I once had a dog which drove me nearly round the bend, and yet when something happened to him I was really gutted. I felt almost the same when my assistant Norman handed in his notice last Friday. I say almost, because at least Norman hadn’t been run over by a reversing corporation recycling lorry in thick fog.
I should have twigged something was up when he put on his best blazer and asked for an hour off to go to the chiropodist. He also mentioned twice in one week that he hadn’t had a pay-rise since 1984, and I hadn’t paid his national insurance stamp since 2009.
OK, I might not be the world’s most wonderful employer but I did give him a fortnight off on half- pay when he broke his leg abseiling down a church tower for charity, and I’ve paid for the elevenses Eccles cakes on a pretty regular basis since 1998.
Anyway, when I came back from lunch Norman handed me this letter addressed to “To Whom It May Concern”, which was pretty daft considering there’s been no-one in the shop but him and me since I took over from my dad in 1981.
The letter, which began: “Dear Sir,” officially gave me four weeks notice, and asked for his P45 and, (would you believe?), a reference. The formalities over, he told me he had been offered a job as acting assistant deputy manager of leisure footwear by our deadliest rival, the local branch of a massive sports goods chain, and as he had read somewhere that proactive marketing was here to stay, he felt it would be prudent to go somewhere that was actually doing it.
His wife also thought that I had exploited him and underpaid him for years and it was high time he found a job more suited to his undoubted abilities, whatever they might be.
They had also offered him four weeks’ paid holiday, a noncontributory pension scheme, opportunities for promotion, a discount on in-store purchases, subsidised canteen facilities and a place on the waiting list for the firm’s holiday chalet in Porthcawl.
“That’s all very well,” I said. “But you’ll have to buy your own Eccles cakes.”
When it seemed obvious that Norman (or his wife) had firmly made his up his mind up, I shook his hand, wished him all the best and gave him the bottle of Scotch I’d got from a pub raffle.
That evening I got to wondering whether Norman, who has led a pretty sheltered life, actually knew what it would be like to work for a massive conglomerate.
So I thought the least I could do was put him in touch with Kevin, my wife’s second cousin, who works in the swimwear department of the sports chain’s branch in the next town and who might give Norman an idea of what the was letting himself in for.
I can report that Norman took the bait and met Kevin in a cafe known locally as Botulism Joe’s where the tea tastes like hot petrol. Kevin soon got into his stride. Norman would of course be expected to wear trainers, not only at work but at home, too.
His superiors might even ring him during Coronation Street to make sure he hadn’t swapped them for his slippers.
At work he would wear a yellow blazer with his name on the pocket and be expected to order a sushi takeaway for lunch. After work he would be compelled to attend departmental seminars on organisational culture, loyalty overlap, the tall poppy syndrome and counselling out (that’s getting the sack.)
His boss was into amateur dramatics and would require Norman to attend the shows. He was about to play the Lion in The Wizard of Oz. If Norman claimed time off to go to the dentist, a supervisor would later check what dental work had been done and mark the fillings on a chart.
Attendance at the company’s football and cricket matches was compulsory so were bowling nights and country-dancing competitions. Self-defence and karate classes were encouraged - the CEO’s wife was a brown belt. A wheelbarrow race in the car park commemorated the chairman’s birthday.
When I arrived at the shop the following morning, Norman was sitting at the counter with his head in his hands. He said he hadn’t felt so depressed since Accrington Stanley were relegated and he felt he had made a terrible mistake.
After he had agreed to buy the doughnuts until at least the end of the month, I said he could have his job back on a probationary basis.
That evening I rang Kevin to congratulate him on his powers of imagination. Of course, I intend to keep my side of the bargain and give him a bottle of Scotch the moment I’ve found some way of getting it back from Norman