Thursday, June 29, 2006

What's 2 hours in the evening between friends?

Our local Albert Heijn supermarket closed recently for 10 days for renovations. The only thing they appear to have changed significantly is their opening hours -- which I discovered when I turned up just after 9 pm to get some eggs and milk, only to find that they were closed. Perhaps they've done a deal with the extortionately expensive avondwinkel (night shop) just down the street and are taking a cut from all the additional sales. Easier and more profitable, one suspects, than actually keeping their store open.

Oh well, at least it gave me a chance to see several cats on route and the police talking to one of the belligerent drunks that hangs out next to the recycling bins.

Upon Westminster Bridge

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear

The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky,
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

William Wordsworth, 1802 (words)
Norfolk Dumpling, 2006 (photos)

204 years later, this is still appropriate -- apart from the bit about the fields and smokeless air, of course. But I'm sure Ken will sort that out.

After all, you know what assumption is

If I were a particularly sad -- in British schoolyard parlance -- Dumpling, I might be tempted one morning to use my factor 25 sun-tan lotion to draw a thick white line across my nose. And then to find "Prince Charming" on the Mac. And then to attempt to recreate the ballroom, hip-swaying, arm-raising and crossing line dance so beautifully performed by Adam Ant.

But I'm not, so I won't (again).

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Synchronized lateral footfall

Regular readers will know that I have something of a tendresse for bridges. These magnificent constructions make my spirit soar, dazzling me with their infinite variety and grace. As a special birthday treat, therefore, I got to walk across the Millennium Bridge from St Paul's to Bankside (yeah, I'm a cheap date). I can't explain why I've never done this, other than that it was shut all the time that I lived in London and my subsequent visits have been packed with social activities and shopping. I'm pleased to say that it didn't disappoint, even without the swaying for which it's famous.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Vaya Espana!

I can't believe that Spain aren't thrashing the formerly uninspiring French. As a former resident and (occasional) tax payer of that nation, I'm very disappointed that they've just gone a goal behind. In many ways, though, their football setup reminds me of that of England: A tough league, dominated by a couple of teams that can buy the best players in the world. This must have a detrimental effect on the game at the national level.* And while they have considerably more depth in their squad, they also have a number of aging superstars and relatively untested youngsters -- and a history of underperforming in major championships.

Five minutes to go and it looks like they've left it too late. Que lastima!

* I am planning a post on the increase in university education and the decline in English football; stay tuned!

Yoga nidra

Off to class tonight, hoping against hope that it will be fairly relaxed and not too strenuous. I'm in luck! We are instructed to take three blankets, a bolster and an eyebag and to make ourselves comfortable. We spend an hour lying down under our blankets going through a yoga nidra routine -- and ancient form of meditation that mainly involves visualizing certain things, emotions, and parts of the body and trying not to fall asleep. Easier said than done: I kept drifting off, only to come to with a start and remember that I ought to be focusing on my thumb. But, it was beautifully relaxing, the time sped by, and I feel all calm and balanced. For now.

And given that I was woken up at 4.30 this morning by both the bloody dawn chorus and worries about a doctor's appointment, I really nidra-ed that. (Heh -- see what I did there?)

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Damp squib?

23 minutes in, the Portuguese have scored a beautiful goal, and it's rather quiet and wet outside on the grachten. Even if the Dutch equalize (and win), I don't think we're going to hear much cheering or see any dancing in the streets tonight.

ETA: Blimey! 75 minutes in and this is turning into one of the nastiest, most bad-tempered matches I've ever seen! So much for Dutch tolerance and Portuguese cool. 3 red cards, virtually everyone is on a yellow, pushing, shoving, kicking, and biting (but no heavy petting so far). Whoever goes through, they're going to be a challenge for England. I can understand Valente's dig at van Persie: he didn't have a yellow, van Persie is a rather handy player, and hey -- everyone else has got a card! The Dutch commentators are getting increasingly excited and outraged. OOOHHHH! Great save by Ricardo!!!

Heh -- what a great ad for the "beautiful" game.

EATA: Do you think Deco's team mates call him Art?

EYATA: And another one bites the dust. 4 players off, 2 on each side. Unbelievable! The players who've been sent off are all sitting together looking bemused. And it's all over. The Dutch are out! Bring on a depleted Portuguese team!

A bit of a (stag) do

"But Dumpling," I hear you cry, "What were you doing in London? Why weren't you back home waiting for the football to start?"

Well, children, I went dog racing. Clive is getting married to the lovely (and lucky) Pippa in 2 weeks' time, and I had the privilege of attending his stag do. A couple of people expressed some surprise that a member of the fairer sex would take part in such a time-honored, masculine event, but Clive is an enlightened metrosexual (as well as my best mate) -- and I can hold my own when it comes to discussing football and, so it would seem, successfully betting on the dogs. After many pints in a Soho pub, we set off for the far east, to Walthamstow Stadium for a highly entertaining night of chips, beer, and small bets on pointy-headed dogs. Between us, PJ and I won something on 12 of the 14 races, earning enough to pay for a slap-up breakfast at the Italian caff just down the road from our hotel. Going to the dogs has never been so much fun.

The venue:

The multi-tasking boys: trying to figure out how to place a bet, drink a pint, and eat scampi and chips:

The groom, with his betting slip:

The board, showing the popular bets and prize money. We didn't actually figure out what this was until late in the evening.

The happy punter:

The slap-up breakfast, complete with strawberry milkshake:

My IQ just dropped 10 points

We put this up just as England finished beating Ecuador.* It would have gone up earlier, had BMI managed to get us back to Amsterdam on time, but it wasn't to be. We sat on the tarmac at Heathrow, waiting for a leak in a water tank to be fixed, then waiting for a slot to become available, and watching the time ticking away. Then our taxi driver took the most tortuous route back to Dumpling Towers, with the result that we missed the goal and only caught the final 17 minutes. Probably a good thing, though. I'm still shockingly bad at actually watching the matches -- nerves, you see.

Now, Holland or Portugal? I think I'd rather have us play (and lose) to Portugal in the quarter-finals than to Holland. No, I KNOW I'd rather have us play (and lose) to Portugal than Holland! Come on Portugal!!!

* I'd have taken a picture of this from the canal side, if it wasn't for the torrential rain that we're currently experiencing. But you get the idea.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Happy Birthday to me!

Five things I now accept I will never achieve:

1. I will never weigh the same as I did when I was 25.
2. I will never be 5'4".
3. I will never be rich or famous, unless I kill someone.
4. I will never score a goal for Norwich City.
5. I will never see The Smiths play live.

