Bellack in London
Week Four: November 27 - December 3, 2000

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nov 27 - nov 28 - nov 29 - nov 30 - dec 1 - dec 2 - dec 3
nov 27 Plenty of work preparing a big presentation for Wednesday. Vim and I went to Docklands to meet with the other half of our company. Docklands is to the East of the Tower (which was the edge of the Roman/Medieval city), and is literally the land where the docks used to be. It's on a big spit of land called the Isle of Dogs formed by the Thames wiggling to the south and then back north. As London grew, entire dock complexes were carved out of the land, including one (the West India Docks) that cut through the Isle of Dogs entirely. The docks became useless in the 2nd half of the 20th century because ships got too big to navigate up the Thames and into the docks. The area was really rundown (lots of abandoned warehouses & such) until the 80's, when it started being redeveloped as a major office center. It's now home to Canary Wharf, the tallest office building in the UK (and maybe in all of Europe) and a bunch of other new buildings. At night, it's probably the closest thing to the way New York City looks at night (a bit like Battery Park City). It's also worth mentioning that you can see the Millenium Dome from there -- it's very big and very goofy-looking, like dropping EPCOT down in Brooklyn.

Anyway, after the Docklands meeting, I stopped at a little hole-in-the-wall pub with two guys from work. [This is not to do heavy drinking -- it's just a pint-before-going-home ritual type thing.] I didn't get home 'til fairly late. Went out to get dinner, and stopped in the Princess Louise, one of the best examples of late Victorian pub architecture. It's very elaborately decorated with carved wood and etched mirrors, and has a very cool layout (as pubs go) -- a long oval bar runs down the middle of the pub from the back, and the edges are ringed with booths and chairs. A lot of other pubs are either smaller, or divided into smaller rooms (the "two-room pub" seems to be a common reference in pub lore). Unfortunately it was 9:30pm by then, so they weren't serving food any more -- they stopped at 9pm I think. This was kind of irksome, and is a typical example of how London shuts down early. Anyway I ended up at a Pizza Express next to the hotel.

nov 28 Gerry Libertelli (my boss) and George Brucia (his boss) came over from the states for Tuesday & Wednesday, so the time was mostly consumed with meetings & discussions with them. Things went reasonably well -- we're getting a lot of clear support from the States and room to do the things we want to do. The plan had been to go out on the town Tuesday night, but we were all really tired so just ended up at the Royal Oak, a pub that's close to the office and right below Windsor Castle. It's got its own gabled building, is decent-sized, and is fairly cozy (drapes on the windows, carpeted, comfy chairs, instead of bare wood).
nov 29 Big presentation this morning. It could've gone better -- the two sides of the business weren't well synchronised. But we'll improve. The meeting was north of London, so I took the train to Maidenhead and got a ride from Vim the rest of the way. Gerry & George left in mid-afternoon so there wasn't much after that.
nov 30 Staff meeting today where there were some big issues to deal with -- morale is not great. We have some work to do to improve things. Thursday night was the UK ColdFusion Users Group. ColdFusion is a main piece of software for the work we do, and we do a lot of business with the company that makes it (Allaire), so this was a good thing to show up to, especially because Jeremy Allaire, one of the two brothers who run the company, was showing up to talk about the future of the product. [Trivia note -- ColdFusion was the software underlying, the site I was tech director at in NYC.] Four of us went, taking the train to Paddington and then getting a cab to Cyberia, the cafe where the meeting was, near Tottenham Court Road. The meeting was good, I talked to Jeremy Allaire, and made some good contacts. Afterwards Claire (one of the women on my staff) and I followed the core of the meeting to a pub on Tottenham Court Road called The Old Surgeon, decorated with funky sculptures of grisly surgery scenes & such things. Someone said that the place is frequented by medical students. In any case it was a lot of fun, not least because a Guinness on an empty stomach is always effective. Plenty of fun people, though, and some good laughs. There's a CFUG Christmas party on December 14.

