Saturday, March 26, 2016

Getting a bit wild

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‘taking my coffee canister out of the cupboard, squinty 7am on a Saturday, I brushed away a tendril questing up from beneath the lower shelf.  The water boiled (100C), weight checked (12 st 2), coffee scooped into the carafe (4).  Tendril?

I reached behind the pans and extracted aDSC09646 (1114x1300)n enormous sprawling potato plant.  The wrapper said Nov 5, so they’ve been growing in the dark for five months, finally bursting the package and seeking the light.

I didn’t have the heart to throw away something with that spirit, so dug a hole for her in the back yard, watered and fed, and wished it well.

It was an apt symbol for the day.  Although rain was forecast for the afternoon, Dorset food and venison 1I thought that I could take in the Dorset Food and Vension Festival if i got an early start.  It was a 15 minute drive over to Lytchett Minster and I found the Post Green mansion.  But that was really it: the family was in and out, the trailer residents in an adjacent field were waking.  The festival website had crashed, frustratingly. I fiddled, trying to figure where I went wrong

You won’t find it,a portly man offered, walking up beside the car.  They took it all away last night when the forecast called for gale winds.  He shook his head.  We expected 2000 people, 150 vendors sent home.  Maybe next year.

DSC09675 (1300x867)Okay: Plan B.  The Wareham Easter Beerex, in the Masonic Hall five miles away.  The entry staff refused to believe I was 60+; flattered, I took the regular entry and bought four half-pint tokens.  Inside was a community hall with a wall of pony kegs and a stapled guide to the beers.  It’s numbering bore no relation to the indexed pours. Attached was a ballot asking for my top fur picks of the show, suggesting that I’d need well in excess of my weekly limit just to fill it out.

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“Something dark and strong?” I enquired hopefully, and got a half-pint of Black Bear Hotel Stout.  Ruby coloured, roast and malt flavour, mellow aftertaste.  Very nice.

“Another, different?” Black Rock Porter.  Creamy, smoky, olive aftertaste. My lips got numb.

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A local variation on a German beer band started playing a variety of oom-pah tunes.  I parked on a vinyl couch and started reading the guide.  A portrait of The Queen watched me critically from the far wall. 

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“Tart Pig Special?”  Pale and strong, bitter to the end.  A loser.

“Your favorite?”  Smoky Joe, 5%.  British and American hops, dark and roasty, coffee notes, oaky to the end.  A nice way to wind up the hour.

The wind was rising, I went back towards Sandbanks to walk the gusty beaches.  The lifeguards hustled to secure the flags; the restaurants were closing early.  Out toward the Rocks, both sail and ferry boats were hurrying towards the harbour as evening fell.  The rains began in earnest.

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday evening

DSC09558 (1300x866)Europe is into the four-day Easter weekend, stretched a bit to make six for many folks.  For me, ‘just another day at the office, with a couple of major issues headed towards resolution (who knew that Salt Lake City might be my mecca for sterilization validation and biocompatibility testing?).

The weather warmed and turned sunny for a day, although winds and rain are forecast to drop in for the weekend.  The Guardian correctly recommended leek and potato soup under the circumstance, palliative for the lack of spring, but was hopelessly mired in the details.  For me, it should be both simple and inclusive. 

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An 8-ingredient recipe, trimmed to the essentials.  And, as a bit of a one-pot wonder, adding whatever is on-hand (onion alongside leeks, double-cream for milk, a touch of chestnut mushroom for flavor since I only have mild cheddar). 

The result, trimmed with parsley and crème fraîche, served with warm buttered olive bread slices,was nice indeed.

DSC09569 (1300x866)As was the sunset.  It was low tide along Sandbanks, washmarks and stranded boats adding foreground to the orange and blue skies over Brownsea Island.


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And when the lights came on along Shore Road at twilight, again, it was very nice, indeed.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Troubled times

DSC09480 (844x1300)I was in the middle of early morning conference calls when the phone chimed and text messages started pinging through  You’re not in Brussels, are you?  I tapped into the Guardian and then the New York Times, picked up the early live bulletins from Zaventem and the city center.  The billowing smoke, the dazed commuters, the sirens and ambulances.  It’s so sad: places I’ve been, peoples I know.  I feel so badly for the senseless violence being inflicted on the innocent and vulnerable.

I’m not checking into Facebook any more, so didn’t think to use their Safety Check feature (I don’t think that it would be widely seen there, anyway).  Instead, I ‘buddy-checked’ with the the people that I keep advised of my location, day to day.  Then, ‘touched base with extended family and friends via a short note, as always, letting them know that I’m safe, where I am and will be, and that I’ll keep in contact as things unfold and any plans change.

