Monthly Archives: January 2011

To Germany and England

I flew to Frankfurt on Sunday, January 16. I like it when pilots give a little technical information about flight. The jaded probably didn’t care, but I found it pretty cool that he saw the ground five seconds before touchdown that foggy Monday morning. Headed to the Admirals Club for a German hard roll and some strong coffee, then the T-Geek spent an hour hanging out in the airport railway station. At 9:43, I hopped on the speedy ICE train to my first destination, Cologne, and in no time we were easily passing the Porsches on the adjacent autobahn. How I love that sight! Got off at Cologne’s main station, in the shadow of the huge cathedral, the Dom, which is Germany’s most-visited sight. I walked downstairs, bought a day ticket on the KVB, the local public-transit system, and hopped on Line 16, riding 20 minutes south to Rodenkirchen, a pleasant residential neighborhood on the Rhine (when my hosts sent the hotel confirmation, I suspected that hotels closer to the center were full, and sure enough, I saw signs for a big furniture fair that started four days hence).

A kind demeanor, a little German, and a smile got Herr Moser to give me a clean room three hours earlier than first advised. I showered, changed, and walked down to the lobby. Ludger Wieder delivered a comfy Raleigh city bike from his yellow truck, a bike shop on wheels. His business, curiously named Yellow Cab, does mobile bike repairs and rents them. We chatted a little about his business – highly innovative by German standards – I handed him €10, and off I went, without any paperwork, legal release, nothing. That alone made me smile, but mostly it was the freedom that the bicycle brings, and has for more than half a century (more on that in a few paragraphs).

I headed toward to Rhine, which was in high water (it had flooded less than 50 miles upstream), and parts of the riverside bikeway were closed. First cool sight was wonderful redevelopment of a former warehouse and industrial district just south of the center, mixed office, residential and retail, and both new construction and renovation of some splendid old buildings. It’s always nice to see cities regain the amenity that a river provides (and keep in mind that the Rhine is still very much a transport artery, but the port functions no longer need to be in the center). I locked the bike on the side of the Dom and gazed up. We are made small when we do that – and that was the builders’ point.

Melting snow and a lot of rain put the Rhine at flood stage; my rental bike is parked on the normal bike path!

Bought a sandwich, potato salad, and yogurt and ate on the steps of the cathedral. I crossed the combined train, pedestrian, and cycling bridge to the east bank, smiling at the sight of thousands of padlocks fixed to the railing; Wikipedia says the tradition began in China, but it’s in full swing on the Hohenzollern Bridge.

Bayenturm

Splendid renovation on the Rhine, south of downtown Cologne

I rode north, past the huge Messe, the fair and congress facility, past a small squatter’s quarter, then back along the east bank. Crossed back to the western shore, admiring the Bayenturm, the easternmost city gate, built 1180, and the “Cologne Oval Offices,” some splendid new offices sheathed in colorful red and green panels. It was a good ride, 18 miles.

A standout, Cologne Cathedral north facade

Took a much-needed nap, worked my e-mail, and took the tram back into town. First stop was Gilden in Zims, a pub in existence since at least the 12th Century. On entering, I noticed a huge black-and-white photo of Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967), which led to a nice T-t-S with a friendly waiter, who seemed a little surprised that the American knew who he was. He took me back to a private room with frescoes depicting Adenauer’s life – he was mayor of Cologne before World War II, and, more importantly, Germany’s first postwar chancellor and an inspiration to the German people, devastated by the war.

The Adenauer photo was just one piece of the pub theme, “ the Home of Cologne Heroes.”

A glass of Kölsch at Gilden in Zims; in the background, the large photo of Adenauer.

In the menu, interspersed with descriptions of food and drink were short portraits of a few dozen, from Adenauer to Hans Sion, first brewer to receive Allied permission to begin brewing Kölsch (the local blonde beer) after WW2, to Robert Müller, goalie for the local Sharks ice hockey team, who fought brain cancer but died in 2009 at age 28. By tradition, Kölsch is only served in 0.2l (6.7 ounce) glasses, and to carry on the theme the glasses were inscribed with the heroes’ names birth and death years, and a short statement. My third (hey, they’re small) featured Adenauer.

Next stop was another Kölsch brewpub, Päffgen, which I enjoyed in 2009, but they we having a noisy charity event, so I headed around the corner for dinner at Gaffelhaus. Filled with the German soul food grunkohl, I slept hard that first night.

