A generic business estate on the outskirts of town. A generic office building. Generic office spaces lined up neatly inside.
(Are these places cloned somewhere? Maybe that's what Milton Keynes is for?)
Not auspicious surroundings in which to meet new clients.
This was seven or eight years ago now. I was in my mid twenties. I worked for a 'boutique' graphic design studio as a web designer, but there was still grunt work to be done, hence this shitty assignment.
Oh and there's one more thing you should know: I also had a sizeable beard. It was a phase I was going through.
Anyhow, back to our meeting.
The youngest member of staff looked to be about sixteen years old. Even more worrying than this, he also seemed to be the smartest of the bunch. As if to prove it, the others retched up foul ideas for their new website, long erased from my memory.
We listened. Nodded out heads. Asked a few questions. Took a few notes.
It wasn't that complicated though. These guys basically had a system for putting adverts on the sides of lorries and rubbish trucks.
So it was hard for me to get excited about the job.
Can you do great work for crappy clients? What would a design legend like Wim Crouwel or Paul Rand have done in this situation? (Let's be honest, they probably wouldn't have gotten into it in the first place.)
My boss drove us back to the studio. My stomach twinged, uneasily, but I thought nothing of it.
Over the next few days I duly cranked out a couple of design options for the website. From what I remember, they looked quite nice.
We returned a couple of weeks later to pitch my concepts.
This time it was even more apparent that the boss was partial to a wisecrack or two. He was positively fizzling with "wee man" energy, like a third rate comedian having an off night, trying to work a crowd he could have counted on one hand. If he could count that high.
It was a warning sign, but I missed it at the time.
We presented my designs for their website. Gave them the patter, the spiel, the bullshit. He didn't say as much, but it was clear the boss wasn't impressed.
As we left the meeting room and began to file back through the office, he paused.
Ah, I naviely thought, maybe he's going to compliment us on our fine and considered work now.
Unfortunately he wasn't.
In fact, he started to sing the theme song from "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" at me. (Yes, because having a beard makes you look like someone from the bible. Of course. You're a pretty funny guy).
He sang quietly at first. But before I knew it he was cajoling the rest of his staff to join in.
What. The. Fuck.
I had a flashback.
That uneasy knot in my stomach I had felt a fortnight earlier wasn't something I had eaten for lunch.
It was my internal bullshit detector kicking in.
It was a primordial part of my brain saying "Get the hell out of this place, James. It's not good for you. Run. Now. Don't look back".
But I didn't listen to it, or say anything to my boss about my doubts for the job.
So now I was facing the music. An entire office of people was taking the piss out of my beard (and me) using the medium of song. Even though Joseph doesn't even have a beard in most productions of the musical. Check your facts, people.
But more importantly, trust your gut.
Be aware of sublminal messages that your body sends you.
Otherwise you might end up in a life-threatening situation, like this...
(Yes, I hate musicals. Something about them makes we want to punch people in the face)