Thursday, 15 May 2014

Mass Observation

This blog post comes to you courtesy of Mass Observation

An abnormal day starts out more abnormal than expected when the builders turn up on the doorstep to start some renovation work on the new house.  Some communication had obviously gone AWOL somewhere, so we had no idea they were coming.  It's lucky for them that anyone is home - I'm travelling today so I was still pottering round getting everything ready to leave just before 9am.  Their arrival puts me in a bit of a spin as I hastily sort them out with keys and coffee and generally make sure they know what they’re doing.  Then I have only a few minutes to get myself sorted out and make sure I have everything.  Finding a European travel plug adapter proves a bit of a challenge. They used to live in the drawer under the bed, but we just had a new bed, sans drawers, so now it's anyone’s guess where they are.  I eventually track them down in the bottom of a bag in a wardrobe in Ella's bedroom.

By 9.15am I'm waiting at Pokesdown (For Boscombe) train station.  I'm heading for Grenoble with work, to catch up with the researchers in our Innovation group. As the head of our software development teams, I'm there to talk about the technical bits, but also to work out the plan for getting some of our developers living and working alongside them in Grenoble for a period of time.  The journey down to Grenoble is a little arduous - Pokesdown to Brockenhurst on the stopping train, then hopping to the fast train to Waterloo, where I'll join up with my colleagues Greg and Tim.  From Waterloo it's a tube across London to St Pancras, on to the Eurostar to Paris, the metro across Paris to catch the TGV that will carry us down to Grenoble.  All in all it'll take about 10 hours.  On the plus side, Grenoble is a thoroughly nice place to spend some time, a bustling city against a beautiful backdrop of the French Alps.

An uneventful journey to Waterloo, mostly spent talking shop about the trip.  As we get off the train, Tim insists that taking the bus to St Pancras is far better than taking the tube, which requires a change of line mid-journey.  A debate ensues as Greg asserts that we'll need Oyster cards and won't be able to pay cash for the bus journey, but Tim thinks we can, and won't take no for an answer.  We wait in Spring sunshine for the bus.  When the 59 to Kings Cross arrives, cash is acceptable, but Tim offers the bus driver a £20 note.  Unsurprisingly, the bus driver won't take it.  He says the trip is £7 for the 3 of us. I offer £6 in change, but the bus driver clearly doesn't have time for this and just waves us on anyway without paying.  I'm not sure how Tim does it.  As we take our seats, Greg points out that £7 isn't evenly divisible by 3.

St Pancras is busy, but the Eurostar terminal is actually a reasonable place to be, clean and well lit.  It even has a long bank of plug sockets, which is heartening to see - I seem to spend most of my time at airports and train stations hunting round for power for laptops and phones.  We sit at Caffe Nero; Greg asks Tim to get him a “skinny wet latte”.  The barista has no idea what this means.  Nor do we.  I suspect Greg is pulling Tim's leg, but it turns out it's a latte with no foam.  First world problems.  Everyone agrees that the brie & bacon ciabatta is remarkably delicious.

17:35 (CET)
The Eurostar is efficient, and we arrive at Gare du Nord bang on time.  It’s just as busy as St Pancras, and we weave through crowds to get to the metro.  We are a slightly shambolic crew, no-one really knowing where we need to go, but somehow we make it without trouble to Gare du Paris Lyon, where the TGV is waiting to take us to Grenoble.  Within minutes we're at full speed trundling through the French countryside.

18:30 (CET)
I have to admit, France is a lovely place.  A lot like England, but unmistakably not so.  We career down towards Grenoble, the rolling hills slowly becoming more dramatic, glimpses of proper mountains on the horizon as we skirt the Massif Central.  At Lyon the train takes on a somewhat more sedate pace.  We console ourselves with a couple of cans of Kronenbourg.  My French is terrible; the lady in the buffet car is a little put out at having to repeat her questions in English (bottle or can? Small or large?).  I suspect she's used to it.  On the way down, we talk about the perils of agile software development, how what was once cutting edge has become the norm, and so almost becoming the very thing it set out to replace. In good news, a national newspaper has published a story about how our company is using machine learning algorithms - some of the software that my teams produce - to look through Twitter and predict who should be included in the World Cup squad on the basis of sentiment.  On the down side, that newspaper is the Daily Mail, and they get our company name wrong at least once.

23:00 (CET)
We arrive in Grenoble.  Cash, once again, is an issue - we only have 12 Euros between us.  Tim asks the taxi driver, in what sounds to Greg and I like surprisingly fluent French, whether he can pay by card.  The driver actually speaks pretty good English, he says no, but we agree that 12 euros is enough to get us to our destination.  Ten euros later, we're at the Park Hotel, a strange anachronism, where room keys are still actually real keys, and every surface that stays still long enough is mirrored.  It's either outdated or a carefully cultivated image - either way it's comfortable enough anyway.  We find the closest place to eat, a roomy burger joint above the multiplex cinema just over the road.  It's decent food, although I'm quickly reminded of just how rare the French like their meat.

End of a long day, settling down with the laptop.   I answer some work emails - between holiday, meetings and travel, I've only spent one day in the last 2 weeks at work, so I have a backlog that I feel obliged to battle - and peruse Facebook. Most of the Facebook posts are just reposts of memes.  Wherefore art thou original thought?  I decide that Facebook has jumped the shark.

Want to get an early start in the morning, I need to run off the beer and burgers.  Alarm set for 6.30am.  Lights out.

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