Foreign House: Eleven

FRIDAY

There’s passive aggressive grumbling from some of the team as we prepare for the orienteering. But nobody says anything directly to Ozzy, me or anyone else senior.

I decide to wear my Timberlands rather than any of the walking boots on offer. But I find an old, waxed winter jacket; a thick, cable knit jumper; and a grey flat-cap in the surplus cupboard. The jumper smells of old sawdust and the coat whiffs of urinal cake, but I am keen to embrace the look. I can’t convince Kanu or Cindy to take anything pre-loved.

The bellhop opens the outdoor-sports store and turns on the lights. He tells us just to make a note of anything we take and it’ll go on the company tab. He hands out a bunch of maps. It looks like he just drew and photocopied them five minutes ago.

“It’s easy,” the bellhop says. “Even in the snow. Just look out for the red and white markers. Remember, all your team have to actually touch the marker or you’re cheating. There are only a couple of points in woods and they’re not far in. If you lose sight of the hotel at any point, you’ve gone too far. I’ll leave you to pick your stuff. If you need me, I’ll be at reception.” He stops mid turn, “Oh, there’s one point on the beach,” he continues. “Ignore that one. The beach is out of bounds for now. Too dangerous to go down the steps in the snow.” Cindy and I share a glance.

The bellhop strolls off quickly. He must’ve have been on shift over twelve hours by now. But he looks utterly unphased by the snow and the apparent lack of any other staff.

Cindy almost has to resort to looking in the children’s shoes section. But she finds a adult pair that fit, with the aid of some thick walking socks. Then, she becomes attracted by the tweed, ignoring the Gore-Tex, seamless-down and other futuristic materials.

Kanu is being advised by the younger members of the team. They are comparing different puffer jackets, all in bright, road-sign colours. I am happy to see him socialising so I leave him to it. I just hope he gets some decent boots and socks.

“Oh yes, now this is what I want,” says Cindy, holding up a jacket. “I want to look like an extra from The Crown.”

“You should’ve gone for something from the surplus cupboard.”

“You can be one of the horrible old characters who smells of wee. I’ll be Diana.” she says.

She poses in a number of country sport jackets. The short, flared hems blowing out over her pyknic hips. She twist and poses in the mirror, pulling the sleeves and lapels, testing the fit. She settles on something thick and padded but short at the waist. Then adds a bright yellow bobble hat that makes her look more like a city tourist on a clay pigeon shooting trip, than an extra from The Crown.

“I’m ready.”

“I can see.”

Outside, Ozzy hands out a little keyring compass to everyone, with the company logo printed on it . His tries to give a little pep talk. His words don’t travel well, muted by the snow. He tells everyone the compass is just for fun. The course is simple. If you have to use the compass, you’ve probably gone off track. Ozzy says the teams will be mixed, to encourage networking (yuck), albeit children will stay with family members.

Cindy joins another team. Kanu stays with me. He nods to his epicene interlocutor, in the luminous dungarees, from breakfast . Their compatriot, also in dungarees, joins us. They’re both wearing lucent puffer jackets and knee high wellingtons that clash with their dungarees. Too prepared, the first sign of inexperience. All gear: no idea.

Kanu’s friend introduces themself as Ashely.

“I think we have been on the same meetings,” I say. I’m pretty sure they’re a junior programmer.

“Yes we have,” says Ashley. “But I don’t talk much. I’m quite junior and… we’ll I don’t talk much.”

“You usually have your video turned off, I think.”

“Yeah. Well, I’m quite junior so…”

“So you don’t talk much?”

“Exactly.”

“Well, you’ve saved my blushes a couple of times with customer tech issues.”

“Ah, that’s alright. It’s my job, you know?”

“Who is your companion?”

“Marilyn.”

“Have either of you ever done orienteering before?”

“No,” says Ashley. “I’ve never really been to the countryside.”

I glance at Marilyn, who says, “Me neither.”

“Well, I think we should just take it easy,” I say. “I’m not that bothered about winning.” That seems to elicit immense relief from our team.

“Sounds like excuses to me, loser,” says Cindy as her group passes us. Marching out with revolting, amateur determination.

Our two teammates look at me with fear. “We’ll go at out own pace,” I say.

>Be me
>42 yo corporate anon
>Director of customer support at whatever inc
>Mildly physical team building exercise
>Calming the zoomers
>Leadership.docx
>Come to me
>For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light

All the teams set off ahead of us in different directions. “Let’s do the ones in the forest first,” I suggest. “Then when we come back out into the open, we can just follow the other teams’ tracks in the snow to the other points.” Deep inside his hood, Kanu raises an eyebrow. Ashley and Marilyn agree enthusiastically. Programmers love a loophole.

We set off toward the treeline. My arm extended, map in hand. Pretending I know what I’m doing.

*

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