract. In fact, the only two people who have proper contracts are the assistant manager and the main chef. The rest of us, even the full-time waitress are on zero-hour contracts. It is just the nature of the business, and as I have recently discovered the hospitality section is one of the biggest users of zero-hour contracts. It is very disturbing.
My last working day was the 16th of March. I got an txt from my boss on the evening of Monday the 23rd of March to say that the cafe was now closed, and that I was to be furloughed until further notice. I wasn’t too worried, as I do the job (only 13 hours over 2 days) more for the interaction rather than the money. I had been ‘retired’ since October 2016 and this job came up in September 2018, and I was more than qualified for it.
I was a little concerned when the call came through last week, that they wanted me back. It was only for one day this week. I am now on what is ‘flexible furlough’ which apparently means that I can be called in to work one day and be on furlough the next. My main concern was the safety aspect. The kitchen that I work in is very small and can get a little crowded when the chef, me and one of the waitresses is in there. Social distancing is not possible and because of the heat, the wearing of a face covering is just not feasible.
I got through it. Safely I think, but only time will tell. I have no knowledge of next weeks work, but they do know that I would rather them bring in people that need the money more than I do. The staff for who this job is their main source of income should be the priority at the moment.
I was quite weary when I got home, as I expected, but a warm bath and a cold beer soon had me sorted. Interesting thing though, I’m never hungry after work. I don’t eat much for lunch, usually a sandwich and a few chips, but it’s not a large portion, so I can only assume that it is being around food takes any edge of hunger. Who knows!
My boss texted me on Thursday about our re-opening. They attached a copy of the ‘flexible furlough’ scheme. Now I had not heard of this, but it seems that staff can be brought back to work, as part time. The employer will pay the employee as normal for the day/days they work, with the Government paying 80% (for now) for the days that the employee are furloughed. It is ‘designed’ to assist businesses get back to some form of normality. I’m not sure how this will work for someone (me) who only works two days a week. It has already been mentioned that they need to prioritise the full time staff, which makes perfect sense but leaves me wondering if they will ever need me. The place seats about 48 customers when full, but the tables are very close together. I can foresee that the number of seats could reduce to 20 or even less, which means that the number of staff needed would have to be reduced. I wait in anticipation.
My strawberries are starting to ripen. My wife had the first two on Tuesday, but we now have four or five just turning that first shade of pink. I’m quite pleased with how they have turned out. I bought two small plants last year and when they finished fruiting I noticed that they were producing what a friend called ‘runners’. He told me that they were basically plantlets and that I should peg them down into small pots to created. I did this and it resulted in me growing on another twelve plants, all of which are starting to fruit. I think I initially lost about four of the plantlets, probably due letting them dry out too much as some were in very small pots. I wonder how they will fare next year, as some of the plants are already producing runners, which I have had to remove.
It was an unusual way for me to find a job. I had been on LinkedIn for quite a few years, and it never really had much for me. It was basically just a way of staying in touch with colleagues that didn’t use the ‘normal’ social media platforms. I had entered all the usual details about me, but never used job hunting. Oddly enough, I was scrolling through some of the bizarre jobs that it was deemed I would be interested in, when one came up that seemed to tick all my boxes. It was part-time, local, no responsibilities and paid what was expected for the role. It was advertised as a ‘Kitchen Porter/Assistant’ in a small but popular local cafe, and I could apply by just clicking a button. This apparently sent my ‘CV’ to the employer and just over an hour later, I received a phone call asking me to call in for an informal interview.
The interview went very well, and to this day, I still think that I was interviewing the owner as I seemed to ask more questions than he asked. He confirmed the hours and rate of pay and then asked if I wanted to see where I would be working. I said it would be a good idea and he took me to the kitchen. He pointed out all the parts of the kitchen and then went into great detail about how to use the dishwasher and what to do if if got blocked. I was then shown the food store and he explained the procedures for dealing with the waste bins. He told me that the cafe was a very busy environment and it would be a very rare occasion if I was needed to work over-time. We agreed that I should have a ‘trial run’ the following Monday and we could take it from there.
The Monday came and I was introduced to the chef and the table staff and the job started. It was hard and heavy work at times, but all the team were nice to work with and I enjoyed my trial day. It came to light during the course of the day, that two of the waitresses knew my eldest son and had worked with him for a time. By the end of the day I was a little tired, but generally speaking was pleased how the day had gone. I was paid ‘cash-in-hand’ for the day and and was told “See you on Monday then!” It wasn’t a question, it was a statement to which I agreed “Yes. See you on Monday!” I had a job, and when I looked back, I had come full circle. I had been a Kitchen Porter/Assistant in my first job after leaving school and I was back doing more or less the same job.
I am now furloughed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and if I’m honest with myself I can not see me going back to work there if and when the cafe reopens. It will be simply impossible to have the number of tables that we currently have and less tables means less customers, which in turn means the need for a reduction in staff. The kitchen is not much bigger than the average domestic kitchen, so safe distance working would be difficult. However I may just be proved wrong.