I felt like a local the next morning, walking after breakfast to the tram station along with other commuters and heading into the city. I was excited, for it was my debut at the University of Cologne. I had a nice chat with Patrizia, a secretary who made the arrangements for the visit, then met Werner Reinartz, who I first met seven years earlier when he was teaching at the French B-school INSEAD. Werner earned his Ph.D. from the University of Houston, so he knows the U.S. and Texas well (he has a framed Texas flag in his office). At ten it was time to stand and deliver to a huge undergraduate class, almost 250. It was fun. We lunched with some doctoral students at the local Mensa (university cafeteria). On the way back, along a green belt that runs through the uni, I heard curious bird tweets, and looked up to see green parrots; somehow a colony arrived on campus years earlier, and manage to survive the cold German winter.

Previously, I've posted views from my temporary offices at schools; this was the vista from the University of Cologne.

Werner set me up in a conference room and I worked the afternoon. From five to eight I spent time with Master’s students in a presentation on thesis writing; the original plan was for me to say a few words to the group, but it ended up just doing one on one. I spent most of the time with Bryan, an affable German-American (U.S. Army dad, German mom, divorced early, and stayed in Germany); Bryan had a ton of international experience. He was learning Mandarin at Uni, and had already lived and worked in China. I also yakked with Lara, a doctoral student from Hamburg, and a few others.

Bryan walked me back to the tram stop, changed clothes at the hotel, and headed back to the city. It was late, at least by my standards. I waffled a bit, and at one point even started walking to the center of Rodenkirchen. “Get hold of yourself,” I thought, and headed to the old quarter, the Altstadt. I headed straight back to Päffgen, and had a Kölsch in my hand by 9:00. Life was good. Sat at a small table on a bar stool, tucked into a local dish called Himmel un Ärd (“Heaven and Earth”), pieces of blood sausage (blutwurst) on a massive pile of fried onions, mashed potatoes, and apple compote. I first tried it in 2009, and it is seriously good, though not for the squeamish (to compensate, I had a vegetable curry for lunch!).

Wednesday was a day off (well, to be fair, lots are days off). I headed back to the Hauptbahnhof, and got on the 9:43 train to Hagen, where I changed to a local service north and east in the narrow Lenne Valley. The day alternated between deep gloom and brief patches of bright. I was bound for Altena, making a sort of pilgrimage, for it was in Altena that a schoolteacher named Richard Schirrmann founded the worldwide youth hostelling movement. On the short train ride to Altena, I smiled and thought about how hostelling had changed my life for the better, beginning in the summer of 1964 at age 12: trips we enjoyed as teenagers; experiences with youngsters from New Zealand to South Africa to Denmark in my 20s; and nine years of service on the American Youth Hostels board in the 1990s.

Altena Castle

Hostelling has been a small but potent force for good in the world. Schirrmann founded the movement in 1910, and five years later took part in the famous “Christmas Truce” in Belgium, when German and Allied forces put down their arms for several hours and exchanged greetings, food, and wishes (depicted in a wonderful film called Joyeaux Noel). War as usual returned quickly enough, but Herr Schirrmann thought hard about what happened, and wondered if “thoughtful young people of all countries could be provided with suitable meeting places where they could get to know each other.” A nice idea. Thanks, Richard!

It was raining lightly when I alighted in Altena, walked across the Lenne, and into the long and skinny town. First stop was a statue of Schirrmann. I asked a man for for directions to the statue; “200 or 300 meters, on the left” turned out to be about 600 meters and on the right, but there he was, a 1983 incarnation in stone or cement, arm uplifted and pointing toward the ideal of a more peaceful world. Next stop was up the hill to the castle, which housed the first hostel. The schlepp up, with a loaded suitcase and heavy daypack, was fine. I snapped a couple of pictures, and admired the replacement hostel in a small but lovely house just downhill from the castle. It was raining harder, so I opted for steps down the steep slope – quicker, but hard on my creaky knees. Stopped for a cheese sandwich and apple juice at a local bakery, then back on the train to Hagen, then to Dortmund and north to my tenth visit to the university town of Münster.

I walked to the hotel, about a kilometer, and the last half was in some seriously nasty weather, frozen rain, then sleet. Grabbed a quick nap and at 5:30 walked over to the university’s Marketing Centrum to meet my friend and longtime host Manfred Krafft. He had invited me to a small reception to celebrate Stephen’s Ph.D. I shook his hand, toasted him with a Beck’s and listened as he happily related details of his new job, starting in two weeks, with Porsche AG in Stuttgart, in their online and direct marketing department. He was clearly a fellow of some talent, for he also catered the light meal, scrumptious Italian- roasted vegetables. I took leave, ambled back to the hotel to change (again), then across town to the bierstube of the Pinkus Mueller brewery. To enjoy a glass of Jubilate amber and a plate of salted herring with onions and roasted potatoes. Yum!

