Sunday, April 30, 2006

Tat redux

By 8 p.m. yesterday, all of the stuff we'd left out on the street had gone -- monitor, recycling bags, even the work-branded coffee mug. Success -- or so we thought. At 8 a.m. this morning, the monitor stand was back outside; who on earth would take a plastic stand, realize it didn't fit, and then return it to the street they'd picked it up from? Crazy people, these Dutchies. When we headed out to pick up some dry-cleaning today, we saw a suspiciously familiar-looking monitor in a pile of rubbish about 20 yards up the street; presumably, someone had picked it up, got about a minute into their journey, and then realized that they couldn't get any further with it. Oh well, not our problem any more.

A quiet day today: We got some early prep in for the World Cup, moving the "big" TV into the living room (and subsequently having to rearrange most of the furniture). And then Chinese noodle salad for dinner while watching "Closer". I don't know how anyone could find Jude Law attractive after seeing this film. But the salad was great.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

How many items are missing from the second picture?

We dumped our unwanted goods on the street before setting off for our walk and 90 minutes later, very little was left. And the monitor, recycling bag, and bottle have subsequently vanished, leaving just the stand and a work-branded coffee mug. Hurrah! Some wag had affixed my "Free" note to the moped parked alongside -- funny!

The Queen's Day stalls are a great way of seeing what technologies/hobbies have passed their prime. Weighty computer monitors are out, as are VHS tapes and roller-blades (YES!). I succumbed to a couple of novels, prevented PJ from buying anything with a dial on it, including an old tape-to-tape machine -- objet d'art? objet d'arse more like -- and hung my head over, but didn't buy, a revolving set of pickle dishes and a butcher's set of weights. There's no point in putting a load of tat out onto the street if you're only going to replace it with more junk.

Koninginnedag 2006

As planned, we headed out early, checking out all the stalls before the trainloads of trippers from Utrecht and Leiden arrived. It was cold -- really cold: Even the puppies were wearing little orange jackets.

The early start was a good call on our part; the streets were manageable, there were still some decent things on sale, and we didn't have to wait too long to buy food. First up, onion bhajis and veggie samosas in place of the more traditional (and delicious) broodje met beenham. It was good to see that the right amount of respect being accorded to the monarchy on their special day.

After a short stroll across the Rozengracht to the Elandsgracht, it was time for some poffertjes. The bitter wind made it rather difficult to cope with the mounds of icing sugar, but everything's washable.

Then back home to escape the cold, crack open some beers with Bill and Bill Sr., watch the dancing fools on the boats, and finish off my Koninginnedag carrot cakes.

Queen's Day

Another April, another Queen's Day -- my fifth since my arrival in Amsterdam. This is the first one that's not actually on April 30, though; I spent most of last week being confused (not difficult) as to why everything (i.e., shops and the gym) were going to close on the 29th but open on the 30th, but it turns out that there's some "religious" objections to people wearing orange and getting pissed in the street on a Sunday. Of course, this doesn't apply in Amsterdam -- the Sodom/Gomorrah of the Netherlands -- but the rest of the country is still rather conservative when it comes to religion.

Actually, I'm rather surprised that I'm awake this early. From our bedroom, you can hear the sound stage erected on one of the bridges across the Prinsengracht, and the singing continued late into the night. You can't really appreciate good music until you've heard a Dutch torch singer murdering "Volare" at 1 a.m.

But awake I am, determined to make the most of today. We've unearthed a lot of tat that we're going to put out on the street -- not to sell, mind you; that would involve hanging around and feeling ashamed of what we're putting out there. I know, the Dutch don't seem to get embarrassed but I'm English and I do. We'll go for a stroll around the Jordaan before it gets insanely busy, and then return home to eat the carrot and orange muffins with an orange cream cheese icing and candied orange peel that I'm about to make. I won't be wearing anything orange; it's not a color that goes well with the red/white English skin -- or Dutch skin, for that matter, but I'd like to think I have a modicum more taste than the cloggies when it comes to clothing.

Photos to come...

