I worked too long for this events company putting together conferences evangelising computers. We
took a roadshow across Europe, a dog and pony show with yee-hah speakers. The aim was to get
institutions excited enough to sign over big money for something they’d been convinced was a
solution to all their ills and left their employees to make them work. Naturally the answers were held
by the computing company itself, who made even more money with service contracts for the tech
they’d sold. Not that they had all the answers, which were camouflaged by ambiguities and
omissions in the manuals. Organisations paid a fortune for buggy tech and helped developers refine
it into something more or less functional for the next batch of customers anointed with digital snake
oil. Hard to flow when the game is rigged.
Theoretically, we’d do the same show every time. Only, that never happened. You wake up in
Frankfurt hotel and go downstairs to a canteen-style breakfastorium full of cold meats and cheeses.
It’s brisk and efficient, if you’ll forgive the stereotype. Same with the airport, etc. And then do a
repeat performance in Portugal, except it’s different. There’s no box on a spreadsheet for culture.
The translator for the budget Tony Robbins hosting things saw through his bullshit and her choice of
words made that clear to some delegates. Plus, the venue was minutes away from a beach, so how
to keep delegates pumped to buy when they can walk in sand and step into the sea?
The results from all these events are consolidated in a proprietary format, to be looked at by
someone who’s never left Utah and sees no reason to. But Pearl knows figures. And those numbers
go up and they go down. She wants them to keep going up – they pay for her kids to get sports
tuition from pros in the year she’s held them back from school. That way they start out ahead of
their classmates as little league champions. She’s cooking the books to give them competitive edge
because that’s what God wants. And it might work in some alpha-dog way when they’re up against
less pumped-up peers, but what happens when they come across wilier kids? Tougher ones? Or ones
who get sick of being trashed by 7 year old proto-jocks and fight back in ways where mommy money
won’t help? If they grow up thinking confidence is about knowing you can win, do they even know
there are times that aren’t about coming first?
Six months of this touring thing, and it was an unmerry-go-round. The guy in charge hired actors to
inflate attendee numbers, but of course none were buying anything, so he’s losing money twice over
by the time the figures get back to Pearl. Road crew hadn’t been paid for a month and refused to
pack up the job we’re set for. An exhibition centre in Cardiff. All the A/V kit is running, pastries and
coffee ready for guests, and Don’t Stop Believing is playing. Nobody turns up. Whoever was doing
media locally hadn’t been given their first payment.
And that was the start of it. The best thing that events gig ever did was allow an open space for a
non-event to happen. Spontaneously, like they should. And in that space, something else emerged.
Nature abhors a vacuum almost as much as I abhor vacuuming – cleanliness being adjacent to
godliness excludes a lot of the best stuff. We’d been a crew together for months. There were
grievances, rivalries, but we got things done. It was tense for a while, but someone changed the
music from corporate anthems to Stax Funk, and you can’t bear grudges when Castle of Joy is
playing. That became our theme for the day, and things got messy in good ways when we
remembered there was a castle in Cardiff. We decided to storm it – with love.