On the other hand, since the UK government raised the state pension age to 68, I've got another 33 years of work ahead of me. Which means that I have plenty of time to change my career. Here are my current options:

1. Part-time pizza maker for the excellent wood-fired pizza place round the corner.
2. Plumber.
3. Kitten and puppy petter.

Decisions, decisions. I think I'll have another doughnut -- come on, it IS my birthday -- and ponder this one a little more.


BBC Sport have clearly hired a gag writer to beef up their World Cup commentary team. The commentator's Kaiser Chiefs reference with "I predict a diet" when looking at Ronaldo was superb!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

I'm feeling rather old today

And not just because it's my birthday tomorrow. The headline on today's FT reads: "Brown promises to replace Trident" or some such. I remember campaigning against the purchase of Trident as the UK's "independent nuclear deterrent" as a member of youth CND in the mid-80s. And now it's being scrapped.

There's a scrapheap gag in there somewhere, but I'm too weary to make it.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Boom boom!

A Norwich fan is walking to a match at Carrow Road when he spots a banana skin 50 yards down the road. "Oh f**k!" he thinks "Here we go again."

How do you know if a Norwich fan has been using your computer?
There's cheese in front of the mouse.

How do you make a Norwich fan laugh on a Saturday?
Tell him a joke on Monday.

What do you get if you put 28 Norwich fans in one room?
A full set of teeth.

Every one's a winner.

Een echte Amsterdamse zomer

My thoughtless ordering of some upmarket sun-protection lotion yesterday has clearly brought down the wrath of the weather gods: It has now been raining steadily since at least 7 o'clock this morning. I don't expect it to stop until, ooh, September.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Five things that are more enjoyable than watching England's second half against Sweden

1. Getting up every Monday morning to go to the gym.
2. Finding a paper cut when you're squeezing lemons.
3. Removing the gobs of hair from the shower drain.
4. Having a root canal done (and I've had 2).
5. Realizing that 36% of the value of the bunch of share options you just sold is going to go to the Dutch tax authorities to support people who don't feel like working, but would rather spend their days lounging about in the park.

At least the curry was reliably enjoyable.

Allan keys versus stiff upper lips

Well, it won't exactly be the nail-biting buttock-clenching game that I had imagined; we're already through, so now we just have to see if Rooney's foot holds up. I'm hoping that this will give Sven the chance to get Hargreaves out of his system in time to field real players in the important knockout matches. PJ is already in Cologne, enjoying some corporate hospitality and his first "live" game -- without me! I'm outraged! However, although I've never been priveleged to enjoy the corporate boxes at these events, I would imagine that from behind the glass, it's a bit like watching a match on telly. You can't really appreciate a match until you've stood on the terraces, fingers freezing from the cold, clutching a cup of Bovril, and watching the scuffles between groups of rival fans. Ah -- the sounds, the smells, the bloodshed!

Having been deserted, I'm off to watch with some friends, accompanied by that most traditional (and popular) of English foods, the Indian takeaway. See you after the match.

ETA: PJ's photo of the teams during the national anthems. Not quite close enough to see Becks' abs, unfortunately!

Spam spam spam spamitty spam!

Oooh, what's this? An invitation from BMI to enter a prize draw to win a trip to Antigua or 1000 pounds to spend in Selfridges? I'm taking a trip with them before July 10, so I'm eligible to enter. Excellent!

Let's see. Click on the pictures, activate the link, and enter my details. Diamond Club number? Check. Password? Hmm, let's try the usual one. OK, incorrect password. Hmm, let's hit "Forgotten password" and see what happens.

New screen. Enter Diamond Club number to regain password. Do that. No profile found. OK, set up new profile. Done! Let's wait a few minutes for this to update.

Go back to registration screen for the competition. Enter details. Diamond Club number? Check. Password? Checkity check!

Oh. Incorrect password. Let's try the forgotten password option again. New screen. Enter Diamond Club number to regain password. Do that. No profile found. WHAT!!!!?!?! I've just set one up, you &%&*&%*^&&&!!!!

Deep cleansing breaths. Think of a holiday in Antigua or Selfridges. Think calm thoughts.

Try entering email address instead of Diamond Club number. Ooh, success! Password reset and sent to email address! Tiptoe over to Outlook to check.

And refresh and check.

[5 minutes elapse]

And refresh and check.

[5 minutes elapse]

Hang on, I'll check my spam filter. Yep, there it is. Copy/paste new password into the registration form. Nope, still incorrect.

Oh sod it. Antigua's full of bugs; Selfridges is full of meejah tossers; and my life's too short to waste on stupid competitions.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Representative Binks' pa amb tomaquet

While watching one of FC Barcelona's finest playing for his national team, it seemed only right and proper to have one of the classic dishes of that city: pa amb tomquet (trs: bread and tomatoes). The remains of yesterday's sourdough loaf provided the bread, and some tomatoes I'd originally bought to make gazpacho -- but didn't, because I couldn't face skinning them and it wasn't really hot enough -- did the rest. I also decided to use PJ's Le Creuset griddle pan for the first time in the 5 years we've been living together. As you can see, it smoked mightily, but did a great job of providing those deep, flavorsome scorch marks that really make this dish. A drizzle of yesterday's lemon/garlic dressing on top -- and a job well done.

I guess I should have made lamingtons or thrown some shrimps on the barbie to honor the Socceroos, but it just didn't hold the same appeal.

Strewth! Who ate all the pies?

I had thought that the President of Brazil's querying of Ronaldo's weight was a little unfair -- until I started watching this afternoon's game against Australia. He is definitely looking quite porky, and his fumbles in front of the Australian goal suggest a man with something on his mind. Scoring a sausage roll rather than a goal, perhaps?

ETA: For some time now (er, since the start of the tournament), I've been trying to work out who Ronaldinho reminds me of. And I've just realised who it is; none other than that well-known patsy for the dark side, Jar Jar Binks! It's uncanny, I tell you.*


Jar Jar:

*A quick Google search shows that I'm not the first person to point this out. Apparently, ESPN Deportes calls him Jar Jar on air. So much for originality.

Dutch design

I am critical of many things over here, but not the architecture -- never the architecture. This city is a joy to walk around, with so many different varieties of design, all happily inhabiting the same street or neighbourhood. How is it that a country so notably lacking in taste when it comes to clothing can create such outstanding buildings? A few examples:

Wisteria on the Keizersgracht. The shutters on the building add about 10,000 euros to the asking price for each apartment.

The garden house behind Keizersgracht 62-64, open to the public today as part of the grachten open gardens weekend. It's now a meeting room for the small companies that are part of the EBC, but can you imagine it being a dining room on long summer evenings, doors open to the walled garden, candlelight everywhere?

