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

 

How long can a day be?

Another day of meetings all day. I was talking to our head of HR today on the phone and she asked where I was and I said Den Haag.  She asked what for and I said ‘International Actuarial Association’ meetings. She started to laugh and said you must be enjoying that. She knows me well!

We started today with a 7am breakfast with the whole of Europe. Well at least the actuaries who represent the whole of Europe. That would be a French guy who I never can understand (same guy yesterday who it took 10 minutes to explain the difference between Standards with a capital S and standards with a small s); a Swedish guy who really is an English guy living in Sweden and an English guy (living in England). It was a good breakfast meeting actually because the two English guys did most of the talking and I could understand them.

Then I had another committee meeting from 9 to 12:30.  Mercifully they broke for tea in the middle for 30 minutes and when we got back the chairman said he could wrap up the balance of the meeting in about 15 minutes.  He did it in about 10.  He is now my favourite chairperson.  This afternoon we met with the Australians (always a good meeting generally held in the bar – you can see the Australian priorities) and then we met with the Canadians immediately afterwards. And the French found there way into that meeting again as well but at least those French can speak English well.  It was a useful meeting though they seemed to be prying us for information like we were leading the world in Actuarial thinking. Nice they think so highly of us Safricans.

That meeting finished just in time for us to make the gala dinner.  Turned out to be not so much gala as stand up eating. When I eventually found Paul amongst the 800 people (actually I found Tina and then Paul came looking for Tina when she didn’t return), his first words were “And I have figured out there are not enough tables here for everyone). The poor Dutch guys tried to do speeches but no one stopped speaking while they spoke. It wasn’t the right time or venue for long speeches but that didn’t deter them.  They proceeded anyway.

Dinner was stand in a queue only to get a side plate full of food which you knew was not going to be enough to feed you so the best thing was just to join the back of the queue again so that when you were finished that plate you were back at the food again. Either that or you could get to the leaves station – no queue there at all.  They had multiple stations with food from around the world.  Arabic, Asian, American, Dutch.  Bet you didn’t know there was such a thing as American cuisine. I didn’t. But I joined all the Americans in the queue (no ways they were eating anything but American obviously) and finally got a plate of glazed gammon & potatoes (they also had coleslaw and Waldorf salad but who would ever eat that). So now you know what American cuisine is.

By the time I found Paul and Tina again the Arabic queue had dissipated and they said the lamb stew was good so I got some of that for desert.  By this stage people were sitting on the floor (at the GALA dinner).  I gave up shortly afterwards and returned to my room to catch up on the thousands of emails I didn’t answer while in the sessions. Now I am planning to catch up on last nights lack of sleep.  I have a full day of meetings again tomorrow from 8am to dinner. Very excited about that.

Two photos from my hotel room window of Den Haag – it might be all I get to see of the place. Tina says it is beautiful and that Helen would have loved it and should have come with me (yes Helen … listen to Tina next time).

den haag2 den haag1

Back after a long break

So it’s been 5 months since you last heard from me but the good news is that I am back for the next 12 days.  I have decided to blog my current overseas trip.  It includes time in the Netherlands, UK and the USA and encompasses both work and time off for a family wedding.  I thought it might be interesting to blog at least for my own amusement and to keep my sanity especially as it is a relatively long time away from my family.

Last night I left on the BA flight for London and then to connect on to Amsterdam.  Paul & Tina (work colleague and wife) were also on the flight with me.  Tina was in economy class, Paul in business class.  Paul not interested in spending any money on his wife’s travel comfort.  The flight was pretty uneventful and we actually landed slightly earlier at Heathrow.  Just over an hour to kill in the lounge turned into about 2 hours as our flight to Amsterdam was delayed by 45 minutes. Paul caught up on the breakfast he never had on the plane because he was sleeping.  I have never met a person that can sleep as well as Paul can. I once traveled around the world with him on a business trip and I reckon he slept 90% of the flying time we did (and he was still jet lagged when he got back).

