Back at the office, Tim’s afternoon raced past in a flurry of telephone calls and a short but mentally taxing meeting called at short notice by the department manager, who had to announce that there were ‘significant changes afoot within the company’s structure’. ‘We’ve all got to be seen to be on board with this, going forward,’ he said.
A break was called and everyone dispersed, headed to the coffee machine, toilets or outside for a cigarette. Tim loitered in one of the recessed areas and checked his Blackberry, which he had kept on silent while in the meeting. It showed he had fifteen missed calls. He rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. His skin felt rough and dry, his eyes sensitive and watery. He would have to deal with returning the calls later. As he made his way back to the meeting, he encountered a tall, skinny man with short, mousy hair and an ill-fitting suit that hung from his curved meatless shoulders who was loitering outside the generously-sized meeting room. The grey suit man acknowledged Tim.
‘Have we met?’ Tim asked hesitantly.
‘Er, probably not’, the man replied. ‘I’m visiting from Head Office.’ He introduced himself as Richard Fiddler, Executive Director, and gesticulated toward a seat midway down the long glass table as they entered. Another man in a navy pinstripe suit spoke, and asked Tim if he had met Barry Brown from the Manchester office previously. Tim nodded, as Barry, a chubby ginger bloke with a goatee bounded forward with his hand extended. He displayed an expression like a happy Labrador or a man who was meeting a friend he hadn’t seen in years.
The man in the navy pinstripe suit addresses Tim again, but he doesn’t quite catch what he says. He feels a little out of his depth in the company of all of these high-powered executives. To save face, he simply nods again. He feels has though he’s a marionette, his actions controlled by some invisible puppeteer, his nodding an involuntary action like a nerve twitch, a sleep kick, a cough or some kind of tic.
The meeting resumes. It’s insufferably dull. There’s talk crossing the table, line upon line of factual data and a grasp of figures and financial projections. There are flip charts and flow charts and Microsoft® Office PowerPoint® slideshow presentations. The presentations are slick. A beefy bloke in a navy pinstripe suit speaks commandingly about the business plan for the forthcoming financial year and the company’s ‘high-level’ strategies.
Some middle-aged bim with goofy teeth and a tasteless trouser-suit straight out of the 80s is presenting now. She’s clearly wise to using Microsoft® Office Fluent™ interface but her presentation is all style and no substance. She goes on for an age, extolling the virtues of ‘building relationships,’ ‘being progressive’ and ‘proactive cascading.’ She’s winding down her interim report and the business projections for the next six and 12 months and she’s pushing to end with a positive, but instead simply spouts more corporate bromides. The meeting concludes with more rhetorical throat-clearing and back-slapping both metaphorical and literal, faux camaraderie slipping across the smooth surface of the smoked glass table. Tim’s glad when he can make his exit: he has reports to write and calls to make.
As the meeting progressed – or, perhaps more accurately, became increasingly mired in relentless corporate self-absorption – Tim could feel his tension rising. Anxiety coursed through his veins, accelerated by a massive doses of adrenaline and norepinephrine secreted by his overworked medulla. Sustained high levels of catecholamines in the blood are a good indicator of chronic stress, and Tim’s were off the scale. As the realisation dawned that his job was potentially on the line, a fear gripped him and his head began to swim. A strange sense of disorientation began to wrap itself around him like a cloud. The remainder of the day was spent in a caffinated, adrenalized daze and he arrived home after seven in the evening tired, exhausted and drained and also tetchy and wired. He couldn’t help it. The simple fact was that he had been feeling decidedly fractious lately, and it was difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons why. And because he didn’t know, he felt he couldn’t really talk about it with Amy – what was there to say? It was his problem, and he didn’t want to push it onto her. Thursday and Friday bled into one forgettable grey mass of telephone calls, conferences, meetings and reports, and by the time Friday night finally arrived, Tim’s hands were tender from the relentless batter of forceful handshakes and he still hadn’t found the time to catch up on all of the calls he had missed during the lengthy meeting on Wednesday afternoon. He tried in vain to stifle a yawn, then rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. His skin felt rough and dry, his eyes sensitive and watery. He was exhausted, and he needed the weekend to rest and recuperate.
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