Photograph of Lord AshdownThe cliché says clothes make the man. This is untrue;
attitude and behaviour make the man. Unfortunately, my attitude and
behaviour are made of the same colour-clashing, itchy hessian as my

Trade journalists are honest nerds,
so stuffed with information that we have neither space nor time to
remember how to dress, socialise or be cool. My last concession had
been a dress-down PR event with a manufacturer. I wore new jeans
that were so tight I couldn’t get my tickets out.

Luckily, Mrs Brown had chosen a
respectable tie and coat for my birthday and I was able to wear
both to my first industry convention as a Motor Finance
hack last year. Still, my attitude gave me away.

My first bit of networking ended
abruptly after admitting to a finance provider’s CEO that,
actually, I’m a cyclist and, like many people living in London, I
don’t run a car. Had it been an evening affair he may have thrown
his drink at me.

This time, at the Finance &
Leasing Association dinner in late February, it would be different.
It would also be my first time in a tuxedo, borrowed from
Leasing Life’s Grant Collinson, replete with charity shop
laundry tag in the breast pocket.

I was determined to make a better
impression this time, even if it involved talking up car finance
deals that demonstrated my knowledge and network without disclosing
that I myself may not actually, you know, drive cars regularly.

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By GlobalData

I walked to Park Lane from my
office, wearing the penguin suit, all the while imagining that I
was James Bond, or at least Woody Allen or Rowan Atkinson in a
James Bond pastiche.

My cool was immediately shattered
when I admitted to my (female) lawyer companions that it was my
first time in a tux. If in doubt when in the company of powerful
women, I tend to adopt a default ‘mother me’ strategy and, frankly,
I would run out of legal chat within three minutes and half a

I segued instead to my longer-term
strategy for the evening – saying I had my eye on a sporty,
second-hand, three-door runaround that I could get the deposit for
if I sold off the old toys in the loft.

At dinner I gave myself away as
both a vegetarian and a novice at the quick-fire word jousting of

Then Lord Ashdown gave a speech on
geo-politics that terrified me, booming terms like “shared destiny”
and “economic disaster”. I resolved to sell my imaginary car and
buy canned food and shotguns.

Normally, Fred Crawley comes to my
rescue at these points, being far more eloquent and thinking
nothing of drinking in a tux.

Unfortunately, Fred’s excited
manner and attire made me fear I was at a society function with
only a stage magician for back-up. Between us we looked like a
school talent show impersonation of the Pet Shop Boys, circa

Still, he had encouraged me and I
started telling an asset finance manager how I could “test drive a
6-series Bimmer, gotta guy who knows a guy that was able to give me
a discount for cash deposit, put me on a 12-month vehicle swap and
he’d throw in one of those new speed camera immobilisers”.

Fred, however, had run aground. He
had been asked for a light from an attractive, continental woman
wearing a Cabaret-inspired dinner jacket with tails and
shoestring necktie.

He was thrown out of his normal
patter about cruel sensibilities in the business world and looked
confused by the lady waving a Gitanes at him. His only recovery had
been to engage with her in a competition to list all the
securitisations performed in the UK in 2011.

The industry-nerd-journalist spirit
(we call it the ‘Bernstein’) had left me for a moment and found
home in Fred’s heart. Clearly, he needed help. I stepped in,
complemented his companion’s faux-cowhide shoes and turned the
conversation to where she saw securities heading this year.

The evening progressed and if Fred
and I did resemble any icons in dinner jackets thrown up by popular
culture, I realised, it would be Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel in
The Producers, knocking back drinks as we waited for a mob
of scandalised theatre patrons to tear us apart, only to be greeted
with an affectionate audience.

So, deciding to make at least one
fraudulent impression on somebody I told the person next to me that
I had travelled to the dinner in an Aston Martin. It was a lease
from the MoD, paid for from a slush fund set up by a major Chinese
bank, with an interest rate set personally by Eddie George and
underwritten by Thatcher’s own current account.

“I’m the champagne waiter,” he said and I took the Tube home,
the only person in my carriage wearing a clip-on bow tie.