So having played a small part in the downfall of the Leeds office due to my unexplained tardiness in delivering a tender to the east coast town of Bridlington I found myself exiled in the far north east of England in that fabled place known as Newcastle-u-Tyne, not so fabled then as it is now for the practice of visiting distant towns for stag and hen party’s was unheard of in 1977 and Newcastle was just a small city at the end of a long road that no-one really visited other than to drive through on the way to Scotland – and they spoke in a manner that made it all but impossible for normal folk to understand.
I was in Newcastle on the second week of a two week secondment to our branch office there when the directors of the company turned up in our Leeds office on a private charter flight from Bristol and shut up shop there and then – back in the 1970s you didn’t get a consultation process that took six months to complete, your accountants just walked into the office and said something like, “Oy, you, clear your desk out and fook off home, your out of here pal” but in a Bristol pirates accent.
They seemed to have forgotten about me though and so I continued on my sojourn, for the next eight years, thats how it actually happened because I spoke to the chief accountant of the company a few years later and he mentioned how he and I were two of the longest serving employees in the company (and it was a big company) and then he laughed and said “Weren’t you sacked when we closed the Leeds office ?”, I laughed back and said nothing, not daring to admit that no, he should have sacked me too on that day but worse than that he’d been paying my lodging expenses in Whitley Bay for the last three years.
Sometime during the summer of 1980 I was sitting in my little cupboard of an office in Forest Hall when the phone rang and on the line was an accent that I recognised,
“Hello muy dear, ” he started, “an how are you keeping yourself Jim lad ?”
Yes, it was my old boss, Mike Melling, the one who’d also lost his job when I closed the Leeds office due to tardiness, he was speaking from a large building contract in Leeds city centre where he had the position of contracts manager for Haden Young who were installing the electrical, heating and medical gas services in the new Clarendon Wing of the Leeds LGI – a big job then.
“How would you loike a new job muy dear ?” he arsked, sorry, asked.
We chatted for a while, I told him what my stipend was in Newcastle, £5400 plus a company car, thats per year by the way, per year, just to be clear, barely kept me in beer but they paid for my lodgings too.
He offered me £5800 but no car, I took a days holiday later that week and drove down to Leeds using my current company car and their petrol, had a long chat with him, we walked around the skeleton of the new hospital wing, and then I had a long interview with his ultimate boss on the site and was offered the job, I accepted.
And here is where we stand with the benefit of hindsight and just review what was going on in that summer of 1980. I had been lodging in crappy contractors guest houses in Whitley Bay for three years, it was fun from time to time but most of the time it was crappy but it paid a wage and I had a company car and lots of freedom, but all my mates were in Leeds and frankly I’d had enough, this was my chance to come back home.
I was back in Newcastle on the Monday morning and by coincidence so was one of our directors Albert Ward, the man from the Black Country with an accent that was all but indecipherable, we actually bought one of those WW2 code breaking machines to try and understand what he was saying, him being a director and all, we thought it might be important.
Are there too many accents in this story ?
“Fuckoff, youm not leaving” is what he said when I handed him my written notice to quit.
A long discussion ensued about my job prospects with his company and how valued I was and what a good lad I was and why did I want to go and work for Mikle Melling again when it was he who had caused the Leeds office to close, I coughed politely at this point and tried not to laugh.
He offered to match the salary, I hummed for a bit, “Still not sure” I said
“Awroight” he said, “Oi’ll get youwse a new cur and all, but thats it roight ?”
“OK I’ll stay”, I mean, a new car, stuff all my mates in Leeds and the crappy lodgings in Whitley Bay, I’d stay for a new car, I mean, you would wouldn’t you ? No ? Well I did.
It was a T junction-of-your-life moment, a moment in lifes convoluted footpath of tribulation when you can go left or right and once you make the decision then you’ll never know what would have happened had you gone the other way, there is no Jim Bowen standing there to tell you what you would have won, I will never know what would have happened to me had I chosen the job in Leeds and moved back home but I do know that the next thing would never have happened …
A few months later the woman who would become legally bound to all of my future income and lay claim to everything I owned including the record collection, cowboy boots and flared jeans that she threw out, walked in to our office for an interview, and my life would never be quite so carefree ever again, ever…
…and ever, amen.