Squirrel Kills Itself and Conference.

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Well the conference finished several hours early after a kamikaze squirrel incinerated itself and blew up the campus transformer, so no power. Being a conference on the use of new technolgies in learning and teaching, no one had a whiteboard and pen, or quite knew what to do without their thinkpads and powerpoint, so we had a farewell in a rather gloomy hall, and said our goodbyes on the pristine lawns outside. Off campus by 12, I had several hours to wait for my flight to Washington and then on to London, so I spent them in the luxury of the conference centre where in the 15th century Italian lounge, bar and poolroom, I was given food and drink (for free). If for some unimaginable reason you end up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, insist on staying at the Graylin Conference Centre. Its fantastic (in all senses of that word).

During my stay there I had the chance to do one of my ‘List of 100 things to do before…’ – that is, eat grits. After all these years of reading about grits in books and wondering what on earth they were, they turned up on the breakfast menu. I had assumed they would at least be half alive, so was disappointed to find out that they are made of ground corn and look a bit like porridge. But the cheesy ones were delicious!

Eventually, trotted off to Greensboro for a short flight to Washington DC – I thought. As soon as I walked in I could sense an atmosphere. Loud voices and frustrated looking people. Lots of delays on the departure board. Tornados and storms had swept in over the eastern seaboard and most of the big airports were closed. This was about 6.00 in the evening, and as I was only supposed to have one hour in Washington before connecting to London, I quickly saw I wasn’t going to make it to London as planned. During the next hours, my flight was delayed, cancelled, uncancelled. There was an attempt by the few remaining passengers (the rest had gone home) – supported by a helpful United Airlines employee – to ‘hijack’ an international plane, diverted by the weather to Greensboro on its way to Washington. Three of them succeeded, when the pilot took pity but he wouldn’t allow checked baggage, so I was left at Greensboro. We eventually left Greensboro at 11.30 pm and arrived in Washington after midnight. They had managed to book me on a 9.30 London flight so I thought I might get a hotel, but all rooms in Washington had gone – so once again there was no room at the Inn for me. I slept (in the loosest sense of the word) in the baggage claim area (the only place with comfortable seats and an all-night cafe) and then managed to get into the business lounge when it opened at six and had a couple of hours sleep.

While waiting for the Greensboro flight I heard one of those odd conversations which makes you wonder about people. In front of me were four English people, all in their 20s and 30s, obviously returning from a business trip. They were arguing (in a very restrained English way) with the United Airlines counter staff as they were all trying to get conections to various places in order to go to other meetings. So they were fairly pissed off, as were the counter staff who had no planes and no information. At one stage, the counter staff went off to sort something out. At this stage the apparent leader of the group – as if he had done his Human Resources training by watching The Office – turned and said, in a friendly informal manner:

“By the way, while we’re waiting, I thought you would be interested to know that I had sight earlier today of a memo from Head Office that things are not going too well and there will need to be a major round of redunadancies. It’s not clear whether it will affect you – the company would be foolish to get rid of people with your talents (and I’m not saying that for the sake of it), but I just thought I should warn you. Now where’s that bloody airline man?”

I saw him later, and his baggage had gone to San Francisco by mistake, so i guess there’s some justice.

So eventually I got to London about 12 hours after I was supposed to and checked in to the Charing X Hotel about 11.00pm on Thursday. Ten hours sleep and I’m preparing to go with Steve upto Yorksire tomorrow to sort out things with the Hornsea house. At least this way I get to stay in the same place for a week.

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