The job at Grimsby was for the pharmaceutical company Ciba. They had operated a small plant at Grimsby for many years – I passed it daily when commuting to my job at Courtaulds. Now they were expanding into the manufacture of “intermediates” on a much larger scale. Our part of the job was the installation of a tank “farm” and all of the associated pipework and pumps.
The main contractor was a subsidiary of Trafalgar House and they were enthusiastic supporters of “partnering” in their relations with sub-contractors. The corridor leading to their offices was emblazoned with a sign proclaiming “The Partnering Route”. It’s easy to be cynical about such initiatives but it certainly worked for us. So did their commitment to Total Quality Management which our CEO embraced with surprising passion.
As the contract end approached I was offered a permanent appointment with the company. He was pleased with the way the planning and execution of the contract had gone and wanted me to “drive” planning as a key element of their contract procedures. Included in the offer was a salary close to my earnings as a freelancer, plus all the benefits of a permanent staff post – paid holidays, sick pay, pension, and a car. I was also trained as a TQM “facilitator”, supporting improvement workshops across the workforce.
Acquisition of the car was delayed until August, when there were bargains to be had under the new registration system. Just in time, as it happens, for a trip on the ferry from Hollyhead to Dun Laoghaire to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. We collected Mum and her husband in Hereford. I badly underestimated the journey time from Hereford to Hollyhead. Every stretch of winding road seemed to be blocked by a farm tractor – it was harvest time after all – and I was sure we would miss the ferry. Had it sailed on time we would have. It was cancelled, however, due to bad weather so we had to board a later one.
The next few days were delightful. We visited all the usual sites and discovered how friendly Irish people are. Our 30th anniversary was on the Saturday. The following day, Sunday, saw the annual all Ireland Gaelic football final which brought a festive atmosphere to Dublin’s streets. Mum and Pop enjoyed every minute. We were concerned about them on Sunday night because there were a lot of people with, as they say here, “drink taken”, some staying in our hotel. Freda laid awake worrying about Mum. We heard a commotion around 3am.
At breakfast Mum told us that she’d opened her door to speak to a young man who had knocked on their door thinking it was the room occupied by a friend. She was not in the least bit bothered by the experience.
The next big job the company undertook was for British Oxygen, on the outskirts of Rotherham. Another collection of tanks and pipework. At the end of the job there was a long list of extra work, payment for which had to be sorted out. I and my opposite number at BO reached agreement on this to the satisfaction of both parties. The company also had a small team permanently based at the BP refinery in Hull and I supported them with the introduction of planning and other software solutions.
By the summer of 1994 several large projects we had tendered for had not borne fruit and I was warned that, unless something did materialise, they would have to down size. As the most recent recruits I, and the Project Manager recruited with me, would become redundant.
This time, redundancy when it came, was done in a much more civilised way than at the power station overhaul company. I was allowed to work out my notice. Nevertheless, the result was the same – out of work shortly before my birthday. Once again I was responding weekly to advertisements in the Yorkshire Post and the Daily Telegraph.