If you let an accountant organise your party you will end up at a venue with four matt grey walls, a low-hang ceiling with only half the tube lights working, no windows, no heating, no tables, and absolutely no excess or pleasantry whatsoever. They will go with the cheapest option on the table every time because, invariably, they have little imagination.
To illustrate to the contrary, on Thursday I attended a party that had not been organised by accountants. The Scottish Event Campus (formerly the Scottish Exhibition + Conference Centre) invited me, and several hundred guests, to a Burns Supper to launch their rebrand.
The venue chosen was the superb Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington, West London. If ever a blueprint for a successful event was needed, this would be it.
After a preliminary soiree in the entrance hall, we were led past some books and a shisha pipe into the famous Raphael Gallery for a sit down dinner (as opposed to a stand up dinner), where a man in a skirt played with a bag of wind.
Adorning the walls in the gallery were the huge 500-year-old fine works of Raphael himself. It was a blizzard of bearded men and bare bottoms.
The haggis, tatties and neeps were washed down with lashings of hot 21-year-old whisky and it was all jolly exciting. We were then ferried back to the entrance hall for more wine and merriment.
It was all too wonderful for words. But, I’m afraid to say, I was not able to fully appreciate it. Through no fault but my own owing to a fleeting decision that would make even the dullest accountant proud.
No matter who you are, how rich you are, where you are, or what the occasion is, if you are not wearing decent shoes, you’re finished.
Shoes matter. They matter more than any other item of clothing. Stuff appearance, but a comfortable pair of well-fitting shoes will define your night, and several days thereafter.
The back-story: While walking from the car to the office on Thursday morning, I felt an unusual flapping under my left foot. I stopped to investigate and, to my dismay, discovered that the sole of my left brogue had torn itself asunder and was partially detached from the peeled cow to which it had once been securely mated.
The wave of regret crashed into me. They had cost £16 some five months prior, how could I have been so stupid as to think that a pair of shoes costing £16 would last? Why did I think that they were the bargain of the century?
This was a crisis. The SEC event was that evening, it was business attire, I was already (and reluctantly) wearing my suit, and now I only had one working shoe.
It was clear that my lunch hour would be dedicated to foraging the shops of Kingston-upon-Thames looking for new footwear.
When lunch came around I ventured out, starting at the economy shops. Alas, nothing suitable was found. Some were too dark, some too light, others too suede. Some, even, were too small.
I set my sights higher and visited a further four shops, culminating at a famous British institution. To my astonishment, some brown brogues here were priced as high as £139. That’s insane. No shoe is worth £139.
The average price seemed to be around the £60 mark, which I suppose isn’t that bad if they last 12 months. That’s £5 per month at worst. But to my two-dimensional mind, £60 still seemed like lunacy and the clock was ticking. With 10 minutes left I took myself into the local shopping centre, looking for giant red ‘Sale’ starbursts.
In a bold move I took myself into a well-known clothes shop and from afar noticed brown brogues were indeed available. Fearful that someone else was in the same predicament as me, I made haste.
Sure enough there was a pair that met my expectations, were my size (11, if you were wondering) and, best of all, had been reduced from £29.99 to £10. For something that would have to traverse puddles, lavatory floors, chewing gum and dog muck, £10 seemed a very reasonable price to pay.
I tried one on (assuming that both of my feet would be the same), presented my greased debit card to the senior retail advisor and headed back to the office to try them on. A fine fit indeed.
The time soon came for me to head to South Kensington, but by the time I had arrived at Kingston station (some 0.2 miles away), I had started to feel an uncomfortable chaffing.
The shoes had begun to gnaw away at my flesh, with blood now beginning to pool in my shoes. Worse was yet to come, as the train that arrived was unable to offer me a seat meaning I had to stand. With my feet having to bear the load of my carriage to compensate for the various g-forces of the train, the pain became excruciating.
By the time I arrived at Wimbledon to jump on to the District Line, I had worn the back of my heels down to the bone. Mercifully a seat was available this time, so I was able to soldier on.
The final stab came at South Kensington. The station is famous for its 400 million mile walkway. When you disembark you are directed down this walkway to the V&A (among other museums), but sadly on this occasion this entrance was closed. I was forced to walk all the way to the end, up on to the road, and then back the way I had come above ground, on to Exhibition Road and around to the front entrance of the museum.
By this point I was crawling along on my hands and knees, much like Leonardo Di Caprio in that scene in The Revenant. Only in much greater pain.
During the Burns Supper I was able to grit my teeth and hold on, hoping to the Lord Almighty that no one would ask me to join in with the ceilidh (a Celtic folk dance for which my performance was once noted as ‘utterly appalling’).
The Lord was not much help. I was asked by two lovely young ladies to join them in the ceilidh, but I was forced to politely decline. I explained that my feet had been cut to ribbons and that it was only the whisky keeping me from crying. I am fairly sure they were both quite offended by what must have sounded like the feeblest excuse in all of human history.
If you were those ladies, I apologise.
What, then, is the moral of the story here? If I had bothered to spend £60 on proper shoes (not £139, that’s ridiculous) they would very likely last me quite a while and, I am sure, would have been far more comfortable. But no, because I made the stupid and short-sighted decision to buy the cheapest possible option, I suffered. And, worse, I now have to go through the whole process for a third time.
The whole escapade is much like choosing the right venue. If you only give yourself a budget of 60p then you are not going to get a very good product. You get what you pay for, and while I don’t know what the SEC paid at the V&A Museum (I suspect it wasn’t cheap) they got a product that delivered.
The guests on Thursday will remember dining among priceless exhibits and sipping fine whisky, they will swoon with joy at the photos and tell tales of enjoyable dancing, two people in particular will remember being fobbed off by an idiot.
My memory, though, will be of blood-soaked socks, and an accountant’s mistake of buying cheap thinking I was being shrewd. A lesson learned for the second time.