On synchronicity

Published in Lionheart Magazine #8, the Pattern & Colour issue, September 2017.

On synchronicity

Reality has one advantage over fiction: real life events can be wildly improbable. When you’re making things up they have to be believable, but reality makes no such promises: anything can happen.

It was the author John Irving who said this, I think – I seem to remember reading it in a preface to one of my favourite novels, “The World According to Garp”. This is a book where magical things happen to ordinary people. Or more likely, where perfectly realistic things happen, because reality is full of wild coincidences.

Like this one. I met my friend Johanna in San Francisco 18 years ago, and while we’ve kept in touch we hadn’t seen each other in the past decade. But the other week we’d agreed to meet – and three days before we were supposed to see each other for the first time in all that time, we ran into each other on the street. It was around the corner from my house in London, although she didn’t know I lived there, and she lives in Vienna now. I was headed into a café, so had she walked up just a moment later we’d have missed each other.

I ran into my partner at Waterloo station a few days later. He was on his way home and I was on my way into Soho when our paths crossed by the ticket barriers. This is less freaky as we both go through that station all time time, but Waterloo is the busiest rail station in all of Britain and the place was rammed with people. I wasn’t supposed to be on that train but I’d missed the last one, and I wasn’t supposed to take a left at the gates but did it anyway as it was so crowded. And suddenly Luke was there, I saw him first and reached out to touch his arm, interrupting the flow of people to steal a moment out of time.

Coincidences come with a feeling that something has slipped through a crack somewhere, interrupting the normal workings of time and space. A person shows up in a place they’re not supposed to be in; a name or number repeats; two people have had the same experience; a song plays at the perfect moment. These are some of the most common coincidences, and they happen to all of us, all the time.

But it feels so profound when it happens, and a number of coincidences in a row can create a sense of luck. Maybe it feels like you’re being carried forward by an invisible force, or that things are being nudged along to make sure they’re going your way. Like when you’re travelling through traffic and all the lights turn green just as you approach, or you get what you need in an unexpected way, just at the right time. The psychologist Carl Jung called this “synchronicity” – meaningful coincidences. This relates to Jung’s idea of the “unus mundus” – the idea of “one world” with an underlying order and structure where everyone and everything is connected.

It’s a quick jump from the idea of a connected world to superstition. As pattern-seeking animals, it can be hard for us to experience coincidences and not be tempted to read any deeper meaning into them, especially if the experience feels like it borders on the supernatural. But there are seven billion people on the planet, and with such large numbers, outrageous coincidences actually start to become likely. It may feel unlikely to meet someone who shares your birthday, but mathematically, you only need 23 people in a room before there’s a 50/50 chance two of them will be born on the same day.

Still, none of this explains how it’s possible to be thinking about someone – maybe a friend you don’t speak to every week – and the moment you do, your phone buzzes with a text from them. This happens to me all the time. Once my partner used “oak” as a metaphor, and we rounded the corner to find the ground suddenly covered in oak leaves. I was in a taxi on my way to something I was dreading, and “Don’t bring me down” came on the radio – and the same song played again in the taxi on the way back. I start thinking I want to get some Birkenstocks and suddenly I see them on a million people every day. But this isn’t the universe speaking to us – this is what linguistics professor Arnold Zwicky calls the “frequency illusion”: you think about something and your brain becomes primed to focus on it. It’s not that these things are suddenly happening more often, it’s just that now, you’re paying attention.

If it makes you sad to think that coincidences are just a toss of a coin, don’t be. Just because there’s nothing magical about magic, it doesn’t make our experience of it any less meaningful to us. Although Carl Jung didn’t like the idea of reading coincidences as random: “This would result in a chaotic collection of curiosities, rather like those old natural-history cabinets where one finds, cheek by jowl with fossils and anatomical monsters in bottles, the horn of a unicorn, a mandragora manikin, and a dried mermaid.” He says this as if it’s a bad thing, but it sounds pretty great to me.

