Saturday, December 07, 2002

How things have changed

So, there I was in the Golden Tulip, in Manchester, though it’s name suggests it’s a strip club, it’s actually a hotel opposite the Old Trafford football ground. I was there readying myself for a conference next day. Typically, we met for dinner, exchanged pleasantries, ate well, arranged what was happening in the morning, and retired to our bedrooms. It was 10.30.

My, how things have changed, this same week past has been Online. An exhibition I used to be involved in organising. The exhibition subsumed the whole company; it was so all encompassing nobody who worked on it thought about Christmas until it past. Katharine, or Kathaaaarrrine, told me once that somebody totally unrelated to the exhibition once suggested to her a big night out the week before the exhibition, with tears in her eyes she inadvertently blurted out “But it’s Online” perplexed at how the world carried on whilst the show was being put together. No wonder she was so obsessed, she was subject to many rumours about her sexual impropriety at the show. And that was just the start.

The run up to Online was manic, traditionally we lived off Satsumas and donuts, and if we managed to have lunch, it was five minutes huddled in the back of the warehouse with haunted thousand yard stares. The weekend before the show was all midnight finishes and takeaway food.

When the show happened something had to give. The week at Online had it all. One session, which ended with us being thrown out of a restaurant, was aggressively debated in subsequent board meetings. Dave had chosen his moment to embark on a passionate monologue about poor pay and poor conditions, whilst sinking a fourth bottle of hotel wine on the company tab.

Another had one of our party throwing up no less than sixteen times in one day after a robust session in the bar. She decided that she would have to bail the following night’s drinks, and then didn’t. Four years later, the same person ordered a round in the hotel bar that amounted to more than her week’s room bill. The thing was, she had no idea she’d done it until she was checking out.

Exhibitors have threatened to throw me down the stairs, and one year the Fire Marshall wouldn’t let the doors open on the first day because a car was parked in front of a fire exit. This caused my director to stand in front of a queue of eager visitors and bang on the door with her fist, yelling in her aggressive Irish brogue “GET THESE FUCKING DOORS OPEN”.

The mornings were early, the nights were late. One night, after a week of late night drinking I began hallucinating that all the lights in the bar were rushing at me, and I had to leave. I remember one conversation with Jo who’s quintessentially Steppenwolf which passed thus: -

“What time are we meeting tomorrow?”
“7am, but I don’t start to worry about the morning’s until it gets past 3am”
“It’s 4.15”

By Thursday we had to leave, partly because it was the last day, but mostly to save ourselves from ourselves. We all went back in a minibus and ate chips, got back to the office and went home, we had Friday’s off, and didn’t do anything productive until at least January.

And now my business trips are sober, tawdry affairs, I have no desire to go to the bar until 3am, I’d like to, but you need a decent gang for it to really kick off, and I’m thinking that those heady Oxford publishing days were a pretty unique, yet potent mix you can’t easily replace.


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