31 DECEMBER 1994, Page 34

Office life

Party of merry ripples

Holly Budd

So we were to have two office Christmas parties: one for important bores hosted be the Line Manager and a secret on afterwards hosted by us for people we liked. When, the day before, I felt a sudden lowering of room temperature and drop In energy and spirit, I knew I must be proximate to Negative Presence. The Line Manager hesitated in the doorway, unblinking behind his thick lenses, greyness made flesh.

`It might be appropriate,' he said, 'to discuss our objectives for the Christmas party.'

I wonder what he said to his wife when they first went to bed. I said the object was surely for people to enjoy themselves but I was wrong: the object was to ensure that the new Chief Executive, who was to hon- our us by his presence, spoke to the right people, heard the right things, stood in the right place and left with the right impression. I was admonished with wagging finger and condescending smile: even pleasure has to be organised. Came the day and we all dutifully trooped into the Line Managerial half-acre and stood around being polite, but not feeling it. Among those involved in our secret party afterwards there were detectable ripples of merriment, though Debbie, our secretary, was already threat- ening to do more than ripple with the rather good-looking man she, typically, had come in with. I talked to someone who seemed important and whom I thought at first might be our hitherto-unknown Chief Exec but no, he was from Audit. When I saw the Line Manager paying court to a big man in a broad-striped suit, I relaxed. Soon we could all go. Wrong again. The Line Manager shim- mered over, looking drained. 'Where is he?'

thought you were talking to him.' `So did I.'

He was so unhappy I felt a twinge of pity, but not enough to keep me. Downstairs our Own party was taxiing for take-off. Nigel was dishing out his lethal punch, 'Streaky' Bacon was bursting his braces with gossip and Vi, our cleaner, was giving everyone Paper hats and those funny horns that look dangerously like a cuckold's. What's a cuckold?' asked Debbie. Her man laughed and transferred the horns from her head to his. I took her aside. 'Is this tonight's dinner?' `Doubt it, he's the new Chief Exec. Didn't you know? He's a wow. D'you want to meet him?' He was a wow. He dances well, too. Later, when Streaky was doing his mutation of the Director of Legal Affairs, the girl in the street market whose barrow he'd run into and the traffic warden, I went to the loo and saw the Line Manager waiting for the lift. He looked pale and Physically shrunken, his raincoat was buttoned and his briefcase bulged. He couldn't take his eyes off my horns but couldn't bring himself to comment, either. Perhaps he thought we weren't important,' he said wretchedly. I am not made of stone. Christmas is this or nothing at all. I took his arm. 'Come with me. There's someone who's dying to meet you.'