"You are required to attend a team building course." That's as far as I got into the email from the HR department when my stomach descended to my ankles and simultaneously propelled its contents rather swiftly through my innards rendering me in dire need of a sitting down lavatory experience.
The mouse hovered over the delete box as I frantically sought to find an escape route away from my crippling fear. It could never be that simple though as this horrifying instruction had been 'cc'd' to more managers and HR folk than one would care to imagine. I was trapped. I had to go.
The hotel function suite, the horse shoe of tables, the free bottle of Volvic, the pen, paper and name card at every place setting, the itinerary sheets, the Nobo flip charts and Stabilo Boss fluorescent pens, the signage in the hotel foyer with crudely removable letters, all of these elements form the hideous equation whose common denominator is my malignant Achilles heel; a presentation.
Occupying nail number seven of thirty in this apprehensive horse shoe of seemingly super confident people, I sit and wait. At least it will be over with quickly and I'll be able to sit and relax while regarding the various symptoms of everyone else's anxiety and panic. Except nobody else seems to be bothered. Six to go. Rivulets of sweat depart from my pits and dribble down my sides to meet with my waistband. I place my palms on my black jeans and leave damp imprints. I rest my elbow on the table and my hand under my chin in an attempt to appear relaxed. My elbow slips off the table and I feel twenty nine sniggering eyes mocking me. Five to go.
If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail. How many times have I heard that little cliché in the run up to this visit to the kingdom of Hades. I have prepared, I was up all night rehearsing in my hotel room. Pacing, panicking and procrastinating until five this morning. All fifteen sachets of complimentary Kenco now lay used and abused beside the ridiculously tiny Travel Lodge coffee cups. The free biscuits remain ominously still in their packets. A sure sign of nerves. My bed looks lonely and redundant, complimentary After Eights on the pillows still intact. The bathroom is a different matter. Four to go.
I've had three showers. One last night, one at two a.m. in an attempt to remain alert while preparing my notes and another this morning. Then why on earth is there a stench of over microwaved Ginster's pasties emanating from my armpits? This suddenly becomes very important and occupies all available space in my brain. I stare down at my meagre notes that are supposed to keep my monologue afloat for at least ten minutes. They mean nothing. Peculiar hieroglyphics, the markings of a confused bird that had walked through a pool of ink. I want to be someone else; the cleaner, the porter, anyone except me.
Three to go. I think my colon and bowels are melting. There's a dumbness in my hips and thighs and all muscular activity has been diverted to provide an almighty clenching sensation. It might just be a case of worry-wind but best not put that theory to the test. The tension I feel is vile. My memory technique is a simple one; the first letter of all my bullet points spell a word, but the word is 'parsnip'. An ordinary, inoffensive root vegetable? Not today. Inappropriate uses for parsnips fill my mind. I stifle a massively misplaced guffaw and pretend to cough. My clenched state momentarily eases and releases something airy and damp into the seat below me. I retighten myself while making a mental note to check that all is well in the trouser department later on when this torment is over. Two to go.
Okay, focus. It's nearly time. I take some deep breaths and assemble some tranquil thoughts. My sweaty body shivers as the cool air conditioning provides a jolt of freezing air. My mouth is dry and my tongue feels like it's wearing a towelling, freshly laundered sports sock. I swallow, suck my cheeks in and out and click my throat in the hope of agitating some saliva. My heart decides to have a random case of arrhythmia and I can feel heavy pulses in my head and neck. One to go.
A final look at my notes and then it's me. I'm up. My turn. Let the humiliation, stammering and over use of words such as 'obviously' 'actually' 'erm' and 'like' begin. "Alright folks, I've heard a reasonable cross section of presentations. You all seem to know your stuff. Let's move on to teambuilding exercises. Take five." My relief is a tsunami, yet disappointment lingers in the shallows.