Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

What trains can teach us about relationships..

Sep 30 2015

.. Insights from a zugteilung in Hanover The special overnight trains which in English we hopefully call sleepers, are in Germany sensibly called Nachtzug, night trains. No false expectations there. In fact, I’ve used the Nachtzug many times, and they’re very comfortable. However, my recent German holiday involved getting onto the night train in Hamburg at 00:31, and off in Cologne at 06:14. Exotically, this Nachtzug was from Copenhagen to Switzerland, with special coaches for Prague and for Amsterdam via Cologne. German is a wonderfully literal language, so I didn’t need my dictionary to figure out that Zugteilung meant train-part-ing. In Hanover, night trains from Copenhagen, Berlin and elsewhere would be split up, shunted about, and rejoined.

The reality of this was that around 2am, when I’d at last got soundly asleep, my coach was repeatedly and vigorously bounced, as if the German engine drivers were playing ping-pong. It’s thanks to this awakening experience that I can offer you this new model of relationships. Gehen wir los… Imagine that a relationship is like the connection between railway carriages. Your relationship may run smoothly along the tracks, round the bends, through the tunnels, for a good while. But there come times when you have to uncouple, and this can be bumpy. There’s also the question of destinations. You may hope that your relationship is headed in a certain direction, just as I had bought a Nachtzug ticket for Cologne, but once embarked, other factors are at work…The driver and signalmen can take you to Hanover, or wherever, and bump you around as they choose. Depending upon your chosen weltanschaung (outlook on the world), their role could be compared to Fate, guardian angels, or the working-out of your own complex subconscious.

However, if you and your adjacent carriage need to go in different directions, the Zugteilung is inevitable: but you may end up coupled to a new coach from an interesting origin. Who knows what plans the Fat Controller of relationships may have for you? At least you now have a fine German word for the process. 

By Alan Heeks

What trains can teach us about relationships: Insights from a zugteilung in Hanover

Apr 20 2012

The special overnight trains which in English we hopefully call sleepers, are in Germany sensibly called Nachtzug, night trains.  No false expectations there.  In fact, I’ve used the Nachtzug many times, and they’re very comfortable.

However, my recent German holiday involved getting onto the night train in Hamburg at 00:31, and off in Cologne at 06:14. Exotically, this Nachtzug was from Copenhagen to Switzerland, with special coaches for Prague and for Amsterdam via Cologne.

German is a wonderfully literal language, so I didn’t need my dictionary to figure out that Zugteilung meant train-part-ing.  In Hanover, night trains from Copenhagen, Berlin and elsewhere would be split up, shunted about, and rejoined. The reality of this was that around 2am, when I’d at last got soundly asleep, my coach was repeatedly and vigorously bounced, as if the German engine drivers were playing ping-pong.  It’s thanks to this awakening experience that I can offer you this new model of relationships.  Gehen wir los…
 
Imagine that a relationship is like the connection between railway carriages.  Your relationship may run smoothly along the tracks, round the bends, through the tunnels, for a good while.  But there come times when you have to uncouple, and this can be bumpy.
There’s also the question of destinations.  You may hope that your relationship is headed in a certain direction, just as I had bought a Nachtzug ticket for Cologne, but once embarked, other factors are at work…The driver and signalmen can take you to Hanover, or wherever, and bump you around as they choose. Depending upon your chosen weltanschaung (outlook on the world), their role could be compared to Fate, guardian angels, or the working-out of your own complex subconscious.
 
However, if you and your adjacent carriage need to go in different directions, the Zugteilung is inevitable: but you may end up coupled to a new coach from an interesting origin.  Who knows what plans the Fat Controller of relationships may have for you?  At least you now have a fine German word for the process.
 

Pilgrim without map or boots: New lifeskills for the middle years

Apr 06 2012

I aim to have a retreat time of 3 – 4 days every quarter: it’s a good way to rest, renew, and review my direction.  This time, I’m doing a self-guided retreat at the Northumbria Community, a centre in rural mid-Northumberland, inspired by the Celtic Christian monasteries which once flourished in this area.

