[23 March] 2001: A Motorway Odyssey

Today, I had to visit IBM Hursley to meet the conference director and
my co-chair for the
2001 WebAhead conference
(8-12 October in Hursley — IBMers only, sorry) and do some serious
preliminary planning; phone calls and e-mail are wonderful tools, but
somnetimes there’s no substitute for being in the same room, looking at
the same whiteboard, and being able to interrupt in real time.

Chris and Simon had Real Work to do in the morning (or at least other
meetings to attend), and I could be productive using the high-speed
connection at the hotel, so we agreed that I’d plan to arrive in Hursley
about noon, just in time for lunch. I left just before 11, and if I hadn’t
turned the wrong way when I left the motorway, I would have been early
— as it was, I could still claim to be “on time” by airline reporting
standards.

The Hursley cafeteria is not terribly outstanding, so we gave it a miss
and had lunch at a local pub (The Kings Head, which the 2001 Good Pub
Guide
rates as a “Lucky Dip”). Since I’m an American, I contented
myself with a half-pint to accompany my food; Chris and Simon upheld the
national honour with a pint each.

Then we went back to the lab, had a quick meeting with the Assistant Lab
Director and an even quicker one with the new Lab Director, and spent a
long afternoon making plans and drawing up schedules and rough agendas.
At the end of the day, we had made great progress; I guess having done
this conference three times already helps.

Then I got back onto the motorway to go back to the hotel, zipping right
along. Until I got just past Junction 4, where traffic stopped.
Completely. With no hope of escape. Every so often, I’d be able to
creep ahead a few feet — and since I was driving a stick, that meant
having to clutch and shift, then go back to neutral to wait again. And
the car had a stiff clutch, too.

Radio traffic reports said that things weren’t going to get any better
in the six or so miles before I reached the M25. Luckily, just before I
left the hotel, I remembered I had brought a UK Road Atlas with me, and
I went back to the room to get it, “just in case.” So I figured out
an alternate route, eased over to the left lane (British drivers are
far more cooperative than Israelis!), and, a mere twenty minutes
and one mile later, I was off the motorway.

From there, it was relatively clear sailing, and I pulled in to the
Hertz lot only an hour-and-a-half later than I should have (not so
good for a one hour trip). In theory, I should have taken the Hertz bus
to the terminal and then caught a Hotel Hoppa back to my hotel, but I
was in a hurry, so I persuaded the Hertz driver to drop
me at the exit from Heathrow to the A4 (Bath Road) and I walked the 0.8
miles back to the hotel.

Boy, is this place expensive!

The Marriott is a nice enough hotel, and their base rate isn’t
insane (at least not at the IBM rate), but the incidentals here can kill
you. My rate doesn’t include breakfast, but the hotel’s happy to supply
the continental breakfast buffet for 12 pounds (plus tax and tip).
Internet access is 12 pounds a night (again, plus tax) — that’s about
double the going rate in the US (or Israel, for that matter), but it’s
far cheaper than trying to connect by phone (about a buck a minute!).
And laundry is obscenely expensive — it shouldn’t cost more to wash
something than it cost to buy it!

Passing bad currency

The UK has this nasty habit of taking coins and bills out of circulation
from time to time. When they do this, you have to bring your old money
to a
bank to exchange it for the new model — and that can be a real pain for
an occasional visitor like me.

And apparently they’ve just taken some old 20-pound notes out of
circulation — including the one I still had from last October. I tried
to visit the bank branch at IBM to exchange it, but I was too late;
fortunately, the cashier at Tesco’s was either nice or not too observant
and accepted my bill. I’m sure Tesco’s will be able to exchange it for
new money with no problem, too.

Tomorrow, it’s off to Paris. I intend to be sure not to bring any
francs home with me, because I know they’ll be no good before my
next trip!

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