Triggering Associations

The trigger happened one night as I was watching Raymond Reddington enthuse over a glass of Romanée-Conti in an episode of “The Blacklist“.

The name rang a bell and got me trying to remember where the Romanée-Conti Reddington spoke of came from. No, of course, it couldn’t be a Bordeaux, I mused, nor a Côte de Rhône and it certainly isn’t a Beaujolais (or was I confusing it with a Moulin a Vent?) leaving just the Bourgogne region, Burgundy if you prefer, as the place of origin.

What followed was a succession of memories of enjoying glasses of Côte de Beaune, Volnay, Côte de Nuits, Meursault, Pouilly-Fuissé, and many more, in fine company. Of course, one thing leading to another, all this musing was also triggering memories I wasn’t sure I wanted to develop and then I recalled a piece of wisdom from my wife.

Spousal Wisdom

My wife maintains that the object of an association is what it is, whether a glass of Volnay or Sting singing “Fields of Gold”. Regardless of the sentiment you attach to an object, it is and always will be just that, an object. That said, if you had the flair to choose it in the first place, why deprive yourself of the object’s excellence now because of a tenuous association with a period of your life you’ve since put behind you? It took me a while to assimilate this but I got there.

And Sting in all this? I have quite an extensive collection of music, of all sorts, 70s Prog Rock, Southern Rock, Soul, as well as a lot of nu-metal and punk rock stuff from the 2000s, and Electronic, lots of Electronic music but strangely and until recently, very little of anything from the late 80s and early 90s and what I have, notably Sting & U2, I wouldn’t play because of their association with that particular period of my life*…
(*During a recent house move and using down-sizing as a pretext, I threw out several post “Rattle and Hum” U2 CDs and if you’re wondering why I didn’t try and sell them, I did but at ~50cts the CD on Amazon a trip to the tip was the quick fix.)

…So what made me change and seek out choice music from the 80s and 90s? What got me willing to consider listening to early U2 once again? Spousal wisdom, and some help from my son.
My wife of now let drop that yes, while Prog Rock from the 70s is nice, my taste in music was a tad staid and needed bringing into the 21st century. So off I went and discovered a lot of new material complimenting material, mainly alternative, subculture, fringe music I’d, let’s say, “discovered” with my son on Napster, Kazaa and MySpace in the early 2000s.

Here’s the interesting part. The remark about my taste in music, albeit spot on, was an analogy. What my wife was getting at was, only seeking comfort or refuge in objects associated with happy periods of life, while rejecting others, music, places, etc., because of a less happier but now tenuous association is a sign that their legacy is still present and stopping you from moving on and sharing new associations, from the same excellent objects, with those around you today.

Trigger Me, Trigger Me Not

Tempted as I was to write off and bury the late 80s, early 90s in some bottomless pit along with a lot of niggly associations, as a plan that wasn’t going to work for reasons mentioned above.

Another option, poles apart from the first would have been to expose the whole shebang, place it in full view, like sticking some “F minus” school homework grade on the fridge door, forever reminding me of what I’d moved on from. It would also have had the effect of preempting, and neutralizing any fallout or attempted exploitation by others but would it have allowed me to move on? No, I didn’t think it would.

In the end, the solution consisted of confronting antagonists and protagonists from the associated past in a particular environment to see what, if anything, still triggered an emotion. Nothing did, at least not for this protagonist, effectively terminating there and then any residual link, bond, or association. The irony was though that during this “therapy session” new associations came about. A memorable site and a special occasion were just begging for a pleasant association…

… As for Sting. No, sorry. “Fields of Gold” never got a look in, maybe next time, who knows.

Posted in Everyday life, Music | Tagged , , , , ,

Coming to Terms with Mount Everest

Recognizing that we may not all become generals, CEO of a big High Tech enterprise (people with a singular mindset to begin with), or Junko Tabei doesn’t mean life is necessarily destined to be a failure. On the contrary, it’s synonymous with defining objectives, and how to reach them. It’s also a way of focusing on purposes and sidelining distractions.

That said if you do get the chance – and that’s the beauty of professional and social mobility – seize it. Don’t be afraid of succeeding, don’t be mean with the tactics and don’t be afraid of other people’s reactions either, you know, “You can please some of the people” etc & so on.

The following story is of an individual who on the face of it had everything to reach his objective but for an understandable, even honourable reason he turned back from a very difficult ascension.

It’s a lesson for anyone who, having everything working for them, e.g. a level playing field, a favourable position, resources, support… falters, doubts and considers abandoning so near to their goal, abandoning not because they encountered a superior force but because they’re not sure, something doesn’t feel right or they worry about consequences, in short someone lacking real motivation:

Victis Honor

A life-hardened firefighter from Chicago and an accomplished mountaineer, having successfully climbed several 7000ers in his time decided that he was ready for the ultimate challenge of every mountaineer: Mount Everest.

