Saturday, August 02, 2014

A Summary

There are many more posts I could write, each going through the next painful part of the leaving process in excruciating detail, but to save everyone any further distress I shall instead condense the events of  2010/11 into a handy table format!

What New Boss Said
My Response
I am here to restructure the county portfolio of properties. You are redundant.
It appears I am the only person to be effected by this county-wide restructure. I will talk to my union rep about this.
Still out on my arse.
It's not personal. It is the role of Visitor Services Manager that is redundant.
So why are the other two Visitor Services Managers at our two sister properties still in post?
Two Visitor Services Manager roles continued at our sister properties.
The tasks you used to perform will now be covered by a new role which is two grades higher than your current one.
Can I apply for that?
Applied for new position.
You were unsuccessful in your application. You didn't quite meet the criteria for a grade 6 employee.
Can I have training so that I meet the criteria of a grade 6 employee? I have been with the organisation for 14 years and am fearsomely bright.
They'd get back to me on that.
We need someone to start in this role immediately. We just don't have time to train you.
But I am already doing all the tasks the role requires!
The new position remained unfilled for a further six months. A colleague on the same grade as myself was given a grade 6 role. But that was different, apparently.
The stress of living in the property is too much for anyone. No one is to live there any more and you and your family must move out.
Can I remain to provide security cover for the house? I'd be happy to pay rent.
Still out on my arse. Another member of staff and his girlfriend moved into the house shortly after I left.
The member of staff and his girlfriend are only in the house as a temporary measure.
I'm not sure I believe a word you say.
Member of staff and his girlfriend remained in the house for a further two years.
I feel bad about this. I will take one of the holiday cottages off the market and you can rent it as a private tenant.
I feel better about this and gratefully accept your offer.
Moved two miles up the road.

Friday, February 21, 2014


"I can't believe he wrote that!"

"What did he say again?"

"Apparently I am negative, I hold the property back and I write offensive articles for the local magazine".

"But he wasn't even in post then!"

"No, but somehow something that happened nearly two years earlier has made its way into my annual review. Hmmmm."

It was that least wonderful time of the year. Those bleak winter closed months, with dead brown trees raking the grey skies with their clattering branches and summons to Personal Development Plan meetings with our respective line managers. This had been the first one since Lovely Boss had retired and I had been called upon to meet with Acting Manager to discuss my performance over the past 12 months and plan for my "personal development". It was quite a big deal, in that the rating you achieved would determine the percentage pay rise you would receive, if at all. You rated yourself, your line manager then gave their rating and the Area Manager would have the final decision as to what your score actually was, regardless of whether they had the slightest clue of what you did or who you were.

This year was particularly important as the newly appointed General Manager would be using these staff appraisals to influence his plans for the properties.

I was, therefore, understandably dismayed at the comments the Acting Manager had put on his review, which bore no resemblance at all to the meeting we'd had.  Since Lovely Boss had gone I'd been the only key rep on site, effectively on duty all day every day, yet instead of a thank you I'd been taken to task for my "negativity" in mentioning that I was tired and would like a day off now and then. Since Lovely Boss had gone there'd been nobody to run our shop, which had always been his "baby", so McColleague and I had voluntarily added this to our duties, kept it open, kept it stocked and made more of a profit from it than ever before and instead of a "well done" it was being put on record that I held the property back! None of it stood up to any sort of scrutiny and I had the facts, figures and feedback to prove it.

As for the article reference I could only guess as to who might have filled in Acting Manager on that one.

I took advice from the union and HR who confirmed that the Personal Development Plan should only cover the preceding 12 months and that objectives must be agreed between both parties. It should be entirely factual, covering results achieved and development needed to meet future objectives.

I asked Acting Manager to remove the offending and inaccurate comments from my review. He refused, claiming he was far too busy to discuss it with me in detail.

I, in return, refused to sign my PDP that year.

"I am doomed, McColleague," I lamented. "I can either sign it and agree that I am a negative nelly who just holds this place back or I can not sign it and look like a troublemaker. There's no way I can come out of this unscathed."

Poor McColleague could only look concerned and bring more tea. We both knew I was right.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Strings Attached

"I've read your posts on the intranet."

"Have you?"

"Yes, your thoughts on key rep issues are very interesting."

