Posts Tagged ‘british culture’

Last Ecomishmash post

October 23, 2013

Ecomishmash has been my online identity for some time and this blog has been at the centre for reaching out to you. At that time of launching this blog, I was living some distance away from the place called home. The internet is there to make distances a little shorter. So Ecomishmash aimed to bring you closer to my world, my way of thinking. I spend much closer to home last year and Ecomishmash became quieter.

About a week ago, I went back to the UK. I could still vividly remember the last time I was standing on the docks in Dover, waiting for the ferry to the continent whilst the rain washed away the last remainders of the summer of 2012. At that moment I was very conscious I was leaving aspects of my life, slightly affright and sad. But deep inside I knew I had to let go, not to stick to the place.

At my arrival last week, I was dropped off in the centre of London at six in the morning. Memories of the first time I came to the UK came back to my mind. It was on a Sunday morning nine years ago I got off the Eurostar at Waterloo station. I was 20, on my own, naive and immature. My command of English was sub-standard, good enough for travel, but not to live there permanently.

Student accommodations where I lived between 2004-2005 (Uxbridge-London)

I went to sit in Waterloo station for some time, observing and reflecting what has changed over these nine years. That time, commuters were listening to their new iPods, closing themselves off from others whilst texting on their Nokia’s. Now, everyone is being social in the online world whilst ignoring their surroundings. We drink better coffee, electronic tickets make it easier to get on and off the public transport and a diversified selection of free newspapers helps us keep up with the important changes in society. Sorry I am being sarcastic, no major changes happened apart from the Eurostar going to St. Pancras now instead, leaving a death space at the station.

Than I came to the realisation many aspects of me as a person changed from living in the UK. At first I had to change my behaviour according to the system. Use different money, look at the right side to cross the street, speak a different language, get used to different food,… basically it is essential for survival. Shortly after, I became aware of the different norms. I bounced into odd habits like queueing to get in an empty venue or being over polite with strangers. I started to understand the nuances in the language, the manners, how to get something done and also, the humour starts to make sense. After some time living according to this new behaviour and norms, the new environment starts to penetrate deep in my mind. I can say that, apart from getting older, my experience of living in the UK definitely altered the way I look at stability, freedom, ambiguity, privacy, conformity, equality, participation, collaboration, creativity, the outdoors, joy, quality, tradition,

The house where I lived between 2008-2009 (Cranfield-England)

But reflecting back on all the changes over these years, the biggest change happened during the last one and a half years, a change within me. Before this transition-point, my mind was slowly becoming my world and I think this got amplified by being in the UK. I was a knowledge worker and the main thing going on in my life was mental activity, including; fighting, forcing, stressing, doubting, wondering, trying, frustrating, exaggerating and a lot of pondering and procrastinating. Even “relaxing” became a tiring mental activity. So even-tough my mind was formally trained, it was still a wild animal. Its diet was a monotone mix of all I could read, hear and taste. Its actions were driven by either wanting or avoiding situations. It was fighting or being exhausted from it, in both cases unable to listen to subtle signals. Signals from my body, the people and environments around me.

I am turning away from this destructive pattern and start to see the world around me much clearer. I am much more aware of my body and the impact of my actions. I seek a balanced lifestyle where both my mind and body can stay healthy, fit and active. I am slowly learning not to let my mind take over my world. Not to waste energy in the fighting but to work patiently on peaceful solutions. To let a big one-off exciting thing for what it is and to appreciate the subtleties in everyday life. I am learning to listen to my body and to use all my senses. I see it as a positive transition.

Galleon way

view from my Cardiff apartment 2009-2012 (Wales)

So last week I went back with a fresh pair of eyes to the place where it all happened. The country where I learned so much, met the most inspiring people, made friends for life, got the wildest natural experiences and cultivated unique values.  The place where I was much more free to be myself, but also drove me to something I was deeply unhappy about, yet couldn’t see.

So what I saw was something I already knew, but never took the impact of it seriously. It is a society on the surface doing well, but suffering under a lot of stress. A society where individuals are being proud of their busy-ness, but getting frustrated with everything slowing them down on their way (cyclist for example). A society where ego’s are cultivated by brands, money, history, narcotics, politics and education.

