Once long ago in a hemisphere half a world away I was engaged in winning business for Australia in the land of the Poms. My sad story takes place in a notorious seaside place by the name of Torquay. Older readers may remember this town as being the home of Mr Basil Fawlty the infamous hotelier. The action does not take place in his particular hostelry but when perusing my story gentle readers you may detect a familiar measure of his influence.
Those who have experience of travelling abroad on business trips will be familiar with the fact that to be able to travel as light as possible forward planning is necessary as regards clothing to be carried bearing in mind that available time for laundry/dry cleaning is often non existent. Also if events of prominence are to be attended where smart appearance is necessary to give the best impression to prospective business contacts then all the more forethought has to be applied. I write this now when of course the influence of Jobs and Gates have made the wearing of Jeans and maybe a jacket de rigueur – but back to times past.
I had arrived fully equipped, suitcase manageable but ready for anything – I thought. The event was the annual British Local Government equipment exhibition held in Torbay, the area of Torquay. Of special note was that each year just three exhibition stands were to be visited by the presidential party of the National Association. As a new exhibitor and a first ever from the Antipodes we had been selected as one of the preferred stands.
To best present I had chosen to take an outfit for the occasion that I thought would show our company to be one of quality and professionalism. After taking advice from an expert (my lovely wife) I was taking a pale grey suit with a pale blue shirt and a darker blue tie. I knew that I could mix and match each piece after the main event to continue to look the part. This methodology is a well-known ploy for the ladies but as a mere male I was learning as I went.
Now this is where things started to go awry. I was staying in a hotel in Torquay not unlike that portrayed in the famous TV series. The lady manager was fussy but friendly and efficient with nary a hint of the dangers posed by Mr Fawlty that is until the morning of ‘The Presidential Visit’. I dressed and checked my appearance in the mirror in the room. The term sartorial elegance came to mind as I inspected myself in the glass.
Walking down the staircase I entered the dining room to partake of breakfast that comprised the usual English cooked offering. Now at the showground there was little in the way of food to be had because of the strict rules in place that forbad the provision of food and drink to visitors by the exhibitors. This was thought to be possible bribery of local government officials who were mainly the visitors and potential buyers. Therefore it made sense to eat a hearty breakfast rather than have to leave the stand and walk into town for refreshments mid way through the show times. Little did I realise that this particular hearty breakfast was prepared for a condemned man.
The friendly waitress placed the meal in front of me with a smile. I started to enjoy the mix of eggs and tomatoes and bacon. Lying in wait, as I later discovered, was the dread missile. Not being particularly fond of breakfast sausages I ate all around the beast leaving it all forlorn on the side of the plate. Then foolishly as it turned out I considered the fact that the presidential party may take their time going around the exhibition site and that might leave me hungry and less relaxed by the time they arrived – big mistake.
I decided to devour the snag. I raised my fork to pierce the skin when, (now I know some readers will be well ahead of the game here but please be patient; there are some who prefer to savour the moment in the manner of a chocolate lover leaving the soft centres until the end). Yes you guessed it – EXPLOSION! The greasy contents of what seemed the entire snag now decorated my carefully executed attire. At this point the watching Manageress I think lost her composure and raced across to my table and began trying to wipe the detritus from my now destroyed outfit.
RUINATION – gone was my confident air of professionalism, gone was my thoughts of looking like a director from British Aerospace. The chattering lady had ceased wiping me down realising that matters were only getting worse. She was profuse in apology and assured me that of course they would have my jacket dry cleaned and my shirt laundered. But when? Panic set in as I raced back upstairs to replot the day’s attire.
Some time later the presidential party finally walked onto the stand. The President himself was adorned in a fine tailored suit replete with gold chain of office draped around his neck to inspect our products and to meet me, me dressed in a mishmash of multi coloured kit like some East African would be potentate, so well aware of my not so professional appearance. I very quickly took the party over to inspect the equipment talking all the while in my most persuasive tone hoping to divert attention towards more important issues. I think I managed to pull the thing off albeit not in the way I had intended. I consoled myself afterwards by thinking that they’d probably thought nothing of the affair – after all I was a colonial! Ever after that occasion I have always treated breakfast sausages with the respect they deserve.