Sunday, December 07, 2008

Learning curves

This weekend, I learnt:
- that I can not get masking tape to stick to anything. Except my fingers.
- I really do not have the patience for finicky things, like laying masking tape for painting.
- painting is unavoidably messy.
- whatever colour you chose, it will not look like it did on the colour swatch.
- when painting on a stepladder, do not just step backwards.

One room down, two more to paint, then we can move in!

Now that we're back at our still-furnished current home, I have time for some Christmas online shopping. So, dear user-friendly Woolworths website, please walk me through this:

I am looking for nice Christmas hampers, in December. December is the time for Christmas shopping, so I guess that the Woolies website would have a link to their lovely Christmas hampers online.

Go to home page (that's www.woolworths.co.za), if you'd like to follow along.
Login (as learnt from experience, if you don't log on at first step it will lose everything that you have packed into your shopping cart over the last 20 minutes. No remorse. It's my own fault really, for not knowing this).
Look! Right in the middle of the page, a handy little 'Christmas Destination' link. Click Here.
*click*
Now, hampers. Christmas hampers.... 'Fragrance Fair' No. 'Delicious meals and treats'? Hopeful, but no, that's recipes. '1001 reasons to love Christmas, I mean Woolworths'? Not right at this moment, thank you. Okay, let's try the top tool bar. 'Gifts'
*click*
Hmmm, no, no no. No hampers. And we seem to have lost the Christmas spirit altogether.
*back*
Let's try the shop for gifts link at the bottom of the page. Obscure, but this is what Christmas is all about... frustration in not finding what you're looking for.
*click*
Ooookay, might still be on the right track, general theme of red and silver decorations. Hazard an educated guess at Foodies Gifts.
*click*
HOORAY! Five clicks later and I've found what I'm looking for. That's not including the clicks that it took me to find it the first time, then lose it all because I failed to log on before starting the process.

Who does their web research? Without reading the stats, I'm guessing that online shopping baskets at this time of year largely include Christmas gifts. Therefore, put a easy to find link on the home page, make it easier for people to buy more. Call it MAR-KET-ING.

I was getting close to sending my family money in an envelope. Less clicks and aggrevation, and more for a lucky postal worker along the way. Woolies. You aggrevate me.

The website is still aggrevating me because I am STILL trying to put through my purchase. I realise that I have confused the system because I am trying to request a different address to the one that I used in 2005. Things change. It would be great if their database could reflect that.

Woolies, please ensure that my purchases get to their recipients in time. That would make up for your useless website.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

WooHoo!

After many viewings, much negotiation and frustration, we have finally found a new flat in The Hague. It's little (most places in the city are), but it's liveable. We have the keys, but not before paying a whopping 2500 euros. In the Netherlands, if you rent a place through a real estate agent you, the lessee, have to pay the commission - standard one month rent. Plus the month deposit and first month up front. Ouch.

But we have the keys. Woo hoo! It's on a trendy street, with many restaurants and boutiquets and conventiently directly across from our local pub. Hmmm... I have already informed Mills's mates (yes they are HIS mates in this case), that they will not be crashing at our place after O'Caseys closes every Saturday. Forget about it.

Now for the painting - although the landlord pays for the paint, we have to paint the place ourselves (or arrange for someone else to do it). No cardboard signs attached to lamp posts with "Peter the Painter" and a cell number scrawled across it.... Sometimes, I miss cheap labour.

Once the paint work is done we can move in. It's going to be interesting to see how and where we are going to fit everything in. I think we might end up looking like an eccentric second-hand furniture store, but Mills reckons that I am just being my usual paranoid self. We'll see...

But WOOHOO! We have a new flat.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fleshy fashion

I managed to wangle an invite to a factory warehouse sale.. it was awesome. I got two pairs of (Brazilian leather) shoes, one handbag, one pair of leather gloves (a must in these winters), one top, a bracelet, a ring and two sets of cufflinks (I had to come home with something from Mills)... all for 52 euros. That's R670 of brandwear folks. Awesome, I tell you. Awesome.

It was also another learning experience in Dutch culture. Being a warehouse, there weren't many facilities, and there certainly weren't any changerooms. I'm not a fan of wating in lines for a changeroom anyway, so I try on things as discreetly as possible, when possible. Discretion is not in the Dutch vocab. Literally. If you find a set of jeanpants that you want to try on, and you're in the middle of a warehouse, you just drop your pants and try them on. No shame, no worries.

Same applies to shirts. One lady browsed in the middle of the hall by the cashiers, completely topless (bra only), without any rush to re-clothe after unsuccessfully trying on one top.

I was there with a Scottish friend and a Dutch friend. The Scot and I thought this was hysterical and giggled like school girls at the sight of all these undies (male and female unlike). The Dutchie couldn't understand the fuss. Her argument: you walk around the beach in a bikini, right?

Our response: Yes, but this isn't a beach. It's just different.

Flesh is a complete non-issue with Dutch people. After almost two years, I'm still not used to it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Frolicking

It started snowing on Friday. Slushy, sleeting, hail-ish snow. It's pretty in flight, but mushy in landing. I was not impressed.

But, by Sunday, the Netherlands was in a little mini-blizzard. It didn't last very long, but as Africans in Europe, of course Mills and I had to get out into the snow. We attempted to catch snowflakes on our tongues (massive fail), and I received my first snowball to the back of my head. Fortunately, I was so well insulated that I didn't actually feel it and just saw splatterings of ice as they bounced off my head.

Here's a picture of me in the snow...

I was born for this weather.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Blyg oisug howughowug

Fing... ers.... are... rusty... can... 't... re... re... re... mem... bah... how... to... ytpe...

Since the last post I have: planned my forthcoming holiday up Kilimanjaro, had high tea with the Queen B's grandkids and completed my memoirs. Or more likely, I have been too lazy to write anything.

After Mama Afrika's final visit, Mills and I were inspired to see Ladysmith Black Mambazo, briefly performing in Rotterdam. I wasn't sure what to expect. I know and love the vocals of the group, but how would they translate it to a European audience, who only know of the performers due to a collaboration with Paul Simon? The answer was surprisingly obvious - charisma and showboating. After an energetic first half, they patiently taught the audience a lullaby; a short couplet repeated syllable by syllable. We were then challenged to out-sing Ladysmith Black Mambazo. A matinee panto crowd couldn't have been more enthusiastic. I thought it was a great way to capture attention... and market their new CD (on sale at the door as you leave, don't be shy now folks!).

The real highlight of the show, however, involved members of the audience trying to master Zulu warrior dancing. Proving yet again that white men can't dance. I almost fell out of my seat laughing.

Otherwise, we've been having a fun time sorting out flat/relocation issues/coupled with visa issues. Long story made short: we were informed that if Mills is unemployed, my visa becomes invalid. This came from a fairly reliable source, but investigation has turned up three other similarly reliable sources who suggest this is not the case. We're not sure who to believe or how to proceed... rather stressful seeing as Mills will be unemployed in two weeks time. So 2009 could either see me happily setting up house in a new flat in Den Haag, or frantically packing my bags before expulsion from Cloggieland.

On the flat hunt, we may have found suitable accommodation and are currently in negotiation with the landlords and their makelaars (real estate sharks) regarding monthly rent. In this country, if successful in finding accommodation through a makelaar, you are charged the standard one month rent up front (fair enough), borg (deposit of one month rent) and an 'admin' fee (commission) of one month rent. So if you're paying 800-euros (about standard for 60-square metres in The Hague), you have an initial outlay of 2400 before you get the key.

In the case of this particular flat, it has a great bathroom (WITH BATH - very rare in this town), but a slight issue in that the washing machine and tumble dryer for the entire apartment block sit in an indentation into 'our' flat's entrance... with a thin plastercast wall doing nothing to stop noise from the machines. Not ideal if you have an uber-hygienic insomniac as a neighbour (a very real threat, judging by my luck with previous flats).

So, we'll see if we can get the rent to reflect his inconvenience. We're still looking at other places and have until the middle of December to vacate our current home. The next few weeks should be fun.

Bruski - just for your boredom levels, I shall endeavour to post more regularly.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mama Afrika

A series of events lead to me joining NCF for a concert on Friday. NCF received a set of tickets from her new hubby, which he was unfortunately unable to attend. I was invited to accompany her on that evening. I couldn't believe my luck and delightedly accepted.

So, off we pottered to watch what turned out to be Miriam Makeba's final public appearance. She performed at the Paridiso in Amsterdam, an entertaining and charismatic singer to the last. I didn't expect to be as emotional as I was when she hobbled, bare-foot, onto the stage. Hell, I can only hope to be 76 and still shaking ass (literally) like she did on Friday. I think she has earned her rest.

The only indication she gave that she might be slowing down, was when she closed the show and mentioned that her "sons" (the men accompanying her on stage), would still remain the Miriam Makeba band... with or without her.

I can't believe she's passed away. What a character on stage. Of course her songs will live on, with her sons and others, but I doubt that anyone else will every manage to capture her energy, her voice and most uniquely, her endearing facial expressions during heart-felt performances.

Hamba kahle, Mama Afrika.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

New horizons

Mills and I are looking for a new apartment.

We recently made the huge decision to stay in the Netherlands for a while longer. This is a full 180 from going home on Mills's expat contract.

