Dee's Story Space

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Consultants Are Coming
2500 BC/AD 70s, 80s, 90s …

I start on the third floor and graze on tidbits of new information, picked up from the litter of gossip floating everywhere. I skate quickly around the water cooler circuits before I can be sucked into the discussions. I sample each floor and by the end of the morning I realize that this group of consultants are here to target the top. They are going to attempt to flatten the pyramid.

Yes the consultants are coming – again. We sit in the restaurant taking one of our long lunch breaks to discuss the possible upheavals that are sure to result from this latest interference. The local restaurant owners rub their hands in glee as they see tables full to capacity on what would normally be a quiet Tuesday lunch.

Diane says that these consultants are charged with developing a drastic restructuring plan. “Looks like another cut, slash, eliminate, so keep you heads down and your ears open. “I heard that the Research Department is going to be the primary target this time around.” Sherry tells us. I had heard that rumor too but say nothing - Heather is here to spy and report every word of our speculations back to the boss.

We agree to regroup for lunch tomorrow after gathering information from our contacts and trying to reassure our employees. We hop into my car and I drive us out of the Pots and Pans restaurant parking lot in Fort Saskatchewan and head back to the plant where I park outside the new research center building where we all work in positions that give us access to facts as well as speculation and gossip. Everyone will surf the multitude of whispering cliques gathered in hallways, on stairwells, at water coolers. Little work will be done anywhere today.

I barely finish scanning my messages when two of our research managers, Ian and Roger, stick their heads around my office door and ask if I know what the consultants have in mind. I tell them that I know for sure that they are scheduled to be on site for the next three weeks. First week is set aside for top-level interviews, second week to present their recommendations to the Senior Vice Presidents, and third week for plan implementation.

I advise both of them that even though we haven’t been given the criteria, it is a good idea to get busy listing their employees in order of importance to critical projects – if they don’t have good information at their fingertips, others will make decisions for them. I spend the afternoon updating the list of pros and cons for each of my people. I have no idea how many of my staff I might be ordered to let go. I have no idea if I myself will be on my bosses’ slash and burn list.
After the last consultants came I had to let two people go, but other departments faired worse and lost ten or fifteen. But, as always happens after the restructuring dust settles, the top people are still firmly entrenched so all departments rebuild and nothing really changes, hence the constant stream of consultants.

Once my initial list is prioritized, I visit each of my contacts so see what information they have managed to uncover and what gossip they have heard. We all agree that this group of consultants is here to target the upper levels. They are going to shave a layer from the pyramid, perhaps one level of Vice Presidents or Managers.

Senior Vice Presidents and Senior Managers all have their heads down building strategies to make sure they remain at the top of the reporting structure and their departments are placed to quickly return to the status quo after the consultants’ departure. You have to laugh, there is more energy spent by the senior levels in fortifying their own position than they ever put in to moving the company forward through better management, production or marketing.

Same mix of cream and scum float to the top = same old pyramid.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

1958 Mum's Second Marriage

“Are you ready for school, Deirdre?” Mum asks poking her head around the bedroom door.

“Oh, Mum. Did you get off work early?” I ask, surprised to see her.

“No, I took the day off today.”

“How come?”

“I’m getting married. I have invited Stella to the wedding because it was her birthday yesterday, but you are going to school.” She closes the door.

I’m crushed. I am in shock. How can she be getting married, she doesn’t even go on dates. I hurry and finish queezing into my school uniform. The buttons of my blouse stretch tight over my growing breasts. Mum is cross at me for growing out of the blouse she made new for me at Christmas. But I can’t help it. She promised to sew me a new one at the weekend. Now she will have to ask her new husband first. I probably will have to do without. Maybe she will get some material and I can make it myself.

I rush down the stairs to our messy living room. Stella is all dressed up in her Sunday best church clothes, twirling insanely around to make the skirt of her dress flare out. “Nah, nah na nah na, I get to go to the wedding and you don’t.” she taunts.

“I’d rather go to school anyway.” I reply sulkily, I won’t let her get the better of me.

Mum is drinking Nescafé instant coffee and smoking one of her favourite Craven A filter tip cigarettes. Her ashtray is full to overflowing and the air in the room is blue with smoke, she must have been up for a long time.

“Who are you getting married to?” I ask.

“Not that its any of your business but his name is Ted.”

