Tuesday, August 30, 2011


In our office, we have a gazillion types of tea (I'm not going to bother to count them) and three types of coffee. I asked if we could possibly include hot chocolate as one of the hot drink options. No particular preference, just a bit of cocoa. My request was turned down, because I was the only one asking for it. I didn't mind, I bought my own.

And it got used. Copiously. And quickly.

That pissed me the hell off. I only ever found one other staff member helping himself. I don't have a problem with sharing my stuff - as long as I've been asked first. It didn't help his cause that I do not like him at all. Massive creep.

There subsequently followed a fair-sized hissy fit to the inventory powers that be - with a strongly worded argument that I clearly was not the only one who wanted a cocoa-fix. We got communal hot chocolate shortly afterwards. I felt mildly vindicated in my cause.

I recently discovered a great version of jelly-sweets, which is effectively chewy sugar dipped in crystal sugar powder, shaped like pieces of fruit. Yummo. I buy a packet for myself every now and again. I offer the sweets around and plonk them next to me on my desk. Any and all are free to help themselves. I really don't mind - and it makes me feel slightly better to know that I've not eaten the whole bag single-mouthedly.

But it grates me the wrong side up, more than a little bit, when Mento helps herself - a lot - and throws in a sarky quip at the same time.

"Oh goodie, don't mind if I do." While she merrily mashes three or four sweets into her sweaty palms.
"More sweets? You're getting quite addicted to your sugar, aren't you?" Gulped through chubby-bunny-filled-cheeks.

And it especially riles me when she saunters over, only to discover that I have not in fact supplied her afternoon glucose fix for the day (or if I've seen her coming and spitefully hidden them from view). It's her reaction that irks me the most. Because she is honest to god completely taken back - she can't understand where the magic supply of sweets have gone. How are they not here?

She'll blink in disbelief, as if I've assaulted her with a glass of ice cold water, "OH! ...no sweets today? Are you going later? Are you getting more tomorrow?"

The look of surprise is that of a crazy cat lady who's just found her prized pet puking directly into her breakfast bowl (probably its revenge for a lifetime of being dressed in kitten-clothing). Why would her subject do this to her?

It's really, honestly, not the issue of sharing. I'll admit, I'm not always gracious about sharing food (and GBM has the fork-pronged scars in his hand to back this up), but this particular gripe is about reciprocity.

If you're eating my sweets, or my hot chocolate, or drinking my milk, or using my butter on a regular basis... How about a little contribution? Just buy it once. Even just acknowledging that you're aware your consuming my goods. Anything. Instead of just assuming that I'm your supplier, or that I won't notice your dull-witted leeching nature. Just a gesture. And don't act so annoyingly, inanely surprised when the source dries up.

 If you want sweets every day, if you know you're going to use milk every day, go buy your own (so that I have someone to steal from when I'm too lazy to walk in the rain).

Monday, August 29, 2011


Well, almost. But not quite.

After a merry weekend filled with extreme frisbee, extreme one-touch soccer, extreme hedge-barging and extreme catering, I checked in online for my flight yesterday. We didn't have a printer, so I chose the marvelous option of sending a scan/barcode to my email on my Kumquat (iPhone).

Two hours (and multiple GBP worth of downloaded data) later, I was still eagerly hoping to receive my electronic boarding pass. I tried again, this time requesting the confirmation by SMS. Download refresh. Download refresh. Download refresh. Nothing.

Every time I checked my phone, the battery dropped another notch, so about half an hour before I due to get a lift to the station, to catch a train, to catch a bus, to catch a plane, I quickly put my phone on the charger. You know, just a quick top-up to make sure I had enough juice to give me a few hours worth of audiobooks and iTunes and preloaded TV shows.

And that was the last time I thought of my phone before I was dropped off an hour later at the station. Sans Kumquat.

