Tuesday, 2 March 2010


Hey stalkers.

Had a fun few days. On my return I was sometimes asked 'how it was', to which my usual, tired reply was 'pretty good. will write a blog post about it.

Well, here it is.

Woke up at 6.45am on Friday, and two hours later I boarded a train to London with my father. Our destination: Kensington Olympia, for the Who Do You Think You Are - Live event, where we were to man the stall for Deceased Online, with a team of around eight others.

We arrived at 10am, and as I did not hold a staff pass but, rather, a standard ticket, I had to walk all the way to the back of a several-hundred yard queue along the frontside of the building. I was surprised and encouraged to see such a high turnout. It seems that the anecdote I heard about genealogy being the second most searhed-up thing on the internet was no joke, and that curiousity about ancestry and heritage is, and always has been, considerable. 

Indeed, the number of resources for finding out about ones ancestry are increasing every day, and Olympia was filled with all manner of stalls. There were some video displays, workshops, and even a one-hour talk about DNA in one of the side parts of the venue. Most of the people were in their fourties or fifties and, as you might expect at a genealogy conference, basically everyone was English. After all, Parish records from the 1890s would not be much use to the man whose ancestors were from, say, Spain or Bangladesh. That said, there were some stalls catering for earlier-twentieth century groups, such as Anglo-Itialians, Anglo-Germans, Anglo-Jewish and even Anglo-Huguenots.

Some stalls were larger than others. One of the largest genealogy companies, Ancestry, had their own speaking area with around a hundred chairs for the audience. I heard Tony Robinson (of Blackadder fame) give a talk about the various companies.

I spent most of the time walking around. Though I was there to represent DOL, there was no shortage of staff, despite the business. My father reminded me, however, that the expo would get even busier in the afternoon, and especially busy on Saturday, where the 15,000 tickets had been sold out.

After having a 20cm pizza from the Pizza Express fast-food outlet connected to the Olympia hall on one side and to the street (to serve the public) on the other, I was told I was no longer needed, and headed off into the night sky.
Or should I say afternoon sky. It was only 1.30pm. I had a good hard look at this, which was on an advertising board over looking the passageway between Olypmia and the train station. I then walked about for a bit, stopping in a West Kensington pub for a large coke. At around 3.30pm I met David. Walked to his flat in Hammersmith and watched some TV (including Deal or No Deal, which I had not seen for years... I am glad to say it has not got any worse). Then at 5pm we went all the way to Camden Town to Josés flat.

Marco was there already, staying with Jose. Later arrived Ben, then Aidan. We sat down to a game of poker. We were using Josés loose change for chips, playing £0.01/£0.02 with £1 stacks. All completely casual, and we didn't stake any money on the game, despite using coins for chips. Around eight o'clock we left and took the tube to Liverpool St. wherefrom we walked to Brick Lane looking for a curry house. We were spoilt for choice, but eventually settled on one which had offered us two free rounds of drinks and 30% off the final bill.

For those who have not been to Brick Lane, it is a veritable chaos. But one worth seeing. Every restaurant had a man outside to draw customers in, making offers and generally being persistent and annoying. At first we thought it was only the lower-end restaurants (who did not have name recognition) who had to employ this strategy, but it turns out that every single place does it. It's just part of healthy, capitalist competition.

I had a chicken dopiaza and a pint of Tiger. Or was it Cobra. I get the two mixed up.

We returned home after a brief walk, and got to sleep at some time after midnight. I volunteered to sit on the floor. Sure, it's hard on the back, but better than trying to sleep on a sofa only to fall off, which, of course, is hard on the whole body.

However, not even the most comfortable, embracing bed would have made the night's sleep any longer. Several of us had set an alarm for 4 o'clock. I set a backup one for 4.30.

After a brief wash and no breakfast, we were out. Aidan was driving, José sat at the front. In the back was myself, Ben (in the middle) and David. Marco, who had never been planning to come anyway, stayed at home. We left Camden at around 5.10am, and then the long drive began.

It was about an hour till dawn began to break. All the while I was nervous about what lay ahead, as we had been promised gale force winds for our sea passage. On arriving at Dover, however, things seemed fairly calm. We had a light breakfast (a Gingsters peppered steak pie for me) and then boarded the boat. I was apprehensive about seasickness at the start of the voyage, despite never having been seasick in my life. However, I was infitinetly relieved when it turned out there was an area for standing outside. The fresh sea air makes you forget about any groginess (what an awful word) you might feel and being able to see land (often on both sides, England and France, at the same time) gives your coordination something to anchor on to, thereby minimising the disorientation of life on the wave.

Arrived at Calais. There followed a two hour drive to Lille. José, having somehow torn his trousers, set off on a quest to find some new ones. In the mean time, the rest of us toured the surrounding area. I was very happy to see a chocolatier which I had last seen in Le Touquet back in 2006 - Le Chat Bleu. I ate one of their famous chocolate golf balls, as did Ben.

After much walking we settled down for lunch at Cafe Leffe, named after the Belgian beer of which they served several varieties. As you can see from this map, the Belgian influence is not by accident. I had a beef burger which, instead of buns, had what seemed to be hash browns. I washed this weird stuff down with some forest-fruit-flavoured Leffe.

More walking continued. At around 5-something (French time) we realised that time was short and that if we wanted to go somewhere else, we should do it now.

Thus off we went, northwestwards, as the sun set. The only place we stopped in the end was a Carrefour 'hypermarket'. The others bought all manner of things...well, mainly cheese, wine and beer. I only bought some more forest-fruit-flavoured Leffe.

We had a little trouble finding Calais. There were lots of narrow roads and Flemmish placenames, but eventualy we stumbled upon the motorway home. The boat journey was calm and fairly relaxed. We all had some expensive ferry-food. As on the way there, the journey took one and a half hours. We were all pretty tired by now, having been up around sixteen hours, a full day, on minimal sleep. But Aidan, who was doing all the driving today, ensured he was alert for the last leg of the voyage.

Dover to London. It took about two hours, and involved driving through East London and under the Thames via the Blackwall tunnel. I never get to see much of East London, and so I made a special effort to keep my curious eyes open.

Back at around midnight, and after unloading the car we all went to bed. Not the same bed. In my case, the floor, where I had left the sleeping bag, pillow et al anyway. Most of us got up at 9.30am the next day to go to our various parts of the country. I was back in Brighton at around one o'clock.

Not that the adventure ended there. At Victoria station I had bought a copy of The Times, to see what had gone into the shock headline Gordon Brown on course to win election. It turned out that the Conservative Party conference was happening in Brighton while I had been away. I saw Cameron's speech live via BBC News, even though the actual thing was being given only a few miles away.

The election race really is getting tight/heating up/reaching fever pitch... whatever metaphor you wish, really. The latest poll from ComRes offers the following statistics.

Conservatives: 37%
Labour: 32%
Liberal Democrats: 19%
Others: 12%

Due to the way the electoral system works in practice, this five-percent lead basically translates to a hung parliament and a neck-and-neck race between the two sides.

Some people were suggesting Brown should call an election on Monday (yesterday) as things weren't going to get any better for him in the polls. I was secretly excited at this prospect, but realise that Brown has no intention of calling anything before the universally agreed date of May 6th. After all, he bottled it in 2007 and he'll keep bottling it again and again if he has to.

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