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Favours for Favours

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As I sat in a 3 litre 5-series BMW at the Stoke crossroads in Guildford, tucked into some House of Commons Victorian Mints and mulled over on my recent lunch with Boris Johnson, a smile spread across my lips. This, I concluded, had been a very good month.
Let me explain, firstly, the vehicular privilege I’ve been dealt. Over the past couple of months, several people have been replacing their company cars at the office. Car dealerships have been eagerly offloading cars on a regular basis for the potential buyers to sample, the arrivals of which – for someone who isn’t due a new car for another year and a half – has been torture for me. Naturally and selfishly enough, I wanted a piece of the action – and every time a new car rolled up, I’ve been as helpful as possible to the Financial Manager, in the full knowledge that he is the Keeper Of The Car Keys. So far it’s been working unbelievably well. My current haul of week-long “test drives” includes two new BMW 3-series beasts, an Audi A4 and a Lexus GS300 which, despite the caramel colour of the exterior making it look like a large Werther’s Original, was far and away my favourite and typically way out of my league. The whole car thing has taught me a very vital lesson, though, and that is that just because a car has a BMW or an Audi badge doesn’t actually make it any better. My trusty Peugeot 407 does many things better than the BMW 3-series for far less money. I suppose its the wheeled equivalent of choosing designer clothes. No actual benefit, but less people point and laugh.
The BMW 5-series, though, is a corker. A definite first place tie with the Lexus. It is black, with a black leather interior. The car was my Managing Director’s before he left the company 10 days ago – and I spied it looking lonely and redundant in our office car park last Thursday afternoon. Cue a helpful computer-based favour for my Financial Manager and hey presto, the BMW keys were in my hands. I’ve been swanning around in it all weekend – showboating it at traffic lights, getting many “you can’t afford that” looks from passers-by and generally being a typically awful BMW driver. It’s been very useful to be on the receiving end of BMW-based abuse though. Firstly, it turns out that the car handles so well and makes you so confident that you can’t help but drive arrogantly. And secondly, it’s very easy to feel victimised. When people brush past the car, I half expect a vindictive key scrape down the side. Whenever I try to pull out of a junction, I have the disconcerting feel that everyone is ignoring me on purpose, and if they had their way I’d never be able to pull out at a junction. Still, it’s a small price to pay. Worryingly, I’m starting to like these cars…
And then there is Boris Johnson. Those who’ve been regulars will know that I am a big fan of Bozzer.
And as the amount of visitors to my Boriswatch site grow, it’s clear I’m not alone. In return for various geeky favours to Boris and his right-hand woman Melissa, I have the pleasure of popping up to London for lunch and a chat with them, usually dragging Simon B along for fun. I also visited the ITV studios for his chairing of the quiz show Have I Got News For You a few weeks ago (the report is here on Boriswatch). And now that David Cameron’s seen sense and promoted him, Boriswatch popularity is going through the roof, which puffs my geeky heart with pride.
So, all in all, a good month. I didn’t even mention the Stuff Magazine Show I visited in London (where Nick and I found several things we wanted that would drain our bank balances) or the old friend that presented Top Of The Pops. Maybe next time…

Boris, Blogs and a Chinese…

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Behind me, as I stood gawping at the diminutive man behind a ticket kiosk in Guildford Station, was a brightening summer’s day. True, it was only March, but the temparature had ramped up, the air was breezy and so far everything had gone to plan. I’d breezed into the station at 9am and worked my way to the front of a small queue for tickets. I asked for a Travelcard. The man asked for ?22.50.
I spluttered. I gubbled. I feebly protested. But it seems, at 9.15am, a Travelcard costs ?22.50 from Guildford. Still, I thought, hang the cost, I’m not missing today’s action.

