The Chairman was of the view that all organisational issues could be resolved with a weekend in the country. We had gone through what was being described externally as a ‘period of change’. It was, of course, a bloodbath from which the fallout was still descending, infecting all it touched with paranoia and toxicity.
But a weekend in the country was called for and The Chief Exec, The Marketing Director and I were summonsed.
I had a couple of drinks on the way there. The glamour of the baby bottles of white wine, selected from a selection of one from the trolley on the suburban stopper-train provoked a torrent of touring anecdotes, regaled through the fuggy, thick-tongued haze that tended to descend with such intake.
We were collected from a bleak, fly-blown train stop (certainly not a ‘station’) by The Chairman who was decked out in a camel coat and a Jag rather than the hoped-for Barbour, wellies and Land Rover. “Christ. It’s fuckin’ Alan Sugar”, said the Marketing Director.
This particular weekend in the country does qualify as a ‘Development Do’ in as such that the next day was designated a ‘fundraising lunch’ by The Chairman and The First Wife. It transpired to be a buffet for local yokels where we were presented as a curiosity – The Artists from Town or some such inaccuracy.
But it was the evening session of bonding and revelry, amongst a group of people who’s sense of collegiate community would have been much better stimulated by being left alone for the weekend, that was ahead of us.
The household staff had been asked to ‘prepare something special’, the first round of which was a glass of warm white wine, served in a goblet that clearly hadn’t seen the front of the cupboard for some time. The Chief Exec, never slow in speaking her mind, pointed out the dusty, BO-smelling aura that was emanating from it to The Wife, with a hint of apology that, as ever, leant towards the sneer.
A light supper followed. Field mushrooms, in a cream and parsley sauce, on toast. I was cheerily informed that it had been remembered that mushrooms were my favourite. This was, indeed, true at the time. But such were my 70s New Town tastes, I was significantly more keen on ‘button mushrooms out of a can that you microwave in a small bowl, a la Little Chef 1986’ than this particular Pru Leith-ism.
But we tucked-in in the hope that more booze would follow, accompanied by minimal discussion about how much we all disliked each other.
I started to feel a little flush-faced only about ten minutes in. It couldn’t, surely, have been a side-effect of passive smoking The Chief Exec’s endless Marlboro Menthols (something that I quit a couple of years ago thanks to the theory that it was giving me gout). And it couldn’t have been as a result of drinking. There had been far too little of that up to this point.
But there was no doubt that I was getting hotter and hotter – the sort of heat that felt as if it was coming from underneath the skin rather than the environment. I got my phone out in the pretext of fact-checking as aspect of the conversation that I had little interest in. I flipped the camera on and reversed it to ‘face on’ and checked my complexion to see if it had, as I feared, turned the colour of the sort of blood you pass when suffering from piles. But I looked as normal as I ever looked. Was I going to be sick? I didn’t think so. But I was marginally comforted by the fact that flower pots were in my eye-line, just outside the conservatory in which we were seated.
“Excuse Me”, I said. And found my way to the loo, which was inevitably decorated with The Chairman’s various certificates, honours and awards. I sat down and pulled my trousers down. The ‘flush’ had now spread to my legs and I sat there, furiously searching for hives and fanning my thighs in the hope that some cool air would help. I rested my head against the wall, infuriated that I had been incapacitated in a convenience without a skinful of cheap plonk preceding it. I’d only imbibed a couple of Virgin Rail Chardonnays and some field mushrooms. “Aha! They might be Magic”, I thought, “Brilliant”. I hadn’t taken anything hallucinogenic for many years and the prospect of doing so now under these circumstances was strangely compelling.
But no, on reflection, it was but a mild intolerance. On returning, my absence was only lightly commented upon. This was maddening in itself. Not only did I want my departure from the conversation to have been longingly noted but I wanted to shout at the top of my voice “YOUR FUCKING MUSHROOMS HAVE GIVEN ME AMAZINGLY HOT LEGS!”. Alas, the remainder of the evening trundelled into the night and was, in the final furlong, incrementally improved upon by the unveiling of a digestifs trolley worthy of Beverly Moss.
The morning saw the arrival, of The Artistic Director and his wife, in time for his ‘revealing’ to the yokels. Living only thirty minutes away meant that he had an ‘out’ with respect to the incarceration that the rest of us were subjected to, given our urban geographies.
“I hate these things”, he greeted me with. “Performing Monkey-time”. He had, in fairness, accurately described the format of the occasion. His demeanour didn’t improve when he saw the Chief Exec come into the room. He turned to his wife and cheerily announced, “Oh Great. Cruella’s here”. “Shut up and smile”, I said. “No-one wants to give money to a slapped-arse face”. And we cheerily entered the room to see if we could extract some cash for our next ill-feted project from the local butcher and his wife.