Sitting and waiting for a meeting is not what humans are built for. Neither is it a skill anyone puts on their CV. At no point during the X billion years of evolution did a fish who could sit and wait for a meeting convince natural selection that sitting and waiting would be better for fish than almost any other fish-based activity you could name.
Like… actually, I can’t name one. Swimming?
Yet here I am, the fish that got through, sitting in a reception area with a chilled designer-label bottle of water on my lap and waiting for a meeting.
When I was outside, in the car, I realised I was a bit sweaty, because I’d just thrown a heavy chair onto the dump - which is so much better than the other way around - but it’s fine: in the glove box my wife has left a small sample pack of a unisex cologne she got on a flight and keeps for emergencies.
It’s made by a notoriously unisex British company, who use gender-non-specific ingredients like cardamom and, I dunno, apple seeds or something. So I spritzed a bit on, just to mask that smell of inner city tip, which now that I think about it would be a great name for a candle no one would ever buy.
The problem is, now that I’m just sitting and waiting in this reception area, I don’t think this cologne smells particularly unisex. I’m not saying it smells particularly male, nor particularly female. I’m just saying it smells precisely the same as my mum.
Or, at least, the way my mum used to smell when I was a kid and she was going out for the evening. That moment you first realised your mum had her day smell – spaghetti sauce, fried meat, sherry – and her night smell – something from a bottle (not necessarily sherry).
Sitting in this reception area, I now realise I smell exactly like Trudy Wallace, about to go down the road to Gill and Geoff’s, in Loughborough, in 1988.
This is an important meeting. And ‘Suburban East Midlands’ is not the smell I am striving for.
Worse still, the second I realise this, and the second I realise that this is a smell that is now taking over the whole of reception, I take a swig of my chilled water and look downwards.
This chilled water has left quite the impression on my lap.
“Danny?” says a lady, interrupting my horror.
Usually I would immediately stand up and say “Hi!”
But not this time. This time I remain exactly where I am. I now appear extremely stand-offish. But if I stand up this woman will assume three things:
That I have wet myself.
That I sprayed myself with my mother’s perfume moments mere before I did.
That perhaps, on some level, the two are connected somehow.
“Don’t be ridiculous!” I think. “This woman has no reason to think you would sit in a brightly-lit reception area and wet yourself. Nor does she have any understanding of or interest in what your mother smelled like before the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
Yet I remain seated, until she holds her hand out for me to shake.
Now I have to stand.
But I do quite a clever thing. I instinctively stoop to shield my groin from her, which now that I’ve written it down sounds more like something from a court document than almost anything I’ve ever written. Also, I continue the water bottle’s mid-body position, so that it secures the very coverage that got me into this situation in the first place.
But I cannot possibly maintain this stance. I look like a hunchback whose interests in water bottles goes far beyond the casual.
“We’re just upstairs,” says the woman, and as she turns around to lead me upstairs, I realise I’m going to have to either attempt to dry myself with a bathroom hand dryer, like a sort of real-life Mr Bean, or I’m going to have to do the grown-up thing.
I’m going to have to do this thing people say. I’m going have to OWN this.
Yeah. I’m Danny Wallace. And I’ve got a wet groin.
(I hope that’s not the bit they pull out of this column and make bigger.)
So that’s what I do. I start to OWN it. I walk upstairs, I straighten my back, I bring that water bottle to my lips, and I stride through that open-plan office – soggy and proud. Magnificent. This is me. This is who I am. See me – and smell me!
Because I’m definitely wafting fresh waves of Eau de Mother through this hotdesking workspace. And it feels good, this OWNING it. I feel like an activist. I’m like Russell Brand or something. A wet, perfumed maverick!
And then I get to my meeting. And I know just what to do. CONTINUE TO OWN IT. So I shake hands with the woman I’m meeting, and as I sit down, and another wave of perfume hits my nose. I don’t care any more. I’m owning it. And I’m going to be honest and just see what happens.
So I smile and I decide to say, “I smell like my mum and I look like I’ve wet myself!”
And I laugh and hold my bottle up and point at my groin. She will LOVE my honesty and candour and knockabout sense of humour.
“I’m sorry?” she says, and really I don’t know where else to take it.
So I am no longer someone who owns things. In fact, I am actively selling.