Friday, September 20, 2013

Packing out across the Channel

DSC00126 (1200x939)With keys missing  and no assurance that the apartment was secure, moving day itself had to move, advancing a full week.  Fortunately many of the arrangements were already in place and I had the boxes ready, so it was a day of dragging and packing and loading the car with everything it would hold, then  heading south. 

Ik hou niet te verhuizen.

First stop is Southampton, one of two likely sites for our first-in-man clinical trials of our antimicrobial catheter coating.  The group being assembled looks very strong, and since they just reported dismal results for currently available antimicrobial devices, they are eager to look for alternatives.   Protocol development, IRAS forms, MHRA Notification, and Ethics review lie ahead but, with luck,  we’ll be enrolling in a few months.

DSC00131 (1200x885)“What business generates cash flow fast"?” was the question in Sandhaven, kicking off a lively dinner conversation of the relative  merits of real estate, product sales, storefront marketing, and service businesses.  I always like to have capital sitting in hard assets rather than operations or inventory, so I’ll generally favor the first two.  And there didn’t seem to be a  firm idea of the product or customer, so was there really a business here at all?

Arguments  and ideas lasted well past dessert: the winner was a proposal to renovate a local coastal property into a 5-star spa.

5 am and I’m striking out for Dover, picking my way through the pre-dawn moors.  Not quite alone, though: I’m engaged with a spirited live debate of Glasser’s “Choice Theories” for company (He recently passed away and I just finished his book on building relationships).

DSC00129It’s less dangerous than it sounds.  I’ve set up the Nexus with Google’s Voice Recognition hooked to Facebook messenger, connected to the car for hands-free and to the Internet via 3G.   So, incoming messages are read aloud (with suitable gender and accent), and replies are transcribed and transmitted from my haltingly enunciated thoughts.

It actually works passably well (except that “choice” comes out “Joyce” too often).

We started with Glasser’s 10 axioms: We ALWAYS have some choice about how to perceive and behave. We don’t have unlimited choices,  nor is outside information irrelevant.  But we always  do have more control than some people might believe.

“Still,” I argue, waving a finger in the air,

I have to move samples from Nottingham to Portsmouth, 220 miles away within 8 hours on Monday.  Otherwise,  testing won’t be completed before the Board meets to start our fundraising.  Given the significance and the constraints, do I have any real choice?

I locked the door on the way out of my apartment this morning.  Ordinarily, this would be a good choice, but since the thieves have a key, the action seems pointless.  Is my choice meaningless?

“Do we, in fact, accept and endure, more than we choose?”  Derision flows from the speakers. Go, not go, go and engage, go and not engage…  The miles flow by, without resolution.

I pull into Kesselskade at mid-afternoon.  A couple of hours of carrying up, sorting, DSC00138 (1200x1143)repacking, and carrying down follows, yielding reconstituted "’Brit Boxes’ that are ready for the new residence.

Ik hou niet te verhuizen, I repeated, wearily.

But I am looking forward to a downsizing and an upscaling, soon.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Why cook for fun?

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“You  must really like to eat,” mused a close friend, outside London.  Down to 72 kg, ironically, so no.  I appreciate good food, but I don’t live for it.  “So, why fiddle so much with the cooking?”

I thought about this along a walk today and found it was a generative and consequential question. No question,  ‘Cooking well’ has become an aspiration, alongside blue-water sailing, drawing with charcoals, reading stories that touch, passing my Dutch exams, crafting personal essays, traveling widely, programming an app, and mentoring students.

Why fiddle with cooking?  Similar reasons to the other items on the Someday… list:

It's not work.  It’s become a recreation that pulls time and attention away from office tasks and pointless travel.  I have to be in the kitchen, ideally in conversation with someone else, chopping and mixing and laughing and sharing a glass of wine.  At best, it's a bit Annie Hall, but always removed from any impulse to make a Skype call.

It's broad.  There are all sorts of fascinating things to try, dishes that I’ve encountered in my travels and my reading.  Remember that cafĂ©? What was in in that; how was it made?  Why this ingredient, paired with that wine?  The  answers evoke memories, cultures, heritage, possibilities: it's individual and cultural, local and global.  I can explore and discover endlessly along my own winding trail of interests and inspiration.

It's deep.  There are tools and techniques to master, chemistry and physics lying just under the surface.  I look for good ingredients, for the experience of creating something wonderful from scratch. Why aren't  my pancakes rising any more?  'It needs more bubbles, which turns out to be in the addition of buttermilk.  (Then, of course, I have to find that in Dutch.)

