When I left school in the summer of 1985 aged 16, with virtually no qualifications, I did not think for one minute, that I would be returning there exactly half of my life later. However, faced with the awkward decision of which direction my life should take, in my early thirties, I decided that education by the conventional definition, was an area which I needed to do some work on.
Sixteen years of meaningful travel, interspersed by meaningless employment was all good and well but how employable was I? I was posed with the age old question of, what do I actually want to do with my life? I mused over this for some time before deciding to apply to universities, in a bid to escape from this question for another three years.
Not realising, what a joke the university system had become, I assumed that I did not have a cat in hells chance of gaining entry. However, it turns out that the entry requirement for me, was to write an essay on how my life experiences, travel and living abroad would qualify me for academic study. I wrote this lying on a beach in Dahab, Egypt and then typed up and emailed it from a beach side Internet cafe. I had just spent the previous five years living in Holland and was returning to England's fair shores via the Middle East. It all seemed rather fitting that I should be returning to Israel, as this was the first country that I properly travelled to, back in 1989. By the time I returned to England via, Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Turkey, I had gained entry into John Moores University, Liverpool, aged 32.
For the next three years, I studied hard and for the first time in my life I had confidence and more importantly interest, in what I was doing. It took me only a few weeks to realise that the level of education in the UK had dropped tremendously. I was not expecting Cambridge or Oxford but by the same token I was not expecting the lectures to resemble a chimps tea party, with students throwing stuff at each other across the classroom. Despite my thoughts over this issue, I was still happy to leave university with a first class honours degree in Geography. An achievement that I would not have dreamt possible upon leaving school, all those years ago.
In May 2004, the following events happen. I leave university, I start in the world of employment, I split up with my girlfriend and I have to leave my house. In the confusion that is my life at this time, I take the first job that I am offered. This is not what I want but it is my introduction into the world of office work. It is my intention to find another, better job as soon as possible.Of course, this does not happen and I end up staying at the company for 2 years. The job is in logistics, although my only qualifiable skill, is the fact that I speak Dutch. Who would have thought that my linguistic efforts would have reaped a reward, all those years later? I go to university for three years to learn Geography and then get a job based on the fact that I speak Dutch.
Now, I am not a material man in any sense of the word. I lack nothing in my life and am very content with what I have. These are values that my family taught me and for which I am very grateful. I also attribute my non-materialistic ideals to years of travelling. If there is one thing that travelling has taught me (and there are lots), it is that there are very few things that a person actually needs in this life. In current times, most people seem to have lost sight of what is actually important. We fill our lives with possessions in an attempt to make ourselves happy, when in actual fact they only pose to make our life's more cumbersome. When you travel a lot to other countries, it becomes blatantly obvious, that the happiest people that you meet are generally those that have the least. With this in mind, it's a mystery to me why I would ever decide to get a job within a multi-national petroleum company but this I do and the consequences of my misguided actions will be forever documented in this story, least I am ever that foolish again.
I leave the logistics company in July 2006 and after a nice little trip to Athens, followed by some island hopping around the Greek Isles (travel is my indulgence), I start a job for Esso in Manchester. Once again, the job is based on the fact that I speak Dutch. The moment I walk into the office I know that I am going to hate this job and I am not wrong. The fact that I am to pray for the traffic lights to be on red, whilst driving to work for the next six months is testament to this fact.
The demographic of the Esso staff is, young, upwardly mobile, stand on your toes to get where they want nobhead. Combine this with the fact that I have no clue what I am doing and the person training me seems to have even less of a clue than me, and you have an idea why I feel like a fish out of water. My role within the company is that of dry stock management for all of the Esso petrol stations in Belgium. This may sound a lot but actually amounts to around 60.
