Redundancy in the time of a British Apocalypse

I have just been made redundant.  I can’t think of a more terrible time to lose a job.  The economy has gone to hell in several handbaskets and the future looks bleaker than the bleakest bleak thing.  If you ever wanted to know what an apocalypse looks like this, it’s this: 

There are too many people on the planet and resources are running out.

That’s pretty much it.  I don’t even need to expand on it.  There’s a whole bunch of other stuff you could add to this but it all boils down to the same thing.  Every post-apocalyptic theme runs on the premise that (a) there’s a war and (be) this causes most of the people to be killed off.  Having less people on this planet would probably help it survive, providing, of course, you’re not talking about a nuclear winter type thing.  There are zillions of books written about post-apocalypses.  It’s quite the thing, or it was once.  Many people blame The Hunger Games for all those teenage post-A books and movies, though none of the books and movies that copied it came close to The Hunger Games’ brilliance (I’ve read it – it really is good). 

But that’s another blog.  I’m digressing.  For good reason – who the hell wants to talk about their redundancy.  Anyway, all these books and movies tend to go POST-apocalypse.  Is anyone writing about the actual apocalypse itself?  Not the inevitable nuclear war but what leads up to it?  Let’s see:  too many people on the planet and resources are running out.  I think I’ve got it nailed.  What you can add to this is the horrendous divide between the rich and the poor (this has ALWAYS been a thing on this planet, probably all the way back to caveman times), people starving, everything too hot (or too cold, though there seems to be less of that) or on fire or drowning.  War.  There’s always a war.  And a really shit government.  Food prices escalating.  Fuel bills unpayable.  So you can’t afford to eat and can’t afford to cook.  Don’t forget train strikes.  And any other strike you could care to mention.  Plus no rain in London.

Weirdly, the last one bothers me the most.  No one else gives a shit.  Everyone just loves the permanent Bahamas-feel to the weather.  Who cares if the plants can’t grow and the trees keep falling down because they are dead inside.  No rain in London is my most favourite subject.  And look!  I’ve managed to digress again!  I’m really good at this!

So here we have it:  I worked for UCL for eleven years in total.  I had two jobs there, the first one very small and very physical.  It wrecked my body rather and after many, many attempts, I finally managed to get myself a more desk-based job.  Or seated, at any rate.  It was customer-facing, as they say, and meant I was dealing with students all day and doing a lot of admin on a computer.  I was, literally, chained to a computer.  All I ever wanted was to work with books.  But books, in any book-based job, are always secondary.  Even when I worked in a bookshop, the books counted for less than the amount of bloody admin and customer shit I had to deal with.

Despite a number of aspects I found difficult, it was the best job I’d ever had.  For the first time in my life, I could actually afford to eat slightly better food.  I could afford shoes that didn’t hurt my feet.  I had a winter coat that actually covered my bum AND kept me warm.  I could pay my bills.  And I still had time to write because it was a part-time job.  I quite liked my colleagues too.  Naturally none of them were remotely interested in anything I was interested in but I’ve gotten used to this.  I talk to people about the things they like, not what I like.  I quite literally have never met anyone who has watched Star Trek Voyager.  I mean, how weird is that?!

Anyway, things chugged along.  I did my best.  I was aware that I wasn’t especially popular but I’m used to this too.  I’m conscious that there is something odd about me that people don’t like but try not to dwell on it.  They made no secret of the fact that I was second-best.  The person they really wanted for the job didn’t like the hours so they had to give it to the person who loved the hours – me.  I can’t say I felt entirely thrilled to be told I was second-best.  My first job at UCL was the same – I didn’t get the job until someone dropped out and a month later, they asked if I was still available.  Tried not to feel TOO hurt by this.  I wouldn’t even mention it if wasn’t for what happened next.

