Saturday, 11 November 2017

Paula

On Wednesday, I travelled from Newbury, where I'm working at the moment, to Chester, to attend the memorial service just over the border in north Wales of Paula, a friend and old work colleague. Paula died a couple of weeks or so ago, aged 47, of a particularly nasty and aggressive form of brain and spine cancer. She leaves behind a husband, who spoke with outstanding dignity and courage at the service, a 9 year old son, and a large circle of family and friends.

Paula was a rarity - a good time girl (I don't think she'd mind me calling her that), a bon viveur, rarely to be found outside work without a large glass of wine, or a cigarette (or both), in her hand, and yet somebody with the ability to be a true listener. She was the person to whom I turned for comfort and an ear on a particularly grim night in January 2003, and her extraordinary forebearance through the early hours that evening created a debt I never really repaid during the 10 years or so we worked together, despite the many times she sent me to the bar for another round of drinks. I and countless others will miss her greatly.

After the memorial service we retired to a local hotel, where the mood was as sombre as you'd expect at first, but just as Paula always lightened the mood in life, so she did in death - there were upwards of 40 of her work colleagues in the room, most of us well-known to each other, and as the evening went on, so did the drinking and reminiscing. Much of it was about Paula naturally, but there was plenty of re-bonding going on; the evening was a throwback to the days when people in large organisations had local loyalties and friendships.

So many of those local ties seem to have disappeared now, and people's lives are the worse for it. Progress is inevitable of course, and these days that means in large organisations geographically dispersed teams, regular travel, hotdesking, working from home, and remote bosses. But I sense more than that - there's a depersonalisation at work, a lack of connection; engagement between individuals is at a purely functional, rather than at a human level. I could write a PhD thesis on the reasons for this (well I couldn't, but I'm sure an academic type could), but it seems to me there's no wonder in the fact people are stressed, demotivated, and disengaged. I must have talked to nearly 20 people on Wednesday who said "leaving Lloyds Bank was the best thing I've ever done". It's not fair to single Lloyds out of course - their modus operandi is shared by plenty of other big firms.

So kids, yes, maybe it was better in our day. Offices were places where it was ok to have a bit of fun while you worked hard. Maybe it went too far on occasions - the mummification of Ian 'Fish' Fisher at Lloyds Leasing in 1990 with a roll of sellotape while he was on the phone to an important client being a case in point. But it was - literally - painfully funny; a Friday afternoon prank in the days when we were normally too squiffy to do anything constructive after 2pm on a Friday.

Wednesday brought incidents like this, and all that went with them, back to mind. If some of us in the room that evening are reminded to try to re-create a fraction of that fun and lightness of being in our new workplaces - and our lives - as a result of our semi-drunken reflections, then I think that's a reasonable contribution to keeping the memory of Paula alive. RIP Paula - Rejoice In Partying.

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