Whenever the mailman comes and Y hears it she’ll run to the door to see what fell on the mat “Is it for me?” Mostly not, as 3 year olds usually don’t receive invoices, letters from the tax office, or direct mail advertising. Sometimes it really is for her though, a letter from grandma, a card from one of her nieces, or this time a bona fide international across-the-ocean handwritten letter from Peter and Oliver. We received it on May 1st, and the date on the letter as well as the postmark suggest we are living through interesting times. Peter wrote the letter on April 8th, the stamps got their mark stamped on the 14th. So it took at least 17 days to get here.

That’s much slower than usual. The difference is the absence of passenger flights during this pandemic. Passenger flights carry lots of cargo and mail usually. At 13knots (24km/h an online calculator tells me) it would take 10 days or so by boat.

It was certainly snail mail, and might have come with a cargo plane.
Maybe it was sail mail, and came by actual boat like it is 1920.

Either way Y was very happy to receive the letter, recognising her name on the envelope.

Bijna twintig jaar geleden, op de dag na mijn verjaardag, vond de vuurwerkramp in Enschede plaats. Het is een reden dat we veel langer in Enschede zijn blijven wonen dan we zelf gedacht hadden. Danny de Vries maakte de videobeelden van de ontploffing die de wereld overgingen en overleefde. Een collega van hem, Marcel van Nieuwenhoven, kwam op dezelfde locatie om, omdat hij net iets dichter op het vuur stond.

Danny schreef kort na de vuurwerkramp al zijn herinneringen en emoties op. En keek er twintig jaar niet naar. Nu wel, omdat de huidige pandemie associaties oproept met toen. Hij maakte er een boek van, als brief aan zijn omgekomen collega en vriend Marcel.

Danny en ik kennen elkaar goed uit onze studietijd in Enschede. We zaten samen in het sociëteitsbestuur van onze studentenvereniging eind jaren negentig, zijn beiden lid van hetzelfde verticale verband binnen die vereniging, en waren allebei lid van het bestuur van de lokale oranjevereniging omdat we het oranjefeest in de stad een impuls wilden geven (dat lukte). Danny is bevlogen en warm, en altijd actief op veel verschillende fronten.

De dag van de vuurwerkramp belde ik hem omdat ik rook zag ten noorden van ons huis, vanuit het keukenraam toen ik de gebaksschoteltjes van mijn verjaardag aan het opruimen was. Hij was al onderweg zei hij, en had toevallig een camera bij zich omdat hij eerder elders een item had opgenomen voor de regionale omroep. Kort daarna hoorde ik hem op de radio zeggen dat hij op locatie was. Toen kwam die gigantische klap. Urenlang wisten we niet hoe het met Danny was en drentelde ik onrustig heen en weer, tot hij een paar uur later weer te horen was. Toen ik hem een paar dagen later in de achtertuin van zijn studentenhuis weer ontmoette en omhelsde was dat emotioneel. Het moment waarop ik weer voelde hoe weinig het scheelde of ik had een vriend verloren. Ik heb hem nooit meer gebeld met een nieuwstip. Mij te gevaarlijk.

We spraken in de bizarre dagen na de vuurwerkramp over hoe schrijven een manier is om gebeurtenissen te verwerken, en op enig moment daarna bracht ik hem in contact met een uitgever die ik kende. Dat was te vroeg. Twintig jaar later is ook prima op tijd.

Ik heb het boek Brief aan Marcel besteld en hoop het dit weekend te lezen.

Herdenking VuurwerkrampHet monument van de vuurwerkramp, met de namen van de omgekomen stadsgenoten, waaronder Marcel van Nieuwenhoven. Foto Cyril Wermers, 13 mei 2005 tijdens de jaarlijkse herdenking, licentie CC BY NC

My friend Peter has a conversation with Cynthia King, about life and death on PEI, landing in and joining a community, belonging and actively creating community. Taking in podcasts is not my thing, but I very much enjoyed listening to this one.

Favorited Peter Rukavina – making community on PEI by The Belong Podcast • A podcast on Anchor (Anchor)

Peter Rukavina shares his life experiences about belonging to a community and navigating his way through challenging times.

This morning Y and I were reading a book together, which had a drawing of a medieval castle on one of the pages. “I would like to have a castle too!“, she said. I decided to unearth the old Playmobil guard/prison tower (It had a sign saying Schuldturm) I have from when I was in primary school, 40 years ago.