Da Kas Restaurant, Amsterdam. This was a 1926 municipal greenhouse, but was saved from demolition and converted into a rather good restaurant with its own organic nursery. And the lighting inside as the night drew in was lovely, too.

A modern apartment block near to my office. It's the addition of colored panels and a Gehry-esque metal-scale clad tower that transform it from a bland block into something more appealing.

Beautiful buildings from different centuries; Dutch design at its best. Now if they could only do something about the graffiti ...

Saturday, June 17, 2006


The referee in the Italy-US match is doing a nice job of ensuring that soccer never gains any ground across the Atlantic with some bizarre decisions. Three sendings off? A disallowed goal? Cards being handed out wily-nily? I've never seen anything like it! The US has so far done a sterling job of restricting Italy to 1-1 by playing the offside trap like real pros -- okay, Arsenal. Ooooh! Great save by Kasey Keller! Come on you Yanks!

ETA: Well, they did it. 1-1 at full time, despite playing most of the second half with just 9 men. Although I would have been helped in the office pool by an Italian win, I can't help feeling happy for the US. And this means the final matches in this group should be absolutely cracking!

But wait! That's not all!

Given that I was already carbing up, I decided to make a strawberry tart from the ever-fabulous Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater. Gorgeous. It's a biscuit base (just crushed oaty biscuits and melted butter) with a filling of marscapone, egg yolk, sugar, and stiffly beaten egg white. This dreamy, creamy confection is then topped with the best strawberries of the year so far. It all rather falls apart when you take it out the dish, but no matter -- it still tastes (and looks) wonderful.

And just like Topsy ...

... it grew ...

... and grew!



Let battle commence!

"What do we do now, sarge?"

"We wait, Tommy. We just sit and wait."

Friday, June 16, 2006

The stench is strong in this one

Cycling to work this morning, I was assailed by a waft of urine so strong and sudden that I was almost knocked off my bike. I glanced in the direction of the reek and spotted the culprit: an iron street pissoir. These stalls are a fairly common sight on the streets of Amsterdam; public urination has a long and distinguished tradition. Originally, the sides of houses were the WC of choice, but this caused the brickwork to start crumbling, so metal plates started being afixed to house fronts. Presumably, there then followed lobbying of the city authorities to introduce stalls away from the houses, and intricately carved shelters sprung up. While keeping the act out of sight, they don't hide the effects -- particularly as the weather heats up, bringing the stale urine up to boiling point.

And it's not just the human toilets. The local councils have installed different methods of dealing with dog waste in the form of bins, giant sandpits, or hedgerows, but at this time of year, it's extremely unpleasant to cycle past them. Shortly after the urine experience, I was hit by the reek of fermenting turds, trapped within one of the metal disposal boxes I photographed and blogged about some weeks ago. It's clearly not enough to provide the boxes; you also have to empty them at some point.

Still, it's not as bad as the extremely hot week last summer when the binmen went on strike. No refuse collections for a full week, right at the height of the sailing festival in Amsterdam and the influx of visitors that went with it. We had gone to Sweden for a long weekend, and returned to a city that was decidedly high -- and not in the usual way associated with Amsterdam. The streets were piled high with domestic and commercial refuse, head-high in places, as most people have no outdoor space and thus nowhere to store rubbish when their bins are full; the sun was beating down and everyone was having to breathe through their mouths while avoiding swarms of flies. It was a real shocker after the gloriously clean streets of Stockholm.

To sum up: Amsterdam can be very smelly in the summer. Be warned.

Why good editors are necessary

I've been trying to follow the instructions that came with my sourdough starter, and they're not easy. They're in English, there are lots of them, and it's just flour and water, but I'm still confused about how I actually use the starter once it's fermented and tangy. The one sheet of A4 gives 2 sets of instructions:

"Remove starter from fridge, let it warm to room temperature, measure out required starter into another bowl. Feed the mother sponge and proof for 6-8 hours before returning to the fridge. Feed the baby starter 1.5 cups of flour and 1 cup of warm water, proof for 6-8 hours, and then use as directed."

Okay, that's not too bad. However, on the side of the paper is a set of FAQs, including "How do I use my starter?".

"Remove starter from fridge, let it warm to room temperature, and then dump all of it into a bowl. Add 3 cups of water and flour to the bowl, wait till bubbly, pour some back into your original container and put in fridge. Measure out what you need from the rest."

So, which is it? Proof it all together or separately? 1.5 cups of flour or 3? Is the 3 cups of flour and water actually 3 cups of each? How long should you proof it for in the second set of instructions? Do you use all the post-proof baby starter in the 1st recipe or do you measure out again only what the recipe suggests? An editor might have suggested that having conflicting methods and amounts on the same sheet of instructions might prove confusing and got them to sort it out. Well, I would have.

I headed off to the Web site to see what I could find. The FAQs there gave different instructions again, but apologized for people not understanding. They also provided a crucial piece of advice: Keep your starter in a plastic or ceramic bowl; DO NOT use a metal bowl." This wasn't on the paper instructions in the starter pack, and guess what I'd been using to mix my starter? A metal bowl!! Maybe that's why it seemed to go a bit funny. It would have been really helpful if they had mentioned this key tip upfront, instead of burying it in a PDF of FAQs on a Web site that didn't even have a name that matched the starter brand.

This bread had better be worth it. My beer bread is a damn sight easier and quicker, and always tastes fantastic.

There's a deathly hush in the gym tonight

I've never seen it so empty, even on a Friday. Only a handful of machines were in use; the mat had one lone body doing situps; and even the weights room was deserted -- just me, my physio, and a guy in an England shirt. As I cycled home at 6.30, the streets were largely empty, the Overtoom bereft of traffic, the deli shuttered. You could occasional cries from behind closed doors, but otherwise, think 28 Days Later -- complete with marauding hordes of orange-clad men. Yes, there was a deathly hush in the gym tonight as everyone huddled round the TV screens and watched Holland beat the Ivory Coast 2-1. Good goals, although the second Dutch one had a whiff of offside about it to me. Oh well.

Actually, not everyone was inside. I had to weave my way through a throng outside the frat house along the canal. The twits who live there were largely urinating into the canal, throwing glasses of beer at passing boats, or admiring each other's (identical) preppy frat-boy outfits -- all far more interesting than the football, apparently. Tossers.

Sourdough prognosis: fair to good

It's not given up the ghost, yet. In fact, it looks to be quite healthy after a few flour-heavy feedings and access to the open air. It looks like a pancake batter, and according to my guidelines, that's just how it should be. The smell has either settled down to a more beery, yeasty tang or I've got accustomed to it and don't retch every time I have to feed it. Not sure which. I will attempt to use it this weekend.