This brings me to the end of this series of posts. I hope you have enjoyed my journey as much as I have enjoyed writing it.
It’s the end of March and things had not got much better. Our usual whole-team meetings were now bi-monthly and there were rumours flying around about possible job losses. The head of our service had called a special meeting as he put it “To discuss certain issues!” He was quite up front from the start. The department had to save £XYZ the next financial year and that there could/would be job cuts. But there was good news too. The Early Leavers Initiative (see this post) that I had been rejected for was now looking at every application with a view to acceptance. The caveat was that it was a time-limited offer and we would have to work fast, because after the offer finished, the early link to the work pension would no longer be available.
My initial reaction was not a very positive one. I took the view that I was too important before, so I was too important now! After my initial thoughts had calmed down a little, I talked it over with my wife and decided that there was no harm in applying again, especially as I was no longer IT ‘king-pin’ that has been before my heart operation. And of course, if I was not happy with the offer I would be getting, I could always refuse it and carry on.
The offer came through at the end of April and it was about what we were expecting. So after more talk and lot of soul searching, we decided it was the best thing. We decided that I should carry on until the end of October as this would give us more time to make any plans we needed. My idea was that I would take about 6 months off, doing jobs around the house that I had not had time to do, then start to look for some part-time work. I knew that after half a year, I could possibly apply for my old job back in a part-time capacity, but that thought never got off the ground at all.
So after about 1 year of jobs and taking it easy (sometimes) I started to look for something paid to do. This wasn’t going to be easy. I had applied certain conditions to the job search. I could not work weekends (my wife worked Sundays, and Saturday was our ‘family day’). Evenings were also out as I just didn’t want evening work and I only wanted to work a maximum of 14 hours, over a 2 day period. This did limit the kind of work that was available. I also did not want a managerial/supervisory responsibility which limited it even further. It was nearly another year before I was successful.
With Christmas out of the way, I was now waiting for my transfer date. It had been my understanding that I was to move straight after the holiday. However, because of some delay with software I was to be testing. It was mid February when I took up my temporary position. The software was intended for residents so that they would be able to know when their bins were due to emptied.
Everything started well. I was able to work with my old team more easily than before, with being on the same site. The testing I was to work on was quite easy. The software company had listed the steps that were needed to do the tests, and it was simply a case of run through the list, making notes, until it broke. And ‘broke‘ it did! Often! When we came up with a problem, the full detailed notes were sent off and we waited for the next version to be delivered. This went on for about 6 months before the first beta version was put out for external testers. More problems were reported and so it went on. The testing and re-testing plodded on for a full year. Each time an issue was raised then a new version was produced, and the time it took to produce the latest beta was taking longer and longer. It was February 2016 when the first final version was put ‘on the shelves’ and could be downloaded.
Alongside this I was also working testing parts of the internal system and helping sort the IT problems that were happening with the Parking team. I was also expected to pick up some of the Housing IT issues, but I could always find a reason to miss these.
Then came the moment, I was dreading. I was being recalled back to the main site, to carry on my main work. I was not happy and on the 29th February 2016 I was back in the City Centre office. But by now I had a little more knowledge and it was a little easier. The downside was that the person who had helped me the most, had been seconded to another team and didn’t have much time to help me. It was back to being helped by my old adversary “Nellie”.
I was now back as a full time help-desk operator and I’m struggling. I had been more or less thrown in at the deep end. I had explained before I went into hospital, some 4 months previous, that I was going to need to retraining. But when asked again I was told that there was no individual training. The Government cuts to the Councils budget was beginning to hit hard and the only training that was available was the old school “sitting with Nellie!’ Now this would have been fine if so called ‘Nellie’ had any sort of patience. This ‘Nellie’ was the colleague that wanted the job that I got, so you can imagine that there was a little bit of animosity going on.
I plodded on through the next couple of months and managed to let colleagues believe that I knew what I was doing. In reallity, I was bluffing it. There was a few things that I did know, but these were the easy things that I tended to miss. One of my colleagues realised what was happening and began to take me under their wing. She pulled out a lot of training manuals and told me to ask if there was anything I needed. I found out months later, that she had been asked to help me by the service manager. I was still struggling, but it was starting to get easier.
Then came the Christmas shutdown. That’s when the Council made non-essential office staff take leave from Christmas Eve to January the 2nd. But, just before that holiday, I was told that I was to be working on another project. I was to be part of the Waste Collectors team (bin men). The Council were developing some software to monitor the amount of waste that householder put in their waste bins. I was transferring back to the office where I had been working for years in the Parking Service. I had come home.
The project should last a year and I was back amongst real (sic) friends.
