Today the UK government commits suicide and sets Europe on the road to disintegration. Here is a memory of some of my European colleagues:
We never really knew what Kuypers did. We all agreed it was not much, but he was a familiar presence. When the ding of the lift announced the rattle of the coffee trolley emerging on to our floor, Kuypers was always at the front of the queue, chatting courteously to anyone who would listen. He was a very nice, elderly Belgian, harmless and perhaps because of that likeable. In our multinational hothouse of intrigue and ambition Kuypers posed no threat.
He received a long service medal on his retirement and gave a farewell lunch in a restaurant to which he invited all of us in the Development Division of the European Commission. It was a pleasant occasion but since we all lunched out so often to fill the void between mid day lunch and the three o’clock reappearance of the coffee trolley, it was not particularly memorable. It was all quite low key and relaxed. There were no speeches.
The Christmas holiday break came soon afterwards and we did not expect to see our colleague again. We probably would not have missed him or thought about him at all. Then to our surprise we found him back in the office in the New Year. He had taken a special contract to work on some unspecified project. Although it was emphasized that this was temporary and short term, he turned up more often and stayed later than in his full time days when he was either on a cure, a mission, leave or had gone to Switzerland to have his pacemaker checked.
On the day his special contract ran out he asked us all home for a meal in his modest third floor apartment off the Avenue Louise. It was done in great style. Those who arrived first drank a sparkling rosé while they waited for everyone else to come up. The shaky old cage lift was capable of hoisting only three people at a time and it occurred to no one to use the stairs. When plump and flighty Nicole stepped in to make up her trio the lift refused to respond. She got upset when Gerhardt joked, if indeed the serious German had meant it as a joke, that Nicole must weigh enough for two. However he immediately made amends by stepping gallantly outside and clicking the folding grill shut behind him. The rackety lift shook and struggled up with Nicole and the petite Madame Malaise who, rummaging in her bag for her homeopathic pills had not even noticed the contretemps.
Nicole had no time to sulk. She had to prepare her face and hair for her entrance to the salon, where upon arrival each guest was invited to draw a ticket from a top hat and keep it safe. The little flat was crammed full of a variety of small tables at which we were urged to take our places. We were waited upon by a butler and a maid in uniform and served with a choice of rich paté with cocktail onions and gherkins. The main dish was cassoulet, this too almost entirely meat and very rich. To refresh our palates a salad followed and we finished with ice cream and champagne. Before the dessert, however, we were given a break to open the parcels which were distributed according to the number on those tickets we had drawn on arrival.
The “presents” were false noses, comic hats, costume jewellery, self adhesive moustaches and beards. A young French colleague nick-named Le Faux-Marginal who had an unkempt beard in keeping with his professed revolutionary tendencies got a little moustache which he stuck to his forehead. Some of our more serious colleagues were very embarrassed, but most embarrassed surprisingly were the office jokers. Suave Lothario refused to wear his beard and moustache, two others could not put on their false noses because the own noses were bigger, Nicole would not try on her pretty paper crown because it might have spoiled her coiffure, but Le Chameau, who always appeared miserable, fixed on his pirate earrings without a second thought and continued to look morose. He needed only a parrot on his shoulder.
I wondered whether Kuypers was laughing at us all but I do not see how he could have manipulated the lottery to this extent. Any embarrassment was soon dissipated by the champagne and we sobered up with strong espresso before making our farewells.
We returned severally and very late to the office having, as I thought, said goodbye to Kuypers and his wife for the last time. But adieu it was not. Back in the gloomy building I bumped into the old man again still stalking the corridor. We were both a little embarrassed. I thanked him again for the lunch. He thanked me for having come. I could think of nothing more to say. Kuypers looked at his watch and by way of apology remarked that his contract still had one hour to run.