... and goeth

That was quick: They turned up at 9.50, vaccuumed out the insides of the boiler, and left at 9.59 -- after warning me that the boiler was 12 years old, was still okay, but would probably need replacing at some point, at a cost of about €2000. Which seems quite reasonable to me. They're obviously not exploiting their market as much as they could.

The gasman cometh

At least, he should come along for our annual boiler maintenance check at some point before 12.30. I find these vague windows somewhat unhelpful. When does "before 12.30" actually start? If I get in the shower at 8 am I risking having to greet him in a towel and with shampoo in my hair (cue 70s porn music - wacka wacka wacka)? How about at 8.30? The Albert delivery service lets you choose a 2-hour window, which is much more helpful -- although I always end up getting a little nervous when there's 10 minutes left on the clock and it's the day before Christmas. Are they going to deliver my food? Am I going to have to survive on tins of exploding pickled fish and the half-used pack of dried lentils in the cupboard? They've not failed me yet though. And, to be fair, neither have the lovely people at Gok (the gasmen). I am eternally grateful for them coming out to repair our boiler a couple of years ago and restoring hot water and increasing the pressure in the shower. I am not happy if I can't have a tip-top shower first thing in the morning -- and an unhappy Dumpling at 7.30 is not a pretty sight.

Enough rambling. Time to get on with some real work.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Free TV? No thanks!

A couple of nights ago, I got a phone call from someone in telesales for UPC, our local cable TV provider. Normally, asking one of these poor souls if they can speak English is enough to limit the phone call -- many appear to be obliged to provide details of the offer in Dutch, and if they're selling subscriptions to a newspaper (the most common caller), there seems little point in selling it to someone who doesn't speak or read the language it's written in. Anyway, the lady on the phone instantly switched in to English and asked if I wanted to have 6 months of free digital TV.

Let me think about that. More TV channels? I only watch 5 Net and BBC 1 and 2 at the moment and buy DVDs of any series that I actually want to watch in the right order. But I was feeling generous, so I said "No" rather than laughing hysterically and putting the phone down. The girl sounded somewhat surprised. How could I NOT want something that was free -- this is the Netherlands, after all, a country so tight-fisted that one company based an ad campaign around the notion that you're not really Dutch unless you take full advantage of hotel soap and all-you-can-eat buffets. "Can I ask why not?" I briefly considered telling her that a) Dutch TV was not up to much and b) there's no such thing as a free lunch. I told her that I didn't actually watch much telly and didn't want to watch any more. I don't think she had an answer category for that on her questionnaire; she just laughed and we wished each other a good evening and hung up.

I know most people hate telesales staff, but I always feel so sorry for them! Yes, yes, perhaps they count on that but I've never bought anything from them. Telesales is my nightmare job: My vision of hell consists of me, a phone, and an endless list of numbers to call and try to sell double glazing or phone packages to. I hate using the phone at the best of times; email has been an absolute life saver for me professionally and personally. In the UK, I could sign up to be taken off the telesales lists, but I don't know if or how you do that over here. So I will continue feeling sorry for them, being polite, and hanging up as quickly as possible.

Back in the physio's office

I'm beginning to think that my back problems are partially related to the weather. I've had 3 weeks without any problems, when I've been going to see my teenaged phsyio and doing my exercises. Following thunderstorms last night, the hot weather has broken, it's cloudy and wet, and the airco at work has finally kicked in -- and my shoulder/neck seized up again today. So instead of practising my mildly embarrassing exercises at the gym -- hey, you try looking dignified while sitting on a giant inflatable ball and trying to throw and catch a 2 kg medicine ball with one hand extended in the air -- I ended up face down on the physio's couch having my shoulder and spine manipulated. And you know what, it's not as nice as the Aveda massage I had a couple of years ago; it's really painful! But the shoulder feels a little easier and I managed to cycle home without killing myself, so I'll have a hot bath, watch Germany-Poland, and sleep on the floor -- and that should do the trick.

I hope.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Sourdough teething problems

I thought it was too good to be true. By Saturday evening, my sourdough starter looked great: It was very thick, almost stretchy, and quite stenchy. I then started feeding it, as per the instructions, and 3 days later it looks ... well... liquidy. More like the flour/culture/water mix I started off with than the bubbly, gassy mass it became. Perhaps I'm not feeding it enough. It still smells disgusting, mind.

Would any sourdough experts out there like to comment?

Size matters

I'm trying very hard to like American Apparel, I really am. I know that they ought to be right up my street: simple shapes and lines, minimal decoration, bright colors, and non-sweatshop labor. I can overlook their "long-limbed teenagers wearing knee socks, showing their pants, and looking sultry" approach to advertising because it's so very trite and thus inoffensive. And I have bought a couple of dresses from there, lovely polo dresses that, I like to think, are highly suitable for the office. Or would be, if they were both the same size! Despite buying them on the same day, from the same store, both with the same size label, one (the purple) is bigger in cut than the other (the green). Both fit, but the green reveals considerably more VPL than the purple, making it unsuitable for work under the rules outlined in the previous post.

How can it be that difficult to get the sizing right? American Apparel aren't the only ones at fault here. I found a fabulous pair of trousers in The Gap a couple of years ago -- they fitted beautifully through the waist/hips and hit the top of my foot just how I like. I asked PJ to pick up another pair the next time he went to the US and provided careful instructions: product code, picture, sizing. He did as he was told, bought the trousers back, only for me to find that they're an inch shorter in the leg and tighter on the waist. Yes, I know -- I thought maybe I'd put on weight, too, but it was the leg length that clinched it for me. A side-by-side comparison showed that the 6R was a different size in each case. Complete waste of money.

I presume they're cutting quality control checks as an inessential overhead, but both The Gap and American Apparel ought to be making their money by selling well-made basics in bulk. You should be able to dash into any store, pick up a handful of t-shirts or jeans or dresses in your size, and know that they will fit. If you have to try on every item "just in case", what's the point? And to order online, you have to be confident that the sizing is standardized, or else clothes shopping becomes even more of a painful crap shoot than it already is.

Nobody needs to see my VPL.


When you leave the house in the morning to go to work, look in the mirror and ask yourselves these questions:

1. Do I look like I'm heading to the beach?
2. Can you see my underwear?

If you answered yes to one or both, congratulations! You've qualified for a job in the Netherlands!

