Going Forward – Chapter Seventeen

Happy New Year to all my readers – few though you may be. Thank you for staying with me.

Stay safe in 2021.

…..Previously

Mrs Wilson said that she hoped that I’d understand if she asked the Security Manager to accompany me to my office and ensure that I took no company property away: it was standard procedure when staff  left their employment for any reason. Once more I agreed and, when he arrived, I left with him and then left the building – three months tax-free pay better off. There was a spring in my step until I got in my car. There I realised that I’d be going home to an empty house and no-one to share my good news with.

Continued…….

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Ideas changing to Action

Other than a month in a new job starting and ending, lots of other things had been happening.

My solicitor had emailed me about the size of my pension fund, and the value of damn near everything I own. He’d had a letter from Helen’s solicitor. The cheeky bitch had also requested details of my bank accounts, my redundancy payment, pay-in-lieu and current salary. Given that she’d already snatched half of our joint bank balance, I couldn’t believe that she was after a second bite at the cherry. I groaned thinking about all the letters I was going to need to write to get the information she asked for. Her solicitor wanted three independent valuations of the house. “Bloody Hell,” I thought, “I bet that the house she lives in with her new guy won’t be considered. I bit the bullet and set aside that night to do all the necessary information requests. I was taken aback when I realised that I’d have to pay the estate agents for their valuations.

The next blow was a letter from the Child Support people wanting my confirmation of the custody arrangements. My solicitor had already said that it was normal for the mother to have sole custody unless I had compelling justification for shared custody. Helen had made it clear that she’d fight me on that, but I wasn’t convinced that a few hours each Sunday was fair. I’d fight for increased access – even if, for child support purposes that still counted as sole custody for her. They also wanted details of my financial position. I replied fully, but I decided to email details to my solicitor.

I made time to write and to send to Ben my proposal on providing marketing training for directors of small companies – to be aimed at recent start-ups. Ben sent an acknowledgement and promised me that he’d compile all those that he received into a compendium email attachment to be circulated before the virtual get together.

The meeting took place a couple of days after I’d left my employment with the printing group. Everyone had replied and we were all online at the agreed time. Ben had also distributed a download link for us to use to participate. It was a strange experience. Everyone had their camera on, but it was clear that not all of us were comfortable with the idea. I was fascinated seeing the various types of domestic backgrounds in view. People’s various ‘tics’ were more noticeable as were the differences in the video quality of their streams. Aspects such as these were raised as being germane to how realistic online tutorials were going to be for everybody. For ideas such as Tony’s, where his outreach would be outdoors, in the mountains, all that mattered was the quality of the online advertising. For some of us the quality of broadband provision would need to be looked at.

Regarding the proposals themselves, it was clear that everyone had done a cracking job. It now looked as though we could be onto a winner. Ben arranged to visit those people with bad broadband links to see what could be done. Tony, Susie and I fixed up a date to meet at Tony’s house, in early February, to go through the various proposals, prioritise their implementation, and then consider for each what needed to be done to optimise the online presence of any promotional material. Susie promised, in the meantime, to obtain and circulate costings for web hosting, plugins, offline back up and so forth. Because this would be a corporate rather than a personal website we should expect something in the upper hundreds of pounds or low thousands. Everyone agreed to contribute equally to the cost and Jason would sort out the best formal matters such as legal agreements, banking and payments into our joint enterprise fund. He’d come back to us regarding a suitable corporate name. Beverly asked if we’d mind if she joined us. We all agreed.

The bulk of the meeting though was about the issue I’d raised at Beverly’s house. We needed to firm up what kind of grouping we wanted. It was something that we’d all need to agree on or there would be no point in going any further. All of us, after some discussion, came to a consensus that we should all contribute equally to the initial capital. Having heard the way York had spoken to that employee director, I definitely didn’t want to end up being bossed about by someone on the basis of the value of their shareholding. I think that we all wanted to be co-owners and co-workers. Having said that, I was conscious that, because Helen had snatched her half of my redundancy and pay-in-lieu money, I’d now have to start thinking about some other way of bringing in money to pay bills.

Even with the windfall payment from the print firm I now had less than £24,000 in the bank and was facing an unknown regular payment for Child Support. I’d also have legal bills to pay. God alone knew what that would come to by the time we were finished. I was sceptical that our co-op would be breaking-even for at least twelve months and it would be a lot longer before it would generate enough by way of dividend income to pay six of us an equivalent of our former salaries.

The idea of us recharging each other also turned out to be anathema. We might be making different types of contribution to ideas and content but we wanted to be equals when it came to profit-sharing. I think that we all recognised that this was the only way forward for us if we were to avoid arguments: we were to be a co-operative group. Finally, while we all wanted to be able to pay our bills, we all agreed that, for the first few years at least, we should be re-investing as much profit as possible rather than lining our pockets, charging the organisation for company cars or anything like that. Jason said that he’d draw up the paperwork and draft an expenses system so that no one would be out of pocket – for example, Susie should be able to reclaim any costs she incurred in setting up a website, and Tony should be able to claim for using his car when he took groups out on location. Jason volunteered to investigate what grants might be available to us as a start-up and he’d also make suggestions as to how much capital we should need to invest initially.

Other than expenses, until we were earning profits, we’d have to live off our personal means. I realised that I might need a part-time job of some sort. Others seemed to agree with that thought.

Featured Photo

Today’s photo is another that I took in January 2020 when I enjoyed a weekend of photography in London. This shot was one that I took from near Embankment tube station looking across the River Thames towards the London Eye which was still slowly turning at night on my first day.

The Exif data are as follows: Pentax K-1 36 MP full-frame camera with a 15-30 mm f/2.8 lens at 29 mm and f/11. The shutter speed was 30 secs and the ISO 100. The shot was tripod mounted, without filters and post processing in Lightroom Classic.

