Wednesday, 25 November 2009


I suddenly realise I've spent the last week just waiting. And I liked it.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

14 months

Intercontinental flights punctuate my existence. I've been here for 14 months and two days now. Life progressing: laundry, trips to the greengrocer, fun in the kitchen. Work is relatively on schedule, some open questions that need answering, some thoughts that need thinking. I've spent 3 weeks back in SA, another 5 in Europe. 5 countries, apart from the two I call home.

Hmm. Interesting concept that: home. I suddenly wonder when it became so diluted. Tracing it back, my current migrant status was preceded by discontent, before that a wanderlust, before that displacement. Displacement a thread throughout. Before that the womb, probably. And it makes me wonder how the nomadic tribes thought of home. If you're packing your life onto a camel every day, where it go? Maybe the entire route becomes your space, that you are so firmly needed in the present, that everything is transient. Detachment must help a lot. Does the act of moving itself become safety?

I think I see a more connected space. That I'm nothing is ever left behind: I do not lose history when I change places, any more than you might lose your past by growing older. The idea of my books on multiple bookcases in houses across the world is comforting. Distance is not always easy, nor is the constant change, but I can't see myself doing anything else. And although my life is largely detached - there is a certain freedom in owning the minimum - the attachments are what make it worthwhile.

Tomorrow I'll migrate back for a few weeks. I will curl up in a safe space and rest for a while, then slowly start moving again. It will be good.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009


I found a graveyard, not very far away. On the opposite bank of the Itchen, if you follow it towards St. Mary's, you will eventually reach it. Abandoned boats, silt swallowing them from below, while the water tries to eat the wood away. With lively happy boats still cavorting in the background.

The thin planks go first, leaving the more robust ribs to wait a while longer. And once fierce nails are now without a purpose.

The intriguing once lie further out, barely more than a shadow troubling the surface.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Great Britain

Still at the conference - it was strangely patriotic. I was caught completely off-guard by the nationalism.

Everyone is boasting about British technology, how many millions Britain is spending, what the industry is worth to Britain. A British sensor, a British subsystem, a British payload and especially a British astronaut. Again and again and again. It was the message I would have expected from the US, or a developing country with with threatening neighbours, or a teenager with self-image problems.

At first I thought it was simply to tell (British) students that there is a place for them, that they can contribute something, make a difference. But when a speaker highlighted the differences (and indifferences) in reporting about space here and in Europe, it started morphing into something darker. Us and them, agian. Pride? Or fear?

Yet, as soon as someone talks about the ideals, it is about the good of mankind.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Encountering old dreams

Yesterday I found myself at a conference, a meeting of students interested in or involved with space. There were talks by people from industry, a BBC man and scientists too. But it was definitely a student thing - the exhibition and recruitment by potential employers confirmed this. On a campus that felt overcrowded with buildings. Like a medieval walled city, but built in the 70s and 80s, in a largely inoffensive style. And then some modern redevelopments, from when a university's architecture again had to reflect it future-looking vision.

The attendees were young, mostly male, but not exclusively so. Generally bright, interested, but above all optimistic. And 99% of the room wanted to be astronauts once, at least 40% (those without glasses) still want to be.

And the optimism should have been contagious, but it mostly passed me by. Maybe I've become a cynic? Then I realised that the people around me were living the choices I did not make. The master's program I discovered too late, but still considered, the offer from the university I declined (the very university hosting the day), people staying in industry, or heading towards it with a mix of trepidation and excitement.

But they were interesting people, with interesting experiences, to the point where I felt distinct pangs of jealousy. I try to console myself: that I made my own decisions, they are being groomed into industrial bunnies, and that some might very well be jealous of me. But still. You're not supposed to be confronted with the roads you did not take.

I have to rush away from the dinner party, to catch my train. Suddenly it is dark, and raining fat cold drops. I make it, with 2 minutes to spare. As the train pulls away, I can see some late Guy Fawkes rockets explode in the sky.

Thursday, 5 November 2009


In Poprad they are taking apart the pleasingly decaying Soviet station, complete with marble floors, inspiring relief carvings against the wall, small liquor store and eatery, and windows stained brown by ears of industry. The replacement will probably be shiny, with lots of glass, to welcome tourists from rich countries to the Tatras.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Dragon's Teeth

It is a quiet time for vegetables. Most tasks are administrative: tidying up after a busy summer, or preparation for next year. Important yes, but not really spectacular. At least in a young garden.

Ten days ago I planted my garlic. It seemed grey and grim enough, as if winter is solidly here. I didn't quite know how much I'll need: started with one bulb, then two, before finally adding another. About 30 cloves in all. Good plump ones too. I would have like to eat them. Is that too many? Maybe. But we're enough to absorb any excess produce. And really, even if they all deliver beautifully, a bulb every second week is not excessive? And that is without planning for the scapes, the roasted garlic, the pickled garlic, the chicken with 16 cloves, the lamb with 24, the baked potatoes with 127 cloves, or the garlic crisps. That last two still need some working on. They went in everywhere where I could find an open spot between the herbs. That is a lots of spots.

Then, today, they all appeared. I was quite surprised. An army of 5cm shoots marching on the thyme, with another flank cutting off the sage. Will they slow down enough to still make sense of spring? I really don't know. But I hope so.