30th June 2022 I’ve just finished reading a book by another of my Write That Book colleagues and it has really made me think back upon my life and ‘career’. After reading Chocolate and Chips by Gillian Westlake, I was amazed at the number of experiences she has faced. She has had such an eventful life, and fought her way through many obstacles to reach her goals; she is obviously made of much sterner stuff than me, and has my utmost admiration. Definitely a recommended read.
So, I began to think of my own work/life experiences, and remembered that back in February I’d written a blog about the first part of my professional life, so, there now follows a bit more information on my varied and chequered career. Well, not so much a career, as a rudderless drift from job to job without any forethought, planning or goals. Doesn’t bode well, does it?
In that blog (Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Off to Work We Go) I left off in the late 1980s working for DHL International as Operations Supervisor at their Castle Donington depot, literally with mud on my face. It was around that time my relationship with Trevor (soon-to-be-husband number 2) hit the skids. He worked away as a shopfitter and only came home every other weekend, which pretty much left me to my own devices. That wasn’t an issue until one evening when he’d come home unexpectedly to find an empty house. It was in the days before mobile phones, so he hadn’t been able to let me know, and equally unexpectedly, I had gone down to our Heathrow depot with our overnight trunker-driver, Red, in order to pick up a new van for Donington depot. So, when I arrived home the next morning, Trevor was, not surprisingly, both worried and angry, imagining all the worst sorts of scenarios. He hadn’t got as far as phoning the police or local hospitals, but when I opened the front door, apparently unharmed, he began to think the other worst-case scenario – that I was having an affair.
We ended up having an enormous row; this was highly unusual, since Trevor was the most placid man that ever lived. The argument ended with his comment ‘It’s about time you stopped all this ‘career’ business and settled down so we can have some kids.”
I know that most of you won’t know the back-story about my first marriage, since it’s not something I’ve written very much about (there are some things that are too personal and private) but suffice to say it ended (through no fault of mine) in my losing custody of my only child. I’ll go into the full story at some point, I’m sure.
Trevor’s last comment stopped me in my tracks. It was not something we’d talked about and I’d thought he was happy enough just having a daughter from his first marriage. I had to decide if it was something that I wanted for our future, but whilst I love children, the possibility that history might repeat itself for me, was something I knew I could not survive a second time. I left Trevor and went to stay with friends, so I could try and sort my head out.
After a few days, I called him and we arranged to meet to talk about our future, if there was to be such a thing. At that point, we had been together for five years which was longer than my entire relationship with my first husband, who was also as different from Trevor as chalk and cheese. Deep down, I knew he would never do to me what Hubby No 1 did. Anyway, at the end of our discussion, we decided that rather than a trial separation, we would have a ‘trial staying together’; if by the end of six months we had not resolved our differences, there would be a parting of the ways, no hard feelings. However, during that time, Trevor’s father died. It wasn’t unexpected, he had been frail for a long time and was a heavy smoker. The unfortunate thing was, it was Trevor and I who found him dead, when we’d gone to see him one Sunday morning at his home in Ruddington, Nottingham. We’d thought it strange as soon as we’d opened the front door to complete silence; Dad had always got the TV or radio on for company. We found him in his bedroom, crouched on the floor, stone cold. Because his bedroom window was open, the CID also had to be called when we called the doctor, just to be sure there were no suspicious circumstances. The doctor told us that it looked like he’d been trying to reach his slipper under the bed, and had a severe heart attack. The resulting grief caused Trevor and I to become much closer and when our six months was up, we decided to not only stay together but to get married and set the seal on our relationship.
