Saturday, 26 October 2013

Careering off the track.

I regularly get asked, on Twitter of course, what exactly it is I do for a living. It's not a question I can easily answer, since I do anything someone will pay me to do. I am, I suppose, a "white van man". Some might say I'm a market trader. Some think I'm a designer. In truth I'd say I was a Jack of all trades and the master of a few. I gave up trying to find a boss I could respect a long time ago and decided the only way to be happy was to have no one in your life you had to refer to as your superior. I have many superiors in many fields, but not a single one of them is my boss.

When I left school, in the mid eighties, with a shitload of o'levels and a natural affinity for computers, I was taken on by a small computer shop on what was known as a Y.T.S. A cynical way of massaging school leaver unemployment figures which paid me £27.00 per week, rising to £35.00 a week one year later. During the eighteen months I worked there, (Leigh Computer Systems in Sale, Greater Manchester.) I had the opportunity to play with pretty much any computer on the market at the time. A time when a 40MB (Not gigabyte, MEGAbyte.) hard drive was the cutting edge, and you could get both green screen AND RGB monitors. Just before I left there I also moved out of my parents home, which was a pub in Salford, and into a high rise flat on Salford precinct. It was a horrible place to live and I didn't have sufficient funds to escape, so I applied, never thinking I'd get it, to be a mainframe operator for a big company. I got it. I'd made it!

In those days if you said you were a computer operator it was akin to saying you were a brain surgeon or rocket scientist. And so it was that, aged just eighteen, I bought a house, car and motorbike, sat back and thought "This'll do".

I worked there until I was twenty years old. At the time I was a typical young man living in that most wonderful era of debauchery and drug abuse, the Madchester years. With an insane amount of money in my back pocket I lived the Madchester scene and immersed myself fully in the "culture" of the time. My weekend began at 4pm every Friday and finished at 6am every Monday, and if I'm pressed to tell you what I got up to on any one of those weekends I'd not be able to. I remember lights, music, people telling me they loved me, dancing, smiling, eating burgers from a van and waking up in stranger's houses. Then, 7am Monday, I'd be back to the grindstone. Shirt and tie, official looking and self important as I passed through the airlock and into the computer. It was an IBM 4381 and you literally worked inside it, dashing around, real time processing and looking uncannily like you were on the bridge of the starship Enterprise.

I drove a Ford Capri at this time. A classic car now, a fanny magnet then. Sitting in the canteen one lunch time just before I turned 20 I had an epiphany. I looked around me at the two older, more senior, computer operators I was working alongside. One, Pete, was a ridiculously tall and bespectacled bald man, only in his late 20s but looking 40, and Jim, a ridiculously short and bespectacled bald man in his mid 20s but looking 40. The conversation between the two of these chaps went as follows.

"So you're getting a new car Jim?"
"I am, This weekend."
"What are you thinking of going for?
(Jim was at this point driving a Ford Fiesta, 1.0L.)
"A Fiesta again. I'm going for the 1100 this time though, I just want a bit more "oomph"."
(Jim made a fist-pump action as he said "oomph".)

I looked at these two, very successful, men. Their thick glasses, cheap suits and male pattern baldness. I wondered how someone could describe a car like that as having "oomph", and I realised I would never fit in that world. Would never genuinely like or be interested in my co-workers.

I left my lunch, went to the bosses office and handed in my four weeks notice. I sold everything I had, bought a tent and backpack and a National Express ticket to Nice, and fucked off.

When I returned, I was determined never to work in a job like that again. Since then I've worked in bars, ran pubs, been a waiter, an aircraft handler, a funeral director. A chauffeur, a damp-proofer. I ran a demolition team after the IRA bombed Manchester. I was a stacker driver, a meter reader, a labourer. I spent time as a plasterer, as a cellar man at Pontins and as a lumberjack, I've even wiped tables in a food court, and many more menial and not so menial jobs that for the moment escape me. I settled at nothing, getting bored too easily.

When I turned forty I decided to do something useful for a change. I became a support worker for adults, and later children, with learning disabilities. This, my friends, is the BEST job in the world. Being a large bloke I was put with the more challenging male service users. Daily violence, being spat at, screamed at, cleaning a grown mans bottom and trying to make a difference to their lives was my life. I loved every single minute of every single shift. Even the shift that resulted in me being kicked in the nuts hard enough to turn one testicle upside down and forcing the other into my pelvic cavity for an hour or two. Paid less than any job I'd ever done before, I was richer than I'd ever been.

Unfortunately, although myself and many of my co-workers were doing the job for the right reasons and put our hearts and souls into it, the company I worked for, Creative Support, spoiled it for me. Can you be done for libel if it's true? I'll take a chance... in my opinion, if you have a loved one that needs support, get the support from anywhere rather than from Creative Support. I witnessed the most appalling treatment of terribly disabled people all in the name of making money. Some were forced to live in squalor, because "if we buy them anything nice they destroy it." Fair enough you might say, except it would be the service user's money, not that of the charity, and to refuse to let a man replace a television he managed to get shit into (don't ask.) out of his own savings is abuse.

I stuck it out with them for a couple of years, then could no longer. After an episode where a man accused of punching a service user with no vocal abilities was placed with another service user who could talk (The rationale being that he could tell us whether or not the bastard had punched him, so the bastard might not punch him just in case.) rather than being suspended and reported to the authorities, I'd had enough. I bought a van, quit the job I loved and will never work for a company like that again. I've carried on as a support worker, part time for private clients, and now work only with children. If you want to be happy and to feel good about yourself I urge you to try it for yourself. Low paid, but so rewarding.

I have a massively varied life now, living hand to mouth and scratching around for money. No two days are ever the same, and at some point in every day I will laugh heartily and make a few people smile. Who cares what job we do? In a hundred years time, unless we've invented a cure for cancer or painted the ceiling of a chapel. no one will know or care what you had to do to pay for your food and shelter. Make people happy and they'll remember you for longer than they'll remember their bosses. Enjoy the little things.


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