I’ve been using a supplier called Insight and working with a chap called Gary Siddle for nearly 10 years (in all honesty, I don’t think I could recommend a supplier more highly).
Insight have a client event each year, and each year I plan to go along, but never seem to be able to find the time (which is a shame, as the event is attended by the industry’s top people). Lots of things are happening strategically at work, at the moment, so this year I made it a high priority.
The event is held in London and I set about planning it, as I would any adventure trip. I worked out it would be cheapest (and most convenient) to travel down on the Thursday and travel back on the Friday, staying over at a hotel overnight.
By moving train times around, I could travel down 1st class and travel back standard, for about £12 more than standard each way. I also found a really cheap deal at the Grosvenor hotel next to Victoria station but declined their on-line £18 breakfast “deal” !.
I booked the Thursday afternoon as annual leave, so I could do some exploring on my own, and packed my usual gear (laptop, Swiss army knife, torch, dk guide to London etc). I was glad to own Rohan gear. It enabled me to take 2 outfits, one for relaxing and one business casual, which took up no real weight or size.
Planning complete, its Thursday morning, and adventure calls.
As a none car owner, the train is my main means of transport outside Chester. Despite this, I have never actualy travelled first class and was really looking forward to it.
Although there were very few passengers in the carriage, and we could stretch out, it wasn’t really the luxury I had expected.
This was a work trip first and foremost, so out came my laptop and I started work. The first revelation. In first class, the quiet carriage, really is quiet.
I have normally had very good experiences with virgin staff, but on this occasion, the train manager came into our carriage and looked me up and down. He then checked my ticket, but nobody else’s. Looked surprised when I showed him my ticket, and then moved on.
Offended, I decided that 2 can play at that game. I asked for his name which I wrote down and every time he passed me, I stopped him and asked a random question (what time would we arrive, how many carriages were attached, how fast the train went).
A different one each time, and I made sure he saw me write down his answer with my notebook and pen. He isn’t the first. Lots of people meet me, and make the mistake of thinking because I’m nice, and I look friendly, it follows that I must be soft and easily manipulated. I’m not.
Another member of staff offered me endless cups of coffee, and then it was time for breakfast. After choosing the full English, I got this sort of ashtray thing, with a few breakfast constituents in it. Never mind, it was well prepared and tasted okay, washed down with a gallon of coffee.
I arrive in London. While the other passengers ponce about with heavy pull along, I grab my daysack and hit the street.
My first stop, is the British Museum, which is very close to Euston Station. I met someone while crossing the road and asked for directions (it was a test, I knew the way and wanted to test the theory that Londoners aren’t friendly).
Turned out the stranger worked at the museum, and walked me to the front door, asking me where I had travelled from, and the like. At this point, he is well up on the Virgin train manager.
One thing I’ve always noticed about London, is that they tend to take visitors for granted. For example, in the statue above, it says all sorts of information about the achievements of the guy on the horse, but doesn’t mention who he is.
Reminded me, of when I was contracting in London a few years ago. I had a company Saab, and was driving back to my hotel along the M25. On the radio, it said “And the M25 is busy in all the usual places”. Well that’s fine, but where/what are the usual places ?
On Previous visits, Id seen the V&A, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum. I decided to see some different ones this time, but felt the British Museum warranted a 2nd visit.
I’ve mentioned previously how strange it is when travelling, to be thrown back to your own country. In the Egyptian museum Cairo “This is the Roseta stone. Actually its a copy, the original is in the British museum in London”. In Athens “These are the Parthenon marbles. Well actually, these are half of them, the remainder, the Eligin marbles, are in the British museum in London”.
As the 2 attractions, draw most of the visitors, I decided to look around and see some of the quieter exhibits.
I was able to take more time and soak up the overall atmosphere of the museum this time, and I saw loads of interesting things (to many in fact, to mention here). I nearly bought a Roseta stone mouse mat. Like so many things when travelling, what seems exciting and cool there and then, will seem silly and tacky when it arrives home, so I decided against.