Friday, April 28, 2006

What I did on my holidays, by the Norfolk Dumpling (aged 34)

So, a half day is hardly a holiday, but it was remarkably refreshing. I didn't do anything particularly special: lunch with PJ at local cafe Harlem, then off to the Poezenboot to play with the rescue kitties. I had then intended to go to the Amsterdam Historical Museum, but it was a beautiful afternoon and the exhibitions were either the letters of Anne Frank or "Headscarves" and I really wasn't in the mood to study oppression in any form. I quickly diverted to nearby Kalverstraat, which was slightly less like the ninth circle of hell that it resembles on weekends, and hit Blokker for an icing bag set. Zara tempted me with its siren call -- utterly gorgeous summer dresses and little 50s style silk tops -- but my credit card has taken a recent beating, thanks to my US and UK trips, so I headed on over to the American Book Center to pick up next month's book club choice (and a couple of sale books). On the way home, I picked up ice creams for me and PJ, who'd spent a hard afternoon at home "researching" the videogame industry. And at 5.30, it was off to catch up with Beth on a sun-drenched terrace on the Singel. I made a tortilla for dinner and it turned out beautifully, and we ate it while watching an episode from Season 1 of "Teachers" -- top stuff. All in all, a fantastic afternoon that made me remember why I enjoy living over here.

It also confirmed my suspicions that if I didn't HAVE to work, I simply wouldn't bother. I'm not career-motivated; I have no great dream that I want to fulfill. When asked what I would do if I could do anything at all, my mind goes blank: I simply don't know and never have done. Or rather, "potter aimlessly" doesn't seem to be an acceptable answer. But that's what I'd do. I would:

1. Volunteer a couple of afternoon's a week (preferably involving petting cats).
2. Learn Japanese and French.
3. Shop for food on a daily basis and cook everything from scratch.
4. Have a dog.
5. Go to museums and theatre/film matinees.

Is this wrong of me? Am I somehow lacking in some fundemental way? And is there anyone out there who's prepared to fund me to achieve this lifestyle?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A great start to my mini-break

Given the glorious weather earlier this week, I decided to take a half day today and work from home in the morning. Gleefully, therefore, I set my alarm for 7.45 instead of 7.05 and prepared to sleep in. No such luck. At 7.20, the delicate thump of workman's boots and loud Dutch voices could be heard on the staircase that runs past the back of our bedroom. After 4 months of staggering inactivity -- too wet, too cold, too much like hard work -- the builders had finally decided to take down the scaffolding that's adorned our rear wall.

I grumpily got out of bed, sleep long abandoned, fed/walked the puppies, made some orange and poppyseed muffins, and fired up the old computer. Then I heard the sound of this being erected outside the house!

They needed it to take the dismantled scaffolding and removed, rotting beams over the building given the lack of rear access (phnar, phnar). Of course, they didn't bother taking the rubbish away with them, and most likely the council won't pick it up tomorrow morning either as it's not ordinary household waste but will fine us instead for littering.

Never mind: Maybe someone will find sacks of mouldy wood appealing on Queen's Day and haul them off on the back of their back. And at least it has brightened up considerably since I took these snaps -- meaning that my afternoon off will be spent outside, instead of cooped up over a laptop.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Chicks and ducks and geese better scurry

I know that cows lying down means that it's going to rain, but what does it mean when you see two ducks sitting in the middle of a car park? Why would they feel the need to keep their bottoms dry when they spend so much time getting wet? Is it just an indication that it's likely to be cool and slightly overcast, as this afternoon proved to be? If so, that's some mighty fine weather forecasting -- far better than the fools on TV.

Do six impossible things before breakfast

Despite carrying an injury, I had an incredibly productive early morning. Before 9 a.m., I was able to: feed and walk my (virtual) puppies, win $500 (also virtual, unfortunately) in the Nintendog agility championships, put a wash on, hang the washing up, put the tumble dryer on, have a shower, AND make French toast with caramelized apples for breakfast. And then cycle 6km to work, arriving only 5 minutes later than normal.

The only problem with that level of productivity first thing is it renders me incapable of achieving more at work -- where I'm actually paid to be productive. It's been hard to do more than gaze out of the window at the barges and tour boats heading up the canal.

Oh well. Half day tomorrow. Back to the grindstone.