Jump forward to the 1st September and I am summoned, by works phone, to appear in front of my line manager. It seems, that although it was pre-determined how long I would be away work for recovery, I had to have an interview to discuss my “return to work strategy“. It was not a disciplinary interview, more of “fact finding interview” Fortunately I had already formulated my phased return, so I was able to show her my plan of action. There was a slight moment of finger wagging during the twenty minutes I was there, but I got over it.
Two weeks later, and another phone call. This time it was HR, who wanted to have a little chat with regard to my phased return. They said they could come to me at home, or if I wanted I could see them, at my nearest office. I opted to see them and made an appointment for the next day. This turned out to be a real discussion. I explained my plan, which was to phase my return over four weeks. One day, then two days, then three days followed by the last week of four days. The lady that interviewed me said the plan was a good one, but was worried that it might be too quick and they would monitor my progress. I did mention that I had had the same interview with my line manager and was told that it should not have happened. It seemed that because it was a pre-elective procedure with a set recovery time, I was technically not on sick leave.
The phased return worked well for me, and I managed to get back to working full time with very little problem. However, people were very understanding and I think they made special efforts to get me back to normal. In all truth, during those four weeks I had very little to do. In fact apart from reading work newsletters, catching up on emails and trying to read software manuals, I did very little at all. It became very boring and quite stressful.
Within a few weeks, and a lot quicker than I imagined, I was ‘invited’ to attend an interview. It was one of those interviews where you know you have got the job from the very start. The team I was to be working in were basically an IT help-desk for part of the councils Environmental Services department. We were the people that ‘sorted’ the problems that Environmental Health officers had with the software they used. I found it difficult as a lot of the problems that cropped up were down to errors in the software, rather than user errors. To fix these, I needed to know the programming side of the software. Although I did know some programming techniques, the ones needed were far more complicated. There were five of us, and although I kept my grade, I was back at the bottom of the pile. I have to admit I struggled for the first couple of months, but gradually I began to gain more knowledge and my confidence increased.
Then it all went wrong again!
The departmental heads still had to save money, and so our little IT support team (as we liked to call ourselves) were to be merged with a much larger team that supported all of the Environmental service areas and also the councils Housing department. We went from being a team of five to be part of a team of over forty. This was a real help-desk job now. Sat in an office with a laptop, smart-phone and a head-set with a whole range of new software to learn. I knew from the start that it was not the job for me. I spent most of the time trying to understand the new work and really not getting very far.
And then the day of my heart operation arrived (see this thread for more) I was going to be off work for three months while I recovered, which was going to be an ideal time to find something I was more at home with. Or so I thought.
When I say ‘… a bit boring …’, I mean that nothing really eventful happened. A few new residents zones installed, new staff, new equipment but nothing startling for about six years. The team and me just plodded along. So as I say, when I look back, it was just a bit boring. Still enjoyed the job and most of the staff were easy to work with and I had built up a bit of a reputation, but that was about it.
Then, towards then end of 2012 rumours started appearing about job/staff changes. We had two members of staff leave and they were not replaced and this started to worry a few people. We were told that they would be replaced in the new year, but that we would have to manage until then. Which of course we did.
Around about this time, the Council were beginning to look at reducing staff to cut costs. Central funding was being cut and departmental budgets were being squeezed. The Council was promoting what the called ‘Early Leavers Initiative’ or ELI. Essentially what this was voluntary redundancy. Staff would leave, get the standard redundancy payment and gain access to their works pension. I thought about this a lot and K*** and me decided that it might be a good move. Leave the Council and get another job somewhere else with a nice lump sum of money in the bank. So in January 2013, I applied for this ‘ELI’. After a few weeks, I received a reply, explaining that I could not be considered as I was ‘too valuable to the service’.
Later in 2013 me and a colleague (one who I had a bit of an issue with) received an email, quite out of the blue which explained that service was being reviewed and that we were part of that review. I queried this ‘review’ with the Assistant Manager who dismissed it as ‘… just something the Head of Service had to do and that it would not affect us …’ His face was a picture when both me and my colleague, G*** forwarded him the email we had received. He still claimed that it would not be an issue and that he would get someone to explain it all to us.
A couple of weeks later someone from HR did come and explain. What was happening was that some of the posts throughout the department were being looked at, to try and centralise some of the functions. the example they gave was that G***, who was our Training Officer would probably serve the department better if she worked within the Training team, where there would be vacancies in the future. The same applied to me, and I would be of more use in the departments IT service area. We were assured that we would still have a job, but it was still a very worrying time and made a mockery of the reason I was rejected for ELI. Not so valuable now, I thought.
You may be aware that I work part-time in a local café. One of the many features of this café, is their free Wi-Fi. The access code is displayed for anyone to use if you know where to look. Most customers will use the Wi-Fi for what it is there for i.e. so they can check their emails or show someone pictures on their phone, that kind of thing. However, there is an increasing number of customers that seem to visit the café with the sole purpose of accessing the the free internet.
