Monday 18 August 2008

Only potatoes wear jackets

14st 0lb this morning; 3.0 units of alcohol yesterday; 1,266 days to go; Gosforth.

Bloody typical. I went out to lunch kitted out in my new blue jeans, a new blue cotton pullover over an open-necked white shirt, and my new smart and slimming dark blue coat (because I worked with public school types in the City for long enough to know that only potatoes wear jackets). And what should I find facing me across the table but a man of about my own age adhering to all the outdated principles I have just abandoned. It gave me a pang or two, I can tell you. Not only was he wearing a well-cut blue suit, but a tightly knotted tie that was certainly meant to look regimental if it were not so in reality. This military impression was strongly reinforced by his “Support Our Troops” lapel badge. I felt very scruffy indeed. He then made me feel even worse by saying that he had only ever worn jeans once in his life, and that was for one scene when he was acting as a body double in a film shoot. Or maybe he was the star and they had already shot the scene with the body double wearing jeans instead of a smart suit because of some oversight in the wardrobe department, so he had to go along with it. I forget. I think it may be Alzheimer’s.

Anyway, I thought it was a bit of a triumph that I recognized this bloke when he walked into the restaurant, as I can’t have seen him for at least 15 years. At the time he was handling PR for a well-known local football club, and wanted some advice on their planned flotation. I had started droning on about the sort of incentives that private investors would require to perk their interest, and he looked at me in amazement. “I don’t think you realize the scale of their loyalty,” he said. “We could just put a skip outside the ground and they would come and chuck cash into it.” I suggested that they tried that, then, though I’m pretty sure they didn’t. It wasn’t the most productive meeting of my career.

This one went rather better, I think, as we discussed a number of potential ideas for how I could fill the time when I finally admit that no-one is ever going to pay a penny to read my allegedly humorous ramblings, and I have to face up to reality and return to the coalface of public relations. And he surely must know what he is talking about because he has clearly made a great deal of money out of it, as I divined from throwaway lines like one about the amount of effort he is having to make, this very wet summer, to pump water out of “the woods above my house”. It was the sort of line I would expect a duke to come up with, if his ancestors had not had the sense to stick their castle on the top of a hill rather than in a valley prone to flooding.

On the other hand, when I started work as a stockbroker in 1978, I made the same mistake by thinking that the partners of my firm had all made their fortunes there, and that it presented an ideal opportunity for me to follow the same profitable path. I swiftly realized that in fact they had all been immensely rich before they started, and would indeed be a good deal richer if they just stayed at home tending their hobby farms, rather than commuting into the City every day to lose shed loads of money on dodgy punts on the stock market.

He might also have got rich by being careful, like so many wealthy people of my acquaintance. I admired the subtlety with which he drew my attention to the remarkably good value represented by the £11 prix fixe menu, including a free glass of wine. And it was all right, in fairness, though I did have to call at a garage on the way home and buy a bar of chocolate to give me the energy to complete my journey. At least I didn’t fall for the “two for £2.50” offer promoted by the young moron behind the filling station till, albeit mainly because he mumbled so indistinctly that I failed to grasp what he was talking about until I was turning into my driveway 35 miles later. Damn. Yet another lost opportunity.

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