And oddly enough, I didn't actually care. I was pissed off with myself for being stupid enough not to pick it up before leaving, but on the other hand... it was one less thing to care about. I currently have two passports - one old and almost completely fill, but with functioning EU and US visas attached to it, the other new and almost untouched, but with one very important 5-year UK visa in it. I've got my work crackberry and usually have my Kumquat that contains pretty much my entire life.

I didn't panic because I knew exactly where it was and I knew that GBM could pick it up and bring it back home at some stage. And I usually ignore my phone when it rings anyway - I hate talking on the phone. I wasn't completely devoid of entertainment as I refuse to go paperless and had a magazine and a novel to keep me busy at the airport. So the only thing that bothered me, really, was that I was forced to listen to my surroundings again. Old school.

I think I'm getting tired of technology. I love that I can use it, but the moment I didn't have the choice, I was actually quite okay with it. That said, I don't know if I can last for a whole week (when GBM is due to return). Which is why I've asked him to drop it off at our London office tomorrow. I don't know if I can last a weekend sans Kumquat. That might be too much of an ask.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Different strokes

GBM and I are going to the UK this weekend. He flew out today, at 1pm. I'm following him a day later (tomorrow) at 1pm.

He started packing at 9.30 this morning. He got to the airport at midday.

I started packing at 9pm today. I am still packing and will still be (re)packing by 9.30 tomorrow morning. I can turn preparing for a weekend away into a full day of billable hours. Time mismanagement at its best.

I will be at the airport at 11am. Possibly earlier. For someone who's flown a lot and should be very blase about air travels (like GBM), I find airports very stressful.

Very stressful.

Very stressful.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Just a couple of coupons

So on Saturday, we went swinging through the trees thanks to a deal voucher. The week before, GBM and I went for an 8-dish tapas meal for the price of one main meal.

This evening, we enjoyed a three course meal at a fancy-shmancy restaurant for 40% off. Next week, I'm going with a friend for a "wellness day" of facials, head massage and general niceties - also at half the usual price. And I still need to figure out when I'm going to make use of my '10 Zumba classes for the price of four' vouchers.

Cycling home today, I realised that I might be developing a bit of a problem with this. GBM is also suffering from the affliction, eagerly signing up for regular mailing lists that announce discounts on work shirts and similar.

I think we've got it under control so far. We've been able to refrain from the seriously silly deals - like lazer eye-surgery and teeth whitening services.

But still... we're becoming a couponing couple. Which means one of two things for me...

a) we're getting old. I don't know why, but I associate coupons with old people dragging shopping carts on wheels. And blocking supermarket queues while they pay with every five cent piece in their position. GBM already does that, but without the cart.
b) we're becoming Dutch. The cloggies love a money-saver.

Neither option is good, in my eyes.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Wind Goddess

I've recently become a bit addicted to yoga. I can't say I buy into the whole philosophy though. My yoga instructor is a full-on vegan/fasting for a week at a time on nothing but liquids/choosing to ignore a bladder infection, and attempting self-healing until she got herself admitted to ER with full-blown kidney infection/kinda yogini. I don't buy into that wholesome lifestyle, no matter how hard she tries to sell it.

But I do love her calming classes, and the quiet meditation at the end - which usually results in the best sleep I have all week. 

I'm not very good at the twisty positions, but counter-intuitive to my completely clumsy nature, I am particularly adept at the balancing and inverted positions. Nothing clears your head like having to concentrate on standing on one foot, while grasping your other foot pulled in front of your hip by the opposite arm, which is in turn wrapped around your back. 

And the inversions... I feel like I was born to be upside down. I particularly love the converted stand or shoulder stand. We always end our classes with it, and it entails lying flat on your back and then heaving your legs up above your head and just holding them there, finding balance without straining your shoulders or back. Then we slowly drop our toes down to touch the floor behind our heads and gently roll our spines out again, bringing knees past our faces and then back down to the floor. 

The only problem with this position (for me anyway) is it kinda opens passages which don't usually get to see that much air time. And as a long-term IBS sufferer, my gut doesn't need much of a push - so to speak - to get the gasses moving. So the one day as we were rolling out, I was unfortunate to let out a not-at-all-discreet "ppphhhwaaaarp". It came as much of a surprise to me as it did to the rest of the class.

