He, she, it

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Indy Lifestyle Online
ARABELLA

Why do people need to go on a course to learn to say: "Yes, madam, it has gone off, please accept this pounds 10 voucher with our compliments"? Roland, of course, would see such common sense as "the cutting edge of the interface between business strategies and communication skills", honed to perfection by his years of training in "psychometric profiling of character and managerial potential". Which the rest of us can do just by standing next to someone in a taxi queue.

I've noticed that Roland becomes particularly tetchy just before he has to pack an overnight bag with enough hideous ties to blind an army, and sidle off to Stevenage or Leighton Buzzard to crank up what are called executive personnel, ie people doing very boring jobs, into four-star performers on one of his dreary management courses.

I feel sorry for them all. It seem completely mad that so many people should burn up their lives in nasty little grey-carpeted boxes, doing what is called a desk job. To make it all seem less dreadful, the poor things are encouraged to use the most appalling jargon, to split their infinitives and to give themselves airs. And if they're any good at whatever it is they do, they're rewarded with "incentives": hideous cars tricked out in the sort of upholstery you could be invisibly sick on.

Those unfortunates perceived to be flagging in sales figure achievement potential are forced to attend one of Roland's management courses, so that they can totter or scramble up the ha, ha, ladder of executive success a little faster, thereby increasing the gross annual turnover by .07 of a percentage point over the annual base rate, oh yes. Each clutching a fistful of leaking biros in one hand, and a grey and maroon leatherette "executive" briefcase tucked under the arm, they stagger purply up the fixed steps of London Underground and elsewhere, to be indelibly late for work due to cardiac arrest which provides the supper-time stuck-in- a-loop tape of interesting conversation for the over-40s.

The blurb in the brochure put about by Roland's company is full of hideous sentences promising to "tailor-make for primary needs" - ghagh! - "thereby releasing your company's human capital for heavy investment in lateral restructuring strategy" - faugh!! Whoever let loose such awful linguistic combinations should be kicked in the head, or at least fined on a sliding scale commensurate with his/her net emoluments.

What it does to Roland, contracted dragger of so many middle-aged lambs to the slaughter, doesn't bear thinking about. It is exhausting to share a flat, or a life, even, with someone who comes home groaning and loosening his tie before pouring himself an enormous slug of gin. Worse, to be expected to listen sympathetically, while the co-habitee is attempting to purge the horror of it all by complaining about Hartlepool, or wherever he's been holed up.

I think Roland recognises growing irritation, however well concealed. When he got home yesterday evening, shagged out almost beyond recognition, he very sweetly bypassed the blow-by-blow description and headed straight for the drink. I can only assume that his latest course was particularly unsatisfying.

ROLAND

If there is one piece of advice that I really try to drum into delegates on my Advanced Communications Skills courses, whether they be chief executive officers or humble telephonists, it is that they should at all times, if they wish to get their message across in an unambiguous and easily intelligible manner, keep their sentences short. And that, I suppose, explains why my opinion of Amanda has been so radically transformed.

When she turned up in Harpenden, it took me some time to recognise her as the friend of Arabella's who had flirted so outrageously with me when she came to dinner a month or two ago. While her plump thighs and ample bosom evoked a spark of recognition, she seemed a completely different person in the more relaxed atmosphere of a training course.

It was only when we met in the bar after the first afternoon's sessions that the penny dropped. I was quietly shuffling through my lecture notes when she sidled up to me and said: "Hello Roland. How are the staphylococci?"

I can only guess at Arabella's reasons for telling her friend that I was suffering from a vile infection, but once Amanda realised that I was not, and never had been contagious, she became quite apologetic. At that stage, of course, my emotions were dominated by annoyance at Arabella and certainly harboured not even the slightest trace of lust towards Amanda. But we continued the conversation at dinner, and a bottle of Gevrey Chambertin later I was beginning to wonder whether to crank up my old courtship ritual.

It was at that moment that Amanda astounded me. I had not even had time to cross my legs towards her (a sign of acceptance and comfort in another's company) and establish non-threatening eye contact when she looked straight at me, smiled and said: "Fancy a shag?"

A short sentence if ever I heard one. Unambiguous, easily intelligible, and yes, now that she mentioned it, I did fancy a shag. I scribbled down my room number and advised her to follow in a few minutes. Well, to cut a long shag short, there are certain aspects of advanced human communication that do not show up on psychometric tests. And Amanda's comforting thighs score high on any scale.

Should I feel guilty? I think not. In a moral sense, the situation is, I think, analogous to that discussed, I believe, by George Moore in his Principia Ethica in 1903: If a starving man is trapped in a mine shaft and cut off from humanity, is he doing wrong if he eats the flesh of a dead companion? In Moore's very sensible opinion, the moral imperatives of the real world cease to apply in a situation physically separated from it in such an extreme manner. Locked together in the mineshaft of a management course, Amanda and I were cut off from the morals of the outside world. She has promised to phone me next week.

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