On Control

The lack of control that we have over being in lockdown, and what we do while we are confined, is something which I expect is affecting many of (the wider) us.

Here in France, I think we are probably a week or so ahead of the UK and about 10 days behind Italy, in terms of lockdown. I have noticed changes in my psyche and mentality over the two weeks since M. Macron instigated his restrictions.

I like being in control of what is going on. So does Harriet. As previously stated, we have been planning this trip for more than 7 years, and in earnest for several months. We had a Cozi family calendar which showed that we knew exactly where we were going to be for almost every night until leaving Tashkent, in early May. (Ironically, we were actually meant to be where I am right now, right now. We would be leaving for Paris on Wednesday, in some parallel universe.) We were very much in control of this trip.

Until COVID-19, and Corona Virus, and Lockdown, and Social Distancing, and Border Closures, and all that. Now, we are not in control of any of this. Not just the difficulty in sourcing a replacement pair of socks, or pair of glasses, but also what the restrictions will be tomorrow, or next week, or next month. And what the restrictions will be here in France, or in Russia, or whether the train will run from Paris to Moscow (currently suspended due to Poland border closure).

The FCO is advising against all foreign travel. Entry to UK citizens is currently not permitted in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, or China, although we did have a nice message from our AirBnB host in Kyoto Japan asking whether we were going to need parking in late July.

Continuing our trip, which remains our goal, is dependent on any number of current regulations and restrictions being lifted. And we are not in control of any of that. All the discussions we start turn into a great game of “ifs”, so we have stopped having them. Mostly.

I read an excellent piece, which was shared on Facebook by a wise former colleague, by a psychologist who summarised her advice, given to 31 patients over the course of a week. I recommend it to you. There are several parts in there which we have also found to ring true, by trial and error. One which struck a particular chord was the one which stated “Find something you can control, then control the heck out of it.”

I have found myself drawn to puzzles and games which have a solution, however tricky. I started and finished an epic jigsaw of the South Rose Window of Angers Cathedral, and have reinstalled Flow Free on my phone. These things are tricky, but not impossible, and they have a solution. I have enjoyed much of the maths home schooling with the children, for much the same reason (though I’m not sure the feeling is mutual).

I have enjoyed setting up and using our home “gym”, and even going on a run or two. (Those that know me can vouch that this is not a usual situation.) I have been the laundry person (monitor?, manager?, prefect?) in our family for a good few years, and the laundry here is running like clockwork.

Because until we can start really planning what on earth we are going to do with the rest of our adventure – we are only in week 7 or 8 of a 26 week trip after all – that’s one part of what I can do to stay sane. And thank you to the Kyoto AirBnB chap, who unknowingly gave us both a lift with his question about car parking. If he thinks there is every reason that we will be in Japan in late July, why shouldn’t we?

Ben

Resilience Training 101

So here we were feeling all “ready to go” and “we’ve got this”, when we heard that our ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam has been cancelled.

The very first thing we have booked has already been cancelled. Fair enough – there is going to be the mother and father of a storm this weekend – and crossing the North Sea then would have put our consitutions, and possibly minimal packing, to the test.

The alternative we have been offered is a sailing on Wednesday evening, which doesn’t work for a number of reasons –

  • We have paid for our accommodation in Amsterdam
  • We have tickets for Keane the night we arrive
  • We have tickets for Anne Frank’s house the next day
  • Our lovely friends who are staying in our house are expecting to move in on Tuesday

So, we have accepted the challenge, and will be leaving home a day before we expected. We have booked the Eurotunnel, which is not going to be wind-affected. We will stay with Granny in Essex on Sunday night, and get to The Netherlands for Tuesday via France and Belgium on Monday.

Some sleep-overs will be cut short, a nice evening with friends will have to wait half a year, and it is a very good thing I didn’t go to the Calcutta Cup.

Ben

What about work (part 1)?

As well as “What about School?” and “What about your House?“, the other question which comes up time and again is “What about your work?”.

The answer is different for each of us, and again is a mix of planning and taking opportunities when they arise. Harriet will probably write about her situation soon, so I will concentrate on mine.

What’s going on?

I have worked for a large UK telecommunications company for over 15 years, starting back in my early 30s (not the early ’30s). I’ve worked in a number of different roles in that time, and I’ve been doing what I do now for almost 3 years. I manage a contract which builds fibre broadband infrastructure to places it wouldn’t normally get to without government assistance.

Bringing Fibre Broadband to rural places is pretty glamorous, don’t you know

It has been one of the best jobs, if not the best job, I have done. It has been successful, and inspiring to see how the impact has transformed people’s lives. I work with a great team, both within my company and the government partners working on the programme.

This will change at the end of this week, when I leave my job, and step into an unpaid unknown. Not completely unknown, of course. There has been a great deal of planning about the next six months, after all! But in terms of how I will earn money once I return, I have no concrete plans.

Why?

So why did I chose to leave such a successful and rewarding role, and a steady job, working with people I like? Here are some of the reasons:

  • This trip has been a plan since long before I worked in my current job. Admittedly it was a bucket list pipe dream for much of it, but the seeds of it were sown as we watched the London 2012 Olympics from France, having declined offers of tickets, and told ourselves they would be a bit rubbish.
  • This is the right time for the trip, not just for the Olympics, but also for the children. They are old enough to enjoy it, remember it, get lots out of it, and not miss any important exams.
  • A combination of factors at work meant this was the right time to move on. The contract I work on is coming to an end. The company is going through some restructuring which would have meant compromises for how I work. We had explored the idea of a sabbatical, but that was not at all certain, at least in time for the planning we needed to do, and the timing of the trip. And I’m the sort of person who prefers to leave a party when it is still good, so it is time for a new challenge.

