Friday 31st March 2006

Rather than taking the sensible option and sleeping on the flight back to Luton, I decided to jot down some notes for this entry on the back of a couple of business cards. The elderly gentleman, sitting next to me, working on Sudoku puzzle #247 from a daily newspaper, looked up rather bemused as I scribbled down words, times and other pieces of information to jog my memory. So here I am, quite late on a Friday evening trying to piece together the last 48 hours of my life. Where to begin? I suppose it would be best to begin at the moment I discovered I would be taking a day trip out of the country. He did it again. He caught me completely by surprise. There were murmurings of one of the key account managers taking a trip over to Dublin to resolve some ongoing issues with new users following on a restructure. My manager came over to my desk around 3.30pm, sniggering with a broad smile on his face, asked if I fancied a trip to Dublin. How could I say no? Right before I get bogged down with the technicalities of the why and how, I will (at some point) get around to righting a complementary entry on my work log. I will try to keep this entry light hearted and as non technical as possible, but please tell me if I fail to keep to this promise. So the company PA began looking for flights, which came to over £500 which just could not be justified. Eventually we were booked on a Ryan Air flight flying out from London Luton, rather than London Heathrow. However, while the departure airport was never really a major issue, the time of the flight was. 6.35 in the am, with a return flight at 10pm. Rock and roll. I was in mixed minds really, I was looking forward to a day out of the office, but did not know whether I would get all the reported issues resolved. Chris was amazed and gutted. “Why did Andrew get to become the globe trotting member of the helpdesk?” My manager was quick to jump in and respond by explaining the workload was shared equally, and Mr. Williams had had the luxurious trip and two night stay in Basildon, Essex. For a while it felt quite unreal, even when I was handed the printed e-mailed with booking confirmation and my name listed as the second passenger. I had to rush and grab some CDs from a developer, go over what I needed to check and then grab a work laptop to load on the software. Then, perhaps only when everyone had left and I was one of two people left in the office that the full prospect of Thursday hit me. A phone call from reception to explain that the bypass was closed, a nightmare at Handy Cross apparently (What is new?) It did not really bother me, my route home always takes the winding country roads underneath the dual carriageway and I usually get home in great time. Not tonight. Just before the turning into Marlow, I found myself stuck in heavy traffic at a standstill. Cars to my left where in a similar, if not worse state on the bypass. I noted down the time and mileage from my dash and scribbled them down on the back of a business card. 18:31 399.9. I had covered four hundred miles since my last tankful of diesel (which was on 15th March) and I was now, stuck in a traffic jam, just over 6 miles from home, running out fuel, the orange warning light on. Yet I tried not worry about it, I put on one of my favourite compliation CDs and put the volume up. I will get home at some point, this evening. I’m off to Dublin tomorrow! I spend a good proportion of the evening over at Dave’s house, trying to fix about five computer problems and only managing to actually resolve one. I must have got there around 7.30pm, thirty minutes or so after getting home from work. Dave had been trying to get hold of me for weeks, but something always came up. He even commented on MSN the other day that I was becoming harder to book than HRH The Queen. Not quite, but I have got a packed social calendar which makes time almost as precious as gold (and Arsenal away wins in the Premiership 2005/6). I wish I saw more of Dave but since he moved over from being next door it has become difficult. I got home around 10pm and spent the next hour or so online, knowing all to well that I would not have any personal internet access for the next twenty four hours. I started speaking to Mighty Mouse (of all people) even though it was late for him to be online but we spoke at length about his Treo. I commented on how it could only be a superhero to notice my stupid comment that I put BP Ultimate Unleaded in my turbo diesel and noticed the difference. His instant reply was, “not quite, but i am downloading all the Commodore 64 games that I used to have when I was 6 years old.” He was talking my language and I was ready for a trip down memory lane before logging off for bed. He was downloading them to play on his smart phone. Wow! Just look at that leap in technology from a tape cassette player and a massive keyboard, to more than enough processing power in the palm (literally) of your hand. Technology continues (and will forever) amaze me! Instantly I thought of my favourite C64 game, which I used to play in the early 1990s at a friend’s house. It featured BMX bikes but was not Paperboy as Hussein suggested. Some Google searches and five minutes later I had the answer, Motor Cross. Great, I would be able to sleep easy and not be racking my brain for the name of the computer game I used to play as a kid. My friend in Harrow started downloading the game, along with many others. However, he did not have his 1GB memory card, which he had ordered from dabs. A back order of an additional item, the Palm One car charger, meant the whole delivery was still pending shipment. Not to be undone, our friend decided to transfer almost a gigabyte worth of games via bluetooth at an alarmingly low transfer rate. I had to then interject with perhaps the corniest line I have ever delivered on MSN, “Good Things Come To Those Who Wait” but I was forgiven, merely for the fact I was going to home of Guinness within a few hours. As I was about to sign out, Hussein ask me to hold for a few seconds and I did, and he sent me two links to images he had just uploaded to his server. I opened them and was amazed at the sight of the C64 screen on a mobile phone screen. He added, “a bit blurred, but trust me, the graphics, speed and everything blows your mind!” Moments like this make me feel glad and proud to be such a geek. Don’t believe me? Take just take a look.