It's creative.  Once a basic dish works (risotto), I can play with it to make new and original things.  Sometimes it doesn’t work, memorably (leek casserole, fish pie), but often it does, remarkably (coulis, duck, fondant).   It's a bit like charcoal drawing: I erase and re-draw, smear and brush, and sometimes the result is really pleasing.

It's appreciated.  A good meal, done well with skill and well-chosen ingredients, creates a good atmosphere, facilitates conversation, generates contentment.  Sailing the islands probably comes closest to replicating that warmth among friends.

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It's enriching.  When I go to a restaurant, watch a TV chef, or travel to another country, I have a better appreciation of what the chef is doing and how he is putting his own spin on local ingredients.  I know firsthand the difficulty of making good gnocchi, when to reach for a Sicilian wine,  and the critical timing of a fondant.  Similar to visiting a museum exhibitions showing artists' studies, trying it for myself raises my appreciation of professional skill and talent.

It's portable.  Like reading and drawing, I can do it anywhere, without any special preparation or restrictions.  Ingredients are available locally at little cost; recipes and  techniques are readily at hand on the Internet (and in my Pocket files online).

It's competitive.   I can do it well, but I can also do it better than some others.  Yes, this is so wrong, but can be so satisfying.

Its social.  Everyone  makes meals, and everyone has something that they do really well, a family recipe handed down like a sourdough starter.  I learn a lot about people and their experiences, memories, touchstones, and ideas.

It’s aspirational.  I may never ski or run again, but I can learn to make paella that will stay with me well into my dotage. Cooking has the key qualities that I can really lose myself in it, can always improve at it, and can often learn from others.  Taking patience and care (and three tries at any one dish) generally yields lasting success.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Moonrise over the Docklands

DSC00108 (1200x900)Monday was spent running samples from Nottingham to Portsmouth (don’t ask), so I dropped anchor in London ahead of early morning meetings today.  Hotwire put me into  a Novotel on Canary Wharf, cheap but not outstanding, until I went for an evening walk towards the Excel Center. 

It was a dramatic twilight, the O2 dome lit, skycars silhouetted against the darkening sky, the cranes framing the rising mood.  Pictures don’t do it justice, but I fiddled with angles and contrasts for a while. 

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Then off to sample Lebanese lamb shank for a late dinner, finally a glass of Sicilian wine at a table along the waterfront, DSC09951 (900x1200)catching up with new essays and jotting a idle thoughts and ideas.  ‘missed having conversation, sharing the moment, but that will come again.

I have a lot of debates, with myself and other, about whether my life is too fast, too stressed, too footloose.  But evenings like this, it’s a rare gem to be treasured.

Monday, September 16, 2013

It takes a village…

DSC00084 (1200x900)I returned to Barrington today – it’s been a couple of weeks since I was last in my little village outside of Cambridge, and I’ve given notice that I will vacate at the end of this month.  73 High Street was a gezellig spot for a year or two, but my life is moving on and it’s time that I did too.

DSC00082 (900x1200)The first surprise was to find a notice tacked to the apartment door advising me that the planning commission has received application to renovate the apartment.

The second was the discovery that several obvious items were missing from the flat.  ‘No sign of forced entry, so I assumed that the landlord had retrieved things while fixing the broken refrigerator.  I called to query, but she was as confused as me about the disappearances.

WP_20130728_002My next-door neighbor has the  only other key; she said that her gardener had requested it the day before.   Great.  My landlord, also an attorney, arrived and suggested that we both go up the road to talk with the family who does the gardens to see what had happened.

We told them they had one chance to make this right before we called the police, and they admitted to pillaging the shed, the garden, and the house.  It was astonishing: out came tools, kitchen items, table, chairs, statuary, things that were part of the  flat’s inventory as well as things that belonged to me.  I insisted that it all get put back; my landlord called a policeman that she knew to come over and observe.

WP_20130728_001The neighbors were completely unrepentant, refused to apologize and said that they were doing it at someone else’s request.  When I asked why, they shrugged and said they felt no responsibility to me since I was going back to Holland.  (Actually, I am downsizing to England’s south coast.)  My landlord asked how they could do this to a neighbor; they smirked at her.  The neighbor who (formerly) had a key (and received a chair in return for the key) similarly refused any explanation or apology, saying her conscience was clear.

