Category Archives: Thoughts

Some of my thoughts, ideas and other text based entries

Recently read: Small Change

Money, money, money. Unless we return to bartering I believe it will stay with us and be an important part of our lives for a long time. And with it the question how to spend it wisely. Via Tim Harford I came across an interesting book about just that topic:

While it didn’t teach me as much new as I had hoped it reminded me of a few things and gave me a few things to think about, namely:

  • The importance of seeing the money you’re spending, also called the pain of spending money. In our modern world more and more of our money is spent cashless, you don’t really see the money disappearing from your wallet, so you don’t feel the pain as much. While certainly convenient (and I use it all the time) it makes it much easier to lose sight of how much you’re spending (which at least partially is intended, as it gets you to spend more).
  • Opportunity costs. If you spend £4 on a coffee/tea/hot chocolate, what are you not spending (or saving up to) it for? If you spend an hour on Facebook/Twitter/othersocialmedia, what are you not doing instead (e.g. writing a blog post like this)? What can you not buy/do by spending money or time or something? What is more important to you?

Neither of these were new to me, I had either read about them before elsewhere or learned about them during my education. But they were good reminders of things to think about more. In particular opportunity costs I think about much more now.

Other readers might learn other things or be reminded of other things from the book. I think it’s a good read, well worth the money (it might pay for itself if you learn something from it…).

Recently read: Psyched Up

One of my goals for this year is to read more, sadly it’s not going as well as I had hoped. Still, I did manage to finish a book recently, hopefully motivation for more soon. Especially as the subtitle of the book reads:

How the science of mental preparation can help you succeed.

Sadly the science is rather limited and largely focused on sports, at least that’s what I mainly took away from the book. There’s quite a bit about the success (or lack thereof) of trash talk and music playlists during or before sports competitions and activities, neither of them I found very beneficial for me personally. Others might find it more beneficial and interesting (I personally don’t like music while I’m exercising very much, in particular walking/jogging, I prefer the sounds of nature).

More interesting was the part about confidence, how to instill confidence and how the often derided (incl by me) motivational posters might actually help after all. Still, I don’t plan to hang any of them up, certainly not at home and most likely not at my desk in the office either.

An unexpected chapter was the last one, covering the use (or abuse, depending of your point of view) of various chemical aids, a.k.a. pills. After giving them a try Daniel McGinn came to the conclusion they weren’t for him (a conclusion I’ve come to without trying them), although he’s still keeping the option in his back pocket (not something for me).

In summary for me: some ideas I might be able to build on, but overall not enough practical ideas for me personally. A too large focus on sports to be useful for me personally. Your mileage may vary.

An Emotional Return to Bremen

Today would have been my father’s 87th birthday, sadly he passed away in January this year. Last weekend my sister and I returned to Bremen to lay him to rest and to revisit some of the places of our childhood and youth (we have both long since moved away, my sister to Heidelberg in the south of Germany, me to the UK). Our father had lived in Bremen for almost his whole life, only moving to Heidelberg to be near his daughter when his wife (our mother) passed away in 2008.

As there are no direct flights from Heathrow to Bremen any more I flew to Frankfurt on Wednesday evening and stayed at an airport hotel. Their noise insulation was very impressive, I didn’t hear a thing of the motorway and the planes landing right outside my window. On Thursday morning my sister picked me up for the long drive to Bremen. The Autobahn was very busy and slowed us down significantly, meaning we didn’t arrive in Bremen until late in the afternoon. At least we crossed the river Weser in some brilliant sunshine. When stopping to buy some fruit on the way we also stopped at Jan Reiners, an old narrow gauge train locomotive. Until 1954 it had pulled a train along the Jan-Reiners-Damm, which passed right outside the plot where our father’s house was built in the early 1960s (the train track and dam was converted to a walking and cycling path). After checking in at the Park Hotel we had a quick look around the hotel and went for a short sunset walk in the Bürgerpark. In the evening we went for a nice meal with a cousin of our father and her husband at the Meierei, talking about our father and more.

