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Are we still in the age of austerity? The first half of this year has, as far as my business is concerned, been as challenging as ever. Not that work has dried up – far from it. But we are working harder, for less money, for clients who routinely take more than 90 days to pay us. Cash is constantly at the forefront of my mind, and I have gone from requesting monthly updates from my financial controller to weekly and now even daily ones.
So it was no wonder that when my Younger Colleague and I flew to New York recently, we travelled on my air miles, which reduced the cost and, I hope, set a good example to everyone else in the company.
I strongly believe that as the head of the business, I must play my part in any economy drive. But, most radically, we also shared a hotel room. New York hotel rooms are furiously expensive, but they do usually have two large beds, so as we were spending company money, I thought we would give it a go.
However, not worrying about running up two huge hotel bills was merely replaced with a different anxiety: that of spending a week in the same hotel room as someone 16 years younger than me, even if I have worked with her for more than a decade.
My concerns had nothing to do with modesty or privacy (as it happens, we took turns to get changed in the bathroom, all very decorous). No, I was anxious that, as her boss, I might do something to lessen her opinion of me. What would happen if I snored terribly and kept her awake? Or woke her up flushing the loo in the night?
We have shared serviced apartments before, so I knew she had already encountered me in my pyjamas and not resigned on the spot, but on this trip I made a mental note-to-self to behave appropriately and in a manner befitting her boss and an adult with serious responsibilities.
She, meanwhile, had her own concerns about our accommodation. Modest New York hotel rooms are not renowned for their spaciousness and YC is someone who is very protective and respectful of personal space. So much so that she even had contingency plans in place to stay with friends if the issue became critical.
You may wonder why we even travelled to New York at all, given the challenges that I have just described. The answer is that I simply cannot build and maintain relationships by Skype, however hard I try. Many clients and advocates of my business, plus the company that I long to buy one day and work very closely with, are all in New York. I need to get there at least twice a year, and my colleague at least once. It would be a false economy in my view to curtail this essential interaction.
I also found time to attend a wedding in Central Park. As strange as it may sound, this is the ultimate austerity wedding venue. Did you know that you can get married in many parts of Central Park without a permit, so long as your party is made up of fewer than 20 people? Just book a registrar and walk right in. This has to be one of the best-kept secret bargains in the city.
And how did I survive sharing a room with YC? I am happy to report that she did not have to resort to her contingency plan for alternative accommodation. But I’m afraid that I failed to factor in a particular risk of travelling with someone 16 years younger than myself. New York is a great place to drink cocktails, and YC seemed able to drink them with abandon. I, on the other hand, forgot when we were socialising that I am 51, which was a big mistake.
I fear that YC’s view of me is now forever coloured by the fact that she witnessed me lying in bed with a wet facecloth on my forehead, moaning gently. Worse, she secured photographic evidence. Maybe next time I will have my own room, and travel with someone older. Even if it is still the age of austerity.