There is so much to blog about

I hahotelve decided that I have to blog twice today as I will have too much for one post. I slept reasonably well last night only waking at 12:45; 3 and 4:30am and then finally getting up at 5:30am.  Now feeling quite tired again (and it is 2:30pm). Despite asking yesterday that someone call me when they all went to breakfast, no one did and so when Stephen eventually communicated with me it was 8:50am, I was famished and breakfast closed in 10 minutes. Family love.

It was an All-American type breakfast.  Standard stuff like toast, cereal, yogurt but also the standard American stuff like Turkey bacon (why you need that when normal bacon is perfectly fine in my view) & waffles. I say when in American do as the Americans so a waffle for breakfast was the obvious choice. Freshly made yourself with a fancy machine. Most the breakfast room was dominated by family members. Piers (my brother-in-law whose daughter is getting married) suggested that tomorrow they should shut the breakfast room and allow us to use it only. He also said that if his other daughter wants to get married in LA he will say no. The distances to do anything here are enormous. I thought we were close to the Church etc but apparently that is 40 minutes away still. I have now seen most of my family except my sister-in-law and 2 nephews (and my niece who is getting married).

trainBreakfast this morning was the first time I saw Stephen. And I only got to see him for about 5 minutes and he and cousin had decided to got to San Diego (by train) for the morning. My sister dropped them off at the train station and I have to pick them up in about 2 hours again.  Taking my one nephew with as he has a phone with a GPS we can use to find the station. Last night they got back at midnight from the Imagine Dragons (if you have heard of them then you are either under 25 or have children under 25) concert.  The one nephew told me that Stephen was a babe magnet last night. Especially when the girls heard him speak and heard his accent. Not sure how many additional girlfriends he has since last night (sorry Lara).

dad shoppingAfter breakfast I went to the shops with my Dad.  We went to the regular grocery store. Every time I go to a store in America I am staggered by the choice.  Everything has about 10-15 brands you can chose from. From cooldrink to washing powder. But nothing is made from real products. They are quite happy advertising ‘Artificial flavor’ in big letters – clearly a selling point as real flavors aren’t tasty enough?! We got behind (in more ways that one) a VERY large lady at the till. If she stood in front of me and our whole family, you wouldn’t be able to see any of our family. Chloe is about the size of one of her legs. Michael’s torso was the size of her arm.  If she fell on you she would have squashed you – no doubt. She was so slow with whatever she was doing we gave up, repacked our basket and found another queue.  if you look carefully in the photo (that’s my Dad) in the background you can see her waddling back to her car. Surprised she parked so far away. We reckon she was working up her appetite for the next MacDonald’s burger, fries and Super Large Coke.

We also went to the Pharmacy so that I could stock up on medicine you can’t get in South Africa. They have a shopping trolleyswonderful tablet called PM’s which mix a painkiller with an antihistamine. When you’re sick you take them and it helps you sleep brilliantly and makes you feel better. It also works wonders taking them on a flight with a glass of wine (or two) – sleep like a baby (assuming your babies slept well) then. What I love about pharmacies in America is that they sell anything and everything. Liver tablets to alcohol (not kidding).  How does a pharmacy sell alcohol? And there store layout is the most mixed up you could ever imagine. Nappies next to the alcohol (ok on second thoughts that probably is understandable). The other bizzare thing was the shopping trolleys with a piece of PVC pipe attached to it.  How weird is that? I think I figured it out – it stops you from taking the trolley out of the store.  I always thought SA was the crime capital but my brother day before yesterday witnessed a guy trying to push a whole trolley load of groceries out of the store without paying for it. So stealing by the trolley load seems to be a problem in California.

Wendy'sMy parents and I went to lunch together. My nephew was going to come as well but he ended up chatting up some of the bridesmaids it seems. We went to Wendy’s for lunch.  Best hamburger fast food restaurant in my view in USA. Even my Mom likes their hamburgers.  My Dad had a small salad – yes that is a small – and small drink – yes that is a small.  The hamburgers only came in 3 options 1/4lb, 1/2lb or 3/4lb. The small coke that came with it was probably 500ml. No such size as small in America. All of these would be extra large in South Africa.

