Tonight I am the guest speaker at The Next Generation's monthly meeting. TNG is the youth (well, under 30) wing of the Adam Smith Institute, although I see from their Facebook events page that several oldies intend to sneak in under the radar.
Tonight's subject is Cigarettes and Civil Liberties. They want me to speak for ten minutes and there are no questions so I assume we will spend most of the time drinking and talking about the election, which is fine by me.
By coincidence the meeting is at The Phoenix pub in Palace Street, a few minutes from Victoria Station and directly opposite the office Forest occupied for six years until February 2005.
We spent many a long lunch in The Phoenix but I preferred the cafe a few doors down. Owned and run by a hard-working Spanish family, I loved going there early in the morning, especially if I had stayed overnight in the office. (Several times a month I would sleep on a sofa after working late or going to some late night soiree. In the morning I would wake up to the rumble of a tube train as it passed through a tunnel directly beneath the building.)
That office cost us, though. I inherited it when Forest was 12 months into a ten-year lease with the option to cancel after three or six years. (The idea that we would sign a ten-year lease seems rather incongruous now, but those were different times.) Anyway, I grasped the escape clause after six years because the office was by then costing us £50k a year.
In the long run it was the right decision but at the time it cost us an additional and unexpected £40k in "reparations" (ie restoring the office to the condition it was in before we moved in).
Some reparations were plain petty - replacing the "Exit" sign above the main door, for example, because it had allegedly got scratched. Likewise the stainless steel sink in the kitchenette.
All these things added up, especially the cost of removing (yes, removing) a state of the art air filtration system that had been installed to allow staff and visitors - notably our genial pipe-smoking chairman Lord Harris - to light up without exposing everyone to a fug of smoke. As a non-smoker it was my first experience of such a system in an office and it worked beautifully.
In fact I never had a problem with anyone smoking in the Palace Street office and I defy anyone to tell me that my health was at greater risk in that office than it was in Palace Street itself which was frequently used by cabs and cars as a short cut between Victoria Street and Buckingham Palace Road.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, we employed solicitors to appeal against the cost of the reparations. They reduced the figure to £29k, charged us £7k, and so the final bill was a mere £36,000. Result!
This evening's event will bring back a lot of memories. One thing I can guarantee. I won't be sleeping on a sofa in the office tonight.