Friday, August 19, 2005

Week 65 – A Brief Word From Our Sponsor

Are you sick of queuing in airports or searching for a parking space at supermarkets? Why not carry a Small Child TM to gain priority placing? Ordering food and want to reserve a table? Use your Small Child TM to occupy a position for you while you spend ten minutes getting served, leaving childless couples to stand around with cooling purchases and nowhere to sit.

The most distasteful thing in the Netherlands during the summer had to be the plethora of flip-flops and sandals (with black socks) on men, thankfully now vanquished after the freakishly short sunny period. [Indeed, for the most part, you could only tell it was summer here by the slightly higher temperature of the rain.]

Schiphol airport has become an un-nerving place, because it now has guards armed with sub-machine guns drifting about the place. There is a metal detector scan at the access to the airport, and then a second security check before boarding plane (because knives are for sale in the shops after check-in – how smart is that?). I reckon we’re six months from having to change into backless hospital gowns for the duration of the flights. Then there are customs checks at Luton on the way out to Amsterdam: what on Earth would you be smuggling into Amsterdam (apart from fresh fruit and vegetables, obviously)?

It is becoming increasingly apparent that I am living amongst stoned-age man. One clear indicator of this is an inability to think ahead, as illustrated by people getting off buses and then rolling their cigarettes (I will never get use to the sight of women hand-rolling smokes) or colleagues driving up to the car park barrier every morning and then switching off their ignitions so that they can use the key-fob on the same key-ring to open the barrier before re-starting their cars and driving in. Wooden thinking has been further highlighted by having seen people actually wearing clogs – not in the cities, granted, but all the same…

In a similar vein, it is noticeable that spatial awareness seems to be lacking amongst the Neds – there is no sense of personal space and very close proximity to complete strangers is considered normal; beyond which, people will often put their hand on your shoulder and move you out of the way, rather than say “excuse me”. Indeed, much of what the rest of the world might consider basic politeness is absent, and considered to be ‘false’ by the our Cloggie cousins. Nonetheless, they are convinced that their country is the best in the world and take any criticism very badly (“Why don’t you go home, then?” is an all too common response to any negative observation).

Get this for forward thinking, though: there is a TV quiz show for kids in which the prize is a paid college education of the winners choice. On the one hand, this looks like a worthy idea, using the media of television to encourage learning and furtherment; on the other hand, it is gambling with the future of children for the purposes of entertainment. I’m not really sure that that sits well with me but, let’s face it, it’s got to be better that some of the pap that gets foisted upon us in the UK.

It seems that nobody else in the office likes The Sisters of Mercy (but that’s kinda the point, in a way), preferring bloody dance music inspired by Sesame Street (“B-A-N-A-N-A-S”). Yello gets a better reception, though, but probably not for the right reasons (liking the right things for the wrong reasons is worse than not liking them at all, in my fair-minded and even-handed opinion).

Referring back to the corrected comment in my last posting regarding Cloggie fast-food, I’m still struggling to understand what sort of people would seek to eat food at body-temperature…? All food over here is described as ‘warm’, and a phrasebook will tell you the lie that ‘warm’ translates as hot, but I’m telling you now that it doesn’t. As regards the non-fast snacks available, well, if you’re not hot (warm) for bread and cheese (broodje kaas) then you do not want to come here. And then there are kebabs. Kebabs here are made with pork. Why? Because it’s cheaper than lamb. Of course. Deep breaths, deep breaths…

Fons and I have taken to cycling into work once a week. It’s only about twenty klicks each way, and it’s rather a pleasant ride; the only obstacle being D’Albatross on the return journey, a ‘cafĂ©’ right at the end of the route which sometimes takes more than an hour to get past. Then there are the occasional evenings when Fons needs to do some work on my apartment, and arrives carrying a screwdriver and a bottle of whiskey (he’s an Ardbeg man, and you’ve got to respect a guy who knows his whiskey). We’ve been known to put away a bottle of an evening, and it took four days to fit a handle to a door at one point

Mary and her son Brian came to visit for a week at the start of the month, so I had English speaking company and real food again, and we did a little more exploring. We went on a boat tour of Utrecht, which has a theatre which was built in 1942 – draw your own conclusions – and had lunch at an Italian restaurant which actually served authentic Italian food (compare to most alleged Italian, Indian or Chinese restaurants over here, whose food tends to Clog in the throat). They also went on a couple of day-trips while I was working, and seemed to enjoy themselves.

Everybody is on holiday (again – dragging their holiday homes behind their cars across Europe with all the speed and grace of hearses), and the office is empty. My landlord and vertical neighbour Fons and his family have gone away (in a camper van – quite chic in these parts), so I have three weeks of fish sitting: the fish in a little bowl with glass walls, living in an alien environment, looking out at the air; being cared for by the Englishman in an apartment with a glass wall, living in an alien environment, looking out over the water. Ah, the irony.

Despite the holiday season, the buses are really crowded, but the explanation for this is simple: with the schools broken-up and all the half-fare passengers not travelling in the mornings, the service has been halved. Of course. Buses are regularly late now (because it’s the holidays so what’s the rush) and then mount kerbs and drive far too fast in an effort to make-up the time by the end of their journeys (Monte Carlo or Bus?).

Meanwhile, Grontmij has placed it’s internet access in the hands of Cobion, who block pages indiscriminately – the alleged reason for this is to prevent time wastage, although blocking coffee and cake access would probably be far more effective, as would the banning of standing around shouting (or talking, as the natives call it). So far, Cobion have prevented me accessing my email (the main way I communicate with home) and the EasyJet homepage (the only way I can get home). On this form, I expect to lose banking and translation engines in the near future.

I have been part of a team of three for the best part of a year now: Shahram, Alfons and I against the evil that is the rail administrator. Shahram left three weeks ago, and Alfons just put in his notice (despite being on holiday). It’s just normal movement between companies, though, nothing to do with me.

In fact, curiously, Shahram is currently in Chippenham doing P.T.S. training (Personal Track Safety, or how not to stand in front of an oncoming train). This is the town where I used to work for Westinghouse Signals, 15 miles from my old home town, and where John Caddick, who I worked with out here last year, lives. Right. Even cheap trashy fiction doesn’t dare try to run coincidences like that.

Meanwhile, I am about to take a P.T.S. course in Dutch, to enable me to work on site over here. The criteria for the qualification is the same, of course, it’s just the language that’s different; but, interestingly, the language barrier seems to come down here because, when people see a train bearing down on them, the same word is used pretty much everywhere.

Live (or perhaps strapped tightly to a cheap virtual reality machine, programmed with minimal variables, which is simulating a reality that it’s getting hard to swallow) from Zwolle.