Going Forward – Chapter Sixteen Part Two

…..Previously

Finally, I touched on the low morale that I’d encountered and the company’s vulnerability that resulted from York’s unwillingness to delegate.  No decisions were allowed without his personal agreement. That meant that managers took few risks with their proposals to avoid criticism. I pointed out that if he were ill or needed to be away from the company for a protracted period, his managers would be badly prepared to make effective decisions or to delegate well. At shopfloor level, I’d encountered poor motivation despite the company paying premium rates. The wages appeared to be seen by many as golden handcuffs – merely a reason for turning up and clocking in. Few workers felt that their contribution was valued. They seldom received positive feedback, perceived that there was little job-security, poor attention to health and safety and few opportunities for training towards personal growth. On the Monday morning, when York walked into my office his face was grim. He had read my report and his initial reaction had been to dismiss me as insubordinate. He’d mellowed in retrospect having re-read  and thought about it. I was right, he said, that what I’d done was probably exactly what an external consultant would have concluded. He didn’t agree with everything I’d written (I hadn’t expected him to do so).

Continued…….

What happened next was an eye-opener. He picked up my phone and summoned Mrs Wilson and his employee ‘directors’ to my office. He told Mrs Wilson to produce four printed copies of my report. She left to do as he’d said, and the three ‘directors’ were told to read my report when their copies had been printed. He advised them to consult me about any aspects of implementation they needed advice about, but he wanted them to report back to him with action plans by the end of the week.

The sales ‘director’ of one of the companies protested at having a new, untried manager dictating what he should be doing. York’s reaction shocked me.

“Listen fella,” he said, “Your title as a director is honorary. You are just another salaried employee. You own no shares. Think of this company as a game of cricket. It’s my bat, my ball, my stumps, my pitch, my pavilion and I’m the ****ing umpire. If you don’t like it **** off to a job you like better.”

There was a stunned silence before he instructed them to get back to work. He left my office just ahead of them. I received dirty looks all round from the others as they left. I considered what to do next. I’d worked there for just over three weeks. I could still leave with only one week’s notice under the terms of the company’s offer letter. I certainly wasn’t sure that I wanted to work there for another month. In any case, that would be a week less to do some of the things that I could do to help get our joint initiative underway.

Two days later my opportunity came. The Sales Manager of the point-of-sale materials company had been to see me in the morning. His director had sent him. We’d discussed the company website, its posters and logo. He’d been particularly interested in my ideas about pricing. That afternoon I had a meeting with the Director of the large box company. He was clearly annoyed by some of the things I’d said in my report. We’d just about got as far as we were likely to get ,when I received a call from Mrs Wilson asking me to go and see her as soon as I’d finished in my meeting.

When I reached her office, I saw through her window that York was with her. He waved me in.  He said that he’d been thinking about my report. He said that I’d done a good job, but he felt that the impetus for implementing my proposals could now be done by existing staff. He couldn’t see what benefit there would be to the company if I stayed in my job. He referred to my conclusions about morale as an example and told me that my further involvement might damage morale further – particularly among senior managers and directors. He felt that he would be able to work with them to execute my recommendations.

Mrs Wilson took over at this point. She said that I’d be aware that, contractually, I was entitled to one week’s notice. The implications of York’s indirect summary were now becoming concrete. Given what I’d already been thinking, I felt that I would be saved the embarrassment of having to justify handing in my notice. I listened carefully, waiting to hear the guillotine fall. I’m glad I stayed rather than walked out in anger. She continued, “We think that you have a lot to offer, if not with us – and we don’t want to part on bad terms.  I’ve written you a testimonial and if any future employer approaches us directly for a reference, it will be favourable.”  She passed me a letter typed on A4 headed paper and signed. She asked me to read it. It was the testimonial she’d promised and it praised me for the contribution I’d made to the future of the company. I looked first at York, then back to her and thanked her.

She said that she hadn’t quite finished.

“If you are satisfied with what you’ve read,” she said, “On condition that you sign a non-disclosure agreement and indemnify us against any redress for terminating your employment, Mr York has agreed that you will be given three months payment in lieu of notice.”

I sat back, trying to take in what I had heard. I remembered what Beverly had said about some employers doctoring personnel records to protect them against legal action. I felt that I’d be stupid not to agree.

She passed me another two-page typed document to read – the NDA she’d mentioned.

I gathered that it was mainly financial information that it sought to protect. I’d have to return any copies of company information that I still had in my possession and agree to delete all electronic copies on my personal IT equipment. Along with that was a requirement not to pursue any type of claim for unfair dismissal. I really didn’t see how I could make such a claim anyway considering what I’d already planned  to do.

I signed in the space provided and told them that all my written copies were in my desk – I had none at home. I’d leave it to them to delete my user identity and files from the company server. I assured them that I’d never transferred any company information onto my personal devices and had never made any copies via media cards or pen drives. I checked that I could regard this as my last day of working there and thanked them for their generous offer of pay-in-lieu.

Mrs Wilson said that she hoped that I’d understand if she asked the Security Manager to accompany me to my office and ensure that I took no company property away: it was standard procedure when staff  left their employment for any reason. Once more I agreed and, when he arrived, I left with him and then left the building – three months tax-free pay better off. There was a spring in my step until I got in my car. There I realised that I’d be going home to an empty house and no-one to share my good news with.

Featured Photo

Today’s photo is another that I took in January 2020 when I enjoyed a weekend of photography in London. This shot was another I took from the South Bank of the Thames, this time while walking from Tower Bridge towards London Bridge, at night on my first day.

