Lesson 100 Surplus to Requirements

Lesson 100 on Learning what lasts

Early retirement is something that isn’t likely to be offered to another generation.  But it happened to a whole cohort of teachers in the mid-nineties.  It was something to do with the Teachers’ Pension Fund.  It couldn’t afford to keep going as it was, so we were offered the choice to go then and there, or keep working until whatever time in the future the pensionable age might be.

Normally I was very, very cautious of anything that threatened my nice regular salary, but suddenly I felt certain I had to take the chance and go.

But when you unexpectedly become surplus to workforce requirements, it makes you think.  All the work, effort, study and training you put into your career counts for nothing.  Nobody needs any of it any more.

It reminded me of when we culled the stock in the college library. All those books that people struggled to write, putting down the ideas they really cared about, probably giving up hours of time with their friends and families to do so.  And there we were, bagging them up and throwing them away.  Surplus to requirements.

Retirement, early or otherwise, makes you wonder what, if anything, was worthwhile about what you did.

I could only come up with one thing. For a few people at a certain time in their lives, I was able to make things a bit better.  Perhaps they are out there somewhere now, enjoying their lives a little bit more, because of it.

Now that’s something that doesn’t get thrown away on the professional rubbish heap.

Lesson 87. Summertime and the Living is Easy

Lesson 87 on The application of theory

It was a wonderful day today.  The sky was cloudless, clear and blue.  The temperature reached 29.8° in the shade.  So, in the interests of research, I decide to grade our beach bars.

Two of these are situated side by side, so they share the same situation and view. They’re both clean and the kitchens can bear inspection. The first however is very good with areas of excellence, while the other is satisfactory, with areas of good.

What makes the difference?  Simply the culture of the place and the attitude of the staff.

I would say it’s pretty certain that the staff in both establishments are on minimum wage and work long hours. They all have to deal with a wide range of clients, some of whom are extremely tiresome.

Yet in my good/excellent bar the atmosphere is always welcoming and cheerful. The staff smile and chat. They show an interest in your welfare.  They are always on the lookout for whoever needs attention.  When things are quiet they get on with routine tasks. They don’t hang around behind the bar and chat amongst themselves or lounge around texting on their phones.

Every season new staff join from a range of backgrounds – Irish, Polish, Russian – yet within a few days they are inducted into the ethos of the establishment.  They are cheerful, good-natured, calm under pressure, and focused on the clients’ requirements. They work as a team, helping out where anything needs doing, even if it isn’t specifically “their” job.

The second bar has a local staff, who turn up every season.  They never make any changes or improvements, but they are pleasant and polite. They serve you reasonably quickly. They are quite helpful when you wave at them for attention. But they hide in the background most of the time, watching the sport on television, with forays outside to bring dishes or drinks to the table.  They don’t give much appearance of interest in their clients, though they don’t bear them any ill-will. They do smile at them from time to time.

There is, however, a third bar which I would have to fail. It is a very attractive garden bar, which fancies itself a cut above the rest, newly refurbished and very clean, with a sparkling kitchen.  But, oh dear, what a disaster area when it comes to the staff and the atmosphere.

The manager has a face that would sour milk. No attempt seems to have been made to organise or train staff. They just wander around until they fall over a customer, then they have to go off and ask for help because they have some problem with the order, or they don’t know how to use the credit card machine to pay the bill.

When things get pressured the manager rushes around in a martyred fashion trying to do everything herself.  Then she turns around and blames the young, inexperienced staff, who have been hanging about or hiding, because nobody has ever explained to them clearly what they are meant to do. Then they get miserable and resentful and the service gets even worse.

But at least I can comfort myself that I am only relying on these services for a drink and a bit of harmless entertainment.

I can also relax in the confidence that natural justice will triumph, and, by the end of the season, the superficially adequate but totally uncaring garden bar will have closed its doors for good, while my two favourites will be waiting for me when the next summer season comes around.