As of December 5th, we will no longer be expats. We will be gewone internationals living in the Netherlands. Mills has handed in his notice and as of December will be unemployed. I have extended my contract as recruitment consultant. Our beautiful flat will no longer be ours to call home as this was a lovely expat perk.

Welcome back to the Real World, here's a full cream pie in your face.
Splat.

So we are looking for a new apartment - one that we can afford.

We've seen a number of places. Some are great - and too expensive. Others are nice-ish, affordable-ish and pretty blah. Some are just plain weird.

Like the one with a shower room. Room, with shower head and faucets. Oh and a connection for the washing machine. No towel rails, or water retainers. At least you can watch your washing while you shower, although I don't know how happy I would be showering with electrical appliances.

Another one had the toilet outside of the apartment. Not a shared facility, but the toilet is in the entrance landing, while the rest of the flat is behind the front door. On the upside, this situation would probably help eliminate any trailing... odours.

A personal favourite was the shower cabin in the kitchen. Kitchen plus clear perspex shower. Very... interactive. I think the scariest thing is that Cloggies don't seem to find this set up weird. A shower in your kitchen is apparently normal.

By-passing the comical kitchen/shower situation if you have guests staying over, the bathroom basin was in the lounge cupboard. Odd? All things considered, I think it was actually the large playground outside the terrace that really killed that option for me.

The search continues.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Club Bed

We had our company trip last weekend. We knew nothing about where we were going, but got told to pack the following:
  • passport and/or EU ID card
  • casual/comfy clothes for travelling
  • sport shoes - very NB
  • sport clothes
  • respectable sleeping gear... you won't be sleeping alone
  • dashing clothes for Friday evening
  • even more dashing clothes for Saturday evening
  • ps. the temp is expected to be between 15-23 degrees.

Now, you must understand, the thought of temps between 15-23 was just so exciting after suffering a few days of very chilly early winter, that my colleagues and I were just about peeing our broekies with anticipation. And what was this dashing event we were supposed to be ready for?

On Friday morning, still without a clue, we were picked up from various destinations and driven to Rotterdam Airport, where we learnt that we were going to South France... to a Club Med.

Nice? Naaaaaice.

I didn't know much about Club Meds, but I had heard rumours about luxury accomodation and facilities. The dress code was to ensure that we were suitably attired for dinner each evening. What I hadn't heard about was the food. Full three-course buffet meals, three times a day. All-you-can-eat lobster, paella, seafood, steak, pasta, pizza, salad, cheese, desserts... drinks, beers, liquors, wine, cocktails included. Omigod.

Unfortunately, there was a major mix up with our luggage. This lead to the first team building exercise. There were 25 people in our group, staying in 13 different rooms - all strewn across the resort (about the size of the Cabanas at Sun City). Instead of leaving our luggage in one place, the very helpful French staff took two items of luggage to each room, regardless of who was actually staying in each room. So my roomie and I ended up with KC and AM's luggage, JJ ended up with mine, and my roomie was left running around in uncharacteristic stormy weather trying to establish which room was blessed with her personal belongings. Fun game.

The Club Med was awesome, but there is something to be said for such a large resort with so many family activities... people bring their whole family. There were far too many children under foot for my liking.

The food and free cocktails soon appeased our frayed nerves and we made full use of the all-inclusive price. The dashing outfits were slightly tainted by the glow in the dark jewelry that we managed to get hold of. Classy. The staff hated us... "these English twats, who drink all night and scream all day". Unfortunately for the French barman, we have a number of native French speakers on our staff, who responded accordingly to his pissy comment. We made sure to keep him busy with cocktail orders aaaaaaall night, being as obnoxious as possible. He hated us, but we were okay with it.

It was round about this time that I started to witness why Club Med is called Club Bed by some Europeans. BB was soon having horizontal sex with one of the pool boys (cliche!), but BB is single, 30-something and very able to mingle with whom she choses. Other colleagues were equally indiscreet, but with people within our group, four of them pairing off throughout the weekend. It seriously disturbs me. They all have partners, who they talk about openly. One is married, but basically only together with his wife because of their daughter. I don't think this was his first indiscretion, but it was certainly his first with one of my team mates. Another colleague has just moved in with his girlfriend. He tells everyone that she is The One, and then he has a one night stand with his engaged co-worker in admistration.

Ew.

They are all consenting adults and I try to tell myself that I really shouldn't judge. But I do. I don't know any of them that well - and after this weekend, I don't want to. Am I being too harsh? Am I condescending because I don't feel the need to frolick openly and butt-naked in the heated pool with colleagues at the end of the night? Am I just lucky because I have a ginger hottie (who is growing a MOustache for the month of MOvember) waiting for me at home?

I don't get it.

I (and most of the party) stuck to more wholesome activities of the sporting nature... tennis, volleyball, football, archery and swimming, saunas and Turkish Baths... but only when the frolickers weren't in there, steaming up the facilities further. Ew.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Define funny

I think there's something wrong with my sense of humour. This is not a new realisation. My concern actually started around the time that Jeremy Mansfield was first plumping his Laugh Out Loud show. I almost tried to watch a whole episode once, but I just couldn't do it. I don't get how embarrassing people, pretending to steal their car/wife/dog, making someone believe that Ferdi Ferdinand has flung himself out of a window, qualifies as funny.

Same goes for Ashton Kutcher's PUNKd. I can see why it makes good TV, dramatically inclined people acting out unwitting personal dramas leads to easy ratings, but funny? Not so much.

There's a regular show every evening in the Netherlands, called Trick or Treat. Similar premise. They humiliate/aggrevate/irritate unsuspecting members of the public, and then surprise them with a cheque of 10,000 euros. For example, pretending to be municipal officials, with a permit to dig up a happily retired couple's prize-winning garden (complete with threatening digging machine hanging over their shrubbery). The old lady was threatening to phone the police and the old man was just about having a heartattack when the pretty lady jumps out and goes, "surprise! we're just kidding! Here's your check." A nice price for not knowing you're on camera, but again... funny? Not so much for the old man who was still clutching his chest when the show ended. It's more thuggery with a smile in the name of 'good fun'.

Russel Brand and Jonathan Ross. Calling a grandpa and leaving abusive messages on his answering machine..? Why is this entertaining? I just don't get it.

An overweight chairman breaking his chair and disappearing from shot in a too-serious news show... Now THAT'S funny.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Interesting people

I have a confession. Sometimes I try to distance myself from South Africans. Like watching the Currie Cup final this weekend, at a local Irish pub. We were unfortunate enough to arrive after a group of young South African girls, who were already dominating the front tables at the big screen. Right from the start, it was obvious that it was going to be a long match to watch.

First, they were noisy. Very very noisy. They were a group of about 15 twenty-somethings I guess, who did not speak, or talk, but rather screeched and squawked. Mostly in Afrikaans, with a colourful vocab that made even my ears burn.

When you're in a pub with expats, a large number of whom who can speak Dutch and understand Afrikaans, this is extremely embarrassing. The Dutch think of Afrikaans as baby talk. Less developed and civilised. The kind of talk where you would pat the head of the person attempting to communicate and reward them with a patronising lollypop. When Afrikaans is used in this context, at this volume, it could seem to add weight to how uncivilised this little previous Dutch outpost still is.

We soon concluded that these girls weren't actually rugby fans. They certainly weren't there for the after-game discussion and contemplation of the Springbok squad. We gathered this because the girls SCREAMED every time the Shark/Bull logo was shown, every time the change room was shown and every time the spectators were shown, but oddly enough were not interested when the teams ran onto the field and the match actually began.

Instead, this was when these delicate wallflowers decided to out-support each other by screaming into each other's face, pulling zaps across the room and shouting SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP! at each other. It was delightful. Other South Africans in the room cringed, while some non-South Africans went home - deciding they weren't that interested in the rugby to sit through a full 80 minutes of this torment.

One of the girls, with the same size and endearing charm of Kelly Osborne on drugs, took to screaming in the faces of random, unrelated supporters sitting behind her. Particularly shrieking (in a tone that set the neighbourhood dogs howling) at everyone in the pub to SHUT UUUUUUP! every time the Sharks were lining up for a penalty. The fact that everyone stared at her in stunned silence did not deter her from shouting this catchy refrain through the kick (missed or not). Kelly later ended her evening (a good effort at 7pm) by puking all over herself.

Truly charming. And so proudly South African too.

On the flip side, that same night I met a Swedish gentleman who did his nation proud by explaining to me that he was staunchly right-wing and did not believe in racial and class mingling. And that Nelson Mandela should still be on the recognised terrorist list. I asked him if he truly believed that a 90-year-old man, who can hardly stumble across a stage, was really a risk to world peace... but that was just as Kelly Osborne graced the pub with her gastro-technic skills so we never got to finish that conversation.

All types, eh?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Lost in translation

Today I met a lady from the Philipines. Lovely lady, although her English and general knowledge needs a bit of work. She asked me where I was from and our conversation went like this:

Me: I'm from South Africa.
Her: I don't know where that is.
Me: It's south, in Africa.
Me continuing, thinking she might know parts of SA: Have you heard of Cape Town, or Table Mountain?
Her: No.
Me: Oh. Well, it's a pretty country.
Her [smiling enthusiastically]: Yes! You are pretty. You look like Barbie!
Me: Riiiight..

