Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Bermondsey balls-up

While in Holt, I popped in to the Old Town "shop" -- the use of inverted commas indicates that they don't actually sell anything from the shop; you can try stuff on and then order it. (No, I don't really understand why either.) Great 1930s/40s designs in fabulous fabrics; their clothing rocks. I was so carried away by the theme of the company and the niceness of the lady behind it all that I found myself ordering a Bermondsey dress in duck-egg Irish linen. I envisioned myself wearing it while I picked flowers in my traditional English country garden, conveniently forgetting that: 1) I don't live in England, 2) I don't have a garden, 3) it's about 10 degrees celsius outside and pissing down, and 4) I just don't have the height, style, or elegance necessary to carry off this particular look.

Ah, self-delusion: thy name is Norfolk Dumpling.

Come friendly bombs and fall on . . . Doncaster?

On Friday, we picked up a car at Norwich Airport and headed across the country to Doncaster. This involved traversing the flatlands of North-West Norfolk and Lincolnshire, grim places that advertise the death tolls on local roads with a sense of pride. I'd make some jokes about incest and in-breeding, but my experience in schools in this area made me realize they weren't particularly funny. For reasons that I can't begin to fathom, houses in the Swaffham/King's Lynn region can fetch huge sums -- upwards of 500,000 English pounds! How? Why? More importantly, who? Lincolnshire, it turns out, smells of cabbages; the stretch between Sleaford and Newark is desolate, and I can now see why a friend who came from there departed for the Far East (that's Vietnam, not Lowestoft) a tout vitesse, swearing never to return.

Apparently, last week was sun awareness week; women are more likely to develop melanomas on the back of their legs, presumably because of the difficulty of applying sun-tan lotion there. Doncaster highlighted why many women should be persuaded to wear trousers and skirts at all times of year -- not just to prevent skin cancer, but also to avoid dazzling me -- and not in a good way -- with their white legs. The women of this town fall into two categories: depressingly overweight and wearing skimpy skin-tight clothing, and scarily thin and wearing skimpy skin-tight clothing. There were very few who looked, well, normal. This is hardly surprising when you notice the advertisements for something called "pole fitness" around town.

My brother's comment about the increasing similarity of the wealthy across countries and the disparity between rich and poor within countries made perfect sense here: a community based on coal, decimated by the closure of the mines, a local economy now based on pubs and call centres, and some of the most appalling new buildings ever seen. It's depressing.

In contrast, Barnsley looked great! And I never thought I'd say that.

Norfolk, my Norfolk

The limited blogging of the past few days was the result of a trip to the UK. Irritatingly, we only had a broadband connection for an hour during our five-day stay. Despite near-constant badgering from two of his children, my father has yet to upgrade his dial-up connection, and the locals with unsecured Wi-Fi are starting to wise up to our piggy-backing. PJ's mother doesn't even have dial-up, resulting in a desperate charge to the Cafe Nero in Doncaster, which was hardly conducive to writing entertaining posts. Even worse was that I couldn't access my "stories"; I had to learn about the birth of the Brangelina Baby from (gasp!) a newspaper! I felt so isolated, so alone, compelled to buy three mags during our 90-minute delay at Doncaster Airport yesterday morning and gorge on the gossip. After reading Star and Closer, I felt, once again, soiled and ashamed. Do you think there's a self-help group for celebrity gossip addicts? If not, should I set one up?

Despite suffering from Net withdrawal, the trip was a good one. Thursday saw us leave the rainclouds of Norwich behind in a jaunt up to the sun-drenched North Norfolk coast. We enjoyed lovely fresh seafood at Cookies, lush azaleas and rhodendrons at Sheringham Park, and then the quaint shops of Holt. Bootiful, as Bernard Matthews, turkey strangler and Norfolk boy, used to say.

Still to come: Driving across Lincolnshire.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

You know what doesn't suck, though?

My new shoes! YAY!!! United Nude didn't bother answering my email, but just popped another pair of shoes in the post -- and they were waiting for me when I got in off my (delayed) flight from sunny Doncaster.

