When is a crisis not a crisis? Mr M was exhibiting classic signs of stress the other day after he managed to double-book himself with dog training and a golf lesson, but I told him that since this was neither an emergency nor challenging it therefore didn’t count as a crisis.
To my mind, a real crisis, about which it is acceptable to be stressed, is when the restaurant at which you are about to host a large dinner suffers a power cut. This happened to me in San Francisco recently, half an hour before a dozen guests, including several clients, were due to arrive. The private room at Americano booked for my intimate dinner was suddenly lit with so many candles that it resembled a grotto, but head chef Kory Stewart emerged from the gloom to tell me that the lack of electricity was only part of the problem. There was also no gas and, therefore, no hot food; a situation unlikely to change for at least two hours.
I was co-hosting with my colleague, who is a world authority on Association Football – not an obvious skill for dealing with the prospect of cold food and a dozen guests. But he turned out to be just the chap to have to hand, possibly because chef Stewart has travelled extensively outside the US so no doubt appreciates the delights of Association Football.
When faced with a real crisis, the people I want around me are those who will a) stay calm and b) take decisions. Something of a masterclass in both points was demonstrated by the pilot of my British Airways 747 flight from Los Angeles to London recently, which, as I mentioned last week, made an emergency landing in Vegas. “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,” came the voice of authority, followed by an A-grade display of understatement as fumes filled the cockpit, “we have an operational issue.”
As we turned back to land, my only slightly stressful moment came as the pilot asked the cabin crew to take their seats for landing – when we were still at 30,000ft. It was then that I felt grateful that the last email I had sent Mr M before take-off had been a loving one. Can you imagine if my final email had been one that harangued him for not sending back Cost Centre #3’s vaccination forms?
Calm decisiveness was also in evidence when, after the above unscheduled stop, Long-suffering Lily and I transferred to a Virgin 747 bound for London. This time it was not an “operational issue” but a passenger having a suspected heart attack that precipitated an emergency landing, this time in Boston. (At this point, by the way, I was certainly starting to wonder if I should give up trying to leave the US and just stay there.)
Back at home we have had our own domestic crisis. Cost Centre #2 has caused Mr M a lot of stress. He has not dropped out of school (he only has four months to go), or got someone pregnant (as far as I know) or developed a drug habit (ditto). But to judge from Mr M’s reaction you would think that he had done something worse. Our son has taken delivery of the signet ring he requested for his 18th birthday, and is sporting it on the little finger of his left hand.
Jewellery, in the view of his Australian father, is for girls. I find this reaction all the more galling because it took me an age to get the ring made, as well as the hassle of arranging for him to go and have it sized among all the usual commitments of boarding school, sport and university interviews. When Mr M calms down, I am sure he will see it as a family heirloom.
And back at the restaurant in San Francisco? A takeaway was ordered from the head chef’s favourite Thai and served to us in pristine white porcelain bowls. Thai takeaway by candlelight with views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Officially no longer a crisis.
‘Mrs Moneypenny’s Careers Advice for Ambitious Women’ is out in paperback