Wednesday, December 31, 2003
Little Rissington, by Caroline Elkington 2003, 11 x 3 feet (©JE)
Once again, New Year’s Eve sets the mind thinking about time, intentions and ambitions. “Everything fears Time,” said the old Arab proverb, “only the pyramids laugh at it.” In recent days I have been reading Miroslav Verner’s fascinating account of the history and archaeology of The Pyramids. Mind-boggling. It’s amazing how far people will go to ensure some form of immortality.
Stumbled across a quote from Anne Frank this morning, as I prospected for a title for a new (and totally unrelated) book I’m planning. “I want to go on living after my death!” Anne wrote in her diary on 4 April 1944. “And therefore I am grateful to God for giving me this gift, this possibility of developing myself and of writing, of expressing all that is in me.” Amazing what she managed to achieve by the age of 15 with a few notebooks, as opposed to the 40- to 60-ton blocks of granite and limestone the Egyptians struggled to haul up to 70 metres into the sky.
It’s almost 30 years since I visited the Pyramids of Giza and Saqqara, when working in Egypt in 1975. Interesting to learn from Verner that under certain conditions, with varying temperatured layers near the horizon, an optical illusion can turn the sun’s disk into a step pyramid, like those at Saqqara. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen something of the sort. The early stepped pyramids would therefore have expressed the idea that the buried ruler was as immortal as the sun, dying on the western horizon every evening and then reawakening in the east every morning.
Sometimes strikes me that compiling a personal website like this is a bit like building a virtual pyramid, which others can later discover and wander around. Had an e-mail on 19 December from Soli(taire) Townsend of Futerra, saying that she had stumbled on the site and noting that she felt as though she had been given the chance “to rummage around inside someone’s head.” She suggests a bulletin board, or similar, to establish a more interactive conversation with visitors. Will ask Lynne (Elvins) to work out how this could be done. Certainly this would be an advance on the Pharaohs: I haven’t heard of any of them entering into direct conversation with those pillaging or studying their tombs.
Having bought Verner’s book together with The Rough Guide to Cyprus a few weeks before Christmas, I seem to be limbering up for further Near and Middle Eastern travels, with Crete, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran and Iraq all apparently on the ambitions list. But there are endless wrinkles: quite apart from the ongoing troubles in Iraq, I have always said I wouldn’t go back to Cyprus, where we spent a couple of years in the late 1950s, until Northern Cyprus was reintegrated. Many of the places I want to return to are on the Turkish side of the ‘Green Line’, including Kyrenia.
Still, to keep the fires burning, I borrowed a copy of Lawrence Durrell’s Bitter Lemons from my parents yesterday. And on page 28, I came across the words of a Turkish song:
If you should come to Kyrenia
Don’t enter the walls.
If you should enter the walls
Don’t stay long.
If you should stay long
Don’t get married.
If you should get married
Don’t have children …
Clearly since 1974, when the Turkish army invaded, Turkish refugees from the south and settlers from the mainland have done all of the above, and been buried there to boot. Fascinating how people’s lives interweave with the places they live – and, as in the Holy Land, how the social, economic and political implications then fan out through the generations.
Walking around Little Rissington (where we moved when we returned from Cyprus in 1959) on Tuesday morning, with Elaine and my sister Caroline, it was extraordinary to reflect on how much the village has changed since we were children. We were visiting the Village Hall, where Caroline’s huge (11 feet by 3) new painting of the village and its environs, from the perspective of Bobble Wood, now hangs.
Interestingly, too, there was a map on one of the walls showing all the field names in the parish, including ‘Upper Heaven’ and ‘Lower Heaven’, over towards Great Rissington. A lot easier to ramble downhill in 20 minutes, it struck me, than to spend 20 years building a vast limestone mountain like the Great Pyramid, but it takes all sorts to make a world.