There are some things I love about America though. You are never farther than a short walk from a place where you can buy food. And it doesn’t matter what time it is you know the place will be open. The choice is also staggering. Doesn’t matter whether you are talking about groceries or fast food restaurants – the choice is almost overwhelming. And then my personal favourite – you can turn right on a red traffic light so long as nothing is coming (that would have to be left in SA and UK). I would love them to introduce that in SA but you can just imagine what the taxi’s would do with that.  They would turn right or left (or go straight) on red. Oh wait, they do that already.

Got to fetch Stephen shortly … will blog again after the Rehearsal dinner tonight.

How many movies can you watch in one day?

The good news of today was that the traveling was glitch free (thankfully). Stephen landed at Heathrow at 7am and still had time to kill in the lounge before his flight to LA at 9:40am.  It left on time. As I have yet to see Stephen I am assuming it landed on time as well. I left the London flat around 8am and did my usual travel to Heathrow – taxi to Paddington station and Heathrow Express to airport. It really is an effective and efficient way to do it.  Heathrow Express is not cheap but for the convenience of only 15 minutes it is worth it.

I was on Virgin to LA and so while Stephen and I overlapped at the airport for about an hour, I did not see him at all as we were in different terminals. I managed to have some breakfast in the lounge and then had some time to do a little work before my flight started boarding.  We actually pushed back 10 minutes early from the gate which is unheard of leaving out of Heathrow.

las vegas airThe flight over was pretty uneventful.  It is an 11 hour flight and you just fly into daylight the whole way. We left at 11:30 and arrived at 2:30. But during that time managed to cross 8 time zones. That did start me thinking about how long you could fly for in the daylight before you caught up to night again. From my rough calcs I reckon you could fly for 44 hours going east all the time (roughly) and stay in daylight.

And that point demonstrates the tediousness of flying an 11 hour day time flight.  I watched 1 movie while they served lunch (Parker – which I have been wanting to watch for some time) and then another one after lunch (Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Last Stand).  I had to watch Arnie as I was (of course) heading to California. What you may not know is that he is now 65. And as action movies go it, it was similar to them all.  Quite surprised he was still up for it. Though I believe the movie bombed at the Box Office.  During the 2nd movie they offered Haagen Dazs ice cream (especially mentioned for you Paul). Glad I hadn’t fallen asleep like the best of the cabin.

After that I thought I better get to sleep (peer pressure as everyone else was). I managed 1 hour and was wide awake again.  I don’t have Paul’s ability to sleep on a plane regardless of what time it is. Listened to a lecture on my iPhone and then settled in for another movie – Nicolas Cage in Stolen. And when that was finishing they served us afternoon tea of scones and clotted cream. And we still had 1 hour 30 before landing. I managed to sneak in a TV episode and some games on the iPad before landing.

We landed 30 minutes early at 2:30pm. At 2:57pm I was standing outside on the curb waiting for the courtesy bus to take me to the Hertz counter. That must be some sort of record to get through USA passport control & customs in that time. My parents flew in yesterday and it took them 2 hours. Stephen flew in ahead of me and it took him 1 hour 30 minutes. I need to school them in the art of quick airport exits. How the times have changed. You used to learn from your parents and now you have teach them. What is becoming of this world.

Bus trip to Hertz almost took longer than the time to exit the terminal. But when I got to Hertz I was reminded of why I love American service (and why I use Hertz internationally even if they are more expensive). My name was on the board with my bay number. And that was right next to the drop off point. And the keys were in the ignition. Just put the suitcase in the trunk (must get that right as I am in the USA now) and off you go. Only small glitch, no GPS in the car. But I knew that and so this morning before I left the flat I printed off Google instructions (in written form) as to how to find the hotel.