Reader, I reek. It's not due to lack of washing or high-grade, industrial-strength deodorant, I hasten to add, but to the overwhelming menthol scent of IcyHot. I managed to pull a muscle in my neck yesterday while at the gym -- I know, I know: exercise IS bad for you -- and have spent the past 24 hours coated in a thick layer of this product so that I can turn my head more than just a few degrees to the right. At the moment, this requires turning my entire upper body, which is rather tricky (if not downright dangerous) on a bike. I'm hoping that yoga tonight will sort me out -- unless it's headstand, in which case I may as well give up and go home.

In fact, given the beautiful warm weather today, I'm tempted to do that anyway.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Sunday, April 23, 2006

They're just socks, damnit

On my trip to Boston in January, I bought 2 pairs of Life is Good snuggle socks; I suffer from cold hands and feet, these were on sale, and they felt unbelievably, enticingly soft. I cracked open the blue pair on the unpleasantly turbulent flight back to Heathrow in the hopes that they would soothe both my nerves and my toes (my toes were warm, but I remained a quivering wreck unfortunately). However, the white pair are still sitting in my drawer, untouched -- virgin socks, if you will. Why? I simply cannot bring myself to wear them. At the moment, they are perfect: Pristine, fluffy, dazzlingly white. As soon as I put them on, I will have destroyed that perfection and rendered them just another pair of socks. So, I stroke them gently, heave a sigh of exasperation at my psychological hangups, and pick out a pair of my gently greying Norwich City FC tennis socks instead.

Cry "God for Puddings, England and St George!"

Growing up, I was never one for overt patriotism. The jingoistic Little Englander mentality of the Thatcher years left me cold; the Daily Mail still does. But they say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and certainly my years in Spain and the Netherlands have made me far more overtly "English" than I ever thought possible. This is particularly true when it comes to food. I seem to have spent my life defending English cooking to my European colleagues, and have found the best way to settle the debate is to produce a pudding. My chorizo-chomping students were stunned into submission with a proper English trifle -- albeit one made with magdalenas and natillas. My non-culinary Madrid-dwelling brother has asked for steamed pudding recipes with which he can impress his friends. And we keep a supply of M&S microwave Christmas puddings in the cupboard for those days when we just can't face any more stamppot or kaas.

So when Sam and Monkey Gland suggested an English pudding special for St George's Day, I felt compelled to take part. But what to cook? Jam roly-poly? Spotted dick? Not Norfolk enough! How about the inspiration for my pen name, Norfolk Dumpling? But it turned out that this is properly a savoury dish, traditionally served with gravy. Dorothy Baldock's book, Favourite Norfolk Recipes, came to my rescue: Norfolk Treacle Tart. This was also known as Walpole House Treacle Tart, because of its association with Norfolk's Walpole family -- producers of the first English Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. What could be more appropriate than this?

Unusually, the filling doesn't contain breadcrumbs, but is instead a mixture of syrup, butter, cream, and eggs. It sets to a beautiful syrup curd, and the plain pastry case, courtesy of Delia, cuts through the sweetness.

Set oven to 350F or gas mark 4. Grease a 7 inch flan dish and line with 8 oz shortcrust pastry. Warm 7 tablespoons of golden syrup (Lyle's, of course) until it thins, then stir in the grated rind and juice of half a lemon, 1/2 oz melted butter, and 2 tbs cream. Strain 2 beaten eggs into the mixture and combine gently. Pour into the pastry case and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the filling is set and lightly golden. Serve hot or cold with cream.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

And dogs aren't bad either

In fact, my favorite thing about Amsterdam is seeing puppies in bike baskets. Or in bike panniers. Or, best of all, being pulled along on little trolleys attached to the back of bikes. This city has made me into a dog lover, after being a confirmed worshipper at the altar of cats for many years. Well, Amsterdam and Nintendogs. Here's Tommy, surrogate big brother to the kittens in the previous post and the latest top dog of my acquaintance. And yes, he is deep-throating Pooh.

10 reasons why cats are better than kids

Yesterday, a colleague expressed her surprise at the fact that I dislike children but adore cats. "How is that possible?" she cried. "Children are wonderful!" (Mind you, she still expects me to give in one day and breed, despite having known me for six years). I didn't have time to answer her fully on why cats are far superior to kids, but will attempt to do so here.

1. Cats are quiet; children aren't. They're always shrieking, crying, or asking questions. They never shut up. And they don't listen to reason. With cats, you either feed them, stroke them, or let them out. Easy.

