Now as a university administrator I attend a lot of meetings… a lot of meetings. Seriously, what is it with all the meetings already? Back in my distant past as mere clerical fodder I attended about one meeting a month and generally resented that. Indeed, I lasted quite a few blissful years living under the dreaded meeting and committee radar and was glad for it. But, as I have matured into the Gentleman Administrator that stands before you now I have increasingly become entangled in that dreaded administrative web, that self fulfilling prophecy. We give them names; ‘they’re not commitees, they’re meetings’, ‘they’re not meetings they’re functional task teams’, ‘theyre not functional task teams they’re working groups’. No matter how you dress them up they are meetings, and they are the Realm of the Timewaster, the Court of the Great Procrastinators, the Fillers of Microsoft Outlook Diaries.
Now you could well say that I am not making the most of the meetings, and that I should take them roughly by the scruff of the neck and wring them for every last second of decision making manna. To some extent this is true, but is it really the Gentleman Administrators way? And in any case the sheer volume friends, the sheer bloody volume of them. I can barely recall which one I’m in let alone take it by force like some rum emboldened mutineer. No no, pick and choose the battles and in the rest passive resistance is the only way. You’d be surprised how a satanic doodle here and there can dampen the enthusiasm of any Chair for inviting you along. In fact the way the mind freewheels during the most excruciatingly dull meeting can often be a boon for the imagination; I’ve written entire presentations in some committees, and they were ones I was minuting. Note passing always passes the time as well.
However, it comforts me to know that us moderns are not the only ones that have been beset by the tyranny of the project managers favourate tool of torture. Charles II it seems was also one to seek distraction in Council meetings. Amongst the papers of Charles’ Chancellor, Edward Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon, are records of some of the notes they used to pass to each other during these meetings. This particular exchange cracks me up and confirms Charles as one of the great early Gentleman Administrators:
King: I would willingly make a visit to my sister at Tunbridge for a night or two at farthest, when do you think I can best spare the time?
Chan: I know no reason why you may not for such a time (two nights) go the next week, about Wednesday, or Thursday, and return time enough for the adjournment; which yet ought to be the week following.
I suppose you go with a light train?
King: I intend to take nothing but my night bag.
Chan: Yes, you will not go without forty or fifty horse!
King: I count that part of my night bag.
‘The Letters Speeches and Declarations of King Charles II’, Arthur Bryant (ed.), (1935), p.104.
Zing! Though the last note I was passed in a meeting was less glamorous:
The Big Boss: Kathy needs to help me with my presentation can you take over the minutes?
The Big Boss: Good, don’t forget to bring back the biscuits.
Yeah, no Zingy comeback there I’m afraid, just two hours aggravating the old RSI.
So on the subject of Charles, my little quest for historical sustenance the other day took me to St Paul’s and specifically the (relatively) newly restored Temple Bar to get a picture of the man himself:
Hmm, I’ve tried the ‘standing motionless whilst secretly playing your Nintendo DS under you’re billowing robes’ technique before Charles, it never works.