The pubs stop serving at 11pm but didn't kick us out until around 11:30pm. I walked home from the pub (Tottenham Court Road runs into High Holborn, where my hotel is), and stopped in a McDonald's because it was all that was open and I still hadn't eaten dinner. While waiting to order, a bunch of guys in suits got into a nasty fight -- hands in faces, slamming people into walls, one guy going sprawling, blood, all that good thuggish stuff. But in suits. Weird.

dec 1 We closed a deal today to do a Java & database code review for a big UK retailer with four e-commerce sites. This is a good gig, but there are two catches: (1) I'm the only person in the office with enough Java experience to lead the project, and (2) they're in Liverpool. So I'll be going to Liverpool Sunday night and coming back Monday evening. The evening was stressful due to some trouble with a client and a proposal that we're trying to finish which has to be delivered by 12 noon on Monday. I got out around 6:45pm to go meet up with Will Bunker, Gena Lai's friend-of-a-friend in London. He lives in Clapham, but on the opposite side of Clapham Common (a big-ish park) than the Shepherds, in a neighborhood that's a bit sketchier. He's got a decent but not huge apartment which unfortunately appears to be vastly cheaper than mine (£700/mo instead of £1770/mo). After hanging out there a bit we got dinner at an Indian place nearby. I really like Indian food and am enjoying the quality of it in London, though I apparently have yet to eat at a *really* good place, so there's something to look forward to. After dinner we walked from Clapham to Brixton, which is a fairly urban part of the London suburbs -- I read something which said Brixton is the neighborhood most like an American city. There were also some big riots there in the early 80's, FWIW. We went to a movie theatre called the "Ritzy", which I could barely take seriously. We saw a *great* movie called "Memento". It's about a guy who has lost all of his short-term memory, and is hunting for the man who raped and murdered his wife. To communicate the effect of the short-term memory loss, the movie runs backwards, so in each scene we are disoriented by not knowing what happened beforehand in chronological time, even though we know what happened afterward (because it happened first in the movie). It's a very tricky structure, but it's done really well, and builds up to a real thriller of a movie, because you're constantly trying to figure out what's actually happening and whether things are really what they seem. The best part? It's not coming out in the States until March, so I have three months to gloat about getting to see it first. It's that good -- Usual Suspects quality if not better. The movie didn't let out until 1am, so I caught a cab home. Will's a decent guy (does computer stuff too), so we'll probably hang out again. He has a friend who was in Granada recently, which would be handy for tips on my visit in December.
dec 2 Slept in, bought the week's comics. Ate fish & chips in The Museum Pub, across the street from the British Museum -- decent dark-wood pub, but nothing too special, though I am learning to appreciate malt vinegar on fish & chips. I ended up going in to the office in the afternoon/evening, because I had to pick up my computer and install some software for the code review on Monday. I ate a good dinner at Cafe Rouge (chain with French food), and then caught the last train back to Waterloo -- plenty of end-of-evening drunkish people getting on & off at each stop. I was kind of worried that I was going to get in too late for the tube, which stops running at midnight. The tube stops were all PACKED with people waiting for the last trains. This is partially due to the time, but is exacerbated by the pub closing time (11pm is the deadline for serving alcohol, remember)? So you basically get the streets filling up with people around 11-11:30pm, all pushing into the tube to catch the last trains before midnight. Go figure.
dec 3 Did laundry, and discovered that UK washers are SMALL. My mother said this is because Europeans have fewer clothes than US folks. I'd believe this, but don't have any corroborating evidence. I was working hard to polish the proposal due on Monday, so I went out to bring back lunch. I discovered another UK truth, namely that damn near everything is closed on Sundays. I couldn't bear to go to McDonald's again, so I went to a Wimpy's -- fast food too, though the burgers and fries are made to order so it's borderline better. A scruffy guy hit me up for change, and when I turned him down he said incredulously "But you're American -- you're rich!" I suppose this is true. If you turn around the currency conversion, instead of everything being 1.4 times more expensive in the UK, for a Brit everything in the states is 25% cheaper! There's definitely a difference in scale between the UK and the US. This is probably just psychological but I feel BIG around here sometimes -- whether there are fewer people my height & build, or I carry more stuff with me, I'm not sure. It might be due to the fact that Americans have a larger personal space area than Europeans, so I'm noticing people moving around me more.

Finished revising the proposal around 4pm, then got ready and went to Paddington for the express train to Heathrow, where I met up with Vim for the flight to Manchester, where we got a rental car for the drive to Liverpool. Decent flight, same "the airplane is now the bus" trouble as in the US. This was one of those goofy flights that's 40 minutes in the air, plus an hour on each side to get in & out of the airports. Good conversation with Vim on the flight and the drive, continuing to talk about Americans vs. Europeans. Americans really do take everything *very* seriously. Once we got to the hotel we went to Liverpool's Chinatown for some food. Liverpool (at night, at least) is a funky sort of town -- the City Centre seems to be a miscellaneous collection of fairly majestic Classical and Victorian buildings, without any pattern to their arrangement that I could see. The Chinatown had a bigger and more elaborate gate than the one in San Francisco, but was just one strip of restaurants. Pretty good food, though. From there back to the hotel, where I'm writing this now.

next week The day in Liverpool; moving into my flat; Will Bunker's housewarming party