This is my second consecutive week abroad, with a brief interlude at home in between. In both cases I have been staying in posh hotels in warm sub-tropical climates. Last week was India, this week is Tenerife. But that is where the similarity ends. India was mainly business, Tenerife is entirely pleasure.
Don’t get me wrong, Smith, Pickham and Nenekar (my colleagues) and an endless procession of smiling prospective vendors have their moments. But none of them can hold a candle, or a night-light, to the lovely Mrs B.
It was a unique pleasure strolling along the beaches of Mumbai and Kovalam (down on the tip of India) with Pickham and Nenekar (Smith was in bed, being a bit of a lightweight with the time adjustment). But we didn’t hold hands, and we only came close to invading personal space for the sake of the obligatory “this is us in India” photographs. Fortunately, each snap was for no more than 1/100th of a second. They could have been quicker but for a little more light, but then both visits were after dark. So our moment of near intimacy was lengthened by a fraction, and then duplicated for required backup photos (we work in IT). Whilst we posed in pairs together for only an instance, the shared, but unspoken feeling of bloke-ish discomfort seemed to linger longer.
Nor can I deny the pleasure of supping a pint of Kingfisher with Pickham overlooking the Arabian Sea whilst putting the world of work to rights. But let me stress – at the risk of protesting too much – that I have no semblance of romantic feelings for the bearded wonder.
We had some fun, we boys, between the serious business. But of this I cannot share, for we have a rule; what goes on on tour, stays on tour. So I shall use that very convenient cloak of mystery and leave you to only imagine what crazy shenanigans and high jinks can be whipped up by four IT managers abroad. Suffice to say we laughed like drains when I almost left my laptop in security at the airport, only for Smith to actually leave his behind at the office of the second prospective vendor. Wild.
And so back to real pleasure. Sat by a dazzling warm blue pool in the surprisingly warm sunshine with Mrs B in her swimsuit. That’s her in her swimsuit, by the way, not me – I’m not that relaxed. The sun is taking its effortless trajectory above the palm trees. A cold beer is half drunk beside me, a condition I shall be aspiring to, as I consume it.
The problem with business trips is (a) the business and (b) rather like the England football team these days we have to leave our WAGs at home. So we are transported as single men with our baggage from home to airport to office to hotels to office to airport to hotel and back again. Just endless hopping between air-conditioning units.
Hot towels, champagne and steel cutlery are all well and good in business class, but they are merely a panacea to alleviate the boredom, sleeplessness and loneliness of inter-continental travel. So we have surrogate carers – smiling, patient, delightfully presented, ready to pander to our every needs. One nice lady even offered to make my bed for me. This is a thousand miles away from home.
Then in the business meetings themselves we are ingratiated by vendors, fresh from ingratiating the previous highly valued customers. We are paralysed by endless PowerPoint slides. Most of these we can now digest by squinting in less than 10 seconds. Then an over-zealous presenter spends 10 minutes reading each one out bullet point by tortuous bullet point. Of course, they all say that they can do anything we want. We casually pour glasses of water and nibble the mints, trying to conjure up incisive questions.
We are then invited to walk the floors of the extravagant complex to meet pre-wired over-enthusiastic staff who cannot wait to write software for us, or somebody. Sometimes it is an effort to stay awake and remain sincere. It is quite a pantomime. Oh yes it is. But we do try to be polite and not snigger. The curtain falls and we receive the obligatory “traditional” gifts.
Needless to say, Mrs B has not presented me with any PowerPoint slides nor tacky gifts. Nor does she flatter me or ingratiate me or even bring me hot towels. In fact I am the one trotting back to the hotel room to fetch her book.
Pleasure is not being served and pandered to endlessly. It really does get quite boring and even uncomfortable. In India, particularly, there is a thin line between genuine service and a subservience to westerners which belonged (or rather didn’t belong) to a previous era.
Pleasure is being able to relax, knowing we are what we are, and the other person takes us at face value and treats us as an equal. Where we can be serve and be served. No pretence, no play-acting, no games.
Having said that, this beer is making me hungry. Where IS that waiter?