21 May 2007
... but when I got there, I found I was in two bodies. Either that, or I'd slipped through a gap in the space-time continuum and I had arrived 10 minutes before myself as - it seemed - someone had taken my name badge and gone inside with it.
I was nonplussed: I didn't like the idea of an alter-ego working the room, meeting my network, making new contacts and, well, probably eating less, drinking less, sweating less, being more polite and making a lasting positive impression. Suddenly I cheered up, and the bright, bubbly hostess reassured me further: "Don't worry! we'll just print you off another badge!" she said brightly, bubblily, "What's your name again ?"
My spirits fell once more - it was noisy in the bar, and my name is sometimes difficult to pronounce and hard to hear and, sure enough, within moments I was one half of a ghastly sketch routine.. "NO!" bellowing politely over the din, while still smiling charmingly (I hoped) "NO! NO! IT'S BRAVO, OSCAR, TANGO, OSCAR, GOLF, OSCAR, LIMA!",
"Sorry Oscar. Oscar what?"
"LIMA! OSCAR LIMA! ..... LIMA -ALPHA-MAMA-ALPHA LIMA!"
"Mr. Lima?" (doubtfully)
"NO!, HERE! LET ME WRITE IT DOWN FOR YOU".
She inspected the spoiled tablecloth suspiciously: "Aaah", she said, "like the mountain in Siberia! Why didn't you say so?"
Eventually she gave me a ruby-red badge. There was a system: alumni had red badges, junior staff had silver badges, partners had gold badges, and senior partners (alpha males all) had circles of silver-badged acolytes taking advantage of rare face-time with their Gods. A passing waiter offered a me Pineapple Martini so convincingly disguised as a margarita that I actually took it, and that's how I found myself encircled by my horny-handed beer-swilling old friends, clutching a girlie drink.
Every last one of them was running a triathlon. What is it with these people? have they no originality? We descended immediately into OCD training talk and before I knew it, hours had passed. I wasn't drunk, though: I had eaten far too many canapés for that.
Eventually the triathlon conversation began to pall (really) and I paid attention with one part of my mind while with another I scanned the passing name badges half looking for myself and half for escape; scanning carefully for it was dark and I had left my old-man glasses at the office; until a moving plate of prawns tempura provided the perfect opportunity to slip away, and I plunged amongst the serried ranks of red-badged blue-chip FTSE 100 employees, holders all of indescribable jobs for a bit of reunion oneupmanship
".. so you must know Roger then?", "Yes he works for me"
"..I'm retired, actually. Well, we didn't plan to sell up but they were offering silly money, so.."
"...then somehow Country Life got to hear of it, and the next thing you know our old barn was featured as their Organic Eco Conversion of the year. It was all rather boring, but Sue's actually made quite a business of it since..."
"...well, I just write about ordinary life and so on.. Well, 5,217 hits last month and eleven comments, I don't know if that counts as a lot - yes I did see it - Sunday Times yes, she's very good isn't she? No I - ha! ha! - no I don't think any publishers going to be interested in mine..."
I felt I was in two places at once (perhaps three, if the badge-thief was still present) both participating in and observing the ritualised work-based exchanges, and standard personality-types. With them but not of them. And I wondered if everyone else felt just the same. Or are they all like that at home?
Then I pulled myself together and had a mini roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, washed down with one of those rather-nice Pineapple Martinis. At the far end of the room I could see someone who looked strangely familiar. It was all far too much excitement for one evening and I reached home far too late.