The Exif data are as follows: Pentax K-1 36 MP full-frame camera with a 15-30 mm f/2.8 lens at 30 mm and f/18. The shutter speed was 30 secs and the ISO 100. The shot was tripod mounted, without filters and post processing in Lightroom Classic.

Going Forward – Chapter Sixteen Part One

…..Previously

In the third week of January, things started to happen quite rapidly. I received an email from my solicitor with a copy of a letter that he’d received from her solicitor attached. Also attached was a letter from my solicitor containing details of his costs. The letter from her solicitor included the reason she’d provided for the separation – including ‘unreasonable behaviour’, plus I was boring, inattentive and, more recently I had been making unreasonable plans that threatened family finances. My solicitor’s letter asked me whether I wanted him to write to hers about a full financial disclosure. It spoke of negotiation and mediation (an information pamphlet was also attached). He advised me to draw up a new will, and to transfer to it funds from our joint bank account. He offered to write to Helen’s solicitor regarding my  concerns about custody and childcare. Merely reading the letter gave me a headache and I had to do an internet search to learn more about some of the issues he mentioned. I still wasn’t much better off having read everything that seemed relevant and up to date, but I wrote to authorise the solicitor to do whatever was necessary. My main concern now was to keep the legal costs down and to avoid losing the house. I’d need it for Paul’s visits more than anything else.

Continued…….

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Life goes on

By the end of the third week in January I’d completed my draft report to discuss with York. I left it with him on the Friday afternoon to read over the weekend and had arranged for him to let me know his thoughts on the following Monday.

I’d written a comprehensive analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the group together with suggestions about under-exploited opportunities and market vulnerabilities. I’d supported my findings with a series of appendices – tables, graphs and detailed textual analyses.

I’d qualified my conclusions and recommendations, because of the way he’d valued some assets and used management charges to transfer funds from the production subsidiaries to the holding company. The methods employed clearly had no basis in performance but was a device to hide the profitability of those companies from nosy competitors. While this seemed reasonable from that point of view, from what I’d seen as I’d made my enquiries, the large box company was short of working capital and had a narrow customer base making it vulnerable in a competitive market. In the company providing customer-facing displays the existing cost-plus pricing policy was producing lower profits than could be available otherwise.

I commended the company’s recent use of social media and online selling, but I recommended changes to  its design. It was slow to load, clumsy to navigate and had low visibility. I also felt that the system was insecure and, regarding current data protection laws, potentially illegal.

I made recommendations about the design of the company’s current advertising, and its other promotional material.

Finally, I touched on the low morale that I’d encountered in the production units, and the company’s vulnerability that resulted from York’s unwillingness to delegate.  No decisions were allowed without his personal agreement. That meant that managers took few risks with their proposals to avoid criticism. I pointed out that if he were ill, or needed to be away from the company for a protracted period, his managers would be badly prepared to make effective decisions or to delegate well. At shop-floor level, I’d encountered poor motivation despite the company paying premium rates. The wages appeared to be seen by many as golden handcuffs – merely a reason for turning up and clocking in. Few workers felt that their contribution was valued. They seldom received positive feedback and widely perceived that there was little job-security, poor attention to health and safety, and few opportunities for training towards personal growth. On the Monday morning, when York walked into my office his face was grim. He had read my report and his initial reaction had been to dismiss me as insubordinate. He’d mellowed in retrospect having re-read  and thought about it. I was right, he said, that what I’d done was probably exactly what an external consultant would have concluded. He didn’t agree with everything I’d written (I hadn’t expected him to do so).

Featured Photo

Today’s photo is another that I took in January 2020 when I enjoyed a weekend of photography in London. This shot was another I took from the South Bank of the Thames, while walking towards London Bridge, shortly after dawn on my second day.

The Exif data are as follows: Pentax K-1 36 MP full-frame camera with a 15-30 mm f/2.8 lens at 30 mm and f/16. The shutter speed was 4/5 secs and the ISO 100. The shot was tripod mounted, without filters and post processing in Lightroom Classic.

Going Forward – Chapter Fifteen Part Two

…..Previously

Having cleared things up with him, I felt more confident that he’d back me up if anyone complained about my line of questioning. I was learning other things though about the set-up of the firm. It was a private limited close company. York was the majority shareholder by a long way – his wife and brother were minority participants. All the other directors – sales and production – were simply employees, appointed by York. From the shop floor staff, I was picking up indications that employees – including directors – were sacked by him, or at his direction, often on a personal whim. I was beginning to think that my best strategy should be to deliver quick results and then hand my notice in. I neither liked nor trusted him.  Apart from anything else, I could now see that putting more effort into our website co-operative would be a more rewarding use of my time

Continued…….

January – Personal Life

Being at work during the day helped to take my mind off my situation at home. The house seemed empty almost all the time. Helen was still only bringing Paul on Sundays. My Mum and Dad had started calling round a couple of nights a week.

Even Helen’s Mum had phoned me a couple of times since the split. It seemed clear to me that her Mum was unhappy about the whole business. She thought that Helen had been wrong to get involved with the new man, that she’d been unreasonable in how she’d treated me and that it was unfair to keep Paul out of my life so much.

Even though I was so busy, I often found it difficult to concentrate or to remain motivated. All sorts of thoughts kept pushing their way into my consciousness.  

When had this relationship between Helen and this new fella started, and how had it begun? How often had they been meeting, when and where?  How had she managed to keep it so secret? I couldn’t understand how I’d missed the signs – there must have been some. I felt that I had been blind and stupid. Perhaps I really hadn’t been paying her enough attention.

Then again, questions kept troubling me about the extent of her manipulation of me.  I wondered how long she’d been planning to leave and whether she’d delayed her departure merely to minimise unpleasantness over  Christmas ? I asked myself whose idea that had been – and was it for her convenience or his? I still knew nothing about the other man – what was his name and where did he live? I couldn’t be sure whether she’d moved into his home or whether they’d both left their homes if, for example he’d left a family behind him at the same time?

