I’m all in favour of new experiences. Well, mostly. Kind of. A bit. Not, I admit, when it comes to food. My order in Subway is the same now as it was when I was 11 (“Foot-long turkey breast on honey oat. Cheese and toasted. Lettuce, cucumber and red onion. Salt and pepper”). Nor am I particularly adventurous when it comes to the kind of books that I buy, or films that I watch. I know what I like, what works for me, and I feel no particularly pressing need to experiment with winning formulae.
But experiences are different. They’re the kind of things that become stories. And I like telling stories; I like having a fund of narrative from which to draw. I am, as it happens, in the middle of a new experience right now. It’s called redundancy.
I was, until Saturday just past, the assistant manager of the Modelzone store in Aberdeen. This was not a position I had held for long – I was promoted to it at the end of April. I joined the store as a lowly shop assistant in November 2011, and worked hard, and was promoted to shift supervisor, and worked hard at that, and became assistant manager (and acting manager, at least according to the guy appointed by the administrators to supervise us as we entered shutdown mode), and worked so hard at that that in the final summing up I learned that I had taken precisely 3 days off in eight months.
So I worked hard, and I did good work. The shop ran well. The customers were happy. The store was profitable. But I’m still out of a job, and that stings a bit.
The reason the shop folded is that Modelzone went bust. The immediate cause of that was Lloyds cancelling the company’s overdraft facility, but the root causes were twofold: first, it was company policy to require a 50% margin on every item that we sold. Secondly, the website was catastrophically dreadful. We went under because we weren’t competitive on price, and because we weren’t competitive online. In today’s market you can’t expect to get away with that. Change needed to happen – change about which we in-store were screaming at Head Office a year ago – but change, when it came, came glacially slowly and in tiny increments. There was insufficient change to save us.
And like I say, this stings. My personal living arrangements are getting squeezed because people far away from the sharp end of actual retail were making very bad decisions and ignoring the warnings they were receiving about it. I worked very hard, and I did what I needed to do better than it needed to be done, and yet here I am.
It’s not like I don’t have stuff to occupy me. I have an enormous stash of model kits to build (ah, the heady delights of staff discount in a model shop!). I have a PhD that needs to be completed and submitted. I have a novel that I haven’t looked at in months because I haven’t had time, and I can’t wait to return to writing. I have CVs to hand out and jobs to apply for and all kinds of other things to get up to.
But first, I am going to stop running around for a bit. Clearly taking 3 days’ leave since Christmas is a ludicrous way to behave and I am going to enjoy this initial period of enforced idleness. I went into Oxfam and spent some of my last paycheck on a stack of books, including one on one of my favourite moments in military history (to the extent that it is my intention to write a historical novel at some point based on it), which I am going to work my way through in as guilt-free a manner as I can possibly manage. I am going to do some serious tidying – boring, I know, but it needs to be done and I know I will be happier at the end of it. I am going to get up to date on all the things on which I am behind. I am even – heaven help us and preserve us – going to try and get back in shape, because I had started to use my sciatica and lack of time as an excuse for developing, for the very first time in my life, more of a belly than I am happy at having. (The causes of that are not simply to do with the difficulty of exercising when you have little free time and constant low-grade back pain: there’s also the naive belief that you can eat like a sixteen-year-old and that the rules about endless consumption of Coca-Cola don’t actually apply to you).
So yes, it sucks that I am unemployed. It burns that I find myself in this position despite doing good work. It angers me that the people who made the mistakes that resulted in my situation were warned in time to prevent them and yet they failed to do so. But I don’t, ultimately, feel bad. I have an opportunity to get back to doing the things that I like, the things that I’m good at – even some of the things that I think I was put on this earth to do. So don’t feel sorry for me. I don’t deserve it. Instead, envy me the conspiracy of circumstance that requires me, for the first time in far too long, to take something very like a holiday.