The toughest part of the job for me was my eyes getting sore.  And man, did they get sore.  I would come home at the end of the day and sit in a dark room for an hour, trying to get my eyes to relax.  The lights in the library where I worked as a library assistant had been changed since I’d worked there on and off as a shelver.  I’d always loved that particular UCL library and was quite keen to get a job there.  Apparently it took an entire summer for them to get the lights changed.  All the staff had to move out and there was a collect-service only for books.  The lights they ended up with (having had nice soft ordinary yellowish lights before) were the harsh, cold, brilliant, blue-white LED strip lighting that claw at the eyeball and suck out all the juice.  Three staff members used to get migraines.  None of them put it down to the lighting.  Sitting at the library counter where I worked, I faced a whole row of those lights.  And I was facing a computer that had on it a glare from a window that was behind me.  It was the very worst possible set-up for eye health.

By the end of the day, my eyes were red and sore and burning and felt very small and pinched.  It was, frankly, hell.  You could turn the lighting down two notches:  1 was torture chamber interrogation level;  2 was marginally better;  3 was perfect for me.  We were never allowed to have the lights on 3 and since 2 wasn’t much different to 1, I was still left in a lot of pain.  After a year or so I began to develop floaters.  Not those dots you sometimes become aware of floating across your vision but huge tangled barbed wire zigzags that drove me insane.  It was really quite distressing.  They got worse at work but relented slightly when I was at home.  They also got worse in the sun.  And the photophobia that I’ve always suffered from got much worse too.

And then came the first lockdown!  Reason number 7 as to why I loved the pandemic (no, obviously not the fear and death and suffering……just the other stuff).  No bright lights at home!  It took me several goes and two changes of desk-space but I finally got the perfect set-up at home as well so that my eyes no longer need suffer.  What a relief!  I still had the original floaters but didn’t develop any more of them.  And then we had to go back to work.  And then only did the long, tangled tale begin that led to my redundancy.  My eyes remained a problem.  The library’s lights were a BIG problem.  They tried to accommodate me but it was impossible.  I had a customer-facing job and needed to sit at the very front desk where my eyes had been ruined.  I couldn’t sit in a dark office at the back.  I couldn’t change my hours.

The day came when the manager and supervisor called me into the office to tell me what was going to happen to me.  The line manager did not look at me once.  His face was a mask.  I presumed it was because he couldn’t stand me – I was a problem and needed to be gotten rid of.  The manager did all the talking.  I was unable to speak at all because tears wouldn’t stop running down my face and my voice didn’t work.  I was told I was going to be redeployed.  I was a useless member of staff and they couldn’t wait to get rid of me.  Afterwards I sat in a toilet and cried my fucking eyes out.  When I started my “career” at UCL, I had felt USEFUL.  This had been a big thing for me and now it was being ripped away.  I knew damn well that I was never going to get my library assistant job back.  I was never going to work with these people again.  They didn’t want a middle-aged woman anyway, they wanted a young bloke.  And they got one too.  They couldn’t usher him in fast enough.

I’m not going to bore you with the details.  There were meetings.  There was another lockdown.  I caught Covid and was very ill.  And just because I didn’t end up in hospital, doesn’t mean it wasn’t bad.  It was bad.  I felt horrible.  This was back in the unvaccinated Delta-variant days.  I remember writing emails to my new line-manager and my old one.  The old one, bless her heart, a woman who is made of steel and sex appeal and superwoman qualities galore, wrote back the loveliest email, full of sympathy and kind words and told me to take care of myself.  My new line-manager wrote back to say she was going into a meeting and didn’t have time for this. 