A spiritual practice they encourage here is pilgrimage: the journey itself is a chance for prayer and contemplation, as well as the place you travel to.  So I decide to do a day-long pilgrimage to the coast, a few miles away.  Glancing at a map, I can see there’s no simple route, but there’s an interesting, tangled network of lanes and footpaths.

I’m just fifteen minutes into my hike when I need to check my route, and find I’ve left the map behind.  I find this hilarious, a good cosmic joke.  My book for Men Beyond 50 is eloquent about the way men love maps and knowing where their route options lie.  I conclude I am meant to be a pilgrim without a map for the day, so I press on.

Lacking a map forces me to use other methods: observation, intuition, and asking strangers.  All of these help, and at length I reach the goal I was aiming for, the delightful, small seaside town of Amble.  When I get back later and review the map, I can see that my route was more long and wiggly than it could have been, but it was my own original creation, and I’m proud of it.

Well before I reach the coast, I am suffering from my other oversight: footwear.  Travelling light on a 2-week tour of the North, I don’t have room for walking boots.  So I have borrowed a pair of over-sized, thin-soled wellies.  Their effect on my soles is like those meat tenderisers.  And I still have to walk back!  Is there a lesson in my suffering?  I haven’t found it yet.

Spiritual communities are so varied, and this is an interesting new one for my collection.  It’s diverse in age, gender and nationality, but aims for a monastic quality.  You can see this in the simplicity of this lifestyle, and the rhythm of four services which guide you through the day.  These services are led by different members of the community, and much of it is participatory.  At Compline, the 9.30pm service for the end of the day, there is a prayer which everyone says in turn: My dear ones, O God, bless Thou and Keep, in every place where they are.  Everyone is asked to sit in silent meditation for a few minutes before and after the services, and I felt this deepened them.

You may wonder, what did I get from my four days on retreat.  Firstly, a sense of catching up with myself, and integrating a hectic and exciting period since New Year.  Secondly, a sense of relaxing and expanding which I always find in the wise, empty, beautiful landscapes of Northumbria.  Thirdly, deep gratitude for the resources, health and freedom to be here.  And lastly, a sense of being loved and nurtured by life, by divine unity, by Nature, by those close to me, and a calling to give out love and nurturance to everyone around me.

Whilst I lacked a map for my hike, I had a good one for my retreat: my favourite book, Desert Wisdom, by my spiritual mentor, Neil Douglas-Klotz.  I can’t sum it up in a paragraph, but see my website www.living-organically.com for more about this.

Days later, my feet are still sore, but that’s a useful reminder: you don’t have to be dependent on maps and boots, you can get by without them – but life’s easier with them!

See ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’: Enjoy oldies as the new zeitgeist!

Mar 02 2012

This is a brilliant film in so many ways.  It’s a very funny, moving, and deep exploration of the issues of life beyond 50, and all this arises so naturally from placing a well-chosen range of characters in an extreme and different context, India.

Marigold Hotel is a clever example of fiction anticipating fact.  With so many other labour-intensive services being outsourced to India, why not retirement living?  The film’s basic plot is a varied bunch of English over-50s trying to live in a rundown hotel in Jaipur which is trying to serve ‘the elderly and beautiful’.

In my twenties, I followed the hippie trail to India, and hated it.  I’ve been back twice in my late fifties, and found ways to enjoy it.  This country takes everything to extremes: beauty, pollution, spirituality, overpopulation.  The different ways in which these English oldies adapt, or fail to, are really entertaining and instructive.  Just being in Jaipur is a shipwreck, and the ways they invent themselves are remarkable.  The Indian characters are just as vivid as the English ones, and their influence on each other is beautifully observed.  I loved the scene where the retired judge gives the street kids tips on batting technique, and ends up playing cricket with them.

Being somewhere so different forces a level of honesty, and urgency, which all of us beyond 50 would do well to adopt.  Death and sickness are such visible parts of the everyday in India, that it forces you to value being alive, today.  This pushes two of the film’s sixty-somethings through the usual barriers, and into a playful, even youthful romance.