I look like Minnie Mouse on acid.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

This is not the lounge service I was looking for

Flying pleb sucks.

Another sign of aging?

I actually rather like the "hold" music that's playing at the moment before my telephone meeting starts. Very mellow, good rhythm, catchy melody -- I'd buy this from iTunes. I wonder what the conferencing provider would say if I phoned up and asked for more details?

Liver failure

No, not that type. Rather, my liver failed to cope particularly well with the one teeny-tiny vodka and orange I had with dinner last night. This might have something to do with the fact that I went to the restaurant straight from the gym, so knocked back my drink rather swiftly (along with demolishing the plate of bread and hummous that came with it; don't go to restaurants hungry). But when I lived in Spain, my liver was great -- it could cope with 5 large Southern Comforts and lemonade or batida de cocos of an evening, with only a handful of pinchos to line my stomach. My return to Northern Europe and more expensive drinks has severely limited my ability to knock back the cocktails and suffer few (short-term, at least) ill effects.

Or maybe I'm just getting old.

No show shoes

Still no message from united nude about my shoes. Sniff. I realize that the shoemaker's elves are probably busy crafting me a new pair right now, but you think they'd outsource their email answering service to elves in Bangalore and get me a swift response.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

24x7 economy

I sent United Nude a begging email last night -- I really want those shoes -- and wasn't really expecting that they'd have responded by the time I got up this morning. And they hadn't. But I couldn't stop myself from checking.

Patience clearly isn't one of my (many) virtues.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Oats: good for the heart, bad for the tongue

If you suddenly decide to make cranberry and chocolate chip flapjacks one evening, DON'T lick the pan out afterwards: It's hot.

Infamy! Infamy!

They've all got it in for me. Shoe shops, that is. I've been trying to order a pair of shoes, at ever-increasing prices, for the past month with little success.

It all started, as these things so often do, with a post on Shoewawa -- highlighting the sale of gorgeous pairs of United Nude Eva Eamz shoes. Designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaus, these are a masterpiece of design -- round-toed shoes with a detached metal heel. Beautiful. I headed over to as fast as my little fingers could carry me, ordered one of the few remaining pairs in jade in a size 4, and waited for them to turn up. 10 days later, I'm still waiting. I phone the store, only to be told that they didn't have any left in stock and I should have received an email to tell me.


So, off to the United Nude site. Success! Size 4, this time in ruby red. Looks a bit bright and is twice the price of the pair on sale at Noflysonus but by this time I'm completely in love with and MUST HAVE these shoes. Credit card number goes in, the shoes are delivered, and PJ picks them up from the London office today and takes them out of the box to show the lovely ladies on reception. Bollox! There's a bloody great mark on the heel of one of them! It looks as if they've had a price label on and someone's tried to remove the glue, but has instead removed most of the velour (another bonus, no animal matter used to make the shoes). Back in the box they go, off to the supplier.

Sigh again.

I have this feeling that I am destined never to get these shoes. The manufacturers will tell me tomorrow that that was the last pair they had in a size 4, and that they're never making them again. There will be much crying and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

But seriously. They are BEAUTIFUL shoes.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Next thing you know, it's Russian paratroopers in Trafalgar Square

Another work trip (for PJ), another haul of free magazines from BMI's business class lounge. Let's see what we have: In Style (clothes porn), Smart life international (gadget porn), and Vanity Fair (Anderson Cooper porn?). Ah! Tatler! One of the most revolting magazines published -- class porn!

If you believe that nearly 10 years of a Labour government has undermined the class system in the UK or if you simply want to understand the (otherwise fairly low-key) ruling classes, just read Tatler. This is the upper class's in-house magazine, a record of their birthday parties, weddings, charity events, and most distinguished members. Old Etonian toffs who think rapping is something of a lark? Food and motoring columns by the Parker Bowles offspring? Models with titles? It's got them all. The sense of self-confidence and utter entitlement radiates off the page. You can tell that these people never worry about getting good grades at school or being able to afford somewhere to live -- they're destined to get jobs via friends of mummy and daddy or live of their trust friends in their (inherited, natch) flats in South Ken.

