As I have spent the majority of January procrastinating, it seemed appropriate that the first short story I share with you be the product of just that: procrastination. I wrote this a couple of years ago on an evening when I was doing my level best to avoid writing my novel.
I am sure this is a subject that is close to the hearts of many writers. In fact, I know it is, as not a week goes by when I don’t see (and sympathise with) a post on Twitter from a fellow writer bemoaning his/her own procrastinatory* tendencies.
*Yes, this is an actual word.
It is re-assuring to know that I am not alone in this respect. This story serves as a possible answer to the question of “What if procrastinators were organised enough to form a group?”
I had quite a lot of fun imagining this particular answer, and hope it brings a smile to the faces of all you like-minded procrastinators and writers.
The 29th Annual General Meeting of the Procrastinators Anonymous Society
All things considered, it had been a rather fruitful year. Their quota for Tangents, Non-Sequiturs and Random Interjections had not only been met but had been well and truly surpassed in comparison with last year’s figures. Never before had so many man hours been poured into watching cat videos online or answering the life-altering questions of, “Which Disney princess/prince/side-kick/talking animal/villain/parental figure/inanimate object best describes your personality?”
The Society’s partnership with Facebook (still unofficial of course; they had not got around to perusing the final paperwork) had been most beneficial for all parties involved.
‘Yes,’ the Chairman mused, rising to stand before the murmuring Society members. ‘A very good year indeed.’
“I call this meeting to order!” said the Chairman, some two hours and thirty-eight minutes after the meeting had been scheduled to start.
He glanced around the room as the conversations hushed. In front of him was a single piece of white paper that held the meeting’s Agenda. It read like this:
- Item 1: Meet and greet
- Item 2: Minutes from the last meeting
- Item 3:
- Item 4: Any other business
Traditionally, Item 3 was always blank. It served as a reminder for The Something they knew they should be doing but, somewhere along the way, had forgotten entirely what that Something was and indeed whether it was today they were supposed to be doing that Something or another Something altogether…
Anyway, it was a reminder of everything they stood for.
“Before we allow ourselves to be side-tracked,” the Chairman continued (a titter of laughter spread through the room at his little ironic jest). “Perhaps the Secretary would be so kind as to present the minutes from our last meeting.”
The Secretary, a small portly man with round glasses, a bald head and a warm smile, stood up to the left of the Chairman.
“Gentlemen,” he said. “At our last meeting on August 8th…” he trailed off. “August 8th?” he repeated. “That can’t be right. Was it really the 8th? Beryl and I weren’t here on the 8th. Are you sure it wasn’t the 18th?”
“No, definitely not the 18th,” the Chairman assisted. “9th perhaps? Or was it the 23rd?”
“No, I was in Epsom on the 23rd,” came a voice from the floor.
“Epsom,” chimed the Secretary. “How lovely. Was there an occasion?”
“My third cousin twice removed on my mother’s side, you know, the one with the lazy eye. It was her 47th Birthday. You should have seen the cake!”
At that, the room descended into mutterings and murmurs of cakes and parties and memorable outings of the past year.
The Secretary and the Chairman conversed amiably about their respective wives’ baking.
“… twenty-five minutes on Gas Mark four. And not a minute longer,” the Secretary told the Chairman, recounting his own Victoria Sponge experiments. And then it hit him. Minutes! He stood up again and cleared his throat loudly.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen! Please forgive my segue.” He earned a cheer for that. “The minutes from our last meeting. 5th!” He exclaimed. “August 5th, now I recall. It was before Beryl and I went away, that’s right. I don’t know where you got the 23rd from.”
“I was maybe thinking of the year before,” the Chairman suggested.
“Perhaps,” the Secretary said, having the presence of mind, for once, not to let the Chairman derail the meeting further. “The minutes from our last meeting on August 5th 2017 have been circulated amongst your good selves. I will summarise…”
The next hour and a half was filled with anecdotes and reminiscings of their previous meeting. Those gathered were reminded of the great debate on the correct procedure for folding carrier bags, and the seventy-three-step, pre-work arrangements and rituals that should be adhered to for all Home Office Workers, and the ninety-eight variations thereto that could be applied for students, artists, writers, retirees, the recently infirm, and traffic wardens (you really had to be there to appreciate the nuances of the latter).
“… and finally, for those fortunate enough to have remembered our annual retreat –” five people in the room of fifty-two looked pleased with themselves. “– we hear a fine time was enjoyed by all and I am sure they will share at length their stories should you ask.”
The Secretary put down his notes. “If there are no objections, amendments or addenda to these minutes, I move that the minutes be accepted to stand as public record of the meeting.”
After some further critiquing and hair splitting over the minutiae of the minutes, they were passed and the meeting continued.
The traditional thirteen minutes’ awkward silence was observed in respect of the ever elusive Item 3 before the Chairman rose once again from his seat. By now, it was nearly midnight.
“Item 4, gentlemen. Any other business.” He paused to allow his members time to voice their issues. No-one stirred.
“If no-one objects,” he continued. “I would like to present to the meeting a letter written to our Society by members of the League of Pointless Exercises.” There were mutterings of distaste among those gathered.