The class remained silent in an attempt to stay in the peaceful moment (which I'd already ruined), but I could see the companion closest to me going puce in the face from withholding her response. "Oh for gods' sake," I sighed "just laugh."

And she did. The rest didn't take much encouragement to follow her example. But the instructor was kind to point out, through her giggles, that "these things happen" and that there is even an exercise/pose which is apparently called "The god of the wind". 

Clearly I won't be needing much practice at that one. Can't wait. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

For monkeys, big and small

On Saturday, GBM and I took ourselves around a little forest adventure. I'd seen the course before, but it didn't look like much - more like team-building activities or kids' parties. But, ever the sucker(s) for a good online deal, we thought we'd have a bash when we saw a three-hour session advertised at 40% discount. It's not like we had anything better to do on a Saturday morning anyway. 

So off we went, signed the indemnity form, listened to the standard do's and dont's and got our special helmuts with the tag on it, indicating that we were English. And as much as I'm interested in learning new words in Dutch, I really want to understand the safety intricacies that will entail me securely attaching myself to a platform several metres up in a tree. We took the special helmuts without shame.

A few short minutes later, I had fully earned my 'special' status. GBM had stepped into his safety harness and was securing the buckles, while I was still trying to figure out which legs went where and why it was all so uncomfortable. I couldn't reach any of the buckles, I couldn't get them tight enough, it was just a silly design. Fortunately GBM saved me from public humiliation by quietly pointing out each leg strap was actually labelled "left" and "right" (clear as mud, in English). Not only that, but the lettering was upside down. So I had it on the wrong way round, AND upside down. Superb. 

Once we had that sorted out, we were ready for our private (English-Only) instruction course. They ran us through the safety procedures of ensuring that at least one of your two safety lines were connected at all times, proper placement of carabines on the safety cables and where and when it was safe to follow behind the person in front of you. Standard stuff. We passed the demonstration quickly enough and then (this is what I love about the lackadaisical H&S attitude in the Netherlands)... we were free to run loose in the trees.

There are 8 adventure courses with various degrees of difficulty. We started on course 3... thought we wouldn't get too cocky straight away. It was fun, just a few metres above ground, wonkly platforms and a bit of balance required.

Course 5 followed shortly, which entailed a bit more muscle-control and core balance. But by now, we had the hang of the safety harness technique and could get a bit more playful. I had a particularly good laugh watching GBM trying to negotiate across an uneven level of individually-strung stepping stones. He started on his left foot and as soon as he lifted his right to step forward, his entire body shot to the left, which meant that had to take an eeeeextra big step (as if moon-walking) to reach the next foot hold on the right. Now it was all he could do to stop from doing the splits (well, technically, the harness at his waist was doing the most to stop that - but at the same time, giving him a superb wedgie effect, all the more entertaining to watch from the back). Left foot up... body weight all on right... beeeeg moon-step to reach the next one on the left. 

Watching his progress in slow-motion brought to mind the stomp-precarious-totter style that toddlers often have as they learn to walk by not falling over. Of course, I then had to follow suit, which was not helped by the fact that I now had the giggles. 

Course 6 was the best - lots of nice long ziplines. Which was awesome, once I figured out how to launch myself without twisting my body in the process. Roaring uncontrollably up to a tree, arse-first, is not as much fun as some might like to think. 

The final course required extra instruction and is for "experienced climbers only". GBM and I were high on the success from our previous courses and decided to give it a shot. One of the obstacles was a tarzan-like swing, from one platform to the next. Being no fool myself, I made GBM go first. He secured his safety harness and launched himself forward, swung and landed on the platform. But, before he could get his balance enough to step forward, the weight of his body and the momentum of the rope pulled him backwards. Frantically he grabbed for anything on the tree to hold himself there, and failed. 

