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Gary’s last day working at the University of Southampton

I ‘swipe’ into work for the final time. Copyright © 2008 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

Today was my last day at the University of Southampton. This is what I said to my friends and colleagues.

We are here because of a dream, my family would say a mid-life crisis, and they are not far wrong, I just consider it more a mid-life review and re-planning exercise.

Dreams are strange things, when we are young we have such wonderful dreams for how our lives will play out, everything is black and white, and everything is possible. Then the reality checks set in, and we find that rather than being black and white, life tends to be a grey blur. Our dreams get buried under responsibilities and day-to-day trivia. Then over time they get forgotten and lost.

I forgot my dream. Then in 2006, I took up photography again, and in January 2007 took on a project to take a picture of myself every day for a year. I was shocked and appalled at what I saw – a miserable old sod, and I remembered my dream, realized I’d lost it, and vowed to do something about it.


Six months later I was getting divorced. While taking my pictures, I made lots of friends around the world, and I started exchanging e-mails with one person, in particular, discussing our pictures, and then our lives. Within 15 days of ever-increasing e-mails we realized that we were twins and meant to be together. We fell deeply in love via mail and phone, and decided to get married even before we met. Within seconds of meeting for the first time, we knew we were incredibly lucky to have found each other. We are two sides of the same coin.

So this move is not new to me, it’s been planned for the last eighteen months, ever since Ginger asked ‘how are we going to do this?’ and my answer was – ‘don’t worry honey, I’m a project manager… and sorting out problems is what I do.’

The schedule slipped a bit from the original plan. But we reviewed it in March and we have been spot on or ahead of schedule ever since. We have had huge hurdles to overcome, visas, children, families. Most of them are now sorted. but there are loads more still to come, but the good news is that we will get to face them together now.

The message I’d like to leave? Don’t forget your dreams.

That’s the end of the serious bit.

Over the last few days I’ve been musing on how you will all cope when I’ve gone.

  • Who is going to run interference with the senior management and attend mind-numbingly boring meetings so that you can concentrate on your day jobs?
  • Who will tell Susanne & Linda to go home?
  • Who is Leo going to be able to shout at, who won’t (normally) take offense and turn round and slap him one?
  • Who is going to try and steal resources from Beccy?
  • Who is going to address Susanne by her proper, given name? And,
  • Who is going to continue teaching her, by example, how to swear properly?
  • Who is going to drive people nuts with pedantic critiques of the layout and grammar of reports and documents?
  • Who is going to disrupt the office by sitting in the corner muttering and making distracting comments?
  • Who is going to keep the Student Union shop going by buying flapjacks everyday?

And most importantly,

  • Who will turn the meeting room lights off?
Photograph of Gary Allman outside Building 35 on his last day working at the University of Southampton
I’ve always been careful to keep my name badge out of pictures – no need anymore. Gary outside the Infamous University of Southampton Building 35. Copyright © 2008 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

Of course, there are several advantages to my leaving:

For the next six months, I can be blamed for every lost e-mail and file, every project that starts to over-run, update that goes wrong and all the undocumented or mis-documented processes.

I will have mysteriously placed an order for 10 flatbed scanners delivered without document feeders, and I have probably unwittingly renewed Peter Sandholm’s contract for another 12 months.

After that, however, you are on your own.

Over the last eighteen months I’ve come to realise just how little we really know about each other, and in my case in particular, how little I knew about myself. I like to think of us as being like icebergs. There is only ever a very small proportion of our true selves showing. For example, I’m sure that only a very few of you know that a substantial number of my self-portraits are nudes. One of which was used for a drawing, which last night some friends presented a copy to me as a going-away present…

This is a time of rapid change, anxiety, and frustration, where tempers sometimes fray, it is good to remember how little we know about each other, and stop and remind ourselves that behind our colleagues’ work facing exteriors is a person just like us, with hopes, aspirations, fears and of course dreams.

So, be kind to each other and I’d like to say ‘thank you’ for how kind and helpful you have all been to me. It’s been a pleasure working with you all.

When I wrote my speech I didn’t know who my successor would be, but we do now, so I’d like to break with tradition and finish by giving her a gift…

The gift was a white pages telephone directory – an ‘in-joke’ within the team, which probably left my two bosses wondering what all the hilarity was about.

Copyright © 2008 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.