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A Man of a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

Air Minuting

I moved from Europe to join the English subsidiary of our company. On my first morning, I chaired a marketing meeting. That afternoon, I reviewed the minutes as typed by my PA, Kylie. I was amazed and horrified. The standard of English was appalling.

‘Few of the admin staff are any better, particularly the younger ones,’ concluded Jones from Finance as I shared my concerns. ‘We managers write our own minutes and send them to the minute-takers as if they were corrections of their drafts.’

‘Doesn’t anyone highlight the problem to the admin staff?’ I queried.

‘Goodness no,’ gasped Jones. ‘They’d burst into tears and be off with stress before you could say illiteracy.’ He shook his head. ‘Last year, the Director tried to dismiss one due to her poor standard of English.’

‘What happened?’

‘The Union argued that because of the carnage in the English education system since the early eighties, it was simply unreasonable to expect any employee under the age of fifty to be literate.’

‘There are literate younger English people,’ I noted.

‘The Director tried that argument,’ replied Jones. ‘The Union countered that there were always survivors in any major disaster and cited residents of Hiroshima who had lived through the atomic blast in 1945. They argued that ordinary administrative staff should be compared to the majority, not to the lucky few who had somehow learned to read and write.’ Jones again shook his head in despair. ‘Aspirations of literacy for all instantaneously vaporised when progressive teaching methods detonated.’

I acquiesced to the prevailing wisdom. On the positive side, I had to concede that minute-takers tapping away on laptops added an air of professionalism to meetings, even if their output was gibberish. I began to view them as I might coal effects on electric fires or imitation marble surfacing on kitchen worktops: Serving no objective function but contributing a certain ambience.

I might have thought no more about the minute-takers had I not discovered my teenage son experiencing what I initially assumed to be an epileptic seizure. He explained that he was practising air guitar. It appeared that there was much international interest in pretending to play rock or heavy metal-style electric guitar solos on non-existent instruments. Indeed, I gathered there were international competitions and even the annual Air Guitar World Championships.

It was thus I hit upon the concept of air minuting. The administrative staff at our company could bring their creativity to stylish, simulated typing upon banks of virtual laptops without shouldering the onerous burden of assembling real letters into words, nor arranging those words into coherent English sentences.

Kylie was a natural. Her hands would flamboyantly dance across myriad invisible keyboards and, at critical points in meeting discussions, her toes could be observed committing additional imaginary information into an illusory cyberspace.

The rest is history. Companies throughout England could finally cease colluding with their kind, sensitive, well-meaning but illiterate administrative staff in perpetuating the myth that useful documents were being generated. Instead, there could be genuine corporate pride as their finest air minuters carried company honour to national tournaments – perhaps even the National Air Minuting Champonships.

I even confess to shedding a tear as Kylie, despite her difficulty in spelling her own name, climbed the podium to accept her gold medal as National Air Minuting Champion.