He trained in his spare time and eventually managed to join a team planning to climb Mount Everest. The time came and the team set out on their expedition. They travelled to Nepal, reached the mountain, set up base camp at 5400 metres. They negotiated the Ice Fall at 5500m, going good, and made it to Camp 1 at 6100m, so far so good. Next up was Camp 2 at 6400m, the firefighter from Chicago was crushing it.

Camp 3 came and the effort was starting to tell but the firefighter continued, drawing on physical stamina and mental resilience gained over the years. Camp 4 came and at 8000 metres the firefighter started to understand why it’s called the Death Zone, weather conditions were accentuating the physical and mental strain.

The firefighter was realising that despite being, as he thought, physically fit and properly prepared for the environment, he was reaching his limit and at 8000 metres the slightest error could be fatal. Defiant, the firefighter continued but at only 400 metres from the summit, he suddenly abandoned the ascension.

Distraught, physically exhausted and mentally drained he descended the mountain. Back at home he thought long about the experience and understood that despite all his physical preparation, mentally he just couldn’t pierce the psychological barrier those last 400 metres before the summit represented. He knew he would never go any higher.

Today, when looking at the traffic seeking to reach the summit of Mount Everest it might seem hard to grasp, dubious even, that a firefighter hardened by years as a first responder in Chicago, a seasoned mountaineer couldn’t find the strength to make the final effort and reach the summit of Mount Everest.

The firefighter spent a lot of time analysing and trying to figure out how or why he failed when others could do it and with time he came to terms with the fact that psychologically that was his limit, beyond which he would never go.

Reaching this conclusion allowed the firefighter to accept that although he would never know the exhilarating experience of reaching the summit of Mount Everest he could draw satisfaction from the fact that 8000 metres was his new personal physical and mental benchmark. From that point on, he knew he could now go into a burning building or climb another 7000er knowing what he could or couldn’t do, which in his metier, and for his hobby was paramount. An honourable lesson in pragmatism, and humility…

… This could also be a story about finding one’s vocation and purpose in life. Reinhold Meissner aside, if most mountaineers reach the summit it’s because Sherpas guided them, Sherpas who, although having reached the summit so often they stopped counting, dedicate their life to making sure others can do so safely.

Credit. This motivational story is not entirely mine. I read about the firefighter a few years ago and hopefully freely adapting his story again here gives him due credit.

Details of Mount Everest route with kind courtesy of http://www.mounteverest.net/expguide/route.htm

Posted in Everyday life, Motivational, Voyages, Work | Tagged , , ,

Wish I could fly like… (Superman)

It’s true. When you settle down for the night and let the brain run free and process whatever tensions or issues the frontal lobe function had been suppressing during the day a portal opens up into the psyche. What follows is, more often than not, a weird hotchpotch of ad hoc, abstract thoughts and images that run riot before dissipating as the brain finally finishes defragmenting itself, letting you fall asleep.

One night, with my psyche trying to figure out which particularly elusive work issue was stopping me from falling asleep, not one but three ad hoc, abstract images – Lint from subconscious pockets and not really what you’d call profound– appeared. Gone, I thought, was any chance of finding an answer to the issue I’d since forgotten all about, not realizing that it was all part of the plan to coax the issue out into the open.

One image was of a humorist, Art Buchwald narrating his escapade in a New York taxi, another was a scene from a George Clooney film, George was expanding on how to pack a carry-on, and the third “image” was a comment by a woman* I’d read in a thread on Social Media that same day.
(* In her comment the woman explained how, when sitting on a train one day, preparing for a lecture, a man leaned over and started offering his “expert” (note the quotes) opinion on what she should say and how. As I understood it, the woman was an authority on her subject and with more pressing things to think about she let the incident ride sharing her story later in one particular Social Media thread to an audience, who promptly shared opinions and advice with her on how to counter such “misogynous” (note the quotes) intrusions in future.)

So how do these three elements from different media platforms, that decades separate, all come together? Well, they don’t and then they do… You see, they all had things in common, like Pulpits, and Dominoes, and Travel, plus some of what you might call “Maskirovka”.

Pulpits because the humorist, the actor and the lecturer all used their respective platforms to get their messages across, directly or indirectly, to partial or perhaps not so partial audiences…

  • The humorist through his op-eds in the now sadly defunct “Herald Tribune” commenting on everyday life, and haranguing politicians
  • The actor, through his various characters, speaking about intelligent, read considerate living
  • … And the lecturer, I never learnt her name, delivering lectures on her subject of (unknown) expertise, to an audience, there for the community spirit.