I supported his efforts by doubling over with laughter. When I realised that he was now officially stuck, I did try (genuinely) to help him back to the platform I was on, but it was quite a steep incline and I frankly did not have the strength to pull him back up. Assistance was hailed, much to GBM's embarrassment (and my amusement) as he clung to the rope like an uncertain newborn monkey. 
Once he was rescued, we could move on and complete the course, but after almost three hours of core and upper body strength we were absolutely shattered. We took a very slow cycle home and collapsed on the couch for the rest of the day. I cannot recommend it enough - childish fun in the treetops. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Parking etiquette

It's easy to become arrogant on the bike paths around Amsterdam, cyclists have right of way and for the most part people respect this. So it's easy to fly around and race through intersections when... if something, god forbid, were to actually happen... you know that you are protected from liability.

Occasionally I get a sharp reminder that I'm not untouchable. Like this morning, when - even though I was on the main road, and it was most definitely my right of way - a delivery van reversed out of a side street, completely oblivious to the fact that I was right in his path. I screeched to a halt on my brakes, because I realised if I didn't, I was going under his back wheel. Even then, he was turning out of the side street and turning into the place where I had now become stationary. So I smacked the back of his van with the flat of my palm.

I saw the driver put his head out the window with a quizzical raise of his eyebrows. Then he smiled and waved, like I'd just told him to have a nice day. Which is pretty much the opposite of what I was feeling.

He roared off on his merry oblivious way and I got to my office without further incident...  until I got into our small allocated parking area where once again, it was demonstrated that four-wheeled or two, people park like dicks.

For the uninitiated in bike parking etiquette, this wanker is taking up not one, not two, but three spots. Supreme dickmanship.

He's parked his bike on the other side from where I took the pic, from where I thought I would park my bike until closer inspection. But instead of locking his giant chain to either (or any of the other three) metal frames on his side, he's chosen to place the lock directly across 'my' side of the rack.

So no one can park between him and the bike to his right (our left). No one can use the rack next to his left (our right) because he's between those two. And no one can use the rack opposite, that he's locked across on the other side. Three bike spots. For one very special, inconsiderate cyclist.

Kinda makes me wanna stab a front tyre. But I know Karma doesn't like it when I do that. So instead, I just wished compacted constipation on the recipient bike owner for the rest of the month. Karma owes me one for good behaviour, restraining from vandalising other people's property.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Shit We All Get. 

I went to a Ladies Night at the movies yesterday. The highlight of the evening (for me) is never the movie, but rather the drinks and snacks before hand (champagne and macarons last night) and the free goodies bags.

Yeah! 'Cos who doesn't love free shit?

Of course, as with all marketing ploys, you have to plough through a plethora of pamphlets and printed adverts. Blah blah blah blah, chuck that shit in the bin. Thanks for trying to get my attention, but you have been disqualified for laziness and lack of imagination.

Moving swiftly onto the actual marketing awards in this week's bag of SWAG. First, the winners, the one's who have a budget (or the savvy to realise that marketing actually requires expense).

A new product launch (hand cream sample) from Body Shop. Score!
John Frieda Frizz Ease hair shampoo sample. Score!
Bike bell from a shop that I hadn't heard about, but now want to see what other hip trendy stuff they can add to my bike. Well done, Chopperdome, give yourselves a gold star.
And two points for the movie house, who handed out packets of sweet and salty Jimmy's popcorn and diet Coco-Cola (not pictured, due to previous consumption). Well played, m'lords.

And, now, the ones who have tried. And failed.

Ice Watch. What is it? I don't know. I'm assuming some sort of attempt at trendy time keepers. There's a website included on the "we wanna start a social revolution" bracelet. This company provided a very nice gift bag, complete with ribbon insert and branding - which I presume would usually be supplied to paying customers once they have actually been into their store and bought a watch. So, minus points for marketing laziness. And they put a rubber/plastic band with their branding on. These bracelets only work as a fashion statement when they are making exactly that - a statement. WWJD or Livestrong. Product placement? Who's going to carry your website around on their wrist without gaining anything from it? Binning that shit. Fail.

