From then to now … Things can only get better !


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, More moneybecause 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 Residents Parking signpeople 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 parking-permitit 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.

From then to now … “The Only Way Is Up !”


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 joOffice Deskb. 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 Excess Chargeto 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.


TypistThe 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.

From then to now … getting the hang of it


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 Rucksacksuit 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 IBM Computerthere 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, dBase 2 screenwhereas 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 IT Experttime, 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.

From then to now … a huge change


It was expected that future ‘outsourcing’ of services (the Council did not like the word ‘Privatisation’) would result in a Steam Boilernumber 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 Word Processornewsletter, 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 CVassessment 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 personaTexas Instruments TI99 4al 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 Doubtfulnormal 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 penBriefcase, 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.

A new challenge had begun.

From then to now … yawn …


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 Yawnchallenges. 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 Babythe 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 LaundryPrivatisation” 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.

From then to now … a new start …


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 Kirbyfor 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 Safewaysmaintaining 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 staffHillside APH 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.

From then to now … end of the dream …


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 Menuthe 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 World cup 1986in 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 No Bookingsdiary 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. ClosedThe 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.