Monday, 12 November 2012


So I was at the Packaging Your Imagination conference in Toronto yesterday -- me and a couple of hundred other writers for children.  And you know what I remember most vividly about the day?  Lunch.  It's not that I didn't have a great time hanging out with old friends and making new ones;  it's not that I didn't learn stuff at the master classes, and get a kick out of prancing around on stage (yes, sadly, that is me in the photo) and making myself and others laugh.  But lunch marked a real change for me.  Not the meal itself, which was sandwichy salady straightforward.  It was the venue.

The conference took place at a college on the University of Toronto campus.  Lunch was in the dining hall, and there was a High Table and I -- this is where my eyes widened and my breath quickened slightly -- I was instructed in no uncertain terms to sit myself there.  

Are you sure?  I said.  
Yes, said the bossy lady with the bundle of sticks, standing in the doorway.
I've never eaten at High Table before, I said.  Are there rules?  Do I have to talk to the person on my left first?  Can I swear?  Do I have to finish my meal before I can get a dessert? 

She frowned, gestured, and I took my plate in my trembling hands, made my way up (yes up -- High Table is actually two steps above the level of the floor) to my place.  I sat between two people who were so at ease that they were clearly used to High Tables.  They were not a bit snobbish, and answered my questions very naturally. By the end of the meal I was able to make a small joke -- one of those zen master and a rabbi  and a necrophiliac jokes -- and the polite laughter all round the table told me I had hit the right note.  Then we dispersed to our afternoon sessions.  It took my blood pressure some time to come down.

All right, maybe I am making this a bigger deal than it was.  But I was not comfy up there.  I had a moment thinking, I am not a High Table guy.  There's nothing special about the way I eat lunch -- nothing to mark me out from the other lunchers.  If I ran the Packaging conference --- well, it would be a complete failure  because I would forget to book the venue or get the date wrong or something --  there wouldn't be a High Table.  Or, better yet, there'd be High Tables for everyone.  And no fascists telling us where to sit.

I ran into a very energetic forward-planning lady at the after party.  She is already thinking about next year.  She asked if  I had any suggestions.  Packaging Your Imagination is perfect, I said, except for one thing.  I turned to get my drink and when I turned back she was gone.  Oh well.  I wonder if she reads my blog?


Marilyn said...

Problem: high table
Solution: Richard saws off table legs, because he happens to have a saw with him, and doesn't want to seem superior.
Problem: Food from other end of high table starts to roll down to Richard's end
Solution: Richard shoots the food back and it all becomes a lively game, somewhat like bowling.
Problem: High table is disgraced.
Solution: No more high table next year. Presenters sit outside the dining room. No saws allowed.

Richard Scrimger said...

Not bad. Or maybe we could do something with carpenter ants ...

Marilyn said...

I'm not coming then.

That is an excellent conference! I wish it happened a few times a year. Love that atmosphere! I've actually been going to it almost since the beginning. Missed some years, but have heard many authors speak, and been inspired over and over again.

Danielle Leonard said...

I wasn't invited to the high table, which is fair, because I am not an official author, much less a speaker to authors. However, when I was looking for a place to sit in the room with the high table, I felt like the high table people were looking at me as I searched for a low table to sit at. It was a touch awkward. I left the room and sat at a corner table in the lobby. I guess I'm a lobby dining kinda' person.
BTW: your talk at the end of PYI was excruciatingly entertaining. Thanks for that!

patricia said...

Could not agree with you more.

Nix the high table. Oy.