By this time, I had left DHL and gone to work for a national courier company called CBX Couriers, based in Derby. CBX (short for Carpenter and Beardsmore Express) was a subcontractor used by DHL for local collections and drops which our own couriers were unable to cover. I’d become friends with ‘Bod’ and ‘Cappa’ who owned the company and they had decided they needed a Sales Executive to increase and promote their business. They knew I was becoming dissatisfied at DHL and asked if I fancied the job, which I did. I imagined myself, all smooth and sophisticated, rocking up in my company car to meetings, suited and booted and briefcase in hand. I had lots of ideas which Bod and Cappa indulged to change the company image. Whilst the band of leather-clad bikers would always be necessary for rapid jobs, in order to promote a corporate image, I got the van and truck drivers wearing shirts, ties and warm jackets bearing the company logo, which I also revitalised, changing the colours from red and brown to red, white and blue, much more sophisticated. I designed corporate stationery for letterheads, invoices, envelopes and compliments slips and put in place a new system for organising the office and accounting. I arranged for us to have a booth in a 3-day Business to Business Exhibition and organised all the requirements for that, including seats and refreshments for prospective customers, as well as the usual leaflets and freebies like pens and keyrings. All good ideas, but as a Sales Rep I was useless. I made appointments with prospective clients who were mostly kind and listened to what I had to say, but I could never ‘close the deal’ and couldn’t handle the rejection. I think it was then I discovered that I was much better at customer services, problem-solving and admin, and should leave sales to those people more suited to it. Whilst I had an outgoing personality, I lacked the assertiveness to conclude business, and that remains so to this day.
After only 12 months at CBX, I left – I had my wedding to organise, and fortunately Trevor’s income was sufficient for us to live on without my having to work. My first wedding had been such a non-event that I decided this time we’d do it properly, with the big ivory dress (definitely big in my case!), bridesmaids, a reception, the lot. We married on 1st September 1990 in a 20’s themed event and a jolly time was had by all. We went to Edinburgh for a few days and drove up the west coast of Scotland for a week for our honeymoon, it was blissful.
Three months later, the following December, my sister Mel was heavily pregnant so we went to stay with her and her husband Red, in the village of Collin, near Dumfries where they lived. No one except Red’s mother ever called him by his given name, Nigel; he just didn’t look like a Nigel (I don’t know what you envisage hearing that name, but I always imagine someone slim and sensitive or artistic). Red is a big man in height and stature, and the nickname apparently came from when he had a motorbike and wore red leathers, although it may also have been because of his ruddy complexion. We stayed for Christmas, and the birth was imminent, so we decided to stay until the baby arrived, since I wanted to be there for my sister. Their first son, Matthew, was born on 29th December and a few days later Trevor and I went home to Derbyshire.
We arrived home to find our house had been burgled. Well, not the house, but someone had broken into our garage and stolen all of Trevor’s tools. It was a huge loss of tools and equipment that he had collected for twenty years and which were essential to his livelihood probably worth around £2000 which was a lot of money back then. Unfortunately, he had neglected to take out business insurance on them, and they were not covered by our home insurance. The insurance assessor sympathised, but said the company would not pay out more than the value of DIY tools and power tools that might belong to an average householder. Trevor received about £250 compensation.
Now we were in a quandary. I hadn’t worked in over 12 months; Trevor couldn’t work without replacing his tools. Our savings were practically gone following the wedding and being now unemployed with no steady income, he couldn’t get a loan to replace the loss. We went on the dole. It wasn’t bad for a while, but we knew it couldn’t be long before we were in serious financial trouble. Our benefits only paid the interest on our mortgage, but in the meantime the arrears were growing.
Trevor mentioned that he had always fancied running a pub. Having been there, done that, I tried to explain that it literally was not all ‘beer and skittles’ as a living – it was bloody hard work. Nevertheless, we applied to various breweries, hoping that my experience in hospitality might make-up for Trevor’s total inexperience. It was then we found out how things had changed in having work interviews. By this time, the ‘Personnel’ departments had become Human Resources instead and they had brought in psychometric evaluations to judge people’s suitability for their vacancies. One of the big problems was that Trevor was dyslexic, although he’d never been diagnosed. When he was at school, he could barely read so they’d labelled him as ‘thick’ and mostly ignored him. When he was 14, he’d left school and went to work on a farm – the only job they thought he could manage. In this day and age, he’d have had tons of help and support and allowances made. It would have changed his whole life. As it was, he’d joined the Merchant Navy and they’d trained him as a Ships’ Carpenter, for which he had an immense talent. Give him a pile of wood and some drawings and he could build anything you like.
Anyway, when it came to answering questions like ‘What does poetry mean to you?’ he stood no chance. No matter that between us, we could cover every aspect of pub management – him on the practical side, looking after beer and stocks, and me doing the paperwork and ordering – we failed every application to the major breweries. We were getting very disillusioned when in our final attempt at finding work as publicans, we answered an ad for a ‘holding company’ franchise. It was at the time that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission had decreed that the big breweries could no longer own and supply beer to as many pubs. The said breweries began to offload, selling up the pubs that weren’t so profitable. Our application was accepted and it was these pubs that we were sent to manage, to keep them open so they could be sold as going concerns rather than closed down businesses. At last, we were working again, albeit for a pittance. Our joint wage was £140 per week – yes, I did say joint wage!
