Dean Clough

March 1, 2024

Portico Darwin: London Calling, Chapter 5


<6 Minute Read

Happy Friday, and this is the fifth installment of London Calling.

Preface and Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3

It Snows in London and The Royal Horseguards Doesn't Suck
I know because, after the Seaco team visited San Francisco, I was soon asked to come to London in December of 1997, and again in February of 1998.  And then, again in March.  God, those Virgin Atlantic Upper Class flights were something, and London covered in fresh snow was not bad, either.

My presence was required because it was time to define the program (or "project" as we called it then - I wouldn't hear the term "program management" for a couple of more years), such that we could start getting the real work done.  And while I hadn't been anointed officially as leading the telecom and desktop/server refresh, I didn't wait.  I wanted to be in London as often as possible. 

As you've read, I now knew which airline to fly, and from the first trip (and since no one seemed to object), I knew where to stay:  on each trip, I booked myself a nice room at The Royal Horseguards, smack-dab in Whitehall and a short walk to Westminster and the Houses of Parliament. 

This hostelry was the site of a lot of work and a lot of not work.  In the coming months, its classic and fine rooms would be graced by a whole bunch of different people.  Of course George Valiant Walker and Andy Gill, but also my wife.  Other Genstar staff (here's looking at you, Lara Mohair), too, but they'd soon be basking in their severance packages and were mostly gone after March or thereabouts.

By which time I was already shopping for apartments in London for the summer.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

Because until then, we slummed it here.  And there was quite a cavalcade of guest stars, some expected, others not.

Including locals Randy Smee and Marc Bass, who spent a night - in my room.  We'll get back to that shortly. 

And there was a repeat of me downing a bottle of Scotch at the base of Big Ben.  However this time, I was with two women, both Genstar employees.  Meow, but there's an entire chapter upcoming that details the insane months of February and March of 1998 in London at The Royal Horseguards and beyond - of which that night was just a small part.

But now, it's still the wash-rinse-repeat days of December 1997 and early '98. 

And just look at the gonzo location of The Royal Horseguards.  It was either three stops away on the Tube's District Line, or an amazing 15 minute walk along The River Thames, to Sea Containers House and work.  St. James's Park was a stone's throw and gosh, were there some fine pubs in Mayfair, also nearby. 

In the end, my tally of stays here added to 4, the first on that initial due diligence visit, and then another week in December, February for 2 weeks, and then 3 more weeks in March.  

It was fucking amazing.

I only vaguely remember the start of this particular night, and don't remember the finish.  My only clear memory is of the wreckage in my room the following morning, when I came to.  

There were dozens of empty bottles of things like Budweiser and Carling, and they were everywhere.  Also, my CD player and powered speakers were unplugged. 

Oh, and there were Randy Smee and Marc Bass, each unconscious in a chair and settee, respectively.  Randy was still donning the wraparound sunglasses from the night before.  It was 7 AM.

I imagine I probably invited the chaps to come up my way after work, for some pints and a pub dinner.  After, I must have insisted on demonstrating my exquisite musical taste to these posers, because the real party had clearly started and finished in my equally exquisite hotel room. 

And that's where I utilized The Royal Horseguards' 24-hour room service.  We placed at least two different, giant orders for beers, and didn't get started until 11 PM.  

Julie still tells the story of me calling her that night - early evening in SF - and telling her I missed and loved her.  All true.

But then I hung up and called room service again, ordered another 18 bottles of Budweiser, and probably started explaining the importance of Pet Sounds to Randy and Marc.  


This is Called Working Man
By now, a reader could reasonably surmise London Calling to be little more than drunken bacchanals, interspersed with the occasional business meeting. 

So it is probably about the right time to be clear about something:  I worked as hard on this program throughout its duration as at any other time in my life, on anything else.  And if you've never been on the receiving end of my management, you will have to take my word for it that that means something.  I consider myself an animal in terms of getting things done, and this was probably my peak Mad Dog (my partner Peet Krakow's not-so-complimentary nickname for me).

I point this out not for a trophy - after all, I wasn't digging ditches.  I have been honest about that.

But while a lot of this experience was indeed glorious and exciting, it was also akin to a marathon.  A grueling, uphill, marathon.  
Even my feet got fucked-up from the misfitting dress shoes I wore month after month on my Blackfriars Bridge crossings from/to the Tube stop of a similar name.
God was it beautiful and wow could it pour on that damned bridge.
I remain overwhelmed with gratitude for this entire experience, but zero of the work was easy.  Among the most challenging things was simply defining what needed doing.  That is what these wash, rinse, repeat trips were for: 

With my Seaco and Genstar colleagues,  figure out what the program even was.

