by Jane Carter
Today was Tony’s birthday. He was 50 years old.
Today was also the anniversary of his first day in the Water Company. When he’d got the job, his plan had been to stay for just 12 months until he knew what he wanted to do with his life. That was 30 years ago!! Where had the time gone thought Tony miserably as he peered into the bathroom mirror. He didn’t like what he saw. In his heyday he’d been proud of his long dark mane, swarthy skin and prominent cheekbones but now all he saw was a tired, puffy-faced and bald old man. At least being nearly six feet tall, he managed to just about carry his middle age spread.
‘I really don’t want to go to work today,’ he moaned to his reflection. He considered putting a peg on his nose and phoning the office, claiming to have flu but he knew he’d never have the nerve to do something so childish; he’d just have to grit his teeth and get on with it. Stopping in the kitchen to grab a piece of buttered toast, he kissed his wife ,‘high-fived’ the twins goodbye and headed out of the house.
It wasn’t the fact that he didn’t want to spend his birthday at the office. Tony’s reluctance to go to work was because today would bring another meeting with his boss; the grandly entitled ‘Head of Transformation’, who yesterday had accused Tony of being afraid of change. Tony still smarted at the accusation. He wasn’t afraid of change, quite the opposite in fact.
He has no idea of the changes I’ve seen thought Tony angrily as he squeezed into his mini cooper, ready to start his commute to work.
As he drove down the M5, wipers going at double speed in an attempt to stave off the heavy downpour, he thought back to when he’d joined the company back in 1990.
Then, a PC was a Police Constable, windows were something you looked out of and an apple, was simply a type of fruit.
In those days business was conducted using pen and paper and documents were written by hand before being sent to the typing pool via an army of messengers. It wasn’t snail mail in those days, just mail.
Even the I.T. geeks like Tony wrote their computer programs by hand, only typing then into the mainframe when they had access, which, if they were lucky was a couple of times a week.
Things started changing two years after Tony joined. He remembered the day his then boss told him excitedly that he had a cabinet full of mouses. Tony was taken aback, firstly by his boss’s lack of grammar and secondly by the horrific thought that the office had an infestation of vermin!
But Tony adapted quickly and was soon leading the desk-top project. Putting a PC on everyone’s desk and getting staff competent in using the new technology was a huge undertaking. In the early years his team had to deal with daily requests for help. One lady complained that her mug wouldn’t fit into the cup holder. It turned out she was trying to rest her morning coffee in the place where you were meant to put the floppy disk. Another time, a man phoned Tony’s team to complain that his mouse wasn’t working. When Tony went up to help him, he found the chap dragging the mouse against his computer screen.
Of all the requests for help that Tony and his team received, the favourite one by far came from a senior manager. He’d phoned up one morning in a rage. He had tried unsuccessfully for thirty minutes to reboot his computer and he demanded that as he was an important person someone needed to come to his office immediately. When Tony got there, he quickly learnt what the problem was. Apparently, the manager had worked through a set of online instructions and had been prompted to hit any key to continue. However, he’d been unable to find an ‘any’ button and was now convinced that he had a faulty keyboard. He was quick to tell Tony that this was a totally unacceptable situation and that senior managers like him could not afford to waste their time on such second-rate technology.
Tony remembered watching the man’s embarrassment as he’d explained that the term meant literally any key on the keyboard and not a specific ‘any’ key. Tony had dined out on the story for weeks.
And it wasn’t just the IT that had changed. Over the decades, walls had been knocked down to create open plan office space and the desks had gotten smaller to allow more staff to work there. They’d recently introduced working from home and there was even talk of hot-desking. The whole culture of the organization had changed greatly since Tony first started.
None of this reminiscing had done anything to improve Tony’s mood and by the time he’d parked his car he was feeling almost depressed. ‘Another day – anther dollar’ he sighed as he approached his desk. Then, as he sat down, he heard singing. Turning around to identify the source he saw all his colleagues coming towards him shouting out a tuneless rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ and bearing a large birthday cake. As he blew out the candles, he thought about the one constant throughout his working life; his friends.
That was something that hadn’t changed over the years; his ability to make and keep friends. His mother used to say that he knew how to put on the charm, but he liked to think of himself as simply a personable guy who liked people and who was liked in return.
Over the last 30 years his work friends had been there to celebrate his successes; many of those now taking slices of cake were there when he married Jenny nearly 20 years ago and at the twins’ christening five years later. More importantly, perhaps these friends had been there to support him when things got tough, like when he’d repeatedly missed out on promotion opportunities until he finally been awarded a senior, management role a couple of years ago.
For the first time that day Tony smiled. Perhaps things weren’t so bad after all. He’d dig in deep to his charm reserves when he met with his boss later and hopefully do better than yesterday in getting his point across. He also considered writing a blog for the staff intranet about what things used to be like at work. This morning’s stroll down memory lane had brought home how different the world used to be. It would be good for newer members, like his boss, to see how far the company, and its staff, had come during his time there and how change had been made successfully by the old timers like him. The idea cheered him up.
Happy birthday to me Tony thought. Finally, he felt excited about tonight’s birthday gathering at Drago Lounge. He loved it there and always had the same food: burger and chips. But tonight he thought he’d order some tapas, just for a change.
About the author
Jane retired from a 30 year career in the civil service in 2019 and joined Newport Writers Group in January the following year.
During lockdown she was inspired to write her first poem since O-level English Literature (in 1978!!) and has recently graduated to writing short pieces of fiction.
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