This Is Not A
Exit Stage: Left (Part 3)
(Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here. What follows may make more sense if you've read them first, but no guarantees can be given on this point).
And so the days counted down. My dear friend Siān had devised an Excel sheet which counted the total days and working days until her departure. This was before Christmas and before HR started pithering us about.
I had plenty of leave left, with the end of my leave year coinciding with my departure date, so I was still able to take my customary week off for my birthday early in June, which would have been obvious from the fact that that was the week that the superb weather we'd been having since the very beginning of Lockdown nearly three months previously decided to break. I returned to work on 15 June with only seven working days left.
It's difficult to describe my state of mind at this point. I was certainly aware of the time, because I was receiving farewell messages from people who were already leaving. More than that, someone put together a PowerPoint™ presentation showing the final working days of those of my colleagues who were not staying on. It was a nice idea on the whole, enabling us to send our own farewells to the departing. But the effect of seeing all those names - names of people I had worked with for up to thirty years (well, all right, twenty-nine years and a bit) - listed one under the other was unsettlingly like reading a village war memorial.
On the whole, I think I just decided to keep my head down and do the work which was put in front of me, interspersed with clearing out old e-mails (especially guidance ones for that work which I would definitely not be needing anymore) and equally un-needed files from my network share, or sending on some of the e-mails and files I wanted to keep to myself at home.
There was an element of melancholy to it all the same, rather like the remark attributed to George Melly that the sign of getting old was when you stopped doing things for the first time and started doing things for what you suspected was the last time. The added problem was that having my last working day on a Tuesday meant that I had a whole weekend to dwell on things.
Finally, the desired and dreaded day dawned (ooh, there's alliterative innit?), and I logged on at 7:30 for the last time. I had a number of cases hanging on which I had hoped to clear and, for once, was able to do so. I then effectively stopped working; or, at least, I didn't take on any new cases, not seeing the remotest point in doing so given that I would have been unlikely to have cleared them before I formally knocked off at 11:47am.
Why so precise a time? Well, I had managed in the early days of working from home - when people were calling me for advice on how to do things - to accumulate a grand total of thirty-one minutes of flexi credit. Added to the one hour and twelve minutes of leave I still had left, this meant that I could finish one hour and forty-three minutes before my usual logoff time of 13:30. Not a single minute of either flexi or leave could be left unused.
So, I just spent the time up to 11:00 deleting and forwarding.
11:00 was when a special Teams 'meeting' had been arranged to say goodbye to me (or, under an alternative explanation, to make sure that I was going). There was a slight problem at the beginning because Julie (The Boss) had somehow booked the meeting over Skype rather than Teams (for technical reasons, I'd had Skype access taken away from me before Lockdown started), but a couple of minutes later we were all there, including one or two friends from other teams like Wendy (Tez was supposed to be there as well, but he got stuck on a call from one of the contact centre advisors). I was played in to the opening bars of Autobahn (I suspect Wendy's input for that), and away we went, with people saying such nice things about me, Clare Melia providing a sweet farewell poem, and just friends sharing stories and memories from the eight years or so I'd been on that particular team.
I just about held it together, although there was a slight wobble when I made what in more formal days would have been called 'a speech of thanks'.
And then, it was over, and I logged out of the 'meeting'. It wasn't quite the end, even though 11:47 had come and gone by this time. I made a couple of calls to friends on other teams (hello Joy! Hi, Deb!), before switching off my iPhone for the last time and packaging it up ready for return.
I stayed logged on to complete (or as near as dammit) my deleting and forwarding, and to do something else as well.
For if others could raise a tear (or a sigh of relief) by sending out adieus to the entire office, then I sure as hell was going to avail myself of the opportunity. I had written most of it the day before, finding the last paragraph particularly difficult to get through, but I gave it a final few tweaks and sent it out at about 12:40. This is what it said:
What A Long, Strange Trip It's Been...
...as the hippies used to say.
And that, chums, is very much that (or, as one onion said to another, "That's shallot!")
Twenty-nine years, four months, five days and countless grey hairs ago, I turned up at Tŷ Maelor in an ill-fitting suit on a Tuesday morning to begin what I understood to be A Career (*).
(* dictionary definition of career: to move wildly about in an uncontrolled way)
(Actually, I thought - as so many have done - that I'd stick it out for a year or two and then find something more interesting to do).
I'd already been introduced to the Inland Revenue's way of thinking by the fact that they turned me down for an RO job - hinting that I was over-qualified - and then offered me an RA job just a few months later. This was to set a pattern for the future.
I don't know what poor Tex Burke had done to deserve being landed with me, Dylan Hughes and Robin Condren starting the same day, but it's just as well that he'd lost nearly all his hair before we got to him.
My probationary period was occasionally...difficult. This was largely my fault, but I got through ten months of learning how to do Manpower movements, and was then - either as a recognition of my fast data inputting skills or as a means of getting shot of me - sent over to start the new TOBBI office here. Ah, the joys of unloading crateloads of claims files from offices all over Wales and setting up new COP records for them all (function [CZ], if you never experienced that)!
Sadly, there wasn't enough work to justify keeping 24 TOBBI offices open, and in March 1993 LP19 was moved into Plas Gororau, which is where I've been ever since. I stayed an RA on Manpower (and later also Pertemps) movements until I somehow managed to elbow my way through the (then new) 'competence-based' system and was promoted to RO. After a year on SA under the management of Pat Kelly, I was shifted to the Manpower/Pertemps RO phone team at the top end of Brenig. I've never liked telephone work, so that was a trial and a half.