Yes, it's absolutely baking here right now. Yes, it's a pain having to find clothes that are both smart and work-appropriate. Yes, cycling makes that even harder -- particularly if you want to wear a skirt. But there are two simple rules that everyone should follow: Cover the shoulders and cover the thighs. And a tip: a simple cotton shirt is considerably cooler than a skin-tight nylon stretch top.
Skimpy vest tops, plunging, cleavage-baring dresses, and shorts/mini-skirts just aren't suitable office wear. Is it unreasonable of me to expect people to try to dress relatively appropriately? My colleagues here seem to manage, being the exceptions that prove the rule. But I passed so many people cycling to work this morning with expanses of leathery chest and thigh on display, bra straps visibly cutting deeply into tanned flesh, and flip-flops. On men. Perhaps they're all carrying work clothes with them to change into after the commute, but I doubt it. More likely is that they're all going to knock off at 3 and head for the beach. But it's not just the Dutch: The British have no idea how to dress in the summer, either. I remember two girls turning up for work on the first hot day of summer at a major insurance company, wearing just tiny shorts and vest tops. It didn't even occur to them that this wasn't exactly office wear, until someone took them aside and pointed it out.

Perhaps I'm being unfair. If companies today expect their employees to take their work home -- work mobile phones on 24/7, checking email at home and on weekends, and traveling away from home for a third of the year (hi, PJ, where-ever you are!) -- perhaps it's only right and proper that employees start bringing their personal life into the office. Even if it takes the form of strapless top.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Goat cheese puddings


Despite the blisteringly hot weather, I felt that I needed to test my culinary skills. On the agenda, Nigel Slater's goat cheese puddings. These had the added advantage of fitting into my "carb-lite" efforts, as they contain no flour -- just goat cheese, cream, and eggs. Once again, Nigel came up trumps. These were very easy to make, puffed up beautifully, and tasted gorgeous. And as a reward, I'm going to have a(nother) slice of the fruit cake I made this morning. Posted by Picasa

Ferrero Rocher

My opportunity to go to the British Ambassador's residence in The Hague and say, "Ah, Ambassador, with these chocolates you are really spoiling us" while wearing a gold lame 80's frock has been cruelly snatched away from me. PJ has had received an invite to such an affair from BMI, but -- by a cruel twist of fate -- he will be on a BMI flight back from London at that time. So, no chocolates or gold dresses.

Damn. Another childhood (ahem) ambition thwarted.

Mad Dumplings and Englishmen

It's scorchio out there today. I popped out briefly to run some errands: Round to the Poezenboot to drop off two weeks of FTs from work for the cats, and then to Waterstones and the American Book Center. I got carried away in both and ended up with 7 -- that's seven -- books. We need more book cases, although PJ keeps promising to ship some stuff back to his vast storage unit somewhere in North London. The bars were decorated with orange flags; the Dutch were walking around in orange t-shirts; and there was a general air of excitement prior to their opening World Cup match.

However, 20 minutes into the game and the canal is deserted. But when they scored a couple of minutes ago, you could hear the cheers up and down the street and the air horns started honking. Looks like it's going to be a corker of a game.

Saturday, June 10, 2006



24 hours after kicking the process off, the starter has taken and the sourdough is good and gassy. It smells quite disgusting -- rather like warm cottage cheese. I've given it its first feeding and will do the same tomorrow and for the rest of the week. I think I might be able to use it to actually make a loaf next weekend. Keep your fingers crossed that it doesn't die off during the week; I know how hopeless I am at keeping house plants alive. Posted by Picasa


That. Was the longest 45 minutes I've sat through in a very long time. A pretty dire performance from England: No real chances of a second goal, shoddy defending, and the midfield kept giving it away. It's like they want the England fans to suffer. Some of the random booting the ball up the field reminded me of the "glory" days of Grahame Taylor.

Sven can't leave too soon. And he can take Hargreaves with him.

O Me of little faith

On 21 October 1805, my fellow county-man Horatio Nelson ordered these words to be semaphored to the English fleet before the Battle of Trafalgar:

England expects that every man will do his duty.

Nearly 201 years later, the Norfolk Dumpling expects only that she will again be disappointed by the England team during this World Cup. For so it has ever been. In 1986, I remember praying -- me, confirmed atheist, praying! -- that England would overcome Argentina, only to have my nascent faith shattered by the so-called Hand of God -- or "That cheating bastard Maradonna", as he's more popularly known. In 1990, I was unable to watch the England-Germany semi-final in which we lost on penalties, thanks to being on holiday in that football-free country that is the US. While living in Spain in 1998, I did get to see England lose again on penalties to Argentina, and in 2002, I was at Clive's flat in the 'Dam to see England go down 2-1 to Brazil. It's hardly a glorious track record. So, I'm betting on 2 draws and a win in the group stages, followed by squeaking through the second round, before being beaten -- on penalties, of course, in the next round.

What makes it harder this year is that the Netherlands has also qualified; last time round, we were able to watch England lose with the smug satisfaction that at least we made it to the tournament and then the quarter-finals. Now, we face the dread prospect that the Netherlands will do better than us, and then the Cloggies will be insufferable! So, here's to Serbia & Montenegro, the Ivory Coast, and (ahem) Argentina -- The Dumpling expects that all these teams will do their duty and stuff the Dutch!

ETA: It's 2.53 and I feel sick. Despite my pessism, I still desperately want England not to mess it up in their first game. Time for some alcohol to take the edge off.

Feeding the beast

On my visit to San Francisco in March, I picked up a packet of sourdough starter, figuring it would be a fun thing to make. It wasn't until I opened the packet that I realized that this wasn't a fun one-off, but a lifelong commitment to feeding an always-hungry, temperamental batch of yeasty dough. And it needed warm weather -- which is why I haven't bothered starting it until now. My current carb-lite approach to food actually fits in rather well with making sourdough; by my reckoning, I won't be able to actually produce and eat any bread for at least 2 weeks. And I recognize that I should be generating my own starter from scratch, using organic ryes and wheats and capturing the yeasts that float freely on the air, but -- I live in the middle of a city, PJ won't let me have the windows open for more than 5 minutes a day because of the bugs, and quite frankly I don't trust what's floating in the air around here. Bloody hippies.

I mixed up the starter last night; this is what it looked like.

Rather unprepossessing, being of the shade and texture of freshly poured concrete.

12 hours later, little bubbles of gas are definitely forming. Rest assured, I will post pictures of this lengthy process.

I'm hoping that this really will represent a taste of San Francisco: If I can't sense cable cars, seals, and gay pride in every mouthful, I'm asking for my money back.

Friday, June 09, 2006

June? It's over!