But boy, do they hate it when they're threatened. When I was at university (one of their traditional stamping grounds), I helped run a scheme to attract more state school pupils that garned some media attention. The reaction was startling and predictable. One newspaper columnist declared that it was rewarding the children of feckless spendthrifts who would rather go on holiday than spend money on privately educating their children. The president of my college told me he'd received worried phone calls from the headmasters of various private schools, anxious that they were being discriminated against. Never mind that it didn't occur to them that state school teachers don't have a hotline to Oxbridge tutors. Bugger meritocracy -- what if one of their little darlings didn't get the place that their birthright entailed!

I read Tatler to remind me of why I'm still a leftie and to help formulate my list of who'll be first up against the wall when the revolution comes.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

You know you're getting older

. . . when your new physiotherapist looks like he should still be in school.

On the other hand, teasing your brother about turning 40 this year makes you feel a whole lot younger!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Prudish and proud

As I entered the ladies' changing room at the gym after exercising this evening, I was "greeted" with the sight of a naked lady vigorously towelling herself dry with one leg propped up on the bench. While the Dutch attitude to semi-public nudity is probably laudable and healthy, I really don't want to be able to work out someone's gynaecological history at a glance. What's wrong with a little bit of repressed discretion?

Maggie Maggie Maggie! Out Out Out!!!

Following several months of books focusing on the Holocaust, Islam, and various forms of oppression, we opted for a somewhat lighter read: The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst. Sex, drugs, and Tories in Thatcher's Britain! The stately homos of England! Vile social-climbing Oxford graduates, desperate to escape their dreary provincial, middle-class roots! That's more like it! 500 pages of often rambling prose slipped down easily in a little over a week, reminding me of how much I loathed the 1980s and relighting my sense of righteous lefty political ire -- something that's disappeared over the past five years. It brought back memories of joining Youth CND in the wake of the Falklands War, protesting at cuts in education funding, and wearing badges that read "The Tories are the cream of society: rich, thick, and full of clots".

Amusingly, the book was recommended to me by one of the very few Conservatives that I actually know socially, and I'm stunned that he enjoyed it. To me, the book highlights the awful hypocrisy and snobbery of dyed-in-the-wool, semi-aristocratic Conservatives -- the traditional ruling class. Their racism, their avarice, their disdain for new money all get a good outing. One of the funniest moments is when Tory MP Gerald, having scored the coup of having Mrs T herself attend a party at his house, starts panicking about the fact that he has a green front door -- "Maybe she'll think we support the Alliance!" -- and rapidly has it repainted a more loyal deep blue. Mrs T, of course, walks right past; like the Queen, she doesn't notice these things. And if my friend identified with the lead character, well, Nick is a pure parasite, always trying to say and do the right thing to ingratiate himself with the people he's sponging off. It's rare that a book is still enjoyable even when the central character -- I'm loathe to call him the hero -- is utterly vile, but Alan Hollinghurst pulls it off.

Fortuitously for some of the slacker members of our book club, the BBC has chosen to dramatize the novel this month, drawing on the talents of Andrew Davies, who provided us with the lovely Colin Firth diving into ponds in Pride & Prejudice. Al fresco and rather graphic sex on Hampstead Heath is not quite as appealing, and the series fails to capture the sheer awfulness of many of the characters, preferring to rely on a Hits of the 80s soundtrack to establish atmosphere. So much of the book is Nick's observations of the people around him and his unconscious social climbing, which was clearly going to be extremely difficult to translate to the screen. But the boys are nice-looking, the houses attractively grand, and the stone-washed jeans and lacy tights memorably horrid so I'll probably keep watching. But if you haven't read the book, don't judge it by this series. Buy it, read it, and give thanks that Thatcher is just a dim memory rather than a revered statesman.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

It never rains

As predicted, the weather has turned. It's still dry, but there's a nip in the air in the mornings that masks an unpleasant humidity. Cycling to work leaves you hot and sticky, yet strangly chilled. Nice. Over the weekend, the heavy breezes brought down most of the blossom from the trees and piled it up in deep drifts by the sides of the street. The canals were also carpeted in a thick layer, leaving houseboats looking as if they were marooned in a cornfield rather than floating on the water.

