March 29, 2013 6:22 pm

A mother hen comes home to roost

At 51, it may be a measure of one’s age to want to celebrate quietly with family rather than with a bash
illustration by James Ferguson of a chocolate easter egg in a box with Mrs Moneypenny's face on it©James Ferguson

Easter weekend and I’m very excited. I shall be celebrating my 51st birthday with Mr M and all three cost centres.

I will have more or less ignored the real date earlier in the week – very much a work night – and instead, I’ve fixed Easter Sunday as the official day for recognition of my advancing years. Celebrations will be somewhat low-key, certainly compared to last year, when I flew myself around South Africa.

It is something of a triumph to assemble the whole family. I know that technology now means we don’t need to see our children every single day to stay in touch; indeed I have supervised CC#3’s homework by Skype on more than one occasion. Of course I’ve always held that parenting is not necessarily a full contact sport but I’m sure I speak for every parent when I say that Skyping is not the same as being able to hug them and talk to them in the flesh.

Interacting with people face to face in general is even more important in an age when so much information is available on the internet but with no really reliable filters. You’re much more likely to trust someone, to absorb what they have to say, if you have met or seen them in person. That’s how real relationships are built.

So I was not surprised at the record turnout for Names Not Numbers, the eclectic gathering of souls curated by Julia Hobsbawm that was held this year in the Suffolk coastal town of Aldeburgh. Best described as a 19th-century salon on steroids, Hobsbawm assembled scientists, scholars, scribes and the occasional unashamed sycophant to debate the issues of the day. These ranged from advances in neurology to whether Britain is a great brand. In between were events such as performance art and the chance to taste (separately) excellent wine and great beer. These last no doubt helped to grease the wheel of all the relationships formed there.

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Mrs Moneypenny

I am never worried that I don’t get to enough full-on face-to-face events. Even my attendance at NNN was bracketed by two such opportunities, although only one was scheduled. The unscheduled one was an unintended appearance at the Professional Clothes Care Conference. Yes, really – I walked out of a hotel lift and there they all were. I was tempted by sessions such as “Solvent of the Future” and the chance to meet delegates from the International Dry Cleaning Congress (mission statement: to strengthen international understanding and goodwill in the textile industry). I am happy that someone is tending to this: every time I take my dry cleaning in I feel that the person serving me could do with a little goodwill.

The scheduled opportunity was the annual conference in St Andrews of the British Universities Finance Directors Group, where I was the after-dinner speaker.

 

I was also the house guest of the university vice-chancellor, Louise Richardson. After my cultural overload of previous weeks and the mind-stretching challenge of NNN, I was rather pleased to be with a lot of accountants, who are much more in my comfort zone. So after I settled into my bedroom in the VC’s residence I was rather flummoxed by the exceptionally long and tricky WiFi password. For security reasons (Richardson is an international authority on terrorism) I won’t give anything away but suffice to say that it is derived from a poem written by Heinrich Heine, the 19th-century German poet. I know even less about German poets than I do about dry cleaning, and clearly St Andrews employs IT professionals who perhaps should be discoursing at NNN. After finally connecting to the St Andrews internet I was rendered once more culturally exhausted.

A few days off over Easter will be a rest. Years ago for my birthday I used to want a party with a great band, all my friends and lots of wine. It is a measure of my age, I think, that now my greatest wish is to be with all my family for a few days. Face to face.

mrsmoneypenny@ft.com

‘Mrs Moneypenny’s Careers Advice for Ambitious Women’ is out in paperback

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