Saturday, August 10, 2013

Narrowboating the Middle Level - 2

WP_20130809_013 (1300x749)The thunderstorms rolled in about 5 am; rain clattered off the top deck of the steel ceiling.  ‘Not much hope of getting more sleep, so I rolled out and boiled some water.  Coffee is always good comfort on a chilly damp morning.

The forecast was for clearing by 9, and the rest of the boats were still asleep, waiting the 9:30 tide to enter the salt river.  The breakfast items were stacked and ready so, burners lit, I got to it.  I always like something warm to start a sailing day, so we did the Full English with Fen Variations before spinning the boat around and heading west.

The  current was with us, and we made good time, stopping at towns and dodging rainclouds most of the morning.  WP_20130809_027 (736x1300)“That’s odd,”, my co-pilot muttered as the boat momentarily hesitated and slowed.  Probably just weeds or current in the narrows, I guessed, leaning over the front and back to check.  Nothing.

The clouds cleared away and we cleared the locks, then started making plans for some lunch and a brew at March, still an hour away at a steady 4 mph.   The sun warmed and the birds disappeared as the heat of the day settled in.  We discussed whether we should have packed in some cold beer along with the healthy things.

Then crossing the most desolate part of the fields, the boat bucked and slowed again.  The engine coughed and died.  The boat drifted into the reeds.  We we looked at each other.  The only sound was the *whoop whoop* of the wind turbines.

WP_20130809_029 (1300x734)“Weeds around the prop?”   I lifted the hatch and took the nuts off the weed case, pulled off a tangle of vines around the shaft.  Try again?  The electrical looked fine, the starter worked,  but  the engine wouldn’t catch.  “Fuel filter?” Out of gas?  We weren’t going anywhere.

WP_20130809_035 (1300x734)It took 2 1/2 hours for the yard to get a truck out across the fields (it’s a bit like chasing a downed balloon), and a full can of red diesel got everything running again.  We’d polished off the pâté and cheese, so ‘nothing left but to have a pint (and a half) of local brew and craft the campfire stories for later.

More pix, as always, at my Flickr site.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Narrowboating the Middle Level - I

WP_20130808_001 (1300x734)A good friend called to ask if I’d like to take a couple of days vacation together: I suggested getting away to the Fen Waterways.

The Fens are the ancient marshes that used to cover most of East Anglia.  They were drained for Middle Level mapagriculture in the 17th century by a Dutch engineer, Cornelius Vermuyden, and finished a century ago.  Ironically, the drying led to subsidence and the basin is now, Dutch-like, below sea level.  It harbors a system of natural rivers and artificial canals, the Middle Level, that stretch from Peterborough to Kings Lynn.

WP_20130808_052 (1300x732)Visitors and retirees navigate the canals in narrow boats, steel craft about 7  feet wide and 50 feet long, powered by chuffing diesel engine and steered with a tiny rudder, standing at the tiller.  The boats are WP_20130809_011 (1300x987)spartan outside but with well fitted interiors similar to Dutch canal homes, bunks, galley, head, lined up along a central passage.



WP_20130808_038 (1300x735)I’d always wanted to give it a try, and we found a 2-day  midweek  special at Fox Boats that was perfect.  The rental ran from 9:30 am to 6 pm, enough time to meander at 4WP_20130808_013 (1300x772) mph (the top speed) through the villages of  March and Outwell to the salt lock at the Great Ouse.

The  boats are very easy to operate: the throttle goes full forward or back, the tiller works when there is pressure from the propeller.  They pivot around their centers in a turn, so are easy to spin in a narrow channel.  Watch a 5-minute video on operating the manual locks, stay right for oncoming traffic, duck heads for bridges and tunnels:  ‘good to go.

WP_20130808_033 (1300x713)The engines put out a lot of throaty noise and vibration, it keeps the circulation moving but doesn’t prevent conversation. The boats are WP_20130808_059 (1300x725)dead stable so cooking is a breeze compared to a sailboat.   There’s no cabin power, so  the phone and tablet was blissfully off to conserve power.  So,  there’s not a lot to do once underway but talk, watch the birds,  look for pubs to stop at, and wave to children along the banks.

‘given my recent history with boundaries and balance, what could be better?  Hours of conversation and easy sunning along the waterways were just what I needed.

WP_20130808_026 (1300x873)The lock is fun: a windlass handle fits into the gate and you wind to fill or drain the lock to the level of  the boat.  Push inside, transfer the water, open the opposite side.  A 75-year old lock-keeper who’s WP_20130808_030 (1300x1026)been on-station for 30 years and keeps things moving.

We made the salt lock by 5 and had Pimms before dinner, then settled in with books and whisky for a restfully dark and quiet night.

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More pictures, as always, at my Flickr site.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Ten wishes

Napoleon quoteI was given a magic wand  by a friend of mine and asked to list ten wishes that I would grant myself  with it.  No easy task; I completed it past-midnight, as these sorts of things are properly meant to be considered. 

Your list may differ:  here’s mine:

1) Turn the clock back one year knowing what I know today.

2) Good health and mental acuity until the day I die.

3) A warm and lasting partnership that completes us both.

4) Means to travel and connect with people, taking in all of the world’s myriad experiences.

5) Good luck.

6) Tolerance for those who choose to emigrate and live among us; forgiveness for our cross-cultural lapses when we do.

7) Means for everyone to discover and nurture their own unique human  talent, so that everyone finds their own voice, place, and reward.

8) Dutch open honesty in conversations, alongside a commitment to having them.