I guess I should be grateful that it hasn't rained for several weeks, but unsurprisingly, I'm not. The dryness, light winds, and blossom are all combining to make the daily commute something of a pain -- literally and figuratively. The dust kicks up into my eyes, leaving them red and streaming. Maybe this is why the Dutchies cycle so badly -- they're blinded by the tears pouring down their faces, rendering them incapable of seeing other bikes, cars, dogs, and small children. Typically, my eyes start playing up midway between work and home, with no way of stopping to remove my contact lenses and free the dirt trapped under them. I know I should start carrying my glasses with me, along with a spare lens case, but on top of my ever-present rain pants and jacket (just in case)? Too much. I'll just press on, resembling a test beagle in a cigarette factory.

Monday, May 15, 2006

No animals were harmed in the making of this dish

Such is the tedium of my daily life that I need to set myself little challenges to stay awake. It might be cycling to work via a different route, trying a new exercise machine at the gym, or cooking a dish for the first time. One of the more exciting culinary tasks I had was to cook a dinner party for fussy guests, including 2 vegetarians, a vegan, and someone who couldn't eat fat. At all. No oil, no nuts, nothing. The resulting sense of achievement was magnificent.

While PJ's been away, I've been trying to avoid eating fish and assorted animal products like cheese. The result? Lots of hummous and veggies and last night's excellent noodle/cabbage salad with spicy peanut dressing and orange-ginger marinated tofu. I took pictures to post here, but unfortunately I'm not sufficiently skilled with the camera to make peanut sauce on noodles look like anything other than an unfortunate accident after too many beers. So you'll just have to trust me when I tell you that it was delicious. The peanut dressing was chock full of coriander, a herb I'm unable to use when PJ's at home (he's one of those poor unfortunates who believes that it tastes like soap), the cabbage was crunchy, while the tofu was contrastingly soft but flavorsome. One to add to the list of favorites.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Damn, blow, blast, and bloody hell

Liverpool won the FA Cup -- and after a truly stunning third goal from West Ham, which should clearly have been the match winner. Penalties are such a horrendous way to settle a match; I can understand why the Dutch revile them, refuse to practise, and therefore always lose on them.

I should explain that I'm no great fan of West Ham, but I do hate Liverpool. You see, I can't forgive them for Heysel and the resultant banning of English clubs from European competition. That was the year Norwich won the Milk Cup, the year we should have been a contender in Europe -- our dreams crumbling along with the wall between the Liverpool and Juventus fans. It would be another 8 years before the Canaries were able to display their (occasionally) dazzling talents to a stunned Bayern Munich.

Old scars run deep.

Silence is golden

The dripping appears to be over. I am nothing if not paranoid though, so will keep a tub back under the whole mess of pipes and taps and valves, just in case. The good news is that I've also arranged for us to have a new bathroom radiator fitted and get our tumbledown radiators in the front room put on little legs, so that they don't fall off taking a great part of the front wall with them. So maybe the leak was a good thing, after all.

Actually, don't quote me on that. At least until Monday or Tuesday.

Beautiful flowers


Thank you. Posted by Picasa

Water water everywhere

I'd never realized how effective Chinese water torture could be. But the incessant dripping drove me to distraction last night; even though I slept in a room some distance from the source of the noise, I woke twice -- my subconcious working overtime to make me get up and empty the bag sitting under the leak.* This morning, I got up early to clean the kitchen and utility room; apparently, it's important (to me) that my house be tidy before a plumber comes along.

And come along he did -- early! Surely this violates the plumbers and builders code of conduct regarding punctuality? He's gone off now to pick up some parts to replace the leaking hose, we will then turn the water off in the building, and I can (hopefully) then get a good night's sleep tonight.