On Tuesday this week, I arrived at work around 10:20, which is my usual time and noticed a customer sat at a 4 seater table. He had his laptop open and was also using his phone. I also noticed he was wearing a pair of headphones and one of those ‘cheek mikes’ that seem to be the norm these days. I hovered around his table for a few seconds before entering the kitchen and realised that he was conducting some kind of interview with somebody. Over the course of the next couple of hours, he still seemed to be talking to someone and on a couple of occasions, he got quite animated. He eventually left at around 12:45, or at least that’s when I noticed he had gone. From what I could see, he had drunk one cup of coffee and who knows how many glasses of free water. I mentioned to the chef that he had gone and he explained that he had been sat at the table since about 09:00. Just one cup of coffee!! The table staff have been told not to move people on, but to keep asking if they require anything else. They call it ‘good customer service’. But what about the ‘good customer service’ for the customers who cannot get a seat?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for getting free Wi-Fi in places I visit, but come on … lets not abuse it.
Things did start to get better as the next few years progressed. Staff realised that I was not the ‘bossy’ type that the previous occupier of the post.
In 1991 the Government decided to ‘de-criminalise’ parking offences. The Road Traffic Act 1991 (RTA), allowing local authorities to issue parking tickets for contraventions such as: parking on yellow lines, footway parking, not displaying valid pay and display tickets or parking permits within a Controlled Parking Zone (CPZ). Leeds were now starting to look at the pros and cons of this new legislation. But before that could happen, Leeds needed a new processing system. I was asked, because of my ‘technical knowledge’ to be part of the team that looked at the different systems that were available. Unusually for me, I asked what it was worth? The manager had been expecting this and offered me an upgrade in scale to S5. I remember sitting there pretending to think about and then, even more unusual for me, I countered with ‘”Could you make it S6?” I think he had been expecting this and he agreed, there and then.
There were many trips out to various Local Authorities to see their systems and to talk to users before we settled on ours. One of the the things that kept cropping up, was residential parking, or parking outside your own property. As more and more people had cars, and the cost of parking those cars increased, many drivers took to parking in residential streets, much to the annoyance of the local residents. To try and overcome this problem Local Authorities set up Residents Parking Zones which allowed the residents within that ‘zone’ to obtain a parking permit(s) for themselves and visitors. Leeds were using card permits that were hand written with any required details and they did not look very professional.
The new legislation would give the Council control over the parking in these Residents zones, and it was decided that any new system would have to be able to cope with the issue of more accurate and professional permits. This also meant that jobs and job titles would have to change. Parking Attendants became Civil Enforcement Officers, clerks became Customer Service Officers and a new team called Appeals Officers was created. The new system used mail-merge for the first time to create individual and personalised letters. This meant that we could now send parking permits that were no longer hand written and could not be easily forged. It became one of my jobs to both design and implement these new style permits when we were ready to take on the new service. That new service started in 2005 and things started to get better for everyone.
The daily, weekly and monthly back-ups were a bit of a bind for most people, so as I had taken over the job, my popularity had begun to grow a little. However, this wasn’t to last. The scaling system for what was essentially junior office staff started with S1, then S1/2 then S3 followed by S4, S5 and S6. The S1 level was reserved for staff under the age of 18. These were very few and far between at this time, so most people in the Council were S1/2 or above. I had been there just over a year when the chap on the S3 level decided to leave. He wasn’t getting the promotion he expected and he had decided to go back to the private sector. This left an opening for 7 of us on the S1/2 scale.
I wasn’t going to apply, as I felt that 3 of the others had more experience than me and were probably better suited to the job. It was one of the two Supervisors that told me to apply for a number of reasons, and it gave me food for thought. Then when the other Supervisor repeated the same reasons why I should apply, I decided to bite the proverbial and I completed the required application form (no CV’s in those days for the lower grades) and handed it in. I wasn’t expecting much, but knew that all internal applications were interviewed, so really I had nothing to lose. The interview went as well as could be expected and afterwards I felt that the manager may have gone a little easy on me. This was due to the comments the other 3 main rivals had made when they thought I was out of earshot. To cut a short story even shorter, I got the job and was due to start the following Monday. This, of course did not go down well with the other internal applicants, and it soon became clear that I was back to square one with, what were now the lower grades.
The main premise of the job was to be the first line answer to written correspondence about a parking ticket. An appeal letter would come in, it would be logged by one of the S1/2’s. They would also create a file for that correspondence, and it would be passed to me. My job was then to read the letter, make a decision to progress it for payment, progress it higher or cancel the ticket. I would say about 95% of the appeals that came in failed with only 1 or 2 % going to a higher level. All the rest (3%) were cancelled.
The letter writing was something I had not seen before, although I understand that it was a standard practice. All replies were constructed using pre-written standard paragraphs with some even being standard letters. All I had to do was attach a piece of ‘scrap’ paper, with a series of letters and numbers ie P1, P4, P6 etc. This would then go with the file, to the typing pool who would type up the letter and return it for posting. There were no word-processing in those days. Most of the typists used huge Canon typewriters that had a little memory but nothing like what is in use today.
