Saturday, December 31, 2011

Seeing off the year

I realised that if I didn’t write something today then there wouldn’t be an entry for December 2011, which would be a shame. What has happened to this blog, once a goldmine of every kind of creative outpouring?

I blame Facebook. This blog used to have everything from single-line pensées to longer pieces like this. Nowadays the shorter stuff goes on to Facebook, which is where most of its likely readers are anyway (those who aren’t, get over there; chances are good that I know (of) you so I’ll accept Friend requests) and it’s much easier to share and interact and generally carry on the conversation. Of course I could put it here and stick a link in Facebook – but even then, all the carry-on and carry-over stuff would probably stay on Facebook. So there it goes.

Don’t get me started on Google +.

So anyway. 2011.

The downs immediately come to mind, but there were ups too. A couple of very enjoyable holidays in Vence, Provence, France and in Sweden; singing in Messiah; a nicely lucrative slice of ghostwriting; and Bonusbarn finally entered the wonderful world of higher education. Of course, being Bonusbarn, he couldn’t do this the easy way, i.e. embrace the system that is there to help him, No, no. Of his first two choices he put the one he actually wanted second; and when he got offers from both of them, he declined the first one when he should have asked them to reject him, which meant he automatically went into clearing and officially had no offers at all. Ho hum. But it all worked out.

The biggest downs of 2011 are that I started the year having no friends with cancer and ended with two. More accurately, I suppose, they both probably had it a year ago but it was only diagnosed in the intervening months. No further reports to add on this – consider it a work in progress, and as one of them so eloquently expresses it, “poo to Mr Crab”.

What made the biggest impact on me was being made redundant halfway through the year. Previously I had been quite enthusiastic about the new marketing regime but I underestimated their desire to sweep clean. I wasn’t the target and was merely caught by the edge of the broom, as shown by the fact that they wanted to keep me on as a freelance provider. There was no malice involved; it’s just that being marketing types with no grasp of the small details, minds too full of the big picture, it was handled so ineptly that I had to think very hard about whether I really wanted to stay. I should have remembered my previous conviction that marketing is like the church and the military: you want it on your side but it should never ever be given power.

The redundancy offer was statutory but still generous, so the pressure to find work immediately was off. This also coincided with the start of the ghostwriting, which got me the equivalent of a novel advance for a month’s work. So I gave the old place the benefit of the doubt and signed a contract that would guarantee five days work a month; more important, it guaranteed I would be paid for five days a month. If I didn’t do five days, well, I could owe them a bit more work the next month.

All well and good, until they insisted on me billing them for July, in which month I had had a two hour meeting and that was all. At one stroke, I owed them nearly a month’s work, and they carried on persistently not using me. I had seven years’ experience that could have helped in so many ways, but no, I was the tool kept on the shelf for when they wanted some scribbling, or for when a job was too boring to waste the salaried staff on it.

Outside of the old place, I honestly intended to give the freelance life a workout, but external factors conspired to convince me that it isn’t for me. I had several leads, all given to me by people I trust and who had proven experience that these leads should work … but this is Austerity Britain and No One is Hiring. Not one of those leads actually led to anything. Sure, I could have done more – actively tout my CV around the numerous science parks that dot our landscape in this part of the world – and perhaps I would have if I really had no choice. But the thought of doing that for the rest of my life … no. Just, no. At the old place I was doing more than just writing: I was engaged on many levels; I was contributing to an enterprise I really believed in. I wanted that back.

The most enthusiastic proponents of the freelance life – the two people I was reporting to at the old place, both of whom coincidentally had well-paid fulltime jobs – tried to assure me that freelancing is wonderful and rewarding, you can choose how much work to do … well, maybe on the fees they get, but at my level you need to keep working regardless. You might also think, might you not, that with all this free time on my hands, the extracurricular writing career would burgeon? Well, no, not really, because I don’t currently have any work under contract. It’s all on spec at the moment, and when you’re writing on spec, you’re not earning. So, no. The writing suffered too.

I know successful freelancing is possible, even in my sort of field, because I know people who do it and enjoy it; but none of them as far as I know had it thrust on them at a moment's notice. I lacked the patience and the willpower to tighten the belt for the next few years to make something happen.

And then, out of the blue, along came the dreamed-for job ad – a maker of scientific instruments that required someone with just about my full skill set. Sent off the CV, got a call that same evening inviting me to an interview, got sent an editing test, got invited to a second interview, came away convinced I’d blown it and then got invited back. Terminating my freelance contract requires two months’ notice, so for the time being I’m on three days a week until I can go fulltime at the end of February. The old place should squeeze one more newsletter out of me, and quite probably a quarterly report too, if they have any sense.

So, I finish the year in an unexpectedly different place to where I started it, but no hard feelings. I have a student stepson, an added arrow to my writing bow that wasn’t there before, and my wife is lovely as ever. Happy new year, and poo to Mr Crab.