Here I tried to capture something of the spirit of those months and years which have yet to be satisfactorily named. At the time, “credit crunch” was all the rage, but I haven’t heard that one in a while. When I looked at this first I was worried the tone might seem supercilious, and the use of PR jargon forced and laboured.
Actually, it isn’t quite like that. It strikes me as an odd little vignette. I hadn’t heard of flash fiction then, but I guess that is what this is.
Hello, this is our company’s annual report. Actually, and despite what you might expect, we made a bit of a profit this year, by which I mean last year, but not as much as other years. And it’s what is happening next year, by which I mean this year, which is worrying us all. Basically no money is coming in, although sales are good – holding their own. We were highly leveraged, as they say. It doesn’t much matter what sales we make, or what revenue continues from our core activities. We are still going to cease to exist unless we cut costs and cease all activities that cannot be justified by cost-benefit analysis.
I’m writing this report in my car, longhand, with a ballpoint pen which I think may run out of ink any second, hoping we still have a secretary in the building somewhere happy to type it. Today one of the receptionists threw her shoes at me as I entered the building. The security guard – John, is it, or Norm, or maybe he was one of those Polish guys or Russian, Pavel maybe – laughed, and I retreated to the car park. Why are they still turning up to work if they are so unhappy? They are clinging to their jobs despite the cuts to, firstly, benefits and bonuses, then promotion, then salaries, as well as the redeployments and redundancies, So here I am in my car, a company car no longer, indeed a five year old car, I haven’t driven a car older than a year in twenty five years, writing our annual report in biro.
I may just photocopy this, on second thoughts, and post it directly to you shareholders myself. I have been in the office a fair bit lately, and if I go in early enough there is no receptionist to throw shoes at me, just the surly nightwatchman, who only glares at me. I’ll go in early tomorrow, photocopy and post, and be gone by eleven, through the delivery entrance, some impulse of pride prevents me from entering the building in that way, but not from leaving, and I’ll go and spend my day in shopping centres beginning to lose their shops, like grins with half the teeth knocked out, haunting the big stores, still busy, full of make up salesgirls each a vision of beauty and lust, and I wonder at just how many beautiful girls there are in the world and I accuse myself of letting my life go by in business when I should have been a lothario, a Casanova. All those beautiful bodies I should have been caressing, fondling, worshipping rather than thinking of ways to save this company money, for after all the company will probably endure even the current climate, as they say, and my efforts probably caused more harm than good.
So my noble shareholders, you fellow adventurers in this company’s undertakings, such as the production of precision tools, our original but long abandoned, or at least overlooked (do we still do it at all?) activity. The report is brief, really. Accounts and the like to follow, if I can get into the building. The devil, as they say, is in the details. Last year, by which I mean two years ago, we made great efforts to present the accounts as attractively as possible. Now we are beyond that, in every way. It seems such an obviously pointless exercise. We are better suited to accounting as accounting, as an honest account of what we have, what we got, and what we spent. What is the Dickens quote? Something something income five and six result happiness something income outgoing misery. That’s the spirit.
Our core activities are now peripheral, so only peripheral activities remain. We employ human resources staff, secretaries, security guards, all keeping the company in existence, all active and busy, albeit paid less if at all. This is, I suppose, the end of the beginning. The momentum of the business, the trajectory, has changed. Our business became metaphor. It was like a river or a tree or a meteorite or all those things and everything else too. What is my business like now? Like a hurricane, like a rolling stone, like a rainy night in Soho. Now I’m just writing out song titles. Business is business, and business was business, and business will be business.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, that we’ve learned, from all this, surely its to beware all those sweeping statements about all this, casting the rise and fall and fall and fall again of so much money as a great narrative of one sort or another. What happened happened and we were all found out – capitalist, Communist, Catholic, Protestant, Dissenter, Freethinker, Jew, Muslim, pagan, etc. etc. We were all found out.
The morning is getting on. I’m thinking of making a run for it, trying to sneak into the building, head for the emergency exit stairs. On the fifth floor the coffee room is just beside the door to those stairs, and try and get a slice of toast, or a biscuit, or at least a megadose of cheap instant coffee. I am unsure if housekeeping is still an activity performed in the building. I remember the days of fried breakfasts, rashers and puddings and scrambled eggs piled high, with no limits, canisters of fine coffee and several varieties of specialty tea, Danishes and croissants without end. Such was our breakfast, and with our bellies bloated each morning we embarked on another round on the carousel. The metaphor again.
Our breakfasts now have ended. At home too, or rather in the apartment I bought as a hideway, a potential love nest for my non career as lothario – an apartment defined by a few objects, a sink in what was the bathroom and a sink in what was the kitchen, a few windows looking out on other apartments, a sleeping bag on the bar floors – there was no breakfast for me, All Powerful CEO. I dreamt of toast last night, when I slept, when I wasn’t lying there dreading the gauntlet of receptionists and security guards. I thought of the two biscuits I had eaten before leaving work yesterday evening, washed down with plenty of tap water to fill my stomach a little more, make me feel a little more full.
I glance at the doors. No sign of action there. No one has gone in or out since I left, pursued by footwear. I will venture in, O Mighty Shareholders. I will enter our gleaming palace of wisdom in search of a slice of bread. I’m leaving this annual report here on the passenger seat, to be read at the AGM or EGM, if not by me than by a nominated representative, thank you all for your co-operation, I look forward to working together to achieve our strategic vision going forward. Thank you and goodbye.