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So long, disappointing gravy train

10 December 2010 by superlative

Yesterday was my office Christmas lunch, where we all swan off for the afternoon to a restaurant and enjoy a three-course meal together and then don’t bother going back to work. Up until now, and somewhat unusually in my opinion, this has always been paid for by my employer, which gives the slightly bizarre situation of me getting a free meal and actually being PAID for the time it takes me to eat it.

But alas, in these times of stringent funding for Higher Education the university has finally twigged that this is probably a rather expensive treat for its 2,500 staff, and they have pulled the rug from the funding. They tried to pull it for this year but were a bit slow off the mark, so most offices have still gone out for a meal on the understanding that it’s the last year it’s going to be paid for. I don’t mind really, because before working here I’d always just paid for my own Christmas lunch at work and never thought twice about it. The only reason it’s a bit of a shame is that they do basically nothing else here to reward staff, and so £25 a head once a year is in my opinion a fairly cheap way of thanking people for working hard. But anyway, it’s done now, and so the gravy train has chuffed off into the sunset.

This year we went to the Seven Dials Restaurant, and had some pretty good food overall. Inevitably some people found things to complain about (how can you complain about food you’re being paid to eat??) but I almost always like the food I’m given, so I was quite happy.

I enjoyed chicken liver parfait with fig marmalade and brioche:

And then a GORGEOUS beef brisket with horseradish mashed potatoes and glazed carrots. The potato looks a bit like an egg here, but I can assure you it was potato.

And then dessert was a white chocolate panna cotta with dark chocolate ice cream. The ice cream could have been slightly better presented so it didn’t look like dung, but it still tasted nice.

I don’t think my food was as good as last year to be honest (see Yummy Tin Drummy), but lots of people hated that meal for some reason. Something about too much salt I believe, not that I could taste any salt after four glasses of wine.

After our meal we generally go for some drinks afterwards at whatever pubs are nearby, and unfortunately it always ends up slightly disappointing (sorry anyone who works with me who is reading this, but you know the drinks this year were disappointing, it’s not just me). We’re quite a disparate group in many ways and we don’t socialise often, so it’s hard for people to get enthusiastic and excitable when we do. It also doesn’t help that our Christmas lunches are invariably on a Wednesday afternoon, and no pubs are exactly banging at 4pm on a Wednesday. So we had a couple of drinks in a near-silent pub near Brighton station, and then people started to drift off to go to the shops or pick up kids or just because they’re not particularly big drinkers anyway. People always seem to look forward to our Christmas meals, and talk it up as though it’s going to be a big night out, and I know I always have high expectations myself, but then it just kind of… tails off, once people realise it’s no longer working hours and they’re not obliged to be there.

I think a large part of the problem is we have no one who’s really loud and really bubbly in the office. You know the kind of person – the one who’s actually a bit annoying when you’re not in the mood for it, but who will crash through any awkward silences in the pub and gee people along into having a good time whether they want to or not. We’re all a bit quieter than that, and so it doesn’t get going properly.

I’m quite jealous of Chris and his workmates in comparison; he only started his new job two and a half months ago, and he’s already been on a raucous night out with them and they have a big party thing planned for their end of term. I think it’s nice when you have that social relationship with your colleagues, or at least with some of them, but it’s very apparent here that everyone likes each other, gets on really well, but no one particularly wants to spend any of their free time doing anything together. Apart from our Christmas meals we’ve had about two evenings out together in the three years I’ve worked here.

But ho hum, never mind. People have other priorities I suppose, and a team of about 10 isn’t all that big for organising social functions.

I’m not sure what’ll happen for our Christmas meal next year now. Will people be prepared to pay for their own? There was cautious talk of making it an evening affair when it was mentioned this year, but I reckon it’ll be hard to pin everyone down to an evening they’re prepared to give up for it. So we’ll have to see. And least if it were in the evening we wouldn’t end up in an empty pub with a bored-looking landlady and then find ourselves back at home by 6pm.

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