“Who is he?”

“I work with him at the bank, he’s the night watchman, you met him a couple of weeks ago.”

“I don’t remember meeting him.”

“Yes you do.” Stella pipes up, “Mum brought him to the house to meet Grandma and Grandpa.”

“That old man? You can’t be marrying him.”

“Who I choose to marry is none of your business.”

“But he’s older than Grandpa.” I can hardly believe it. I’m angry with her.

“Things are going to change around here,” she announces tartly, “You will learn to show respect.”

Respect. Is she out of her mind? How on earth am I supposed to respect an old man who, grabbed and squeezed my breasts before I was able to push him away.

As usual, there is nothing I can do about it. I button up my blazer and stomp out of the house where welcoming cool damp presses against my burning face, the thick fingers of fog thankfully render me invisible.

Monday, March 5, 2007

1957 Boy Watching

“Hi Angela.” I call out and wave to my friend.
After school we rushed home to change out of our uniforms. Black eyeliner, thick mascara and paler than pale pink lipstick now masks our faces. We are dressed in our going out on display outfits. Cardigans buttoned-down the backs to imitate the sweaters American girls wear on the television shows. Circular skirts puffed out by net petticoats around our nylon clad shapely legs shown off by three-inch stiletto heels, toes cruelly crushed in the points of the latest fashion shoes. We giggle as we make our way down town like two bright peacocks with feathers gloriously displayed for the opposite sex.

Purple People Eater is blaring loudly from the jukebox, the top ten hit booming so loudly that I can feel the rhythm through my skin and into my bones. The song finishes then plays over again. Angela says the singer is Don Lang, and he used to live a few door down from her in Halifax before he became famous and moved away from Yorkshire to somewhere posh down London way.

We slip passed tightly packed bodies into the Bon Bon cafe, the most popular place for teenagers to graze and gaze. We buy espresso coffee and flirt with the dark handsom Greek Cypriot boy behind the counter. He’s the son of the cafĂ© owner, about our age but not part of the group. Our coffee sweetened we carried our cups and saucers over to a booth less crowded than some of the others. We squeeze ourselves in next to a group of older girls who turn away and ignore us. Settled, we surveyed the male talent.

Angela spots one of the senior-form boys from our school. “That’s Paul,” Angela said, "He’s really popular with the girls.”

“Well, he’s way better looking than most of the boys in our class.” I tell her.

She waves to him and to her surprise he saunters nonchalantly over to our booth and says hello. We squeeze up so that he can sit with us, but disappointingly, he is not interested in us. Its the smiling older girl sitting next to Angela who captures his longing gaze. Taking the hint we reluctantly slide out of the seat and let him crawl in next to her.

Dismissed, we resume our survey of the crowd and spot two nice looking boys that are giving us the eye.

Angela says, “I’ll take the tall dark good-looking one.”

“Okay.” I agree. It is her turn to get first choice. We always take turns; after all, it doesn't really matter. The boys are just a decorative divergence for a few hours; we aren’t going to date them or anything because Angela and I have plans. We are going to join the Air Force and become pilots and travel the world.

1961. Per Ardua Ad Astra

“I hope it doesn’t get any windier.” I say to my new friend Brenda as we stand in line waiting for our turn to go up in the glider. They told us flights would be cancelled if the wind got too strong. We fidget; neither of us has ever done anything as exciting as this before. Neither of us expected to ever get the opportunity because we will work in offices once we are posted to our permanent bases next week.

“Are you scared?” she asks.

“A bit,” I confess. “But we can’t chicken out. We may never get another chance.”

I have to hitch my uniform skirt high up my thighs to climb clumsily into the front of the glider. My bottom thumps inelegantly down into the seat and my legs straddle to joystick. My pilot swings himself gracefully in behind me. He runs through a list of things I should expect during the flight. “I control the joystick,” he tells me. “Do not to touch it.”

Only half listening, my mind races and my hands shake with a mixture of fear and excitement as I take off my beret and roll it cap badge forward, and secure it under my shoulder epaulet. Who would have thought that after just two months in the Women’s Royal Air Force, I would be heading for the sky.

“Ready?” My pilot asks.
“Absolutely.” I lie as the catapult whirs. It tows our glider ever faster down the bumpy runway. My stomach lurches as we leave the ground.
Oncee we are high enough the pilot shouts, “I’m releasing the tow rope.”