Sunday, December 28, 2003
Elaine, in blue, masked by snowflake, asks for directions on Kleine Scheidegg (© HE)
Elaine, Gaia, Hania and I returned last night from a stunning week in Wengen, Switzerland, staying at the delightfully eccentric Hotel Falken. I used the opportunity to plough through a stack of books, including The Discovery of Slowness by Sten Nadolny, Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald and John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row (the last of which which E, G and H had also all read or re-read on the trip). All three books are extraordinary, albeit in wildly different ways. Also dipped into The Quark and the Jaguar by Murray Gell-Mann and A Terrible Beauty by Peter Watson, which I plan to read cover to cover, eventually.
The four of us went for mammoth walks every day, the first day in an unexpected blizzard. Thereafter, we enjoyed wonderful clean snow pretty much until the last day, when a partial thaw started. One day, we went up to the Schilthorn/Piz Gloria, where we had lunch in the remarkable revolving restaurant, looking out across the glittering peakscape, including the dark North Face of the Eiger. On the last evening, among other things, we went ice-skating at the Wengen rink. I had trouble keeping my feet to begin with, which made me happy that Maddy I had sat out the Somerset House skating a few weeks back, but soon I was managing to make a reasonable fist of it. Skating around in the midst of those amazing peaks is pretty much the ultimate way to take one’s mind off the day-to-day travails of sustainable development – until, that is, people start talking about why the glaciers are retreating and the Alpine permafrost thawing.
While we were away, I learned from ploughing through the papers that had arrived in our absence, Iraq hadn’t been the only source of bad news – over 20,000 Iranians had been killed by an earthquake in and around Bam, and over 200 people had died in a release of hydrogen sulphide from a natural gas field in China.
Cloudscape on Christmas Day (© JE)
Thursday, December 18, 2003
Yesterday was Amsterdam, speaking at the launch of CIMO, a new centre for innovation and sustainable business at the Free University of Amsterdam. Arriving mid-morning, I went to lunch at IMSA (www.imsa.nl), an organisation very like SustainAbility and originating in 1985. Lunch hosted by IMSA founder Wouter van Dieren and colleagues. Marcel Bovy had asked me to come by to discuss how SustainAbility manages values-based dilemmas and issues with 15 members or so of the IMSA team. Very interesting and lively debate.
Later, after the main part of the CIMO meeting, I was one of the people taking part in a series of so-called ‘tableaux vivants’, mine being with Alois Flatz of Sustainable Asset Management (SAM), in a darkened room, with a draped piano and a mystic pond, answering ‘burning questions’. In his speech, Alois noted that he had been doing calculations on his new son Joachim. He estimated that if Joachim had kept growing for a full human lifetime at the rate that he grew in the first few months, he would have ended up with a headroom problem: 780 kilometres tall!
Monday, December 15, 2003
Spoke at a conference this afternoon in Cabot Hall, Canary Wharf, focusing on extent to which London’s pitch for the 2012 Olympics could be linked to the sustainability agenda. Seems that it could be done, though it’s anyone’s guess what chance London would have of winning. The main Olympic Zone, it appears, would be built in the Lower Lea Valley.
Then, in the evening, along to the Royal Society of Arts, where we held a farewell dinner for Charles Muller, as a trustee of the Environment Foundation, and for Helen Holdaway, who has been our Director since 1998. She has been involved in the Foundation since the early 1980s, has orchestrated pretty much all our consultations at St George’s House, Windsor, and kept our lines steady when we were under determined, Dickensian assault by the Charity Commissioners. The fact that we eventually won the case, ensuring that sustainable development would henceforward be a charitable objective (www.environmentfoundation.net) in the UK, is probably the biggest single thing the Foundation has done, other than catalysing the process that led to the Queen’s Award for environmental achievement. The obvious question now: what next?