Retro Mobile Gaming

So I was up sometime after 3.30am, having only signed off my computer and got into bed four hours earlier. My Mum actually came and woke me up first, then a few minutes my alarm clock (AKA mobile phone) went off and I dragged myself out of bed. Some quick breakfast, an even quicker shower and I was in my car at 4.22am. I opted to drove across Wycombe and towards Amersham and get onto the M25 at the top of the A404 junction, rather than go on the M40. The distance is about the same and the journey at this time of the morning would take roughly the same time. The music was chilled to lightly wake my sleepy head. By the time I got onto the London Orbital, I put my foot down, in fear of not making it to Luton in time. The traffic was light but there were half a dozen lorries cruising in the middle lane, which called for some heavy overtaking maneuvering. I pulled onto the M1, which has roadworks almost from the moment you get on, but nobody was observing the 40 limit. I settled for a cruising speed of just 20 miles above the permitted level and drifted into the outer lane all the way to junction 10. The airport is quite familiar to me, having picked up my cousin a few times and also dropped off and collected my sisters when they had their long weekend in Spain a few years ago. I parked up in a space but was surprised at how busy the place was and the number of vehicles already in the car park. I grabbed my laptop case and headed over to to the terminal building. I took out my phone and make a mental note of the time, it was 5.13am and I felt like I could find a uncomfortable steel chair (or two) and fall asleep for a few minutes, using the laptop case as a pillow. I headed around to the check in area to find out where our desk was. As you can expect, the one furthest away. I text my colleague and he called me up, seven minutes later, in fact. He was less than ten minutes away would dump his car and meet me. Cool, he was on time. While at times his punctuality does leave much to be desired, I was looking forward to this adventure in Dublin. After checking in, we headed up to the new departure lounge. At the Travel Ex bureau to our right, we waited to exchange some Euros. I headed off over to Dixon’s and bought a USB key, mainly because I had misplaced (only temporarily) both my personal and work sticks. There was an Aston DB9 in the middle of the retail area, aptly named the Galleria, which was being given away in some strange competition, with only one day to go. A group of Japanese tourists were filming all over the car, while it was being cleaned. It was only then we decided to closely scrutinize our boarding passes, to discover that gate 2 was the other side of the building, a 15 minute walk we were warned. Time to wake up with some brisk walking as we dashed to the other side. It was not enough, my colleague needed some coffee to wake him up. We came down to the Costa outlet, to find an Eastern European chap, aged perhaps 18/19 unpacking the delivery. Politely we asked if we could have a coffee and tea. The response was a blunt ‘We’re Closed’ before a frustrated shrug of the shoulders at our second time of asking and he finally went behind the counter to start brewing the drinks. Meanwhile I looked across to check our departure gate, thinking the big mass of people queuing were also for the flight to Ireland. How fatally wrong was that assumption to be? Looking back, I noticed a hand written sign on the counter, with the word ‘CLOSED’ in big green marker pen. We surely had given this airport employee the worst imaginable start to his shift. To add insult to injury, my colleague asked for a sandwich. I was surprised he bothered, but sure enough, he opened a brand new box of BLT sandwiches and took one out. By this time I was more concerned with the safety of my colleague than actually catching our fight. He had rubbed this young man up the wrong way and he was more than annoyed, particularly with two more customers waiting, impatiently. We headed towards the gate and there was no one around, with the screen showing in bright red lights, “FINAL CALL”. We ran towards the flight attendants who checked our boarding passes but immediately stopped us from boarding. No hot drinks allowed on the flight. I didn’t protest but it was a bit of a joke. The head hostess then referred us to our terms and conditions. I was not really in the mood to argue, still half asleep and longing to just get on the flight, sit down and get some sleep. However my colleague had other ideas and put together a line that only a big business executive could, “Our PA booked our flights” to which we received the blunt response that it is our own responsibility to check the T & C of the flight we are going to catch. We sat down and tried to down as much of our drinks as possible before boarding the flight. My tea was still extremely hot, but I drank over half before throwing it away. What a waste. We headed out into the dark morning to board the aeroplane, the Boeing 737-800. The flight was packed but there appeared to be seats right at the back, which a air hostess was standing by. We walked all the way to the back and were about to sit down when the stewardess said that the seats were closed? Excuse me? Closed? How can an airline afford to close thirty six seats on a peak flight to Ireland? What irritated me the most, was the fact the hostess had seen us walk the full length of the aircraft looking for seats and didn’t warn us earlier. Turning around, I found a seat between an middle aged lady and guy in his late thirties, having stowed my laptop case in the above cabin lockers several seats down the aisle. I quite enjoy flying, perhaps because I was thrown onto a plane at the tender age of one and a half, in 1983. My favourite part is take off, when those jet engines roar to life and the plane hits over 500 miles an hour. I will refrain from breaking into ‘Come Fly With Me’ but it was a special moment, as we climbed to the cruising altitude, just above the clouds and the sun shone through the cabin from an easterly direction. Wow! I was off to Dublin, it was finally sinking in. It was tempting to just drift off to sleep, but I knew I would not get any rest. Instead I just sat back into my chair and looked out of the window. As we came into land my ears starting popping. At first it was bearable but after a few minutes and more as we began our descent my left ear was in some discomfort. But apparently there is a way of stopping the distress, wish I’d read about valsalva manoeuvre before hand. We landed on time, to a grey sky but with the sun, trying to break through. We took a steady walk through passport control. They did not even look at my passport photo, a woman in the booth just waved us on, having seen our EU passports in hand. I switched on my mobile and watched as the 6230 connected up to the Vodafone IE network. I called home to let my Mum know that I had arrived safely. After the brief telephone call, I received a text from Vodafone. With words to the affect of, “Stay on Vodafone for the best call rate. Enjoy your stay.” I thought that was very clever that they instantly knew I was abroad and sent out a courtesy SMS. We headed through security and out to the arrivals hall. This is where we were greeted by Dean. Dean shook my hand as we walked outside to his silver Mercedes. The stories started straight away, with the hilarious tale from the previous day featuring our airline. I was in stitches before I got in the car, I would have laughed more but I was just too tired. As we got on our way to the city, the radio went into the details of the story of the flight landing at a military airport instead of Derry, which was five minutes away. We got onto the M50 but it was jam packed. I don’t think I’ve seen a busy motorway like it ever before. We would have been stuck there for over two hours, had it not been for Dean pulling of at the nearest exit and taking the scenic route around to our destination. We cut through, Phoenix Park which, we were well informed the biggest park in Europe. I had bought my Sony CyberShotU to capture our day out and took a few pictures as we drove through the picturesque greens. The best of which I have uploaded onto FlickR but linked below. A satellite photograph from Google shows you exactly how big 1752 acres is.

