The End Is In Sight

The end of 2016 is in sight now and I do not think I am entirely alone at looking forward to a better year in 2017. Certainly 2016 has been a bit fuller of incident than perhaps I expected and a lot of it not that good. The loss of far too many people whose work I enjoyed and/or respected and various votes (I’m not using the B word) going – in my opinion – disastrously wrong excepted, I think that the main thing that will stay with me was the rather surreal experience of being close to the terrorist attacks in Brussels back in March. It seems a lot longer ago in a way; but it is still pretty vivid in my mind.

People are affected by things like this in different ways. Personally, I tend to not change my behaviour as I have, in the nature of my work, read a lot about the nature of risk, or in particular, perception of risk. It is this latter facet that is the unhelpful one much of the time, leading us to make decisions that if looked at carefully in the light of the actual facts do not make much sense. One of the quoted statistics in the area is the huge increase in road fatalities in the US after the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City; people suddenly saw flying as too risky and instead started to drive everywhere. And have accidents. Meanwhile, at least from a security perspective, flying was safer than ever precisely because of the high alert. But the decision was not a rational one.

I will be using the Brussels Metro in the next few days quite a lot, just as I intended to on the day of the attacks and through the same station. Having lived through the attacks on London by the IRA, you sometimes get into what you could call a bloody minded state where part of you is almost daring terrorists to disrupt you going about your normal life. But the reality is that you are changing your behaviour in some ways, even if they turn out to be subtle. Small things; I definitely pay more attention to my fellow passengers more than I did before March. Sometimes I even can feel a little nervous, especially on the parts of the line close to the various EU Institutions. I think I have also gotten used to the soldiers on platforms throughout the city – before that would have jarred I think, now it just seems normal. How effective they would be to protect me is another question, but that is not really why they are so visible – it’s a deterrent probably to all but the committed nutter out there and meant to be a reassurance to the ordinary punter that whatever happened back then the situation now is under control.

I think the good news for Brussels is that being the centre of the EU institution and being established as a city famous for chocolate, strong beer and a tiny statue of a boy peeing most people will find the memory slipping of what happened earlier this year. People need to go there, as I do for work or go through it to reach a lot of other European cities. Cities are resilient.

Those involved in any way, even in the minor way I was, however, will not forget and will have to decide, individually, how much they want to be impacted by it as we all move forward into a world that seems far less easy to predict at the end of 2016 compared to the world we started this seriously odd year with.


Lead Me On

I’m definitely becoming addicted to technology. And like any addict, when I am deprived of it things just seem to get a bit stressful. Part of my job involves traveling back and forth to Brussels and a fair amount of hotel stays, and the way I usually deal with that is a few cans of Belgium beer and technology. The iPhone for a FaceTime session with the Lovely Wife and streaming UK radio, DVD drive and computer for catching up with stuff either I do not think the Lovely Wife would want to see or in some cases I think have just sat in the massive to be watched pile(s) at home and I am taking it upon myself to see if it really is worth it at some point us both watching it. For the record, current entertainment is 2006/7s Life on Mars, and the answer appears to be ‘yes’ – I had managed to avoid spoilers for 10 whole years in the case of this show but felt leaving it any longer was really pushing my luck. The Lovely Wife is safer – she doesn’t read SF press so is less in danger of someone blowing the joke.

Anyway, rely on the technology and so my laptop bag is a mess of power USB leads that all look the same superficially but are all – and here is the annoying bit – completely different and incompatible with each other. Usually I am quite careful to make sure that the most important ones are in there – notably the iPhone – but there has been a lot of moving stuff between bags recently and departure on Sunday was somewhat flustered and needless to say the only important power lead that has made it is the laptop one.

Once I had finished uttering the ineffectual words of annoyance – whose only power is to make you feel a little better in your state of frustration at your own carelessness and stupidity, you start running through the various permutations of problems that will now arise and how to combat them. While the phone has battery now, it will be gone by the time I have to travel home. So that’s going to have to be switched off until then, and/or maybe hope the Eurostar lounge has a charger. Luckily I have the work phone – and the lead for that – so no problem getting emergency calls and sadly informing the Lovely Wife that she only gets me in audio now. No access to my podcasts and music when passing the time on the Brussels Metro. But, hey, I have brought a good old fashioned book to read, and that doesn’t need to be charged to be of use. It does not help with shutting out the excruciatingly bad fiddle playing of the buskers on the Metro (I thought nothing could be worse than the accordion players; I was wrong) but at the same time I suppose some suffering is required in order to stop this happening again. I’m off to get some extra replacement leads thanks to the wonders of the internet for a start.

Of course none of this is actually important and I’m streaming now the radio through the laptop of course. But it does worry me just a little bit how much I enjoy my computer comforts and how many more people are even further under their spell.

No Going Back

I had to smile this morning when Facebook threw a video at me on my newsfeed of my nephew and niece banging away at toy drums and keyboards respectively some seven years ago when they were both tiny poppets. I forgot how much it made me laugh at the time and for once I was not annoyed to be reminded of something that lies in the past – generally I would rather look forward, given the choice.

