The Gate Keeper: Chapter 13 (In which vision improves)
by Andrew Miller TBW Smith Jones Wallace Broadbent and Ndimande is an agency in crisis. Their ‘basket of boutique services’ strategy has bombed. Only a massive new project can keep the doors open – all eyes are now on the corporate tent at Mangaung. Far in the background, an emergency replacement executive PA with decades of experience makes important decisions. Interns rise, board members take unexpected steps and things begin to change…
The chairman of the board tries to avoid tears, and qualitative market research, but fails…
In which vision improves
Tim Broadbent tip-toed past the reception area as quietly as he could. This was partially because he had the mother of all hangovers, and partially because he knew Melinda Ensworthy was in there somewhere – he had seen that funny car of hers in the parking lot. Tim had spent a good few weeks avoiding her presence but now, very early on Saturday morning, an encounter would be fatal – he would be forced to enagage.
He cursed himself as he tip toed. If he hadn’t had so many G&T’s he wouldn’t have forgotten the market research those qualitative idiots delivered late on Friday afternoon. If there was one thing Tim Broadbent had learned to loathe through the years it was qualitative research. The clients lapped it up like little puppy dogs but anyone in the business knew that there was very close to nothing to be gained by seeing what an ordinary member of LSM 9 kept in their fridge. There was even less value – if that was possible – in hearing what they thought about what they bought or ate or slept in or drove. What people understood about their purchases was not the point. The point was budget. With a big enough budget you could sear any brand onto their frontal cortex and they would end up buying it, loving it, talking about it to their friends and lovers. Qualitative post purchase rationalisation was, in Tim Broadbent’s world, irrelevant.
Still, the four hours of poorly composed and presented video footage was sitting on his desk and he needed it if he was going to front up decently with the fizzy drink people on Monday morning. And now Mama E – he shuddered at his own use of the nickname – lay like a dragon at a gate he would have to walk right past.
Tim Broadbent was surprised, given his pre-planning and general anxiety at the nature of the trip, not to see Melinda Ensworthy’s bulky frame at her desk. Instead, he saw what looked, at a very quick glance, like a shuddering multi coloured hump. He was moving too fast to secure a proper view, but he could have sworn that the hump was some kind of slumping incarnation of her shoulders. He was also pretty confident that the shuddering was a physical manifestation of tears. Mama E was sobbing – quite loudly in fact – onto her desk. At 8:30 on a Saturday morning.
Tim Broadbent had two immediate reactions to the scene. The first was moral idignination. In his experience, people who sailed Columbian rivers too heavily developed a tendency towards undue and uncomfortable emotion. The second, however, was harder to deal with. To his own surprise, the sound of Mama E’s wretched sobbing was proving very hard to cope with. He had spent the better part of his professional adult life ensuring that he avoided and / or swifted buried any hint at emotion. When things got personal, Tim Broadbent was out the door. Everyone knew this. What they didn’t know, however, was that he was out the door because he was a massive softy. His wife controlled him adroitly with emotion. And anyone could. A mere sniff or wipe at the eye had him conceding immediately. Tim Broadbent was a pitiful fool when it came to the salty rivers of the eye.
He grabbed the set of three videos of his desk – cunningily entitled Street Culture and Brands in 21st Century South Africa – and breathed heavily. He thought. He breathed. He thought again, and decided to run for it.
It would have worked if he hadn’t glanced left as he dashed through the reception area, only to see that the shuddering lump was exactly as he had left it. Despite all his better judgement, despite an avoidance strategy that had served him so well for so many decades, Tim Broadbent stopped to ask what the matter was.
Mama E looked like warmed up poo. The previous nights exploits had ravaged her aged face to the point of true ghostliness. Combined with the snot (which was rubbed into the heavy creases formed on her face by the slumping on the desk) the ghostliness was terrifying. She looked 120 years old and on the point of death.
“Oh, Tim, Jeeezuz, sorry,” Mama E wiped at her face with bedraggled multi coloured sleeve, making things considerably worse. “I thought I was alone.”
Tim Broadbent swallowed a few times, breathed deeply again and stepped out into the front lines, like one of those teenage soldiers going over the top in World War I .