Thursday, April 17, 2014

Easter weekend in Somerset

DSC04894 StitchThe crowds were already gathering, people pouring down the stairs into the Bond Street Tube Station by 3 pm.  Most have a four-day weekend and were trying to get a jump on others similarly leaving London (the Evening Standard predicted that over half the people living in London would leave for the holiday break).

DSC04846I was in for investor meetings and to take advice on our organization and funding – all of the pieces seem to be falling into place.  There’s a lot of writing still to be done, and I spent the train ride south scribbling Urgent notes into my diary and notebook, prioritizing. 

Still, it’s a holiday weekend, and the British are onto something when they make firm plans for a break, an outing, and some rambles in the countryside this time of year.   I haven’t been to the rolling hills and orchards of Somerset, southwest of Bath, and friends suggested that it would make a perfect weekend this time of year.  Cottages were still available for hire, DSC04906 (1300x937)despite the number of people traveling, and the weather forecast couldn’t be better.

And, on arrival, it looks wonderful.  ‘many pictures and stories to come…

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cambridge and south

DSC04816 (1300x975)Wolfson College has begun work to organize their spring gardens.  Tulips are replacing daffodils; flowering shrubs pressing aside bluebells.  The wisteria, my favorite, hasn’t bloomed yet but it should be glorious by the time I return.

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The 3-day span between my Dutch landing and the start of Easter break is going to be full, so I rose early this morning to walk the gardens and think a little.  It’s a nice anticipation of Easter weekend in a few days.  I’m going to take a little time away, its supposed to be fantastic weather most of the time.

Meetings in London began at 2, so I headed south on the express train at noon.  It’s a nostalgia trip: the fields were painted yellow with flowering rapeseed, familiar stations rushed past.

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London was also in full bloom, warm and busy.  I darted through the smaller streets and alleyways in the city centre, crowded with early afternoon pub-goers and office-workers on break enjoying a tapas and a people watch. I’m warming up to London, day by day: there’s a lot of rich culture up the side streets and an energy that belies the gloomy economic forecasts.

I’ve learned that I’ve been granted lifetime membership in the Turner Society,  a treat alongside the Tate membership which allows me free worldwide access to any exhibition of Turner’s works.  Call me a fanboy, but I always learn a lot from studying his canvases and drawings.  He was a very original thinker and anticipated a lot of the modern techniques that followed him.

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Meetings, then an evening train down from Waterloo (above) to Bournemouth, April sunset falling in bright yellow contrasts over the darkening rolling green countryside.  I have another set of meetings in London tomorrow, but, arriving in Poole, I discovered that the car battery had run down during my absence.  AA promises a jump before 1 am, so there’s time to review saved longform discussions in Pocket before they arrive.

The Times had an interesting op-ed discussing the nature of happiness: is it rooted in life satisfaction, feelings, or emotional well-being?  I tend towards the latter (thinking of the prior two as being, respectively, contentment and pleasure). 

They then define emotional happiness as Being in good spirits, quick to laugh and slow to anger, at peace and untroubled, confident and comfortable in your own skin, engaged, energetic and full of life.  Again, this resonates with me, but I also think that they miss the essential quality of pleasure in the specific or overall state of things.

I also think that real happiness is transient: either ennui or reality will intrude before long to reduce it.  So happiness is always a search and an attitude.  The article notes that tDSC04844 (975x1300)he antecedents are a sense of security; a good outlook; autonomy or control over our lives; good relationships; and skilled and meaningful activity.

Bouts of happiness are the single best indicator of how our lives are going, and its interesting how well that list aligns with the qualities that I’ve tried to intentionally cultivate since last summer.  Control and Choice are still controversial, but I’ve made progress otherwise.

The service truck arrived at 11:30 – it took a series of increasingly strenuous measures to revive the battery.  The culprit turned out to be laving the TomTom plugged into the cigarette lighter while I was away, I took a half hour drive into the New Forest and back to put a good charge onto the car.

DSC04845 (1150x1300)There’s a cottage booked near Bath for the holiday weekend and I’m really looking forward to a few days in the countryside to do some cooking, reading, walking, and consolidating.  So, ‘off tomorrow night to find some peace.

‘and taking my new ‘Life in the UK book’ alongside my Dutch language tutorials, for some study…

Monday, April 14, 2014

Miles to go…

DSC04762 (1300x975)Its been a wonderful week, visiting friends and family in the US and celebrating my 60th.  I had a lot of wonderful notes from friends along the way: comments on social networks and emails from colleagues.  They are all very much appreciated; I will be back in touch this week.

Events added up to a lot of travel, many early mornings when conference calls started at 3 am (local time) and I got six hours work on the business before the (West Coast) world woke for breakfast. 

There wasn’t a lot of time for writing and sharing pictures; I’ll catch up via an April 8 blog-backfill shortly.

20140414_223448But today was a marathon, even by my standards for busy days...

  • Up early to work on home networks and finances before packing.
  • 1:35 -- Delta 232 departs Seattle for the 9.5 hour trip to Amsterdam.  I collate notes, transcribe receipts, and half-watch the whole Bourne trilogy.

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  • 8:30 arrival in Amsterdam: pay the rent, catch the NS train south to Maastricht (interrupted by one snelbus diversion between d’n Bos and Boxtel).  While noticeably cooler and dotted with misting rain, its still a lovely morning racing across the fields and rivers.

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  • DSC04779 (960x1300)12:30 Maastricht arrival – it’s wonderful to be back among familiar things.   The trees and flowers have all bloomed in my absence, it feels like the first traces of summer.  Nobody in the cafes for Monday lunch, but the Maas river is sparkling and fresh.

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DSC04782 (1300x1012)I get a shower, a quick shop, repack, emails.  A gust of wind knocks two plants off the kitchen windowsill: emergency repotting costs another hour.

Koffie with a friend at 3:15, cadeautjes to exchange and verhalen to share.

  • Train departs for Eindhoven at 4:40; a bus connection drops me into the airport in plenty of time for the 7:30 flight.  ‘reflecting on the differences between Dutch and US architecture as I ride the 401 bus across Eindhoven: the Netherlands tends towards a whimsical  retro-futuristic that is really unique.

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  • The bag checks in at 14.8 kg against my allowance of 15 kg: I still have the instinct.  And Ryanair’s new ‘kill them with kindness’ policy is a vast improvement over the old ‘obstacle course of indignities’.  There are even assigned seats at no charge.
  • We drop into Stansted early but border security is understaffed and it takes 40 minutes to clear customs.  I miss the train by 3 minutes as a result, but have a DSC04803 (1300x974)good conversation with mijn w_wezen about whether women are typecast or objectified in power structures common in European businesses.
  • A burger, followed by a firm resolution not to eat burgers for at least a week.  A negotiation with our financial folks in London, then, at 9:30, a half-hour train north to Cambridge. Connect by taxi to the college where the taps are open and there is a lot of singing to old pop standards.  ‘'Two pints: it’s finally time to call it a night, a day.

DSC04798 (1300x975)‘Time check:  34 hours travel on three intermittent hours sleep.  ‘'its silly, but I feel a bit of pride akin to completing a marathon run.  I’ve still got it, even at 60.

And my second reaction is that this pace, too common in the past ten years, can’t continue into the next ten.  Back on the wagon, balans en grenzen,  tomorrow will be better, I promise.

My life sometimes seems a cross between The Bourne Trilogy and the Amazing Race:  either Do it or Deal with it.

But I surely wouldn’t trade it: the alternative choices just seem diminished and uninteresting in comparison.