It’s such a big world, and it can feel so overwhelming. How amazing is it that we find the things that we end up loving: our people, our places, our songs, our random detours that become memories that stick in our brains for the rest of our lives? I’m sure my partner and I have passed each other at Waterloo station without seeing each other a dozen times, and I believe it was luck that we saw each other that day. But that didn’t make it any less wonderful. A face that I love appeared in the crowd, purely as a surprise, and we shared a moment that shouldn’t quite be happening.

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London’s challenger banks are the envy of New York fintech

FusionWire, 2016. 

London’s challenger banks are the envy of New York fintech

New York has no shortage of impressive fintech startups, but when it comes to challenger banks, everyone is looking to London.  

New York fintech holds its own against any other startup scene, no doubt about it – but even New Yorkers will admit that London is ahead when it comes to challenger banks. During a recent reporting trip to New York, the consensus was clear: there’s great admiration for up-and-coming UK banks like Mondo and Starling. These are the next-generation banks that are offering a full retail banking service, rather than just a front-end built on top of existing infrastructure. “This is what I want [to see] more of the US. I want new online banks built from the ground up. I want to see somebody do it,” said Joe Ziemer, head of communications and policy initiatives at Betterment, when we met in May.   

Starling and Mondo both secured UK banking licences this summer, joining the dozen-plus new banks that have received licences since 2013; that was when UK regulators changed the rules in an effort to encourage innovation in the retail banking sector. Goals are lofty and ambitious and there’s money available to pursue them: Starling raised $70m in January, while Mondo was valued at £30m following its £6m fundraising in February. In May, new name Tandem raised £1m on crowdfunding platform Seedrs in less than 20 minutes.

In New York, leading US robo adviser Betterment is an example of a fintech startup that provides a full service, rather than just repackaging products from traditional financial groups. There are two key benefits to this approach, says Ziemer: “One is the user experience. If you open a Betterment account you will open the entire thing in two minutes – the advisory relationship and the brokerage relationship. … If you fund your account tonight you’ll be fully invested tomorrow morning.” This is possible because Betterment handles everything in-house, and no outsourcing means no delays, no profit-sharing, and overall full control.

Building from scratch – like Betterment is doing as a US robo adviser, and Mondo is doing as a UK challenger bank – has drawbacks. For one, it takes much longer. It also requires more funding up front, as years can go by before the product can be launched and even then, it can take years to make money. But if successful, the payoff will be a company that’s central to the customer, rather than a nice-to-have. An example of this is how we may use a service like PayPal, but this is useless without a bank account: our central relationship is still with the bank. The overall goal of Betterment gets to the heart of this, says Ziemer: “We want to get to a place where we are the client’s central financial relationship.” For UK challenger banks, the goal is the same – this is what’s caught the admiration of the New York fintech scene.  

The regulation advantage

So if New York can nurture a full-service financial advisory startup like Betterment, why the dearth of groundbreaking challenger banks? Put simply, it’s the lack of supportive infrastructure or permissive regulation. “There’s certainly a number of connecting data points around challenger banks being more prominent in Europe and Asia rather than the States. It may have to do with the regulatory scheme here in the US: you don’t often see them popping as much,” said Jesse Podell, Managing Director of Startupbootcamp Fintech New York, when we spoke in May. “[In London] you have some proven leaders, like Mondo. Whereas here, it may feel a bit stalled.”

Podell says London has done a remarkable job at boosting its fintech scene, which unlike in the US, benefits from being focused primarily in one place. But the UK still lags behind when it comes to funding. In North America, VC-backed fintech companies raised $1.8 billion across 128 deals in the first quarter of 2016, according to KPMG and CB Insights, which concluded fintech deal activity in the region is on track to reach a new high this year. In Europe, funding numbers for the period came in at $0.3 billion, and half of this went to WorldRemit and LendInvest. “Fintech investment in Europe has certainly been less overheated than in other markets,” CB Insights CEO Anand Sanwal said when the numbers were published, adding that this has resulted in increasing interest from US and Asian investors. These number do however pre-date Brexit, which has created uncertainty; London’s ability to hire people from all over Europe has been a significant asset when it comes to competing with the US.

