Back in July 2009 I gave you a brief résumé of my employment history, mainly in terms of the number of times and ways that I have been made redundant over the years.
In that I item I skipped over, in a couple of sentences, my change to a new career in Information Technology after 20-odd years filling in Income Tax Returns – here is that story in a little more detail.
In early 1999 my 3 months pay in lieu of notice from the money-grubbing successors to Barclays Bank Trust Company’s Taxation Division finally ran out and, as no full-time positions of any sort had turned up , I signed up with a well known “temping” agency for whatever they might have available.
This turned out to be working not too far from my home at the offices of the largest local Building Society, the Norwich & Peterborough, as one of a large team of “temps” taken on to deal with the floods of applications for a new form of tax-free investment, the Individual Savings Account (known as ISAs).
The job lasted about four months and was quite boring despite the Society taking up my suggestion that the “temps” be rotated around the different phases of the process at regular intervals. During this time I flooded the jobs market with my details and spent most evenings applying for junior IT jobs.
And one day, a week or two after the Building Society decided its regular staff could now deal with the trickle of forms arriving and let the “temps” go, I actually found something!
Incidentally, THAT is the reason I left them! NOT, as I have stated in my fishing memoirs, because they took exception to my suggestion for a new advertising slogan:
“Norwich & Peterborough – we’re named after TWO crap football teams!”
For the new job, which I had applied for through an agency specialising in IT work, I had to go for an interview with the IT Manager of a food manufacturing company in Corby – 25 miles from home.
I had felt at a couple of previous interviews that my age (I was then the ripe old age of 46) was counting against me.
Thus when Tony, the Manager, began the interview by looking at my CV and remarking “So, you’re [Alfie’s real name] and you’re 46 years old”, I lost my composure slightly.
I snapped back immediately with “Only on the outside! Inside I’m probably younger than YOU are”!
Tony, who was in fact 28, was taken aback and grovelled a bit, telling me that HE didn’t think age was important either (why mention it then!). He then asked me a few basic technical questions, which fortunately were aspects of IT work I had studied up on, and told me they would “let me know”.
Driving back home I guessed that I must have blown my chances but almost as soon as I got into the house there was a call from the agency asking if I could start the following week!
This was not quite as straightforward as it might have been as the company was in production 24 hours a day and 7 days a week (except Christmas Day) and I was to be the one and only IT Support person for the night shift – a position that had been created because the “day” staff were getting fed up with mobile phone calls to deal with “emergencies that weren’t really THAT urgent” in the early hours of the morning!
As the main “fixed” task with which I would be involved every night was backing up the custom built production database at midnight I had to attend the office for a couple of hours over two days to learn this by watching as the identical mid-day backup was run. I was given copious written instructions including what to do if it failed at any point in the procedure and instructed to call Tony on his mobile if it still managed to go wrong.
While doing these daytime visits I was still employed by the agency at an hourly rate and it was decided that this would continue as they eased me into night working gradually by working only four hours a night for the first two weeks. The idea was that if I hadn’t been put off by then they would take me on permanently.
I didn’t mind this arrangement as, while I was hourly paid and doing only 4 hours a night, the hourly rate was more than double what I had been getting at the Building Society plus mileage AND I had most of each day free!
In order to accommodate the one hour long backup process at midnight it was decided that I would come in at 11pm and work until 3am. This would give me an hour to read any emails or instructions left for me then another two hours to run the backup again should this be needed due to an error in the first run. As this system didn’t give many problems I could also deal with any little “niggles” the night shift staff might have logged.
It was quite a quiet couple of weeks, mainly because the part of the building my office was in was not used by any other night shift staff and an announcement of my presence was overlooked.
Nobody knew I was there!
After that satisfactory initiation period the full time job came as a bit of a shock!
I was now to do 12 hour night shifts for four nights a week, working from 8pm to 8am. This left only a 2 ½ hour gap in “cover” in the evening and a ½ hour gap in the morning between the Day Shift and me and they covered this and weekends (my working week began Monday evening and ended Friday morning) between them.
In practical terms I now got up at 5pm on Monday afternoon, had dinner with the family then set off for work at about 7pm. At about 9am next day I would arrive home, have breakfast then go to bed at about 10am for 7 hours or so! On Friday morning I would come home, have as short a nap as I felt I could get away with then stay awake the rest of the day so that weekends were back to “normal”.
On Monday I had to squeeze in a few hours sleep during the afternoon to keep me going through the night which made that end of the week by far the worst!
My fulltime presence WAS announced by email and I had barely familiarised myself with the network when my first “customer” burst into the IT office. She was a short, stroppy Scottish lady (think little Jimmy Krankie with a scowl!) and the following conversation ensued:
Scottish Person: “You the computer man?”
Me: “Aye. I mean yes. Hello, can I help?”
Scottish Person: “My password’s expired. Reset it NOW!”
Me (thinking that I’m not putting up with THAT sort of crap): “Mister Please and Mister Thank You gone on holiday have they?”
There then followed a bit of angry staring on both sides before she suddenly gave way, apologised profusely and introduced herself as the Production Manager for the entire night shift! After that we got on fine although I found out the rest of my Department couldn’t stand her! Perhaps they should have been a bit firmer from the start.
It has to be said that there wasn’t really 12 hours of solid work to be done so I spent a lot of time learning the job then writing and emailing questions to the day shift so that I’d have their answers the following night.
It was, however, the loneliest job I’ve ever had and as most of the night shift staff were immigrant workers with little English or Corby natives with the same problem my only real “socialising” was with the Security guards.
I had to be on good terms with these guys because I often required them to come out of their cosy little cabin in all weathers to let me into one of the office blocks and fortunately we did all get on well. Indeed after only a few days they were ringing me up to tell me whenever the kettle was on!
As with the Production Manager the guards (who had a pattern of shifts that meant they worked days every couple of weeks) didn’t get on with the dayshift IT people and were always moaning when my colleagues remotely removed the card games from the guardhouse computers! I could see just how boring their job was, however, and got around the problem by making them a disk with the games on that was kept in a drawer for night shift use only.
I found that working such long shifts and all of them at night gave me a feeling that I can only describe as “mental fuzziness” and it was only after I got back to nearly normal hours that I discovered the song that really made me think “Yes! That’s what it’s like”.
No it wasn’t the song by The Commodores that forms the title of this piece.
It was “Daysleeper” by REM and it sums it up perfectly! Listen to it for yourself and see.
And, NO, I never want to do it again!