Nose to the Grindstone
For years I was a carer and worked full time. I was lucky to work in an environment where my colleagues, especially my boss, were tolerant of the demands this occasionally placed on me. Then I lost my job and I adjusted to caring part time and then full time. Now I'm back at work full time, and it requires another adjustment
Before I'd even been offered the job, this was an issue. At my interview I had to explain that I was a carer and that I needed my mobile on me all the time. I've not always found I get a sympathetic response to this request. Some employers tell me there is a company phone, and I have to grit my teeth and explain that I need to be contactable immediately, NOW, not when the phone line is free. This isn't always easy when I'm aware that I'm making myself less employable but it has to be done. In my current job I can have a phone, but it has to be on silent, which is a sort of compromise. Not ideal, frankly, but beggars can't be choosers.
Now I'm working I'm basically out from 8-7 which is restrictive. I usually went with my wife to do shopping because she was finding it more and more challenging to do it by herself. She can't really carry heavy things, she can't easily carry things up three flights of stairs any more, and her deteriorating eyesight makes it dangerous to shop anywhere some idiot will leave a basket on the floor where she can't see it and wander off. The trouble is that these things all crept up on us at the same time as I was working closer to home and then working less hours. It was, as a consequence, more manageable. It's at times like these when you suddenly realise the new challenges that have been eased onto your shoulders slowly but surely, like riding your new, heavier, bike up a hill.
I was sitting in the kitchen at work the other day, scribbling the first part of this piece in a notebook. After lunch I went back to work and found myself chatting with a couple of my new colleagues who were keen to get to know me a bit. They asked me the standard issue questions about where I'd worked before and what I did in my spare time. Too late did I realise that 'I write jokes' was an answer fraught with peril. Moving on, they asked me what my wife did. I explained, cursorily, about her being ill and how she didn't work at the moment. 'Oh,' they said. 'Does she have a carer? Or is that you?' I was quite metaphorically bowled over. Nobody asks me that. Ever. I don't think it really occurs to people, and it makes me wonder whether most people really know what I mean when I tell them I'm a carer.
This is a good sign, I suppose, that my new workplace is an understanding one. It's already clear to me that flexibility is key to the rotas, and that asking for specific days off is fine. So there is some suggestion, already, that my new workplace is going to suit my needs. If I'm right, the sad truth is that I've landed on my feet. Carers do have some rights but the reality is that rights, for any group of people in the workplace, can involve quite a fight, even if you have the law on your side. In the end, the law can only take you so far, what really matters is that people understand the needs of their employees. If you employ a carer, or someone you think may be a carer, take this into consideration. Ideally you should make time to chat to them about their caring role, how it impacts them and how you can help. If, for whatever reason, that isn't possible, drop in to Carers of H2G2 and we'll try to support you in supporting them. Thank you.