I was starting to read all kinds of new meanings into events in the past few weeks – such as the number of times that she’d ‘worked late’. Again, had her moods over Christmas been caused by frustration at having to wait? God! So many unanswered questions.

On the second Sunday that Paul was brought to spend time with me, I learned Helen’s new address and her new love’s name – Cliff Edwards. They were living in a house on an estate of new-build detached houses. She told me the road name and number. My requests for further information were rebuffed. It was none of my business.

In the third week of January, things started to happen quite rapidly. I received an email from my solicitor with a copy of a letter that he’d received from her solicitor attached. Also attached was a letter from my solicitor containing details of his costs. The letter from her solicitor included the reason she’d provided for the separation – including ‘unreasonable behaviour’, plus I was boring, inattentive and, more recently I had been making unreasonable plans that threatened family finances. My solicitor’s letter asked me whether I wanted him to write to hers about a full financial disclosure. It spoke of negotiation and mediation (an information pamphlet was also attached). He advised me to draw up a new will, and to transfer to it funds from our joint bank account. He offered to write to Helen’s solicitor regarding my  concerns about custody and childcare. Merely reading the letter gave me a headache and I had to do an internet search to learn more about some of the issues he mentioned. I still wasn’t much better off having read everything that seemed relevant and up to date, but I wrote to authorise the solicitor to do whatever was necessary. My main concern now was to keep the legal costs down and to avoid losing the house. I’d need it for Paul’s visits more than anything else.

Featured Photo

Today’s photo is one that I took in January 2020 when I enjoyed a weekend of photography in London. This shot was one I took from the South Bank of the Thames, while walking towards London Bridge, shortly after dawn on my second day.

The Exif data are as follows: Pentax K-1 36 MP full-frame camera with a 15-30 mm f/2.8 lens at 28 mm and f/16. The shutter speed was 8 secs and the ISO 100. The shot was tripod mounted, without filters and post processing in Lightroom Classic.

Going Forward – Chapter Fifteen Part One

…..Previously

It was clear that there would be no company car other than a pool car, whose use I would need to book with the Security Manager. I read the papers I had been given and decided that I’d better begin doing what I was being paid for

I made my first call to the Sales Manager of the company that printed the big boxes to arrange to see him. He was free, so I told him that I’d call round as soon as I could find his office and so started my new job.

Continued…….

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

January – First week at work

After the first few days I was beginning to find my way around and to become acquainted with more and more people across the company as a whole. I was settling into a routine, asking questions both of departmental directors, managers and shop floor staff. Involving this lower echelon of employee attracted the attention of York, who wanted to know what I was playing at. I explained that, if I only spoke to senior staff I was likely to miss things. He had wanted examples. I told him, for example, that if a director – by virtue of their seniority – insisted on their personal clients’ jobs getting production priority, that could disrupt the schedule that had been planned by the works manager according to production criteria. In turn that could cause delivery delays for a stream of other clients potentially losing goodwill and future sales.

He wasn’t convinced. I told him that he should welcome this in-depth analysis. If he’d commissioned an external consultant to do what I was doing, he’d be paying per day what I was being paid in two weeks. I emphasised that I was only able to get away with my approach while I was still an unknown quantity. Nobody I was talking to knew whether I’d been appointed as an ‘axeman’. This explanation not only satisfied but delighted him. It seemed that believing I could be a tough disciplinarian displayed a quality that he expected of all his managers. Before he left me to carry on, he asked me what I’d have said if he’d stopped me from interviewing anyone other than managers. I told him that I’d have handed in my notice because I couldn’t do my job with my hands tied. He nodded, apparently satisfied, and walked away.

It was clear, nonetheless, that he was impatient for results. I reminded him that an-information based marketing strategy was what I’d promised at interview – and what he’d agreed to. I stressed that it would take at least two weeks to collect the data and a further three or four days to analyse and evaluate it. He said that he’d not press any further but would still expect a weekly report on progress.

Having cleared things up with him, I felt more confident that he’d back me up if anyone complained about my line of questioning. I was learning other things though about the set-up of the firm. It was a private limited close company. York was the majority shareholder by a long way – his wife and brother were minority participants. All the other directors – sales and production – were simply employees, appointed by York. From the shop floor staff I was picking up indications that employees – including directors – were sacked by him, or at his direction, often on a personal whim. I was beginning to think that my best strategy should be to deliver quick results and then hand my notice in. I neither liked nor trusted him.  Apart from anything else, I could now see that putting more effort into our website co-operative would be a more rewarding use of my time

Featured Photo

Today’s photo is one that I took in January 2020 when I enjoyed a weekend of photography in London. This is another shot taken from the Millennium Bridge at dawn on my second day.

The Exif data are as follows: Pentax K-1 36 MP full-frame camera with a 15-30 mm f/2.8 lens at 28 mm and f/16. The shutter speed was 30 secs and the ISO 100. The shot was tripod mounted, without filters and post processing in Lightroom Classic.

Going Forward – Chapter Fourteen Part Two

…..Previously

It wasn’t raining, so we went on our bikes to the local Science Museum. There were some great interactive exhibits especially aimed at children and soon Paul was engrossed in those. We called in a fast-food place for lunch – another treat that he was unused to – and he liked the toy that came with the kid’s meal. The downside of this ‘treat’ was that he was ‘wired’ – high as a kite afterwards. I took him to the park so that he could burn off some of this energy. All too soon I had to get him back to ‘my’ house. I couldn’t call  it ‘our’ house anymore: it was becoming ‘Daddy’s house’ and ‘Mummy’s house’. During the meal, he was becoming sad again, knowing that his Mummy would be taking him away and that we wouldn’t be together. I tried to ensure that he knew that, even apart, we’d both always love him. We’d fallen out with each other – not with him.

