“And as you can see from this graph here, I don’t really know how to use PowerPoint,” droned the speaker.  It was a valiant effort, to be fair.  For someone who definitely wasn’t tech savvy, the very fact that one axis went up and the other went across was the sign of a thoroughly decent attempt, and something to be applauded.  Truth be told, if he hadn’t drawn attention to the shoddiness of his bar chart nobody would’ve noticed anyway – most people’s eyes were firmly shut to protect them from the veritable smorgasbord of slide transitions.

To Robert, sitting in the audience with a can of Stella and a falcon on his arm, the whole thing was a total hoot.  He’d been far past drunk since the second talk of the day and was now sitting happily sozzled, taking in very little and haphazardly tossing morsels of bread into the air for Franz to catch in his beak.  Every now and then he would permit himself a roaring belly laugh, entirely at random and completely unrelated to whatever was showing on the board at the time.  At first the other conference attendees found this routine mildly entertaining, but once he’d guffawed at the statement that ‘50% of subjects with acute liver cirrhosis also experienced heart attacks or strokes’ the room rather turned against him.

When Professor Garfield took the stage for his presentation on ‘Kidney stones – I can’t get no satisfaction’, two stewards moved in for the forced removal.  Eight seconds later they were hastily retreating, covered in peck marks, talon scratches and henna tattoos.  “Let that be a lesson to you, fascist scum,” was a very unusual line for the professor to open with, but it certainly caught everyone’s attention.

As the presentation continued it soon became clear that it was really really boring.  A Mexican wave of yawns travelled around the room (which could have gone unnoticed if the participants hadn’t also stood up with grand panache).  No fewer than seventeen games of hangman were simultaneously taking place, as well as eight games of noughts-and-crosses, ten of battleships and eighty-five of Monopoly (Stoke-on-Trent edition).  Realising that a grand total of none of his ‘listeners’ were actually doing it, the Prof decided to make fart noises with his mouth until somebody noticed.  Four hours later, a research assistant raised their hand to ask a question.  Prof. Garfield stopped and motioned for her to speak up.  Unfortunately she interpreted his actions as an offensive gesture and reported him to the local ombudsman.  Robert collapsed in hysterics and sicked up some lager; Franz gratefully received it.

At this point, the events manager walked into the lecture theatre to check on how things were going and why no one had turned up for the coffee break or lunch.  Finding everything to his satisfaction he left and went to Barbados where he fell in love with a waitress, set up a school for the underprivileged, and found a lovely shell which looked shiny if you held it in just the right way.

All of a sudden, someone got Mayfair and Park Lane (you know, the ones round the back of the Port Vale stadium), and everything kicked off.  Laptops were smashed, chairs were ripped out of their fittings, and many bits of otherwise-clean paper were scribbled on.  Shirts were ripped, ties were peanutted, and one attendee had some feathers pulled out.  At the end of it all, sixty conference goers were taken away to hospital; everyone else went to prison, or Sainsbury’s – I can’t remember which.

The room was left empty; the smashed-up furniture, spilled blood and burning curtains the only indicators that anything had ever happened.  The events of that day were seldom to be mentioned by those who survived to tell the tale, but generally when the subject was raised there was one thing on which they all agreed – it was most definitely the best seminar series they had ever had the good fortune to attend.