Now that isn’t a recommended to do for first time visitors (or any time visitors) to the USA. I must have had a brain freeze moment. Driving in LA, on the wrong side, with no passenger to help, in rush hour (it seems to be rush hour all the time here given the quantity of cars), from the airport to unknown hotel location about 40 miles away with only written instructions. Another small problem, I did the instructions from the airport terminal and not the Hertz location. And when I drove out of the lot with my big American Yank Tank Ford Taurus I realised I had no idea of how to get onto the first motorway (I105E). I drove down the road then back up again then eventually just went onto another motorway and was hoping for the best and one exit later I see signs for I105E. Stroke of luck and so back on the written instructions again.  Relatively easy changes of motorways especially since the traffic was very slow moving at points. CHIPS did go past me at one stage as well – even looked like them. Only other glitch came when I exited the motorway and missed the first turn.  Figured it out about a mile down the road, did a U-turn and found the correct turn.

None of my family could believe I could drive here from the airport without a GPS. Just proves how reliant we have become on technology. 10 years ago you wouldn’t have thought there wasla air any other way except following a map. I was one step up on that in that I had Google instructions at least.  We are all staying at the same hotel (Residence Inn Marriott).  I will post a link tomorrow when I have more energy to find it. Checked in, located my parents and one sister, had some coffee, met some of them back for dinner (and saw most of the rest of family – still haven’t seen brother yet though he is around) and now back typing blog. It is 9:08pm and I can hardly keep my eyes open anymore. Not sure how Stephen is doing as he is at an Imagine Dragons concert somewhere in LA. I haven’t seen him yet. The concert finishes at 11pm. I won’t see him tonight – my eyelids tell me that.

Oh – forgot about photos – first one is of Las Vegas from the air (other side of plane could see Grand Canyon – note to self to sit on LHS of plane next time when flying into LA from London) and second is on final approach coming into LA after I heard loud clonking noise below me like the wheels has fallen off. Thought it was going to be my last photo opportunity. Hopefully clear enough photo that you can see how unclear LA is (smog). (Excuse any typos/missing words … too tired to read it before posting it …..zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

And so the saga continues

Today was another work day for me.  We had a relatively early client presentation (9am is early for London). We think it went quite well. More meetings in the office and then another client meeting in Canary Wharf. What I still find incredible is the public transport in London.  I know people in London complain bitterly about it but coming from a country where we have none it is impressive. Just jump on the Docklands Light Railway (which always runs on time as there are no drivers to go on strike) and a few stops later you’re in Canary Wharf. It is the one shopping place Helen hasn’t discovered yet (fortunately). No one tell her please.

When I was finished my meeting Stephen sent a message to say he was checked in and going through security. All seemed to be well. He killed some time and then about an hour went to the gate and found that the plane was gone! Every time he sent a message like that my first thought was ‘he’s kidding’. But it turns out he wasn’t.  They only managed to fix the plane at about 6pm and they took it for a quick spin to see the engine was ok.  That isn’t a job I would like – pilot a plane just after they replace/fix an engine. And from then on we got minute by minute updates from Stephen via Whatsapp (another wonder of modern technology). He sent so many (and there were quite a few replies from the rest of the family) that he managed to run his cellphone’s battery down to 20%. Helen said it was just like being there.

Stephen gave us minute by minute updates on the comments of the people around him, who went to the toilet when, what they were saying about the flight etc. Before the plane came back the news spread that the pilot was happy with the plane and shortly afterwards it landed and pulled back into the gate. Stephen counted and there were 4 engines attached still. They said it would take an hour and half to fuel the plane, load the luggage, food etc. The crew did get on almost straight away and they eventually started boarding at 8pm (the flight was meant to have left at 7:30pm). Stephen said the flight was pretty empty. He had landed with his ‘bum in the butter’ because I had used airmiles originally for the ticket and he was meant to fly economy class.  My (wonderful) PA managed to get him upgraded to Economy Plus but BA upgraded him at no cost to us to Business Class.  So after starting out expecting to fly economy the whole to LA and back he is now flying Business Class to London. And he is already checked into First Class from London to LA (again courtesy of my PA getting him upgraded). So he isn’t really slumming it and I am sure it will help him overcoming the disappointment of leaving a day late.

And the good news is that he is actually flying right now. The flight took off at 8:53pm (another wonder of modern technology is that you can track the flight the whole way).  If you ever want to track a flight’s progress this is (in my view) the best website to do it with:
http://www.flightview.com

At the moment it says expected arrival time is 7:05am which leaves plenty of time for Stephen to still make his connecting flight to LA tomorrow. It also says there is 8:14 still remaining of the flight and he is currently over Northern Angola.