And we are free soaring silently above the green flat fenlands surrounding the Kirton Lindsey Air Training Base. Exhilarating. It’s so beautiful up high in the clear blue sky I wish I could stay forever banking and turning, soaring and swooping.

I plunge into memories of the first time I told anyone I wanted to fly, to be a pilot.

The strong smell of furniture wax mixes with milk soured in empty bottles sitting on the classroom windowsill since morning break. Miss hands out worksheets for us and tells us we must choose the two jobs we most want to do when we leave school. There are pictures of women in nurses dresses, teachers, clerks and charwomen. The men are in police uniforms, pilots, doctors and soldiers.

I choose a pilot first and a soldier second. A long time ago I wanted to be a nurse, but Mum told me I wouldn’t like it. All she got to do when she was a nurse was empty bedpans and make beds and take orders from men. I used to want to be a policeman until I went to the police station with my sister to see if they had my Dad. It smelled horrible in there of drunks and robbers and murderers.

I am still daydreaming when Miss smacks me around the ear. She makes me stand in front of the class and tell everyone what jobs I’ve chosen. I proudly tell everyone that I want to be a pilot. They snigger and whisper.
Miss looks mad. “Stupid girl. That’s a job for a man. Do you want to grow up to be a man?”
“No Miss.”
“Then sit down and choose a woman’s job.”
I look at the women’s jobs again. There is nothing I want to do. I’m a lot smarter than most of the boys. I don’t see why I can’t be a pilot just because I’m a girl. I don’t change my choice.

Miss sends to the Headmasters office that smells thickly of cigars. Mr. Hawk doesn’t ask why I am there doesn’t even look up, just instructs me to bend over the desk and lift my skirt. I try not to think about the strap stinging my legs. I remember my Mum telling me that Mr. Hawk smelled just like Winston Churchill when she sat on the front row to listen to him give a speech, she was so close she could see food stains and ash all down his waistcoat.

Miss whacks me across my knuckles with the ruler when I get back, but she doesn’t try to make me change my work. At dinnertime, the kids push and shove me and say nasty things to me. They laugh and chant, “Deirdre wants to be a boy.” They don’t listen when I tell them I like being a girl, I just want an interesting job when I leave school. Luckily, they quickly get bored and move on to weaker prey. My best friend Janet says, “Next time forget what you want and just do what Miss says.”

Pity Miss can’t see me now as thermals carry me upward, soaring ever higher over the fens.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Halifax, Yorkshire 1947

“Where did you get my Daddy from, Mum?” I try to imagine my Mum and Dad all alone before they got me from the Halifax General Hospital, but I can’t.

“Look both ways before you cross the road.” She reminds me as we cross Gibbet Street on our way to my first day at the Infant School on Bedford Street. Your Grandpa brought Ralph home to meet Grandma, Uncle Des and me when we all lived together at Melvile Place.”

“Where did Grandpa get him Mum, and why did he bring him home?” I ask.

“Your Grandpa met him at the barracks. Your Daddy was in the Army so he lived away from his family.” Mum answered sighing.

“But why did Grandpa bring him home?”

“Grandpa got along really well with Ralph, and he thought is was time I got married.”

“But who was living in our house if we weren’t there?”

“Our house was empty?” I try to imagine our house without us, but I can’t. Mum always says I’ll understand things when I get older. Maybe I will be able to imagine when I have my fifth birthday in November.

“So Grandpa brought him home from the barracks so you could get married and fetch me from the hospital?”

“Yes, that was his plan. He thought if he introduced us, it wouldn’t be long before Ralph asked me to marry him.”

“Grandpa’s clever isn’t he. Where were you when Daddy asked you to marry him?”

Well he started to ask me when we were sitting on the steps outside the house. But we were interrupted when ten workmen turned up with wheelbarrows spilling over with tools. They told us we would have to sit on the wall out of the way because the Corporation had sent them to turn the worn stone front doorstep.

Then they split up into twos and the younger men who were easily in their fifties dumped a pile of dry cement on the flagstones and went off to get some water to mix up the mortar they would need to reset the doorstep.

Two older men, wearing well worn grubby flat caps pulled down firmly on their heads, set up and lit their brazier and put a kettle on to boil so that they could make tea.

Two other men, almost as old as the tea makers, took their time putting up barricades at each end of the street and around the barrows and tools before they sat down to wait for the kettle to boil.