Further moves followed: firstly to Steve Jones' RO team and then - after playing at it for two or three years - into IT Support. Those were the glory days, when I felt I was doing something genuinely useful with a satisfying end result (and a certain degree of power, too!). Sadly, it didn't last and, after my job morphed into IT Change after front-line IT support was outsourced, efforts to lower the head-count in Estates & Services forced me back into taxes in September 2008. It was scary how much taxes knowledge came back to me so quickly.
There were some difficult times, as some of you will recall, but I finally landed on my feet when I was moved to Julie Jones' team in March 2012 (just in time for Mrs Melia to bake me a 50th birthday cake!), which is where I've been ever since, adding the official title of Digital Ambassador to the fact that I'd being doing that job unofficially for years (I still didn't get paid extra for it).
Apart from the IT stuff (which I've enjoyed right up to the end, even with all the challenges of it in the last few months; or, perhaps, because of those challenges), I won't miss the work and all the faffing about involved in getting things to work as they should (before, inevitably, being told that we shouldn't have been doing it that way in the first place). And I certainly won't miss having to get up before 6:00 on winter mornings!
I will miss the people. Of course I will. Thinking back over the years, oh, the names! The faces! (And, sometimes, I managed to match the right name to the right face). You have been 90% of my social contact for the last 30 years (sad, innit?), and when times haven't been good, you have been there for me, providing encouragement, solace and the occasional kick in the wotsits as required. So much would have been unendurable (or even impossible) without you.
In return, as someone who likes to feel he has paid the rent on the bit of the planet he's taking up, I hope I've been of some use, if only to provide amusement or to be used as a terrible warning.
This was always going to be a difficult moment, but it has been made more surreal by the circumstances we all find ourselves in. Whether you are leaving, staying on or moving on, thank you all for being there, stick together, stay safe and stay sane (this last is, of course, optional).
Nigel (logged off - or something that sounds like that)
I finally logged off just after 14:00, having saved and forwarded some of the sweet replies I'd already had to the e-mail. But this wasn't 'it' either. As Julie was finishing on 30 June as well, and as the number on the team was diminishing by the day, we thought that it would be best to do our farewell for her whilst there were still enough of us around to make it have any point. So we hijacked the usual team Team call at 12:30 to do it. I had logged in about ten minutes before and forwarded on the last few replies to my envoi, I'm sure Julie had her suspicions as to what was going on as soon as she saw that I had joined the call, but on we went with it.
It was all very nice, Julie just about held it together and I was if anything more emotional than I had been for my own. Julie left the call after about half an hour and left the rest of us to chat for a bit.
Then it really was the moment for me to depart, saying my sayonara and then clicking the 'hang up' button.
"And that, chums, was very much that". I shut down the Surface Pro for the last time. I then spent a good ten to fifteen minutes cleaning it so as to put it in a fit position to hand back; it's remarkable how dirty a screen can get, especially when you're trying to eat a handful of dry roasted peanuts when a call comes through. It was like pebbledashing. I finally got things into shape, put the SP, the dongle and the charger into the bag and gathered up the ethernet cable for the last time.
Was that it, then? Once again, no.
With so many people working from home, and so many of them (at least where we were) at one stage or another of leaving the Depratment, arrangements had to be put in place for the return of IT equipment. This involved getting a courier to turn up at your front door with a box then - when all was safely stowed away - getting another courier to come and pick it up. Other arrangements had to be made for anything else belonging to HMRC which people had at home, some of which bordered on the bizarre, like the one where you had to cut up your ID card at home and then take a photo of the bits and e-mail that to your manager.
Although in the 'underlying' category, and having avoided the office altogether for over three months, I didn't intend availing myself of any of this. Instead, I was Going In. In any case, I hadn't had the chance to clear my desk before the grand evacuation, and there was stuff I needed to get home.
So last Thursday morning saw me taking - fully masked as now demanded by Arriva of its passengers - the bus down to 'work' for the last time. I had agreed the time with Julie, and she was there talking with another member of the team when I arrived on the wing. I took the Surface Pro and iPhone out of my bag and put them on my old desk, then set to work emptying out my drawers (if you see what I mean). There was the beret which Clare had made for me when we drew France in the 2018 World Cup sweep; the name-plate which had been made out of a sawn-off binder rod and label-maker to identify me when the building had opened in 1992; my spare phone charger; my nail clippers; and a pile of writing pads accumulated from the union meetings we used to hold at the Ramada Plaza across the road. Into my bag they all went, until I was carrying more weight coming out of the building than I had been going in. Everything else went into the shredding bin or onto a table where surplus stationery was accumulating.
That this would be the last time I would see the inside of a building I had spent so many of my hours in for so long did impinge upon my thoughts, but not all that much; the place is so irremediably seared into my inner sight that I'm sure that images of it will be among the last things to pass through my mind at the end of all days, just as my pay ID will - like the serial number of an old soldier - be the last thing I will readily remember when the rest of my mind has checked out early.
And then it really was time. My remaining colleagues stood and clapped me out (I had explained that this was unnecessary by virtue of my having been clapped-out for years, but they did it anyway), I doffed my baseball cap and bowed, much to their amusement, and then Julie escorted me to the front door and off the premises for the very last time.
I went across to B&Q for a few things and caught the bus home, now to all intents and purposes a mere 'civilian'. The Long March was over, but with more a sense of relief than triumph.
But wait! I haven't finished yet! Come back! I have some more thoughts on Things In General, and those will come next...