So many Whatsapp messages were coming through I almost forgot to make dinner for myself. A glass of wine was also useful to calm the nerves down. It is worse not being the one traveling and just having to hear what was happening and not being able to do anything. Hopefully tomorrow’s flights (both Stephen and mine – we are on different flights) will all go smoothly!

(Sorry – no photos today – too busy Whatsapping and weather wasn’t great here either again.)

Work Day but not so good for Stephen

So it was a work day for me today.  And we had a full day workshop on Leadership styles.  Pretty hard to blog about that.  So I will do what all English people do and talk about the weather.  I should have taken that photo yesterday because it started raining last night and it was overcast the whole day.  And for end of May it is pretty chilly at about 14 degrees.  This place has no idea about summer.  One of the blog reader’s told me that my photo yesterday was ‘random’ (that was the point by the way) and so I thought I would take one today from the view from the window behind the desk in my flat.  Here are they are:

flat1flat2

The one on the left is the general view from the flat. The second one on the right is a close up of the same view.  The sand coloured building in the centre (in the distance) is MI6 which is on the Thames.  There ends the views, photos and your London orientation message for today.

The big story about today is actually not about me but about Stephen.  He was meant to leave Cape Town this evening for London to then connect to LA. I say supposedly because when he got to the airport this evening he discovered that the flight had been cancelled. Apparently an inconsiderate bird flew through an engine and that doesn’t go well with engines. So flight cancelled until 7:30pm tomorrow. Which means he misses connection to LA (and he was meeting up with my parents on that flight) and it means he arrives a day later and misses half of his cousin’s 18th birthday as well. Imagine the disappointment for everyone.  I still feel bad and that bird had nothing to do with me.  He is re-booked on tomorrow night’s flight and he has a connecting flight re-booked to LA as well.  So hopefully when I blog tomorrow it will be to say he is on route to the UK.

Bank Holiday Monday

Today was a bank holiday in the UK. That is why I elected to be with my parents rather than spending the day by myself in the flat in London. I had a telephone conference with my boss at 9am and none of us managed to get breakfast in before that (especially as I went to bed eventually at 1am after trying to get the blog sorted – thanks to those of you that have re-subscribed). My parents kindly waited for me to finish the conversation.  It was more like brunch than breakfast by the time we ate and that necessitated us pushing back lunch (which actually worked out well because I had a train to catch to London this evening and so it meant I could skip supper and not feel hungry!).

I spent most of the day working and catching up on things that I just haven’t had the time recently to do.  It felt like a fruitful day. My Dad took me to the train station for my 7:15pm train up to London Waterloo.  The train arrived on time but it was packed full.  It was so full there were no seats at all in 2nd class.  Fortunately I had a 1st class ticket and so got a seat but there were even limited seats in 1st class.  The result of everyone who lives in London trying to spend the bank holiday down in the South.  My Dad checked the main roads back up North and the traffic was at a standstill this evening.

Train journey was otherwise uneventful and arrived into Waterloo on time.  Did a quick shop for essentials at M&S and then took a taxi to the flat. Collected all the post that builds up every time I am not here.  That usually consists of numerous cables that have been sent from various suppliers. This time was no different.  Who knows where all the cables go to or are used.  I reckon our house must have a cable thief operating inside. It could be entrepreneurial talent at work as well – just hope it’s not with my credit card!

It was a beautiful evening in London. The taxi drive from Waterloo to the flat takes you over the Thames and it was still light but the lights were just starting to take effect.  Westminster (both parliament and cathedral) looked spectacular in the light. I (unfortunately) wasn’t quick enough to get my iPhone out for a photo so you will have to take my word for it. If it is as nice tomorrow I will a shot!