Saturday, December 13, 2003
Exhausted, but hopefully in recovery. This evening, watched a TV programme on the North African campaigns of Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) and the Special Air Services (SAS), the sort of special forces once dubbed the ‘Funnies’. Elaine’s father, Stanley, my late father-in-law, was in the desert for six years during WWII. Not PC to say so, I suspect, but I have always been attracted to the out-of-the-box style of warfare of people like the Chindits, LRDG and SAS. In Cyprus as a child I was forcibly impressed by an ex-Chindit, Douglas Walker-Brash. He came to the breakfast table heavily armed, sporting sidearms in the same way that General Patton did.
In The Guardian Review today I also read a review by William Dalrymple of Words of Mercury, a collection of the best of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s writings. Like Geoffrey Chandler (see 9 December and 27 October entries), he was involved in the unconventional fighting in Greece.
Asked Pat, my mother, who had read the same review, whether she had read Leigh Fermor’s Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water? I had, years ago, and loved them. She hadn’t, so I sent her all three for Christmas this evening, couresy of Amazon, after watching the grand finale of the BBC’s ‘The Big Read’. Of the final 5 books out of 6,000 originally entered, three were favourites of mine: Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. Tolkien won. I can still recall the smell of rain on the earth outside at 06.00 one morning as I finished the third volume after a marathon 2-day, 3-volume reading session in the late 1960s.
Wednesday, December 10, 2003
Skaters: Back row – Oliver Dudok van Heel, Jan Scherer, Nick Robinson, Tell Muenzing, Peter Zollinger, Jeff Erikson; front row – Kavita Prakash-Mani, Frances Scott, Jodie Thorpe, Kizzi Keane, Philippa Moore (© JE)
Took part in SustainAbility Board meeting through to around 14.00. One key development: our 3-person US team has broken the $500,000 revenue mark for the first time and with Mark Lee joining us from Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) in January, the prospects there look pretty healthy. Later, a large bunch of us (people from the London, Washington and Zurich offices) went across to the skating rink at Somerset House.
Only time I have skated on ice was in the Cotswolds, at least 40 years ago, when the village fishmonger was out on his wooden skates, doffing his hat to everone he passed. You could look down through the ice to see trapped autumn leaves, with frozen streams of bubbles – a bit like skating across the boundary layer with an alternate universe.
Maddy (Rooke-Ley) and I sat it out, with hot chocolates, watching the passeo. One glorious moment when the SustainAbility folk linked up into a long gliding conga, and the Future Forests people (who just happened to be there same day, same time) linked on. Too much fun, though: the ice marshalls intervened and broke the conga up, but not before I had caught a fragment naughtily skimming by.
In the evening, the team and their partners head off to Yatra in Dover Street, for a delightful evening. As a gimmick to get people talking, Kizzi had allocated everyone with an identity: I turned out to be Samson and found my Delilah in the form of Nick’s Fiona. On the way home with Elaine, I mused that we have some fair old challenges ahead, but as long as we can get our management issues sorted we have the makings of a stunning team for 2004.
Outlaw conga: From the front – Oliver Dudok van Heel, Frances Scott, Nick Robinson, Yasmin Crowther, Tell Muenzing, Seb Beloe, with Jeff Erikson leaving picture on the left (© JE)
Tuesday, December 09, 2003
Council interlude: Craig Mackenzie (Insight), Sophia Tickell (Just Pensions/Oxfam), Peter Zollinger, Julia Hailes (co-founder of SustainAbility), Vernon Jennings (a Director of SustainAbility for nine years before leaving for Novo Nordisk), Yasmin Crowther, Sir Geoffrey Chandler (© Nick Robinson)
Our first face-to-face SustainAbility Council meeting for perhaps three years opens at the Royal Society of Arts. I introduce RSA Director Penny Egan by saying that Hania has been studying US and EU (particularly UK) approaches to film script writing – and discovered that Europeans (particularly Britons) tend to start with some history before getting into the real story, whereas Americans get straight to the story. As good Europeans, I say, we are going to start with a bit of context. Penny kicks off with a welcome noting that the Society is 250 years old next year – and that it has always had many aspects of the sustainability agenda among its priorities. Indeed, its genesis took place in the coffee shops of 18th century London, which many see as the origins of what many would call today ‘civil society’.