Looking back can be dangerous I feel. Revisiting past glories, going back to places you have loved in the past or have important connections for you can be a powerful drug but also risks damaging the memory that made it so special in the first place. The Lovely Wife and I have agreed that we will never try and replicate what we did for our first wedding anniversary, where we stayed in the Eisenhower suite at Culzean castle on the Ayrshire coast, as it turned out having the top floor of a Robert Adam designed castle (clinging majestically to the cliff edge and looking out to sea) all to ourselves. Everything – the weather, the lack of any other guests and the firemen who were in attendance when we arrived (do not tell the Lovely Wife but I did not actually arrange them, but I’m claiming their presence as an additional bonus). Put bluntly, trying to recreate it would not work. In this case the memory is the thing. I think that the nature of memory is that positive elements just continue to improve and mature like a good bottle of port, well kept.

There can be sadness in happy memories too, however.

One of our other fondest memories was of our honeymoon in New Zealand. This has been on my thoughts a lot this week due to the earthquakes there, as it was in the previous bout of disturbances that devastated Christchurch a few years ago. New Zealand is the only place outside the UK where I honestly felt I could make a home, and the people and places were so nice to experience that my heart goes out to them in the wake of such trouble.

Now, here is where it gets a bit selfish. The world is hit by a constant series of disasters – it seems very much the way of things – and many of them are worse than what is currently afflicting New Zealand. They all need support and aid from the world community (oh how much I wish such a thing existed in truth) and Haiti – as an example – is more desperately in need. But in your own thoughts, no matter how much you might rationally weigh such things, damage to your own memories and experiences seems to cut deeper.

The tsunami that hit the Indian ocean on Boxing Day 2004 (was it really that long ago?) swept away the hotel we stayed in on the Sri Lanka coast and it was hard not to think of the staff there, or the young Buddhist monk we met at the tiny temple just inland of it – which almost certainly was destroyed as well. Or the local people who worked at the turtle hatchery further up the coast. I do not know if they were spared, but certainly they would have known people killed and the place we enjoyed a lovely and fascinating holiday in no longer exists outside of our memory.

The same for many of the places we visited on New Zealand’s South Island, especially in Christchurch. The very first place we visited when we arrived, terribly jet lagged but determined to make the most of every moment was the time ball station at Lyttleton, a lovely and interesting building. The station was reduced to rubble in 2011, beyond repair. More important buildings have been lost to the world and one could argue that there are a also lot more important things in the world – people, notably – than a Victorian aid to shipping. But for me there is always a sadness that something part of a time so personally special does not exist anymore, and whether I wanted to or not, there is no going back.

Road Madness

For the few of you who actually follow these little wanderings (and thank you, by the way, to those people – I do enjoy trying to write something every week and if only one person reads it I probably think it is worth my effort) you will have noticed a lack of content last week. This was predominantly because the Lovely Wife and I were in North Cornwall and the nearest phone signal of any kind was a quarter of a mile away on the nearest piece of beach, which was not really conducive to blogging. So my apologies for that and we are now back on track now with a bit of luck.

We came back via the currently roadwork afflicted M3 which is a road often traveled over the years to and from more entertaining things and people than, say, the normal commuting grind that is the M25 (or Road to Hell, as those of us with a liking for the works of Chris Rea tend to think of it). I have been stuck on the M3 enough times to not make the mistake or slightly absurd suggestion that I might actually like this road but it is fair to say that it has given me some amusement over the years. A few weeks back I related the tale of Barney the vulture, but he was not the only odd thing on that road.

Usually this is in the form of other road users. While it is off course important to focus on the road ahead the M3 is one of those roads where the oddity is more common. Partly, that might be what lies once you have left it and entered the wilds of the New Forest – or at least the motor museum at Beaulieu. Certainly that explains the happy moment as I sped past Thrust II, at that point the ‘car’ holding the World Land Speed record in my little yellow Fiat Cinquecento (Sporting). OK, Thrust II was on top of a low loader but it was still fun to think about it that way. It also explains the occasional adapted minis (the real ones, not the huge BMW versions) that sometimes you see (the ones covered in false turf, or my personal favourites the ones that look like giant oranges, a promotional body kit several of which I recall are in the collection at Beaulieu).

I am not sure it explains the sofa, however. It was a rainy night driving back in the rain from Andover on the M3 when I realised I was overtaking a sofa. Unlike Thrust II however, this sofa was not on the back of anything but bumbling along on its own in the left hand lane. The driver (if that was the word) was sitting in his leathers and helmet and strapped in with his steering wheel in front of him. He (or indeed she) was not sharing the sofa with anyone. But it was a bona fide sofa being driven at speed on a motorway. On reflection it was almost certainly another mini adaptation with the sofa ‘body work’ grafted on top of the mini base and engine; but it was the weirdest thing. I wonder if anyone else has seen it, or indeed any other soft furnishings masquerading as a form of transport?