I realised I took no photos today so here is a picture from my desk in the flat …

flat

 

Moving on

Today all that was left of the IAA meetings was the Council meeting.  This is pinnacle of meetings as it is where all the votes happen.  It is where all the political intrigue is worked out.  Most the meeting was quite nebulous.  Only two points raised considerable discussion.  The first was a proposal by the finance committee to increase the dues by 50c (in Canadian $ – that is about R5) per annum.  That resulted in at least a 20 minute discussion. The Portuguese said they would vote no and that they must rather cut expenses (probably because the Portuguese are bankrupt and can’t pay an extra R5 per year).  Themba (our current President) turned to me and said he could not imagine wasting 20 minutes discussion on 3% fee increase in SA – it would never happen. I in turn pulled out my wallet and took out a R5 coin and said I would pay my increase now if we could cut the conversation. The discussion really made me wonder how broke the Europeans really are?!

The second major discussion point was on a motion that both the UK and the USA were unhappy with. The UK argued their point quite politely (as any UK person would) but the US guy agreed with the UK but added a threat to go with it. We were thinking of abstaining on the point until the US guy added the threat. We then voted in favour.  The only two people to vote against were the UK and USA.  The motion carried easily and the look of surprise on the UK and USA reps faces was incredible.  They clearly expected everyone to follow them.  I shared a taxi from the hotel to Rotterdam airport with the UK rep and we got talking about it in the taxi.  She admitted that they were indeed surprised that others had not supported them.

The council meeting actually ended earlRotterdam airporty (generally unheard of) and so we got to the airport about 2.5 hours before the flight was to depart. Rotterdam airport is about the size of Port Elizabeth airport.  No airbridges, you walk out to the plane.  No business class lounge, just one self-service cafe and a small duty free shop. Free wifi that wasn’t working. So nothing else to do but watch a few TV episodes on the iPad.  I was on a business class ticket as it was part of my international ticket (we don’t usually fly business class for a short flight) and it turned out I was the only one in business class out of about 24 seats. The flight is only about 40 minutes though and most of that is spent circling around Heathrow until they let you land.

Breezed through Heathrow. Guy at passport control wanted to know why I didn’t have a British passport. I asked him if he could write me a letter of commendation to get one.  He was Rotterdam BAamused – I think I made his day. He clearly didn’t think I was going to hack anyone up and wait next to the body to be arrested.  I then had a driver pick me up and take me to my parents home in the New Forest.  Tomorrow is a bank holiday in the UK and so it made no sense to sit by myself in the flat in London.

The taxi drive down was very interesting because we had some intense discussions. The driver even apologised at one stage as he said he realised he had evoked a ‘serious discussion’.  It started because he overheard me on a call to Helen.  I asked how Church had gone today. He asked me if I was ‘religious’ and I said that wasn’t how I would describe myself but that I was a Christian.  He then asked if I believed life was predestined. That was 5 minutes into the taxi journey. We ended that conversation an hour later. Having covered the value of human life, the purpose of life, suffering, sin, morality, ethics and a few other subjects.  I had an opportunity to share my views very openly with him.  He asked some great questions, I hope I gave some good answers. I asked some good questions to which he admitted he didn’t have answers but would think about them. I think we both enjoyed the discussion and it definitely made the 1 hour 20 min car journey down to my parents pass quickly.

It was a lovely afternoon in Southern UK today. Albeit a little cold (around 18 degrees) but not raining. I got to my parents house at 5:30pm and we headed off the Church. The photo below is of my parents garden when we got back from Church at about 8pm. It is finally Spring here and my parents garden is filled with Tulips. Those are the only ones I have seen because I never saw one in Holland. In fact I never saw much of Holland besides the conference center, my hotel and the two airports. That, in comparison to Paul, who in his blog post talked about being ‘on holiday’ in Holland. I don’t recall signing a leave form for him but I am sure he will give me one on his return.

I usually post a few concluding comments/observations about the country that I have visited. The problem is that I have seen so little of Holland that anything I say will be unfair. So I will restrict it to a few random thoughts only:

  1. Holland must be the most racially mixed Society in Europe.  I have not seen a country anywhere outside Africa that has such an obviously visible mix of races.
  2. They know how to make coffee.  Even the instant coffee in the room was brilliant – best instant coffee I have ever had.
  3. They have no idea what a Gala dinner is.
  4. It’s flat, really flat.
  5. You could easily get killed by a tram, car or bicycle while looking the wrong way.  Chances are that whatever way you’re looking their is either a tram or bike coming in the opposite direction.
  6. They know how to make biscuits.
  7. They have at least 1 excellent restaurant

