Five weeks and counting?

“Not long now then Andy?”

“No, five weeks today”

“Counting the days?”

What does that mean “counting the days”? It seems to insinuate that I have a great big clock or timer somewhere that is ticking down the weeks, days, hours and minutes until I leave. In fact, I do have a “countdown to retirement app “on my phone, that I put on at Christmas (probably against Company Policy), but I gave up looking at it some time ago.

I had an exit interview this week. Interesting really, as you could argue “why do you need to conduct an exit interview with someone who is retiring? But of course, the world is somewhat different now than it used to be, I don’t have to retire! No, the days of you being ceremoniously “oiked” out the door at 65 years of age are long gone. Nowadays, it’s about personal choice and of course “performance”.

We now have an appropriate IT system to record these processes, and we have the benefit of the dreaded “drop down box”. Where we used to have two boxes for “sex”, male or female, we now have more than two (I assume). “Sexual orientation” (not part of an exit interview I would stress) – loads. Quite correctly we attempt to capture accurately the wide and quite diverse attributes that we all have, when it comes to collecting personal information. “Retiring” seemed to appear in a lot of the drop down boxes I saw.

I have never doubted for one minute that my decision to leave is correct. It was based on a single assessment of “do I believe that I could undertake my role to the level that is required, and cope with the level of commitment, pressure and stress that went with it” going forward. Once you accept that there is little you can do about changing any of those issues, and then the choices become much clearer. You either find another position or, if you are at an appropriate age, retire. Retirement is an option, but not the only one. So perhaps the enquiry should be less of a statement   “so you are retiring then?” but,  more of a question, “why are you retiring?” I enjoy working, more importantly I enjoy the daily engagement with fellow human beings, of different ages, roles and responsibilities. I fully understand how much I will be miss these people, some of which I have known for a very long time. BUT – I reiterate, I have never ever doubted my  decision.

I was recently looking at a book called the “The Story of Bristol Waterworks Company, 1939-1991”. It was written by Alan Hodgson, who was the Company’s Principle Administration Officer until his retirement in 1988. Full of great information about the Company but for me it lacks one very important ingredient– and that is in regard with references to the “people” of the Company.

For me the real strength of Bristol Water has, and continues to be, its employees. I have benefited from being involved with the Company over three distinct periods, and in numerous roles. I have experienced the highs and the lows, and like many others, have views on the issues that have, and continue to challenge us. However, over this career I have never ever felt for once that I was “alone”, that there was nobody I could turn to for help or assistance. Even when working on my own, on nights in the Operations Room – where you could go twelve hours without seeing or speaking to another human being, there was always someone at the end of a phone. There is this unique part of the DNA of some of our employees that still believe passionately that we will always be local Water Company serving the needs of a local community – and, as individuals are very much a part of the community it serves.

So my memoirs  will focus very much on the “non-engineering” element of the Company. It will focus on the people, the characters, the culture and of course the social and business changes that impacted them all.

And finally, an extract from the (hopefully) forthcoming  “Memoirs of a Retired Utility Worker”

Chew Stoke Pumping Station was reputed to be haunted. Folklore suggests that one of the Farmers that owned one of the farms that are now under Chew Valley Lake decided to come back from beyond the grave, and his spirit survives within the pumping station that sits beside the lake. Bert Gregory, who worked as an M&E Administrator when I joined, used to work on shift at the pumping station. He used to tell stories of doors opening and closing on their own, and bizarrely – spanners and other tradesman’s tools flying through the air. According to him the worst area was the workshop that sits at the end of the pump hall. Unfortunately the men’s toilets are at this end of the building – and a number of individuals have been “spooked” in the early hours of the morning whilst attending a breakdown at that pumping station. I never went there on my own at night!

It’s important to remember that this was the mid to late 1970’s; everything was different to what it is now. I am not going to attempt to justify or indeed condemn some of the activities that went one – but what I will do is attempt to give a true reflection of that time.

Jim (not his real name) was a “character”. He smoked Dunhill cigarettes, lit by a Dunhill lighter and could eat six cream cakes in one sitting. One of the most bizarre experiences I had of working him was as follows:

Jim was divorced and was in a relationship with a girl in Shirehampton whose father had a Taxi Business. Jim arrived one morning at work in a very smart jacket with a “private hire” badge on his coat. We were given a job at Dry Hill, Portishead, and off we went in both vans, well that’s what we should have done – but Jim decided he would take his car.  At about 11.30am Jim announces that he had a “fare to sort”, and off he goes. He returned mid –afternoon, after fulfilling his “taxi obligation”.

 

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