But I now had a little bit of faith that I could make it in an office situation.
For the first few weeks, I felt a little out of place. All the team I was with, bar one had been office workers since leaving school and most of them had been with a Local Authority, so I was a bit of an oddity. Most of them couldn’t seem to get their heads around why, with the qualifications I had, would I want to work in an office. This was something that had been explained to us on the course and so I was expecting it. They soon got over it within a couple of weeks, and I settled down to become an “Officer of The Council” as we were called.
The briefcase was the first thing to be ditched, quickly followed by the fountain pen and dictionary. I had also bought a suit and I soldiered on with that for a couple of months. We shared our office floor with a couple of other sections of the Council and I soon discovered that literally nobody carried a briefcase. Most of the women had some form of shopping/tote bag to supplement their handbag , but the men didn’t seem to have bags at all. I still had my lunch and calculator to carry, so I needed something. I eventually dug out my old school bag, which was one of those thick canvas army types that we used to be able to get from the Army and Navy stores. Now what ever happened to them?
It had been noted at my interview, that I had an interest in computers and technology. This of course led to me being given a ‘very important job’. Everyday, at 4pm I was to perform the database back-up. Because there was two types of parking ticket (on-street and car parks) we had two computer systems. The reason for this was that back in 1986 the on-street parking service (parking meters) merged with the off-street car parks service. Each brought their own systems which were not compatible. So the off-street system (car parks) used Microsoft Windows 2.1 and a software package called DataEase, whereas the on-street part of the team had an old IBM machine that ran a program called dBase. It also ran Wordstar and Supercalc, but we never used them. It was dBase 2 that we had, but it was not like the other system which had it’s own built in back-up routine. No with this one, you first had to ‘drop out’ of the database and jump to a ‘DOS prompt’ Then you had to ‘Setpath’ which basically told the computer where to look and then type the back-up command. This had to be exact and had the location of the file to be backed-up, and the location where it was to be backed-up to. You then had to verify the back-up by following a similar routine.
It took me a couple of months before I realised that I could write a batch file to do all the leg work. When it worked first time, I was a hero. I had shaved a good 10 minutes of the time and it was far more accurate.. The only downside to this was that I was now the Parking Departments IT expert! Everything from changing the computer plug filing the back-up discs to replacing the printer toner was now my job. I even got asked to ‘have a quick look’ at the photocopier. Other staff started to come to me with their IT related problems and I came to the attention of the IT Department. I was now the unofficial IT support (more on that later) for Parking. If IT wanted any small work doing, then I got the call and was talked through the problem and solutions. I was loving it.
It was expected that future ‘outsourcing’ of services (the Council did not like the word ‘Privatisation’) would result in a number of job losses. This was especially true for the catering services providing mass produced meals. The same number of people can produce 50 meals or 500 meals. It is just a matter of scale, and the large industrial caterers were more than used to this.
In an attempt to minimise job losses, Leeds City Council came up with a plan to try and train staff in threatened roles, to work as office staff. It was quite a big undertaking, but it was surprising how few ‘manual’ workers took up the option. It was posted in the monthly staff newsletter, but the program only lasted 1 year before it was closed down, apparently due to lack of support. The way it worked was this: one day a week for 15 weeks, a trainee would attend a variety of courses. These were, touch typing, business letter construction, Council finances, office etiquette and, although computers were few and far between, word processing. The problem where I worked was the availability of the newsletter. It first went around the 4 Care Officers (managers in a word) who usually had it for a week or so, before it was passed to the Care Assistants. There were 20 of those, so it was often out of date before the kitchen staff got their hands on it. However the newsletter in question that had the advertisement for the course, was left in the kitchen by one of the officers, so it was only by chance that I saw the advert. I applied and much to everyone surprise, I got on the course.
The courses went really well and I passed them all without much trouble. I did struggle with the touch-typing, but I had the speed and got away with it. Each course came with a certificate. They wouldn’t be much use to anyone outside the Council as they were not recognisable awards, but it was till nice to get something for the achievement.
Another aspect of the course was interview skills. We all were given a mock 10 minute interview and then we were given an assessment on where we went right or wrong. That proved really useful. One of the trainers was in constant touch with various personnel departments and they got the first notification of any suitable jobs coming up. Towards the middle of July, about 4 weeks before the courses were due to finish, a job came up that I was told that I would be suitable for. They arranged an interview and on the 26th July I found myself sat in the Parking Managers office explaining about my computer skills. I have to mention here that I had a personal computer at the time and was very proud that I had written a game, that had been published in a leading computer magazine. I explained about the need for accuracy whilst at the same time being prepared for boring repetition. I waffled on about being able to work in a team (catering) and being able to work alone (computer). Interview over, I went back to work. I was due to finish at 5pm that day but had been asked to stay until 6:30 to help with some entertainment that was happening that night.