I decided not to get into the fact that my dark hair and flat chest have never made me an obvious contender for Barbie look-a-like talent, and also chose to ignore the point that she apparently thought I had said that I was pretty.

Later, I told my colleagues I was going to Schuytstraat, which is traditionally pronounced 'Shcout straat'. Being of foreign origins, I tend to make these things up and my pronounciation was closer to 'Shkate straat'. My Dutch colleagues' eyes watered as they tried not to laugh at my attempt.

Today I learnt that sh-kate (schijt-) means 'shit'. I told them that I was heading up Shit Street.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

TAR: Special Edition Part II

Finally, the much awaited, much anticipated sequel of The Amazing Race: Special Edition. Like all bad sequels, it doesn't have much plot and the starring actors weren't paid enough to learn their script.

Tuesday 7th October: Humming the tunes of Chicago, Mills and Koekie must cram the following attractions into their final full day in NYC: Wall Street, Ground Zero, Bull statue in financial district, Circle Line cruise around Manhattan, view Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, view Brooklyn Bridge, Natural History Museum and/or Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Museum. Without too much delay, Koekie and Mills successfully navigate the subway to the financial district, where Ground Zero dominates in its absense of height. Having found Wall Street easily enough (by following the panicked traders), Mills and Koekie lose points as they cannot find the notorious Bull Statue. They bypass this challenge and race up to Pier 16 to join the tourist crowds for a boat tour around Manhattan Island. Koekie shows general lack of geographical knowledge, by admitting that she didn't realise New York City was largely one little island. Having thoroughly sighted and documented the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Brooklyn Bridge, Koekie and Mills must squeeze in lunch at the original John's Pizzeria (where they learn that pizza PIE is in fact, a whole pizza) and then proceed to the Natural History Museum where they must visit as many exhibitions before being evicted at closing time. By evening they are able to squeeze in another visit to the Financial District (the Bull's bronzed balls must be located and groped... mission eventually accomplished), and dinner at Big Nick's New York Diner with a local SA acquaintance.


Wednesday 8th October: Koekie and Mills make up for lost time by making quick progress across Central Park to visit the Metropolitan Museum, severing underestimating the size and interest contained in this building. Whirring through the Asian, Greek and Egyption and other African exhibits, they must draw themselves away and along to the Guggenheim Museum. Here, they lose points for not realising that the Guggenheim is being renovated and therefore largely closed to the public. However, the pair recover quickly, taking one last stroll through Central Park (brisk pace, as Koekie is in need of a toilet again), and heading down to Times Square for a last minute shopping session, where they are lucky enough to glimpse a sighting of the well-known (and aging) Naked Cowboy. Koekie earns points for purchasing a pair track pants with "I *heart* NY" across the bum. Koekie and Mills are on the bus back up the Boston by 3pm.



Mills earns major extra points, when he reveals that he has arranged for the couple to be accommodated at the Boston Backbay Hilton for one night, in celebration of their 6 year anniversary. Big points. Huge.

Thursday 9th October: The cracks are starting to show on our starring couple, with neither wanting to concede that the other has any sense of direction (and neither do). With a few threats on each other's health, Koekie and Mills eventually find their way to their Bostonian hosts' abode and then begin the Boston sightseeing in earnest. First stop, Harvard Square and campus. Mills tries to up his intellect by purchasing Harvard clothing. Back into town, Koekie and Mills find themselves on a WWII amphibious Boston Duck Tour. Mills gains extra points by quacking with enthusiasm when instructed by Conducktor. The day is completed with the best seafood that has been had in a while, and a bit more baseball viewing (where Koekie is able to put her new found Fenway knowledge to conversational use, gaining points for application).


Friday 10th October: Mills and Koekie set of on a walking tour of The Freedom Trail around historical Boston. Sights include: Massachusetts State Houses (both present and original), Old Granary graveyard (where the founders and signers of the Declaration of Independence rest), Quincy Market, Faneuil Hall, Paul Revere's original house, the USS Constitution, Boston Common, Boston Public Gardens and... the bar that inspired the Cheers series (okay, that's not really part of the historical tour). The final challenge for Boston sightseeing, is to find the Samual Adams Brewery. Koekie is not a team player in this event, as she feels that there are more interesting things to do than hunt down a hard-to-find tiny brewery in the middle of nowhere. After a wandering taxi trip, a directionless stomp and having to wait for 50 mins for the next tour, she feels justified. Her whining is dulled somewhat after the third free tasting an hour later.


Saturday 11th October: The Bostonian hosts organise an All-American sports day for the departing guests. Koekie and Mills must face a number of baseball pitches (slow - extra fast) in a batting cage, learn to throw and receive a football like a NFL star, and shoot hoops like Yao Ming. Koekie only braves slow and medium pitches, while Mills attempts (but doesn't get a whiff of) a few extra fast balls. On the basketball pitch, Koekie runs circles around Mills but soon loses interest and runs out of breath. On the football pitch, Koekie proves to be a very stupid receiver, but surprisingly accurate with her throws. Koekie sees a promising career as a quarterback. Nobody has signed her yet.

Sunday 12th October: Koekie and Mills get home to find one half-dead fish and a very shtanky apartment.

The Amazing Race: Special Edition

Welcome to this special episode of The Amazing Race. Please note that this is a delayed recording, however it was enacted in front of a live American audience...


Thursday 2nd October: Mills and Koekie set out at 5am to make their early morning flight to London, then onto Boston. Surprisingly, Koekie is let through passport control without question or complaint. Mills and Koekie arrive in Boston, where they are asked by several different officials what they are carrying in their luggage and how much cash they have on them. Officials quickly lose interest when it is determined that Koekie and Mills have none of the 'good stuff' usually associated with travelers flying out of Amsterdam. Later, Koekie falls asleep during dinner due to jetlag issues.


Friday 3rd October: Mills and Koekie visit their first baseball stadium - in fact that oldest baseball stadium in the US: Fenway Park. Koekie learns a lot about the 86-year Curse of the Bambino and other Red Sox history. These statistics will be tested in knowledge challenges, later in the adventure. By the end of Friday, Koekie and Mills must find their way with local Bostonians up to Waterville Valley in the White Mountains (New Hampshire) to a quiet ski community.


Saturday 4th October: Koekie and Mills wake up to find themselves surrounded by world-renowned North American trees in fall. Most noticably sugar maples. Koekie's challenge of the day is to repeatedly exclaim the following phrase to anyone close enough to listen: "I'm sorry, I just can't get over these colours!" Koekie, Mills and Bostonian hosts set out on a short mountain climbing attempt, which takes longer than anticipated as the group is unable to complete their first task within an acceptable time limit: find your way out of the small village of no more than 300 residents. An hour later, after circumnavigating town centre thrice, they are onto Challenge Two: find your way up the Scauer Trail to take in breath-taking views over the ski slope region. Here, Koekie will find further opportunity to use her reward phrase: "I'm sorry, I just can't get over these colours!" On the way down, the group is faced by Challenge Three of the day: wade across frigid cold mountain spring at high water levels. Do not get clothes, shoes, or other equipment wet.


Sunday 5th October: Back on the road with an early start, the pair must get back to Boston in order to catch the pre-booked bus down to New York City. Their task successfully met, Mills and Koekie must use this 5-hour trip to plan their time on Manhattan Island to maximum capacity. This challenge is also combined with finding their hotel in Upper Westside (with shared facilities: one toilet and shower per 8 double rooms per floor... to be included in future challenges). End of day challenge is an easy one: find a grocery store open after 9pm on a Sunday in order to replenish fresh vitamin levels. Challenge quickly completed, with choice of which store to use. (It's actully harder to find a store that doesn't stay open 24/7.)



Monday 6th October: Up early, but not early enough to avoid toilet rush on shared facilities, Koekie and Mills must in one day complete the following visits: Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Grand Central Station, New York Public Library, Museum of Modern Art, Times Square, Broadway, Rockefella Centre and Central Park. Pressured for time, Mills and Koekie earn extra points by even managing to purchase half-price tickets to watch Chicago on Broadway that same evening. However, this ambitious move almost loses them points when they nearly do not get to the Ambassador Theatre on time. Supper is sacrificed due to time limits, but Koekie suggests that a dose of culture is just as nourishing as a hearty meal. Mills does not concur.

End of part one. Part two to follow shortly. Stay tuned folks!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Back...

Crazy Dame Olga almost killed our fish. Literally. We got back to an overwhelming stench in our apartment and found Deaky trying to wade his way through his revolting brown water (filter properly clogged). Closer inspection showed a finger-think layer of fishfood at the bottom of the bowl. Understandably, Deaky showed great signs of distress as his scales were covered in a grey film and the veins in his nose had burst, developing into an angry red.

Not pretty.

Crazy Dame Olga had been politely asked to feed the fish ONCE in our absence. During this conversation, Crazy Dame Olga lectured me on how cruel we were to our pet because it is very unhappy and lonely and we should provide it with a bigger aquarium, play-things and more stimulation. I nodded patronisingly and ignored her. Crazy woman.

Apparently a fan of Killing Them with Love, she emptied the entire fish food container into the tank, blessing our poor, under-stimulated and lonely fish with food poisoning. She damn near killed our fish in 10 days - something I haven't been able to do in over a year. Hmmm, actually this might have a lot to say about why her children never come to visit her.

