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I thought that the idea of ad agency types brainstorming over Chablis and dry-roasted peanuts was a typical piece of apocrypha until I was invited to one. Interestingly, the product in question was dry roasted peanuts, so there were bowls of them on the frosted glass-topped table. The Chablis was in ice buckets, which shows a certain sense of style.
Why, oh why, they invited me I do not know. A friend of mine worked at the agency and had mumbled something about wanting a different opinion. He went on to say, darkly, that if anyone had different opinions it was Gruff. I took it as a compliment.
So I went along. I can’t say that I was particularly happy at the prospect of sitting around a table with a bunch of yahoos dressed in over-large shirts and sporting pony tails, but I was nevertheless intrigued to see the whole process of creative thinking, so celebrated by the agency world, at work.
My first mistake was deciding that I didn’t like anyone around the table. There were three girls and four men, not counting me. The girls were smart, dressed up to the nines and drawlingly, casually superior and the guys were so hip they kept their pockets sewn to avoid ruining the lines of their pinstripe trousers.
The girls had already thrown me pitying glances: I was, as usual, dishevelled and wearing jeans and a scruffy purple shirt. The guys were being nice to me, which I hated. So I sulked.
My second mistake was saying ‘No thanks’ to the offer of a Perrier and getting stuck straight into the Chablis. Very nice, too.
The session started with a guy called Nick asking people for ideas on positioning peanuts. This made me snort into my Chablis and got me a withering glare from a girl in Red called Bryony.
“Well, actually, Nick, I think we’ve got a category killer here if we can position it right against the health food freaks, you know?” said Bryony. “Like, we’ve got artificial flavourings to deal with here, so let’s just make a virtue of that.”
And now I made my third and most fatal mistake of all. I reached across the table and picked up a handful of the nuts and ate them. The hit was instantaneous, my mouth freeze-dried, like I’d just filled it with that silica dessicant they put in television boxes. The chemical high came on like a steam-train as I munched and crunched, spicy flavours filling my brain and clamouring for attention. My shoulder muscles contracted and I felt my eyes trying to pop out of their sockets. I reached for the Chablis and knocked the glass over in my haste. Ignoring the pool of hooch slowly spreading across the table-top, I refilled the glass and drank deeply.
Suddenly the Chablis tasted soapy. I felt my mouth working, flicked my tongue around to dislodge the little pieces of nut caught in my teeth, realised that everyone had stopped talking and was looking at me as I sat, my mouth stretched into an insane, toothy grin as I tried to reach the nutty bits, my tongue caught between my teeth and my upper lip. I reached for more nuts.
“Right. Great.” Said Nick, in that way that people say right great to mean not. “So let’s move on here. We’re looking at maybe turning it all around, at making a virtue of the flavourings. Kind of, it’s bad for you but that’s what makes it good, yah?”
The second mouthful of nuts was better than the first. I gasped for breath as the powerful chemicals coursed through my veins, sucking the moisture out of my body and tearing at my tongue like highly spiced acid.
“You OK there Mike?” said a girl called Naomi, looking concerned. I didn’t care. She was distorting, now, becoming Daliesque, her full torso melting and drooping over a forked stick. Voices started to moan in my head as I drank more of the cold white liquor. Everyone had stopped talking.
“No. No, I’m not alright.” I heard myself saying through a mountain of cotton wool. “Have you eaten these things? Have you actually tasted what you’re trying to sell to people? This isn’t legal. These things are dangerous.”
Nick was laughing, nervously now. “Sure, Mike. They’re great, aren’t they?”
I was standing now, could feel myself weaving. “No they’re not. They’re fuller of chemicals than ICI. We’ve gone beyond this, surely! People are aware of what they’re eating these days, they don’t want to munch on man-made hyper-flavourings any more. This stuff drives kids mad. You can’t sell this!”
The rush was dying, so I took more nuts and Chablis. I tried to go on speaking, but the mixture was solidifying in my mouth like concrete, a kind of peanut butter lockjaw held me silent, standing up in front of them all, my eyes rolling and my jaw clenching spastically as I tried to manage the serious symptoms of toxic shock.
“Er, Mike, don’t you think you perhaps should…”
“Shut up!” I shouted, holding onto the table for stability, throwing my arm out and strewing nuts across the wet table top. The group sat, nervous and even scared, looking at me through wide eyes. “This is evil! Evil! You are twisted, monstrous.” Flecks of nut were escaping my mouth, but I didn’t care. “This isn’t FOOD!” I roared at them, grabbing more nuts. “This is the SLUT of all nuts!”
I stood glaring balefully at them all, as Bryony came out of her trance and sat forward and then stood, a shocked look on her face.
“Oh my God.” She said and then, turning to the others with a grin. “That’s brilliant!”
I collapsed, gibbering, into my chair.
My friend says that they won’t be asking me to any more brainstormings. Apparently they were very grateful for the idea, which they used. But they felt that perhaps it was best not to let people know that you didn’t have to work at an ad agency to come up with brilliant creative ideas. I met the girl Bryony at a party a few weeks later. She smiled nervously at me when I said hello and then left a few minutes afterwards. Apparently her tortoise was ill and she had to go home to look after it.