>Lisbon diary: my conference from hell


I have spent the last few days in Lisbon attending the European Consortium for Political Research Joint Sessions of Workshops. It wasn’t a good trip. On the whole, what can go wrong does go wrong. I take the airport shuttle to a stop near the main mosque and step out into a rainstorm. I had naively imagined there would be sunshine, so I have brought only a thin jacket. I quickly get soaked. I also get lost and spend half and hour so wandering around in the dark, rainswept streets. It’s an unprepossessing area with an odd mix of new hotels and apartment blocks and run down shops and bars. I catch a glimpse of Lisbon’s fllodlit central Mosque across the street. Finally, I realize I am heading in the wrong direction.

At last, I get to the hotel. Here they tell me I have been moved to another hotel, the impressively named VIP Grand, due to some mix-up by the agency running the conference arrangements. Ironically, I had walked passed the Grand in the pouring rain 20 minutes before. Duly transferred, I find myself in a nice hotel with a jarringly modern interiors : strange lighting, stark blacks, whites and strikes, plenty of mirrors and glass. Apparently, it was designed on Zen principles in a building that was once the headquarters of Portuguese TV and radio. I walk down a corridor, which is lit like something out of Star Wars, half expecting Darth Vader to come round the corner, and make it my 12th floor room. I go to take a shower and slam straight into a glass partition between bathroom and bedroom, mistaking it for an open doorway. My head gets an almighty bang. I bleed all over the place. It’s very late. I can’t face the thought of seeing a doctor.

By day 2 of the conference, however, I am having headaches and I’m starting to feel sick. Not a good combination. I end up sitting in the accident and emergency department of a private hospital. Here they check me out, relieve me of 100 euros and decide that I’ve caught flu and that my head is not a cause for concern. I feel pretty grotty for most of the rest of the conference, however, fortifying myself black tea and Portuguese bica expressos. Academically, things go rather better. The workshop on Generational Politics is animated and has a sensible balance between presentation and discussion – a good system of double discussants – and civilized regime of breaks.

Easyjet round off a difficult trip by laying on the return flight from hell. At the last minute, passengers are herd to different departure gate. A long queue stands for an hour gradually getting more restive. Portuguese passengers start laying into the local Easyjet staff. Finally, they tell us they have had to get a new crew or a new plane, but we can now board. Once on the plane, however, we learn that they need a ‘competent engineer’ to sign off some technical check and they can’t find one. We spend another hour sitting on on the plane. Children start screaming. My head is still aching. In the end, we take off 2 hours late. There is the usual cattle-truck-of-the-skies experience, this time of the added bonus of the smell of the toilets wafting through the cabin ventilation.

At Gatwick airport at midnight, there are no stopping trains, so I have to fork out £50 for a taxi home. Perhaps next time, they should just run the ECPR over Skype.

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