Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Roads for Development

The photo-feature I did set me thinking about the roads we have in Milton Keynes. Milton Keynes is served by two major roadways - the M1 and the A5. These two arterial roads handle most of the traffic that comes into (and goes from) the city. In fact, this ease of accessibility allowed us to expand S's job search to places around MK, so that we could move home and I could commute by car.

It is quite common to see a lot of people who stay as far away as Birmingham commute to Milton Keynes on a daily basis. Of course there are traffic qualms, but then some amount of timing will ensure you are done in about an hour (Birmingham). An interesting fact about Milton Keynes was that it was deliberately built where it is now. It was planned so that the city is equidistant from the major hubs like London, Birmingham, Oxford, Cambridge and Leicester. Remarkably, one third of the UK's population is within one hour of Milton Keynes. This is the single biggest factor favouring Milton Keynes as England bids to host the FIFA World Cup in 2018.

It is amazing how a good network of roads can help you pitch for tourism, trade and business.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Photo Feature on Roads

Roads, sometimes they are clean,

Sometimes, dirty.

Sometimes, lonely.

Sometimes, crowded.

Sometimes, straight.

Sometimes, twisted.

Sometimes, narrow.

Sometimes, wide.

Sometimes, scenic...

... picturesque ...

... and sometimes outright breathtaking.

You can see some roads till the eye can see.

Some roads appear to be a dead-end.

Some are artificial.

And some do not even need to be on land :D

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Das Auto

I had not thought much about having a car until I rented one to go visit Goks in Ipswich. That triggered the dormant driver and I rented a few more times that year. And then when AA had to go back to India, he left me his car in our driveway. It was a 1992 1000 cc VW Polo. By today's standards, it was quite rudimentary, but it did the job. For four people who had to walk home in winter, it was a godsend. It heated the interior, played audio cassettes, and we had a car. Yay! So what if it had only three doors and we had to squeeze into the back seat?

I took out insurance on it and used it to commute to the office for as long as AA's parking permit was valid. Then we used it only to go to the movies because the winter was cold and the parking was free. Then one day, in great gusto, I filled a little more fuel than normal and it sprung a leak at the bottom. It beats all notions, but I still believe the leak was because I put in too much gas and some weak point in the tank could not bear the weight. It was still usable until it developed a problem with the horn wiring. The horn would sound every time I turned the car left or right. Miffed, I let the car stand in front of the house as I could not bring myself to scrap it.

About this time, KG was going back to India for good. And because he had to go in a hurry, he left me his car in our driveway. It was a 1997 1400 cc VW Golf. By today's standards, it was a mediocre car to have. It had five doors, looked good and had a sunroof :) So what if it had done about 125000 miles? I transferred my insurance on to it and started using it. It was a great car, we took it on the motorways once to Birmingham and it behaved itself very nicely, although I felt that the the engine was a bit slow to respond both while overtaking and picking up from zero. Within the city, it was great fun. The lack of response from the engine gave a factor of predictability to the car and it handled easy, almost like a toy. I moved home about this time, and took the Golf with me, while the Polo was still parked at my bachelor pad.

I liked the Golf in spite of the big dent on the front bumper (thanks to AD) and even contemplated keeping it but it cost me a bit too much in its annual MOT. Plus there was no service history on it before KG bought it, so I was a bit wary. I eventually sold the car to a guy who wanted a car to practice his driving on. I tried fixing the Polo. I managed to disconnect the horn under the hood so there would be nothing to sound even if the wiring fired but no adhesive or sealant would plug the hole in the tank. Finally, I asked a used-car dealer who took damaged cars to haul it away.

My current car is a 2000 Vauxhall Astra, 1600 cc. By today's standards, it is a decent car to have. It has remote locking, fog lights, and plays CDs. So what if it does not have a sunroof? The insurance I had taken out for the other cars gave me one claim-free year which got me a hefty discount when it was time for renewal. Since I have bought it, I have done more than 4000 miles on it. The car has been to places as near as Birmingham and London to those as far as Blackpool and The Lake District. A few months ago, I had the cambelt changed when the service was due, and now I am having to change the tyres, because they are very close to the legal limit, but them apart, the car has been in fantastic shape and performance for its age and miles.

If you notice, the cars are getting newer and more powerful. An SUV around 2.0 litres would be logical for the next change, would you say? :|

Monday, July 13, 2009

Friends at work

One of the questions on the annual employee satisfaction survey we have (when we have it) is 'Do you have a best friend at work?'. Sure, I have friends at work, but my answer to that question has always been no. It is because if you're 'best friends' with a colleague, it blurs the line that demarcates personal and professional relationships.

