Tuesday 28 May 2013

A Trans-National train journey in conversations

I've either flown or driven backwards and forwards to Germany. This time, I was going to try the train

If the slideshow does not play, please view the album at https://picasaweb.google.com/107595387761034666575/ToGermanyByTrain

Waterbeach - Kings Cross = Nuts

Nuts. despite trying not to notice the screen of the laptop next to me, the word 'nuts' registered, as the smartly dressed woman tapped away on her key board. I resisted till past Royston, enjoying the sunlit scenery flashing by. At last everything was green after the overlong cold winter.

"Do you work with nuts?" was my unoriginal first enquiry.

Indeed she did, for a client food company.

Nuts are one of those foods where special care has to be taken in handling and preparation, because many people have a nut allergy. From a practical point of view, they were divided into two broad categories, groundnuts such as peanuts and tree nuts such as Brazil, hazel, walnut and almond. Each species is capable of capable of generating an allergic response in humans, though by far the most common is peanut allergy. Any company dealing with nuts therefore has to have strict protocols to ensure that there will not be any cross contamination with other foods.

All to soon we arrived at Kings Cross and parted with a friendly goodbye.

St Pancras - Brussels Midi = Immigration

My first Eurostar trip! There is a thrill in boarding a train that will take you through the Channel and across national borders with relative ease. This is one of the benefits of an open market within the EU. It is also a concern for those worried about immigration from the rest of the EU into the UK. However, I learnt about the flip side of immigration controls for non-EU persons coming to the UK from my next traveling companion.

He was a senior executive with a major international charity, working in a specific health sector. Far from the UK sitting in splendid isolation, local health is impacted by criminality and drugs from half-way across the globe. This means that, like many international businesses, the organisation needs to employ specialists from across the four continents. However, the dramatically tightened immigration restrictions and significant backlog with an under-resourced immigration authority means that it can take up to 6 months to leap the hurdles before that employee can come to work in the UK.

Reactive politics to immigration concerns is in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Brussels Midi - Cologne = clouds & rings

Uncharacteristically, we left the sunshine in the UK to arrive a rainy, grey Brussels Midi station. Exiting the Eurostar, it was over to Platform 9 for the German ICE. A red and equally streamlined Thalys train pulled in photogenically on the opposite platform.

An internal photo of the train initiated the next conversation. Two artists were returning from an exhibition in London: The International Art Fair for Contemporary objects, at the Saatchi Gallery. Bettina Dittlman and partner Michael Jank collaborate in their ongoing partnership FOREVERRINGS.

Using pure metals, whether pure gold, copper or iron, one person begins the work on the ring, passes it to the other who continues the work and then passes it back. The symbolism of giving and receiving is embedded in a true symbiotic object d'art. The rings are chunky and have the impression of only just having  naturally grown from their primal raw ore.

Michael also had a graphic/photographer interest. Our conversation wandered from a shared fascination in clouds to river courses. The path of any river is unique, being determined by the land, climate and altitudes it traverses. I was fascinated by Michael's transposition and superposition of river course patterns as graphic images in their own right.

Whilst my train journey was towards an objective, Bettina and Michael were homeward bound. Their journey was not just a physical one, but a mental transition from an intense exhibition to preparing for coming home.

Cologne to Osterath = crime writers

Arriving late at Cologne, there was a forty minute opportunity to search out an ice-cream parlour. Ice cream in Germany is of a fantastic quality and not to be missed. The first taste to the final crunch of waffle cornet was divine!

Now, I myself took a mental step: From traveling across international borders to joining a regional German commuter train in the evening rush hour. I squeezed myself into one of the last available spaces.

The lady next to me was immersed in a book. An avid reader myself, I waited till she reached the end of her chapter before asking about her read. She was reading an Icelandic crime novel (in German), which she thoroughly recommended. It was called Kälteschlaf, by Arnaldur Indridason.

Our conversation swirled through the rise of Scandinavian crime thrillers in our respective countries. Germany too has a great crime writing and TV tradition. I recently got hooked on the Eiffel mysteries by Jacques Berndorf.

Nine hours after kissing my partner goodbye at Waterbeach, UK, I alighted into my Mother's welcoming embrace in Osterath, Germany.

Yes, the journey was longer than by plane, but it seemed a more natural progression. Instead of an extended wait in sterile airport lounges and overpriced shopping malls and then being crushed into the roaring cacophony of an airplane fuselage, you can actually see the countryside passing by.

The journey to Germany was for a team building event - see article here:

Sunday 12 May 2013

The National Hyacinth Collection - A Visit in April 2013

In April’s capricious clime, travel North from Cambridge along the river Cam, to Bottisham Lock. There, from the Waterbeach bank, you catch a glimpse of gaily flowering rows and perhaps the scent of The National Hyacinth Collection.

If video does not display, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Xu1UtLPUto 

The collection has been established, maintained and grown by Alan Shipp*. His efforts are funded through bulb sales and visitors coming to wander amongst the rainbowed rows of blooms for a few short weeks when the hyacinths are in flower.

