The Livery Hall, the Auction Twink and the Utilities Magnate

I’d only, thankfully, had a couple of experiences of galas that involved auctions up until this point. One of them involved me having to transport the majority of the leather-infused ‘luxury prizes’ from the venue to my home after not having sold them at the promised premium.  Never again, I thought at the time.  

Until now.  Around fifteen years later.  I was going to need a drink on the way there.

The venue was a city livery hall.  The usual array of silent auction items, flower arrangements, committees and celebrities had been argued over and the day had arrived.  I was in the pub next to the livery hall, trying not to sneer too obviously at the crush of second-tier banking types who were guffawing over their mid-afternoon pints.  

I was avoiding the team. The Event Manager, the Operations Manager and the Individual Giving Manager were all trying their damnedest to take charge next door whilst doing as little as possible.  The Event Manger had announced the day before that her doctor had advised her not, in any way, to exert herself.  Convenient.   The Operations Manager was inoperably angry due to the fact that his pre-ordained Roadmap for the Project had been comprehensively ignored.  The Individual Giving Manager was smashed.  As usual.

The Orchestra and the Chorus were beyond the point where a pep-talk might have helped.  A round of cuts had been announced that day, aimed squarely at a raft of Spanish practices that had allowed them the maximum amount of pay for the minimum amount of work for some time.  They were particularly distraught at the redundancy of a sixth percussionist whose status as some sort of Salaried Standby had meant that he had been able to live, for the duration of his past two years of employment, at home. In France.  You’ve got to admire the solidarity, I thought.

I downed my second pint and popped an extra strong mint into my mouth and walked around the corner into the livery hall.  There was a break in rehearsal proceedings and a crate-load of Pret sandwiches was being inhaled, against a backdrop of groans that they’d gotten lasagne last time. I found the Assistant Event Manger on the floor of the reception space trying to rearrange cancellations and table re-jigs across three different methodologies – enormous sheets of paper, placement cards and a malfunctioning IPad App.  He told me that I could find the Event Manager in the kitchen, “trying out the main course one more time”, he curl-lippedly snarled at me.  This Event Manager was particularly fond of a tasting.  The Assistant was fond of bitching.

The hurdles that had to be overcome by the point at which guests were due to arrive were pretty straight forward so I went to chat to the catering staff and see if I could get them to crack open a bottle of champagne ahead of time.  They could.

The Principal Conductor was in a foul mood.  He’d been forced to babysit his eight year old daughter from his second marriage and the infant in question was either entwined around his left leg or complaining loudly that she wanted Choc-O-Late.  She seemed intent on pronouncing it every single time as if it were three separate words. He was also getting a monumental earful from his colleagues about the cuts.  “The Twats”, he said, meaning the Board, “chose a great fuckin’ day to tell them”.  He was mindful of the need for the Orchestra and Chorus to perform at their best for such an occasion.   Seriously, I thought, they only have to scrape their way through fifteen minutes of material they could probably perform asleep or drunk.  Which they probably were.  Both of.

The Twats, after having promised to arrive early to help arrange their tables, arrived with the rest of the guests after having collectively propped up the self same bar that I had been at an hour prior.  Their arrival was punctuated with the usual chorus of back-slapping and self-congratulation for which they were known.  They headed to the champagne, ignoring the glowering Principal Conductor.

The auction aspect of the event was, in fact, the least excruciating aspect of the occasion.  The auctioneer was this fop-haired newbie that a member of the Executive had seen at a gala for donkeys or somesuch a month or so prior and was trying to get into bed with.  I wasn’t questioning their taste but his command of the over-complicated auction list, the audience, the timetable for the occasion, the gavel and the microphone were all extremely wanting.  I sat with my eyes firmly planted upon the skid-mark remnants of chocolate dessert whilst the team, who had been dragged away from their first mouthful of their dinner to ‘spot’ the auction, stood at various points around the room with absolutely nothing to spot.  The Chairman raised his hand the requisite number of times to avoid outright mortification and the Auction Twink called it a day.

Just when I thought I was home and dry, I simultaneously clocked three issues that were going to bite me on the arse imminently.  When I say ‘clocked’ I mean despairingly noticed through the haze of the two pints, three glasses of champagne and one bottle of wine that had so far gotten me through the evening.  Oh the joys of being important enough these days to be sat at a ‘proper’ table for dinner.   Even if it is Table 37.

The Retired Major General was, it turned out, sitting squarely in the fireplace of the grand hall.   He actually appeared to be doubled-over underneath the mantelpiece itself.  He was one of those donors who are habitually giving you ‘one last chance’.   This was our ‘last last chance’ to impress him and his family before they decided upon their future philanthropy.  Philanthropy that consisted of £1,000 a year.  And a constant ear-ache.  In our attempt to squeeze an extra table or seven into the room, some had been wedged into whatever nook, cranny or corner we could find.  And the fireplace.   I’ll make sure I’m dead before I take his telephone call tomorrow, I thought.

Out of my other eye I could see two women with ironed-straight hair, down to their backsides, weaving and waggling through the tables with what looked like nine glasses of champagne in each hand.  As much as I admired their dexterity, I couldn’t help but recall that they had complained bitterly at the end of the reception that the ‘package’ only included one glass of champagne each.  “We’ll get some from the pub next door”, they hissed down their noses at me.   I quietly calculated the hit that their desire to bafflingly have champagne with a beef wellington was going to have on our corkage budget.   

And then I noticed a large picture propped up on the chair next to mind.  “Shit”, I thought.  It was a ‘lifetime achievement award’ or something like that.  I was supposed to have presented it to The Utilities Magnate during the meal to say thank you for 50 years of on-off support and daily telephone calls to complain that he wasn’t being looked after properly.  I leaped up and muttered a quick instruction to the compere who started making a speech about Oil and Gas or something.  I tip-toed across to the Magnate’s table with the picture in hand just in time to see him stand up and head in the opposite direction to me.  His table had heard and noticed what was going on and called to him to come back. He turned with a blotch-faced growl saying, “I can’t hear a word that woman’s saying.  This is a bloody disaster.  What’s she talking about?  What’s she saying?”

“You.  She’s talking about you”, I retorted, shoving the picture in his hand.  “Now smile”, I said through ground-down teeth as the photographer approached.

He didn’t smile.  

I staggered away into the night with two abiding images burnt onto the back of my brain.  One was of The Individual Giving Manager.  She had draped herself around one of the orchestra and was resting her head on his chest, quite possibly drooling into the vicinity of his naval.  The other was of The Event Manager who was barking orders at the Team whilst, it appeared to me, resting a plateful of leftovers on her ample bosom.  The Team had taken to sitting on the floor at this point.  Looking at her blankly.

The next day, The Individual Giving Manager made it into the office at around 2pm.  She was most certainly still drunk.  She looked at me across the room with a look that defied me to question her sobriety, on pain of a massive meltdown.  I bottled out of sending her home.  I sent the whole team home.

“PUB!”, she shouted, heading to the door.

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