My latest GreenBiz column considers some lessons learned from my recent trip to Berlin, Paretz and the like.
A rather extraordinary day, starting with blood-letting at the doctors’ surgery in Barnes, then a meeting with Luke Fletcher and his colleague Rebecca Bruce of lawyers Bates Wells & Braithwaite, with whom I have a long history going back to Earthlife, I think, and certainly to The Environment Foundation, on a possible new structure for Volans.
Then Louise and I walked along the north bank of the Thames to Somerset House, where we met Yinka for lunch at the Spring Restaurant. Then we went to see people about possibly taking a space in Somerset House – and took a look at one possibility.
After which I did a call with Cathy Runciman of Atlas of the Future, though the wifi blindspots in Somerset House were a bit of an issue.
Then I walked up through Covent Garden, before walking across to Clerkenwell and Zetter‘s for a wonderful dinner with Elaine, Gaia and Paul.
Flew in from London today to Köln for the 8th International Conference on Sustainability & Responsibility, themed around ‘Responsible Leadership in Times of Transformation’.
My session yesterday involved a debate on our recall of the Triple Bottom Line, with challenges from René Schmidpeter of the Cologne Business School. Very energetic audience participation.
A high point of the event was when UN Global Compact co-founder Georg Kell told me from the stage that I had been a great inspiration to him, though he told me later in the day that when I first challenged him early on his role as head of the Compact he was tempted to think of me as an “arrogant bastard”.
The Lifetime Achievement Ward went to Professor Robert Eccles of Harvard and now the Saïd Business School. Also a member of the Volans Advisory Board, as it happens.
In the evening, it was profoundly moving to hear from the city’s mayor, Henriette Reker. The subject of an assassination attempt in October 2015, she has been a brave champion of refugee rights.
Reminded me of talking to a Syrian refugee at the Paretz event, who had come to Berlin three years ago – and found the transition immensely tough. Mayor Reker is a symbol of the best of humankind when faced with the twin challenges of forced migration and acculturation.
She was followed by an extraordinary dance troupe, apparently one of 30 in the city, which spend much of the year practising for the annual carnival. Amazing energy and gymnastics. Uplifting, in every sense.
Spent a wonderful week with the BMW Foundation at Paretz, near Berlin. On that, more shortly. But was thinking while there that BMW, back in the day, had produced BMW 801 engines for e.g. the Focke-Wulf Bf-190 fighter that pilots like my father Tim would have faced in WWII. The most produced radial aero engine of the Third Reich period.
Then this evening I watched Jacqui Farnham’s Channel 5 programme Rolls-Royce: Dream Machines, which I had recorded while travelling. And discovered something I had never heard before.
That was that Henry Royce had moved to West Wittering – and at one point sketched out in the beach sand an early design for the R series engine, which powered Britain’s successful Schneider Trophy contender, and would later evolve into the famous Merlin engine …
… Which powered e.g. the Hawker Hurricane.
… One of which Tim was flying when he was shot down in 1940.
… At West Wittering.
When I got back from Berlin today, Elaine and I went across to Westminster City Hall for the WWF trailing of the forthcoming ‘Our Planet‘ series with Netflix and Silverback.
Great presentations from the likes of Sir David Attenborough, who is becoming steadily more activist, and Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Centre.
Met and talked to a wide spectrum of people in the field before the showing, including Stanley Johnson (whose son Jo resigned from the Government today, apparently over Brexit, which he sees as a complete cock-up), then went across to the Cinnamon Club for a delightful dinner with Clare Kerr (who I got to know during our joint time as members of WWF UK’s Council of Ambassadors) and her husband, Nick Hurd.
Flew to Germany on Monday, initially to Berlin for a session at the BMW Foundation Hebert Quandt HQ, featuring a beamed-in Jeremy Rifkin, then on by coach to the intriguing and once-royal village of Paretz. Spent several thought-provoking days with some 30 BMW Foundation and (the impact investment network) Toniic invitees – with some thoughts provoked captured in my latest GreenBiz column.
Here is a poem my sister Caroline composed recently, capturing elements of the adventures of looking after our elderly parents – he teetering on the edge of 98 in December, she 96. I can only say I love it. Its acute observation of two extraordinary beings and its patience and stamina in the face of life’s adversities.
The Year of Looking After Mum
In the half-light from the Anglepoise
she is a Limavady beach back in the fifties,
the pillow curving in sand-dune folds around her silver hair,
a beached and bleached mermaid – legs as useless.
This bedroom where you and he have slept and laughed and loved.
The wedding dresses twirled, the hair bedecked,
bridesmaids fluttering like cabbage whites over the brassica.
The mystery of the missing Doll’s House, solved.
The First Man on the Moon in shuddering black and white
on a grey plastic television, which creaked and pulsed with heat;
all six of us in your seven-acre bed.
The carpet, once fluffy vanilla clouds,
now matted and reeking like a damp Labrador.
The resident ghost appearing and disappearing here, in delusion and reality,
came to stay for good when the imaginary became your life.
Hallucinations so real you could reach through the shimmering portal
and pinch their warmly yielding flesh.
Your sightless eyes following apparitions in some other parallel bedroom
where all the abandoned little boys in the world had ample chocolate
and the floor was flooded to your ankles, a rippling High Spring Tide
that wasn’t there.
Where nothing was real except my father.
Now it’s full of fading light and holding on.
Every dent and scratch on ancient walls have history.
Every mark, careless graffiti, left behind in war and peace.
What matters is the minute.
She says he loved her in an instant,
although she was wearing a stained apron, a dirty tea towel in her hand.
I think I love you, he said.
Don’t be silly, she replied.
But he was right.
The next day he came back with two new tea towels – post-war gold dust.
He had a girlfriend called Misty – she went back to America.
Mum was sad for her.
Caroline Elkington, Little Rissington, 2018
Off and on, I have watched the BBC’s Dr Who, in its various guises, since it began in 1963. Every so often, a new Doctor hooks me back in. Admit that I didn’t have high hopes for Jodie Whittaker as the thirteenth time around the block in the Tardis, but was moved by this evening’s show, riffing off the Rosa Parks historical-turning-point-on-a-bus-in-Alabama story.
If this gets even a few people digging back into the history of the civil rights movement that will be helpful, but I suspect that it will have opened many eyes – and hopefully minds. Loved Vinette Robinson as Parks: quiet, determined dignity in a human and civic rights cesspit.
Liked the central idea that apparently small, inconsequential events can set change the world. Saw The Telegraph dissed it, while The Independent liked it: the old political resonances still at work. Found some interesting background on Parks’ personal history here.
I began this blog with an entry reporting on a visit to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, on 30 September 2003. The blog element of the website has gone through several iterations since, with older material still available on this site.
Like so many things in my life, blog entries blur the boundaries between the personal and the professional. As explained on the Home Page, the website and the blog are part platform for ongoing projects, part autobiography, and part accountability mechanism.
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