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Hòg mhaidne (in Gaelic)

December 31st, 2010 Comments off

Growing up with a Scottish parent tonight was always the biggest celebration of the year. It’s a night that everyone should spend in Scotland at least once. It’s a night where a country that can stand toe-to-toe with the Irish when it comes to drinking and having a good time, turns the dial to 11 and leaves all others in their wake.

In the finest of Scottish traditions I’m going to buy a round of  decent whiskey for myself and my friends at around midnight, and propose a toast to absent friends. It’s going to be emotional, but also somewhat cleansing for the soul.

2010 has been brutal and I’m happy to see the back of it, 2011 is going to be spectacular.

Haste ye back, we loue you dearly,
Call again you’re welcome here.
May your days be free from sorrow,
And your friends be ever near.
May the paths o’er which you wander,
Be to you a joy each day.
Haste ye back we loue you dearly,
Haste ye back on friendship’s way.

Happy new year. And while I’ll be thinking of who is not here tonight, I’ll do appreciate those who are. Thanks for being there, I feel very lucky.

Gauguin, culture and beer mix in London

December 28th, 2010 3 comments

I was meeting friends for lunch in London today, but the rest of the day was my own. To be fair most of my friends were supposed to actually be working today, I’m sure it’s possible that a civil servant could actually get rather busy on a Monday after a holiday… It just seems rather unlikely.

New development in sympathy with the old

My first stop is what I think is the best museum in the world. The collection is first class, and there are good reasons of that. The British Museum has piles of stuff borrowed from around the world by the all-powerfull British Empire.

The place is packed with such high quality items from all over the world, pretty much all was “liberated” in the same way a $10 note occasionally goes missing from my wallet left on the kitchen counter in the same week a 9 year old mysteriously gets $10 from her grandmother to spend on herself.

The tussle with the Greeks over the Elgin Marbles is well documented, but they are in London and possession is 9/10ths of the law as they say. The Museum has been clear that they are in London to stay. The argument is ongoing and ultimately I believe they are in the right place for them and will stay in London for the foreseeable future.

In ’97 Lord Wyatt said in the House of Lords “My Lords, is the Minister aware that it would be dangerous to return the marbles to Athens because they were under attack by Turkish and Greek fire in the Parthenon when they were rescued? And the volatile Greeks might easily start hurling bombs around again?” Who ever said the British aristocracy was out of touch with reality? As I said this was 1997.

A quick stop at the Rosetta stone (found by Napoleons army, taken as a spoil of war by the British in Egypt), followed with half an hour catching the highlights of the Egyptian rooms before a quick lap of possibly the finest indoor space in the city, the stunning Great Court and out into the sun and Bloomsbury at lunch time.

Next destination is most of the way across central London to meet friends for lunch at the original Hard Rock Café. The bar downstairs is rarely full for weekday lunch times, they have a full menu, it’s close to the toilets and the staff know how to pour drinks.

One of my oldest friends, Adrian, works in the financial sector in the London, he was already there and deeply into pint number 2. It’s good to see that despite the bail out and turmoil the city tradition of long liquid lunches is still alive and kicking. I’ve known Adrian since I was 13 or 14, he’s now a father of two and looking far worse for wear than I am. It’s not often I can make that claim of my peers.

A few minutes later Steve shows up, first words were “Pint of Stella please” followed by a greeting. Clearly his priorities have not changed since we shared a house (along with 16 others) in college. The man who once set himself on fire when he forgot to extinguish the flames on his drink before slamming it back, is now in a senior position in a nuclear power station.

Most of the time Steve is one of the smartest people I know, however mix in a little alcohol and when he says “hold my beer and watch this” take a few steps back, it’s probably going to be good. I’m sure his naked Christmas tin foil walk is still talked about in hushed tones in the SU. The man is awesome.

Quick greetings and then he starts harassing the poor kiwi behind the bar, being from Wales Steve has heard many fine sheep shagging jokes and enjoys the feeling of giving rather than receiving for once. It’s rather scary how quickly we revert back to type and forget the whole grown up thing.

With his usually timing, 20 minutes late, the final lunch guest Clive shows, another college friend and we’ve not seen each other since then. He spent a couple of years living in Perth being a beach bum, a couple of years in Connecticut and is now living in Hampstead and is a respectable civil servant.