London benefits from having more fintech accelerators compared to New York, and Podell is impressed by the quality of the infrastructure set up to support fintech startups in London. “What I do really appreciate and like about London is the regulatory scheme. It seems to be more adept at working and experimenting with startups. It’s seen as quite adversarial here in the States.” Podell, who’s just overseen the first round of companies completing the Startupbootcamp Fintech New York accelerator programme, says this is something he would like to work towards improving in the US: “[In London] you have a regulatory sandbox that startups have enjoyed. That could be a big part of the reason why the UK has done well.”

Buckminster Fuller’s Spaceship Earth

Aquila Magazine for children, July/August 2017 (PDF)

Buckminster Fuller

Buckminster Fuller wanted to bring humanity closer to utopia – a perfect place where everyone has what they need – and he believed that technology was how we’d get there. Fuller’s dream was borderline crazy but “Bucky” got closer than most, in part because he didn’t just try to solve each problem individually but he looked at how every single thing in the world is connected.

Buckminster Fuller was a scientist, as well as a designer, architect, geometrist, engineer, and cartographer. Or you could simply say he was a genius – and a bit of a crackpot! He had wildly creative and beautiful ideas for how to solve humanity’s problems, and he was deeply interested in pretty much everything he came across.

As the root of technology is science, Fuller studied the basic patterns in nature in the hopes of reproducing them in his inventions. Fuller is probably best known for his Geodesic Domes – those half circles that look a bit like a football cut in half. This construction doesn’t need any supporting beams, and is stable enough to endure harsh weather. Standing inside a Bucky Dome shows you how this design isn’t just strong and light, but also elegant and graceful. Fuller said: “I never work with aesthetic considerations in mind. But I have a test: If something isn’t beautiful when I get finished with it, it’s no good.”

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Richard Buckminster Fuller Junior (1895-1983) was born in Massachusetts, USA, to a family of strong individuals dedicated to activism and public service. Young Bucky was no different, and the work he went on to do inspires us to this day. Fuller was severely nearsighted as a child, but until he got glasses he refused to believe the world wasn’t blurry. Early inspiration came from family trips to Bear Island in Maine, where Fuller learned about nature and boat construction. Fuller was later thrown out of university for spending too much time with friends and missing his exams. He then went to work at a mill, which taught him about machinery. His time in the Navy meant learning about engineering – Fuller invented a winch for rescue boats that meant pulling planes out of the water in time to save pilots’ lives. This invention earned Fuller the opportunity to train with the US Naval Academy, before he went to work with his father-in-law where he invented a new way to strengthen concrete buildings.

After the construction company went under, Fuller found himself at a loose end. He withdrew, wondering how he could best contribute to humanity. “You do not belong to you. You belong to Universe,” he concluded after he emerged from two years in deep concentration. His goal was ambitious: “To make the world work for 100 percent of humanity in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.” Fuller wanted to find a way to solve all the problems in the world at the same time, because he believed it was all connected. Fuller called his particular brand of whole-system thinking “synergetics” – to look closely at the natural relationships between objects, and examine how we think about things.

Not everyone liked Fuller – his ideas were unusual and pretty out there – and even those who supported him found he could be exhausting at times. He would often start talking about one subject and before you knew it, hours had gone by and Fuller would have covered not only the original topic, but put it into context with everything else around it. In Fuller’s world the simplest thing, like ancient boat building, was a vital component of the biggest issue, like the development of modern science – and listeners would find themselves not only convinced, but also inspired. Concluded the New Yorker magazine concluded after interviewing Fuller in 1966: “As Fuller told it, the whole rousing saga sounded absolutely irrefutable.”