Continued…….

There’s an Annie Lennox song about walking on broken glass. That’s how I’d felt the whole time that he was with me and it had totally wrecked the short time we’d had together.  I’d wanted to know more about what his Mum had said about the reasons for the split – what she’d said about blame. I’d wanted to know who this new man was like – his name, their address, how he’d been with my son. I wanted to be sure that my son was not in any kind of danger from him. Helen had made her bed and now she’d have to lie on it, but Paul was my child as well. She couldn’t, mustn’t be allowed to erase me from his life.

So anyway, here I was, dressed and ready for a new day and a new job. The train and Metrolink journeys were as crowded as I’d expected. When I arrived, I was shown up to meet Andrew York and Mrs Wilson. I gathered that York didn’t have an office of his own. He saw his job as visiting other people where they worked to check on them. He did have a trusted typist in the typing pool. No-one, however senior had their own typists or personal assistants. I was told that I would have an office to myself.  I was issued with a code to use to enter the building via the staff entrance – and I was told that Mrs Wilson would show me how to clock-in and clock-out each day. That was another shock.

He told me that everyone had been told to co-operate with me and to provide all the information I requested of them. Other than a handshake and being told that I’d be expected to provide a written report of my progress each Friday for the time being, that concluded my welcome. As York had said, Mrs Wilson completed the remainder of my ‘induction’, showing me round the buildings again to introduce me to the other managerial staff, and then leading me to my office. She’d demonstrated the clocking procedures while we were on our rounds. She ended the introduction to my job by showing me to my office.

I suppose that it could have been worse. The carpetless room, which was on the first floor of the administrative building, was about four by three metres and had a large window overlooking the yard and a smaller interior window overlooked from the corridor outside.  The door to the office also had a window. It would be like working in a goldfish bowl. No slacking allowed here – too many eyes to keep track of my every action!  

By way of furniture, I had a double pedestal desk, a swivel chair, a four-drawer file cabinet, and a modern desktop computer. Mrs Wilson had handed me keys to the desk and the filing cabinet plus a sheaf of papers before taking her leave. Amongst the latter was a password to the computer and instructions about security relating to its use. In the top drawer of the desk, I found a mobile phone, an internal phone directory and notes about restrictions to the use of the phone. No private calls – inwards or outwards. I guessed that there would be some form of call monitoring to ensure that I wasn’t using it to place bets or send private emails.

It was clear that there would be no company car other than a pool car, whose use I would need to book with the Security Manager. I read the papers I had been given and decided that I’d better begin doing what I was being paid for

I made my first call to the Sales Manager of the company that printed the big boxes to arrange to see him. He was free, so I told him that I’d call round as soon as I could find his office and so started my new job.

Featured Photo

Today’s photo is one that I took in January 2020 when I enjoyed a weekend of photography in London – my first real photographic location holiday. The scene is near St Katherine’s Wharf close to Tower Bridge, and features the popularly photographed Girl and a Dolphin statue.

The Exif data are as follows: Pentax K-1 36 MP full-frame camera with a 15-30 mm f/2.8 lens at 21 mm and f/13. The shutter speed was 1/30 secs and the ISO 100. The shot was tripod mounted, without filters and post processing in Lightroom Classic.

Going Forward – Chapter Fourteen Part One

…..Previously

Seconds later, the door had slammed behind Helen as she took Paul to the car. No kiss. No words of, ‘Goodbye love,’ or, ‘See you later,’ today. I returned to the kitchen and made myself a drink. It looked as if I’d have a busy day ahead of me.

Continued…….

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

New Beginnings

I was up and about early to get ready for my new job. On Saturday, I’d had appointments with a solicitor and the bank. In both cases I’d had to take all sorts of identification proofs and other documents. I couldn’t close the joint account because it needed both mine and Helen’s signatures. On the other hand, I was able to open an account in my sole name and to transfer all the direct debits that related to myself or to the house and home. ‘Home,’ that was a strange word now. The house felt nothing like a home. For any direct debits that Helen had taken out on her own account – her phone, her credit card account, regular transfers from it to her personal savings account  – I instructed the bank to leave those where they were. Those would be up to Helen to finance.

The solicitor hadn’t thought much of my thoughts regarding deliberately staying unemployed. He said that the Court would take a dim view of it. Similarly, he advised that my chances of sole custody would be slim to nothing. His main concern was making sure that I knew how much I’d need to pay him for his efforts. What was it people said? “At least Dick Turpin wore a mask!” He promised to email me with any news.

Sunday had been unsettling. Helen had agreed that Paul should spend time with me. She brought him mid-morning but would be collecting him at six that night. She still hadn’t told me her new address, though it seemed that she hadn’t blocked me on her smartphone number. When she’d dropped him off she’d simply rung the doorbell and, when I opened the door, she’d just told me how long I could have him for. She’d then turned and returned to her car. There had been no smile; no ‘Hi. How are you’; no greeting – just that terse instruction.

I couldn’t understand why she was behaving this way. ‘What was I supposed to have done to deserve to be treated like this?’ I told Paul to wave to his Mum, which he did as she drove away. The poor lad was in tears. ‘Bitch!’ I thought. I smiled to him to reassure him and asked what he’d like to do. He wanted to play on his PlayStation, but she’d taken it to their new home when she left. When I tried to explain this to him he started crying, wanting to know why his mum and I weren’t living together anymore. I asked him what his Mum had told him about the separation. He said that she’d said that we’d fallen out. I didn’t know what to say other than grown-ups sometimes stopped being friends. I suggested to him that the parents of some of his classmates had also separated. This just seemed to make things worse.