I hated my redeployment.  I have told everyone that I liked it but I didn’t.  I’ve never told anyone – except my daughter – how much I loathed my new line-manager (LM).  In fact, my poor daughter heard nothing except my non-stop complaining for over a year.  It was the first time I’d ever “brought a job home” as it were.  I remember my mother complaining about a job she had, and a terrible woman she worked with, night after night after night at the dining room table, and I realised I had turned into her.  My new LM had no empathy, no compassion, no understanding, no awareness of anything except her job, could talk about nothing except her job.  But her worst quality was that she was utterly unable to listen.  She never stopped talking.  It was a non-stop flow of words.  At meetings (on Teams) she was the only one who ever talked.  Hardly anyone got a word in edgeways.  If LM got going, there was no stopping her.  I tried to tell her I was struggling with the work because I was still ill with Covid (I got over it in the end but as anyone will tell you, it does take a while and you really are incapable of anything for quite a long time) but she didn’t listen.  She just sent me more work.  She kept promising to train me on the more interesting stuff.  After six months, she did, but it was terrible training, like all her training.  I didn’t understand anything and began to feel panicky all the time.  My days “at work” were spent in tears.  She was chaotic.  Her thinking was chaotic.  Yes, I know she was holding two posts at the same time (the Big Boss was off having a baby for a year)(Jesus, women nowadays are so fucking lucky – in my day there were THREE MONTHS of maternity leave.  And that’s it.  I had to leave the bookshop at 7 months because I couldn’t lug books so heavily pregnant.  This meant that after 3 months, when I had a 1 month old baby, I had to go into a fucking disgusting DHSS to get income support to survive)(but that’s another story).  Anyway, LM was probably overloaded with work and I suspect that under different circumstances, I might have liked her.  What I found was difficult was that I couldn’t go to her with work problems.  I tried but when I did get an answer, it didn’t always make sense and I just felt stupid all the time.  I also struggled in Teams meetings.  In the library, we had laughed and joked a lot – there was none of that.  It was Very Serious.  It was also mind-numbingly boring.

It all came to a head in September last year.  Everything seemed to happen at once.  I’m going to list the events here.  You have to imagine them not happening one after another but all at the same time:

  1. My department, which had still been working from home, now had to start going onto campus.  The office was boiling hot.
  2. The lights in the office on campus were just as terrible for my eyes as the library ones had been.  You couldn’t even turn them off.
  3. My job was made permanent in that department. 
  4. A work colleague, whom I’d met before and thought I was friendly with, stabbed me in the back.
  5. I didn’t know how to do the job.
  6. There was no one for me to tell about any of this.

Until, that is, the Big Boss, having had her baby for a year now, finally came back to work (although I never physically met her) and in our first meeting I could mention the problem with the lights.  This was all far more dramatic than I’m making out.  There were two occasions I recall that I grabbed my things in the office and ran all the way home, sobbing all the way.  I mean, I’ve never experienced this before with a job!  I felt as if I was having a nervous breakdown.  The stress, anxiety and depression that I’d been suffering for over a year since this all began had become too much to bear.  I cried all the time, even when I wasn’t at work.  I was also dealing with other Life Problems of such gargantuan proportions that it began to feel as if I was cursed.  I thought I was never going to be happy again.

I ended up working from home again, my new permanent job now temporary again, and I was more miserable than I’d ever been in a job.  LM stopped talking to me completely and, literally, never spoke to me again, not an email, not a single fucking word.  It was like I’d never existed.  I never got a word of thanks from her.  Sitting at home working on utterly dreary admin stuff, I’d imagine my old colleagues in the library laughing and having fun and parties and doing arts and craft and chatting away, while I was forgotten.  Yep, I went through a lot of self-pity.  So began a period of a NEW redeployment.  I already knew at that stage that if a second redeployment didn’t work, I was going to be made redundant.  I’m not an idiot.  I read every single piece of hard-to-understand legal stuff on the UCL website about redeployment.  I actually thought I was going to be made redundant before Christmas.  Wouldn’t that have been a charmer.

For two weeks over Christmas, I put my life on hold.  I stopped everything I was doing, including writing, and I poured everything into saving myself and my daughter, who was also having a very rough time of it.  On the first day back in my job in January, I found an email from the Big Boss to say goodbye.  What the fuck!  NO ONE had told me that I would no longer be working for that department!  There had been talk (talk only, no confirmation) that I MAY be going back to the library job but admin only on a temporary basis.  But this was supposed to happen AFTER the health assessment.  The Evil Overlord, whom I have refrained from mentioning up to now, hadn’t mentioned this sudden change at all.  If he had, I can’t say I noticed.  I called him the Evil Overlord because he was in a very high up position in UCL and my entire future lay in his hands, a feeling which was quite disturbing.  He actually wasn’t at all evil but he was clearly not at all enamoured with me.  I was a problem.  Everything about my situation was unprecedented.  He didn’t know what to do with me and quite frankly, he probably wanted to get rid of me almost as much as my original library manager, the woman I had once so admired. 