Just as well I was up early, as I had an 8 a.m. visit from my downstairs neighbour, complaining of "incredible damage" to his apartment. I'm guessing he means there's a mark on the ceiling that needs a coat of paint, but maybe he'll get a new kitchen out of this from his insurance company. This is the man who came up to welcome us to our new home five years ago and promptly asked if we were planning to replace the carpet with floorboards. And who wanted to have the ability to vet potential purchasers of the apartments so that there were no parents, no pet owners, no "foreigners" (well, white ones are okay). And who declared that people in apartments shouldn't have washing machines and that HE took all his washing to the cleaners. A somewhat "excitable" man, then, and one that I hope won't keep bugging me about this for too long.

*Parents: total respect for you getting up to feed kids during the night. No wonder you always look so tired.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Channel your inner smurf

I just passed a woman in the street who was wearing knee-high bright blue stockings, a blue top with a white vest top over it, a white skirt, and pale blue shoes. It says something about the nature of Dutch fashion that I can't work out whether this is a genuine "outfit" or if she's on her way to a fancy-dress party as Smurfette.

My water tank, it has sprung a leak

I've occasionally heard the worrying drip drip drip of a leaky pipe but haven't been able to track it down -- until now. The bad news? I don't think I can fix it. The good news? It's finally prompted me to call a plumber about repairing this and doing two other jobs for us, ones we've been planning to get done for the past five years.

Job 1: replace a radiator in the bathroom. This will also involve helping us figure out where the stop-cock [snigger] is.

Job 2: rehang a radiator in our front room. This will mean drilling holes, filling them with plaster, and realizing that a spirit level doesn’t help much when your flat has a significant lean.

While we "could" do them ourselves, we’d rather pay someone else to do the work and then complain/blog about it afterwards. Our requirements are simple: Ideally, the plumber in question will speak English and be tolerant of idle foreigners. In return, we will provide tea and biscuits during working hours.

I just called one recommended by a friend; I think he was at the beach, enjoying the sunshine. His pen didn't work, so he couldn't take down my number to call me back when he has his diary in front of him. I need to call again at 8 this evening.

Keep your fingers crossed for me.

UPDATE: The only tub that I could get to fit under the drip is filling in less than 2 hours. I've got a plumber coming tomorrow morning at 10.30, which is 14 hours away, which means I'll have to get up at least 4 times during the night to empty it. Bugger. Unless the entire tank drains out before then. Let's hope so.


The council workers were hard at it this morning in the park, but this time using an enormous and noisy wood chipper to dispose of unwanted trees. Every time I see them doing this, I'm reminded of the excellent Season 5 episode of CSI where Grissom asks someone how long it would take to push a human body through one of these. The answer: 15 seconds. Luckily, I don't recall if they then did one of their patented TMI graphics shots of a body going through the chipper -- messy!

Anyhow, I see the chipper, I remember the 15 seconds, and then I idly speculate on who I'd like to put through it. It's a great way of passing the time.

Goddamn this infernal heat

It's another beautiful day; blue skies, sunshine, lots of little boats pottering along the canals, and hundreds of idle welfare scroungers lazing around in the park. Truth be told, I'm getting a bit tired of this: My heels are rubbed raw and blistered from wearing shoes without socks; shirts and t-shirts only last one day before needing a wash; and there are only so many bright green thongs worn under cheap white linen trousers that you can see without starting to wish that people looked in a mirror before heading out.

With luck, it will start raining again tomorrow.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Oh dear

I've just watched most of "How to lose a guy in 10 days" -- quite possibly one of the most appalling films ever made. I have no excuse. It was on 5Net after Friends and I simply couldn't be bothered to turn it off.

I feel soiled.

Kids today

Fancy spending all that time chalking this onto a pavement and then playing outdoors in the sunshine, when they could be holed up in a darkened room with a game console. I don't know what the world's coming to.

Barefoot in the library

I dropped in to the library last night before heading off to a very pleasant dinner with a friend. To my utter astonishment, a middle-aged man was sitting in the fiction section with his shoes off and feet up on a table. I know it's hot at the moment, but shoes off in a public place seems unacceptable to me. If you want to take your shoes off, go home. I don't need to see (or smell) your gnarly toes.