Here was an unexpected development in the evening. But while I was mildly intrigued by what the potential New Manager had to say about my opinions on key rep issues and exactly how he had come across them, I was more intrigued by the unopened bottle of wine on the next table. He, on the other hand, was almost insultingly keen to go and talk to Lovely Warden about biomass boilers. We concluded our enforced getting-to-know-you conversation and moved on to better prospects.  This bizarre evening was the beginning of the end and on some level I knew it. Not that I needed to be particularly gifted with insight or intuition. For a start, the Area Manager was sat opposite me, at the other end of the room, giving me the kind of stare that could put a frost on molten lava. I raised a glass, amiably, and gave him my biggest grin, the kind he'd want to see mounted on a spike outside the gatehouse. His thin lips twitched slightly in response. Could have been a smile, could have been wind.

Then there was the other candidate I chatted to between courses.

"So, what kind of things have you had to do on this three day interview?" I asked.

"Well, there've been group tasks, exercises, role plays."

"Really? What have you had to role play?"

"Oh, you know, difficult situations, dealing with challenging staff issues. We had one about a gardener who was key rep and having problems, for example."

"A gardener?"


"Not a visitor services manager?"


"And what happened in the end? In your role play?"

"I think we had to let him go."

"I see. More wine?"

As far as I was concerned all of this was an elaborate time and money wasting exercise. Our opinions on who was best suited to the role of General Manager at our property would influence the final decision not one jot. I felt sure they would appoint someone as far removed as possible from our troublesome, old school, rule breaking Lovely Boss, and  if that someone could also silence the mouthy bint in the manor house so much the better.

I was utterly unsurprised to discover that the baby faced biomass boiler fan and staff forum intranet lurker had been ultimately successful in his application, since the other candidates had actually spent time talking with me and hadn't already formed their opinions and long term strategy. I'm not saying you could actually see the strings but I am quite sure his long term aims included one day becoming a real boy.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A comment from the here and now

As I revisit the past many of the emotions I felt at the time resurface. We are now heading towards the last traumatic year of Stately Moans, most of which I spent fighting my inevitable defeat and trying to go on with the show so that the public and volunteers wouldn't suspect I was not 100% happy. 

It was a tough time, for me and my family. Blogging about it all is cathartic yet not without pain. On the plus side, the benefit of having waited a couple of years before writing it down is that I can reassure anyone reading this that everything worked out in the end. I found new paths to explore, ones that mean I am not currently freezing my bits off on a snowbound estate and unheated house while parents drag disinterested kids round a substandard Easter trail. No. I have a four day weekend, all the chocolate I can eat and the freedom to boot uninvited guests out of my garden. I can just go out, on a whim, whenever I like. Overnight if I choose! As it turned out there are many advantages to leaving the cult of conservation charity work. I took a bit of deprogramming but think I'm pretty much recovered now.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

(Nursery) Crime and Punishment

Those of you who have read my ramblings for some time will be familiar with the traumatic trail known as the Nursery Rhyme Walk. I had long harboured dark fantasies of taking a blowtorch to those badly painted and peeling boards featuring warped monstrosities from the Salvador Dali school of children's decor.

With the departure of Old Boss and the arrival of Acting Manager a window of opportunity had presented itself, under the guise of  change and improving the visitor experience. My proposal went somewhat as follows:

"Can we rework the existing walk and turn it into a nature trail?"

"There's nothing in the budget for a new trail."

"Not a problem, what I have in mind won't cost a thing."

"All right then."

A few days later saw myself, McColleague and Lovely Warden standing amid the forlorn Nursery Rhyme exhibits wondering just where to start. We were quivering with excitement, this moment had been anticipated so eagerly for so long.

In the end McColleague kick-started things. Take that, Little Pig. We hate you and everything you stand for.

Then it was the turn of the Three Little Pigs' houses. What the Big Bad Wolf couldn't achieve Lovely Warden most certainly could. Huffing and puffing is all very well but opposable thumbs and an ability to fling bits of wood a very long way is what's needed to top the food chain. It was all as deeply satisfying as we'd imagined it would be.