Dry stock, refers to all the stuff that the Esso supermarket sells that is not wet, stuff like chocolate, drinks, maps etc. It is my job to look at the weekly inventory reports and use a computer program called SAP to enable me to work out what has happened to any missing stock. It is a job that involves thousands upon thousands of numbers, hundreds upon hundreds of spreadsheets, and far to many acronyms. In effect, this means that I have to look at thousands of meaningless (to me) numbers and try to work out why 500 cans of Red Bull went missing in a Brussels petrol station on a Tuesday afternoon in July. In that particular case, it turned out that a bunch of gypsies stole the lot when the guy behind the counter went to the toilet and did not follow procedures i.e. lock the door. I puzzled myself over this one for days before the manager of the petrol station rang me up and told me what he had just witnessed on CCTV. I had already run my report by this time and put the loss down to waste (as if 500 cans of Red Bull are going to be wasted). This is a little insight into why I was not suited to this job.
I last at the job for almost 6 months, although it feels like I am there for a lifetime. I am so totally inept at my job that I end up burning the midnight oil on almost a daily basis in an attempt to cover up my own futility. It also interfered with my viewing of the world cup (Germany 2006), which to me is sacrilege. I have avidly watched every world cup since Argentina 78, when Archie Gemmill scored his wonder goal against the Argentines (forever immortalised in the film Trainspotting).
I am even flown to Belgium to check out my petrol stations and generally have a jolly on the company expenses. On my first night, whilst drinking quality beers in a Brown cafe (traditional Belgium drinking establishment), I manage to alienate myself against the whole accountancy department by asking them "is accountancy not incredibly boring"?. I mean, what? - I was only asking!
My demise is finally sealed when I am summoned to a meeting and asked why I have got an 8010 on two of my Belgium sites. Erm, hold on a minute, I think -tell me what one is and I may get back to you. It turns out that I am only the second person to achieve an 8010 in the five year existence of dry stock management. Until, it is fully explained to me, I am not sure whether I am up for an Oscar or the boot. An 8010, for those that are interested (certainly not me), is the code for a site which has had a severe loss of stock for three consecutive months. I have managed this, with not one but two of my Belgium motorway sites. They eventually get a crack team in to help me investigate the sites and we find out that mass theft as been going on since long before I arrived. I am sort of used as a scapegoat I guess. Anyway, this is the straw that breaks the camels back and I am fortunately given my P45 (fired).
At least this means that I will never have to endure another Esso Oscars ceremony (they seriously do that shit). The big boss, whose name I probably should not write, dresses up like a pilot and conducts the whole evening as though we are all sat on a fucking aeroplane. I mean, for Christ's sake, no wonder the latest financial crash happened if all the companies are acting like imbeciles on company expenses. Watching the applauding masses, as those passengers that excelled in making Esso millions of pounds, approach the stage, was akin to watching a bunch of seals as the zoo keeper throws them another fish.
During my time at Esso, incidents that are worthy of a story are few and far between. I mean what can you expect in an environment where they have an annual Oscars ceremony and a weekly gathering on the 11th floor, where everybody can blow smoke up each others arses with little shame? However, during my first week at the company, I am subjected to something, which to me is so incredibly cringe worthy that I feel I need to share it.
Despite studying Information Technology for a year upon leaving school, in the infancy of this profession, as it happens. I am by no stretch of the imagination competent with computers. There was a time when I thought that reaching level 10 on Chuckie Egg, qualified me for the title of computer expert. However, technology passed me by in the 90s and I became something of a Luddite. Which is probably the reason why I missed an important email from the big boss "this is your captain speaking", summoning me to an introductory meeting. I am in the kitchen getting everybody coffee's (something I seemed to do a lot of during my time there (to try and hide my inadequacies in other areas), when my team leader says "What are you doing here?, you were supposed to be in a meeting on the 5th floor 10 minutes ago". Hastily I descend one floor with a gusto that I am never to rival again during my time at Esso, except when I am leaving the car park at night.
I walk into a packed room which is laid out in a horseshoe formation. At one end there is a big screen, in front of which, the big man is giving a speech. My entrance into the room, temporarily arrests his conversation as he turns and casts me a frightful glare, "Excuse me", he interjects, "this meeting, has been in progress for over 10 minutes, can you please take a seat". If I thought I was going to sneak into the meeting unnoticed, I was sadly mistaken. At least 20 heads turn around to investigate, who this idiot is, who dares to turn up late for such an important meeting. I nervously wave at my audience and take the only available seat. It does not take me too long to wish that I never bothered.
