Thursday 31 July 2008

The busiest day of the year

No idea of my weight, and little idea of last night’s alcohol consumption, but I’ll take a wild stab at 11 units; 1,284 days left; Smithfield.

The problem with dining at a table of seven and not paying the bill is that one does not keep close track of the wine consumption. But I’m guessing that we had five or six bottles between us last night and that I was, as usual, drinking far faster than anyone else. And I had turned up on time, unlike the rest of the party, so I had got through a couple of aperitifs before they arrived, and I had an Armagnac at the end to maintain the pretence that I am sociable. So, despite having the presence of mind to drink two bottles of fizzy water before I lapsed into a coma, I woke up this morning with a mouth like the Sahara desert during a particularly vicious sandstorm. I was absolutely gasping for my morning pot of tea; guaranteeing, with clunking inevitably, that my club would fail to deliver it for the first time in the two years I have been staying there when in London. Then I cut myself shaving, just to make my body a little bit shorter of vital fluids.

I can’t even begin to remember how often I have apologized to clients for the scanty media interest in their results with the words, “I’m afraid it’s a terribly busy day.” With smaller companies in particular, one used to duck and weave and try bringing out their figures on a Monday or Friday, when the market is generally a bit quieter. But the inevitable operation of the Law of Sod meant that, even on an apparently almost clear day for company news, one often ended up being comprehensively upstaged by an unexpected, blockbusting takeover bid.

The media diaspora from Fleet Street and the ever-increasing pressure of work also mean that it is now virtually impossible to hold a press conference, except perhaps for the very largest of companies. How easy the 1980s and early 90s seem now, as I look back on a time when one could attract maybe a dozen journalists to sit down to lunch with the management of a medium-sized brewer or food manufacturer, by the simple expedient of laying on a half-decent piss-up.

Today, as it turned out, really was probably the busiest day of the year, with no fewer than 15 FTSE-100 companies reporting results, for a kick-off. My client did not have a prayer. But at least their analysts’ meeting was respectably attended, and I was able to sit at the back ticking off the list of all the things we had told the chief executive not to say in the course of it, as he systematically said them. At the end, I turned to the one man who has followed this company since it first floated almost 25 years ago, and who on my reckoning must been sitting through his 49th biannual presentation. Given that the chief executive was retiring today, and had been in place from the very start, I had thought it would be nice if this bloke said a few words of appreciation, and had e-mailed him to suggest as much.

Dead silence ensued.

When I spoke to him afterwards to enquire whether he had been unable to speak because he was overcome by emotion, he simply replied “Oh, I thought you were joking.”

The story of my life. Just because I am attempting to be funny in a brutally sarcastic way 99% of the time, it does not mean that I am never sincere or serious. LTCB please note.

I had lunch with an old friend, during which I conspicuously failed to sparkle, and she drew me an interesting chart demonstrating why it is so hard for single women of her age (let us say late 30s, which should earn me a brownie point) to find a suitable mate. Her base assumption was that 70% of both sexes in her age group were in steady relationships. Of the remaining men, she reasoned that 10% were gay and 5% too fat or ugly for consideration. Various other 5% bands were then ruled out for reasons I now forget, leaving just 5% of the total who were truly eligible. Among women, on the other hand, only 3% were all-out lesbians (and the one bit of her argument that I found impossible to fault is that while gay men are the most physically attractive of all males from a woman’s point of view, precisely the opposite applies when considering the sex appeal to men of all-out lesbians, by which I mean the real ones not the models gamely putting on an act in top shelf publications). Rule out the other 5% of female fuglies and you end up with 22% of the 30-something women chasing 5% of the men. Well, it’s a theory. And it might just explain why lucky 50-something blokes occasionally end up with gorgeous 30-something girlfriends, one of the few current facts of my life about which I feel no inclination at all to have a prolonged moan.

This evening we did go to The Ivy, to mark if not exactly celebrate my client’s retirement. We ended up drinking vintage Armagnac in a hotel in Smithfield as the clock struck midnight and power passed peacefully to the new generation. It was all a lot less fraught than King Lear, I can tell you.

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