Friday, April 15, 2011


The first 'day' of our adventure to Athens was mostly travel and then straight into an event. But the second day was slightly less hectic. Waking at 8.15 I was up and showered when my boss knocked on my door to hand me the phone so I could rearrange a meeting. I'd said 12 April and meant 12. But never mind, we were still able to meet up with our contact at the BGS and duly headed back down into the metro - our favoured means of travel around the city.

Our hotel was extremely nice, and near the metro, as was our original hotel. We'd had to change as we'd been told that not only was it in the red light district (not really a problem) but that there were regular riots and drug dealing in the square. We will do a lol for our employers, but not that (drugs, fights or the other)!

The metro stations were wonderfully clean, bright, almost advert free and efficient. In some stations the excavations had exposed ancient works, so instead of being covered up they were made a feature of the station (see picture above). We found our station for our meeting and headed off. Down leafy roads, into a nice residential area. 'What number are we going to?' asks boss. I show her the email, and she says '84'. Off we went up this little alley. Past no. 8 ... past 18... past 34... until we could see the other end of the street where it ended in a junction. 'Let me see that email again'. I handed it over - '8A'. Oh dear, we'd passed our destination probably a quarter of a mile back. Well, it was a warm morning, not bad weather for a nice walk.

After our meeting we decided to head into town and see a few things before making our way airportwards (no, I know that's not a word, but it works doesn't it?). Having had no breakfast, our first priority was lunch. We took the metro again into the centre and as soon as we walked out of the station, were surrounded by ancient things including some restoration works stacked up that made it look a bit like a DIY store garden display. The city was bright in the sunshine, the streets buzzing with people and we wandered on towards what we hoped was the centre.

We found a lovely pedestrian area that underlooked by the mountain (OK, I'm being liberal with the English language, but it's the best word I can think of for now). There were cafes, street sellers and plenty of gypsy beggars. We eventually selected a restaurant where the waiter did not leap out at us and try and drag us into their lair. As we walked past one set of waiters, we declined their offer and a comment was dropped in Greek. It was quite obviously a compliment (perhaps not a very tactful one) directed at my colleague. She was oblivious but I turned slowly and looked at the waiter who, probably assuming I had understood (well I understood the sentiment if not the language) looked away quickly.

The thing about being OFU is that people ignore you and that means you can observe. It's a bit like being invisible, except that people don't walk into you. This can be especially entertaining when you are out with someone who is younger, pretty and thin. My boss stood out in Greece - she is tall, pale and attractive. She turned heads regularly. What amused me was her not noticing - car drivers, passers by, waiters... they most certainly liked to look, potentially to the detriment of their own safety!

We had a good lunch and came up with a cracking plan for some events later in the year. One thing I've learned about my boss, I don't think she stops working - ever! As the weather was warm and our business part of the day over, she changed out of her business clothes into a dress.

After our meal we wandered down to the entrance to the nearest ancient monument which I thought looked like the Acropolis (in fact I had said it was the Acropolis - d'oh!). The waiter who had previously commented in Greek said, in English as she passed, 'Oh, nice dress'. She completely missed the comment. 'I was expecting something bigger' my colleague said as we looked at the brilliant marble structure nestling in the rich green of pine trees and well-watered grass. It was, in fact, the Agora (left) another ancient structure. Well, now we were even - I scored minus one for misidentifying the Agora, she scored minus one for reading 84 instead of 8A! (Actually, as I got the date of the meeting wrong, I was probably on minus two.)

We wandered over to the guard who was on the phone. 'Closed'. He said, brusquely. Oh. 3pm? That was rather early! Never mind, time for the Acropolis. We meandered on down the street to the next metro station, to discover (on asking a friendly policeman) that we were at the bottom of the road that leads to the Acropolis. Our walk commenced, in the warm sunshine, past a flea-market and on up into the foothills below the Acropolis. After a wonderful walk past many interesting sights, we reached the gate to the Acropolis. 'Closed'. Just our luck! One afternoon in Athens and we manage to miss the opening times of it's greatest attraction. Instead we climbed up onto a rock with superb views over the city and of the Acropolis above (these are on my Facebook page). I took a picture of my boss on the rock as she looked so relaxed and summery. In fact it could be that we hadn't talked work for about half an hour, so maybe she was unwinding.

One amusing thing we noticed on the way up, and back down, from the Acropolis was the dead dogs everywhere. They weren't really dead - they were just sleeping. But there must have been a good 15 or more of them, some lying in the shade, some flaked out in the sun. They looked a bit like the aftermath of a cull.

Being in a foreign city means I have to buy something for my family - in this case I bought a little snow globe of the Acropolis. We had joked about there being a snow globe tourist trinket - because the last thing we could imagine was snow! Being a collector of playing cards (this is my claim to 'sad'), I also purchased some cards. They were not exactly the usual pretty views or ancient sights, they were in fact called 'Greek Lovers' and (once I'd opened the packet) I realised bordering on pornographic! We headed back down into the town, then back to the hotel to pick up our bags and head off to the airport. On the way we stopped for some strawberries - huge piles of them displayed like mini strawberry mountains on stalls in the market square. Our journey back to the metro though took us via a slightly less touristy street. We didn't go far along it before turning back into tourist land. Closed shops, sad looking people, rubbish in the streets and the shops that were open selling house remnants. It wasn't the most appealing of areas, but it was the real face of the city, the darker side that every place has.

At the hotel we sat for a while before beginning our homeward journey. I passed the unopened playing card pack to my colleague - she was looking and laughing and completely unaware that the senior concierge was looking over her shoulder, at her and at the cards, with his eyebrows rather animatedly heading skywards. I was in fits of laughter because he then walked on, shaking his head at me in a friendly way and she had not noticed. The other thing I've learned about my boss: she is good fun to be out and about with, both for work and when off duty.

