Monthly Archives: August 2015

I’ve arrived

Forgive me reader, It’s been more that two weeks since I last posted anything on this blog.

Waiting for the Hogwarts Express at Schiphol

Waiting for the Hogwarts Express at Schiphol


Sue guards the bikes in Gouda

The big news is that I have now arrived and am resident on Pancake Street.  Sue and I got here last Thursday. I managed to pack most things that I’ll need including the emergency rations of Lancashire Cheese from good friends, Olwyn and Claire. The train from the airport took us straight to Blaak station which is just a stone’s throw from Pancake Street. In effect this makes the cheaper slow train, faster – a great discovery

Today is officially the first day of term here in Rotterdam though my induction day at the University is not until Thursday. There is a free festival on campus this afternoon and evening which Sue and I plan to cycle over to in a couple of hours. We’ve spent the past couple of days doing practical things in the flat and being tourists.

On Friday we got on our bikes and cycled to Gouda – the home of some fantastic cheese. The Netherlands is fantastically compact and flat – perfect for cycling from city to city. I will write more about cycling and bikes very soon. Gouda is lovely and quintessentially Dutch – all fancy gables, canals and cheese – lots of cheese. We went round the cheese museum and ate a lunch of cheese. We also went to a lovely cheese shop and tried lots of different Dutch cheese before buying some cheese to bring back. Sue was really pleased to find a Dutch blue cheese. (not for me!).

A giant jigsaw puzzle

A giant jigsaw puzzle

A chunk of spare time has been spend building the wardrobe. It’s very big and covers a wall in the bedroom. I needed to do this when Sue was here as it’s really a two person job.  Between assembling what really amounts to a giant jigsaw puzzle we’ve pottered around the city, bought some essentials and tried to have a relaxing time.

Last night we went to the open air cinema in the Museum Park to see Love is Strange with John Lithgow and Alfred Molina. It’s a great film. Understated and romantic, it tells the tale of an ageing gay couple who are forced to live apart with relatives until they find a new apartment. See it if you get a chance. It was fantastic watching it outdoors accompanied by the start of a thunder storm that lasted for about six hours. As we watched, the lightening got closer and closer. Luckily the rain only started in the last ten minutes and didn’t fall in earnest till we were safely home.  We got up at 02:30 to watch the climax of the light show and downpour from the balcony.

This morning we successfully rehung the missing doors that I found in the bike store downstairs. They fit perfectly and are now in placeA magnificent door handle

For sale – a magnificent door handle

ready for painting and new door handles. That said the ones on there at the moment are rather magnificent though not quite right for a 1950s flat. I can see why they were taken off – open plan living – but I can also see why they were there in the first place. One closes off the bedroom and shower room from the living room. If anything they make the apartment feel a bit bigger. At some point they’ve both  been altered and fitted with brown opaque glass.  It’s quite nice in a 1970s retro way and goes with the apartment – or it will when the doors are painted and the handles replaced.

Sue heads back to Blackburn tomorrow, leaving me all alone on Pancake Street. Before then off to campus, coats, hats and brollies ready for the HeartBeat festival. Today has been hot and close – we maybe in for another light show.



I imagine that as I get used to popping back and forth between Rotterdam and Blackburn I will have my packing down to a fine art. I am already quite a good ‘light’ traveller and am often amazed at the size of suitcase people take with them for a week in the sun. (It’s going to be hot and sunny – you don’t need to wear very much). I’ve had practice on cycling holidays. A few weeks ago Sue and I sat in a café in Oxford and watched a group of far eastern tourists dragging elephantine cases down the middle of the road as if carrying out a pointless punishment – a chain gang or Sisyphus with his boulder.

Our budget airlines are working hard to get us better at packing. As they encourage us to take less hold baggage the rise of the specifically measured cabin bag market must have been significant. Each airline, confusingly, seems to have a slightly different set of dimensions. Of those flying to Schiphol, Flybe has the meanest allowance. 55cm x 40cm x 23cm and 10KG. This to me is still quite a big case and more than enough for a couple of weeks away as long as I’m not needing to take a smart suit.

My occasional commute between Rotterdam and Blackburn should normally involve no more than a modest rucksack. I will have clothes at both destinations and won’t need to carry toiletries – easy. It will become a quest to get through security with a minimum of fuss as fast as I can.

My next trip will, however, be a bit different. As Sue put it, in a fortnight’s time she’ll be taking be off to boarding school and leaving me there. I will be taking things this time that I won’t ever need to take through airport security again.

