“Wha fa, a, wa teething” was being mouthed across the vast conference table at me and the DJ…..I squinted – for surely that must help? “What’s he saying?” whispers the DJ. I shrugged, thought some more and then said “I think he wants to escape now, I think it must be ‘what time are we leaving’”. Mr Vladimir Von Beaverhausen continued mouthing across the table, purse lipped in frustration, then slid his phone on to his lap to try an elicit text.
Babybel, our esteemed chairman droned away, smiling to himself at the top of the conference table, finding his own jokes very funny indeed. The Marmoset, burst into the room breaking our reverie… there was trouble on the district line. The Marmoset was treated to one of Babybel’s hard stares…and a little sarcasm, she closed one eye, rolled the other one then slumped down next to me, she will brook no lecture. Babybel droned on frowning and ‘The Crab” constantly interjected dragging out the meeting, causing us intense frustration.
Meanwhile, Mr VVB is gesticulating wildly under the table that is arranged as a U shape (handily for him) he is pointing at The Crab’s legs… we gazed on, mystified and Mr VB was almost purple with surpressed glee.
Oceana, took Babybel to task over something whilst mentioning George Clooney quite a bit and The Damnbuster remonstrated wildly about ‘the top slice bid’ so much so that I feared for her blood pressure…and the clock ticked.
I have subsequently learned that Mata Hari was present at some of these meetings of minds, our paths crossed, and fate would make us friends many years later. At this stage I was unknowing of her presence in my life, exactly as I was apparently at meetings with Stepney, blissfully unaware of the friendship that would one day follow. At one such meeting on one such day, The Baker of Ewell leant forward and said, “Poppy, meet Stepney and Stepney meet Poppy, you two are going on holiday together later this week, to your house in France”…we giggled, it seemed funny to think we were there in blissful ignorance of each other and there it was, Stepney had landed in my life.
Friendships were formed in the room on Robben Island, camaraderie that continues to this day, a shared desire to eschew duty in favour of a good time. In truth, we mainly do our duty, but have a good time too.
Eventually, Babybel would hail the end of the long meeting … colleagues would move in to chat, a man resembling a bulldog chewing a wasp donned his flat cap, tightly secured his rain mack and swept out.
We would swiftly exit and head over the road for a few drinks and some pretty hysterical laughter about the content of our week and mainly what had been said at the meeting. On one occasion during a meeting, I had been unable to contain myself and had been ‘sent out’ for laughing even though the chair himself was smirking as he banished me…
It’s the end of an era on Robben Island now, for the building that housed those auspicious meetings is no more, it’s revolving sign sits in a new spot, and I wonder if there, some of the camaraderie we experienced will continue, I fear it may not, but I hope for the best, for the sake of those still captive.
There is an abiding presence in my life, planted in that austere conference room beneath the oil paintings of commandants past and germinated ‘over the road’ in the pub…cultivated across ‘lunch club’ lunches, day trips, and holidays in France, Spain, Morocco, Thailand. Now in my mind, this is a tree with roots that go pretty deep and with all the things that have happened this year, we have continued to seek out some fun, so I say cheers to the Wilbury’s and the wider Wilbury family of mutual friends…for keeping me sane, for making me insane, but above all, for being there and for continuing to add smooth where there is rough. Happy 2017.