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.
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.
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.
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 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!
So, I’ve bitten the bullet and decided to become a chef. How was I going to achieve this this dream? It looked like I may have to back the Careers Advice Centre (CAC) and see what they had to offer. My parents put it around their friends that I was wanting to cook for a living and asked them to have a look out for me. I booked an appointment at the CAC but wasn’t really looking forward to it and eventually didn’t go.
I decided to see if any of the teachers could offer some advice. I drew a blank with most of them, but then that certain geography teacher said he would try and find a few things out, if that’s what I wanted to do. After a few days, he came up with a list of options that ranged from a full-time college course to an apprenticeship and even joining one of the armed forces. None of these appealed at all.
It’s now the beginning of May 1971 and we are all 16 years old. The school is now wanting us to leave so they can free up teachers time. The six or seven of us that are still left are simply reading the local papers in search of a job. Then someone, I cannot remember who suggests I might want to have a look at hospital catering as an option. It was the one thing that I had not even thought of. My parents looked into it and somehow managed to get me an interview. I was a bit concerned about having an interview and my father went with me. I think him going with me may have been one of the reasons I got the job. A trainee cook, due to start in August. Their advice was that I should find a temporary job in a kitchen somewhere, doing anything that was needed. To ‘… gain experience of kitchen life …’ they said.
After the interview, we met up with my mum and she thought it would be a nice idea to go and have some tea or coffee to celebrate. Now I thought we would be going to one of the cafés in Leeds Market, but no mum said we should ‘do it in style’ or words to that effect. The best place in those days was a department store called Schofields. They had an a ’la carte restaurant and a café and we went to the cafe. It was whilst we were there, that someone noticed a small sign advertising a kitchen porter job. We found out who to ask, and I was interviewed the same day. I’ll never know whether it was because I looked the part, or the fact that I was going into the catering industry, but I got that job too.
The actual job title was “Cake Boy” and for the morning entailed me pushing and pulling a huge wooden trolley full of wooden trays (no plastic in those days) of cakes from the bakery on the top floor to both restaurant and café. In the afternoon, I worked washing up on a huge dishwasher. It had a conveyer system which was a continual loop. The trays of crockery were loaded as the conveyer belt moved along. They went in the machine at one end and came out the other. The image is the closest I could get to the one I used, but you need to imagine the conveyor coming right across the front. The trick was to make sure that you unloaded the clean crockery before the tray got to the place where they would be loaded up again. It didn’t always go to plan and sometimes a double wash would happen.
I was there for ten weeks, before my ‘real’ job started, but I was on the first step of a long catering ladder, and on my way up.