Friday, May 29, 2009

Revolving Doors

I'll look back at this weekend as the eye of the storm of change that has defined 2009. I found out a few weeks ago that a significant restructuring at the company I've worked at for the past seven months meant my job was unlikely to exist in a few months time, and that I should expect to be made redundant. In contrast with last year's shake-up, I was advised by management that the outlook was acute, and that I should start making other arrangements as soon as possible. As a social formality, I updated my LinkedIn status to say that my job was at risk and I'd be interested in Unix positions in central Scotland.
Within days, a colleague from my preceding employer got in touch to ask if I'd consider a return, and a few days later, I'd formalised this with the company. Helen advised prudence regarding this company, who she perceives as having taken more out of me than vice versa in the past. This was good counsel, and led me to make sure that I continued to set up a meeting with another potential employer, and also negotiated the best conditions possible with the frontrunner.
Plan B crumbled, following an interview that reminded me far more than it should of The Apprentice, and I've agreed a quick exit with the current firm, so I'll be rejoining my old company on Tuesday. I'm mostly positive about this, because my present position was a bit of a compromise; the money hasn't been what I'd hoped for, and the role has been almost overfamilar. However, I've enjoyed the routine, and my colleagues have been fine fellows to a man. I will miss them, and especially my line manager, who has elevated being a good bloke to a vocation. I'll even miss the commute, because 45 minutes twice a day of private time with a book, an iPod and a thermos of coffee, while the West Lothian and Lanarkshire countryside speeds past, constitutes a series of miniature holidays.
The old firm are recruiting to staff a project which will involve spending much of each week away from home, in England. I have mixed feelings about this, as does Helen, but I'll try and make the most of it. I hope that being away will enforce some work/life hygiene and I'll be able to avoid working from home at all. Again, time spent travelling, and staying away from home, is good for catching up on culture and media. I shall, like Ghandi, be the change I want to see, and do all my travelling by train.
My last day at this job is next Monday. The day before, I will be attempting my second marathon. Two weeks ago, I really thought I wouldn't be competing this year, as a flu-like illness had demolished my training schedule, which was already badly deformed. However, infused with post-illness energy last weekend, I went out and proved I could run 24 miles, so I'm on for the race on Sunday.
This week has been an atypical one, then, of deliberate low effort. As well as starting nothing new at work, I've been deliberatively not running, as recommended, to recover from the training run, and mainly eating low-fibre carbohydrates, also as recommended. I think I could keep this up indefinitely.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Felix Edina Non Ambulatorum (sic)

The strangest week in recent memory culminated in a Sunday that I can't let pass without recording. I was on call for work, and Helen had a lot of preparation for school to do, so we hadn't made any firm plans. Time has a habit of draining away under such circumstances, so I'd guiltily drawn up a list of aims. After a couple of hours' displacement, I siezed the day, and announced to Helen that we were going to find Poppy.
Our lovely fifteen-year-old black cat has a tendency to wander off across the local back gardens, taking hospitality wherever she can, and every few months, we have to go and reclaim her from the lady whose garden backs on to ours. The garden she goes through has recently been surrounded by tall trellises for plants to climb. And cats. My pet theory, as it were, was that she'd climbed over, but didn't fancy climbing back. Round we traipsed, to learn that she had been there, but that she seemed to have a sore leg and wasn't there any more. Containing our worry, we went home and looked for her in adjacent gardens.
Helen eventually spotted her on an intervening patio, motionless, but thankfully, breathing. I called on my Scouse powers of, er, cat burglary, and trespassed over to retrieve her. We got her inside and it became apparent that she couldn't put weight on one of her back legs. Helen called the weekend emergency vet, who disappointingly didn't appear by helicopter.
We incarcerated the patient in her travel podule and drove her over to the practice. Possibly a dislocated hip, said the reassuringly competent and personable vet. She'd need an x-ray, and sedation beforehand, because asking a cat to stay still in the requesite pose is so hard that all the similes about things being hard to control already refer to cats, and therefore can't even be used as similes in this situation. We bid au revoir to Poppy and adieu to a significant chunk of a week's pay, and went home to wait for the news.
The worst case, we'd been told, was that she'd lose the leg. Her sister in Trafford gets by perfectly well with just the three, so this wasn't as shocking as it might have been. The call came, and Helen went to collect her. The good news was that it was just an inflamed hip joint, caused by a jolt which had aggravated some arthritic bone growth (she's a very old lady now). However, she'd have to be housed for a week or so in a run where she could move around freely, but not jump or climb at all, or the anti-inflammatory medication wouldn't be able to to any good.
An abortive prototyope based on clothes-airers and old sheets soon gave way to a kind of indoor fallout shelter made by pushing the dining table against the wall and blocking the other three sides with the sofa and framed prints. The mark two was refined by using just the glass from one of the prints so she got some light. In went her blanket, food and water bowls, and litter tray. It feels rotten to coop her up in there, and I just wish I could explain why and how it's for her own good.
Helen brought back the X-ray plates from the vet, which as well as showing that she's in good shape otherwise, indicate that she swallowed a mouse whole fairly recently – you can see its little skeleton inside hers. This is another reason she's been feeling a bit tender. And possibly, diving for the mouse was what set her hip off.
It's like having a feral great-grandmother living with you.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Round Two!

