I did say I have done nothing for the whole of 2013 except for work and write, but this is not quite true – the Bossman actually briefly came back to Scotland between forays to California and Hong Kong, and, once I had processed all his receipts*, whisked me off to an IT conference in Brussels, on the grounds that it would ‘be good for me to network’. Given that it has been over a decade since my mickey-mouse masters in this stuff, I was unconvinced – but a free long weekend away abroad is a free long weekend away abroad.
*(He fired me shortly afterwards, mainly because he was wrapping up his company to go
work for one where he gets sickpay and holidays. I was slightly miffed, because everyone
else got laid off, but apparently this might be his only opportunity to go ‘you’re fired’ in a Vince McMahon voice.
I was even more miffed when, after talking excitedly for ages about it, he then got all
excited about something else and just told me over his shoulder that my P45 was in the
post, by the way.
Thinking about it, that was some weeks ago. I really must go through my mail and
actually open it.)
I began to have my doubts, however, when these two guys behind us on the plane also turned out to be going; after they had the world’s loudest and most yuppie conversation for the whole flight. This culminated in one of them mentioning to the other that the conference is all about Linux, at which news I nearly soiled my pants, because all I know of Linux is that an ex-flatmate of mine completely loved it and still spent long nights cursing it for not doing what he wanted.
I myself was far more socially acceptable than this pair – in that I got the laptop out, turned the font size incredibly small, and wrote sex scenes. I find this remarkably difficult to do at all, mainly on account of the embarrassment, and even more so when belted into a metal tube with a couple of hundred innocent strangers. But at least I was quiet.
I realised I might have reached a relationship watershed when, after following the Bossman merrily on and off several different forms of transport, in the darkness of the February night, we discovered that the hotel was not where he thought it was. At that moment, I realised I had neglected all my pre-holiday checks, such as having a copy of the flight tickets, memorisng our route, or even asking where we were going. By god, I actually trust someone else to take care of all the details! It was a momentous, erm, moment.
I belatedly did my part by saving the day when I realised that we weren’t at the right street number; the hotel was to the right, rather than the left. And so we rolled up, had a heart-stopping moment when we were told there was no room at the inn; had a rather less alarming moment when we were told that we were in the overflow inn across the road, which seemed to have rather less security than I would have liked – but very creaky stairs. We dumped our stuff in our room, I heaved a sigh of relief, for I was knackered, and then I was dragged out to a bar.
It wasn’t far to the bar, but the damn thing was down an alleyway with a massive crush of people trying to get in, so much so that there was a bouncer on the entrance to the alleyway, and people were counted in and out. I had never seen the like, and suffer crowd phobia even in supermarkets. My (very subdued so as not to look like a total wuss) pleas to seek another bar went unheard, however, for apparently we were Meeting People Here.
Eventually, we got into the alley, if not the bar, and inched through the throng until we found a gigantic watering-hole which was crushed so full it made the alleyway look positively spacious. Also, it had started to rain. The Bossman sent me out to the alley, very thoughtfully, while he braved the scrum at the bar, which was almost as bad as the ‘scrum at the last plane out of a country that’s just been declared a dictatorship’.
I found a space to collect my thoughts and pretend I did not have The Fear, and was instantly accosted by a very nice bloke, half my age, from Sweden who offered me his drink in return for a rollie.
Clearly the damn thing was spiked, because nobody would go through that scrum for a drink only to give it to some random passer-by. I took a big swig anyway, figuring that being spiked might be the only way I would enjoy the evening – or, best case scenario, if I started feeling rotten, the Bossman would have to escort me back to the hotel and I could go to sleep.
However it occurred to me afterwards, as the guy made pleasant conversation in which it turned out he was also attending FOSDEM, that perhaps the Bossman had sent him out to me with my drink, and he was cheekily hitting me up for a rollie in the process.
So I was quite pleased with my sleuthing, although alarmed because the guy, for all his very good English, had no idea what a secretary was, or a national health service; and then even more alarmed because it turned out he wanted his drink back, and wasn’t sent by the Bossman at all. In fact, he ran away when I mentioned him.
