Saturday, 21 December 2013

Drinks and Secret Santa

Back from holiday and there were just two full weeks left until my retirement. It still doesn't seem to be real. Even attending Gavin Bargate's retirement party didn't really bring it home to me. Gavin was managing editor and has held a number of senior editorial roles at PA. He'd been there for years and was the second longest-serving employee we had.
Gavin's leaving do was at the Jugged Hare pub and he'd bought a mass of food and drink. Almost everyone at the do was old and grey (former colleagues of Gavin's who had retired some time before him). It was a pleasant do, but pretty formal.
Annoyingly, just a week before my retirement date, the company announced a voluntary redundancy scheme which I may well have been accepted for and which would have paid me out around £70,000 (a big chunk of it tax-free). It would be easy to get angry (£70K would certainly come in very handy), but I can't really complain - I had no idea this was going to be on offer, retiring at the end of the year was the right choice and I'm not exactly on the breadline. Still, hard not to think: "If only I'd hung on for another six months ..."
My original leaving do was going to be December 12, but Davina and I decided to re-arrange it because we couldn't find any pubs with a free room. Trouble was that it was just before Christmas and all the rooms had been booked for office parties. It seemed a bit silly to have a leaving do after you'd already left, but that seemed like the right thing to do, so we switched it to January when we’d be able to get somewhere I hope).
Of course, some people who had the original date in their diary thought it would be nice to have a few drinks anyway. I'm talking particularly about John Fownes, whose wife and new baby were flying to Ireland a couple of days before. John has had a tough few months - it's their first baby and he hasn't slept much. It's been quite stressful for JF and he was looking forward to uninterrupted sleep and a few nights out.
We went to the Cask, which has Belgian beer and lots of English craft beers too. I went quite early with Paula Collins, who had been down from Howden for some customer meetings and, because she had been planning to take the train back north that evening, we started early (about 4.30pm). When you're drinking strong ale, plans can quickly change. Paula was drinking rose wine, but she ended up staying over and getting to bed about 3am. That was nothing to do with me - she abandoned my leaving drinks to join some friends in IT and started her own party. My night had planned to be a few nice drinks with friends, but I'd chosen to drink Westmalle triple, which is 10 per cent alcohol, so each bottle was like drinking a pint of fairly strong English beer.
I had about nine bottles, so I was well-oiled by the time I needed to leave to catch a train home. Turn-out was small, but select. There was: Paula Collins, John Fownes, Chris Perera, Laura Jones, Lorel Ward, Delphine Tsiranana, Mutesa (Tess) Sithole and Sean Otley (who has his eyes on Laura). John was concerned for my sobriety (or lack of it) and said he'd walk down to the tube with me. I'm not sure who was more drunk or more worried - we'd both had rather a lot and if John was worried that I might not make it to the tube, I was worried that he might not make it back to the pub. As it happened we both made it and I was safely home by 10.45pm. Next morning, my alarm went at 5am and I got out of bed quite woozy. It was one of those awful moments when you wake up and realise you are still drunk. Apart from the danger of trying to drive to the station, I'd every reason to believe a hangover would start about 11am, so I decided I should work from home. Actually, I did manage to do a little work, which was an achievement!
John Fownes and I


