Friday, October 15, 2004

Week 21 – Cycle of Life

Well, I started this week with aching knees and a sore bum. The innocent explanation for this was that, knowing that Thursday would be the day of the national transport strike, I decided on Sunday to try cycling the journey between Kampen and Zwolle. It’s something around 35 to 40 kilometres for the round trip (22 to 25 miles) and afterwards I could really feel that I’d done it. Everybody says that cycling out here is easy (because it’s so flat), but the fact is that, because it’s also very open, there is always wind exposure – and it’s really quite unfeasibly windy - with, somehow, almost always a facing wind, despite the fact that that’s clearly impossible. At least now I understand why serious cyclists dress-up like gimps in all that skin-tight fetish-wear. As if that wasn’t enough, it’s suddenly become much colder out here: now down to 7° C (2° C at night), and that’s without factoring in the not inconsiderable wind chill (to truly appreciate the wind out here, you have to see the waves that it makes in the canals; or, incredibly, the waves it creates on the roads during rain).

The Schiphol drawing, of which it might have seemed I was complaining last week, is no longer an issue since, after spending two days working on it, I went in search of some further information and learnt that the entire document already existed complete from a previous job. Ah, inter-departmental communication - same as it ever was. Anyway, I’m now producing three solution studies for turnouts at Riekerpolder, on the Schiphol route, with my usual attention to detail and scaling that goes so un-appreciated out here; and out of curiosity, I translated the notes associated with the designs: 1) Not possible (so why am I producing it?); 2) Probably not possible, must take measurements (the measurements are available, I’m using them; they’re right, it’s not possible); 3) Not possible in reality (in reality! Where else would they build? Fantasia?). So, having spent two months producing a feasibility study for a project that won’t get built, now I get to spend a further two months on an unfeasibility study for a project that can’t get built. Thump, thump, thump the head against the desk.

Anyway, this week the top bods from ProRail came in to review our progress and examine the drawings produced so far, on which, predictably, they had no engineering comments; just aesthetic criticisms and a query regarding the kilometrage points which I had added to the design for clarity (‘what are they?’). [Mental note: next time in UK, purchase baseball bat]. I suspect that a great deal of the apparent confusion out here stems from the way the Nederese communicate numbers: for example, if someone tells you to meet them at half eight, you’d better make damn sure you arrive at 7:30, which just makes no sense at all that I can fathom; worse are ages, because they always seem to group figures in pairs and say them backwards (twenty-eight is eight and twenty, for example), but keep them in forward form when they translate them: so our secretary tells me she’s 82, and I complement her on her youthful looks; but, far more distressingly, a telephone number which you hear as 436275 will actually be 342657. Aaarrrgghh!

The time warp factor is still very much in evidence: there are bands with guitarists and real drummers out here, and last week I swear I saw Duran Duran in the charts. Freaky. Tragically, having finally found myself once again somewhere where paisley is fashionable, the pattern on my tie (which was brand new in only 1987) is now too faded to really stand-out anymore. Ah, cruel fate.

Come Thursday (the day of the strike), I was fortunate enough to be offered a lift by my colleague Meindert, which saved me from a long cycle in the dark with quite high winds and sporadic rain. Not that drivers fill me with confidence out here – they make the cyclists look cautious with all their unsignalled zigzag manoeuvres and corner-cutting. The curious thing about the strikes is that the changes which the government are proposing will only really affect the long-term unemployed and the long-term stay-at-home sick pleaders, and yet the workers of the country are up in arms about it, support the strikes and have a really militant attitude to any suggestion of change (supporting malingerers is, apparently, something they consider a birthright out here). Despite their holding such views, when I called them communists they got upset about it.

Not much else this week, except to relate that curiously, once again, two or three Nederish are wrestling in the office – actually wrestling, mind, on the floor: not quite WWF, but in that vein. That seems to happen once or twice a week, as does the putting practice – not what I’m used to as office behaviour, but a pleasant enough distraction, I suppose. Having said which, I can’t really comment, since Shahram and I spent twenty minutes on Wednesday re-enacting the battle scene between Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader using a banana, followed by a chase scene from The Blues Brothers using the spent peel.

On a completely separate note, a warning: when using a combined photo-copier/fax machines, always ensure that it is set to fax mode before punching in a twelve digit number and walking away.

Anyway, I’m off to catch a train to Schiphol, languishing under the pleasing delusion that EasyJet might give me a punctual flight home. More news as it breaks.

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