Once long ago in a hemisphere half a world away I was engaged in winning business for Australia in the land of the Poms. My sad story takes place in a notorious seaside place by the name of Torquay. Older readers may remember this town as being the home of Mr Basil Fawlty, the infamous hotelier. The action does not take place in his particular hostelry, but you may detect a familiar measure of his influence.
Those who have experience of travelling abroad on business trips will be familiar with the fact that to be able to travel as light as possible forward planning is necessary as regards clothing to be carried, bearing in mind that available time for laundry/dry cleaning is often non-existent. Also, if events of prominence are to be attended where smart appearance is necessary to give the best impression to prospective business contacts then all the more forethought has to be applied. I write this now when, of course, the influence of Jobs and Gates have made the wearing of jeans and maybe a jacket de rigueur — but back to times past.
I’d arrived fully equipped, suitcase manageable but ready for anything — I thought. The event was the annual British Local Government equipment exhibition held in Torbay, the area of Torquay. Of special note was that each year just three exhibition stands were to be visited by the presidential party of the National Association. As a new exhibitor, and a first ever from the Antipodes, we had been selected as one of the preferred stands.
I had chosen an outfit for the occasion I thought would show our company to be one of quality and professionalism. After taking advice from an expert (my lovely wife) I was taking a pale grey suit with a pale blue shirt and a darker blue tie. I knew I could mix and match each piece after the main event to continue to look the part. This methodology is a well-known ploy for the ladies, but as a mere male I was learning as I went.
This is where things started to go awry. I was staying in a hotel in Torquay not unlike that portrayed in the famous TV series. The lady manager was fussy but friendly and efficient with nary a hint of the dangers posed by Mr Fawlty that is until the morning of ‘The Presidential Visit’. I dressed and checked my appearance in the mirror. The term ‘sartorial elegance’ came to mind.
I entered the dining room to partake of breakfast that comprised the usual English cooked offering. At the showground there was little in the way of food to be had because of the strict rules that forbade the provision of food and drink to visitors by the exhibitors. This was thought to be possible bribery of local government officials who were mainly the visitors and potential buyers. Therefore, it made sense to eat a hearty breakfast rather than leave the stand and walk into town for refreshments midway through the show. Little did I realise this particular hearty breakfast was prepared for a condemned man.
The friendly waitress placed the meal in front of me with a smile. I started to enjoy the mix of eggs, tomatoes and bacon. Lying in wait, as I later discovered, was the dreaded missile. Not being particularly fond of breakfast sausages I ate all around the beast, leaving it forlorn on the side of the plate. Then, foolishly as it turned out, I considered the fact the presidential party may take their time going around the exhibition site and that might leave me hungry and less relaxed by the time they arrived — big mistake.
I devoured the snag. I raised my fork to pierce the skin when (I know some readers will be well ahead of the game here, but please be patient; there are some who prefer to savour the moment in the manner of a chocolate lover leaving the soft centres until the end), you guessed it — explosion! The greasy contents of what seemed the entire snag now decorated my carefully executed attire. At this point the watching manageress I think lost her composure and raced to my table and began trying to wipe the detritus from my now destroyed outfit.
Ruination — gone was my confident air of professionalism, gone was my thought of looking like a director from British Aerospace. The chattering lady had ceased wiping me down realising matters were only getting worse. She was profuse in apology and assured me that, of course, they would have my jacket dry cleaned and my shirt laundered. But when? Panic set in as I hastily returned upstairs to replot the day’s attire.
Some time later the presidential party finally walked onto the stand. The president himself was adorned in a fine tailored suit replete with gold chain of office draped around his neck to inspect our products and to meet me … Dressed in a mishmash of multi-coloured kit like some East African would be potentate, so well aware of my not so professional appearance. I quickly took the party to inspect the equipment, talking all the while in my most persuasive tone hoping to divert attention towards more important issues. I think I managed to pull the thing off albeit not in the way I had intended. I consoled myself later by thinking they’d probably thought nothing of the affair — after all I was a colonial!
Ever after, that occasion I have always treated breakfast sausages with the respect they deserve.