Over the next hour and a bit the pints flow, we make fun of each other and do a lot of catching up. Swap war stores argue football and reminisce about the time Steve ended up wandering around campus drunk with nothing but tin foil covering his dignity.

Adrian drags himself to the tube, I won’t say how much he had to drink before heading back to work, but unless he has the hidden superpower “instant sober” he spent the afternoon fast asleep in his office.

However Steve and I are heading to the Tate Modern, in addition to their regular (and rather spectacular) collection they have a Gauguin exhibition going on. The other pair have to return to their real life jobs, I don’t have to worry about that job thing for another couple of days yet.

As the tube is running a limited service today we ended up walking from Waterloo to the Tate Modern. It’s about 20 minutes along the Thames. London was quieter than I expected today, OK I stayed away from Oxford Street and the shopping, but there were not that many people wandering around.

Gauguin is an early 20th century French artist (post-impressionist, but I’m not sure what that really means) who traveled the world and created some wonderful pieces. The exhibition is as comprehensive as it is impressive, it has many great pieces and well worth the effort.

We got lost here for a few hours. I spent a portion of that time staring at my favorite piece in the Tate Modern collection, “Wham!”, but could happily spend all day here. Every time I visit I find a new artist whose work I like – Today was Georges Braque, a cubist who worked with Picasso. I’m sure many people are tutting and mumbling about how well known he is and that I am a total philistine that I’ve only just heard of his work, but that’s how it is.

The book shop at the Tate Modern is wonderful, so well stoked and I could spend a small fortune in there. I walked out with a couple of design books. I love great design and are so many beautiful books here.

Soon enough we had to go out separate ways, Steve headed back to the midlands while I walked back to the train along the river front. Even on a bitterly cold December evening, this is a great city.

Categories: Stuff... Tags: , , ,

Flying is good, airports not so good.

December 28th, 2010 Comments off

This is going to sound a little like bragging, and yeah it maybe a little, but it’s my blog and I’m allowed too!

Over the last year I’ve spent a lot of time in the air. Two trips to Asia and after Christmas in London it’s 13 to Europe with more to come to both in the next few months. In the last 6 weeks alone I’ve spent almost 75 hours at 36,000 feet. For me one of the signs that it’s starting to be too much is I dread going to the airport. While the novelty of flying has certainly worn off, I’m not at that point yet.

While not many people will call the whole flying experience pleasurable, I don’t find actually being on the airplane too bad. I don’t have to worry about email, my blackberry is quiet and I can watch bad movies staring The Rock that we all skip past when renting a movie. It’s not a secret that’s going to get me on Jerry Springer, but I like it.

The second part is the airport, that’s the piece I don’t enjoy. It’s not just the security lines (as bad as those are), it’s the whole experience. There is so little to enjoy with over priced food and expensive bars. The airport lounges become something of an oasis with free internet, food, drinks and quiet not found elsewhere in the airport.

One of the big bonuses to all this flying is the appreciation shown by the airlines. Today I got a complementary upgrade from the cheap seats straight to business class on British Airways to Seattle. This allows me to do a direct comparison of the expensive seats on four airlines. SAS, British, Delta and Alitalia.

So here are my thoughts…

Best food – actually very straightforward, British out of Heathrow. The orange cheesecake was awesome and the lobster cakes with fresh vegetables was about as good as it could be on an airplane.

Best comfort package – SAS, not only the usual socks/toothbrush/eyeshade in a nice package, but also a packet of mints, mouthwash, moisturizer, shoe polish and a shoe bag.

Best seat – perhaps unfair as it was an almost new airplane, but Alitalia had very nice pod seats on its A330.

Best staff – tough choice between British and Delta. Delta edges it on keeping up informed about the delay in departing, British just kept quiet. In flight British provided the perfectly discrete service you’d expect.

Lounges – These become very important when traveling a lot. The BA lounge in Heathrow T5 is impressive, the Delta lounge in Narita has lots of Macs, sushi and the awesome beer-pouring machine, but the best was the Alitalia lounge in Rome. Great food, the best service and a fine wine selection.

