The Big Shift

I received an email from Andrew Seaman at LinkedIn News. He wants to know my thoughts on the “Great Resignation” some are predicting will occur as a result of COVID-19. Lockdown, working from home and bereavements have changed perspectives regarding work. He wants to know what advice I’d give to those “making a shift right now — whether it’s landing a new job or making a career pivot?” I wouldn’t normally respond to such a request, but this one struck a chord. So, as I enjoy writing, and even though this is unpaid and the Sewing Bee final is on telly, here goes.

In 1998, having secured some freelance work, I walked out of a relatively well-paid job with a large company. It was a mover and shaker in the newly emerging business of internet retailing. You’ll have heard of them. You’ll have been a customer. They have a store near you. It was a good job with prospects, but a bullying line manager made life miserable, so I left. With a six-week old baby at home leaving this job was a heck of a risk, but I knew I could make it work. I could do this freelance gig, give good time to my own writing, and be a dad.

I then worked on a freelance basis for over 20 years. I had other clients and published some novels, but that first company was the main source of income. The work was somewhat boring and repetitive, but it paid the bills. Then, a few months ago, a more recent client asked if I could take on some additional work. This would take up most of my time for four months, was well-paid, interesting and fulfilling. Previous work I’d done for them was clearly valued, and they wanted me to help them out in unexpected circumstances. I jumped at the chance.

Now that work has ended. Although challenging, it was extremely rewarding and I got fantastic feedback. Now I don’t want to return to the uninspiring, relatively low-paid work I did for so long. So I’m not going to. I see significant alternatives, and have saved enough money that I don’t need to return to what I was doing before, or rush into another role I don’t really want.

I recently saw a video in which a 100-year old man was asked what advice he would give to young people: “Take a risk.” was his answer. So, although no one would consider me young, I’m taking another risk like the one I took in 1998. I’m determined to find more interesting clients who value my skills and creativity. I’m very lucky. I recognise that I’ve had a relatively soft upbringing and benefit from white male privilege, so what I’d really like to do is find some way of helping others achieve their full potential. If it involves writing, then that would be a bonus.

You only live once. If you’re unhappy, dissatisfied or frustrated in your work, make a positive change. It’s worked for me; with application, it can work for you to.

Take a risk. Make a Big Shift.

///

Want to benefit from my skills and creative thinking? Get in touch. Competitive day rate. Honest work. No bullshit.

One email, five words, multiple issues

I received this in a “professional” email from someone who doesn’t know me: 

Good morning,

 Hope your well?

Problems?

  • Tone: the salutation is simultaneously brusque and overfamiliar.
  • Punctuation: the salutation ends in a comma: in this context, the comma should precede my name, which should then end in a full stop – but my name isn’t there. This is not the traditional “Dear [name],” style, so use of the comma is not appropriate. It was probably just copied and pasted, which is another problem entirely, but a contributory factor.
  • “Hope your well?” There are two errors here: “your” should be “you’re” as a contraction of “you are” – although, “you’re” would be overfamiliar in a professional email, but I’ll let that slide as we’ve enough to be going on with. The question mark is inappropriate: this is a statement not a question – an increasing trend as the rising inflection at the end of statement sentences creeps into everyday conversation. The writer is saying that she hopes I’m well, but these two mistakes compromise the message and undermine authority.

What she should have said is “I hope you’re well.” or, “Are you well?” Although the former can come across as a bit insincere – “I hope you’re well [but let’s not get into that right now…].” while the latter has the potential to open a can of worms.

One email, five words, multiple issues. Want me to sort out the writing in your organisation? Get in touch.

ENCOUNTERS – Flick Knightley

I paced in the snow. The worst kind of snow. Snow that clings with miserable determination. Grey, gritty, gutter-filling slush. People hurried home to warmth and tea and evening TV as I rehearsed the words. I would say them with cool confidence and charisma. This was a done deal. I knew it could happen. I’d seen something similar in P’tang, Yang, Kipperbang.