This stress becomes obvious in the way it gets released. Alcohol, meat, 3G, gadgets, cheap travel, promiscuous fashion, bling-bling, petrol-heats,… very impermanent, addictive and highly valued in British society. Every weekend city centres turn into bonkers. Fashion victims and binge drinking could be seen as the sub-cultures of millennials. But this is only the tip of the iceberg, ‘binge’ is an important ingredient in mainstream British culture. Buy one get one free, meal deals, unlimited watching, go for ‘a’ pint after work, a 3th runway, 4G,…  It is excellent fuel for the economy, but it is not good for body nor mind and undermines the social fabric.

Last weekend was good to reflect on my experiences of living in the UK. Many good values I formed over there will stick, some of those even clash with the values embraced at home, but that is how it is. I am grateful to everyone who made this experience possible to me. I am happy I am creating distance of the destructive behavioural patterns I got involved in and feel compassion for the people who are stuck in it.

The trip helped me realise that in my life, the biggest innovation and the greatest innovator are equal, it is me, myself. I learned not to stick to one place, one set of values or believes and to know when to let go. I am not going to let my experience, wisdom and judgment blocking me from approaching truly new things and rather use it to enjoy more meaningful things.

For me it is also time to let go of Ecomishmash. I enjoyed writing to you and I hope you enjoyed it too. I think Ecomishmash succeeded in creating a ‘mishmash’ i.e. a confused mixture. But I am at a point where I want to create more clarity. Probably this is my last post and hopefully we bump into each other in the real world or find me back under an other online identity.

So long,



A road safety question

February 5, 2012

Dear South Wales Police, Cardiff Council’s Road Safety Team and all residents of Cardiff

I am under the impression that cyclist lack acknowledgment as being a legitimate part of the traffic system. This could cause unconfident cyclists to be intimidated and confident cyclists to become arrogant. My impressions have been confirmed as you reported that many local residents raised concerns about cyclist riding on pavements and/or failing to obey red traffic lights.

In addition to this impression, I am starting to develop deep concerns about the polarisation between cyclists on the one hand and drivers and pedestrians on the other. This polarisation could manifest itself in two ways.

Firstly, the lack of awareness for each other’s road position. Businesses and motorist are systematically using cycle lanes and pavements as parking bays, pedestrians are often not expecting cyclists on shared facilities and cyclist thinking they have to ride in the car door zone, in the gutter (secondary position) or even in summer having to dress up as hi-vis Christmas trees.

Secondly, the lack of respect for each other’s road position. Motorists often dangerously overtake cyclists followed by cutting in sharply, the majority of pedestrians systematically ignoring red lights even during rush hour, a minority of outlaw cyclist ignoring red lights and highly skilled/equipped cyclist appearing more arrogant towards cars in order to reclaim their place on the road.
The Times Cities fit for cycling

This polarisation heads towards a culture where cycling is either not recognised as option for mobility, not being recognised as a legitimate activity, or being marginalised to a few minority groups. This is worrying, mainly for maintaining and improving road safety for all road users, but in addition to this, also for making Cardiff a more enjoyable and equitable city for all.

Despite all efforts to improve road safety for all road users, the Department of Transport most recent figures showed that killed and seriously injured (KSI) statistics for pedestrian, motorcycle and car users fell by between one and seven percent in the past year where as cyclist for the same period, however, increased by eight percent, including a four percent rise in the number killed.

These statistics feed my suspicion that the polarisation between cyclist and other road users is counter productive for cycle safety and I am hoping authorities can take action to counteract this trend. On the 25th of January, I was happy to find this leaflet attached to my bike outside Cardiff’s central library with a road safety message. In respect to my deep concerns for the increasing polarisation and decreasing road safety for cyclist, I was hoping to find an encouraging message, but instead read the following:

“In an effort to educate riders of the potential dangers they are creating for pedestrians and other road users, South Wales Police is working in partnership with Cardiff Council’s Road Safety Team to reduce the risk of a pedestrian, cyclist or other users being involved in a collision”

Genuine message? Read again and spot the nuance. This message stigmatises cyclist by hinting they need to be educated because they are the main source of danger on the road. Indeed cyclist can cause injury to other road users, but are you considering ‘a car’ as ‘the road user’? I challenge you to find a statistic that indicates a rider inflicted an injury to a driver. I applaud your attempt to stimulate cyclist to take training in order to gain confidence (further down the leaflet). But saying cyclist need education is failing to recognise that cyclists are legitimate road users.

