Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Jony Ive and Thomas Ingenlath - brothers from another mother

Aren't Thomas Ingenlath (of Volvo) and Jony Ive (Apple) somehow soul mates in a way? Beauty and simplicity of design that is minimalist but not empty - a minimalism that is rather evocative; lines and spaces that are admittedly stark but do not repel because they are not cold. In their bareness they invite the viewer / consumer to place themselves within the canvas of the product. The consumer thereby becomes the focal point. This intrinsic humility of the product is so Scandinavian and shows such respect on the part of Thomas (who is German) for his company's (Swedish) heritage.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Letter to Volvo on the release of the 2015 Volvo XC90

The new 2015 Volvo XC90. 
The world’s safest car echoes ancient values – before utilitarianism trumped beauty.

This is written in gratitude to the shareholders, managers, designers, engineers, assembly line workers, logistics and marketing teams whose work has given the world the 2015 Volvo XC90. It is perhaps a driver’s car, but it does not belong only to those who drive it.  It belongs to all of us.

If they had not yet existed now, would any of the great buildings of the world, constructed over the course of centuries, ever have been built? Which architect or captain of industry in ego-centric 2014, would commence work on a project with little or no prospect of living long enough to bask in the acclaim its completion would afford? But it was not always so. Multiple generations of artisans from the same family would work on a cathedral or shrine over hundreds of years, proud of the contribution - however small or mundane - that they had made towards its creation. Inspired and driven by their faith, they deliberately produced works of such quality and beauty that they have stood for millennia. Not as monuments to their egos but heirlooms for believers who would follow them. Work not grudgingly extracted, but offerings of human toil worthy of the Divine.

Those at Volvo who designed and built the 2015 Volvo XC90, so very obviously loved it into existence. Yes, I used the word ‘loved’. When you don’t just raid parts bins but commission Orrefors to design your gear lever and construct it out of crystal glass; when your dashboard employs the use of timbers only available in Scandinavia for no other reason than the aesthetic, then you are not manufacturing. You are creating. Every inch of the XC90 has been coaxed into being by a complete devotion to quality. Every single Volvo person, according to their area of expertise, playing their own small part in the building of this magnificent vehicle. Not artisans but artists. Is this not the essence of art? Beauty created for no other reason than Beauty’s sake? Yes, I know the company is owned by Geely, and I don’t know why the Chinese owners, largely focused on building high volume, low cost units, entrusted the renewal of their new acquisition into the hands of the Swedes – a people with a culture so different from their own. But they did. It should never be forgotten, that it was under their patronage that the XC90 was born.  The XC90 project could have been shelved at any stage, at the stroke of a pen. But it wasn’t. Not at $2Billion. Not at $6 Billion. Not even at 10.

$11 billion dollars is a lot of money to invest in the development of a motor vehicle. Manufacturers manufacture products to attain profits and a few even take pride in the quality of their merchandise. Once in a generation, however, a company will produce a work that is so exquisitely gorgeous that it elicits not merely a utilitarian desire to own it, but a posture of pure awe:  the only appropriate involuntary response when sheer unadulterated beauty overwhelms any attempt at a rational response. If one is a person of faith, one may even be drawn to wonder at the ultimate Source of such beauty. When words. Simply. Fail.  Such is the 2015 Volvo XC90. If Michelangelo’s Sistine chapel is ‘just paint on plaster’ then the 2015 Volvo XC90 is ‘just a car.’

You argue with me and I agree: Yes, the XC90 will eventually age, corrode and be recycled or return to the earth. So will all the people who had a hand in its creation. The people of Volvo who exchanged the irreplaceable substance of their life, (their time), to participate in its creation. Yes, all earthly beauty is fleeting, but those who are witness to it are forever grateful that they were given the gift of that experience - be it a sunset, a flower or a loved one. Surely, even if an XC90 were never to traverse a mile, the beauty of this vehicle alone would have been enough to justify its existence. Perhaps, like most of the people on this planet, I may never be able to afford this vehicle, but somehow that doesn't matter. I no more need to own the XC90 to truly appreciate it than I need to own Van Gogh’s ‘Irises’ to appreciate that. 

So I end this letter as I started, by tipping my hat to the shareholders, managers, designers, engineers, assembly line workers, logistics and marketing teams– the people of Volvo, from Hangzhou to Gothenburg that have jointly birthed a work of such extraordinary passion.

Thank you. Tack. Xièxiè

Saturday, 6 July 2013

5 years on.

