With another Windsor Triathlon under the belt today saw me pack up and leave the relative calm of Maidenhead for the altogether zippier pace of London itself, complete with obligatory traffic queues on route to my ultimate destination of Battersea.
My good friend Martin had kindly offered to host me in his apartment overlooking the currently-in-the-process-of-having-a-major-facelift Battersea Power Station, a breathtakingly striking architectural icon, with London to be my base for the next two days of my UK trip. The first challenge of the day, aside from driving there, which was slow but otherwise straightforward enough, was to find somewhere to park! London may have it’s charms but readily available parking options do not feature among them. After confirming that there was absolutely no street parking available in the immediate area, a series of exasperated text message exchanges between Martin and myself finally hit upon the option of parking at nearby Battersea Park, where I had the option of staying for up to four hours (at an exorbitant rate I hasten to add), giving me the chance to hop on a train to Victoria, meet Martin at his offices (Google), grab some food, take a tour and then head back to Battersea, keys in hand, to thus allow me to retrieve the car park access fob and thus be able to relax safe in the knowledge my car and worldly possessions were securely stowed away.
All the above went nicely to plan in the end and the fact that London is actually geographically relatively tiny became very apparent as my initial concerns about not making our agreed-upon midday meeting quickly evaporated as it transpired that Victoria was literally one stop along the train line. Simples!
Google – Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for the Digital Generation
I had the distinctly geeky pleasure of getting a tour around the Googleplex in California back in 2012 and so I had already witnessed with my own eyes the sheer joyful awesomeness that a Google ‘office’ embodies. It was with a similar sense of giddy toddler-esque enthusiasm that I jumped at the chance to tour the London offices (or should I say, more accurately, one of them) where Martin works. We met at the lobby of the fairly standard London office block opposite Victoria, where Google rents space, and headed up to grab some lunch at one of the several eateries found within the Google-sphere. From the minute I walked in it was clear that these were no ordinary offices, with a funky, coloured reception area leading through to one of the cafes, where we grabbed our respective lunches, me going for the healthy option of a delicious turkey escalope and roasted vegetables, and joined the assorted throng of young Googlers all doing the same. Sitting there in my jeans, red Vans, matching red Swatch and Superman T-shirt I instantly felt right at home among fellow nerds, the vast majority of whom would quite easily have been able to totally out-nerd me. I had found my people! Seriously, one of the things that is almost instantly apparent at Google is the relative youthfulness of the employees, with only a couple of guys that I saw clearly being over the age of forty.
With lunch eaten it was time for the tour itself. It would be very easy to get lost in Google given the apparently random layout that seems to have been applied but on reflection this is actually a misleading mis-truth, as it was simply the fact that there is no uniformity to the spaces, as the futuristic corridors open seamlessly onto serene coffee enclaves at one turn whilst guiding Googlers into engineer areas, where the real digital magic takes place on the other. Our first stop was such a coffee area, complete with free snacks, a heady array of fresh coffee options and a naturally lit seating area complete with fake grass that made one feel as though we’d happened upon a San Francisco version of Narnia. Fresh latte and yoghurt covered raisins in hand it was into the recording studio/ music room for a bit of impromptu drum and guitar action before checking out the games room, makers workshop, massage studio, more cafes and even a 1920′s style auditorium where tech presentations are given in some style. Oh, and then there was the informal meeting ‘room’ that is basically the back of a London bus. In the offices! Love it.
Dogs & Cats & Familiar Faces
Google fix had it was back to Battersea to get myself settled before an impromptu, spur of the moment decision to pop in and visit the Battersea Dog and Cats Home, literally a stone’s throw down the road from where I am staying. After asking if it would be possible to get a tour ‘behind the scenes’ on account of being a fellow veterinarian, I was guided by 2007 London graduate Phil, whom I am almost certain I had met before, maybe back in the midst of our university days, hearing about the day-to-day work of the home and the impressive plans afoot for a major renovation and expansion, the evidence of which was already on show, as well as being heard. The Battersea Power Station project is literally set to transform the immediate area and it seems that the dog and cat home is to join in with this major facelift, which will see, in addition to new kenneling, a shiny new vet clinic. This comes after the addition of an impressively designed and very modern cat section, complete with central spiral staircase and glass kennels, with extensive environmental enrichment to keep the resident felines as happy and stress free as possible during their (hopefully) short stays before rehoming. Such is the small world in which us vets move within that it wasn’t long before I met a fellow Bristol graduate in the form of Claire Turner, who later informed me that I literally missed out on the excitement of an evacuation of the site due to a bomb scare! (Apparently there had been an unexploded WWII bomb found over by the power station, which would explain the presence of the police as I walked past en route back from the home. Exciting stuff indeed!)
So, there you have it. In the space of a few hours two very different examples of good work being done here in the capital, and an incredibly interesting start to my short stay in London.