Who Am I? Part Seventeen


This is the building on the Kembrey Park Industrial Estate (known as “Cherry Orchard”) where I worked for the utility company in the Corporate Accounts Dept.

1998 was a pretty good year. As the months went by I decided that I wanted to move on from the call centre and I watched the staff notice board closely to see what other vacancies came up. I saw a job advertised in Corporate Accounts and went for it. I was successful in my application, so after two years on the call centre I was on the move. It meant I would be working in a different building but on the same site. My feelings were that I wasn’t getting any younger, and having wasted my education and early working years, I decided that this was my last chance of building a career. I was now dealing with my own designated list of commercial customers. On the surface it seemed ideal, but some of the accounts were an absolute mess and of course, there were accounts that were in dispute. So, it wasn’t all plain sailing but it was better than having customers screaming in my ear.

I was settled in the flat and had a very close female friend, Maggie, who I spent a lot of time with. We’d been friends virtually since I started working full-time, and became very close during 1997. We went on holiday a few times together and in the summer of 1998 we became an item! There was 15 years between us, but Maggie was very mature for her age and we had some great times together.

Another change happened as the year was drawing to a close. Within the same office as the Corporate Accounts team there was the Key Accounts team. It was a very small team of two customer agents who looked after the biggest customers. These were the big corporations whose bills would be for hundreds of thousands of pounds, or even in excess of a million pounds. As well as the two customer agents there was three key account managers who were not office based. So, the agents would have their designated customer accounts to administer and the account managers would be on face-to-face terms with the customers “out in the field”, as they say. One of the agents was taking a team manager’s job and I was asked if I would like to take her place in key accounts. I agreed to move, but I only had to move a couple of feet as the girl I was replacing sat opposite me! Things appeared to be going swimmingly well. I had more stability within myself; and sinking into the depths of darkness seemed to be a thing of the past. The job might not have been the best paid in the world, but I was now earning more money than I’d ever earned in my life. I’d also developed a taste for red wine and Gorse Hill was a bachelor boy’s paradise with several supermarkets for buying my booze and a plethora of restaurants and fast food joints.

Me and Maggie had a good thing together but we were not joined at the hip. We would go for long country walks and meals, and during the time we’d known each other we visited the Lake District, Cornwall, Devon, the Peak District, Wales, Northumberland and the Isle of Wight to name just a few of the beautiful places our travels took us to. We both also liked our own space and sometimes we would not see each other for a week to ten days. Life was good and as we entered December 1998 I was given another opportunity. The manager of Corporate and Key Accounts approached me; I had only been in my new position for a couple of weeks, and he said that the industry was gong to go through drastic and exciting changes in the coming years. In line with these developments the organisation was forming a new Customer Marketing Division, which would be based in Reading. He said that I was under no obligation to move, however, the key account positions would be moving to Reading to form part of this new all-singing-all-dancing marketing division. He painted a rosy picture of sexy new jobs, with salaries to match, and gave me the impression that all else would be swept aside by this incredible tsunami of positive change that was going to engulf the industry. I was tempted, very tempted; and also excited, but commuting to Reading presented an obstacle. An 80 mile round trip every day! It would cost me a fortune in fuel.

A few days later I went to the spiritualist church and the medium came to me with a message. He said, “you are hesitating about something. You have been offered a golden opportunity”. I will never forget those words, “golden opportunity”. Had I known then exactly what that meant I might have declined the offer of the new position in Reading. But I was only thinking in worldly terms and on Monday morning I told the manager I was up for it. It’s a funny thing in life, that the soul’s definition of things is completely different to the human definition. As it happened it was a golden opportunity that I don’t regret, but it took me to a place of great pain first in order that I could free myself from the self-imposed shackles that had been holding me back for years.

It was agreed that the company would provide me with a rail warrant for the first six months. After that I would have to fend for myself, but I intended to use that six month period to nab one of the sexy new jobs that were being created. It all happened really quickly, two weeks before Christmas in 1998 I started the new job in Reading. The writing should have been on the wall from the off. Our Customer Services Director at the time, a lady called Jane May, took us all out for a celebration lunch to launch the new division. At that time there wasn’t that many of us, but the bill still came to £950, which was mainly for wine! Jane was a very nice lady who was always warm and friendly towards the staff, but soon after the official launch, she went off sick and we never saw her again. We were now into the early part of 1999. But I will finish with another little anecdote from the tail end of 1998.

I was still involved with the theatre productions put on by John Williams. Towards the end of 1998 he’d organised another night of theatre in Highworth. He gathered a group of actors together and we were to put on an extremely truncated production of Macbeth, to take place about two weeks before Christmas. John became the butt of the group’s jokes and it was obvious that the dynamic was not as it should be. To cut a long story short, the performance was absolutely awful, and it remains to this day the last time I ever set foot on a stage. I had made up my own batch of fake blood to use in the production, and in the dim light of the stage during the crucial moment, I’d managed to spill most of it onto the boards. On top of that the evening had ended with a distinctly icy atmosphere between John and the actors. He phoned me up a few days later; he wasn’t happy! He said he’d been given grief by the people who ran the community centre because of the fake blood all over the stage. He also expressed his general displeasure. A few months later I bumped into him in a supermarket in Swindon. There was no animosity between us, but it was the last time I ever saw him and my theatre days were over.

