Where there's a Willesden there's a way

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

This is the end!

I had one of those friends once. He used to go out and pump iron, press benches and run marathons. I asked him once how you actually go about running 26 miles and he told me "It's like running a mile, except you keep going."

That's sort of how I feel right now. I get the feeling 3 days off at Christmas doesn't really count as a break, so from that point of view I haven't had a holiday since Turkey in August, and that contained a little too much heartache and fear to count.

So, looking at my leave a few weeks ago, I decided to take February off. For no particular reason other than I can and, well, I need to. I've got that deep tired feeling, and everything seems a little harder. When I talk to people I feel there's something missing, a spark of inspiration and empathy that went out a few weeks ago. And I've been shouting at people a little more than usual.

Two questions though. Firstly, 3 weeks is a long time. I've always told myself that if I wasn't at work I'd be doing something. But what if I'm wrong. What to do with all that time.

Second question: Can I survive one more shift? You know, before walking away and everything. I've done a 26 hour and a 28 hour stint this week, so a simple 21 hour shift should be easy. But I'm pretty tired. Sort of deep tired, looking at a sandwich when you're full up, poisoning everything you do sort of tired.

But no cop-outs, no sickies and no failures. I'll just rely on good old fashioned determination, hard work and fiddling my overtime claims. It's got me this far.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Coming home....

It's been a pretty lousy fortnight at work all things considered.

A creeping sense that I suck at my job, an inability to sleep on a sleep-in shift because I'm reflecting on how much I want to be home after a day doing a real job, and a slight suspicion that my erratic working hours might have contributed to being dumped again. But today's different, as I'm riding the bus into work with a smile on my face. This is partly because I'm going for lunch with the Chief which is always a good start to my day. It's also because I've drawn a thought bubble on the window saying "I QUIT".

28 hours later I'm just finishing my shift, so on the way home I persuade Chief to come out for a coffee and a pretty massive cake. As usual for me at the end of a shift, I've got far too much stubble, rings under my eyes and the same top I was wearing yesterday. She's got the refreshed look of someone who might have actually gone home last night. I remark on this before cutting to the chase, as I know this is going to hurt.
"I started work 28 hours ago and I haven't gone home yet. I don't want to think of this as normal."
As ever, she's very sympathetic, and says she could never go back to support work.
"I've applied for a job in Northwark as an assistant social worker. Can I put you down as a reference?"

The nicer your boss, the harder it is to quit. But it gets a little easier when I think of the hours.

Don't mention it...

Chief's preparing herself for 3 weeks without her most enthusiastic member of staff. So supervision was spent working out how I'm going to dump all my work on my colleagues before I take my holidays.

"Well, why don't you fix up a meeting with X and Y and you can do some training as well as handing over the work."
"X and Y? At the same time?"
"Is that going to be problem?"
"No, they're both lovely people. Just a little on the religious side."
"Just steer the conversation away from religion. Talk about the weather or something."

So, some time later in my shift, I'm sitting round a table with X and Y. And the training's going pretty well until one of them mentions what they were doing on Sunday.
"It's a lovely day, isn't it?" I reply.
"Yes, I thought it was going to snow, but the sun is shining gloriously."
"I know." I prepare for a strategic rant, as we're getting onto dangerous territory here. "But this is what the weather does- it snows, and then it lulls you into a false sense of security. You think the sun is shining, the sky is blue, your sins are forgiven and everything's right with the world, and the next thing you know you're walking through a snowstorm in a t-shirt."
There's a pause. "You talking about your sins being forgiven reminds me of something."

I decide to get comfortable. I'll be here a while.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Turn out the lights...

Oddly, I'm spending my Friday off behind my old desk in Borehamwood. 9 months after I left, it would be nice to say I've come back to my old team to find nothing has changed. And nothing's changed- apart from the removal men.

Yep, the much-trailed move to the other side of the county is finally going ahead today, and the team decided it would be more efficient to combine all the staff leaving lunches and invite me along. It's definitely the end of an era, and after 9 months of lone working it's actually quite nice to hang out with the old team and take in the scene of destruction. It's quite good for closure, and it's also nice that no-one can actually do any work as all the computers and files have all gone already. I also need to share stories of my lousy shift with people who will understand, and it's gppd to hear them tell me I was right- even if it was through a very selective sharing of facts.

Old Manager's on good form as well, with his usual blend of extreme rudeness and callousness and- blink and you'll miss it- genuine warmth. We're leaning on what remains of the duty desk I set up 2 years ago (the chairs have all been packed) when I drop the subtlest of hints about my job
"It's fun, for now anyway."
"Would you ever consider coming back then?"
"If I earned the same salary, I might consider it."
"How much do you earn now then?"
I tell him, and there's one of those meaningful pauses which seems to suggest "you'd be lucky in this town". But you never know.

At 4pm I divert all the phones, like I did every Friday and we walk out, pausing only to tear down the team's sign and throw it in the bin before turning out the lights. Somehow I just knew it would be me who did that.

The end of an era's easier if you're no longer a part of it.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


My client's hiding in a bush round the corner when a text arrives from My Lady to tell me that she's in hospital after going down an escalator head first. And I'm tempted to join both of them.

That was Wednesday evening midway through the most unpredictable and dispiriting shift I've had in Greenborough. And although I tend to look forward to the end of the shift, as it involves heading home and getting on with my life, it's also the point when I have to admit to all the things I've screwed up in the team's eyes. On Thursday it genuinely seemed like I'd never get home.

I was kicking myself for two things on Wednesday night. My lady was in a pretty bad way, and I should have been doing boyfriend things like looking after her. By the time I got out of work she'd reluctantly left town to go and stay with her nurse parents for some pretty brutal rehab. I was also feeling guilty for startling one of the clients by opening the front door when he was struggling with his keys. I know it's not completely my fault he yelled and disappeared down the street (later to be found in a bush), but sometimes you need someone around to tell you that.

Sadly, I'm rapidly heading to two conclusions. Number 1, that there's a massive gulf between the idealised rhetoric of my job "Supporting people to make their own choices" and the reality "Forcing people to do stuff for the convenience of the organisation". I'm either too nice to do the second one, or I actually suck ass at the first. Number 2, I can't stand half the people I work with. It's lucky I really like the other half of them.

When I finally get home, a full 31 hours after I first left for work, it's pretty clear my housemate's having similar thoughts about her job. And in the longer term we've both got to work out where we go from here. In the meantime, there's a crate of beer in the fridge labelled "For people who suck ass at their jobs".

So at home we're going to neglect our household tasks, drink slightly too much and sleep until midday. And I'm suddenly quite keen to protect my clients' right to do exactly the same, even if it gets me fired.

Anyway, Chief's back on Monday. And once she's seen my list of new years resolutions, she's going to wish she'd never come back.

On the bright side, I'm more for coming out fighting than going down an escalator.