Best in flight entertainment – this does not change much between business and economy, the system is the same, the TV’s may be a little bigger, but that’s about it. Delta takes this one, it was a current video on demand system with a good selection, what more could you want?

Program – Delta has been very good with their Skymiles program, plus now I’m in the top tier I’m seeing the benefits. Upgrades on domestic flights and a phone number where they look after me.

Discarding proof in order to be right

December 26th, 2010 Comments off

I got an interesting e-mail a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been sitting on it deciding what to do. It seems one of the rumours my ex is putting around is that she now believes I never went through Hodgkin’s Lyphoma. As with other accusations she has made, either first hand or by proxy, she has seen much evidence to the contrary, but it does not fit her argument and so is discarded.

First I’ve never been so upset at an accusation, she wants a fight and has reverted to type in clearly wanting to be right. Being right is so important that she is happy to discard conversations and other evidence that did not fit into her hypothesis.

She has been part of conversations between my parents and myself about how I felt. She has listened to my mother and I argue and get emotional about her not being able to deal with it. She was there when dad described his reaction and how he coped.

Then there was the conversation with a close friend about how my ex-wife sat in her car crying and stated that she could not handle it if anything was wrong with me just before she left for Colorado. Yet my ex-wife denied any such moment, as my lawyer put it, she is my ex for a reason.

There were whole conversations over martinis about what happened when my close friend took me to chemo appointments. We talked about my reactions to the drugs, we discussed how I was afterwards, the tuna sandwiches and cleaning up after me. But none of these conversations fit into her argument, so they must be discarded rather than her argument is invalidated. These are not imagined discussions, these were talks that happened while she was sitting there.

Then there is what she saw, she saw how over the first year we knew each other she even commented on how much more often I needed to shave compared to when we first met.

None of these points fit into her argument, so instead of maybe modifying her argument she decided to discard the parts that don’t fit and be right. One thing I learned years ago about my ex is she needs to be right, and if not right then less wrong that the other party.

I’ve found four or five incidences where I believe that first hand evidence has been discarded in order to validate her point of view.

However, back to the HL, here was so much first hand and primary evidence that she decided to ignore it’s rather pathetic and as she feels the need to play this out in public I feel justified in responding. This is just one example of the lengths she will go too in order to be right, at least in her own mind.

I’m not realistic enough to expect her to admit to being wrong) she has discarded them to validate herself. This is a woman who perjured herself during her previous divorce. She was determined to go to court in that case, what I now understand is an almost delusion sense of right, she lied about the repayment terms of $5000. She claimed in court that it was a gift, when in reality it was a loan and she knew that.

As for my first hand evidence of the perjury accusation, she told me. She said at the time she knew it was a lie and she was under oath. Should anyone be interested I’m happy to supply the case number, everything I’ve had to say about the perjury is public record.

By the way, court did not go well for her that time…

Once again, unlike the anonymous posters out there, I stand by everything I’ve said here. It seems playing this out in public is what she wants.

Categories: Personal Tags: ,

Marmite everywhere!!!!

December 26th, 2010 Comments off

My brother and his family gave me Marmite flavoured chocolate and cashews for Christmas. Let me be clear, there is no such thing as enough Marmite in this world, but the chocolate, that was new to me.

It’s interesting, in a good way, it’s certainly not a taste one will acquire later in life.

Thanks Anna-Marie, it was good. The cashews however are awesome, I will pick up a couple of bags before I leave.

Categories: Personal Tags: , ,

A little Christmas rambling

December 25th, 2010 Comments off

This post is a little rambling, it kinda reflects how I feel today, but I hope worth it. Christmas this year was about spending time with my family, and I have a wonderful, supportive family. I’m doing something about living 4800 miles away.

Arrived at Heathrow on Christmas Eve. SeaTac was busy, the plane packed and after traveling in business class over the last month it was a big hello with reality to sit in the cheap seats. I know I sound like a spoilt brat, but I missed the bigger seats and almost passable food that comes with sitting up front. I can feel the sympathy out there, thank you all.