The meeting lasts for around 40 minutes in total, although thankfully I only manage to catch the last 30. The subject of the meeting is, how fantastic Esso petrol stations are and how we, the general populous could not survive without their amazing services to humanity. The presentation, is full of forecasts, predictions, mind boggling figures and other such totally inane subject matter. I am so flabbergasted at the blatant self absorption of the speech, that I spend the majority of the time with my head spinning around in a meerkat like fashion, to try and read the other peoples expressions. This only confuses me more because everybody else seems to be, either seriously taken in by the figures or better at hiding their disgust than me. In actual fact I should have had the foresight to get up and walk out of the company there and then. It would have saved me a lot of frustration, a considerable amount of grey hairs and in the long run, my dignity, as I am rejected by the corporate monster for shaming them with an 8010. Nothing that I witnessed in that first painful 25 minutes of the meeting could have prepared me for the grand finale of the last five minutes though.
Suddenly, the big screen comes alive, as we the tortured (me anyway), are subjected to a five minute outburst of smiling happy faces. Happy faces of the Esso staff as they sell their wares to the unbelievably grateful customers. The happy faces of the customers as they fill the gaps in their life's with Esso products. The happy faces of diners in the Esso cafe as they fill their faces with delicious Esso sandwiches and wash them down with Esso coffee, from Esso emblazoned cups. But it's worse than that, as if it could get any worse! These images of total corporate ecstasy are played out to a backdrop of, wait for it -U2 (It's a beautiful day). It's a mixture of culture and commerce that leaves me both baffled and bemused. Surely, I think, I must have some allies in this sickening display of corporate horse shit. But no, my thoughts are drowned out by the rapturous applause of my colleagues. Assuming that this is the end of my own personal hell, I bolt for the door.
"Where the hell do you think you are going?", booms the big man's voice. I spin around and upon noticing that it's me, he raises the tempo, "Oh it's you again, you turn up here late and now you're leaving early -SIT DOWN, (he bellows) we have a question and answer session". For the second time in 30 minutes, I become the object of everyone's attention. Coyly, I take my seat. I am secretly convinced that given the content of the presentation, nobody will have any questions. Obviously I underestimate the sycophantic nature of my colleagues because I could not have been more wrong. A rather tall, over elaborately dressed Norwegian young man stands up and starts his sentence off as follows: "Stuart, may I congratulate you on a most informative, perfectly executed presentation which was extremely interesting and an excellent way to give a new starter an insight into the way this company operates". This is followed by an equally sickly question and met with considerable applause. The next 20 minutes are filled with much praise and questions of a similar nature, which leave me with a deep sense of loathing for the environment that I am working in.
Eventually my nightmare ends and I am liberated from my corporate chains. I sidle out of the door along with my colleagues, whilst trying to measure their mood. I am convinced that I will find some allies in group somewhere. I mean at least 20 people have just suffered the same shite as me. I follow the herd down the corridor, my mind working overtime. I'm biding my time, to make my opinions known. Perfect, they all congregate around the lift area, as they await it's arrival. In an extremely miscalculated verbal assault, I shout out the following sentence "What a total and utter Esso wankfest". My outburst is met by total silence. One of those tumble weed moments when you want to ground to open up and swallow you up. My comments are about as wanted as a leper at an orgy. The lift arrives and as they all pile in, I head for the stairs, where I loiter for five minutes until the coast is clear.
As punishment for my two 8010's, I am fired less than 6 months later. I wonder to this day, how much stock actually went missing in those months that I worked for Esso. At least the petrol station assistant in Belgium had a chance of preventing the gypsies from stealing his red bull booty - he could have locked the door when he was having a shit. My only method of gypsy protection, was to watch screens full of fluctuating numbers. Which may have been all good and well, if I understood what they meant in the first place. One thing I know for sure, is that there was a hell of a lot of waste created during my time there.