On this the 5th anniversary of Kirstin’s passing, I wanted to mark the day by reflecting on one or another of the aspects of Kirstin’s life and so I sat slowly going through the photos of her taken from when she was a baby until shortly before her death when she was a young woman of 18. I became conscious for the first time of a pain that she carried so deeply and that I have only recently begun to appreciate. I guess that with every passing year, I am learning to recognise aspects of her that I was only somewhat dimly conscious of when I knew her in life. In as much as I could not look at and deal with teenagers in the same way as I had before I had the privilege of being her uncle, as a father, I now look back on my niece and her life not only as her uncle, but as a father of my own daughter, Amelia. Carmen and I love each other very much and though we fear the future inevitable earthly loss of the other, our fear for the wellbeing and life of Amelia is even more profound. As little as Amelia is, both Carmen and I now know what unconditional love is – both in the giving and the receiving. Perhaps by way of stark relief, it has made us more aware of the times when our conjugal love fails in this respect.  I have grown to understand more fully why it is that only in the bearing and raising of children that marriage finds it full sacramental fulfilment because the spouses’ love is not self-directed anymore in the sterile and potentially stagnant pool of mutual narcissistic self-fulfilment, but the closed greenhouse of our sacramental married lives is broken open so that it might nourish the flourishing of our child. This child, the physical manifestation of our love as co-creators of the Author of Love who loved us so much that we and our children in their turn came into being. Unthinkingly, we become less selfish by the cute bundle who barges into our lives and leads us into reckless self-giving by the sheer power of exponential cuteness. When a child is accepted as a gift from God, this mutual exchange of unconditional love cannot but reveal the unconditional love of our Father God. If I am not as good a father to Amelia as I can be, I cannot begin to communicate the loss that I would suffer from not knowing her and I cannot bear to imagine the hurt it would cause little Amelia if she felt she was not loved unconditionally  by her daddy.

I have a renewed sense of the acute pain that this absence must have caused Kirstin as her own father chose not to be a part of her life and what that loss must have meant to her as is testified by her anxious search for him as she grew into a young adult. But I am comforted by the knowledge that on achievement of the beatific vision, she is embraced by her heavenly Father and finally understands it’s full meaning for all eternity. Kirstin challenges me still in so many ways to be a better father. Her memory is therefore not just an ossified intellectual memorial but a life-giving legacy for her cousin Amelia (and others) in this and so many other ways.

May perpetual light shine upon her and may she rest in the peace of Christ.


Thursday, 5 July 2012

Born into Life

Just over 6 weeks ago, I officially became a dad. I say officially, because my wife and I were parents to two that never made it out of the womb when she miscarried fairly early on in those pregnancies.

A couple of weeks after Amelia's arrival, I was chatting to a colleague who has two toddlers and he asked me what I thought at the time was an odd question. He asked me what I had felt as I had watched them pull Amelia out of Carmen and saw her for the first time. And I hesitated. Before I could answer, he dropped his voice and leaned towards me, 'you know what I felt when my first was born?' I shook my head. 'Nothing.' He continued: 'I always wondered if there was something wrong with me, but Rodney, honestly, it took me 2 weeks to connect with my baby and then it was like I had been hit by an avalanche.'

I nodded. Throughout the pregnancy, I had talked to 'the bump' and then Amelia as we  named her when we had found out she was a girl. I had rubbed Carmen's tummy and felt her kicking and tumbling around inside. She had become a very real part of our lives - even though we couldn't see her yet, we had fallen in love with her. Then, when she was born, all the feelings I had been told I would experience never happened immediately. In my case, it wasn't 2 weeks, it was 2 days. Yes I thought she was cute and adorable and all that, but it was only when Carmen had to return to hospital for a slight hiccup 2 days later and I followed alone with just Amelia in the car baby seat behind me, that it hit me like a ton of bricks: If anything had to happen to her now... The fierce protectiveness I felt over her was almost overwhelming: like I would happily take pleasure in maiming anybody if they tried to harm her. The combination of love I felt for her and what I can only describe as blinding hate (albeit in the abstract) for any that would seek to hurt her was at once exhilarating and frightening. And I realised that I could not (and please God will not) ever know what it is to lose your child.