When I finally got home, K**h told me that Car Park Section had rung and could I ring them at around 9am the next morning. I fully believed that I must have failed the interview and that they wanted to give me the feedback I had asked for. So feeling a little dejected, I rang from the phone in the APH kitchen. I’m told, that I changed colour during that call from my normal flesh colour through white to red. I had got the job, and after discussing the minimum period of notice (only a week surprisingly) I rang back to say I could start the second week of August.
This did not go down too well with the staff at the home. All wished me luck, but I could tell that they thought I was making a mistake. “You’re a cook not a typist” was one of the more often used phrases, along with “You won’t last five minutes sitting at a desk”. All this could have been true, but I knew that I was going nowhere in the current job, so really had nothing to lose.
So on Tuesday the 6th August 1990, with my expensive scientific calculator, fountain pen, pocket dictionary and lunchbox packed neatly into my new briefcase, I found myself back in the Parking Managers office having the office rules explained to me.
As I mentioned earlier, my time at Hillside APH was a little boring. The job had no prospects and had little in the way of challenges. Compared to the previous 15 years, the work was easy, although some of the staff weren’t. But it paid the bills and we were soon back on the right foot again. So much so, that by December 1988 were discussing the possibility of having a child. Early in February 1989 K**h discovered that she was pregnant.
Work for me was much the same as it had been all along. The only thing that changed was that I had started to get paid for any overtime. There wasn’t much overtime and what little there was was paid as time off in lieu. Basically you worked on your day off and you got that day back at some point. For some reason, and I think it was something that the unions had been working, we were now getting paid at time and a half. So the money was increasing slightly but the work load remained the same. The problem had been (as I was led to believe) that although the APH was owned an run by the Local Authority, the support or ancillary staff were employed by the APH and paid for out of the establishments budget. As I understood it was the unions that had forced a change, so that the support staff were now employed by the Local Authority and now came under their rules and conditions.
The pregnancy followed its course without too many problems (those are for another time) and at the end of October 1998, S***e our son was born. Work was still the same, but towards the end of December things began to change.
Firstly, the Council ‘Rumour Mill’ began to feed stories into the work place. Again, the word “Privatisation” was banded about. Some APH’s in other parts of the country had trialled outsourcing some of their support jobs with laundry service seemingly the most popular. Then in January it was announced that the laundry at Hillside was to become privatised. It didn’t seem to have any effect in the early days. The staff stayed the same, they were paid the same and did the same hours. But when one retired, she wasn’t replaced. We now had two people doing the work that three used to do.
Things were starting to have the effect that the unions had been talking about for a couple of years.
Now it gets a little boring as nothing much happened for the next couple of years. K**h had a few jobs which included a vacuum cleaner salesperson. She answered an advertisement in the local free newspaper for a demonstrator and within five to six hours she had become a reseller. Now you may remember from films, the name Kirby. It was/is a huge brand of heavy duty vacuum cleaners from America. It was K**h’s job to follow up on leads, demonstrate the cleaner and convince the householder that their lives would suffer without one.
That job didn’t last very long and she moved on to various other jobs. One was setting up and maintaining houseplants in offices. That got her a large amount of knowledge of gardening and plant care. Other jobs followed before finally getting a job as a cashier in what was then called Safeway. That lasted a while and then got a better job at Marks & Spencer in Pudsey.
I didn’t find work straight away and we decided that I should decorate the whole house first. Well I managed the kitchen, the living room and the main bedroom, before the money started to run out. After about eight weeks or so I received a letter instructing me to attend an interview at what was called the Social Security Office (SSO). It was to “Discuss the reasons for me not being employed” and I had to attend on the Thursday morning at 9:30. So ‘suited and booted’ I duly arrived at 9:00 and was told that the interviewer would be late and I should come back in the afternoon. I remember looking at the one of the pin-boards where jobs were posted and spotted one for a “Cook in Charge” at a nearby Aged Persons Home (APH) The counter staff rang the number and I was told to go along for an interview straight away.
Finding the place was easy as it was just off the main Leeds & Bradford road. I was shown into the office and the interview began. It was a strange experience and I almost knew that, after explaining the circumstances, the job was mine. It felt like I was interviewing them. Anyway, they told me they would be in touch. I went back to the SSO, knowing now that I had missed the interview I had originally gone for. I was told that the interview would be rescheduled for the following week.
I got home, and at about 5:00pm I had a phone call. I had got the job and when could I start. It was the following Monday when took my first tentative steps in the new job at Hillside APH.