The Thursday presentation was in the evening – another day off! I ambled around, a place now quite familiar. First stop was the tourist office, to ask if any of the towers of the city’s many large churches were open – I love the top-down perspective. The kind young lady said no, but directed me to the cafeteria on the 11th floor of the nearby municipal offices, and the view was indeed splendid. Her office was in the historic town hall, where the peace treaty was signed in 1648 to end the Hundred Year’s War. On the wall I found a marker noting more recent peace. Translated and summarized, it read: when the Frauenkirch in Dresden (destroyed 1945) was rebuilt a decade ago, builders installed a sandstone block from a Münster monastery that was also destroyed in World War II. One doesn’t have to look far to see reminders of the devastation of the last century. I was reminded of William Faulkner’s wonderful words: “The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.”

Münster is a prosperous place, evident in lots of fancy shops in these wonderful gabled houses on the Prinzipalmarkt

Not all retail is in the old houses; Münster now has a posh mall in the center.

Mid-morning, I had a brief T-t-S moment with father-son stone sculptors, who ere wheeling a massive carved owl into a gallery. “Don’t drop the bird,” I said to start the conversation, and we had a nice, short yak. At noon, I wheeled out of the hotel on one of their splendid Hollander bikes in the Dutch style, built for comfy, short-distance commuting. It weighed a ton, and the saddle was very wide, so I opted to go with the flow and pedal at a relaxed pace, to Telgte, a historic small town about seven miles east.

About four miles out, I saw a sign in English for the Commonwealth War Cemetery, and signs in German for a municipal cemetery. So I turned off the main road and cycled a mile or so. On a German map of the city burial ground was reference to the Englischer Friedhof, and I found it, the Munster Heath Cemetery.

Headstone, Munster Heath Cemetery

An interpretive sign noted that most members of Commonwealth forces who died in Germany are buried in cemeteries like this, and in front of me were 589 headstones, 580 British, 5 Canadian, 3 New Zealanders, and a Belgian. By chance I found the graves of the five Canadians, all from the RCAF, and with the same date of death in November 1945. I gave thanks for the service of Flight Lt. D.F. Caldwell, Pilot; Flight Lt. N.D. Roche, Wireless Operator; Flight Lt. E.P. Harling, Pilot; Squadron Leader A.E. Webster, Navigator; and Sgt. E.E. Phillips, Flight Engineer.

I rode into Telgte, snapped a few photos, and headed home. Back at the hotel, after a sandwich, chocolate milk, and a short nap, I did some Googling. The five RCAF crew lost were on a B-29 “Flying Fortress” that crashed near Münster enroute to deliver penicillin in Poland. These flights were the first instance of Canadian air delivery of humanitarian aid, a service that has a long and noble history from a nation known for compassion. So the five brave lads for whom I gave thanks were just trying to help sweep up after the ravages of war.

Chapel, Telgte

From seven to nine, I held forth at a small seminar with members of the Marketing Department’s “Circle of Excellence,” an undergraduate honors program. It was in an odd location, the back of a modern cocktail bar, dark. I would have preferred more light, but a classroom can be anywhere. I delivered my ten pieces of advice talk, then – after a period of shyness – answered a range of good questions about career, work-life balance, even about the books I had read (in response to an earlier point I made about the importance of reading). It was after nine when I changed out of my suit and headed to dinner. The first choice, a cozy place near the hotel, still allowed smoking (I think illegally). Second choice, across town, stopped serving warm meals at 9:30. Choice three was the winner, the Köpi-Stuben, where several doctoral students and I had dined in 2004. On that trip, I had a splendid plate of roast hare, and I was delighted to see that Bugs Bunny was still on the menu. It was again delightful, in a hearty gravy, with boiled potatoes and red cabbage. Vacuumed it up, walked briskly home, and was asleep at 10:30.

Friday morning it was again time to stand and deliver, and I spent the morning with 22 students in a weeklong executive education program on direct marketing and customer management. I had presented in this course in 2009. Even though it was the last day, the class was attentive and engaged. They came from a range of German businesses, mainly large firms like BASF and 3M, but some smaller enterprises too. After lunch with four of them and goodbyes to the group, I took leave, changed, and headed back out on the trusty Hollander bicycle. It was spitting a bit of snow, but I reckoned I could pedal 15 miles or so. I headed around town, then headed west to a suburb called Roxel, then back to Münster. Along the way, I saw a compound enclosed with high walls topped with razor wire. A prison? Nope, the 1st Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own). Had a nice exchange with the two guards, both lads actually from Yorkshire, with six and eight years of service in the Royal Army. My greeting “So the Cold War is still on?” confused them, but it was surprise to see them there, in what had been the British sector of West Germany from 1945.

