It’s the middle of July and outside, the mercury is hitting the low thirties. Inside the office, we all flop and swelter over our desks, begging and bribing the utilities dept to turn the air con up to max. Suddenly, unexpected yet familiar tones echo around the arid room as “he” bursts out of the lift: “Ho ho ho!!!” Looking somewhat puce around the gills, admittedly. Yes, it’s Father Christmas! In July? You read that right. Welcome to the wonderful, topsy-turvy world of magazines. Hold on to your hats and watch time as it races past: Christmas, Valentine Day and Easter often seem to merge as one. You don’t need to be bonkers to work here, but it certainly helps…
Fund-raising for the Christmas party and/or lunch began way back in the year. Every sale or raffle or auction of goodies from each dept was held with one thing in mind: fun, frolics, general debauchery and the annual opportunity to get off with Gary from accounts or Brian from the postroom. Depending on whether you wanted everything in triplicate from the former, or required first-class service from the latter.
When it came to decorating the office, it was always the knitting dept who shamed – I mean, kick-started – the rest of us sluggards into action. With much muttering, moaning, grumbling, glowering and utterances of: “Bah, humbug,” and other unprintable oaths, we reluctantly followed suit. Some took it very seriously: “It has to be perfect; I’m a Virgo,” trilled a member of the team one year. Someone’s retort of: “That’s not what we’ve heard,” did not add much to the festive spirit, overall.
One year, when money was tighter than usual, a very creative and enterprising member of the knitting dept went mad in her local supermarket and bought their entire stock of metallic scourers. En-masse, once strung up around the desks, through squinted eye and from a (far) distance (preferably the next floor), they did look quite festive and eye-catching and more than slightly glittery. Nice to have them to hand for any random sticky wineglasses still hanging around from the party, anyway.
Way, way back in the day, the company would generously issue the entire workforce a ticket for a free Christmas lunch in the canteen. Ooh, the trading that went on! Unsurprisingly, “I’ll swap you mine for three hardbacks from your books cupboard” was always a popular one.
At said Christmas lunch, singers were laid on (sat on, bound and gagged; whatever it took to stop them), to coax us all into good cheer as we stuffed our faces and went back for seconds and thirds… The aforementioned round, jolly, bearded man dressed all in red (of course it was the same one, don’t be silly! There is only one Father Christmas!) would also be there, posing for photo opportunities before any of us had ever heard of the tiresome “selfie”. I still have the photo someone (one of his little helpers?) took of myself and my boss with him with an arm around each of us. We are beaming with delight. It’s rather sweet, actually. I’m told that one year we had pan pipers, too, though I must have inexplicably been off that day – shades of “The Fast Show” sketch come to mind.
Some of us who probably needed to get out more looked forward all year to the cookery dept’s seasonal sampling sessions. Platters of cheeses, smoked salmon, party nibbles, chocolates, puddings, shortbread, mince pies and booze were tasted and awarded marks out of ten for a forthcoming feature in the magazine. You didn’t really need any lunch after those – or evening meal, come to that. You just had to concentrate very hard on catching the right train home.
Still in the cookery dept (and who can blame me?), once upon a time in la-la land, we had two – yes, TWO – free Christmas lunches (the canteen extravaganza being one of them; although, given the printing lead times, the magazine’s had to be organised a lot earlier than that). After the cooks, stylists and photographers had done their bit, the signal came from the kitchen and the gannets (ie, the rest of us) descended with unseemly haste to demolish the lot. God help them if they’d requested a re-shoot.
Secret Santas were always good for a laugh, and – er – sometimes more than a bit tongue-in-cheek, so to speak. Someone received a sex toy one year – though the more innocent among us couldn’t be entirely sure that was what it was, since there was no diagram attached. In another company I worked for, one editor had a bit of a body-odour problem and received a deodorant as his surprise gift. (Unfortunately for the rest of us, he still didn’t take the hint.)
We all know it’s bad luck to take the decs down until twelfth night, but it’s more than a bit dispiriting when, returning after the festive break with increased waistlines and decreased bank balances and the next pay day still far too small a distant speck on the five-week horizon, to find the tinsel and baubles lying on top of the filing cabinet exactly where you left them (where are Santa’s little helpers now, eh?), somebody’s clothes heaped rather tellingly under somebody else’s desk and the aforementioned “puzzling” sex toy hanging upside-down (we think) from the photocopier. That must have been some party, if we could only remember any of it…
So – the start of a sparkling-fresh New Year! What next to look forward to? Ah, yes – the polar (excuse the pun) opposite of when Father Christmas visited us in July. Emerging from the lift, trying very hard not to shiver quite so much, come a cluster of scantily-clad “Valentine cupids” bestowing on all of us a chocolate heart and a kiss. Can’t now recall what they were promoting, but who cares? Ta very much, chaps. Don’t mind if I do. Season’s greetings to all and God bless us, every one!