Sunday, May 27, 2007

Fish out of water

Anyone who knows me knows I have no tastes in clothes or dress sense. I rely on the advice of friends, colleagues and my 13-year-old daughter (a look from her is amply sufficient to deter me from making a bad choice). But no one intervened in time to save me from this faux pas!

Knowing I was going into London I wore a smart, dark brown suede skirt and (as a brown jacket that I though matched nicely had previously been pointed out to me as 'too severe') a tan suede jacket. A bit hot for a warm May train ride into London, but with a pale pink sleeveless top I didn't think it looked too bad.


I wish I'd looked in the mirror though (not something I do often, have to admit, apart from to apply a little slap and brighten up the old mush). When I arrived at my destination, however, I realised that I stood out like a... well, like a country bumpkin! Because my destination was Lloyds of London - that hallowed City establishment. OK, I was smart enough, but I was very 'brown' - and everyone round me was suited, booted, ready to ... well, whatever it is they do in Lloyds. I sat down in the reception area (having been given a pass, had a urine test, retina eye scan.. well, OK, maybe not quite that rigorous) and some chap in a dark blue pin stripe on the other (deep leather) sofa was saying into hims mobile "yes, after £50 million, sure - he can have that for free... but after £60 million ..." I tuned out. Another world - not my world.

My lady came down to meet me - she looked very smart in a black dress (fantastic actually, given that she's 5 months pregnant) and we went to lunch at a local French restaurant for our meeting. As we exited the Lloyds building I asked her about the architect. Built in the 80's, it looked to me like a huge pile of tin cans - just on the verge of going rusty (not brown, but covered in that grime that layers any flat surface in a city). "What's it like to work in?" I asked - and she wasn't that impressed. She is not on the 'trading floor' but in the offices - where the main area is open plan and the managers' offices are all round the edge, so no one in the middle gets any natural daylight. They are refurbishing to make it all open plan.

We had a good meeting over lunch. She is about 34, smart, pretty and obviously a smart cookie. Looks good in black. Then there's me - more than ten years her senior, hair with stay greys fighting the remnant colour, dressed in something that would perhaps not have seemed out of place on an Indian reservation. But nonetheless, we got on well, established an easy rapport and the business end of our meeting was simple and both of us were happy with the outcome.

I went back with her to the Lloyds building to inspect the room we are going to use for a meeting in September: in the basement of this huge steel monstrosity is the perfectly 'preserved' Old Library from the original Lloyds building. Dismantled piece by piece, reconstructed and now used as a meeting room. Dark oak panelled walls, bookshelves, a gallery, a ship carved into one panel, paintings, hi-tech presentation equipment... the whole room an anachronism. Which, actually, I quite liked.

We parted and (after purchasing a postcard of the building) I headed back for the office, to Liverpool Street to catch a main line train. As I sat on the train I got out my notebook and did some work - catching up on various bits and pieces that needed doing. "The next station will be Rye House..." the recorded voice said. I looked up. We had just left Rye House... "The next station will be Cheshunt..." the voice said again, once we'd left Cheshunt. "This train is for London Liverpool Street..." Eh? Back the way we'd come? No... we were still going in the right direction, but obviously something was up with the recorded announcements.

I did return safely to Ware, though I wonder if anyone missed their station due to the announcements. It was warm - hot even. I walked back through the town, over the bridge by the river where swans and Canada geese haggled over bread thrown by small children. Through the town centre where shoppers and workers scurried, crowding the small pavements. Too warm for wearing, I carried my suede jacket over my shoulder back to the office. Darn, I should have worn a business suit, I really should have.
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