At five on Friday I headed out for a beer and an early dinner. First stop was Stuhlmacher, next to the town hall, a place I had spotted on my first visit and that was on my list. It was agreeable. Sat down and ordered, auf Deutsch, “my beer,” a local brew called Pott’s (just like what granddaughter Dylan calls me, but with two Ts). The waitress did not understand me. I repeated “Pott’s,” she smiled, and trundled off. On my table was a single red tulip, but spring seemed a long way off. Next stop was the superb Gasthaus Altes Leve, established 1607. The place is normally packed on weekends, but my early arrival got me a choice table. Ordered another Pott’s and a plate of grunkohl, my second of the week, but this was immeasurably tastier than what was served in Cologne (locals explained that the dish was never traditional “that far south”). Topping the mound of green was a 18-inch mettwurst (smoked sausage), onto which I slathered some very sharp mustard. Paradise!

Asleep at 8:20. Yep. Up at 4:20, out the door with a “lunch packet” from the hotel, across to the railway station and the D50 bus (actually a taxi van that early) to FMO, the airport that serves Münster and nearby Osnabrück. I had a momentary freakout in the van when I worried that I didn’t tuck my iPhone into my backpack. Oh no, oh no. Started contemplating failure-recovery actions, none of which would be easy or inexpensive. Aieeeeeeee. Remembering that the taxi “trunk” was right behind my row of seats, I reached pack and could feel the phone through the nylon. Whoopee! And a reminder about always checking a room before leaving.

I had never used FMO before. Air Berlin offered a nonstop to London Stansted, and I hopped on a Q400 turboprop west. Superbly convenient – the old alternative was the train to Düsseldorf and a flight to Heathrow. Arrived early, zipped through the airport, and onto the 8:00 Stansted Express into London, then the Tube across to Paddington Station, where I paused to take and e-mail to Dylan a photo of Paddington Bear (well, a brass statue) and me.

Hopped on the First Great Western train west through Oxford and the edge of the Cotswolds, along the River Avon, and north to Worcester, where John Crabtree, friend for 30 years, met me at the station. It was grand to see him. We motored east several miles to Crowle, the village where he has lived since the mid-1990s. Greeting me were wife Diana, and his three youngest kids, James, 12, Robbie, 10, and Jessica, 5. Happily, even Jessica remembered me, and there were hugs all around. It was so great to be with them. So great.

We had some lunch, then the adults chatted and we messed around with the kids for a couple o hours, including a spirited war with Nerf guns (enough for everyone to be a combatant). At four, Jamie, John, and I jumped into the car and zoomed up the motorway 40 miles to Birmingham. I was pumped, pumped, because we were heading to my first Premier League football match, the local Aston Villa club vs. Manchester City (booooo!).

In the stands and cheering loud for the hometown team!

Villa were at the bottom of the standings, and Man City up there, so expectations were adjusted. The grounds were noisy – singing, chanting, hollering (including some F-bombs and other obscenities) but I really expected a wilder scene. In fact, I didn’t see a single drunk. John explained that “they’ve cleaned things up a great deal.”

The match began at 5:30, and Villa scored a brilliant goal eight minutes into the match. The crowd went wild. Men hugging. Whoopee. Villa managed to hold the invaders across the rest of the game. We looked nervously at the clock as it wound up toward 90:00, and 3 tacked on, but when the ref blew the whistle we went nuts. The season-ticket holders around John shook my hand, and a two urged me to come back, for the good luck that I brought. It was a blast. A bit of traffic snarl getting out of the school parking lot, but we were home by 8:30 for a quick supper. Saturday night was for sleeping, and I got the best snooze of the trip, nine hours. Awesome!

Robert Crabtree, working his math


Jessica Crabtree, all smiles for the camera


James Crabtree, watching football highlights on the TV

Sunday morning we paddled around, drank tea, ate cereal. I kissed Diana and the kids goodbye, and John took me to the station, detouring to admire Worcester Cathedral (we could not go in during services, but it’s the burial place of King John, signer of the Magna Carta). We ambled around the nearby grounds, including Jamie’s school, down to the banks of the River Severn, then back to the station for a chat and a hug. Climbed on the 11:39 train to London, glad to have come out to see them, and happy for a long friendship with truly fine people.

