A Travellerspoint blog

June 2010

Despair in the Spiritual Home of Football

Watching the World Cup 2010 in London. Not the celebratory experience that many English fans were hoping for.

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Exactly when the game was invented, and by whom, and even where is now lost in the mists of time. Games involving kicking or balancing a ball with your feet date back millennia. What is clear is that the modern game played today is based largely on rules created in England in the mid-19th century, including the development in 1863 of the Football Association in 1863. When the international governing body, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association was formed in Paris in 1904, it largely took the rules developed by the English Football Association as the set of rules governing the international game.

Because of this history, the English feel that they invented the game that we know today as football or soccer. In addition to that, while there could be debate about the best club team on the planet (my choice would be FC Barcelona), it is probably unarguable that the English Premier League is today the top-flight football club league in the world, with players from around the world coming to play for teams like Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspurs and Manchester United.

While many of those English Premier League teams have an international component, a good chunk of the top players are English. Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand are probably as well recognized and well regarded as the best from around the world and David Beckham is likely the best known footballer in the world. The English National team, made up of those players and more, was ranked 7th in the world back in December of 2009.

It was with much expectation that England looked forward to the World Cup this year. The World Cup is played every four years between the national football teams of countries from around the world. This year’s World Cup is being hosted by South Africa, the first time an African nation (a continent in ascendency when it comes to football) has hosted the World Cup.

When I knew I would be living in England during the World Cup, I had planned to write something about the experience. What is it like to live in a country that is vying – potentially with a decent chance – of hoisting the World Cup trophy? Folks were excited, and the St. George’s Cross – the flag of England – soon made appearances everywhere. Pubs everywhere decked themselves out in the flags of the participating countries and stocked up on extra kegs to serve those who were coming in to watch the matches.

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After the World Cup groups were drawn in December, I figured I would be writing up an entry in July. England drew an “easy” group, having to play Algeria, Slovenia and the United States. In fact, some clever clog noticed that the group itself spelt easy – England, Algeria, Slovenia and the Yanks. England was expected to easily win the group, and likely to make it to the quarter finals without much issue.

It hasn’t turned out that way.

England struggled in the group stages, drawing games against the USA and Algeria and only managing a win against Slovenia. They came second in the group behind the USA, and had to play Germany in the round of 16. Germany is a three time winner of the World Cup, but was fielding a young team thought to be short on experience.

Yesterday I settled in front of my new HD TV on the hottest day of the year with a refreshing cider to watch the England and Germany match.

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If you follow football, you know what happened next. England lost to Germany, who scored four goals to England’s one. England was robbed of a second goal, but even with that goal they still looked outplayed by the greener German side.

As an aside, the game was played on both BBC and BBC HD. I was watching on BBC HD, whose feed is a second delayed from the regular channel. Generally this delay isn’t much of an issue, but yesterday, with my windows wide open to let in the breeze and many other folks sitting in front of their TVs watching the same thing, I always had a second notification of what was going to happen. On the England goals, the cheer rose up from houses down the street and across my back garden. On the Germany goals and near English misses of the net, moans of despair.

Today, the press is grim. “Time to Go, Fabio,” the Sun tells the England coach. The Daily Mail reports on the “WAG’s Despair” at the loss, covering the wives and girlfriends reactions to the game. Even City AM, the financial newspaper known more for covering the banking crisis than the football has a front page story on the loss, claiming that a “Shamed England Hit Rock Bottom.”

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On my walk to work, I used to pass a number of houses and business places displaying the St. George’s Cross, and many cars with those little flags on stalks you put in your windows. Today, they are all gone. Interviews with English fans in the press, and they talk about giving up and never watching the national game again. There is a lot of chatter about how a bunch of high paid millionaires can get it so wrong.

So, my first experience watching a World Cup in the home of football hasn’t been one of happiness, but it probably has been typically English. Since their one and only World Cup trophy win in 1966, the English team has either underperformed or lost out on unlucky breaks. 2010’s version was much of the same. Most of English people I know take it with their usual self-depreciating manner, and with a good dose of humour.

And despite the howls of those who say they won’t watch the English national team ever again, I think they’ll be back. Brazil 2014 is only four years away.

Posted by GregW 02:35 Archived in England Tagged sports events Comments (2)

Alan Turing’s Birthplace in Maida Vale

Alan Turing, father of modern computing. Born in Maida Vale, London, 23 June 1912

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A lot of people have lived in London over the years. In fact, in the 1800s and early 1900s, London was the largest city on the planet. Of course, some of those people were bound to be famous.