Hair product. I guess. From Amsterdam with love? Okay, now I'm a bit nervous about the lubricant-looking content. Um, do I put this on my hair? The back has a single line that reads: "softening action with corn flower and aloe flower extract". Softening of what? What are you actually marketing here? Oh wait, in the corner, almost visible, is another line. Hotel V. Okay, so I assume this is some sort of hotel in Amsterdam, one that feels their biggest sell point is their free shampoo. Or some sort of salad dressing. Um... okay. Not so sure about this. Fail.

True, they've succeeded in the base requirement of marketing - I've learnt about their brand. Both groups of brands have spent money on this marketing. But am I enticed to use Ice Watch and Hotel V brands, visit their website or try their products? Not a chance.

If I like the John Frieda Frizz Ease or the Body Shop hand cream... will I tell people about it, choose to buy their products? Probably, yes. Win.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ja... what he said.

I was 12 when the New South Africa came into being. The Rainbow Nation.

I often get asked what it was like, living under Apartheid rule, but I honestly don't recall much of the unrest as it was happening. I guess that's because we were still living in segregated communities for the first 10 years of my life. 

The strongest memories of "surviving Apartheid" that I can personally recall, are the bomb/attack drills that we had to practise in primary school and the fact that I called every black man I saw "Amos" because that was the name of my gran's gardener.

The bomb drills are a particularly ludicrous memory - a horrible whooping alarm would go off and we would all have to scramble under our desks, close our eyes, cover our ears and sing "Ol' MacDonald had a farm, ee-eye-ee-eye-oooooh" or something similarly innocous to ourselves. I assume the reasoning was to muffle the sights and sounds of our white classmates supposedly being butchered around us. I like to think of it as the Head in the sand defense mechanism. Why teach self-defense when they can just blinker themselves and pretend that nothing is happening?

I remember watching Mandela being released on TV, and asking my mother what all the fuss was about. I think I remember her saying it was a good thing for the country, but I had no idea why. 

I don't remember much else, really. I had a normal childhood, didn't witness any violence or unrest - other than what was reported on the news (still to a limited extent back in the 80s). But I did, without a doubt in my mind, benefit from it. And surely there aren't many white people in SA who can claim to have not done so. 

My parents could afford to put me through decent schools. We had two cars to our four-person family. We each had our own room. I'm not saying that it was cushy, or that my parents had it easy financially. Not even slightly. But it was better than 90% of the population. Much better. 

So, yes I benefited from the system of inequality. Sometimes I feel guilty about it, knowing what other South Africans were subjected to during those years. 

Other times I feel angry that I am expected to apologise for the inequality.

Peet van Aardt is succinctly refreshing about his feelings on this matter. To the point that I felt inclined to comprise this entire post with three simple words and a link: What he said.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It's a man's world

The men's loo is situated right next to the kitchen at the office, the doors are adjacent to each other. So every time I go to the kitchen for a drink, or something to eat, or whenever I leave the kitchen, chances are high that I will see and hear some one peeing. Because apparently men have no compunctions about standing at a urinal, treating us all to The Stance and the acoustic accompaniment of gushing liquid on porcelain. 

And for some reason, it really bothers me. I don't actually know why. I can't see anything. It's just that I know what he's doing. I know he's got his penis flopped out in his hands and I can hear it. I also know that most of them don't wash their hands and for this reason I'm loathe to reach in and close the door while they're there, which is how one of my colleagues chooses to handle it... by leaning in and asking in a very sweet, sing-song English accent, "Would you mind closing the door next time? Thank you". It's almost worth it because it always makes them jump. I'm just concerned that she might receive some splash-back one day. 

But that's just the way it is for guys, isn't it? They can like to pee, whenever. Wherever. 

