Sue Fisher’s office was as expensively austere as the rest of her headquarters, resembling nothing so much as an operating theatre, an impression which was reinforced by the steel furniture and severely focused spotlights. In place of notices exhorting surgeons to wash their hands, the walls bore further maxims of Mind Over Fatty Matter philosophy.
KEEP GOING, BECAUSE FULFILMENT IS JUST AROUND THE NEXT CORNER. THE HORIZON OF PERFECTION IS GETTING CLOSER. NO ONE CAN MAKE ME BETTER THAN I CAN MAKE MYSELF.
(It was not without irony that this last statement should be displayed at the centre of an empire devoted to marketing products which would make people better.)
Somehow even the chrome-framed photographs of Sue Fisher with various heads of state and celebrities presenting her with awards took on the air of X-rays in this clinical environment.
The medical parallel was completed by the surgical green tunic-suit Sue Fisher was wearing. It was one of the latest range of the company’s designs; Mind Over Fatty Matter fashions were now diversifying beyond leisurewear. The suit, in common with all Mind Over Fatty Matter garments, looked much better on Sue Fisher than it would on any member of the public brainwashed into buying one.
The medical analogy could also have been maintained that morning by saying that the knives were out. Sue Fisher knew full well the kind of journalistic carve-up that was going to be attempted, and she relished the prospect. The light of battle gleamed in her eyes.
It gleamed in Ellie Fenchurch’s eyes too. These were two tough women, squaring up to each other. Neither would offer any mercy, or expect any.
Mrs Pargeter relished the confrontation, almost regretting that she could not just sit back to enjoy it as a spectator. She had to remember that she was there to further her investigation.
‘Coffee?’ asked Sue Fisher, once functional introductions had been completed.
Both her guests said yes, that would be very nice.
‘We only serve one kind of coffee here. It’s decaffeinated and made of beans from more than one country, all of whose regimes respect human and animal rights. It’s made with water containing an amalgam of natural salts and minerals. It’s the only one we serve because all other coffees are actually harmful.’
This was a typically uncompromising Sue Fisher sales pitch.
‘This coffee wouldn’t by any chance be a Mind Over Fatty Matter product, would it?’ asked Ellie Fenchurch.
‘And the water — is that one of your products too?’ asked Mrs Pargeter.
Now that really was marketing — to sell not only the coffee, but also the water to make it with.
‘And I suppose it should only be drunk out of Mind Over Fatty Matter mugs…?’
Sue Fisher was either deliberately or genuinely unaware of any irony in Ellie’s tone. ‘It does taste better out of them, yes. The mugs are made from a particular kind of clay I came across when I was on a fact-finding mission in the Gambia.’
‘Fancy,’ said Mrs Pargeter.
‘And they’re fired by a slow method which approximates very closely to sun-drying.’
‘Well, well,’ said Mrs Pargeter.
Sue Fisher turned to a device whose chromium frame, bulbous glass and interwoven tubing continued the medical image, and threw a switch. ‘I had this specially designed in Italy. It’s based on a model I saw out there, but adapted to work on less electricity… you know, for the environment,’ she added piously. ‘It’s the best — and most environment-friendly — coffee machine currently on the market.’
‘And that wouldn’t by any chance be another Mind Over Fatty Matter product, would it?’
‘Yes, Ellie. As a general rule, if something’s the best on the market, then it is a Mind Over Fatty Matter product.’
There was something very unEnglish about Sue Fisher’s certitude, Mrs Pargeter reflected. No diffidence, none of that fatal English mock-modesty. Nor, of course, any leavening of English humour.
Sue Fisher continued. She was evidently prepared to maintain a monologue on the virtues of herself and her company until interrupted. ‘The coffee machine also saves staff time. Everyone here at headquarters has one in their office, whatever their level in the company. Not only is that a convenience, it also avoids all kinds of problems over hierarchy. You’d be surprised how much resentment builds up in the workplace over the simple issue of who is delegated to make the coffee.’
‘So here at Mind Over Fatty Matter everyone makes their own?’
‘You don’t think,’ suggested Ellie, gently poisonous, ‘that that encourages selfishness and lack of community spirit among your staff..?’
Sue Fisher fielded this one expertly. ‘No. The point is that everyone has the right to make their own coffee, and also the right to make coffee for anyone else. You’d be surprised at the level of spontaneous coffee-making for others which goes on within the company.’ She smiled an invulnerable smile. ‘And, incidentally, here at Mind Over Fatty Matter, we don’t use the word “staff”.’
‘Oh, what word do you use instead?’ asked Ellie Fenchurch sweetly. ‘Underlings? Minions? Slaves? Serfs?’
Sue Fisher conceded a humourless laugh. ‘No, we’re all co-workers.’
Mrs Pargeter, who was enjoying this preliminary sparring, waited keenly for Ellie’s response.
‘ Co-workers, eh?’ the journalist echoed. ‘That sounds very impressive. Very… one might almost use the word “idealistic”, Sue.’
‘Ideals are not something I shy away from, Ellie.’
‘Good, good. How refreshing that is to hear in these materialistic times. So… here at Mind Over Fatty Matter, everyone works for everyone else, is that it?’
‘Everyone works for themselves and for everyone else. They all feel part of the same process. The goals of personal fulfilment and the company’s success become indistinguishable.’
‘That’s a very clever idea. You mean,’ Ellie Fenchurch asked innocently, ‘that everyone in the company is on a percentage of the profits?’
For the first time in the interview Sue Fisher coloured. ‘No, I don’t mean that. That would be impractical.’
‘I can assure you we have investigated the possibilities of such an arrangement and I’m afraid it would just be an administrative nightmare.’
‘Oh dear. How distressing.’
‘But there are plenty of incentive schemes and promotion prospects to make all co-workers feel that they can become part of the company’s success.’
‘That is a relief.’ Ellie Fenchurch smiled guilelessly. ‘So, in this sublimely ordered community, all the co — workers beaver away together for the greater good of Mind Over Fatty Matter…?’
‘If you like,’ Sue Fisher replied cautiously.
‘Like bees in a hive, maybe…? All buzzing about, thinking of each other, seeing where they can help out the other bees…?’ Sue Fisher did not argue with this analogy. ‘All producing as much honey as possible so that they can benefit from the hive’s incentive schemes and promotion prospects…?’
Then came the attack. ‘And all of them totally subservient to the queen bee?’
Sue Fisher looked — rather appropriately — stung.