Another interminable conference , prefaced by a tedious drinks party . Whilst the invitations to these events suggested voluntary attendance, you were nonetheless ticked off an imaginary register of corporate fidelity. Dull suits , shabby shirts, loud ties and very occasionally a smattering of women in the suit equivalent of a smartly tailored black dress.
“So, what do you do ? “ asked a grey-suited delegate, attempting the kind of small talk required at such a gathering. Was he genuinely keen to know or was this just a blatant attempt to gauge my status within the ranks ? It was a thinly disguised interrogation to establish my seniority and salary potential. He was relatively junior , judging by his age but clearly ambitious and would undoubtedly have ‘worked’ the room , eager to establish useful connections that might nudge him up the promotion ladder.
I told him nonchalantly that I worked for the Chief Executive of the company hosting the event. I could see this information being logged in a part of his brain that would tell him whether further conversation would be useful or not . “So you must get to type a lot of very interesting letters ? “ he laughed scornfully as if I were party to the kind of correspondence that might, intellectually, go over the top of my head. I was , after all, a woman , I worked for a senior figure in the company, QED I must be a secretary . These were his assumptions based on the limited facts he had at his disposal.
When I told him that I didn’t type he was clearly puzzled but at that moment he spotted an eminently more important guest , over my shoulder and he was off without so much as a backward glance. I could hear his voice booming at his new, unfortunate victim “ So , what do you do ? “ Clearly an unimaginative conversationalist.
The evening wore on in much the same vein of stilted snippets of office talk and polite enquiries. Sly glances at watches were made by the impatient , attempting to calculate an acceptable time of departure . Bores were quickly passed over by the more discerning guests and those with an appetite for alcohol were just beginning to loosen up and make fools of themselves. I could hear my earlier garrulous inquisitor move around the room, making his presence felt with indiscriminate laughter at his own jokes.
Finally, the chinking of a glass with a sharp object as the universal code for ‘silence please’ heralded an announcement from our Chief Executive . “ Ladies and Gentlemen , may I have your attention please. I would like to introduce our esteemed guest speaker for the evening ... “ and as the polite applause gently subsided following his introduction, I stepped onto the podium to deliver my keynote speech. I noted , with sheer joy, the look of disbelief on the face of my , now silent and no longer laughing , grey suited bore . It felt exhilarating to have the very last laugh.