Saturday, 18 December 2010

Conventionally ill-prepared

The secret of success is preparation, preparation and meticulous preparation.

Different companies have different ways of celebrating Christmas. My last one put the accent on fun. The venues and the food were good but not exceptional, rooms were laid on for anyone who wanted to stay over and there was a free bar. Partners/spouses were welcome. Hair was let down and people had a good time.

My present company has a different approach. The dinner was in one of London’s better restaurants, the kind that gets rosettes or stars in various guides. Partners weren’t invited. And it was black tie.

I love that expression, ‘black tie’. It’s a test in itself. Either you know that it’s code for ‘wear a dinner jacket’ (OK, OK, tuxedo for you out there in the colonies) or you fall at the first hurdle.

Now I haven’t worn one of those monkey suits for donkey’s years. I still have one, bought for some stiff occasion with a bunch of health service accountants twenty years ago, but for aeons it has done nothing but hang in my wardrobe. I never complained about this state of affairs, as I always dread the idea of ‘black tie’ events. The sheer formality makes me cringe in anticipation, which  probably explains why I didn’t get round to climbing into uniform until late in the afternoon of the day itself.

It shouldn’t have been that late, but I went to a customer presentation beforehand, about 27 miles away. At a pinch, you can drive 27 miles in not a lot over half an hour; if much of the journey is in built-up areas, you might take an hour. Even my sat nav suggested 52 minutes. But a little snow fell, and that was it. Bingo. Gridlock. It took me two and a half hours to get home. That’s significantly longer than it would have taken in the age of horse transport.

So it was pretty last minute when I started to dress up. I turned to the suit first: to my relief, I could still get into it. Danielle thought it was horribly old-fashioned, but then isn’t it the whole point of dinner jackets to be old-fashioned?

Then came the infamous black tie itself. As I looked at mine I was struck by the dilemma that this article of clothing always triggers: can I remember how to tie it? There comes a point in tying a bow tie when it’s obvious that what you're going to do next has absolutely no chance of producing a knot; then you do it; and miracle of miracles, a knot is formed.

And before you ask, I don’t wear a ready-made bowtie because, hey, where would the fun be in that?

So I had the suit and after twenty minutes of struggle I had established I still knew how to tie the tie. Then came the sickening heart-stopping moment when I realised I didn’t actually have anything to put under the tie. You can’t wear a dinner jacket without a dress shirt, and I couldn’t find one anywhere.

Something missing

It was 7:30. I needed to catch the 7:46 train. Maybe if I got the 8:04 I could still just about make it. Later than that and, well, I’d be late.

At that point Danielle came in.

‘You know your cufflinks?’

‘Yes,’ I said. I never wear cufflinks, which irritate me as much as dinner jackets. If God had meant us to wear cufflinks, I feel, he would never have given us buttons.

So I hadn’t seen my cufflinks for months. Nor, it now transpired, had Danielle. ‘They’re somewhere safe,’ she told me. ‘I put them somewhere really secure when we moved so they wouldn’t get stolen. So you can rest assured they’re safe.’

‘But not actually available?’ I felt obliged to ask.

We leaped into the car and drove into the town centre. At ten to eight on a Friday evening in Luton, practically everything is shut, but fortunately not that great department store, Debenham’s, whose praises I can’t sing loudly enough.

Minutes later I was doing a swift change in the car, and managed to catch the 8:20 stopping train that got me to the restaurant 30 minutes late. But at least sporting a smart new dress shirt, cufflinked at the wrists, with a hand-tied black bow tie and an old-fashioned but entirely serviceable dinner jacket. And with a nagging feeling that I might have done well to check all these items earlier.

And the evening itself? My colleagues welcomed me to the dinner with great and, to my astonishment, apparently sincere cordiality. The food and wine were outstanding, the company friendly and cheerful. What I had initially dreaded turned into a perfectly pleasant evening. More conventional than in the last place, certainly, but it managed to be just as much fun.

However, the fact that it worked out well in the end hardly excuses my woeful lack of preparation, does it?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And the recovery is in the hands of unprepared chaps like you!