One of the odd things about being beyond 50 these days is the lottery – like uncertainty of who’s got money, and who hasn’t.  This film gives a sensitive picture of the shame and lostness of middle-class people suddenly finding they’re broke at retirement because of dud investments.

The cast are so strong that it almost put me off.  I’ve seen Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith so often that it’s now hard for me to see the character, not the actor.  In this film, their roles have such depth that I forgot the player, and was gripped by the play.  This is probably thanks to the book the movie is based on, These Foolish Thingsby Deborah Moggach, which I intend to read.  Seeing Maggie Smith as a working class racial bigot confronted by India is worth the ticket price alone.

You could said that this is a film about life beyond 50, aimed at audiences beyond 50.  There’s a lot of us around, so maybe we are the new zeitgeist – the spirit of the times.

Reflections in Paris: New Friendships in the Old City

Nov 20 2011

Travel is a great way to stretch, grow and get new reflections on your life. I’d like to share my adventures from a recent weekend in Paris. One of the sweet-bitter features of being an older man is how many decades your memories go back for. Is it interesting or old-fartish to tell you that I first came to Paris in 1963, when they had those cool buses with the balcony on the back? I’ve had lots of fine visits since then, including half-term breaks when my kids were teenagers, and romantic weekends with new partners when I was in my fifties, but looking for that young-love vibe.

I feel very fortunate, as a man beyond 50, to have a couple of friendships with younger men in their twenties and thirties. Such an age gap can be tricky, but it can be illuminating. This trip to Paris is novel, as I’m here with Oli, who’s thirty years my junior, and was a college friend of my daughter. Oli has lived in the city, and still has mates here, so our trip is partly to share each other’s Paris.

Oli used to live in the 20th arrondissement, well East of the centre, and we visit his favourite local bar, Le Carbone 14. This is cool in an elusive Gallic way, with a subtly planned chaos: imagine Big Sur meets Surrealism, but it turns out well. And the range of beers is brilliant. We’re due to go on to meet one of Oli’s Parisian friends, Ronan, who suggests 7 to 7.30pm. By 8pm, there’s no word, and I am pressing myself to enjoy the chaos, the lack of a firm time for food, instead of getting annoyed.

Eventually, about 8.30pm, we meet up with Ronan in a super-cool place called Comptoir General, at 80 Quai de Jammappe, on the Canal Saint Martin and only fifteen minutes’ walk from the Gare du Nord. This too defies description, and is hors categorie as the French would say: it’s a huge old former warehouse set back from the road, which now has bars, music, and ….a large library on the upper floor.

Some of my favourite films are French: the best ones have a quirky style, original twists on real life, and a mix of brilliant wit and emotional power. I love seeing recent releases in Paris, and Ronan gives us a tip which proves excellent: a new film called Intouchables. He also gives us a good website for critical ratings of French movies: http://www.allocine.fr/

Saturday evening became one of those magical nights, far off from regular reality, which I remember most from my student days, but hope to have more often in these maturing years of freedom. We were at Ronan’s flat. Both Oli and Ronan are passionate musicians who have busy careers and new marriages. They don’t play music enough these days, and rarely together, so there was truly something special about this occasion.

Ronan played some of his own songs, including some searing political rap in French: even the fraction I understood was brilliant. Oli responded with heartfelt love-songs, mostly about breakups, from his student years. Then we got onto shared repertoires, and my long memory for lyrics had a great outing. We sang much of Abbey Road, part of Sgt. Pepper, then songs by Jimmy Cliff, The Doors and many more. Three passionate voices plus improvised guitar and electric piano made it all unforgettable. Tumblers of rum flavoured with fruit floated us along, and I loved losing track of time, just knowing it was getting amazingly late. In fact, by the time we started running out of steam, it was 2am. Oli and I picked up our rental bikes and cycled right across Paris, still buzzing. What a night, ooh what a night!