Wednesday 30 July 2008

The things you see when you haven't got your gun

14st 2lb; 6.5 units of alcohol; 1,285; Charterhouse.

I don’t go to London on business all that much these days, but today I did: getting up at 5.30 to start the important work of faffing around, driving to Morpeth to leave the dog with his carer (whom he shows irritating signs of preferring to me), catching the 08.00 train from there to Newcastle and then the 09.00 to London. At 12.45, a mere 7.25 hours after I had first scratched myself awake, I walked confidently into a City meeting room to hear my client utter the words, “Right, well the best thing now would be if you all buggered off for an hour and let us sort a few things out among ourselves.”

At least I was able to grab a sandwich before I was ejected. It is always important to seize these opportunities when they arise, as another client did when he was shown into a meeting room at a merchant bank and found a huge tray of sandwiches on the table. Reasoning that he would have little time to eat while he was talking about his company to the bank’s assembled fund managers, he started a major fuelling operation. He was just cramming the last sandwich into his mouth when a receptionist arrived and said, “I’m terribly sorry, but I’ve shown you into the wrong room.”

The correct one was much smaller, and the refreshments comprised only a small plate of biscuits. He has been wondering ever since which more important captain of industry was deprived of his lunch.

Sitting alone eating my own sandwich today, I was joined by Temptation in the shape of an old friend, who suggested that we might nip out for a drunken lunch, as in the old days. I prudently resisted. Then I started wittering on about my lovely girlfriend, and tried to find a suitable photograph to show her on my computer. Instead I found a series of beautiful pictures of the countryside around my house in Northumberland. I was scrolling through these delightful sylvan scenes when there suddenly flashed up an image I cannot bring myself to describe, though the entry in this blog for 12 April provides a bit of a clue. I was sure I had deleted it long ago. Luckily she did not scream. But then she does work for an organization which for many years employed a spirited New Zealand girl whose quirks included having a picture of her boyfriend’s erect member stored as the screensaver on her mobile, so that it flashed up like something from a porn horror flick whenever he rang her.

We spent the afternoon endeavouring to rehearse a presentation. It’s bit like trying to train a Border terrier. You know for a fact that the trainee is never actually going to obey any of your instructions, but you reasonthat at least he does know what he ought to do, in the unlikely event that he chose to do so, and you feel better for having made the effort.

I have always hated meetings. One of the things that has always irked me about them is the way that many people feel obliged to suggest totally unnecessary changes to things in order to show that they are awake and paying attention. Admittedly you can achieve the same result without actually having a meeting, just by circulating a draft document by e-mail. Any non-executive director or adviser who responds “It’s fine” fears that they are not “adding value”. So they suggest changes. For many years I used to preserve every draft of the results statements and profit warnings from my clients. Almost invariably, on about Draft 21, the weary finance director who was co-ordinating things would ring up and say something like “I’ve just had a helpful suggestion from the deputy chairman” and I’d say “Well, there’s a first.” Then he’d read me some suggested wording for a paragraph we’d all been arguing about through 20-odd versions, and ask me what I thought. And, more often than not, I’d say that it bore an extraordinarily close resemblance to what I’d put in Draft 1 in the first place. Indeed, in many instances, the final version really was absolutely identical to my original. But at least everyone felt that they had put in some real effort to justify their fees.

This afternoon one of my former colleagues suggested binning the first slide of my beautifully crafted presentation, as the audience would know it all already since they would have read the same points in the release being made to the Stock Exchange two and a half hours earlier. Perhaps I laid on just a little too much sarcasm in pointing out that, on that basis, we might as well scrap the whole sodding thing since the days when quoted companies could impart additional information to select audiences in presentations have long since vanished.

I had suggested booking The Ivy for dinner this evening, but the notion was rejected on the grounds that we should go somewhere more frugal: a simple and unpretentious French restaurant in the City which I am pretty sure was actually more expensive. One of its supposed virtues was the all-inclusive fixed price menu. I very much enjoyed my lobster risotto (£3 supp.), medium rare cote du boeuf (£7 supp.) and selection of fine French cheeses (£5 supp.) I really did not choose them to make a point, and certainly not a cheap one.

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