At the HR director's behest we attended an evening networking event.
"It'll be good for your development" Rita said, without looking up from her screen, "I'll be going myself."
She started typing, her way of indicating the meeting was over.
My colleague Jess nudged me and we left. In the corridor she said, "I think it'll be a laugh."
"A laugh, are you mental? I don't like the people in our sector as it is, why would I want to expand this, already inconveniently large, circle?"
That evening Jess spent a long time turning herself into an Apprentice style siren. My only adjustment was to go tieless - jacket but no tie, the Tony Blair.
At the drab corporate venue there were drinks on arrival. I downed mine then took another. A smiling official assigned us badges. I shoved mine in my pocket, only to be told that I should remain identifiable. Jess, compliant as ever, badged up and fetched another drink.
I quaffed my wine like a feudal lord, "so, you think this is going to be one of those nights when I get lashed up and ridicule myself?"
"I hope so," she said, smiling, "I would get your job."
The room was crowded with people in variations of our attire, many of the males had longish hair parted towards the middle, several had their shirt sleeves half rolled up - there was something of the '90s Richard Madeley about these men, affable and moderately successful, but crushingly dull. I scanned the room for lone women, everyone was engrossed in their networking tattle so I decided to head for the buffet table and work from there. I noticed Jess talking to a notoriously oily recruitment consultant. It was her ambition to be headhunted and she worked tirelessly on ingratiating herself with those she considered noteworthy.
"Looks like you've got the right idea."
I turned to see a young blonde woman in a trouser suit. She took one of each canapé and refilled her glass.
"Those are good," I said, pointing to the vol-au-vents, "best thing about these things - that, and the midrange wine."
"I know what you mean."
I took a long swig then thrust out my hand to introduce myself. Her handshake was unnecessarily firm.
"I'm Julie," she said, "who are you with tonight?"
When I told her who I worked for she was suitably impressed.
"And who are you with?" I said.
"I'm interning at Bank of America at the moment."
To intern, I had forgotten it was now a verb.
"And are they paying you for that?"
She laughed and shook her head.
I said, "and how's it working out for you?"
"Great, this is my second one now. Most people do three but I think I'll try and get out there after this."
"Sure," I finished my wine, "I mean, how much filing experience do you need?"
I said, "so how have you managed to fund this exercise?"
"I've been lucky, my parents are very supportive."
"Yes, you are lucky."
I reached for another canapé.
Julie said, "anyway, it was nice speaking to you, I'm going to go mingle for a bit."
"Yes," I stuffed a puff pastry into my mouth, "you go mingle."
I stayed by the table - the groups had formed and only the recruitment people were bothering to move. I checked my phone then refilled my glass. A gentle tittering sound reverberated around the room, the jangle of soft insincere laughter. I watched the men for a while. They were all malformed in one way or another. This was no place for us, I thought, we should be out in the world building things. Instead, we were trapped in a sticky meeting room laughing at facile jokes.
Jess walked over and pulled at my sleeve.
"What have you done?" She said.
"What?" I waved at the space around me, "I am networking. What's the problem?"
"You were being funny with Franco's niece."
Franco was our steely chief operating officer.
A self-styled dictator, Franco thought of himself as a man who 'got things done'. Despite the cruelty he was a slightly ludicrous figure, less Stalin, more Mussolini.
I said, "you mean Julie? Great, I wish she'd said who she was."
"Yes, because that's how it works. She came over and started talking to Rita and I. Rita introduced herself and the girl was all oh, I've just met one of your team."
"Rita's here? But, of course. I suppose I'd better sort this out."
I put down my glass and straightened my waistband. Julie was wandering away from Rita's group on the far side of the room. I quickly made my way over and caught her next to a tray-carrying waiter.
"Hey, my man," I said to the waiter, "can I get one of those?"
I took a drink then pretended to notice Julie.
"Oh, hello again," I said, "fancy seeing you by the drinks."
I laughed, then raised my glass.
"Great minds, eh?" I said.
"Yes," she said, "I can see you like a drink."
I paused before saying, "well, who doesn't? Listen, I think we got off on the wrong foot earlier."
"It's fine, really."
"No, it's not. See, I was only being like that because I think you're pretty nice. Call it a defence mechanism, maybe. I'm not sure, but really, sorry."
She didn't say anything.
"You are quite attractive though."
"It's obvious," I said, "don't you think?"
"No, I mean, are you really saying this?"
The sparkle from earlier had disappeared. Over her shoulder I saw Rita laughing with a group of puffy faced executives - our eyes met and the smile fell from her face. I looked back to see Julie turning on her heels.
The waiter was still close, I called out to him.
"Mate," I said, removing my jacket, "you'd better give me another one of those."