Working through my guidebook (the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness guides, are about the best that you can get), the next closest thing on my list, was The national gallery in Trafalgar square.
There were literally thousands of paintings in there. It would have been easy to spend the entire day just looking around this building. I was reminded why London is considered such a popular travel destination by people from all over the world.
Once again, I find a seat, relax and soak up the atmosphere (which was every bit as enchanting as the pictures). After about 2 hours, I head out.
The final museum on my itinerary was the imperial war museum. A bit further to walk this time (I decided not to use the underground on this trip, and by the time I went home I had walked 24 miles).
I passed by this building on my way to Lambeth bridge. Its the MI5 building, Thames house (on the UK TV series Spooks, another building is used instead of this one). Its nothing like as exciting as the MI6 building next to the Vauxhall bridge.
I crossed the Lambeth bridge and passed a gardening museum. I thought briefly of going in, but it was quite expensive, and if you’ve been to my house and seen my garden, you’ll know that gardening doesn’t really float my boat.
The Imperial war museum had some really cool things. This miniature submarine was cool
They also had an exhibit about the security services, MI5, the SAS and stuff like that. It had all sorts of interesting displays of equipment used in different environments. They even had a Parang from the Borneo section.
A section about the 2nd world war, talked about German agents coming ashore, and where they had arrived. I wasn’t surprised at all to see that an agent had been captured in Salford.
Back to my hotel. I realise that I’m lost, Tracey from work looks up the address on the internet and texts me the postcode. With my iPhone, it only takes 15 minutes, and I’m checking into my hotel.
I was staying at the Grosvenor. It was obviously being done up, so they were letting out some of the older rooms cheaply. Apart from the bathroom looking a bit dated, the place was comfortable and spotlessly clean.
The only thing I didn’t like, was the lack of a kettle. Why do expensive hotels seem to do this. Its perverse really, the more you pay, the less you get (I didn’t care that the carpets were 3 inches thick, I just wanted a cup of hot chocolate, and didn’t want to pay £4.50 for it from room service).
No matter, I relax and an episode of Boardwalk Empire on my laptop, before getting ready for the evening.
I get tidied up and put on my Rohan going out jacket. I had arranged to meet Jon in a pub “across town”. I set of walking, and didn’t realise how far “across town” is in London.
It took me a little time to find the pub, but when I got there, there was a leaving do, and a free bar. In another respect, it was quite interesting. Jon Mallet (like most of my friends) is immensely adaptable, and can fit in anywhere. He works in the city, and it was fascinating, seeing him in his element.
I met some really interesting people. They all worked for RBS. Before anyone post’s a reply saying Bankers are the devil, I just want to say 2 things.
1. They were really nice to me during the evening.
2. I’m no poster boy for the banking industry, but its time for people to take a bit of responsibility. If I turn on the radio and hear another story about a 20 year old with 40 grands worth of debt, I’m going to scream.
Those people signed contracts to say they wanted to borrow their money. Where was their own sense of judgement. I cant help thinking their parents should have taught them better.
On a practical note a guy there (who’s name a cant remember) told me about a really interesting book called Death March. Its about no hope doomed projects and why some people are attracted to them. I’ve since bought it.
After bidding our hosts fair-well, its the highlight of the trip. Several years ago, I watched a series called Jamie’s Kitchen. It was about Jamie Oliver collecting up a group of 15 demicks and setting up and staffing a restaurant with them.
I had always wanted to go there, and Jon agreed to accompany me. The atmosphere was really friendly, and yet sort of exciting. The food and wine were superb and we sat talking for 2 hours. A truly memorable evening and meal and great to catch up with an old friend. It was worth the 6 year wait.
Jon headed for home, and I decided to walk back to my hotel. I still hadn’t learned my lesson, I took me 2 hours by the time I got home.
A great nights sleep, then a travellers breakfast at Macdonalds. I wont tell you about the IT event, as I imagine most of you would find it boring.
After several hours, I wander back through London to Euston station. London used to frighten me when I was younger, but seems to grow on my more every time I visit it.
Back home, and the weekend is just beginning.