After a change of water and spending a few days in fishie quarantine, Deaky seems on the path to recovery as the grey film is lessening and the burst veins are less aggressive. Poor bugger.

In other news, the trip to the US was okay. Not much to talk about really.

...just kidding.

More to follow. All in good time.... All in good time...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Superflous

I was wearing very complicated pants (sorry, trousers) today. They require four buttons on the outside, two on the inside and one zip to complete the dressing process. Well, 'require' is too strong a word. I'm pretty sure that at least 5 of those buttons are decorative more than constructive, but they're there so they have to be undone and done every time I go to the loo.

Needless to say, with all the unbuttoning and buttoning, I forget to do the zip nine times out of ten...

I think it reflects my life at the moment. I've got so much on, I keep forgetting the minor - but rather important - bits.

We're off to Boston and New York on Thursday morning. Not sure if I'll get a chance to blog before then. If not, see you well into October... and THEN I'll resume regular blogging. Promise.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Random

I don't like birds, especially not the vicious pigeons and seagulls that hover malevolently over you when you're trying to enjoy a quiet bakje of patat. But if I did have to pick a favourite, it would be coots.

Yes. Coots.

a) Their massive feet are comical.
b) Their fishing style depends largely on bouyancy. From a floating position, they propel themselves down under the water only to then bob to the surface like a balloon released from a weight, complete with 'bloop' noise as they break the surface. It amuses me.

I saw two having a mating/territorial fight the other day. There was squawking and pecking and flapping of watery wings. Other coots were swimming in and squawking at the same time, as if egging the culprits on. If I could speak Coot (and I've watched them enough to think that I can), they would've been saying, "fight! fight! fight!"

Coots are funny.

In other news, I got a new blender from my folks. Mills and I have been experimenting with all sorts of smoothie concoctions. Great fun all round. I am being ESPECIALLY careful around the blades, considering the fact that I recently lost the skin off my top knuckle in an unfortunate grat(er)ing incident. It was pretty... there were pieces of gore caught in the grid. Naaaice.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Me again

Yes, it's been my birthday for a long time. It's still my birthday month and the birthday balloons have dwindled to about a dozen sad limp (sometimes rather rude) sacks. They aren't allowed to be thrown away until they pop, mostly to annoy Mills.

It's going to be long. Please know this is abridged, and I'm tired so I hope it sort of makes sense.
Here we go, kids.


It started with NCF's wedding about a week and a half ago. The day before, it was tipping down with rain and the car which was supposed to transport bride, bridal assistants and bridal gear to the venue... broke down. Okay. New car was borrowed and things were back on the move.

Unfortunately, the replacement car was accidently parked overnight in a restricted area and so, come the wedding day, the bride found herself sans transport. Again. Groom was sent to retrieve towed car from police station and frantic calls were made to find a third replacement car to get the bride to the venue.

The third car, loaded with bridal gear, popped open the boot just before heading onto the highway... so we decided this was the third in the list of bad luck incidents. To the sounds of "I'm getting married in the morning... get me to the church on time..." we hummed our way through to Apeldoorn without too much further incident. The rain stopped and the sun came out - a true blessing in this country.

The bridesmaid dresses were... interesting. Lovely colour and the matching jewelry was stunning. Unfortunately not many of the (four) bridesmaids actually fitted into our 'fitted' dresses. My dress was so bad that my nipples would have been showing - nothing like detracting a bit of attention from the bride. Fortunately the self-invited bride's great-auntie was there to do some emergency darning and last-minute stitching. Nobody's meant to be looking at the bridesmaid, and she certainly took centre stage, so dress woes were soon forgotten at the party afterwards.

My folks have been visiting since then, which has been lovely - and trying - at times. You know what they say - fish and family go off after a few days. Hey, I'm allowed to say things like that... it's what my mother says every time I go to visit them!

Things we did in the week that my folks were here:

- Visited Apeldoon in Gelderland (we had to, this was where NCF got married). Beautiful part of the country, even has mild hills. Very exciting to see change in altitude in the landscape.

- Visited Utrecht to show the folks NCF's new canal house. Dad added a little excitement by getting himself well and truly lost on the other side of town. All he had to do was follow the canal, but he ended up in another district, in the rain. His free-walking rights were revoked after I had to fetch him from under the Dom Tower (the very main and noticable landmark in Utrecht).

- Toured The Hague is almost entirety: Mauritzhuis (Girl with the Pearl Earring), Escher Museum, Madurodam, Binnehof (buildings of Parliament), queen's palaces, watched Queen Beatrix parading through The Hague to open Parliament... walked through Spui and the Passage... visited my office area, picnicked in Haagse Bos and walked around Clingendael (where dad ran away from the big scary cows. Mooooo)... had dinner up the Sapphire Tower to watch the sun go down over Rotterdam Harbour, amongst other things.

- Viewed the beaches: had drinks in Scheveningen, patat in Kijkduin (where we were attacked by vicious pigeons and malintentioned seagulls), cycled through Wassenaarseslag (the dunes, another hilly area in the Netherlands)

- Walked around Leiden, went in a windmill

- Went to Amsterdam to visit the Anne Frank Museum. The actual location of the Frank's hideaway, the walls still plastered with pictures she stuck up in an attempt to make up for not breathing fresh air for over two years. Yikes.

- Toured Rotterdam, visiting the Cube Houses (yes, people actually live in these buildings!), the Witte Huis (one of the only pre-WWII buildings remaining after Rotterdam was bombed to shit in the 1940s), the Erasmus Bridge and the Euromast. We even managed to drag my acrophobic parents right up to the top of this tower. Fortunately, my mother had just had her prescription glasses stolen, so she wasn't able to see how high up we actually were. I joke. She would've been able to see, had she opened her eyes. We followed this visit with a tour of Rotterdam police stations (to report fore-mentioned stolen glasses), in an attempt to find one police station still open after 16.30. We didn't succeed. In the Netherlands, crime stops at clock-out time. Apparently, the criminals go home when we do.


- Finally, we visited Delft. Walked through the Old Church and New Church (where the Dutch royal family members have been entombed since something-centuries ago. The New Church was originally built in the 1400s, dunno when the Old Church was built). We also made an attempt to visit one of the infamous Delft Pottery Houses. No success there, plenty of signs but no Pottery warehouse materialised at the end of our wandering. After a number of attempts, we decided that they could keep their hand-painted secrets and just bought a few things from the closest tourist shop. Klaar.

Right, I thinkt that's most of the update from this side of the equator. I have a headache now from thinking too hard. Good night - will try to update more regularly from now, I promise!

(well, after the upcoming holiday to the US... next week. Too much to do, too little time. Yes, I know... life is hard.)

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Happy birthday to me

You know you're getting old when... you really, really don't feel like doing anything in particular. Is that pathetic, or just a fact of life? Alright, alright... I know the answer already. I'm happy with being pathetic. No really, I am.


Mills woke me up at 20-past-sparrow's fart (I refused to open my eyes) by singing happy birthday to me in Afrikaans, Dutch and English. I succeeded in ignoring him and he let me go back to sleep until a normal hour. I then got treated to a second redition of all three verses.


I decided to get to the shops, first thing in the morning to take the computer to be seen to (yes, I hate crowds so much that I would rather run errands before opening presents on my birthday, just to avoid the masses from 11.30 onwards). The computer needed to be fixed so that I could use the photoshop that I had gotten for my birthday the week before, and also be able to use the printer (which I knew I was getting from Mills). Yes, an electric appliance. But not just any printer. A photo/copier/scanner/printer.

Anyway... so for three hours on the morning of my 27th birthday, we stood in a computer shop trying to explain that we did not know why our CD-Rom was no longer working. It. Just. Stopped. Working. These things happen in my house.

Eventually, we were able to retrieve the computer in full working condition, but not before I managed to drop kick my phone across a street and go over on my ankle, splaying my shopping across a tram stop (two separate incidents). Let's just say the day didn't start off spectacularly.

Mills made up for the late start by filling the house with 27 balloons, and producing a fluffy pink tiara complete with BIRTHDAY GIRL in pink lettering. I loved it. This is how a birthday should be. I unwrapped my prezzies (which mostly consisted of printer accessories) and we followed up with an attempt at home-made sushi. Interactive, but messy. We ended up eating all the ingredients separately.

The day culminated in rented movies, home-made fudge* and popcorn. Of course, during the making of the popcorn, I managed to set off the firealarm, but besides that it was a very quiet night in. Sometimes being boring is just so.... nice.

* Future reference: do not attempt to catch liquid hot fudge with bare fingers. Hot fudge burns like fuck and does not let go. Noted.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

When does naivety become stupidity?

When I was young... back in the good old days... I believed that people were clever because of the simple reason that humans are smarter than monkeys. Slowly, through many interactions with fellow human beans, I realised that having opposable thumbs and advanced vocal cords does not equate intelligence.

But people still amaze me.

One example - people who need a smack on the back of the head before they remember they have to pay for their goods at the supermarket. While their goods are being swiped, they stand with their heads lolling slightly to one side, vacantly gazing into the distance as a string of drool slowly dangles from their mouth. The teller rings up the total and then - only then - do they stop excavating their nasal passages long enough to produce a wallet (which inevitably holds nothing but 5c pieces or saving coupons). Does it come as a surprise that you have to pay? Are you hoping that if you take long enough, the teller will lose interest and wave you through?