Now that I am back in the familiar land of the UK my posts might get a little shorter over the next few days especially when I am working on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Until tomorrow.

parents garden

 

Another day down

This morning was a slightly later start with an 8am meeting.  I managed to sneak in breakfast before the meeting so that I wasn’t speaking with my mouthful the whole time. Breakfast at the hotel is very efficiently done. There is only 1 staff member on duty and that person is just checking you actually stay in the hotel and don’t try to steal breakfast. Everything else is done by yourself. In fact everything is like that at the hotel. I am staying at the Novotel World Forum (http://www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-5389-novotel-den-haag-world-forum/index.shtml). They have minimal staff clearly as a way of keeping their costs down. Even the minibar has a sign in it saying you can buy whatever you want from the fridge next to reception (so they only have to re-stock that fridge and it is much easier to keep track of what you are buying). There is never more than one person on the front desk at any point in time. Amazingly it does seem to work actually.

I had 4 meetings today. The first one was with the UK who filled us in on all the political wranglings in the IAA (International Actuarial Association). Always interesting to get the gossip on who is after world domination, who has offended whom etc. The council meeting is tomorrow am and I think it is going to be more interesting than the last two I have attended. I then attended a meeting on Education which incredibly finished by the tea break when it was scheduled to run until lunch. That gave me a little time off before lunch. We then had a lunch with one of the American bodies (they have numerous ones not like the rest of the world that just have one per country). They also filled us in on further political maneuvers but overall it was a pleasant, relaxed lunch.

After lunch we have what is called the President’s Forum. All the Presidents of the various actuarial bodies are members and it is meant to be a session to benefit the Presidents and involving discussion of items of mutual interest. I am not yet officially the President of the SA body but the President forgot to register (even though he is here) and so they had my name on the main table and so I couldn’t even slip out at the tea break like I usually do. I made sure the President didn’t leave at the tea break either!

The Dutch had hijacked the organisation of this meeting. They had invited the chairman of AIOPA (don’t bother to ask what that stands for or whether it should matter to you, it won’t).  He was Portuguese. His English was OK. He spoke for an hour. No slides. But then also no notes. He spoke about European regulation and other such matters. Most of the Presidents weren’t interested. The Hong Kong representative on my left fell asleep for at least 30 minutes. He jerked himself upright a few times. I thought he was going to fall off the chair. He didn’t. The Israeli rep on my right napped off for 5 minutes on 2 occasions. Next to him the President of one of the Japanese organisations (they also have more than one probably to match the Americans) had a few catnaps. As I was at the main table I couldn’t even play some games on my iPhone or iPad.  I pretended to take notes on my iPad a few times and managed to check emails, get a Super XV rugby scores update etc. In the middle of his talk I got an email from our head of HR asking what the collective noun is for a group of actuaries. I came up with (the help of the internet):
1. An expense of actuaries
2. A provision of actuaries
3. An assurance of actuaries
4. A tedium of actuaries

I think 4 is more appropriate for these meetings at least.

After the gentlemen from AIOPA finished we had tea and then a panel discussion ensued which was actually quite good. They had a Dutch journalist moderating and he did a very good job of involving everyone in the discussion and there were definitely some good points made. It was thought provoking and dare I say it might even have been challenging in places. Definitely the best hour so far of the time here.

The day did finish just in time for me to get to my room to stream the rugby (Bulls versus Sharks). The connection was not great so it jerked rather than streamed it’s way through to me but I did get the commentary very clearly. The frustration of the jerky connection was overcome but the end result. I love modern technology that despite being in the Netherlands where they have no idea what rugby is, I can find some arbitrary website that is streaming (probably illegally) the rugby. And it was the Supersport feed as well along with the SA adverts, half time break analysis etc.

It did make it the second day I have not put a foot outside. Though given how hard it rained (and hailed) yesterday afternoon and how hard it is raining now, I don’t think I am missing much. I did however take a photo from the lift this morning (my room is on the 11th floor and the lifts are on the outside with glass windows – not good if you don’t like heights but I quite enjoy it). The photo is what I will end with so that you have another perspective of Den Haag to enjoy.

den haag3