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Paris in Springtime

From: Noel Algar
Category: Story
Date: 26 Jun 2004
Time: 15:01:23 +0100
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My final tale of the fun Mark Mitchell and myself had over many years working with Ian in building Siemens Indirect Sales Channel in the UK, relates to another PKU Event that was held in the centre of Paris.  On this occasion it was shortly after the Channel Tunnel had been opened and being cost conscious regarding flight costs and also curious about the Tunnel, we decided to drive to Paris for the conference.  This is important to the story because it also played a part in our subsequent decision to stay an extra day, which I will get to. 

The event itself was held in the centre of Paris and we stayed in one of the main hotels with conference facilities adjoining.  We decided on the spur of the moment at the end of the conference to take a day’s holiday and go sight seeing in Paris, which is where the story begins.  Having made this decision there was no issue with rearranging flights etc. due to the flexibility of our Eurotunnel booking, but the hotel was a different issue.

When we attempted to extend our stay in the hotel it transpired there was an Airshow on in Paris at the same time and all the hotels were fully booked.  Not to be outdone Ian spoke to our French commercial colleague who told us he knew of a hotel close to him that always had rooms available.  We should have been suspicious as to why, but pleased that we had found a solution we sped off on the Peripherique, to the Northern side of Paris.  Sped being the operative word, because anyone who knows Paris will relate to the journey we encountered, which was as close to something out of “Wacky Races” that I have ever endured.  We were following our French colleague, so the only chance of finding the hotel was to stay with him.  The car chase that ensued had to be seen to be believed and then ironically as soon as we turned off the Peripherique we hit the mother of all traffic jams.  Numerous cars were nose to nose, bumper to bumper there were literally cars were pointing in all directions leading to complete gridlock.  As is the French way everyone was beeping their horns continuously in a crescendo of noise and gesticulating wildly as the solution to the congestion.   Showing commendable initiative and some courage in the bedlam of manoeuvering that ensued, our French colleague now turned traffic cop and got out of his car and with some gusto, helped unpick the crochet of cars that were ensnared.

The clue we hadn’t picked up on regarding the quality of our hotel, apart from the fact it was empty when all others were full was that it was near the station.  For near, read overlooking the platform !!  We wandered into reception and discovered a hotel that looked like something out of a bad 1930’s movie.   The walls were carpeted (to stop them disintegrating) and the lift was akin to a broom cupboard that only one person could fit into.  The breakfast area was a dank corridor with a broken plastic chair, where you had to take it in turns to sit down.  Mark and I decided that we weren’t staying, but Ian immediately started to find all the positive things about the hotel – for dark, musty, chilly and run down he interpreted the rooms as cosy.  All that was missing was the creepy butler and we were in a Hammer Horror. However, following Ian’s positive take on the hotel we decided to make the best of it and head into Paris for the evening.

At least finding the station wouldn’t be a problem !  Not on the way out anyway.  However, partly due to lack of attention and possibly too much wine on our return journey (and we were now miles from the centre of Paris) we inadvertently got off the train at the wrong station.  Shouldn’t have been a problem - wait for the next train, but we had just got off the last train and were now in the middle of a town that had clearly shut up shop for the night and we needed to find a taxi.  We decided to split up and whoever found a taxi would then go and pick up the others.  At the time bright jackets Miami Vice style were fashionable (or we thought they were) and I remember at the time feeling like we would get arrested as dodgy looking drugs dealers wandering around a Shanty town at the dead of night.  Fortunately we eventually found a taxi and headed back to the relative haven of our hotel!!

The following day was one of the defining moments for me on fully realizing what a truly genuine and good man Ian was and I will never forget it.  It was also mentioned in one of the speeches at the funeral as being typical of the kind of person Ian was, but the context makes it even more meaningful for me.

Ian, Mark and I were strolling through the Metro laughing and joking about the previous days events.  In the case of Mark and I, oblivious to anyone around us, but suddenly Ian wasn’t alongside us.  We stopped and looked back and he was carrying the bags of a little old lady down a long flight of stairs.  The little old lady looked startled that a drugs dealer was making off with her precious belongings, but it was of course a Good Samaritan, helping someone who needed assistance.

For me that moment defined the very essence of Ian as a great bloke who didn’t do things to impress people or for effect, but just because they needed to be done and he could see it when others couldn’t.

The stories I have shared might give the impression we spent all our time on jaunts around Europe.  What they might not show was the ability Ian had to blend work and play in such a way that you weren’t always aware of the difference, which meant it was always a pleasure to work with Ian and none of us who did will ever forget him.

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