Here is a fuzzy view looking east from the top of the Gherkin:
You will start to appreciate the lengths I go to in order to keep you entertained when I tell you that in order to obtain this photo, I had to sit through a half-hour presentation on the benefits of buying land in Brazil.
The beloved, you see, had been offered a glass of champagne at the top of the Gherkin on condition that he undertake a mysterious assignment, the details of which would be revealed on the day. He was allowed to bring a friend, so on Friday evening we duly turned up at 30 St Mary Axe, instantly distinguishable from the floods of people who work there by our absent suits and ties, and awaited further instructions.
After a few minutes, we were guided through an airport security gate and through to the lifts, where we were sternly told not to take any photos. Then up to the twenty-somethingth floor, where we were offered tea or coffee and placed in a sanitary-looking waiting room with some other victims. “Do you know what we’re here for?”, they asked us, anxiously. “No”, we admitted, “but we think it’s safe.”
Eventually we were escorted next door to a room dotted with round tables, at each of which sat a lonely-looking salesperson. We were pointed towards Danny*, whose shiny suit almost disguised the fact that he was barely out of his teens. Danny told us that we’d be watching a short presentation about buying property in Brazil. We asked Danny some questions. Danny didn’t know the answers, but what he didn’t know he made up for by repeating sections from his practised sales spiel.
Then we watched a video, in which an American woman berated us for foolishly keeping all money in the bank (she clearly hadn’t seen our statements) and suggested that the only sensible option was to invest in property. She then explained that it was best to do this in “developing” countries, where land was cheaper and ripe for development.
They stopped the video and asked for questions. The beloved tried to ask about sustainable development and artificial inflation of land prices. I tried to ask about the protection of wildlife. Danny still didn’t know the answers, but gamely filled in the space with more rehearsed lines. He put me in mind of an estate agent, which I suppose is what he was. We watched some more of the video. We decided not to ask any more questions.
If Danny’s sales method was uncompromising, it was as nothing compared to the full-force blast of hot air we got from his boss, who looked like a genuine 1980s car salesman with a checked suit and dyed blond hair and treated us to a full minute of his undivided attention. Any more and we’d probably have given in and remortgaged the egg to buy the land, but fortunately he somehow divined our lack of engagement with the process and left us alone with Danny, who, sensing that his chance had gone, suggested we retire upstairs for the glass of champagne.
Several complicated lift journeys later, we reached the 38th floor, on which lurks a private members’ bar, where we sat and admired the view while Danny ordered the champagne. And suddenly, as we sat and chatted, a small miracle started to happen. It began with a conversation about where we lived, which gradually expanded to cover Danny’s friend’s band, his thoughts on the beloved’s jacket and, eventually, his preference for films about revolutionaries (“I’m not really bothered about the politics, I just really love a rebel”). This corporate robot had quietly turned into a real person, who smiled for the first time as his infectious enthusiasm gradually brought a sparkle to the evening, as well as the wine.
We shan’t be buying any land in Brazil, but when I think about Friday night, I am most pleased not by the terrific view or the adequate champagne, but by the sight of someone slipping out of corporate mode and into human mode in front of my eyes. I imagine his company would sell more property if they allowed their employees to be humans the whole time, rather than only when they fail to make a sale. And just think what a nicer place the world would be if all companies adopted that strategy, rather than having their robots lie to us all the time. Ah well. It was nice to see it once.
*Names have been changed to protect the guilty