The flight came in over Scotland, Ayr to be precise, the skies were clear and the ground white with snow. From the window we could see across the Firth of Clyde, towards Greenock and Dunoon. Pick out Millport and the smudge of grey that’s Glasgow in the distance. A lot of family holidays were spent with my grandparents in that part of the world.

As we flew South to London the snow never stopped. The entire country was covered.

Christmas eve was a quiet evening spent at my brothers. My niece was in fine form and the dog did what most animals seem to do, sit with dad.

Obviously there is a lot of emotion around Christmas this year in my family. On the 25th we went out for dinner to a local hotel. Dad, my brother’s family and myself. The drive through Guildford on Christmas Day felt like being in one of those disaster movies where everyone has disappeared. The streets were snow covered and all but deserted.

The food was good and while the hotel served us with its usually mildly amusing incompetence, it was a good way to spend the afternoon. And best of all, no one had to do the washing up. The wine flowed my niece was full of life and the stories changing from deep and meaningful, to funny and entertaining.

It’s wonderful to just sit and listen to dad when he’s telling stories of Scotland, books that are important to him, us as kids and his time with my niece.

Granddad was the same; when the mood struck him, he would sit there and just tell stories of growing up in Canada, his family, driving a tractor at 12 and so on.

The comparisons don’t end there. Like dad, granddad was typically rather stoic, but at some point it all changed and granddad wanted the narrative of his life shared. We sat one evening for hours; he talked about me about growing up in Canada, signing up with his brother James to come to England in 1939, watching La Habs play at the forum and so much more.

30ish years ago dad gave me a Neville Shute book to read, “Trustee in the Tool Room”. It’s set in the 50’s among the boffins at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough; a place I’d start my career in aero 35 years after the book was first published. This year I got another Shute book, as an author he’s probably best known for “On the Beach”, a great book and wonderful movie. Dad knows he is a meaningful author to me, thanks for such a thoughtful present.

I’m not going to say that reading that original Shute book led to my career in aero, there are many other things that have caused this wonderful, entertaining journey through the world of aero and engineering. It’s certainly been a something I’ve thought about now and again.

Merry Christmas.

Categories: Books, Personal Tags: , , ,

There is not enough gin in the lounge…

December 21st, 2010 5 comments

Last night, before we all went out, I made a bold prediction. I said there was not enough gin (or sake) in the lounge to get me to sing karaoke. I was wrong, there was.

We went out for the somewhat traditional end of trip dinner with the partner back in Nagoya. We went to a very nice Japanese restaurant with 6 or 7 courses. One of the managers, who up until now has avoided Japanese food, tried the sashimi, and while not a convert found it better than he expected. I thought the meal was excellent and the beer and sake was flowing.

We had a good time, talked about the relationships between the partners and us, the value of meeting like this regularly and so on. I’ve got some process revisions I that I need to incorporate to better support the partners and clarify a few things, but from the business point of view it’s been a very successful trip, everyone at the table last night seemed to feel that.

After the very good dinner Konichi-san said we were going to karaoke. I have no singing voice and the only time I’ve ever done it once before, 1992 in Washington DC, and I swore I’d never do it again. Turns out I was wrong, there were photos taken last night, it’s not going to be good when they come out…

In Japan Karaoke is more than just singing to pre-recorded tracks, it’s far more important than that. One of the managers tried to explain it to me, but said I’d see it once we were in the room. He was right, it’s difficult to explain, but it comes down to an experience shared only by the ten of us in the room last night.

In a country that has a lot of peer pressure to conform it provides a place where it’s OK for the individual to stand out for a few minutes before moving the center of attention to the next person and becoming part of the group again.

It’s not just sharing that; it’s way more than that. It breaks the ice, bypasses the ridged structure in the workplace and a very fun experience. Unquestionably the sake helped lower my barriers, but the people in the room made it happen.

In Japan you rent a room, called a Karaoke Bokkusu, in our case for a couple of hours, order some beer and go for it. It was way more fun that I’d expected, some of the people were very good, others (certainly including me) not so. It was a very fun group in there and fueled by a few jibes and the alcohol induced bravery I went for it.

Rockstar by Nickleback was my first choice on the machine. Getting into the spirit of the evening I changed some of the lyrics to “We all just want to be ME’s (manufacturing engineers) living in hilltop houses driving 15 cars”. That seemed to work and got a laugh from everyone in the room, who were all MEs’.

