Magazine article The Spectator

Give Them Time

Magazine article The Spectator

Give Them Time

Article excerpt

In November -- a time when I normally refuse to think about the coming holidays -- The Spectator's Style and Travel editor offered me a wife for Christmas.

Sarah Standing quickly assured me that there would be no mail order bride arriving at Old Queen Street. Rather, she was going to send me along to Quintessentially, a private concierge service, and have them explain how they could organise my Christmas. 'It'll be better than having a wife, ' she said.

So on the last Friday in November I headed off to the Quintessentially office in Soho. As I arrive, a gaggle of staff are outside having a smoke and discussing where they are sending their charges that night. There is a gentle game of oneupmanship going on, with one staffer being ragged for having booked people into somewhere that closes at midnight.

He hits back by saying that he's just starting them there. If he wasn't, he was now:

bragging rights and customer service working in union.

On arrival, I'm kindly offered a cup of tea or coffee and ask for tea with milk. As the personalised nature of the service they offer is being explained to me I'm handed a beverage that tastes oddly like coffee with sugar. But as the scope of the operation is shown to me, I start contemplating how much they could do for me. Or to be more accurate, what they could do for me once I'm into my mid-thirties -- the average Quintessentially client is between 35 and 40. My feeling that I might not quite be ready to join this club is reinforced when I ask one of the gifts people how many members phone in a panic on 24 December. She calmly informs me that most members have made their purchases by then. I feel like protesting that this is my quintessential Christmas dilemma but think better of it.

What Quintessentially is really selling is time. This isn't a bad product when you consider how much more useful more hours in the day would be than most Christmas gifts. Time is the one thing we all lack. But it is also the hardest thing to give someone.

Until the time-turner that Hermione Granger used to attend multiple lessons at Hogwarts comes on the open market, a membership to Quintessentially is probably the closest thing that there is to a time voucher. Quintessentially calls itself a 'global concierge service'. Strip away the corporate jargon and it is essentially a club for those who don't have time to organise everything that they need or want to organise. …

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