The Amsterdam flight is only long enough to recline your seat only to have to put it back into the upright position again.  You can just about sneak in a toilet visit between the seat belt sign being turned off and on again.  We landed at Schiphol Airport and then had to walk about a mile to find the rest of Holland.  I am used to walking in airports but this was a very long walk into Holland.  I managed to get through passport control and then waited for about 15 minutes while Paul & Tina caught up with me.  Tina was complaining about how slowly Paul was walking.

We then had to wait for their luggage and of course it was about the last piece to come off.  By this stage Paul and I both reckoned it was lost or left in Cape Town but Tina was full of faith. I (of course) was traveling only with hand luggage – another example of why checking in luggage is such a waste of time. We then had to find the train station to take the train to Den Haag.  While we managed to end up on the entirely wrong platform on the first attempt, our second attempt was much more successful and we found the platform and the train.  We had bought tickets before boarding and Paul had paid almost double my ticket. We couldn’t understand why. But then we realized I have pushed the Discounted Ticket option.  Paul said he had tried to press it but had missed. I thought he was either an idiot or drunk. Turned out he was lucky because when the ticket conductor came around he asked me for my ‘discount card’.  I said “What discount card?”.  He said, then why did you chose ‘Discount ticket’.  I said because I thought I could choose discount, how was I to know you had to have a discount card. Incredible that they just expect you to know that! He said he would normally have to give me a fine and ‘write me up’ but he would let me off this time.  I doubt he will ever see me again for a next time.  He was happy to see that Paul and Tina had also not cheated them of precious revenue.

den haagThe train journey took 30 minutes from the airport to Den Haag Centraal. Through pretty countryside of farm lands, the odd windmill and no hills to be seen. A reminder of how flat Holland is. I just hope that kid still has his finger in the dyke. Fortunately I am staying on the 11th floor of the hotel so I might be safe. From the Centraal station we took a taxi to our hotel and got in at about 1:20pm.  Paul is staying at the Crowne Plaza which is billed as a 5 star hotel but everyone I have met so far said maybe really a 3 star at best.  Someone described it as City Lodge without the regular daily clean.  I am at the Novotel (4 star but more like a 3 star Garden Court).

My first meeting was at 2pm today so not really time to do anything except change my shirt and go to the meeting.  It was scheduled from 2-6pm but we actually managed to exceed that and ran on until 6:15pm.  It is amazing how much time can be consumed on so little. It was on professionalism.  At one stage the French guy got so confused over an English word (standard) that it took 10 minutes to explain to him that he was misunderstanding it’s use.  He didn’t seem to believe the English native speakers and clearly thought we were trying to do a ‘dirty’ on France. He later criticized a research paper from SA saying that the author had answered the wrong question.  Only issue was it was an independent paper that the author wrote to answer the question he wanted to answer.  The French guy clearly thought he should have referred to him before doing the research. Clearly the earth revolves around Paris.

This evening the Safricans had a dinner together at the famous Mazie’s Restuarant (http://www.restaurantmazie.nl/). The waitress told us that we would be having a special meal and would we like 5 or 6 courses.  We opted for 5.  We could have opted for 4. They asked what we didn’t eat and then delivered 5 courses that matched our desires. They brought about 3 courses before we started with the actual first course. We were confused by that which the waitress thought very funny. We gave up counting. The first 3 courses were fish (one raw and the other 2 cooked) and then beef and then desert. In between the beef and desert they served us another desert as well (ingredients of apple pie but not as apple pie but in a shot glass). We started at 7:30 and left at 11:30pm. And for the privilege we paid about R800 per person. It was very good (actually exceptionally good). The service was excellent – they were very pleasant. The food was even better and the wine at least matched the food (I chose the wine!).

It is 12:15am and I have a breakfast meeting at 7am. So I better get to sleep now.  Until tomorrow (I’ll try and take some more photos – the one you see is of Den Haag approach my hotel on the right).