I suppose the main reason is that I prioritised going on a family adventure over career development at my current employment. I really am leaving to spend more time with my family.

What next?

I’m not particularly afraid about the next steps in the world of work, but I really don’t know what sort of work it will be. I would like to think that I could get another role within another big company on my return; after all, today’s job has been successful and at least I’d get an interview or two from people asking me about Tweed to Tokyo.

In terms of career development, I am also pretty confident that Tweed to Tokyo will give several examples of business-friendly terms to discuss: planning, budgeting, logistics, international customs, people management, risk management, leadership, negotiation, all that…

But I might decide that that sort of salaryman role is not for me. Maybe I will open a sushi restaurant in the Borders, or start to make cheese, or import Japanese whisky. Maybe we will think that Kyrgyzstan, or Hungary, is the place to be and start the process of emigration.

While these are all things that I have thought about, however fleetingly, not to mention unrealistically, I expect the reality will turn out to be something different. The six months that we have will give me some headspace to think about it, and to get my head around not being in today’s job. Part of the planning has been to give both of us some adjustment time when we get back too.

I’m writing this now on the early train to Edinburgh, on my way to another train to Glasgow, for my last work trip there.

A dark Tweedbank morning, albeit with an excellent advertising panel.

Whatever is next I do feel I’m not going to miss the 05h58 from Tweedbank.

Ben

Hard choices – Not this time for Nukus

Last year I read an article telling the incredible story of the Savitsky Collection at what is now the Nukus Museum of Art.

In short, Igor Savitsky was a wealthy Muscovite Russian who over a period of years amassed a stunning collection of Russian avant-garde art during the 1950s, in particular buying and collecting works by (and from) dissident artists who had been banned by Stalin, and taking them to Nukus, in what is now Uzbekistan, far from the watching authorities in Moscow and even Tashkent.

It is exactly the sort of place I would love to visit for all sorts of reasons.

I was given 3 lovely mugs from a National Gallery of Scotland exhibition of Russian avant-garde art for my 21st birthday. It is a fantastic story, and it seems like it was just the sort of place we should visit, if we are close. And why wouldn’t we do it as part of the adventure?

But here’s the thing. When Igor Savitsky took all that art far away from prying eyes, he did an extremely good job…

It turns out it is really difficult to get to Nukus and it really is a long way from anywhere else we are planning to visit. We want to stick by our no-flights-except-home rule, and this means trains.

There are 2 trains a week from Tashkent, and they take between 18 and 22 hours, depending on the route, which is fair enough when you realise that Nukus is over 1100km from Tashkent (about the same as Paris to Vienna). The days they go are not particularly convenient, and there is no child-bribing water-park, or even anything else at all, worth going to see in the surrounding area.

We could go, but it would mean missing out on some of the great Silk Road cities – Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand – as our arrival into and departure from Tashkent are fixed. That’s a lot to sacrifice for a few hours in the company of an amazing art collection and many more hours on long trains.

So it was with regret that we ejected (nuked?) Nukus from our itinerary last night.

This is not an exhibit from the Savitsky Collection.

You can check out some of the paintings here.

Maybe we will have to plan another trip there next year…

Ben

Getting Very Real Now

Over the last six weeks or so, we have taken huge steps towards making what was a pipe dream into a reality. Among other things, our first 100 days or so are almost entirely booked, we have tickets for various exhibitions and concerts, and we have shiny Chinese visas in our passports.

I am very excited.

In the words of Primal Scream, just what is it that I want to do? We want to be free to do what we want to so, we’re going to have a good time, and we’re going to have a party.

I also know that my expectations about the trip, the children on the trip, and me on the trip, are wildly optimistic. I will not get fit in 10 minutes. There will be times we will be lost, tired, bored, resentful, angry, disappointed and bicker with each other. We will miss opportunities. We will waste time and money. I will not become a perfect parent who never screams “STOP SHOUTING AT YOUR SISTER!”… Well, not immediately anyway.

We have also been writing lots of lists including kit, things to sort before we go, places to visit when we are on the road, and a long list of “things which are free and cheap, for the days when our weekly budget is gone by Tuesday morning.” Any hints and tips gratefully received.

Lots of the things on the to do lists are now ticked, which is exciting, but we do seem to add to them almost as quickly. We’re using various shared apps, in particular Cozi and Workflowy, though probably not getting the most out of either. We have a big paper file too with all sort of sections, now bursting at the seems.

Our goal is to do at least one thing every day for the trip, though often this ends up being more than one thing. My task for the day is to ring the Mongolian embassy in Paris (obvs),and Harriet has also rung our home insurance people already. We also got the children to download Cozi, GoogleTranslate and What3words, which will help with our Security Protocol, which is a grown up way of saying “what to do if our children get lost while trying not to look like that Picasso painting”.

Weeping Woman 1937

We’ve come a long way from the pipe dream. There’s a long way to go yet.

Ben