#LocalGovCamp (Travel and Generalities)

Sunday, June 21, 2009 7:20 | Filed in Public Sector, Technology, Travel

Having not been to one of these ‘camp’ jobbies before, I didn’t really know what to expect. On that basis, I had been planning to kind of slink into the background and fade into the wallpaper, also obviously that would be difficult for someone as beautiful as me, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m also blessed with stealth skills comparable to a ninja.

Unfortunately, in this case, when I say “comparable to” the comparison would suggest that a ninja would have extremely good stealth skills, and I don’t.

There was an early morning start for me — I wanted to catch a bus at 07:23 to make sure I could catch the required train at Stockport station (and I needed to catch this particular train because I had one of the ‘only valid on that particular train’ cheaper tickets).

Normally, an early morning of that ilk would not be too difficult to achieve — I do have two small children, after all — but in this case I was staying at someone else’s house so the ‘kid alarm’ was unset, and I’d also been up until after 2 a.m. discussing and watching a documentary about cosmology, suburban attitudes in 60s America, and also human sexual behaviour. Or, as some people refer to it, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I got up in the morning and made the train, no problem, but still had many of the songs from that classic and wonderful musical running through my head (you might notice noticed a reference to one in a post this week). I therefore made a mental note not to sing out loud. Firstly, because anyone not aware of the RHPS might be a little disturbed by hearing me sing that I was…

A sweet transvestite, from Transexual Transylvania .. ha ha‘Sweet Transvestite’ from the Rocky Horror Picture Show

…but mostly because I really can’t sing. I can hold a note for a short space of time, but it’s never the one I was aiming for. And hearing me sing would no doubt disturb everyone, Rocky Horror afficionados or not.

So anyway, after standing in the drizzle, I caught the necessary bus. I felt my nose twitching a bit on the bus with twinges of hayfever, so I took an antihistamine, knowing that as Birmingham (my destination) was currently the Swine Flu capital of the UK, unexpected sneezes might result in me being shoved into quarantine, or possibly put down as a public safety measure.

In any regard, the bus got me to Stockport station in time. Well, with about 50 minutes to go before my train was due, thus proving to my irritation that I could easily have had another half hour in bed and simply have caught the next bus.

But no matter: while lounging around drinking a large latte from one of the inevitable station coffee shops, I came across some kind of army guy returning from duty. I could tell he was in the army from the way he held himself. Well, that and the fact he was in camouflage fatigues, carrying about eight huge bags and one of them had a pair of tits drawn on them in marker pen. Nevertheless, he seemed a nice enough chap and we chatted for a few minutes (he’s off to Afghanistan in a couple of weeks) while he regaled me with tales of large spiders biting holes out of people’s faces.

Eventually however, I did make it onto my train, and the journey was somewhat uneventful. Again, I say uneventful, but in this case the reason I say it was due to the lack of events occurring.

Then, having successfully navigated the surly looking ticket inspector (using a combination of said ninja skills and a valid ticket), I emerged into the labyrinthine tunnels and corridors of Birmingham New Street station. I was now presented with two problems.

Firstly, how to work out how to get out of the station. This is easier said than done. Having passed the bit where the ticket inspectors were, I was presented with a further selection of shops and corridors. I located an escalator which took me up to a shopping centre, which did not at first seem like the right direction until I saw I sign directing me to the something or other street exit.

Now I was in Birmingham, and I had a map. I knew where I was, and I knew where I wanted to get to. The only minor difficulty was in working out which way I was facing as I don’t come with a built in compass.

Right: if I’m here, and that’s over there, then Fazeley Street must be this way!

And indeed it was. Only not having paid much attention to the fact that I was carrying a great heavy bag, it had not occurred to me that what might be a relatively pleasant amble through deserted back streets with boarded up shops and warehouses would become significantly more strenuous — and sweaty when lugging around said big heavy bag.

The Dread Portal (flickr)

I made it there, however. Or at least I made it to where I thought it was, only to be presented with a big imposing door, which did not appear particularly welcoming. I was about to wander around the side of the building in the hope of finding the right entrance, when someone stood outside informed me that this was the entrance.

Surely Fazeley Studios could do something like, oh, I dunno, maybe putting a sign on the door? If that’s not too much to ask, of course…

And there it was: the Inner Sanctum! The Holy Grail! #LocalGovCamp!

