Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Look North

I became disillusioned by the Christmas and New Year consumer fest many years ago and always left it too late to plan an escape. But when a friend and I spent a few days on a remote beach in the Western Highlands of Scotland, a seed was sown. I decided to kit out my Land Rover and spend the month between sign on days over the Christmas period on this beach. It was hard going and, with my digestive problems, fraught with complications but I got through it.

On my way back down south, I called in to see somebody with whom until this point I had only been in e-mail contact and who is now my girlfriend. She works in a community for adults with learning difficulties and at this point I am required to start restricting what I say for legal reasons - which should become clear. We started visiting each other and when I visited her, I would often go into work with her and help out on a voluntary basis. Eventually a job came up there which I felt suited me and I applied. I was unsuccessful but when another position arose, they approached me and offered it to me.

The position was essentially as a junior care manager. I expressed my reservations about accepting the job but I was assured that I would receive plenty of support and training and that after a three month probation, I would be given additional part time duties which would allow me to use my creative skills.

I accepted the offer and moved, lock stock and barrel to an unfurnished rented house in rural Perthshire. I put my heart and soul into the job and worked single-mindedly to furnish and equip the house. I am not permitted to disclose specifics of what transpired but suffice to say that the promise of a part time creative role never materialised. There were other issues of breach of trust and demands put upon me which took their toll on my health both physically and mentally. I was later forced to work with somebody with whom it was impossible to get on. The stress had a debilitating effect on my digestive system and I eventually became so unwell, I could not work. They seemed reluctant to address the situation in any reasonable way and flatly denied any assurances that they had made.

Fifteen months after I started work and about a two weeks after I started sick leave, I sought legal advice, I decided that the only course of action open to me was to resign and make a complaint to an Employment Tribunal on the grounds of constructive dismissal. My resignation gave me some immediate relief but the case took its toll on me. As with any case against an employer, it is nigh on impossible to get any current employees to give evidence against the employer. But I was fortunate in that I had retained every e-mail and text message sent and received and that one employee was prepared to testify that they had been asked by the manager to lie about a certain crucial aspect of the case in their statement.

After four days of hearings, two lengthy adjournments and several offers from the employer, I was so mentally and physically exhausted that I decided to accept the final undisclosed sum. I felt relieved that I would not have to go through the last two days of the hearing and for the first time in about a year I had a decent night's sleep. However, the next day, I was called by my solicitor's secretary who informed me that I would not receive any of the damages offered as the Legal Aid I had received was subject to clawback. I was asked if I still wanted to accept the offer. Having climbed the mountain and experienced the relief of rolling down the other side I was being asked to climb another one. I couldn't do it. I had expended my last vapours of energy. And so almost a year of stress and anxiety was for nothing. The only ones to benefit were the solicitors on both sides. Somebody told me of a painting that they has seen on a solicitors wall which showed a peasant and a nobleman fighting over a cow, the nobleman tugging on the horns and the peasant on the tail (the end where the shit comes out) and there was a solicitor under the cow milking it. I have had three occasions to employ the services of a solicitor and this one mental image sums them all up perfectly.

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