Ladies Who Lunch

January 11, 2008 at 8:53 am Leave a comment

;oose women

Since I have worked in Shameless (see earlier entries), in a plane-proof building near Manchester Airport, I have always shared my lunchtime with an ever-evolving group of ladies of a certain age. My ladies who lunch.

As an aside, the fact that the office was supposedly “plane-proof” was quite reassuring when I first moved up from London all those many years ago. For about five minutes. The building is on the flight path. The landing path in fact. And, in the event of a crash it would be on the crash path. And, I was working on the third floor. The top floor. The floor over which all the planes skimmed on their way into land. It was a bit disconcerting and, therefore, somewhat reassuring to hear the office described as “plane-proof”. Until it was explained to me exactly what that phrase meant.

In the old days, before the onset of outsourcing, and off-shoring, the Shameless office used to house the company mainframe systems (they are now in Prague and Bangalore). The systems were in the basement. Underground. In the event of an aircraft crashing onto the roof of the building, it is designed to collapse in on itself to form a protective layer of rubble, debris, and, presumably, dead employees over the mainframes so that they could carry on working without interruption. Even during the recovery of the bodies. So, not so reassuring after all.

Incidentally, and as another aside, the company’s Danish headquarters, in Copenhagen, used to be Nazi headquarters during the Second World War. Not out of choice you understand. In any case, as Nazi headquarters it was an obvious target for Allied bombing raids. Those canny (this being the mildest word that I could have used, believe me) Germans knew this of course and decided to protect themselves by letting it be known that Allied Prisoners of War were housed in the building’s upper storeys. A latter-day human shield. I am glad to report, however, that us even-cannier Brits responded by developing a new type of bombing attack (using the Mosquito bomber) which enabled buildings to be struck from the side in such a way that the upper storeys would collapse down, relatively intact. Hmmnn. Risky, but apparently it did work.

Anyhow, the ladies that I have lunched with over the years (though they will have called it “dinner”, being good northern lasses) have been a frequent source of inspiration, sometimes frustration, often information, and, always, entertainment. Sharing lunch breaks with them is like living through an episode of Loose Women on HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy). Most are good Manchester stock, living fairly close to Shameless. Fairly close to where they were born, went to school, got married, had kids, and worked. Most have worked for the company for a number of years. Woman and child. Child and mother. A number of years brutally interrupted when they were outsourced for three years before being insourced back following the collapse of the outsource relationship. My advice would be to avoid EDS like the plague.

I have always respected these ladies. They are all doers. They come to work. They do their jobs, diligently. They go home. They take their pay. And, they get on with their lives outside of work. They have a job rather than a career, because they have other things in their lives that are more important to them. Family. Kids. Elderly relatives to care for. Pets. Hobbies. Lives.

Lunchtimes have always been entertaining. Not least because of the food, which is, frankly, appalling. Fridays is always battered fish or breaded fish, chips, mushy peas or garden peas and gravy. Gravy! With battered fish? Is it a northern thing? Spotted dick. Manchester Tart (it is a dessert). Bland salad options. Boiled liver. And “vegetarian chilli con carne” (con carne means with meat!). Chips, chips and more chips. Well at least it is free. But most of the entertainment has come from these amazing characters themselves.

“Riz”, a miniscule, pocket-sized bundle of humour and inner strength. A single-mom. A traditionally-attired Muslim, with a broad Glaswegian accent and an even bigger heart. This lady is indomitable. She survived a violent husband, sleeping in a single room with her child, with drug dealers for neighbours. She never missed a day’s work and managed to make a new life for herself back in Glasgow, where I understand she and her son are now thriving. She never stopped smiling. She never stopped helping those around her.

“Julie B”, who started in the mailroom. There is almost a mythology around that clique of people who started in the mailroom. I suspect that there was something quite suspicious about what they put in the mailroom tea. Anyhow, “Julie B” started in the mailroom about 35 years ago and I suspect that is where she developed her wonderful cynicism and particular view of the world. The spectacles that “Julie B” wears are not exactly rose-tinted for sure. Again, “Julie B” is a survivor who over the years has tended to sick parents, neighbours and cared for her siblings. “Julie B” has a story about everything and the ambition to share them all with you. Whatever you have done, “Julie B” knows someone who has done it earlier, bigger, better, and more often. That someone is, more often than not her brother, upon who she dotes. If you have an illness or have been the victim of bad luck, then “Julie B” will know someone who has had it worse and is pleased to tell you how bad things could still get. “Julie B” also has a huge heart and a wonderful sense of humour. She is totally self-effacing and would do anything for you.

“Fiona” is the youngster on the block. She has been with the group for almost as long as I have. She has the art of smoking down to a tee. She can complete her cigarette in the exact time that it takes to walk from the office to the canteen (they would like us to call it a restaurant but that is a bit too grandiose). Again, “Fiona” has a heart of gold and, for many years has brought up her (ex) boyfriend’s young child in very difficult circumstances. She has a certain innocence and I delight in making her blush. So, it maybe was a mistake on her part to let me know that she recently got locked in the bedroom after a night of passion with her new feller. Of course, I was totally discreet and haven’t told a soul….

“Kath”, cat-hater with her “senior moments”, hot flushes, amazing shopping and party tips. Let me tell you, it isn’t a true party unless “Kath” is there with her musical cake slice from the Pound Shop; “Susan” with her filthy sense of humour, “interesting” home life, amazing hobbies, and crap cars; “Anita” with her belligerence and self-confessed Alzheimer’s; the two “Pauline”s……..there are far too many to detail here. The group has changed over the years as people have moved jobs or left the company or gone to circumnavigate the globe in a yacht. Please do not be offended if I haven’t mentioned you here. And, please don’t be offended if I have. You will all be in the book if it ever gets published, unless you bribe or blackmail me that is.

As I prepare to leave the company myself, and as I am in the office less and less I do not have the same opportunity to share their company, I realise that I will miss them all very much. Thank you ladies. Thank you all. You have been from time to time my informants, my confidantes, my counsellors, and my friends. You have kept me going through the tough times. You have made me laugh. And, you have inspired me. I wish you and yours good luck and every happiness. You deserve it.

Anyone for lunch?








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