In these days when we have time on our hands I found myself doing something that, frankly, seems to have gone out of fashion, if my experiences of zoom are anything to go by. I was online with a group of fellow trustees of a charity I help, discussing something worthy and I doodled. Nowadays the distractions tend to come electronically with the subtle, and often not so subtle, phone use during those longueurs, when Simpson from Accounts or Fannitwat from HR are droning on about some tangentially improbable piece of europfaff that we are obliged to adopt in our seminally intrusive behaviours or some such.
And that took me straight back to my working life in the prestigious law firm that tolerated my presence for three decades. In meetings, when bored I doodled.
Doodling was, for me, an art form; the greater the need of rescue, the bigger and deeper the boxes I drew. Faces, weirdly frank blotporn, corpulent underparts, and a strange and recurring urge to pen an anatomically acceptable pigeon all flowed from my pen or pencil. Not from some urgent need to release my inner Dali but to keep my hands busy.
Before you get the impression I was prey to some sort of sub-Weinstein hard-wired grope-urgery, let me explain.
One of the functions of a growing seniority in the legal business, was the inevitability that I would be involved in something for which I proved time and again to be ill-suited and that was as an interviewer. If I wasn’t talking more than the candidate, I was falling asleep and having to be woken to be told the candidate had gone and wanted his best wishes to be passed to me. These faux pases should, of course, have caused me mortification and, indeed, I would give that impression to others. But secretly I hoped they might mean I’d be excused from being involved the next time.
What really tipped the balance and what led me to adopt a hand-distractor in meetings, was one, apparently innocuous interview circa 1994.
The candidate would have been fairly senior – a lawyer with some 4 or more years post qualification experience because there were three of us on this panel. Mr Droomgooble – god alone knows what he was called – was late but from memory he had phoned ahead to warn us. Despite that we three had already gathered in the conference room waiting to be told Mr Droomgooble had arrived.
My other two colleagues had something of importance to discuss – the price of stainless steel ungents or how to extract the office gerbil from a oiled keyboard possibly – so I was able to let my mind roam.
And as you, dear reader, will now understand a roaming mind is always paired with a fiddling hand.
In those days pre the ubiquitous handheld the centre of the table contained a stationary tray – branded pens, pencils, postits, stapler and, glory be, paper clips.
The paper clip was a Le Pard favourite. Without conscious thought my hand would collect one such and unwind it. I might then bend it into the shape of some arcane beast, I might clean my nails or surreptiuisly dig at some goo that was stuck in some grove or table feature. Happy hours could pass while I mined and retro-engineered with this little piece of wire.
Why this day I should decide on a different strategy, history does not relate. Suffice it to say, my errant subconscious decided upon a totally new gambit, to whit dentistry and, to be more specific, dental hygiene.
With the unwound little wire clasped in my right hand I used the newly freed pointy end to remove some random plaque that was, inevitably, growing between my lower incisors.
The geometry of this operation wasn’t something I gave much thought to since the radius of the wire and the gap between my teeth were in a negative ratio. Something happened, a raised voice or the phone ringing to announce Mr Dromgooble’s arrival and my hitherto gentle pressure increased quickly and exponentially.
This cataclysmic event passed all bar me by. However as the wire penetrated the too small gap by the expedient of pushing both teeth a little further away from the other than physiologically had been their lot to that point, the mini javelin jabbed against a tongue that was both present and perturbed.
‘I’ll get him, shall I?’
Did I nod? I like to think my politeness gene remained intact all the while the rest of my brain was screamimg ‘get that fucking thing out, you moron’.
Probably not, though. Only seconds have passed – a sort of Penetration plus 5 – yet I am descending into the panicked realisation that the demands of my now very conscious mind were easier thought than done. I pulled. I twisted one way and then the other. I even pushed it in further, in the vague if ultimately forlorn, and in retrospect, utterly cretinous belief that that might make it easier to twist and remove.
No, I kebabed my sodding tongue, didn’t I?
Picture the scene. A sunlit conference room, moments away from the entry of a colleague and a young man hopeful of a warm welcome to put him at his ease while he presented his best case for future employment with a presitgous law firm. Another colleague already checking with me as to the format of the interview – who does the intros, asks the first question etc. Meanwhile, the most senior lawyer present, the eminence gris in this tableau is now dribbling a mix of blood and saliva while trying to hide the fact he has undertaken a random act of dental mutilation and is, indeed, unable not only to close his mouth but actually speak.
’Are you ok, Geoff?’
’Ok, but I’m happy to ask the first question.’
I did the only sensible thing possible. With my non-hiding hand I grabbed my stomach, feigned a grimace (that didn’t take much effort) and upped and ran.
Never have the client toilets been such a sanctuary since a wine tasting evening turned into a multi technicolour regrouting of the decor. With the benefit of a mirror and an absence of an audience I did what was clearly my only option. I reversed what I had done some five minutes before. I yanked the bloody thing out the way it went in.
It took me another 5 minutes to restore some semblance of dignity to my person. The blood droplets that formed an unusual cascade on my unfortunately chosen yellow tie were I think missed by the others. My inability to speak without whimpering not so much.
I must say I don’t remember Mr Dromgooble after that initial encounter as I headed to the cloakrooms, but we didn’t offer him a job. For that I belatedly apologise if my bizarre behaviour had any effect on his sangfroid. I’m pretty sure he probably felt he dodged a bullet.
A post similar to this first appeared 2 years ago. I’m still doodling, still dismantling paperclips.