"W-w-w-we're downstairs", the voice on the end of my mobile announced, "i-i-i-in your w-w-w-work bar."
(Actually, it didn't. It announced: "We're downstairs in your work bar". But he used
to have a stutter. And is still tall. So the moniker of Tall Stuttering Friend stays. Awlright?!)
It was a bit of a shock. I mean, I'd invited
him: of that, there was no doubt. But I was surprised that this 6-foot-7 frame of a would-be Crimewatch suspect, together with the lesser-but-no-less-significant frame of Volvo, would infiltrate the 'iron curtain' of one of London's top communication agencies.
" 'We're here to meet Unluckyman' ", TSF would later explain as his announcement at our reception desk.
" 'Which company does he work at?' " would be the security man's reply which he'd explain in response to the same question.
" 'Absolutely no idea.' " would be TSF's reply to aforementioned reply to aforementioned question.
" 'Well, why don't you go up to the bar?' " would be aforementioned security man's answer to aforementioned friend's question. " 'Just make sure you don't go any further.' "
Good to see anti-terrorism measures tightening up, I thought. But all that's by the by: because my point is, my wayward friends were in my work bar at Totty Towers.
I rushed down the stairs.
Buried among a deluge of mood boards and contact reports, it'd been a few days since I'd enjoyed social human contact. It was Friday night, and I was feeling alright.
It was a reassuring yet worrying sign to see my friends amidst a field of such delights, from both above- and below-the-line.
"That's Number Three" I advised, pointing to my third-preferred among the rich pickings on offer. "She's French" I added.
"Number One's here!" I exclaimed excitedly, gesturing towards the Office Babe as she mingled among my rugby-beaten colleagues.
"And Number Two!", looking resplendent in pink miniskirt and knee-high strapped leather boots.
Much discussion ensued, which in summary centred on my potentially sinister habit of numbering potential wives. Worrying ordering of detail for which ordering is just inappropriate. Shallowness, basically.
We flowered the walls and put the world to rights. Number One left within minutes of arriving. Number Three proved too superficial - not to mention French. And Number Two was too pissed, leading to the conveying of a perceived sense of disinterest by my esteemed and more experienced friends.
My claims that all female company were simply overcome with awe at being in the company of such an upwardly rising professional marketer fell on deaf ears, and within a couple of hours, we were in the bar almost alone.
"She's a nice girl", observed TSF, referring to one of my remaining female colleagues.
"But she's only number Fifty-Three", I remarked.
"She should be Number One", he retorted, without so much as a hesitation in his sentence.
I realised at that moment that I've become a spineless media tart.
I must get out more.
"Hey!" the attractive waitress exclaimed, pointing down at our table, "Is that your phone?".
"Yes" I replied proudly, "that's my phone.".
"Shit, isn't it?" she announced, "Mine's always playing up. Yours?"
"Occasionally." I answered, "Just occasionally."
She took our order. We enjoyed our food. Dutch courage. Before long, it was time to call for our bill.
"I'll do you a favour" I offered, "I'll give you my number so you can ring my phone and check they're both still working?"
Cheese doesn't work, kids. Don't do it.
Towards the end of a season in which my team has been oft labelled "beleagured" and "past its best" - despite still being second in the league - Saturday's victory paving the way to the Cup Final came as somewhat of a relief.
A tetchy game, arguably with more bookings that goal-scoring opportunities, was capped by Van Persie coming late off the bench to claim a sweet double.
I was privileged enough to have a ticket, among the erupting throng as the final whistle blew.
I am so, so lucky.
Except, perhaps, if only I'd slid my alarm fully to its 'ON' position, I might not have overslept, missed my train, the match, and what was by all accounts an exuberant weekend in Cardiff.
Still, it looked good on telly.
But I think I might buy another alarm clock for the final.
1am, Thursday morning.
Everything seems to be coming together nicely.
Planning's concerns had been put to bed by late afternoon. Senior management seemed happy enough the ideas were on-brief, and had retired home in advance of their early morning flights. Creative are beavering away and replenished by the abundant pizza I'd ordered in for them. The repro house are on standby throughout the night to get presentation boards made up and couriered to my colleague before his taxi arrives for the airport.
My work done for the afternoon's pitch, I order a taxi on the company account.
