‘Up you get, Derek. Quick,’ urged Mrs O’Keefe.
It was 4am, and the ‘Despacito’ ring-tone had just sounded on the alarm clock.
Today was Derek’s first day as a volunteer at the local hospital, Charterfields (part of the South-Western Region Development and Regeneration Trust, sponsored by Eddie Stobart Ltd.) He was due in at 6am to shadow a senior manager for the day.
Since leaving the primary school, Derek had decided to take a year’s career break. He and his wife sold the house, downsizing to a cottage in a village fifty miles away. They would use some of the released equity to tie them over for a while.
Derek just needed a change. He wanted to find out what it was like working in life outside education. Hence the position in the hospital.
‘And don’t forget that tonight, we’ve been invited to a drinks party on our street; I think most of the neighbours will be there.’
Mrs O’Keefe was looking forward to the chance for Derek to meet a new set of people; she thought it would be good for him. Recently, she was worried he had lost his confidence, that he felt like one of life’s losers. ‘A new start!’, she thought.
Derek arrived at the hospital in good time and was soon walking alongside Mrs Macawley, a management consultant, on a filthy carpeted corridor.
‘What time did you start this morning?’
Derek thought he’d better get the conversation going.
Mrs Macawley didn’t break step. ‘I didn’t. Been here since yesterday lunchtime. Couple of staff are ill, one’s gone back to Spain without telling us, and the Walk-In’s shut. So couldn’t really leave.’
Derek was impressed. In all his time in education, he’d never actually stayed the night at school for any reason, crisis or no crisis, though he once did arrive at 2am to umpire a midsummer’s moonlit cricket match between the Colts and the First X1. No-one turned up, the captain of the First X1 saying later, ‘It was too cloudy’.
The rest of the morning with Mrs Macawley was similarly eye-opening. These poor doctors and nurses were drowning in an avalanche of health checks, emergency admissions, private referrals, urgent care requests, data-sharing agreements, patient consultations, and audit returns. And they had to check on their patients too!
‘We’re the best, though,’ added Mrs Macawley. ‘Care Quality Commission Gold Star Award, Winners of the Management Efficiency and Excellence Shield, and runners-up in the Eddie Stobart Consumer Panel Trust Winter Crisis Improvement Prize of 2016.’
Derek was again rather impressed. He had no idea there was such admiration for the work of these dynamic managers.
On his way home – by train, the car having been forfeited as part of the downsizing strategy – Mr O’Keefe couldn’t help but notice the orange posters emblazoned across the doorway of each carriage. They proclaimed in huge, bold letters, ‘Compass Rail PLC. Winners of the 2016 Locomotive and Rail Workers Franchise of the Year Award, in partnership with Trackline Services, and shortlisted for the 2017 Direct Communications Prize for the Fastest Inter-City Wi-Fi.’
‘Remarkable,’ Derek muttered audibly, ‘Must be the rail industry’s equivalent of winning an Oscar.’
‘Yeh, and the carriage you’re in is called the Harvey Weinstein Railcar,’ quipped a young chap as he brushed past. He’d disappeared before Derek had the chance to ask him whether it was actually true or not.
The train shuddered to a halt for the fifth time since departure. All these prizes, and yet he was going to arrive half an hour later than scheduled. He put it down to an unfortunate one-off. At least it might get him out of the drinks party later.
That turned out to be wishful thinking. Later on in the evening, he reluctantly donned his sports jacket and shared some the day’s events with his wife.
‘Is it me, or are there a lot more prizes and awards being handed out to people these days? I can’t remember my school getting any. Or me personally for that matter. Everyone seems so much more successful now.’
‘I think it’s because we’re a nation of winners now, love,’ replied his wife. ‘Think of all those Olympic medals, and the amazing cyclists with their boundless energy. I mean, our cricketers even managed to beat Bangladesh last year.’
Derek was highly curious. He was starstruck by all these successful winners. Determined to find out more, he decided to test out his new hypothesis at the drinks party.
First up was a kindred spirit, the local primary headteacher, who sustained the entire conversation whilst tapping away on his mobile phone. ‘So mate, you’re absolutely so 1990s. It’s all about having a competitive edge now. So our ‘Active Pl@ygrounds Silver Award’ has really put us on the map……..cool, Deputy High Sheriff of West Wyoming Education District is now following me…..…yeh, I mean we’ve gone up to a 3 star rating now in the local paper.’
Next, a portly GP with extraordinarily ornate spectacles. ‘I’d have to check with my practice manager, but I think we’re North Dortland’s Consumer and Patient Efficiency Winner for Most Hospital Referrals for 2017.
‘But wouldn’t that place more pressure on the hospital?’ Derek was feeling quite bold after his day with Mrs Macawley.
‘I think that’s the point, Del-boy! It’s called the internal market!’ the GP replied, guffawing so heartily that his crazy glasses fell to the floor.
Finally, Mr O’Keefe got into a long conversation with a software engineer who seemed really clever. She must have won lots of awards.
‘Do you have awards and prizes for excellence and efficiency in your industry?, asked Derek in a particularly pompous way. Derek O’Keefe was morphing into John Simpson.
‘Yeh, I’ve won a few. Self-nominated though. We take it in turns. Think I’m next due in 2020?’
Derek left the party in a confused state. It seemed like everyone was a winner – they had trophies and prizes galore. And yet, he couldn’t understand why. None of their successes seemed to be any different to what he’d been doing as a hapless headteacher twenty years ago.
‘Am I missing something?’, he asked Mrs O’Keefe, as the key turned in the door to their new house.
‘Maybe. But I wouldn’t swap any of them for you, love. If you’re a loser, then that’s fine with me.’
And with that, Derek did a tour of his new house, checking windows were shut and doors were locked. Just before switching off the lights, he opened up the key pad ready to set the alarm. There was a sticker there that he hadn’t noticed before.
‘Alarming Systems PLC: Winners of the 2017 Security Effectiveness and Efficiency Improvement Awards for the South-West (Three Rivers Development Zone).’
He gave out a brief chuckle, set the alarm, and hopped into bed.
The Real ‘Blob’.