22 June 2007

Paris and Google Press Day? Zut Alors!

Some of you already know what I got up to earlier this week; I went to Paris to live-blog Google Press Day 2007. If you’re interested, you can read all about the day’s announcements on Google Blogoscoped, but here’s a more personal (and quite lengthy) account of what happened over those couple of days...

I was flying out from Manchester Airport on Monday lunchtime, so I stayed at my parents’ over the weekend and started my journey at Bolton train station. While I was waiting on the platform, I was kept amused by a random drunk nutter telling some guy how he’d played on stage with loads of famous bands, like “Franks Ferdinand”.

When I got on the train, the guy the nutter was ranting to was on his mobile loudly telling someone all about it. I had no choice but to listen in. “I’ve just been chatting to that busker [the nutter] who was in the video. He’s given me his address and wants a copy of the DVD. Can we send him one? Who should I give his address to?” After getting someone’s name, he continued. “Yeah, the gig was brilliant. Everyone said it sounded really good. Shall we just tell Jay he’s on the monitors at Glastonbury?” So, I’d managed to establish that he was linked to a band, presumably playing at Glastonbury. “Sorry, this is a bad line. I’ll call you later.” And then he hung up, leaving me wondering who he was.

I arrived at Manchester Airport a few minutes later, checked in for my flight and bought a copy of Q. Imagine my surprise when I turned to page 20 and saw the guy from the train! Turns out that he’s Bolton-born singer-songwriter Simon Aldred, more commonly known as Cherry Ghost. I’ve no idea what his stuff is like, but he’s been on Later... With Jools Holland and one of his tunes – People Help The People – is one of Q’s 50 essential tracks to download this month, so I’ll have to check it out.

My flight was delayed by just over an hour but I finally arrived at Paris Charles de Gaulle International Airport and waited for my train. On the platform were two French chavs, one of which was playing crap French music through her crap, tinny-sounding mobile phone speakers. It’s both disturbing and reassuring to see that this isn’t just a British phenomenon. When the train arrived, it was crammed, dirty and far too hot. I reckon it was actually worse that the one we got to Headlingly!

Anyway, I finally got to my hotel with around 90 minutes to spare before I had to get on a coach at the Marriott that would take us to dinner. Plenty time for a shower and a leisurely stroll. Or so I thought. As it turns out, the map Google provided wasn’t entirely accurate, so I had to phone Suzy at work and get her to give me better directions. After making my way towards the wrong Marriott (there are apparently several in Paris) I had to resort to running(!) to make sure I made the coach pickup. Red-faced, sweaty and out of breath, I finally arrived at the right Marriott with blisters on my feet only to be told that there was no rush because the second coach wasn’t leaving for another 10 minutes. Thankfully, the coach had air-conditioning so I managed to cool off a bit before we arrived.

The venue for dinner was a small restaurant and marquee on the river, with a view of the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower. Danny Sullivan (of was behind me in the queue for name badges. Danny overheard me stating my name and publication, joked that Google Blogoscoped wasn’t really a publication and introduced himself. Danny and I then shared a table with a member of Google’s PR team in India and a few newspaper reporters from Paris, Israel, Turkey and India. The food selection was pretty impressive; canapés on arrival (including a rather disgusting combination of chocolate, foie gras and what I think was some kind of cherry jelly or liqueur), a choice of terrines for starter, duck breast in a creamy mushroom sauce served with vegetables and some kind of bulgur-wheat-like substance for main course, and then a wonderful variety of desserts. After plenty of talking, listening, eating and drinking, we headed back to get some rest before our early start the following day.

Having picked up an agenda for Press Day, I thought I’d go back to the hotel, connect to the Wi-Fi and make a post about the evening. That’s when I found out that (a) the Wi-Fi wasn’t free and (b) the Wi-Fi didn’t work. So, I reluctantly paid €8 for a card which gave me 60 minutes of Internet time in the hotel lobby and battled with the French keyboard to post the agenda. Other than the annoying French keyboard, the Internet kiosk was a normal Windows 98 PC that had been locked down with software so that you had to enter the code from the card to use the Internet from its restricted browser. Except, as I learned while I was making my post, you could simply press Ctrl+N to circumvent the software completely and open a new, clean Internet Explorer window – even when your paid-for Internet time is up!

After a terrible night’s sleep (too noisy with the window open; too hot with the window closed) I was taken by coach to Google Press Day 2007 to start my live-blogging. When I arrived, I looked for a seat near the front with a power socket nearby because my laptop only has a battery life of around two hours and the day was going to last about four hours. Luckily, I managed to find a socket to give my laptop a recharge during the morning break and lunch hour. Throughout the day, the Wi-Fi was a bit flaky, as was most of the electrical equipment after a member of the catering staff managed to make a table collapse that was supporting loads of glasses and a few large vases, smashing them all and causing water to drip through the ceiling of the room below, directly above the stage, the lighting rig, projectors, microphones, laptop and front two rows of seating!

After four hours of live-blogging, taking photos and asking questions, Press Day was finally over and a coach took us to the airport, where I managed to catch a well-deserved power nap. My flight home was then delayed by an hour or so (again) due to thunderstorms and lightning in Paris, which meant I had to get a later train from Manchester Airport to Sheffield and eventually arrived home at around 01:30.

What a busy couple of days, eh? I saw Cherry Ghost, experienced a bit of Paris, met Danny Sullivan, got a photo with Marissa Mayer, asked Eric Schmidt some questions, saw a real iPhone (when Eric whipped his out of his pocket for a few seconds just to show off) and had a brilliant time at Google’s first Press Day in Europe and my first attempt at live-blogging from an event!

Many, many thanks for sending me Philipp!

Update: 23 June 2007 (10:54)
I’ve now uploaded all my photos to Flickr and added some links to them in the post.

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Heh, and thanks for going!