I've just been to a leaving do. As I am not currently a member of a firm I might have thought that my leaving do days were behind me, but a fellow ex-employee of the plant centre held a gathering for the manager, who is also about to become ex, after fourteen years of loyal service. He has got the chance to run a garden centre whose owners want to retire, so he will be able to put his own stamp on it, and it is within cycling distance of his house, should he be so inclined, instead of a daily round trip of fifty miles that includes crossing the Orwell bridge. He looked very happy, as well he might do.
A young colleague who left not long before I did was there. He has just finished his one year course at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, and is about to start a two year diploma at Wisley. He's done well. Competition for Wisley places is fierce.
The young gardener was not there. He finished work last week, and is about to start at a Tom Stuart-Smith designed garden, taking over from a close friend of his, who is also off to Wisley to start a Masters. I've seen pictures of the Stuart-Smith garden, both on the young gardener's phone after he'd been to visit his friend, and in an exhibition at the Garden Museum, and it is absolutely stunning. It makes sense when you're young to gain experience at a few different places, and anyway he did used to spend an awful lot of his time mowing and strimming.
Yet another former colleague, who left quite a while before I did, made a late appearance after a day's work at the garden centre where she works now, and I saw that her uniform shirt was embroidered with her name as well as the garden centre's. Well, that should stop the owner from dressing new members of staff in hand-me-downs. But apparently there have been issues over people joining, and then leaving rather quickly and before the firm had got full value out of the personalised shirts, so the owner is rethinking the policy.
One customer at least remembers me, since the manager said that someone who had not been in for a while said that she didn't want to pry, but what had happened to that educated woman who used to work there? That was me, a free horticultural history lesson or a scrap of Yeates with every plant, if customers looked friendly.
After a couple of hours of nibbling and gossiping I made my farewells and left. I'm quite sure that's the last time that that particular group of people will be gathered together under one roof, which is a slightly odd thought when you clock up the total number of years we worked together in various combinations. It is unlikely I'll even see all of them again. It's a sad thought in some ways, but as Mark Vernon observes in The Philosophy of Friendship, it is possible to have perfectly amiable relationships with people while connected by common threads of work, while finding that you miss them very little once those ties are severed. I still keep in touch with a few of my fellow sales staff, and in particular the woman who works in the office (who couldn't make this evening's soiree). I do miss the dog, though.