“It’s Damian Digby, here to see Jack Groper,” Damian informed the receptionist, whilst once again casually misplacing my existence. “He’s expecting me.”
The receptionist, or Director of First Impressions, to use the epithet emblazoned on her name tag, pressed the button on the intercom and stooped slightly to talk into its microphone. “Sir Jack, it’s Mr Digby to see you.” There was a slight pause and then, “He’ll be down shortly. If you could just take a seat.”
“That would be two seats, presumably,” I silently corrected.
Damian, for once oblivious to silent corrections, found a large, leather quilted lounge seat in which to rest his fatigued ego, whilst I perched on the canteen chair by its side – a chair so magnificent in its wobbly disrepair that it was clearly reserved for the exclusive use of the non-executive. I was still nursing a limp set of brochures whose images were now so runny that it was difficult to see where polar bear ended and generator began. Even I, with my limited sales experience, knew that they were no longer an asset to negotiations. The waste paper bin under the window was empty and inviting. I accepted the invitation.
Once unencumbered, I took the time to gaze around Groper’s reception foyer. On the table in front of me could be found a copy of the BBC’s Countryfile Calendar. Each month depicted a different aspect of the traditional British countryside: Windfarms, biblical flooding, uncontrollable wildfires, more windfarms, fluffy animals dying of thirst, and did I mention the windfarms? If anything, February’s photograph was even worse.
Meanwhile, on the walls of the foyer hung a set of promotional photographs of scantily clad ladies holding bedsprings, set against a variety of exotic backdrops. There was one on a tropical beach (which could be presumed sinking beneath the ocean), another by the poolside of a Tuscany villa set within an ominously parched landscape, and a third in which perspective gave the impression that the spring was ably supporting the Leaning Tower of Pisa. In all the photographs, the ladies seemed thrilled to be holding their springs. I had to steel myself with a reminder that I was there to sell planet-saving, wind-powered generators and not to buy bedsprings. The opening of a lift door brought my transactional fantasies to an abrupt halt.
“Jack!”, rejoiced Damian, as if meeting a long lost friend. You’d never suspect that they hadn’t met before. “Jack, my friend. How pleased I am to meet you.” They shook hands cordially, each one trying to establish the alpha male position through the power of grip.
“Digby,” responded Jack, “welcome to my humble premises.”
You heard right – his humble premises. Just like the humble Jag that was parked in a prominent position outside, to make sure that salesmen understood they were dealing with a powerful and successful man.
“Come into my office, won’t you? Mandy, coffee for three please.”
“Yes, Sir Jack.”
I wondered, are all secretaries called Mandy? That’s bound to cause confusion sooner or later.
Still wondering, we entered the lift and were whooshed up to the penthouse meeting room, reserved for endless, high-powered negotiations. Well, I say endless and high-powered, but not even the most marathon of meetings could now extend beyond the 10 o’clock power curfew. Candlelight remained an option, of course, but one that was rarely taken. Eager to avoid such a contingency, Jack quickly got down to the obligatory opener.
“So how was your journey then? I gather that you’ve had a spot of bother.”
Damian was quick with his confirmation.
“Yes, I must apologise for being late but some idiot blocked us in at the service station by filling his petrol-driven Beemer with diesel.”
“Mmm,” nodded Jack, sympathetically, “you do meet some proper numpties on the road.”
“Tell me about it.” Damian’s eyes rolled skyward to endorse the invitation. He was betraying nothing of the irony in this conversation. Indeed, he had probably completely forgotten by now that he was the fossil-fuel numpty.
“Anyway,” continued Jack, “what’s your vehicle of choice?”
“Oh, it’s a BMW,” disclosed Damian, breezing past the coincidence. “It’s a good little runner with just that little bit of oomph to get you out of trouble.”
Yes, never admit to being a boy racer; speed and acceleration are just safety features. Besides which, Damian’s petrol BMW, now stricken with a gutful of diesel, couldn’t even win a drag race against Anne Hathaway’s cottage. Damian knew better than to reciprocate the question. He’d seen the Jag.
With vehicle bragging rights established, Jack got down to business. “So, Digby, as you know, we at Groper’s run a tight ship. We operate at the leading edge of slumber support technology. We have a reputation for customer-facing excellence that leverages our vertically-aligned synergies. So when we want electricity generated, we want it today. Not tomorrow, not next Wednesday, but today. Reliable, high quality electricity that matches the quality of our product. Tell me, Digby, if we were to get into bed together, could you guarantee a symbiotic customer-supplier relationship that marries with our company’s ethos and culture?”
“Absolutely, Sir Jack. We at Powergate UK have a unique ethos and culture of forward-facing, quality-focused service paradigms and we are only prepared to do business with customers who share our unique culture. We see Groper’s as our perfect customer going forward.”
“You say that, but how can I be sure? What can you offer that truly sets your company apart when it comes to supplying state-of-the-art, value-centred electricity, going forward?”
“Jack, we at Powergate UK have a uniquely value-focused product, designed to perfectly align with our customers’ service-centred business targets. Only by meeting the key performance indicators required for sustainable, success-friendly, agile delivery, can we maintain our unique ethos and culture, going forward.”
“Yes,” I chipped in, “and you could say that our generators go like the wind – erm, going forward.”
Damian shot me a stern glance. Meanwhile, Jack leant back in his leather-bound executive chair to take on board the full significance of what he had just heard. Obviously, Damian was just as full of crap as he was and he wasn’t going to get anywhere trying to out-bullshit him. A different tack was required.
“Okay, Digby, I’ll get straight to the point.”
