As we left the office to take the métro to the Marais location of our annual office Christmas lunch, the bombshell was dropped that some, if not all, staff would be expected to return to the office afterwards. Yours truly numbered among the unfortunate few, as the boss had some work he needed to finish off and made it clear that my services would be required. Inwardly fuming, I resolved to ensure that sufficient alcohol was consumed to render my presence entirely futile. It being lunchtime, the quantities required need not be vast.
First up, a champagne apéro had been laid on, to encourage us to mingle with the guests from our London office. The serveur on duty filled our glasses and then busied himself cruising around the vaulted rooms of the wine cellar where the festivities were being held, bearing a tray of appetisers. My glass soon empty, I waited five minutes before discreetly catching his eye and enquiring whether the remaining bottles of champagne in the cooler were “for decorative purposes only”. My comment was greeted with a raised eyebrow, but did ultimately have the desired effect: corks were duly popped, and for the duration of the apéro I was gratified to see that my glass was filled twice as often as everyone else’s.
Swaying slightly, I was well on the way to achieving my goal, and we hadn’t yet moved to take our seats at the Christmas cracker strewn tables. In accordance with long standing company tradition, the senior partner’s wife provides luxury crackers each year for our Christmas “do”. This year’s vintage looked particularly elegant, tied with irridescent ribbons, and, upon closer inspection, with promisingly weighty contents.
Unfortunately, throughout our meal of cream of chestnut soup with a garnish of sot-l’y-laisse (which I’m reliably informed is the part of a chicken known as the “oyster”, the best bit, hence you would be a fool to leave it) and duck leg stuffed with cèpe mushrooms, the waiters served only one glass of wine with each course, taking the bottle away with them each time. After an auspicious start, I was now beginning to feel worryingly sober.
Suddenly there was a volley of popping noises from the neighbouring table, headed up by my boss, as crackers were pulled. A shocked silence instantly fell over the rest of the room, and I put my hand to my mouth in horror.
It is an unwritten rule in our office that crackers may not be pulled until the senior partner and his wife have given us all the cue, by pulling theirs. My boss, not a great fan of tradition, had just committed an unforgiveable faux pas, probably on purpose.
I swivelled around in my chair to monitor the reaction of the senior partner, whose face was, predictably, stormy. Not a word of rebuke was uttered, but the tension in the air was palpable.
In an attempt to diffuse the frosty atmosphere, our IT technician went to put on the party CD which he had created, made up of tracks requested by various members of staff. But even with Bruce Hornsby and the Range coming to our rescue, it was touch and go as to whether our good spirits could be restored.
And one had to wonder whether the French secretary who chose Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” was aware that the lyrics constitute a hymn to fellatio?
At 5pm, feeling replete, sleepy and just a little tipsy, I staggered back to the office, while my colleagues headed for a local bar.
Naturally, I was called upon to do no work whatsoever.