Two men erected a canvas shelter incase it rained then went and sat and lit up their Woodbine cigarettes and smoked with the group.

The two youngest men set to work loosening and then pulling out the step. The work went without a hitch until they rolled the stone over. They both started to laugh in surprise when they found that the underside of the stone was just as worn down as the top had been. ‘Well heck Gov come take a look! Seems like someone came years ago and did this job already.’

All the men strolled over to inspect the stone.

The Governor said ‘Bet they’ve all been done before.’ He told the young men to go next door and pull their step. Sure enough, that one had been turned too.

Ralph and I just sat on the wall and laughed while the men cursed.

Their Gov sent the two youngest and strongest men back down Hopwood lane with one wheelbarrow to fetch a new stone from the corporation works yard. He said, 'Pity all the young lads are off in the Army, I’ll take the both of you to push the barrow back up the hill.'

The rest of the crew knew it would take forever for the men to get their barrows back up the steep slope over the uneven cobblestones of Hopwood Lane.

While they were gone, the eight men sat around the brazier fire, drank tea, and smoked. ‘Well Lads’ the Gov said, ‘looks like were going to be on this job for a good few weeks.’

Ralph said he had something to ask me and suggested we go for a walk.

A few doors down Mrs. Neville came out with her pail, scrubbing brush and her Whitestone to do her front step. She was one of the last ones out this Monday morning. Most of the housewives had already scrubbed and decorated their steps with white or yellow stone. Some coated the top and front of the step; others like your Grandma just trimmed the edged. It was one of the few ways the women could stamp their individuality on the soot crusted Yorkshire stone terraced back-to-back houses that had woodwork all painted identical Corporation green.

Mrs. Neville nodded and said good morning.

I told her she might as well leave her step as the Corporation was going to be changing the stones.

She leaned out of her doorway and looked down the street. How long have they been there? she asked.

At least a couple of hours. Ralph told her, winking.

Have they done a step yet?


Well then, I may as well carry on. They’ll be here for a month at least, longer if they can swing it.

We carried on down to the Dusty Miller pub and went into the snug for a drink. Ralph bought me a half of shandy and he had a half of bitter.

When we had finished our drinks I said, Let’s get back to watch them put in the new step.

Ralph said, Nay Lass, they won’t have started yet. Have you never watched those old Corporation men work? Let’s have another half; I have something to ask you."

When he brought the drinks back from the bar, that’s when he asked me if I would marry him, and I said yes.

We walked down to the Corporation office and rented No. 28 so that I would still be near Grandma and Grandpa when Ralph was away with the Army.

In 1941 Ralph got permission from the Army and we married two months later, it was just after the men finished all the steps, and just before Ralph went off to France to fight in the war.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Fifteenth Birthday

Canada 2007. On my granddaughters fifteenth birthday I'm thinking back to my own very different fifteenth birthday. Halifax, Yorkshire 1958.


"No Mum, please don't." My heart pounds in my chest. My breath catches in my throat. Why is she doing this?

"You will do as I say. We will go together. You will sit quietly and I will do the talking."

Head down against the stinging November drizzle, I trudge behind her feeling crushed.
A touch of anger percolates through my misery. I wrote the letter. I didn't need her help with that. It was me they replied to setting an interview for this Saturday morning at ten o'clock.

"But Mum, everyone goes on their own, no one takes their Mummy with them."

"Well I don't intend for them to take advantage of you by offering you less money than you deserve."

"But I know how much office juniors get paid."

This is going to be a disaster, I know it. No one is going to give me a job if they think I need mummy with me.

The pretty young secretary asks us to take a seat and introduces herself. "I am Miss Green, Mr. Robinson's private secretary. I will check if he can see you now MissWebster."

The metal screws in her stiletto heels click and echo as she makes her way across her office to the Manager's door where she knocks gently before entering.

Mum leans over and whispers, "See how nicely she is dressed. Smart black pencil skirt and whiter than white blouse. You can see she isn't one of those mill girls in their dingy flowered overalls wrapped tightly to cover their skirts and blouses. Their hair up in curlers under their head scarfs."

Miss Green returns and shows us into Mr. Robinson's office. He looks confused. "Which one of you is here for the interview?"

I open my mouth to answer. Mum is faster "Deirdre is." She smiles at him.

