December 12, 2007
The traffic is brutal as always on the Western Road. The squeaky sound of the wipers is getting on her nerves as Miss Pencil Skirt tries, faithful Tweezerman in hand, to pluck her eyebrows — which is difficult when you are in first gear, foot permanently on the clutch, avoiding the account director in his Five Series who is trying to cut her up.
He looks straight ahead, greying temples, not catching her eye. He knows she’s there, which makes him more irritable.
He’s barking orders at some poor graduate trainee into that strange piece of Lego stuck to his ear, which makes him look like a manager in a call centre. Everyone is hungover.
It is Ireland in mid-December. And from looking at the faces in the snarled up traffic, most people were at their Christmas do last night.
The wipers are getting louder. It is the soundtrack of Irish commuters, the grating sound of a worn wiper in a car that is 4,000 miles past its last service and would need a Janet Jackson-style makeover to pass its NCT.
The front seat is filthy: Tayto bags, chewing gum wrappers and empty cans of Red Bull, in fact most of the items that are sold in the average garage are strewn all over the place.
She shouldn’t treat Babes, her Galactic Blue VW Beatle, like this. Where is that bloody phone? The Pink Panther ringtone vibrates. It’s one of the crew from last night, ringing with all the gossip.
She’s leaning right across the car now, groping around with her tiny hands for her bag on the floor. This is quite a stretch, but she’s straining — all five foot four-and-a-half of her. She can feel her skirt hitch up around her bum.
There it is, in the side pocket of her Orla Kiely bag, ringing away. One last dip and she’ll have it. Like a diver taking a breath before a descent, she looks up, sees that the traffic’s stuck on the far side of the yellow box and dives, deep over the passenger seat, past the packet of Kleenex, the nail varnish, plump-up lippy and broken ear-rings. She has it, her pink Motorola camera-phone. This is her lifeline.
Suddenly, there’s a bang and then, almost in slow motion, a horrible scraping, metallic sound.
The contents of the rear shelf — scratched CDs, old packs of Silk Cut Purple, Heat magazines and a shirt she was bringing back which was too big (yesss, the Elizabeth Hurley raisin diet is working) — slide down on her head.
Oh no, she’s stuck. She can’t get up. Her stomach muscles are aching from that pole-fitness class she did last Friday. She has no strength.
He is out of his Beemer in a flash, incandescent. Before she can straighten up, he’s towering over the passenger window, glaring right down at her.
She’s lost her left shoe in her unsuccessful battle with the clutch.
She cocks her head at a 45 degree angle, wedged as she is between the passenger seat, a Mark and Spencer’s avocado and prawn sandwich wrapper and the glove compartment which opened on impact to reveal a Dominoes Pizza flyer and two unpaid parking fines.
She smiles, raises her eyebrows as if to say “shit happens”.
He is stretched across the bonnet, checking her out-of-date tax disk.
Reality bites: it’s the morning after the office Christmas do, Miss Pencil Skirt is monumentally hungover and all she can do is smile weakly and try to put the garish details of last night to the back of her mind, while focusing on how to talk her way out of one more insurance claim too many.
The office Christmas do is a great Irish tradition. This week and next, hotels all around the country will host one of the time-honoured jamborees of Irish corporate life.
Along with the leaving drinks and the corporate off-site, the Christmas do gives us a great insight into the functioning of the Irish office.
The Christmas do reveals to us that because most offices are in reality chicken coops for hormonal 20- and 30-somethings, they are an exercise in sexual repression.
The atmosphere is always charged, suggestive and explosive. People fancy each other and many thousands of Irish couples meet at work.
When the office gets its chance at the Christmas do, it’s bedlam — a cross between Ayia Nappa and the Munich Beer Festival.
People get very messy. Many end up with people they shouldn’t, but the drink and the festive spirit disguise this till the morning after.
The girls are ready. There’s lots of cleavage on show. They won’t eat anything tonight as they are all trying to be size 6 — which for women after the age of 12 is an impossibility without starvation.
Up until 9pm, people are reasonably well-behaved. The girls are in their new frocks, waxed and manicured.
The lads are holding their drink, standing at the bar, chatting.
The madness doesn’t kick off until after the guest speaker, usually a comedian — perhaps some irregular guest from ‘the Panel’ who is testing new material before the Cat Laughs in Kilkenny — steps down.
There’s a rush to the bar. Double, trebles, Red Bulls, pints. The five Poles behind the counter are nearly overwhelmed but they manage to hold it together when the scrum is five thick at the bar.
People are ordering rounds, chasers, shots, shorts, dolly mixtures, anything. We are revving up, lift off isn’t far away. Someone breaks her heel. The ship is losing ballast.
By 10.30 every single sexual harassment rule in the handbook of this American multinational is being broken. The floor is getting frisky. Everyone smokes.
The tribute-band kicks off. The girls are in tight circles dancing around the head of Human Resources. They’re tottering.
Office parties expose the fact that the Irish are rockers. Despite a weakness for ‘Sweet Caroline’ at the end of the night and our seemingly endless conveyor belt of maudlin singer-songwriters, nothing gets the office party going like a rendition of ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ or ‘A Whole Lotta Rosie’. You’d be amazed.
With enough drink, the sort of lads who text Tom Dunne’s Pet Sounds regularly demanding early Arcade Fire, turn into New Jersey big-haired, head-bangers at the opening bars of Bon Jovi’s ‘Living on a Prayer’.
The heaving floor is on a high state of infidelity alert. Tentative flirting and quasi- intentional touching is giving way to full-on come-ons.
Decorum is about to go. Mistakes will be made.
The last thing Miss Pencil Skirt remembers is the head of logistics, with mike in his sweaty hand, belting out ‘Simply the Best’.
The next morning, everything becomes a little clearer.
So, as you look around the traffic this morning, spare a thought for the much-maligned office party.
If your neighbour in the traffic is driving erratically, be generous and forgiving; he was probably the one doing a Tom Jones impression on the bar counter seven hours ago.