So you’re probably not wondering what happened this weekend, but I’m going to tell you anyway. Skip over this entry if the former is true.
The weekend essentially started on Friday night. We went for pizza at the local Pizza Hut, going in plenty of time so as not to miss the train. We took later trains to save money so we weren’t due to leave Bradford until about half past 7, so we decided to have dinner first and there’s a Pizza Hut near Bradford Interchange. Unfortunately they forgot about our order, meaning that it was an hour before we actually got served. Thankfully we were given our drinks free, and we did finish in time. And naturally, despite turning up on time at the station, the train was delayed.
Which would have presented a problem at Leeds as we’d have no time between our train arriving and our next train departing. But as our next train was run by Virgin Trains, it was, of course, running late as well, so we made the connection with no problems and we actually made up some time into Birmingham.
We briefly popped into central Birmingham, since it’s the first time I’ve been there in over 3 years. Birmingham has changed dramatically since then, with the opening of the new Bullring centre, which looks absolutely amazing. The new city centre is almost unrecognisable and I’m really impressed with the progress, despite having seen similar renovations in Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield. Let’s hope Bradford is next.
We had lunch at Quizno’s. Although their main US rival Subway has over 500 outlets in the UK already, Quizno’s hasn’t really expanded much in the UK – there’s a few in London and this one in Birmingham (and allegedly in Brighton too) and that’s about it so far. I’d heard good things about Quizno’s subs and I’d have to say I wasn’t disappointed – the tuna sub I had was very, very nice. The other thing I’d heard about Quizno’s is that they are quite expensive, and this trend continues in their UK franchise operation, with their prices somewhat above what you would pay at Subway. But it does at least taste nicer. So, you know, if any Quizno’s execs are reading this, I’d really hope they would consider opening up some outlets up here.
The Bullring also plays host to a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream stall, so we just had to get a tub each. Because Ben & Jerry’s is just sooooo good, and they had the full flavour range.
We then went onwards to London, and this marked my first time on a Virgin Pendelino tilting train (mainly because they operate on the West Coast Main Line and I live on the Eastern side of the country). I have to say I do like them, and the tilting around the bends is only slightly noticable, though I was slightly fobbed off at paying £1.50 for a half-litre bottle of Ribena at the on-board shop. It also happens to run between two of my least favourite stations – Birmingham New Street and London Euston – they’re so boring and dark. Give me somewhere like Manchester Piccadilly (post-refurbishment) anyday.
Thanks to the opening of the London City Airport Docklands expansion on the 6th of December (i.e. 4 days earlier) there were now direct trains from Bank underground to Canning Town, where our hotel (Express by Holiday Inn) was located, so this made travelling from Euston a bit easier (it removes the necessary change at Westferry to a train from Tower Gateway). We dumped our bags at the hotel and got changed, and then caught the Jubbly (sorry.. Jubilee) line into central London.
The Geek Dinner
Though the dinner didn’t really start until 8pm, some people were there as early as 6pm. We came around 7-ish, when there were a number of people there but not too many, and got chatting to a few fellow geeks. With having Hari in tow it was a little different to last time – she’s not really a geek like me so I was having to consciously try to involve her in conversation and not talk about pure geekery. Not easy in a room full of geeks and I know some of the stuff we chatted about went straight over her head. But then, to be fair, some of it went straight over mine too…
The dinner actually only cost £10 this time – last time it was £20 and this figure was advertised, however Sam Sethi of MSN apparently managed to cover 50% of the costs. Couple this with lots of free Stormhoek wine (see below) and financially it shouldn’t have been such an expensive evening. I say shouldn’t because I blew over a fiver on a very strong Margharita, that myself and Hari worked through, as well as a fair bit of beer.
I had a brief chat with Scoble and Maryam (who was still as sweet as ever), along with Hugh and various others whose names I cannot remember. It was good to meet up with people I’d met last time – it’s just a pity that I still cannot remember their names… I also had a good chat with the lovely Gia, especially about , the film which she’s blogging about and that is due out in October 2006, and I briefly waved at Sven Latham since he was talking to someone else at the time. I saw Dan Gillmor but didn’t have chance to actually speak to him.
Over dinner Hari and I had a chat with Ian Forrester and Sheila Thomson (I think – her name was definitely Sheila anyway) about RSS and some of the problems with internationalisation that it suffers from – more on that in a future entry but with Ian working for BBC World Service he seems to be in a good position to comment. The food was very good – the beef especially, which despite being mass-catered still tasted very nice.
We didn’t stay to the end and missed out on the champagne later on (damn it) but we were both tired and it’s a good 20 minutes tube journey back to the hotel – this being the major downside of saving money by staying in Docklands instead of central London, but all in all we both had a good time and I got one of Scoble’s funky business cards as designed by Hugh.
I should probably say something about the wine at the dinner, seeing as we got it free and I’m apparently supposed to review it. But I don’t mind as actually it is really good wine, especially the Shiraz (red) wine which is some of the nicest red wine I’ve had in a long time. You can buy the Sauvignan Blanc (which is pretty good but not outstanding)– haven’t yet seen the red on sale anywhere here yet.
We woke up at 8:30am, and though I did wake up briefly during the night we weren’t disturbed by the explosion, though we did hear about it on Sky News which was on during breakfast. We had tickets for the London Eye at 11, and so I sort-of panicked because I thought we’d be late since we were told to expect to queue for at least half an hour and probably longer because it was a weekend, meaning we had to be there not long after 10am. And we had to find somewhere to leave our suitcase, which ended up being the left luggage bureau at London Waterloo since it was on the way. Turns out the queue was a mere 10 minutes and we were actually on the wheel by 10:30am and off by 11, so we had a bit more time than we expected. Still, by then the queues were building up so it was probably worth getting on a little earlier.
The Eye itself was very good. It was a bit misty towards the south-east but other than that it was quite a clear, sunny day so almost perfect for getting good views of the city. Although I went on it about 4 years ago Hari has never been so it was a new experience for her, and we both enjoyed it. Though it wasn’t until Saturday that she told me that she was scared of heights… still, she was okay and didn’t get vertigo or anything like that.
Because we had an extra half hour to kill, the walk along the River Thames to Tate Modern became somewhat more leisurely, and we popped into an automata exhibition in the Oxo Tower which was very interesting. Outside the Tate Modern is a pub called The Founder’s Arms which is where we went for lunch and where we met up with Chris Romp and his roommate Katie. We had a chat about the differences between British and American culture and politics, as well as general geekery.
We then went to the Tate Modern briefly, mostly because the ladies’ toilets in the pub were out of order and Hari needed the loo, but also to see the current exhibition in the Turbine Hall which involves lots of white plastic boxes. Doesn’t sound that interesting but it’s kinda cool. We didn’t spend a long time here as we had quite an early train out of King’s Cross to catch, so we picked up the tube at Southwark (pronounced ‘suthock’) – the route from Tate Modern to Southwark is marked out by orange-painted lampposts, which is handy as without a map I wouldn’t have had a clue otherwise.
We got back to Bradford about 6pm, and then went out for a curry. And that was our weekend. Photos will come soon but they need sorting and processing first, especially those taken on the London Eye which need some of the haziness toning down.