Emergency exit sign used in the European Union...I’ll never look the same way at a water closet again. (For the uninitiated, a water closet is a stall in a restroom, toilet, lavatory…you get the idea.) Before I close the door, I will check to make sure that I have an exit strategy. This was perhaps the most important lesson I learned at SQLBits X in London last week. Actually, I never saw an Exit sign anywhere in London – only a sign with the symbol shown in the illustration at right or a sign indicating the Way Out, but having a Way Out strategy doesn’t sound right to my American ears.

Each night of the conference, many of the speakers and attendees gathered in the lobby of the Novotel London West, the venue for the conference. At one point, late in the evening (or perhaps early in the morning), I stepped away to “powder my nose,” and probably didn’t mention it to anyone either. Usually, one doesn’t need to register one’s destination for that sort of activity. It’s not like going for a hike alone in a national forest. So off I went, but when I tried to leave my water closet, the door handle broke off in my hand and I was unable to unlock the door and make my exit.

It’s important for my American readers to understand why this was a problem. The water closet doors are constructed to leave only an inch or two at the bottom and at the top of the stall door and floor-to-ceiling walls on three sides. There was no way to climb or crawl out.

I’m a handy sort of person and could have used a screwdriver to pry open the door (I think), but I had no purse with me. Which wouldn’t have contained a screwdriver even if I did have it, but perhaps something else in my purse would have proven helpful. Nor did I have my phone with me so that I could phone, text, or tweet about my dilemma. I thought, “What would MacGyver do?”

I tried yelling, but no one could hear me. I was in a part of the hotel that few would be walking past. Furthermore, most of the people speaking at or attending SQLBits are men, so I could not count on someone coming to rescue me soon. Fortunately, the story ends well. After about 10 minutes, I heard someone walk in and I said, “I know this sounds weird, but I’m trapped in here, and I was hoping you could open the door from that side.” Silence. And then my door opened! Carmel – Bob Duffy’s (blog | twitter) wife – was my heroine!

Fortunately, the door locking mechanism had a handle on the outside that was still attached and functional. I don’t know what would have happened otherwise. Dismantle the door from the hinges? Chainsaw? I’ll never know. But I will not close a stall door ever again without first checking to make sure that I can get out again.

Other Lessons Learned

Of course, that experience was not the only lesson learned, but it was the most humorous. I knew many of the organizers at SQLBits from my involvement in the SQL community for years, and met others that I had previously only known by name. I learned they really know how to put on an excellent show and I appreciate all the hard work they did to make this a great event. If you ever get a chance to go, please do – you will not regret it.

I was privileged and honored to be accepted as a speaker for a pre-conference session, “A 360-Degree View of SQL Server 2012 Business Intelligence” and for two other sessions. One was “(Way Too Much) Fun with Reporting Services” which I co-presented with my daughter Erika Bakse (blog | twitter) and the other was “So How Does the BI Workload Impact the Database Engine Part I” which I co-presented with Denny Cherry (blog | twitter). Erika and I had a lot of fun showing some “out there” techniques with Reporting Services and will soon be sharing the solution and inviting the community to send suggestions for evolving the solution with more features. Denny and I also enjoyed the reprise of the first half of our PASS Summit 2011 session where we bring BI and DBA subject matter together. These sessions were recorded and will be available on the SQLBits site soon.

What lesson was there in these sessions for me? Words with Friends is not as popular in the UK as it is in the US (at least not with the SQLBits attendees) and that I can always tell my slides from Denny’s slides in a deck because mine have pictures. But he really knows his stuff and can riff at length about database performance issues. Not a surprise there, really – after all, he’s a Microsoft Certified Master.

London Lessons

I added some days before and after the conference to do some sightseeing and learned that London is a very easy town to explore. Once you get a ticket for the Underground, also known as the tube. Everything we wanted to see and do was a short walk from an Underground station in Zones 1 and 2.

Highlights of our tour of London – an absolute treasure trove for a history junkie like me:

Erika and I had lunch with Denny and his wife Kris at our first English Pub, in view of the Tower of London and appropriately titled The Hung Drawn and Quartered.
Tower of London, where Denny, Kris, Erika and I saw the Crown Jewels, Traitor’s Gate through which prisoners were brought for incarceration (and eventual execution in most cases), and walked through a medieval palace once inhabited by King Edward I (1239-1307).
  Lunch at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese where Charles Dickens had his favorite seat (where Lara is seated). Pictured from left to right: Kris (Denny’s wife), Erika Bakse, Jennifer Moser, Jen Stirrup, Lara Rubbelke, Buck Woody, Denny Cherry’s forehead, and Chris Webb.
Jen Stirrup took us to see Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament along the River Thames.  
Nearby we saw Westminster Abbey, so we went in for a tour. It has a very rich history, and is the site of two coronations in 1066: King Harold, the last Anglo-Saxon king in England, and William the Conqueror, the first Norman king. Many royal weddings have occurred here, and many members of royal and noble families and other notable persons are buried here.
After the conference, Bill Graziano, Erika and I went to the British Museum, where we explored items from Egypt, including the Rosetta Stone, and from Assyria, Greece, Rome, and Britain. We only scratched the surface of the museum’s contents.  
And Erika and I wrapped up our time in London with a visit to the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.