Another example: some of the candidates that I deal with on a daily basis. At the moment, I am being stalked by a particularly bright speciman.

Delphine.

Delphine applied for a position, which she wasn't qualified for. I phoned her to explain that she didn't fit the bill because speaking native French was not the same as speaking native Dutch, but we discussed her experience in more detail. Standard procedure. At the end of the conversation, I told her to keep checking the website, apply for positions that she is suitable for (including language requirements) and wished her all the best with her job search.

Del decided that we were best friends. She called me twice a week. She emailed me three times a day. She asked me what I thought of jobs which were not advertised through our agency. Should she apply one at a time, or should she apply for more than one? Do I think she should focus on positions in Dublin, Amsterdam or London? I gritted my teeth and explained that I was not her personal recruiter, that she should back up a bit. She did. For a while.

Then, Del came back to tell me that she had been offered a job. Fantastic - I was genuinely happy. Now she could stop harrassing me. She was a bit confused though, because she didn't remember actually applying for the position...

Del had received an email. In email was a 'contract' (one page in block letters) detailing the following: she was offered a position of Secretary to Beck's Beer General Manager in London. Five thousand pounds a month. Five year contract, two weeks notice period. Twelve weeks holiday per year. She didn't apply for the position and she didn't interview for the position, she just received a job offer. Please sign on the dotted line and send us your details. Warning bells, anyone?

Then, she admitted, she had called me (in my personal recruiter capacity) to discuss the fact that these people wanted four hundred pounds from her, in order to secure her work permit. "But I thought you said I don't need a work permit for England because I'm French?"

You don't, Del, you blessed imbecile. Please do not send any money.

Here's the kicker. Del is 44 years old. According to her CV she has worked in several different countries, including South Africa. When does naivety become stupidity, and how can someone like that actually reach the age of 40 without accidently driving over her own head?

Anyway, Delphine is back. She sent me one email, which I chose to ignore, having more pressing things to do with my time. She sent me a second email, asking if I had received her first email. I replied that I had and explained, again, that I had other candidates and clients to deal with on a daily basis and would get to her inane query in due course. She replied to that very email, sending me the third in one day, asking if I had received her first two emails.

I replied, with the blessing of my manager: "Del, please see my previous answer (email below yours). We cannot justify responding to any more of your emails. Good luck with your job search."

Is this woman stupid, or just emotionally retarded?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Roughing it

This last weekend was a success. We didn't get rained on (much), we didn't get (too) wet and we didn't get divorced.


Mills and I joined a dozen or so friends for a canoeing and camping weekend in Limburg. For someone who doesn't like water, I've sure spent a lot of time on it in the last year and a half.



The weather forecast was dismal. Rain, thundershowers and chances of sun. Mills and I boarded our canoe, nervously, and set off. In a giant circle. Then we hit a bank. Then we overcorrected and hit the other bank. And then went back to the other side.



Zig
Zag
Zig



By this stage, the other six canoes were well down the river and we were still trying to get ourselves facing the right direction. I helped matters by shouting instructions from the front of the canoe. "Can you actually see that we're heading for a bank? Are you even trying? Hard right damnit, paddle! Mills! What's your problem, goddamnit. You are useless!"



Mills did his bit by not hitting me on the back of the head with an oar.



Once I realised that, no matter how much I willed it, I could not steer from the front, we settled into a fairly strong rowing pattern. It was a great test of character for me to let this go. Huge. The women in my family are a) highly competitive b) massive control freaks.



Fortunately we soon found the current and we had the wind at our backs, so things got pretty cushy. We put the oars across our knees and had a casual drift downstream. We even had our water-proof ponchos at the ready when a brief thunderstorm struck.



Speaking of water-proof... the recommendation was made that valuables were placed in plastic bags to ensure that they stayed dry. I decided to put my valuables in a plastic bag, in my camping bag, in the van which was driving most of our stuff to the camp site. Others chose to put their stuff into a dry-bag made specifically for camping purposes. They put this bag into one canoe. More to come on that.
The international ferry between Belgium and the Netherlands.


We made it to the camp site without (too much) incident, although there was the inevitable race for the finish. Mills and I would've won, but we were disqualified for overshooting the pier. We were just going that fast. Paddling back upstream to the end point, into the wind, was not such a fun way to end the day.

Setting up camp on the Belgium side of the river, I was not entirely convinced whether we were camping, or squatting. There were no ablution facilities, and we could either camp in a field of cows(patts), or practically on top of the canoe storage area. Slightly dodgy, but anyway, set up camp we did. We found a little tavern to abuse their toilet facilities and did our best to avoid the ubiquitous stinging nettle in our camp site.

The Dutch have a wonderful product, called Kant en Klaar BBQ sets. Three euros a pop, they are compact, portable and trashable mini-barbeque sets. They come complete with fire container, wire grid, charcoal and firelighters.


Braaing... Dutch style.

Handy it may be, but it ain't no braai, and it certainly didn't pack enough heat to defrost the solidly frozen burger patties. Our Scandinavian companions decided to combat this problem by putting the (frozen) burgers in to cook with the baked beans. It was nasty. Despite their protestations (they ate it by the spoonful - COLD - the next morning), I have to say it tasted like dog food. And yes, I can know for sure because I once tried my dog's food, which (unlike the hamburger concoction) was actually nourishing.

Despite the optimistic weather forecasts, we were pleasantly surprised with a beautifully clear evening. The Europeans marvelled at the beauty of the visible stars. It wasn't karoo desert quality, but hey we could see more than five, so I enjoyed it too.


I think the best part of the camping trip was that it didn't rain. Not much anyway. And it certainly didn't rain over night. The next morning (after squatting for a pee on top of stinging nettle - it's like a bloody electric shock to the tender bits), we set off downriver again. And again, I put my valuables in the plastic bag, in the camping bag, in the van.

Unfortunately, the couple tasked with transporting the valuable-laden dry-bag on the river soon established that the dry bag does not handle being submerged very well. Their dog decided to jump ship when the rapids got a bit too rapid. Canoe + rapid rapids + panicky dog = wet couple and very wet valuables. Although not known for its white river rafting facilities, the Maas river took a particularly quick decline across a few short metres and it was a few precious seconds before the dry(wet)-bag was located. It was too late. The tally was as follows:
5 Blackberries. Destroyed.
3 Phones. Destroyed.
2 Wallets. Sodden.
1 Camera. Soaking.
1 80G Ipod. Ruined.
4 sets of car keys...
...it was a fairly tense moment when it came to starting the cars after that. That would've been an expensive taxi trip home!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Oh, say can you see...

Today was scary. I woke up before my alarm and there was no chance of going back to sleep. Today was the day. D-Day.

I was going to apply for a holiday visa to the US.

The run up to this momentous occassion was nerve-wracking. First a phone call to book an appointment. None of this "Hi, my name is Suzie-Jo and how may I be of service on this zippy-zappy-happy day" shit. The US consulate answers their non-immigrant visa query line thusly: "credit card number."

You see, you're charged 15 smackaroony-Euros before you can even say your name. And if your visa application is not successful (she types while touching wood with crossed fingers), you have to pay another 15 smackaroonies to book another appointment - if you want to try again.

Anyway, so appointment booked. Now I just need to gather the generic visa application supporting documents. I've done this before.

Letter of employment. Check.
Bank statements (printed and stamped by bank, nice touch). Check.
Proof of residence. Check.
Copies of everything. Check. Check. Check.
Application document, printed and signed. Check.
Very specific US visa photos (both ears showing, no teeth visible, exactly one half inch between head and border. NO white borders). CHECK.

Now, bearing in mind that Nelson Mandela has only recently been removed from the US terrorist threat list, and I don't even have a Nobel Prize issued in this century or the last, I was nervous. Being South African, I too could be viewed as a security threat. I didn't want to leave anything to chance.

So it was that I had printed my planned route to the Consulate. I also had alternative routes in case a bus driver had a seizure or a train got derailed. I had gone over the possible trick questions and answers. The phone call to book the appointment alone had left me nervous, how intimidating was the actual visa application going to be?

I arrived almost an hour early for my appointment. I removed the battery from my phone (as instructed) and made sure not to pack my penknife, kitchen cutlery or any other sharp objects in my bag. I left my fire extinguisher and mace spray at home, but my plastic ballerina shoes still set off the security scanner (huh?).

I got to the till and fanned out my documentation. I handed across passport, application, residence permit and photo. I waited for the questioning.

Stamp, stamp. Stamp. Scrawl.
"Xxx Employment Agency, huh? You're a good person to know."
Huh? Sorry? Do you want to see my letter of employment?
"No. So what sort of jobs do you recruit?"
Um, internationals and expats. Do you want a job? You've got my details.. *sly wink*
Stamp. Sign.
"Your visa has been approved, you will receive it by registered post in 3-4 days."

But don't you want my suggested itinery, or my specifically printed bank statements? Where's the part where you question me about my terrorist intentions and previous illegal activities? What kind of a visa service are you running here?