It wasn’t raining, so we went on our bikes to the local Science Museum. There were some great interactive exhibits especially aimed at children and soon Paul was engrossed in those. We called in a fast-food place for lunch – another treat that he was unused to – and he liked the toy that came with the kid’s meal. The downside of this ‘treat’ was that he was ‘wired’ – high as a kite afterwards. I took him to the park so that he could burn off some of this energy. All too soon I had to get him back to ‘my’ house. I couldn’t call  it ‘our’ house anymore: it was becoming ‘Daddy’s house’ and ‘Mummy’s house’. During the meal, he was becoming sad again, knowing that his Mummy would be taking him away and that we wouldn’t be together. I tried to ensure that he knew that, even apart, we’d both always love him. We’d fallen out with each other – not with him.

Featured Photo

Today’s photo is one that I promised a few weeks ago when I chose a photo of the same place but earlier in the day – nearer sunset. So, this is MediaCity UK, Salford Quays, Manchester again, but this time in the Blue Hour.

The Exif data are as follows: Pentax K-1 36 MP full-frame camera with a 15-30 mm f/2.8 lens at 24 mm and f/11. The shutter speed was 15 seconds and the ISO 100. The shot was tripod mounted, without filters and post processing in Lightroom Classic.

Going Forward – Chapter Thirteen Part One

…..Previously

On New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day we had a welcome break from entertaining – visiting our respective parents.  Paul had been allowed to take his presents to both houses and Harry disappeared after our meal at my Mum’s house to play with Paul using the second controller. My Mum thought that he’d probably end up buying a set for himself by claiming it would be there for whenever his Grandson visited.

Helen had been quiet all week but had been snappy when I asked how she was or tried to cheer her up. As I thought about it, she’d not really been herself since the week before Christmas – on the other hand, she had been working long hours.

Continued…….

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

New Year

 On the first Monday of January – we had the next meeting of our group at our house. I’d asked Helen if she wanted me to cancel since she had seemed so tired. She said that she’d booked the day off from work to act as hostess so I should leave things as had been agreed.

They all arrived fairly promptly and Helen offered tea and coffee after introducing herself.  It sounded as if everyone had had a good Christmas, but they were all eager to get a joint business off the ground – all bitten by an entrepreneurial bug. I let them know that my contribution would need to be part-time because I’d be starting in my new job in less than a week. That was a bit of a shock to most of them, but Beverly understood why I’d done it. Once we were ready to start the meeting, Helen sat in with us.

As meetings go, is was quite productive. They all liked my idea of a computer services company. It was agreed that, once we started to become profitable with a good cashflow position, we should consider renting office premises from which we could both meet our clients face-to-face and even start selling some computer accessories.  Ben said that he’d get some prices for hiring a server; Jason would look into public liability insurance and  similar matters. He would also have a word with a friendly solicitor he knew to ask about the legal side of setting up – whether to do it as a coop or as a limited partnership. Tony, Susie and I would look at the design of a website, logo and how to promote the business. For the time being, Beverly would just help out on the admin side.

We agreed that Susie’s brainwave of providing seminars would be a good way of starting to bring some cash in. Tony said that, from Spring onwards, he could offer location-based photography workshops in the Peak District if someone could find a way of promoting the idea online. Beverley said that she could tutor seminars on ‘wellness’ as this seemed to be a fashionable desire – again requiring suitable promotion to stand out from the competition. It turned out that Jason was another keen photographer and he  had some ideas relating to getting brand-ambassador for a start-up companies filter products and others about online post-processing tutorials. It seemed that most of us could offer something to teach and all of them required excellent online promotion. The great thing was that none of the ideas required physical premises or expensive computer systems. Between my brand marketing experience, Tony’s design skills, Ben’s IT know-how and Susie’s website design abilities we already had the basis of a superb range of products to promote. The promotion of them appeared to have a quite short gestation period requirement.

Ben suggested that we could hold a virtual meeting next time. He promised to contact us individually by email to help us to get set up. He asked would anyone have problems with the last week  in January – everyone was fine with that. Beverley asked everyone to email to Ben a summary, on one side of A4, of what we could offer as a seminar subject. The discussion had only taken about two hours. They all thanked Helen for agreeing to hold the meeting at our house.

Afterwards, Helen said that she could see how the proposal might succeed and that they seemed a nice bunch of people. She seemed a bit miffed, however, about me Susie and Tony working together. She commented on how pretty Susie was, how she was only a couple of years younger than I was, and that she’d realised that she was divorced. She made it sound as if I’d somehow manipulated things so that I’d be working with Susie.

I explained the logic of the arrangement – Jason was the Finance king, Tony as a designer – was a natural for working on the design or look and feel of the website. Susie – as a website design specialist would be the best person to sort out things like optimising the security, backup and technical aspects of the site. My role would be promoting the business using the work that they’d done, ensuring that the promotional messages, payment facilities, contact aspects and so forth would work well.

None of this seemed to placate Helen. She liked Susie as a person but seemed to think that we’d seemed a bit too close to be ‘just’ colleagues. She told me that I could do as I liked but that I shouldn’t take her for a fool. She decided that she was going to go to her Mum’s to calm down – and that she might be late. Paul came downstairs once Helen had gone out. It seemed that he had heard some of what we’d been talking about. He accused me of upsetting his Mum. It took me some time to console him. I wondered if I should withdraw from the project. The relationship price seemed too high to jeopardise with the idea while it was still at the embryo stage.

Featured Photo

Today I continue my series of Christmassy shots in black and white. My Featured Photo today was taken of an illuminated arch in Church Street, Liverpool.

The EXIF Data for the featured photo are as follows: Pentax KP 24 MP cropped sensor camera with a 35 mm mm f/2.4 lens at 35 mm and f/3.5. The shutter speed was 1/200 secs and the ISO was 1600. The camera was handheld and the post-processing was in Lightroom.

