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I often tell the Cost Centres that developing the habit of sensible bedtimes will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives. This tends to fall on deaf ears, mainly because it is advice that I so blatantly ignore myself. I am only just recovering from the end of the party conference season.
The season was wrapped up this year by the Conservative party, whose conference slogan was “For Hardworking People” (sic). Once you get past the debate on whether hard and working should have been hyphenated or even separate words, it was very apt. My colleagues were sent on ahead of me to Manchester and worked very hard, attending fringe meetings, holding one-to-one meetings in a nearby hotel lobby and going to key parties. They even went on to the after-parties just to make sure they saw anyone they might, by some miracle, have missed during the day. Very hard-working indeed (but not massively conducive to early nights, of course).
I am a conference lightweight by comparison. However, this year I was determined to outlast George Osborne at The Spectator party, not least because my company was sponsoring it. I was the last person to leave the room, at 1am. Unlike many others I then went to bed, waking at 8am to realise that (no doubt thanks to copious quantities of Pol Roger) I had clearly invited someone into my room after I got back. It seems that I had summoned room service. What possessed me to order lasagne at 1.30am? I have definitely got to the age where, when I go into a room, I sometimes forget why I am in there but for some reason always think the answer is going to be in the fridge. Or failing that, courtesy of room service.
The Tories’ flagship pledge before the 2010 election was the promotion of “the Big Society”, to encourage people to take an active role in their communities. I didn’t notice any mention of the Big Society at conference this year, but I do live in a community of 500 people (one church, one pub, no shop or school) and, as far as I can see, they have been running a Big Society programme for ever. Once a year, for instance, the village turns out to clear rubbish from all the nearby roads, hedgerows and public places. We also have an annual day where we clean the church and another one to clean the village hall. Last weekend we set up an apple press on the green so that all of us with excess apples could turn them into juice, and the weekend before we had our biannual safari dinner, when people attend a three-course meal in three different houses.
I made sticky toffee pudding for the safari dinner but that was the least of my tasks. Cleaning my house and garden so that it would warrant inspection by eight randomly chosen neighbours took all day and required much help from Cost Centre #2, who by the end of it was hoping we would never offer to take part in the safari dinner again. I did notice, though, that he ate all the leftover sticky toffee pudding. He too thinks the answer is always in the fridge.
At least our village safari dinner means a relatively early night. When my colleagues and I returned from Manchester, we promptly attended the Countryside Alliance Wine Dinner, where I was this year’s chairman of the organising committee. Held at the Banqueting House, we had to shoo the last guests out at midnight, even the one who had not read the invitation and didn’t show up in black tie. Lots of people went on to London nightspots but I went to bed, knowing that I still had one more late night to go. This was a farewell to one of my hard-working colleagues who, after nine years with us, has decided to go and work somewhere else. Despite this lack of taste on her part we treated her to sushi and karaoke … and then Annabel’s.
I reported back to Mr M on my bedtimes on all these late nights. ‘I got back from Annabel’s at 3am.’ ‘At your age?’ Mr M asked by email. It is not just the Cost Centres who need an early night.