Friday, 17 August 2012

More Than A Few Tickets Ripped

I work for an organisation that I cannot name.

Like so many these days, it has a “Social Media” policy that prevents me from naming and shaming, or I run the risk of potential gross misconduct.
We don’t want that!

All I can say is I work for a well known cinema chain here in the UK, that may or may not rank in the top 3 nationwide for market share.
I’ve worked there for 5 years now, and it’s been the most central part of my life for all that time.

I started when I was a fresh 18 year old, hot off the back of college and keen to impress. It was my first ‘proper’ job (apologies Dad; that summer gardening with you still counts, promise) and I’d held off for as long as possible getting it.
Of course I applied for cinema. Why not? I love it! Maybe not as much as television (I always say, if they made cinema for TV shows, I’d be in Atheist-Heaven) but there you go.

I was the newbie! So much to learn, and so many new faces. I wanted all of them to be my friend, and made a huge effort with each and all.


When I started (at the Bury, Pilsworth branch) there was already a ‘core’ team, each of whom had been there for a good three or four years. Their shared history amazed me, and added to the heritage of the place. I wanted to last, and work there a stupid long time like them, just to be like them. My brain told me that the ‘old guard’ were cool, and potentially me in a few years.
I think that idea appealed to me most of all.

I started May 2007. My first film was Spider-Man 3, which for a while held the record of busiest opening weekend in Box Office history (or something). It certainly felt like it! Part of my job was cleaning screens, and back then, still new, those screens seemed to stretch on for miles, with no end in site!
I loved the rush of it all; not knowing if a screen would be cleaned in time, or if we’d run into the ads and trailers.

Luckily I was still the newbie, so didn’t bear the brunt of the managers when things went wrong.

As summer rolled on, those older staff members started leaving. First Paul (oh Paul, poor Paul, who took me home once and had to listen as I fed him my sob story of Katie O’Donnell breaking up with me – even today when I see him, he hasn’t forgiven me!). Then Ged. Two of the other Anthonys. And Mr Heywood, with his Batman style utility belt.
New staff joined, and we started to form the ‘next generation’ of staff team. People like Emma, and Jimmy B. We’d routinely go out into Bury town centre for drunken escapades. They brought me out of my shell (the people and the nights out) and changed me completely. In a good way! How I loved that team, and those experiences shared.

 It was a good time to work there. Scratch that… great times.

By the start of the year, the honeymoon period was starting to wear thin. Good friends of mine were sacked, for increasingly silly things, and morale was dragged down to an all time low.
On the plus side, I got a new girlfriend! Yep, Clare, who I met at work. Oh – funny story! One of her first shifts, we were cleaning screens together. I’m talking to her, and as the shift wears on, the more I realise I like this girl. We get to screen 10, and we’re cleaning again, but talking as we go. I tell her near its conclusion that I think she’s cute. She, a couple of aisles in front of me, laughs a little. My heart breaks.


When we finally get together (in the back of Baskin Robbins) by sealing the deal with a kiss, I retell this story. “Oh,” Clare says, “I remember this. I couldn’t hear you properly because of the music playing in the screen.” There we had it – it’s taken us months to get together, because she hadn’t heard me properly earlier.
But then Clare went away, for three months in New Zealand, and we didn’t last.

I missed her, and compensated by over eating. By the time she returned, I’d put on a lot of weight – maybe close to a stone, maybe less, I don’t know. My confidence was paradoxically high (yay, girlfriend!) and desperately low, due to the weight gain.

Of course, I met two very significant characters that would come to define my time within the company for the first time this year:

1: Mark Aspey. He started about a year after me. I acted like such an experienced guide, teaching him everything I knew. Oh, we were close – so close. Best friends, at work anyhoo. But I’d grown too big for my boots, and acted out by bossing other staff about and generally thinking too much of myself at the expense of others.  I was damn right nasty at times, which hindsight tells me was wrong, because I was just a staff member, like them, and nothing more.
Mark watched me at work, doing my ‘best’ (worst) and he remembered. Soon, he was acting like that too. At the same time, I’d started to learn just how utterly wrong I was – and attempted to make amends. But Mark was always there – a constant reminder of what I’d been, and what they meant.