*

“More with less” was Fuller’s guiding principle as he worked on one of his key areas of interest: revolutionise construction in order to improve housing. He invented the Dymaxion House, a cheap, mass-produced module that could be airlifted into place. The name, a mix of the words “dynamic”, “maximum” and “tension”, became a calling card for Fuller, who went on to invent the Dymaxion Car – a vehicle that even today looks like something out of science fiction. This car had three wheels and aerodynamic rounded edges, was 20 feet long and could hold up to 11 people and it used very little fuel. The Dymaxion Car caused such a stir when Fuller drove it that he was asked that he kindly keep it off the streets during rush hour because it caused gridlock. Fuller also dreamt up underwater settlements where people could receive supplies via submarine, and floating communities where people could live in the clouds.

The Dymaxion Map shows the whole planet on a single flat sheet of paper, without any of the usual distortions that you get with maps – the idea was to encourage people to think about the planet in a more comprehensive way, instead of focusing on individual countries. Fuller also developed the World Game, which used the Dymaxion Map to help people better understand how to use the planet’s resources to the benefit of everybody. Fuller figured we were all in the same boat, so it would make more sense if we all pulled in the same direction: “I’ve often heard people say: ‘I wonder what it would feel like to be on board a spaceship,’ and the answer is very simple. What does it feel like? That’s all we have ever experienced. We are all astronauts on a little spaceship called Earth.”

Duncan Crawford

Hedge Magazine, June 2017. Original article p38-40.

Duncan Crawford, Head of Hedge Fund Sales in the Prime Services Division at Societe Generale Corporate & Investment Banking 

The formal atmosphere of Societe Generale’s East London offices strikes a sharp contrast to the folksy Spitalfields Market downstairs. Duncan Crawford looks right at home under the tall ceilings in his elegantly patterned tie and monogrammed cufflinks, although the sharp look is offset by a slight sunburn – he’s just come back from Cervinia: “We skied in Switzerland for good snow, and crossed the Italian border for delicious food.”    

Crawford knows how to get the best out of the options available. Officially he’s the Global Head of Hedge Fund Sales in the Prime Services Division at Societe Generale Corporate & Investment Banking – what this means is that he’s is a connector of people. Crawford describes it as being “a marketplace of information between investors and managers”, as his team works with investors to find the best additions to their portfolio. This doesn’t sound too remarkable until he describes how they’re going about it; the indices aren’t monthly but daily for one – the Societe Generale CTA Index now contains 17 years of futures trading data. The goal is for the coverage to become universal: “Our aim is to be able to report on 100% of the strategies that are out there within any particular strategy,” Crawford explains in his calm and soft-spoken manner.

The success of this ambitious goal depends on sophisticated technology, as masses of information is constantly uploaded into databases to produce custom client updates. But still, this is very much an interpersonal industry; in fact, their manager events are smaller than those of the competition, says Crawford: “It’s a very collegiate atmosphere. Our flagship event is over three days, and by the end, everyone’s spent quality time with everyone.”

It’s certainly exclusive, nods Crawford. “You might say we’re entrepreneurial because of our time horizon: it’s very much long-term. … Our oldest clients go back over 20 years. It’s a partnership arrangement, rather than a client-broker relationship.” The investors range from large sovereign wealth funds, to small family offices and sophisticated investors who have been allocating to hedge funds for over 30 years to pension funds who are just now starting to do so. The watershed event that changed this was the credit crunch: “Very few investors actually allocated to CTAs [Commodity Trading Advisors] prior to 2008; it was mostly long short equity hedge funds and relative value strategies that offered very high sharpes over short periods of time. These strategies were largely hurt badly in ‘08, whereas CTAs shot the lights out.” In recent years, Crawford has seen an improved appreciation of the place CTAs can have in more general portfolios: “You’re now seeing some of the slower-moving pension funds starting to allocate significant amounts of money to that space. A number of them are doing it for portfolio protection reasons, which arguably is a good reason to allocate to a CTA.”  

