Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Historical post: London Calling (29 April 1998)

I moved from the Boston area to London to help start a new computer weekly in the U.K., called IT Week. The following is my first post to everyone home. I was still jet-jagged. It's interesting to look back at my first impressions of the country.

From: Eamonn Sullivan

To: diary entries

Subject: London calling

I've now survived my first 48 hours, so I thought I'd drop you all a note and let you know how things are going.

I hit the ground running on Monday. I arrived, on time, at 8am Monday morning with too much baggage and not enough sleep. Somehow I managed to get the baggage on a train from Gatwick Airport to London (a 30-minute train ride, approximately), then into a cab at Victoria station, and finally into the office. That was harder than it sounds. The straps on three of the four bags broke at various times during the trip. By the end, I was carrying the bags one at a time like grocery sacks, moving them in stages, sort of like they do when climbing Mount Everest.

When I arrived, I was shown my desk and computer (a well-equipped desktop, but no notebook) and immediately ushered into a big breakfast meeting to introduce the local PR firms to IT Week's editors. I was the first one introduced to the 200 or so flacks in attendance and had to spend the next couple of hours in chipper conversation. I don't know how well I managed. I had a days growth of beard and couldn't see straight. I looked like a heroin addict (i.e., my normal self, only more so).

After that, I was ushered into a induction program for new hires, along with a handfull of other people. The HR manager here is on vacation for a week in Tunisia, so we were inducted by an assistant (a new one) who didn't have a clue who I was and why I was here. She misspelled my name on all the paper work, for example, but that was easy enough to fix. Harder to fix was the sudden realization that my family wasn't covered under any health insurance while they are still living in the US (Ziff-Davis UK doesn 't offer any health insurance, relying on the national health service instead). The assistant had no idea how to fix that problem, and only seemed dimly aware that this was a problem at all (she suggested I wait until next week or the week after to worry about it!!). Fortunately, I got my boss to pay (about $1,000!) for an extension to our current health insurance for a couple of months, which went into affect immediately.

I survived until 3 or so, when a car came to picked me up for the hotel. I'm at a Holiday Inn in the London Docklands, which I wouldn't recommend. It's a long way from everything, including any Tube or rail stops, and it's a bit run-down and gloomy. My room is big enough, but it only has a porthole for a window (which is part of ship/dock motif, I guess) so it's very dark. The room service menu is also a bit thin. The only thing remotely edible on it was a burger, so I risked mad cow disease and ordered one. There are plenty of Indian and Chinese take-out places nearby, so I'll probably be frequenting those.

After getting that meal down, I took a walk along the Thames. Nice walk, nice neighborhood (at least the part right up to the river), horribly dirty water. Quite large objects floating all over the place. Remind me not to complain about the Charles anymore.

I went to bed around 6:30pm, fell instantly asleep, and woke, well-rested and ready for work, at 12:30am (God knows why, since that's 7:30pm, EDT). Since it was a bit early to go to work, I read until I finally fell asleep again at 4am. Up again at 7am.

Things looked up on the second day. I sit next to a guy who is being relocated to San Francisco next Sunday. He's been editing my section until I came, so I shadowed him all day and drilled him with questions. By the end of the day, I was getting the feeling that I might be able to do this job. Probably illusory.

I also had an eye-opening first meeting with a vendor. It was with Novell. It's new head of marketing in the UK is a South African. He spent a good part of the two-hour (!) meeting telling a room full of British how much he can't stand the British, how backward they all are, etc. Interesting. Novell will do well here. Maybe the British like that (they all just nodded a lot).

The weather is similar. One minute, I'll look out the window and it's a beautiful sunny day. Less than an hour later, it's pelting rain. An hour after that: sunny again. We even had a couple of thunderstorms, which the locals tell me is unusual.

The Tower of London is outside our window. I'm back a bit from the window, so I only see the top of the tallest tower, with a British flag flapping away on it.

Other things I've noticed: They dressed better here. No one over 25 or so wears sneakers, unless they're running. Mine mark me as an American tourist from miles away. I'll have to buy some shoes this weekend and a few non-jeans and shirts. They also wear dark, muted colors (mostly black). I stand out.

The television is a bit better in some ways. I watched Braveheart and Aliens on TV, unedited, and without commercial break. (Mental note: Watch the kids with the television). I'm sure they also run good movies once in a while.

That's all for now. I'll update regularly.