Sunday, February 12, 2017

Op weg; Hungary

DSC00894 (850x1300)The agent sighed:  I need to check yiur visa status. He made a quick call to his supervisor: American…European residency…traveling to Hungary.  Complications in the era of Brexit and Trump.  There are rumors of tit-for-tat fees and permissions springing up, but I’d thought that they were not yet applicable within the EU. 

No problem, he smiled, putting the phone down.  The rules are always changing, though. 

Indeed.

DSC00884 (1300x867)It’s been snowing across the UK today, slowing travel even as I needed to rely on public transport to get to the airport.  I’d made a stupid move as I merged onto the queue getting onto the M25 from the M11 last night, a truck stopped suddenly just as I looked in my rear mirror.  The unfortunate result was a mashed hood where the builder’s bumper hit my leading edge.  Nobody hurt, the car still drivable, but I won’t take a chance on the highways with it.

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So, it’s a long route into London by train, around on the Tube, then up to West Hempstead for the change to the airport.  I worked on emails and reports along the way, we’ve got our final dates for regulatory submission and everyone is pushing to make the deadlines.

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This trip is a one-day run to Hungary to collect validation data in surgery.  Work in any EU country serves the requirements of all of them, a beauty of the Medical Device Directive.  The University is able to accelerate reviews that are required for patient safety, so we can get the data without compromising on quality.

The snow started to swirl in a cold wind down the tracks.  Most folks huddled under the stairs; I tried fiddling with some street photography.

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Luton Airport may be improving in the future, but today it is all shuttle bus links, muddy construction, and limited services in the terminal.  The flight was delayed an hour and a half, pushing arrival in Debrecen towards two in the morning.  I wondered how my peers were spending their Saturday nights, processed my photos, and read a trashy spy novel.

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We bumped onto the ground in foggy Debrecen at 0230, snowy runways and darkened buildings.  My spotless new passport, devoid of visa stamps, didn’t fit with having a residence permit, so a supervisor was called and copious notes taken.  I blocked half the available customs booths for an embarrassingly long time as the line flowing around me, glaring.

The Boutique Hotel recommended by booking.com turned out to be warm and welcoming, though.  They had waited up, held a nice room, and promised a late breakfast (fried eggs and bread with paprika).

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The small individual kindnesses more than make up for the natural and institutional indifferences of a long day traveling.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Sorting through Stanley Spencer

DSC00816 (1300x867)There couldn’t be greater contrast between the ordered ambiance of Cookham village and the strange life of its most famous inhabitant, artist Stanley Spencer.  At the same time, his inward looking painting and introverted life seems a perfect match for the quiet Thames-side setting.

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The Stanley Spencer Gallery lies at one end of Cookham’s High Street.  Housed in a repurposed church, fitting his wishes for an appropriate setting, the two-level gallery displays around 30 varied works (the majority of his estate went to the Tate).  I wasn’t really familiar with him prior to visiting, but his art became familiar to the British during the 80’s after several well-received retrospectives.

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Spencer worked in the early 20th century, World War I and the Depression, crafting oil paintings that look Deco-modernist to me. His life story seems sad and frustrated, shaped both by spiritual convictions and wartime experiences. 

His works, well executed, nonetheless seem inconsistent and contradictory.  A deeply religious man, there’s humorous touches that keeps them light and original (who else has shown the disciple’s feet so prominently at the Last Supper?).

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Deeply disappointed in love, at once charged and repressed, he painted his personal tensions into grotesque realism.  I doubt that any of his wives thought that his depictions were flattering.

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He puts a lot of detail into his paintings, but I don’t see the connection to the pre-Raphaelite styles.  He seems to have struggled with drawing hands in the same ways that I once did, graceful fingers angular and gnarled as tree limbs.

But, charmingly, he focused on everyday people: farmers, workmen, infantrymen, and housewives.  A child rifles a drawer from beneath his mother’s skirts; welders put the finishing touches on steel hulls in the shipyards. 

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His landscapes are both flat and deep: punts lining the Thames shoreline, trees sway beyond fields, but all with layered perspective across a vertical composition.

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DSC00815 (867x1300)It’s all good and interesting work, worth a stop to study a unique and eclectic talent.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Cookham Village, along the Thames

DSC00806 (1300x867)Sunny but wintry cold this weekend; the storms have passed through leaving blue-washed skies and marshy puddles across the grasslands.  Ideally, it would be a day for touring a stately house or photographing a sheltered garden, all antiques and snowdrops, but the National Trust properties don’t really open before March. 

So, the open public spaces around the historic village of Cookham, far northwest Berkshire, are the only seasonal offering nearby.  Their walking trails comprise the Commons, the Moor, and the Marsh: along with associated Green and Thicket. DSC00803 (1300x858)

The complex is accessed from a car park at the trail head outside of town.  Hedge-planting with traditional tools was on-schedule for today, but turned out to be sold-out.

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So, on to Cookham without the boots and workgloves.  The village itself, with around 6000 inhabitants, is deemed Britain’s second-richest; it was home to the painter Stanley Spencer and inspiration for the Wild Wood of Grahaem’s Wind in the Willows.  Cookham clusters along a quaint high street lined with gastropubs, tea rooms, cottages, and bridal shops. 

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Nearby, an 11th Century Romanesque church straddles the way to the Thames River Walk; a high-ceremony-funeral was just letting out as we passed among the headstones in the churchyard.

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Late afternoon light was really lovely, sky reflecting deep blue from the water and highlighting the (£4 million) homes along the water’s edge.  Lots of locals with their Wellies and terriers, anoraks and shoulderbags, were out sloshing through the fields.  Small children pushed their tiny bikes through muddy puddles; handymen tuned their chuffing canalboat engines at moorage.

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It all made for a nice afternoon outing: DSC00859 (1300x867)the walk along the Thames, tea and cake in town, a visit to the Spencer Gallery.  Increasingly, these days out together, apart from the week, seem like the best balance from the travel to meetings, design and documentation, that fill the rest of my days.