Saturday, October 09, 2004

Week 20 – Weather Patterns

Well, Autumn’s really starting to set in, and it’s notable mainly for its changeability. Thanks to the fact that The Nederlands are totally flat and right up against (or under) the sea, the wind is very strong; and this means that a beautiful sunny day can become torrential rain in half an hour, and a half hour after that be back to warm sunshine and a clear blue sky. Oh, and when I say torrential, I mean it: it’s not like UK rain, it’s like the tide coming in. I’ve been out at lunchtime in the sun and come back totally saturated. This makes choosing clothing quite difficult, since the only truly suitable attire would be a swimsuit but, frankly, that’s not deemed appropriate to an office environs.

Perhaps because of the climatic vicissitude, health seems to be going downhill in the office, so most days it’s like being in the waiting room of a doctor’s surgery, what with all the coughing and sneezing. In addition to this, in the almost five months that I’ve been here, two members of staff have gone on long-term sick leave with stress, and two others have left to have babies (all occurrences for which, I hasten to add, I deny any and all responsibility). I blame powdered milk (for the health issues, obviously, not for the pregnancies - although you can’t really tell what’s in it…) – they don’t seem to use actual milk over here, and there’s so much white powder about the place that it looks like the offices of an advertising agency.

Another strange seasonal observation is that secretaries out here appear to be deciduous. The principal indicator of this is that three of their number, who were blonde all summer, have all come in as brunettes this week. I can’t tell if they’ve gotten any smarter, but this unusual phenomenon clearly merits further investigation.

Schiphol is becoming a headache to design for. I have to produce modifications for the track layout, and in order to establish what it’s like on the ground at the moment I have to refer to three documents in order to get all of the information required. Now, they’re all of the same area, so you’d expect the drawings to be pretty similar, right? Wrong. I have three drawings of the same area showing three different layouts; although even this isn’t immediately apparent, since not only are none of them to scale, but they’re all not to scale by radically different and continuously varying factors; so I have to look quite hard simply to establish the similarities, before I can even begin to notice the areas which bear no correlation to each other. And then there are the tracks which can only connect if I bend the fabric of space (because, for example, the kilometrage 20.262 doesn’t lie between 20.875 and 20.930 in this universe, as it does on one of these plans). In addition to which, I also have to make connections to two proposed new lines which are part of a separate project which I have no data for and which nobody can tell me where they will be or where their ends are. Still, I’m not one to complain.

Fortunately, to break-up my work I also get to be an interpreter (which, given my language skills, would seem somewhere between unlikely and incredible). Lots of European companies exchange information between each other, but since, for example, the Italians speak no Nederlands and the Nederese speak no Italian, English is the common language through which they opt to communicate (after, apparently, a brief but abortive attempt to use Esperanto); and so I am often asked to review and correct letters and emails being sent out, and to interpret and simplify the replies. It gives me a bit of an insight into the way things operate over here, but most of the messages seem to be complaints about people not having done things which they’d promised, and most of the replies are hollow apologies and vacuous excuses, so it seems some aspects of rail operation know no borders.

After last weekend’s anti-whatever it is they’re complaining about demonstration, a general strike has been called for next Thursday; so no buses, trams or trains will run on that day. Fantastic. Fortunately, it’s only about an hour’s cycle ride from my digs to the office, so it shouldn’t affect me too badly. If it’s not raining. I tell you, all summer, not one strike.

Anyway, just got back from lunch – we went into town again for fresh fish – and I had what I think was cod, but here it’s called lekkerbekje. Now, I know that lekker means nice, so I ask what bekje means. Disturbingly, I now know, lekkerbejke translates literally as ‘nice mouth’; well, I guess fishermen can get lonely on those long nights at sea, but please.

Not much other news for the moment, except for a couple of observations:

• If you visit the Nederlands at any point, you have to remember to set your watch forward by an hour, but your calendar back by two decades: the fashions, the music, in fact the whole fabric of society is from a different age – and, generally, it reminds you just how great the eighties were. Except the IT, which reminds you how badly the eighties sucked - most of the time it would be quicker to use a pencil and paper than a computer. Oh, and don’t even start me on standards and systems.

• The Nederers keep apologising to me, in perfect English, that they don’t speak very good English. I worked in Birmingham for three years, and not once did anybody there apologise.

Anyway, it’s Friday evening (almost) and the pub beckons most enticingly, so I’m off for a swift fles of beer (how gratifying is it that my moniker here refers to a beverage receptacle?). Live from Zwolle.

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