Picture a beautiful country of fertile green plains and lush, forested mountains.
A country washed by warm tropical seas, blessed with the finest beaches in the world.
A nation with a proud history extending across three millennia and more. A land coveted by great empires and fought over for centuries — where the fate of our planet was decided, many times more than once.
Think of a country rich in art and architecture, with nine World Heritage Sites for culture and nature.
Wander streets at the cradle of music and dance, listening to rhythms echoing all around the world.
Dream of stunning cities, beautiful towns and remote villages, set across a landscape unblighted by shanty towns or ghettoes. A land where men, women and children of all different colours live side by side, and where racism is confined to the past.
Envisage a country with excellent health care which is free and accessible to all. A society where life expectancy rates equal those in the United States, and where infant mortality rates are significantly lower.
“It’s the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.”
— Barack Obama, Chicago, 4th November 2008.
It’s just three miles and a lifetime’s journey from the South Side of Chicago to Grant Park, and I can remember every step.
How marvellous it was that the US election race this year should find its long-awaited finish line at the same spot as the Chicago Marathon — one of many high points I’ve shared with this incredible country through a relationship that stretches right across my adult life.
I entered the United States late one August night in 1981. Seventeen hours out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, we drove across a bridge and into Maine. Next morning, six hours and a brief stop in Portland later, I stepped wearily off the bus in downtown Boston — completing my journey from England to New England, where the history of this great nation had started.
That visit took me down the east coast to New York and Washington, in an arc via Pittsburgh to Niagara, and then back into Canada for a return flight home.
My memories of America from that trip? Coin-fed TV sets in lonely Greyhound bus stations. The wind on Cape Cod. Looking across the Charles River on a long walk out to Cambridge.
The view from the Empire State Building. The sound of dusk on Broadway. The New Jersey Turnpike. The Smithsonian. The Capitol.
A quote carved into the Washington pavement —
‘One of these days this will be a very great city, if nothing happens to it’ (Henry Adams).
My love affair with America had begun.
Posted in 2008, A1 - the best of roads of stone, Chicago, divided by an ocean, environment, heroes, history, Houston, Iraq, Kenya, life and times, politics, united in a future
China. America. Russia. The world order changed this August, as I’m sure you must have noticed.
I found myself in Greece for the Olympics, back where it all started. Four years late for Athens, and half a world from China.
Yet Beijing reached right around the globe this month. Strolling by the beach on a hot summer’s night, the first images I saw were on a gigantic screen installed inside a bar – a mesmerising, spellbinding sequence from the opening ceremony.
Throughout the next two weeks, the dramatic scale and serenity of the show grew and grew.
Each evening I would return to catch another glimpse of something fantastic, incredible, and Earth-changing – the opening up of China to the world, the swallowing of sport and the dawn of a new century on this planet.
And sometimes, I just watched the swimming.
NOTE: May 2009 — For further updates on the oil price, see also:
The price of oil: 3 — energy economics and the financial crisis;
The price of oil: 4 – a rising road ahead.
It was a chilly evening in early February when the Managing Director called us all together. He paused a moment, glanced at the expectant faces all around him, and then he started.
Business is tough, he said, and we’re doing what we can. But finally, we’ve reached that moment when we’ve got to let some of you go.
A hundred of us stood there then, looking at each other, at the floor, and at the winter’s dusk outside.
There was silence. Some more explanation was required, and some more honesty was needed. And, to his credit, Mitch provided it. As ‘this company is going down the toilet’ talks go, it was pretty fairly done.
We’d had problems with one of our installations in the North Sea, he told us. We all knew that already. In the big money business of finding oil and gas and getting them to the beach, failing on either of those priorities was never good.
An asset team would miss its targets, and there’d be no bonuses or payrises for anyone ahead. Such is business, in any organisation. But this time, it was worse.
It’s the oil price, he said. February, 1999. Continue reading
UPDATE February 2012
— For a Ditchling Beacon map and gradient information, please see here:
223. Cycling on Surrey and Sussex hills – from White Down to Ditchling Beacon;
— And for return routes back to Guildford, see here:
245. London to Brighton, and back;
* * * * *
Summer. Early afternoon. A soft and unassuming heat haze rising from the lush green meadows of Sussex.
And rising too, slowly but relentlessly behind this pretty village, lies the reason that we’re here.
The most famous climb in all of southern England.
The mean city streets of London seem such a long time ago. The start in Clapham lies almost fifty miles behind us, and barely a handful more remain ahead. The countryside is peaceful. Very peaceful.
The chatter and banter of those early miles has faded now. With a myriad and more of cyclists on the road, along the classic route to Brighton – you can hear them, all the way.
Not just the whirr of spokes, the squeal of frantic brakes, or the grinding, mashing sound of crunching gears. There’s a richer, more lyrical sound to listen to, louder and more urgent still than the rhythm of the riders’ breathing.
Much more than that. Because I’ll swear that on these Sussex roads you can hear the spirit of the peloton. Continue reading
Shut your eyes and think of somewhere
Somewhere cold and caked in snow
Snow Patrol – May 2006
All of winter, and all in one day.
It’s mid-morning on a snowy Thursday, but as troublesome journeys to work might go, I really can’t complain.
Guildford’s white and black night is far behind me, and just a few hours later the snow is screaming past the train as we speed towards Oslo at 200 km/h. No Norwegian dogsled ever made such progress.
Arriving early at my meeting, I’ve a moment to survey the scene.
From the office window, the muffled view stretches out silently into the distance, Oslo peering shyly back at me through the white mist of intermittent wintry showers.
The view down to the railway tracks offers a camera angle perfect for any latterday remake of Anna Karenina, the architecture of this place even more impressive for the white curtain draping all around it.