The World Cup kicked off today with some cracking goals in the Germany-Costa Rica match.
I've got daily prefrontal cortex training to do via Dr Ryuta Kawashima's Brain Age on the DS.
PJ's just introduced me to fiendishly addictive Hexic on the Xbox 360.
Wimbledon starts in 2 weeks time.
AND I've still got the puppies to walk and a job to do.

Just don't expect to see me outside much in the next month.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Lunch (and nutters) in the park

A quiet day in the office, so a group of us headed over to the Vondeltuin for lunch -- and to take advantage of the glorious weather. Is is really toasty out there today! Despite the cafe being relatively quiet, service was Dutchily slow; 4 of the sandwiches turned up after about 20 minutes, but we were still waiting for the other 4 30 minutes after that. On prompting, they bought 3 of them out but claimed that one would take another 5 minutes because "they had to slice the bacon." Whatever. As one colleague pointed out, they staff are all students, employed through a temp agency, and making €9.50 an hour, so it's not like they have an incentive (in the form of pride, ownership, or tipping) to work reasonably effectively.

Still, it wasn't exactly a pain to sit outside on the terrace and soak up the vitamin D. The park and play area provided the requisite bunch of loons to watch. Particularly striking today was the mother who decided that a bra was acceptable outerwear in public -- a bikini top I would have understood, but a bra? With rolled up tracksuit bottoms? And she was French! I guess she must have been exiled from France for crimes against fashion. Also impressing the onlookers was the heavily muscled, bronzed chap who was doing some odd exercises using the children's playground equipment; it looked like he was pretending to surf, swaying around on his ankles -- building up those all-important metatarsels in advance of football in the park, perhaps? Call me old-fashioned, but I think there's something weird about a grown man hanging around a kids' sandpit without a child in tow. No wonder the mothers were escorting their children away from him.

Time for a snooze, I think. Wake me up when it's time to go home.

Red in tooth and claw

It's not just birds and pickled fish that are plaguing us at the moment. The slight rise in temperatures has heralded the start of bug season here in the 'Dam. I doubt that the mosquitoes are malarial -- although best to imbibe large G&T's as a precaution, obviously -- but they are exceptionally annoying, as are the large clouds of small blackflies that are present along the banks of the canals and by trees in the park. PJ is unable to sleep in the same room as a bug and I hate sleeping with all the windows closed, so summer tends to turn the bedroom into a battleground. We have mosquito nets up on the window and try to keep doors shut in the rest of the apartment, but to little avail. And I really dislike the chemical sprays and plug-ins that you can get to kill the critters, finding them far more unpleasant than the bugs.

Does anyone out there have good/cheap solutions to this problem? Other than moving, I mean.

This is the tree

This is the tree
That grew in the park
And held the bird
That ate the worm
And decided to subsequently take a dump on Beth.

It's so pretty, isn't it? You wouldn't imagine that there was danger lurking in those branches.

My sandcakes bring all the boys to the yard

Damn right, they're better than yours.

Shortly after this picture was taken, Beyshen generously poured his sandcake all over my trousers and bag. I'll be finding sand in my shoes for weeks to come.

Why did it have to be pickled fish?

Last night was going so well: a nice drink in the park after work, pleasant cycle ride home, and then prep for a veggie/tofu stir-fry. Then, disaster.

First, I opened the bag of shredded cabbage purchased on Tuesday for the stir-fry. It was distinctly whiffy and somewhat ... moist, rather than the crisp white shards I'd been hoping for. I poked at it somewhat dubiously and figured it would probably be okay once fried.

Second -- and far worse -- I shut a drawer of supplies after rooting about in it for a packet of cashew nuts. A minute later, I noticed a stream of oily juice emanating from said drawer. On opening it up, I discovered a tin of pickled fish from Denmark had decided to spontaneously self-open, showering all the contents of the drawer with pickle juice. It smelled rank. Within seconds, the stenchiness filled the kitchen, impregnating floor, drawers, cabinets, everything with it's foulness. The next 30 minutes were taken up with trying to minimize the damage, chucking packets that were beyond salvation, and taking a binbag full of sodden kitchen towel outside. It quite put me off my dinner.

I blame the Danes. Not only for their shoddy manufacturing, but also because if they'd switched to the euro in 2002 like sensible nations, I wouldn't have been left with a handful of kroner in Copenhagen airport last year and used it up on a tin of pickled fish. Bastards.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Typical bloody Cancerian

Regular readers might think from the general tone of my posts that I'm a hard-hearted person, grouchy to the core. But that's where you're wrong. Beneath this gruff exterior lies a certain squidgyness, an (occasionally) sentimental individual. One thing guaranteed to make my lip quiver is the !!!Vermist!!!! posters for pets; you know the sort of thing: "Blackie is an adorable ginger tom, and we haven't seen him for 2 weeks. We love him very much so please call this number if you see him!" Amsterdam is full of these, the perils of apartment living, I guess -- leave a door or window open for a brief period and Blackie will make a bid for freedom, hoping to chase pigeons and squirrels, but more likely to be squashed by a car. I've stopped reading these as they make me too miserable, reminding me of the traumas we used to go through when Aristotle would slip through holes in the space/time continuum and disappear for a week or two, only to reappear -- as if by magic! --in our locked house in the middle of the day. How he made us suffer -- and how we miss him!

[Pauses to wipe a tear from her eye.]

Anyhow, I digress. Last week, I did notice one of the Vermist posters on the gates of the Vondelpark, asking for the return of Bo. My heart sank. I recognized Bo from my morning commute. I have no idea what breed he is, but "hairy dachshund" probably sums him up best. At the thought of never seeing him trotting happily along the path beside his owner, I was downcast. For about 10 minutes at least.

But! This morning brought glad tidings! As I cycled through the park, who should I see but Bo! Little hairy legs a-pumping as he made his way for his traditional constitutional. I almost thought about stopping to tell his owner how relieved I was to see him again, but thought it might make me look a bit ... well, weird. A puppy stalker. The sort of person who hangs out in the bushes and tries to entice dogs with the classic line "Want to come back to my house and see my kids?" So I just cycled on, content in the knowledge that Bo was safe and sound and back where he belonged.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Bread of heaven

Nearly a week in the UK, left me feeling somewhat porky, thanks to lots of meals out, fish n chips, and Sainsbury's bags of little French onion toasts. It's also difficult and impolite to refuse when you're offered a cup of tea and a biscuit/slice of cake/sandwich every 30 minutes, and imbibing some alcohol was also necessary at points of the weekend. On my return to Amsterdam, the trousers seemed a little too tight, the marks the underwear left a little too deep. Time for, well, not exactly a diet, but a restructuring of my food intake.

