“Ping” sang the computer. Kate looked at the alert on her screen.
“Midlands Empowerment Forum”, the message read, “19:00 Cranmill Hotel”
Her hand hovered over the cancel button for a few moments. The Midlands Empowerment Forum was one of the networking groups for women that she had always avoided. Why women couldn’t network with men was a mystery and she suspected that it would be a mothers meeting full of small business types who ran their own little play firms to fill empty days while the kids were at school and hubby played golf or did a proper job.
Kate was firmly of the opinion that women could beat men at their own game. Business was serious and not just something you did to avoid watching daytime telly.
She and Gareth had had a few verbal jousts over the last few weeks over the KOD coffers. Kate was well aware that the next big contract wasn’t exactly knocking down their door. With Gareth doing pro-bono work for the theatre and Dave trying to suckle on the American teat at the moment the wave they had ridden over the last few months was looking more like a trickle. This was the point where Gareth normally jumped in, went and had dinner with some old school buddies and ‘wham’ in came the next contract. But he was so busy with his head up some pantomime cow he wasn’t concentrating on the cash, or rather lack of cash, on the books. She’d tried a few times to get him interested but it was like trying to talk with someone on drugs. Every time she mentioned money he starting going on about what a good job Tracey was doing at the Theatre, or how they’d done this with so and so councillor. She just wanted to shake him.
Dave, on the other hand, was being quite cagey with what he was up to. Joining the weekly briefings but mentioning a few things he had in the pipeline, but not really expanding. He had at least grasped that they needed some money to operate and had pulled in a few pieces of consultancy work to help with cashflow, but they were only sticking plasters. If they didn’t get some big work soon she’d have to start looking at redundancies, and that wasn’t a job she relished. Having been through that mill a few times herself she knew it wasn’t fun from either side.
One thing Gareth had mentioned was these local networking groups. Kate wasn’t sure if there was anyone there who would have anything for KOD, yummy mummies didn’t normally need business consultancy or change management. But their husband’s might… and this could be her routine in to talking to the partner who worked in big business. She’d decided to brazen it out, deal with the mummy chat and play nicely; on the off chance she might find a route in to some business. And who knows what else she might find there, sometimes there were mentions of jewellery and clothing being sold too.
She shut down the computer. There was time to stroll to the venue and the evening sunshine looked pleasant enough. Checking her appearance, she’d chosen a Hobbs suit. Not too high end, certainly not Armani, but sharp enough to mark her out as a player and not just a bit-part. The invite said there would be food, and she hoped a little wine. Something to soften the dullness she expected from the conversation.
The Cranmill was an old fashioned hotel that had been bought by an anonymous chain and given a thorough and sympathetic update. The facade looked largely as it always had, they didn’t want to mess with the Georgian architecture or face the wrath of the local planners who were particularly protective one of the few remaining historic parts of town. The sign outside was discreet, but then they aimed for a clientele who arrived by taxi, chauffeur or at least satnav in a quality company car. Tourists and sales reps could stay in the rather more gaudy chain down the road.
Inside, everything was tasteful and painted magnolia. Fresh flowers added colour along with a few modern art paintings that looked like swooshes of paint and meant absolutely nothing. The smartly attired receptionist directed Kate to the Monkspath suite where the meeting was being held.
Arriving at the door, the first impression was of a confused huddle of middle-aged women. They seemed to be surrounding plan on an easel by the double doors into the room. Most seemed to be wearing slightly dated suits that were straining at the waist as thought the owners had bought them some time, and many slap-up meal, ago. One or two women wafted around in floaty Laura Ashley smocks, Kate took an immediate dislike to them. Free spirits usually talked in mumbo-jumbo inspirational phrases and did nothing that made any sense to a normal person.
“Do you know where you are sitting?” asked one of the ladies scanning the board. Kate realised that she was looking at a wedding style seating plan with everyone carefully allocated space at one of the tables. She squinted at the tiny text searching for her name.
“Hmmm. This is my first time”, she replied, “Do we have to sit where we are told?”
“Oh yes. It’s all part of the fun. You never know who you’ll be sat next too. I was chatting to a lady who runs a new age health retreat in a pig farm last month!”
Kate groaned inwardly. This was going to be as bad as she feared. Gently easing her way to the plan, she found her name and headed for the room.