Tuesday 8 September 2009


"What should I say to the new French CEO - it's a breakfast meeting so nothing too formal, but you know - something that might make an impression," I asked Mr Trefusis, whose proficiency with the french language still gives me the Fish Called Wanda feeling, even after six years of marriage.
"Tu peux les toucher," he offers, somewhat idly.

"Hang on - he's the CEO - I can hardly 'tu toyer' him, can I?"

"Well, it might sound a bit odd if you used 'vous' when inviting him to cop a feel."

"Oh, yes, very bloody helpful. In fact, a brilliant career move, asking one's new boss if he fancies a quick grope. I doubt that's what he means when he says we should get down to business. Try again: I want to make a good impression, not listen to the rungs of the career ladder snapping loudly beneath my feet. "

After some arguing, mostly about Mr Trefusis's lack of confidence in my ability to steer a conversation away from difficult linguistic waters, we agree that he'll coach me to say 'Veuillez excuser mon français exécrable' with a perfectly patrician parisian accent, and then I'll switch back to English, leaving Monsieur le CEO with the idea that I am wonderfully fluent but deeply modest. It'll do. It's not a one-on-one, anyway, so I'm pretty sure I won't have to show off too horribly.

But actually, I'm fairly nervous about the meeting - as one ever is, I guess, when spending time with someone who has your livelihood in their hands. And, of course, in more affluent times, no one tried too hard to impress. These days it's different: staying in one's job isn't just about being good at it - with the spectre of redundancy looming over everyone, working is like a hideous game of musical chairs - you can dance and dance only to return to your place to find the chair is gone. I know very little about Monsieur le CEO, other than his recent career history. I know he must be pretty posh, the 'de' in his name being a dead giveaway. I know he likes cars, though I shan't attempt to add my five pence worth here since the workings of the internal combustion engine are a piece of spectacular magic to me and I can just about tell a BMW from an Audi. Other than discussing the business, I'll have to conjure conversational topics from nowhere and hope he doesn't ask me anything difficult. I'm not aiming for anonymity, however. I need him to know who I am.

I do know he likes pretty girls. It might not be an original manoeuvre, but one may as well attempt to be easy on the eye. I'm no Claudia Schiffer, obviously, or Carla Bruni, but you can't have everything and with an exhausting amount of effort I can scrub up fairly well. Unless you're a super model, good looks are 10% what you were blessed with and 90% good grooming. Look at any of those makeover shows on the television, and it's all about the hair. Get that sorted and you're most of the way. Add decent, subtle makeup and a flattering dress and you can hold your head up with the best of 'em. At the crack of, um can't be dawn, it's still dark, Mr Trefusis finds me in the bathroom wearing beige spanx and a push up bra, blowdrying my hair. To add to the ineffable beauty of the picture, the top half of my hair is in curlers (it's not just my breasts that deserve a boost). It's terribly hard on husbands - seeing one's wife get ready must be like going on set at a film lot, discovering that the beautiful buildings in the movie are just plasterboard façades, held up by scaffolding. But at last I'm ready, as soignée as I'll ever be, with an elegant little black dress so tight it immediately gives me indigestion and a pair of taxi shoes high enough to induce vertigo. I spray on some Mitsouko in an attempt to smell expensively sexy, yet sophisticated. I think I probably just end up smelling like my mum.

I arrive at breakfast - my peers have all had the same idea - every last one of us is LBD'd and blowdried to within an inch of our lives. Monsieur le CEO compliments me on my perfect pronunciation of exécrable and the meeting passes off without incident. And in these dark days, who can ask for more?