Friday, November 19, 2004

Week 26 – Six Months - Half-Time!

So, that’s the half-way mark and things still seem to be going fairly well. We finally got Pro-Rail to accept the English way of doing Speed/Time profiles on Monday (because it’s the RIGHT way, dammit) and with luck there should be a couple more UK designers (esteemed colleagues from previous contracts, no less) out here in the near future to back me up.

Both the mornings and evenings are very dark now, and the rain has started to fall in earnest. This makes visibility extremely poor, especially since the law out here requires bicycles to have lights at night, as it does in the UK, but doesn’t appear to specify anything about them being switched on. This is, however, less of a problem than might be expected, since, because people cycle everywhere, the bicycles tend to be in more of a ‘used’ condition and therefore squeak a good deal when in use. The weather, meanwhile, encourages people to wear large coats or gowns when outdoors. So, picture the scene: I’m walking home in the rain and the dark when bearing down on me I see a shadowy figure moving swiftly, a cloak billowing behind it, accompanied by the sound “eek eek eek”. A major bicycle manufacturer out here is actually called ‘Batavus’… I mean, they don’t even bother being subtle about it; and yet moustaches are popular out here, which can only be an attempt to conceal fangs (well, honestly, why else would you grow one?). Garlic is a very popular additive out here.

Anyway, it’s far too inclement to go anywhere much in the evenings or at weekends for the moment, so I’ve been doing a little more local exploring of Kampen and have discovered the night life, which is actually quite good. Also, I’ve had to re-assess my original impression of the churches here: apparently, there is one where the congregation don’t smile or talk much, and march like zombies, but there are also many others with real people who spill out onto the streets mid-Sunday and really brighten the day up with laughter and smiles, which is quite refreshing to witness and harks back to a golden age which I suspect was well before my lifetime. Which, in turn, brings me to another glaring difference between Nederers and Brits: generally, they’re just much, much friendlier and more open towards people they don’t know (imagine a foreigner walking into a pub in England and just striking up conversation with a total stranger, now imagine it again without the blood). You really need to experience the Neder lifestyle to appreciate just how relaxed it is. My guess is that there’s something in the coffee that just makes people more chilled around each other.

Another of the really nice things out here is that they’ve managed not to let supermarkets take over the country like they did in the UK: there’s none of this 24 hour 7 day nonsense and they restrict themselves to selling groceries. The difference this makes is most evident in town centres, where people still shop at weekends from specialist storekeepers who actually know about the stuff they’re selling and genuinely care whether their customers are happy (can anyone else remember 1984 (the year, not the book)?).

The weather is seriously beginning to exhibit schizoid elements: so far today we’ve had rain, snow, brilliant sunshine, rain and now snow again; and it’s only one o’clock in the afternoon. Tomorrow, apparently, thunderstorms (I think; I’m just judging from the pictures – the words still mean nothing to me). And, damn, it’s cold.

My agent is still a sore point for me: I have overtime unpaid from two months back and no expenses (flights or accommodation) yet received for the six months I’ve been here, despite verbal assurances. Obviously, I can’t name the agency here (for fear of litigation), but I can tell you that they’re not an old recruitment firm, and advise that if anybody does deal with them then they should ensure that their contract contains everything and is written in blood, otherwise they’re apt to take the mick. ‘Nuff said. [Ah, tact and subtlety – call it a gift]

Anyway, that’s all for the moment. More as it breaks.

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