On the plane home she worked for three and a half hours solid. I slept and dreamed and did a bit of demon wrestling. A productive and informative and educational trip. I really want to go back again one day.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Facepage and Webbook

That's how tired I was by Wednesday evening when talking with my boss. Facepage and webbook - they sound kind of convincing, don't they? Mind you, she was not at all convinced that there is a dinosaur called Barry (baryonyx walkeri actually). I have no idea how we ended up talking about dinosaurs - it was late and we were on the bus from North terminal to South. Which was a bit mad really. Our flight was from South terminal Gatwick, but we had been emailed by Squeezyjet that it was changed to North. So we parked at North. And were then told it was South. So we took the Gatwick hornby train set to South and did catch our flight to Athens. But on the way back our flight was delayed, so it landed at North and we were unloaded and put on a bus to South. So we got off at South, picked up our luggage, and got the train back to North. And then, driving out, went past South again. The amount of times we'd gone between the two terminals for just two flights ... felt like we'd travelled halfway to Greece.

We'd pulled two rather long days by this time so our conversation was starting to sound a little surreal, and still with a two hour car journey ahead. No worries, though - in the mood for Abba (but none available) we were kept awake instead with loud French rap music. Of course, what else? But having taken you to and from Athens in just a couple of paragraphs, perhaps I should fill in the bit in the middle which was a business trip for a networking event in Athens. The University I work for has networking events all over the place - there was one last month in Hong Kong which my colleague went to and next month I get to go to Southend too! But this time it was Athens, to the land of fabulous ancient architecture and, as it happens, my first sight of a modern European shanty town. The financial situation in Greece is difficult as we know, but I guess it's diferent when you see it with your own eyes, in Europe (not some far away African country as we are used, and immunised - not immune - to). That was a very small part of our trip though. The purpose of our trip was the social event with our alumni.

We arrived in Athens after waking at 4.30am to leave at 5 and catch a 9am flight. So we started our day tired - but also didn't have a lot of rest time as we had to time shift two hours forward on arrival. No problem: metro from airport to hotel, enough time for a change of clothes and then off to the venue by taxi. Unfortunately lots of registered delegates did not turn up, but fortunately lots of those who hadn't, did. But this did mean the hand-writing of many badges with long and complicated Greek names. Thankfully we had a colleague with us, Maria, who is native Greek. Otherwise I think I could have proably totally screwed up the spelling of so many Greek names as to have invented a new language. The event went well and thankfully did not finish too late. There was nice food and drink and lots of good talk and socialising - exactly what we wanted. After the event we went back to the hotel (boss, myself and Maria) and had our debrief camped on Maria's bed with tin trays full of take-away leftovers from the buffet. An odd 'hotel picnic'. Plenty of laughter though, that always helps round things off nicely. I slept like a log and awoke fresh and ready for action at 8.00am. First thing I had to do was call and re-arrange a meeting that I had got completely the wrong day for. But it was ok. Day two of our mini-Greek odyssey began. And that, I think, will be another chapter.

Picture: even the Metro stations have ancient monuments in them - this is one that is showcased in the station where they dug up a Roman watercourse.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

18 women, 3 dogs, 2 Irish songs and a dozen lawyers

What a busy week! Last weekend I went on a walking trip with 18 women and 3 dogs (and the only bitch had four feet, honest). We went to Burnham Deepdale on the Norfolk coast and, as luck would have it, the weather was lovely! We strung out along the coastal path as we walked but I kept getting left behind. Totally my own fault, I'd keep stopping to look at avocets, oystercatchers, ducks and geese.

I didn't know a lot of the people walking, but I was with two friends and maybe have made a couple more - unless my bad singing put them off in the garden on the Saturday night. It was a great fun weekend though - good company, good food (we cooked en-masse in the kitchen) and great countryside. I do like the Norfolk coast.

Sunday evening was Mother's Day and I was taken out by my daughter for a lovely meal. Accompanied by my mother, and my adopted daughter (not really, but she's like another daughter) plus other friends, it was a lovely evening. An exhausting weekend! But my busy-ness did not stop there.

On Monday night I went to the local open mic session in Wivenhoe and I played a couple of songs. The audience seemed to like them (it was early on, so not a lot of people there at that time). Later on I played again, only this time with my office colleague, Matt. I played, he sang - two Irish songs with lots of enthusiasm. Other colleagues came along to watch (I was astounded, usually work mates say 'yeah, I'll be there' and have a string of excuses in the morning why they didn't turn up) and videoed the performance. Available on Youtube of course (7 Drunken Nights, Rocky Road to Dublin) .

So how do we get to a dozen lawyers? Back to work! On Wednesday night I ran my first event for my new employer: a networking session for lawyers at the Inner Temple in London. On the whole it went well but I think the sunny weather persuaded a few folks to hit the sunshine rather than the smoking room (as our venue was called). My biggest mistake of the whole evening was a simple one I should have seen coming. I wore the wrong boots! Before we'd even started my feet were smarting. Oh well, hopefully that was the worst that happened.

I met an extremely interesting and lovely lawyer called Mark who, as well as having got up to some 'high jinks' at University, has also been Knighted by the Pope. I had never heard of that before. He told me how he had a green suit made, a hat with ostrich feathers and got to wear a sword! Fabulous - I hope he sends me the photo. He also mentioned that the papal crew told him that most folks knighted by his holiness only last about six months, so was he sure he wanted to buy the green suit? Admittedly, I guess most of the be-knighted (that doesn't quite work lingusitically, does it?) are probably beyond dotage, unlike Mark.

So - an active and enjoyable week. Oh, and I played badminton on Thursday at work too. You know, just in case I don't do enough in my days...