Thursday, November 06, 2008

A Bad Day

I'd arrived at an impressive office block for a long-standing meeting arrangement.

As per good professional standards, I was exactly 5 minutes early when I reported to the young woman on reception and asked for my contact. She picked up her telephone to 'phone upstairs'.

Some experiences are universal. Even if an expat can't speak the local language and can only hear one side of the telephone conversation, one can ALWAYS tell when the 'party upstairs' isn't expecting you. I started to see the telltale sympathetic glances from the receptionist as she listened to what she was being told.

Still, to her credit she kept a straight face as she put the telephone down and told me in faultless almost unaccented English that they'd be with me in a few minutes. Directing me to the waiting area of corporate chairs, she also courteously pointed out where the toilets were in case I needed them.

15 minutes later there was no sign of action. So I walked back to the desk to check progress and it was immediately clear that she had entirely forgotten who I was in that vast epoch of a quarter of an hour since we'd last spoken. After reminding her, she dutifully phoned upstairs again.

"Sorry, they're running a bit late but they'll be with you soon. Please take a seat and over on the right there are the toilets if you need them".

Politely declining for a second time the use of their toilet facilities, I went back to the seats a little self-consciously. Perhaps it was something in my walk that made her so keen to ensure I knew where the toilets were? More annoyingly, her references to the toilets were now making me wonder if I did need them.

After another 10 minutes, and starting to become a little irritated, I walked past the reception desk and said that I'd be standing outside on the pavement to enjoy the beautiful sunny day. She nodded and said she'd fetch me when "you're needed".

Feeling peeved and a little like the schoolboy waiting for the call into the headmaster's office, I stepped outside onto the pavement.

The building was in the city centre. It was a truly beautiful day and as is normal on the continent, people were taking advantage of it. A row of small restaurants and pavement cafs across the road were busy even though it was mid-morning. I wondered where all these people were coming from and just who was left manning the offices and shops around me given everyone seemed to be out drinking coffee in the cafs.

It may have been uncharitable, but I started to wonder if the person I was waiting for was sitting right now at one of the tables.

That was when I saw it. Walking along the other side of the road, just in the gutter area, came a man. As he walked alongside the pavement seating areas of the cafes, every few steps he would pause, then hurl several sentences of non-specific obscenities at the tables nearest to him. He'd then walk a few more steps, then stop and repeat the process.

Now you may be thinking that this was no big deal - perhaps you can see that any day of the week in your local high street. Two things made this very different though.

Firstly, the man concerned was not a street person and he was stone cold sober as far as I could tell. He was very well dressed in an expensive looking business suit and he could have just stepped out of a boardroom meeting. Secondly, and even more extraordinary, he was an Englishman and venting in his best Anglo-Saxon to the locals.

This surreal scene was captivating. What on earth was the cause of his rant? Could it be a love tryst gone wrong? Corporate betrayal or a failed business deal perhaps? My mind dreamt up numerous unlikely possibilities as the man walked down the road into the distance, haranguing as he went.

"He's having a bad day".

I jumped in shock - it was the receptionist from the building who had appeared at my shoulder.

"Just to say they're still not ready for you. They say they won't keep you much longer. In the meantime there's a drinks dispenser upstairs and don't forget the toilets"

I glanced back down the road to where the ranting businessman was rapidly disappearing into the distance. I couldn't help but wonder if he'd appreciate some company...

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