Worcester Cathedral, where King John is buried

Arrived Paddington a bit late, Tube across to King’s Cross Station, 10-minute yak with pal Scott Sage, up to Cambridge on the fast train, bus to the center, and by 4:20 was in the Senior Guest Room at Sidney Sussex College, founded 1596. Staying there and not in a hotel is one of the reasons why Cambridge is my favorite place to teach. It was my ninth visit, and every time I’ve been in college, which means I’m something of a known quantity at Sidney (as they call it). The room was really a suite, very comfy. And a bathtub without shower, another old-school element!

Took a nap, donned suit and tie, and headed to Evensong in the magnificent college chapel. I’ve built something of a tradition over the last several visits in arriving Sunday so I can attend evening worship, hear the celestial choir and an inevitably powerful and clear sermon from the Dean, Rev. Peter Waddell. After services, we repaired to the Master’s Lodge for a sherry, then process to dinner at high table, begun with a two-word grace, Benedictus benedicat (“May the blessed one give a blessing.”).

The 2011 group was smaller than in previous years, and the conversations flowed easily. Centering things was the college Master, Andrew Hadrill-Wallace, an archaeologist. Rev. Peter and the music director, David Skinner, were there, as were two Sidney fellows, Paul, an electronics engineer who I had met previously, and Michael Ramage, lecturer in architecture. Paul brought a friend, Greg, who works for a large UK electronics firm that was founded by Cambridge grads and based outside the city. The rest of us were Yanks: Michael’s wife Abby, an expert in child-development issues in the Third World; Katie Abbott, an art historian on a year’s sabbatical from Middlebury College in Vermont; and her husband Steve, a math prof also over from Middlebury. We had a great time at dinner, and as tradition demands, repaired to an adjacent room for port or claret, fruit, and cheese. On the way in, Andrew the master pointed out a pastel of Oliver Cromwell, who studied at Sidney prior to the English Civil War, and relayed a snippet of a conversation about Prince Charles coming to visit – the master offered to cover up the portrait, but Charles said, compactly, “All that is forgotten”!

Up early Monday morning, time to stand and deliver. I walked across town, stopping for daily prayer at St. Botolph’s (1320), then to Judge Business School, where I set up my “corner office” in the second-floor break room, a hub for students. Delivered the first of three MBA lectures in late morning. My host and mate, Omar Merlo (who is also my autumn host at Imperial College London and in his native Lugano) then took me to lunch at Pembroke, a much larger college a couple of blocks north. We sat not at high table, but with students, buzzing and laughing and poking at their smartphones. It was fun. Back to school to work a bit, then a lecture from four to six.

Above my desk at Judge


Walked back to Sidney, changed clothes, jumped on a conference call with a client in the U.S., then ambled – again by formula – to the Eagle pub for a pint and to read The New York Times on my iPhone. Regular readers know that the Eagle welcomed Isaac Newton (did he drop a flagon of ale?), A. A. Milne (creator of Pooh), and more recently Watson and Crick, who discovered DNA. It was also a popular hangout for members of Allied air forces 1940-45, who were based nearby. Grabbed a quick dinner of Chinese noodles at Do Jo, and was asleep early.

After the full-English (heart-attack) breakfast at Sidney Tuesday morning, I ambled over to school for the third lecture before lunch. Spent a couple of hours chatting with students in the break room, had a long talk with Linda, and at 3:30 met the Michael the architecture prof from Sunday dinner. I had e-mailed him, asking if he’d have time to show me his work, and he kindly agreed. I’ve loved the built environment since my days as an urban and economic geographer, and I was intrigued about his stuff after reading his bio on the Sidney website.

The joy of being in the academy is to meet people with new ideas, and few places rival Cambridge for that. Michael had studied at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota (across town from St. Olaf, where my Linda and his Katie graduated), and got his Master’s at MIT. Michael opened his Mac and began to explain a favored technique, vaulted roofs built with more sustainable materials – like tiles that are 90% earth, 5% sand, and 5% cement, placed in a press, compressed with a manual lever, and set aside to dry for two weeks. His favored precedents were Catalan and Spanish vaulting techniques (some of the practitioners had links to the great Gaudí).

Back then, load and other structural specifications were calculated manually, and it took a lot of patience. Today, Michael uses a computer program; he said, “If we think hard enough, we can figure out where to put the stuff,” later adding “it’s only geometry.” The precision of today allows him to build vaults that support heavy load yet are proportionally the thickness of an eggshell – low environmental impact and aesthetics. The first project he showed was an interpretive center for a South African national park, truly remarkable. Building in poor countries, he needs to make the structure aspirational – few cultures think houses built of earth have any status. But locals would admire and adopt a style sponsored by their government, or possibly a well-to-do local.

