It’s a freezing cold night, and I’m not surprised when Colin turns up to the pub in just a shirt, because it’s a freezing cold night, and this is Colin.
“I’m at a Christmas work thing tonight,” he says, sitting down with his pint.
I frown. No he’s not. He’s here with me.
“How do you mean, you’re at a work thing?” I say.
“Boring annual dinner for a client,” he says. “I only go for the food and then I get out of there.”
“What, you just get up and go?”
He nods and makes an elaborate “I’m outta there!” gesture.
“I pretend I’m off to mingle,” he says. “But I don’t like mingling. Just the word. It sounds like something you’d do with eggs.”
“So you just stand up and say ‘I’m going to mingle now’ and walk off? Doesn’t that offend the people you’re already mingling with?”
I could never do that, with either table-mate or joint-minglee. Usually, at things like that, I wind up talking to one person for the whole evening. I essentially trap us both. It is awful for us. It’s like a voluntary hostage situation, albeit with canapés. I just can’t bring myself to say, “Anyway, that’s enough of you.”
“So basically,” he says, “I make a cameo appearance, I deliver strong opinions to make my mark, I ensure I am seen by the client, I give the impression I’m in it for the long haul, I act like a functioning member of the community keen to mingle, and then I just go to the pub or for a burrito.”
This, I decide, is to be admired, and it is exactly the way these work things must be treated. Imagine if everyone did it. Whole tables full of untouched medallions of beef. Industry awards where the stage rings hollow with the sound of undelivered acceptance speeches. Five hundred people all getting dressed up, checking their overcoats in the basement of a hotel and just meeting in a ropey pub 10 minutes later.
But the fact that people don’t do this, and Colin does, must also lend him such a mysterious edge. It must make him seem a strangely aloof and deeply attractive presence. Someone hard to pin down, always on the move, appearing and disappearing at will, like a social Scarlet Pimpernel who smells vaguely of burritos.
“The only problem is, sometimes you have to sacrifice a jacket.”
I make a face like a question mark.
“Sometimes you have to leave your suit jacket on your seat and kiss it goodbye,” he explains.
OK, now he sounds mad. He raises his glass to mine, but I will not drink to that.
“You leave suit jackets behind?” I say. “You move from dinner to dinner, leaving a trail of suit jackets behind?”
“Not always. And not suit jackets. Just jackets you can wear with suits.”
“Those are called suit jackets. And you do not take suit jackets to dinners just to leave suit jackets behind.”
“Sometimes you have to leave your suit jacket on your seat and kiss it goodbye”
He shakes his head, like now I’m mad.
“You make a big show of taking off your suit jacket and placing it on the seat. I’m just saying it’s an option,” he says. “You lose a cheap jacket, but you gain the priceless gift of a night on your own in the pub, or a hot Mexican sandwich.”
He raises his glass to mine, but I still will not drink to that.
“So you’re telling me that at home you have a whole cupboard full of cheap jackets you can leave on seats at various work events which you sacrifice rather than simply tell people ‘I’m going now’ so that they look at your seat and think you’re still there?”
“I call it a ‘Colin’s Farewell’,” he says, and he raises his glass to mine, but no: I will not drink to this madness!
And yet I think back to all the times Colin has turned up to the pub in just a shirt. I remember the time he turned up carrying nothing but a red rubber spatula which he thought he’d return to me, meaning I then had to carry a red rubber spatula around with me all night, as if that would be somehow convenient for me, in case I had to suddenly mingle some eggs. I remember the evening he decided to invent a fictional assistant who would email clients on his behalf saying he didn’t want to do their work, or he’d just doubled his prices. Colin does not respect normal conventions, whether work or pub-based.
I stare at him, sitting there in his shirt, as behind him someone else shuffles into the pub in a giant parka.
And something just clicks.
“You’re not at a Christmas work thing tonight, are you?” I say.
“No,” he says, taking a sip of his pint.
“You just came out without a coat and you’re embarrassed because it’s so cold, aren’t you?”
“Yep,” he says.
I raise my glass to his.
That I can drink to.
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