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:

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