I have a packing list which contains some unusual things

  • 2015-08-14 15.46.28Wallpaper, 2 rolls – I took some wallpaper in the van in June, I’d got a really good deal and liked it. Last time I was there I realised that I’d miscalculated how much I’d need  – it has a large repeat.
  • Laptop, Chromebook and tablet – Laptop for working on, chromebook for carrying around and 7″ tablet for reading things on.
  • Clothes – Not just for a fortnight in the sun but to keep warm, decent and stylish day to day, (there are already some things there and I did pick up some shirts in a sale at Zara in Rotterdam)
  • Gifts – I’ve got some wonderful lovely friends who very generously bought me presents for my birthday two weeks ago, ‘to take to Rotterdam’. These include but are not limited to: A mug, A Minions stationary set, some Kit-kats, a pencil case, a book on failing exams, tea, a monographed pen, shortbread biscuits, a windmill, an apron, some British beer and a cravat. (A big thank you to everyone)
  • Text books – As I said last week, some of these can be rather heavy.
  • My admin file – It is amazing how many pieces of paper I’ve been collecting that need to be carted around.
  • A couple of cook books – trying to use Dutch language ones might result in a number of culinary hic-ups.

For this next trip I have booked ‘hold baggage’. My reputation for travelling light will be banished and I will be forced to struggle with two bags from the airport to the apartment.  Even with all this I shall only be dragging a fraction of what some people take for a long weekend in Ibiza.



Economics: the learning begins

It’s less than a month until I start my course. I have the timetable more or less worked out now and have started investigating the reading list.

Since I applied for the course I’ve been trying to do a bit of reading around economics – this is an area I’ve never formally studied before. I’ve listened to quite a few audio books whilst out walking the dog. These are not necessarily the best way to take everything in but it’s amazing what stays their only to reappear as understanding later on.  I’ve read Economics for Dummies via Kindle and am half way through The Secret life of money. I also really enjoyed Flash Boys by Michael Lewis. Not strictly about economics but an incredibly readable expose of high frequency trading in the US and an illustration of how ‘the market’, so beloved of some economists, has gone feral.

In term one at Erasmus University, (September & October), I will be doing a course on Introduction to Economic Theory. Last year the standard text for this course was Economics by Paul Krugman and Robin Wells. I managed to get a second hand copy for £15 as a new one would have cost me £60/€85. I thought that even though it is no longer the set text, I’d get something from it. It arrived while I was away. Sue opened it and commented that she was concerned about my baggage allowance. It’s a weighty tome.

This year there is a new mandatory set text that I have swallowed up. I was a little nervous, wrongly it now seems, that Erasmus University might be a little conservative for me.

2015-08-05 18.07.30The set text is by a modern hero. South Korean, Cambridge Professor, Ha-Joon Chang. Economics: The Users Guide. It’s a Pelican book. I remember rows of Pelican books when my Mum was doing her MA. It’s a beautiful piece of design – simple, classic with embossed lettering on the front. It’s easy to hold and wonderful to read. It is by far the clearest of all the books I’ve consumed so far on the subject. Chang is no neoclassical economist. George Osborne will not be sending this book out as Christmas presents.

One thing that has become clear in all my reading is that it is unfair to judge, (most), historical economists with hindsight. Darling of the free market right, Adam Smith was writing in a very different time to the one we’re living in. sometimes history imposes a mishmash of scale onto a point of view.  We shall never know what Adam Smith’s view of economics would have been if he were writing today. Chang argues that perhaps Marxism, (as written by Karl Marx , not as practiced) is a clearer heir to Adam Smith than Neoclassicism. Even liberal economist, John Maynard Keynes, (who as well as being the twentieth century’s most important economist was also the founder of what became Arts Council England), came up with his theories in a different economic age. An age before computers, the Euro, investment bankers and traders going feral. He acknowledged the rate of technological innovation and that things should be revised each generation – indeed he felt that twelve years was a good generational turn over time for ideas.

I’ve swallowed Chang’s book, loved the clarity of the writing and agree with most of his points of view. That is not to say it hasn’t depressed me a bit. It has reinforced, with evidence, my view that the UK is firmly in the wrong economic groove.

I’ve not yet read the large Krugman & Wells tome though will dip in with interests. In Economics: The Users Guide, Chang describes Krugman as a left of centre Neoclassical Economist. I’ve still got to get my head round that one. I’ve still got a lot to learn about Economics but am really looking forward to the journey

Audio Books that I’ve listened to

What you need to know about Economics by George Buckley & Sumeet Desai

Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt (A famous classic primer but not from an economics school that I want to belong to. Incredibly patronising too)

Man vs. Markets: Economics Explained (Plain and Simple) by Paddy Hirsch

The Making of Modern Economics: The Lives and Ideas of the Great Thinkers by Mark Skousen (Really interesting stuff – again from an American writer with a Republican sensibility – but once you get over that, really engaging)

I am half way through

The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City By Elizabeth Currid (I’m struggling with the tone of the narrator. I also feel that Currid is trying to find a new way each chapter to make the same point. New York’s cultural economy is built on networking and socialising)

Universal Man: The Seven Lives of John Maynard Keynes by Richard Davenport -Hines I’m enjoying this. It is about the man, not economics though naturally they are intrinsically linked. It is also interesting to see Keynes portrayed in the excellent Current BBC Drama mini series about the Bloomsbury Group, Life in Squares