Commissioned by the Daily Mail April 3rd 1999
There was nothing so politically incorrect as the old-fashioned office party. In the 1980s,
everyone used to do everything and live with the embarrassment in the morning. My
most tricky moment occurred after a special magazine party when I was young and
footloose. Somehow or other, I’d managed to win a columnist of the year award for
1984. Even more startling, I somehow managed to win the kissing favours of the editor
in the basement car park afterwards. I remember a passionate embrace with not
enough of my car windows steamed up as the Managing Director, Features Editor, Art
Director and various sub-editors thoughtfully shuffled past on their way home. We
pretended to be deep in an editorial conference. Just my luck to park near the exit. Just
her luck to decide my column was so successful it really ought to move on in the New
Year. Was she called Demi Moore? I forget.
More embarrassing still was the annual party at which a leaving present was made to
the head of personnel after two decades of hiring and caring for senior employees. He
even calculated their annual bonuses and pension plans. It was a macho City company
notoriously rough on sensitive souls like personnel officers. As a suitable souvenir, the
executives had clubbed together and purchased the world’s most expensive gold and
marble cigarette lighter. His terse and inebriated speech of gratitude went: “Thank you
for buying me what is obviously a very luxurious and magnificent lighter. I’d just like to
point out that after 20 years in the Company not one of you has bothered to notice that I
don’t smoke”. And so saying he threw the lighter down on the desk, walked out of the
room and was never seen in the building again.
Then there was the sit-down party at the computer company. A friend of mine had just
been dumped by his gorgeous female colleague. He dreaded watching her snuggle up
to her new boyfriend so my friend arranged for another very attractive colleague who
was just a mate to drape herself around him. What he didn’t know was that his line boss
was desperately in love with this other woman. The upshot of the party was dramatic.
In the New Year my friend found his private work space had been confiscated and his
desk placed in the corridor. He was forced to sit just outside the manager’s door for
weeks until maintenance eventually found him alternative accommodation. Motto: don’t
drink and drive your boss mad with jealousy.
Talking of drink, there was also one famous Christmas bash at a documentary film
company when the Head Archivist swallowed too many Vodka Martini cocktails. She
climbed up onto the roof and began rolling around in a mix of galloping stomach cramps
and severe bulimia. The Company Chairman, who was himself short-sighted, heard the
commotion and went to investigate. Glimpsing her posture, he mistakenly imagined she
was searching for a missing contact lens. He proceeded to get down on hands and
knees to assist. At this point, various commissioning editors and clients came onto the
roof and observed that, not only was the Top Man the worse for drink, he appeared to be
groping the normally staid Head Archivist who was to her credit vigorously resisting his
But parties are not just about sex and rolling around on the floor looking for lost lenses. I
knew one young man who pined after a woman in his office all year. Come the
Christmas party she succumbed to brandy and had to be helped home. Instead of chatting her up (or taking ungentlemanly advantage) this young chap mopped her brow for a full 24 hours while she threw up. Once recovered, she realised he was more prince than frog and it was the start of a joyous relationship which actually led to marriage.
And BUT for the office party I would never have got together with the mother of my
children. At the time, we both worked for a publishing house only I was suspicious of her
since she appeared to have been hired to do more or less my job. I didn’t like it, for
example, when her car appeared in my car parking space. Nor when she gave dictation
to my secretary. So there I was, having to introduce this dreadful woman to all and
sundry and the more I introduced her the more I felt I’d prefer to be the one talking to
her. So we tuned out. We formed an alliance. We abandoned the rivalry. In the end,
we were sitting on the stairs oblivious to the guests, infuriating the publisher, swapping
life stories and we’ve been sort of sitting on the stairs together ever since.
That was life in the 1980s. The 90s-style party is so comparatively proper the last one I
attended (at Woman’s Journal a year ago) had speeches by junior staff praising the
management (yuk). I fell in love with supermodel Nicola Formby just for old timer’s sake.