The first week of January is always a shock. The return to work comes just as mind and body have settled into the slower rhythms of Christmas. The forced leisure of captivity, food and boredom makes the days, more than ten of them this year, bleed into one another. There is an abdication of responsibility. A pleasantness that compensates for the discomforts of being away.
And then it ends. For everyone. At the same time. In London this makes the first commute back after the break particularly ill-tempered. There is the shock of being jolted from our repose, resentment of the sudden, sullen crowds, a disappointment of returning to familiar, well-trodden routines. These unchanged routines that bear witness to the failures of resolutions past; that serve as reminders of time passing. Running out.
I was prepared for this on the way to work. I was not prepared for the email I read when I got there, informing the whole office that one of our youngest, most respected and well-liked directors had died suddenly over Christmas. I stared out across the grey, rain sodden city as I tried, and failed, to absorb this news. It was an hour before I felt ready to return to my desk and make some attempt to start the year.
I was not alone, of course, the news having shocked and upset many of us. And this was not just a matter of Mark not yet being 40; it was a matter of how many people knew and liked him. The number of people for whom he represented something. Something of the best of why we do what we do there. And this goes beyond his motivation and obvious talent – it was more about how he connected with people. A man with little time but who would try to make it regardless; someone, in the words of a friend, who gave a crap about people. Someone whose rise through the ranks I watched with pleasure rather than resignation.
And someone whose sudden death renders the other new year ritual of staff appraisal more meaningless than ever. Almost obscenely so. The awkward set-piece conversation, the scoring against impenetrable competencies, judgements of the standard of your corporate citizenship, the allocation of an overall grade. Last year went well, though I am asked where the excellence is going to come from. I must have mouthed some kind of response but my thoughts were on Mark. You can shove your competencies and grades frankly; if I might be remembered with the humour, respect and affection with which Mark is, I will have contributed something beyond measure. Real excellence, perhaps.
And this is before I even begin to contemplate the gap he leaves for his wife and two young children. Mark’s funeral was today.