We stayed with that company, managing three different pubs for around a year each, and then we applied for a situation we saw advertised to manage a Free House on behalf of the owners. We spent five happy years at the Ship Aground, at Talsarnau, Gwynedd, before Trevor got fed up of us earning very little money. He turned fifty and was starting to think about our financial future. He decided to go back to shopfitting (by this time he’d replaced most of his tools) and so we left the Ship and moved down the road to a cottage which was the old schoolhouse adjoined to the village school. While Trevor worked away again, I went to work at the other pub in the village, the Bron Trefor Arms, and then went to Coleg Harlech to study for a Diploma in Information Technology. I wrote in last week’s blog about how my second marriage disintegrated, so I won’t repeat all that, but when I left, I moved to Lancaster to attend Lancaster University as a mature student.
I shared a house with my friend John, who was on the same course as me. Thankfully it was in the days before tuition fees, but we still had to get Student Loans to live on whilst studying. Needless to say, this was very little, so I applied for various jobs to help eke out my funds.
The first job I applied for was actually a full-time job, working as a Night Dispatcher for one of the emergency services companies that towed broken-down or accident-damaged vehicles off the M6 motorway. I took the job before the start of the academic year, thinking I could work nights, and study at home during the day, attending lectures when I had to. I could sleep in between times. However, once we started at Uni and got the lecture timetable, I realised it was going to be impossible to do both, so I resigned from the job. I’d had two weeks training with the daytime dispatcher, who was a decent guy, but the owner of the company had a Napoleon complex; he was about 5’ 4” tall and a complete and utter b*st*rd. He ruled the roost with an iron fist and everyone was scared to death of him. He was furious when I resigned, saying I’d wasted his time and had had no intention of working – he refused to pay me for the hours I’d done. Fortunately, I took advice from the local CAB who told me to write him a letter saying that my time was worth the going rate and if I didn’t receive my wages, I would take him to court. He replied and said he would pay half of what I was due. I responded, reiterating that if I did not receive the full amount I was owed, within 14 days, I would sue. I got the money. Sometimes you just need to stand up to these little dictators.
So, I knuckled down to my studies, and the next job I found was doing telesales for a kitchen company. It’s the worst job I have ever had! There was I, 42 years old, sitting in a room full of teenagers, each of us equipped with a desk, a phone and a telephone directory whilst a radio played full-blast in the background. I worked from 6pm till 9pm three evenings a week and from 11am until 2pm on Sundays. During those three-hour shifts, we had to make at least 200 calls, speaking from a script, informing the ‘lucky’ householder that their address had been awarded a voucher worth £3000 off the cost of a new fitted kitchen. Would it be all right for a colleague to call them later to arrange an appointment with a kitchen designer? If I’d got stressed by the rejection when I worked at CBX, this was a baptism of fire in comparison. People shouted, swore, cursed, berated us and questioned our parentage and hung up. This was the obviously usual result for the most part, because we were paid a (very) basic wage, plus commission for each call back (or bite) we succeeded in achieving. If we managed to capture 3 bites per session we were praised, which shows you how well this system worked – or not! After a few months, I turned up to work one evening to find the office locked up and my colleagues standing around looking lost. The company had done a bunk.
My next venture into employment was more successful. I became a Customer Services Agent for AXA Direct Insurance, in Morecambe, which was part of the AXA Insurance Brand. I was trained to take customer calls and answer queries, give car and home insurance quotes and to put accepted quotes to policy. I enjoyed it, and was good at it, working several evenings a week and again on Sunday mornings. Eventually I increased my capacities and was trained in adjusting and amending polices. At that time, online insurance was still in its infancy – you could do a quote online but then had to call to the office to put the quote to policy. I soon found myself on the Internet Team, doing just that, and helping customers who were having problems doing their quotes online. We were a fairly small team of about 12 people, and I got on well with my colleagues and my team leader.
I remember so well taking a call from a man whose 18-year-old son had done a quote on our website. Ours had been the cheapest quote by far at around £800, so Dad was now calling to pay up. Naturally I had to go through the quote with him, ensuring all the details were correct. There was just one amendment I had to make – the boy had accidently clicked ‘Ms’ instead of ‘Mr’ as his title. When we got to the end of the quote, I had to inform the dad that unfortunately, correcting his son’s mistake had added another £400+ to the quote!
