Portland House, SW1. If you’re a courier you’ll probably know and hate it as much as I do.
It used to have one of London’s more user-friendly loading bays. A nod from the security guard, straight down the ramp (wheeeeeee!), across the car park and the lifts are pretty much straight ahead of you. On a good day you could probably be in and out within a couple of minutes.
But not any more. Some facilities manager, in their wisdom, has decided that it’s ‘unsafe’ to let couriers ride their bikes down into the loading bay, so now:
The security guard instructs you to lock your bike up outside the building. You scowl at him. If it’s your first time since they changed the rules you’ll probably also try and have an argument with him about how you’ve always been allowed down the ramp in the past, but he’s heard it all before, and anyway, he didn’t make the rules.
He unlocks the door, lets you into the security office, and gives you instructions to carry on through the door at the back, straight along the corridor, through two sets of double doors, to the lifts on your right. Take the lift down to -2, follow the signs to the loading bay, and ask the security guard there which floor you want for whatever company you’re picking up from. No, he himself doesn’t know which floor you want. You have to ask the security guard in the loading bay.
So you follow his instructions, wander along the featureless white corridors until you find the lift, and descend to the loading bay. Except you don’t get to the loading bay. The lift turfs you out into another anonymous maze of white corridors, there are maps here and there, but it would take you more time than you have to decipher them, and you’ve already lost all sense of direction.
There are signs pointing you to the loading bay, and you follow them, but they’re only sporadically placed, and I’ve never yet managed to find it first time – I always end up having to retrace my steps at least once.
You finally reach the loading bay. Hurrah! Then you try to attract the attention of the security guard. He’s usually over on the other side, at the bottom of the ramp, so you have to climb down off the walkway and walk across the loading bay – thereby exposing yourself to just as much risk of reversing lorries, etc. as if you’d just ridden your bike down there. (Possibly more, because couriers are professional cyclists, but only amateur pedestrians.)
He checks his clipboard. You want the 20th floor. So you recross the loading bay, climb back onto the walkway (because there are steps at the far end, but that would involves walking all the way round the edge of the loading bay, and you really can’t be bothered with that, even if the security guard is going to tell you off), and proceed to the main lift shaft. It’s pretty easy from here, as long as you remember that there are two different lift shafts – one for the upper floors and one for the lower ones.
You pick up the package and take the lift back to the loading bay. Strangely, according to this lift the loading bay’s on -1 rather than -2. If it’s your first time it’ll take you quite a bit of backtracking and confusion to work this out.
And now the fun really starts. You try to find your way back to ground level. (Remembering all along that you could have ridden your bike back up the ramp in a matter of seconds.) You wander haphazardly along the anonymous white corridors for a while, taking junctions almost at random, until you come across a lift. But this is one of those massive buildings that has multiple lift shafts. The first lift disgorges you into an identical maze of anonymous white corridors. You don’t recognize anything, but you’re pretty sure this isn’t how you got in. So you wait for the lift again, go back down, and wander around on -2 for a bit longer, looking for another set of lifts. By now your sense of direction is completely shot to hell.
You find another lift. It looks a little more like it might be the right one. But you’re no longer sure. Everything in this building looks the same by now. You wait for the lift, get back to ground level and wander up the corridor, and then down the corridor, and then stand and look all around you, and then backtrack once again, and you’re finally back at the security office.
You vent your spleen on the poor security guard, apologize to your controller for the lengthy delay, unlock your bike, and are at the other end of town in less time than it took you to get to the 20th floor of Portland House. Seriously. The first time I went there after they changed the rules, it took me 25 minutes to get in and out.
Did you find that boring? You should think yourself lucky. You only had to read it once. I have to go through it in person several times a week.