Fazeley Studios (flickr)

The building itself was quite stunning, despite the rather dilapidated looking road upon which it was situated. The main atrium was the body of a 19th Century church, with the gothic style windows, stained glass and so on — although obviously it was no longer used for this purpose. As a venue for this sort of thing I have to say that I thought Fazeley Studios was exceptional — and indeed the wifi stood up to what I imagine was some pretty heavy use (at least during the session where I used the laptop).

Everyone had to introduce themselves in a breaking-the-ice kind of a way with name, organisation, three words to describe yourself. Some people went a bit mission statement heavy on this, and others took the piss a little more (Stuart’s “you missed me” after not being asked to introduce himself being a great example). Unfortunately, not one local government bod mentioned the three words I’d been thinking of, and as my turn had already passed by the time I’d thought of those specific ones, they remained unsaid, which was a shame.

After all, how better can someone sum up at once the attitudes towards local government — and indeed the foibles of local government — without the resonant phrase “predictors of beaconicity” ?

Stuart Harrison, aka Grandmaster Pez de la Funk on the wheels of steel (flickr)

I plan to write more detailed, less piss-taking, separate posts about the sessions I attended, but suffice to say the event was a great success. For a start, I managed to actually make it there (unlike some other people I could mention); for another I met various people — Emma Mulqueeny, Stuart Harrison (featured nearby as Grandmaster Pez de la Funk in full DJ mode), Andy Mabbett, Carl Haggerty, Dave Briggs (call him Dave Press, he always likes that) and the like — whom I’ve at most met only rarely before; for a third the sessions were fun; for a fifth I got provided with food and fruit juice (although didn’t try the breakfasts, the coffees or the desserts at lunch); but most importantly of all…

…there was a lot of free stuff to blag. As a long-standing attendee of conferences, I know that all attendees (as opposed to exhibitors or sponsors) have three basic goals. To learn something interesting and/or useful, to get home as soon as possible afterwards, and to fill your pockets with as many pens as humanly possible.

Discussing this with Stuart (aka @pezholio) we discovered that we had arrived at the same conclusion regarding pens. It is okay to take multiple free pens, but you should only take one pen of each type. Taking multiple pens of the same type might not exactly be stealing, since they are free after all, but it’s certainly greedy, where as one of each type is simply collecting the set.

But it wasn’t just the pens. I obtained:

  • Two plastic piggybanks (“for the kiddies”)
  • Two lapel badges (also “for the kiddies”)
  • One of those little round containers of mints with an I&DeA logo on it
  • Five free pens (write ‘em and weep)
  • One notepad
  • One pad of post-it notes
  • One red mug (from Birmingham Best — which apparently wasn’t a type of bitter)
  • One T-shirt (well, actually three, but two of ‘em were for other people)
  • One SOCITM ‘web professionals’ zero carbon shoulder bag thingy made from jute
  • One 2GB USB stick

…now that’s what I call a successful conference. Although it wasn’t all successes: the coats had already gone, and apparently the projector screens and the attractive blonde lady were not being given away free.

As for the sessions themselves… well, I’m planning on blogging one session every other day for the next week or so, so do hang on for them.

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27 Comments to #LocalGovCamp (Travel and Generalities)

  1. chris foreman says:

    June 21st, 2009 at 9:18 am

    a while back we held our first bar camp here in Sunderland. Graham did a very grand job. There are images but i dont have the link on this laptop, perhaps Graham will post it when he reads this.

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    June 22nd, 2009 at 2:14 pm

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  3. Andy Mabbett says:

    June 22nd, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    If only you had a friend who lived in Birmingham, and whom you could have asked, in advance, for directions. *cough*

  4. Andy Mabbett says:

    June 22nd, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    If only you had a friend who lived in Birmingham, and whom you could have asked, in advance, for directions. *cough*

    Still, it was good to see you.

  5. Nick Booth says:

    June 22nd, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    What a wonderful blog post. My offices are at Fazeley Studios – I’ll keep nagging. (If you look up there are signs – but I know exactly what you mean)

  6. JackP says:

    June 22nd, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    why would I need to phone someone for directions? I had a map! Besides which, I got there, didn’t I?

  7. Andy Mabbett says:

    June 23rd, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    Phone? Who said anything about phone? We’re both on Twitter!

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