Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Week 19 - Rail Olympics

Well, the good news is that I survived the whisky night. On the Tuesday evening in question, Sjoerd graciously allowed me to eat at his place beforehand (he cooked spaghetti bolognaise with fresh vegetables, which is a big deal for me in these days of microwaved meals and pizza deliveries) and then we went to the Blues Cafe, where our host treated us to a forty-five minute soliloquy on the history and provenance of Scottish single malt whiskys, during which I smiled and looked attentive and made like I could understand a word he said; which in actual fact, on reflection, I could (“durby der flurby derby der whisky flurby durby fur”).

We were then taught the correct way to drink whisky (orally) and sampled many (well, more than four) single malts. Long before the evening ended (4am, apparently) I slithered back to the station, caught my train and (somehow) cycled back to my digs, considerably the worse for wear.

Curiously, I was fine to get to work the next day, which is more than I can say about the following Monday. After a weekend at home my Easy(?)Jet flight back from the UK on the Sunday was delayed by an hour and a half (thirty minutes more than usual), so I didn’t land until 11pm Nedertime. I was just able to catch the last train back to Zwolle, where I arrived at 1am with no hope for a connection. Fortunately, the station was abundantly furnished with cabs, so I caught a ride back to Kampen in what I subsequently realised was a jet-car. Apparently, after midnight traffic lights don’t apply, and nor do any other road laws, so I was whisked through a multitude of red lights in a 50kph (30mph) zone at speeds in excess of 140kph (90mph) back to Kampen station (the only place in Kampen my driver knew how to get to), where I had fortuitously left my bike and was so able to complete my eight hour journey with a ten minute cycle. Four hours sleep, I can assure you, is not sufficient when you have to work the next day.

The Schiphol project has been cancelled because the bean counters at ProRail failed to take into account almost everything involved in the process of increasing the headway, and therefore estimated it at €30 million; whilst our feasibility study put it at €60 million. Apparently, they forgot to cost for OLE (Overhead Line Electrification), cabling, civil engineering or health and safety. Once again, I find myself with a new respect for Network Rail/Railtrack.

Nonetheless, I’ve been pulled back off the significantly late level crossings job to work on the design of the new, massively downscaled Schiphol project, which is now reduced to just a few extra sets of points and a couple of new signals. Once again, I’m back to digging holes and then filling them in again. Still, I’m much happier to put in the hours since my agents got their act together and started paying me properly.

And so to the volleyball weekend. Once a year, all the rail companies come together and play volleyball against each other in a tournament of fifteen minute games between fourteen teams, which really helps to establish better contacts with your colleagues and competitors. I’d already warned the boss about my sporting abilities, but I think he thought I was joking. He tried to explain to me about the tactics for passing, and I explained to him that ’away’ was the only direction I could guarantee to hit a ball when it came near me. Nobody could doubt my commitment, though: I was the only player who actually bled for the game (tragically, during warm-up, because the ball hit my wrist quite hard, which isn’t too impressive now I come to think about it). Anyway, I actually managed to score a few points and we didn’t come last (we came fourth from last - an improvement on last year, I’m told). Martin, Sjoerd, Erwin, Erwin, Marcel and Marcel’s son Jorik were quite patient with me while I overcame my confusion of volleyball (over the net) with football (back of the net) and basketball (through the net) and at the end we were all awarded a pair of sports socks each. Don’t know what they expect us to do with them - having come tenth out of fourteen, I thought giving us sporting goods was rubbing salt into the wound a little bit. Still, I suppose I can always wear them in the gym.

For the rest of Holland, Saturday saw the general public (200,000 according to the papers) going to Amsterdam for a protest march. At the moment, everybody here works about 35 hours a week tops, has twenty-five days leave, five to ten bank holidays (if a holiday falls on a weekend, it’s lost!) and ten other days called ADV (some flexi-time arrangement where if you actually do a proper working week then they give you time-off to compensate). If you’re made redundant, your unemployment benefit is equal to your last wage for the first TWO YEARS that you’re out of work, and most people retire at 55. Now there’s going to be a general strike because the government has said maybe people ought to go to work once in a while. On the other hand, of course, there’s no NHS and free education ends at age twelve, so perhaps they have got a point. I swear everybody went to the demo. I’ve never seen the stations or trains so crowded. NR had to lay on extra trains to cope with the volume of protesters, and yet there was no trouble. See that in the U.K.

Anyway, on Sunday, after all that exercise and stress, I fancied some real food, so I went back to D’Olde Vismark for a meal. I can’t say enough good things about this place. The food is just superb, the service excellent, and the staff so friendly that Ron (the owner) found time to beat me twice at chess, despite having to deal with other customers, while he waited for me to be ready for dessert. D’Olde Vismark, curiously, translates as The Old Fish Market. I asked about this, and it was explained to me that the one was constructed on the site of the other, and it was better to keep the old, familiar names. I wasn’t convinced, until I recalled that this would have given Goldiggers (Chippenham’s old nightclub) the name The Old Cattle Market, which has a strange kind of symmetry to it.

Beyond this, I am finally making my mark, and now have another office saying ‘dude’ and ‘cheers’ on a regular basis, which is gratifying to say the least. That’s everything for the moment. More updates as stuff happens.

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