Distractions, reflections

David Ing, at large … Sometimes, my mind wanders

2009/08/30-09/05 London-Oxford-London-Hull-York

There can be a difference between vacation photos and travel photos.  Seven days in the UK in five cities wasn’t a leisurely plan, and business called for a few more train rides than originally planned.  For a coordinated series of research meetings, I arrived at Heathrow from Finland, and Gary arrived almost the same time from the U.S.  We took the tube to Waterloo station, and dragged our luggage to our hotel along the scenic South Bank of the Thames, seeing Westminister Abbey across the river.

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Having already been away from home for week, I craved Chinese cuisine.  We rode the tube to Piccadilly Circus, and wandered to find Chinatown on Gerrard Street — an easy street to remember, since the Chinatown at home bears the same name.
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With the history of the Tavistock Institute at top of mind, we rode the tube up to Swiss Cottage to look at the Tavistock Clinic.  The Institute and Clinic used to be colocated, but are now independent entities.  On a late Sunday evening, the facilities were closed.

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As a change from riding the London underground, we decided to return to the hotel on a double decker bus to see more of the city.  We rode from Swiss Cottage on a path including Wellington Road, to Victoria Station.

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The next day, I acted as scribe while Gary conducted an interview with Sir Richard Bowlby, on the ties between the research between by John Bowlby and cybernetics.  Upon learning that the Bowlby archives are at the Wellcome Library, Gary and I decided to change our travel plans to reroute back through London for one day.

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Accommodating a tight schedule, Dav and LJ met us at Paddington Station a few hours before we caught the train to Oxford.  LJ found a pub and then a restaurant nearby, after consulting Internet reviews on her mobile phone.

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We continued our journey up to Oxford for the 2009 UK Systems Society meeting.  Before the meeting started, Rafael Ramirez suggested that we meet him at Green Templeton College, where he’s a Fellow.

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Inside the Radcliffe Observatory, Gary, Minna and I were privileged to have a relaxed conversation with Rafael in the Common Room.

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Aside from UKSS meetings at St. Anne’s College, we had one afternoon free for sightseeing.  One of the distinctive places on campus is a church site converted with a cafe:  Vaults and Gardens.

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Our original plans had been to travel northeast from Oxford to Hull direct, with Jennifer.  With the opportunity to deepen the the research base in the Bowlby archives, we bought ourselves an extra day in London with a routing southeast back to the city.  This time, we booked into a hotel in Bloomsbury, coincidentally close to Tavistock Square, the original neighbourhood for the Tavistock Institute and Clinic.

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Walking through Bedford Square, we noticed an installation by the Design and Make program of the Architectual Association school.  Following the tradition of summer pavilions mounted since 2005, the 2009 Driftwood Pavilion was larger than human scale.

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Research at the Wellcome Library took much of the Thursday.  Registration requires issuing a card to access the reading rooms.  Then, in the special archives room, we consulted the indexes to make requests for specific packages to be brought up from storage.  After lunch, the librarians walked us through how original handwritten documents are to be handled.  Gary sorted through the records, and I transcribed key passages onto the computer.

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Reading the 1957-58 list of fellows visiting at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, we found some notable names beside John Bowlby, including David EastonMilton FriedmanTalcott ParsonsIthiel de Sola PoolBruce QuarringtonClaude ShannonRobert SolowGeorge Stigler and John Tukey.  I was amused at a letter about a “laissez-faire tennis match”.  The Bowlby archives included handwritten letters home and to colleagues.

Gary uncovered a lead to proceedings of World Health Organization meetings between 1953 and 1956, where John Bowlby participated in meetings in Ludwig von Bertalanffy.  This was irrefutable evidence of ties to the systems community, facts in the resulting report on “John Bowlby – Rediscovering a systems scientist“.

By late afternoon, we had exhausted the Bowlby archives.  Gary and I relaxed on the train from London Kings Cross up to York, where Jennifer picked us up.

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Most of the Friday was taken up with research discussions with the Centre for Systems Studies at Hull University.

The late afternoon afforded us sufficient daylight for sightseeing in York.  Many of the shops in The Shambles were closing, as we toured.

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We concluded the evening with an Indian dinner as Saffron Desi, where the bread (nan) is served hanging on a rack.

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Gary left on the early Saturday morning train to return home.  I hung out for another day, trailing Jennifer and Amanda in their shopping.  This happened to be one of the days of the York Festival of Traditional Dance, where groups of Morris Dancers were performing all over town.

On the Sunday, I was back on the train to London, and over to Heathrow to catch a plane.  Instead of flying westwards towards home, however, I was destined eastward back to Helsinki for another 5 days around the university.

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