29 April 2002
I absolutely hate partners' conferences. Just when you need a break after a week of strenuous peace negotiations with your children over excessive text messaging (Subjudice), shooting pigeons with grandfather's airgun (Deminimus) and cutting hair with the bread knife (Liability), the dress shirt lands on the ironing board and you realise that not only will you be at war without allies all weekend, but that your husband will be sipping champagne at a posh country house hotel while you're carrying screaming children off to bed.
At least the poor lawyers have to take some pain before they get to play on the golf course, drive 4x4s, check in to the spa and sauna etc. No one escapes the corporate speechifying: the fatally unreconstructed managing partner ("well done lads, er… and you lovely ladies, of course") or the grim-faced finance director ("I'm pleased to report a trillion-pound pre-tax profit, and to celebrate I'm announcing a reduction in mileage rates") - and they're all so hung over from Friday night that it takes them to Wednesday to realise what he's said.
However, the inverse law of gaseous bodies operates at these gatherings, whereby the worse the firm has done over the year the more speeches they have to sit through, as the board publicly wrings its hands over how we all need to aim for excellence and who's getting the chop if they don't pull their socks up. On a bad year it might be 4pm before your husband gets out on to the golf course, and then he'll be so tetchy he'll pull his shots and go round in over a hundred.
If the firm's done well, they'll be through by Saturday lunchtime, but that also means they have to watch a vast wedge of their profit blown on a five-minute videolink with President Clinton talking about the need to aim for excellence, and a Charlie's Angels-style video on 'The Way of the Warrior' because the managing partner's been reading The Art of War recently. Then they get handed 20lbs of literature in a snazzy plastic box, all laser photocopied with around three motivational words to each page - 'vision', 'core' and 'profit' - and several fiendish flowcharts which might be an illustration of the firm's growth, or might actually be some nice colour-in puzzles they've added to stop people from dozing off. And the whole package looks so smart that your husband can't bear to throw it away, so it joins all the previous years' unread conference literature on a groaning bookshelf in the study, unless I commandeer it as a colouring book for Liability.
And because they've spent £100,000 on this stuff, they have to make damn sure the partners pay attention, so they schedule the corporate get-together for 7.30am, before anyone's had a chance to fill up on a round plateful of eggs and bacon - full stomachs bringing on slumber - and they offer nothing but black coffee and orange juice, so that by the time the new corporate song comes around, everyone's so hyper on caffeine and sugar they'll join in anything.
But how painful is that, compared with a weekend in the war zone? By the time my husband came home, wine stains all over his dress shirt, exhausted after eating three gourmet meals a day, drinking four bottles a night, learning the lyrics to the new corporate song and taking a strenuous ride on a quad bike, the children were all bandaged up following painful accidents with airgun and bread knife, necessitating two separate trips to the hospital. "Can't you," said the Lawyer, slurring his words, "keep some order in the house while I'm away?"