I hated him for it. And he hated me for hating him.
We’ll come back to Mark later on.

2: Dan O’Connor. If I had to nominate just one person from the past 5 years to be my labelled my ‘best friend’ I’d look at him straight away. Mostly because I think he is.
Dan is a writer too, and a bit of a geek. We got along straight away, mostly because he’s an all round nice guard, and didn’t step on my toes as the assumed ‘top dog’ (not in the same way Mark did, or Jimmy B, or whoever).

We’d come to plan staff events together the two of us, and that brought us even closer. He’s one of the only people from the cinema ‘up north’ I still keep in contact with to this day – and he’s somebody I can trust absolutely, and who I know will always give me the decent answer – even if it’s not the one I want to hear.

I remember writing a stream of conscious thought back here, and plotting when I’d leave the cinema. I think I had decided by early ’09 that I’d move on… in 18 months. It marked the end of uni, and I was determined to start afresh.


It gave me something to countdown to; but 18 months seemed like forever. It emphasised how ‘trapped’ I was at the cinema, two years in.
The staff team had long since gone into meltdown. People moaned and bitched about everybody else, and there was no loyalty. New starters came and went on a pretty regular basis, and it was hard to care anymore. After all, I personally had worked with over 50-75 staff at this point.

That was all going to change.
I set myself a challenge. I told myself to stop moaning about the fact things weren’t as good as they once were, and actually do something about it. We’d stopped having nights out together – so my solution?

Yep, nights out.
I organised on a monthly basis “staff events”.

These would be different every month; but essentially they’d be a competition between the staff, with the winner of said activity getting their name put up on a staff room trophy I bought.

We went to bowling, laser quest, go kart racing, we did a scavenger hunt in Manchester, and then for Christmas I put on a massive party for the whole team.
It was the start of the 2nd Golden Age.

It continued into the new year.


We went a long time without any staff leaving, or any new arrivals. It was a pretty stable time – and in part, I think that’s because of the monthly events we were doing. It finally meant something working there again, and everybody was close. We had sleepovers (heavy drinking non-optional) and returned to the Wednesday night out in Bury routine.
My name carried a lot there, and for the first time, in a positive ‘nice’ way.

I decided to cash in on my new site fame…
I went for promotion!

I didn’t get it.

How do I react? I reveal my plans for leaving (which I’d put on hold thinking I’d get the promotion) and my General Manager seems genuinely upset. ‘Oh well,” I think, “They should have given me the job.”
Turns out, my GM doesn’t want to lose me. She offers me a chance to be a Team Leader, and get that must sought promotion. I’m convinced she created the role for me, just to stop me leaving. I never asked her, so I’ll probably never know.

I accepted the offer, but on one term: I go to another site to train. I end up at Manchester Lowry, where I spend the next six weeks learning how to be a junior manager.
Obviously I sucked.

What?! I was 21, with no previous managerial experience. Suddenly I had power, and I abused it thoroughly. It didn’t matter if the staff hated me; I was only there for a limited time, and they were not my team anyway.
When I went back to my original site, I wasn’t much better behaved. I didn’t panic very easily, but I was snappy, and lacked confidence, and my age limited what authority I held.

Mid July we shut down the site. It had been open for 21 years and was an old cinema by that point. Cracks in most walls, and holes in the ceilings. It was time to move on… to a purpose built replacement in the centre of town.
We’d hyped it for years, knowing that the changeover was due. For a while it looked as though I wouldn’t transfer across, and that devastated me. I acted out, and moaned to all the staff. Not my finest hour, I’ll admit.

Eventually though, they came around to their senses, and on July 16th I became part of the team that opened Bury the Rock. As part of my transfer though, I was told I’d have to cover other sites in the North West area that needed an extra manager presence over summer. It lead me to spells in Bolton, and Lancaster, and Southport, and back to Lowry again.
It was a proper mental time, travelling miles and miles, staying in hotel after hotel, and meeting dozens and dozens of new faces at each site I went to.

