How would you feel if you were given an all-expenses-paid trip to Paris with one hand only to have it snatched away with the other? The broad boulevards of Paris have been swapped for the mean streets of south London. The Champs Elysées has become Catford high street.
My company had been due to visit a French counterpart in Paris this week, but, instead, our French colleagues came to London.
To make matters worse, I was asked to act as an interpreter for their trip. In other words: all the pain of the visit and none of the pleasure.
“I did my best to extricate myself, claiming premonitions of a headache, conjunctivitis and life-threateningly flat feet”
My disappointment all hinges on a simple misunderstanding. When I was approached to be part of the delegation, I was told the meetings would be taking place in Paris. Given that I work in social housing, even I realised that some elements of the trip might be grittier than I might choose, but hey – it’s a trip to Paris, right?
Wrong. When I next saw the chief executive, I mentioned how much I was looking forward to our trip to Paris. He looked blankly at me for a moment, before smiling kindly and saying, “They’re coming here, Graham.”
Obviously, I did my best to extricate myself from the visit immediately, claiming premonitions of a headache, conjunctivitis and life-threateningly flat feet. All in vain.
I ended up spending the day easing the conversation between the two camps and introducing the French guests to colleagues who could help them with particular queries. A former boss and friend kindly sent me a bilingual dictionary of housing terms, which proved useful on the day. (Thanks, Jane.)
Unfortunately, I couldn’t join them for their evening meal in a private dining room at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. I was up for an award at a ceremony taking place in the dinosaur hall of the Natural History Museum (pictured) at the very same time.
I didn’t win. Luck clearly wasn’t on my side yesterday. Mind you, I reckon being shortlisted was an achievement in itself. And I got to speak French.
Maybe it wasn’t such a bad day after all.