2. Cats learn to use a litter tray quickly; children take about 3 years to master the flush toilet.

3. Cats don't grow up to disappoint you; children do. I know that my mother feels I haven't lived up to my potential (Hi Mum!) and PJ's mother wishes he visited her more -- and we're solvent, intelligent, independent adults with good jobs, a nice home, and degrees.

4. Cats don't grow up and hate you; children do. Well, at least during their teenage years.

5. If your cat gets pregnant, it's easy to find good homes for the kittens; if your daughter gets knocked up, not so much.

6. You can watch 18-rated movies with your cats without traumatizing them; again, not so much with kids.

7. Cats clean themselves; kids spend years caked in grime and oozing jam from every pore.

8. Stroking cats can help reduce your blood pressure; children are bad for your health. My mother almost died giving birth to me (Hi again!). And it's not just childbirth: Think of all the stories about orphans and wicked stepmothers. Parents die (or leave), frequently, because children are exhausting.

9. Cats only need a toilet roll to be entertained; children need to use all your expensive consumer electronics, breaking them or leaving sticky fingerprints all over them in the process.

10. When have you ever seen a baby that's as heart-breakingly adorable as these two darlings?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The first signs of Spring

Not the lengthening evenings, slightly warmer temperatures, or even the daffodils – just a month late. No, I’m talking about the fair-weather joggers that have appeared in the Vondelpark in the past few days. Taking up the cycle paths – God forbid that they should use the pavements – and dashing out across roads from behind bushes, these inexperienced runners are a menace to bikers.

Worse still is the knowledge that they merely presage the appearance of a much greater danger: roller-bladers. Some fool decided to open a skate hire shop at one end of the park. The result? Incompetent bladers taking up all of the road with their flailing limbs and sudden stops and starts. The competent ones aren’t much better, placing little cones in the middle of the cycle path so that they can weave in and out like little rats in a maze.

(However, at least the current parlous state of the park might deter some of the less-dedicated "athletes". As usual, the council decided to start on its annual process of digging up parts of the park in January; the resulting 3 months of cold, wet weather meant that little took place beyond moving bits of machinery in and fencing off lanes and land. But the past week has seen the excavation of shallow pits in most of the roads – or death-traps for cyclists and bladers alike – no doubt to be left empty until after Queen’s Day on April 30 – after all, why would anyone want the Vondelpark to look good on one of Amsterdam’s biggest days of the year?)

Close behind the roller-bladers come the “hippies” – goddamn f*!*!*& hippies. They’re usually foreign students on summer “vacation” from university, intent on recreating that Woodstock vibe in the park. The sound of inexpertly played bongos and guitars and the scent of marijuana and unwashed clothing will drift across the park. And to demonstrate just how close to nature (man!) they really are, they’ll leave beer cans, crisp packets, and impromptu apple bongs strewn across the grass – relying on The Man to clean it up for them. I’d like to recreate that Monterey Hell’s Angel vibe with every one of them that fails to use the rubbish bins.

I hate hippies. And joggers. And roller-bladers.

But at least I’m not letting them get to me.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Oranges are not the only fruit

I’ve never been a fan of fruit. As a child, I preferred it in boiled-sweet format, particularly cherry drops and lemon sherbets, and have the many fillings, caps, and root canals to show for it. Nowadays, I’ve (nearly) kicked my sweet habit, but still have an aversion to fruit in its raw state. Puddings and pies – particularly McDonald’s hot apple pie – are fine, as are smoothies, fruit-flavored ice cream, and the handful of raspberries I add to my granola each morning, but chowing down on a banana or apple does little for me. However, in my efforts to eat 5 a day, I’m making an effort. Maple-roasted apples and pears are divine, bananas mash up nicely into muffins, and I’ve recently started dissecting oranges at work in place of eating toast: Slicing off the peel and pith and cutting an orange into segments is fiddly and time-consuming – just what I need when the work isn’t flooding in and my gossip sites haven’t updated. Does anybody else have any suggestions of how to incorporate more fruit into my life - easily?

Next week: carving radishes into animal shapes in place of watching decent TV.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The great escape

My trip back to the county of my birth was hugely successful – clothes were bought, hair was cut and colored, chocolate eggs were avoided. I even managed two runs of a reasonable length; I felt like death after the first, but was able to breathe properly again 5 minutes after finishing the second – a veritable triumph.

