Friday, January 28, 2005

Week 36 – Better Ned than Dead

Let me begin my saying that I have learnt that the readership of my blog is somewhat wider than I had originally anticipated (apparently this internet thing has become rather popular), but that I will in no way allow this to dilute or influence the opinions which I express.

Anyway, despite my famous skills of tact and diplomacy, I believe I may have, once again, upset a few people this week, when I pointed out that the addition of three more letters to the name of the country gives undeaderland, which is an observation which I found deeply disturbing. The people in the office just laughed and turned quickly away when I mentioned it [this from a nation where, whilst all the women are breathtakingly lovely, most of the men (with the obvious exception of anyone who might be reading this, of course) look as though they should be spending their weekends hiding under bridges and scaring Billy Goats. Having said which, they are a wonderful and noble people, and really, really great to work with – especially the Fries (pronounced freeze, they’re not chip people) and the ones with facial hair]. My suspicions are only heightened by the manner in which, whenever the Neders see you eating one of the perfunctory meals which they affect to use for sustenance, they always wish you “eet smakelijk” (enjoy your meal) in an automatic, almost robotic manner, which might lead you to think that perhaps they were acting out a role, rather than revealing their true nature…..

The more I see of the country and its people, the clearer the reasoning behind the draconian tax system over here becomes to me. What I failed to take into account initially was that the majority of the nation’s wealth is untaxable: the greatest levels of productivity which I have observed are in drugs, prostitution, counterfeit goods (mainly cigarettes, which I thought were cheap enough here already, and which are clearly identifiable by the printing errors) and piracy of music and films (at almost epidemic levels – I have tried to explain the concept of theft, but, frankly, they just don’t seem to get it, almost as though they had no conscience…), which I suppose kinda redresses the fiscal balance in favour of the population. The ubiquitous fish and cake, conversely, and pornography (of which there really is an unfeasible amount, sold even in supermarkets and placed on low shelves, presumably for the gratification of sexually frustrated short people) are taxed to the fullest extent of the law. Hence, also, I suppose, the low crime rate over here: there are virtually no laws, and those which there are remain largely unenforced.

The lovely Bianca returned to work on the seventeenth, after the birth of her daughter, Carmen, about whom we get to share every little bit of information regarding anything and everything she does (as is so often the case with virtually all new parents). During the three days that she now comes in, Bianca leaves Carmen with her “elders” (her word - which has a wonderful tribal (or covenal) sound to it, I think) while she significantly reduces the oxygen content of the office with her chirpy chattering.

John Caddick, that esteemed master of signalling design and train/speed profiles, came over again to visit for a week this week, burning his air miles before they get scrapped in favour of shopping discounts, so last Saturday evening we were in Kampen when we learnt that there was a darts tournament (the Open Kampen Darts Tournament, apparently) going on in a sports centre in the North of the town. Now, neither of us is darts fans, but there was nothing else going on in town because almost everybody had gone to see the darts, so we got a cab and went out. €10 for the cab each way, €5 each for admission and within ten minutes we were looking to get out again. It was like a big community centre with an alcohol licence and a thousand people in it, and frankly it was a most unimpressive venue. However, it transpired that it was in fact worth going after all, because it gave me a chance to view another aspect of Nederese culture: in the eight months since I got here I’d seen no violence in Holland, yet it now seems that too much lager (they call it beer, but it isn’t) and a lost darts match is all it takes to fire up a serious fight. One guy lost his match and, obviously the worse for wear, picked up a steel barrier (one of the four-foot wide tubular portable fences you tend to see at public events) and started swinging it around as he stormed across the floor away from the darts lanes, and the ensuing scuffle/fistfight involved about twenty spectators before the disturbingly large, imposing security staff moved in and broke it up.

Thursday and I was still trying to live down my footwear mistake of the previous day (it’s dark in the mornings, so it’s easy to pair a brown shoe with a black one, even if they are slightly different heights – I told them it was the latest fashion in England, but I’m fairly sure they didn’t buy it). In my defence, they were both the same shape and fastening mechanism, so its almost understandable.

I can’t cope with the weather here anymore. I don’t understand the TV or radio reports, so I look at the three day forecasts in the newspapers, and last Vrijdag the forecast indicated that on Zondag there would be clouds, hail, snow, rain, lightning and sunshine. Well, that kinda covered all bases, so I figured the forecasters probably just didn’t have a clue what was going to happen and then on Sunday we did in fact pass through all of the aforementioned conditions in the space of two hours. That’s just greedy, in my opinion. The snow is relentless, and because the wind is so strong it blows past the window like long striped snakes. Nonetheless, it always settles. Temperatures, meanwhile, continue to flail wildly between 0°C and -8°C, which is apparently unseasonably warm, and consequently the snow remains on the ground for five days or so (the authorities don’t seem to salt the roads at all. and most areas here seem not to get exposed to direct sunlight often enough to melt it…). It’s just clearing now, but we’re apparently set for another five days of snow from tomorrow, so that hardly matters.

Once again, I feel I may have tactlessly upset people with regard to tonight’s ‘feestavond’ (feeding frenzy?), a traditional night held every Januari to see in the new year. The venue is known beforehand (Apeldoorn, a large village halfway between Zwolle and De Bild – apparently in order to make it equally inconvenient for all members of the company), and everybody goes in casual dress, but the theme is a mystery: so no-one knows what they’re supposed to be doing. All I said was that it sounded a lot like being in the office. Anyway, soon to find out: we’re leaving for the gathering at five o’clock.

That’s pretty much the lot for the moment. More updates if I live to see the dawn. Undead from Zwolle.

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