Congratulations…

…to my brother and his girlfriend fiancée Tracy, who have announced their engagement. Hurrah! Apparently Tim proposed whilst sitting in a Ford Fiesta – all class.
Apparently, I need to get my best man speech-writing skills up to date.

A ferry interesting piece of writing

Yay! Travel blogging! This time aboard the Stena Discovery, the world’s largest high speed ferry. Today it is notable for being the largest nearly empty high speed ferry, carrying probably not more than forty cars.
I’ve forked out the not unreasonable sum of £11 each way to use the business lounge facilities, with magazines, endless free tea and coffee, extremely comfy seats, power points for laptops (Dutch-style sockets, power adaptor fans!) and, best of all, no children. I’m not sure that I should say that last bit, what with becoming a dad in a few short weeks, but when travelling for work, I like a bit of peace and quiet. Of course, once I’m travelling en famille, then things will be different, I’m sure, and I’ll be frequenting the brightly-coloured kiddies’ area of the ship. One thing that they could do to improve things is to offer WiFi in the lounge – having use of my laptop is great, but having no access to the wacky world wide webnet is a major drawback when so much of my business is conducted by email.
The purpose of this journey is a whistle-stop tour of Dutch clients, existing and potential, just to touch base before I disappear from the scene for a while during the last few weeks of the pregnancy and during my paternity leave. I’m entitled to take two weeks paternity leave and the government gives my company £105 per week towards my pay for those two weeks. As usual with this sort of thing, there is quite a lot of paperwork to complete. Sometime in the next ten days, I must serve a notice on myself notifying myself that I intend to take paternity leave and ensuring that I know that I must pay myself for that time. Then I must tell the Revenue that I’ve served that notice on myself so that they know that I’m going to pay myself for paternity leave and claim that money back against taxes that I’ve deducted from myself. But if the company can get £210 free cash, I don’t mind taking twenty minutes out to fill a few forms.
Woo! Yay! Free snacks! A nice young man has just brought a tray of crudités along with a voucher for a free drink in the restaurant – clearly a sprat to catch a mackerel, but all good stuff for my cunning money-saving plan to survive the trip without actually paying for any nourishment (free drinks, free fruits, free nibbles so far – it’s all going to plan). Oooh! Internet At Sea – wi-fi, hurrah! But boo! It doesn’t work due to "technical problems".
(And before anyone says, I know that these things aren’t free – I’ve paid £11 each way for them – but they are "free at the point of delivery" as HMG would say).
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the Netherlands – this trip will involve visits to places in order of increasing difficulty to spell, starting with Lisse, Hillegom, Hazerswoude Dorp and finishing with ‘s-Hertogenbosch – a place so difficult to spell and say (remember that the Dutch add phlegm to everything) that even the locals shorten it to simply Den Bosch. My business is coming up on its third birthday (February 12th, birthday cake fans!) and in that time I’ve got a much better handle on the whole European market, particularly the notoriously difficult Dutch section – having done my corporate Christmas cards this weekend, I know that I’ve sent more cards to the Netherlands than any other overseas destination.
Occasionally, one of you asks how things are progressing with the business (although it is very occasional these days – feedback has definitely fallen off, as have overall readership numbers, since my posting habits became more sporadic). I’m definitely working much harder these days (hence the lack of time for slacking blogging) although the money is far from flooding in. The problem with working as a plant breeders’ agent is that, if a breeder comes to me with a new plant today, it might be three to five years before I (and the breeder) earn any money from it. Consequently, some of the very first varieties that I started working with are now beginning to bear fruit – one in particular is really beginning to take off worldwide, and will probably become the most popular variety of its type (and credit for that goes to the breeder, not to me – I just facilitate, but I can facilitate as much as I like and not get anywhere if the variety isn’t up to much). But the revenue streams from these varieties are not enough yet to really turn the tide – they do, however, hold out promise that things are improving. If only the general economic situation and market conditions were better – that would definitely help.
But don’t panic. I’m not about to disappear without financial trace just yet.
I’m just seeing what all the fuss is about with this here ferry – for the last 50 minutes, we’ve been trundling along at fairly sedate standard ferry speed. We’ve now got out into open water and they’ve just opened up the throttles on the gas turbines. Now we’re motoring! When the ferry left Harwich, the lifeboat was sailing out of the harbour – we’ve just overtaken it, going considerably faster. Mind you, there’s a massive wake and I wonder how envirnmentally friendly this all is. H and I have been looking at our carbon quotas – we’re almost certainly polluting more than we should, the product of not being very good at turning electrical equipment off (instead of to standby), taking far too many short-haul flights, living in a rural area so using our cars constantly, having fairly inadequate insulation on our home and so on – and so I’m a little more conscious of this sort of thing. Whilst my crossing of the North Sea today probably produces lest carbon emissions than flying, the fact I had to drive for two and half hours to get to the ferry probably negates a lot of the benefit (not train connection could get me to Harwich in time for the sailing, besides I need the car in the Netherlands). As with all things, there is no simple answer.
Actually, the thought that occurs to me is that you could wipe the floor with the discount airlines on this route by using ekranoplans – both fast (as fast as an airliner) and environmentally friendly (or at least less damaging than aircraft). Now that would be fun!
We’re now approaching Hoek van Holland – there are dozens of ships at anchor as we approach the port. I’ve taken a picture of the view along the wake which I’ll add later. A stroll around the ship reveals bored passengers with glazed stares before TV screens blaring classic Eric and Ernie, children parked behind screens showing Tom and Jerry (a few seconds confirms the episode as Ol’ Rocking Chair Tom – yes, I’m a 40s cartoon anorak).
Time to power down and see what bits of the Netherlands are open during Sintaklaus.

Roundup

To bring you up to date, in the last seven days:

  • Hels went to hospital, but everything was fine
  • We started ante-natal classes – Hels now knows how to scream convincingly during labour
  • We bought six pies at the farmers’ market
  • The family came over and we did more work to upgrade the Global Headquarters building
  • We watched Hels’s dad in a village panto (actually very funny)

…and I’ve been very busy with work and stuff, hence the continued quiet here.
Carry on.