Amongst other things, I work for a Greek charity as a fundraiser.  There are seven women on the fundraising committee and we organise one event each year, a dinner dance to raise money for the charity.

This year, we had the added bonus of having the chairman of our committee out of the country, and the president of our charity laid up after some fairly major surgery.  No judgement, neither could be helped, but if you add to the mix the fact that I was moving house the day before the printing deadline for the souvenir programmes, and the fact that all correspondence about attendance now had to come to my new address which I was only living at for the second half of the whole procedure, well let’s just say that the potential for disaster was immense.   We put the souvenir programme to bed 6 days after the deadline (the printer, Andrew is a legend).    The programme is actually the easier part.  Once you’ve chased the people who should really know better, you can forget about it until the evening of the event, when it’s sitting on everybody’s chair.

The silliness starts when it’s time to sort out the tickets.  It’s a ticketed event.  The tickets cost a fair amount, you can either buy a table of 8,10 or 12, or you can come as an individual or with a smaller group and make my life difficult sit with other guests.  This should be fairly simple really.  People apply, they get allocated tables, they come, they eat, they dance, they go home.  How hard can it be, right?  Well maybe that’s how it works with polite and well-brought up English folk.  This dance however does not deal with these lovely people.  It deals with temperamental, image-obsessed, do-you-know-who-I-am prima donna Greeks.  These are the people who forget that we are here to raise money to help sick people and concentrate instead on terribly important factors such as proximity to the dance floor, or to Top Table, or where they are sitting compared to Mrs Whosit-opoulos.  The reason I am allowed to say all this by the way, is because I am Greek, I am not just insulting an entire nation here.  I am insulting my people – in some cases my family even.  So I won’t hear any complaining.  I am telling it like it is. So every ticket application comes with a request for a ‘good table’.  And the request is followed with several phone calls as if I can magic all of the tables to the front of the room.  Of course every request is accompanied with the words, I don’t really mind where I sit, but my husband…. Or we’re bringing some important people and it’s for them… So you can imagine, I have to be polite and diplomatic (no easy task for me, let me assure you).  I would like to say that this is the biggest challenge I face when sorting out the tables for the event.  Really I would.  Unfortunately though I can’t, because as well as the front-of-the-roomsters, there are the crackpots.

The crackpots are the people who call up with outlandish demands and requests and no idea of the ridiculousness of their questions.  The event is not black tie, but it is formal.  So people calling me up and asking me if jeans and trainers are ok – no- just no. People who say they’re vegetarian, but if we could do something nice with fish just for them, that would be grand.  People who call to say they might need two tickets, but who would they be sitting with, and when told, say isn’t there anyone else?  No, there isn’t anyone else, call some of your friends and bring them if you want to sit with people you know.  This year, two of the crackpots stand out in my mind.  Enter Crackpot No 1: The lady who wouldn’t stop calling to see if there were any people her husband would condescend to sit with.  She even said that she needed me to find her a nice table with decent people on it because of the political situation in Greece.  Yes, you read right.  The political situation in Greece.  The fact that we as a nation are in the midst of possibly the deepest financial depression in modern history is reason enough for this woman and her husband to be seated at the best table at our charity event.  She tried everything including calling other members of the committee and blaming me for it.  Eventually, I told her that there was nothing I could do.  I don’t like to turn anyone away, but short of setting up a table for two in the middle of the dance floor, there was just no way I was going to please this woman.  Crackpot No 2 called me at 9:30pm the night before the event.  I had given final numbers to the Hotel four days previously.  The conversation went like this (in Greek):

“Hello I hear there’s some kind of party/event tomorrow evening.”

“Yes.”

“Could you tell me a little bit about it? What time does it start, how much is the ticket, what type of event is it etc. etc.”

“It is a Dinner Dance, it takes place at the X Hotel, it starts at 8pm.  It’s formal, and the tickets cost £XXX.  How many tickets do you think you will need?”  I asked. Let me explain something:  ordinarily, three days before the event we stop selling tickets.  This year however, we had fallen well beneath our minimum number of guests and were facing a fine.  I was ready to accept almost anyone who wanted to come (except for Crackpot No 1 obviously).

“Do I have to tell you I am coming or can we just show up?”