4 years ago, my sister and our family had my niece Kirstin torn from us (she was 18) and when she died, I can reflect that I went through a period of numbness that gradually subsided. I seem to think that there are parallels here. With regards to the Christian belief in eternal life, all of a sudden the idle question becomes a real question: In reflecting on the death of his wife, CS Lewis wrote that 'You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice.' When Kirstin died, we had to learn to relate to her in the context of her absence and her presence much like I had to do with Amelia when she left the womb and I could no longer find her there. It is not for nothing that we speak of being 'born' into eternal life. And I take comfort that the disciples had to learn the same thing: Jesus told Mary outside His tomb: 'Do not cling to me for I have not yet ascended...'(Jn 20:17) because now she and the disciples would have to learn to relate to Him in a new way because once He had ascended, He would be present - and absent in a new way. And so we do not cling to the memory of Kirstin, but through faith, learn to relate to her and her new absence and presence, believing in the communion of saints and realising that through the cross, which her loss was and is for us, we are united to the salvific work of Christ's Cross, in whose presence she now lives and moves and has her being, beckoning to us as we make our awkward way towards her - and Him. Rest in Peace dearest Kirst. You are still so very dearly, deeply missed.

Amelia Catherine

Kirstin Amy

Saturday, 14 January 2012


Carmen and I taking an evening out tonite to watch the APIA International at Sydney Olympic Park. Been raining so the guys are drying the court low tech with towels and blowers instead of Tennants - silly billies!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Nottinghill Rd,Berala,Australia

Sunday, 16 October 2011

End of Phase I

Ok so I am calling this end of Phase I - the garage floor still has to be coated and the garden is still short a few shrubs, cladding is to be done and skylights put in but this is part of PhaseII so this will be last post on the house for a while - I can get back to normal day to day stuff and hope to do some touristy stuff. We are really happy in our house - I know there are many bigger and fancier, but it is really home for us and thanks to Gideon of Plantastik http://plantastikservices.com - even the garden is better than I could ever have imagined - cos I am hopeless at that! Here goes:

Hey we have grass!

Still waiting for last 2 shrubs by postbox.

2nd garden bed.

Carmen's cabinet - finally arrived - weighs an absolute ton! The laser combo scanner doesn't fit in the cabinet!!! So this is how it is going to have to stay :-(

Wires tidied up as much as I could. These desks make it difficult.

Our Bedroom suite - not everybody's taste I know, but at least we have draws!
The wires to the right of Carmen's pedestal have been sorted - no more clutter!

En Suite - don't have wide angled lens - so not great shot. Soap dispenser holds 1.8Litres so good for a month or 2!

Guest room - ready for our first visitors T&S

Lounge skirting under fireplace last thing to be finished.

T&C talking about life love and everything else in the Dining area. Both bins to the right behind are sensor bins - no touch - the large is for recycled the smaller for general waste. The box in the middle is just a carton from a gift that sneaked into the photo awaiting disposal - oops!

Alfresco - screen sliding doors fitted.

The back garden - interim but done for now!

The garage -still in dire need of attention - next project!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Death of Steve Jobs

Like a great number of people and given that he was a complete stranger, I was - perhaps strangely - saddened, when I heard the news of the death of Steve Jobs this week. I kept hearing commentary on the radio about how he had changed the world and people's lives etc. and initially I thought of Henry David Thoreau. In Walden, Thoreau wrote about how the invention of the telegraph had radically changed the way that people communicate but simultaneously questioned whether its invention had actually contributed anything to humanity at all. What was it that people were using these new means of communication for? Had it elevated the level of discourse? Or had it just increased the volume and speed of idle chatter? I must confess to viewing Steve Job's accomplishments with the same jaundiced eye and had no thoughts of blogging about his passing.

And then as I (an expat South African) sat at the traffic lights here in Sydney with my iTouch on the dash, in the German car next to mine sat a young Asian guy and he was scrolling through Apps on his iPhone. And it struck me, not only the global impact that his company has had on communication, but that it had in fact, affected my life - and profoundly so. Between my wife and I we own 2 ipod shuffles, an iMac, 2 iphones, an Apple TV and an itouch. Still I wouldn't describe myself as an Apple fanboy - Apple's censorship of Apps that are at odds with its political or social agenda has never endeared me to the company. By all accounts, Steve Jobs was a ruthless and self-centred man who had a singular vision that drove him to eventually achieve the success he attained in business, but whose personal life was... well less admirable. Whether or not he could have achieved what he did any other way is a question, I don't know the answer to. Could he have been successful if he had paid the makers of his products a just and living wage instead of shipping those jobs to China? Am I not complicit in that decision by owning and utilising his products? All hand wringing aside, as somebody who constantly travels as part of my job, I am now able to listen to podcasts and talks from all over the world and pray the Divine Office through apps on my iTouch and phone. I am instantly in touch with family and friends all over the world in an immediate way I would otherwise not have been able to be. I have learned things and heard speakers I would never had had the chance to hear if it were not for Steve Job's contribution to technology.