Moreover, this leaflet highlights all the rules cyclist must or must not obey. I understand these rules are necessary to maintain road safety, however, there is a problem that cyclist cannot obey some of these rules in all cases. By, giving a few examples in the context of Cardiff, I hope to make you aware that there are systematic problems provoking cyclist to break the law.

Rule 64: You MUST NOT cycle on the Pavement.

Some roads are so daunting for cyclist that the pavement is the safer option. Roads with dual, triple or quadruple lanes without cycle facilities where the average speed is above 20mph can be very intimidating for cyclist. If these places are at the heart of Cardiff’s busy centre, it is inevitable that unintended law breaking behaviour is very visible to residents and tourists.

Single lanes with pinch points can also scare cyclist on the pavement. The illustration below is an example where most cyclist will choose the pavement. Where you see the bus, it is clear a cyclist can’t be overtaken. But its not uncommon drivers try to do so at the spot where the google picture is taken. I have found the guts to always take the primary position at this spot but this comes at the price that I am perceived as arrogant cyclist.

Rule 69 You MUST obey signs and traffic lights signals.

Due to improved infrastructure and the increase of dedicated signs for cyclist, cycle facilities in Cardiff are improving. But these improvements are very fragmented and in some cases miss any common sense. I have two examples for this.

The first example where obeying signs becomes absurd is the following. There are facilities in place to avoid the Gabalfa roundabout. But cycling further towards Caerphilly road, the signs will guide you onto the pavement in the opposite direction of a single direction, triple lane road. You can understand cyclist don’t like this. But if it is followed by a sign that makes an abrupt end to the cycle path, cyclist can’t see any logic in obeying signs like these. Moreover as you can see, drivers can not be aware of this and as a result this gives the public an impression that cyclist are law brakers.

Cyclist don’t question the importance of traffic lights, they are designed to allow flows of traffic to cross each other in a safe manner. Segregated cycle facilities are great because cyclist and/or pedestrians can cross each other without having to wait for lights. However, segregated cycle facilities need to link up with the road network. This second example illustrates that cyclist can’t go from the park into Corbett road. Since this google picture was taken, Cardiff Council have made many changes and created a connection to the main road, yet failed to provide cyclist nor pedestrians the option to enter Corbett road. The nearest crossing is 3 minutes walk from this point, one way. Hence many drivers might think crossing cyclist and pedestrians are red light jumpers, however their are no lights in place at all.

Rule 71 You MUST NOT cross the stop line when the traffic lights are red. Some junctions have an advanced stop line to enable you to wait and position yourself ahead of other traffic.

Because cyclist are mainly on the left side lanes, advanced cycle stops provide the opportunity to cut across multiple lanes before turning into a side road. The quadruple lane example mentioned before illustrates advanced cycle lanes are key in allowing cyclist to turn right. Its also great because it gives cyclist the possibility to breathe less polluted air. The following junction below is an example where the advanced cycle lane gives riders the possibility to wait whilst other traffic turns left. This junction is timed to have trafic turning in at the same time. You can imagine it is absolutely crucial for cyclist not crossing the line. But it’s not uncommon to find a car in this advanced cycle lane, note google also spotted the red car. An other aspect of being ahead of traffic is that you know when someone jumps a red light in front of you. Many advanced cycle lane users will be able to tell cars systematically speed up when lights flash amber and as result often jump red lights by split, yet crucial seconds. Jumping a red light on a bike is illegal and can be dangerous, jumping a red light using a motor vehicle is just as illegal but potentially causes a lot more death and injury.

I hope these few examples illustrate that following the cycling rules is not always possible for riders due to poor infrastructure, intimidating heavy traffic or some selfish drivers. Moreover, these unintended law-braking actions give cyclist a bad image. Road safety in Cardiff is everyone’s interest and responsibility. No pedestrian has been killed in collision with a cyclist either on the pavement or following a cyclist going through a red light in London in any of the last ten years. 54 pedestrians have been killed on the footway in collision with other vehicles in London over the last ten years. Cardiff is of total different size but you can see the trend. Based on this and the KSI figures, I have strong reasons to believe the residents’ concerns are based on perceived risk with a strong bias against something they don’t understand, i.e. cycling. I am concerned about this as this could results in inaccurate road safety assessment by pedestrians, cyclist, and motorist.

