When you left me last I was sitting at home with my leg in plaster, bemoaning my fate and cogitating on the Y2K problems that didn't just involve the use of a zero instead of a nine, but instead involved new century issues of a more esoteric nature. The Manager of the company for whom I was contracting was initially sympathetic to my plight but took only 24 hours to get back to me and tell me that my contract would almost certainly have to be terminated as the company couldn't wait a minimum of three months for me to gain full mobility. I spent a couple of weeks with Richard and Judy trying to win 'Midday Money' to solve my problems, before deciding that it might be a better idea to try and gain some mobility via the hire of an automatic car. At this stage fortune popped its little head from behind a cloud.

My wife's friend made an unexpected visit and asked how I was getting on. The good lady explained that I was upstairs in the office trying to get some good prices on car hire, at which point her friend mentioned  out that she was trying to sell her own automatic car for the small sum of £300 and would I be interested? A day later and I am the proud owner of a old Vauxhall Astra and making plans to make the trip from home to the City of London every day.

Initially, the manager at my client's was  pleased to see me back so soon but a parking ticket on my very first day made me wonder if the effort had been worth it. Parking in the City is never easy but, when you've managed to find a spot but have got a ticket because you wasn't able to hobble to the meter quick enough top it up, things can seem a little unfair. Particularly galling was the fact that this company had a very large and mainly unused car park attached. I asked the IT Manager if he could blagg me  a parking space but I may as well asked if I could borrow his wife for the night. Worse was to follow as, at my insistence and in an attempt to placate me, the manager visited the Health and Safety officer to see if what could be done and was told that, not only could they not find a parking place, but they advised my contract be terminated immediately  as the company may well find themselves liable for damages if my crutch were to get stuck in a lift or the drive of a CD.  Within just three days of returning it looked as if my £300 outlay was to be nothing but bad business.

Now, came one of those serendipity moments, A charming South African girl on Reception took pity on me: "Why not park in the garage? she asked as she saw me limping out to feed the meter for the umpteenth time that day. I explained the situation and she just shook her head; "Park in space number 12" she said "He's away for a month and when he gets back I'll find you another space" "Are you allowed to let me do that?" I asked. She gave me one of those looks that said 'I may be on Reception here but I can do whatever I damn well please' and that was it.

Health and Safety had by now decided that, as I had my own insurance and my contract small print was in order, they were not liable for an injury suffered on my part and I could continue my limping support. The IT Manager - whose sole contribution to this had been to get me to cover, for 20 minutes mind, another office half a mile away necessitating a slow and painful 30 minute hop - seemed blissfully unaware that a Receptionist had more clout than he did. Notwithstanding the fact my new Astra had an affinity with the Green Flag breakdown man and liked to be turned over for at least twenty minutes before starting, it seemed I was back in the groove again.

It came as a bit of a surprise therefore when the Manager rang me at home the following weekend to tell me that he was 'very sorry' but that, due to my reduced mobility, he had interviewed another person for my job and I would have to leave the following Friday. I was pretty angry and not a bit confused but, mind you, that confusion was nothing compared to the one that arrived when he rang me in the office 24 hours later and asked if I could stay another week as there had been - Reggie Perrin like -  a 'bit of a cock-up in Personnel' and my replacement couldn't start on time. I was tempted to tell him to stuff it but Christmas was looming and I needed the money so  I agreed to stay. A week later I received another call "...errr....you're replacement hasn't turned up could you stay another week? - well, actually shall we say after Christmas?" Later still "Sorry but we've decided not to interview again right now, can we say the end of January?" Honestly, I'm not making this up.

Determined not to let this situation to develop too far into the New Year though and realising that many of my problems were being caused by a permanent member of staff who'd been forced to take back all the work he'd dumped on me prior to my break, I decided to use my temporary disability to my advantage. I'd hop in, do what I could and then spend the available screen time to search for another freelance job. Now, prior to this contract, I'd always been fortunate in getting new work; the City grapevine and word of mouth recommendation meant I'd not needed to speak to an Agency for almost 10 years. Things had changed in the interim though...

Now I can't really complain about the Internet; it's probably one of the greatest assets of living in the 21st Century and being as I used to work on a kind of forerunner of the World Wide Web - a wonderful little thing called 'Prestel' where all you had was a flashing cursor, a blank screen and an active imagination - I could hardly get all Luddite about the situation . Even so, I hadn't really expected the new technology to have affected me in such an adverse way I'd been used to a network of Agents and Agencies who I could ring for a chat or quick lunch or an after work drink with, we'd be on first name terms and I'd been able to ring to let them know I was looking for work and they had rung me when work became available. That was no longer the case though; in short, no-one wanted to speak to me anymore.