Exhibit A:  It was quite an effort just getting the executives to finalize the offices in which the merged companies would work.  In some cities, both companies had facilities.  In others, one or the other did.  And all had leases or other real estate considerations, each of which needing to be analyzed.   

Yet knowing the addresses where we needed stuff was kind of important, and we eventually got our answer.  Each red pin on the map was where we worked, 32 offices in all.
GESeaco (1).jpg

What was going into these offices?  

While I'll admit to being a rookie international consultant, I had to date not experienced CIO Steve Whittam's mindless demands for insane levels of documentation.  For everything.  I remember vividly a weekend in February spent at Royal Horseguards writing a report justifying every last single bit of kit we were proposing for each office.  

I literally had to define what a PC was and what they'd be used for.  This made even less sense because Seaco had very few PCs worth a shit, and was going to be getting all of Genstar's modern PCs for free.  

Yet I still found myself explaining why having PCs in the offices of the world's largest intermodal shipping container lessor would be useful.  In 1998.

It took quite a while, but in the end, we were able to distill things into something palatable for Whittam and the other big boys upstairs at Sea Containers House. 

Here is the program being born, in a memo I wrote to Steve Whittam, beginning with its table of contents, and fab WestConnect logo.  These are from the program's original working papers, which I am proud to say I have still. 


This is Appendix A; we did this in 32 offices.

In English:

  • We had to have new wiring, Ethernet outlets, and an equipment rack installed in many of the 32 offices

  • We needed new international broadband data circuits to connect these offices, and they needed to utilize Internet standards and protocols

  • Someone was going to need to visit each office to install the servers, PCs, and associated gear

And this had to go on while every office remained operational.

The Seaco-mandated Sales Office PC marked the point where I lost all hope Reg Ellwood, responsible for personal computing for Seaco, could be useful to the program.  The SOPC was a Frankenstein's monster, easily replaced with the modern file sharing and communications facilitated by the new stuff we were putting in every office.  

I tirelessly attempted to educate/convince Reg of that.

But ever fearful of angering Boss Whittam, Reg insisted the Sales Office PC be a part of the plan.  I think an admin in each office sat at them, waited for orders on a green-screen emulator, printed them, and then faxed them somewhere.  

I may have that wrong:  It was probably less sophisticated.  

It still thrills me to reflect on the size of this program, and the work it took to pull it off.  As you can see, we had framed the program by early 1998. 

And by 1 September 1998, the whole thing was finished.  Or about six months.

What happened in between? 

I negotiated the biggest contract I ever would, smoked hash in Amsterdam with a client, almost couldn't check out of Royal Horseguards, and golfed where Goldfinger was filmed.  Whilst Andy Gill went for a massage in Auckland, but George Valiant Walker couldn't fit in a ski trip to the Chilean Andes between deployments; both were at my request.  

We will get back to all of that.

And wait until you hear about handsome Dimitri, the son of a Greek shipping magnate, hitting on my wife, not long before dawn, at a bar in Antwerp.  That was fine because Luigi Ferrari and I were doing another kopstootje - Dutch for blow to the head.  Which they love serving in Belgium, too, and it consists of a shot of genever (Dutch gin), chased by a beer.  Like fine Belgium beer.  Like the kind they serve in Antwerp, the city with the best bars in the world.  

We - Julie, too - had about 5 or 10 of those, starting at around 1AM.  Which in Antwerp in 1998, was right after dinner.

And then we had our passports revoked, just a few hours later.

And yes, we'll get back to that.  Certainly.

What were you doing that summer? 

Up Next:  London Calls


It is always great to hear from the brainiac, overachieving part of my family.  Proof?  Here are the perfectly charming comments I received from my cousin, Raquel Heinz Baku, in response to A Free Man Goes Up The River.

Love this journey!
There's a really beautiful children's book,  River, that is about a solo journey of a mom going from Lake Tear of the Clouds to New York in a canoe down the Hudson.  

I read it often during the most sequestered of COVID times, and fantasized about such an adventure (but not sure that I'm brave enough to actually do it)!

I was not familiar with the book, but wow, did I find an example of the beauty of its art and prose.
Thank you, Raquel.  

Thank you for reading this newsletter.  


Two-for-one today on KLUF.  And that's because I have vivid memories of sitting in a pub in Whitehall during this period and listening to these, on headphones.  Both had an impact, for different reasons.

Here is Sheryl Crow with her eponymous album from 1996, and also Oasis, and their bombastic but oh-so-Cool-Britannia album, released in 1997, Be Here Now

To this day I still lose my mind over "Magic Pie", but for some reason, not over "My Big Mouth."

About Dean Clough