Cardiff Council has an obligation to facilitate local services such as traffic management and road safety. I know the council has a cycle strategy, did a cycle consultation and has a cycle officer appointed in order to improve cycle experiences in Cardiff. However, since you (South Wales Police, Cardiff Council’s Road Safety Team) distributed this road safety message, I am asking you directly what you are doing to improve cycle safety in Cardiff? I applaud your effort to crack down on outlaw cyclist and the attempt to encourage unconfident cyclist to take training. I am sure you are making more efforts to improve road safety in Cardiff. However is ‘educating’ cyclist the only effort you can make in reducing the risk of pedestrians, cyclist or other road users to be involved in a collision? Many drivers and pedestrians are unaware of cyclist or fail to anticipate to cyclists’ different road behaviour. A small group of drivers are intentionally ignorant to aknowledge cyclists’ rights to use public roads. So can you if your effort to improve road safety, on a regular basis, remind drivers they have obligations and responsibilities in sharing the roads with cyclists and pedestrians aswell.

British customs

December 10, 2011

Yesterday at 6.30 in the morning, I had to pass British customs. This activity is routine for me so it shouldn’t be worth writing a blog post about it wasn’t it apart from the extraordinary amount of questions I had to answer and the timing of this happening. I was asked a series of about six questions that started around my Belgian nationality.

My lifestyle requires meeting the British border agency on a regular basis, in some occasions even multiple times in a single day. My Belgian ID card gives me a quick and friendly entrance to the UK. I rarely get any question, even with a rich collection of strong Belgian beers in my luggage.

Less than a couple of hours before my last entry to the UK, David Cameron blocked the new European treaty with veto. It is funny some British press put more emphasis on David’s veto than to the content of the treaty. To my understanding the treaty basically tries to prevent the collapse of the whole European economy, not only the euro countries. The Brits have historically been scared for the European continent, however their leaders understand the UK is part of the wider European economy. With his veto, David tried to defend bankers’ interests and gained more respect from the “great British society”. I am having strong doubts if any one is a winner here.

The day before, the British press was sharp to Belgium because British border staff have faced threats of arrest by Belgian police over the problem with the “Lille loophole”. You can read the full story here, but the following quote is worth a short discussion.

“This has got to stop. You are not in Britain now, you are in Schengen. If they make a complaint you will be arrested.”

I don’t see this as a threat from Belgian police, but rather a signal of companionship. They don’t want to be forced having to arrest their British colleagues.

I must say that my normal greetings with British customs take place at a French ferry port, a Eurostar station or a British airport. This time I entered via the port of Harwich after returning form a genuine one-day business trip to the Netherlands. The standard for this type of trip is to fly and have an overnight in a hotel. I opt for an environmentally friendly mode of transport and took the rail and sail from London to the Hook of Holland via the overnight ferry. This option was more convenient to me because I could stay online and plan meetings along the way. To my own surprise the whole trip was very comfortable, even during “severe weather conditions”.

Was the extraordinary amount of questions I had the first signal of how Britain is drifting away from Europe, was it revenge of the British border staff for the way Belgium blocked their work or did I have the wrong profile at that specific point of entry to the UK? I hope it was just the later. But even if this was the case, it also worries me because it indicates green business travel isn’t considered a genuine travel profile yet.

British Values

August 12, 2011

A week ago I was chatting with my good friend Jon who used to live in London, but moved back to the New York. We were talking about the different types of stress we noticed on both sides of the pond since we last saw each other. This is a little extract from our conversation:

me: here it’s not about ego

its about liability

Jonathan: ?

22:16 me: there is a lot of stress because the system is going to get stuck soon

22:17 and everyone tries to be according to the system so they can’t be blamed if something will go wrong

Jonathan: how will it get stuck?

