An edited version of the following article appeared in the regular My Week column in the pull-out business section of Tuesday’s Nottingham Evening Post. (Having written the piece, it seemed churlish not to blog it.)
The perky new photo on the sidebar was supposed to accompany the article, but missed the copy deadline. No matter.
For fairly obvious reasons, what follows isn’t altogether written in my usual blogging style – but nevertheless, you should be able to detect a fair degree of envelope-pushing along the way.
My partner and I are staying with my mother in Cambridge. While Mother rises virtuously early for sacristan duties at Little Saint Mary’s church, we heathens opt for an indolent morning with the papers. In the afternoon, a surprisingly easy and pleasant train journey back to Nottingham, with splendid views of Ely cathedral in passing. With no reading material to occupy them, the young couple opposite spend the entire journey bickering. (“You never listen!” “Don’t touch me!”) Sinking deeper into our books, we tune them out as best we can.
I rise at what should be the crack of dawn – except that this particular dawn is a long time cracking. Maybe it’s feeling as sluggish as I am. The office is ten minutes’ walk from our front door, through the quiet gas-lit streets of The Park. I arrive much earlier than usual; there’s a mountain of work to complete before tomorrow’s visit to Barcelona.
I work for a global IT consultancy, with offices in the UK, USA and China. Although much of our work is related to the financial services sector, we have a wide range of other clients, including a major car manufacturer. This company is implementing a new software package across its European sales centres, replacing various local systems with a common, standardised solution. My chief responsibilities are for co-ordinating the translation activities, and providing customised training materials for each territory in advance of the software implementation. With work already completed in France and Germany, I am currently liasing closely with clients in Switzerland and Spain (Italy and Holland are looming on the horizon). Most weeks involve a site visit, and this week is no exception.
With the Swiss deadline newly brought forward, I end up pounding the keyboard until 9:30 p.m., fuelled with that virtuous, almost masochistic glow which comes with being the only one left in the office.
“I was here until 9:30 last night, you know!”, I chirp merrily to anyone in earshot, hopefully with just the right tone of chipper martyrdom, in a blatant attempt to curry sympathy from my colleagues. It’s a transparent ploy, but it keeps me happy.
The Barcelona flight is delayed by thirty minutes, allowing time for another swift half in the bar at East Midl…sorry, at Nottingham East Midlands airport, as we must now call it. (Being something of a Little Nottinghamer when it comes to matters of civic pride, I am more than happy with the name change.) I’m a frequent business traveller with bmibaby – if that doesn’t sound too oxymoronic. Yes, I admit it: low cost air travel might make sense to many, but damn it, I miss the peace and calm of the old British Midlands business lounge. I am a simple man: give me a gin and tonic with complimentary snack-ettes, and I am yours for life. Somewhere to plug in the laptop would also be nice. However, with no airport business facilities remaining, my delicate eardrums are left to the mercy of the endless, shrill, “last and final call” requests for mysteriously errant passengers. Given the relatively compact size of the departure area, I find this somewhat baffling.
Outside, it’s 16 degrees in sunny Barcelona; a brief foretaste of the spring to come. Inside, the day is spent in a succession of meetings with the clients, both defining and refining their detailed requirements, and collectively pooling our knowledge and resources. An atmosphere of frenzied but good-natured co-operation prevails; with so much to get through, our minds are concentrated wonderfully.
The evening is spent in the city’s old quarter, with three UK colleagues. After dinner at the decidedly smart Gran Café (an accidental find, highly recommended), we find ourselves in a bar which oozes Barcelona cool – complete with spontaneous salsa dancing from some of the patrons. Mercifully, our participation is confined to polite hand-clapping.
We end the evening in a so-called “Irish” bar, drinking Spanish beer, listening to American music, watching Italian football, and chatting with the Swedish/Sri Lankan barmaid. Authenticity be damned!
The morning is spent explaining the new software to the key administrators, who will need expert knowledge from day one. Next, a more detailed presentation of the training materials to the external trainer, who starts his courses next month. Mid-afternoon, walking downstairs for coffee, a British colleague notices that my (brand new) trousers have split at the back, revealing a good two inches of dazzling white underwear. Maybe that sales bargain was too good to be true after all.
I spent the rest of the afternoon artfully concealing my sartorial shame. Whenever obliged to walk around the large, open-plan office, I clasp my hands firmly behind my back, rather in the manner of the Duke of Edinburgh. Thankfully, no-one notices a thing. Maybe they’re simply too polite to pass comment. Or maybe they’re all quietly doubled up in hysterics behind me. Ignorance is sometimes bliss.
After tapas in town (cheap, cheerful and delicious), a late flight home, also delayed. I crawl into bed around 1:30.
I didn’t get to bed until 1:30 this morning, you know!”, I chirp merrily to anyone in earshot. I suspect that you’re beginning to get the measure of me.
The day passes in a blur of frantic keyboard pounding; after two days in Spain, I have been neglecting the Swiss, and so must catch up.
In the early evening, we drive out to our “country pile” in Derbyshire, via The Gate at Brassington (our favourite pub for miles around). Supper, log fire, telly, wine, bliss.
More frantic keyboard pounding – but for a rather different purpose this time. I’m on the judging panel for The Bloggies (www.bloggies.com), which are a set of annual awards given to the best weblogs from around the world. I’m helping to judge ten categories, including Best Photography and Most Humorous. With around two dozen finalists in each category, sifting through the sites is an enormous task, but I try to maintain an objective view of each site’s particular merits, regardless of my own personal preferences (a particularly tough job when it comes to the Best Political category).
By tea-time, I am almost forcibly removed from my laptop and bundled into the car – it’s time for another visit to relatives, and time to banish computers from my thoughts for the rest of the weekend.
(Guess which section got sub-edited out? Clearly, the Nottingham business community is not yet ready for my pants. Would it have have helped if I’d mentioned they were Calvin Klein?)