As investors in greater numbers have woken up to the potential of this market, numerous low-fee alternatives have surfaced to vie for their interest. “Investors across the board, for the last few years, have been focusing on one main thing: fees. “Only alternative beta products have amassed huge amounts of money lately. Though the concern about these managers is whether in a period of stress, are they going to provide what investors are hoping for? If they’re a simple trend-follower, it could be a binary result.” Crawford is referring to the fact that trend followers are long equity markets when they are going up, so in the event of a crash they’ll lose money until they’ve managed to turn their positions around to short, which doesn’t happen overnight. But Crawford isn’t entirely negative on this new focus on fees, as it’s resulted in fresh conversations about what exactly investors are getting for their money. “If you’ve only got a flat fee, it’s in the manager’s interest simply to raise assets and performance becomes irrelevant,” says Crawford; with performance-based fees, the interests of the manager and the investor are better aligned.  

*

Crawford grew up on a farm in Scotland. “I love the countryside. I love Scotland. I thought, I’ll come down to London and make my fortune in two years, and then I’ll go back to Scotland.” He laughs – that didn’t quite go as planned. Crawford studied agriculture and food marketing at Newcastle University – it’s a business degree, he notes, but yes, it was something of a left-field choice. “My view of university was always that it was meant to be good fun and not a time of particular hard work. It was a time of networking and making friends.” The hard work came later, Crawford adds: “But to be a broker is also to be a good networker.”

After graduating, Crawford went to live in Germany for year. This was in 1990, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall. “A friend’s father was in Berlin, working for the Army radio. He said, ‘Come to Berlin, it’s where everyone wants to be!’ So I did.” It was a very exciting time: “There were a lot of different people visiting Berlin. The city was overcome with East Germans, so there was no way I was going to get a job when I didn’t speak German. There was lots of bands coming to play – I saw the Grateful Dead. It was a lot of fun.”

One of the people who Crawford met in Berlin was the wife of the managing director of the Zurich office of Fimat, who encouraged him to apply for a job at the company’s London office. Crawford did this – but not before he’d stayed in Germany long enough to learn the language. Joining Fimat led to a remarkably long run at what’s technically been a single employment; Fimat, and Newedge which came about in 2008, were both part-owned Societe Generale subsidiaries, before Newedge was taken in-house in 2014. “4th November 1991 is my start date at Societe Generale as far as HR is concerned,” Crawford laughs. “It was, for me, one evolution from Fimat and Newedge through to Societe Generale.”

This variety is probably what’s held Crawford’s attention through a decades-long career at the same company. Fimat was “one of the smallest futures brokers in the world” when he started, with a pretty flat management structure. Newedge brought about “the opportunity to do pretty much what we wanted” – so if he had an idea he could run with it. This was how Crawford and his boss Philippe Teilhard de Chardin decided to carve out a hedge fund-focused business in 1996, by separating the pure futures execution for banks and institutions and a group that serviced asset managers in equity options they referred to as equity derivatives, from the Prime Brokerage team, which focused on both hedge funds and investors. “My view back then was, ‘If I had any money … I’d want to give it to a hedge fund manager.’ As far as I was concerned, they were the brightest fund managers on the street. It seemed like a no-brainer: this is the business we should concentrate on. So that’s what we did.”

Building Fimat and Newedge felt to an extent like he was building his own businesses, says Crawford – it’s a different world now, being part of a major bank. “There’s a lot more opportunities in Societe Generale than there was as purely Newedge. We’ve inherited their equity finance business – one of the biggest equity finance businesses on the street – and that’s enabled us to really start developing our equity PB [Prime Brokerage] business. … Now, the ambition is to become much bigger in the non-managed futures space. We wouldn’t have been able to do that if we weren’t in Societe Generale.”