After the initial ‘first night’ nerves we began to think that we were going to make something of ourselves. Lunchtime service was working well and we were getting a slight increase in numbers. But it was the evenings that were starting to show. Wednesday was usually the poorest night, but then again nobody seemed to go out on a Wednesday and Saturday was the busiest. Numbers were increasing by the week up to a point where it was necessary to book for a Saturday night. The biggest issue was the menu. It was far too extensive. As I remember there was about ten different cuts of meat to be served from the grill. Each of these had a choice of at least three different sauces or garnishes. For example beef steaks: there was rump, sirloin, fillet and T bone. Then there was lamb chop, Barnsley chop, lamb loin and lamb fillet. There was also chicken, ham, pork chop and pork fillet. All this made for a hard time for the grill chef (me) and the pass chef (K**h). It got so difficult that the owner hired an assistant to work Friday and Saturday.
The numbers were quite steady and we had a stream of regulars and then disaster struck. Disaster in the form of the 1986 FIFA World Cup. The final was on Sunday the 29th June, but the two/three weeks before gave us lots of problems. Have the games were played at 12:00 local time, which meant 6pm here in the UK. We first noticed that things were not as they should be was on the Wednesday to Friday of the third week before the final. There some popular games being played on those nights and were suffered with the number of covers. Saturday picked up, and we thought we would be okay.
The owner said that it would be fine if they big names played later in the day, but on Wednesday the 18th, England played and the numbers dropped dramatically. The following Wednesday saw the first of the semi’s. Again the restaurant suffered. But the biggest hit came on the Saturday the 28th. Although England had done the usual and had gone out the previous week, Saturday was a big day. It was the day that third and fourth place would be decided. By Friday night, the diary should no bookings at all for Saturday. By 3pm on Saturday we still had no bookings and the owner was considering not opening. We did stay open but did not sell a single meal. As this was the days before big screens in pubs, even the bar was deserted. Bookings were down on the Sunday too, even though the final was later in the day.
We did not see the owner on either Monday or Tuesday, but Wednesday evening he called a meeting. His wife was with him, and they both had a very serious face. the owner announced that he had been with the accountant over the past couple of days trying to work things out. The bombshell was, that the restaurant was losing money and was being supported by takings in the bar, which as he said could not go on. He had checked the bookings for the Friday and Saturday and had decided that he would close the restaurant on the Friday night. Nothing anybody could say would change his mind.
We worked as normal as we could those last few days, but it was a depressing time for all. The news had got out, and we had a few cancellations on both the Thursday and Friday. Friday night came and neither of the waitresses turned up and as we only had two tables of four booked, the owner decided to close after those tables had left.
It was the end of the dream. Fame and fortune was not coming our way and it was a pretty hard time for K**h and me.
I got the job! P*m was a little miffed about it at first, but it was soon forgotten and we worked quite well together for most of the time. There wasn’t any real problems although P*m was still getting a little bit of grief from some of the staff. We all thought she could handle it though.
We now move forward to 1986, K**h is one of the Assistant Head Cooks in the patient kitchen and people joked that we were taking over the place. I forgot to mention that my brother P*****p was also a cook and he was working in the Diet Kitchen. It was about this time, that the rumour machine began it’s evil work. The rumours were “Privatisation”. The rumours were there before 1986, but it was then that they started to look more real. The Government at the time were looking to save money in what was called that ‘Ancillary Services’. These services were essentially catering, cleaning, laundry and portering services. It was a worrying time for all and people started looking outside of the hospital service for job opportunities. K**h and me weren’t really looking too hard as we had been told by the management team, that managers would come from the service. That turned out to be a lie eventually.
I mentioned before that K**h’s father was a Senior Pharmacist, but didn’t mention that her mother was a pharmacist too. She often worked in a chemist shop in Knaresborough. The person that owned the pharmacy had a brother, Jo*n that ran a pub in Pudsey. The pub landlord was looking to expand his pub restaurant from a simple lunchtime menu to a more extensive short order ‘a’ la carte’ style evening menu. It kind of appealed to us both, as we were now beginning to get more worried about our jobs when it was announced that the laundry service was going out to tender later that year.
The restaurant was only open on Friday and Saturday evenings, and we decided to work a couple of evenings, just to see how it would go. We did about four or five evenings and realised that we could not do both jobs. Simply too tiring. Finally we ‘bit the bullet’ and decided to take it on full time. We both handed our notice in at the hospital, much to the surprise of everyone, and two weeks later were the full time cooks (or chefs as we were now known) at the Old Vic in Pudsey.
The big day arrived and the so called ‘newsome twosome’ started. I have no idea who came up with the name ‘newsome twosome’ but it did seem to fit. The fears we had, with neither ever working in a hospital kitchen were soon discredited. It turned out that C***s had been the Head Cook at an army barracks and P*m had worked for 10 years as a cook in the Royal Air Force. Both seemed to have good skills and soon blended in with the rest of the kitchen. C***s was appointed as the Kitchen Superintendent and always seemed quite easy going. P*m got the Assistant Head job and so became my so called ‘running mate’. She was not as laid back as C***s and this caused a few tensions among some of the staff. You will know the type, criticising everything that she did, but they didn’t have the courage to apply for the job themselves. However, we were now a team again.
