Sunday, May 29, 2016

At the Hospital

Chapter Eight

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital

Wherein I learn some new skills, use my science training, see first hand the fragility of life and bring to a close the chapters of my working life.

I became a housekeeper on the Acute Medical Unit at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

The NHS is the largest employer in Western Europe. I hardly even registered as a cog in this enormous wheel. But, it was valuable work and I saw it as giving something back to the community – and I didn't mind getting paid for it either.

I job-shared with two ladies, Debbie and Chris. They liked working mornings and early afternoons and I liked late mornings and late afternoons. Perfect.

I used my bus pass to get in about 10 and get home about 6 – three days a week on a rotating shift pattern. There was no weekend working. Perfect.

Housekeeper is a bit of a misleading job title. What we did was more like being a gopher or dog's body. We looked after the stock, including the essential equipment used on the ward. We made sure the nurses had everything they needed to do their job. We made sure everything was where it ought to be and, if it wasn't, made sure we got it there. We overcame difficulties. It was interesting and not too taxing for old folks.

On the ACU people died. In many cases that's why they ended up there. The arrived, old, frail and sick: they received end of life care and they died. So, the sound of the alarm going off, the dash for the crash trolley and the attempts to resuscitate were just part of the everyday rhythm of work. Took some getting used to. All in all, it was interesting and not too taxing, or, as they say it kept me out of the pub.

As time moved on it became apparent that my knees were not doing the NHS much good. I had a lot of pain and my mobility decreased markedly. I didn't feel as if I was able to contribute and I didn't like the feeling.

An opportunity came up to actually retire on my 65th birthday and I took it.

Here endeth, as they say the story of my working life.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Chapter Seven - School Days

Chapter Seven

School Days

Wherein I move to a new country, start a new job, learn a new sport and engage in some very interesting sidelines.

We took the train from KC to NY. That way we could “easily” transport the suitcases and whacking great crates. It was an overnight train and I enjoyed the daytime sights as we trundled through Pittsburg. Very scenic.

I arrived in England on the QE II in June of 1974. We docked at Southhampton where we were met by my father-in-law. He had hired a small van to transport the crates containing all our worldly goods.

I distinctly remember the Immigration Officer asking Maureen if she had come home to have the baby in a sneering, deprecating tone.

Whilst they unloaded the passengers' luggage, we went into Southampton and had some lunch.

On our return we found the terminal closed with our possessions inside. We found an unlocked door and dragged the stuff up a down-escalator and out the door. Not a customs official in sight. We should have brought some guns or narcotics – there would never be a better chance!

I set about trying to find a teaching job. In the meantime I visited the Labour Exchange and they fixed me up with a job at Kingers gasket factory in Foots Cray. It was my first introduction to the world of work in the UK – and what an introduction. I worked in the warehouse with two old boys whose names now escape me. The day went like this: we arrived and clocked on. We stood about for a bit and then we went for breakfast in the staff subsidised canteen. A “full English” set you back about 20p. We wandered back to the warehouse and did a bit – we gathered some gasket material and placed it on a trolley. We moved the trolley about for someone else to pack the stuff and get it ready to ship.

We went to lunch.

After lunch we did almost nothing – maybe a bit of tidying up or re-arranging the stacks of gaskets.

The “old lags” had made a kind of makeshift rest area out of some tatty packing crates. It had rustic chairs and a battered, dilapidated old sofa. They sat about most of the afternoon studying the racing form. I often went to the bookies to place bets or collect winnings.

Then it was quitting time. We went home. We were paid not very much.

Interestingly the whole of Britain operated roughly on the same principles at that time. There was almost no unemployment, but everywhere was grotesquely inefficient and over-staffed. Maggie Thatcher would see to that.

I was still looking for a teaching job and one came up near Gt Yarmouth in Norfolk. From my extensive research, I knew that the East coast was the warmest and driest part of Britain. My kind of town. (Actually, I still like Gt Yarmouth even though I don't live near there – and I am definitely in the minority!)

Got the job.

In 1974, believe it or not, there was no rental market for properties in England. I know it sounds strange with the emphasis on Buy-to-Let with which we currently suffer; but it is, nevertheless, true. Somehow we managed to rent a house in Winterton-on-Sea for the princely sum of £10 a week (a lot of money in those days).

I began teaching in September 1974 and I was not very good at it. Looking back I can say without much argument that I was not only inexperienced but also suffering from culture shock. The country was new. The school was unlike any in Missouri and the children were somewhat of a mystery to me.

