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Thursday, 17 January 2013

The end of an era

Well, it is finally all over, for yesterday after what seemed like weeks and even months of waiting, I finally left my job. Having spent most of Christmas and the New Year period nursing a heavy cold, last Friday night having completed my final seven day stretch (and it really did feel like a prison stretch), my throat began to display that tell tale soreness. As the weekend progressed so did the cold, with a vengeance. By Monday morning I felt quite possibly the worst I have ever done - hot one minute, cold the next, with a pounding head and a throat that was quite literally on fire.

It sounds ridiculous I know, but so ingrained is my work mentality, that despite the odds, I was in two minds whether to go in or not, mostly I admit because I knew that it was my final week. Against all my instincts, I did choose to go in. The moment I stepped out of the car, I knew I had made a mistake, but I went inside, made myself some Hot Lemon and started my work, thinking that if I waited for the paracetamol to take effect I would start to feel better. Of course it didn't, for this was as much emotional as it was physical and the cold was I now realise, my body's way of making sure that I got the rest that I needed before I start my new job this Monday.  I managed to clean and hoover the Managers office, the dining room and the lounge before I finally gave in and told them I was going home, barely one hour after I arrived, and I did not go back there to work at all after that. Once I got home, I got straight back into bed with a hot water bottle and a pig, where I remained for most of that day.

Tuesday was if anything even worse, with the chills more intense than ever and a headache like none that I have ever experienced. As the day wore on I began to feel slightly better, but worst of all was the cough, At one point I was coughing so hard that I actually made myself sick, which is really not good at all. I have had plenty of colds during my 47 1/2 years, but I honestly do not remember one which has been as bad as this. I knew then that I would be a mistake to go in yesterday, which was to be my final day, and so reluctantly phoned in just after 5pm. I had not intended for it to be this way, but I knew when I got there on Monday as the tears began to prick at my eyes, that I just could not face one more day of working there - it really had got to that point, where if I did not take the complete rest that I needed, I would have completely crashed. Looking back, I always felt that I would need more than the four days I was meant to have (two as holiday that I was owed and two as my usual days off), so I guess that this was the universe's way of keeping me away.

I still thought felt that I wanted to go in and say a proper goodbye to the staff and residents who I became so attached to, and so yesterday after lunch, that is what Coran and I both did. I am not sure how I even managed to get there, as I was so ungrounded and shaky, wondering what would happen and I if would embarrass myself, and of course I did. I think that I had been building up the event of my leaving so much in my head that when it finally did happen it all proved just too much, and I burst into a huge flood of almost uncontrollable tears. It was saying goodbye to three of the residents upstairs that did it, especially Mr G, a wonderful octogenarian who happens to have cerebral palsy. He and I have shared so many moments and so many beautiful and inspiring conversations during the time that both of us have been there, and I will miss him probably more than anyone else.

I remember in particular a conversation we had around the time of Remembrance Day last year, when I made an innocent off the cuff remark about him not being able to go into the Army and fight, and how that had almost certainly saved his life. The following day he told me that he had been a little upset by what I said, but that he had sat with those feelings and come to realise that he had been fighting his disability for all of his 84 years. Following my comments he had come to realise that he needed to be grateful for all that he did have rather than all that he did not, and focus on the good rather than the bad. So from one chance comment came the healing of 84 years of anger and non acceptance. We shared a big hug and many more since, the last of which was yesterday.

The other one I shall miss is Mrs T, a lady in her late 90's whom when she came into the house a little over 2 years ago was not expected to even last the night. Here she is though two years later still with us against all the odds. She spends most of her time in bed sleeping, but when she was awake usually in the mornings after breakfast, or after lunch when I brought the laundry back to her room, for this was part of my old job, I got to know her well. She was such a sweet and kind hearted soul, whose beloved husband fought in Burma, one of a huge extended family all of whom love her dearly. It was easy to see why.

There are though so many people that I shall miss there in so many different ways. I don't know whether they will miss me in quite the same way - I suspect that some will and some will not. When it came to it though, there was no grand leaving present, just a box of chocolates and pot plant with a card signed from "Everyone at the Mad House" (for obvious reasons I cannot use the home's real name, but this is a pretty close description of what it has become), without signatures. Just those few short words.

The one that surprised me more than anyone was the Polish housekeeper, who when I first started there was very antagonistic and seeming to pick holes in all that I did. Over the years she mellowed considerably until in the end we were the best of friends. I think that she will miss me quite possibly more than any of them, as she was visibly upset when I first told her about my new job. Yesterday when I was about to leave for the last time, she came and gave me a big hug with tears in her own eyes and said words to the effect that I was a very special lady who will be very sorely missed. Of course that set me off all over again. In the end though, it was one who said the least (as I did myself) who appreciated me the most, for the only others to say much at all were a Spanish nurse who has been there just a few short months, and the Activities Organiser. I will forget neither of these two very special ladies either, or the Polish nurse who bid me a sad farewell when I telephoned on Tuesday night as she informed me that she would not be in when I came to say my final farewells.

