Last Friday, April Fool’s Day perhaps appropriately, marked thirty years to the day since I started working in local government. I joined Kingston Council all those years ago thinking that it would do me for a few months while I thought about what I really wanted to do with my life. I’ve moved local authorities a few times since then and returned; for 10 years now I’ve worked for both Kingston and Richmond. In 2014, also on 1st April, along with everyone else in children’s services in Kingston and Richmond, I TUPE-transferred out into our own new not-for-profit community interest company, to be owned and commissioned by the two councils. So whenever I’m in Kingston for work, I end up sitting at a desk which is about five metres away from where I sat back in 1992. That’s progress. But still, I remain glad that the only paid work I’ve undertaken in the last 30 years has been public service, which is much maligned nowadays, in no small part thanks to this utterly contemptible government of ours.
Friday was also the retirement day – therefore her leaving do in the evening – of a colleague whom I like(d) very much, for her dry wit as much as anything. You can’t survive for years in local government unless you have a penchant for drollery. I love leaving dos, because they are a chance to celebrate a working life well served, but also because they invariably draw old faces who haven’t been seen for some while. A bit like funerals but not quite as sad. Then there’s the booze, of course, as you can see from the picture of some eejit below. The poem below, which was published in Butcher’s Dog 8 in 2016 and then in The Evening Entertainment, was my attempt to make sense of such occasions.
The Leaving Do
You’re already ancient history:
for months you’ve been demob-happy
and senior management have less and less often
invited you to meetings or solicited your view;
so here you are yet again—though this time
unexpectedly for your turn—in the Fox and Hounds,
where your deputy reserved an area from 5pm:
you emailed every name in the corporate address book,
plus a few old faces who managed to escape before you;
anyone, basically, who might give a toss. After three jolly
Happy Hours, on an unknown but quaffable brand of fizz,
there’s a fair-sized turn-out considering it’s a school night.
Your team are patently delighted to be seeing you off,
though most dissemble from politeness. Some folk say
you’re going because you don’t think they’re good enough;
pronounce at the bar that you’ve been over-promoted.
One or two seem genuinely pleased to see you succeed.
Thus the evening develops into This is Your Life:
each vodka brings retirees looking so much chirpier
than before they left, and colleagues you’ve not seen
for yonks, fully reminding you why. That’s when
Vivienne from Finance appears at your elbow
and wells up unstoppably, as she’ll miss you ‘like mad’,
and you never, ever, even guessed.
10 thoughts on “On leaving dos and public service”
Love this. So true. And ‘This Is Your Life’ sent me happily down Memory Lane
Strange isn’t it, how we set off in life and somehow end up not far from where we started, despite our hopes and ambitions.
It is indeed. I envy those who when they were young had enough wits about them, and the means, to take charge of their lives somehow.
On the other hand, if you had lived that way would you still have become a poet? People with fixed plans don’t always have imagination. 🙂
Maybe. Hard to generalise, I suppose. I have an unpublished poem on the theme.
We will never know . . .
Great photo, Matthew! You really know how to party! And I agree about this government…
Thanks, Ali. It was a good night!
Not realising what you mean to certain people until you part from them – like the end of your poem – is so much a part of moving on! Managed 14 years in local government myself before moving into education (which is still ocal government I guess).
It certainly is, Dominic. Thanks very much for commenting, and it’s great that you’re in education.