Tuesday, September 28, 2010

All Our Pasts


Paroxysms of funding cut panic are currently sweeping through the well-designed offices of our cultural organisations. Our organisation has been changing its ways gradually: Hilton to Travelodge, annual 3 day family get together to all staff ebulletin and, in some desperate instances, freshly ground to instant coffee.

A meeting was convened at the plush head office to talk about the probable impact on the members of ‘the family’. I bumped into an old friend after parking the car and showed her some phone pictures of the children. This made me a full 5 minutes late for the meeting. They rang me as I was entering the building to ask where I was.

I shared the lift with a performance artist I know. We had worked together briefly before a misunderstanding created an insuperable schism. She had understood my work to be ‘voluntary’, I had understood it to be ‘paid.’ Mercifully we were only going up to the 2nd floor – there was not enough time to revisit the misunderstanding or, more importantly, for her to devise some kind of site-specific ‘performance’.

The meeting was led by the Operations Director – Dave. He’s a no nonsense sort and invited me into the room with blokey cordiality. I was the only other male at the meeting, so this was understandable. He stood to talk us through the likely features of the wave of cuts (or the ‘tsunami’ as the National Director named it). Using a dry-wipe board, Dave created a ‘timeline’ for the tsunami, marking when and where it would touch land and who would could expect to be washed away. He then made use of a flipchart on which he attempted to do the maths. I think all in the room knew that the sums Dave was attempting were mathematical impossibilities and a minus figure would recur at the end of all of them. But we all indulged his optimism and listened carefully.

The National Office has always been immaculately furnished and equipped. I took this opportunity to look, for probably the last time, at some of the no expense spared touches: the designer cafetieres, the fetching baskets of speciality teas, the desktop fridge for the miniature bottles of Evian. I was looking forward to visiting the bathroom, with its basket of grooming toiletries and droll signage about the perils of switching off the lights before checking the cubicles for dozing colleagues.

I was drawn back to Dave’s presentation, but not quite as he would have wished. My eyes, and the eyes of many others in the room, were drawn to the gape in Dave’s shirt. Dave’s message was being undermined by the exposure of his particularly hirsute belly button. As he reached between wipe-board and flipchart, the belly button flexed and seemed to be mouthing his words. I scanned the room to see if any of my colleagues had also seen the belly button speak. They all maintained professional faces and focussed on the content. I too was focussed on the content, but began to suspect that the belly button really was doing the talking. It was plain, however, that neither mouth nor midriff could make the numbers add up.