In the meantime, I was not enjoying my studies and became depressed. The BSc. in Computer Science and Software Engineering was completely the wrong course for me. It was much too technical and I barely understood a word, I couldn’t even get my head around learning to write Java programmes, much less build a computer from the bottom up! I dropped out of that course, and was allowed to restart in the next academic year this time doing a BSc. In Computers and Communications. It didn’t help – I could just not understand it – I’d have been much better off doing a degree in English or History, in those subjects I might have stood a chance. So, I dropped out again – almost 2 years completely wasted!
I carried on working at AXA eventually moving to full time hours, but I was still broke, and pretty depressed. My housemate John had met a woman and they had become engaged, so he moved in with her and I found myself alone in a rented house which I couldn’t afford on my own. I would have to either find somewhere else to live, or find some more housemates to share the cost. It was around then that I met the love of my life, Glyn Hughes, online. Again, I described a lot of this in last week’s blog, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Suffice to say, after a very short time, I left Lancaster and moved here to Sowerby Bridge, to start a new life with Glyn. The first two weeks after moving in, I got myself settled and spent most of that time reading everything he’d ever written, which was amazing.
I then knew I had to find some sort of paid occupation, so I signed up with various Temp agencies and eventually was sent to the Euroway Industrial Estate in Bradford on a temporary job as a Filing Clerk with what was then Hill Hire Ltd, a truck and trailer hire company. After less than a week, the Rental Manager, Helen, asked if I would consider becoming a permanent employee, not just as a filing clerk, but as a Rental Administrator. I liked the office and the staff and the atmosphere, but I was holding out for another job which one agency had promised me would be coming up soon. Similar work, but it paid more and was situated in Sowerby Bridge, which obviously meant a much quicker commute each day. So, I held off for a little while giving Helen an answer. When the other job hadn’t materialised in the next month or so, I accepted the job at Hill Hire. I worked as Rental Administrator there and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a great place to work, even when after only eight years, I lost my beloved Glyn to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. My directors, bosses and colleagues were wonderful, all the way through the two years between his diagnosis and his death. I was allowed to go with him to every appointment and consultation without losing pay. They allowed me to change my hours so that I could spend three-day weekends with him when it became obvious that he had little time left, and they supported me through the whole experience. Even when, six months after he died, I had what I now describe as my ‘breakdown’ – I was signed off sick for three months with bereavement depression, during which time my line-manager visited and there were phone calls to see if the company could do anything to help. When I did return it was on a part time basis, building up to full time again when I was ready and even then, they gave me time off for my grief counselling sessions. I couldn’t have asked for better employers and am still in touch now with a lot of my former colleagues.
Sadly, the company was eventually merged with an American corporation – Ryder Truck, and things changed, not necessarily for the better. There were redundancies – fortunately I was the only person who did my job, so I survived – two rounds – but many of my friends did not. I did change my job within the company though. Ryder did things differently and one of my main jobs which had been obtaining Purchase Order numbers from customers in order to invoice them, was passed to the Rental department staff who each looked after their own customers for every aspect of the business. Fortunately, I was asked to become one of eight Tyre Administrators – my area was north of England and I looked after the tyre invoicing for all the Ryder depots within my area. I did that job for about three years, during which time we collectively retrieved around £6 million in lost revenue for the company – a great job – well done everyone! It was then we were informed that the Tyre Department was being centralised and would work out of the Head Office in Swindon. Even our manager, Chris, who had been the brainchild behind the whole department, lost his job. Unless Bradford depot could find another position for me, I had the choice of moving to Swindon or being made redundant.
By this time, I was 59 years old and my mother had recently come to live with me, suffering from Alzheimer’s – I think it’s pretty obvious what my choice had to be. So, I took the redundancy. Due to my own health problems, I was able to claim benefits, and have not had a paid job since 2017.
But now – I’m back! The pay is lousy, the hours long, but I’m my own boss, I make my own decisions and my own deadlines and I absolutely LOVE my job. Because I now have a proper career – I am now a Published Author. And it’s the best job in the world.
What have you experienced in your working life – good and bad? I’d love to know, drop me a line!
Until next week,