Sure, they might get a fine for public exposure, but I haven't seen many men perturbed by the thought of this. The world is their urinal. I can't imagine, if the roles were reversed, and the ladies loo was right next to the kitchen (rather than on the opposite side of the elevators) whether the door would ever be left open. Even if there was a slight wall to shelter visibility, so that no one could actually see anything, I would want to be able to close doors. I want privacy when I drop my pants and I think most western women prefer this option. It's what we've been socialised to expect.  

Come to think of it, why is okay for men to pee in public, while not for women? If I see a woman openly peeing in the street (which certainly happens in the red light district, the beacon of class), I am horrified and even disgusted. How can a woman debase herself like that? Yet when I see men peeing on the side of the street, I usually roll my eyes and (depending on the mood I'm in) look the other way or make a point of staring. If they can't be bothered to do it somewhere private, then they must accept that people are going to look. Similarly, if I happen to cross paths with a guy peeing without bothering to close the door, I force myself to look into the loo - to look at him. It's all the more effective if he happens to look at the same time. If you want privacy, close the fucking door. 

I've done my fair share of peeing in bushes and I'm not exactly proud of it. But it is always as absolutely the last option and always in nook where I'm pretty sure I'm likely to see someone coming before they see me. I hope. It's a humiliating act, having to squat. And I think that's what it ultimately boils down to - men don't have to submit themselves to the ground, in fact they barely have to change their stance. Further to this, their clothes are designed to facilitate easy of urination. Women's clothes are not. Unless you choose to wear long skirts without any underwear, which is not a common combination (that I'm aware of anyway). 

For most men, if there isn't a toilet within 100m of where they currently stand, they're likely to stroll behind the closest tree. As long as they're sort of sheltered from the front, they don't care who can see them from behind. And so it is in the office place, and I find it incredibly disrespectful to anyone who is unlucky enough to have to witness it. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Year Of the Baby

I know it's just another stage of life, but it is still mind-blowing as to how many acquaintances, friends and relatives have either gotten pregnant or popped one out this year.

Of course, being a self-declared narcissist, I am certain that it is my power of association that is causing this gestation-affliction. No, not in that way. I just mean that clearly people around me are very fertile and I am clearly the common element. And due to the exponential growth of pregnancy announcements around me, I can also only conclude that my powers are growing. I've warned celibate friends to avoid eye contact with me, unless they are hoping for immaculate conception miracles.

That said, I think I am getting better at interacting in expectant circles. I still can't stop the wave of revulsion that washes over my face when unsuspecting strangers ask me if I'm "also hoping to have kids" at some stage. But I am getting better. I've learnt not to call the little scan-splotches tadpoles, thumbnails or worms. Apparently Bean, Lentil, or Pumpkin Seed are permitted. Similarly, I am not allowed to refer to pregnant friends as "preggo" or "knocked up" or "up the duff". I'm not sure why, they all sound like compliments to me.

It's all bravado from me, I know it is. You see... If I make it well known that I don't want details, I've realised that most people don't make any effort to stay in touch. It's sounds callous, and it probably is. But I don't want to hear emotional/soppy stories of how fulfilling/blessed the process is. And if I make my distaste known, then soon-to-be-parents who are soon-to-have-no-life-outside-baby-puke won't expect me to interact with their child when it is here.

And the ones who do have the patience to put up with both me and their kid, are the ones who count. They're the ones who don't expect me to get as excited or enthused as they are about their news. They don't try to convince me how wonderful the expectant period is; or patronise me with bullshit about "how I'll want it, one day" (tilted head, condescending smile). They don't struggle to find other things to talk about, besides their nursery preparations and prenatal classes. They tell me about their day and they don't sugar-coat it.

Yesterday, out of nowhere, I offered to take a 12-year-old for a cycle around the park. It came as much as a surprise to me as it did to her aunt (my friend). I honestly don't think I registered what I was saying until I had finished the sentence. Offering to take responsibility, on my own, for a preteen, who I have literally just met under an hour ago? I did a subtle breath-check on myself.... I couldn't smell any alcohol, I certainly didn't think I'd been drinking on a Sunday on my own... So what possessed me?