Going Forward – Chapter Twelve Part Two

…..Previously

Helen didn’t get home until turned ten o’clock. She had warned me over the weekend that she’d be late every night until Christmas Eve.  She was exhausted. Customers were stripping the shelves before there was time to re-stock them fully. Fresh supplies from the storage area – ‘backstage’ as they called it – were almost impossible to get through the crowds of customers jostling to fill their trolleys. When, on the Wednesday night we had a major row, about not being able to have a holiday abroad until July at the earliest, I put it down to her being stressed-out because of the built-up exhaustion.

On Christmas Eve, getting Paul to go to sleep was murder. He was so excited, wanting to know whether Santa had been able to get enough money out of his magic money tree to pay for a PlayStation. Other than that, there was the routine of leaving a glass of wine for Santa, plus reindeer food for Rudolph and his team. It was lovely to see that he was still so innocent but we still felt guilty at caving into societal pressure to conform by telling lies to him.

Continued…….

Christmas

From six am on Christmas Day, Paul was in our room, shaking us awake. We were being summoned to join with him in unwrapping all the parcels around the tree. He’d already been downstairs and had noted the empty wine glass and the diminished remains of the reindeer food. Above all, he’d noticed how many parcels there were.

The joy on Paul’s face was a delight to see when he opened the big box containing his new smartphone. I think that, for a moment, he’d thought that the phone was a great consolation for not getting the Playstation, but when he opened that parcel he was jumping with delight. I knew that the remainder of the morning would have to be divided between helping to get his gifts set up for him and helping Helen in the kitchen. We left the remaining parcels for later when both our sets of parents would be arriving for their Christmas dinner. We’d asked them to arrive at one for two, so as to get out of the way the giving and receiving of the remaining presents.

By the end of the meal, once all the wrapping paper, and food-waste likewise, had been binned for recycling, we were all able to sit down to talk and relax – except for Paul who was upstairs in his room with his new sources of amusement. Charlie eventually asked my parents, Harry and Christine, what they thought about my situation. I hadn’t told anyone other than Helen yet about the job offer, or my acceptance of it. My Dad had never heard of the printing company, but he seemed concerned by how Charlie described it. I felt that I’d better enlighten them and explained how and why Helen and I had decided to accept it.

The two sets of ‘oldies’ came to agree that I’d probably done the right thing – provided that I bailed out, if working there turned out to be as bad as Charlie had heard. Other than that, when the conversation turned to politics, Helen suggested that we all watch a programme on the television that she’d been waiting for. I refilled everyone’s glasses while Helen navigated the TV to select the show she’d chosen.

When it came to time for them to leave, we thanked them for their gifts and wished them a safe journey home. We’d already arranged to return the visits around the New Year. Charlie didn’t leave without cautioning me again about the company and its reputation. Helen and I went to bed early that night. We’d managed to get Paul to bed and sleep about ten but, I was concerned by how tired and irritated Helen seemed.  She’d be in work again the following morning. Boxing Day might be a Bank Holiday for banks, but not for lots of shop workers.

On New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, we had a welcome break from entertaining – visiting our respective parents.  Paul had been allowed to take his presents to both houses, and Harry disappeared after our meal at my Mum’s house to play with Paul, on his Playstation, using the second controller. My Mum thought that he’d probably end up buying a set for himself by claiming it would be there for whenever his Grandson visited.

Helen had been quiet all week, but had been snappy when I asked how she was or tried to cheer her up. As I thought about it, she’d not really been herself since the week before Christmas – on the other hand, she had been working long hours.

Featured Photo

Today I continue my series of Christmassy shots in black and white. My Featured Photo today was taken of an illuminated reindeer in the Liverpool One area of the city.

The EXIF Data for the featured photo are as follows: Pentax KP 24 MP cropped sensor camera with a 35 mm mm f/2.4 lens at 35 mm and f/4. The shutter speed was 1/250 secs and the ISO was 1600. The camera was handheld and the post-processing was in Lightroom.

Post update re Chapter Four Part Two

Introductory words

As I’ve been writing the story so far – and providing daily updates – the nearest I’ve got to proof reading is a quick check on grammar and typos when I first copy the text of my Word file into the post, and then again immediately before publishing it. The other day, my wife, Margaret, started to read what I’ve posted. Her main problem with the story was that, in Chapter Four Part Two, where I introduce the other members of the group, I hadn’t put enough meat on the bones of the individuals to induce her to take any interest in them. Given that the story will increasingly say more about the individuals in the group from Chapter Thirteen onwards I’ve recognised the need for a sort of retrospective.

I spent some time yesterday rewriting Chapter Four Part Two and, this post is the revised account. I hope that you’ll forgive the need for the update. You’ll remember I hope that this is about the people assembling in the bar after their first in-company course following their redundancy – a course on positive thinking.

An embryo consultancy – the meeting in the bar

I’d phoned Helen to let her know that I’d be later than expected and told her what I’d be doing.

There were six of us who’d found that we had some ideas that would offer synergy within the context of a co-operative. I suppose that all of us were, to some extent or other, sussing each other out to decide whether the interpersonal dynamics were going to work for us. There would be no point in wasting time and possibly money if, even at this stage, there would be someone amongst those present that we simply weren’t going to be able to work with. In the event, for me at least, I could  see no immediate problems with the other five. Then again, we’d all have gone through a rigorous selection when we joined the company in the first place.

I was trying to identify what we’d each be able to contribute to a co-op venture – what I mean is that me plus four accountants and a personnel manager would never work. As it turned out the mix looked about as perfect as I could have dreamed of. I made some notes.