Dominoes for the cascade effect these events would or could have on others, for example…

  • The humorist who by saying “Thanks” to a 1970s New York cab driver (think it through) might just have got a) the cabbie to be a bit friendlier to the next fare, assuming that the fare wasn’t a total numbhead to begin with, and b) the cab riding/departure gate queueing/train commuting op-ed reader to remember to think more about causes and effects.
  • The time-efficient salesman who, speaking to life-hacking padawans, both in the auditorium and watching the film, about how to interact with others, seamlessly, with foresight and, I might add, elegance.
  • The lecturer who, through her simple comment in some Social Media thread, said more in 140 characters than others could put in a book about the need for empathy and consideration for other people’s comfort zones. She also got across that expertise is not the sole reserve of a certain gender, race, class (or caste) or age.

Travel? I’ll let you connect the dots. Maskirovka? Read on.

Lola (L-O-L-A), from Willesden Green

As the saying goes, it’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey, what you do, who you meet along the way and what you take home from the experience.

Once the physical journey is over and a distant memory, be prepared for the moment, never of your choosing, when, while attempting to elucidate angsts and issues, the Psyche will resort to all manner of images, memories, and conversations from a myriad of past and recent encounters and experiences in an effort to coax the Freudian worm out of the woodwork. Images of George Clooney fast tracking through some airport security check… the inside of a yellow 1970s Checker Taxi… some bridge somewhere (very symbolic), plus whatever you’ve looked at in Pinterest, are therefore all fair game in the nightly battle of Psyche versus Angst so you might as well relax and enjoy the show.

Posted in Everyday life, Music, Myths & Legends, Society, Voyages | Tagged , , , ,

The Opportunist and the Food Truck

So there I was standing next in line, in a queue of two, at the coffee machine at work explaining to a colleague what a Cornish Pasty was and where it came from when a guy comes up and, without a second thought puts a cup under the machine and goes to make a Macchiato.

The conversation stops and when amused looks are exchanged the guy realises his “faux pas” and apologizes. No big deal, I say, after all the guy is also a colleague. “No, no” he insists and explains how he’s embarrassed and how others are always telling him off for jumping the queue. Being the archetype passive-aggressive, queue-loving Brit that I am, I tell him the tale of the glass half full, the optimist, the pessimist and the opportunist, which I admit had absolutely nothing to do with queue jumping. I can see him suffering, and realizing that, in spite of the old maxim (that first impressions are invariably the right ones etc.), well, people might not always be what they seem to be.

But, you know. In essence, the colleague was right. Maybe there is a time and a place for temporizing and maybe explaining the origins of a Cornish Pasty in front of the coffee machine wasn’t the right time or place but then again maybe it was. This particular opportunist might have walked away without a second thought with his macchiato, had he not encountered this particular passive-aggressive, “I love queueing for a bus” Brit, but being an intelligent colleague (otherwise he wouldn’t have been in front of that particular coffee machine) I would say he walked away, Macchiato in hand, having just learned one of life’s little lessons.

El Jefe

Talking of life’s lessons… bear with me, I caught Jon Favreau’s 2014 film “Chef” on TV recently. It’s basically a story about a chef, his son and Twitter. It’s also a story, so the (Film) critics say, about the struggle between bottom lines and creativity, chefs and restaurant owners, artists and critics, etc and so on.

Being, amongst other things, a trained chef myself – I still have dreams about that period of my life and the scars on my hands to show for it – I enjoyed the film.

CHEF_09611.NEF

It resonated with me because I could relate to Favreau’s whole career trashing scene, the rejection, the depression, the soul-searching, his reinvention and the road trip with his pre-adolescent son. The fact that all this happened against a backdrop of Social Media chatter and Cuban music, including an excellent Latino rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” made the film all the more “Resonant”.

While I never got to do the food truck thing, even metaphorically, and Vine/Twitter, Facebook & Co didn’t exist at the time, I managed to reinvent myself and forge a second, more intellectually rewarding career, I even did a road trip around England with my son.

If nothing else, the whole reinvention experience helps set things straight, put things into perspective and helps understand that success is momentary, subjective even, that wealth is relative and that, perhaps the most valuable lesson of all, past glories are not bankable, unless you’re a famous author. So, every time an opportunity arises, take it but remember that there’s a difference between opportunism and opportune. … oh, and next time you see someone temporizing in front of a coffee machine ask yourself whether that person is procrastinating or waiting patiently and while you’re doing that I’ll press that Macchiato button for you.

Posted in Everyday life, Social Media, Society | Tagged , ,

Social Media Detoxification, The Alfred E. Neuman Way

It’s been a while but here’s one for the new year… A few weeks into a new year, and a new decade, and there I was congratulating myself for having managed to avoid reading anything resembling a retrospective or a resolution when I came across an article from a noteworthy source touching on a subject resonating at the moment: The Woke culture.

