Confessions of a benefits manager: Age concern

An invitation to an actuaries’ annual dinner promises an evening of boredom, albeit in luxurious surroundings, but ends up bringing Candid some unwanted attention from the older generation

I don’t know what came over me, but I have accepted a dinner invitation. Some people jump at the chance of a corporate jolly, but I have done too many of them to be seduced. Mark, my contact at Smarmy Consulting, has invited me to the annual dinner organised by a professional institute of actuaries.

I mentioned the invite to my brother-in-law, who happens to be an actuary. He said they are the most incredibly boring events and he never goes to them. Now when an actuary says something is boring, you know it is really boring – unimaginably dull, in fact. And yet, for some inexplicable reason, I have gone and said yes.

And no, please do not think I fancy the consultant or anything like that. He is a foot shorter than me, for a start. And married. A ghastly thought occurs to me: what if Mini-Mark fancies me? I mean, of all the clients, why pick one who never actually gives him any work? I can not think of anything worse – an evening surrounded by actuaries, fighting off the advances of a two-timing tiny. Why exactly did I say yes? I spend the day trying to think of a convincing excuse, but my conscience won’t let me bail out at the last minute. Mini-Mark made a point of letting me know the tickets cost over £100 each. It looks like I will have to go. He would never get another client to come at such short notice.

One good thing about it all is that the event is held in one of the fancy embassy buildings in London. We roll up and are greeted very nicely by the attach» and some other diplomatic bloke, who wave us up a sweeping staircase to the main hall. There, rows of waiters stand with little silver trays full of champagne cocktails. Perhaps it won’t be so bad after all. Waitresses in black with white aprons mingle around with trays of tiny salmon blinis. I look around for someone with a huge pile of Ferrero Rocher chocolates, but I am sadly disappointed. They don’t run embassies like they used to.

I manage to down two glasses of champagne before we are ushered into another room for dinner. It is a proper old-fashioned ballroom, with twinkling chandeliers, Adams fireplaces, and plasterwork friezes on the walls. If only mum could see me now. Slightly giddy from bubbly, I am glad to sit down, even if it is sandwiched between my little friend and another ancient-looking actuary called Cedric.

I am intrigued to find that Mark has asked another client along, an attractive redhead seated on his right. She must provide a lot more projects for Smarmy Consulting because he spends most of the time chatting to her. Weirdly, I feel jealous. After all, I gave up a perfectly good evening in front of the telly to be here tonight, and I am not happy to be ignored.

Cedric, on my other side, decides to take up the slack. This could be his opportunity to woo me away to a rival firm. He starts to talk about liability-driven investment strategies and moving to a yield-curve approach. He really knows how to impress a girl. Yawn.

I think Mark must have noticed the competition because he turns to chip in. His firm is careful to use a yield-curve approach only in the right circumstances; for many companies, a simplified approach is the better option. Given that I have no idea what either of them is talking about, a simplified approach sounds good to me. At that point, just as my head is spinning with all the talk of asset classes and longevity risks, the after-dinner speaker is announced. Hurrah, some light relief.

But light relief seems unlikely. The speaker is a famous mathematician (apparently) and he is going to talk about his book on the history of geometry. Can this really be happening to me? Actually, the talk is quite good and, to my surprise, I can easily keep up. I guess if you want to sell books on maths, you need to dumb down your message for the masses. He talks about the golden proportion and its use in major works of art.

While I am engrossed in the talk, I feel a hand on my knee. Yikes. Oh my God, I was right about Mini-Mark from the start. I look down at the offending hand and am horrified to find it is actually connected to Cedric. Eeeuw. He is 70 years old if he is a day. I really must change my perfume – it is like catnip to pensioners. They are always coming on to me unexpectedly. I remove the hand with suitable disdain and flounce off to the Ladies.

I have to say the facilities are rather impressive. A lady in a white apron hands you a fluffy hand towel all of your own when you have washed your hands. There is a line of individual dressing tables, each one with a selection of designer cosmetics and scent. There is a velvet chaise longue in case you are feeling tired. I could live in here.

I squirt on a dash of ‘Youth Mist’, hoping it will work as granddad repellent, and return to the table. Cedric continues to ogle me. Blast. He tries to show off his knowledge of pensions legislation, and I neatly switch the conversation to age discrimination. Rather pointedly, I say I assume his company must offer flexible retirement to its older actuaries. He does look a bit uncomfortable at that. Encouraged, I ask him about mortality rates in the finance sector. He seems to lose interest in talking to me. Phew.

Next time…Candid crosses swords with her arch enemy.