According to Homer’s Iliad (8th to 10th Century BC), hyacinths formed the couch of Hera, queen of heaven and earth. As with much of our culture and science, the love of hyacinths and their cultivation migrated to the Romans, were a key element in Arabic culture and came to renaissance Europe in the early 17th Century.  Alan’s collections includes the variety Grand Blanche Imperial, which originates from two centuries century after hyacinths were introduced into the Netherlands (see the “Hyacinth History” http://www.oldhousegardens.com/hyacinthhistory.asp).

From a genetic perspective, hyacinths exhibit a wide range of chromosome numbers, from 2n=16 through to 2n=32, with a wide range of odd numbers inbetween. With a twinkle in his eye, Alan revealed that it was possible to cross varieties with different chromosome numbers and still obtain viable seed – sometimes with an expected new number!

Hyacinth collection is a passion shared across borders and so it is, that Alan Shipps’ collection is in regular communication with collections in the Netherlands and Russia. Together they strive to find lost old varieties and discover new ones. Indeed, as we wandered through the rows arranged by variety, there was one pink sport amongst a row of blue.

My visit opened my eyes to this plant, hitherto seen as a fleeting flower in our (jungle) garden’s seasons.
For others it is a deep passion, best described by the poem found at the bottom of Alan Shipps’ list of varieties in his collection:

If, of  thy mortal goods thou art bereft
And from thy slender store
Two loaves alone to thee are left
Sell one and with the dole
Buy Hyacinths to feed the soul

(Muslihuddin Sadi, Persian poet, c1258)

*Alan K. Shipp, Holder of the National Hyacinth Collection, 
9 Rosemary Road
Cambridge, CB25 9NB

Monday 6 May 2013

Redbourn Village - a visit in May

We visited Redbourn to meet up with some family university friends not seen for more than 30 years. A balmy day, we took a walk through the village before a splendid lunch. The village common was marked out for cricket and, emphasising the game's importance, the boundary line crossed the road (where else but in England).

Walking past Redbourn's common into Church End, some of the older houses featured decorative brickwork and the former Workhouse proudly displayed the painted inscription commemorating it being rebuilt in 1790.

Whilst the account of St Alban's Workhouses (http://www.workhouses.org.uk/StAlbans/) appears to represent a constructive image of life, food and occupations in a workhouse, the reality was that they were supposed to be harsh environments (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workhouses) to ensure only the truly destitute would want to live there.

Perhaps rebuilding was a consequence of the innate nature of Redbourn residents to rebel, as exemplified in their long battles back in the 14th Century, resisting obedience and having to pay tax to two successive Abbots of the priory there (http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=43297).

Redbourn inhabitants do however have a cooperative nature when it comes to their church, St Mary's. In the 16th Century they held 'A neighbourly meeting or feast in the church house' at Whitsuntide, 'where they made merry together to the maintenance and increase of love and charity amongst them, and at the same time contributed liberally their money towards the reparation of the church and buying of necessaries for the church, and such like uses.' (http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=43297). From the well tended church and grounds, efforts are obviously still in place to continue to maintain the church.

Entering Redbourn's St Mary's, which celebrated its 900yrs back in 2010, there were three different features that caught my attention.

The first was a century displayed in stained glass. The three window or lights are:

South Aisle – light dedicated to Reverend W. Seracold Wade, by his widow Isabella in 1896. This window depicts St Albans, St Mary and St Amphibalus.

The Chancel light, behind the alter, dedicated to William Seracold Wade and his wife Elizabeth, by children Mary, Alice, Margaret, Ellen, Elizabeth and Arthur Gregory Seracold. This light depicts Jesus appearing to the disciples after the resurrection. (Note that Isabella is a form of Elizabeth until recently becoming a separate name).

North Aisle – light dedicated to physician Jurin Totton, 1962. The light shows John the Baptist, Jesus and the Leper, St Luke.

The second feature was the rood screen. 

It's delicate tracery had survived the centuries from its origin in 1478, when the vicar of Redbourn left the grand sum of 20 shillings for “the work of the Holy Rood”. If you visit the church of St Mary in Redbourn yourself, there is a very informative sheet on the history of the rood, survival through the reformation and restorations through the ages.

The third feature was three coats of arms. 

The first, over the south door, was easily identified as that of King George III. Interestingly, George III had three different arms during his reign. This one is for George the III King of the United Kingdom and Elector of Hannover, used from 1801 to 1816. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_III_of_the_United_Kingdom).

The other two arms had me stumped. Mediocria Firma is the motto of the Bacon family, including Nicholas Bacon and Francis Bacon. At one point there were three Baronetcies. Until 1755, there were two, the Baronets of Redgrave and the Baronets of Mildenhall. After that, the two were combined. 

Unfortunately, I could not find out online whose arms are depicted on the two different shields. If anyone wishes to take up the challenge – a good place to start is here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacon_baronets

All too soon, it was time to return. The walk back took us through the common along the green avenue, towards a the sumptuous roast lunch awaiting us and an afternoon of catching up on our own histories.