Every single person at the embassy was nothing but polite, friendly and efficient. I'm still a little bit thrown. Where's the catch? Well, besides the fact that I don't actually have my passport back yet... I think I'll finally relax once I've got that back in my grubby little paws.

Cross your thumbs and hold your toes that it comes back soon, because I hate being separated from my precious (both worthless and priceless) SA passport.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

How to win friends and influence people - 2

For those of you who missed the first instalment (where were you last month?), please read it here.

Right, now that we're all caught up, let's proceed onto Step Four, when meeting another group of new people...

Get ready to leave home. Remember to pack lipstick, adjust earings, add fresh spray of deodorant, apply cream to hands. Dry skin is the sign of a girlfriend who does not care for her appearance. Go to the loo beforehand. Also remember to pack spare tampons, it being that time of the month and all. Stay on top of your game, think of all eventualities.

Walk with boyfriend to pick up boyfriend's new colleague from hotel. Smile, make social chit-chat. Shine as expat partner. Walk through busy shopping streets and city centre to join other colleagues at restaurant. Meet other colleague's family and in-laws. Shining. Exemplary social skills.

Half an hour after meeting all these new people, realise that unzipped fly is gaping and you have just walked through town and met a range of new acquaintances, flashing your panties to anyone who cared to notice.

Step Four: Make sure to leave a lasting first impression. People who prioritise minor details such as gaping fly zips are easily forgotten.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Orania and lemons

First, Let's talk nutrition. You know you're supposed to eat five fruit and veg a day? You do, right. It's common knowledge, except maybe for the fat kids in the US. It's not their fault, they can't hear advice over the desperate beating of their labouring hearts.

Everyone knows it, but not everyone does it. I don't, but I know I should. Do colourful jelly beans count? They're raspberry and spring onion flavoured. Or something.


Anywho, it's not common knowledge in the Netherlands. In fact, they've only recently started campaigns to get cloggies eating any fruit and veg at all (no, patat does NOT count. Neither does mayo).


The nutritional authorities have started off slowly... easing the nation into the idea of two fruit a day. Just a gentle two. Don't want to shock the system too much. Broodje, kroket, patat met saus remain the staple diet, but you should be getting your two "stukjes" fruit as well, mmmkay.


An overweight colleague was recently advised by a personal nutritionist that she should eat five a day. "FIVE!" she exclaimed, stretching her fingers in front of my face to demonstrate exactly how insane her consultant was. "Not two... but five stukje every day!"


Yes, that's what the rest of the health-conscious world has been told to aim for. For quite a while now. Just FYI.


Anywho, it's not that the cloggies really need it. They may be a big nation by build, but they are not particularly overweight. It's all the cycling in strong wind and rain. They can eat patat and crap like that because they burn it off on the way home. Bastardos.

----------------


In other news, lookie what I found...






That's right kids, it's a monument to me: The Twisted Koeksuster.


At this stage, I would like to take a moment to thank my parents, my friends, the ballerinas and of course my long-suffering boyfriend, without all of whom I would never have had the courage to start the bold course of blogging about my extremely exciting day-to-day life.


Unfortunately, I couldn't be there for the unveiling... as it happened five years ago, and in Orania. What a pity.


A monument to the lekker twisted treat. Novel.

This pic lead me to the Orania website... Interesting. And mildly amusing.

"Orania is not an impulse, but a reply is a weakness and strength at the same time. A weakness because people tend to react more easily and quickly on impulse, even if it means jumping from the frying pan into the fire. A strength because a well thought-out answer stands the test of time much better and proves its value over a period of time.

But what is the question to which Orania wants to be the answer? To know this, is to know why Orania continues to grow, albeit slowly... For that reason different perspectives are offered around the questions the Afrikaner is facing. By rejecting some [blacks - Ed] and accepting others [whites- Ed], it also clearly indicates what kind of answer Orania wants to be."


What the fuck does that all mean? It's very profound. Maybe if I joined the Kaalvoet Woman's Group (ligit name for the active women's organisation in Orania. Their best known effort? Their omage to me, I mean twisted koeksisters), I would have a better understanding.

Maybe I'm being unfair. I don't know these gentle folk (with an "extensive display of firearms" in their local museum), so I shouldn't pass judgment. But I'm still gonna. Cos I think it's funny. Sorry, but those home schooled kids stand the same chance of sanity as Josef Fritzl's inbred lot (maybe less, cos Fritzl's kids have seen the light. Literally).

I think they have a nice website though, for what that counts.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Losing grip

Seven. The number of glasses I have broken in our home, this year.

I think it was five or six last year, but I can't rightly recall. When we moved into this little abode, we had so many drinking glasses we couldn't keep them all in one place. Now the remaining 6 (only two matching) look rather pathetic on their assigned shelf.

On Friday night, I dropped one with such skill (in the lounge) that we are still finding shards of rose-coloured glass as far a field as the bedroom.

But please don't think I'm a messy clutz. Well... not always. I recently managed to break a glass so cleanly that a very neat circle, about a centimetre deep, simply formed around the rim and then seperated from the base. Precision, like a glass cutter.

I think what amazes me the most, is that I'm not a clutz when it comes to someone else dropping something. Then I have the reflexes of a mongoose, and am likely to catch the spilled object without stopping to think.

When I drop something, however, I do one of two things:
  1. All available limbs spasm into action at the same time, inevitably resulting in me kicking/elbowing/headbutting the falling object with further force into the floor.
  2. Or my brain shuts down completely, switches into drool mode and I do nothing until the final plate has stopped spinning.

Both equally (in)effective.

At work, last week, I did not break a glass. Hoorah. But I did manage to drop a glass from the top of a flight of stairs, sending it clunking all the way down to the bottom, without breaking. Fortunately our stairs (that I have not fallen down - yet) are carpetted, which is what saved this particular glass. But it did make a splendid noise and got everyone's attention.

I'm not even sure how I did it. I was carrying two glasses - one in either hand. How hard can it be? I'm twenty-sss--omething, and I'm pretty sure I've got nursery school reports commending my fine motor coordination. I know I have two fully-functioning opposable thumbs. Why can't I hold onto things?

Grip, damnit. Grip!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Neeeeighbours

At 23.45 last night (well, tonight, seeing as I am now up), our crazy and inconsiderate neighbour upstairs decided it would now be appropriate to start cleaning their floor (our ceiling).

Words cannot describe how much I hate them for waking me up with their household chores. At least twice a week they scrape some sort of brush or metal object across their floor. Think about nails scraping down a chalk board, then reproduce that noise across every square inch of the ceiling. They are very thorough. This noise is annoying enough at 8pm on a week night, but when it wakes you up at midnight... then I think I could have just cause to plead mitigating circumstances in court.

I eventually gave up on trying to ignore the noise (previous experience shows that bashing a broomstick on the ceiling doesn't work, neither does actually going upstairs and telling them about the noise), so now I'm trying to think of ways for them to slowly, painfully - but most importantly, QUIETLY - curl up and die.
  1. Personal favourite - choking on the amonia fumes. Could claim it was a by-product of obsessive cleaning.
  2. Attacked by an unexpected swarm of African bees (unfortunately not the quietest option, but could still be satisfactory).
  3. This option will require more effort than the other two, but could result in a mental home: getting hold of their landline and then calling them at irregular hours... putting down the phone as I hear them reaching it upstairs.
  4. (or 3a.) Getting hold of their landline and then listing them as contact for as many items as possible on http://www.marktplaats.nl/, stating that they only speak Swahili and therefore need to be spoken to very, very slowly.
  5. I am tempted to list falling off the balcony as one option, but that would just be in sick distaste. So scrap that.
  6. Hypertension (revenge for what they give me).

Any other suggestions welcome. Creative juices are slow, so I'm sticking with option 1 as my favourite choice for now.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Komkommertijd

Did you know that average temperatures in the Netherlands have risen by almost 2 degrees in the last hundred years? That's faster than the average global warming registered across Europe. This, and the rising water levels, will no doubt have adverse affects on the low-lying Cloggies, but let me tell you a secret... come a little bit closer, children...

... the Netherlands is just AWESOME in summer. And I don't mean summer as in "the months between spring and autumn", but rather summer as in those few days where the wind dies down briefly and it doesn't rain for 48 straight hours. When the temps rise to 25 degrees or above, which (if the average temp stats are right) is going to happen more and more frequently. Throw in the long summer evenings (the sun only sets as late as 10.30pm), and you've got yourself a wonderful recipe for bliss.

I think I can categorically state that cycling around The Hague in this weather is one of the best feelings of contentment that you are ever likely to experience. Couple this with the fact that it's been school holidays, and the working hours become known as 'Komkommertijd' (rough translation: very quiet and unproductive because you can't get anything done due to lack of work force).

It's almost impossible to get any service during July and August as shops, restaurants and service providers all go on holiday. Generally for an entire month. No replacements or skeleton staff, simply pop a sign on the door and close up for a few weeks (don't even bother with an exact date: "we should reopen around the beginning of September.." will suffice). Our GP just changed his outgoing voice message - stating how long he would be away and leaving a number to contact a hospital in his absense. How do you think this would sit in South Africa?

Frustrations over the service industry aside, komkommertijd is probably my best time of year in the Netherlands. It's similar to staying in Joburg over Christmas and New Year. What a pleasure.

