Friday, December 24, 2004

Week 31 – Prettige Kerstdagen en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar

Well, the Christmas meal on Saturday went really well, and I found Utrecht to be quite a bustling town with a lot of life in it (and a fish market, of course). The rail station is in the centre of a shopping mall, much like Birmingham New Street, but it’s enormous – it took me over ten minutes to find my way out, because the complex contains shops, restaurants, a museum and a music academy, and has about twelve exits to different areas of the town. Utrecht is pretty much the hub of the Netherlands, because all the routes across the country intersect there, and for that reason it is the biggest station in the country (17 platforms). Anyway, I got to the Florin pub at 6:30pm (from a photocopy of a blurred downloaded map fragment, quite pleased with myself there) and was faced with the problem that I didn’t recognise anybody in the place; although this was aggravated by the fact that nobody else was there at that point. Fortunately, when the rest of the party did arrive, they recognised me (from my picture on the intranet, apparently, and not simply because I was the only pony-tailed, be-spectacled person in the pub), and so Phil, Gill, Jeff, Fiona, Vincent, Jenny (who were wonderful company, despite being virtual strangers) and I went on to the restaurant and had another of those eighteen-course meals the Indo-Chinees restaurants here are famed for (and very nice it was too).

I think I went to the pub when I got back to Kampen, but all I really know is I slept till 5pm Sunday (trust me, in Kampen that can be the best way) on a two-seater sofa (why? I have a perfectly good bed, and the sofa’s not even comfortable). Whatever, that took care of the weekend.

Anyway, it didn’t actually snow, thankfully, just pelted with hailstones (-3C is the best daytime temperature we’ve had for over a week now) and rain which froze in sheets. Refreshingly, when it rains or freezes here, nobody seems to think they need to put up warning signs about the ground being slippery, because people in the Nederlands still rely on common sense, rather than lawyers, to protect them from falling over.

On Tuesday afternoon, Alfons, Shahram and I borrowed a car from work and drove to Gronigen to visit Dewi in the hospital (zeikenhuis: literally, house of sick – it’s almost like they let a small child build the language out of some basic blocks). The drive was a little scary, since Alfons hadn’t driven for a couple of years and was eager to push the experience to its limits, to the extent that light curved and time seemed to slow down, in accordance with Einstein’s theory of relativity. Nonetheless, we arrived safely and asked at reception for directions to Dewi’s room. Then we set off, but it became apparent after a couple of minutes that Shahram had thought Alfons was listening to the directions and vice versa, so we had to return to the desk and this time I asked the receptionist to explain the route again in English. Laughing (though whether in amusement or despair was unclear), she obliged, and we set off for a second time with, thankfully, more success.

Dewi was in a separate room on the third floor, with her mother (who referred to me later as staartmans: literally, tail-man – presumably a reference to my pony-tail, rather than a suggestion that I am the cloven-hoofed one) sat at her bedside, and also, later in the evening, her brother, who comes in every day after work. She was operated on last Wednesday for eighteen hours to remove a tumour from her left cheek and then to rebuild her cheek with bone from her hip, so her face was still quite swollen and there was a scar from the corner of her mouth up to her eye. She’s twenty-four and slight of build, so frankly, it was heartbreaking to see her lying, so small, in a hospital bed with tubes in her nose and mouth, for food and drink, and a hole in her throat for breathing, which she had to cover with her finger to whisper to us (so she mostly communicated by writing on a pad). Apparently, the doctors have told her they are impressed with the speed of her recovery from the operation, and she hopes to be out in a fortnight. Certainly she’s being really brave and smiling through it. Well, in fact she started laughing when Shahram and I got into one of our usual set pieces of insults, arguments and singing (trust me, not as insane as it sounds… not quite), and I think her mother started to worry about her breathing at one point. Still, she seems to be quite strong and you can see that she’ll get through it. She’ll be fine. In fact, Sjoerd, Frank and Jasper visited her the following night and she’s now off the morphine and has actually taken her first steps; and the stitches in her face will be coming out in the next couple of days.

Wow! We have Christmas presents from the company – a bottle of wine and a board game, and I’m not even staff. Tragically, the board game is in Nederese, so I’ve been forced to exchange it for another bottle of wine with a tea-total colleague. Oh, the horror… the horror…

And thus to Friday. I am now sat at my desk in an almost empty office on Christmas Eve. Not sure if this is because a lot of people have taken the day off, or simply that somewhere else in the building there’s cake. Gotta be honest, never really find myself too motivated to do much on the last day of the working year - not much work, at least. Still, Wormeveer’s gone, albeit with a ‘worm of fear’ graphic hidden in the title block (well, who’s gonna know?) and Schiphol’s taking a holiday till the new year, when apparently it will be coming back again, so my conscience is clear.

Anyway, that’s the lot for this year. I’m off to Schiphol for a plane to Blighty and a week of serious Christmas/New Year excess. Till 2005.


The lights are now working on the office Christmas Tree. Whoopee!

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