The Temp

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The Independent Culture
The curtain dividing us from club class parts, and the sound of 20 pairs of lungs singing "Wonderwall" becomes almost unbearable. Barry Jones makes his way sweatily down to me. "'Scuse me, love," he says. "But they say they've run out of champagne. Thought this was meant to be a first-class trip".

We've been in the air for seven-and-a-half hours, and Barry and the gang have been drinking for six days. I'm not really sure what I'm suppose to do about an airline running out of champagne in mid-air, but I guess I have to do something, as it's what they expect.

I've just been to the Bahamas. Not a normal temp job, but on the eve of departure with 20 of the country's most successful photocopier salesmen, Melissa had a row with Helga, the usual fall-girl, raised doubts about her paternity, sacked her and was amazed, the following morning, that Helga had taken her at her word. So with a "You! Godda passport? Good. Wanna goad a Nassau?", I found myself instantly promoted to the role of holiday rep.

Which basically involved spending hours a day rounding up red-faced (and after a couple of days, red-everything-elsed) men in bars. The top five (though the runners-up all swore that they were the losers) got to bring their wives, but, apart from a nasty incident involving pina coladas and a reflective lilo, the wives were easy-peasy. Point them in the direction of a beauty shop and they were happy. The boys, on the other hand...

Well, for a start, every single one seemed to be called Barry, and to have been weaned on lager. 8.30am in Gatwick, and I was fishing them out of the beer'n'donut patisserie. Ten hours later in Nassau airport, I was fishing them out of the Conch'n'rum stall while a steel band played "Kokomo" for the fifth time. While Melissa looked collected in lounging pajamas, wrap tops and gelled-back hair, I ran around with my clipboard going "Minibus leaves in half an hour".

In the afternoons, the wives, exhausted after the round of nails, hair, face and massage, took to their beds, hoping, presumably, that their husbands would join them. Not with five bars available, they didn't. Salesmen are pack animals, after all. An hour in the swim-up pool bar, an hour on stools round the beach bar, on to the Manhattan lounge, darts and chips in O'Flanagan's Genuine English Pub, pass out in a jacuzzi. Give an Englishman an all- inclusive and he'll drink the contents of the swimming pool if it has mixers in.

So much for activities. Incentive breaks aren't like normal holidays, where you sit around deciding you can't afford fifty quid for an island tour: going on activities is proof of dedication to the company ethic. Not necessarily taking part, mind you: just going. We had island tours, golf, a junkanoo evening and conch bake (no takers for the conch once they saw it hooked, still wriggling, from its shell), minibus tour of the sealife centre, minibus tour of the casino, cultural tour of Nassau (and its famous duty free shops), minibus tour of where the stars live, stretch limo tour of the island's hottest nightspots, bonefishing, plane ride to Eleuthera and Harbour Island, scuba and snorkelling.

Or in other words, a change of bars. I hunted them in the Poop Deck, I hunted them at Compass Point, I hunted them at Arly's Airport Lounge, I hunted them at the hotel Atlantis. I made friends with all the hotel staff (nice people who had all had deportment lessons so they didn't scare the Americans by walking like black people), I made friends with security guards, I even made friends, in Nassau, with a couple of charming policemen.

And now I'm friends with the air hostesses. I've been put in economy, so they regard me as put-upon. Barry goes back to his seat, crashing into the heads of sleeping passengers all the way along the aisle, and I go, for the sixth time, to the galley.

Shona, make-up beginning to fade, greets me. "How often do you have to do this?" "First time." "Going to do it again?" "Doubt it". "Look," she says, "We've got some really nasty white wine. It'll give them terrible indigestion. Will that do?" "Without a doubt. Thank you." "Don't mention it. Oh -" she opens a cupboard underneath the ovens, brings out one more quarter bottle of Bolly. "And you take this. It's the last one, but you deserve it".