All too soon we found we'd demolished the whole walk. Humpty, Little Miss Muffet, Snow White and the rest of the mutants had been uprooted and flung into the abyss. We'd closed off the steep stairs of doom down to the swamp of despair and re-routed the walk entirely. No more would families with pushchairs find themselves confounded by uneven steps and tricky gates. Toddlers would no longer have to negotiate nettles and clouds of mosquitoes on their way to be terrified by what looked like Eeyore, if he was made of plastic and been left on a hot radiator for too long. Now they could stroll contentedly through our nature meadow and on down to the bird hide. They could even buy a bag of bird seed to take with them to top up the bird feeders if they so chose. Not only had we improved the walk for nothing, we had found a way to generate a tiny bit of income while improving the visitor experience.

This was surely a triumph and would look good on my annual review. You could almost smell the bonus.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Big Red

"So, you want to build a gingerbread cottage on the Nature Trail?"

"Yes. Just a temporary one. It's for my exciting new interactive Halloween event I have planned. I want to tell the children the story of Hansel and Gretel and have them actually discover this amazing house made of sweets and lollipops as we walk the trail. I want to inspire awe and wonder."

"I've got a shed, some off-cuts of wood and a bit of leftover paint."

"That'll do."

                                       *   *   *

A few days later saw myself, McColleague and Lovely Warden bringing these mundane entities together to create magic.

"Well, I don't know about you, but I think it looks amazing."

"Compared to the old Nursery Rhyme Trail a couple of garden gnomes and a plastic windmill would look amazing."

"True. But once we're in costume and the group are in the right frame of mind, I am quite sure this simple garden shed with painted bits of wood stuck to it will be utterly convincing as a magical gingerbread cottage in the woods. Don't look at me like that. It'll be fine."

The day of the event was a perfect October day, sunny and crisp. I planned to take three guided walks over the course of the afternoon, each one telling the tale of Hansel and Gretel.  I wanted it to be as interactive as possible, so the children were actually part of the story. So many guided walks and tours are hugely dull for adults, let alone children, and I wanted this to be anything but.

I was the story teller and guide, Big Red. I used to be Little Red Riding Hood, I informed the groups, but I grew. I had personal experience of these woods but not to worry, the big bad wolf wouldn't be bothering us today (at which point I showed them the wolf's head prop I had cunningly stashed in my wicker picnic basket.)

The picnic basket also contained a big bag of breadcrumbs which the children were encouraged to dip into so we could leave a trail just as Hansel and Gretel did and which would be obligingly eaten by ducks, sheep and, on at least one tour, a visitor's dog.

 McColleague was a part of each group, coming with us from the start, nonchalantly carrying a large shoulder bag. As we drew nearer the gingerbread shed I paused for a while in the orchard, to recreate Hansel and Gretel's fearful night in the woods. "Close your eyes," I instructed, "and listen. What sorts of noises can you hear? What sorts of noises do you think you might hear in the night?" Some of the children were entertainingly creative with their hoots, growls and comedy parps.

While all this was going on McColleague would leave the group and hurry on ahead to the shed, where she would complete an amazing transformation using only the contents of the big shoulder bag.

After sufficient time had passed I would move the group on to the next chapter of our story. Hansel and Gretel, tired and hungry, finally stumble across  a dwelling in a clearing. Hooray, they are saved! It looks like a shed, but no, it's a totally edible and completely realistic gingerbread house!

The children would eagerly gather round as I recounted the delight with which Hansel and Gretel broke off pieces of chocolate and biscuit and  gorged themselves silly. But what they didn't know was that in this house lived.....a witch!

And bang on cue McColleague would come flying out of the shed and chase the children, cackling madly. The kids never failed to shriek and run while their parents collapsed in laughter.

Eventually things would settle down again and we would finish the story, with Hansel being slowly fattened up and the short-sighted witch being fooled into thinking he was still too skinny to eat when he hands her a bone instead of his finger to squeeze through the bars of his cage. We re-enacted this with a small plastic dog bone from the pet shop as I didn't want to risk upsetting anybody with a real one.

The tale finally ended with clever Gretel tricking the witch and pushing her into her own oven. I did the pushing for this bit. Interaction is all well and good but knowing how keen over-stimulated children would be to shove a wicked witch headfirst into a painted fireplace I thought it best to cover this part of the roleplay myself so that McColleague and her pointy hat would survive to perform another day.

By 5 o'clock we were all interactived out.

"There aren't any more tours now, are there? Please tell me that was the last one. Please don't put me back in the shed."

"That was the last one, McColleague. All that remains now is to close up, cash up, put more lippy on, open the wine and partay."

