Meetings can be a substitute for work, and an expensive one, at that, which is why the thrifty bankers at HSBC had a rule about them. A note had to be kept of every meeting, and the last line of the note would read, ‘This meeting lasted for one hour and 33 minutes and is estimated to have cost £2,822.27p, including the digestive biscuits.’ The biggest item on the bill would be the time of all those present, and they might think twice before incurring it, given the chance that head office would take umbrage. Perhaps HSBC could lend Tony Blair a clerk to help him cost his summit meeting. His own time and his guests’ time would be only the start of it. There would be the time of their full supporting cast of sherpas, finance ministers, spokespeople, bag carriers and bodyguards, and the cost of flying them in from all over the world. They would need somewhere to meet, eat and sleep, and that meant block-booking Gleneagles — 257 rooms from £225 to £465 and 13 suites to £1,600: Michelin graded grand luxe et tradition + restaurant with star, to pacify Jacques Chirac. Add in some extras, like a fence round the estate, and policemen patrolling the fence, and helicopters patrolling the skies, and, of course, the biscuits.
Pay Hutu, pay Tutsi
Standard procedure at these meetings is to draft the report in advance, and this one is sure to include a sanctimonious section on the needs of Africa. All that would remain would be for HSBC’s clerk to append his own report, on some such lines as these: ‘This meeting appears to be held as a matter of annual habit, and on this occasion lasted for three days, give or take a few naps after lunch.