It left both of us shaken, and moreso when we discovered that more kitchen and home items (including all the pots, pans, and dishes) is gone.  Some inventory is missing that I will have to pay for.  Worst of all, two spare sets of keys, hanging on a hook, were also taken, so they could come back any time.

WP_20130728_005My landlord went to the police on our behalf to report the names involved, the facts of the illegal entry and theft of items, and our continuing concerns for safety and security in the apartment.   But the police said that since a) a neighbor had given them the key and, b) most items of value had now been returned , they would open a file, check whether the group might have been involved in other petty thefts in the village, and put everyone on notice that they would be suspects in any future burglaries. 

Oh, and if they broke in again, let them know?

WP_20130728_011For me, this event is very dis-spiriting.  This was my home for three years.  I have, especially over the past few months, struggled to keep it one, even as business and personal changes brought me to the understanding that that was time to leave.

I suppose that the event is not not surprising.  Villages are small, insular places that weave hard opinions from threads of baseless innuendo and gossip.  I’m an outsider, Swiftboated, not particularly integrated into village life, and probably for many reasons worthy of little respect.

Still, I cannot imagine what self-justifications were involved, why anyone involved would ever think that this was a legally or morally right thing to do. Everyone should be ashamed of themselves.  But  everyone also made their feelings clear when challenged.

So it is what it is, and I find myself with the sorry task of packing everything of value and moving them to safer places in the coming days.  Putting it behind me (or more prosaically, ‘cutting and running’’).

WP_20130724_013I remember how the realtor advised me never to move into a Dutch village when I arrived in Arnhem years ago, for exactly these reasons. 

It now seems true, too, of England.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The process of change

DSC00081 (1200x900)I’m on the ferry back to the UK this morning: forecasters predicted gale-force winds and high seas on the Channel today, but the reality is sunny and calm.  People doze in the early morning light, dip zachte croissants in sterke coffee, murmur and laugh together.  Peaceful.

I’m catching up with some long-form reading, an article in the FT about societal change.

In my youth, the Dutch thought of themselves as a “guide land”: a sort of advanced model for dimmer countries to follow. I thought this was absurdly smug, but now I see they were right. The Dutch invented much of the world of 2013: bicycles in cities, legal soft drugs and gay marriage.”

I wonder, she concludes, which country has taken over as the brilliant social laboratory to the world.

It’s hard to keep making changes: at some point, people get weary of the costs of adapting and the consequences of failed experiments.  While still one of the happiest places on earth outside of Disneyland, the PrinsjesdagDutch are getting increasingly cranky with their faltering housing market,onerous austerity, and fractious politics. The new King made an unusually frank and controversial speech on Prinsjesdag Troonrede, his annual speech in the Hall of Knights in the Hague, calling for a more “participatory society’ where “citizens will be expected to take care of themselves’, asking less of the State.


DSC09567It’s been a season of change for me as well: a disastrous first half to 2013 that has mandated significant transformation in my life.  I’ve found that both the diagnosis of problem and the form of solution is relatively straightforward to specify and negotiate.  It’s the day-to-day interactive, consistent implementation of new rules that is hard.

It’s a lot like trying to express myself in Dutch.  There is a simple thought that I want to share.  Then I have to choose the words, arrange them properly, select the right tenses, figure out the pronunciation, say it, explain it, correct it, smile apologetically for any mistakes…

The only way to make any progress is to go slowly, deliberately, check for understanding and agreement, learn from mistakes, and keep a good humor. But that is a lot of stress and strain overlaying the task of simply saying what I want to say.

Similarly with making changes in social and business style, slowing down, listening, engaging, balans en grenz.  I know what I need to do, but actually doing it requires concentration, emotional damping, and deliberate care.  And I, too, tire of the costs of adapting and the consequences of failed experiments.   It’s always tempting to take a short cut, run rogue, and drop the whole project.

Part of the problem is the total lack of proper role models for  transitioning from work-life to peaceful-life.  Growing up, we have all sorts of professional, media,and family examples to emulate.  In our 50’s, there seem to be only ‘I don’t want to end up like that’ models ahead of us.

So, to paraphrase,

Who takes over as the brilliant social laboratory for finding ways to live a full and happy life?

willemOr, as King Willem said,

Wanneer mensen zelf vorm geven aan hun toekomst, voegen zij niet alleen waarde toe aan hun eigen leven, maar ook aan de samenleving als geheel.

When people take responsibility to shape their own future, they add value to their own lives and also to society as a whole.