Unfortunately, these factors of maximum temperatures and minimal people only combine perfectly for a few all-too-short weeks, and then it'll be back to dodging gaggles of spotty teens on their way to school. Until then, let me reiterate: summer in the Netherlands is just... sublime.

Monday, July 28, 2008

3 Reasons to...

...get married:
  1. You get a new ring, new clothes and new shoes.
  2. Lots of presents. I like presents.
  3. You get to go on a decadent, smoochie holiday.

...have children:

  1. You get to call them things like "Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii", "Fish and Chips" and "Sexfruit".
  2. You get to dress them in things like this.
  3. You get a pram to run over other (pramless) shopper's toes - with 'inadvertant' aggression.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I own the 70s

Okay, I swear this is the last one for now. And now I feel obliged to add a piccie of Deaky, to show that I am not completely prejudiced towards fur and four paws. Although, I still maintain that Kemba is easier to cuddle than Deaky.

Am recovering from a 70s party last night. Fantastic theme, mostly because of my hair. While the rest of the guests were wearing afros (Mills looked like Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons), I simply blow-dryed my hair in the style that it usually takes on without my consent... The Farrah Fawcett-Lee-Majors.


Everybody else was hugely jealous of my locks, obviously. I was born a few decades too late. God, I wish the 1970 hairdos would come back for real (not just as a kitsch party trick).


In preparation for the 70s party, I went into town on Saturday morning to purchase a gift for the birthday girl. One gift, for her. That was the shopping list. I returned home with three pairs of new shoes, two tops, and a few other goodies. Cycling home with all the packets was fun. Mills asked me if I actually remembered to get anything for the birthday girl. My response... "What birthday girl...? Have you seen my new shoes?"


Focus. It's all about focus.


ps. the lion collection pictured with Deaky are remnants of the EK Oranjegekte earlier this year. Albert Heijne supermarkets handed them out with pretty much all purchases.


pps. Deaky can just be seen in the background. He loves the camera.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Kemba

How beautiful is this cat? So far, he's only spread his white fur on Mills's black suits and chewed on one of our potplants. He's also taken to hiding in amongst Mills's shoes. I think they (the cat and Mills, not the cat and shoes) have bonded already.
ps. Due to paranoia levels, Deaky has been shipped off to a fish-sitter.

pps. No, I am not turning into a crazy cat woman.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Vegetables, animals and anniversaries

In the news this week: Summer makes a comeback. Standing in 14 degrees with wind and rain, while waiting for the bus this afternoon, I'm still hoping.

We spent the weekend at the Gentsefeesten - Europe's second biggest (yet, surprisingly almost unheard of) festival held in Gent. Belgium beer, chocolates, waffles, good food, great music, street performers and generally a great vibe. Highly recommended if you're in the region in July. I did feel my age after walking the festival streets for 12 hours... I was just too grumpy to be jostled in the tented dancefloor. Call me Cinderella - I apparently turn into some sort of vegetable at midnight.


In other news, NCF asked me to be one of her bridesmaids. I am deeeelighted. I may not be interested in my own wedding, but I do enjoy a good marital celebration!

Speaking of marital status, the Sheltered South African Kid is engaged. Well not really engaged. Maybe more betrothed. Or pre-engaged. I'm not sure. It all seems a bit Standard 3-ish to me. She and her almost-sort of-fiancee celebrated their 5 month anniversary recently and he asked her to be his premarital partner... sort of a commitment before a commitment. They decided to do the pre-engagement route because, and I quote, "they don't want to rush things."

I can see that. Especially as they're celebrating each month as an anniversary. All five of them.

Mills and I were always very boring. We ignored the months until they added up to years. Then we celebrated the first two and lost interest in that (well, technically Mills spoilt me with gifts, while mine weren't quite as thoughtful). Since then our anniversaries have been the less conventional, "five years, huh? Long time. Did you remember to get milk on your way home?"

We're so romantic. I like it.

Oooh, in other other news, Mills and I will be cat-sitting for the next 2 weeks. My colleague is going on holiday and needs someone to take in Kemba, her beautiful white and grey cat. Of course, I jumped at the chance. Mills was not thrilled but my enthusiasm drowned out his cynicism. Kemba arrives tomorrow.

My question is: will Kemba eat Deaky?

Monday, July 14, 2008

How to win friends and influence people

When arriving at (yet another) company event with Mills's colleagues, I try to introduce myself from the start. We meet so many expats, people who are just visiting, people who have just arrived or people who are back on business, that it's difficult to keep up with who's who. I start with my name and my relation to the person who actually works in the company. I find this has been a good way to avoid the awkward, "should I know you, do you work for XXX company?"

So at the recent BBQ on Saturday, I confidently marched up to the first group of people I didn't recognise, stuck out my hand and announced, "Hi, I'm Koekie. I'm Mills's boyfriend."

Step One: Introduce yourself as the wrong gender.

Having got over that little hurdle (I didn't speak to the particular group again, and I noticed, they didn't make my effort in my direction either), I stuck to talking with people I know. I was engrossed in one such conversation, and was aware of a screaming child having a temper tantrum somewhere in our vicinity. It was noisy and I was doing a good job of blocking the crying child out. What I didn't realise was that said-screaming child was having said-screaming fit directly behind us. I found this out when I took a small step back, and ACCIDENTLY trod on his precious blonde locks. Which were, in my defence, right behind my goddamn foot. Not surprisingly, child screamed harder. Where were his parent's through this? Oh, they were hovering over him and politely asking him to please calm down and stop making such a scene. That worked out well.

Step Two: Abuse children in full view of other guests.

Once the parents finally decided to remove screaming child from the middle of the social gathering, we could get back to adult conversation. In the throes of a no doubt highly entertaining and intellectual argument, I flailed my arms around to make my point. Unfortunately flailing hand connected with another guest's boob, who happened to be walking past at that stage. My hand landed, palm-open, on her left breast. At least a D-cup, I reckon. They were pretty hard to miss.

Step Three: Inappropriately grope other guests.

We left shortly after that. I don't know why, I had only embarrassed myself in front of a quarter of the crowd. I was just gaining momentum!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Near death experience

"Today, ah nearly daaaaied..." Okay, maybe not "died" but I nearly got hurt. Okay, it doesn't sound dramatic anymore, but it could've been way worse than a dented desk drawer.

You see, I sit at the end of our office, under the large round clock. I love that clock. It reminds me of a good ol' fashioned train station clock - the kind that you can see from the far end of the platform. And up until 1.15 this afternoon, that clock has never shown any signs of giving in to gravity.

I know the exact time because that's when it decided to lose it grip on the wall, fall to the shelf below, smash a glass vase behind my head and bounce to the ground, taking out my desk drawers and landing 10cm from my right ankle.

The whole episode was accompanied by much crashing, smashing and other heavy noises as the timepiece made its way to the ground. Everyone in the office came rushing to the source of the noise.

I was pretty sure what was happening behind me, but as there is not much space to move, I had nowhere to go. I also realised that if I pushed my chair back to stand up, I would probably move INTO the clock's path. And so, I froze. With very wide eyes, waiting for something to hit me.

The noise stopped and the clock came to a halt at the ground by my feet. My chair was surrounded by smashed glass and broken furniture and I hadn't been touched. My colleagues cleared the mess and wheeled my chair away. I don't think I could've stood up if I tried. That massive clock almost landed on me.

Having witnessed the whole event, my manager now concedes that things do "just break" around me. He bought me a lovely giftset of a bottle of Baileys and two Baileys glasses as compensation for my near-miss.

Godverdomme.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Get on the barge, Marge

Bum to bum, crotch to crotch, or (if you really want spice things up) crotch to bum... which one is more appropriate when squeezing past your boyfriend's family members?

This was a dilemma frequently visited over the last weekend on the recent family get-together. Why a narrow boat/barging experience in the rural region of Milton Keynes, I hear you ask? Keep right on asking, cos I ain't too sure either.

The trip started out with a practise run as Mills and I arrived the night before boarding, sharing a matchbox-size apartment in London with his sister, her boyfriend and his parents. We ended up sleeping on a blow-up mattress under the dining room table (not all of us, obviously), which is ironically where his sister and her boyfriend ended up sleeping on the barge (okay, they were sleeping ON the dining room table, but that's just detail).

We were meeting the oldest sibling and his wife on the barge the following afternoon, which would complete the set. Eight noisy, opinionated adults on one narrow barge for three nights.

Hmmm...

Before getting on board, we were shown a highly educational video, which included long, drawn-out sequences of happy people smoothly barging through beautiful sunsets, and short split-second shots of random stuff, like the correct knot for mooring the boat and specific technique to rudder steering. The video ended the soothing voiceover, "all you need for a successful barging holiday, is common sense."

And I thought, hmmmm...

All aboard, and there was a mad rush for the bed allocation. Three double beds and one dining table/bed. Being last onboard, Kj and her boyfriend lost that fight. The double bed/dining table was easy enough to construct. All you had to do was take the table lid off, remove the legs, replace them with shorter legs, pull the first cushion out, remove the wooden seat underneath, remove the third cushion to make way for the second cushion, pull two doves out of your right sleeve and click your heels three times. Voila! One times double bed and nowhere to store the kettle, cups and saucers.