22:18 me: the UK is still a mediaeval country

Jonathan: like with knights and horses?

me: the rules just emerged

like everyone made them up gradually

22:19 not like the French, they had Napoleon to clean it all up

and the German had their dark side of history where they thought they could all clean it up

UK never had a revolution

except the industrial one

22:20 so the rules of the country are still mediaeval

Jonathan: hm

me: but that is also good, because it allows people to stay creative

22:29 Jonathan: you’ll have to tell me more about this systemic UK thing later

i gotta go to a beisbol game

Well now we are one week further, we still have food and games but the world has made a significant change again for the forth time or so this year.

Despite I can get very annoyed with the UK (especially when liability takes over common sense), I also like this nation because it gives space and freedom to innovation. I use the following slides sometimes in work-presentations to explain innovation and to illustrate the good and bad sides of innovation.

This brings me to the following scene from Network 1976 and the London basmati looter 2011 (see below).

I haven’t seen the whole movie and I don’t know the context of this looting so my apology if I jump into conclusions here.

People got mad in England the last week and what they are saying is “I am a human being goddamit, my life got value”. Unfortunately innovations in this country have reduced or skewed the understanding of value towards the concept of Tesco Value. Tesco provides value because it’s cheap, but the downfalls are that its not of high quality, you always get more than you need, it creates a lot of waste and it destroys communities. The Brits (with the English on top) love this concept.

The problem in the current British society is that they put young people in a Tesco-value box without looking to the real value inside. We are creating an enormous mess behind us, we are facing an aging population, credit crunches and massive environmental problems. And now we are treating our young people as cheap forces. The question on how to deal with the problems we created will be their problem to solve.

The reason behind my argument about cheap forces is that one of the main innovations in the UK, the 24/7 consumption society, is based on favouring big companies who are not in need of skilful people. Traditional entrepreneurship, by small business where people build up skills, are doomed to fail in this model.

This basmati looter is as mad as hell and he can’t take it any more! In my economic view, what he is saying here is that he can get more value out of a bag of low quality rice than what he would gain from his time within a free society. In my sociological view, what he is saying is that he doesn’t respect Tesco value and he rather go to prison (by being recognisable on the picture) than to put his time in creating value in this society turning around cheapness.

Now Mr. Cameron wants to put some young people in the box of “Parts of our society are not broken but sick” I am not totally clear on how he sees the difference between broken and sick, but I think Mr. Cameron should look further than a few parts of the society.

I would put the looters in the box of skilled people with high potentials for the future society. They have the skills to create social change, be entrepreneurial with a very limited amount of resources (just a mobile phone) and being able to influence communities.

And I would like to finish this post with some good old British humour. What we need is nurturing our kids, not giving the little boy a little scare Mr Cameron.

Hi-vis Nation

May 8, 2011

Cycling and more specific cyclists’ roles and behaviour have been a hot topics of discussion in the UK over the last month. Highlights in this discussion are the revolting comments on a Daily Mail article, the Safe Our Cyclist campaign by The Independent and the AA ‘Cycle Safety Day’.

In my experience of cycling on both the continent and the island, I can say there is a cultural and infrastructural problem in the UK. For example, the flat where I live counts 10 bike racks over to 70 car spaces. Moreover, the five-story building does not have a ground floor any more … I can only find a “Car Park Level”. You can see you already have to be a bit rebel to get on a bike in this kind of place, but to really get somewhere, you have to be an outlaw! The reason for this is that only cars can trigger the gates. This leaves cyclist with the only option for ‘escaping’ or ‘entering the UK road network’ is via cycling on the pavement.

There are so many aspects of the cyclist-driver relationship I could go off in a rant, but maybe the AA ‘Cycle Safety Day’ could be the most relevant.

First, I don’t see why cycle safety should be a one-day concern, but let’s move on. The timing of their action demonstrates they totally miss the point. On the warmest and brightest day, they were handing out hi-vis and helmets. Are these attributes important to make cycling safer that day? The importance of helmets can be discussed (see video below) but I see their enforcement to move towards a hi-vis nation redundant and alienating.

The safety of cyclist in traffic should be paramount and I agree visibility of the cyclist is key in this. However hi-vis nation is not the right strategy for a multitude of reasons:

  • Hi-vis makes sense in dark and rainy winter weather. If drivers still can’t see cyclist during the day, they have a serious problem with their eyesight.
  • Cyclist should cycle in the primary position to be visible, communicate intentions and be able to anticipate to driver-errors. Wearing hi-vis would licence drivers to abolish cyclist’s primary position by intimidate them to the gutter.
  • I associate hi-vis with danger. When I am a cycling in a normal manner, I can’t see how I am a danger towards someone.
  • Hi-vis are not fashionable, they look like radioactive bin-bags! When there are probably 10.000 types of black to get your car painted in, hi-vis only comes in yellow and orange.