            Marketing skills – me (Paddy)

            IT skills – Ben

            Finance skills – Jason

            Design skills – Tony

            Website development skills – Susie

            HR skills – Beverly

From what I could judge, at thirty nine pushing forty hard, I was the oldest person in the group.

The only two  I’d ever met before were Jason  and Beverly. All of us were in our thirties: Susie and Ben were divorced, but the rest of us were married or in a live-in or long-term relationship. From people’s accents, I guessed that we were all British and that Susie had some Scottish blood somewhere in her family history. I’m rubbish at judging ethnicity but Jason was obviously black and probably Afro-Caribbean while everybody else was white. It didn’t seem to bother him so it didn’t bother me.

 We started by talking about what we’d found most useful about the day’s seminar, and I was able to pick up quite a bit about Tony, Ben and Susie whom I’d never met before.  A lot of people’s background came out as we talked about what we intended to do next.

Tony – Tony Sheldon – married with no children, lived in Gatley near Cheadle. He appeared to be a few years younger than I am.  His appearance, to me, matched his area of expertise – Design. He was the most casually dressed – tee shirt, jeans and moccasins without socks – it seemed an odd choice of outfit given that it had been freezing outside when we’d arrived. His thick, dark blond hair reached down to his collar. He was sat next to Susie, the website designer. It appeared that the two of them had worked quite closely together and had complementary skills.

Susie – Susie Cooke – was a very pretty, green-eyed redhead – slim, probably late twenties or early thirties. I understood her to be divorced and living in Timperley. She was about the same height and build as Beverly and her floral-patterned wrap-around dress suited her well. I expected that she’d get on well with anybody – certainly she and Tony appeared to have a good relationship. She came across as being cheerful, bubbly, energetic, enthusiastic and talented.

Ben – Ben Taylor – the other divorced member was another extrovert-seeming member, which I’d hadn’t expected of someone from computing. I’d have expected him to be geeky and withdrawn – strange how we can get misled by stereotypes. In fact, he was very smartly dressed, curly black hair, tall – clearly over six feet – slim and fit looking, as if he exercised a lot. Not gym-type musclebound, but perhaps a cyclist or runner. From his voice and the way in which he used his hands while talking, I assumed that he was gay – but perhaps that was another stereotype that could be wrong, especially since he’d been married. There we go – another assumption – perhaps he’d been married to another man. I didn’t hear where he lived.

Beverley York was someone I’d often come across before. She was married with two children and was in her early thirties, slim, pretty and only slightly shorter than I am. She was dressed casually, her shoulder length mid-blonde hair toned nicely with her casual attire. I gathered that she and Susie were from the same part of South Manchester. She came across as a shrewd person – well-suited to her role in HR.  It seemed as if we were on the same page.

Jason Burntree was the one whom I knew best. He was a couple of years younger than I am. He and his wife had no children and his wife had a well-paid job as a solicitor in Manchester. They lived in Cheadle. I’d always got on well with him when we’d come across each other in meetings. He was of medium height, stocky and his black hair was thinning. His suit, shirt and black shoes fitted him as the finance man amongst us – another stereotype? He was the only smoker in the group.

All of us liked the idea of working for ourselves and found the idea of working as a co-operative attractive. Jason was the one who had first floated the idea. It was clear from the discussion that we’d all got a similar redundancy deal which was related to our leaving salaries and length of service. So, I had ten years of service and would be getting ten months pay tax free. My leaving salary was £30,000 and, given that it would be free of tax, national insurance, pension and similar deductions, I’d have had to have had a salary of close on £40,000 to earn that if I’d not been made redundant. Between us we’d have had a pot of about quarter of a million pounds working capital to start off, other things being equal as economists say. That was without the three months pay in-lieu.

I suppose that my main contribution to the discussion was that the things that were holding us back were pretty basic still – like knowing what sort of business to start or how viable our unique selling point would need to be. Jason, argued that we’d need to know what kind of cashflow we’d have to work with, and what our costs and pricing would amount to. Having someone like him on board would obviously be useful to help us keep our feet on the ground. It was good that Jason had a good sense of humour. Too many of the accounts people I’d come across were bean counters who could always be depended on to find reasons for doing nothing rather than finding ways to get things done. Anyway, what we seemed to be coming around to was still just for starters.

We had all had ideas like creating a new board game, toy or a useful household object that could be three-dimensionally printed. Tony had some great suggestions plus the skills needed to present them visually. He had lots of enthusiasm and this too would be an asset.

 However, any ideas we might come up with would need to demonstrate how that big working capital figure would pay us a wage while as we were building the business. Between us we had a useful set of complementary skills, but what we needed now was to take some time to refine our individual ideas before we met again. We needed to clarify what our initial ideas for new businesses would be about so that we could start drawing up business plans to sell to some of the organisations that might be able to provide some grant-funding.

In the meantime, we agreed that we’d continue meeting, but we’d each try to get new jobs to keep our heads above water while we did our front-end planning on a part-time basis. To help with that, we’d all use the free courses being offered by our company and external organisations to refresh our skills in job-hunting, CV preparation and skills in presenting ourselves at interviews.  Beverly, from HR, would get us all booked on any suitable company courses to get us started. We agreed to do some more blue-sky thinking about viable business ideas ready to discuss when we attended the first seminar.

In the meantime, we exchanged smartphone and address details

Featured Photograph

I’ll not re-use the shot of Media City that I provided first time round. I’ll stick with the Christmas theme. So today’s image is another from Liverpool. This shot was taken inside the John Lewis store in Liverpool One and is of lights descending from the third floor down to ground floor level beside the escalators.

I took the shot in November 2018 with my Pentax K50 16 MP cropped-sensor and a 35 mm f/2.4 prime lens at f/8. The shooting speed was 1/40 secs and the ISO was 800.