Tuesday, March 01, 2011


In fits and starts I have been transcribing my 1999 diary this year. Reading and typing more or less simultaneously, this has made for a thoroughly engrossing interplay of memories in the mind and on the page with the limited bandwidth searchlight of the conscious now.

Before I went 'e' in 2003, my journals were occasionally patchy and certainly less verbose. Yet it isn't the density of observation that makes this such a jarring assemblage of both high and low-res memories. Re-treading this daily path now can sometimes feel like hovering above a recollection. There's a new dimension to the remembered experience: a fluffed-up context, now enhanced by an appreciation of the sequence of events which were to follow.

On other occasions contrastingly, it is like being plonked right back in the tunnel, with all the implications for vision that implies. Instead of reliving the moment 'in the round', I am suddenly right back on the spot, and all the stresses and anxieties, the guilt, the uncertainty, and of course, more occasionally, the surreptitious sniggers, are back in the emotional foreground. And then there are those truly disturbing passages of text which result in no flashbacks whatsoever.

I picked this year ahead of alternatives, because superficially at least, I recall it as a twelve month period packed with big ticket moments, including a trip to Cornwall with John to witness a somewhat overcast yet utterly mesmerising total eclipse and an incident-packed business trip to Barcelona in the late summer, where I was put up by the client in a 3 1/2--star beach hotel in Calella, surrounded by inflatable dolphins and people with beer guts and tattoos. And that was just the children. (Apparently the bigger, better-prepared Pharmas and the world's extended community of opportunistic cardiologists had bagged all the rooms at the Hotel Arts etc. in Barcelona proper.)

And of course for the portentously-minded, the whole year was one breath-bated lead up to the big party of December 31 — which we experienced memorably here in Antigua — and the package of uncertainties heralded by the new millennium. (No doubt many of the same fretters will have been counting down frantically to December 2012 of late.)

Yet as I proceed sequentially, the wood of the larger meanings has tended to fall from view behind the trees of, well, tedium. How many exhausted early nights I had, how many silent wallowings in the hot tub, weekends lost to VHS sessions taking in all the regular shows we'd missed Monday to Friday.

'99 was also the year after the twelve months before in one important respect: it represented a new dawn for us after selling our baby to a NASDAQ-listed company and, as we returned from our post-millennial excesses, we were keenly aware that we were going to have to be accountable in ways that had not seemed all that important before...and that there were going to be factions forming around the office where none had existed before.

We now had a CFO for the first time, and the weekly Monday meetings she insisted on were where these new realities would play out most most uncomfortably. Former shareholders, recent option holders, and the newbie salaried employees would all have significantly different interests when it came to the now heavily-overseen financials and other matters relating to domestic governance.

Even our foreign masters would be torn: for on the one hand our numbers fed into their quarterly reports and they had their own issues with holders of different kinds of paper (not to mention the Russian default and a very volatile tech market), but on the other hand, the better we did, the more they would have to fork out in the medium term as part of the earn-out agreement.

They were also still snarling from the realisation that our pesky Norwegian managing director had got the better of their array of expensive lawyers who'd missed the clause which permitted a significant portion of our eventual windfall to be based simply on the passage of time and not on performance over that same period.

My former partner, the aforementioned wily CEO, took me for one of those serious strolls amongst the religious martyrs buried in the St George's Gardens boneyard in Bloomsbury. These were exciting times, he enthused, but some of the old guard, the dilettante amateurs such as myself and a few other notable members of the founding few who had managed to get such an implausibly elevated seat at so many corporate tables, might experience the coming year like suitcases which, not especially well tied down, tend to fall off the rickety bus as it picks up speed.

He was of course delivering a message, one that would allow him to step back behind the Doric columns as the knife thrusts were delivered into my back and belly. But this ominous chat morphed into a discussion about what I could do to become more obviously central to the new order; nothing less than a suit of armour forged from rejigged responsibilities — I was to become kind of knowledge gatekeeper and librarian on the side, with a visible role in keeping all my colleagues up to speed.

This was perhaps my first full exposure to the phenomenon I would later be able to recognise almost instantly as 'an initiative'. These are internal company activities, often quite rational and laudable in themselves, which are doomed to at best partial completion/success, because the main reason for undertaking them is to be seen to be doing something. After a further decade in the communications industry I would be under no illusions as to how endemic they tend to be therein.

Anyway, I am now up to March in the diary and many of my potential assassins are themselves little more than a folorn collection of open suitcases littering the highway behind. It had come as a relief to me that the first generation of potential usurpers had discovered that it was they who were not especially well strapped down on the roof. (I have a lifelong knack for simply outlasting my enemies.)

But the very nature of the new media industry meant that the flow of Johnny-come-latelies would continue to surge until the crash came three years later. If the first lot were creative professionals and experts who resented our rather non-specific abilities, the second wave was a collection of pathologically networking, palm-greasing and bean-counting suits, and once they had established their quorum within the firm — and we had thus returned to the pre-buy-out economics where overheads did not appear to have to be matched by revenues — the night of the long knives did finally come for the founders.

We had equity, they had options and no remorse. The CEO went several months before I did. Those who remained had perhaps 18 months left before the bubble burst and the new American holding company shut the whole thing down.


norm said...

Maybe a bit of a book here, EH?

GC said...

I think I'll leave that to my Norwegian friend!

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