Travelled time

An old KLM poster communicating pride. Except that the Flying Dutchman was a doomed ghost ship!
An old KLM poster communicating pride by linking their brand with the mythical Flying Dutchman. Except that the Flying Dutchman was a ghost ship doomed to sail the seas forever!

There was a time when my job had me travel all over the world. In style. I’d be jetting to all the nice places in the world, often receiving VIP treatment. That had nothing to do with my stature as a human being but was a reflection of my role in an industry that deeply regrets the good old days of travel more than anyone else. The airline industry.

A few years ago I had my fill of that life and quit my job.

The timing wasn’t perfect as we were at the peak of the credit crunch and there wasn’t much work. Still, I got lucky and got a job at a company where I made a deal with my boss. He would do the travel and I would mind the shop. He was as delighted as I was.

That company went bust last year; the credit crunch finally got me.

I then picked up a few consulting contracts and spend a lot of time developing Genetic Fractals, which as you know – if you have been to this blog before – is both a mathematical model of the things this world is made of as well as the pretty things I create with it.

Then, at the start of this year, over lunch a friend asked me if I could do an interim replacement. Sure. In the Netherlands. Eh…OK…

This is where it gets weird. I am Dutch but for the last 30 years I have mostly lived in France close the Geneva just across the border. The office I was asked to work in just happens to be in a town where I grew up. I accepted the job of course; a job is a job is a job. I negotiated that I would work Mondays and Fridays in Geneva (Switzerland) and Tuesdays to Thursdays in the Netherlands.

This sort of euro commuting is quite common now. On Tuesday mornings I get up at 4:15 AM, drive to the airport, board a flight to Amsterdam, take a bus to the town I work and then pick up a bicycle. So at 9:30, I cycle in to work and make myself a coffee.

As this is the town of my childhood, I still have a sister there. She kindly puts me up every week; home from home.


When I traveled before, I was the VIP boss that graced the kind locals with his presence. Now, when I cycle into work, I am just another Dutchman. I carry sandwiches in my bag for lunch and for the first time since 30 years, I speak my own language at work. As I sit behind my desk, my brain occasionally flips. Do I really live in France, with a family? Does all that really exist, or, was it just a long dream and I’m just a guy who never left his home town?

Last night I walked the streets of my youth. My parents – who never left this town – have both passed on and none of my old friends are still here; it is a small town. As I walked past my old house, past street corners where we used to ‘hang’, past a canal where we’d go fishing, my spatial memory took over. Sights I had long forgotten popped back into my head before I saw them. A fence, a white house, a row of trees. This long atrophied part of my brain came alive again and swapped out the life I thought I had. If I had bumped into my best friend aged 17, I wouldn’t have blinked. (In reality this best friend married young and dropped off the friend’s map. Last I heard he walked out on his wife and daughter and is “enjoying” a post-midlife crisis with a woman half his age).

As much as I love cycling into work to do an ordinary days work, this job won’t last. I have no intention of becoming a hardcore euro commuter and most likely this interim job will lead to other things. But when it does, and I go back to working in Geneva and may well start jetting all over the place again, I shall miss this bizarre time travel from one home to another of two versions of the same man. And it reminds me that we are never one person. Not only do we evolve and change, we are all that we were and that we will be at the same time.

There is something fractal about that.

18 thoughts on “Travelled time

  1. “Does all that really exist, or, was it just a long dream and I’m just a guy who never left his home town?”

    I think you might have nearly had yourself a Truman moment:

  2. “Not only do we evolve and change, we are all that we were and that we will be at the same time.” Tell me about it! I went to a school reunion at the weekend and found that my reaction to most people was the same now as it was 20 years ago. I feel I’ve changed, I’m sure they’ve changed, yet everything was the eerily the same. With more wrinkles.

    1. How weird is that, right?! I also attended a reunion a couple of years ago when my primary school teacher retired. Not only did I look up to him like a schoolboy as the ultimate authority, I found that my interaction with the other 50 year old kids was just like before! Somehow those 44 years counted for nothing.

      1. That’s even scarier! I had visions of moving past childhood feelings and interacting freshly as mature adults. But there was nothing fresh about the interactions, it was generally just a replay of times at school with different conversation topics.

      2. That’s what I found and I left the reunion with the same sense of “revulsion” as when I left it the first time. Fortunately the opposite happens too. When I meet friends from university, we immediately become free thinking, courageous and stupid 🙂

  3. I can relate a lot although I was not such a heavy euro commuter. (Actually I felt that commuting by airplane every 3 days is less stressful than commuting smaller distances, but by car or train more often).
    But one of the reasons I quit a job as an employed consultant was that I didn’t want to become another ‘ressource’ that would be managed by a tool that tries to utilize ressources most efficiently … and to utilize very specialized ressources efficiently (avoiding ‘bench-time’) they need to be moved around globally.

    It feels better if you consciously agree on a contract yourself than if a manager ‘assigns you to an open slot’ – but probably this is a fallacy 😉

    Commuting by 100s of km has really become so common in any sort of knowledge worker’s job – no matter what the details of the contract or employment are.

    1. I don’t actually like consulting and it is more of a bridge thing. I have found that consultants work by the hour, like hookers. As consultant you don’t get to take responsibility and are not accountable beyond a tight mandate. It requires a certain mindset 🙂

      1. Interestingly, most self-employed specialized experts (IT, engineering,..) seem to prefer those long-term consulting projects, based on contracts in terms of “x hours per week”, often full-time.

        I do short-term consulting engagements – typically comprising several days. Technically I work by the hour but it is more like a pseudo fixed price agreement as I guarantee to deliver something within x hours maximum, based on my own estimate.

  4. They say you can never go home–so true. I grew up in Ireland and it’s deeply ingrained in my psyche, but now live in the US. When I visit (twice a year on average) I find, more and more that time has swept away the landscape and people of my memories. Only natural, of course, but still unsettling. It gives my visits a dreamlike quality. I sensed this in your post too.

    1. I’m glad you responded; that is exact right, Writeejit. There is a dreamlike quality that superimposes on top of that changed world. A living in the past thing.

  5. You couldn’t pay me to attend a reunion of any sort. The thought makes me vomit into my mouth. To glorify past experiences while dwelling on the “good old days” only goes to show how little life has taught us.I value the past for how it shaped my future, not how it defined my existence. I left home for a reason and choose to return on my terms with appreciation for subtleties without apology or explanation. Embracing my young life is something I’ll always carry – attempting to relive the past is frankly depressing 🙂

    1. I did attend one reunion and it was awful and cured me for life. Working in the town of my youth for 3 days a week, sends me home (as in today’s home) every weekend, feeling delighted that I am not in that past and quite satisfied with my choices. If anything it reminds me of the adventure still awaiting.

      1. Precisely! The past is stifling, I acknowledge it only for the part it played in who I am today. My past electrifies not for what it was but for how it contributed to my future. It’s fascinating when you think how vital our past can be, and how differently people embrace it. 🙂

  6. I came back to this from your current post which means I’ll account for 2 of your 10 visits a day post-new post.

    This reflection on visiting the past is quite timely as I was only today thinking about my younger self and how at different times it got erased by the intensity of a newer self’s more pressing concerns only for the older self to reassert itself and its memories, fully intact, much later. If that’s not at least a little bit fractal, I don’t know what is.

    I trust you’ll make sense of this comment even if nobody else does! Nice to read you again.

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