It wasn’t that the article appeared in an oft-maligned, left-leaning media outlet that made it noteworthy but the person and the subject and seriously, had it been another I would have swiped left instead of double-clicking.

Speech is the picture of the mind

The noteworthy person delivered a speech in which he, although benignly, expressed his opinion about a current-day phenomenon and went where no man has gone before. He told his immediate audience, and those beyond who would listen, what he thought about the so-called “Woke” culture. It was just a shame that it was immediately lost in a mass of senseless, narcissistic, antagonistic diatribe from angry Twitterati devoid of any moral compass because it was one of those rare beacons of thought capable of generating empathy and introspection in the ambivalent ethereal milieu of Social Media.

He that is angry is seldom at ease

Finally, somebody of a certain standing had stepped up and put the finger on a problem, addressing, debunking even the core of what is wrong with this “Fast Fashion” attitude towards social awareness and the follow-on activism… don’t get me wrong, not all activism is wrong, it just has to be done right and why not with fun.

“Hell is full of good meanings and wishes”

The world is experiencing some very serious issues at the moment, we know that, but launching into something, on the face of it, impressively direct and decisive without thinking about the consequences or really knowing the catalysts and agendas, often hidden, is not going to be the game changer you thought it would be. Worse still, it plays into the hands of the antagonists whose goal is to undermine yours.

One thing is for sure. Feeling good after some well-meaning “Woke” style act may be soul-satisfying but it’s not in itself enough. You have to go and find out why a pipeline in North Dakota is so important and to who (good luck contacting the Bilderberg Group to find out).

“The best remedy against an ill man is much ground between both”

Finding out who drives such agendas often requires a skillset most of us don’t have, which reminds me. Whatever happened to the “Anonymous” hacking movement? At one time they seemed to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Through their Robin Hood type actions they brought to light things we might never have known about, which contrary to Wikileaks. 2.0 or Extinction Rebellion activists generated more sympathy than anger with the street.

An understanding of what’s not functioning with society is crucial, awareness of what can be done to make one’s own ecosystem a little more sustainable, reduce toxicity, be it physical or virtual (i.e. on Social Media) is something we should all be doing, whereas spouting inanities on Twitter or wherever really serves no one’s cause. On the contrary it has the effect of making a lot of people, not always the nicest, focus on the commentard rather than the message.

“A man may cause his own dog to bite him”

From the safety of their futon, commentards may not even be aware of their own toxicity. They may even feel satisfied to think they’re neutralizing a snowflake. Chances are though, they’ve woken a troll with a dubious handle out trawling for data and in doing so, may find their own dog came back to bite them while they were logged off!

I’ll be honest. The metaphorical dog did come back to bit me once. Was it a big dog? No, not really and fortunately, it was several years ago when the toxicity level on Social Media was a lot lower and the blowback lesser than it is today.

The “Death in Paradise” Social Media Detox Diet ©®™😊

Tired of blowback? Tired of being muted or unfollowed, even blocked? Is Social Media fatigue setting in? Be like me. Firstly, swear never to get into another virtual mud fight with a pig, no matter how much lipstick it puts on. Then take a step back. It’ll take some knuckle-biting to resist the temptation of responding to some of the crass stupidity out there but if I can do it so can you.

So how about it? Feel up to slipping in an additional new year’s resolution on the sly about reducing Social Media screen time? All you need is to purge the system of any need for mind-numbing sound bite interaction with some of my ““Death in Paradise” Social Media Detox Diet ©®™😊”. Believe me. After a couple of episodes of EastEnders, RuPaul’s Drag Race (whatever floats your boat) or Death in Paradise, my personal favourite, you’ll start feeling a whole lot better.

At first, you might find the cure worse than the ill or find it (looks again at media article) “inoffensive tosh”, but tell yourself this. While you’re watching DI Mooney draw arrows on his whiteboard you not wasting your time on a bot with a dubious h@ndle. You’ll hate me at first but in the end, you’ll come around to admitting that it wasn’t that much of a cold turkey after all and gee, don’t you just feel so much happier now.

Proverbs courtesy of https://archive.org/details/acompleatcollec00raygoog/page/n23

(Many thanks to the University of Michigan for digitizing “A compleat collection of English proverbs; by Ray, John, 1627-1705)

Edited.

Posted in Everyday life, Social Media, Society | Tagged , , , ,

Projections and Fireclowns

“Pondering on the state of the multiverse… I’m a wanderer on a path of my choosing, albeit full of twists, forks and turns. I like to consider my fate my own but in reality, I’m forced to recognize that if I’m where I am today, doing what I think I should be doing, going where I think I should be going it’s because someone or something pointed me in this direction…”

Back in the 16th century, an eminent English cleric wrote a poem about islands and bells, he wrote about a bit more than that but I’m cherry-picking. The reality is though, with all our technology we are struggling today to transform an abstract 16th century idea into reality. Whether we like it or not we are all parts of a bigger entity, I’ll skip the bit in the English cleric’s poem reference to Europe as it might be misinterpreted.