To celebrate her famous citizens of yore, London puts up blue heritage plaques on houses were the famous have lived. Just the other day I was walking down a street in my new neighbourhood to find a plaque listing that the first President of Israel, Chaim Weizmann , lived for a time in my neck of the woods. Mr. Weizmann’s fellow politician and Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, lived near Paddington station in Maida Vale.

It was to Maida Vale that I was drawn recently to see a blue plaque. This one wasn’t for an Israeli politico, though. It was to see the birthplace of Alan Turing.

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Many of you probably have never heard of Alan Turing, unless you studied computer science (like me) or have an interest in World War II code breaking.

Turing was born on the 23rd of June, 1912 at 2 Warrington Crescent, Maida Vale, now the site of a rather nice looking hotel. He was a naturally gifted mathematician, and went on to study mathematics at King’s College, Cambridge. He started working for the Government Code and Cypher School, and when war broke out in 1939, Turing started working on breaking German codes at Bletchley Park, 40 miles to the north-west of London.

After the war, Turing moved to the University of Manchester, where he developed some of the most important concepts in modern computing, including work on artificial intelligence.

The end of Turing’s life was not a happy one. During a criminal investigation regarding a break-in at Turing’s house in 1952, Turing was exposed as being homosexual. Still illegal at the time, Turing was convicted of gross indecency and agreed to chemical castration to avoid jail time. Despite being hailed as a hero for his work in code breaking during the war, he lost his security clearance and was barred from further work in code breaking for the government.

A few years later Turing’s body was found in his home. He’d died of cyanide poisoning, ingested most likely from a cyanide laced apple. The death was ruled a suicide, though his family have suggested the death was accidently due to Turing’s poor storage of chemicals in his laboratory. Turing was only 42.

Turing is now widely recognised as the father of modern computing and computer science, and his work at Bletchley Park widely hailed. In September of 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an official apology to Turing for his treatment. In 2002, Turing was ranked 21st in a publicly voted list of the 100 Greatest Britons of all time.

There are a number of tributes to Turing around the UK and around the world now. The little blue plaque just a few steps from Warwick Street tube station isn’t much as compared to the buildings named after Turing at universities across the globe, but it is a reminder of another great person that grew up in one of the biggest cities in the world.

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Next up, I'll have to see if I can find the house of Charles Babbage.

Posted by GregW 18:00 Archived in England Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Feeling Incomplete After Completion

Sitting back to rest after a job well done just makes me think where I should be going next...

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The last two weeks have been madness for me, and Friday was the first evening when I could finally wind down. The week previous I had been juggling working 12 hours a day on a document that I needed to get done by Friday while also trying to get myself completely packed for a move on Sunday. Saturday and Sunday were spent packing, moving and cleaning. I lugged boxes down 3 flights of stairs at my old flat, and up a flight and a half of stairs at my new flat. Monday, I woke up aching at four in the morning for my quick-hit business trip to Switzerland, and really didn’t let up with work until Wednesday evening. Thursday and Friday during the day I worked, and Thursday night I spent my time unpacking and trying to get all the companies I have accounts with to update their address records for me.

Finally Friday at 6 PM I arrived home with a blank in my calendar. I sat down on my couch, cracked open a can of lager and turned on the World Cup. After two weeks of working late every night while trying to balance a house move at the same time, I should have been ecstatic to be able to sit back, relax and do nothing.

I wasn’t though. I felt all off-kilter.

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I knew the feeling. I had felt it before. I call it the post-project blues.

Despite my calling the feeling the “blues,” it’s not so much a sadness as it is a general malaise, an uneasiness, a sense of not knowing what to do next. It is a cross between an emptiness and a feeling of being lost.

I have experienced the feeling before when I have finished a large client project. Most of my work is project based, with a set of items that need to be completed by a certain time. Once those items are complete, I can move on – hopefully leaving the client with something valuable that they can carry forward.

I always feel satisfied completing a project, knowing that I delivered something under the pressure of timelines and budgets. However, at the same time I know that suddenly I am without something that was a major part of my life for months.

The feeling I’ve had the past few days is that same feeling. Since January, when I found out that I was losing my job and having to find a new place to live, I’ve had a dual set of goals to work towards – find a new job and find a new place to live. It was an intense period, from January until May. I was interviewing with multiple companies, and then spending nights pouring over real estate websites to find a place to live. It all came together within a few weeks. I found both a new job and a new place to live. I started my new job at the end of May, and am now settling in. And, as I suggested above, I moved out of my old flat and into a new flat at the start of June.

