It was my last week with City banker Gerstein de Yong Twitchett. I wanted to leave on a high note to avoid having a re-run of my nightmare assignment at Milton Maynard Council. The signs were bad when Clive Patterson, GdeYT's head of information transformation, called me into a meeting with the HR director, Tanya Wilson.
"We've a big problem," said Tanya. "We're losing our financial wizards to a competitor. A half million bonus isn't motivating them any more - we need something that'll grab them by the balls." Patterson nodded. "My programmers will make it work, you just have to come up with the concept."
All I had to do was motivate people who found #500,000 uninspiring? Perhaps Grimsby Council needed a consultant. I retreated to my office and stared at the wall. Nothing came to me. A day passed.
Tanya called. "Can you make a meeting on Friday?" she said. "We're calling the high flyers together. You can present your plan directly to them.
That way we can get instant feedback." Brilliant. My one hope had been to make the report so convoluted that it would take weeks to realise I wasn't proposing anything original. Now there would be no hiding the result.
Grimsby was too cushy. Did they have a council at Windscale?
Without a single idea I resorted to watching television for hours at a time. Even Supermarket Sweep and the Midweek Lottery was better than contemplating utter humiliation. I spent Thursday evening wandering around the offices, watching the whiz kids race Scalextrix Ferraris and play with their designer combo mobile phone/PDA/GameBoys.
And then it came to me. I knew how Archimedes felt when he dropped the apple in the bath (or was that Steve Jobs?). I saw the whole thing.
A hush fell over the crowd as I prepared to reveal my proposal. Even the yo-yos stopped. Tanya looked tense; if this idea didn't work they were in trouble. "Welcome," I said, "to the new GdeYT reward package." I cued my first slide. A low moan came from the audience. Tanya looked queasy. "We're going to scrap bonuses," I said. "No more obscenely large across-the-board payouts. Instead, there's a two-stage scheme." Tanya peeked between her fingers. "First, everyone achieving target will have a one minute trolley dash in Toys Us or The Gadget Shop. Whatever you grab, you keep." A roar shook the room. I was taken aback for a moment, until I realised they were smiling. Tanya had assumed the crash position.
"Secondly, all but #2 million of the cash previously paid in bonuses goes to charity. You choose which. Each of you also receives a lottery ticket, and the lucky winner gets two million - four times the bonus you had before." This time the cheers were unmistakable. Tanya peeked around and stood up with a big smile that said: "I expected this all along." I just looked modest. And very, very relieved.
Some parts of Atacama have not received rainfall for 500 years - but a sudden deluge of water upset the Desert's delicate biological balance
Spitzer Space Telescope could not spot Oumuamua, suggesting that it is actually pretty small
Greenland crater one of the 25 largest impact craters on Earth
This long-sought progenitor star was identified in an image captured by Hubble in 2007