I actually banged my phone on the table a few times in case bad reception had me hearing things.

“I’m sorry, could you repeat the question, I don’t think I heard you correctly?”

“Do I have to tell you I am coming or can we just show up?”

I had heard correctly.  She had asked me that question.  Twice.

“Yes, you have to tell me,” I sputtered, my Greek deserting me. “I – it’s a seated event – I have to know if you are coming.  And how many you’ll be.  Like now.  Even tomorrow morning is too late for you to tell me.”

She must have heard the urgency in my voice because she said:

“OK, OK don’t get upset, I’ll get back to you.” And shut the phone.

I had to sit down and put my head between my knees.   Had I had a paper bag which people always seem to have lying around in the movies, I would have used it to breathe into.  Fortunately for my nerves and sanity, she never called back.

The day of the event dawned and I set about getting everything I would need ready.  I had to go to the hotel at lunchtime to drop stuff off and look at the room.  Once in the room, I looked at the table placement.  There were a couple of tables that had looked like good tables on the plan but in the actual room looked isolated and forgotten.  I had to tweak all that.  We went to the room where the dancers were going to be changing and having dinner, and left all the raffle prizes there for safekeeping etc.  Then I went home to get ready to go back to the Hotel at 6:30.

Let me tell you a bit about the dancers.  The President (not Obama obviously) had arranged for this group called Taste of Brazil to come and dance at the event.  They were supposed to do 15 minutes after dinner to entertain the guests and get the party going.  When I called the guy in charge of bookings a few days before the event, I said to him:

“I am trying to sort out the timings for the evening.  Could you tell me how long you’re performing for?”

“About an hour” he said in a cockney accent (taste of Brazil – yeah right)

“An hour!” I squeaked.  “I don’t think that’s what we arranged for.  We only need 10 or 15 minutes after dinner, otherwise the guests will actually take root on their chairs”

“But you’ve paid for an hour.” He said, implying that performing for any less time wouldn’t be worth the call out charge.

“That’s fine, we’ll pay what we agreed, but we only need you to perform for a maximum of 15 minutes” I said.

“Alright, ‘ow about we samba for 15 minutes and then we’ll get the party going by getting some of your guests up to dance etc etc and then we’ll just sort of disappear after about half an hour, forty minutes.”

“That sounds fine,” I said, thinking of all the men being thrilled to be dancing with a thong-wearing feather-tiara’d Brazilian woman.

“We’ve got a bit of a problem,” he said, “We’re ‘aving problems sorting out a babysitter on the night.  Would it be alright if we brought the baby along and left it with one of the non-dancers in the changing room?”

Relieved that I hadn’t been roped into looking after the infant myself, I said it was fine.  I confirmed there would be 10 of them (eight dancers and two others (babysitters presumably)), and that they were to be there at 9:30pm the latest.

So back to the evening.  All was going well.  The guests arrived, nobody sulked or walked out when they saw their table, and we sat down to dinner after the required National Anthems, Grace and Welcome address.  Dinner was going ok, and at about 9:45 I thought I would go and see if the dancers had arrived yet, so that I could pay them.  I got up just as the event manager came up to my table.

“What time did you ask the dancers to get here?” he asked me.

“I was just coming to ask you if they had arrived.”

“Do you have a number for them?”

“Not on me, but it was in the correspondence we had about them.”

“I will go and check on my computer.”

Five minutes later he comes back.

“Er, I just spoke to the guy and they aren’t coming.”

“Huh?” (Eloquence – always there when I need it most)

“He had marked the wrong date in his diary.  He is very sorry.”

I am proud of how calm I stayed.

“What do you want to do?”

“Let’s pretend nothing happened.  Tell the DJ he’s on 15 minutes earlier than planned please.”

So that’s what we did.  We hadn’t made a big announcement or anything.  Their name was in the programme.  I have never been more grateful for the fact that (as I have suspected all along) nobody reads the damn programme.  The DJ started, he was awesome, and the only people who asked me where the Brazilians were, were the other organisers.  Phew bullet dodged.

Except on the Monday or Tuesday when people start to leaf through their programmes and wonder:

“What the hell was ‘Taste of Brazil’?”

We’ll tell them it was the after dinner chocolates.

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