hocpass.jpg

I was due to be in the Houses of Parliament for a meeting in Boris Johnson’s office, a quick tour around the House of Commons and House of Lords, followed by lunch in Portcullis House and, later on, a much sought after invitation to a weblogging conference in South Kensington. This, I surmised, was not to be missed.
As it turned out, I arrived in Westminster an hour early. On the way, I discovered why visiting political bigwigs cannot understand the fuss about the London Underground – because from Waterloo station to Westminster, the tube system is immaculate. Free from dirt and litter, with everything working perfectly and impressive designed to boot.
I emerged just in front of the Houses of Parliament and sauntered round the corner. Before me stood several political hacks, including the ever-present Andrew Marr, whom I nearly knocked flying. He’s much smaller than he appears on television.
After a walk along the Thames, I decided I may as well try and find Melissa, Boris’s right-hand woman. Once again, like my visit a couple of months ago, a quick frisk and I was in the Central Lobby of the building. It’s deceptively easy to get in, something that unnerves me every time. I asked a loitering policeman to call ahead for Melissa, and within minutes she breezed through one of the countless doors leading from the lobby. “Simon!” she exclaimed, as several looked round in surprise, “great to see you. Come this way.”
And so it was that at 11am I was sitting in Boris’s office, taking in thegreen furniture and Boris’s enormous desk. I even took a few photos while I sat, waiting for my cue to visit the House of Commons
chamber.
The House of Commons is much smaller that it looks on television. So is Robin Cook, unbelievably. And after getting a little bored in the House of Lords – most of the Lords were either asleep or too old to speak coherently – the Boris posse (myself, Melissa and Boris’s reseacher Olly) sat down for a taxpayer-subsidised lunch in Portcullis House, a huge and impressive building accessed from theHouses of Parliament through bunker-style tunnels.
And then, after helping Melissa with some website-related revelations, we were on our way to the second event of the day – the “Blogs in Action” Conference at the Polish Club. I was originally expecting a club full of shiny surfaces, but it turns out it was a club exclusively for VIPs from Poland, and it was a huge building. There was eventually around 70 attendees, and after a chinwag in the bar we headed upstairs for two hours of discussion on weblogs. Nokia were there; Vnunet were there; academics, famous bloggers and blogging companies were all there to hear the gems from the panel of five. It turned out to be thoroughly interesting, with Nokia evangelising about blogging through their new Lifeblog application and Tom Coates (of Plasticbag fame and winner of many website awards) telling us his views on where the whole thing is going.
Even for me, it was amazing how mainstream blogging is becoming. Newspapers like The Guardian (whose blogging supremo Neil McIntosh was also speaking) have their own Online and Observer blogs, and Vnunet have developed not only their own blogs but their own weblogging system for visitors to use.
By far the most interesting speakers was John Dale, who heads the IT Development at Warwick University. He and his team have created warwickblogs, a facility for university students and staff to get their own blogs simply and easily. It has been a huge success, and his combination of clever advertising, great webpage design and homegrown coding is possibly the best implementation of blogging I’ve seen so far. The general theme of the evening was that blogs are transcending geekery, and becoming useful tools for people and companies alike.
By 9pm, the presentations were complete, the wine and nibbles were run dry and Melissa, Dennis and I pitched up at an “All You Can Eat For ?4.95” chinese near South Kensignton tube station. “that sounds like a challenge” I remarked, and within twenty minutes I could barely move, such was the amount of food on offer. An excellent end to the day, we all agreed in the taxi to Kings Cross station…
UPDATE: A full commentary of the conference here, and a full transcript here. Also, pictures of the speakers here.

Missing In Action; Presumed Busy

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You may be thinking that the lack of posts on wibbler.com shows the dull, slow-paced life I must be having. Quite the opposite, in fact, and that means very little time to post the wonderful, action packed events that have graced the last few weeks. For example, there was:-
– the paintball expedition, where I sustained bruises that were still coming out a week later;
– the visit to Fright Night at Thorpe Park, which entailed 2 visits to the wettest ride in the park, long queues for every other ride and even longer queues to get out of the car park;
– the leaving meal of my old boss at The Pier, which resulted in my first visit to chilly Oxford and a series of particularly appalling renditions at karaoke;
– the designing/building of part of the Fat Face website, done and dusted in little over a week;
– the designing of two other sites in under two weeks;
– the Grand Get Together with 16 of my nearest and dearest, all congregating in Zizzi’s restaurant in Guildford, on a table designed for 12 people;
– A visit to Nick’s house with Sarah and Michelle for a night of drinks, games and pre-birthday presents;
– A knees up with Nick last Friday in Guildford, where we cobbled together an ingenous business plan in a drunken haze.
– Visits to the gym four times a week with Michelle, with a view to turning my body into slightly more of a temple;
And last, but not least – Boris Johnson. Boris Boris Boris. He’s been in the news a lot lately for better or worse, and Boriswatch has been inundated with visitors – an average of 5000 a day for the last two weeks. And then last Friday in a hail of media fire, he was sacked. Cue calls from Sky News and the BBC, asking for comments and interviews – and it all came to a head yesterday, with your humble host popping up to the House of Commons for a lunch date with the great man himself.
So what I propose is this. I’ll blog a selection of these events over the next week of so, and you sit there with the patience of a saint. Sound reasonable?