This Is Not A
"Twenty-Five Years Doesn't Matter Any More"
Monday 18th February, 1991. Just before nine o'clock in the morning.
A fresh-faced young man (well, actually, still somewhat zitty despite being 28) pushed the intercom button by the door of a large, red-bricked office building on Grosvenor Road. The old fart with the double hearing aids asks me what I want, and I told him that I was reporting for duty with Her Majesty's Inland Revenue. The door is opened, and I'm directed up to a waiting area on the third floor landing.
I had a full-time job at last. I was now officially 'all grown up' (I did say 'offically'; there's an awful lot of 'officially' which either doesn't actually happen that way or doesn't happen at all).
I had been trying - in what must be one of the ultimate acts of desperation to be found in the normal run of daily life - to get into the Department for about eighteen months; having previously been turned down for a job at the second level of responsibility from the bottom with the hint that I was 'over-qualified', I had managed to score a job on the bottomest rung of all, which at least gave me some idea about the ways of thinking embedded in the place.
In due course, I am taken through to a busy open-plan area where I and a number of other eager aspirants after respectability (or just a salary) are given the nearest thing to an official induction that we were ever going to get. I wasn't required to take the Queen's Shilling (which she would immediately have taken back, of course, frugal old trout that she is) or anything like that; I just signed on the line of the Official Secrets Act, and was then taken to meet my new colleagues and my manager, one Tex Burke.
I think it's still wiser, even at this distance of time, to say fairly little about that first year. I was still very reserved and more than a little under-socialised, and it needed an awful lot of bluff common sense from Tex to get me through my ten-month-long probationary period. At the end of this, my reward was to be transferred from dear old London Provincial 19 to a new office which had just been constructed on the Technology Park on the western side of town.
The new office fell under the rubric of 'TOBBI', which stood (after a certain amount of deformation) for 'Tax On Bank and Building society Interest'. The clever bods in the Treasury had apparently figured out that a lot of the pensioners upon whom the Tory party relied for its vote had savings and shareholdings which were being taxed at source and who didn't know that they could possibly claim that tax back. The TOBBI offices would be used to process the claims coming in from a high-profile publicity campaign. Treble Sanatogens all round!.
Some even sharper minds within the Revenue had, I have always been convinced, twigged that this would be the ideal time to try to get some new buildings out of the Government to replace the various long-past-their-day premises which were being occupied across the land. And so it was that no fewer than twenty-four such edificies - most of them identical in construction and layout - went up in places as diverse as St Austell, Glenrothes, Leicester, Bolton...and Wrexham, of course, which is where we come back to the story.
I was one of the first tranche of staff to move over to what had been named 'Plas Gororau', and I started there on 6 January 1992, with one of the first people I met being Trevor Phillips, designated 'Officer In Charge' (and who, jammy bugger, retires next week after 44 years at the wheel).
Because of a limitation on the Revenge's main computer system (yes, it was true then as well!), all of the claims records which had been transferred to us from offices throughout Wales (we still had some then, of course; such names as Haverfordwest, Welshpool, Pontypool and Rhyl are at one with Nineveh and Tyre now) had to be re-input by hand, which took up most of the first six weeks of activity. It was then down to the work of processing the claims which had started coming in, or which had been stockpiled in the old offices in preparation for the move. Quite a few new staff - in excess of a hundred - had been taken on with this task in mind.
Except that it became obvious within a short period of time that there weren't anywhere near enough claims coming in to keep everyone occupied. What didn't help was a decision to ship out more than half of our claims to a different office for use in an experimental Optical Character Reading programme (which failed, as you'd expect). Within eight or nine months of the building opening, three-quarters of the staff had either been transferred to LP19 or sent out in 'hit squads' to other offices in north Wales to help deal with their backlogs of post.
Finally, it was decided that the TOBBI claims work would be centralised in just four locations - St Austell, Leicester, Glenrothes and Belfast - and that Plas Gororau, along with about a dozen other of the new buildings, would be used to house existing offices. I was moved back to LP19 for three weeks while the preparations were carried out - again under Tex Burke's supervision - before the entirety of LP19 found itself inhabiting a new environment.
It (under various different names) is still there (as am I, if at times only just). But not for much longer, as this illustrates.
As for the rest of my career (with a reminder than one definition of the word 'career' is "to veer about wildly in all directions"), I had for safety's sake say nothing for the time being. Eyes are being kept peeled in the upper echelons of that parasitic growth known as 'management' for any hint of subversion, and I would quite like to be able to get through to my payoff.
For now, I will simply give my warm regards and thanks to those who started that same February day shortly after the defenestration of St Margaret of Finchley and who are still there in these days of Lord Snooty of Witney - Dylan, Robin, Wendy, Siān, Sue and Nicola (amongst others whom I can't recall now) - gallant and battled-hardened survivors all; to those of that cohort who have gone elsewhere - Diane, Howard; and to all those who have been of assistance, kindness, amusement and solidarity along the way, and who have been more or less the entirety of my social contact for the last quarter century. It wouldn't have been the same without you. I'd have been talking to myself, for a start...