Now there’s Chairmen, and Chairmen. Probably some of them take their responsibilities seriously, have some influence over the companies they sit at the top of, and actually do real work.
But my Chairman was of the old-school type. In the position for decades, having come into it through his family connections, and clearly not required to actually participate in the business, other than perhaps occasionally entertaining important clients.
Huge office on a completely separate floor, with different furnishings to the rest of the building. Separate kitchen and lounge area, but no sign of a Boardroom – no, that reminder of his occasional token appearances at Board meetings doesn’t belong anywhere near his private sanctuary.
(‘Mr Chairman, if we could prevail upon you to join us for just a few minutes..’)
I’m recruited to be his personal assistant for a few weeks, and the agency describes the position with reverence, as if it’s the best and most senior thing they could possibly offer and I’m only being considered because of my extensive experience and maturity. In fact the temp rate is pitiful, and it’s an embarrassing interlude between proper jobs that makes me cringe at the memory.
The Chairman bustles about, appearing to be busy when he does attend the office, which is of course only part-time, and is exceptionally polite but exceptionally patronising towards me at the same time.
I am shown exactly how he wants his messages and post presented, and exactly how I should make his coffee.
At some point early in the booking I am politely told off – not by him, but by an HR lady to whom he has complained – for making too much noise when I froth up the milk for his coffee, on the coffee machine in the kitchen.
It needs to be done more quietly, please.
I swallow the humiliation (serves me right for walking out of my previous job) and try not to smart at this unexpected instance of being made to feel like a servant.
Doubtless I should also close doors quietly and refrain from coughing.
All that I am required to do in this ‘job’ is make coffee, show in the occasional private visitor (further posh and patronising members of his family), and take phone messages.
(‘Mr Chairman, if I could draw your attention to the possibility of actually learning to make your own coffee..’)
The only ‘work’ that I am otherwise asked to be involved with is making the occasional diary arrangement, usually for lunch or dinner at (of course) an exclusive restaurant, and also assisting with his plans for a shooting weekend in the highlands.
(‘Mr Chairman, pistols at dawn or partridges at dusk?’)
He so lives in a different world that I am almost sorry for him.
He sits in his office chatting on the phone and leafing through magazines.
He receives vast numbers of invitations to various social events, most of which have to be declined rather than accepted.
He is often to be caught staring out of the window or taking a nap on his sofa.
Towards the end of my booking he takes me into his confidence and shows me some catalogues of collectable furniture he is thinking about buying. Antique furniture is his passion.
He deliberates over buying pieces worth hundreds of thousands – when I’m struggling to pay my rent, on my dismal temp rate.
On another occasion, he bemoans the fact that a swimming pool maintenance man didn’t turn up at his home, as planned. His poor grandchildren were so upset, because it was a lovely warm weekend but they couldn’t use the swimming pool. The poor things! Having to suffer – for a whole weekend! – the same state as all the other children in the country who don’t have their own private swimming pool! (Including – for all he knows – my own, who don’t happen to exist but might have.)
(‘Mr Chairman, the insensitivity of discussions of this nature has perhaps not occurred to you..’)
He is charming towards me at the end, and complimentary (because clearly I am highly competent at anything vaguely organisational (!!) and have probably outperformed his usual assistant). I hope I have managed to hide my disdain towards him.
I suppose a life of long lunches, weekend pheasant shoots and antique collecting might be fun – but as for me, I’d rather stick with my life.
(‘Mr Chairman, I refer you to the concept of the real world..’)