So does Crawford still think hedge funds are attracting the world’s best and the brightest? “I think they are,” he says, nodding. “But the brightest kids have more opportunities in the tech world now. It depends how you’re put together, how your brain works. I think the entrepreneurial money in the hedge fund industry has largely been made.” The industry is entering a later stage now, says Crawford, with lots of consolidation, and smaller managers looking to join the big names. “It’s partly forced by regulation and the increased cost of entry; but also because there is less opportunity to develop new strategies.”

Crawford lives in Suffolk with his wife Helena and their three kids, who’re just entering their teens. “We have four cows and a calf, who was born a week ago. I do a bit of farming on the side. I have a horse and the kids have ponies, so we ride.” The circle of life lessons have been covered – the family eats the meat they raise: “We’ve had pigs, which the kids loved, so we were concerned there may be issues when we came to eating them. But they thought they were the tastiest sausages they’d ever eaten,” he laughs. The animals and the garden take up a lot of Crawford’s time – he likes doing practical things with his hands: “Being outside in the countryside is very refreshing.” Working with people is also Crawford’s favourite part about the job: “Understanding more what managers are doing and their strategies, and to be able to help investors achieve their goals in life. It’s very satisfying to be part of a success story.”

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Cafes of Trondheim, Norway

Suitcase, September 2014. Original article

Cafes of Trondheim

It feels more like a town, Trondheim, with its colourful wooden buildings lining the cosy downtown area between the river and the fjord. But Trondheim is the third biggest city in Norway, bringing plenty of charm to the task of being the key metropolis for the country’s central region. Far enough north to get the aurora borealis, and almost far enough to get the midnight sun, Trondheim makes a the perfect city to go for a wander. Here are some great places to stop for coffee.

Dromedar Kaffebar, Nordre gate 2. 

This is the pride and joy of the Trondheim coffee scene. The café on Nordre is the second site for this small local chain, established in 1997 when two young men decided to open “a proper coffee house” in Trondheim. The success of this pledge has been verified time and again, as Dromedar keeps excelling in national competitions for barista arts. The intention for this branch, as well as the ones that followed, was to be a place for locals to meet, and this remains the case today. So whether you’re after a an unpretentious space to have a chat, or you just really want a decent brew, Dromedar will sort you out.

Baklandet Skydsstasjon, Øvre Bakklandet 33. 

Don’t miss Skydsstasjonen – this place is really something to write home about. The coffee and food is good, sure, but the Bakklandet neighbourhood is the true gem of the city. But Skydsstasjonen is worth a stop for the interior alone, whether you go for the fish soup or the herring platter. Or maybe just a coffee and a piece of that Daim bar ice cream cake? In any case, it looks like it’s been decorated by a Norwegian grandma, full of amazing Scandie retro artefacts and some pretty amazing embroidered cushions. The building itself stems from the 1700s, with a long history for selling all sorts of goods including hats and milk, and of course being a travel stop, as the name now illustrates.

Kaffebrenneriet, Dronningens gate 9. 

With 20 kinds of coffee beans, Kaffebrenneriet is a welcome addition to the Trondheim coffee scene. The Oslo-based roastery opened its first Trondheim branch in a beautiful art nouveau building on the main shopping stretch, lovingly restored with furniture and photographs in the original style. Downstairs you can get food too, or have a scoop or two of ice cream that’s made on site: flavours include espresso and cappuccino, or course. Because at Kaffebrenneriet, it’s really all on the coffee: the company claims to serve the best brew in the country. Brave souls should try “Tors Hammer” on the espresso menu, named for the Norse god Thor and his hammer-wielding antics.

Choco Boco, Olav Tryggvasons gate 29.

Adding this café to the list represents a bit of a risk. Choco Boco is a longstanding favourite in the Trondheim café scene, but a visit in early September found the doors closed in anticipation of a major overhaul. While the results of this change remains a factor unknown, what is certain is that Choco Boco has always been a really great place: get a coffee and read the paper in the morning, pop in for a quick sandwich or salad at lunch, and get a glass of wine there in the evening. Fingers crossed that these features have been preserved once it re-opens.

