The Fragments

Posted in The Fragments on Sunday 16th October 2022 at 9:10am

When I walked dejectedly out of my office on 12th March 2020, I didn't realise that both personal and global change was afoot. We were approaching the end of a two-week-long regulatory inspection which hadn't gone well - there was a sense of growing unease, and leaders who wanted to be anywhere but here right now. And then, on a Thursday lunchtime, as we prepared to hear our final feedback, the Inspectors left. An undisclosed 'incident' had been reported which had compromised their work. We all secretly knew it was a whistleblower - and most of us knew who. We'd spent the last few days learning about the growing worry around the novel coronavirus which was creeping closer, but this turn of events eclipsed all concerns about the contagion which was currently confined to a planeload of people airlifted from Wuhan back to Cheshire. The present danger came entirely from within.

We struggled on for two more weeks. My managers were suspended due to an investigation, so I did my best to keep things moving. I worked closely with the Chief Executive, supported my colleagues in delivering plans to work at arm's length from the community, and grappled with securing ever more scarce PPE for schools and children's centres. I threw myself into this - thinking that a great injustice had been wrought - both here at work, and in the world at large. My days grew longer and darker - and eventually, the order to work offsite was given. The end of my local government career had begun. I shouldn't write in detail about the grim months of late 2020 and early 2021. Suffice it to say that with the original cloud of accusations dissipating, new horrors emerged. Interim leaders were appointed, and new brooms were sweeping every corner. One deeply insecure new broom decided I wasn't pliable enough and had ideas above my station. She wasn't wrong - I did. I knew a good deal about what needed fixing and where the metaphorical bodies were buried - and so, I had to go. So began a long war of attrition as this individual whittled away at my self-esteem, undermined me, and treated me with barely disguised contempt.

This became intolerable - so I took some time away from work in October 2021 and determined to reflect. I read voraciously, having discovered audiobooks during the interminable lockdowns of 2020, and I took up coding again - enjoying the mental gymnastics of learning new things for the first time in a while. It all persuaded me that it was time to move on, to take the terrifying leap away from the public sector, and to suppress my conviction that I was so institutionalised that I couldn't function outside its bleak but safe embrace. The decision, in the end, was easy. Returning to work late in 2021 I found valued colleagues demoralised and distraught, the new brooms having swept all but the most subservient and malleable into corners. I knew there was a potentially exciting job around the corner, so I took the plunge and resigned. I had served my local community for 26 years, but I left with little ceremony or recognition. That's exactly how I wanted it to be.

Office View
Office View

It felt like waking after sleeping, or a long breath of fresh air.

During this long, slow fall from local authority grace I had, of course, found my wings clipped in other ways. Access to travel had been limited for months at a time, and when I could escape, finances were a challenge. As the world began to open up, I found mine closing in. If explorations of suburban London were sporadic, often interrupted by real-life intruding, my attempts to turn them into writing were utterly stymied. The detailed walk-research-write approach I'd favoured wasn't well-fitted to the short-attention-span virtual world of the pandemic. I couldn't finish anything. The few texts I began sputtered into premature endings. I felt like I'd wasted my time on trivialities - no one read what I wrote, and now the therapeutic effects I'd enjoyed from writing had worn off. I gave up on the whole sorry enterprise.

After the first six months of a new way of life in the public sector, I began to consider how I could scrape together the threads of this project. While I remained occasionally gripped by imposter syndrome in my new job, I was assured that almost all of us did. I also found myself in London far more frequently and looking upon a view of The Shard shattered by the mullions of my office windows, I realised that until I dealt with the remaining fragments, I couldn't begin afresh. The virus-tainted, fear-tinged demi-walks of the last two years need to be recorded, however incompletely. My fastidious attempts to document every detail need to be suspended, and I need to adopt a more pragmatic approach. These fragmentary visions of walks could have languished unfinished forever in the limbo of the document management system, but perhaps they are as finished as anything which emerged from that staccato world of freedoms lost, regained and lost again.

Over the coming weeks I will dust off the incomplete accounts of meanders, and rehabilitate them as far as I can. They are not pretty, nor are they well-written or particularly erudite. But they record a period of my life that I am already forgetting - the trauma of the times being squeezed out of consciousness to aid survival. The reader will probably enjoy the fragments almost as little as I do - but perhaps, at least, the pictures will be nice.



I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.

I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.

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