But he couldn’t because, at that moment, the three coffees arrived; two in chipped mugs sporting the motto, ‘Groper Industries – Springs to Mind’, and a third in a fine bone china cup labelled, ‘Sir Jack Groper’. With coffee cup bragging rights established, we returned to our negotiations.
“Digby, we at Groper’s need three state-of-the-art generators. What is your best price?”
“Well, Jack, we at Powergate UK…”
But before Damian had chance to reveal just how far Powergate UK were prepared to go in order to push his personal green deal gravy train, the intercom bleeped to life once more.
“Sir Jack, there are three men in reception saying they wish to see you on a matter of some urgency.”
“Have they got an appointment?” queried Jack.
“I don’t know.”
“Well ask them!”
Groper waited patiently for his answer.
“They say no, but they do have a sawn-off shotgun.”
During our negotiations, there had been plenty of opportunity to observe Jack Groper at close quarters. Probably in his mid-sixties, with receding temples and greying hair, neatly slicked back, Jack gave the impression of an aging hippy. He also looked as though, despite his advancing years, he could take care of himself if needs be. He certainly didn’t look like the sort who would fold in a crisis. So I wasn’t the least bit surprised by his reaction when informed of his uninvited guests.
“Tell them I’ll be right down, Mandy, and see if they would like tea or coffee.” He then slowly replaced the top on his fountain pen and slipped it back into his jacket pocket. He stroked his greying, roughly-cropped beard (a detail I mention only so that the comparisons with Richard Branson are not lost on you).
“Gentlemen,” he continued, “if you will excuse me for a moment, I have other affairs to attend to. Perhaps, in the meantime, you might wish to take a while longer to reflect upon my last question.”
He then rose from his chair and strode casually towards the lift. Pressing the call button, he stepped back and checked his watch, as if concerned that he could miss another appointment if this shotgun nonsense were to drag on for too long. Presently, the lift arrived and he stepped inside, turned and pressed the button to close the doors. As they did so, we could still see him casually flicking imaginary dandruff from his lapel. He had standards to maintain, going downward.
Now alone, Damian and I exchanged nonplussed glances. Wanting more, I sought Damian’s opinion.
“So what do you think to all that?”
“I don’t know,” admitted Damian. “Maybe we should open up with twelve K and see how he reacts.”
I stared back at Damian, waiting for him to suddenly understand the true significance of the question. He just returned the stare, clearly perplexed that I didn’t appear to understand the true significance of his answer.
“Okay,” I said patiently, “I’ll go along with that, but I really meant about the three guys in the foyer with a shotgun.”
“Oh them! Yes, that is a strange situation. You don’t suppose we have competition do you?”
“Well, if we do, it’s a fair bet that the evils of carbon dioxide aren’t going to feature so prominently in their negotiations. They appear to be taking a much more direct approach. Do you actually know what a sawn-off shotgun is?”
“I was joking!” replied Damian tetchily. “Do you think I’m stupid or something?”
Well not stupid, but definitely something, I reflected.
“I’ll tell you what I did notice,” added Damian. “We were given coffee, take it or leave it, but they got a choice. Perhaps we would have been better off turning up with a shotgun.”
It was then that I had my bright idea. “Well we’ve got a gun in the glove compartment. Perhaps we should go down and get it and see what beverages suddenly become available.”
Ah yes, nothing beats a bit of firearms banter to relieve the boredom of a potential hostage situation. Except that Damian had other things on his mind.
“And whilst we’ve got a moment to spare, pray tell me, what was all that crap about our generators going like the wind? Didn’t you hear what Groper said? When he wants electricity he wants it now, not next Wednesday, and certainly not when the wind next condescends to blow. He’s worried about the interminable blackouts we are now experiencing ever since the Extinction Democrats won the election. He needs his own backup supply, but he is not going to solve his problems with one of our bloody generators. Why draw his attention to that fact?”
“You know, Damian,” I replied, “I sometimes think you don’t believe in our product.”
Damian didn’t respond. He just shrugged his shoulders and sighed.
As the minutes passed us by, our curiosity started to take a morbid turn. What on Earth was going on down there? Just how long were we expected to stay put? If the lift doors were to open once more, what awful sight might confront us? And, of particular interest to Damian, would we get away with charging Jack twelve grand? After another fifteen minutes had passed, I decided to test the mood.
“Damian, don’t you think we ought to go down and find out what’s happening?”
“Are you mad?” spluttered Damian. “Up here we’re safe. They don’t even know we’re here. You go down there and Greta knows what you’re walking into. I’ve already got a bloody nose. I’d rather like to cut my losses, not my life-expectancy.”
“But, Damian,” I protested, “we might be here till the ice caps melt. And given how long we have now been up here, that may very well have already happened. That’s how tipping points work, don’t you know. Besides which, whether they have melted or not, perhaps the decent thing to do is to go down and see how we can help.”
There was no response.
“And if we can help Jack out then I’m sure that will clinch the deal.”
Damian smiled. “I see your point. It’s agreed then. You go down and see what’s going on.”
“Going down!” the lift advised ominously.
I tried my best, in the short time available, to prepare myself for what might confront me as the lift doors re-opened. Interestingly enough, apart from the lack of glacial meltwater, the mental image that I had prepared was remarkably close to the reality. Jack Groper was tied down in the leather quilted lounge chair. Mandy was similarly detained on the canteen chair next to him – wobbling anxiously. Two brutes were busily ransacking the foyer in a frantic effort to find something, whilst the third was brandishing the shotgun in Jack’s face, growling something along the lines of, “We can do this the easy way or the hard way.” The opening of the lift doors caught his attention and he swung round.
“Laughing Boy! How good of you to join us. Where the chuff have you been?”
This was the point at which the hire car assistant theory pretty much fell apart.