I am just sorry he experienced life as isolated as he did. In one of his more well known addresses at the Stanford commencement in 2005, he said that Dogma is a trap of living with the results of other people's thinking. I was recently doing an assignment in Canon Law and tracing the history of one of the laws of the Church that dated back to the year 252. It made me aware of the rich treasure and privilege it has been for my life to be part of a community 2000 years old - I felt the hands of my older brothers and sisters reaching across the millenia to guide me in my search for truth - not a fossilized Dogma, but a dynamic engaging Dogma of Aquinus, Augustine, countless Bishops and theologians that meant I never had to reinvent the theological or philosophical wheel but could explore world's infinitely further than I could ever have reached on my own. How sad it is that Steve could not acknowledge the debt he owed to those that informed his own journey - and even his business ideas - whatever he could see was a result of standing on the shoulders of those that went before him. Rick Warren perhaps put it best: The problem with self-made man is that he usually worships his maker.

In human terms, Steve Jobs was a technological visionary and a man of immense creative talent and I tip my hat to him in gratitude for the way his inventions have enriched my life. But I can't shake the fact that his lauded vision was ultimately comprised of technological trinkets. In entrusting his soul to the mercy of God, I pray that he may experience the wonder of the Beatific vision that simply dwarfs to an infinitely exponential degree, his own.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Phase I nearing completion

Just a quick interim update on the house. We will post final pics of Phase I next week when our furniture is in. But here are some for now. Bye till next week!

The front garden. Final turf and flower bed will be put in next week.

Our back garden looking from the Alfresco - we had finished the deck design and were about to purchase the wood, lighting water features and pumps, but have decided to grass instead as we will be saving up and putting in a swimming pool when finances allow.

Carmen's study now has a little 'kuier' corner.

My study is the only 'completed' room in the house - no more furniture to be added - only files and books to be sorted properly, arranged and labelled. On the left of the picture through the bookcase, you can see my writing desk - I do no work there - it is my hobby corner used solely for writing.

The library end of my study - also with its own 'kuier' corner where you can curl up with a book.

Kangaroo Valley

About 88 km from where we now live, is a picturesque little town called Kangaroo Valley (appropriate for Aus I guess!)We took a drive out there today but I never took any shots of the town. I will ask Richard to do so next time with his new fancy lens. The road on the way there is the Kemblawarra road and having travelled extensively throughout NSW as a result of my job, I have to say it must rate as one of the State's most beautiful areas. The vegetation is lush and the scenery simply breathtaking. I tried to take some photos, but it is impossible for me to capture the beauty of this part of the world.

The mist rolling over the hills

So dense and lush and green - feels like you are in a tropical rain forest.

The road is tight and twisty - Richard longed for his AWD quattro :-( !

Monday, 19 September 2011


So if you've been wondering what I've been doing for the past few weeks, the answer is sweating over a garden. I hate gardening at the best of times, but this was ridiculous. A landscaper friend, Gideon and my brother basically whipped me along making sure the garden got done properly. The clay here is insanely hard -we used a pick and you were never sure if you had struck a hidden concrete outcrop from the building or clay - it was that hard. We hired a rotovator - like a mechanical plough to help us, but this was heavy work. About 9 cubic metres of compost later and 5 cubic metres of granite and bags of gypsum to break up the clay and the preparations are done. Gideon and R also put in drip and normal irrigation. The fence is up at last - already one of the neighbours complained to the Estate because it is dark not light as per the guidelines - seriously how sad is your life that the major issue in your life is the colour of your neighbour's fence? Get a life! Anyway... I will have some internal shots hopefully by next week. All my bookcases are in but labelling the bookshelves and setting them out is a work in progress and I am too embarrassed to post work in progress pics! Till next time -bye for now!

I should have gone with my first instinct and put down astro turf!!!

Endless moving of soil.
The rotovator aka Gideon's exercise machine.

The back of the house - awaiting decking, lighting, water features and grass. May not look it, but boy was this hard graft!

Ready for plants and turf
Taking shape - we chose the colour to match our garage door and gutters.

I better mention - Carmen and Kerry built all the flat pack stuff while little Abi 'helped' them. The long hall table on the right is actually an adaption - I removed the wheels - it is supposed to be a rolling table that goes over a queen sized bed so you can eat in bed or whatever.