My Blackberry buzzed yesterday with the message “Ha ha, we are freed slaves!” The sender was a 62-year old funster to whom I will refer as ‘Uday Hussein’. Alcoholics have birthdays based on when they last touched a drop of booze. Uday and I celebrate from the day when we last had a 9-5 job, which was 7 years ago exactly.
A month before our ‘birth’ I brashly told my sister-in-law I was going to hand in my notice in 11 days’ time. It was my first and only proper job. They'd recently promoted me and i was stupidly flattered. It came with a grand job title but sadly that's how much the payrise was too. Their view being that I was privileged to work for a trendy media company in Soho. My flatmate said I was like a prisoner dying to escape but gullible enough to hang around simply because I had been picked for the 5-aside-football team.
As I said goodby my sister-in-law goodbye she wished me luck for 11 days’ time “Why? What’s happening?” I asked. I’d already forgotten. I was clearly full of shit. But nine days later an email summoned me to a star chamber-like meeting to discuss ‘changes in company structure.’ Word on the street was that meant redundancies and I prayed the rusty axe with a diamante handle would land right on my head. Fuck me, it’s one of the few times my prayers have been answered.
My boss was trembling as he explained he had to read off a piece of paper to get the wording right. I developed an unexpected cockney tinge in my voice as I replied “You do what you need to do, matey mo. I’ll be fine.” It felt like being hosed in the face with freezing water on a boiling hot day.
His non-committal, placatory, patronising remarks and enquiry whether I wanted to play for the bigger job (that mine was being scrapped for) made me feel like a contestant on ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’ Except that I was already sure of my answer, I'M OUTTA HERE! unless the question was ‘Who is the bigger twat – my boss or Chris Tarrant?’ “Hmm. Let me think. Tarrant has the answers written on his monitor in front of him but mocks the people struggling to work it out for themselves. My boss prints endless spreadsheets in 6 point without drawing any meaningful conclusions from them whatsoever.”
I must have been the company’s least painful eviction ever but I still felt a flicker of fury at the company’s ingratitude and inevitably began to question my ability to do the job and what the difference truly was between being made ‘redundant’ and ‘sacked’. I looked up redundant in a dictionary and it said ‘See Wikipedia, fool! No-one uses dictionaries anymore’. I’m a fan of progress, I knew the company needed to make cuts but it still hurt to think I’d worked so hard for a company that wanted to replace me with ‘The Jules 2.0’ or even worse and more likely - a ‘Nothing like me’.
Uday’s case was different. She only had a few years left till retirement having worked there for over 31 years, loyally. She was the one who employed me in the first place. For her 30th anniversary the company gave her a cut-glass decanter with the company’s logo on it. It looked like something from ‘Terry and June’, although her Terry, to whom she had been married, loyally, for 25 years, had recently told her he saw no future in their marriage and asked her to leave their home in leafy Surrey. She had to be the one to go because the house was tied in with his job 'of local importance'.
Uday stood to lose her daily network of friends and an income. She told them she’d do any job and begged to stay on even if she had to clean toilets. While my productivity and commitment plummeted, she continued working efficiently but with the saddened pink eyes of a cornered mouse,. Then suddenly after a few days something happened – she became a giant mouse. On hind legs. With boxing gloves. And two fingers held up inside them. And a massive hard-on! Perhaps the realisation that she stood to get a nice tax-free lump sum helped. Or simply relief she didn’t need to be around for the final cut-glass monstrosity.
Side by side we signed on the dotted line and personnel got permission to fire off the emails announcing our departure. A few in the company already knew due to the office Big Mouth (who was later laid off herself).
The notifications reminded me of a film about anti-apartheid campaigner Steven Biko. Biko suffered a major head injury while in police custody, and was chained to a window grille for a day. Police then loaded him in the back of a car naked and drove him to a prison hospital 740 miles away where he was pronounced dead (thanks Wikipedia.you are sure better than any dictionary!). The authorities issued a statement saying he died because he refused to eat. He was the 20th person to die in custody in 18 months . Many of his friend’s deaths were explained away with ‘they tripped and fell down the stairs.’
The email explaining my leaving to the rest of the company said I was taking a career break. Uday’s one said she wanted to spend more time in her garden. With 3 offices and a fire door between us, I heard her scream “I don’t even have a fucking garden. I don’t have a place to live, you fucking morons.” Twas as absurd as claiming strong young South African men who hate apartheid had legs like defective slinkies.
I quite relished the feeling that we were public enemies to the system, and on our final day, the headline was that an American 'Intelligence' Agency had obliterated a major threat to Western civilisation by killing two of Saddam Hussain’s sons – Uday and Qusay. The names just stuck. The more trivial news was that 142 directory enquiries was being replaced by the heroic moustache heroes 118 118. It was clearly a day for getting rid of old regimes. In the middle of our farewell party where I made a speech citing Fidel Castro (“History will absolve me.”) and Uday was acerbic but cleverly diplomatic just in case she needed a reference, it was announced that my boss’s boss (my Grand-boss) had just been made redundant too. Apparently the order to reduce the people in my team had come from him, but then his boss (my Great grand-boss) had made him redundant because he didn’t really have much of a team to manage anymore. Ha! hoist by his own petard. People were getting whacked everywhere.