ONE OF US IS LONELY
Updated: May 11
I felt the same in the cab as I had during the flight: there was something I'd forgotten.
Again, I patted my jacket pockets; there was my passport, ticket, wallet. Of course they were there - I was in a taxi going across Stockholm, after a flight from Heathrow.
So whatever it is can't be important. Stop worrying. Enjoy being here.
Easy to say now. Not then, my first-ever business trip, when every sensation was heightened, every thought and action mattered. A new Swedish software client was being handled by a new partner agency, and both wanted international capability.
So here was Brit with a passport, ticket and wallet. And something missing.
The hotel was beyond expectations. I'd never been inside anything quite so swish, never mind actually stayed in one. There was an ABBA singer look-a-like at the main desk. I was in heaven.
But there's no time to Take a Chance on Me. I must unpack and change in ten minutes. I'm being picked up and taken to meet the agency and the client at their offices.
Hit the ground running. As it should be, in the world of international marketing and communications. As it should be, whatever it is that I have forgotten.
Straight to my room. Big enough for a sofa and a coffee table and a standard lamp. And a King-size bed.
I've probably over-packed, but not sure how much I was supposed to bring. Perhaps three suits were too many, but at least I have choice. Clean shirt for every day. Three pairs of cufflinks, collar bones, shoes. Six pairs socks, shorts. Belt. Wash bag. Books (three). Plus coat, jacket, sweater, pyjamas, scarf, gloves...
It is Sweden, and it's cold. Although not as cold as I expected. Prejudices, eh?
Hurry. Need to get changed. No time to put everything in wardrobes. I'll do that when I get back this evening. Hurry, hurry.
I hastily changed from my travel clothes into a crisp shirt, trousers, socks, cufflinks, collar bones...
Hell! Tie! I haven't packed a tie.
I moved all my clothes across the bed, onto the sofa, and back to the bed (and the floor), looking in hope that a tie was nestled in something else.
Didn't find a tie, just transformed the up-market hotel room into a village hall jumble sale.
I stood in front of the full-length mirror, hoping that I looked like an international marketing and communications executive in a suit-shirt combo, without a tie.
Nope. I look like I'm homeless.
Wait, wait. I remembered. Downstairs, on the way in. Next door, there was a Gents' Outfitters. I'm sure. Just next door. Get a tie in there.
Good thinking, Paul. Save your own bacon.
Slipping on my slipping-on shoes, and with my international marketing and communications briefcase, I rushed out of the room, down the hall to the lift, and pushed the descend button as if trying to escape a SWAT squad tumbling towards me.
At the ground floor - which seemed a lifetime later - I rushed across the reception hall and out into the street.
Which way (look left)? Which way (look right)? There it is! The outfitters. I hadn’t imagined it. A couple of minutes. There's still time.
In the shop - as traditional it could be - a man stood behind the counter with a tape measure around his neck. He talked to a customer, selling him a shirt.
Please, please, let this be the end of the transaction. He's paying, he's going. He doesn't want to talk about Stockholm's chances in the UEFA Cup.
Tape measure man looked at me, smiling. He said something I didn't understand, then it dawned on me that I was in Sweden. My only four words were 'Bjorn', 'Borg', 'Ingmar' and 'Bergman'.
Hello. I'm from England. I'd like to buy a tie.
Without batting an eyelid or unfixing his smile, he pointed to the rack at the back of the shop.
I picked the first one that might be judged creative-yet-tasteful and took it to Sales-Counter Sven.
I know he's called Sven because he doesn't look like Bjorn or Ingmar.
I handed him my newly-acquired credit card, used for these sort of international marketing and communications emergencies. He started filling out multiple-copy credit card slips, and placed them with my card into his industrial-strength imprinter. Ker-CLUNK.
There's a car pulling up outside. I'm sure it's the driver. I gotta go.
Bundling the tie, credit card, receipts and unwanted Gents' Outfitter voucher (Why do I want this?) into my pockets, I was out of the door before I could say ‘Tak so muket’.
Thirty years later, Sven still has a very bad image of rude Brits.
The driver nodded as I fell into the back of his Volvo and confirmed my name.
I won't be late, and I will be dressed properly.
I put the tie around my neck, under my collar, and knotted it. Doing this sitting down is never easy, and after my first try I realised that the thin end was longer than the fat. I unknotted it, and started again. Second time. Then a third.
At last I was ready to go and sat back on the rear bench, looking out the window as Stockholm passed by, cold and stylish.
I still had my wallet in my hand.
Here's the sales receipt. Wow! There's a lot of zeroes on that. What's the exchange rate today?
I rummaged for my currency receipt from the airport, then compared it to the tie receipt.
How many of that goes into that? No, that can't be right.
There was a pocket calculator in my case. I checked the conversion rate again. And again. And again
How much?! It's just cost me eighty-five-quid. Eighty five - that's more than my weekly rent. For a tie. And it's not THAT nice.
(With inflation, that would be £232 today. For a tie.)
So for the rest of the stay, I was determined to get maximum value by getting maximum wear. I put it on every day, every occassion.
I wore it to the agency office. I wore it to the client offices. I wore it to meetings for coffee, for lunch and for dinner. I wore it to the theatre, I wore it to an art gallery. I wore it with my black suit, my grey suit or my blue suit.
And all week, it was very lonely. Because all week, not a single other person I met wore a tie.
Coachaiku: 17-syllable reflections, in a 5-7-5 form, for personal and professional development.
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