I still don't know. But I think it might be the fact that she didn't fit the bill of "little person". I never know how to talk to kids under 10. I genuinely have no idea at what stage of development they are, or should be, at. Can they converse freely? Are they still bemused by combinations of primary colours, can they read? Should they know things about current affairs yet?

And babies scare the crap out of me - if they're not pooping, puking or crying, then they're staring. Always with the staring. How are you supposed to handle that, besides making ga-goo-ga-ga noises in their direction, which appears to be the standard response for even the most intelligent of adults? Ignoring them is virtually impossible, because every other grown-up in the room will be attending to them or trying to get their attention. Babies are conversation suckers.

The difference with the kid yesterday is that she wasn't a baby, or a little person. Rather, she is a precocious preteen. I can relate to that. I was fairly confident that I could talk to her in an adult-manner, without screwing up my face and squealing in a high pitched baby-voice.

Perhaps I should make this a selling point... "Congrats on the birth of your baby! Let's pick this relationship up again in about 13 years or so."

I'll be the estranged Aunt Koekie, the one who teaches them how to swear profusely in at least three languages. Every kid needs one of those, right?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Special kids

I recently caught up with a friend who I hadn't seen for a while. One of her first questions to me was, "how are you and GBM, still going strong?" I gave affirmation to her query. 

Her response amused and bemused me. "Oh thank god! 'Cos let's be honest... it's not like anyone else would have either of you!"

Say what now?

She then went on to point out a few situations which she felt only GBM and I could possibly find entertaining. Like waiting in ambush for each other in our own home, to see who can give the other one a bigger fright late at night. Or me waking GBM up from an afternoon nap by dripping water on to his exposed neck. Okay, I might've found this more amusing than him. But to be fair, just the evening before he had chucked a handful of water in my face as I emerged from a loo break. So childish.

Or sabotaging each other's drinks (alcoholic or not) by spiking the beverage with sugar-coated sweets. How is this not amusing? It activates the carbonate and makes the drink taste horrific to the unsuspecting palate. Double whammy!

I realised she might have a point. 

The other day, GBM made the mistake of leaving home without any form of rain protection. Amateur mistake. So later, when it (not unsurprisingly) started raining, I took great delight in taunting him with all my layers. 

"Oh my, look at that. It's raining. I think I better put on my RAIN coat. Oh, and what's this... I have a hat too! I hate it when my hair gets wet because I am unprepared for Dutch weather."

GBM responded as any mature adult would, by merrily donning a bright red plastic packet on his head. This, he claimed, had the duel function of keeping his perfectly-styled hair dry and protecting his glasses from rain drops.

He looked like Papa Smurf, sans-beard. I was highly entertained. I'm glad we've found each other - this level of humour would be wasted on the unappreciative. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Telephone etiquette

I hate talking on the phone. If you can do it online or via email, please let's. I especially loathe receiving "blind" calls, where you don't have any context. There is a lot of waffling and nicety that you have to wade through before the caller usually gets to the crux of the matter, which is inevitably going to require a follow up email or letter (especially in a work context). 

Of course, one of the best things about the Dutch is that they are so good at getting to the point, but this is negated by the fact that our dealings are in English, their second language. Which admittedly is much, much better than if we were doing this transaction in my foreign tongue, but that's not the point here.

The point is that any call is usually a frustrating process as we try to spell things phonetically. They can't understand my pronunciation and there is always the confusion between the wonderful vowels. 

In English, a = ay; e = eee and i = eye. 
In Dutch a = ah, e = ay and i = eee. 
You can see where the problem comes in, right? 

"Okay, Meneer Fokker, you have convinced me to sign up to your mailing list for cheap bike deals. My name is Koekie, Kay-oh-ee-kay-eye-ee."
"No. Kilo, October, Echo, Kilo, India, Echo. We haven't even gotten to my surname yet, which is Flamiefaejihg."

Also, if I see a call coming from a blocked number to my mobile, I am not going to answer. Okay, I can't do this at work, but in my personal life, it's a general policy. 

