Friday, January 14, 2005

Week 34 – Bob’s your Uncle

So, straight after New Year (yes, Monday morning – everyone in England complains that we don’t get as many bank holidays as other European countries; but nobody seems to be aware that, if a public holiday falls on a weekend, it’s lost: only Good Friday and Easter Monday are guaranteed, and only then thanks to the day being in the name) and I’m greeted by the news that the law in the Netherlands has changed and all citizens and foreigners aged 14 or over must now carry their passports (Identificatieplicht) at all times (for the first time since German occupation ended on May 5th 1945, which seems to be a bone of contention), on pain of a fine up to €50 (see for details). I can’t see that working on the beaches, myself, but I suppose that’s only really going to be a problem for two weeks in May, anyway.

In addition to that, I have learnt, it is considered normal here to submit to blood tests and to show all your qualification certificates in order to secure a mortgage, any kind of insurance or a loan. I have asked, and I have been assured that the Nazis were vanquished at the end of WWII (to Buckingham Palace, I’m being informed by my colleagues here - thanks for that one, Harry), but it looks to me like they took over the government and financial institutions, and I gather the Nederish populace shares my feelings on this matter.

Other governmental actions over the holiday period included a frankly inspired drink-drive campaign, informing the Neds that, when out drinking, somebody has to remain sober to drive home – this person being denoted Bob, as designated in the slogan for the TV and poster campaign, 'Who's Bobbing, you or me?' – which I suspect would have very different connotations in the UK, especially after the consumption of alcoholic beverages. In fact, just thinking about the creative idea process behind that makes me want a drink. It seems that Bob stands for Bewust Onbeschonken Bestuurder (Deliberately Sober Driver). Needless to say, people aren’t falling over themselves to be ‘Bob’. (Think about it).

Curiously, despite the Neder nanny-state fussing over controlling every aspect of the behaviour of its population, and despite the civil unrest after the murder of Theo van Gogh some two months ago, it seems that nobody is concerned that the newspapers continue to run the aforementioned’s column empty most days, with a small picture of him and the dates 1957-2004. I would have thought that was inflammatory; but, on consideration, suspect that the intention is simply to save money, because it’s much cheaper than hiring a new columnist.

Anyway, another nice Neder tradition came to light on the non-Bank Holiday Monday morning, as everyone gathered in the canteen at eleven o’clock for orange juice and consumption of the ubiquitous cake; coupled with shaking of hands and the Neder three-cheek kissing (left-right-left, obviously: they’re a little odd, but they don’t have three cheeks) whilst wishing each and every other member of the company “Gelukkig Nieuwjaar, Beste Wensen en Gezondheid,” which took quite a while and left me with a sore throat (because G is pronounced Kkkhhhaa, as in the death rattle of a mummy in some cheap Hammer flick, or, now I come to think of it, the sound of a vampire in full attack), chapped lips and jaw ache. Pleasingly sociable, though.

Meanwhile, there was sad news from Dewi, as the bone and muscle implanted from her hip to her face did not take, so she had to have another operation to remove them and have them replaced with a prosthesis. However, this has been a success and she left hospital on Monday and is already out buying handbags, shoes, and other girly things. Arianne, too, is making good progress with her new knee, and is beginning to walk again, which is great news.

Schiphol has finally been accepted! Pro(Amateur)Rail have spent the last few weeks looking for a reason not to pay for it, and couldn’t find one. Hah! Vindicated! [Smug? me??]

My first weekend back in Kampen came as an unpleasant shock to the system, because I’d kinda forgotten how long those two days can last. Anyone who ever thought I was in love with the sound of my own voice (and face it, you all did) can rest assured in the certainty that that passion is now long since past. Weekends in Kampen are 63 hours (5pm Friday till 8am Monday) of knowing that the longest conversation I’m going to have with another person is going to be at a supermarket checkout, paying for my microwave meals for one and telling the cashier that, no, I don’t have a loyalty card (bloody rubbish clogging up my wallet so I can get one whole penny back for every ten quid I spend, while the shop continues to update its database on my life: my shopping habits, where I’ve been, my relationship status (meals for one, meals for two), substance abuse (coffee, alcohol, cigarettes) and sugar and carbohydrate addiction – ah, brave new world). Still, every little helps – clearly, since the company in question posted profits to year end of ₤1,600,000,000. But I digress….. And still nobody gets my jokes out here (I know, I know, ce qui est la différence).

So to another Monday, and Alfons and I decide to go out for a beer after work to celebrate/commiserate his divorce proceedings/forthcoming marriage. He doesn’t want to walk to the pub, and I have no bicycle in Zwolle, so he carries me on the back of his, which is quite a frightening way to travel (he cycles like he drives) and leaves me bruised, aching and walking bow-legged (yes, yes, I know: “oh, that Dutch beer makes my bum sore”).

By mid-week, the rainy season is in full swing (apparently, the near constant rain before was off-season rain, though still normal; this is more severe and proves that the previous precipitation was really just messing about). Use of umbrellas is unfeasible in the Netherlands, because of the intensity of the wind – I believe my brolly was last seen somewhere over Northern Belgium – so the choice is to wear a hood (no-no-no-no-no) or get very wet. To give you some concept of what the rain is like, imagine a voodoo doll of yourself being stabbed repeatedly and ferociously in the head by an insane compulsive psychopath using needles made of ice. And, apparently, it hasn’t even gotten cold yet. Fabulous. Curiously, the only acknowledgement made to this ongoing climate change is that the golf season is now deemed over and football is the new in-office sport (which includes tackling and headers, incredibly). Wrestling, meanwhile, appears to be an all-season office sport. I tell you, it makes no sense to me at all.

Another strange observation, as the winter chill begins to bite, it that the women out here (who wore jeans and trousers all summer) have begun to wear skirts, and short skirts at that – a few skirts so short that some would find them offensive to the sensibilities, though I myself am blessed to be a broad-minded and liberal individual. Nonetheless, I have to ask myself how warm blooded mortals can find such exposure comfortable.

Anyway, that’s the lot for this time. I’m off to a bar to try to thin my blood to un-appetising levels before I head back to Kampen to shiver and vegetate in silence for 63 hours. Live (but not as we know it) from Zwolle.

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