I’m back in one piece from London, which was an excellent trip. The flight over was long but uneventful, and I got in at 9:30PM. After waiting for an hour in the passport line, I got my bag, found a cab, and made my way to the hotel, a swanky, tidy little place in St. James, one street off of Picadilly.
The two biggest worries I had about the trip, getting to the rental shop and getting the gear back to the hotel, were accomplished with little time to spare. This involved my first ride on the tube, a transfer, and a disorienting stroll through Euston Station to find the rental shop. Somewhere along the way I got the idea that Ox should be doing a travelogue and I started snapping pictures of him for Finn. Once I made it to the shop, the rep was super helpful and got me squared away with everything I needed as well as a car back to the hotel.
There I humped all the gear up the stairs and into the conference room we’d booked. After some scheduling changes, we had one interviewee ready to shoot, so with the help of two of my colleagues we pushed all the tables to the side, set up a black backdrop, two lights, and three cameras, and shot the interview.
Then it was time to break everything back down and go get a bite to eat. I love the people who invited me to come on this trip, so our adventure into the Theatre District was eye-opening and filled with laughter. We settled on a Chinese restaurant where my friend Austin picked three dishes to try and we settled in to some Tiger beer.
Back at the hotel, we did a final pre-summit run of show meeting, I got all the cameras synced, and then hit the rack.
The next morning Austin and I grabbed as much breakfast as we could manage, then loaded all the gear from our rooms to the lobby, where we were met by the man with the car. So, to add to my list of surreal life experiences, I was driven to the gate of the English Foreign & Commonwealth Offices, in a suit, in a Land Rover. However, due to a last-minute mixup, our car wasn’t cleared to drive through security to the main doors, so we had to carry all of the camera gear down King Charles Street, through the courtyard, and up the stairs to the venue. Luckily the team came down to help and we made it all in one trip.
The whole building is immense and just as elaborate and detailed as you might imagine, every inch filled with carved hardwood, marble flooring, and artwork of all sizes and shapes. We were escorted by line-of-sight guards, who made sure we didn’t wander about in the building, so there was no exploration to be had.
We were using the The Locarno Suite, which was designed to host large dinners held by the Foreign Secretary in 1858, and it is breathtaking in its size and scope. It’s set up in an L-shape, with the Reception Room and Conference Room joined by a smaller, square Dining Room that’s twice the size of the footprint of my house. We set up our camera rig in the far back corner of the Reception Room next to a grand piano, and because we’d practiced the night before we had the whole thing built out in about a half an hour. I’d just gotten the last camera dialed in when we had our first interview, and we were off from there. We got a total of nine people to sit for us, including former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, and all of them were excellent. Between video shoots I took the long lens and shot stills of the meeting itself, as well as the group shot of the entire conference, which was exhilarating and excellent practice. The room was noisy and it was hard to control the lighting, but I think we’ve got something decent to start with.
By about 4:30 we’d gotten our last subject to sit for us, so we broke down the kit and they called a car for me. We hauled all of the gear back out of the building and down the steps in the opposite direction, and got there just as the car was pulling up. My driver turned out to be a fascinating Briton by way of Jamaica, who I wound up having a long and insightful conversation with about Brexit, immigration, and world events. He helped me get the gear out of the car, bring it back to the rental desk, and waited for me outside while the paperwork was completed. This was all unplanned but extremely appreciated, because I hadn’t calculated the number of hours one sits in London traffic, and if I’d done it on Thursday morning, I would have lost 3/4 of my free day to it.
Returning to the hotel, I changed into some jeans and set out to find something to eat nearby, as I’d only had breakfast and some disappointingly unappetizing sandwiches at the venue. I finally settled on Byron for a “proper hamburger” and started in on Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch.
