Amid the uniform ranks of grey and black there was the odd splash of colour; a purple tie, rainbow striped socks, shirts in a palette of pastels. Otherwise the main shade in the room was red: pages and pages of red numbers silently sounding the alarm on a failing business. Sat at the Board table Matt was regretting his choice of tie; it had been part of his resolution to be more assertive this year. Blood red, bold, confident. It mockingly reflected back the sea of negative numbers on the sales sheet in front of him. It drew the eye. Today was not a day to draw the eye.
Tom Jones, Managing Director of Jones Toys, swept into the room. He didn’t find jokes about his name remotely funny and his colleagues (he preferred “staff” but HR had told him that colleagues sounded more like he cared) had long since stopped making them. New starters were often told, by way of some twisted induction, that he found his name hilarious and should reference it to curry favour with him. Matt had fallen foul of this when he’d first been introduced to his new boss: “Tom Jones ? I guess it’s not unusual where you’re from – the green, green grass of home ?” All compounded with a cheery wink. They had enjoyed a frosty relationship ever since. Still, it could have been worse. That guy that had sung “Delilah” as his karaoke song at last year’s Christmas party was never heard from again. Decided to take early retirement said the official memo. He was only 45.
Jones sat down at the head of the table, papers neatly arranged in front of him. On the wall behind him was a large sign bearing the company logo and mission statement: Jones Toys – Having Fun Is A Serious Business. Matt felt bothered, as he did every week, by the lack of apostrophe, the Jones family were many and they owned Jones Toys. The new Marketing Director had decided that apostrophes didn’t fit into their fresh brand fundamentals: “remember to always emphasise the fun in fundamental”. Apostrophes weren’t fun. They were something kids hated to learn and adults had given up on. They had commissioned market research and it was conclusive: grammar was out and fun was in. The research agency had even headed the executive summary slide in their debrief deck “your right: customers dont get apostrophes” as their idea of getting the message across. The Marketing Director had printed it off and had it framed in his office.
Matt snapped out of his punctuation inspired reverie as Jones opened the meeting by bringing both fists hard down on the table in front of him.
“What the fuck is this ?” he demanded gesturing at the paper in front of him. “What have you bunch of moronic shits done to my business ?”
The HR Director, sat at the furthest remove from her incandescent boss, looked slightly askance. The company values were very precise on inappropriate anger and language and they were also explicit on Jones Toys not having a blame culture.
“Which of you fucking idiots is to blame for this ?” continued Jones. He glared around the room daring somebody to meet his gaze. All eyes suddenly became immersed in the detailed sales numbers in front of them; everyone shrinking back into their chairs. As Matt looked down he realised that his tie had managed to drape itself on to the table as he’d sat down: a look-at-me streak of red that ran from his trading figures straight up to his jugular. Reflexively he moved his hands to adjust it. As his brain caught up he reconsidered but, in that moment of indecision, merely succeeded in waving it around slightly before letting it drop back to the table. Jones zeroed in.
“Matt, yes. You can kick us off. Girls’ Toys. Missed forecast by nine hundred and eighty thousand pounds. A million fucking quid. Please explain.”
The other Trading Directors round the table visibly relaxed. Matt looked vainly at them for any sign of support but none was forthcoming. The whole table scented blood now: better it was his than theirs. Doug, the video games director, was looking particularly smug as he had the only set of positive numbers in the room. Matt knew, they all knew, that anyone could have sold video games that Christmas – two new consoles and little Jacks and Jills up and down the land choosing technology over toys – but that wouldn’t cut any ice with Jones. Last year Matt had worn that same expression as Doug. The Furby Christmas they’d called it. The Marketing Director had put one on his desk. Matt had taken a punt on the freakish furry monstrosities and they’d flown off the shelves. He’d been elevated to the pantheon of retail gods, up there with Jim “Pokemon” Donaldson who’d hit pay dirt on a chance supplier visit to Japan a few years ago. This year he had a warehouse full of the hateful creatures and the Marketing Director had given him the one from his desk back.
Frozen. It was all sodding Frozen. Anna and Elsa and that annoying snowman and those men that no one could remember. How could he have missed it ? Everyone else had it. He’d been chasing stock for weeks but Disney were being difficult: “you didn’t want to talk to us in July Matt… we have to prioritise some of our more loyal retailers”. How was he supposed to know that girls were going to go berserk for some emotionally repressed singing Princess with ice powers ? When he had finally secured some stock via a distributor – 10,000 snow globe Elsas, 15,000 Olaf dolls and 25,000 action figure Annas (no one seemed to want Anna) – the container ship that had been bringing them back from China had been hit by a typhoon. 50,000 pieces of Frozen merchandise were bobbing up and down somewhere just outside the Bay of Bengal.
Matt mentally prepared to make his stand. Talk about the margin rate being strong and the excellent stock position on Furby (sure to be in demand again soon). Don’t talk about Frozen. Take the barrage and it would be over. As he looked up from the table he caught sight of the sky outside, darkening in the windows opposite him. It was snowing. He wasn’t the only one that had noticed.
“Hey Matt” smirked Doug. “Do you want to build a snowman ?”. There were a few suppressed laughs. Jones didn’t laugh and, after momentarily glaring at Doug, fixed his baleful stare back on Matt.
“When you explain this million quid shortfall be sure to tell us exactly how much of that was because you failed to react to the biggest children’s movie of the last ten years.” He jabbed an accusatory finger. “Don’t you read the trade press ? Or watch the news ? Don’t you have fucking kids ?”
Matt finally met his gaze. He thought about the twins, both of whom would have been able to sing him every line from every song from Frozen. He thought about missing the three times they’d seen it at the cinema because he’d been late working. He thought about missing their nativity play. Again. He thought about wrapping them up a surplus Furby late on Christmas Eve as he’d been too busy to pick anything else up before that. Fortunately his wife had secured both Elsa and Anna dolls for both of them. Not from Jones Toys. He thought about the riotous joy with which they played with their toys and the contrast to the soul sapping process of buying them for a living. Having fun is a serious business, especially if you’re a kid. It was time, he realised ruefully, to let it go.
Pushing his chair back from the table Matt stood up, nodded his head briefly towards Tom Jones and made for the door. “I can’t explain Tom so I’m going to spend some more time with some people that can. Perhaps we will build that snowman after all.” This he directed at Doug.
Jones looked furious but oddly impotent to Matt in that moment. “If you walk out then don’t fucking come back” he spluttered. Matt nodded. “And you’ve left your suit jacket on the chair. Can’t even walk out on your own job properly.”
“I’ll leave it thanks. The cold never bothered me anyway, right Doug ?” Unable to resist he added finally to Jones “why don’t you take it Tom – just help yourself” before turning on his heel and leaving the room.
This is the eighth story in my series of 42 shorts that I’m writing to raise money and awareness for Mind, the mental health charity. Please share it if you liked it (or even if you didn’t…). If you’re interested in donating to a great cause then please visit my fundraising page. You know it’s what Anna and Elsa would do: https://www.justgiving.com/42shorts/