Friday started with a run in the Bürgerpark for me, before we drove over to the Hachez outlet shopping store. Hachez was the favourite chocolate of our father, so I think it was quite fitting that I left with 1.3kg of chocolate, I think my sister was in a similar range. We continued into Bremen town centre, direction Marktplatz. We took pictures of the Bremer Stadtmusikanten, the Bremer Roland, the Rathaus and the Dom as well as the Schuetting, before meeting up with one of our aunts (a sister of our mother). The Sun even came out for some of the pictures and for a while we could sit outside at the Raths Apotheke.

By lunchtime it was time to drive over to the cemetery, the Riensberger Friedhof. The five of us met up with the urn carrier at the gate of the cemetery. He took us into the waiting room, among other things some minor administrative steps had to be completed. My sister and I had decided against a formal ceremony, we opted for only the burial with the urn being carried to the grave by the urn carrier. After a few minutes reflection we started the slow walk to our father’s final resting place. Unfortunately (or may be fittingly) the weather had turned by now, it was cold with occasional rain as well as a fierce biting cold wind. Once we arrived the urn was placed in the prepared hole, we had a few more minutes for quiet reflection, leaving flowers and saying our final good byes. Finally the urn carrier filled the hole and put a pot of flowers our father’s cousin had brought on top. As the grave was new our fathers name wasn’t on a stone just yet, but it was listed on a board. We then visited the grave of an aunt and finally the grave of our mother, who was laid to rest here back in 2008. As her plot was full by now it wasn’t possible to bury our father in the same plot. His plot and his stone will look the same as our mother’s though once his plot fills up. I quite like this style and we both feel it’s right for our parents (for myself I have a different idea, but that’s not for this entry).

As we all started to feel the cold by now we decided to move on and drove over to the Bürgerpark for tea and cake at the Kaffeehaus am Emmasee. We spent an hour or so talking about the funeral and our parent’s life and memory. A nice end to the occasion. Later in the evening my sister and I went for a meal at the Gasthof zum Kaiser Friedrich in the Schnoor area with our aunt. From here we also called another aunt (our mother’s second sister) who unfortunately couldn’t be with us in person.

After such a long and exhausting day I had looked forward to a good night’s sleep, although that wasn’t meant to be: That night a cold I believe I had picked up at home in England (when I returned to work I found a colleague had exactly the same symptoms at the same time as me) hit me quite strongly. I hardly slept that night and felt quite bad the next morning. I was so tired I almost fell asleep at the table during breakfast. After a lunchtime nap I felt slightly better and we drove out to Kuhsiel, a popular weekend destination during our childhood and youth. We went on a short walk along the Blockfeld dam protecting the land from the Wümme River. As the restaurant/café at Kuhsiel was closed for refurbishment we enjoyed a hot chocolate and cakes at the Dielencafé . During the walk we also by pure chance bumped into one of the best friends of our late mother, giving us the unexpected opportunity to catch up with her. In the evening we went to Bremen’s oldest Chinese restaurant before an early night.

Sunday morning I felt a bit better and after a last walk in the Bürgerpark I felt fit enough for the long journey back. My sister drove me back to Frankfurt (with an unexpected detour to the outskirts of Oldenburg, where I had gone to university) from where I flew back to the UK.

A few pictures:

(Click on the pictures for the larger version)

Step 1 of another journey complete

When I applied for a job 22.5 years ago after graduating from the Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg in Germany I don’t think I would have imagined in my wildest dreams something I’m doing now. And with that I’m not talking about recovering from heart valve surgery. Said job turned out to be in Swindon in England while I had been born in Germany and had lived most of the next 26 years in Germany (apart from almost a year in the US for an internship).

In early 1995 I boarded a ferry to Harwich to start what at that point I probably thought was going to be just an episode in my life. I don’t know for sure but I think most if not all of the other foreign hires hired at the same time have long since returned to their countries of origin. But 22 years later I’m still here (with one short interruption 1998-2000 where my then employer sent me to Munich in Bavaria. Which as a northerner born in Bremen is a foreign country as far as I’m concerned). I’ve changed employer and I’ve moved home from Swindon to Aldermaston Wharf, but otherwise I’m still here.