Soon my life would change forever!

PS See you when I get back from Nepal…

 

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Who Am I? Part Sixteen


The metropolis that is Gorse Hill in Swindon

I inadvertently gave you false information in Part Fifteen; I remembered after posting that I did not go to the doctors straight away. I don’t know why, but my recollection of other events indicates that I actually left it until around October/November time before going to the doctor. I was kind of enjoying working full-time again, in an environment that wasn’t only very clean, but also completely alien to what I was used to. I’d never worked in an office environment before and I’d never worked with computers before. More good news followed in November 1996 when my job was made permanent. Being a fully fledged employee meant that I was earning more money, so things were looking up. However, I had regularly pondered what Whitey had said to me that day in college, and I came to the conclusion that I had to do something. I was prescribed some tablets at my own request, and of course, you were not meant to be drinking alcohol whilst taking them. I tried to be good, but my version of being good was only having a couple of pints of beer in the evening; sometimes I would exceed that. Then something happened that caused me to take drastic action.

I was well settled into the job and I got on great with most people in the organisation. It was approaching Christmas time; I would guess a coupe of weeks before. The company hired out one of the nightclubs in the centre of Swindon on an evening when they were not normally open, so it would have been a Monday or Tuesday. This was to be our Christmas do! Because of the alcohol thing with the tablets, I decided in my wisdom that I would stop taking them a couple of days before the party, get hammered with my work mates and then start taking them again afterwards. Anyway, I don’t think I really had all that much to drink, compared with what I was used to, but I woke up the next morning with the mother of all hangovers. I’d experienced hangovers in my time but this was ridiculous. Luckily, I didn’t have to start work until mid-day. I somehow managed to drive in but it was still a horrendous experience trying to do my job. What I haven’t mentioned is that I worked on a call centre trying to placate angry customers. That wasn’t what it was supposed to be, but because of the utter contempt that the company seemed to have for its customers, that’s what we were doing a lot of the time. It was a such a relief when I finished my shift that evening.

A few days later somebody told me some of the things I’d been doing on the night of the party. I was horrified; more so because I had no recollection whatsoever. I happened to mention that I’d been taking happy pills but had stopped taking them a couple of days before so that I could have a drink. The same person explained to me that those tablets take several weeks to leave your system once you stop taking them. I decided enough is enough. I got the tablets and flushed them down the toilet and then simply got myself by the scruff of the neck and sorted my head out. It worked! In a short time I was no longer suffering with depression. Now, I realise that this sounds a little bit too simple, but it isn’t the last word on the subject and I will return to it as my series of posts draws to a conclusion.

1997 brought with it more changes. I’d realised that my relationship with my landlady was becoming somewhat strained. The first 18 months had been very harmonious, but I was now approaching the four-year mark and I thought it best to jump before being pushed. One lunch time I took a stroll into the Gorse Hill area of Swindon, and as I walked past a hairdressers, I saw a sign on the door that said, “flat to let”. I went in to make some enquiries and before I knew where I was, I was moving into the flat above “LA Hairport”, in Cricklade Road, Swindon. This was great for me, it was a big change from my tiny room in the house in Penhill. I was also without a car again, having run my previous car into the ground, and the flat was around 10 minutes walk from work. Since leaving college I’d kept in touch with John Williams and he continued to get me work with the murder mystery company he was involved with and also another company that he’d set up himself with another lady. John also put on theatre nights in the town of Highworth where he lived (just outside Swindon), which he got me involved with. This wasn’t paid work but I just loved performing. He also got me into The One-Act Play Festival, at Swindon Arts Centre. On top of all this I joined a theatre company.

Head To Toe Theatre Company was based in Swindon. Although an amateur group it wasn’t the kind of namby-pamby amateur dramatics that you find in most villages and towns up and down the country. Head To Toe specialised in some of the darker works of Shakespeare and the productions tended to be extremely intense and powerful. The only thing was that it was quite a close-knit group; some of them had known each other from school days, so I was always a bit of an outsider. A couple of them were unreliable too when it came to turning up for rehearsals and there was of course the bickering that you always get when creative people are gathered together. I played George, Duke of Clarence in a production of Henry VI Part Three, which is the play that charts the rise of Richard, Duke of Gloucester as he murders his way to the throne to become Richard III. It was a fantastic experience but it turned out to be the only play I did with them as I left the following year having become fed up with the childish behaviour.

I ventured back to the Spiritualist church from time to time, mainly to avail myself of the spiritual healing. I’d managed to give myself knee ligament damage in both knees due to excessive use of the treadmill in the gym. At the time I didn’t know it was knee ligament damage because I hadn’t been to the doctors. But amusingly, I would go to the church on a Saturday or Sunday night, have healing and then go to the pub. I would then walk home from the Old Town area of Swindon and then wake up the next morning wondering why my knees were hurting!

1998 brought more changes; in fact life was leading me to places I never knew existed.