Fast forward to 1942 and the apparition of the first of an amazing literary trilogy. The trilogy’s premise and its Ariadne thread was that using history, sociology, and mathematical statistics it is possible to anticipate the rise and fall of a society, predict the course of a very large population and, bearing in mind the galactic dimensions of the task, consider measures and countermeasures that would, with a degree of mathematical accuracy, guarantee the resilience of said society.

Onto 2019. One part of what seemed visionary in 1624 and science fiction in 1942 has at least come to pass: we are increasingly interconnected and interdependent. In spite of the rebuke of a certain kind of globalization, the fact is, what happens on the other side of the planet impacts people in Rust Belt, USA. As long as Society is dominated by short-term politics and quick gain interests imagining any form of long-term vision for Society, and by extension Mankind, will be impossible, and the future(s) formulated by some astounding and visionary minds will remain as it was in 1624: Abstract science fiction.
Perhaps some brilliant mind, in the pursuit of their intellectual Holy Grail, is giving some thought to the question and in doing so has cracked the engima of what nurtures those mule/rogue elements that appear throughout history and disrupt apparently stable cultures. They might also be mulling over the root causes of social backlashes that fireclowns seem to flair and thrive on (and no, there is no elephant in this room) and if they are, now would be a good time to share their vision*.

* As entertaining as Nostradamus’ works were, I wouldn’t say he anticipated with any serious encyclopedic exactitude or mathematical precision any of the events that have happened since 1566.

From Trantor to the Middle Kingdom

In a world debating whether our future will be more Star Wars than Star Trek-like, but looking more and more like Blade Runner, a science fiction saga about academics plotting futures based on history is by today’s standards naive. Reading about one country’s plan to apply a social monitoring system is on the other hand, the future today. Plotting a roadmap for a population based on its social behaviour and using demographics, credit rating, consumerism, social media activity AND real-world civicism (aka Urban Pride … no, not that Pride) seems Orwellian but with a population of 1.4 billion and growing China puts the interests of the collectivity over individual interest. When China constructed the Three Gorges Dam, it weighed the collective pros and individual cons and went ahead. When China constructed a 254 square kilometre solar park in the middle of the Gobi desert, which although visible from space, isn’t quite in someone’s backyard either, they gave themselves the means so if they intend implementing a working Social Credit System, they won’t be coy about it.

Social monitoring for data mining purposes is already in place in a number of so-called Liberal countries, and a profitable service industry it is too. What distinguishes China’s Social Credit System from other countries’ social surveillance systems is the sheer scale of the project. Although not completed, given the resolve of its architects it will work, solving in the process a number of “ancillary” issues such as the pollution created by 300+ million vehicles on China’s roads, a problem that makes similar issues in the UK or Paris look pale in comparison.

Whatever your opinion of a culture with a history of leaders for life, indifferent to the concerns of the individual and a vision that now goes beyond a five-year plan, China’s intention to engineer and I mean engineer, a long-term plan for their society is, whatever the outcome, the closest I think we’ll get to any realworld equivalence of the Society Isaac Asimov wrote about.

Posted in Everyday life, Society | Tagged , , , ,

Air Travel: Chasing Elusive Miles… and Smiles

On a recent flight back from the States I half-heartedly listened to the Delta captain as we approached Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, half-heartedly because like most frequent flyers I’d heard it before and was busy stuffing things into my backpack.

As usual, the captain thanked the elite status, the first class, the business class, the gold card frequent flyers etc. This time though, I heard him thank one unnamed loyalty programme member in particular who apparently had accumulated so many flying miles it reminded me of George Clooney in “Up in the Air”.

The speech was, of course, the standard sales speech destined for those in economy class listening and longing for access to airline lounges, accelerated boarding, upgrades, more leg space, extra drinks, better food etc. and after eight hours wedged in a cramped main cabin seat, I for one was listening, even if it was half-heartedly.

On the Run

Economy class is a melting pot of travellers. There are the explorer level frequent flyers, like me, who never seem to make it to the next level; there are business travellers, professionals from cost-conscious tech companies, i.e. me again. There are the people who want the prestige of flying a brand at the cheapest price possible and there are the folks who just want to get from A to B.

Whatever the reason, whatever the constraints, people like me will continue flying and no matter how much lawmakers talk of banning short-haul domestic flights, as is currently being debated in France (link in French), airlines will continue exploiting the demand and offering affordable air travel until such time as market trends, or legislation, force them to rethink their strategy or go out of business.