I stayed there for 11 years. My problem has always been, believe it or not, that I don't really like change. I'm a bit of a stick-in-the-mud. So I stayed and gradually got better at the job and began, almost, to think it was a good career choice. Then the school decided to close for lack of pupil numbers and I was made redundant.

In the summer I did a variety of seasonal jobs. I cleaned swimming pools. I cleaned pubs. I cleaned toilets. Such was the life of a hard-up young teacher. I delivered newspapers – wholesale. Start at 04:30. Rode my bike from Winterton to Yarmouth and then back to Scratby to teach all day. I worked at North Denes airfield doing security checks for off-shore workers. I loaded sightseers into light aircraft. I refuelled helicopters. I did almost anything to make a buck.

During that time I played basketball for the Gt Yarmouth Gunners and cricket for, firstly, NALGO in the Gt Yarmouth Mid Week League and secondly for Belton CC in the Norfolk Cricket League. I had never seen a cricket match until 1974 when I used to watch the old John Player League (yes, cigarette manufacturers sponsored many sports in those days) and listen to Test Matches on the radio with Johners, CMJ. Blowers, Aggers and, of course, the best of all, John Arlott.

All this coincided with two children, a divorce, and a remarriage.

After a few months of unemployment and being unable to find a suitable teaching job, I went to work for Dardan Security as a guard. I did shifts at Bacton gas terminal. It was tiring and uninteresting, but it did keep the wolf from the door.

Some people I knew were teaching at Finborough School (then St George's) near Stowmarket in Suffolk. An English job came up and I got it. I started in September 1987 along with my good buddies John Cowley (Head of Maths) and Steve Banks (Head of History). I had to work away from home during the week. I had a small room at Finborough. I worked some weekends. I stayed there until my retirement in 2004.

Eventually, I became a good teacher. Good enough to be nominated for the Teaching Awards anyway – but I didn't win. At the end of the day, teaching is actually quite a simple job. As I was fond of explaining to the teacher trainees I occasionally supervised, all you have to do is to get kids to do things they would rather not. Not that they won't do it necessarily, it's just that given a choice they would rather not. There are as many ways of doing this as there are good teachers. I also explained that if you cannot do this you are going to have a miserable life, so leave now. Do not pass go, do not collect the 200. Go and get a “real job”.

The first year was quite trying and I seriously though about giving up, but I persevered and eventually got paid for doing what I like and would have probably done for free. I talked about and read good books. I taught Shakespeare and Chaucer to the sixth form. Eventually, I was persuaded to take on the role of Head of the English Department. I made many very good friends.

In 2004 I was approaching the age when I always said teachers should retire, for after the age of 50-55 you become out of touch with the next generation. So, when the boss offered me early retirement I took it.

After a short interlude, I decided that I would have nothing whatsoever to do with education ever again. Opportunities to continue to mark exams were there, substitute teachers were always in demand and experienced, successful teachers are always in short supply. Non of this attracted me, so I decided to do nothing at all.

Then one day I was reading the EDP and a job advert for a Housekeeper at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital seemed so interesting that I (stupidly) mentioned it to Juliet who said that I should apply. So I did. I got an interview. I got the job.

This was only made possible by giving up smoking. In 2004, post retirement from teaching, I said to Juliet that it was time to go to France to stock up on cheap baccy. She said, “I think I'll give up.”

I said, “I think I'll join you.”

She said, “You'll never do it.”

We went to the surgery and go all the gear - inhilators, patches, nicotine gum and lozenges, We set a date to give up. I woke up, put on a patch and puffed at the inhilator all day. It was a long day – a very long day.

In the evening I took Juliet to an art class at the Hoveton Village Hall. I went straight to the local store and bought 10 cigs. I sat in the car and smoked one. That was the last cigarette I ever had. I gave the nine smokes left to my step-son Steve and told him to take them to Norwich (he was going out that evening) and give them to some old down and out. I believe he did.

I persevered and was rewarded. A good test came about a week into the challenge. I had to go to a cricket committee meeting in Dereham. Dereham is a funny old place. No matter how many times I go there I never feel entirely confident about finding my way about. I did have a favourite parking spot but it was occupied so I had to find a new one. It was in a car park behind some shops. After the meeting I could not remember where the car was. I must have got turned around, for I just could not find it. Would that I had a ciggie I would have lit it. I wandered about for what seemed an hour before I found the car. That was the last time I really fancied a smoke.

I was one of the lucky ones. You can blow smoke in my face and it does not elicit a craving.

Because I gave up I could work at the hospital. So I did.