There were a few songs sang in Japanese, one had the locals jumping around the room, catchy tune but no idea what was being said. It was explained to me that it was a Japanese karaoke standard and is one of the first songs every Japanese learns. It was entertaining so see a people who have been very reserved over the last couple of days in meetings really get into the spirit of things.

Another pitcher of beer later my next choice was Anarchy in the UK by the Sex Pistols. The backing track was a little more laid back than the original, and lets face it, I’m not much of a Johnny Rotten, but it was a fun night. The Sex Pistols are very well known in Japan, I’ve seen a few “Never Mind…” t-shirts in the stores here, a lot of people in the room joined in.

A very fun evening, way more than I expected and a great way to round off what’s been a very productive, interesting, but at times difficult trip.

According to BA the Seattle to Heathrow service is going to be running despite the weather in London, we’ll see when tomorrow evening comes around and it’s time to check in.

OMG! The crowds…

December 20th, 2010 Comments off

I know Japan is crowded, the numbers are rather staggering (warning stat alert), it has bout half the population of the US, squeezed into less than 5% of the land area. Judging from the train ride from Nagoya to Tokyo “rural” has a very different definition here.

The train station is a just a few minute walk from the the Imperial Palace that is both the geographical center of Tokyo and regarded by all as the spitiual center of Japan. Close by is the center of the Japanese government and the most important embassies in the country.

Imperial Palace on a beautiful winter day

One thing that is clear, nothing stays still for long, the renewal of the old into the new high rises carries on at a massive rate.

Imperial Palace over looked by the skyscrapers of Toyko

The dichotomy here is the Imperial house of Japan, it’s the oldest hereditary monarchy in the world, by tradition the family lineage goes back to Emperor Jimmu who (and historians are mixed on this) came to the throne somewhere around 660BC (that’s 2770 years ago)

The Imperial Palace is the offical home of the Emperor and Imperial Family. The actual role and power of the Emperor has gone back and forth between absolute ruler and largely ceremonial over the centuries.

In the post war constitution the Emperor is “symbol of the state and the unity of the people”, he is also the head of the Shinto religion. As I’ve said before the history of the Imperial family and Japan in general is fascinating.

Another view of the palace

Most of the current palace dates back to the 1950’s and 60’s. Unlike Kyoto, Tokyo never escaped being bombed during the war. In May 1945 most of the structures of the Imperial Palace and a substantial part of central Tokyo were destroyed in a fire-bombing raid.

Like many royal residences most of the grounds require an invite to visit, only a small portion is open most days. I took advantage of some beautiful weather and wandered around as much as I could.

Yep, Imperial Palace again

After the palace I took a walk to Ginza. Think of Rodeo Drive, the a-z of big labels is there (Apple – deal it’s a geek label, Armani, Burberry, Bulgari and so on, you get the idea) but bigger and way more crowded. Remember that whole half the population of the US in a tiny area stat, most of them were shopping in Ginza the weekend before Christmas. It was quite the scene.

Ginza the weekend before Christmas

I did spend an hour in a bookstore, Kinokuniya was recommended to me as having a good English section. There was a whole floor of English books, I picked up a couple of history books to keep me entertained on the plane. The English language section was a rather quiet oasis compared to the rest of the area. Despite a number of the roads being closed to traffic for the weekend the crowds were huge. It was another “holy heck, this is Tokyo” moment in the midst of a fascinating city.

Categories: Travel Tags: , , , ,

Yasukuni-jinja

December 18th, 2010 5 comments

After long meetings all week and a late night getting to Tokyo last night I was determined to spend a few hours today with just me and my iPod wandering around Tokyo and trying to recharge a little.

One of the places I did want to visit was the rather controversial Yasukuni-jinja; this is a Shinto shrine that’s a 30-minute walk from the Imperial Palace.

Two of the Torii gates at Yasukuni-jinja

Yasukuni-jinja is dedicated to the spirits of those who died fighting for Japan in the name of the emperor during wartime; it does not have to be a combat death for someone’s spirit to be enshrined here. There are almost 2.5 million names on the register at the shrine.