I looked at the shop. Max’s was a boutique on Church Street owned by an Indian gentleman called Max, who had named his establishment with imaginative flair. It was patronised by young men who wore Sta Press trousers and bragged about how much they paid for haircuts. Not misfits like me. Even the mannequin in the window was intimidating.

I glanced at my Casio. Four fifty-five and twenty-three seconds. Nearly closing time. I was all paced out and freezing cold, so I ran through my lines once more, then pushed the door and went inside.

And there, bathed in the golden light of the electric bar heater above the counter, was Flick Knightley. That hair. Those eyes. Lips like sugar.

I started browsing shirts I wouldn’t wear and Sta Press trousers I couldn’t afford, feeling a bit sick and recognising the need to steel myself or stiffen my resolve or gird my loins or something. I glanced up now and then as she folded clothes. Flick was a nickname new to me. Was she magnificent at marbles? A tiddlywinks temptress? Whatever, she was like a pop star who didn’t know it yet. The kind of girl who, upon entering a juvenile discotheque, would cause the Sta Press studs to strut across the room like Tamworth’s answer to John Travolta, while the mom’s haircut crew hid behind their Vimtos and looked on in awe. All the while modest and approachable, completely unaware of her utter gorgeousness. At least, that was the story I’d made up. I’d only seen her a few times around town after all. But here I was.

Five twenty-five. Nearly closing time. This was it. Put up or shut up. Shape up or ship out. Put your money where your mouth is. Go for broke. All that.

I put down a blouse-like shirt with a pattern I’d later learn was called “paisley”, and shuffled towards the counter as if I’d soiled my trousers. Which, to be honest, was a distinct possibility. As I approached she looked up and smiled. A generous gesture towards the odd youth who’d been in the shop half an hour but clearly didn’t belong. Realising I wasn’t carrying anything to buy, a little uncertainty played across Flick’s exquisite face.

I stood at the counter.
A moment passed.
“All right?” she said.
That hair. Those eyes. Lips like sugar.
I cleared my throat.
“Wndddffyfncdgngfadrnk.”
It had sounded better in rehearsals.
She looked at me.
“Pardon?”
“I er.”
She raised her eyebrows. What?
“Wondered if you’d fancy going for a drink. Sometime.”

There was a long pause during which I could only assume she was visualising an evening of Malibu and coke and conversation at Corvettes wine bar, or a sophisticated meal at the Chinese restaurant in the precinct. I mean, that was where this was heading. I had it all planned.

“I’ve got a boyfriend.”

A boyfriend. Of course. I mean obviously.

In truth the prospect hasn’t crossed my mind. I’d envisaged a blush and a fluttering of eyelashes and a taken aback oh well thank you how about Friday? Easy as that. But yeah. A boyfriend. My optimistic preparations had not factored in such a possibility.

Suddenly at a dead end, I hurried towards the door.

I glanced back as its little bell rang. “Mañana,” I said, and hurried away.

I trudged home in the worst kind of snow, working hard to convince myself that despite everything this was some kind of win. She hadn’t said no, after all. Just that she’d got a boyfriend. I mean if she hadn’t… And I’d had the balls. Fair play. Nothing ventured. And I had ventured and then some.

I stayed clear of Max’s after that. Who needs Sta Press trousers, blouses and boyfriends anyway? I saw Felicity Knightley not so long ago on Dragon’s Den. She’d developed a line of ethical clothing for children. She got her investment, and launched a chain of boutiques called Flicks.

P’tang, Yang, Kipperbang

ENCOUNTERS – Spitfire Brian

Brian had a waxed handlebar moustache, exquisitely coiffured hair and a cat on a lead. He lived in a top-floor apartment in a large house opposite The Green, which he shared with a gentleman friend. On occasion he would appear at the front of said residence and admonish us kids for disturbing his Sunday afternoon, racing around on our bicycles and jumping like apprentice Evel Knievels from the ramp formed of tarmac discarded by tinkers. Not only were we making too much noise, we were ruining the grass, he said.

“You want to stay away from that woofter,” Uncle Geoff once advised me firmly. “He’s one of them. He offers you any sweets or invites you inside you come and tell me and I’ll punch his bloody lights out.”