The RSA provided a platform – and something of a refuge – for the environmental debate through the Thatcher years in the UK, so in a sense it’s nice to come home. I also note that (Sir) Geoffrey (Chandler), present as a member of our Council, was also a regular denizen of the RSA in 1986 as Director of Industry Year. Apart from members of our Council and Faculty, the meeting also drew together people like Monique Barbut (the new Director of UNEP’s trade, industry and economics division), George Dallas (head of rating agency Standard & Poor’s governance unit), Craig Mackenzie (Insight Investment) and James Wilsdon (Demos).
Our focus during the day is primarily on SustainAbility’s research and think-tank priorities for the next 3-5 years, with the process run by Seb Beloe (our Director of Research & Advocacy) and Peter Zollinger (Executive Director). By the time we report back to the full Core Team late in the day, we have made a huge amount of progress, with a series of new perspectives and ideas surfacing. But perhaps the key outcome is that the team re-discover the value of our Council and Faculty. Many of the team hadn’t been around when we last held a Council meeting, that one at the Royal Aeronautical Society.
Thoughtful: Professor Tom Gladwin (University of Michigan), George Dallas (Standard & Poors) (© Nick Robinson)
Thursday, December 04, 2003
Hand in claw: Sophia Tickell, Lise Kingo and friend (©JE)
Wake up in the Old Bank Hotel, Oxford. Second day of fascinating conference at Magdalen College on non-communicable diseases, including obesity, cardio-vascular disease and diabetes. The purpose of the ‘Oxford Vision 2020’ event, sponsored by Novo Nordisk and organised by the Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metalbolism, is to help the World Health Organisation (WHO) develop a strategy for dealing with what is expected to be an epidemic of chronic or non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
A paper circulated ahead of the meeting, and co-authored by Derek Yach of WHO, says that in 2003 there will have been an estimated 56 million deaths globally, of which 60% will be due to NCDs. Yach and his wife wrote another paper last year, which he sends me after the event, arguing that NCDs are emerging as a major threat to any chances we may have of achieveing sustainable development.
In my summing up late in the afternoon I say that the discussions have put me in mind of three characters: Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen (because the NCD challenge is one where the world will have to run faster and faster and yet will continue to slide backwards), Alexander the Great (except that here there is no way to slice to the heart of the Gordian Knot) and Kofi Annan (because of his emphais on partnerships for change – and because of the Global Compact project we are ramping up at SustainAbility, where I am now determined to include a component on NCDs).
The evening’s dinner is at the Pitt Rivers natural history museum, where just about the first case I come across contains a horseshoe crab, a reminder of our Cape Cod jaunt. As we leave, I take a couple of shots of Lise Kingo (VP for the triple bottom line at Novo Nordisk) and Sophia Tickell (just standing down from Oxfam, now part of Just Pensions and a much-valued member of SustainAbility’s Council), with a raucous, toothy passer-by.
Monday, December 01, 2003
Flew last night to Brussels, to speak at Fairer World Forum (www.humanitarian-review.org). Held at the Bibliotheque Solvay, in the shadow of the new European Parliament complex. Among the questions asked: Are multinational corporations the ‘unsung heroes’ of development aid? Is ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ the same in the First and Third Worlds? And, How are global commodities markets rigged against the Third World? Most of the proceedings left me strangely unstirred, but there was one extraordinary statement from a US company representative. He effectively argued that his transport and courrier group should be allowed to adopt different laws and standards in different parts of the world, one of which I happen to know is Burma/Myanmar. He was quickly scrabbling to make good the damage done, insisting that this wasn’t at all what he meant to say even if it was what he said. I wonder.