He showed three other projects in his portfolio, a temporary structure Prince Charles requested in his garden (the Prince has strong interests in both architecture and conservation, so Michael was a great choice); a temporary structure at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, which had to meet earthquake building codes; and a very fancy house in Kent, southeast of London. Michael was among the most fascinating people I had met in months. I especially liked his smile, and the twinkle in his eye, which bespoke his zeal.

Headed back to Sidney, changed, back to the Eagle for a quick beer, then to another Cambridge tradition, dinner at the seafood restaurant Loch Fyne with a group of MBA students and Omar.

Joining us that night we were lucky to have an Italo-Canadian, who had worked for Bombardier Aerospace (a client of mine), and was doing volunteer work in Congo prior to studies at Judge); three Bulgarians, including Kal, who when working at Ernst & Young interviewed our former neighbor Tim Griffy (small world); a Malaysian, Portuguese, French, Swede, Japanese, Nigerian, English (only one!), Chinese-American, and African-American. I was at the bend in the L-shaped table, and pivoted my chair back and forth. It was sensational.

At Wednesday breakfast, I had a brief chat with Veronica Campbell, who I met at breakfast the year before. She’s a voice teacher who comes to Sidney once a week, and works two days a week with the boy’s choir at St. Paul’s Cathedral. More amazing talent. I walked through mist to the train station, and hopped on the 9:32 to London, then the Tube to Euston Station, and onto the 11:20 Virgin Trains express to Manchester. A really good T-t-S moment seemed overdue when Krishan took the seat opposite me at 11:18 and commented on the close call. That launched an almost two-hour chat. He grew up in Leeds, son of Gujaratis from there and Uganda (that side of the family left when the madman Idi Amin made things impossible for Asian people in the early 1970s). Krishan graduated from the University of Manchester a few years ago, and is now a pricing analyst for CEX, an innovative buyer/seller of secondhand goods (think eBay but with actual stores).

We covered a range of topics, including the benefits of travel (he had spent six weeks in the U.S. after graduation); marriage (it was coming in July) and what makes for successful marriage; racism as a mercifully declining disease in most of the world; immigration possibilities; sport (he was an Arsenal soccer fan); and more. Just a delightful way to spend a train ride.

Krishan, my seatmate on the ride to Manchester

We arrived Manchester a bit late. It was a 10-minute walk to Back Turner Street and the office of Sam Moore, a graphic designer friend. His Yorkshire accent was wonderful. We had a good and quick meeting. I peeled out about 3:15, wheeling my bag briskly down High Street to the brand-new Ibis Hotel (spartan but very cheap, £39 = $62). Dropped my stuff and was out the door in the waning light.

Manchester is full of solid commercial buildings like this one; it is a delightful cityscape.


Detail, commercial building; the emphasis was on solidity, permanence

I was moving fast, because I was on a mission. On my last visit to Manchester in March 2008 I agreed to take some photos of the home of the Landings, the maternal grandparents of my dear friend Mac Noden. The problem back then was that he got the address wrong. This time we had it right, 140 Moseley Road, Fallowfield, and I was determined to get some crisp snaps before there was no more light at almost 54º N latitude. Check and done! The place was for rent, and the next day I e-mailed Mac both the photos and the contact for the letting agent.

140 Moseley Road, Fallowfield

Readers may recall Mac’s message to me about the old row house, and I repeat it here:

For more than 50 years, it was the home of my maternal grandparents, and it was from its roof in 1942 that my Grandma shot at a low flying Luftwaffe bomber with a flare pistol that belonged to my Grandfather. She and my Grandfather had 22 (live births) children, only eleven of whom lived past early childhood. Mumps, measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, etc., took the rest. My mother was the oldest, followed by eight sons, all of who became RAF pilots, and two daughters, the youngest of which, my Aunt Doris, is still alive and kicking.

Of the eight boys, each was KIA, except for one (Danny), who remains MIA, (presumed dead), and for whom my Grandmother hopefully but vainly waited for his homecoming to the end of her life, when she was 101. She was a tough Victorian lady of the old school, but I was the oldest grandson and she loved me beyond all telling.

As I did in 2009, I paused to see if I could hear faint echoes: the drone of the Luftwaffe bomber, the sharp report of the pistol; the wailing of bereaved parents. I could not. What I could hear were my spoken prayers of thanksgiving for what those brave men did for Britain and for us.

