‘Dave came back from that HR course like a soldier who’s been to war and can’t speak about it’

Ross O'Carroll-Kelly: The man who’s standing in front of us is a shell of his former self

 

Dave from the office was in chorge of payroll until he did a course in human resources in the Smurfit Business School in Blackrock and returned to work six weeks later having lost his sense of smell, his sense of taste and – most tragically of all – his sense of humour.

I mean, Dave was a bigger jock than even me. He was a non-playing substitute on the legendary Terenure College one-in-a-row team of 2003 and I think everyone agreed that the schools-related banter between us was one of the things that made working for Hook, Lyon and Sinker such a joy.

I’d stort the morning by shouting something across the floor at him – for instance, “You went to a shit school!” and he’d hit me back straight away with, “No, I think you’ll find that you were the one who went to a shit school!” And this would carry on throughout the day – we’re talking proper, proper banter – until it was time to go to the pub and we settled our differences with either a high-five, or, if the slagging had strayed on to the sensitive topic of how many past and present rugby internationals had attended our respective schools, then a chest-bump, or two if necessary, just to make sure that the air was clear between us.

Dave was a genuinely good goy. But, like I said, he came back from that human relations course a changed man, like a soldier who’s been to war and has witnessed things that he can’t bring himself to speak about but who knows that he will never look at the world in the same way again.

I’m tempted to say that that’s the Cormelites for you. There was always a sensitivity about them – Father Fehily drew our attention to it – that meant you could really get at them on the rugby field.

This is Dave now, the man who’s standing in front of us, a grey man in a grey suit, breaking tradition by delivering us all a lecture about our behaviour and our responsibilities before – and I repeat, before – the office Christmas porty.

He’s going, “How we behave matters – especially in the woke world in which we currently live. Workplace behaviour and relationships have never been more closely scrutinised. Just because there will be an air of informality within our regular working space this evening does not mean the usual rules, protocols and boundaries of the working environment don’t apply.

“There has been, as you know, quite a bit of publicity recently about inappropriate workplace behaviour and the consequences when certain lines are crossed. Now, I’m not one of those people who believe that the move to outlaw unsolicited sexual comments and advances will herald the end of flirting.

Listen to Ross

“There is, I think, a clear distinction between flirtatious behaviour and inappropriate behaviour. But just to be on the safe side, I thought we might put in place some conversational protocols for the evening. I’ve taken the liberty of typing up some appropriate subjects of discussion for the evening. Ross, would you pass those around?”

I don’t move. I refuse to take orders from someone who went to a school that has produced as few past and present rugby internationals as Terenure has. Someone else does it instead.

“Now,” he goes, “what I would suggest to you all is that you spend the next hour or so looking at these examples and devising a Conversational Plan for the evening, which will help you to avoid defaulting to subjects that may cause offence. Let’s go through some of these examples of things we can say to each other and how we might say them.

Would you consider it appropriate for me to ask you if you have any hobbies outside of work? Can I ask you to list some of those hobbies? Do you enjoy those hobbies? Can you please confirm that it’s okay for me to continue asking you about your hobbies? On what days of the week do you engage in your hobbies? Do you have any supplementary comments to make about your hobbies? Shall we now move onto a different topic of conversation?

“This template can be used for many different conversational subjects. And please notice that how we frame a question is just as important as the question itself. Ross, you might be interested in the question at the top of page 27.”

Page 27 of 60, by the way.

There’s a line between what’s acceptable and not acceptable. And you, my friend, just crossed it

He goes, “While this question is not intended to convey a sense of educational, socio-economic or moral superiority over anyone else, what school did you attend? While this question isn’t meant to imply a discriminatory attitude based on geography or class, where were you originally born and where do you live now?”

I’m thinking, okay, someone needs to ring his old school principal. I can’t be the only one who’s worried about him.

He goes, “While acknowledging that you may have religious views that differ from mine, or, alternatively, no religious views at all, are you looking forward to Christmas? Do you mind if I refer to it as Christmas or would you prefer me to switch to the secular byname of The Holidays?

I’m thinking, Jesus.

“Now,” he goes, “alcohol will provided free of charge this evening.”

I let a huge roar out of me. No one laughs. We’re talking literally no one? There’s no doubt we’re living in a changed world.

He goes, “Of course, we all know that when we consume alcohol, it can get the better of us and cause us to say things that we might not ordinarily say or do things that we might not ordinarily do. So if you are planning to drink tonight, I would suggest that, in addition to coming up with a Conversational Plan, you also set yourself a Maximum Alcohol Limit and stick to it. Also, if you are drinking alcohol, I would suggest that you drink plenty of water during the course of the evening, too. A sensible amount would be eight pints of water for every one unit of alcohol.”

And that ends up being the straw breaks the whatever-the-actual-phrase-is. I stand up and I put on my coat.

He’s like, “Ross, where are you going?”

And I’m there, “To the pub. To celebrate Christmas by myself. Like you said, there’s a line between what’s acceptable and not acceptable. And you, my friend, just crossed it.”

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