John, me and Laura - lots of 'selfies' being taken this week
Tess, Delphine and Lorel
Chris and Sean
The next day, we were due in London again for a party organised by Laura Jones at her new flat in Streatham Hill. Margaret didn't feel well enough to go, so I went on the train and stayed over with Max and Inna. The party was a surprise leaving do for me and Laura had invited a number of guests. It was good to see (again): Laura (of course), Lorel and Tess who were at The Cask on Thursday, Mel Machin and her partner Christine, plus Davina Page. I’m glad that Max and Inna came too, otherwise I would have been the only man.
We were nicely merry on G&T, but the party broke up about 11.30pm because people had to get Tube trains home and they stop running about midnight. We gave Davina a lift to Balham station in our cab and on Sunday morning Max and Inna bought me breakfast at a pub in London before I hopped on the Tube for home. That evening, we went round to see Pauline and Chris before they left for their trip to California.
On Monday, it was Leaving Do North, which was necessary because I've worked in Howden as long (or longer) during my time at PA than I have in London. There are a lot of very good people there, so it was nice to have an opportunity to say goodbye. Paula had booked drinks at the Wellington, a meal at the Chinese and then more drinks at the Wellie.
It was a good night. At the meal were: Paula Collins, Jane Kew, Margaret Hicks, Margaret Depledge, Stephanie Murray, Dawn Stevenson, Steve Feasby, Kevin Kenning and Russell Brown. Ken Alderson, Steven Brown and Gareth Bramhall joined us for drinks beforehand. They bought me a nice hamper of goodies, including gin, cake and cheeses.
Jane Kew was rather merry and folk said lots of nice things. There were attempts at drinking games, but everyone was too fuddled to play them. There may be a picture of me picking up a rose from the floor with my teeth ... Jane had invented a new drink called a gee-gee, which was gin and ginger ale. Jane is concerned that gin and tonic is a summer drink and thought this might be quite appropriate for winter. We tested several to make sure we liked it. I stayed over at Bridgegate House and it was nice, next morning, to see Liz the caretaker. In my days working at Howden, I stayed over two or three days per week and got to know Liz very well, so it was good to be able to say goodbye.
I caught the 11.50 train to London for yet another party – team drinks at Lowlander, a Belgian bar in Covent Garden. Just what I needed – more Belgian beer!
The trains had been all over the place this week, due to signalling problems. I was delayed about two hours getting to Howden and then an hour coming back to London. The big worry wasn’t so much the Belgian beer, but rather whether I’d be able to get home that night. The beer was good. I chose Mort Subite, which I’d drunk in Brussels with Tom earlier in the year. It’s a little less deadly (weaker) than Westmalle and is a gueuze, which I think means it’s made by wild yeast fermentation rather than adding yeast artificially. It’s the beer equivalent of sourdough bread.
It was a good evening, if somewhat busy in the bar, but Richard mailed me from King’s Cross to say the trains were a nightmare and it might be best not to leave it too late. Nothing worse than being drunk and merry one minute and sitting in a cold King’s Cross with no trains the next, so I headed back around 7.30pm. Richard wasn’t wrong and, after two days of rail disruption and delays of perhaps four hours, I chose to pay £43 for an East Coast single to Peterborough, rather than wait over an hour for a First Capital Connect train that would stop everywhere!
Secret Santa was done before the drinks and some of the gifts were shocking (not in a good sense). I got a plastic apron with blow-up boobs. I said I’d wear it if someone would blow up the boobs, but there were no takers. I also got a head massager and a foul-mouthed parrot. The parrot is a little toy and when you squeeze it, there's a small player which has a repertoire of five coarse phrases:
"Who's a pretty boy - not you lard arse.
"Polly wants a cracker, get Polly a fucking cracker."
Margaret thought it was the funniest thing she had seen for a long time.
The most embarrassing gift was a bottle of wine which someone (Darius was the guilty party) had bought for John Fownes. He must have done it in a bit of a hurry because he forgot to put a label on it so when Davina pulled it from the sack, no-one (except Darius) knew who it was for. It was in a wine gift bag, so we knew what it was, and when John pulled it out, everyone noticed it had been opened and a glassful poured out. Darius must have realised he'd forgotten Secret Santa and just grabbed a bottle chilling in the fridge.
The worst gift was from John Fownes to Leigh Ellerby. He'd got him a couple of scratch cards, one of which was a joke one which had a winning combination. For a few agonising seconds, Leigh thought he'd won £130,000. Some people were in on the joke, I wasn't so I thought Leigh was joking when he said he'd won. Thankfully, he was told it was a joke just before he poured beer over Darius' head and tended his resignation. Leigh did his best to see the funny side, but it did rather spoil his evening - probably the most cruel joke I've seen.
Foul-mouthed parrot

The company Christmas party was to be held on the Thursday, but with a week of heavy drinking, I was just too weary, so I decided to bail out of that one - lightweight!

The drinking wasn't quite over. On Friday, Laura and I took a client to COLD bar just off Fleet Street. COLD is an acronym for Company of London Distillers. It's a bar with a still at one end and over 100 different types of gin. We had cocktails, gin tasting and a few G&Ts. Just two working days to my retirement ...