Where were we? God, I'm sorry, this form has been doubly usurped, first by Facebook, and now by Twitter. I rather regretted not diarising last year when doing interesting things, such as being made redundant and then finding a job just as the Credit Crunch bit. Luckily for me, it looks as though fate is giving me a second chance.

I'm having an interesting week. On Tuesday, I heard, out of the blue, via Friends Reunited from a very old friend, whose lifestyle means he's very prone to fall out of contact for long periods. The last I'd heard from him was nearly five years ago, when he acknowledged the invitation to our wedding. We've emailled a few times this week, and his tone seems to mirror my own euphoria.

The following day, there was a rush invitation to an all-hands briefing. We're quite sensibly merging our IT function with that in another sector of the parent group. There will inevitably be redundacies. Since my skills aren't specific to our business, I'm right in the firing line. I won't find out for another six weeks, which should at least regulate the runaway rate at which this year has been elapsing. It feels more shocking than last year. I'd had more of a instinctive feeling ahead of the announcement then, prompted by the feeling that being paid to be on the bench was too good to be true. But after informally being briefed that this employer was a safe harbour in which to weather the recession, this feels like a bit of a betrayal. I am angry at the way the job losses have been communicated. The first manager to address us yesterday hedged and dissembled, using the word “impact” until it gradually emerged that he meanyt redundancies. The last manager of the day actually tried to put a positive spin on events – the high level equivalent of David Brent's “I've got some good news and some bad news”.

There was some laudable stoicism among my peers, but this turn has upset me more than I could have forseen. I was very snippy at home that evening, and a mess of autovocalising insecurity the following morning. I'm really not optimistic about my chances, and preparing for the worst. The good side is that I'd welcome a couple of months garden leave, and that it may be time to look for a more high profile role than the one I have now. I'm 43 now, and my “port in a storm” job perhaps doesn't exploit as much of my experience as it could. I would miss Glasgow, though. I like the work/home hygeine the commute enforces.

Thankfully, I had an appointment in London on Thursday, doing some freelance Doctor Who work, which took my mind off more maudlin matters. It was blissful to spend four hours formalising my childhood memories on my netbook on the way down, deliver them to my client in the afternoon, and see some more old friends in the evening. By coincidence, it was the first Thursday of the month, which is when Doctor Who fans in the London area informally gather at The Fitzroy Tavern in Bloomsbury. I started going to this occasionally in 1984, and regularly from 1990 to 1996. It was highly evocative to be sitting in the same alcoves that held so many memories from my twenties, with, as it happened, many of the same people.

At eleven o'clock, I made my farewells and strolled up Tottenham Court Road to Euston to catch the sleeper train to Edinburgh. The Caledonian Sleeper service is one of the great secret treasures of Britain. If booked well enough in advance, it's far cheaper than a London hotel room. Departing at around 11:40, it delivers you to the other end by 07:00 in a frame of mind far calmer than if you'd been a polluting bastard and flown. Furthermore, it delivers you to the heart of the city you're visiting, so you don't have to disembark and spend another hour travelling in. I've been at London meetings by 08:00. The question I'm always asked concerns sharing a berth (that's the little sleeping compartments, containing an upper and lower bunk, confusingly also called berths). “Isn't it a bit, you know, intimate?” Not really. I book the lower berth, get there 20 minutes early, stow my belongings, and change into loose-fitting clothes. There's no point trying to sleep straight away, as you have to let your subconcious noise-reduction system sample and absorb the clanks and rattles of the train, so it's a good chance to read a bit, or listen to headphones. There's a shaver socket above the sink, so you can charge all your thirsty devices. I'd planned to watch The Prisoner last night, but felt drowsy after a couple of chapters, and nodded straight off. The berths have individual lights, so you can read without disturbing your neighbour. I have found said neighbours to be either mute or timid, and beyond exchanging a quick “Evening” or “Cheerio, then” seldom keen to share their insights. Invariably, on arrival at the far end, one of the sharers will depart immediately, leaving the other to wash, shave, and otherwise spruce himself up for the day's business. They don't kick you off the train until you've consumed the continental breakfast they've brought you in bed.

Having left it too late to book to Glasgow (where I work), I had booked to Edinburgh, and parambulated across the Waverly concourse to catch the commuter shuttle. I am now at a table for four which is fully-occupied and feeling my privacy far more compromised than I did with my mystery companion last night. I feel ready for work. Isn't that ironic?