“Our esteemed colleagues,” the Chairman read. “Whilst we at the LPE have over the years enjoyed the rivalry and battle of wits that has abounded between our two organisations, we feel in this current economic climate that perhaps it is time to unite against a common enemy – Excel Spreadsheets.” The murmurings in the room had stopped, everyone’s attention transfixed by the contents of the letter. The Chairman continued.
“For too long this menace has been in our midst, flaunting its message of productivity and advancements, while simultaneously stealing wholesale from the founders of our great organisations. It is time that this electronic imposter be exposed, and order restored. We therefore urge all members of the Procrastinators Anonymous Society to join us in a pro-active stance against the use of spreadsheets in board meetings, sub-committees and accounting departments. We, as members of the League of Pointless Exercises, feel aggrieved that our own strategies have been twisted by Executives for their own gain. We trust that you at the PAS feel the same way. We look forward to hearing from you with your response and, no doubt, support for this noble, if ultimately futile cause.” The Chairman folded the letter and placed it in his jacket pocket. “Your thoughts, gentlemen?”
No-one spoke for a moment or two. Eventually, Mr Josephson, a member of some thirty plus years’ standing, stood to his feet.
“If the Chairman would allow,” he said firmly. The Chairman nodded his consent. “I feel that the League does, on this occasion, have a valid point to make. I remember the Great Data Gathering Debate of ’86 that ultimately led to the formation of the two separate organisations of this Society and the League.” The other members muttered their admiration of Josephson’s long service and excellent memory.
“However,” Josephson continued. “I have my concerns and would like to go on record as such that the League’s call for a pro-active stance at this stage seems a little drastic and somewhat premature.”
“Your concerns are noted, Mr Josephson,” said the Chairman, glancing to his left to ensure the Secretary had indeed recorded the same in his minutes. Satisfied the entry had been made, the Chairman continued. “I think it is safe to say that your concerns are shared by many here.” The members nodded almost in unison. “We are all well aware of the League’s history of rushing to action ill prepared.”
“Mr Chairman,” another member interjected and stood up. He was a young man, barely fifty-five and not known to the majority of those gathered. “Did the League give a deadline for our response to their proposal?”
The Chairman scanned the letter again. “They did not,” he confirmed.
The newly standing member smiled. “In that case, may I make a proposal of my own?” The attention of the room was on him. “Pro-action, as so rightly pointed out by yourself and Mr Josephson, is not in our nature. None of us here joined this Society in an attempt to be pro-active about anything. Surely any discussion of pro-action for any cause is a matter to be included in Item 3 of our agenda for the next meeting?”
The mood in the room seemed to lift immediately. There were calls of “He’s right!” and “Here! Here!” from all corners.
The Secretary glanced up from his minutes as the Chairman called the room back to order.
“I must say,” the Secretary addressed the member standing in the middle of their conference. “You show remarkable wisdom for one so young. Might I enquire your name, Sir, for the purposes of the minutes?”
“George,” the man replied. “George Goodall.”
“Well, Mr Goodall,” the Chairman took over. “Thank you for your valuable insight. Would you be so kind as to propose your motion officially?”
“I propose,” Goodall bristled with pride. “That the Society should officially put the League’s proposal on the back burner until such time as a reasoned debate on the merits and drawbacks of pro-action can be discussed.”
“Excellently put,” the Secretary commented as he scribbled down each word.
“Do we have a Second?” the Chairman asked.
Josephson raised his hand.
“All those in favour?”
Every hand in the room was raised.
“Opposed?” the Chairman asked as a formality. “Abstaining?” No-one stirred. “Motion carried. The League’s proposal shall be put off until a later date.”
A consenting applause rippled through the room. Those closest to Goodall clapped him on the shoulder in congratulations as he took his seat one more, beaming from ear to ear at the recognition.
“In that case,” the Chairman announced. “Does anyone have any further business to discuss?”
This was usually when at least one member would strike up a lengthy discussion to carry them into the small hours of the morning. Tonight, however, the letter from the League seemed to have given everyone plenty to ponder and so no hands raised with additional comments attached to them.
“Excellent,” the Chairman said glancing at his watch. Twenty-three minutes past midnight. “Meeting closed.”
No-one noticed the gentleman at the very back of the room slip out quickly after the meeting’s closure was announced. He pulled his coat about him against the cold midnight air as he climbed into the passenger’s seat of the car parked on the other side of the street.
“Well, Simpson?” the man in the driver’s seat enquired. Howard Herbert, Chairman of the League of Pointless Exercises was eager to learn what his colleague had heard.
“Your letter was read, sir,” Simpson answered. “The Society will be considering our proposal at a later date.”
“Was a date set for that consideration?” Herbert asked.
Herbert sighed. It was as predicted, but not as hoped. “Those bloody procrastinators,” he muttered quietly. “Do we have to do everything around here?”
“There is one positive, sir,” Simpson said trying to lift his superior’s spirits.
“What is that?”
“Well, we can count this evening’s efforts as a thoroughly successful Pointless Exercise.” Simpson smiled nervously.
“Indeed, Simpson,” Herbert said, a smile of his own tugging at the corners of his mouth. “There is always that. Good work.”
Disclaimer: No Spreadsheets (Excel or otherwise) were harmed or deleted in the telling of this story.
Copyright © Rachael Farrimond 2019