A journey usually starts with the clichéd first step, but mine started with a phone call. A new manager, appointed in the US, decided that my job ought to be based in Paris, rather than London. My employer, a US research firm with global aspirations, but the inability to think outside of its home town, called to warn me that my job might be at risk. This turned out to be a euphemism for “we’ve already decided to get rid of you”. Consequently, at the end of April 2014, I found myself on extended garden leave with a pitiful severance package and the firm belief that most Americans fall into the see you next Tuesday category.
To be honest I had known this for a while. I had never seen a company so determined to repeatedly shoot itself in the foot, leg, cock, head or any other body part that would prevent it from growing and being successful. Strategy was changed as regularly as a vicar’s underwear. One year the CSO (Chief Sales Officer), decided to change the sales commission plan so that no-one could be paid commission until they had reached their annual target. This was called achieving breakthrough, and was intended to drive 20% year on year growth. As the sales staff were all on 30% basic pay and 70% commission, this effectively meant they would be on field rations for the year. I discussed this with the CSO and was told in no uncertain terms that “The finest minds in the company have worked on this plan, and who are you to question them?” Who indeed. Most of the sales force left shortly after, plunging the company into a huge recruitment drive. Due to the change in account managers many of the company’s customers left too, and shortly after that the CSO was asked to move on and probably given a respectable golden shower as a leaving gift.
Just as I was given the more usual type of golden shower the Chief Exec, (and Chairman), issued an email to tell the company that 1% of the company had been given the boot and that he thought this was like the company shedding skin. Irony not being an American strength, the realisation that only animals at the bottom of the evolutionary tree, such as lizards and snakes, do this, was clearly missed, but reinforced for me exactly the sort of company I had been working for. Thinking about it, this is a company that doesn’t so much shed skin as moult.
I lacked a clear idea of what I wanted to do next and instead had a sizeable list of what I didn’t want to do. This included working for another US firm. That list wasn’t going to get me a job, and while I don’t particularly share Jerome K Jerome’s attitude to working, “I love work, I could watch it for hours”, I work best in environments where I’m at the front and where there is plenty of variety. I needed some way to blow away the cobwebs and resentment and come up with an idea of what I wanted to be when or if I grew up.
Prior to starting this job, I had been entertaining a pipe dream of cycling to Namibia. I had put together a dream bike and kit list, and planned a routed with the help of a weekend course at the Royal Geographical Society. Things had changed somewhat since I planned that adventure, and I didn’t think a year long journey would be a good idea, but looking at other long distance cycle routes such as the tempting EuroVelo-1 I hit on the idea of doing Land’s End to John O’Groats.
The first stumbling block was how to get to Land’s End and get back from John O’Groats. The train fare from John O’Groats was over £200 which brought out the stingy git in me. Penzance to where I live was a much better £50, so with the help of a handful of airmiles I decided to fly to Aberdeen, cycle the route backwards and get the train back from Penzance.
I did the 835 mile journey during May and June 2014, and while thousands of others have also done it, by unicycle, penny farthing, for charity, while juggling and probably even with no-hands, this was to be my journey, and this blog is going to tell you all about it.