Ultimately, the fun couldn’t last. I wasn’t developing, because nobody wanted to develop me. I was, after all, but a guest in their home, so the responsibility was not their’s.
And in the back of my mind, that deadline was looming.

The one I’d set early in 2009.
End of September 2010…

If you follow this blog, you’ll know I didn’t quit. As to the reason why? I like to say it’s because an opportunity came up in London, but that’s only half true.

I was three and a half years in, and comfortable.
I completed my move to London in October, and found the place to be utterly alien and charmless.

I’d gone from an area where most sites knew my face, if not my name. I’d worked a lot of them, and that carried some weight with GMs and the Area Manager. Now suddenly, I was 200 miles away, and people didn’t know me from Adam.
Let’s pretend every action you take earns you brownie points – positive for good opinions carried, and negative for, well, negative opinions. I was in the busiest site in the company – the flagship! Suddenly there were 1.2 million customers needing me, and 100 staff calling me for help, and all I could do in this period of transition was make mistakes. And I did.

Those brownie points took a long time to recover.

I was in the negative until well into 2011…

Other Team Leaders left. As I crept up the seniority order, the management team at Westfield trusted me more and more to do things. I got left to my own devices. People who were on my back before calmed down, and just let me be.
Slowly I started to impress.

Well, the managers anyway. The staff hated me. See, I had a manor about me (12 months on, it still hasn’t left me completely) – I carried myself in a such a way that work was work, and I couldn’t get too close to anybody there. So I was honest, and strict, and they didn’t appreciate that.
Why would you?

But I didn’t go home and cry. Way I saw it (well, still see it) I’m their boss, not their friend. I’m not there to treat them nicely and fairly all the time. It’s my job to get the job done, and sometimes that involves compromise.

One compromise I made early on was realising that I’d never be close to the staff team here at Westfield as to the one I left back in Bury.
As all this was going on, I was learning new management skills, and styles. I’m comfortable in my approach, and manner, and behaviour.

I understand now what needs doing, and how to get it done.
I’m ready to be a manager.

But I choose to wait.

Visits back home don’t mean the same now. That old staff team at Bury are long gone. Most have left the business. Of the rest, most are like me in early 2009 – defeated, and unsure of how to improve things.
There's a few survivors of the old days - including Dan, and Mark (who now works at another site in the area). Me and Mark are now back on good terms; the distance and time apart having soothed old wounds.
I’m still in London, and at Westfield.

I passed a manager CBI back in April, but there’s no positions open to me. I curse myself every day for not applying sooner, and I realise I was silly not to. There was no other reason that I wanted to say I worked at Westfield for a full 12 months (plus) as opposed to saying “I worked there 8 months”.

I’m back to being in a very comfortable position, and worry about leaving, even though I know that going to another site (OR leaving the company for good) will do me the world of good.
It’ll happen soon.

Maybe even the latter, because I’m tired of the cinema in general. Head Office have changed the rules of the game that much, that it’s not fun anymore.
And because I’m back to writing my scripts (which started again with ‘That Resolute Desk’ – a very good take on all this work angst) work feels so less significant now. I arrive, and count down the hours until hometime.

Still, when I’m firing on all cylinders there, I’m bloody good! Guess those three years as a staff member, and two as a TL have combined into me being operationally capable, and assured.

One more reason why moving on would be good – if only to set myself a new challenge to reach.
The Future

I haven’t set myself a deadline for leaving the company. Perhaps I should?
If I was going to, Christmas 2013 seems like a reasonable time to go. If I’m promoted in the next few months it’d give me a full year’s experience as manager before my departure.

Then again, I’ve learnt not to set things in stone:
a)      You end up counting down the days until tomorrow’s tomorrow, to the detriment of today.

b)      Plans change, and you look silly for setting something that should be fluid into stone.

I haven’t written a lot on this blog since 2009, when the job was still entry level and basic.

Now I’m a TL looking towards manager, it’s massive and complex.
And I’m bound to keep you posted on what comes next.
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