Dean Clough

March 29, 2024

Portico Darwin: London Calling, Chapter 9


7 Minute Read

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

Preface and Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Holy shit, now I had to do it.  Planning is one thing, execution is something else.  Were we ready?  Was I ready?  Although we had started something like this with Genstar in 1997, we never reached the point of actually doing it.  We were there now with GESeaco: Technicians were now getting on airplanes.  Those of our contractors ITS and Equant, and very soon, our own. 

We had spent months in preparation for making this happen, and it was time.

ITS was putting down Cat5 Ethernet where it was needed in our global offices, and Equant was early in the process of turning up broadband connections for us in 32 different cities, ranging from Washington D.C. to Guayaquil, Ecuador to Singapore.  Dozens of PCs and servers were being shipped  - everywhere.  

Genstar remainer Catherine Parasol did a lot of work.  From their HQ in San Francisco, she arranged for a lot of equipment to be where it was needed, mostly at my request.  It must have been the bottle of Scotch we and Lilith Spalding drank at the base of Big Ben in March.

And by hook and by crook, we were able to get the people we wanted to travel and make it happen in each office.

Luigi Ferrari was ready.  So was Andy Gill.  Willy Aluminium was fucking born ready.  And George Valiant Walker?  Well, he was up for anything, and typically pretty damned good at it, so he was ready, too.
These four - we were by now calling them Deployment Engineers - were important because they'd each be leaving imminently, and as follows:

  • Luigi and Willy would cover the European Offices
  • Andy would be in Asia (he ended up doing the most deployments, 9)
  • George would handle North and South America (right around the birth of his first child (!))

In plain speak:  these 4 would be visiting an office and transforming it, technically, in one week.  They'd then fly on to the next office's city.  Exciting but grueling, which is why I had insisted on business class flights and top hotels for them.   No one - not even Whittam - questioned it.

There was one other person involved, and his first name was Adam.  I don't recall precisely his last name, but it might have been NotVeryGood.  For whatever internal Seaco reason, he was foisted upon us and told he'd be doing the deployment in Charleston, South Carolina. 

He may still be there trying to figure it out.

Randy Smee?  He'd forgotten more about big-time telecom than I knew at this point.  He made this program work.  So yeah, he was ready.  

He also was prepared to chill me out when necessary, which was like every day.  This was his tool of choice.  

Malcolm Graveling?  Jim Lawrence?  I think they were interested to see what I could do and were both ready to help, but also prepared to point at me if this all went wrong.

Martin Denny, VP of Telecom and so kinda sorta in charge, at least after Boss Whittam?  Was he ready?  We'll get to that in a moment.

And what about the boss, Steve Whittam, CIO of Seaco and thus GESeaco?  He was ready for more paperwork.

Yours truly?  Beneath the bourgeoisie Hugo Boss suits was a young American project manager ready himself, but also questioning if I could, in actuality 1) fit in, 2) do it, and 3) not lose it completely. 

It might have been another day of negotiating with Whittam over some trivial bullshit he shouldn't have been near in the first place.  Or shipping logistics (it was always shipping logistics) - getting gear where it needed to be.  Or a day fretting about whether a given office's network wiring would be completed in time.  Or the one with the go/no-go decision on sending Andy Gill into Jakarta - which was at war at the time.  (He didn't go.)  Or the endless battle to get 32 different wide area network circuits up, and on schedule, many in places I had never heard of previously.  

So when I called it quits at the end of a typical day, I would trudge exhausted across Blackfriars Bridge in London's never-ending summer dusk to the District Line tube station at the other side.  From there, it was a few hot and packed stops to Earl's Court, and I'd meet Julie at our local. 

By this point, I would have loosened my tie. 

You can ask her for confirmation, but I can't count the nights I sat there in that pub, head in hands, saying over and over to Julie, myself, and anyone else who would listen, 

"I just don't fucking know if I can pull this off."  

I'd then go on and on about our servers not clearing customs in Rio de Janeiro or something similar, have another Guinness Extra Cold, and then go home with Julie to bed.  

And do it again the next day.  Likely including the whingeing.  

But a book (or even a chapter) about the trials and tribulations of getting 32 shipping ports around the world online would not be interesting.  And while I do feel it is important to temper the glamour and overall insanity of this experience with reality, nobody wants to read much of the detail.  I wouldn't.

Fortunately, the stress of the summer can be captured, and perhaps my management style at the time, with just one document, a classic, from fairly early on. 

This flamegram to the Equant account executive responsible for our program, Guy Foster, appears to be from Martin.  It was not, although he asked for its drafting, and wanted it in his name.  No, it was from Randy and myself, and judging by its tone, I have an idea who wrote the first version. 

I would imagine this was out of character for the British gentleman Martin, and took the Equant guys by surprise.  So I am glad I was there to be the pushy, loudmouth Septic - it was what was needed, at least if the program was going to be delivered on time.   

