The Bowden Trophy

Laughing girl

Laughing girl (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Life is serious and taking it too seriously robs you of happiness, fun and productivity. A solemn outlook increases stress, squanders creativity and innovation, and stifles progress.  

Making a fool of yourself is often considered a brave or stupid thing to do. To expect the company to do it in unison every year sounds like madness and yet that is what happened every year at BP while I was there. The event, known as the Bowden Trophy took place in the restaurant of BP House. Teams of 10 people competed in a variety of challenges to find the true champions in the company.

Some took it very seriously. Most approached it with trepidation and a sense of humour. From memory, there were about a dozen or so events and a bar was on hand to offer liquid courage to those who needed it.

All of the events involved simple team tasks. There was an element of suggestiveness to most of them. The early rounds were uneventful, but as the evening wore on and the teams became less and less sober, co-ordination started to disappear making the tasks very difficult indeed.

Transferring a polo mint from mouth to mouth using matchsticks and balloons from knees to knees became almost impossible. Transferring a key on a piece of string inside everyone’s clothes becomes slightly easier because when the drink flows, inhibitions disappear. Winning was more about stamina than any level of skill. Most teams retired early to the bar.

People from all over the company took part. Senior management through to the most junior staff. Every department was represented, even the most reserved such as legal and personnel (as they were known before they became human resources).

For one evening of the year, everyone forgot about the hierarchy. We left all the stresses and strains of keeping the wheels of industry turning back in the office and just had fun together. New friendships were made. New contacts were found. Compromising photos were taken.

I have no idea whether the event continues to this day. I suspect it died out as a casualty of political correctness. But it was fun while it lasted. During the whole time it ran, no-one was seriously hurt (physically or psychologically). Discipline in the office didn’t break down. Oil was still drilled, refined and sold all over the world and the company still made money.

Why I’ll never need a trophy cabinet

Triangle of the 15 reds in snooker. Note: This...

Triangle of the 15 reds in snooker. Note: This is not a full depiction of the setup of a game of snooker, as the colour balls are not shown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like many people, I find myself glued to the Paralympics just like the Olympics a few weeks ago. There is something mesmerising about true athletes competing at such a level. I feel proud of Team GB and even when there is a race with no Team GB competitors, I still like to watch in case an athlete sets a new World Record. Unfortunately, I was never blessed in the sports department. I’m sure I could have improved if I’d persisted and practised, but I simply didn’t enjoy taking part in sport.

I don’t think my school years helped. For bizarre reasons known only to the PE teachers, we made sure that all the outdoor activities happened when it was absolutely freezing, raining cats and dogs or both. It also didn’t help that I was required to remove my glasses when taking part in sports. You would be amazed how much of a disincentive that is when trying to catch a rock hard cricket ball that you can barely see.

I always used to enter the 100m during sports day, not because I was any good at it, but more because it was the shortest race possible. In the pool, I just about managed to struggle to 25 yards for my red ribbon, but I was lucky it wasn’t 30 yards – I think I’d have drowned. Some might argue that snooker is not a sport and I suppose it’s not in the physical sense, but it’s the only thing I ever won a trophy at so it counts as a sport in my book.

A charismatic man I used to work with called Dick Wittington (I kid you not) once cornered me and told me that he had taken on two teams to manage in the local snooker league. He went on to tell me that it was all a bit of a strain and that he was struggling to find the time. By the end of the conversation, somehow he’d persuaded me take on and run the worst of the two teams. It must have been a jedi mind trick.

I set about organising the team. My bequest from Mr Wittington consisted of a rag-tag collection of unskilled, unreliable snooker players, but somehow we managed to get a team together most weeks. The first few weeks, we were soundly beaten. After a while though, the most amazing thing happened. We started to improve. We started winning every so often. Then we won every other game. Soon we won more often than we lost. As the league continued, we climbed inexorably up the table.

In the final game of the season, we beat the league leaders and won the league. The snooker club awarded us medals. Because my squad was so unreliable, we had 10 players and there were only 6 medals. Put on the spot, I distributed the medals to the guys that turned up for that crucial last game.

In the office the following day, I displayed my medal proudly on my desk. Just then a fiercely competitive colleague came over for a chat. He was the kind of guy who had two big trophy cabinets and trophies to spare. He had been a member of our squad but he’d been unable to make the last match (and hence had no medal). “Where’s my medal?” he demanded. I mumbled something about there not being enough to go around. He instantly rattled off a bunch of statistics that showed that he was the best member of the team.

I sighed, and handed over the only thing I’d ever won. But for one short moment at least, I was a winner.