Back home in India, it is easy to maintain different networks. You have your friends from school, from college, from the neighbourhood, from work etc. They are all distinct social circles of which you're a part of for a period of time. It is therefore possible to leave your colleagues at office and go to movies with your friends. But when you're in a foreign land, where your only social circle is made up of your colleagues who don the role of friends after hours, it makes it very hard to identify where to draw the line. And because everyone is part of the same circle, you're always bumping into each other everywhere - from the shopping mall to the movie hall to the pub crawl - bringing about an odd sense of familiarity between two people that eventually leads them to understand each other profoundly, or one taking the other for granted.

It is all good when everything is ok, but when people fall out, it fosters an unhealthy atmosphere. Suddenly people are no longer willing to help. Hands are thrown up in the air. Questions met with shrugs. Greetings unacknowledged. Dirty linen washed in public. And other people notice and they talk. They probe. They wonder what may have gone wrong. It lingers on somewhere in the mind, popping up every now and then, killing the urge to work and crushing productivity levels.

Recently two colleagues of mine (who were good friends) fell out of each other's favour. I recalled all the times spent together, and then all the venom spit out now, and wondered if it was all worth the result. I mused if this could have been prevented if they were merely colleagues, and strangely it made sense. They would have probably gone their own ways, like they have now, but without the acrimony. And it would have worked out well for everyone.

The incident came as a loud wake-up call to me. In each of the people we know professionally, there is a colleague who knows us well and a friend who works with us. It is important that we differentiate the two and know whom to work and whom to play with. It reminded me of a line which I often use - 'Good fences make good neighbours'. When the fences are strong, all is well, but when you let the fences break down, you give them the power to hurt you.

And once hurt, the relationship will never be the same again.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

An Year of S

This June, S completes a year of stay here. Looking back at it all, she's managed pretty well. Not that I am a hard person to live with, but she has been able to mix the excitement of being in a new place away from family, the hesitancy in making new friends, the boredom of being jobless all together and lap it up without letting it go into her head.

Last June, when we came in, she was all too excited about the house. She could not imagine it well enough when I described it to her (which was a good thing, since she did not have any preconceived notion of how it was) so I made a video of her as she entered the house and explored each room (of the 1BHK, if I may add). Now, it makes me smile as I look at her going around the house, looking wide-eyed at (now) common things like the carpeted floor, the bedside tables, etc and gushing "It's so cute".

The first few weeks were quiet, until she wore off the blues of being in a new place. She took her time to acquaint herself with the house, moving little bits of furniture around, making the place her own. She loved the fact that internet was available 24/7 and became so active on Orkut that she used it as an instant messenger. She bent the stick too much, and it broke. Within weeks, she deleted her Orkut account having got bored of it. Her next project was to go through my hard drive and arrange my music. Then photos, place-wise, date-wise. Then she ran out of things to do and there started the tantrums.

She missed her office, she missed friends of her own, she missed the independent life she once had in Bangalore. Suddenly, she began feeling claustrophobic, with no one to talk to, nowhere to go to, nothing to do. We've had our silliest fights during that phase,and sometimes I'm glad it's happened here. Anyone who saw us fight would have thought there is something seriously wrong in the marriage.

At this time, FRIENDS played a big role in taking things forward. S had this box set of FRIENDS - 'The One With All The Ten Seasons', which she always wanted to see with me. So one weekend we put in the first season and leaned back on the sofa. From then on, we devoured FRIENDS like Joey devours sandwiches. One DVD would never be enough and we would watch complete seasons at a stretch. It caught on to such an extent that S would keep an episode ready and we would watch it over lunch before I went back to office. Then again over tea, and dinner, and later.

FRIENDS gave way to 'Jo Jeeta Wohi Superstar' and we rooted for Vinit to win. Vinit imitating Himesh was an oft-played clip in Youtube. We caught up on all the episodes and actually became 'Live' in the sense that we watched Rahul Vaidya win in real time. The singing competition gave way to dancing competitions and streaming television at which point I lost interest.

Cooking provided S with another channel to expend her energies. She did find it hard the first time when I had invited about 20 people home, but once that was a grand success, she has not looked back. She now follows a cookery blog and conjures up dish after dish of simple, but exotic, delicacies.

The transition from a working woman to a homemaker has not been easy on her. Not landing a job has been her biggest grouse. With the market down, and employers preferring British people over immigrants, jobs have been hard to come by. Women and Work, which she recently joined provides her a chance to go out, meet other people and observe their lifestyle, but still a regular job eludes her.

Yet, she remains hopeful, and goes about her fairly predictable routine cheerfully, making me look at her in awe.