Making Headway by Lucy Tutt

Sunday, December 9, 2012
Sally from the Projects Office is rather nervous about a presentation she was supposed to have started delivering two minute ago, in this comedy by Lucy Tutt.

It wasn't that I had planned it this way; just that it happened so quickly that I hardly had time to plan at all. The stationery cupboard is a lot smaller and darker than I had realised and five minutes has felt more like thirty. I've changed my position three times already and my legs are seizing up. But that isn't the main problem.

It's 11.32 a.m. Two minutes ago, I was supposed to have arrived in room B11, on the first floor, opposite the cafeteria. In that room, over twenty-five people are waiting for me. No doubt they'll still be finishing off their slightly over-brewed tea which would have been Linda's offering via the three-year-old urn. The coffee wouldn't be much better either since we were banned from buying the branded granules so Anna in Project Support reluctantly places a monthly order for a supply of the most bitter-tasting instant coffee that a limited office budget can buy.

So what am I doing hiding in a stationery cupboard at work?

Margaret in Learning and Development is mainly to blame. I'd bumped into her last month when I was feeling like I was bottom of the pile; as if my position in the company was the last text box on the organisational chart. I desperately wanted to squeeze my way to some sort of recognition. I was vulnerable and taken in by her stupid encouraging words. "Sally, why don't you offer to deliver the stakeholder involvement presentation next month?" she said. "Brilliant!" was my reply. What was I thinking? Now look at me, as soon as I made some headway in getting that recognition I believed I craved, I was sliding my way back down to the bottom of the hierarchical PowerPoint chart and into a very well-stocked stationery cupboard - hoping this whole sorry presentation affair would go away.

11.33 a.m. (Three minutes late.)

Hopefully they'd be on the Danishes by now. Although if Linda was on form, she'd have them eyeballing some mini chocolate croissants. Marketing would probably have dusted down some of the glossy brochures in the hope of realising the company's global investment dreams. If I'm lucky, they may even have wrenched Mr Harrison-Smythe up from his antique chair from the dizzy heights of the top floor. Mr Harrison-Smythe founded the company over thirty years ago and always serves as a brilliant time-filler in these types of events, mingling in his upper-class manner, telling tales of how it all started with him and his wife and a clapped-out old fax machine.

11.34 a.m. (Really late.)

My whole body is showing the early signs of rigor mortis. I toyed with the idea of stretching up towards the shelf above but I know from memory that a whole box of paper weights is balancing precariously around that area and I can just see the headlines. I've chosen this particular cupboard as it's the one that nobody but my project uses - and everyone in my project is currently in room B11... waiting for me. "Sally," I say to myself. "What on earth are you doing?"

The first line of my presentation has been whirling around my head for days now. 'Never has there been a greater need to involve our stakeholders in the delivery of our service than now.' I haven't slept for a week, not properly anyway. That line has been the first thing on my mind when I wake in the morning and the last thing on my mind at night. I've been ratty, highly emotional and irrational - my most irrational moment probably being right now.

My practice sessions had gone well. My mum seemed to enjoy the presentation, as did my husband, my sister, Linda, and my best friend Sam. Last night I had one last desperate practice attempt in front of my dog. They all smiled in the right sections, laughed (and howled) at the appropriate times. They all have great faith in me. Through all my stroppiness over the past week, they all continue to believe in me and my ability to face challenges away from my comfort zone, and ultimately of course to get a pay-rise.

11.35 a.m. (Extremely late.)

I would definitely be missed by now. People would be wondering where I was. Linda will be frantic. Although I wasn't first on, it would be any minute. I feel sick. Perhaps it's the industrial stapler digging into my stomach since I had shuffled slightly to the left and ever so slightly downwards. I was in a kind of teapot-style stance. What am I doing? I could do this. It would be five minutes out of my whole entire life. I've got at least another forty or so years ahead of me. That's millions and millions of minutes and all I need to do is get through only five. This couldn't possibly be any harder than giving birth and I had managed that - so I must be able to do this.

11.36 a.m. (Fantastically late.)

I need to get out. Not only am I in danger of hyperventilating and suffering severe cramp, I'll be letting my friends and family down, not to mention me. I've worked hard for this. Not everyone gets the opportunity to deliver a presentation and those who do, well, they tend to end up much better off than those who don't. And I want to be better off, don't I? I think I do. But then maybe I don't? I've got a nice life - a loving husband (most of the time), a beautiful son (when not vomiting on me), a supportive family (usually when there's something in it for them) and great friends (although they all happen to be skinnier than me). Why on earth do I need to go through something which has done nothing but put the fear of God into me? If only I'd given myself more time to think about this and not let Margaret coerce me into thinking I needed more. Stupid Learning and Development. The only self-development I need is breast implants, then my life would surely be complete.

11.37 a.m. (Monumentally late.)

If I go in now, I'll be walking in to a room full of people who will all stare at me as I walk up towards the stage. I'd be known as Sally, the one who was late for her own presentation. If I'd been on time, I could have blended in, got to know some of the delegates. I could have laughed and joked with them and eased myself into the atmosphere. That would have been far better than going in now, after it's got so late. I've got pins and needles in my hands, I'm not sure I could hold my notes. Where are my notes? This cupboard is so much smaller than I could ever have imagined.

