Back in the days when I was a studio manager I was virtually welded to my desk. I would regularly work a 12hour shift and felt that I couldn’t be away from the studio for much longer than it took to get a sandwich or I would loose control of what was going on.
This was probably bollocks – but the thought of running my own diary and swanning around to meetings would have been a fantasy then. Nowadays it’s a curse – and I’ve just come to the end of a fortnight particularly dominated by having to doing it.
But happily ‘business travel’ is still far from typical of what I generally do and so has enough of a novelty to make me stop and think:
One trip was to Zurich, to pitch our services to a US owned multinational. Between the airport, the railway station, and the anonymous corporate HQ, I had no sense of actually being in Switzerland – or anywhere else specific for that matter. Staffed by shiny-eyed young aspiring execu-types drawn from across Europe and the US this was truly big business transcending nationality.
Another was to Thessaloniki to do a press pass on behalf of one of our clients - at least a chance to use my technical skill rather than mere corporate whoring. I got only glimpses of the economic crisis in Greece. Lots of anarchist graffiti – a cab driver who suddenly became much more friendly when he discovered that I wasn’t German (for some reason I’m often mistaken for a German) – and a heavy riot police presence guarding some event at a conference centre. Staying at a typically ‘international’ business hotel didn’t really broaden my experience. Nor did my attempt to get a bit of culture in my downtime – the ancient city with all its associations with Alexander The Great and the Byzantines seems to have been rebuilt as an extensive shopping mall by the sea complete with Starbucks and GAP.
Strangely the only trip in the past two weeks that actually made me think was to Blackburn, to pitch to a long established local business – one of the few still going up there.
I was shocked by the overwhelming post-industrial grimness of the town. Boarded-up shops, derelict factories, and significantly intact BNP posters that anywhere else would have been defaced. It’s certainly not that I live a sheltered life – by any measurement my hometown of Tottenham is one of the poorest in the country. But even the most deprived parts of London have a certain life and vibrancy to them. In Blackburn there seemed to be a sense of hopelessness – from the Asian cabbie who took me to my meeting and regretted leaving his shop in Southall to join his family up here twenty years ago and now couldn’t afford to move out - to the white cabbie who took me back - and jovially moaned about the ‘fooking pakis’ all the way.
I suppose I really knew it already – but it was a reminder that London and the rest of England are very different places.