Hey DJ

September 10, 2010

Last night a question kept me awake. But first I should explain how that question came to my mind. I like to cook because this activity relaxes my brain. It’s even more relaxing when I’m listening to instrumental music.

I’m wondering if instrumental music improves the capacity for abstract thinking?

I think this question is relevant because I notice that British culture is rooted with vocal music. For example last weekend I watched on the BBC an enjoyable summary of the headlights of 40 years Glastonbury. Almost every song was vocal (and from a British band), the only exception was the Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo Y Gabriela.

To me, vocal songs create a quick release of energy or emotion, while instrumental music either totally relaxes my brain or sparks future thinking.

Why is instrumental music lacking in Britain? Do the Brits pay more attention to the text than the music? Maybe the reason for this could be that they have never been exposed to foreign music.

If these assumptions would be right, can we change the British society (and others as well) to be more future, less short term pleasure oriented, by playing more instrumental music on the radio, bars, clubs and other public places. And than maybe a DJ can save some lives.

Fight the power!

May 5, 2010

Last weekend, I went up to Nottingham to visit a good friend who recently moved there. Like it fits in British culture, we went out to get some beers. But you may know that this culture is getting infamous for violence, vandalism, sexual abuse and other anti social behaviour. This is especially a problem in mid sized cities.
Being misled before, we decided to go dancing in a club that offered four rooms with “different music styles”. Once inside, soon we were dissatisfied with the cheesy one-size-fits-all music style, so we decided to make our way out to get some fresh air and “food”, and return later. We asked the bouncer if we could get back in later that night. He refused and some kind of tens fuss emerged in the hallway. The bouncer gave the impression to be aggressive and wanted to go outside with us. Being a pacifist myself, I argued we paid for a service, giving us access the whole night. The bounces got angrier and guided us to the exit. But ones he passed the counter, he gave back the money we paid to get in and told us “not to come back”. To our surprise, the entrance price was raised at that moment and the bouncer gave us back the actual price. For once “fighting the power” paid off!

But what does this anecdote learns us? It is often argued that the social problems are caused by alcohol abuse of the party people. I agree that this is the direct cause, however I think party people have genially intentions. Moreover, by going out, they strive to fulfil deeper needs of affection, leisure and identity. The strategy to fulfil these needs can be seen as being in a collective and celebrate this by chatting and dancing. So basically I don’t see anything wrong with that, it seems to work in other places and cultures. Of course there will always be conflicts emerging, but why is it a bigger problem in British mid sized towns?
I think the main cause have to be found in the business model the party industry follows. A bar, pub or club perceives every other bar, pub or club in town as a major competitor. So a bar, pub or club feels threatened and this causes multiple problems:

  • They get scared of people not liking the music, so they can’t play new or unknown music any more. The only music you hear are Kylie Minogue look alikes.
  • They get so confused where to innovate, they try to create a place which seems to have everything. Cheap drinks, food available, long opening times, even possibilities to have breakfast at Sunday morning or business meetings during the week, including wifi and other amenities.
  • They get so scared of you leaving, they will intimidate you for staying inside.
  • They also don’t understand they are actually offering a service and not a product. Even a high quality product like a luxurious cocktail is mainly a service, more specific its creation and consumption creates an “atmosphere” in the room. This misperception causes their competition is product (price) and not service (quality) driven.

Going back to what goes wrong in the mind of the party people. It is not only the alcohol that causes the problems, to my belief it is the whole atmosphere that is not fulfilling peoples needs. Monoculture and fake scarcity creates a feeling that is not satisfying identity and is pleasing affection and leisure in an unhealthy way. Maybe alcohol can be seen as triggering dissatisfaction?
Why isn’t the party industry following a business model based on a diverse ecosystem as opposed to only predators? Every place should foster a unique culture and be beneficial to other places. It seems to work in bigger cities and other countries.

To all the party people: Fight the power, not your friends!