Back to school, so it’s back to London for a proper meeting. Yikes!
It had to be done. Back to school for children, back to parliament for the PM and back to London for meetings.
As lockdown eased, Brand Vista has sampled the experience at various pubs and retail outlets, shopping centres and theme parks. So, on Tuesday, it was time to give the experience of a proper meeting a whirl in London for the first time since March. I’m officially ‘Zoomed out’. Train from Crewe to Euston, walk to the South Bank for the meeting, check out some pubs for a client (honest guv), stay over in our Pimlico flat and back from Euston the next day. I decided to take photos so you can see how crowded it was. I deliberately took them as soon as I arrived, no waiting for a dramatic moment of quiet. ‘Keep it real’ was my instruction, be honest and open.
Now, before I recount the experience, I need to come clean about my relationship with London. I love it and I‘ve missed it, though I never wanted to live there. I also need to come clean about my attitude to Covid. I am, like most people, a little nervous but, like our ongoing research has revealed, I am in the majority of people who, given the right actions and reassurances are happy to go out and do stuff. I was in London the week before lockdown, I have been going into our Manchester office more and more in recent weeks, I was straight back to the pub as soon as we could and I have been playing football (outdoors, but we do take throw ins which is a bit bad….ish). I have adhered to nearly all the rules. No parties, no ‘in lockdown’ visits from one of our daughters (booo!), lots of social distancing and the wearing of masks where required. No foreign holidays. Definitely no raves.
The night before, I’m not going to lie, I was a bit nervous. Struggled to sleep. Pathetic? I checked my bag more times than is normal, or healthy for a grown up, and set off at 6.45am for the 7.43 from Crewe leaving myself half an hour more than usual to get my pre ordered ticket.
I shouldn’t have worried. The road to the station, which is normally chocker at this time, was very low on traffic and the station, which is normally bustling with people, was very quiet. 11 people waiting for the usually rammed 7.25 to Manchester and no queues for the ticket machine. I simply sailed through. Lots of signage about social distancing and cleaning your hands. There were dispensers everywhere. It was the start of a heavy day of sanitation for me. At least 30 times, I can’t walk past one. Cleaner hands than a surgeon and I smell gorgeous.
The Journey to London
Only six people in my carriage. This is the 7.43 direct into London, it is normally rammed to the rafters. Of course, I still managed to attract the moron. With a whole carriage to choose from, the last fella to get on decided it was best to sit directly behind me and start talking very loudly on his phone. He needed a thump. I decided
I was now on the opposite side and two rows behind sat a woman who did not have a mask on. She was the only one ‘sans mask’. So what do you do? Rather too raw in my memory is of once castigating a woman who had parked in the last remaining pushchair friendly car parking space at ASDA whilst I grappled with my two under 7 year old daughters. She had an underlying health problem, showed me a card (it must have happened before) and sent me packing with some caustic remarks whilst receiving sympathy from fellow shoppers. So, faced with no obvious ‘underlying’ health problem I felt I couldn’t say anything. I was furious though. She was guilty, I could tell. I was a ball of pent up fury. I moved again. Wimped out.
Euston. Ten minutes late. 9.33am. Where is everyone? 70% mask wearing, not many shops open and disturbingly quiet. I sanitised furiously. I like hustle and bustle. I was disappointed but smelling good.
The tube was as step too far for me, I’ll save that joy for another day and besides, it was a glorious morning. The pavements were relatively empty and I skipped merrily on my way, not quite Julie Andrews style but you get my drift. The South Bank, here I come, it was good to be back. No problem social distancing, pavements free. Yeeehaaa! I am back in Landan Taan.
Another confession. I love the practical parts of customer experience management and I once engineered a seat next to a crowd control expert at a dinner who, amongst other gems, explained to me that a 10% reduction in numbers in a confined space feels like 30% less congestion. It must work in reverse as well. Whilst the pavements felt empty they were not as empty as I thought they would be and as my journey continued down Tottenham Court Road, Charing Cross Road to Trafalgar Square the pavements got busier and I couldn’t help think that a 10% increase in volume would make it feel reasonably busy again. I’d best describe the streets as ‘simmering’. Also, during the six months of lockdown the streetscape has changed. Lots of cafés closed but, believe it or not, new ones have opened. Some buildings, which were in construction in March, had noticeably moved on and were open. Even in lockdown, London hasn’t slept.
I was early for my meeting so I went to Waterloo Station via the South Bank to check it out. The upside is that there was a buzz, not as buzzy as normal but definitely a ‘simmering’ buzz in the air. I was delighted to see queues for SEA LIFE and Shrek Adventure and The London Eye looked stunning. The downside was that Waterloo was very empty and a couple of my favourite coffee places were closed and there were still lots of homeless people.
Loads of sanitiser about though. I was beginning to smell like LUSH.
After my meeting, Westminster Bridge was noticeably busier (2pm). Perhaps like Manchester, the busiest time is now 10.30am to 3.30pm and then I walked straight into a climate change protest at Parliament Square. That was the nearest to a rave I was going to get. I put on my mask, doused myself in more sanitiser and managed to sneak through the police cauldron, out the other side and down Victoria Street. Phew, no police dogs following me, the sanitiser must have thrown them off the scent.
I was heading for an itsu which was closed but another, just 200 years away, was open, though very quiet. You could ask the question why was there 2 only 200 yards apart in the first place.
Then my highlight. A pub crawl of Greene King pubs who we have been helping during lockdown. Ladies and gentlemen, the experience was great. Welcomed at the door, everything explained to me, a great app to order my food, QR codes for track and trace, swimming pool sized vats of sanitiser and a proper pub welcome. Once you have got over the early Covid instructions it felt like another ordinary night at the pub and I ended the evening at the Albert on Victoria Street watching the cricket. Fab. Good chips too. Terrible run out of Eoin Morgan though.
The Journey back home
After more meetings on Wednesday morning it was time to return. I walked back a different way and it was a few percent busier than Tuesday. I noticed street seating for restaurants and the market at Strutton Ground was very busy.
Then back to Crewe. Euston had the same eerie quietness. Six in my carriage and I’d lost none of my magnetic attraction to morons. Faced with a vast open chasm that was our carriage (only 7 occupants) a man decided to sit next to me on the other side of the aisle. Before I could say something though a guard asked him to move down. Whilst this is annoying it also reminded me of the various ways that people are responding and reacting to the virus. Understanding the psychology behind this is going to be key as communications, rules and businesses will live or die by how they handle the different attitudes and behaviours. If it wasn’t so serious I’d simply find this fascinating. Anyway, Crewe station car park brought me down to earth. I counted 153 cars. About 20% full from a quick glance.
Weirdly, for something I must have done nearly a 1000 times, this trip felt like very like a major change for me. It was like going back to school after the summer holidays. The process of building my confidence up, preparing, the sleepless night before, the nerves mixed with excitement are similar but once I’d got into the groove so to speak and the first ‘break’ came along (I went to a fab Costa), I begun to relax and then to even enjoy hearing the laughter, feeling the buzz and the challenge of getting stuck into work.
Now, of course, this has to be repeated a few million times for London to be rockin’ again. Many people will not want to or have to return and those that do will find many things are the same but change all around.
School’s still out. It will not come back the same.
Me? I’m back next week.