I am a great believer in balancing hard work with an equally demanding level of play. Some people might say that having been on their feet all afternoon, talking non stop, having to do it all again tomorrow, they might prefer to have a quiet evening in on the sofa, resting. Those people are sensible and have probably never known the pain of having to open a visitor attraction the morning after with a head full of ball bearings. However, these people do not get to go to my after-event parties, so who's the real winner here? Answers in the comments, as per.

Big Red

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Key Reps and Regrades

In retrospect it was always going to end this way. I'd won a few battles in my time but ultimately I could never win the war. It was like David and Goliath, if Goliath had confiscated David's catapult, broken it, called a meeting about David's unreasonable behaviour, come to an agreement, shaken hands, waited for David to turn his back and then kicked him hard up the arse with sodding great hobnailed sandals on. 

Back in 2008 I had a meeting with the Area Manager, a semi-formal affair as a last step before submitting an official grievance. After the disagreement between us about whether Regional Committee members should be afforded unimpeded access to slurry pits or not our relationship had deteriorated further. I had requested a regrade as I was aware that other Visitor Services Managers in the area were all on a higher grade than me and I felt I deserved the same pay for doing the same job. My request was refused.  

I generated a lively discussion on the staff forum online on the issues facing key representative staff (staff who provide security cover at properties and live on site.) Opinion was divided. Some staff thought we should be grateful for the opportunity to live in these amazing houses and make the best of it, and they were right. Others thought we should be given a bit more support to have a private life and time off and they were also right. I was just happy it was finally being talked about.

Around that time the Undercover Doris incident occurred, when I was told to stop writing articles for the local magazine without any sort of discussion or explanation. I was terribly upset as writing was, and is, something I really enjoyed and I was inordinately proud of my own page in the local rag. 

The final straw came when I found a Needs Improvement Plan on my desk. I was distraught and asked Lovely Boss what on earth was going on? He said the Area Manager had made him do it. I put in a grievance.

I agreed to meet to discuss the issues to see if we could resolve things informally. 

We discussed the complaint from the Regional Committee member. He thought I should have provided better customer care, I thought I had done so by preventing death by slurry. 

We moved on to key rep issues. Perhaps, he suggested, I really wasn't suited to being a key rep. There was no shame in it, he said, it wasn't for everyone. Surely, I thought, looking at his David Cameron-like smug expression, this was a thinly veiled "if you don't like it you can leave"?  I stressed how much I loved my job and loved living in the house. I enjoyed being at the heart of the property. I'd just like some cover so I could leave it from time to time. And maybe a door - a curtain would suffice - to separate the open part of the house from my living quarters.

The article I had written came under review. I pointed out that I had been writing in the local magazine for three years and in that time this was the only complaint there had ever been. In contrast I had received dozens of compliments and positive feedback. Ah yes, he countered, but for every letter written there are another ten who do not write. 

"So let me get this straight. I'm being judged on letters that haven't been written? And even if your statistical claim is true," I continued, "then the numbers are still overwhelmingly in my favour."

I went on to inform the Area Manager that I absolutely would not be engaging with his Needs Improvement Plan as this was entirely unnecessary. A Needs Improvement Plan states that it exists to "help an individual raise their game and return to an acceptable level of performance." My performance was good, excellent even, as evidenced by my results, annual appraisals, visitor and colleague feedback. What, exactly, needed improvement?

The Area Manager insisted it was Lovely Boss's plan while Lovely Boss maintains to this day he was told to implement it by the Area Manager. This is an ongoing mystery which matters not one jot in the big scheme of things.

The meeting concluded with the Area Manager explaining that he would not support my regrade application as my role did not carry the same responsibility of my higher grade colleagues at neighbouring properties. Apparently it was all to do with the amount of money I handled, nothing to do with hours worked, decisions made, responsibilities for property, contents, visitors, volunteers or staff. No. The budgets I managed were not large enough. He told me that if I generated the income and built the business then I could be regraded.  

I took him at his word. I didn't pursue the grievance any further and over the next four years I went on to:
  • Increase visitor numbers from 22000 to 60000 a year
  • Increase visitor enjoyment by over 10% so that 74% of visitors rated their visit as Very Enjoyable
  • Develop successful new events and activities.
  • Implement new and enhanced interpretation and presentation across the site.
And so we reach this week's kerbclinger (it's like a cliffhanger only much, much smaller and less scary):

Did I get my regrade? Tune in next time to find out!