I just don't get it. Has some public proclamation been issued, stating that anything goes? Am I totally out of touch with the zeitgeist? Since when did barefoot in public buildings become okay?

Right: got to go shout at some kids to get off my lawn.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Food, glorious food? Not really

I take very little active advantage of PJ's absence. No wild parties, nights on the town, or trips to the Banana Bar for me. During these long trips, I'll line up a few things for the weekend, but I quite enjoy having the place to myself. In particular, it's a time to catch up on my reading -- and I've been remarkably slack about this for the past few months -- and crappy romcoms.

Where I do "suffer" most is the food. While I'm a strong advocate of cooking well for yourself (and often do), PJ's absence has coincided with a bout of good weather, and nothing kills my appetite like the heat. I end up grazing for an evening, picking at this and that from the fridge or the cupboard, finishing up tubs of ice-cream, or just having a bowl of cereal. Last week before PJ left, for example, I made calzone on Monday and then a truly stunning fish dish from Nigel Slater on Tuesday, consisting of red mullet fillets marinated in olive oil, Noilly Prat, saffron and mint and then gently baked in the oven. This week, I've had hummus with veggies (Monday) and more hummus with veggies, accompanied by Indian rice flour spicy pancakes with mango chutney and the remains of a pack of nacho cheese bugels (Tuesday). I'm thinking of it as a temporary health regime -- a way of losing those stubborn kilos that have attached themselves to my thighs -- although the home-made gingernut biscuits (top recipe from Delia) and the mini Bounty Bars are working counter to my aims.

Oh well, just one more week to go. In the meantime, I'm reading my cookbooks and noting recipes that I want to try when my chief tester and dishwasher-loader is back home. Normal restaurant service will resume shortly.

Ode to the chap cycling ahead of me through the park this morning

Oi! Clapping your hands loudly to the rhythm of the no-doubt bangin' tunes you were listening to via your oversized headphones while cycling does not make you: look cool, hip, or a musician. It does make you look like a tosser. If that was your aim, well, derision accomplished.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The filth and the fury

The filth: theirs; the fury: mine.


Now that the weather has improved, this is the scene that greets me every morning as I cycle through the Vondelpark. Disgusting! The city council does a great job of clearing up each day, with swarms of workers descending on the park to collect the tide of beer cans, crisp packets, and plastic bags that have been left behind by the sun-seeking scum. But why should they have to do this? Surely they would be better served by positioning snipers in trees around them park and having them pick off anyone who leaves rubbish behind? Leave the corpses where they fall with warning notices pinned to their chest: Litter lout (or whatever the Dutch equivalent is). After a few days, cleanliness will be restored.

Too harsh? I don't think so. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Yay! The boys are back

Top Gear. BBC 2. Sunday evening.

I should hate this, but it's probably the best hour of TV per week. And Richard Hammond is SO cute.

Watching "The Impressionists" on BBC1

"Hello there, Monet! Lend us 20 francs, there's a good chap!"
"Ah Manet, no can do. Poor Degas and I are both broke!"
"Poor Degas? Pah! I despise Degas!"
"They just don't understand us, Claude. It's not about painting a seascape; it's about capturing the impression of the seascape on the subject"
"The impression? Why, that makes us . . . impressionists!"
"It'll never catch on, y'know."

It's like watching a Monty Python episode. Hysterical!

While the cat's away

One summer, many years ago, my mother went back-packing round Thailand with a friend. As soon as they'd set off for the airport, my father lined my sister and me up in the kitchen and said "Right! Let's start clearing things out!" We'd soon created a huge pile of old ice-cream tubs, manky tupperware boxes, and the various bits of everyday flotsam and jetsam that my mother couldn't bear to throw out. She was (and still is) a firm believer that "it might come in useful one day." My father, on the other hand, held to the principle that if you hadn't used it in a year, you were never going to use it and it should be binned. The result was a constant battle between hoarder and chucker, one that I've managed to replicate with PJ. I bin; he keeps.