But the greatest triumph of all was Norwich's miraculous snatching of victory from the jaws of defeat at home to QPR on Monday. When we tuned in for the final 20 minutes, Norwich were 2-0 down and the fans had clearly had enough of their shocking performance. Taunts of "This is embarrassing" could be heard over the radio commentary, and Nigel Worthington looked as if he'd be lucky to get out of Carrow Road alive. But in the final 12 minutes, Norwich came to life and scored 3 goals, stunning QPR and Canary fans alike. I haven't listened to a match at home for a long time, and I experienced all the emotions known to the true fan: resignation at certain defeat; wry pleasure at the consolation goal; shock at the equalizer, followed by raging fear that we'd blow it in the final few minutes; ecstasy as the third goal went in, followed again by breathless anxiety until the ref blew his whistle a minute later. And through it all, amused disbelief from the commentators, a couple of proper Norwich boys with strong accents that delighted the ear of someone now more accustomed to the harsher Dutch tones. Truly, Delia's boys done magnificent – in the end.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

She's going home

The Norfolk Dumpling is off! No, not rotten and mouldy (although some might disagree with that) but off to her home city -- Norwich. Or Naar-ich, as the locals pronounce it. Norwich: city of PsychoDelia, insurance companies, and little access to broadband. Or even dial-up, chez Dumpling Parents. So no updates till Monday evening.
Don't overdo it on the Easter eggs.


T.S. Eliot said that April was the cruellest month, and while that's certainly been true in terms of the weather, I can't say the same thing about our televisual entertainment. It's been fantastic -- 2003 fantastic. First up was Season 3 of Footballers Wives, the trashiest, glitziest program ever. After Jason Turner's death at the end of Season 2, I was worried that the show wouldn't be able to maintain its momentum, but the addition of metrosexual Beckham lookey-likey Conrad Gates was inspired. My only problem with the show was that it was SO over the top that it was impossible to watch more than one episode per evening, despite my worship of Tanya Turner (sorry, Lazlitt) and Hazel Bailey.

After that bad-taste fest, we moved on to the rather more sober, yet utterly engrossing State of Play. So engrossing, in fact, that we watched the final 3 episodes last night, finishing up around midnight with an exhausting, satisfying, twist-laden finale. If I paid a license fee, I'd feel that I'd got my moneys worth from this.

But where do we go from here? PJ's working his way through Blake's Seven, something I'm never going to watch; I have The Barchester Chronicles from the 1980s, starring a very young Alan Rickman as the odiously slimy Obidiah Slope. However, we have nothing that we can watch together. Suggestions?

Trumpton Riots

An ad break during Grand Designs last night revealed that Quaker Oats are raping my childhood memories. Since when did the BBC start licensing out the key characters of my early days -- in this case, Windy Miller of Camberwick Green -- for commercials? It's rank exploitation, and somebody has to pay for it -- other than Quaker Oats, I mean.

But at least I'm not letting it get to me.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

You don't have to be functionally illiterate to make coffee ...

... after all, the Italians have been doing it for years! (Boom boom -- thanks to PJ for that xenophobic crack). However, you would expect that someone working in Starbucks would see the word "coffee" often enough to know how to spell it correctly. But no: Someone in the branch on Great Russell Street had misspelled it twice! And nobody else had noticed!!

It's enough to make an editor weep.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Consumerism is the new black

Confessions of a botox convert
Painted lady
It's a wrap
Naked ambition
How I get dressed
Rock bottom
Ex files
Shop: our guide to the best shoes and handbags for spring
Shhh: I'm still wearing boot-cuts!

From the titles of the articles above, you wouldn't believe you were reading The Observer – bastion of left-wing Sunday journalism for many years. But then these all appear in their Women magazine, a new monthly supplement aimed at . . . well, actually, I'm not sure who it's aimed at. Certainly not at any woman who thinks of herself as interested in intelligent debate about women in 2006: All but two of the articles in this supplement were about fashion and make-up – cue lots of pictures of handbags and shoes (and thus some nice advertising dollars for the coffers and freebies for the editors). There were two "serious" articles: One woman's experience with depression and another on the sexy new feminist who's making a packet selling t-shirts with "witty" "feminist" slogans like "The only bush I trust is my own" and who promotes her new book by appearing naked wherever possible. This is supposedly a jumping off point for a discussion on "whither feminism in the 21st century", but the author and magazine's editors fail to see the irony of bemoaning women's lack of engagement with politics while ramming rampant product placement down our throats on every other page. Why don't young women identify as feminists? Because we've been turned into consumers, not citizens. Our concerns are about what shoes we buy and what wrinkles have appeared, not whether our current salaries or future pensions are good enough to allow us to fritter money away. Shop frequently or die! Buy more clothing, more cosmetics, more procedures, more stuff, or suffer the consequences! If you don’t consume, you don’t exist!