He turns to me and tells me I wrote a very nice letter. "As you probably know, we usually only interview grammar school girls to work for our Ada washing machine division, but we made an exception because we were impressed."

"Thank you." Mum says. "Now, I have some questions."

Oh no, she isn't going to let me open my mouth. I'm going to be sitting here silently stupid. By the time she is through grilling him, I can tell by his face that he's none too pleased. Yet Mum goes on and on. When she stops to take a breath, he quickly stands up.

"Thank you for coming."

"When would you like her to start? Her birthday is on Friday, she can start then." Mum says.

"We will be in touch."

I can't get out of there fast enough. My face is burning with embarrassment and humiliation.

Mum smiles, "Well I think he knows where we stand. Maybe you should write some more letters in case he wasn't impressed with you and you don't get the job."

I didn't get to open my mouth. How could he be impressed with me. I could cry, I really wanted that job. Everyone says it is a good place to work. I'm not telling Mum that I got two more interview letters in the post. I will go to them after school on Monday. On my own. I'll just have to go in my school uniform. She'll never know the difference.

The next interview at Mixenden Mills General Office goes well and I am hired to start on my birthday, Friday. I will have my last day of school on Thursday. I can't believe I have to leave school. Mom won't let me stay on to take the new government school leaving certificate exams. She says she's supported me long enough, its time I earned my keep. Mr. Keenan my wonderful math teacher came to our house last week to try to get her to change her mind. She told him to mind his own business and my stepfather Ted threw him out. I can't believe he did that to my favorite teacher.

I still didn't get a letter from my first interview. I wish they had told me no, instead of leaving me in limbo. I'm know they won't offer me the job, but I wish they would. There isn't much time to turn down the Mixenden job and I haven't told Mum about it yet.


It's my first day at Mixenden Mills. I hate it. The two other women are nice to me, but the office is dark and gloomy. The furniture is old fashioned. I feel like a character in one of Charles Dickens' novels as I sit on a high stool at a ledger desk that runs along the wall under grimy windows that I can't see through. But worst of all, I only get to copy someone else's answers into the general ledger. There is nothing to think about. This is my worst birthday ever. By five o'clock I'm so bored I could scream.

The walk home takes quite a long time and its six thirty by the time I turn onto Gibbet Street. I'm surprised and pleased to see Miss Green, the manager's secretary from my first interview.

"Hello Deirdre, I heard you were starting a new job. Do you like it?"

"No its boring."

"Well then, can you come back to our office, without your Mum, for another interview?"

My heart flutters, "Yes, I only work half day on Saturday, I can come in then."

"I'll set it up for you to be there at 2:30 pm. Mr. Robinson was disappointed that he didn't get the opportunity to talk to you last time."

"Thank you." I'm ecstatic, and run the rest of the way home.

Mum is home before me and says, "Well you look happy, you must have enjoyed your first day. Tell me what you did."

"Oh, I just write numbers into a ledger."

"Well that's right up your alley, you always were good at math."

"I don't do any math. I just copy someone else's answers, Mum. It's not the same." I don't mention my new interview.


I got the job!

I proudly wear my first brand new shop bought dress with my lace up school shoes when I start my new three-pounds-a-week job as office junior. I still don't know why Mum wants me to be a secretary, there isn't much laughing or joking here. All the women have very busy jobs so I don't get much chance to ask questions.

The girl whose job I am taking over has been promoted to a different desk. She tells me she doesn't have time to train me, she says she hated being office junior. She makes me feel stupid when I try to explain that I've never used a telephone before. It is scary, I can't tell what people are saying.

Customers call from all over England from places that I've never heard of. The callers have strange accents that are distorted further by the static crackling and popping on the telephone line and I can't understand them. I can tell they are cross because their washing machines have broken down. They get annoyed when I ask them to spell out their address. I wish I didn't have to answer the phones. I'm not very good at it. But I like filing and retrieving all the warranty cards and the piles of letters that arrive every day from customers without phones who want us to repair their broken washing machines.

I wish Mum had let me go to work at Crossley's Carpets in the mill where I would have earned a lot more money. Each morning I walk slowly past the mill and breath in the hot oily smells and feel the exciting throb of the machines right up through the soles of my feet. In the evening on my way home, the men and women stream out of the gates laughing and joking. I wish I was one of them.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.