We have now turned the corner in the exhibition and we are heading towards the exit. We are not there quite yet, but when we get there I promise we can rest a while in the exhibition cafe with a bun and a well-earned cup of tea – my treat, you will have earnt it. For now, however, I have a few more things to show you.
The last three exhibits have been letters. Letters tend to invite a quieter pause and a chance to reflect without the expectation of finding meaning. Reading a letter shuts out the wider world and takes us to a more intimate place where the voice of the writer meets the eyes and ears of the reader. It is a place where we can be lost in plain sight and transported without moving. When words are like this, they are like musical notes, and the feelings and memories they evoke take us away from the moment to somewhere personal, precious and uniquely ours. When words are like this, they can become a melody for an idea and a hook for a thought to return again and again whenever we need it.
And yet sadly the vast majority of the words we receive and send every single day, especially in our work, carry so little melody, or anything remotely tuneful that we would care to remember. So many words, and yet so little resonance that we can be overwhelmed with the pointlessness of it all; if we are not careful we can find ourselves living in a relentless soundscape devoid of joy, noticing only how empty vessels make the most noise.
We know this to be true, because we feel it every day, but the solution we have devised is not to seek meaning, or even to turn off the noise, but to say even more and spin those sounds ever faster and louder.
As we move away from the three letters in this exhibition, and the quiet calm they offer, may I please ask you to hold the thought that we should never move away from the power, beauty and joy just a few kind words can bring when we land them softly amid the din that we must all live within.
The next exhibit I want to show you is a client meeting room in the London Wall office of the law firm Osborne Clarke.
Lawrence and I had arrived to meet with executives and partners to discuss a possible collaboration that would see Osborne Clarke support The LBCambridge Programme. It is a journey we had been on before with other law firms and publishers. Like most conferences and events this support is essential and we have been blessed to work with many wonderful people over the years who have been generous and kind, and helped us to secure a sustainable foundation on which to build these fragile but wonderful experiences we are lucky enough to curate.
On this day in 2014 Lawrence and I were hopeful that Osborne Clarke would come on board, but we didn’t know how they would approach the relationship and what they wanted to get from it.
The meeting room we used that day was plain and unprepossessing. The artwork felt like its purpose was to break up the wall rather than to carry a message or a theme. On top of a grey stationery cupboard top, white cups and saucers were lined up next to the ubiquitous metal jugs of coffee and hot water. A few shortbread biscuits were arranged on a plate and unbranded bottles of still and sparkling water completed the scene.
This room was quietly and unapologetically a place for a meeting, plain and simple, and definitely not an experiential installation for the ego of an interior designer that has got giddy with a budget and who believes a statement colour is more important that the words humans might speak when talking to each other. This was a room without an agenda; it was magnolia chic, and I loved its modesty and its willingness not to get in the way of conversation.
The meeting started and was polite and business-like. It felt positive up to a point, but also a little as if the handbrake was on. It felt like something was missing. It felt monochrome when we could do with a dash of colour.
Then, the door swung open and suddenly colour flooded in. Ray Berg, Managing Partner, was in the room – white t-shirt, faded blue jeans, serious statement trainers and fizzing with energy that was carbonated goodwill.
Ray couldn’t enter a room quietly if he tried (I hope he never tries). “Hello, I’m Ray, have you done the deal yet?”
I think I said something like “Hi Ray, I’m Paul, this is Lawrence, we would love to do a deal, I think we just want OC to be sure.”
“Great” said Ray, “Of course we want to do a deal, can’t wait!”
Although I am pretty sure that what he actually said was,
“Great, of course we want to do the fucking deal, oops, sorry, excuse my French, I mean deal, can’t wait. Has everyone got a coffee?” but that might be something I misheard.
Anyway, the deal was done and so entered into my life one of the most influential forces of nature I have ever met.
Ray might be like one of those pop stars that are unambiguously known by one name. I don’t think anyone would ever say “which Ray do you mean?” or “Ray who? But this could, of course, be a negative. The possibility of straying towards diva-like tendencies would be a concern, as would the risk of a personal brand overtaking the business brand. However, there is nothing negative in knowing Ray.
Over the years since that first meeting in the magnolia chic meeting room in London Wall, the people of Osborne Clarke have been kind, loyal, caring, supportive, grateful, strong and nurturing. Each partner, associate, executive, manager and colleague has met us as people first. We have been vulnerable with them and sometimes they have been vulnerable with us. From the beginning it was never actually about “a deal” but about connection and relationship.
Writing this part of the story I wondered if Ray would like the exhibition, or if he would disappear at some point and seek out another can of Coke, but I think he would stay as long as the company was good. Ray loves people and he especially loves his people. I have never seen anyone who cared more with such an obvious passion for his colleagues. I won’t drip with clichés at this point, but I will just say that if “love is all you need” is open to misplaced optimism, it certainly helps.
The contrast between Ray the man and the meeting room where we met for the first time makes me smile. Both confound the stereotype. The colour, contrast and creativity of a space should come from the people within it, and not the soft furnishings. Let the people shine and a tent can become a palace. Magnolia chic is permission to be whatever is needed, whenever it is needed.
Ray lives his life to an Ibiza dance music beat where the tracks of his days are about throwing light onto opportunity, kindness, making a mark, loving the success of colleagues and friends and wringing every drop of difference from a moment in time. Ray, I love you to bits my friend, thank you for all you have given to me and all you have shown me about kindness, leadership, friendship and caring.
In this exhibition I know I will revisit the magnolia chic meeting room from 2014 often. It will remind me always that it is always the people who bring the colour into the room to do the fucking deal.
Take care. Paul xx
To be continued