It shouldn't have been too difficult to redirect the focus of some of these pieces to make them more informative, more challenging, and more relevant. The piece on depression, for example, was well written but very 'personal'. I would have liked a discussion of whether women are experiencing higher levels of depression now, and why? How does the health service treat women who are depressed? Are they taken less or more seriously than men? What alternative treatments exist? How well do the drug companies treat the developing world, and how can governments and consumers encourage an ethical medical system? The piece on Diane van Furstenberg could have examined the challenges of setting up your own business; how to overcome business problems and bankruptcy. How does a female designer view her male counterparts and their differing reactions to the female form? And don't get me started on Confessions of a Botox Convert, the cover story . . . if I hadn't been in a hotel room, I would have been flinging this across the room with great force.

And do women even need a separate supplement at all? Isn't this just a return to the idea that women shouldn't bother their pretty little heads with all the "difficult" topics like politics, business, and (heaven forbid) sport – leaving those to the men, while getting their own stories on important subjects like cosmetics and clothes. If The Observer offered a monthly section called Men and one called Kids, then maybe – just maybe – I could buy into the notion of a separate women’s mag. But no. It's just for us women.

Ugh. I am very disappointed. And angry. Maybe some shopping will calm me down . . .

...but I couldn't eat a whole one


As friends and family will attest, I'm not one for babies; it's puppies and kittens that make me go weak at the knees. However, young Master Hugo here is really rather sweet and clearly is destined to be "down with the kidz" in later life. Congratulations to Rebecca and Toby on his safe arrival. Posted by Picasa

A Norfolk Dumpling in London


On Saturday, we had the very great pleasure of meeting up with Miss Katie and Vince Ray for dinner and getting a guided tour of her brand-new studio in Stokey. They'd spent the day hanging out in wood yards and building work benches, but still managed to put in a sterling showing at Clive's excellent party. It's so handy when (nearly) all of your friends live 5 minutes away from each other -- and get on well. If Rebecca and her ever-expanding family could move up north, life would be perfect.

The following morning, the sun streamed through the windows, waking us up early and with rather achey heads. Luckily, the Dolphin Square hotel actually has mini-apartments, complete with sitting room and tiny kitchen, so we nipped over to the mini-market on Lupus Street for the essentials, and had a proper (veggie) fry-up, tea, and chocolate digestives while reading (and bitching about) The Observer. It made me feel like I was in my mid-20s again. Sigh. Posted by Picasa

Friday, April 07, 2006

When does retro become vintage?

On Wednesday, I wore the following to work: deep pink/burgundy jumper, navy blue skirt, burgundy tights, and black shoes with a buckle across the front.

This is what I wore to play in the garden in 1972:

I'm not sure if my personal "style" has regressed or simply never evolved.

Nintendo-wa, doku desu ka?

Before visiting Kyoto, I had read Memoirs of a Geisha (thorougly enjoyed it; haven't seen the film yet), so I was expecting to spend my time wandering through streets of discreet tea houses and expensive restaurants and along cherry-tree-lined streets. Think again. We instead spent the morning getting lost looking for the English language tourist information office -- a Starbucks had replaced the original and the new one was located on the 9th floor of the railway station in an unmarked office. We spoke with a pleasant lady who was somewhat bemused as we asked not for directions to the royal palace or many buddhist temples, but to Nintendo's original headquarters -- the home of the playing card company that was to spawn Mario, Zelda, and my beloved Nintendogs. Yep: I went to Kyoto and all I saw was a lousy games company.

