Wednesday 5 December 2007

A meeting with a dead man

If there was one thing I hated in my business life, it was meetings. They are the lazy person’s way of filling the day without actually doing any work. I loathed in more or less equal measure board meetings, “brainstorming” meetings to work out how to frame a new business pitch or “move the business forward”, and “all parties meetings” where clients, bankers, lawyers, brokers and PR consultants [the lowest form of advisory life] gathered to plan or progress a major corporate transaction. Everyone was charging by the hour at a rate that would make even a west London plumber envious, and I suppose I should have been grateful to be out of the cold and earning my firm a small fortune, a tiny fraction of which might ultimately make it into my personal bonus pool. But I just sat there thinking that it was a complete and utter waste of my life.

Unless, of course, there was the opportunity to crack an unsuitable joke. Once we were producing a bid defence circular for a well-known Midlands brewer, whose merchant bank had decided to include a table to demonstrate that its shares were worth vastly more than the market appreciated. This was headed “Where should MidBrew trade?” The debate droned on interminably, while I sat daydreaming, with special reference to the very attractive blonde lawyer across the room. Then someone asked me a direct question: “Where should MidBrew trade?” After the man in charge had repeated it more slowly, I ventured, “Er, the South East?” You probably had to be there, but it got a reasonable laugh.

Though not as big a laugh as I had the time I was sitting with just MidBrew’s chairman and the head honcho from his law firm. A nervous banker came in and announced that they had the chairman of the firm we were bidding for on the line. “That’s it!” cried le grand fromage du litege, “He’s throwing in the towel!” Au contraire. It was a courtesy call to announce that they were about to launch a counter-bid for MidBrew, a manoeuvre known by computer games nostalgics as “the PacMan defence”. When things get really bad, I still recall the look on that lawyer’s face and unfailingly enjoy a little chuckle.

Shortly after this, I mastered texting on my mobile and meetings could be enlivened by exchanging messages with MidBrew’s stockbroker, mainly relating to the aforementioned blonde lawyer. We invented an elaborate fantasy in which she was enjoying an unbelievably passionate affair with her boss. Luckily no-one ever asked why we were constantly fumbling under the boardroom table and giggling like a pair of schoolboys.

Anyway, I only mention all that because this morning I went to a business meeting for the first time in months, and really enjoyed it. Maybe it had something to do with actually getting out of bed and talking to some people with IQs higher than their height in inches. Mind you, it really was a complete waste of time because I sat taking notes for an hour and said, “Right, that’s fine. Just let me know when I can come back and talk to your Chief Executive, and I’ll get the report written early in the New Year.”

“Oh, he can’t possibly spare the time to talk to you. And we were rather hoping you could get it done by the middle of next week.”

“A bit hard without a briefing, I’m afraid.”

“This WAS the briefing.”

Oops, silly of me to have missed that. It’s clearly past time I retired.

After that triumph, I went to Halfords at Kingston Park to buy a bicycle bell, but they could only sell me one in bright pink bearing a portrait of Barbie, and I didn’t think that really fitted with my image.

Then I drove to a country pub for lunch with my aunt and elder brother, who is still talking about the time that the police uncovered a brothel in a flat on the premises of the Benton Conservative Club. Strictly from the perspective of a Club member, you understand. He also said that he’d tried that deathclock website I’d been writing about, and it was utter rubbish as he put in all his details and it told him he’d been dead since 1994.

My aunt and I looked at each other. Then we looked at him. Then we carefully changed the subject.

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