Having been in the UK for so long I had started to think about it a few years ago: Naturalisation. Applying for citizenship. I feel the UK is my home now. Germany feels more and more like a foreign country (especially as I only go back to Germany a few days every year, if that. There have been years where I didn’t go at all). I find myself defending my chosen home against unjustified (and sometimes even justified) criticism. I find it more natural to speak, write, think and dream in English than in German. But apart from reading up on it a bit on the internet I hadn’t done a lot about it just yet, it was just on the radar. Then the Brexit vote came along.

The Brexit vote changed a lot. For a number of people I know it means they don’t feel welcome here any more. Some are making plans to move back to their country of origin (or elsewhere), others I think have even already done so. For me the plans I’ve had in the back of my mind have become more urgent. I’ve decided to stay and sit it out, make the best of it. I might regret it if the UK really goes down the drain as is entirely possible. I’m strongly against Brexit (as are millions of others, which is often forgotten) and think it’s one of the dumbest ideas ever. But I don’t feel it’s right to run away from the place which has become my home, with all its faults. I don’t feel it’s right to run away from all my friends which have given me enormous support and mean a lot to me. So I’ve decided to push ahead with naturalisation.

Picture of a UK residence documentation card
My Permanent Residence Card

The first step of that was to apply for a Permanent Residence Card. After a few weeks of gathering all the required evidence that I had legally and lawfully lived in the UK while exercising EU treaty rights (or something along those lines) I sent off my application in very early October, just before I left for the hospital for my operation. Then the nervous big wait began. I had read that processing an application could take up to six months (especially since the Brexit vote as the Home Office has been inundated with applications) and that in some cases applications were rejected for formalities. Today the both dreaded and anxiously awaited large A4 envelope (because of all the documentation to be returned) was sitting in my letterbox when I arrived home. When I ripped it open as soon as I was up in my flat one of the first things I saw was what you see in the picture. Relief, everything was fine. Step 1 of the journey is complete, I’ve obtained my Permanent Residence Card.

Now on to the next steps. I’ve got to pass a language test (I’m fairly confident about that, I know the differences between their/they’re/there, you’re/your,  it’s/its and should have/should of) and I’ve got to pass the Life in the UK test (which apparently teaches you such important things like when and where the first curry house was opened, but not which telephone number to dial in an emergency. But then I know the latter anyway). So the next few weeks, may be even months, will be spent studying this:

New Year’s Resolution: Improved Sleep

It’s not really a New Year’s resolution, but it sounded a bit better in the title. One of the things I thought a lot about during the first months of my recovery from heart valve surgery has been my sleep. I think it’s something I have to admit I’ve neglected over the last years if not decades. In the back of my mind I decided it’s something I wanted to do something about, although I didn’t form any firm plans what it was.

Browsing in a bookstore during a trip to Reading just before Christmas I came across a little book I decided to pick up and see if it can help me forming a plan how to improve my sleep:

‘Elite sports sleep coach’ sounds a bit strange and bombastic, but then the author has indeed good credentials, having worked with the major football teams, the Sky cycling team and more. So I thought I’ll give it a go. I haven’t finished the book just yet, but what I’ve read so far largely makes sense to me.

Since just before Christmas I’m now getting up at a regular time (6:00 for me, very early, but I need the early start for various reasons) regardless of the day. Yes, even over Christmas and New Year I got up at that time. So far that’s working quite well. I’m trying to think/plan my night sleep in 90 minute cycles instead of thinking the old outdated 8 hours (which I never managed anyway) and also aim to have daytime naps in either 25 minute power naps or 90 minute full cycle naps. That part isn’t fully working yet, my body still needs to properly adapt to it. I’m trying to slow down and significantly reduce screen exposure the last hour before going to bed. I’m having mixed success with this, I’m now usually shutting down my laptop an hour before bed, but I’m still looking too much at my tablet/phone at the last minute, so far I haven’t fully build up the resilience not needing to look. Combined with general recovery/fitness plans I’m going for a 15-20 minute bedtime walk regardless of the weather, that’s working really well. I’m also doing other closure/preparation tasks like washing up, preparing my clothes for the next day and the like in that hour, that’s working fairly well.

There are many more areas needing work and I need to make sure I transfer what I’ve started into fully consistent habits, but then this is a journey, not something you just switch on. I’m hoping improving my sleep will help me in both the ongoing recovery as well as maintaining my health later on. After all sleep is when our bodies rest and repair themselves.