Actually, I'm being unfair. The neighbourhood the Nintendo building was in was charming: old houses, cherry trees drooping into streams, little okasan/otasan (mom'n'pop) stores selling airco units, and a great cafe, where two lovely women helped us reach our final destination. Which was considerably prettier than the CapCom HQ in Osaka, which we'd found the previous day. (I repeat my assertion that I am the best girlfriend in the world. Ever.) And we did walk the tourist-jammed streets of Gion (now lined with pachinko arcades) and visit a buddhist temple, so it was all good.

And on the way back to our hotel in Osaka, we got octopus balls (stop sniggering at the back). Mmmm, octopus balls!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Scoop the poop

Amsterdam's various councils have finally wised up to the fact that walking through turd-encrusted streets is no fun, so they've installed handy poop bins:

and bag dispensers.

There's really no excuse for dog owners not to pick up after their pooches. Apart from sheer Cloggie idleness and Nimbyism, of course.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Show me MY money

Some share options that are worth something -- finally -- vest. I get a little message in my email to tell me. Off I head to eTrade's site to see what I can do with them.

OK. Enter user id and password. How would I know this? I've never been to their site before.

Get user id. Hmm, it needs company name (done) and employee number. Oooh, I asked for this once. Let me use the incredibly slow Outlook search tool to find it.

Ten minutes later, enter employee number. OK, now it wants my user name (don't know this), my surname (I do know that), and my zip code. What zip code? Of my company HQ? Of my current address? Of the address I was at when this account was first set up -- SEVEN YEARS AGO???

Great, locked out of the system. Please call eTrade.

Call eTrade. The AVR system wants either my user id (WHICH I DON'T HAVE - that's why I'm calling!) or my US social security code, even though I'm calling the number for those outside the US, which would imply that I don't have a frackin' US social security number!!!! I can't even tell a customer service representative this because I can't get past the AVR system.

I'm going to cry.

Hakone Yamoto

Another picture from the past. Two years ago today, we left Tokyo and headed off to the tourist area of Hakone Yamoto. Here, we stayed in a traditional Japanese ryokan (B&B) for a night, experiencing the "real" Japan -- complete with tatami mat rooms, futons, outdoor hot springs for bathing, and a maid to serve us our meals. And it was an experience. We were the only non-Japanese guests, and I was terrified of offending everyone else with unintentional breaches of etiquette, particularly when bathing in the springs. The robes (yusaka) were far too short for PJ; he couldn't get his (not abnormally large) feet into the slippers; and he kept gouging his head on the doorway into our room -- amusing, until you saw the blood and bruises. However, the dinner was amazing:

Breakfast, not so much. Pickled octopus (a specialty of the area and quite unbelievably disgusting), green tea, rice, and dried mackerel are appealing as a concept when you're flicking through a travel guide, but less so at 7.30 in the morning. After we left the hotel, we sloped off to the nearest 7-11 for a strong coffee and some chocolate buns, feeling that we had violated the code of ethics of the Lonely Planet community.

A little pick-me-up

I also made a damn fine tiramisu for our mini dinner party on Sunday evening -- it was chock full o' kahlua, which probably led to the hangover that induced the Monday morning melancholy that was only dissipated by the remembrance that I'd bought a pair of trousers that fit.

Thank you, Sara Foster. Your recipes work beautifully every time. You are a home cook's best friend.

It's a miracle!

Dear reader, in my hungover-induced melancholy yesterday, I overlooked a significant event at the weekend: I managed to buy a pair of trousers in the Netherlands. And they fit!

You might be wondering why this is such a momentous occasion, so let me enlighten you. Trousers here come in three leg lengths: long, very long, and "What the hell are they feeding their children?" For someone of my vertically challenged stature, this makes buying trousers a near impossibility. In fact, I haven't bought a single pair of trousers in Amsterdam in the past five years; instead, I've had to make costly excursions to the UK, US, or even on one occasion, Germany to get trousers that don't pool around my ankles while simultaneously straining across my thighs and gaping at the waist. I rarely even bother to try trousers on anymore -- the result of being told by a sniffily dismissive shop assistant, shortly after I arrived, that "We don't do anything shorter than a 32 inch inside leg." However, this all changed on Saturday. I dropped into a local store thinking of trying on a dress for Clive's wedding, and picked up a pair of cropped trousers in a moment of wild abandon. While the dress made me look as if I were 10 months pregnant, the trousers were a perfect fit! They hit just below the knee, were not embarrassingly low in the waist -- no thong reveals for me! -- and fit beautifully over the hips and thighs. Success! I slapped down my PIN card as quickly as I could (after queuing for the obligatory 10 minutes while several scarily large women pushed in front) and danced off to Super de Boer to do my Saturday food shop.

