Something for the Weekend, Sir? Déjà vu. I’ve just walked into the offices of a prospective new client for the first time and everything looks familiar, from the faux marble cladding and chromed door handles in the reception to the roughened white wallpaper and very specific shade of blue carpet tiles on the main floor.
For all their pretensions of originality, most office buildings in London look the same: bland new smoked glassy bits on the outside, the same old carpet tiles on the inside. The bigger the building, the stronger the similarity to all the others next to it.
Uniformity is to be expected in a city. It’s like the way everything in New York is brown and all the chocolate made in America smells like soiled underwear. Indeed, it might taste like soiled underwear too but I can’t be sure, and trust that I never shall.
Déjà vu. One of the notable aspects of a city that doesn’t feel the need to grant unlimited construction rights to trouser-pocket-shuffling bankers and limp-dicked Arab billionaires trying to compensate for their inadequacies is that London has few skyscrapers. No, instead we oranges-and-lemons Lahndunnahs tend to live and work near ground level, shuffling around our narrow cobbled streets in our top hats and carrying Gladstone bags, swirling through the fog, hailing Hackney carriages and jumping on red buses.
Quaint it may be but it has encouraged even more uniformity in building design, with leading architects clamouring to create exactly the same thing as each other. Almost without exception, this involves fitting a glass atrium in the main area to filter in natural light (when it’s not a gor blimey pea-souper, of course) and install a running water feature near reception.
(To obtain this effect in my old Hoxton hipster office last year, I just opened a window and ran the cold tap.)
Déjà vu. I have not visited this prospective client before but their offices look like a place I used to work in. This conjures a mix of emotions. I had fun times and difficult times there but the thing that sticks in my head is how the toilets were spotless and the kitchen was disgusting.
Oh, that kitchen. Every morning, a random employee would explode something in the microwave, making it unusable for the rest of the day. Crushed plastic cups littered the worktops, there were tea stains on the ceiling, and the floor was covered with a crunchy layer of instant coffee granules.
Sound familiar? Of course it does, every communal staff kitchen in an office is like that. On good days, you’d think Michael Flatley and his Riverdance pals had been serving themselves drinks there. On bad days, the interior of the fridge looks like a scene from Se7en.
Déjà vu, you see?
(Incidentally, my old Hoxton hipster office had its kitchen right next to the toilets. Americans would have loved the ambient chocolate aroma in the afternoons.)
Anyway, later that day, I nip round to an existing client’s address to drop something off. More marble and chrome, rough-textured wallpaper and blue carpet tiles. Déjà vu, heh. But ... hang on, something’s different.
Stepping out of the lift, my initial notion is I have ended up at the wrong floor. I immediately step backwards into the lift, treading on the toes of the woman behind me. As I turn and apologise, the lift doors try to slice me in two, so I quickly leap back into the lift in an unintentionally threatening manner. The woman retreats sharply into the corner of the lift, tightly clutching her handbag in front.
In a Bond film, I’d be Daniel Craig with a saucy one-liner about asking her if she’d like to see my elevator pitch, offering to massage her foot and we’d be shagging before we reached the sixth floor. In real life, I giggle and stammer and dance around a bit like Michael McIntyre – copious amounts of sweatiness included – for six long seconds of embarrassment until the partially blocked lift doors re-open.