A day after I e-mailed Mac my report and pictures, he sent a note to his kin about my visit, and a link to a “virtual tour” that the letting agent had posted. He also included a wonderful memory:

It is also from the second floor of the back of this house, over the kitchen, that one night in 1943, during a very close air raid that shook the whole neighbourhood, my mother in fear of being “bombed out,” took me to the window, and taking me by the wrists dropped me out of the window on to a pile of barbed wire that was coiled up in the alley outside the kitchen window. More than six decades later I still bear the faint marks on my legs from that encounter.

I was fixin’ to get back on the #42 bus into central Manchester when I spotted the Friendship Inn across Wilmslow Road, close enough to Moseley Road to have been the grandparents’ favorite pub. It was 5:01, so I was complying with my longstanding personal rule of no drinking before 5, and it looked inviting – warm, free wi-fi, and a mark of approval from CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, a organization I’ve supported from a distance since my second trip to Britain in 1977. I settled in for a couple of hours, enjoying a couple of pints of Hyde’s ale, from “the Manchester brewer.”

The pub was warm and comfy and it was nice to surf the Internet. I read a couple of articles in The New York Times that I skipped earlier in the day, then over to Canada’s Globe and Mail for “Lives Lived,” their reader-written obituaries that for me have been for many years a wonderful window on Canadian life. I tell my students (as I did the night before at dinner in Cambridge) that curiosity is a cardinal virtue. So of course I was delighted to read in the Globe how the late
Ken Morrison (1923-2010) of Thunder Bay, Ontario, saw it:

While director of extension at Lakehead University, Ken believed the primary requirement to be a successful student was an inquiring mind. He’d ask mature applicants from outlying communities who didn’t quite meet the qualifications, “Do you have a library card?” If the student answered, “Yes,” Ken would reply, “You’re in.”

The original dinner plan was to head north on Wilmslow to what locals call the Chili Mile, a huge collection of South Asian restaurants, but with the knowledge of the internet at my fingertips, I Googled “best curry in Manchester” and found Moon Restaurant listed in The Guardian’s top-ten Indian restaurants in the entire United Kingdom. Coincidentally, it was less than a half-mile from the pub. How cool was that?

In no time I was in (on?) the Moon, a small but stylish place. The nondescript menu belied the awesome food. Starter was a big chunk of chicken tandoori, moist and wonderful. Then a vegetable karahi from the Punjab. It was a lot of food, but so yummy. Walking to the bus stop, I chatted with a couple of Mancunians (as the locals are known) and was reminded that people are friendlier in mid-size and smaller cities.

Up Thursday morning, short walk to the train to Manchester airport, where I was happy to see the Silver Bird that carried me to Chicago. We were 55 minutes late when we parked at the remotest gate in Terminal 5. I dashed across that building, through immigration and customs, onto the train to Terminal 3, through a long security line (thanks to the seven or eight folks who allowed me to skip to the front), into the TSA’s new body-parts scanner, then a long run down the concourse to Gate H10 and onto flight 2333. Total elapsed time, 26 minutes. Rather proud of that performance, but could have done without it!

It was a great trip, but it seemed like I was away for ages – which was precisely what MacKenzie signaled when I opened the garage door at 6:25.

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2011, Trip 1: Tots and Turbines

A GE90 jet engine, the world's most powerful

On Tuesday, January 11, after being on the ground for a month, I took wing, flying up to Washington to help Robin. She had been ill, and with two small kids, another set of hands was welcome. Landed at Dulles and in no time was playing with Dylan and Carson in their toy-jammed living room. They had visited for a week after Christmas, but both tots were ill, and the visit was, well, hard. This time was more fun, and it felt great to be of service. Tuesday afternoon saw Dee and me at a neighborhood park for a long time. She couldn’t get enough of the swings – “push again, Pots,” was her constant refrain.

Wednesday morning we drove to the Steven Udvar-Hazy Center, the branch of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum adjacent to Dulles (and 10 minutes from home). Dylan loves the planes, and of course her grandfather does, too. Every time we visit, I marvel at the technological advances in powered flight that got us from the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk in 1903 to the Space Shuttle in 1981, and the SR71 Blackbird that made its last flight from L.A. to Dulles in under two hours (those two machines are 100 feet from each other). Dylan loved the little planes (“Awwww, babies, so cuuuute”). She is getting observant: pointing up at the spoked wheels on the landing gear of the cropduster that was the origin of Delta Airlines (in Monroe, Louisiana), she said “bike wheels.” A few minutes later, she spotted an exhibit showing just the massive main landing gear of an Airbus A330, and said, “Broken. Pots, it’s broken.” I explained that the gear would fit beneath a wing, “like on the yellow and brown airliner over there (pointing to the original 707, my fave). She had the last word: “they have to fix it!”