Everything plodded along quite uneventfully for a couple of years. A few initiatives came and went, but I began to notice that whenever opportunities arose, I appeared to be the preferred choice. A prime example was when management decided to update and change the menus in the staff dining room. All the kitchen staff were asked to come up with ideas, even the Porters and Kitchen Assistants were included. But when the ideas were pooled, it was C***s and me that were invited to take the discussions further. P*m and the Head Cook were side-lined a little. C***s and I tried to include them but we both felt at least one had taken her ‘bat home’ and was a bit more negative than the other. The Head Cook seemed to just be along for the ride. Never offering advice or criticism and his ‘safety phrase’ was “That sounds nice!”
The new menus were decided on and things seemed to be getting back to normal. Then the next bombshell hit.
The Head Cook announced that he was going to retire. We knew it was coming, but he had never divulged his actual age or the date of his birthday so we didn’t really know when. He had not taken any of his leave so he used his three weeks holiday entitlement as the bulk of his notice. He had asked the Catering Manager not to tell anyone until he had started his leave, as he didn’t want any fuss. C***s knew, but both P*m and me found out on his last day. After the initial shock, both of us realised that the battle to succeed him was on. Although initially it was a good natured battle, the days leading up to the interview day got a little fraught and tempers spilled over sometimes.
The early 1980’s saw a few major changes in the kitchen where I was now working. The Kitchen Manager (or Kitchen Superintendent to give him his official title) retired. In the past, the job would have gone to the then Head Cook. There would have been the usual interviews, but he would have got the job. This time it was different. This time, he claimed that he had no interest, but the rumour had it, that he had been ‘advised’ that he was too old.
We had at the time, three Assistant Head Cooks; A**n, S***e and D**e, and to everyone’s surprise, A**n got the top job. This caused a lot of upset in the kitchen as although he was a capable cook, he was not a good manager. He had very few people skills and was basically not really liked. Within 6 months, the other two Assistant Heads (A**n was not replaced) were looking for other positions.
It was around this time that the local bus company, which was still in the public sector, announced a recruitment campaign. Partly as a response to the increase in passengers after the energy crises of the 1970’s, Leeds City Transport decided they needed new drivers. As a result, D**e applied to be a driver and was successful. S***e on the other hand found a job at sea, as a cook.
After a few months, A**n suddenly announced that he had another job and was leaving. Because he still had his four weeks annual leave, he left that same day, taking his leave as notice. Nobody knew why he suddenly left, although there were a few rumours that he had been fired, but none of them were ever proven. But it was time to panic.
The Catering Manager was now looking for two Assistant Heads and a Kitchen Super. It was expected that I would apply for the Assistant Head and of course I did and after a rather difficult interview (the original Catering Manager that hired me had now left and the new one had a different approach) I got the job. For a short while, it was just me and the Head Cook who still was refusing to apply for the Super’s job. After about three/four weeks, the Catering Manager informed the whole kitchen, that a new Assistant Head and a new Kitchen Super had been found and they both would be starting the following Monday. We were to make them welcome as they had never worked in a Hospital kitchen before!
One of the things that was enjoyed during those early years was the local pub. For us in the Main Kitchen, our favourite port of call was The George. It was quite easy to get to, just a matter of out of the kitchen, through the loading bay, cross the road and we were there. The staff in the Staff/Private Patients Kitchen tended to head to their nearest pub which was The Town Hall Tavern. Both were Tetley houses which was the only local brewery in those days. It tended to only be weekends and birthdays that staff enjoyed a pint or two in either of these two pubs.
We normally only got a half hour lunchbreak, but often people started early and turned the half hour into a full hour. It wasn’t officially allowed, but we seemed to get away with it and I was a regular partaker. It was on one of these lunchtime forays, that I got to know the ‘new girl’ a bit better. She was called K***, and someone invited her to the pub one Sunday lunch. That ‘someone’ then said they could not go, and totally out of character I said I would like to take her for a drink. We got on quite well, although I thought she was a little posh at the time. Her father was the senior Pharmacist which was a position that was Consultant level. One lunchtime led to another and before long, I plucked up the courage to ask her out in the evening. More evenings out ensued complimented by full days out. I was on a different planet. She was my first proper girlfriend and it was always going to end a certain way. Early November 1978 we were married. We bought a house in Bramley, just off Raynville Road. Life and work was really good.
However, by the middle of 1979 it became obvious that we could not work together in that kitchen. We were always on different shifts. An example would be K*** starting at 6:00am and me starting at 11:45am or the other way around. Days off together seemed impossible as the then manager could not afford to have his two ‘star cooks’ (his words!) off together. We decided to talk the the Catering Manager about the issue. As luck would have it, one of the trainees that started with me had left his job in the Staff Kitchen, so there was a vacancy there. The so called interview went my way, possibly because I was the only applicant and I was soon installed in a different job. Days off were beginning to happen and I could often swap shifts so we started and finished around the same time. Everything was back on track.