With access to the tiny kitchen, the first thing we did was set fire to our afternoon tea. Four-minute croissants become highly flammable when left under the grill. And we hadn't even gone anywhere yet.

After a few false starts, we made it out of our marina and were on the Grand Union Canal. The plan was to potter for a few hundred metres and find somewhere to moor overnight. The instructional video stated, with grand common sense, that you should moor on the righthand side where possible. The in-laws poo-pooed this idea and decided that over there on the lefthand side, next to the pretty horses and on top of the shallow sandbank, was much nicer.

Why go for an easy mooring spot on your first attempt?

So, while the horses strolled up to see what was going, Mills and The Bald Eagle tried to pull the 70-ft long barge closer to the bank in order to moor. Standing on the bank and pulling on one end just meant that the barge was becoming more stranded across the narrow canal. Fortunately there wasn't much traffic at 8pm, but then I wouldn't really know because I was too busy tucking into the gin below deck.

An hour later, we were off the sandbank, back in deeper water, and The Eagle and Mills had shredded several layers of clothing and most of their dignity in order to wade back onto the boat. At 10pm, two hours after 'canal etiquette' suggests engines should be turned off, we finally moored on the right handside of the canal. I would've said, "I told you so" but I was too busy finishing a bottle of rose.

We hadn't even gotten to the locks yet.

The next morning was a much better start. Less bashing into embankments, narrow bridges and other barges and more aiming to the right. I started to relax and eased my grip on the neck of the gin bottle. Common sense, it seemed, would prevail after all.

The Bald Eagle made short work of that confidence, by falling headfirst into the canal - between the narrow gap of boat and bank. He didn't stay in for long as embarrassment and the thought of excrement propelled him out of the canal faster than he fell in.

And then came the locks.

Let it be known, I am a wus. I am claustrophic, agoraphobic, hydrophic and scared of the dark. So when it comes to sailing upstream and facing a wall of water held back by very creaky wooden gates, I was determined not to be on board. We approached the first lock, and I confidently scrambled across the lock gates winding and dropping sluices like a pro. It started to rain, so I ran back downhill and jumped on our barge to get my raincoat. Unfortunate timing, as I climbed onboard without noticing that we were preparing to set off for the lock.

I came out of the front of the boat, just as we were entering the downstream lock. Stuck between two very high concrete walls, and facing a wall of water that was about to be emptied into our cage, I was not a happy camper. Especially at the hands of a family who think that 'protocol' is something that applies to other people. In fact, I think I did very well not to cry. Needless to say, I made sure I was well clear of the boat leading up to every lock after that.


Nightmare of a holiday, right? Confined space, in-laws, shared facilities and treacherous amounts of water.... horror.

Negative, Maverick. I actually enjoyed it. In fact, I would highly recommend it. Yes, the narrow boat is dimensionally challenged, to say the least. And I would avoid sharing this holiday with anyone who vaguely grates your carrot. But, even in the rain, it is a very peaceful means of escaping it all. You cannot rush. Barges are not known for their speed. You cannot make the lock fill up faster than Mother Nature intended. Even if you try to open the lock gates before the water has equalised (as KK did - at every lock), the water pressure simply will not allow it. And KK has Madonna arms, so if she can't do it... no one can.

I never thought I would say this, but I wouldn't mind going barging again... maybe not in the near future (I'm still swaying slightly), but sometime, maybe, again.



Maybe.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Verkeer

On Monday afternoon (shortly before I set off to purposefully crash into some dipshit's back wheel), I watched a tram run over a car. The tram was turning the corner, very diligently following the tram tracks, when a 4x4 tried to squeeze through the inside gap. The car lost.

This was shortly after another car drove into a different tram at the same intersection, going in a different direction. Two in one day.

This morning, yet another tram on different tracks on the SAME intersection hit a car trying to get across the road. This is the intersection that we can see from our office. Front row seats if you will. I keep a bucket of popcorn just for these occassions.

I've seen bikes hit by cars, bikes hit (and swallowed underneath) by trams, cars hit by cars, cars hit by trams. I've also watched a tram being craned back onto the tracks, after being knocked off the rails by a car. That was a goodie.
This afternoon, a car hit a scooter. More squealing of tyres, thud, shouting, sirens.

That's three calls to the police in the last 48 hours. Three times the same intersection was chevron-taped off. And they do love to cordon things off here... I think monthly policing targets are based per metre of chevron tape used.

This intersection is just ridiculous.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Ongelukje

I've never been in a bumper bashing (well, not outside my parent's driveway anyway), but today I had my first ve-hic-ular accident. I hit another bike. I hit it good.

He was coming from the opposite direction, turning left. I was going straight, with the intention of turning left after him. He turned in front of me and stopped at the traffic light. Unfortunately, whether he knew it or not, his back wheel was still in the bike path - I didn't have a choice, there was no time for me to stop or swerve - I hit his backwheel so hard that spokes dislodged and the frame bent.

I felt terrible and said so - but he was having none of it. It was my fault, I was stupid, I was blind, I hadn't even tried to stop. In fact, as far as he was concerned I had aimed. Again I apologised, and then pointed out that he had actually cut in front of me, was on my side of the road and hadn't left anywhere for me to go. This, of course, unleashed another tirade of abuse.

Sitting in the middle of intersecting bike paths, at peak hour, meant that our accident and my verbal bashing was becoming an obstructing spectacle. So I suggested we move to the pavement. He carried on cursing me and inspecting his bike. I started to wheel my bike around to the pavement. He decided I was making a runner for it, so he grabbed my arm and handlebars to pull me back.

"You're not going anywhere!" he shouted.
"I'm moving out of the way, you fucking arsehole!" I raised my voice in response. Classy.

With such a crowd of spectators and after his verbal - and bordering on physical - abuse, I was then surrounded by three very protective men who had witnessed at least the latter part of the incident. One giant of a gentleman made it very clear that he would be staying by my side until I said otherwise. I appreciated that and I hope that the aggressor felt like a tit. He certainly looked it.

The aggressor tried to tell my bodyguard in Dutch what a klote idioot I was, because I hadn't even looked before ploughing into him. I responded in Dutch, and defended myself, again, in English. My bodyguard responded in English and suggested that we keep the correspondence to English. I appreciated that too.

I do feel bad for the guy's bike. Not for him. It was mortifying to get shouted at so publicly. I know it fucked up his evening, but it sure as hell fucked up mine too.

Monday, June 23, 2008

What not to iron

Yesterday, I ironed my hip bone.

It's like this, you see... I was getting dressed to go out for the day. I had also been out not-celebrating Oranje the night before. Anywho. So I selected shirt and jeanpants, but as usual, my outfit assembly took a while. So having got as far as brassiere and thongie-thing, I then decided that my selected shirt was in need of ironing. Yes, it probably would've been better to simply select another top, but who ever did things the easy way?

Anywho, so ironing board out, iron on, I get so enraptured in my task (and possibly a bit distracted by something on TV) that I don't notice when I step on the iron cord. Iron cord pulls taut, hot iron nudges in towards self. On to exposed hip flesh.

"Oh goodness gracious, sweet mother of an innocent child," I exclaimed with my characteristic and dainty restraint.

I have since then been nursing a blistered line in a rather indiscreet region.

Poor me.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

No further comment

I still don't think that Russia should even by playing in the European Cup.
The disappointment last night was palpable. I shouldn't have such an affinity for the oranje jongens, but you know... there are just no words for the game last night.
Poo.


Letter from Den Haag


Dear Bob

How's life in the world of despotic, rabid ruling? Violently badgered any opposition members lately? Ag, just kidding, hey... but I know your wicked sense of humour would appreciate the image. Saw you on telly the other day... you look fit and healthy, no traces of rolling eyeballs or frothing at the mouth, despite the other indications.
Anywho Bob, I was thinking of sending you a postcard, but am not sure how well the postal system is holding up in Zim, so here's an electronic picture of the Vredespaleis in The Hague. It's where the International Court of Justice is housed. It's prettier than the ICC (International Criminal Court) buildings, so I thought I'd brighten up this social letter. Now, I can hear you thinking out loud, why is she going on about these buildings in a country far away, in the land of the colonial oppressors? Ag, no particular reason, they're just two buildings where a number of international war criminals, genocide perpetrators and state tyrants have ended up. But not before killing off a few thousand of their minions each, so not to worry from your side!

Anyway.

Just thought I'd pop you a line to say keep fighting the good fight. I can see from the international news that you're catching quite a lot of heat at the moment. Hard to believe that everyone is ganging up on you like that. After all you've done. Hang in there, in just a short few months, the land will be completely bare of all resources and signs of life - and then it will be yours. All yours. And you will have won!

As a matter of interest, is there a name to your strategy? I know the Russians had the "scorched earth" technique during WWII, so perhaps yours will be known as the "destroy and implode" policy? Maybe you should start pushing the phrase now, so you'll be credited with the inception and naming of it. I don't mind, you can have full rights to the phrase - you've earned it.

Okay, Bob, I know you're a busy man - what with the arrival of all that ammunition from China, so I'll leave you to it. (By the way, I'm sorry that Sky News got hold of that story, it my great-auntie who leaked the news internationally - a little bit awkward at the time, but we're working through it.)

Sincerely
KoekSuster

ps. the moustache rocks. Never give in.