I was unsure what this meant but would have to admit to recognising something unusual in Brian’s style and deportment. He was, perhaps, a member of some club or organisation who spent money on clothes and personal grooming, rather than beer, full English breakfasts and top-shelf magazines. I didn’t see the harm in that, but neither was I about to challenge Uncle Geoff.

Given the warnings I was relieved to see Brian in only three contexts: when issuing his Green dispersal orders, strolling with his cat, or departing with a 1500cc snort in his white Triumph Spitfire, like Edward Fox in The Day of the Jackal. Then, one day in February 1975, our paths crossed unexpectedly.

I was walking home from Vale’s VG store with a medium sliced loaf and a pint of milk when Michael Best and his cronies appeared over the canal bridge. I immediately felt sick and quickened my pace, but within moments the slices of bread were scattered, the milk bottle smashed, and in a tumult of laughter and jeering I found myself destined for immersion in the canal’s murky waters.

With a concerted effort I freed myself from Besty’s clutches and ran. The youths gave chase and were gaining fast, but as I approached the main road I heard a distinctive automotive rasp, and a familiar vehicle appeared in front of me. Brian threw open the passenger door and leaned across the seat. “Get in,” he said. I hesitated, Uncle Geoff’s warning loud in my ears. But Besty was close, so I jumped inside and slammed the door. Brian gunned the engine and accelerated away.

The smell of the leather seats combined with after-shave far more sophisticated than the Brut 33 favoured by all the men I knew and the car’s engine fumes to create a heady aroma. I glanced nervously at Brian. His moustache twirled to fine points, jet black hair swept in waves, up close he looked a mature pop star or society photographer.  When I touched my nose and found bloodied fingers he pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to me. He asked if I was all right.

I explained that Besty had been taking my school lunches for months, regularly stole my tuck money, had thrown my bag in the canal and ruined all my books, and generally made my life miserable. Brian asked why. “Because he says I’m a puff who draws pictures and plays the recorder and looks like a girl,” I spluttered. I couldn’t help it, I said. I kept telling them I was sorry but they just wouldn’t stop. And now mum was going to kill me because I hadn’t got the bread or milk, or the money she’d given me to buy them.

Brian glanced at me as I dabbed my nose. Then, like Tamworth’s answer to James Hunt, he took the roundabout at the end of Woodhouse Lane at such speed the tyres squealed and I was pressed hard against the passenger door. I gripped the edge of the seat as we roared back the way we’d come.

We found Besty and his mates a few minutes later near Dog Lane. Brian slammed on the brakes, got out, strode after them and shouted. I couldn’t hear what was said, but watched as Brian jabbed a threatening finger and spoke sternly, Besty and his bullyboy buddies mute and still.

A minute or so later he returned to the car. “They won’t bother you again,” he said, slamming the door and starting the engine. As Besty and his mates glared through the window as we departed, I wasn’t so sure.

Brian stopped some distance from my house. To avoid awkward questions, he said. On the way he’d stopped off at Mrs Sharrat’s shop and bought a medium sliced loaf and a bottle of milk. He handed them to me as I opened the door. “Here,” he said. “Save any trouble. Our little secret.” I thanked him and got out. He leaned forward as I stood on the pavement. “Don’t apologise for being what you are,” he said. “Just accept it. Otherwise you’ll live a lie and spend the whole time pretending and being miserable because of what others think.” I wasn’t quite sure what he meant, but nodded and shut the door. The Spitfire revved and snorted and sped away.

As promised, I was never again bothered by Michael Best or his gang. In fact they seemed to avoid me. Later in life Besty would go to prison following a pub brawl that resulted from a spilled pint and a man dying from a single punch. A similar fate befell Uncle Geoff, whose enthusiasm for top-shelf literature extended to unsavoury photographs of boys.

Brian died during the mid-1980s after a long illness. There was a piece in the paper about him. It turned out he was a war hero, awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Distinguished Service Order during the Battle of Britain. He’d flown Spitfires.