The expat network was contacting one another by the afternoon, far-flung friends and colleagues checking in on Skype or email.  It’s nice when people remember and care.  We all traverse the same transport network, airport, ferries, subway and metro.  One colleague was in Brussels airport hours before the explosions.  We all agree that we can’t anticipate events, and therefore can’t adjust our lives around the fear of them.  But I do try to minimize time in airports and train stations, sometimes avoid public gatherings that might attract trouble.

The US embassy sends out advance alerts weekly, usually with the flavor of:

Dutch police have notified the U.S. Consulate General in Amsterdam that a demonstration is scheduled to occur at Schiphol Airport tomorrow morning, Friday, 18 March, 2016, from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the “Arrivals & Schiphol Plaza” area in front of the KMAR Station. 

Demonstrators are expected to arrive via train and march to the “Arrivals & Schiphol Plaza” area of the airport.  Police estimate approximately 50-100 participants.  The anti-Islamisation movement PEGIDA Netherlands is sponsoring this demonstration. Police will be present in large numbers for the demonstration. 

U.S. citizens traveling via train to or from Schiphol Airport are advised to avoid this area. Exercise an appropriate level of security and situational awareness if you are in the vicinity of Schiphol Airport or while traveling on a train stopping at Schiphol. 

Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful, however, can turn confrontational and escalate into violence with little warning.  Avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations.

As it turns out, this one had some validity as there were weapons seized and some arrests.

In any case,  ‘Stay safe’ as travelers have been reminding one another since 9/11.  In these times, it unfortunately takes the place of ‘Be well’.

Monday, March 21, 2016

‘Still on the road

1458644584454Dave is north and south and all about in the UK

I took a look at my map of the past two week’s travel (left).  True to my words on Skype, I’ve been all over, skirting around London between knots of activity in Poole, Caversham, Braintree, Cambridge, and Sharnbrook.  It should slow down coming into the Easter holidays, and with the end of the school term, but still…

The next ten years will not be like the last ten.

I love the Dorset seaside and countryside, dotted with village, arts, walks, and festivals and villages across Dorset.  But it does it work, distant and peripheral to DSC09512 (862x1300)all of the other things important in my life here in Britain?

We want to consolidate the businesses around their manufacturing sites, with people spending time in the offices and together as a proper company.  But should work dictate where I live my life?

Half-days spent on the road, twice a week, is draining me, costly to the business and inherently risky, whether sliding along winding country roads at sunrise or competing with trucks on roundabouts.  But will cutting the distances traveled simply increase the frequency of trips?

There are some places that the road doesn't go in a circle. There are some places where the road just keeps going.

DSC09522 (1300x866)Like the fictional roadsThe company is reaching some critical junctions in its growth this year, with first product entering the medical market and adoption by our first paying customers.  We are beginning to transition from being an R&D company, planning our in-market organization and staffing.  It, similarly, seems time for conversations and reflection to improve the balance between work and life, the integration of various threads and people, and to choose where the road will go.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Nettlebed Kiln

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In 1416, Michael Warwick accepted a commission for making 200,000 bricks for Thomas Stonor for the princely sum of £40, and to deliver them three miles away for an additional £15.  While tiles had long been made in the region, this was the beginning of local brick manufacture that flourished for 500 years.

My Sunday evening route from Colworth Science Park towards Reading snakes through the Chilterns, a region of chalk cliffs and woodlands northwest of London.  The region’s quarries provided flinty clays for brick-making; the forests fed the fires.  ‘Flemyngges’ immigrants from the future Netherlands / Belgium region, brought material knowledge and process skills. 

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The heritage shows in the use of Corbie Step gables in facades of nearby Ewelme  (right, above: the Almshouse).  Square Corbie steps are distinguished from the more flowing curves of a traditional Dutch Gable, which came into favour a hundred years later (visible in the Sue Ryder Care Center, across the street, below).

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Anyway, the industry grew locally until by the 1800’s, when clay pits, water pools, tramways, drying sheds, and brickyards, serving at least five kilns, filled the local parish.  One, a large bottle kiln erected in the late 1700’s, still stands today.

DSC09517 (867x1300)it’s a lovely thing, the bricks glowing in natural patterns from age and use.  It’s almost mosaic art when I visited it near sunset.

Eric Nye suggests that a £40 payment for a load of bricks could be worth nearly £24,000 today.  It would have been a big commission for a new, small business, the kind that can make a business grow and succeed.

It was a day for meeting with my investors at Colworth as well, looking through the synthesis and coating processes, meeting the folks doing the work, speculating on price, demand, and competition.  ‘not so different, I suspect, from Michael Warwick’s concerns and excitements.

I took a break to walk through Nettlebed, a pint in the pub and a few photos of the winding streets and parks, all lined with brick buildings.  I missed, however, finding the two Pudding Stones, reputed to be millions of years old and once used for mounting horses.

‘for a future visit, then.

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