The president made an unexpected appearance while I was waiting to present a poster on my project. She caught me in the act of helping myself to the food laid on for her party of visiting dignitaries. I was applying cream to an already buttered and jammed scone. She challenged me on British baking product nomenclature. If we called cookies biscuits, what then did we call this thing (a scone) which seemed to her similar to what would be called a cake? I explained the legal ruling that separates caked from biscuits. Biscuits go soft when they go off. Cakes go hard. The President said that this was interesting. I left out the punchline about the Jaffa Cake actually being a biscuit in case when she said that it was interesting she meant that it was boring and that she wanted to fire me.
As I began to present an underling emerged from underneath the table, where they had been attempting to locate the President’s silver earring. She thanked them, then redoubled her efforts to transfer mauve protein powder from a zip lock bag into a narrow necked mineral water bottle, like trying to thread a camel through the eye of needle. The thought of neutralising a German academic who had published an unfavourable evaluation of our product distracted her from her powder transfer and made her smile. She was only half joking, I think.
As I presented to these leaders, those at the top of the ladder if which I am reluctantly scaling the lower rungs, I was struck by the sadness and stupidity it all, by the ego that was so obviously on display, by the pain that it caused them to put it aside momentary to display submissiveness to the president. These middle aged men who think that they are powerful but actually have no control over how they spend their time, in airports, in hotels, in tedious meeting, in ritualised displays of submission to the President.