Start at the bottom

Neil Start makes his return at an awayday - where it all kicks off.

MONDAY: Been skiving to nurse my broken heart with Caramac and lashings of Night Nurse after Anka, the Latvian receptionist at the Goldfish Action Group, chucked me by letter.

Today, though, I had to go in. It's the quarterly staff training and get-together session, organised to keep up our Investors in People status and on this occasion held as an experiment at the Sea World Centre in Hunstanton. Clare, our head of policy, had agreed to break her sick leave to attend, but insisted everyone strip and go through an anti-bacteria spray shower in case we added to her current heavy viral load - the result of the henna tattoos of goldfish on her arm getting infected.

Ill fortune, inevitably, saw me join the line just as Anka did. We stood in silence, in only our ecological off-white towels, trying not to remember what lay beneath by looking with exaggerated interest at molluscs in a nearby tank.

Once dressed and inside the hall, the first attraction was meant to be a motivational speaker who had skied down Everest in a hand-knitted 18th century bodysuit on a modified roasting dish with his hands tied behind his back. But he was kicking up a fuss about going through Clare's shower in case he caught a chill. In the delay, several members of the IT department launched what was clearly a well-planned ambush. They produced corroded computer cables - evidence, they said, that the high humidity in our offices, caused by so many goldfish tanks and no air-conditioning, was not only rotting GAG's machinery, but rotting us too.

The protesters wanted private health insurance paid for by the charity as compensation for dangerous working conditions. David, our chairman, remained admirably calm and, in the circumstances, made quite a moving speech. A half-dressed Clare sobbed into her discarded bandages, and our speaker carried on setting up a gift stall with his books. We had to remember why we were all here, David stressed. The cause, protecting goldfish, was greater than any individual.

It didn't have the desired effect - the malcontents marched off to consider their position. David charged me with keeping our planned speaker occupied and out of the way while the row was sorted. I offered Mr Everest a coffee, but he told me that he only drank his own urine.

I gave him an empty cup, ushered him through a door and left him to it.

Then the dissidents reappeared. They were going on strike, Clare announced (which must be hard when you're already on sick leave), and would be picketing the awayday rather than participating. So it was abandoned and we all climbed back on our gas-powered coach to head for London. It was only when we were on the M11, and Anka had refused a reconciliatory Murray Mint, that I remembered I'd left our speaker in a locked side room, peeing into a cup.

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