Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Independence Day

Birmingham, they say, has more canals than Venice. Edinburgh, almost certainly, has more roadworks than Naples. Sighthill is perhaps 7 miles from Leith. The journey takes about 45 minutes. Every month, therefore, I spend 30 hours of my life inching my way to work, as the car bounces from pothole to pothole along shoddy, badly-maintained roads. Every day, I sit in traffic, and imagine I can see the petrol gauge moving inexorably from right to left, burning up money for the most banal of purposes. And the reward for enduring this wretched journey - is to arrive in work. It's a journey that brings out the worst in people. It brings out the worst in me.

Today, however, the streets are relatively clear as the city winds down for the season. The opening movement of Bach's Christmas Oratorio, the Marseillaise of Christmas music, is playing on Radio 3. I crank the radio up to 11. "Jauchzet! Frohlocket! Auf, Preiset die tage!" - "Rejoice, exult! Up, and praise the day!". Oh yes, indeed, because today is my last day in work, and I will never have to make this journey again.

Truth be told, leaving a job - even a job you hate - is never as much fun as you think it's going to be. God knows, I've left enough of them. Most of my friends have already left for Christmas, and my farewell email generates an awful lot of "out of office" messages, so I'm in a bit of a melancholy mood. Cards, presents, much shaking of hands and good wishes. A final slightly boozy lunch with a handful of friends at a rather grim pub that people only ever seem to go to for leaving drinks.

I'm not going to bang on about the evils of the banking industry. Your prejudices about it are probably correct. If a prerequisite of a successful company is that it needs to be run for the benefit of at least a few elements in the combination of customers, employees and shareholders then LBG, manifestly, is not working for any of them. If it were a football team, fans would have started chanting "You don't know what you're doing" some time ago.

But that's not really the point today. The job might have been rubbish, but the people were a good bunch. Nice folk who deserved better than this.

Time to go. I slip my presents and my Swansea City mug into a box, and leave the office for the last time.  

Update : My Swansea City mug is over twenty years old, stayed with me throughout my student days, and travelled with me through Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Scotland. Two hours later the bag containing my presents tore through and dropped a bottle of wine on top of it, cracking it irreparably. In terms of its symbolism, this seemed to me to be an event rivalled only by Prospero breaking his staff.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Magnum Force

Last night was the pre-Christmas booze up night out with our contemporary art group. We started off at the spankingly refurbished and recently reopened Scottish National Portrait Gallery for some art (a mournful, haunting video work by Graham Fagen), some tasty bar snacks, and some free Prosecco. These weren't listed in increasing order of importance. No, really.

Following this, we moved on to a town centre pub called "The Magnum". Now, we've been in this city nigh on twenty years, and to be honest we thought there were no more pubs to discover. Well, we haven't actually been to them all ("The Foot of the Walk" looks like possibly the hardest Wetherspoon's pub in Christendom. Think about that for a minute. And "The Marksman" looks like the sort of place that might be frequented by actual marksmen) but we thought we'd pretty much done all the ones we'd like to go to, or that would let us in. But we'd never even heard of this place, and that felt like we'd somehow failed.

Anyway, "The Magnum" is a splendid pub-cum-wine-bar, with lots of wood everywhere, some interesting beers, and a decent wine list. After about an hour, we start thinking it might be our new favourite pub. There's a decent crowd of people there, most of whom haven't really heard about our plans. Most conversations feature the line "You're doing WHAT?" at some point. It has to be said, the reaction of our friends to The Project has been very touching and, well, it's all a bit humbling to be honest. That's really the only way I can describe it.

Inevitably, quite a lot of Prosecco is drunk. People start heading off at around 10.00, and we're kind of left on our own.

We can probably sneak some more Prosecco in, can't we?

Of course we can. 

There's a bit of a scramble for the last bus back to Leith, but we make it. We realise "The Malt and Hops" will still be open. It's very tempting.