The first FedEx jet, a Falcon 20; it's hard to remember that this logistics giant started small; when I first learned about their concept in 1972, I predicted failure (I am smarter today!).

After ballet class the next morning and a quick lunch, Robin drove me to the Wiehle Road Park and Ride. I kissed those three girls, waved as they drove away, and hopped on the Fairfax Connector bus, then the Metro to Washington National Airport, and a flight to Chicago. American does not fly to Cincinnati, so the backtrack was necessary. A totally extroverted young woman from L.A. took the seat next to me for the short flight to Cincy, the kind of person who volunteers everything, but it was fun to hear her enthusiasm and her plans. She was probably lucky she landed the chair next to me and not some jaded or grumpy soul.

Picked up a Hertz car and motored north on I-75 across the Ohio River (the airport is actually in northern Kentucky), up to Sharonville on the northern edge. I was in Cincinnati to keep a years-old promise to a former GE Aviation exec. When Tony learned that I taught airline topics, he invited me up to their big plant. I had forgotten about it, but one of my former AA colleagues, Al Comeaux, now runs corporate communications and advertising for GE Aviation – their main business are a very successful line of jet engines, but they’re diversifying into related areas, including some cool information technology for airline operations – re-invited me. Just before exiting the freeway, I passed the GE facility, and it looked enormous. Along the way, I passed some other industry, and it felt good to be in a part of the United States that still manufactured products that the nation and the world wants to buy!

Checked into my hotel, changed clothes, and headed a few miles northeast to the New Krishna Indian Restaurant, which I found on the internet. The buffet was sensational (and the many Indians in the place was a good sign). Filled up, I headed back and clocked out.

Up early the next morning, over to GE’s fancy Learning Center, with an impressive collection of jet engines hanging from the ceiling in the reception area. Met Laurent Rouaud, one of Al’s colleagues, then delivered my “Why Is It So Hard for Airlines to Make Money?” talk to 20 or 25 attentive folks. Lots of engagement and good questions. It was a good session.

Said goodbye to Al and headed south on I-75, the Transport Geek detouring a mile to snap a few pictures of the 1937 Union (railway) Terminal, a wonderful Art Deco building that now houses a number of museums. We visited the station in the mid-1970s, and it was on a downhill slide, so it was great to see its ascent and renewed vitality. It was the sort of project that I associate with Cincinnati, a very can-do and civic-minded place.

Checking my watch and the iPhone mapping function, I determined that I had just enough time for an edible Cincinnati institution, a bowl of Skyline Chili. Exited the freeway at Buttermilk Pike (roads in Kentucky are still called pikes, which strikes me as nicely old time), rolled into one of 20 or more Skyline outlets in the metro area, and quickly caused a stir by announcing to the staff that I had come all the way from Texas for a bowl of Five Way (chili, beans, spaghetti, cheese, onions). Truth is, the chili is not as good as we make in the Lone Star State, but the plane that the Lambrinides family founded is genuine local tradition.

At the airport, I spotted two mosaics that were identical to those I saw an hour earlier in the train station, and sure enough an adjacent plaque provided the detail: in the mid-1930s, artist Winold Reiss created dozens of scenes of local industry, two of which were moved to the airport in the early 1970s.

I especially admired his interpretation of work at American Laundry Machinery, which back then was the world’s largest producer of equipment for commercial laundries. Flew home, a successful first trip in 2011.

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Polynesia comes to Dallas

Peggy, Ken, and Blair Gilbert

Blair Gilbert is the daughter of Ken and Peggy. I worked with Ken for more than 20 years at American Airlines. You couldn’t find a more solid, go-to guy, and a true world citizen, so it’s not surprising that after graduating from Georgetown, Blair joined the Peace Corps, and was dispatched to a remote island in the Kingdom of Tonga. Peggy and Ken visited in summer 2010, and returned with a fascinating account.

Blair returned for two weeks’ Christmas leave, and on January 6, Peggy and Ken hosted a small party. I was lucky enough to get an invitation, a chance to listen to Blair offer some glimpses of life in what is still a largely traditional South Pacific society. Sure, they watch New Zealand rugby on TV, and worship the same Jesus that I do, but their island is still remarkably like it has long been. Her Tongan students (she teaches English), their parents, and her neighbors inhabit the same planet that we do, but the differences are vast. Blair’s accounts were a wonderful reminder of the enormous diversity on Earth.

Toward the end of the evening, I toasted Blair, offering our thanks and observing that she and her fellow Peace Corps volunteers do more for U.S. interests abroad than nearly everyone in Washington, DC.

If you’re curious, Blair keeps a educational and hugely entertaining blog at http://talesfromtonga.blogspot.com/.

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