I put it together, and my hands remembered the configuration I mostly used (the balcony originally should be on the bell tower but as a kid I thought that was an odd place to have a balcony). I went through the Playmobil figures to find the guards, and also added a queen. Y took to it immediately, and then of course dressed as a queen too.



Duckduckgo tells me this tower was set number 3445, which came on the market in 1977 and was on sale until 1993. I bought it about 1979-1980 when I was around ten, from my own money (I collected old newspapers around the village and sold them to a recycler). 56,80 Dutch Guilders I paid. An online tool tells me it would be equivalent to 61 Euros now, serious money still for a 10-year old. I remember the price distinctly, just as I remember what I paid for the Playmobil pirate ship (98 Guilders, set 3550), and for pallisade Fort Union (47,50 Guilders, set 3420).

40 years on, the guard tower can still delight. 57-odd Guilders well invested, I’d say.

We’ve been in ‘soft lock-down’ for just over 2 weeks now. Soft, because it is lock-down in all but name. You can still be outside, but not anywhere with more than 2 at the same time at the suggested distance of at least 1.5 meters (except if you’re a family). In practice it means only going out for groceries once a week, and getting some fresh air every day while taking a wide berth around anyone you encounter outside.

Two weeks of working from home took some getting used to. Not so much the working from home itself, as I’ve been doing that for over 15 years. But now that everyone else does it too, it has a different feel to it. Increased numbers of conference calls, while before I worked from home regularly precisely to avoid ineffective meetings. The calls, especially the ones with a very distributed group, show you the oddity of our current pandemic status quo. I was in a session with people from multiple continents, and everyone was in the exact same situation, locked down at home. Such a shared context usually doesn’t happen. It’s a quantitative change having qualitative effects.
Some things do require us to find a new normal though. As Y is at home and not at daycare, one of us have to be with her for 95% of the day. She currently can’t go play with her friends so we’re their replacements. Trying to get work done, spending time with Y, and each of us finding the needed alone time, plus the additional house cleaning now that we’re here fulltime is a balancing and logistical challenge we haven’t fully mastered yet.

This last week, I tried to cut back on sychronous communication to avoid being stuck in calls full time, and I started working at 6am, so I could get a few hours of focused work in before anyone tries to call. After 4-5 hours of work, it means I can take most of the rest of the day for other things without leaving too many things unfinished.
E and I will sit down this weekend to plan next week, trying to converge on a more balanced next seven days. I suppose we’ll have plenty of time to get to that point of balance, as by the looks of it we might be here for 4 to 8 weeks yet. Current measures will be evaluated by April 6th, but looking at countries ahead of us on the pandemic timeline such as China and Italy, we will need to stay put possibly until June 1st.

Healthwise we seem to be ok. I’m tired and have been for three weeks, and I also have some minor throat irritation but as that is mostly at the end of the day it may as well come from talking too much. Also because it started that way, three weeks ago we had a meet-up of some old university friends and some very loud singing was involved leaving my voice less than optimal. The air is very dry outside, and we notice that too in our nose and throat, so our humidifiers throughout the house are working hard.

Economically we’re fine too. It is a source of worry of course, as an employer and chairing the board of an NGO that also employs seven people. Last week I spent time to make sure still open invoices were paid on time, to strengthen liquidity. This week I landed a new contract with a client, that for the coming months will ensure we’re fine, and with two others close to signing we’ll be ok this year I think. Having government clients in this situation is helpful as they’re not trying to slow down at their spending at this time, which most private sector companies are doing.

I’m grateful the past two weeks saw plenty sunshine, even if it was chilly. It allowed us to be outside in the garden, and walk/cycle in the neigbourhood.

Overall the past two weeks were very busy. I didn’t find time to blog much either. Certainly not any reflective stuff. I see others doing that, concerning the tools we now are using en masse all of a sudden, and their privacy implications. Things that have changed now and might stick even if the current urgency is gone. How this might have an impact on digital transformation. How internet retail has ballooned. Whether we will realise how much time is wasted in offices. Etc. etc. I have thoughts about all those things. I have stacks of books to read around those topics. But these past 2 weeks were about addressing immediate concerns and minimising predictable risks, ensuring continuity while much around us is stalling or at least slowing down for the foreseeable. Time ran away without much room to carve out personal time, let alone be reflective about anything.

Next week looks less hectic in comparison.