CV's were sent with impunity seeming to disappear into a world wide web black hole - I fully expect Scientists to one day discover a distant imploding star containing  millions of CV's and the all the world's odd socks -  with barely a call of acknowledgement or the promise of an interview. Telephone calls and pleas to speak to someone were treated with indifference and not a little surprise: "Oh...I'm sure they are in meetings". The underlying tone suggested they, like Major Major from Catch-22, would only ever want to see me when they weren't available. There must be a lot of open back windows in agency buildings!

Eventually, after failing to gain an interview for one particular role for which I seemed ideally suited, I chased one particular agent by phone, fax, telephone and email until she agreed to speak to me. "You weren't considered because you didn't have any Outlook experience" she said. I was stunned. I probably use Outlook more than any other program but it's use hadn't been stated on the job spec, I'd applied for the post using Outlook and I simply hadn't thought to add every package I'd ever used back to IBM Displaywrite on the original Mk.1 IBM PC. I also didn't mention I'd once drawn a picture on MS-Paint - perhaps I should have done. If this was the game though I was going to have to tweak the rules a little. Eventually, I had a box full of floppy disks (remember them?)  claiming I had done everything in Computing from making tea for Charles Babbage to play golf with that man who owns Microsoft.

But still nothing was forthcoming. I was promised interviews tomorrow which never materialised, seldom advised of why these dead ends had occurred, had my references checked by agencies who never even spoke to me and, generally given the impression that there was no suitable contracts in the whole of the South East and I would probably never ever work again. My direct contract with my client had lapsed and, since the IT department had been outsourced, I was being urged to sign a new one with the incoming conglomerate that would have made me in an employee in all but name. I asked if certain aspects of my work could be taken into consideration - a delaying tactic - as, with job hunting going nowhere, it seemed I may have to consider that even an IR35 hit contract may be more profitable.

Relief though came in the form of an insurance cheque for my now healing ankle and, plaster off, the Mrs and I decided a bit of winter sun was the thing to rid of us of the winter blues. It was now January 2001 and I hoped that a refreshing break would presage a new beginning but this proved to be a mistake. On my first day out of the country, my stepdaughter rang me to tell me that the IT Manager had tried to ring me. Why he should do this when he knew full well I was in Gran Canaria I can't begin to guess, but I was determined to get a relaxing week in the sun and that was what I did. I guessed what the phone call was about and confirmed it when, arriving home I had a message saying that someone had been placed in my position during my holiday and I need not return!

Now I'm a pretty affable bloke, I get on with most people and I'm genuinely regarded as being patient, understanding and, possibly, even a little soft. But this made me angry. I had put myself out throughout the contract, worked with a broken ankle, been threatened with termination, terminated and returned more times than Arnold Schwarzenegger and worked without contract to help my client. Legally I had no leg to stand on - humour intended - but I now had two good ones and I felt there was a moral obligation to at least serve me notice in the office rather than on a Canarian beach. I appealed, bizarrely in view of the circumstances, to the outsourcing company who were, it has to be said, fair and professional about it. I was given two weeks proper notice providing I did a hand over to my replacement - something i was more than happy to do - and I was then to be put out on the streets again. Amusingly, the handover didn't go quite as well as expected though, as my replacement had the apparent gift of invisibility, working only four hours in the two weeks that remained on my contract.

Now followed three weeks of pointless interviews ('We liked you but have decided to fill the post internally'), rejections because I was 'too experienced and would get bored' (why don't people ask me if I'll get bored? I can tell them I won't!), the usual round of teeth-grinding technical tests (am I the only one who can't remember what CTRL-C does when posed the question on a bit of paper?) and infuriating delays ('We'll write off on the project as soon as the MD returns from his holiday, he is navigating the Amazon for the next month'). As is often the way with these things, the eventual job offer came out of the blue from a local authority who I squeezed an interview with at the last moment while waiting on a 'dead cert offer', I arrived so flustered I was barely able to put my name on the technical test but they apparently 'liked me' and I was offered the contract. Nice to see the old approach is alive somewhere!

Am I am enjoying myself now? Well, I'm reminded of the blessed Morrisey who once famously sung 'I was looking for a job and then I found a job, and heaven knows I'm miserable now'. And did I mention that my old client failed to pay me for two months of hopping attendance and had to threaten the outsourcing company with legal action before I got paid? No? Well, a tale for another time perhaps....

 

Published in May 2001, the continuing tale of the post Y2K blues.

Panic in the Year 2000

 

** Y2K Blues Part Three was never written, the Blues dissipated in August 01 with a challenging, rewarding and ultimately enjoyable contract.