Seven Lessons from London

Several funny things hapened on the way back from Vancouver, some better, some worse, so I thought I’d share them as cautionary tales. Ignore them at your peril.

1. Never leave your hotel details on the plane

It was all so simple. Having spent three days in Canada, I would touch down at London Heathrow at 1.30 in the afternoon. At 4PM I was due at the Institute of Directors to give a presentation, so there was enough time to get to a hotel, change, shower and maybe even squeeze in ten minutes of rest. To my delight and surprise, I did sleep on the plane, this was even more surprising given that there were babies everywhere – Air Canada must have given a discount for multiple babies or something, as they were next to me, behind me and across the aisle – but they all slept (that womb-like rumble probably helped) and so did I (the Melatonin probably helped as well). My relief was so great, I failed to notice I was no longer in possession of the piece of paper containing my hotel details, a fact I didn’t notice until I was on the Heathrow Express to Paddington.

That’s OK, I thought to myself, the hotel’s just round the corner from Paddington, isn’t it?

2. Never trust essential details to memory

I walked round the corner to Lancaster Gate, asI recalled a map which showed the hotel just on the edge of Hyde Park. As I trundled along, my black wheelie flight case meandering behind me like a labrador puppy, I checked my watch: 2.15 PM. Loads of time. And there was the hotel – the Hyde Park Thistle. Perfect.

3. Always call to check the reservation

As I spoke to the lady at the Hyde Park Thistle, I realised I’d made a mistake. There was no record of my booking: no worries, she told me, there was a Jon Collins checked in at the Kensington Park Thistle, just a 15-minute walk across the park. Could she please check with the hotel, I asked, as I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice. Having tried to call the Kensington Park (to no avail – as the lady left a call to her own desk ringing, she explained to me the hotel chain’s 3-ring policy). Never mind, she was confident my hotel was the Kensington Park, nothing could go wrong.

4. Never trust computers (hotel systems or otherwise)

At the Kensington Park Thistle at 2.45, disaster struck. When the hotel had no trace of me (how inevitable, in hindsight) on their computer, I decided to check my original online booking so I booted up my computer. Or didn’t. The message “Operating system not found” appeared, and a clicking, whirring sound could just be heard, like a tiny man trying to start a motorbike inside my hard drive. This was not exactly what I needed. After twenty minutes or so, the desk clerk had got through to Thistle Central Reservations and had found my booking – replete with booking number – and he had scribbled it on a piece of paper. Jon Collins – Thistle Euston. With 55 minutes left, there was no wayI could get to the hotel before going to the IoD. All my best-laid plans had failed.

5. The tube is faster than the taxi

After heading towards Kensington High Street tube (direct to Green Park, 5 minutes from the IoD) I decided to hail a taxi – not least to compose myself and change my shirt, avoiding eye contact with passers by as I did so. The traffic at Hyde Park Corner was typically heavy for a mid-afternoon, and we went nowhere for a goodly while, eventually arriving at Pall Mall at just after 4PM. I had called ahead to explain the situation, so everything was fine.

6. Always take a backup with you

It is a reasonably standard experience to arrive at an event and be told that one’s presentation has already been installed on the speaker’s laptop. To the extent that, the last of my worries was that I would need to bring an electronic copy of my pitch. However, the falling faces as I explained the plight of my laptop told me something different. Now, despite the fact that I tell others on a regular basis to do good backups, I have been known to be less than reliable in my own backup routines. For once in my life however, this time I had a USB stick in my pocket, and I had synchronised it with my hard drive only a week or so before. Through this double quirk of fate, I was able to put a copy of the presentation onto the other speaker’s laptop.

And thus, victory was snatched from the jaws of defeat. Until…

7. Keep a spare shirt

The presentation went well, and a couple of people told me afterwards how relaxed I was, I explained how I had believed I was already dead – nothing could possibly get any worse. I had lost a laptop and I felt like I’d been wearing the same clothes for two days – which indeed I had. I was delighted to be informed that the IoD had a shower in the basement, and I freshened up in time for dinner (as an aside, the IoD comes highly recommended – lovely people, excellent service and great value). It all went well until the puddings: we were seated as tables of twelve, at round tables with large, square, white tablecloths that hung to the floor. Indeed, they came over the shoes of one poor soul who – and I hasten to add was perfectly in control of his faculties – who managed to entwine his foot in the tablecloth and fall backwards, pulling an entire load of empty plates and not so empty glasses towards him. Fortunately everything stayed on the table; not so fortunately the glasses of red toppled over and landed in such a way as to send a flurry of merlot droplets towards yours truly. I was not so much drenched as well-spotted, and the shirt I still required for the next day’s meetings was now ruined.

Still, it could have been worse. As we left I was asked if I planned to take a taxi.

“No, I think I’ll walk,” I said.

Seven Lessons from London

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