31 JANUARY 1998, Page 56


Drama at the workplace


IN COMPETITION NO. 2018 you were invited to describe a 'leaving present affair' at some imaginary organisation.

The story of 'The Watkins Leaving Present Affair' (I have it from the horse's mouth) goes like this. In the Seventies, after ten years as the New Statesman's political correspondent, Alan Watkins retired and an office subscription was raised — how much it came to we can only surmise. Watkins, invited to suggest some- thing suitable, proposed an edition of Gibbon's Decline and Fall, and his col- league Christopher Hitchens was deputed to buy one and present it to Watkins. When the moment came, Watkins, who had been secretly hoping for a leather- bound set, was astonished to find himself the possessor of an Everyman edition, price £11.50. Seeing his face fall, Hitchens assured him that there would be something else, disappeared and shortly returned with an equally inexpensive — and empty — cigar case.

This, mysteriously to me, wasn't a very popular comp, and the standard was less high than usual. The prizewinners, printed below, get £25 each, and the bonus bottle of The Macallan The Malt Scotch whisky goes to John Sweetman.

This morning Mr Perkupp asked me to 'take the hat round' for one of our young ladies who is to marry. She is popular and people were most generous and I was surprised to see Mr Perkupp empty this quite large amount, uncounted, into a drawer and then take out just two sovereigns and a few small coins, 'A good day for the sink- ing fund, Footer,' he said, locking the drawer. I had often wondered that these leaving collec- tions relate so closely to the status and length of service of the recipient and remember old Jenkins who received over five pounds though no one had appeared to contribute more than pence. This is surely not a very honest procedure and I began to expostulate but Mr Perkupp cut me short. 'You may be glad when your time comes, Pooter,' he said. I must ask Carrie what he could have meant. (John Sweetman) Cartwright had a personality like an empty glass bowl. It seemed transparent because there was nothing there. So when it came to choosing a leaving present nobody had any notion of his tastes. Did he travel? Have any hobbies? He looked so sad in the final month no one wanted to ask him. As it turned out, there wasn't much scope anyway. We all gave, but no one gave much. So it came to an M&S voucher, a small drinks party in the office and a strippergram. It was our way of playing it safe while cheering up the old boy. It all went well till the strippergram arrived. By the time she'd got her kit off Cartwright had turned ghost-white and was struggling to speak. He recovered in intensive care, but what a chance in a million. None of us even knew he was married.

(Basil Ransome-Davies)

From DP to ADP: Palfrey in Stationery is leaving after 24 years. Do the necessary giftwise, would You.

ADP to DP: Re Palfrey. Leaving-present code Stipulates 25 years for silver items — anything less gets glass/non-precious metal. Could we stretch to glass with silver trimmings, e.g. decanter plus inscribed label? DP: MD okays glass +silver 'provided we're talking Ratner'. But is decanter appropriate? Ask wife?

ADP: Mrs P most unhelpful. Suggests a bucket to stick his head in. Have ordered decanter. But

problem with inscription. His name's Algernon but he's kept it dark. Everyone calls him 'Boils'. Any ideas?

DP: 'Palfrey of Stationery' has a nice T.E. Lawrence ring.

ADP: Engraver says he'd need a microscope to get that on. Suggests `A.P.'

DP: Apparently Palfrey left last week. Don't think we should risk posting a decanter. Send him the label. And a card, of course.

(W.J. Webster) Miss Pratt suggested brothel-creepers; and that, I'm afraid, set the tone. Miss Dunwoody pro- posed a life subscription to a magazine that I'm surprised she had even heard of. Canon Trimble argued for a 'voyeur's friend' (torch and plim- solls). Evidently our colleague's little lapse had brought to the surface a hitherto dormant lubri- cious streak among us.

'Surely brothel-keepers need to be fed,' remarked Mr Cope. 'Creepers,' said Miss Pratt. Pardon?"Brothel-creepers. A type of shoe.' The things you know!' giggled Mrs Trimble.

'A down-market charity shop', said Miss Dun- woody, 'could perhaps supply a suitable dirty raincoat.' Or we could buy one and soil it a lit- tle,' said Miss Pratt. 'A gross of novelty con- doms,' said Miss Dunwoody. 'You go too far,' Mr Cope said, flushing.

'Thank you all', said the Reverend Charles- worth, 'for this beautiful Birdwatchers' Special Telescope, especially for the thought behind it.

Thank you, dear friends.' (Gerard Benson) With 30 years' governorship of the West African province of M'Fooloo behind him, Sir Garsing- ton Traipse knew there'd be problems with his leaving present from the local potentates. Having introduced marmalade, cricket and bug- gery to the natives, he naturally deserved the highest honour bestowable. However, this hon- our was a feast of human meat. While Sir Gars- ington was prepared to try 'long pig' once, he had recently outlawed cannibalism on account of its depleting available domestic labour. Thus he would have, judicially, to shoot anyone present- ing him with human meat.

The locals, having learnt embarrassment from the English, felt terrible. Human meat must be served, but no one must die to provide it. Their solution was to cut one arm from each of their noble warriors, men too proud to die. The resul- tant feast was a resounding success, though afterwards Sir Garsington had to have them shot for being asymmetric on parade. (Adrian Fry)