And, just as my father took advantage of my mother's 6-week South-East Asian adventure, so I'm making the most of PJ's 2-week West Coast sojourn. Piles of magazines? Gone to recycling! Two bags of clothes? Off to the second-hand shop! The contents of the bathroom cabinet? Bagged and binned! This latter task was somewhat archaeological in nature, delving down through the accumulated layers of half-used moisturizers, greasy bottles of sun-tan lotion, and soaps -- lots and lots of hotel soaps. While they represent a history of holidays and business trips over the past four years, I'm not convinced that keeping several hundredweight of Aveda bath soap from the Hotel@MIT is better than taking pictures. Neither is hanging on to the plastic packs of Virgin Airlines amenities, or even the rather flashy but utterly useless Oswald Boateng cases that you get in Upper Class.* And it is a blessed relief to see a huge bag of this detritus ready to go out in tomorrow's garbage collection.

Heh: That'll teach him to go away!

* PJ: I haven't binned the Boateng stuff. Or most of the soaps. Promise.

Murdering sleep

Ah, Sunday mornings: A time for catching up on sleep and long lie-ins, undisturbed by the beep beep beep of the alarm clock.


This morning, however, I was woken by the sound of two pigeons competing to produce the loudest, throatiest coo. Either that or they had some kind of nasal infection -- if pigeons have noses or nasal equivalents. Impossible to sleep through and they've tucked themselves away on the balcony upstairs, so I can't throw something at them.

7.30 on a Sunday morning and I'm wide awake. Great; just great.

Pigeons: Vermin with wings.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Time for a break

It's not that I'm feeling abandoned, but I would like to point out that both PJ and Bill, my (fomerly) steadfast colleague, have buggered off this week -- leaving me alone at both home and office. This has meant that I've had to make my own "real" coffee, rather than relying on Bill's skills with the cafetiere. I must confess that it's turning out to be a rather soothing experience. There's something very zen about going through a simple ritual of measuring out the coffee, adding water to the pot, waiting for it to brew, and filling the cup rather than just hitting a button on a machine and waiting for the noxious fluid to emerge. I could get used to doing this more often.

And yes, Bill, I will buy some more coffee to replace what I've used.

Three things I've learned about parties in the Netherlands

1. Secondhand smoke gives you a far worse "hangover" than alcohol.

2. Gin makes Pepsi taste vaguely pleasant.

3. Always leave while you're enjoying yourself and you can still walk down the stairs unaided.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Young Parisians are so French

Isn't this gorgeous? And by my extremely talented sister Miss Katie!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The (psuedo)vegetarian's lament

Does swallowing a fly while cycling home from work negate my non-meat-eating lifestyle?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

If we took a holiday

On the other hand, I do get 5 weeks of paid vacation per year -- far more than most. The question though is what to do with it? Last year, we embarked on a series of weekend city breaks: Leeds, Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Lisbon. These turned out to be ideal holidays for us: A couple of days of ambling round a city, doing a little bit of design-led shopping, lots of drinks in bars, and some good meals out. We're not really the sight-seeing type, and museums need to be very interactive to entice my beyond the obligatory shop/cafe. Does this make me a bad person?

So, thoughts for city breaks this year:

Aberdeen (largely to use up some BMI points) and the surrounding countryside.
Italy: Milan, Venice, or Florence.

As you can see, we don't do hot countries and prefer flights of about 2 hours max. Some culture, decent architecture, and good food help. And we've done Nice/Paris/Barcelona/Madrid to death. All suggestions gratefully received.

It's not fair

We don't get May 1 as a public holiday over here. Apparently, celebrating the working man/woman is not seen as a priority -- largely because there aren't that many of them, I suspect. Cycling through the Vondelpark during the day reveals large numbers of people lazing around, not all of them tourists. The Netherlands has a very high proportion of part-time workers in the workforce, and some of the most generous sick leave in the world. It used to be back problems that dominated this area, but now that they can test more accurately for that and provide ergonomically sound work areas, "stress" has become very popular. The result, of course, is higher tax bills and a culture of loafing off the state. I know I should be more sympathetic, but there are some things about this country that drive even the most socialist-minded to Economist-style right-wingness.

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