I quite often wake up early in the morning, for no reason at all. I’m thinking that I may not need as much sleep as I did when I was younger, but who knows. I try and clear my mind and think of a single thing and that usually gets me into ‘dozing mode.’
Last night, or I should say early this morning, I awoke. But something was quite different. I couldn’t think of anything. In fact, I could not remember anything. I tried to think about work colleagues … nothing. I could not remember their names. I could picture their faces, but I didn’t seem to know who they were.
I attempted to think of things I enjoy. Reading, writing my favourite music. Nothing!
I changed tack again and tried to think about family. Not close family, but my sister-in-law and her husband. I could not think of their names. I was beginning to think I was asleep and dreaming. But then again, do you know when you are asleep? Do you know you are having a dream?
I got up and went to the bathroom just to convince myself that I was awake and not dreaming. I was definitely awake. Gradually my thoughts started to become more normal and I began to create ‘family trees’ in my head. Some names didn’t fit, but as time went on, it got better, and things started to fall into place.
I then drifted back off to sleep. It felt strange when I woke up, trying to recall what had gone on, and I’m not sure if anything did take place and it merely was just a dream.
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.
The 2nd day back at work was really busy. One of my colleagues, who lives just around the corner had gone sick. Not the virus, but I think it may have been stress related. So the effect of that meant that the boss was working. It can be quite difficult when she is in, as she will not say no to a customer. For example, the chef was due to finish at 15:00 (he’d been there since 07:00). Five minutes before he took off his apron, she asked if he could do an ‘afternoon tea’ for 2 people. She explained that they had been in since 12:30 and had bought many drinks. The lady of the party was Canadian and had never had a proper English afternoon tea. The chef looked a little annoyed, but he agreed. So it was 15:30 when he finished eventually. Now the deputy manager would have said no! She would have explained it takes a bit of time to prepare and that they had some customers waiting to come in. Which was true. We seem to be getting the same or more numbers in with only half the tables.
They have a young lad, still at school who does the washing up on Saturdays and he is covering my Monday shift. Because I can be furloughed, it seems that they can give him a couple of extra shifts, until he goes back to school in September. Seems a bit cheeky to me, but I’m not losing out and he gets a bit extra pocket money. How legal or even moral it is I don’t know, but it’s not an issue I feel I need to raise.
Youngest was home on Friday. He now comes home every 2nd weekend as opposed to every weekend. He seemed very content. It has taken a long time to get to this stage and he coped really well with being in lock-down, and not coming home for 4 months. We wouldn’t have thought it possible a year ago. His medication helps. It seems to relax him. The only downside is that he put on a lot of weight. We were asked to monitor his weight back in October last year as there were concerns that his weight was dropping. But some of the medication he was on, is not appropriate for his age and this is being reduced and replaced with a better solution. This where the problem lay. The old medication had a side effect that suppressed hunger a little. With this gone he began to increase his weight going from 9 stone in October to nearly 12 stone today. It seems to have stabilised now, but it means that most of his clothes no longer fit.
I’m going to have to go sick tomorrow. I’ve somehow got an infection on my left leg which I need some antibiotics for and I’m having a problem with my right knee. It started on Friday night, with my knee feeling just a little tender. By this morning, it’s got to the stage where I need a stick to get around. There is an art to correctly using a stick to help with walking, and I’m finding how difficult that art can be, but I think I’m getting there. Just texted the boss to explain that I will not be in tomorrow. Not sure how well that will go down, but I can’t be bending up and down with a walking stick. We shall see what happens.
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”.
Well my little part-time job in the local cafe has gone. Hopefully just for the time being. It wasn’t the most intellectually challenging work I’ve ever done, ‘Pot Washer/Kitchen Porter/Kitchen Assistant’ but it was a small friendly place that got me out of the house for a couple days a week. I say ‘hopefully’ because you never know what pressures small business owners have in keeping their business open. I suppose one of the dangers is that the owners will just give up, call it a day and that is my worry now. If the shutdown goes on for too long then maybe the staff will think the same. It has crossed my mind. I was aiming to hang my apron up just before by State Pension date in April 2021, but that may have to change.
K*** has gone off to work and she is not looking forward to it. She works part-time in a large supermarket and has seen first hand the chaos and bitterness this virus has caused. It’s the staff that are getting the blame for the shortages and it can get dangerous in some cases. I can understand a little about ‘panic buying’ and stock piling. When you see someone buying up packs and packs of toilet rolls, you begin to think, maybe I should do the same. But what I don’t get is some of the things people are stockpiling.
I needed to get a few things on Friday and went to a nearby S********s. It was only bread, eggs and a bit of veg that we wanted, but I passed an elderly couple pushing a trolley. There wasn’t much in the trolley, but they were discussing how many bottles of ketchup they needed. As I ‘ear-wigged’ it came to light that they already had two bottles, at home and were a bit disappointed that they were only allowed to buy three. They were actually thinking about coming back later in the day and getting some more. How many bottles of ketchup do anyone need? Crazy! I do think that the rationing most stores are doing, should have been started a month ago though.
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.
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.
It’s the question I get asked most if the subject of my blog crops up. Well the word “Alfie” isn’t usually part of the quest, although someone did sing that line to me on one occasion. However, it confuses most people when I tell them that it’s “About nothing, but then again about any and everything” And that’s more or less what it’s about. What I want to say and when I want to say it. I don’t have a theme. I tried that when I first started with Blogger and failed, although the “From then to now” posts do have a sort of theme running through them. So this is possibly one of the reasons my posts are more random than some other blogs. Something could affect me today and I’ll post about it and then something else could happen tomorrow and I would post about that. Then it could be a couple of weeks before I’m ready to write again.
It’s funny how politics and scandal seem to invade everyday conversation these days. The subject of Boris and the alleged ‘thigh grab’ came up at work on Monday. My colleague was completely bewildered by why she did not do anything about it at the time. I did try and explain, that 20 years ago someone who is trying to establish themselves and build a career simply did not ‘tell tales’ about an employer. If they did, it could have serious repercussions. It is only since the ‘#me too’ allegations came to the fore, that incidents are now being exposed.
That’s enough ‘politics’ for now. Normal service will be resumed in due course.
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.
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.