I've tried Atkins in the past, and it left me morose, tearful, and desperate for a biscuit after seven days. I was reluctant to try that again. However, an Atkins-lite variation might work: increase the protein, cut down/out rice, pasta, and potatoes, and -- hardest of all -- stay away from the baking. Regular readers know that I love baking: A weekend just isn't right without a batch of muffins, some pancakes, or (occasionally and) a tray of cookies. I start getting twitchy by Sunday morning, riffling through cookery books and surveying the contents of my cupboards. But, I could not disobey the command of my overly tight jeans. There was to be no baking.

So, what have we eaten in the past week? I've had to divert my culinary efforts into more complex main courses and fruit-based desserts. (This is where I part ways with Atkins; nothing can convince me that fruit and vegetables are bad for you.) Snacks included boiled eggs or small amounts of cheese instead of the usual chocolate digestives. We have had:
Eggs provencal (eggs baked on a bed of tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, courgettes, and beans).
Miso soup with rice noodles, pak choi, beansprouts, mushrooms, and baked ginger tofu.
Sashimi and sushi (instead of just sushi; less rice that way).
Falafel in pitta bred with garlic sauce and Greek salad.
Pea croquettes with salad -- these were fantastic! Ordinary frozen peas defrosted, mashed with garlic cream cheese, wholemeal breadcrumbs, and herbs, and then egged/Panko breadcrumbed, and deep-fried.
A cheese board with carrot sticks, peppers, and pitta bread.
Nigel Slater's baked aubergines, tomatoes, and beans with cumin and harissa (which I've just polished off for lunch today).

Not carb-free, but far less reliant on the pasta/rice standbys than normal. PJ made some fab beer bread, but we didn't finish off the loaf this time. Desserts were fun, too: strawberries and oranges macerated with a little sugar and orange flower water, topped with a cream/Greek yoghurt/icing sugar combo. PJ said this was better than Dream Topping -- mighty praise, indeed. And last night, we had frozen mango yoghurt puddings with a strawberry puree -- very 80s. I even included a mint sprig on one, despite Matthew Fort's stricture than one should never put something on a plate that can't be eaten (as seen on the Great British Menu final): PJ loves mint sprigs and polished his off, along with the dessert, in short order.

Has it worked? Yes, it has. The jeans are definitely looser, the stomach feels flatter, and generally I feel considerably less of a lardy bloater than I did a week ago. Damn! I'm going to try to keep going cold turkey on the baking until the weekend, just to see if I can break the habit. Although, I have come across a spiced teabread recipe that I'm dying to try ...

Monday, June 05, 2006

Hup Holland

It's taken a while, but I think I sense the first signs of World Cup fever in Dumpling Towers. I've resisted taking an active interest for several months, finding it hard to get too worked up about Rooney's metatarsels, but in the past week, several things have conspired to change my mind. First, the number of England flags we saw attached to cars last week in our trip to Norfolk/Doncaster; not just one, but often two or four or even more, with the St George's Cross plastered onto wing mirrors. Cruelly, I suspect that the IQ of the owners dropped 10 points for every flag they put up. Second, a Mail on Sunday World Cup supplement that contained some interesting articles. Third, filling in my educated guesses of the results in the office sweepstake and trying to do some research via Who Ate All The Bratwurst. And finally, last night's BBC2 documentary on the legendary (over here, at least) 1974 final between the total footballing Netherlands (led by Johan Cruyff) and the more workaday West Germans (led by Franz Beckenbauer).

This was fantastic, placing the final into the context of post-war history, the counter-culture of the Netherlands -- one of the defenders wore love beads -- and contrasting football styles. I hadn't realized that the Dutch scored their only goal of the final via a penalty; highly amusing (and, Alanis, ironic) given their stated loathing of penalties. Nor had I heard of the (German) tabloid stories about Cruyff, late-night parties, complete with naked women in swimming pools, much to Cruyff's wife's dismay. Interesting also was the account of the German's defeat of Hungary in the 1954 final, which signalled their return to the world stage following the end of WW2 and helped kickstart an economic boom, and the tensions caused by their match in the 1974 opening rounds against East Germany. And much to my delight, the documentary featured extensive contributions from David Winner, author of my favorite book on football -- Beautiful Orange -- and an entertaining German sports journalist, as well as key players, both Dutch and German, from the various matches. Of course, the German players spoke only German; the Dutch players were irritatingly impressive in their command of English! But what came across most clearly was football as a force for good -- uniting countries and channeling nationalist aggression into a "safe" form. Yes, I know all about football hooliganism, but in general, that's still a minority of fans. Most supporters are able to support their team and appreciate the support given to opposing teams in a good-tempered way.

Unlike the English, the Dutch aren't demonstrating their support via orange flags on cars or bikes. Flags are beginning to appear, but mainly in shops and bars, along with banners declaring Hup Holland! Maybe this indicates that the Dutch are less individualistic in their support, happy to be represented in a more communal fashion -- or maybe they're just too cheap to shell out a few euros on some orange nylon at Blocker. Your guess is as good as mine.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Mmm, post-industrial architecture!

Now this. Is nice. Particularly the red glowy lights. One day, I'm going to have a hall just like this at home.

He doesn't know much about art ...

... but he knows what he likes.* Which is video gaming. And I've discovered that one of the best ways to get PJ out of the house of a weekend to see a bit of culture is to find a video gaming exhibition. That's what took us to Tilberg several years ago -- there's no other reason to go to Tilberg, trust me -- and it's what took us to the Stedelijk Museum this afternoon. "Next Level. Art, Games, & Reality" was the title, but it basically seemed like an excuse for various artists to spend lots of time playing video games and then dreaming up the usual arty bollox to go on the little cards on the wall next to their "installations". For example, one "artist" made a video collage of lots of game characters commiting suicide -- usually by falling on top of bombs they'd thrown or by jumping off high buildings. Very entertaining to watch (particularly as PJ kept up a somewhat scary running commentary on which games the deaths were from), but I'm not wholly convinced of its artistic merit. However, PJ is most reassured that when he's running and jumping across levels -- and missing -- he's not just being crap, he's being creative.

There was also an exhibition called "Mapping the Studio", looking at the relationship of the artist to his/her studio. One artist came up with the convenient line that "art is what an artist does, when he is just sitting about in his studio". So, making a cup of tea is art -- if you're an artist and you're in your studio. Picking your nose is art -- if you're an artist and you're in your studio. Scratching your arse is art -- if ... you can see where I'm going with this. I resisted the urge to scream "Get a bloody job, you idle layabouts" and instead admired the post-industrial decay of the condemned office block that the Stedelijk is temporarily housed in. Exposed reinforced steel joists? Poured concrete? Chipboard staircases? Love it!

