Saturday, August 05, 2006

Week 115 – Sweet Sorrow

Well, shortly after my expression of displeasure at the way things were going here, with regard to being marginalised and isolated, I got a telephone call regarding a job I had almost forgotten interviewing for (well over a year ago), which offered the enticements of a position with an established company in the UK which will offer me some really valuable experience on a flagship project using the latest systems. Oh yeah, and shedloads (according to this spell-checker, at least) more money.

Oddly enough, once they knew I was leaving, suddenly my colleagues found that they needed me. There is a major project for which somebody made a sizeable time/resourcing miscalculation, which could result in a €50,000 fine being imposed on Grontmij, so for a week Stuart and I were putting in four hours of overtime every night and working the weekend as well. In a heatwave. When the air-conditioning was broken. On the Saturday, it was such a beautiful day that I decided to cycle to the office in only a shirt and jeans. Well, the morning was beautiful. By mid-afternoon we were in the centre of a thunderstorm that forced us to remain in the office until nine o’clock, when we were able to swiftly break for a local bar, where we were once again trapped until 4am. The sacrifices we make to get projects complete, people just don’t understand.

Then, the following week, overtime was cancelled. The week after that, it was restored and then withdrawn again so quickly that no actual work was done. It seems that a few of our ‘colleagues’ resented the additional money we were getting for working longer hours, which they themselves refused to do (there is very much a culture of doing the hours rather than the job, here). Personally, I’ve just got the whole euphoric kick of knowing that, whatever happens, it’s not my responsibility. I’ve tried to explain the concept of prioritisation before, but now I’m leaving. It’s a real shame, because I hate walking away from jobs unfinished, but sometimes you’ve just got to accept the way that things go.

Speaking of air-conditioning failure, it seems odd that my colleagues still seem to think that shirts are good for two days – I don’t know what that’s about, my shirts are barely good for two hours in this humidity. How can any warm-blooded creature not sweat in these conditions? I switched on a fan and it got switched off again: ostensibly because of the mindless, repetitive noise. This in an office where Slam FM (the radio station with only thirty records, all the same) is played all day. I have tried to make a case that any ‘music’ playing at 120 bpm must agitate air molecules and thus cause the temperature in the building to rise, but nobody seemed to believe me. Party Squad and Ali B are two recent plagues which convince me that the Earth can’t plunge into the heart of the Sun soon enough, whilst the inane whistling on Bob Sinclair’s ‘Love Generation’ just finish it off for me. Oh, and anyone who talks about House artistes or Dance classics needs a full cerebral-cortex service. I’m listening to Toto, INXS, Dire Straits, Massive Attack and Clannad, and I’ve bought some really big, really powerful headphones, just to be on the safe side.

Meanwhile, the laptop which the company lent me gave up the ghost a couple of weeks ago. I spoke to our resident IT guru, who took it apart and looked at it (with some distaste), before binning it. He was amazed it had kept going for as long as it did. I am now able to stay in touch with the outside world thanks only to Fons’ father, Jan, who has lent me his laptop for the remainder of my time here.

Further frustrations in the office, as Pro Rail came back to us with a request to move a signal in the middle of nowhere by one centimetre, on a drawing which isn’t to scale – this from a company who supply us with engineering drawings on which they have missed glaring errors like points which don’t exist and duplicate drawing numbers.

The reconciliation of any of my questions in the office are not assisted by Andries being dyslexic and Martin being colour blind – this in an industry where colours and letter sequences can be crucial for safety. It took four engineers fifteen minutes to deduce that ‘remome’, which is not a word in English or Nederish, might mean remove, and that the green signal was actually marked blue, for removal, over yellow, which is the checking colour. Fortunately, I have a large wad of bubble-wrap on my desk (which was recovered from some recent packaging – the bubble-wrap, I mean, not the desk), against which I am able to bang my head repeatedly quite hard without causing myself any actual injury. Eventually, the bubbles will all burst, but I’m hoping they hold out another week.

Into my last three weeks in the country, and my landlord and his family went on holiday for a fortnight. They’d been gone for a few days when I tried to run laundry but, after the cycle had completed, the machine wouldn't open and the dial was in the wrong place. I tried to run it again over the end sequence, and the same fault recurred. Again the next morning, followed by a loud bang and no power. At this point I noticed that the water hose had been disconnected from the supply. Apparently, this is what my landlord decided to do before he went on holiday. Magic!

My hair is now even shorter than it was before, because it seems almost impossible to translate French Crop into Dutch, and so I now have a Dutch Crop, which looks almost military and merely serves to highlight that most of my hair is now deserting me in droves.

As I am departing in August, the holiday season, many people will be on holiday when I leave. This has led to a lot of colleagues coming up to me and saying that they won’t see me again but good luck and so forth. It’s actually quite emotional, at least for me – I guess I hadn’t realised just how attached I’d become to these people until it came to parting. I have had a great time over here: meeting the people, experiencing the culture, tasting the food (listen, some exaggeration is inevitable) and seeing the sights. I have also made some very good friends with whom I hope to stay in touch with for years.

Thursday night and the boss (who won’t be here for my last week) took the remnants of the office not yet on holiday for my farewell drinks. Particularly notable in this regard was the curious situation whereby most of my colleagues had to stay late in order to go for a drink after work.

After leaving the Grand Café Lubeck (so called to differentiate itself from the no-other bars in the vicinity), a few of us went on for a meal in Aangenaam (which means pleasant, pleasantly surprised or pleased to meet you - because, in the same way that schoolkids in the eighties used to have to share text books, many meanings here have to share one word). This was actually quite disturbing because they had an open kitchen. In the UK, an open kitchen is meant to reassure customers that everything is conducted in a healthy and hygienic environment. I don’t want to talk about the effect it had on me, but I’m really glad I didn’t have the ice-cream.

Yesterday was Martin’s last day before he left for his holidays, so I had my presentation a week early and was given a book token and a bottle of Graanjenever, which is a peculiarly Dutch drink with the additional properties of being able to strip paint or run a tractor engine. I assured everyone that every time I had a drink I would think of them, just as now every time I think of them I have a drink.

Well, Mary is coming out to join me for my last week here, and I’m taking a couple of days off so I that I can take her around all the bits of the Netherlands that I’ve been meaning to see. There will hopefully be one more update from me and then that’ll be the lot. Expect more news of the chicken.

Live from Zwartsluis.

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