The reception area of Partridge, Pear & Tree had seen better days. The carpets were tired and the club furniture, à la mode many decades ago, had aged badly. On the reception counter was a huge leather-bound guest book, in which clients and other visitors were expected to write their name in wet ink, preferably in calligraphy. The walls were covered with tacky wallpaper in dark colours and from the cheap chandelier emanated a dim light creating the impression of eternal dusk. The visual centre of the room was a sizeable oil painting depicting – how fitting – a partridge in a pear tree.

The only thing that looked and grimmer than the reception that was the firm's senior partner, Ebenezer Partridge, III. He was living proof of the saying: Lawyers don't retire, they just fade away. And fading he was… Old school to the bone, he hated three things: change, technology, and costs. No one really knew his exact age (some joked that he probably had forgotten it), and with his looks he would have been a great choice to feature in an advertisement for a home stair lift or a walker. 

Nevertheless he felt himself to be agile, energetic and ready to go on for years. Partridge came to the office very early every morning, and left every evening at half past six sharp. In his whole career, he had not once been ill. The only time he missed a day at the office was when he had to get a pacemaker last September. The more cynical commentators claimed he had just made that story up in a futile attempt to prove that he had a heart.

The other partners of the firm acted quickly to take advantage of Partridge's one-day absence: On that day, they all voted in favour of two things Partridge vehemently opposed: a refurbishment of the reception and the involvement of the younger generation in that project.

That is how the three most promising senior associates, Ms Deirdre Rachel Eam, Mr Dudley Anselm Re and Ms Daria Elisabeth Liver, were mandated to lead the renovation project. Although the three were genuinely thrilled about the prospect of a new reception, they were also painfully aware that this project had the potential to derail their careers. It was time to get smart.

Three months later, on the first day of Christmas, the new reception was inaugurated. The party started at 6 p.m. with drinks for all, partners, associates and staff a little. Everyone was curious because it had been kept hidden during all the renovation works. And then the big moment came. The curtain was lifted and there it was: a whole new reception.

The wallpaper was gone. The walls and ceiling were painted in light, appealing colours; the furniture was stylish, but not extravagant; and the indirect lighting was simultaneously bright and discreet. The whole room was a statement of under-stated class. It avoided the common thoughts of clients: "Now I know why they are so expensive." And: "All this from my money!" In one of the corners, there was a display cabinet with the guest book casually flipped open to the page where Winston Churchill himself had signed in many years ago. That conveyed a powerful message: Over 100 years of history, and still modern. The crowd loved it.

The only thing that surprised many was the center: There, cut into the wall, at practically the same place, was a niche with modern ambi-light, and in that niche, there was the familiar painting with the partridge in a pear tree. It was the same painting, but with the optimized light it actually looked much better. Partridge sent a prayer to the heavens above; he had been having nightmares in which his beloved painting had been removed from the reception forever.
Partridge congratulated the three associates to a job very well done and then, at precisely 6:30 pm, took his leave. 

One of the younger partners came up to the three and said: 'You did quite well, but it is somewhat disappointing that the Partridge painting is still there. I had hoped we could be even more modern.' 

'Wait for it!', they said. 

With this, they pushed a button behind the counter and a screen dropped from the top of the niche to cover it fully, and with it also the oil painting. 

'On this screen, the receptionist can display any picture stored on her computer. Each practice area team can select its own pictures and with every reservation of a conference room, the partner or associate in charge can choose which picture should be displayed for the particular client on the particular occasion. A racing track for our Formula 1 clients, an oil rig for our petroleum clients, a modern skyline or the current stock exchange prices for our M&A clients, an advertisement of the current exhibition at the museum of modern art for our private clients, and a verdant landscape for our ESG clients. We can also be seasonal for Halloween, Valentines Day, the King's birthday and so on.'

'Great idea!' exclaimed the partner. 'But what if Partridge suddenly appears and sees this?'

'That will never happen.', they responded. 'We linked the system with Partridge's pacemaker. That device not only sends out data about his heart rhythm, but also his location, for emergency support to quickly find him in case of need. Whenever the GPS indicates that Partridge is near the reception, the screen disappears and reveals the oil painting in all its glory.'

Everyone was over the moon. Mission impossible accomplished.

It went unnoticed on that evening that underneath the receptionists' counter, our three triumphant associates had signed their masterpiece with their names. However, the punctuation was idiosyncratic. It read: On the First Day of Christmas 2023, D.R.Eam, D.A.Re, D.E.Liver!


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Anonymous 08 December 23 11:21

This is actually pretty good, thanks!

Does anyone know who the partners are?