So.  Suddenly I was back working for the library again in a temporary position doing admin work at home.  After an initial meeting with the line-manager, I never heard from him again.  He ignored all my emails, even when I asked for help with the work.  Months later, months which involved an endless round of appointments with opticians who couldn’t offer an opinion, GPs who refused to refer to an eye hospital, and a very long and distressing interview with the UCL GP-type person, I finally got another meeting with the line-manager.  Needless to say, in these months I learned to hate UCL.  Then it turned out that all my emails had ended up in my line-manager’s junk folder and he hadn’t received them.  And I just hadn’t received his emails at all.  Neither of us have ever managed to work out why.  It had created a terrible misunderstanding.  I had believed firmly that he hated me and never wanted to talk to me ever again.  And he believed that I hated him and the library and never wanted to talk to them again either.  What a mess!  So that was sorted out and I finally got to spill my heart out to someone about the awfulness of the situation I was in.

But I didn’t tell him how much I hated the redeployment position.  And I didn’t tell him that I never wanted to see the back of the library ever again.  Because by that time, through attrition, a slow and painful grinding down of my once-good spirits, my hatred had become fixed and unmovable.  I really hated UCL.  I’d had enough of being a problem employee.  I had developed a disability at work and though it was relatively minor, and though my job was small and part-time, they could find no way to help me.  I’d also had enough of meetings, of forms, of my eye condition that was never going to get better.  I’m going to stuck with troublesome eyes for the rest of my life because of those lights in that library.  I’d had NO help in the 2nd redeployment.  I’d been told by the Evil Overlord that there was NO CHANCE of redundancy.  He was adamant that they would find me a job.  But they didn’t.  They didn’t even look.  I had to find me a job.  I was instructed to check UCL jobs and find one.  Didn’t they think I wasn’t already doing that???!  There were NO remote positions at UCL and nothing I could do.  I couldn’t apply for jobs I wasn’t qualified for.  The HR manager person, when pressed by the Evil Overlord, sent me two available positions, both requiring people with decades of experience and training in work I had never done.  I mean, she wasn’t even trying!  It was like asking a street cleaner to apply for a job flying a rocket to the moon!  In our last meeting, no one said anything.  FOR FUCK SAKE, I wanted to scream, JUST FUCKING MAKE ME REDUNDANT ALREADY.

When the last day of my employment rolled around, both the Evil Overlord and the unhelpful HR person were on holiday so didn’t have the final meeting with me as promised.  Nor was I sent ANY information about the redundancy, no notification, no confirmation.  I only had the old notes and letters to go by.  I try to tell myself they tried to help.  But really, they couldn’t wait to get rid of me.  Trust me, the feeling was mutual.  How do I feel now that I’m redundant?  Half terrified out of my wits.  The future….!  The apocalypse….!  My bills….!  How am I going to eat, pay my bills, support my daughter when she comes home from uni next month, buy birthday presents, survive…..!  Everything looks terrible!  Awful!  The future is black black black!!!

And on top of which, the British Summer of Discontent (a phrase that is being bandied about a lot) has arrived and will no doubt turn into the Winter of Poverty Hell (but obviously not for the rich).  It’s an apocalypse exactly as I’ve described:  there are too many people and resources are running out.  So everything is getting more expensive but salaries aren’t going up so everyone (except the rich) is destined to misery (except the rich).

Now that I’ve been freed of the shackles and chains of that institution, I’ll endeavour to make something of my life, even if the world is going to hell in all its handbaskets.  I use the word “free” with caution:  maybe I’ve stepped from the frying pan into the fire.  I’ll just have to get out the fire too. 

But the fact remains that I am free.

Photo by Jill Wellington: https://www.pexels.com/photo/lady-in-beach-silhouette-during-daytime-photography-40192/

About Susannah J. Bell

I am a writer of science fiction and other strange and surreal works. I mostly write novels and the occasional novelette. My published works include A Doorway into Ultra, the Fleet Quintet and the Exodus Sequence. I live in London in an attic flat but really want to live in a tree. I wanted to be an astrophysicist but would settle for an alien abduction. I write because I don’t know what to read.
This entry was posted in 2022: A Fresh Start, General, Life in Bloomsbury and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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