Our final bit of culture involved getting a drink at the new Muziek Gebouw Aan T'IJ (concert hall on the IJ -- the river/harbour area behind Centraal Station). Despite the icy wind that whipped round the corner of this impressive new structure and across the cafe's deck, it was very pleasant to be outdoors, watching the river traffic going past. Long cruise ships heading for the Rhine, tourist boats, and even a steam-powered tug all negotiated the grey, choppy waters. The new building is lovely (more poured concrete), although, depressingly, I can say that I remember when all this was fields -- which makes me feel like I've been here for too long. One day, we might even make it back there to hear some music. Little bit of culture? Lovely!

  Posted by Picasa

* PJ would just like me to point out that he used to know quite a lot about art, and that I am exaggerating for dramatic effect. Well, duh!

What's the point?

The BBC has recently been running a series on climate change, accompanying the trailers with the in-no-way forboding REM tune "It's the end of the world as we know it". I can't work out whether this is part of the BBC's conspiracy to make people so scared to go outside that they stay indoors and watch TV the whole time -- witness its frequent shows on what would happen in the event of a terrorist attack in London -- but it is clearly part of its remit to be very depressing (along with EastEnders and Casualty). I'm faced with the prospect of large swathes of my fair county being wiped out (although the sea can have Gorleston and Hemsby, as far as I'm concerned). The recent US issue of Elle that I bought was also a doom-and-gloom "green" issue, albeit with a focus on helping the climate by buying more expensive make-up and suggesting everyone could make a difference if they made just one change: using energy-efficient lightbulbs or an energy-efficient fridge.

Now, I'm in no way the poster child for green living, but I thought about all the changes I've made with an eye to the environment:
Buying recycled toilet paper and kitchen roll; fair trade coffee and chocolate; organic milk and yoghurt; turning off lights when leaving rooms; turning the heating down and wearing an extra jumper (or two); not having a car but relying on my bike and public transport (mostly); offsetting long-haul flights at The CarbonNeutral Company; fridge, washing machine and tumble-dryer (we have no outdoors space so I can't air-dry clothes) having an A efficiency rating; recycling glass, paper, and clothes; buying organic/recycled cotton clothing from Howies; sponsoring a child in El Salvador via Plan International; turning off the airco at work and opening a window instead (ok, that's largely for my shoulder, but it still counts); not eating meat; remembering to turn the TV and video off at night so that they don't consume energy on standby; reusing the newspapers from work as litter tray liners on the Poezenboot; using bicarb of soda and vinegar to clean the kitchen instead of more toxic chemicals; and so on.

All these efforts don't seem to be making a difference -- which is both annoying and expensive. And the guilt! Oh god, the guilt surrounding every purchase and activity. For example: lovely new Minnie Mouse shoes don't contain any animal products -- so that's good, right? But they're made in China, which means supporting human rights abuses plus the environmental damage from transporting them to Europe, so that's bad. Is buying a newspaper (paper, printing, transport costs) better or worse than reading it online (electricity and not actually, y'know, paying for it)? And while I'm worrying about whether to buy the damn things or not, fat Brits and Americans are driving around in SUVs, completely ignorant of -- or uncaring about -- the damage they're doing! Until governments restrict car travel, there seems little point in turning my TV off every night.

On the plus side, the end of the world does mean that I won't have to worry about keeping my pension contributions up to date.


As previously mentioned, I have something of a problem with my neck and right shoulder; nothing serious, just low-grade aches and the occasional stomach-churning, vision-halting flash of pain. I'm seeing a physio, doing my exercises regularly, and requested moving desks at work so that I'm not sitting next to an airco vent. I've also turned my attention to my bed; I think I need a new pillow and mattress. Little bit of research on the Net, and Tempur sounds good. It's NASA space-age technology! Designed for astronauts!! Doctors recommend it!!! Best of all, friend Jessica has a tempur mattress and loves it. So, I head over to the UK site, look at the options, prices etc, and then decide to see if I can order from the Dutch site. Problem. No prices on the Dutch site. No offer of a free trial sample and video. In fact, the whole site is distinctly unhelpful. It's the same company, pretty much the same site layout, just different levels of customer-focused service. I wouldn't mind if they were both crap, but for one to be worse than the other is just inexplicable -- and infuriating!

My post-yoga zen-like calm disappeared, rapidly.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

So cold the night

The central heating's back on, jumpers are being worn, and I've had to get my gloves out again -- it's June, for heaven's sake! Where's this global warming the BBC have been shouting about?

Outraged of Amsterdam

Along with the blindingly white legs of Doncaster womenfolk, one of the more depressing sights from my seat in Cafe Nero was the large number of young women -- okay, girls -- pushing strollers with babies. Why in this day and age does any girl still at school have a baby? It's terrifying: they're too young to get married, buy alcohol, support themselves financially or drive a car (and apparently too stupid to figure out how contraception works) and yet they're allowed to have children! Given that the legal age to have sex in the UK is 16, the CPS should start prosecuting those pregnant before this age and their partners -- and start locking them up. Alternatively, make sex compulsory at school. Yep, sex, not sex education. Think about it: Playing a sport is generally quite enjoyable unless it's compulsory. Scheduling obligatory sex for 2 till 3 every Thursday afternoon for 5 years should put off even the dimmest of teenagers until they're mature enough to figure out how to use a condom.

The Daily Mail is a filthy rag, but it's always entertaining to read it chez PJ's mother on our infrequent visits. The bile it generates is fabulous, giving the spleen a good workout. And while we were there, it published an article decrying easy access to RU486, the so-called abortion pill. One key story was of a teenager who'd been prescribed the pill after getting pregnant at the age of 14 on the advice of school healthworkers, who hadn't told her parents; the girl subsequently regretted her abortion and rapidly got pregnant again and had the baby aged 15. The Daily Mail was outraged at the behavior of the health workers and the ease with which this girl was given the pill; they should have been congratulating them!! You can imagine the knots that the Mail writers got into when writing the story, though: gym-slip mothers who sponge of the state are bad, yet (implicitly) lefty social workers are also bad; lax parents who let their kids have sex are bad, but they should also be told when their kids have screwed up.

So, compulsory sex for teenagers. Or prison sentences for those breaking the law. And please don't tell me about your friend who had a child at 14 and went on to become a professor of literature or CEO; one swallow doesn't make a summer. And prejudiced ranting is much more fun than reasoned debate -- as the Daily Mail would surely agree.