‘Don’t you think th….’ began the sentence – but I couldn’t hear the end of it. My colleague’s lips were moving and she was looking me in the eye, but the words were lost.
There was no music in the background and no-one nearby was shouting or being rowdy, but the hubbub of people surrounding us had rendered it impossible to hear what she’d said. I watched her mouth move as she continued her sentence and just focused on her face.
She was smiling at me as she spoke, and the light was hitting her hair at just the right angle, making it shine underneath the brown sunglasses that were casually pushed back on her head.
It was a nice moment to remember. She looked happy and was reminiscing about good times.
The noise that drowned the conversation was coming from the large number of people from the past and present of our Global Customer Operations Centre (GCSC) that had travelled from far and wide to attend its ‘wake’ at the pub and to say goodbye.
Many started their careers in ops (as we call it) and had gone on to well paid and successful jobs. Some had stayed and decided to make the GCSC their career. All however (without exception it seemed) had fond memories of the times they had spent together and wanted to share them with each other one last time.
Two hours beforehand most of us had been gathered together in the office and were listening to our centre director give a closing speech before finally leaving the building and relinquishing our security passes.
He’s often not particularly politically correct during his public addresses, which genuinely makes me titter. His unvarnished and direct approach to staff relations can cause quite a bit of mirth at times and I think its fair to say that everyone in the room, whether they knew it or not looked to him to set the tone of the occasion.
He didn’t disappoint. This moment, said our director, was not about him. It was about us – and he wasn’t wrong.
It was then, while looking through the lens of my camera, that I then realised it was impossible to choose a subject to focus on. The foreground of everything I pointed at was just as important as the background.
Rather than taking pictures for a few seconds I lowered the camera and started watching people’s faces as they listened to him talk.
The expressions, body language, posture, proximity and demeanour of everyone showed a connected and joined group who were less concerned with the loss of a job and more preoccupied with how they would remain connected to the person standing next to, behind, or in front of them.
As I saw the groans and belly laughs, or embarrassment and mock disapproval of the often ribald leg pulling coming from the front of the room I felt was looking at everything through a microscope. Revealed under its lenses were the strands of DNA that formed the last 16 years of my life and as I looked at them I saw how they mingled and combined to become something with a life and personality of it’s own.
I kept coming back to the same word that kept surfacing with everyone else when I talked to them.
As I sit now, looking at the photos of today I’m not drawn to the faces smiling at the camera – I’m instead transfixed by the glimpses of people in the background – unaware that they are in a photograph, and just being themselves.
Unusually, none of the photos I took today contain anyone looking unhappy. They’re all talking to someone – in many cases to people they may not have seen for many years – and nothing seems different. They’re all right back there in the moment that they first met as if nothing has changed.
I feel rather selfish though as I had dreaded today for reasons other than the fear of how such an ending would make me feel.
All week long emotional eating had been a challenge and I thought this occasion would end up being the ultimate test of willpower. Upon my arrival at the office yet more waffles from Amsterdam appeared alongside boxes of samosas and spring rolls from Birmingham.
By the time we reached the ‘wake’ there were chips as far as the eye could see, and plates of sandwiches that had been cut into handy face stuffing sized triangles.
The aroma of lager filled the pub and temptation lurked in EVERY corner – but when it came down to it the people all around me mattered more than the food, and I was so happy to see all of them that I didn’t eat a thing.
As I write there are tears in my eyes. I’m pushing them back but they aren’t going without a fight.
I still can’t think about food. Today so many of my friends hugged me and told me they would miss me, or that they loved me and wanted the best for me that I’m full up to the brim just with the thought them, and things they said or did.
When I left the pub in the early afternoon I felt subdued and overwhelmed by it all. My mind was empty and I didn’t know what else to say. I’d shaken more hands than a politician – but there the similarity ended.
I meant every word that I had said to the people on the end of them.
On the drive home the car was quiet to start with. Neither me or my suddenly ex-colleague (now he’s just my very excellent friend) knew what to say. It was almost like we’d been to a funeral and I know we both felt a sense of loss and more than a little hollow.
Then we started talking, and then we started laughing, and began again remembering everything from scratch. By the time we arrived at his house normality reigned, and his energetic children were soon running around the living room after a walk in the park.
It was his wife’s birthday and the house was full of energy as they readied themselves to go out for an evening meal.
He beckoned me to the fridge, laughing. When I leaned around the kitchen door he showed me the family’s latest talking point (names removed) designed to promote only the best behaviour in his youngsters.
Now I’m unemployed I might make a similar chart for myself to ensure I maintain all of the above (although I am getting pretty good with poos and thumb sucking lately).
The chart on his freezer door was in fact the perfect reminder that no matter how we feel now tomorrow life will go on, the world will continue to turn and we’ll all have new challenges and hurdles to overcome. We’ll have to try hard and be as good as we can be to get our stars.
If we’re really really good then there may be a reward at the end.
On reflection though I think that today I already received mine.
I didn’t suddenly lose loads of colleagues – I just gained a huge portfolio of lifelong friends.
(ponders for a moment)
A lady whose profile I have admired for many years mentioned today that she secretly hoped she would eventually appear in my blog and had waited patiently to see herself immortalised online.
It would be remiss of me, given the seemingly limitless hugs and pecks on the cheek I’ve received from her over the years to forget this fine woman, especially when I think about her parting words, which were both touching and reciprocated.
Consider yourself in my blog and thoughts xxx (hug)