We decide against it. We feel very grown-up though.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Il Paese Senza Birra

"The Land Without Beer."
Had another clear out today. A purge of cookery books. A signed copy of Sophie Grigson's "Organic" fails to make the cut, on the grounds of never having been used. A signed copy of John Burton Race's "French Leave" is similarly discarded, but mainly on the grounds of him not being a very nice man.

I came across a copy of Roger Protz's "300 Beers You Must Try Before You Die". I think it may have been a fortieth birthday present. A quick flick through reveals a sad lack of Italian brews. Italy does a lot of things very well, but beer isn't one of them.

There isn't going to be much need for this in Venice. Regretfully, it goes onto the discard pile.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Un Canto di Natale

For that is what our Italian friends call "A Christmas Carol". Never read any Dickens in Italian before. For that matter, the only Dickens I've read in English is "The Signalman" and that's a short story.

So, time to kill two birds with one stone, and have a go at reading it in Italian.

It's a little difficult, if only because we don't really speak Dickensian English any more and not everything translates perfectly. And it seems there is no Italian expression for "Bah, Humbug!"

(In case you think you might find it useful, the nearest they come is Eh via! Schiochezze!)

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Background

Where to start, then? 

Well, as you may know, both Caroline and I have been working for the company now known as Lloyds Banking Group (or, if you prefer, the company formerly known as HBOS formerly known as the Bank of Scotland. I hope you're keeping up with this?) for some time now. The idea being that, following years of carefree, feckless contracting, a steady job with a bank would see us through to retirement and a comfy pension. No, really, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Around this time last year, Caroline was told that her job was at immediate risk and that mine would also be within twelve months. This wasn't completely unexpected, but it came as a bit of a blow nonetheless.

Except that, the more we thought about it, the more we wondered quite why we actually wanted to stay with the bank. Truth be told, it's not been much of a job for some years now and following the takeover by Lloyds things became steadily worse. We've seen a steady stream of friends and colleagues losing their jobs, and any sense of job satisfaction was long gone, replaced only by the fear of redundancy. We worked in an industry that the public despised, and for an organisation that gave every impression of being run by the greedy and the stupid. It had become, in short, a genuinely horrible place to work.

Why on earth, then, would we want to stay there?  What if we tried something else instead? Neither of us really likes working in IT any more, what if – with our redundancy money pooled – we tried something really different?

And so, The Project was born.

As Caroline worked out her ten-month (!) notice period, ideas started to firm up. A friend of mine had left the UK to teach English in Spain a few years back. What if we were to try that, in Italy? In fact, let's not do things by halves : if we're going to go to Italy, we're going to go exactly where we want to be, namely Venice. La Serenissima is the city we know best in Italy. Having visited for the Biennale back in 2005, we found ourselves returning every year, and each time we left was a greater wrench than before.

I forget exactly when, but at some point during the year we tacitly crossed the line from "wouldn't it be great if we did this?" to "we're actually going to do this!". However, it was still dependent on my being able to successfully wangle my way out of my job. The chance came along in October when I accepted voluntary redundancy, and the cheers could be heard for miles around.

Caroline left the bank at the end of October, and is now fully engaged upon The Project. I leave at the end of the year, and I'm just trying to keep my head down, improving my Italian, and avoiding any actual, proper work from the bank in the meantime!

It's not risk-free of course, but taking the risk-free path led us to the financial services industry, and we know how well that worked out. If it works, the prize – living and working in the most extraordinary city in the world – is a great one. If it doesn't, and we end up back in the UK and back in IT in a year's time – well, we will at least have had a year there. We will, really, never have a better chance of doing something like this.

So in January next year we retrain in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. February will be spent getting our affairs in order and moving most of our worldly possessions into storage. And in early March, we're flying out to Venice. On a one-way ticket.

This blog is an attempt to record how we did it, if it worked, what went wrong, and what worked out for us. If all goes well it might serve as a 'how to do it' manual'. If it doesn't, well, it can serve as a terrible warning.

If you happen to be passing through Venice anytime after March, we'd love to see you (you'll need a sleeping bag, however, as we're going to have a very small flat!). If not, please stay in touch via email, facebook, or by following this blog.