Cafe Bare Blåbær, Innherredsveien 16.

Make time for a detour to the Nedre Elvehavn neighbourhood, where this café manages to be both cozy and roomy at the same time. The outdoor seating area has a great view of the beautifully restored harbour, which is now full of bars, restaurants and shops. Locals have taken a shine to Nedre Elvehavn, and if you go there in the summer during the long, sunny evenings you’ll see why. While serving coffee and cakes during the day, Bare Blåbær turns into something more of a bar at night, making it a great place to kick back any time of day. After all, the name, “just blueberries”, is something the Norwegians say when something’s no trouble at all.

Just talking about the weather

Lionheart Magazine, February 2017.

eliasson1

Just talking about the weather

“It is commonly observed, that when two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather; they are in haste to tell each other, what each must already know, that it is hot or cold, bright or cloudy, windy or calm.” (Samuel Johnson)

White sunshine is pouring down from a cold blue sky today, creating a rare moment of picture perfect autumn, the kind you see in postcards. The light hits the trees, covered in yellow and orange leaves – it’s so bright they’re glowing. I’m a summer child and the prospect of winter scares me, but right now the autumn is putting on a show, and it’s spectacular.

I feel bright today too, because the weather affects me far more than is reasonable. In the summer I’m happy, basking in the heat and the sun, grateful every day for the sweetness of it. In the winter it’s the opposite, although it’s not the cold that bothers me – it’s the absence of light. The grey January sun becomes a metaphor for my mood: not quite enough, stretched too thin. It’s always been like that for me, but in 2003 it was the worst: I’d just moved to London after finishing university and the city was too big, the rent was too high, the world was coming in too fast, and it was too damn dark outside. In winter, hibernation instinct takes over, and all you can do is wait.

eliasson2I don’t remember much from that winter, but there’s one thing that stands out. At the Tate Modern, in the central cavern that is the Turbine Hall, was an installation by the artist Olafur Eliasson. It was very simple: a sun-shape mounted on the wall, filling the gigantic space with yellow light and a fine mist. The mono-frequency lights, similar to those used in old-fashioned streetlights, meant you could see only three colours: yellow, black and white. The ceiling was covered in mirrors, which meant that when people walked into the space and looked around, very often they would lie down.

All through that winter I would go down to the Tate several times a week on my lunchbreak, just to sit in the sun. It might be gloomy as hell outside, but for half an hour it felt like the world was a place with light in it, and that I would find a way to make London agree with me. Now it’s 13 years later and my life is no longer something I feel the need to get away from, but I still think about that magical sunscape every single winter.

Apparently I’m not the only one. Olafur Eliasson’s Tate installation has been hailed as one of the most successful uses of the Turbine Hall to date. Eliasson called it ‘The Weather Project’, in recognition of how weather becomes our most immediate experience of nature in an urban landscape. “The weather has been so fundamental to shaping our society that one can argue that every aspect of life – economical, political, technical, cultural, emotional – is linked to or derived from it,” Eliasson wrote in the project catalogue. “Over the centuries, defending ourselves from the weather has proved even more important than protecting ourselves from each other in the form of war and violence. If you cannot withstand the weather, you cannot survive.”

Ahead of the exhibition, Eliasson asked people questions about the weather, including whether they thought the idea of the weather in society is based on nature or culture? 53% said nature – 47% said culture. As they teach you in meditation: there may be clouds in the sky, but the trick is to remember that above them is always a blue sky.

The light always comes back after the dead of winter and we survive it, every time. It can be difficult to remember in the depths of it, but in 2003 it was easy because there was summer on tap at the Tate. How amazing was that sun! How warm and reassuring. How it felt like a promise that things would change.

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