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…