London Day

14 Dec 2008

I'm up before dawn, standing stunned in the dark room and trying to remember where my trousers are. Thirty minutes to get suited and booted; I have a breakfast date.

We walk back and forth through South End Green, eventually settling on a Starbucks in Belsize Park because nothing better is open. When I planned the "secret breakfast" I had visions of coffee and a croissant on a sunny terrace: wrong city. It's full-grease English breakfast or full-sugar American snack-to-go in the damp Hampstead weekday dawn.

Time's up and I hop the tube, emerging at Westminster. I'm not used to this. I'm not used to walking out of a train station on my way to work and being suddenly confronted with the majesty of Parliament House - and it is majestic. The modern additions of thick black metal screens make it seem authoritarian, brutal, and I'm disappointed until I remember that it always has been. Just not in comparison to anywhere else.

It's perhaps this disappointment that makes me rapidly a Person of Interest as I pace back and forth in front of the building and nearby Abbey. My phone's been confused by the tube, and without it I don't know where I'm heading: trusting it, I hadn't even bothered to look it up before leaving. I never do.

Nine sharp, and I'm at Dean's Yard, gagging on borderline-poisonous conference coffee provided by suited waiters who call me Sir. There's plenty to learn here but I'm waiting for the call that I know is coming. I scribble a few notes on a pad, pull a paper sword from my bag, and take center stage for an impromptu session on Team Building Through Ritual Violence. People laugh. People clap. People ask me for more details, but I've got no time to give them. Perhaps they'll remember my name.

In the next presentation, the call comes through. The shit's hit the fan. Suddenly I'm holed up in the foyer, laptopping, putting out fires, missing a conference on how to avoid fires starting.

For the rest of the day I switch back and forth, working with a deployment expert over the phone, coding with an expert back at the office using github and google chat. We get it done. We were always going to.

By five the conference has wound up and there aren't any more crises where I'd do more good than harm. With half a dozen people from my company and a hundred or so other geeks, we head for the pub. There are plenty of interesting people to drink with, but I can't stay - because I'm meeting someone for a drink. We exchange business cards.

Five-forty, and I'm at St James' Park. I need to be at Tottenham Court Rd by six-fifteen. Should be easy, but my phone is very nearly flat, and without it I'm helpless. I hike to Victoria tube because, without googlemaps, I can't find the closer one.

Victoria. The train's packed, so packed that people are standing on the platform. It's not moving. I work out a new route on the District line, switch platforms, board the train. After going one stop, it stops.. and sits there. Five minutes later I'm out of patience and surface, paying my £2 to go back aboveground 500m from where I started, back at St James' Park. I send a desperate text message, then realise that I actually have no other way to get there. Back on the train. It doesn't move. Card back out, run for a black cab, get mauled in traffic at Trafalgar Square, reach the pub.

£14 and an hour later, I've come three kilometers. Even with the suit and backpack, I could have run that in twenty minutes.

The Bricklayer's Arms is unusual for a London pub, in that there's room to sit - if you don't mind sharing a table - and it's quiet enough to talk. We have the kind of conversation where "in the Bolivian jungle" passes without comment, moving so fast it's almost scripted, open to our table-mates joining in but aware that they'd never be able to keep up. Both of us have had the Traveler's Hello ("where are you from? where are you going? what do you do?") too many times, and would rather risk ruining everything than do it again.

But I'm already letting go. In a couple of months I'll go back to Adelaide, and she'll jump a plane to Arizona. We're busy, and there is a very good chance that we won't see each other again. That's just how London rolls.

I tell her this. She's not surprised.

The night ends like a London night out always does: squinting at each other at Tottenham Court Road Tube. The 24 bus drops me at South End Green, half a kilometer from home. The bottleshops are still open but I've had enough; instead, Lyn and I share a herbal tea as we wind down.

I set my alarm and crash out just shy of midnight. Come the morning, we'll do it all again.