9) To be able to say, at the end of days, that I lived a life I love.

10) To heal the hearts of all who have suffered enough.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Over hill, over dale

WP_20130806_001‘Back to the UK yesterday, a leisurely drive across Belgium to the Calais ferry dock and around the M25 to Cambridge.  I was cruising with the old Sea France line, now re-WP_20130806_002branded, who actually seem to take better care of their boats. The interiors are somewhat casino-purple and plush, but they are WP_20130807_001spotlessly clean and the food is a notch up from the alternative lines.

This morning I was on the road to the University: I picked up samples and theWP_20130807_003 final signed agreements.   There’s a distinct autumn tang in the East Anglian air and a heavy morning mist: the TomTom sent me cross-country to avoid a block on the M-roads so it was four hours of quiet thinking and reflection.


And1011160_209988339125057_1516217537_n Clare continues her race across Mongolia – the charts show her in second place in cool and wet weather.   The steppes look wonderful and the horses look tiny.  But it’s been the best race I’ve followed since the ‘round the world sailing challenges.

And, tomorrow, off for two days of narrowboat cruising….can’t wait!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Summer Sunday, Maastricht

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Yesterday was hot and lazy in town, a rare sunny Koopzondag.  ‘lots of people strolling, watching others strolling, but mostly a day to…

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1) Gather around musicians in the old center,  playing classical quartets on unusual instruments.

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2) Join 100 of your closest friends for a catered lunch that stretched from one plein to another, the full length of the street.

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3)  Sit under a tree enjoying drinks and music at a picnic.

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4) Turn up the air conditioning at the local red-light house.

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5)  Try to make paella,  having mastered risotto.  ‘and I got socarrat!

And, enjoy the slow onset of twilight…

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Sunday, August 4, 2013

War correspondents, expats, and entrepreneurs

War-CorrespondentThe rush of battle is a potent and almost lethal addiction, for war is a drug ingested for many years.”

-- Chris Hedges, War Is A Force that Gives Us Meaning

War correspondents can become adrenaline junkies, writes Hedges.  Ian Stewart of the AP similarly reflects on  his time in West Africa, his excitement at being first to cover a story, of bearing witness to atrocity, and, perhaps, of making a difference.

But, for both correspondents, as for many others, danger became the focus of their lives rather than a hazard: They became addicted to the rush of simply being in dangerous situations.

Excitement or fear causes release of adrenaline, the ‘fight or flight’ hormone that temporarily increases physical and mental function, enhances feelings of well-being and confidence.  A line is crossed when individuals begin to seek situations that trigger adrenaline release,  stress as a substitute for boredom.

Psychologists point to a cluster of indicative symptoms:

--Feelings of guilt when idle

--Post adrenaline depression

--Restlessness, pacing, nervous habits

--Obsessed over things that are left undone

--Strong compulsion to always be doing something

‘which, to me, sound suspiciously like virtues.

Shift to a summer’s afternoon with friends: the lazy breeze stirring heat reflected from the house, iced tea and conversation.

I wonder if expats have the same need to seek stimulation from new situations? I offered.

'Might explain some of the difficulty in repatriation,’ muses another.

“Just another type of anxiety disorder, stress-seeking rather than stress avoiding,” shrugs a third.

Even moreso for the entrepreneur than the expat, although both are at risk.  And a debate launches.

Dave not workingVery few entrepreneurs intend to sacrifice their family, health and happiness. Yet most do. Business leaders believe they can achieve work-life balance if they just try a little harder, or do a little more.  (Whetter, 2012)

Entrepreneurs will tell you about their endless list of responsibilities and all the people who need their attention. And while they’ll complain about their situation, they’ll quickly brush off any constructive advice from spouses, friends or co-workers who “just don’t understand.”  (Lencioni,2005)

Entrepreneurs feel truly energized only when handling challenges and problems. We thrive on risk-taking, juggle many tasks at once, and when things are really bad, we're able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. (Abrams, 2012)

Entrepreneurs think they want balance, but they really don’t. We like swinging for the fences, and here is the weird part — we actually enjoy the insanity of long hours and long odds.  (Oxford, 2013)

When they come to the conclusion that they’re working harder than ever, with less results and personal satisfaction, frustration only increases.  This leads to decreased job satisfaction, increased stress, and more time at the office, affecting families in profound and painful ways. (Lencioni,2005)

And the solutions?

Exercise (40 mins), deliberate relaxation, diet (fewer carbohydrates), cut the stimulants (coffee), and never use electronics  at least an hour before bed. (Gloom, 2012)

Sustainable success is all about creating boundaries. Building a successful business, while also building a successful life and family, requires enforcing limits on how much you work and learning how to turn off from work when you're not there.  (Whetter, 2012)

Acknowledge the problem and the need to change. Give peers explicit permission to say ‘stop’ and ‘no’. Finally, confront the underling issues. (Lencioni,2005)

Fast growth means all-in, 24/7 for the mission and success of the company. Balance is snake-oil that says it can all be pretty and nice. It can’t. But I think setting boundaries can help. I think boundaries are about bringing maturity and intelligence to the fast-growth life.  (Oxford, 2013)

I think that lifestyles associated with heightened stimulation, whether war correspondent, expat, or entrepreneur, carry with them a risk that the adrenaline takes over.  It’s a difficult thing to see objectively, and I would suggest that planting a few firewalls, trusted people who can pull me out, look me in the eye, and say it’s time for change, are key to keeping both boundaries and balance intact.

Otherwise, as Fitzgerald said, “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.”