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August 14 2012 19:29:23.
Today Friday 24 May 2013 19:04:26
"We've kept them there just as a little reminder of the sort of thing
that happens when you guys come to town. Not that you stayed that long; we'd
had more than enough of you by then."
There was more laughter. I saw Sarah check her watch.
Davy said, "You know, people think that it was called the White House
after you Brits burned it down. Not so, it only got its name in 1901, under
..." He turned to Josh for the answer.
"Roosevelt." Josh looked at us sheepishly.
"Hey, if you work here you have to know these things."
There wasn't much we could say, and there was only so much burned stone
we could look at. After a minute or so, Davy said, "OK, let's go bowl a
As we pushed our way through the fire doors, I could see maybe
twenty-five or thirty meters of white painted corridor in front of me, each
side of which had white wooden doors slightly inset into the walls. The
whole area had a functional feel. It was lit by strip lighting, with
secondary lighting boxes positioned at key points in case of power failure
or fire. The same cook house-and-polish smell hung in the air. There was no
activity down here at all. Our footsteps squeaked on the tiles and echoed
along the corridor.
We came to a pile of cardboard boxes and bulging bin liners stacked
against the wall.
"It's just like any other house," Davy said.
"All the junk goes into the basement."
We passed several of the white doors and came to a gray metal one with
a slowly flashing red bulb above it. Davy pointed up.
"Let's see who's in."
He swiped his ID card through a security lock and said, "Welcome to
He opened the door and gestured us in. I followed Sarah into a darkened
room that contained a bank of at least twenty CCTV screens set into the wall
in banks of three. Each carried a different picture, with a time code bar at
the bottom ticking away the milliseconds. The colored views were of large,
richly decorated rooms, and hundreds of meters of corridors and colonnades.
On a desktop that ran the whole length of the console, illuminated by small
down lighters were banks of telephones, microphones and clipboards.
I went in and moved to one side so that Josh could follow. The
temperature was cooler in here; I could hear the air conditioning humming
above me. Lined up in front of the bank of screens were four office
chairs on castors. The sole occupant of the room was sitting on one of them,
dressed inERT black, his baseball cap illuminated by the screens as he
mumbled into one of the phones.
I looked at Sarah. Her eyes were glued to the screens; I could see the
light from them reflecting off her face.
The phone went down and Josh called out, "Yo, Top Cat! How goes it?"
TO spun around in his chair and raised both arms.
"Heyyya, fella! I'm good. It's been a while." He was white and looked
in his mid-thirties, with a very smart, well-trimmed mustache.
They shook hands and Josh introduced us.
"This is Nick, and this is Sarah, they're from the U.K. Friends of
mine. This is TO." We both walked over to him, and he stood up to shake
hands. His chin already had shadow and he looked as if he needed five or six
shaves a day; either that, or he'd been on duty all night. He was maybe
about five foot six, with short dark brown hair under his black cap.
TC's firm grip contrasted with his very soft Southern accent, but both
"What have you seen so far?"
"Josh has been showing us what happened the last time the Brits were
Sarah had a question to ask Davy.
"Do you think it would be possible to see the State Dining Room? It's
just that I'm a big fan of Jackie 0 and..."
Davy looked at TO, who shrugged apologetically.
"I'm sorry to have to tell you folks that no one can go upstairs
Josh felt that he had to explain.
"Access depends on what is going on.
Just about any other day would have been fine.