Please don't tell me that cropped trousers are no longer fashionable; I simply don't care. I have them, they fit, and the fact that they were probably meant to be bermuda shorts for giraffes is neither here nor there.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Blogger's block

At lunchtime today, I tried to write a post. I had the title all ready to go but after that, nothing. And the title should have inspired me; I mean, how can you go wrong with Quito's Butt Rub? And no, it's not some crazy Ecuadorean spa treatment, but is actually a spice rub for meat from the very fantastic Sara Foster. And I didn't use it on meat (I don't "do" meat) but on tempeh. And if you can't find something funny to say about mouldy soybeans -- which is what tempeh is -- you probably shouldn't have a blog.

So, maybe that's it. 140 posts and I'm all tapped out. No venom left. No ranting about idiots on bicycles. No more posts about food.

Or -- perhaps a Dutchie will piss me off on my way to work tomorrow and I'll feel the bile start to rise and I'll know that everything's alright with the world.

We'll see. Let's hope it's the latter.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

A public service announcement on behalf of Vince Ray

Hi Clive,

Vince would like to apologize for accidentally taking Pippa's lighter when we all met up for dinner last month. Apparently, it looks identical to one he has, and so he couldn't understand why Pippa kept taking it. At the end of the evening, my sister pointed out that Pippa had his lighter, so he took it "back" -- only to return home and find his lighter there. Of course it was.

Anyway, he's very sorry and embarrassed about this and will return the lighter next week at your house-warming party.

Best wishes,

Norfolk Dumpling

"Hello Norwich!"

It's not what you expect a band to open with, particularly when they're playing in Den Haag (that's The Hague to you non-Dutchies), but I'm taking that as a shoutout from my future brother-in-law -- all-round media powerhouse, Vince Ray. His band, The Vincent Razorbacks, headlined at Paard van Troje last night, so we took the train down from Amsterdam for a good night out. A romantic stroll through the wind-swept, empty shopping streets of Den Haag; tickets waiting for us at the door of the venue; a spirited opening set by local group The Peptones -- their parents/grandparents made up most of the audience at that point; backstage passes ("I'm with the band!") to meet up with Vince and his fellow musicians and eat the marshmallows and drop left out for them; and then a rousing -- nay, ear-shattering -- and very tight performance of classic songs like "Fast Cars, Cheap Booze, Loose Women" and covers of "Jack the Ripper" and "Crazy Horses". Highlight of the night? King Louie leading the crowd in a singalong of "Fog on the Tyne" in homage to his Geordie roots. This was stirring stuff, leaving me wondering why I don't go to gigs more often.

However, when I woke up this morning with a killing headache and clothes stinking of cigarette smoke, I remembered exactly why I don't go to gigs more often. But for The Vincent Razorbacks, I will always make an exception -- and I can't offer higher praise than that.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


I find myself caught on the horns of a dilemma*, dear reader. For the past 18 months, I've used the electronic scales at the gym to weigh myself each week -- just once per week, mind, and using the same set of scales. In this manner, I've managed to track my weight and incremental fluctuations of a few hundred grams. However, to my horror, I returned from holiday to find that they've removed the scales and replaced them with the old-fashioned variety with a needle. Not only has this disrupted my careful measuring regime, but it has also made me realize that I need new contacts; I can't actually read the scale when standing up, and bending down distorts the reading (I think). In addition, the scale in the ladies changing room indicates that I have lost 3 kilos (unlikely) in the past 2 weeks, whereas the one upstairs near the machines suggests that I have gained 0.5 kilos, despite (barely) subsisting on miso soup, nuts, and berries (also unlikely but more in line with what I thought I weighed).

My question, therefore, is which set of scales should I use? The implausible ones that make me happy or the more accurate ones that make me miserable? In this situation, what would Joan Collins do?

* I must also confess that for many years, I also thought dilemma was spelled "dilemna". I don't know where I got that idea from or why I never spotted the error until, embarrassingly, Microsoft Word's spell-checker pointed it out with its wavy red line. Odd.