It should also tell you about the manager Martin Denny was.  Randy and I had come to him with real concerns, he understood what was at stake, and he greenlit what was for these Brits a bomb-drop.  In his name.

It worked.  Something this strong from me would have been a source of amusement and dismissed; from Martin, not so much. 

And just in time for our first remote office deployment, in Antwerp, Belgium, to be performed by Luigi Ferrari soon thereafter.   

But as you can see, I needed a break every once in a while.  Our British friends mates were only too happy to oblige.

At the Weekend, Act 1
It's a cliché that England and America are two great nations separated by a common language, but the Brits do have some rather charming phrases.  This is especially true when it comes to vacations holidays, but it also applies to more routine fun.  One of our favorites favourites is long weekend mini-break, while another, more general term is this weekend at the weekend.  And then there's the classic spend the day a day out.

And in between my work freak-outs, we did it all.

This section and one on the same subject in the following chapter are dedicated to my UK friends for their incredible hospitality.  I've mentioned it before, but their kindness never stopped, from about the first weekend Julie was there, to the last.   

Henry VIII and The Darwin's (23 May)
Julie had barely landed for the summer when our first invite for a day out came in, and no surprise, it was from the beyond-charming old Brit Martin Denny and his equally lovely wife, Anita.  Martin, Seaco's VP of Telecom, seemed to have taken to me immediately; now, a couple of weeks into our residence, he couldn't wait to meet Julie.  They asked to come out on a Saturday afternoon to their home, located in East Molesey, about a 30-minute train ride southwest of London.   
They had the home one would expect of a British telecom exec:  Nice, and old.  We enjoyed some refreshments there and later ate at a very tasty French restaurant around the corner from their place.  This wonderful outing kind of cemented my relationship with Martin going forward; I have a very strong feeling he had my back at pivotal points throughout the program. 

But the other story on this day was that, in between, we also toured the famed Hampton Court Palace, the home at one time of Henry VIII.  It was across the street from Martin and Anita's.

We were blown away, by this, our first of what would be a rather astounding number of visits in the coming summer to historic and other places.  Like the Dorset Coast.

I Didn't Even Work With Richard Green (29 - 31 May) 
Let me be clear:  Even Steve Whittam, at least away from the office, was gracious and very kind to me, and that was the case with everyone.  Well, there was Chris Bushell, VP of Software and never friendly, but fuck him.

Because I can never express enough gratitude for the way all of my other Seaco mates treated my wife and me throughout this experience.  I've said that previously, but it needs repeating:  they were that kind.

But our first authentic mini-break came from a source I did not expect.  

I think I had seen his name on a couple of memos, and/or been told to cc: him on one of my own.  I was still a bit taken aback when a Seaco upper management guy by the name of Richard Green called my office and asked me to pop up to his.  

Like all of the Seaco private offices, Richard's was nice, with even better views.  But I lost track of that once he started talking.

"OK, right, I hear you and your wife are here for the summer.  I know it's last minute, but I have a cottage on the Isle of Portland, off the Dorset Coast, and you're welcome to use it at the weekend.  I know it's your Memorial Day holiday in the States, so please, if you don't have plans, use it as your own.  Go up this Friday and come back on Monday."

Once I had shaken off the shock and with my typical exuberance, I fairly shouted, "Yes, please!  Wow!  This is so cool, man!  Thank you, Richard!"

And with that, he handed me a packet of instructions and some keys, and we were off.

This is no travel guide, but suffice it to say Richard's cottage and its location were textbook examples of British coastal life.  We took a train for a couple of hours and then a cab and we were there.  It was gorgeous and a gesture never to be forgotten, from a perfect stranger.  Thank you, Richard Green

Wherever he may be.

Goldfinger's Country Club (4 June)
And then there was the day out I spent golfing at Stoke Park with Malcolm Graveling, Seaco's VP of System Operations.  We became friends that day, and I also won a trophy for the low net score.  But building an important relationship and my sandbagging is not what I remember most - I mostly recall how cool it was just being there.

Up Next:  Arthur Moves In


Speaking of golf and James Bond, Steven Simon took time away from planning his son's posh Bar Mitzvah party to praise my inclusion in my Francis Scott Key Bridge tribute of a photo of the Thaddeus Kosciuszko Bridge, near our hometown of Albany.

I knew you would include our iconic "Twin Bridges"!

Here's a much better photo of the bridge, which spans the Mohawk River, itself an ancient part of the Erie Canal.

Thank you for reading this newsletter.  


 As a writer, I know that what follows is called foreshadowing.  No, really.

Released in 1996, this record was big for me in London in 1998 and remains a go-to almost 30 years later.  Indeed, it is one of my favorite rock albums of them all.  And I think a certain someone else's, too. 

Here are Stone Temple Pilots and the absolutely Diamond Certified Tiny Music . . . Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop

About Dean Clough