There is always a mythical feel to ‘head office’, the generic group of people who rule over every aspect of our working lives. Any mention that ‘head office’ are coming to visit leads to flurries of telephone calls, panicked messages and stressed duty managers. We are asked to hide away anything they won’t like, special lunches will need preparing and car parking spaces are blocked off in their honour.
Of course, the reality is either a) they are here for a meeting with the manager, leaving straight after so none of us actually see them or b) they are here for a free lunch (and free drink) so don’t care what any of us are doing. The risk of them finding any fault is remarkably low. Yet still we flap.
However, there is a whole new level of panic associated with having to go to head office. We imagine this is a magical Disneyland-style paradise but of course it is a dreary suburban office block with access to a major road and a large car park.
I was summoned to the head office of the rural pub when it was decided I should be enrolled on a two day ‘alcohol service’ course. Let me be honest, it was not a surprise that it was noticed I needed training. I couldn’t explain the difference between lager and ale, assumed cask and keg were two words for the same thing and my pint pulling was wildly varied (to the point my colleagues used to correct them without asking). However, two days? Head office?
My class mates were from a variety of locations around the country and (like me) seemed completely baffled by relatively simple things. The day started with a game of two facts and a lie where each person says three things about themselves and the rest of us guess which are correct. Many people were totally hopeless at this and said things like “I used to live in Massingham” a statement so specific/boring, that nobody knew/cared.
The classroom was essentially a large foyer between the call centre and staff canteen meaning there was a constant stream of people walking in front of the screen with cups of tea. It was also freezing cold.
We were taught beer and food pairings. My classmates struggled with this “do you eat the skin on the brie?”, “I don’t really like beer, do you have any blackcurrant squash?” and “can I drink their leftover pints?” (It was 9:30am).
Next came changing a barrel. We all got to have a go at this, one at a time, which involved standing outside in the cold for ages. Most people did fairly well, except me who was too slow and all the beer poured onto the ground as I fumbled around trying to plug the hole. Later, I spotted a caretaker with a hose grumpily clearing it up while muttering to himself. I don’t think I will get a Christmas card from him this year.
By then it was lunchtime. Rather than having us in the canteen with the ‘great and the good’ we had food brought in. This took the form of M & S sandwich platters, pork pies and plain crisps. I was very happy with this but my colleagues were less sure, suspiciously prodding the pork pies and scraping the egg out of sandwiches just eating the bread. Again, an enquiry was made about the leftover pints, the tutor had to explain they will all be warm and flat. My colleague looked crestfallen.
Then came a bombshell. We would be sitting an exam at the end of the day. Many of us had not realised that would be happening. We would be required to put our notes away (that didn’t really bother me as I hadn’t thought to make any in the first place). An intensive hour of preparation came where a variety of policies and laws were presented in a quickfire, scattergun technique as we all scrambled around trying to copy facts from the PowerPoint screen (that people were still walking in front of with their coffees).
As it happened the exam was multiple choice and we only needed 70%. We were all separated, and the tutor walked up and down with her heels clicking on the floor, sighing loudly at some of our answering. Sadly “can you eat the skin on a brie” wasn’t one of the questions.
I was the last to finish, I simply had no idea about 14 of the questions. So I just ticked A then B then C then D all the way down the page while the tutor continued the loud sighing.
That concluded day one.
To be continued…