The Megazone office is on the ground floor of a three storey building.
It has a street address and frontage on Belgrave Gate, a road easy
for locals to find. But the entrance is not actually on Belgrave Gate:
the site is built backwards, with the arena at the front and the lobby
at the back; so you have to walk down the side street to reach the
Across the side street is a pub, apparently called the "LACK SWAN".
The door is in a little alcove; I later discover that this is because, like many English businesses, there is a roll-a-door that they pull down when closed, to prevent idle louts from breaking the glass. I try to open the door, and fail.
This is because I have pulled on it, when I in fact need to push.
I find this unusual, and somewhat disturbing. All public buildings have doors that open outwards, so that in case of fire or other panic-inspiring eventuality, people can escape from the building without needing to think; and without needing to persuade the hundred people right behind them to back up a step or two so that they can open the door. All public buildings, apparently, except this one.
You would think that having walked around the front of the building, down the side and in the door, that you would now be in the lobby.
You would be, needless to say, wrong.
Inside the doorway is a couple of steps up, and a tunnel-like corridor. The space on either side is not, I think, owned by Megazone: it is staircases and the like, leading to other offices spaces in the building.
The tunnel is yellow, and fairly short, and leads into the lobby. We walk past the arcade machines, turn right, and walk through the construction area to the party room. On the far side of the party room is a door, and through this is the Megazone offices.
Megazone have 20 or so sites in the UK, and a bunch more throughout Europe. All the UK and many of the Europe sites are serviced from this office. The office is very new looking; I'm told it was substantially improved eight or so months ago, when Pat and Katie came over to the UK; in order to handle the increased number of people it would hold for the duration of their stay. We dump my suitcase, computer and carry-on up the back, and Pat gives me the tour.
It's like a Little Australia. There are some local people: Shelagh the receptionist, Vivien the accountant, Phil the sales guy, Stu and Bhupesh the technicians; but there are also many imports from Australia: Pat and Katie themselves; Jim the graphics guy (who is Scottish, but usually lives in Australia); Daniel, who helped build the Box Hill site back in Melbourne and who Pat has brought over because the local construction subcontractors are too busy to work for him; and two of Kate's nieces, named Amy and (confusingly) Kate, brought over to help manage the site.
The tour takes us through the back way to the lobby. The back way is even more heavily under construction than the front way.
The site used to have only one birthday party room. Pat believes that increasing the site's capacity to handle birthday parties will be good for business. (I tend to agree with him.) Thus he has Daniel putting up metal stud frame covered in gyprock (drywall, for the Americans), and is in the process of putting in new drop-ceiling. This process has gotten to the point of removing all the old ceiling tiles, allowing all the various wires, conduits, pipes and ducts to hang down. It looks bad to me, and I'm used to hanging around in sites under construction; it must look absolutely shocking to the general public.
There is a fire alarm, but no sprinkler system.
The floor in the vesting room _slopes_. Evidently this building was built in two mismatched phases, and the floors failed to line up by a substantial amount. On unfamiliar ground, in the dark, it's murderous.
All of this would cause the average American safety inspector to vomit; but here it's par for the course. Things in America have generally been built once, and are still serving their original purpose. If a property needs major modification, the building is generally demolished and a new one built; and the drywall-chipboard- chickenwire construction makes this easy to do. In the UK, buildings are generally made of brick, and are generally two or three floors. If a single tenant needs something that the current building does not offer, he must modify what already exists; since it's difficult to demolish the ground floor while leaving the upper storeys untouched. This, combined with the fact that most UK towns and cities have existed for rather a long time, means that most buildings have been reworked. Evidence of this is visible everywhere, and is accepted as the norm. In the lobby, a few centimetres above the drop ceiling that has been partly disassembled, are signs of the previous drop ceiling. The new drop ceiling will be built a few centimetres lower again.
The arena is pretty average; it contains many staircases, which would be a big no-no in the US, and the usual black paint with fluoro highlights.
The video games in the lobby, upon closer inspection, include a Puzzle Bobble (called Bust-A-Move in the US). This is my favourite arcade game, and there is a Puzzle Bobble in the lobby of every sizeable site I've ever been in, except Las Vegas, which is the site I was based for three years. Pat charges 50p per game (US$0.80; AU$1.25); and apparently people pay this. There are a couple of pool tables, also 50p per play; and some quiz games. These are a strange beast I've never seen before: you answer questions to achieve on-screen objectives, and if you do well enough, you win money. Having come from Las Vegas, it is strange to see what is effectively a gambling game, apparently subject to no regulation whatsoever, in an amusement centre aimed at least partly at children.
The tour completed, I spend some time setting up my PC (remembering to adjust the voltage switch on the back before I plug it in; it seems probable that if the power supply expects 120V and receives 240V, Something Bad will happen). I have to configure it to deal with the daft proxy machine.
The office has indirect internet access: Pat has a single 64k ISDN line which hooks to a proxy PC, and the proxy PC is hooked to the LAN. Any PC which wants internet access therefore has to ask the proxy to relay packets for it. This means that I have to reconfigure my web browser and email package to talk to the proxy rather than letting them directly contact the real world. The extra delay involved tends to cause time-outs: I am completely unable to reach my regular email server through email services, and am forced to use its web interface for the duration of my stay. And for services other than email and web: forget it. If the proxy isn't configured to relay it, it doesn't happen. No ftp, no news, no ping, no nothing.
The reason for the proxy's existence is partly Pat's perverse insistence on Windoze-based software, but mostly because of the fee structure of the telephone company. The UK telecom industry is effectively a monopoly run by British Telecom, and they charge an arm and a leg, or if they think they can get away with it, several arms and legs. Local calls from a home phone cost 3p (US 5c, AU 7c) per minute, and Pat's single ISDN channel costs considerably more. This makes internet access an expensive proposition, and to curtail costs somewhat, the proxy tends to hang up at the drop of a hat. Being buggy, it sometimes forgets that it has hung up, and faithfully relays the packets you send it into oblivion. It is then necessary to convince it of its wrongheadedness by delivering it a few solid kicks. (This seldom helps, but is very therapeutic.)
BT are promising to rectify this situation by moving their charging scheme for ISDN access to a flat rate; the proposed rate will be only about twice as much as it would cost me to get a cable modem in the US; the cable modem being a mere eight times faster than the ISDN.
As my future co-worker, Simon, is not due to arrive until tomorrow, I am left with little to do. Sleep, though desirable, is something I avoid; the plan being to go to bed after dark and wake up at a reasonable hour in the morning, thus beating jet lag. So I sit around and swap stories with Pat, in which we both boast about the success of various aspects of our present and former empires.
At about 5:30pm, my new landlord arrives, to give me a lift home. He takes me via the scenic route, in order to give me an idea of the lay of the land near home; and we eventually reach the door of 26a Burnmoor St.