It’s been the week of the office party, the Christmas meal, the ‘sorry you’re leaving’ card stuffed with Next vouchers and scribbled best wishes. It’s been a diet of cheap wine, mini-mince pies, stale samozas, soggy Doritos, chocolate marshmallows wrapped in foil and sandwich triangles with unidentified fillings and curled corners. I have measured out my life in Marks & Spencer’s party food.
This has all brought to mind the delicious melancholy of Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy’s classic book The Office, written nearly forty years ago when Ricky Gervais was still wearing short trousers in Reading:
‘It’s really a question of the small canvas. People who do petit-point and who get absorbed in thousands of small stitches. Or trompe l’oeil. I think in a way it may be for people who want to stay in the nursery. Certainly I’ve found myself thinking of the office as I ride towards it as a large squat nanny, waiting comfortably there to gently fuss me with all details of her tiny, cosy world …
‘This monotony is increased because shared. While office events are taking place around you, identical events are taking place in hundreds of thousands of offices in London, France, America, all over the world. An invisible pall of office activity hangs over one, exerting a continuous exhausting, psychic pressure. And the sense of number, spread across the world, makes the office seem part of the human condition, something from which it is impossible to escape …
‘It’s like Vivaldi. It’s an initial subjective reaction. If you like it, every variation is fascinating, however small. You know what I mean – there are tiny nuances within the repetition. Take leaden afternoons like this, when the rain is falling on bored buildings, so many bored buildings. Today there’s a feeling of universal boredom, a great brotherhood of boredom. I find it very warming.’
Talking of boozy Christmas meals, David Mitchell’s succinct explanation of the financial and environmental crisis in last week’s Observer says it all, really: ‘Our long, unaffordable global lunch is coming to an end and a headachey afternoon in the office beckons. We've spent the last 10 years downing extra digestifs to delay the arrival of the bill. But here it is, without so much as an accompanying mint, and it’s massive. The trick now is to persuade the third world to pay an equal share even though they only had a soup.’
Oh, well. While they were arguing in Copenhagen over who had the poppadoms, Roddy Woomble, lead singer of Scottish band Idlewild, cheered me up with his book of the year in the Sunday Herald: ‘I spend a fair bit of time driving from place to place, so Joe Moran’s On Roads was a pretty fascinating read, documenting the history of the British motorway system and the change in thinking that came with it. More a philosophy than a history, it’s full of memorable passages.’