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In the summer of 2005 we planned a long weekend visit to Ireland to check out the housing market in towns near to where Ian was living. We picked the weekend immediately preceding Mum’s birthday and arranged to bring our grand daughter back to England with us, taking her to Kent to visit Mum on her birthday the following Wednesday.
The day we were due to travel, Thursday 7th July, I had arranged to leave work early. I had been at my desk barely 30 minutes when I took a call from Freda. She had heard on the radio that there had been terrorist attacks on transport in London. Victoria Station was mentioned.
Freda wondered should she ring Mum who could be worried about my sister who commuted daily from Kent to Victoria Station. I said it was best not to – if she had heard the news she’d want the line clear so as to receive a call from my sister. If she had not heard, best not to worry her. A few minutes later Freda rang again. My sister had rung to say that she had arrived safely at work to be told that Mum had been taken ill. She was now on her way back to Kent.
Now, instead of travelling to Ireland that afternoon, we drove to Kent. Mum had been found by the warden of the apartment block, collapsed in her bathroom. She was in a coma in hospital in Canterbury. She remained in the coma until the Friday evening when her breathing ceased.
A month later we did undertake our trip to Ireland and looked around several new estates under construction. We thought that a bungalow would suit us best as we aged. We found, via the internet, an estate where there were a few bungalows included. On site we were told the bungalows had all been sold – they were in phase 1. The developer was now selling phase 2, due for completion in the summer of 2006. That would be ideal, since I was due to retire in the autumn of that year. We placed a deposit on a small house in the centre of a block of three which, on plan, seemed to have a decent outlook, on the edge of the development.
My retirement date was the last day of the month in which my birthday occurred – November. That was the date from which my pension would be payable. Of course, the state pension and a couple of small annuities were paid from my birthday onwards, and I was already receiving my Courtaulds pension.
The company mandated 26 days leave during an employee’s final year before retirement. These were supposed to be taken as one day per week over a sixth month period and used to prepare for retirement. The company even offered courses to help with the transition from work to retirement. I arranged with my manager to add those 26 days to the 5 weeks annual leave to which I was entitled.
We’d need a couple of weeks in the summer to make arrangements for taking over the new house, shopping for furniture and so on, but it would be possible for me to leave on the first Friday in October, 8 weeks before my employment officially ceased. The following Monday we were on the evening ferry from Hollyhead to Dun Laoghaire.
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.