Friday night I sat back and realised that my nights were now again free to schedule what I want. No more surfing websites for 2 bedroom flats. No more pouring over Monster.co.uk and Top-Consultant.com job entries. No more packing. No more brushing up the CV. The job was sorted. I have a year long lease at a new place.

I realized I had been running a project – not for a client this time, but rather just for myself – to find a new job and a new home. Now the project was over. I had delivered what the project was set out to do. The project was a success, and I was happy with that. But I also had those post-project blues.

Each project is like a journey. You start out at the beginning setting a destination. Then you figure out a route to get there. Then you follow along your route, and if you are lucky you don’t find too many closed roads or washed out bridges. If things go well, you arrive on time. You are at your destination.

You look around, and realize that while you are happy to be at your destination, you wonder where to go next.

So now it is time for me to pick a new journey to undertake. For the sake of my bank account, I hope it isn’t finding a new job. And for the sake of my aching muscles, I hope it doesn’t involve moving any more boxes.

Posted by GregW 16:00 Archived in England Tagged business_travel Comments (0)

The Swiss Business Trip

I spent 3 days in Zurich, Switzerland. I would write something about Zurich, if I had seen any of it.

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I just returned from 3 days in Zurich, Switzerland. My first trip to Switzerland, and her largest city.

Switzerland – land of chocolate and very precise timing instruments. Beautiful, blonde hair maidens living in the mountains, milking cows and delivering the milk to strong armed, barrel-chested men to make holey Swiss cheese.

At least, that’s what I’ve picked up from TV.

In reality, I didn’t see much of Zurich at all. There were some brief glimpses of it as I rode in a taxi from my hotel by the airport to a client meeting in central Zurich. For a short stint, the taxi emerged from a tunnel under the city and for three blocks followed the course of a river running into the Zurichsee (Lake Zurich). It was sunny and 29 degrees, and I, sweating in a suit and tie, watched with envy as folks sat on the banks of the river, enjoying cool pints of beer or quickly melting ice creams.

I’ve travelled a lot for business, and generally have been in a place long enough to get out and experience something of the city I’m in. As a consultant, most of my business visits to cities consist of multiple trips over months, with lots of time to explore.

Occasionally though, I have these quick-hit business trips. Times when I fly in, spend most of my time in the hotel working before having a few meetings with a client at their facilities. This is, sadly, the reality of most business trips. You spend your time working in a hotel until 11 PM, eating room service and not seeing much more than the airport, the hotel and an office building. You are in for one or two days, and then away again.

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I recently had a 2 day trip to Paris, where other than experiencing Paris’ first (and only) gluten-free restaurant (Des Si et Des Mets - surprisingly good), I didn’t see much except hotel, office and train station.

Back when I worked in North America, I had similar experiences dotted around the continent. In fact, I have been to Dallas, Texas three times (for a total of 5 days, 3 nights), but can only tell you two things about the place. I had a really nice steak dinner one night, though I can’t remember either the name of the restaurant or where the restaurant was, and the Dallas-Fort Worth airport’s people mover is strangely both futuristic looking and retro at the same time – like what people in 1960 thought 2000 would look like.

This is the great disconnect between those that travel for business, and those that don’t. Those that don’t travel will say, “Oh, you’re off to Zurich for a couple days. How posh and glamorous. It must be nice to spend your time in hotels being pampered.”

The truth is, business travel is a grind. It is late nights, uncomfortable flights and lonely experience of being in a strange place with none of the familiarity of home. It is getting up at 4 AM to catch a taxi to Gatwick airport, and not getting back home on the return until 10 PM at night. It is lying in a strange bed, trying to find something familiar on a TV set with few English language channels at all. It is a disconcerting mix of stress and boredom.

That’s one of the reasons I try and make sure I get out and experience the places I travel to. The chance to experience something of a new place takes the sting out of the hassle of having to be away from home. Sometimes, though, time and circumstances don’t allow – as they didn’t in Zurich.

Hopefully at some point I’ll be back to Zurich and Switzerland, and I’ll get to see more of it. If not, and the stress of business travel gets to me, maybe I can just move there. Move up into the mountains, marry some beautiful blonde milk maid and spend my days separating curds from whey to make Swiss cheese.

Posted by GregW 03:38 Archived in Switzerland Tagged business_travel Comments (2)

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