Mr Grumpy....5th March, 2020
I went to Reading earlier this week.
I have no recollection of anything about Reading itself, other than it was a line on my sat nav entry and that I passed a sign that said “Welcome to Reading,” which also meant I was close to my destination and — thus — a lavatory, the use of which I was desperate to commence.
If asked several questions about Reading — even if my life depended on them being answered correctly (for example if a bitter ex-councillor with responsibility for tourism took myself and other people in said lavatory hostage and used the threat of death by gunshot to prove his five -year plan to increase tourism really had worked and that his dismissal had been unfair) — I would probably die as I can only remember how to spell the word “Reading” (not to be confused with the verb “reading”) and that the city has a football team.
That’s possibly an informed assumption, or even a guess in the same way I would assume there is also a town hall, library, Starbucks and a Tesco.
I digress: Reading is hereby added to my list of pointless places, joining the likes of Buxton and Birmingham.
My hotel was called <name redacted> and, on the journey down, I had (obviously bored) formed a mental picture of a picturesque and romantic old building, a four-poster bed and crisp Egyptian cotton sheets (and, as my journey progressed, a wonderful lavatory) but I was destined to be disappointed.
When I opened the door to room 130, the first thing I saw was not one but two plug-in oil heaters, as I have in the garage to stop the washing machine from icing up and granddad has in his greenhouse to stop his rose cuttings from freezing in winter.
To my mammoth brain, this computed as “possibly cold”.
In exchange for my one hundred and forty-five British pounds, the terms of my contract indicated a bed, breakfast and three-course buffet evening meal, and, after switching on said heaters, I retired to the dining room to partake of said culinary feast.
The other guests of Baskerville Hall (several of whom looked like they had strayed in from the moor to warm up, the misguided fools!) or escape the hound, all had the same idea and by 7.03pm, the place was packed, with people swarming around the soup station with a sense of frenzy akin to a chemist in China putting a box of face masks in the window.
I have never consumed three courses so fast, and by 7.21pm, I was back in room 130 running a particularly tepid bath.
I’d travelled down to “observe” (as my security pass identified me) a training session for a new Grumpy PLC product into which we had made a considerable investment and I felt it appropriate to support (check up on) my colleagues who were delivering assorted classroom (sorry — “workshop”) activities. And lunch.
I’d decided to leave just after lunch because I knew by then I’d be bored (I was — in fact by the first brew break at 10.30am). It was during all this that I suddenly realised what happens to people who we may politely describe as being “on the spectrum” / “socially awkward” / “odd” / “to be avoided in the office”. Notice how that got progressively less politically correct but more accurate as I moved away from diagnosable conditions: people who might just not realise how loud they are, how awkward and pronounced their body movements may be or how their mannerisms seem totally exaggerated.
They become “trainers”.
Just before you all write in to complain (well, one of you — the other 24,999 will be laughing, but one of you will think you have 25,000 rights to reply and thus outweigh the silent majority), please do remember I often say we are all given “gifts” (by God, if you happen to conveniently believe in such things) and that for some of us, those gifts may actually come in the form of a “surface challenge” that is misunderstood to be a “disability” such as having a missing limb, eye or ability to do what most others can (like walk, hear or see).
Such distractions merely serve to delay the revelation and realisation of our inner beauty.
Anyway, for session one, Zac (not his real name) resembled a coiled spring: semi-hunched, he talked at 3,000 words per second and was clearly ready to explode or leap from in front of the screen like a panther and run around the room 215 times in 25 seconds (and therefore at 615mph) before screeching to a halt and changing the next slide.
He used the word “fantastic” at least once in every sentence and I’m sure when he went to bed, he must sleep in a fire-proof bed in case he spontaneously combusted as a result of a high-speed dream.
I was exhausted watching him for 25 minutes and was tempted to join the smokers as a “come down”, as some people do after sex.
Next up was “Kenny” (he resembled Kenny Rogers), who refused to act his age. He’d probably auditioned to be on The Comedians 40 years ago and entered Britain’s Got Talent 16 times but never made it past the town hall auditions (the ones you never get to see before the really bad but genuinely funny for all the wrong reasons) get through for ritual, public humiliation with Simon and the bird with the inflated lips that looks like a porn star.
Kenny tried several times to make the audience laugh. He had no chance, partly because he just wasn’t funny and partly because we were still brain-frazzled dizzy by Zac. I expected Kenny to break into song at any moment, and he may well have done, but I feigned an important phone call and got to the tea and cake before the rush.
Sitting through three “workshops” was about as much as my broken brain could manage (without tablets) and it was only in the final one that the dreaded words “breakout session” were muttered, by “Ricky” (possibly a part-time Rick Astley impersonator). He literally danced from one flip chart to another as he split the room into four groups and sent them to each corner like collective classroom dunces. I flashed my “observer” pass at him, a combination of a sick-note from my mum and an AC-12 police badge that excused me from such embarrassing activities.
After 15 minutes, a self-elected spokesperson from each group “fed back” and Ricky listened attentively, nodding like a budgerigar looking in a mirror and with his hands cupped like he was about to produce a rabbit, bunch of daffodils and a Yorkie Bar for the best answer from within his undoubtedly sweaty palms.
Have you noticed trainers always step forward and semi-bow with enthusiasm when spoken to (“someone likes me!”) but avoid answering questions they clearly don’t know by saying: “That’s a great question … (pause to stare at his badge) Dave… let’s throw that open: can anyone help Dave with that one?” After three attempts by Dumb, Dumber and Dumberer, all of which are totally wrong and frankly ridiculous, the trainer moves on, still avoiding answering a question from the audience about Einstein’s energy-mass equivalence in relation to the second law of thermodynamics at a Greggs induction day for interns (session three, heating up a pasty).
I escaped and was in my car by 1.55pm.
Worse is, I’ve just checked my diary and there’s an invitation to go back this Wednesday. Honestly. There’s a note: “I’ve booked you into the same hotel. Hope that’s OK?”
I can’t wait.
Return to Reading. Could be a western. Full of cowboys …