Not that sort of hostess

Once upon a time in a land long ago I had to go to visit companies to tell them how utterly wonderful CACI’s geodemographic ACORN system was. If the company name means anything at all to you, you’re probably thinking Abu Ghraib, the torture camp they ran in Iraq, the one Lynndie England got her jollies in, the one that had been given so much authority by a grateful President in his War On Terror/Abstract Nouns that not even the Department of Defence were allowed in the prison without CACI’s say-so.

Lynndie England: Honour bound, defending freedom.

Given that honour wasn’t so much as bound as tasered, shackled, extraordinarily renditioned and water-boarded, I’m proud to say all that happened considerably after my time at a company whose only other claim to fame was not launching the Tesco Clubcard, which was essentially invented by an ex-CACI staffer, ex because he couldn’t stand working for a company that didn’t seem to know what it was it sold. Apart from a geographic analysis system linking postcodes to Census information in a manner it was never designed to do. So far so blah.

CACI and I really didn’t get on after they wanted me to pitch the Conservative and Unionist Party of Great Britain to offer to help them win the election, chiefly on the basis that I had an accent they judged more Conservative than my Essex Girl boss. One of CACI’s frequent misapprehensions on at least two fronts.

The good bit in a period of frankly not that many good bits was getting to drive around the country using someone else’s petrol in someone else’s car, even if the CACMobile happened to be a white XR3i my boss would have been orgasmically happy driving. On a sunny day when the world was younger I went to see an Electricity Board somewhere deep in the leafy Surrey heartlands between London and the sea.

Surrey didn’t seem to be the hardest word. “Trolley” however, was. This was so very long ago that the electricity company sold the appliances that used electricity as well, everything from electric fires, washing machines, irons and what they forthrightly called Load Builders, things like tumble dryers and fan heaters, the stuff that then and again now, chewed up electricity as if it was going out of fashion, unlike the chairman’s bonus which never does.

Deep penetration

This thing wasn’t the problem.

The thing in the picture was called a hostess trolley. Pausing only to check her hair in the hallway mirror, while her husband (of COURSE he was her husband!!! How very DARE you!!!!) offered the people from three doors down a nice little drop of something for you, Mark, and a very nice little Liebfraumilch for your good lady (and yes, of course they drove there. New Cortina, and Mark’s in line to be upgraded to a Granada…) while Mrs Suburbia could pop the almost-ready food on a hostess trolley to keep it warm while she nervously necked rather too much Asti Spumante than was perhaps entirely decorous. Pardon me!

In other words, hostess trolleys were a mobile way to keep food warm, so you could relax at your dinner party, especially if Carol and Mark were up for seconds. CACI and many otherwise sane adults spent its entire working life helping people sell this crap. They claimed they truly believed it was a science, almost a priesthood, to which your business too could be admitted on payment of a very reasonable fee. The proportion of potential customers for say, a hostess trolley who actually bought the things in a given area (do please call it a geography. It sounds so much more sciencey) was called the market penetration level. Which was fine, except I was presenting to two women at the electricity company. One was about ten years older than me, competent, friendly, interested in what I had to say so far as business was concerned. And she’d worked on marketing hostess trolleys, which was how we began talking about them.

“I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.”

The other one was my age. And OMG gorgeous. Cartoon, can’t-look-at-without-your-mouth-dropping-open, Jessica Rabbit gorgeous. Every time I looked directly at her I was lost for words. I couldn’t even say “Load Builder.” Unfortunately, another of the words I was lost for was “trolley”. And “market.”

I spent nearly twenty minutes staring at her with what I hoped was a wise, worldly, friendly, above-all approachable half-smile playing lightly on my lips in a manner I hoped she might be at some point in the foreseeable future, while I talked about hostess penetration levels.

She didn’t say much. She kept smiling and so did the older one, her boss. It was a happy, sunny, slow afternoon and we were all having as much fun as you ever usually got working in that kind of job.

I didn’t realise what was happening until nearly the end of my pitch. I made my excuses and left. Surprisingly, they never spoke to me again.

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