Phoenix Park

I pick up the story at 5pm, as we left the offices of our client on a quiet industrial park miles away from the busy city. My colleague had made the comment that we had just three hours or so to spare before we had to get back to the airport. Check in time was around 9.15pm. So we had a decision to make. Drive into the city centre for food and drink or take the soft option of driving to a hotel near the airport. At first my colleague (who having been here before and being the account manager) made the decision to head towards the airport. Then a few minutes later decided to head to Temple Bar and our driver, Dean took us there. Driving past the Guinness brewery, we were treated to more tales from our taxi driver. It is people like him that make trips like this so interesting. The real characters you meet from time to time. The individuals that light up our lives. We were dropped off outside the Morgan Hotel to be collected a few hours later. We headed firstly to The Temple Bar Pub, my first traditional Irish pub with folk music played live by two musicians. Instantly you realise you are in Ireland, with the laid back approach. Waiting an age to be served and then waiting an age for your drinks to be served. What the heck, the work was done, it was time to chill out, relax and unwind. We took a stool at the back of the pub and had a quiet chat and planned our next step. Our MD was in the country visiting a client and had planned to meet up with us in the evening for a drink. The plan unfolded, we would find a restaurant, get some food and then wait for the MD to meet us. He was in an exclusive hotel about fifteen minutes walk away. I was not really too bothered with what we ate, lunch had been light, but that was more due to time pressures to get everything done rather than lack of choice at the office canteen. The fear was that after eating, we would fall into a state of sleeplessness and not get up from the table. Not fussed we walked around looking at the menu of various restaurants, before we came back to the Morgan restaurant (right next to hotel) and went in to order some food. Rather than having a set dish each, we decided to get a mixture of several tapas plates to mix and match. Very good and not that expensive. Much better than going for a set meal from the menu. We tried to check how the hotel, Conrad was and asked one of the waiters. He did not really understand what we asked and explained that Conrad had gone on holiday! We then asked to speak to someone else (preferably a native) and found out that it was a good fifteen minutes walk away. The MD text and met up with us just around 7.30pm. Now talking of characters, the MD himself is a jolly fellow, considering he supports Spurs. In any case, it was good to see him and catch up. Rarely do we have the opportunity to chat one to one, without the bustle of the office getting in the way. Yet, as usual time was not on our side and we had to rush outside to get our taxi around 8.20pm. Goodbye Dublin, but I hope to be back again soon. The time is currently 01.04 and I have just got in from my business trip to Dublin. Expect me to review the above account over the next few days. For the time being, after a solid 22 hour day, I think I will get some sleep.

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