I'm going to shuffle forwards and feel my way to the door. Two or three shuffles should do it. Done! Finally, I can breathe some air and move my body and stretch out - Awww yes, this feels good! But this whole experience of freedom is seriously dampened by the underlying dread I have in the pit of my stomach. I can't turn back now. The moment I step out of this room, people will see me and they'll know I'm not in room B11 and they'll wonder why. I'm seven minutes late, nearly eight. That's nearly ten. Even if the Danishes and Mr Harrison-Smythe did buy me some time, I'm now on borrowed time, there's no doubt about it. But I still have one more irrational idea involving the industrial stapler and a fire alarm.

11.38 a.m. (Preposterously late.)

The fire alarm has been ringing now for at least two minutes. I cannot boast this has been my most original idea but as the cliché goes, I am being saved by the bell. With notes firmly in hand, I am running, OK walking very fast, towards B11. The office is a flurry of confusion. A meeting in Board Room Five with some stern-looking men in dark suits has come to an abrupt end as they scurry towards the exit clasping their briefcases. Roger from Facilities has donned his yellow fire warden hat and dusty loud hailer as he recites the fire exit instructions, deafening all in his path. Everyone is beginning to congregate to the rear of the building, black stilettos become wedged in the open treads of the metal spiral staircase and Phil from Health and Safety is offering training in how to effectively hold on to the handrails to minimise the risk of serious injury or death. The smokers have already gathered together to light up, Mr Harrison-Smythe has collared the tall leggy blonde from Procurement and I can see Linda with two large oval trays of mini chocolate croissants.

Just as I've got one foot over the threshold of room B11, the fire alarm stops. I can hear Roger's incredibly piercing mono-tone voice through the loud hailer telling people they can return to the building. It's been four minutes since the fire alarm went off. My stomach's in my throat.

11.44 a.m. (Inexcusably late.)

I've positioned myself at the foot of the stairs that lead up to the stage and it's only a few seconds before people start trailing back to the room and into their seats. Linda clocks me and starts pacing fast towards me, her eyes almost bulging out at the sight of me. I can't make out whether she looks concerned or angry and I've never wanted to be wedged in a small, dark stationery cupboard more than I do right now. Before Linda gets the chance to get close enough to find out where on earth I've been, the deputy director Mr Humphries takes to the mike and begins to apologise for the disruption. I'm guessing that any minute he'll apologise for the late start of the stakeholder presentation and I'll be called up to begin. I take a look into the audience and pray for some friendly faces. I can't see anyone that doesn't look miserable and bored. It's simply my luck; a tough crowd. In my head I'm beginning to chant 'never has there been a greater time to involve stakeholders in the delivery of our service.' I can see out of the corner of my eye the piercing stare of Linda who is psychologically willing me to look at her, probably so that she can mouth to me phrases like 'where have you been?' and 'are you mad?' but with no doubt a few obscenities thrown in.

11.46 a.m. My big chance.

This is it. Mr Humphries informs the delegates that the stakeholder presentation will now begin and apologises once again that it has come slightly later than expected. He thanks Peter Jenkins from Facilities for his ad-hoc speech about the workings of our new Express 3000 elevator. I can't believe I have to follow Peter from Facilities. Mr Humphries is now inviting Caroline from HR to take to the stage to deliver the stakeholder presentation and... No, this can't be right. Not Caroline from HR. No, no, no. He's got it wrong. I must tell him I'm here. I've arrived. It's all OK now, it's me, Sally - here I am. I take a glance at Linda who is making a sort of shrugging action at me with one of her sympathy faces, the corner of her mouth formed into a downward V with her front teeth protruding over her bottom lip.

Caroline is almost at the microphone. There's silence in the room as she places her notes on the wooden stand in front of her. My legs have frozen as I watch my chance to make something of myself in this company that I've slaved away in for the past three years with not even a whiff of gratitude slip away from me. I had just spent twelve minutes in the stationery cupboard for this!

11.47 a.m. One last irrational idea.

I'm walking up the stairs to the stage. I feel as though my legs can hardly carry my weight. My heels are making the loudest banging noise on the wooden stairs. Caroline is within my grasp. She's just thanked everyone for being here. She turns around to see what's happening as I'm now standing intrusively close to her. I sense an air of awkwardness and uncertainty in the room. Before I have time to think about what I'm doing, I whisper in her ear, 'Thanks, Caroline, but I'll take it from here.' I've literally shoved Caroline from HR out of the way. This could be a huge error considering she holds some hiring and firing power, but in relation to my overall blunders today (i.e. jumping in a stationery cupboard and smashing up the fire alarm), I'm past caring. And so I begin. 'Good morning and thank you for your patience. Ahem. Never has there been a greater time to involve stationery... ahem... I mean, stakeholders, in the delivery of our service than now...'

One week later.

I'm passing the Accounts Department on the lower ground floor towards my office. I'm giving off a slight aroma of baby vomit that's lingering through my shirt and my head is retaining memories of an early morning niggling session with my husband over something pathetic like washing up. But I walk with an air of pride about me and a spring in my step as I have done all week. People have congratulated me and feedback from the delegates has been positive, so says Mr Humphries. For the past week I've slept well, haven't cried once and I'm no longer comfort-eating iced buns - I'm me again, Sally from the Projects office.

Would I do it again? I have to say, probably not; in fact, definitely not. But never has there been a greater time to ask for a pay rise than now.


  1. That was funny and I enjoyed it. Anyone who's ever wanted recognition and suffered stage fright can certainly sympathize. Good job!

  2. You captured the office environment well and did a good job of putting us into Sally's head.