Thursday I had all to myself, so after I reorganized my lodging situation (canceling the hotel I’d booked across the river and booking one more night in the 4-star I was already in at a lower group rate in order to avoid having to relocate) I filled up on breakfast and set out to the west for St. James’ Park and Buckingham Palace. As it turned out, I got there about an hour before the Changing of the Guard, but people had already queued up for the event and clogged the gates and sidewalk. Oh, the selfie sticks.
I stuck around to see the Horse Guards come through and then walked back towards the park until I heard the strains of the theme from Dallas being played by a band. Curious, I followed the sound until I came upon the Wellington Barracks, where the regimental band finished and then started playing Sir Duke. Next to them, the new detachment was forming up and making ready. I walked back over Birdcage Walk and found an empty section of railing on Spur Road. I only had to wait about five minutes before they formed up and marched out the gate and past me, only feet away.
Satisfied, I walked back through the park towards the Foreign & Commonwealth building, walked up the steps past Churchill’s War Room (the line was way too long) and onto Parliament Street, where I was faced with Big Ben and throngs of tourists pointing their iPhones and iPads skyward. By a stroke of luck I was walking past at exactly noon so I got to experience the sound of the Westminster Chimes at ground zero, which was awesome.
Walking across the bridge, I ducked photo opportunities until I reached the other side, then set up Ox for his shots. Here I paused to make a plan. Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace were mobbed with people, so I knew St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower would be too. I decided to walk further south to visit the Imperial War Museum, which I gambled would be quieter, and also have public restrooms, because I’d had a lot of coffee that morning.
The IWM did not disappoint. As it happened, I was there the day before the centennial of the Battle of the Somme, so there was a docent who gave a talk about the history. Then I walked the floors to see what there was. The museum has an impressive and compact collection of exhibits, including one of the original trucks from the Long Range Desert Group, a survivor Spitfire from the Battle of Britain, and a life ring from the Lusitania. I spent about two hours touring the museum and then decided to head east along the Thames, figuring I might be able to make it to the Tate Modern.
It was a longer walk than I thought, but the Tate was worth the distance. It’s a magnificent museum in terms of size and collection; after figuring out how to get into the galleries, I spent another two and a half hours there, basically until they kicked me out. I didn’t get to see the Tanks or view London from the roof, but I’m happy with what I did see.
At that point I had to turn around and start for home, so I retraced my steps along the river and crossed the Jubilee Bridge to Charing Cross and followed it up to Trafalgar Square for another picture op with Ox.
Returning to the hotel, I met up with some folks from the summit and followed them deep into the heart of Soho for dinner at a tiny little tapas place on a side street. There we ate and drank until 9:30, when the management kicked us out because they had reservations for the table. We wandered the streets looking for a pub and found the Star and Garter, where the Portugal/Poland game was playing, and enjoyed more drinks and conversation. I knew I had an early start the next morning, and the tiny voice in my head was telling me to call it a night, but I wound up drinking in the hotel with the crew until 3AM.
Friday morning I woke with a slight hangover and a sour stomach–on top of which I shoveled coffee and an English breakfast–got my gear sorted, and was checked out by 11AM. I had lunch plans with a couple of guys from the studio who produced our last institutional video, so I hopped a cab and made my way back across the bridge. They have a lovely space with lots of light in a quiet neighborhood, and walked me up to a nearby pub which serves a delicious French-English lunch. We chatted about Brexit and work and video, drank a pint, tried a Scotch Egg (fookin’ delicious), and had a great time catching up until I had to bail out for the airport. They were kind enough to call me an Uber, and even paid for it, which was super nice (I owe the studio a fine bottle of whisky) and then I spent an hour and a half in London traffic crawling towards Heathrow. We sat in stop-and-go traffic on the M4 until magically everyone decided they’d had enough sitting and just started driving. Once I was at the airport I hustled through security, bought Finn a stuffed bear, took a piss, and boarded my plane in record time.
All of the stuff I was worried about and losing sleep over–the logistics, travel arrangements, getting gear from one place to the next, scheduling, communication–it all worked out almost flawlessly.
London treated me very well, and I hope I can bring the girls back with me next time.