For those of you who don’t know me and are just here for the food, welcome! I’ve been here at Council for a while, almost exactly six years. Not as long as some of you; but to others I’m like the Oracle of Delphi. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll know someone who will.
As you all know, I am guaranteed to cry, so let’s just accept that now and I’ll muddle through this as best I can. If all else fails, I’ll do an interpretative dance.
This is going to be hard for me to do, because as some of you know, working at Nillumbik nearly broke me and my marriage to Dan. So here are some memes to make you laugh through this bit.
Working as an EA or PA, your life is dependent on the symbiotic relationship you have with your Manager.
Three weeks after I started working here, I met with CC and Mr T, lately of this parish, to ask WTF had I done? I’d left a job I loved, with colleagues I loved to work closer to home and was working for someone who did literally nothing and also had no idea how to mange anyone. When I asked ‘How are you today?’ his answer would govern my whole day.
Somehow, I muddled through, joining committees and starting up AdminChat, offering help across the organisation where I could so I had stuff to do to fill my days. My mental health and in turn marriage began to suffer. Several people along the way helped hold me up, not least J – whose opinion of me i valued over everybody’s else on the Management team, and still do. When R left, J was asked to step into the role; at our first meeting, he said ‘I’ve never had a PA before, what do I do?’
J’s life is compartmentalised into work and home; he’s cautious about letting life spill between the two. J is also not the most loquacious of people, so we worked our way out of how to work together through Doctor Who (I’ve met two of them) and working through issues logically and systematically as that is how our brains work.
Officially I’ve lived in Greensborough for longer than I’ve lived anywhere else since I left home twenty five years ago, I’ve moved house over twenty times.
When you look at my CV, it can look like a shemozzle too, because I’ve done there, been that, living in a seaside town, being a chamber maid is a rite of passage; I’ve been a bar maid, worked in a warehouse; I’ve even done silver service, although not successfully. I’ve worked in retail, including a book shop (so – no I didn’t take home much money); memorably opening at midnight for the release of the Order of the Phoenix which may or may not have caused a sense of humour failure when I was still in the shop 18 solid hours later. At that same bookshop in Winchester, I played it cool and chatted to Colin Firth about Rohinton Mistry’s books. I may or may not have photocopied his EFTPOS receipt for his signature.
I worked for the Civil Service in the UK over three different training camps. Spending the longest time at Army Training Regiment, Winchester one of their basic training camps. I looked after A-Squadron; supporting a Major, Captain and two Warrant Officers in the office, and six other Captains with their staff as they trained the recruits. Across the camp, every two weeks, a new intake started for the twelve-week course, a sausage factory of people turning into lean, green, fighting machines.
[There is a point to all of this, I promise].
I sat in a little office with D, the payroll clerk for the unit, the two of us surrounded by paper, listening to Radio 2 all day. Recruits would arrive, followed by greats sheafs of paperwork. They’d either stay and create more paperwork that would continue to follow them through their careers: or leave and I’d have to generate and process their discharge paperwork, closing their files. This was also where I watched my signature get smaller and smaller as I signed my name hundreds of times a day.
D was painfully shy; he wouldn’t even blow his nose in front of me – he’d always excuse himself to the bathroom first. Can you imagine him being in a room with me for eight hours a day? The poor boy.
Watching Pass-Out parades of recruits every other Friday was both joyous and heart-wrenching at the same time. It was a whole festival to celebrate the hard work they’d done, with the recruits doing various displays to show off their fitness, skills and confidence to family and friends. Just after 12pm, family and friends would sit down in bleachers, staff would appear from all over the camp, leaning over the back wall of the seating, listening to the excited murmurs underneath us. A full marching band would put on a display, assemble at the back of the square, then the Sergeant Major would shout, “By the riiiiight! Quick, March!” The drums would start and the recruits who’d changed into their second dress, all polished boots and brass buttons, would march on to the parade square.
I’ve worked here for longer than I’ve worked for anywhere else. The job I had the longest before now was at the Sovereign Centre; everything I learnt about team work stems from working in that busy leisure centre.
Staff training sessions were a hot mess of hangovers, running scenarios with casualties all over the building, most of us in hysterics and us practicing CPR until your arms were on fire and knees your have given way. I learnt more about customer service and tact and diplomacy by rebooking over a thousand children into swimming lessons, navigating the endless expectations of their parents and the children’s diary commitments, until (unbelievably obnoxious serial complainant residents) arrived in my inbox.
But I’ve been on poolside and fished people out. Knowing that if you have to go in for a rescue, your colleagues would have your back to clear the pool.
I’ve done CPR and broken ribs to keep someone going long enough for an ambulance to get to them.
I’ve taught ladies to swim, who thought they’d be the ones looking after handbags for the rest of their lives.
People I worked with at the Sovereign Centre came to our wedding, I still email and message D and other people I worked with at the ATR. Also at our wedding were a couple who gave me a spare room rent free for a few months when my first marriage ended. I spoke with Furriner on her first day back at work after burying her father, I walked into the lunch room and unknowingly, I told her she looked like she needed a hug, so I gave her a hug. I reciprocated the love and care my best friend W gave to me in entrusting her two children to me after we met on poolside over twenty years ago, and made her Archie’s god-mother. His god-father is Hubs’ best friend, who joined the Australian Army on the same day as Dan, again over twenty years ago.
Here we come to the point of all this.
I share these memories of my life with you, because people you meet at work shape your lives in hundreds of ways, day in, day out. I lived in Winchester, working at Waterstones and the ATR for just a couple of years; can you imagine what I’m going to be able to tell people about working at Council for six years? What we’ve done, built, created, the people we’ve helped along the way?
At my interview, I said I wanted to work for Council because I firmly believe we provide services, opportunity, art, facilities for people who want to access them, but don’t have the money to. But I’m done with residents complaining because they think moving a car park would ruin the aesthetic of a playground; or residents complaining because we take time out to celebrate IDAHOBIT, health initiatives, prevention of violence and that is before we get to the Not In My Backyard NIMBYish attitude of people who want to subdivide their land to make money, but don’t want their new neighbours to build on it.
But, I still believe that and I’m proud to have worked here. But now I’m prouder of the friends I’ve made that will be with me for life.