The short version of the Shinto belief is that the souls of the dead are housed in the shrine. It is believed that all evil or negative acts are forgiven when a person is enshrined here. I guess absolution is probably the closest term in Catholicism.  In Shinto once a person is enshrined it is permanent and no one can undo it.

Yasukuni-jinja has huge significance in Japan, it is supposed to give peace to those who fought and died for the emperor, interestingly it is the only place that the emperor ever bows too.

Although the shrine only dates back to 1869 (decidedly modern by Shinto standards) it was chosen in the 1930’s as Tokyo’s major shrine.

The government of the time promoted Yasukuni-jinja as part of its military-first jingoistic policy and it became the memorial to Japans war dead. When state and religion were separated in the post war constitution the enshrinement was supposed to be a strictly religious matter. It’s turned out that over the years the Japanese government has provided information and guidance on enshrinement.

The seal of Imperial Japan

The entrance to the Yasukuni-jinja is very impressive. You pass through two huge Torii gates and a wooden gate with the seal of Imperial Japan on it. At that point the center of the shrine (its “haiden”) is direct in front, again adorned with the Imperial seal.

There were 4 Shinto monks performing some kind of ceremony inside. It’s possible to walk right up to the shrine, and look in. I was feeling rather conspicuous as the only westerner there at this time, and possibly the only non-Shinto in the compound.

The third Torii gate and Haiden at Yasukuni-jinja

This background is there to give some perspective to the controversial parts of what goes on there. Visits by politicians take on huge significance, when former Prime minister Junichiro Koizumi visited there were riots in Taiwan, China and Korea.

Inside Yasukuni-jinja is a physical list of the two and a half million people enshrined there. In 1979 too much controversy it was revealed that the names of 14 class A war criminals had been added to the shrine in the last decade and never announced publicly. The controversy is very political and stronger than ever today. Right wing politicians come here to recognize Japans dead, while the left wing visit to remember the defeat in World War 2 and self defense constitution that the country lives by today.

In total there are more than a thousand convicted war criminals enshrined. In addition to this there are Koreans, Chinese and Taiwanese whose families are not happy about their inclusion.

The war museum on the site does not help matters. It provides quite a lot of information on the occupation of Manchuria in the 30’s, but only mentions the “Nanjing Incident” once in passing. The rest of the world knows it as the Nanjing Massacre where the Japanese killed a huge number of Chinese (Japan says 100,000, China says 300,000).

The same revisionism is evident with the reasons given in the museum for the start of the Second World War. Blame is squarely put on the US and Great Britain for forcing Japan into the war by putting in place a series of sanctions that (according to the museum) forced Japan into the war it wanted no part of.

To be fair it is acknowledged in Japan that the museum presents a somewhat revised version of the first half of the 20th century; to the point that while he was Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made a statement in parliament that the history taught in the museum was at odds with that accepted by the Japanese Government. It’s a fascinating place and truthfully, somewhat disturbing.

The country has never apologized for the atrocities and the international image of Japan has suffered somewhat because of that. This museum does not even dismiss them, it chooses to ignore them.

Categories: Travel Tags: , ,

I’m in Tokyo and this is awesome!

December 18th, 2010 1 comment

Shibuya Crossing on a Saturday afternoon, it's worse at rush hour

This is one of my favorite cities anywhere. It’s certainly one of the most interesting and has people watching that’s arguably better than Las Vegas. I’ve never seen 6 women dressed as “little bo-peep the zombie years” walking along the street in Vegas; we can tick that particular one off on my list of unlikely sights after today.

A Starbucks with an incredible view is in there

I had my “Wow, I’m in Tokyo and this is awesome!” moment suddenly hit me when I was standing in Shibuya in the midst of a mass of people crossing the road (followed by “I know you don’t get the personal space in this country, but this is fucking ridiculous!”). I sat in the Starbucks (I know, terribly Seattle) that overlooks Shibuya Crossing and just watched what I’d been through be repeated every minute or so.

This city is unique, it’s got such high energy and wandering around today with some idea of where I was going and what I wanted to see before what I’ve been told will be an evening loaded with gin, billiards and threatened karaoke with some of the Japanese based staff tonight.

Personal space is for Gaijin