Thursday, February 17, 2005

Big Weekend Part 2

So Saturday dawned, and Pam and I had a quick bite for breakfast and caught a train into the city. We bought the cheap fare, which means that we saved £5 but we had to take local service. No problem, really, just means more stops.

The train was empty at Milton Keynes, but down the line it got pretty crowded. At Leighton Buzzard (yes, that's really a town name), three surly laddettes boarded the train. ("Laddette" is a term for hooligan girls who cop attitude and pick fights.) They were pretty rough looking girls, probably 18 or so, and were obviously out from the night before. They sat right behind us, so we could hear their charming conversation. Lots of swearing, some discussion of a friend whose baby was fine but she looked horrible, and other general bad attitude scandal bitching. The conductor came through the train checking tickets, and it turned out the girls didn't have any. He reprimanded them, they called him a wanker. He took their addresses and threatened a fine, they called him a wanker again and gave him a fake ID. He'd walk away, they'd plot his death and badmouth him. He'd come back, and they'd tell him to stop harassing them. Once we hit Watford Junction, he'd called in the troops...a very handsome agent boarded and removed them from the train. Pam and I had quite a laugh at their expense. Eighteen year old girls have lots of ways at their disposal to avoid paying for a train ticket. Calling the conductor a wanker and acting like a ruffian extra from Eastenders doesn't seem prudent.

Once in London, we headed to the Royal Academy of Arts for "TURKS", an exhibit featuring Turkish antiquities. Wow. Spectacular. They had manuscripts and books with gold leaf all over them, they had massive carved doors from a mosque, they had figurines and vases and carpets and jade pitchers and jewelry and all measure of objects illustrating 600 centuries of history. The Turks, man, they did a bit of everything. There was a beautiful cossack from the 1500s that was made of yellow silk on the outside, red silk on the inside, and padding and chain mail between. There was a gigantic signature of a sheik (like a meter high and a meter and a half long) that consisted of giant black lettering that was inlaid with intricate floral drawings. With the rather expensive cost of our tickets we got a free audio tour. I started with the grown up tour, which was interesting in its own right, but when I switched to the kid's tour I stuck with it. It was narrated by a genie and a boy who asked questions. The genie would tell the stories and point out things of interest, and call the kid things like "my little fluffy duckling" or "ignorant cheeky monkey".

After a couple of hours there, we moved on to wander city. Took a big walk, basically...Piccadilly, Chinatown and Soho, Covent Garden, Westminster, making stops for dim sum and coffee when we got tired and hungry. In fact, if we'd been willing to stand in the gales and the rain in Leicester Square, we could have watched celebrities on the red carpet for the BAFTAs (like the Oscars). London is a great place to wander. It's huge, but the streets are small and there's lots to see and everything is really very close together.

Took the train home, made dinner and watched TV. Sunday was a lazy sit-around day. I walked to the one-stop for a paper and some tomato juice, and then Pam made brunch and I made bloody marys. (Made me miss pickles even more, by the way.) The gales continued, so we stayed put and I did laundry. Nice to just sit and chat and read and chat and eat and chat and relax.

Pam went home Monday, and I went to London for a few days. There was a travel industry convention, and I had events to attend. Can I just say one more time how great it was to have Pam here? (Visitors...I appreciate you.) I forget how blessed I am to know such interesting, funny, fun to be around people. Let's face it, I'm odd. Who would guess I'd find such great people who actually appreciate that?

Okay. Events in London. Monday night was the M&IT awards. It was a black tie event, thrown by Meetings and Incentive Travel Magazine. BI had a table, partly because we sponsor part of the event and partly because we were nominated for two awards. BI was represented by their corporate heads, plus four travel folks. My colleague Rachel and I got there late, just as the doors opened for dinner. We slammed our champagne and went in. Sat down for dinner, and then the lights dimmed and music played and we stood up. Not sure what was happening, I asked my table why we were standing. "Royalty," they say. Sure enough, not ten feet away from me walks Princess Anne. Seems M&IT donates charity proceeds from the evening to Save the Children, her pet charity, and so she came to the banquet to thank us. I must admit, it was pretty cool.

We had dinner, we heard speakers. Each course was sponsored by some tourist bureau or hotel, so we'd have to watch a video about them while we ate. I was seated between our MD (Managing Director) and our accountant's wife. I love our accountant and his wife. He is a smart, wacky man with flyaway Einstein hair and slightly awkward social skills, and she is a sensible, kind woman with a dry sense of humor. He has been helpful and friendly in getting financial issues resolved with my stay here, and even bought me a beer on Quiz Night. They are both very British, at least as I expect Brits to be from watching Monty Python. If there really is a Horse and Hound magazine, I bet they subscribe.

Made conversation and laughed quite a bit. Didn't even flinch when the seabass came to the table with skin still on one side. (No head, thank God. Even the princess would have heard me squeal then.) Someone kept filling my wine glass, and I got quite tipsy by the end of the night. Our MD's a good guy, as well...even though he runs BI UK, he's probably around my age, and he's got a great sense of humor. Funny story....we were talking about silly cultural stuff, and he was telling me that one his favourite detectives on TV has been toned down for the BBC...in the book, when people bend over near him, the detective sticks his index finger in their bum and says, "How's that for center?" This was edited out for the screen, but we've agree that it's a shame. In fact it seems like something that should be implemented in everyday life.

BI won both our awards (for best Meeting Agency and best Incentive House), so we even had champagne to celebrate. Lucky for me, as drunk as I was everyone else was more so. In fact, on Tuesday I had much less of a hangover than the others.

Almost caught up...hang in there.

Tuesday day I went to the Confex convention, and did the glad-handing smile and chat thing with suppliers from around the world. Had lunch with a small group at a great Indian restaurant. It was in a townhouse in Kensington, and you had to actually knock on the door to get in. Food was unbelievable. Will take you there if you visit (but it will cost us lots of £). BI threw a shindig to thank our suppliers on Tuesday night, and I was hosting a table. Talked fast and told stories and managed to entertain them through dinner, and it turns out I had 4 winners out of 7 tableguests, so we toasted each other a lot. We didn't get back to MK until 1 AM though, and so it was a pretty horrible day yesterday. I was exhausted.

I have a presentation tomorrow in the Cotswolds, so that means a two hour drive through storybook land, lots of talking and manners, and then two hours back. I am counting the minutes until I walk in the door tomorrow night, change into my yoga pants, and sit down on the couch. Don't think I'll say a word until Saturday.

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