♪Have Your Passport and Baggages Ready♪

Airport authorities, operators and airlines probably are dedicating the necessary time and effort managing today’s problems while planning for the future, e.g. by adding more planes during peak periods; building runways and terminals, (Heathrow); whole new airports (Istanbul), or connecting intra-city airports serving as mega-hubs such as London or Moscow.

So with all this AI assisted efficiency why are flights invariably late or delayed? Most delays are minor, generally 10 or 15 minutes, occasionally by 30 or 45, sometimes… even 90 minutes, which if you’re in transit is panic guaranteed. I even had a flight cancelled in 2003 because of a Tornado in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Delays are disruptions you take into account when booking a flight, e.g. avoid 60-minute layovers because you never know. The disruptions you can’t anticipate though, and the ones that require all the phlegm and forgiving of a Swami, are the flights that just don’t turn up, no replacement, no word of explanation, no apology, nothing. This happened to me on a B.A. flight to London in February 2018. It was the one trip I had to honour and needed to get London on time for and the plane was three hours late.

B.A., with their market dominance and quasi-monopoly of flights to the UK – and no, Ryanair is not an option – had one job to do: Get that one plane to London on time so I could fulfil a family obligation and BA failed. Frustrating as it was for me, it was nothing more than an operational glitch with one of the hundreds of planes they had flying that day. Consequently, and because business is business, I now only fly B.A. to the UK if there is no alternative or on company-paid trips.

The debate though is whether delays, of human origin, happen because a) there are so many planes flying flight controllers can’t keep up, b) planes are taking longer to reach destinations because they’re flying slower than 40 years ago, or c) planes are bumping into one another manoeuvring at gates because airlines rush to get their planes back in the air and making money.

Speak to Me

But if there’s one thing that could lure a delay weary economy class traveller like me into paying more it’s more leg room. Believe me, I’ve been tempted, and still am, to pay extra to fit my 1m86 frame into a ~20-inch wide seat with ~7 inches extra legroom premium economy sized seat. In fact, that, plus access to airline lounges, was the real reason for chasing elusive miles and smiles.

But now it seems I might not have to anymore. Airlines, like KLM, are realizing that while elite products are attractive, the bulk of the profit may come from selling add-ons and extras to travellers like me who consider travel time part of a journey and are willing to pay to make the journey that little bit more enjoyable. Yup, I think I’ll add some lounge time to the our next flight. Indulgence? Oh yes, summer vacation starts with the flight so why not indulge yourself.

[Edited]

Posted in Everyday life, Voyages | Tagged , , ,

The Creeping Institutionalization of a Kink

It’s rant time!… There’s an irritating kink institutionalizing itself in everyday exchanges on Social Media today: the F-bomb. If only it stopped with a puerile tweet, but it doesn’t. This banalizing use of the f-word in Social Media is creeping beyond the confines of Twitter, FB etc. (we’ll skip Reddit and 4Chan) and into everyday offline exchanges from people you’d think more articulate. What people don’t seem to understand is that for maximum, devastating effect the f-bomb should remain a deletive, not an adverb, not an adjective, or even a “thank you” because the milkman left a red top instead of a Gold top on the doorstep this morning… I got my eye on you, melon farmer!

But don’t get me wrong. I love a good “turn the air blue” tirade. No, seriously, there’s nothing better to clear the air and lower the blood pressure than haranguing a driver (m/f/x) for being a dork. In fact, I love flinging the odd expletive deletivenom d’oiseau” (literally “Bird name”, in reality, some foul-mouthed profanity) at some jerk (m/f/x) who abruptly changes three lanes in front of me at the traffic lights before turning off without indicating.

You see. Shouting French profanities out the car window is a hangover from long years driving around places like Marseille. It serves a purpose and is part of the culture. On the other hand, punctuating an anodyne conversation about whether Soya drink is milk with invective is pointless. It’s also mind-numbingly lazy, slovenly and sign of advanced cognitive dissonance. I mean what’s with effing and blinding simply because someone disagrees with you? “hey! I like Almond drink. You? WTF. You like Oat drink? Seriously? Well, screw you, Hey… guy here likes Oatly Oat Drink!

Again, I’ve nothing against tossing the occasional cuss word but not to the point that it obscures perfectly coherent reasoning from otherwise intellectually, cognitively rational individuals, goddamnit.

For example, several years ago someone took me to task for qualifying some irrelevant act as “Machiavellian”. His reasoning was that yes, while Niccolò Machiavelli is admittedly widely renowned for his work “The Prince”, he was also a diplomat, politician, historian, philosopher, humanist and senior official in the Florentine Republic (recognized as the father of modern political science, freeing politics from theology…) and as such references to his works should be used intelligently… So, you see, here was a person who helped me understand the importance of intellectual nimbleness himself resorting to banal invective to finish off an email. It was lazy and I told him so.