Of course the boss as there too when we arrived. When we came through the door he was just going in to a meeting with someone or other, with the usual face like the back end of a bus. How glad I am that I will never have to see that again. He heard me say quite clearly that I had been ill and had come in to say goodbye to all my friends on my final day, but said not one single word - no thank you for your hard work, no good luck, nothing. To me that really did say it all.

Now that it is all over I am not sure how I feel. I guess it will take time to sink it and to settle into the new job, but once I do this place will like all the others become a dim and distant memory. The wounds will take time to heal, but heal they will, with love and care from Coran and a new more supportive employer who does not swear, shout and leave bullying notes and remarks. Truth be told, I think my former colleagues are probably quite jealous of the fact that I have managed to escape, while they all choose to remain, but it is a choice, and one that in time they too shall make. It is though no longer my concern, for they have to fight their own battles. It is now all about me, and for that I breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Nothing less than I deserve

With just five days now (three working days) until my departure from work, thoughts are rising to the surface about my imminent departure, what it means, and what the consequences may be for myself and those that choose to remain. Coran and I have been discussing things at length and come to the conclusion that when you leave a job, it is similar to falling in love but in reverse.

When you first meet someone, you go through a phase where everything is seen through rose tinted specs - you see only their good points and none of the bad. Slowly as the boundaries collapse the honeymoon phase ends, and if you are lucky and understand the true purpose of relationships, this is when the love begins to deepen to something much more lasting and ultimately more real.

What I have been experiencing in my journey towards leaving is similar but in reverse, as my reasons for wanting to leave seem somehow less important and I have become aware of the good things once again - the team spirit (it is remarkable really and testament to the staff that there is one at all), and the friendship and support that I have gleaned from those I work more closely with (mostly the rest of the domestic team), and of course the residents. Yet at the same time, I understand that and can see though the veil and know even as I type that this is an illusion, and as I settle into my new role and gradually let it go, I shall see once again that I really did have to leave. It will however be a great loss to both the home and myself.

Most of the residents who are lucid enough to understand have now been informed, but as whether my departure will have any long or short term effect for the staff that choose to stay remains to be seen.  It may be partly ego, but I have noticed over the years that both Coran and I act as catalysts whereby when we depart from a job an awful lot changes within a short space of time. I know that several other staff are considering leaving, and that a pay rise may (and it is a very big may) be in the offing, but we shall see, only I guess that I won't.

To go back though to that pay rise, earlier in the week MP's voted for a three year freeze on certain types of benefit - including those that are paid to the so-called working poor, many of whom I work with. Until recently I was one of them myself, but when I obtained the full time job here, a little under two years ago (is it that long ago), it put me slightly over the threshold of being able to claim, and so Coran and I lost our £88 a month tax credits. I was pleased in some ways as it meant that I was making my own way in the world after what had been an incredibly difficult few years, but not everyone is so lucky, and millions will be affected.

While it is true that the Lib Dems (and this is the Lib Dems and not the Conservative part of the coalition) have introduced significant changes to the tax system that will halve the tax bills of many of the lowest paid, I cannot help feel that politicians and business people in general (what's new) are missing the point. It is the not the fact that benefits have risen more than wages that is the issue, but the fact that wages have not increased to the same level.

Why I ask myself is this? Well, judging from my own experience I hardly need to ask, for to me is is obvious and not exactly rocket science - because the bosses are afraid of losing what they have and ending up like us. But the fact is, that none of these business people could run their businesses without the staff - from the cleaners (arguably at the bottom of the pile, I really need to change my thinking on that one), to the accountants and other so-called professionals at the top. The success of the company depends entirely upon the staff and their willingness to perform their tasks for the salaries that they are offered. I know it is also about market forces and all of that, and those same business people would say that I am being simplistic, but really I am not, for if people are paid fairly and have enough to live on, they do not need to claim benefits, and so the tax bill comes down for everyone. They then have more money to spend on the things that they either need or want, kick starting the economy and creating jobs as the demand for products increases, and so it goes round. As Charlie Chaplin said in this autobiography, the economy is wages driven, and to coin another phrase from one of my friends Facebook feeds "If someone tells you they got rich through hard work, ask them whose".

With the speed with which everything now seems to be changing, I predict that there will be massive unrest as these cuts start to bite and that out of this will be borne not just the concept, but the introduction of a proper living wage that will despite the inevitable protests of both big and small business, not lead to job losses, but instead to all of that mentioned above. It is nice to dream, and quite a few of my dreams have come true lately, although not the one about the ballroom dancing pigs ...

So, to get back to the purpose of this post, five days from now, I shall have left my current job and be looking forward to a future where I am treated with integrity, honesty and respect, by not just my colleagues (all of them) but the bosses as well. It is a noble thing to aspire to, and something which is nothing less than I deserve.