Sunday, September 05, 2004

Week 15 - The Tourist Thing

So, quite a frustrating week in the office this week. We’re working on a level crossings job, updating drawings from another company which were drawn in MicroStation V7 and then exported to AutoCAD, which we now have to import back into MicroStation V8. Thing is, they were originally drawn using an AutoCAD colour table (I have no idea why, and I’ve stopped asking questions). The colours are used to indicate weights in the drawing, because they only plot in black and white (because it’s cheaper; I count myself lucky we have colour monitors), so I get tasked with producing new pentables to produce the correct print output. Easy, thinks I, but it doesn’t cross my mind to think about the colour in the title block. See, in the drawings Green is used for things that don’t get printed, so it doesn’t occur to me that the company might have decided to make its logo:
$ Grontmij Maunsell . (Green - Purple - Green)
until I see the plots, which come out:
Grontmij .
And they wonder why the ´Crazy Englishman´ is banging his head against the screen and weeping.

Anyway, this weekend I decide it’s about time I started doing the tourist thing, so on Saturday Shahram and I take the train to Amsterdam to go and see the sights. Oh dear. Now, the Dutch (Nederlanders, nightstalkers, whatever) have been telling me that the ´Dam is rubbish, and I can see where they’re coming from. When we arrive at Amsterdam Centraal, the station is obviously still under construction (rough floor, wooden boards), but outside is great: fabulous architecture, canal boats, street performers, those fake statue people ("What do you want to do when you leave school?", "Oh, I think I’d like to stand still for a living"). The canals are fabulous, the boat rides look terrific, the art and the museums are fantastic. But there’s a darker side. It’s time for lunch, so we look for somewhere to eat. This is the choice we’re faced with: McDonalds, Burger King, McDonalds, KFC, McDonalds, McDonalds, kebab, pizza, kebab, pizza, pizza, hot dogs, McDonalds, kebab, McDonalds – this in a supposed cultural centre. We eventually find a small Italian restaurant and have some pasta, which is quite nice. Then, well, you can’t go to Amsterdam without having a look at the red light district, can you? Whoops. Somehow they’ve managed to elevate the female form to the mystique, subtlety and sheer class of shopping at Argos. I never fail to be amazed at how any area of the richness of human experience can be cheapened, re-packaged as an inferior product and sold back to us. I will say no more on the subject, but to mention that the only thing more appalling in Amsterdam is the behaviour of the English tourists, which is frankly juvenile and embarrassing. Oh my God, and plumbing. The country’s underwater, so why is the sewage above ground. Basically, public toilets are places where you (by which I mean men, there are NO public toilets for women) stand behind a steel barrier and urinate onto the ground or into a tin (which reminds me, when you pull the flush on a train, YOU CAN SEE THE TRACKS).

On the other hand, this week I’ve had to re-evaluate my views on the food out here, as I found a superb little restaurant called d´Olde Vismark which does excellent meals and has terrific service for surprisingly little money (honey mustard glazed steak, mushrooms, fresh vegetables, vanilla milkshakes and Coca-Cola in glass bottles). Also, there is a shop in Kampen which sells the best ice cream I have ever tasted in my life, and I found a place that does pizza not only properly but really well. Fish is still consistently brilliant everywhere except the staff canteen, which provides sustenance but, frankly, little more. Nightlife continues to amaze me – people go out at, like, 11pm and stay out till something like 4am, but there’s no trouble anywhere: no muggings, no fights, no joy-riding, no crime at all that I’ve seen apart from the graffiti, which is, frankly, awesome in terms of its quality. Manners, equally, are far better than I had previously observed with regards to the whole coughing and eating/talking thing, but one’s opinion can easily be coloured by a few barbarians on the train and in the canteen (and they know who I mean).

My culinary skills, meanwhile, are going from strength to strength, and I can now re-heat a wide range of dishes using a microwave. Thank-you Albert Heijn, the Waitrose of Nederland.

I tried to join the other gym (the one not razed to the ground) today, but it’s closed on Sunday. Sunday = day of rest. Rest = leisure. Leisure centre = gym. It’s basic stuff. I just give up.

Summer’s back, shockingly, and it’s more than welcome. Once again, in early September, we have temperatures in the high 20s and it’s too hot to be indoors. Work has an air-con system which keeps the temperature in the office five degrees less than it is outside (why? why not simply cool?), but that’s just not enough to make it comfortable.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I´ve set up a web blog page at, which has all my letters home so far and which will have photos when I get around to uploading them when I get home for the weekend again in a few weeks. Meanwhile, if anyone fancies hitting the Reply button on this, I’d appreciate it as always. Otherwise sending these missives is just like screaming into the dark silence of a formless void.

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