Within twenty minutes, a much nicer vehicle than the rogue-driven minicabs I usually flag in a half-drunken haze pulls up outside.
Clean. New. Smart driver. And with a bleeping handheld map computer mounted on the dashboard.
"That's flash!" I remark, in weary attempt to make polite conversation. "It's already got my postcode on it."
"Interesting you should say that.." replies my driver, his grating Livingstonesque tone already indicating what would follow might be anything but
interesting. "It's the latest state-of-the-art PDA with embedded wireless and GPS."
"Hmmm" I respond, feigning impression, before staring towards the window, "it certainly is a nice night".
The drive continues in silence, until it's interrupted by a female voice.
"One hundred yards" she orders, "Sharp left!"
I look around. The two of us are alone. Surely my late working has not sent me insane?
"Right hand lane" continues the voice, "roundabout, second exit."
Realising the voice is coming from the mini-computer, I feel compelled again to fill the silence making lame observations.
"Does she get angry if you ignore her instructions?" I ask.
"Pfffff! Sometimes, yes." answers my driver, his irritating laugh already indicating our humour might lie stratospheres apart, "Especially if I've been really, really naughty."
He giggles. I wriggle, embarrassed by the boyish nature of this man's conversation. In my mind, I hear the central locking click on. Yet in my winding down from work I feel compelled to continue filling the awkward silence with inane conversation.
"She sounds quite stern, doesn't she?" I remark as she barks at my driver to circumnavigate the ring-road.
"Pfffff!" my driver replies, before looking disappointedly at his mini-computer then looking confused. "Second exit?" he asks, gesturing towards London Bridge.
"No, third" I answer. "Hang on. What happened to your clever 'female friend'?"
"Control didn't put in your full postcode" he explains, "So I'll still need you to direct me for the last mile."
Disappointed at being let down by technology, I direct my driver home, and make more calls to ensure my precious boards get made up.
An unlucky man pays £2 to enter the office Grand National sweepstake, and picks 'Joly Bey' out of the hat.
He supplements this bet by placing £5 to win on 'Strong Resolve' at 11/1, and £2.50 each way on 'It Takes Time' at 18/1.
Joly finishes 14th. Strong 17th. It 4th.
By how much does this unlucky man win or lose - or just break-even?
Answers in the usual comments box please.
My colleagues had had quite enough after another hard day's toil in the pressuring world of direct marketing.
So to unwind they decided to step outside for a quick game of touch-rugby in the twilight.
Minutes in, they agreed there were too few of them to have a truly enjoyable game.
Inspired, one of our top strategists spotted an open opportunity:
"Let's ask them!" he motioned towards the chunky-looking fellas but a couple of hundred yards away. "They'll be from the direct marketing agency on the other side of the park."
Confidently, he strode across to ask them. Discussion took place for a couple of minutes. He returned, with the chunky-looking fellas cheerily following him - but himself, ashen-faced.
"What's wrong?" asked a concerned colleague.
"They're not from the direct marketing agency on the other side of the park" he muttered, "They're from the Fijian army."
It was too late to retract and lose face.
The pummelling began.
It'd all started so well.
I'd located my fellow walkers in the pub, and arrived only a little bit late.
We'd followed the canal through Little Venice, Regents Park, St Pancras and Islington, stopping off at hostelries along the way whilst keeping to Bookseller's stringent schedule.
But it was half-a-mile on, without warning, that a gridded gate greeted us: "PATH CLOSED".
Over the fence was the only way. One, two, three, four…over they went. It looked easy.
My turn. Right leg up, swing over. Left leg over and back, jump down. It sounded easy.
But, precariously balanced atop the fence, the child within brought my fear to the fore. I was stuck, and petrified. Despite their best efforts, no-one was getting me over that fence. I'd already convinced myself of that.
"You go ahead" I sighed in weary resignation, "I'll catch you up".
I backtracked along the path, and caught up with them in the pub twenty minutes later.
I'm not proud. Phobias, eh?
Me me me me not well
After last weekend's bold promise to post more frequently, you might rightly be feeling let down.
Alas reason this week is not work, but recovery back to full health.
I hope to be able to share the story with you in good time, readers, for 'tis a good 'un.
But for now feel my attempts at garnering sympathy may have been usurped this week by that American woman and Polish bloke.
Back when better.