At the Meeting
But still, it involved sitting at the same chair for four and a half hours with a short coffee break in the middle – the coffee was instant, in little packets - long thin ones, the kind that say “tear here” and won’t tear - and there were little packets of hot chocolate and sugar. The hot water was in one of those jugs where you don’t know where to press and when eventually you do press the right place a jet of water spurts out at a pressure more suitable for cleaning cars, and knocks your plastic cup over.
After death threats were issued to the organisers, some biscuits appeared too.
So we all sat round the table, and ruffled our papers, and scribbled notes, and talked, and generally sat in a stiff formal manner with body language that suggested we were Doing Our Best at a Formal Meeting.
All apart from one person, and I’m going to call her Emma, though she isn’t called Emma.
Emma was amazing: her whole morning was a kind of rebellion against formal meetings and yet she played a full – nay, crucial - role in this one. Whilst being completely on top of everything that was discussed, she was simultaneously leading a whole different life.
The first thing she did when she arrived, as the meeting was starting, was to stir up one of those yogurts that have cherries on one side and plain yogurt on the other. She made it into a pretty pattern and ate it with relish.
Then she set about the coffee. Whilst simultaneously both talking and listening she got up and made herself a cup of coffee, effortlessly opening the little coffee tube and managing not to pour water everywhere.
She sorted through her pencil case, categorising everything whilst calmly making very valid contributions to the meeting all the while.
Then she moved to a different chair and sat with her knees beneath her chin for a while before scribbling a few notes. She examined both her socks, very carefully, and for no apparent reason. Then, time for hot chocolate! She got a new cup and poured the powder in, very carefully, through a tiny hole in the packet: and then decided there was too much so poured half of it back again.
As the meeting neared its end Emma got up and did a few stretching exercises. I was pretty sure that, given another ten minutes, she would have built all the plastic cups into a tower.
Someone else doing all this might have been tremendously irritating, but she did it all with such good humour, and with such concentration on the subject-matter of the meeting, that I found it simply interesting.
“I don’t like doing nothing,” she said at one point. I think the clue to it, though, was that she said that she teaches dance and certainly she moved with a dancer’s grace. I think she was so comfortable in her body that she could move about a lot without feeling clumsy, or that she was interrupting the meeting.
The rest of us knew that we didn’t have this ability. Once false move and the whole table would have been knocked over. We just scribbled our notes and let Emma get on with it.