Conspiracy Take Down

Talking of intellectual nimbleness, or the lack of. Another phenomenon flourishing on Social Media is the amplification of whatever the latest flavour of the month conspiracy theory happens to be. Take the Notre Dame theory for example. Just watch how, between fake right-wing info’ sites and botched AI, this particular conspiracy theory is setting Social Media on fire and people are slurping it up.

There was a time when I enjoyed reading a juicy conspiracy theory, you know, Ancient Aliens, Area 51, the missing 09/11 Pentagon plane , that sort of thing, but that was fifteen or so years ago when you had to go to a specialized website forum to follow the thread. Now people don’t bother, they just check out a sub-thread in Reddit.

Reminds me of an episode from Elementary (The Red Team [1.13]). Watson queries Holmes’ studying of conspiracy theories. Holmes’ comeback to Watson’s question (“I thought there was no such thing as conspiracy theories?”) sums it up perfectly: “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, Watson.” Says it all, really doesn’t it?.

And just to finish nailing the lid on manipulating hobgoblins, a media outlet recently published an article relaying the theory that the dreams you can’t remember might never have occurred. I mean who bothers trying to recall dreams, and to paraphrase Jack Nicholson in The Witches of Eastwick film: “… house cleaning. Well. You clean up the dirt, there’ll be some more tomorrow” so why go to all the trouble?

Someone I know has a clear opinion on the matter, and rightly so. Why not question what others consider to be a done deal? And even if you see things differently take a step back to see why that person is challenging what many consider to be an irreversible fait accompli, especially when doing so may improve your life as well.

Whether you consider dreams an esoterical experience, a simple succession of images or the brain defragmenting its hard drive (or a hierarchical storage management system restructuring the data) is incidental. It’s all about being in charge and being able to question, and change, the generally accepted order of things and if you don’t agree well, it’s a free world but let me finish off by hijacking the words of the sagacious John McClane: “Thanks for the advice.”

Posted in Social Media, Society | Tagged , ,

The Nomad Syndrome

The nomad syndrome strikes again! After six years of a “gemütlich” if predictable life in Germany, wife, cats, the fish in their tank and I decided to pack our bags, fold our yurt and head north to greener pastures in pursuit of an objective.

You would have thought that any family with a plan would have done better to stay put and pursue their objectives in familiar and stable surroundings, especially as after six years in Germany a citizen of a member state of the European Union could apply for permanent residence and why not German citizenship. It was there for the asking, but no.

You could also be forgiven for thinking that with Brexit looming any convinced and proven British europhile would or should jump at the economic and social stability permanent German residence would offer, but no.

What made us want to throw caution to this wind, give up the stability and security of life in Germany and go somewhere else? What could possibly make this Brit pass up on the prospect of permanent German residence and why not German citizenship? The answer is simple: An urge for a different lifestyle in a different environment with different values and of course, better financial well-being, in short, something other than Germany was offering…
Plus, at the end of the day, obtaining German citizenship wasn’t something my spouse and I were willing to consider, in itself or as part of our plans, a point that ultimately weighed on our decision to move to Holland.

Holland, He Wrote

After what’s euphemistically called a change of circumstance, and a chat with the wife, I responded to and accepted an opportunity in Amsterdam*. This meant moving there, and although the material advantages sealed the deal, yet another international house move was still a daunting prospect.
*Actually, I’d been offered two new interesting missions, one in Germany and one in Holland. The German mission was continuity, the Dutch mission was change and as I was in the unique position of having a choice I savoured the moment before throwing caution to the wind and choosing not Love over Gold but change over continuity.

So opening my trusty, dog-eared Microsoft XL format relocation/house moving project planning sheet we set about planning a plan within a plan. I ran through the list of tasks and timelines for moving from France to Germany and then around Germany, Cologne to Munich, Munich to Frankfurt, and adapted it accordingly. We cancelled subscriptions, found a flat, packed boxes, booked the movers and generally let everybody know who needed to know we were moving, immediately triggering a host of “Win back” robocalls from internet and mobile operators.

That was last November. It’s April now and approximately two months after moving house we’re busy taking in a new culture, learning a new language, discovering strange new taxes and tasting a different style of cooking and guess what? I’ll take an Indonesian Bami Goreng over toasted sandwiches any day.

Yes, I’m glad we came to Holland, really I am. The original idea was to start our project in Germany. On paper it looked good, seemed holistic enough, we thought, but we had the impression something was missing.

So after getting our little ducks in a row we decided that Holland might be better suited for kick-starting our project. And you know what? I’m glad we did because two months after and we’d already collected some valuable information concerning our long-term project we would have missed had we stayed in Germany.

The End? Not Quite Yet!

