Best Before Date

This is a fictionalised retelling of a true story.

Jimmy was an old hand; he’d been around the block and his war stories pre-dated everyone else’s. He could tell you about the time when this place was started up and he’d say that he knew this place better than anyone. The young hands put up with his “this was all green fields” and “back in my day” talk and got on with their work.

Jimmy was slower than the rest, never leaving the tea shack first after tab nabs and often snoozed at lunch. But he felt that his experience, knowledge and expertise put him head and shoulders above the rest. Experience trumps youth and he was respected by management who saw him as a valuable asset and font of wisdom that he’d share with the next wave. His duties were light and he managed to avoid the heavy lifting and once threatened to quit when asked to work night shift. He stood his ground and didn’t go above and beyond. He had a position of respect if not exactly responsibility and that’s what he liked – it made him who he was.

Jimmy liked a good moan; favourite topics were his wife and ex-wives (2), his lay-about kids (6), the cost of everything (child support will do that), the state of the nation (fallen glory), immigration (too much, too fast), Brexit (too little, too slow), global warming (hoax), snowflakes (a war would sort them out) and anything he’d pick up from the Daily Mail. Once he got going he could just keep moaning all day – to the point where some people would light the fuse of transgender lollipop men and walk away as everyone else had to sit through a diatribe of ol’Jimmy’s nonsense.

Times changed and the company needed to make changes, selling out to a cheaper outfit. The new plan was simple – save money and the biggest liability had 2 legs. Roles were mapped and an organisational surplus of human resources was identified. For some this meant the chance to leapfrog out of the place into a new job. Management gave a select few a chance – swapping boiler suits for business suits – being kept on run down wages that gave them their hardship payment bonuses for up to 2 years along with the rest of the perks of office life. [LINK] This was a reward for their hard work, or their potential, or as payback for their support.

For others this meant the end of the line. A generous pay-off and a long notice period to ensure that all knowledge could be handed over. Potentially life changing sums of money, easy money you understand and enough to keep the wolf from the door for a few years.

For the rest it was less pay, more work and a sour atmosphere – a new badge on the same boiler suit and new corporate bullshit from the new company boss man. And little changes, little but significant. Like how their butteries at 10, baked by the chef they’d known for 20 years were replaced with a vending machine. It’s the little things that get to you. It was not the same place.

The Pay-Off

Jimmy took the pay-off –  it was too good to pass up. He was a few years from retirement anyway and with his service it was a massive amount of money. He was able to pay off his debts on the house and have the life he deserved. For the first time he was able to keep all of his wives, ex-wives and kids off his back for a while. He lived it up – holidayed, bought a newer, bigger car and did up the house. Spending money like there was no tomorrow.

However, tomorrow came and soon he was running low on funds. Paying off his dependents had just made them hungrier for more money. His wife was expecting more and more spending on nice things and was eager to keep up her social standing. Without any new money coming in and their pensions not covering their expenses things were looking bad.

Just One More Job

Rather than cut-back, make do and live on what they had; Jimmy went back to work. The industry had picked up and when he bumped into old colleague he told him of typical day rates – £300, £500, £700 a day, easy money for what he used to do for half a guinea. “I’ll put in a word for you” was the reply and sure enough in a few days Jimmy got an offer – 3 weeks on, 3 weeks off, night shift, almost £10,000 a trip and he could start once he’d got his tickets and medical.

Jimmy talked it over with his wife. She wanted to be supportive, liked the money and honestly, she was eager to get rid of him. There’s such a thing as spending too much time with someone and besides his golfing and the pub, he didn’t have that much else in his life. This would be good for him – and he said he could do it – “I know that place like the back of my hand”. It was an easy decision and it wouldn’t be forever and the money was just too good to pass up, easy money, something to do over the winter months and maybe go on a cruise next spring.

The Second Coming

Back at the plant, things had changed. The management had a touch of the forces about it and took no bullshit, he still knew a lot of the guys but most of his cohort were gone, the new guys he didn’t get on with – when he did talk, his views got shouted down in the tea shack and he was laughed at. The workload was greater and what was paper before was now electronic – he was confused, swamped and stressed by it all. He got shown up a number of times by smart alecks who thought that they knew better – and they did. He struggled through shift after shift and was pulled up for getting things wrong. Not just doing them slower than expected but doing them unsafely. “Bullshit” he called it, who were these people to tell him how to do things. He grew bitter, angry and indignant.

TheFarewell

Towards the end of his second week he was called into the managers office. He was sat down and matter of factually told that there had been complaints, his work was shoddy, his performance was not up to standard, he’d disregarded critical safety standards and put himself and others at risk. Most of all, he was fundamentally incompetent at the job and whilst further training including on diversity and inclusiveness could be made available (at Jimmy’s cost), they could not risk having Jimmy on site before that could happen. Therefore, he would be going home first thing in the morning. Jimmy’s ashen face belied his inner ferment. He left the room not knowing what to do. He needed that easy money, he needed the work and he could have neither.

The Return

Jimmy arrived home early, the house was empty, his wife was out at lunch at the club. He sat slumped over in his chair, put his head in his hands and cried. Hot furious tears steamed streamed his eyes. He sat and waited for his wife to return, as the weak November daylight slowly faded and he sat alone, silently in the dark not knowing what options he had left.

4 comments

  1. That was a well told yarn GFF, and a cautionary tale. Well done. I was expecting a different ending, the old boy walking in on his current wife playing away while he was supposed to be at work.

    Many of the older guys I met working in the charity sector had a similar story, though by their telling, the inglorious exit was almost always a conspiracy or someone else’s fault.

    They salved their bruised egos by telling themselves that their new roles using their old skills for significantly less money was more than offset by the social good they were contributing. In some cases that was even true.

    Just like professional sports people, we all have a “best before” date on our skills. Some go out on top, while others play on for a season too many in the vainglorious pursuit of past glories and a deathly fear of the void, that dreaded “what comes next?” question.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks GFF, I can imagine this guy living high on the hog – they get used to the money and the status but nothing much behind them.

    Ageism is real and your 50s can be no joke when the corporate boot comes down on your neck. Also so much for identity is tied to their work.

    Liked by 1 person

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