Over the past couple of weeks I have whitewashed a bedroom, touched up the woodwork at our Brussels house and, today, helped de-reed a pond. The pond in question is at my father-in-law’s garden on the border between the Belgian Famenne and the Ardennes. It was a simply glorious day. This region can be austere and harsh in the winter (a season that has its own beauty), but on a spring day like today, with swallows soaring high in the sky and the trees and meadows in full leaf, it is an earthly paradise. Some of our favourite nephews and nieces were there, which added to our pleasure. After a late breakfast, everybody got to work on clearing up the pond. My job was to don a chest-high pair of waders and start de-reeding (pulling up fist loads of reeds where they encroached on the open water). I always feel virtuous after such physical labour, and in a way that you don’t (or I don’t) after more intellectual or administrative endeavours. But the fact is that, unlike the previous day’s running, such labour leaves the mind to think about and work on other things. So I didn’t just get the whitewashing and the touching-up and the de-reeding done; I also wrote quite a lot of stuff in my mind and thought through quite a few problems at work. The rest of this week is going to be very tough, so I was grateful for these ‘Zen’ interludes, and I am sure I’ll return to the peace they gave me as the week hots up.