Relocating is tiresome, very tiresome and the only easy part of this particular house move was the day I said yes to the job mission. Recurrent relocation only makes sense if it’s part of a bigger plan. That said, it’s often the most abstract of things that can make or break a relocation, like finally being able to rebuild the sofa after thinking you’d lost some accessory or other. Personally, what made this relocation a success was my wife’s squeal of pleasure as I carried her across the threshold of our new home. Would I do anything different next time? (oh, yes. There’ll be a next time) Yep! I’ll book a mover and let them do everything. It’ll cost more but I made a promise to my wife.

So why go to all that trouble? Why wave goodbye to continuity in Germany for something completely different? At first glance, coming to Holland may look a bit like going “… to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head”, so be it, but believe me, there’s design behind the apparent folly.

Posted in Everyday life | Tagged ,

Laying the Past to Rest

‘Despair and die’ the spirits tell Richard III before the Battle of Bosworth… ‘Live and flourish’ say the same spirits to the sleeping Earl of Richmond.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity of going [back] to France with my significantly better half, to Lake Annecy to be exact, the time of a weekend for a wedding and not just any but my son’s.

Given the family and its history, it was a supernova waiting to happen. There were so many ghosts of deeds past, and persons very much alive waiting for me that in the days leading up to the visit long-buried memories were surfacing that should have stayed where they belonged, in the deepest and darkest black holes of the Past.

As I lay in bed, awake between sleep cycles, staring into the darkness I wondered how as the Bridegroom’s father I was going to deliver a speech and what could I possibly say without finding myself ensnared in the said black hole.

For those who didn’t know or haven’t seen “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, traditionally the parents are supposed to deliver a post-ceremony/dinner speech, to wish the bridal pair well and reminisce on when they used to bounce the new married couple on their respective knees, change nappies, take them to school etc., you know the usual kids growing up stuff. As the Bridegroom’s father I spent the nights leading up to the wedding imagining scenarios to see whether I successfully could finish the speech without some antagonist jumping up and pouring invective all over me… The only thing missing, as I lay there in the dark, was some Shakespearean spirit hovering over me demanding retribution for, or urging me to right, perceived wrongs. In retrospect, the spirits were there, they just weren’t Shakespearean.

Fortunately for me, and for my sanity, a level-headed, coffee-fueled discussion with my beloved set the record straight. Priorities were discussed and the past versus the future debated until, the fruit of serious introspection, it dawned upon me that the only person who could do anything about it, and the only person who could lay the past to rest, was me. It was time to transgress a golden rule of mine, that of never looking back and do some soul searching because to paraphrase something someone themselves erroneously paraphrasedThe secret of change is not to fight the past but to focus on building the future”.

As it transpired it was the right thing to do. While a certain tension was perceptible the antagonists tacitly understood that the day belonged to the bridal pair, who, incidentally, had shrewdly done everything possible to minimize the risks and happy smiling antagonists, seated apart – far apart, having understood they were there for a unique and common cause, enjoyed the ceremony and listened approvingly to speeches by the Bride’s family … That day, the knives remained sheathed but know this Iago, for such villainy twenty five years is yesterday.

Peach Jam and Giants

The other reason for going to France was, well, because it’s France. We didn’t regret moving away, to Germany, an astute move in many ways but we missed the little things, things you take for granted until you don’t have them any more. For us, we used to pick some of these little things up at the local, XL-sized supermarket, aka Hypermarket, aka Grande Surface, we used to visit in France*, the cheeses, the meats, the syrops, the special mix of coffee (Arabica & Robusta) we liked amongst other things…
(*Very large surface so-called “Hypermarkets”, such as Carrefour, Auchan & Géant Casino, can also be found in other countries, e.g. Spain and Italy, but strangely enough not in Germany.)

…So recalling the deliciously chunky peach jam and the freshly made aromatic coffee we used to have for breakfast, and with two of the three items on our bucket list for the weekend already ticked off, we searched the car’s GPS for and found, our preferred “Grande Surface” from way back when.

With a couple of hours to go before the wedding ceremony, my wife and I walked into the Géant Casino hypermarket and headed for the Jams and Breakfast section. What we actually came out with was a different matter but then you don’t go into such places and expect to come out with what was actually on the shopping list.

Why bore you with the details? We had a yearning for this jam and that coffee as we remembered them. Arriving back home from France we realized that while the jam was nice it was no longer an essential part of our life today. These were elements of a life we had taken major steps to change. Having moved on we could now, without remorse, put such yearnings, and memories, back where they came from and forget about them.

What revisiting the past the time of a weekend did, and this might sound cynical, was to illustrate that if people or objects no longer play a role in one’s life it’s for a reason. It’s thinking about those who are with you today that is important. Your focus must be on creating a better future and you can’t do that with one foot still in the past.

[Edited]

Posted in Everyday life, Society, Voyages | Tagged , , ,