Deborah Hill Cone: Long live the booze- soaked schmoozefest

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Working as a full-time business journalist I used to get a lot of stiffies (the toff expression for posh invitations embossed on stiff card). When the office mail was delivered to my desk there were always a couple of Basildon Bonds so rigid you might graze yourself opening them: invitations to cocktail parties and awards nights and visiting celebrity fawn-a-thons and $200-a-plate thinktank backslaps.

I could go a whole week getting my full complement of calories from eating things on sticks. I had a pair of uncomfortable shoes under my desk so I could re-hoof myself before clip-clopping to the Sheraton ballroom to whatever corporate bunfight was on. Then I would drink so much I wouldn't notice the blisters. Or notice anything much: making the whole exercise somewhat counterproductive for a journalist. But it seemed jolly at the time.

These days it is considered smart to sneer at the naffness of corporate social events. "Having to make conversation with strangers while ... trying to work out if you should have heard of them is a wretched way to spend an evening," writes scarily shrewd FT columnist Lucy Kellaway, who is so blasé she repeatedly turns down invitations to the world's most powerful schmoozefest, the World Economic Forum at Davos.

And in Generation Y circles it is fashionable to confide you are "such a nana" you'd never go to a corporate function because you are too busy training for "the half" or knitting peggy squares, just to show you are not a wage slave. Well, pants to that.

I've never had the chance to turn down an invitation to Davos but I am not ashamed to say I think going out after work drinking cocktails, talking loud nonsense about bracket creep or collateral debt instruments and being able to rationalise it as "work" is not a bad gig.

My view may be coloured by the fact that these days I am more likely to get an invitation to collect for Plunket than a glitzy stiffy. But I still feel a bit wistful that the bog-standard corporate function, complete with rubber chicken and boring speeches, is under threat.

In today's competitive environment it is harder to get A-list businesspeople along to ho-hum events. There are pile-ups of functions on Thursday nights. And who hasn't seen the embarrassing spread of unclaimed name tags on the table as you arrive, making you feel instantly tragic that you don't have somewhere flasher to be.

Meanwhile the big end of town is suffering from charity ball fatigue. People talk through the obligatory after-dinner charity auction, and blokes are baulking at pulling on their DJ, Metro reports.

"We thought of asking for $200 a head not to come to dinner. And we'd send you a teabag and a packet of Tim Tams [for a pleasant night in front of TV]," joked subversive fundraiser Roxane Horton.

Then there are the health fascists.

Puritanical US multinationals already prissily prefer a breakfast function and you can expect fewer piss-ups after new cancer research telling us we should stop eating meat and drinking.

The sad truth is, corporate functions are convivial if there is a fair amount of browsing and sluicing involved, and quite ghastly if dry.

Even cucumber-cool Lucy Kellaway agrees. "Evenings are simply not designed for work things. But if the worst comes to the worst ... my advice is to drink quite a bit. It numbs the pain."

Next week I am going to a couple of corporate functions which are always top-notch - the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year and the Business Roundtable's Sir Ron Trotter lecture. But I'd be looking forward to them a lot more enthusiastically if I wasn't six months pregnant. So much for stiffies.

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