I returned and hung around the edges of the scrum for about five hours, feeling like an idiot with a big sign over my head, (reading ‘IDIOT, (who has nae mates)’ before the Bossman emerged from it, laughed long and loud about my encounter, informed me that I had been being chatted up (and spent the rest of the weekend speculating aloud that the poor guy had probably hung himself as a result of being turned down) and, when I told him it was flagrantly impossible because the guy was half my age and I wasn’t even wearing make-up, advised me to check the crowd for the ratio of women to men.
Which, now I thought of it, was really skewed. I hadn’t noticed, mainly because I was too busy noticing the massively skewed ratio of people of colour to white people.
Now, I wouldn’t normally notice that at all, because in Glasgow that is pretty much the way things are, especially in pub-based situations, so it is what I am used to. However, on the three forms of public transport we’d taken to get to the hotel, I’d been surprised by the massive number of people who weren’t white. And to be brutally honest, I’d been a bit alarmed, mainly because I felt like I stood out like a sore thumb. An idiotic sore thumb with a big sign over my head [we did this bit already – Ed].
Fortunately I had read (of, for I am lazy) some studies that showed that blokes can feel a room (where they are not expecting it; a board-room for instance, she says, sighing for the ways of the world) to be ‘overwhelmed’ with women if the number is only something like fifty percent – sometimes less. Which is not to say anything disparaging about said blokes, necessarily, but about people’s expectations of various situations, because really, there shouldn’t be any situations in which it’s a shock that fifty percent of the population is represented in equal ratio. Except maybe a monastery.
And lo, a brief head-count showed that Brussels public transport was actually about a quarter white folks, and a quarter black folks, and the rest various shades in between, which is probably pretty par for the population levels of the world when averaged out. So I adjusted my expectations to be somewhat further away from ‘ohmigod there are two non-white people minding their own business up the back of the bus, this country is BEING OVERRUN’ and everything was Fine.
So it was a bit of a shock an hour later to suddenly find myself one street away and the ratios back to Glaswegian ones.
Apparently it was because FOSDEM had pretty much taken over the Alley of Bars. I felt more like a sore thumb than ever, especially because I know nothing of Linux and was therefore accidentally in the situation of being a Fake Geek Girl, of which I have heard tales of. Mortified, I was.
Anyway, the Bossman set me up in a quiet corner of the alley, and disappeared to get more drinks, since it seemed to take about an hour to get served. I was opposite a wee drinking-fountain – chained up behind a bloody great barred gate – that featured a small statuette of a wee girl peeing into it, presumably for Women’s Lib and also because Brussels is, at least according to the Bossman, obsessed with golden showers and has images of them everywhere. Certainly the bus from the airport had a massive image of a wee boy peeing merrily along the side of it (‘into my bag’, as the Bossman pointed out). Amusingly, there was a sign next to the drinking-fountain that informed me, in English, that there was an anciente custome where people would throw offerings into the fountain in honour of loyalty.
Another sign, higher up the wall, informed me that the fountain had been installed in the 1980’s. Perhaps that is ancient these days, who knows?
After several rather fine Belgian ales, the Bossman discovered his friends, all huddled in a pyramid right by the bar doors, and I was allowed to huddle in the middle of them to keep warm, which was very nice of them. And thus I was introduced to people from many countries, all of them with a fine command of the English language, and none of whom had any idea what a secretary was either. I was beginning to think they were perhaps interrogating the wrong database; ‘search ‘IT jobs’ that include term ‘secretary”, for instance. This was even more mortifying.
I didn’t want to get into it that I was in the wrong place entirely; the Bossman kept telling everyone I was an Artist, however, so there was that. ‘Ooh, what are you working on at the moment?’ said people.
A sci-fi romance novel.
Not found under ‘artist’.
Despite all that, and the soft patter of rain over us and into our drinks, it was a lovely, if terrifying, evening that I was thoroughly glad to escape. A whole bunch of us turned out to be staying in the same hotel, so we all wandered the streets together at one in the morning. There was a mellow, laid-back atmosphere, notably unlike Sauchiehall Street at the same time of day, and despite the bitter February cold it felt almost like a fiesta.
Alas, we had to be up about five hours later to start the conference.