So now you know not to take it personally, because I realise this can offend friends and family. But I have received far too many "blocked" calls from unsolicited credit card/insurance/telecom providers, who chose to hide their calling details - and for good reason. So now I do not answer if I don't know who's calling. 

Based on the fact that the unrecognised number is not saved on my address book, I probably don't want to be speaking to you. If you've chosen to keep your mobile number hidden for personal reasons, I can respect that. Just don't cry to me when I don't immediately guess that it's someone I know and probably wouldn't mind speaking to.

So I have ignored your blocked number and you are now required to leave a message, how about adding a bit of context? Voice message protocol - if we don't have a personal relationship or previous communication, leaving your name and number is not enough to entice me to call you back. 

"Hi Kate, this is Tim. Please can you call me on oh-six-five-five-four-four-three-three-two-one?"

Yes I could, in theory, call you back. But I'm not going to. Because I don't know you. I don't know who you work for and I don't know what it's regarding. Based what you have not provided, I am going to extrapolate that you already knew if you had divulged this information, I wouldn't want to talk to you anyway. 

If it's that important you can call back - and this time, leave me a message, so that I can make a more informed decision as to why I won't be returning your call. 


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hoffice Show and Tell

I almost understand why parents bring their reproductions in to the office. Almost. 

They're proud of what they've produced. A little monkeyesque in likeness, but still.. it's theirs, they have successfully completed the mammalian act of reproduction and they want the world to know. Fair enough. Society dictates that you have to be proud of this achievement and show it off (apparently hiding it in the basement until it is old enough to drink is frowned upon. Go figure). 

But why do people bring their parents in for a parade around? Or visiting friends? I just don't get this. Especially as it is apparently protocol in our office to introduce your guest to everyone, even if you don't work with them or talk to them on a regular basis. 

Intern (who wouldn't talk to me if we shared an elevator together): "Hi Koekie. This is my friend."
Koekie: "Hi. I'm Koekie"
Intern's friend: "Okay"
Koekie: "Good talk. I'm glad we could share this moment. May you live long and prosper, stranger-who-I-shall-never-have-reason-to-talk-to-again-so-not-even-pretending-to-remember-your-name. Have a nice day now."

Today, one of the finance employees brought their father into the office. I watched them doing the rounds, getting closer and closer to my desk. And then I did something of which I am not proud. I ran. And hid. 

I couldn't even handle the thought of pretending to talk to the Hungarian's father. So I walked down five flights of stairs and back up again, figuring that this should be enough time for them to do the rounds and skip my absent desk.

Don't get me wrong, I understand the need to show family and loved ones where you spend most of your waking hours. I really can. 'This is where I work, mom.... Now you can picture the base of my misery and mental frustration.'

But why do people need to introduce their family to me in particular? This is a stupid social requirement. Just bring them in, give a general "this is my dad" shout out (if you really must have us know) and then those who are interested/give a shit, can come up to you and your loved one for further conversation. 

Win-win. Dad gets to see the office, gets to see what we look like. If it's really that important to you, you can even point me out and tell him, "that's the one. The Office Bitch." I'm okay with that. 

But please don't drag the poor dude around, subjecting him to individual introductions of everyone at their work stations. Which is always followed by standing around awkwardly while you all desperately try to make conversation out of fragments of stale office air. 

"So... do you like Amsterdam?"

"Yes. But it is raining. It would be great if we could see it in sunshine."

"Yes it rains a lot here."

[polite chuckle all round. What a funny joke the weather is. Every time]

I hate small talk. I really do. 

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Is London safe to host the Olympics?

In March 2010, isolated areas in SA experienced outbreaks of violence, with impoverished township residents protesting lack of basic services when they knew the world was watching and would pay attention. They did this by setting fire to, and destroying, the limited facilities that they did have access to. I'm not denying, condoning or playing down the violence that erupted. It left me feeling sick to the stomach. 

European and UK press jumped on the story with glee. Reporting extensively, particularly in light of South Africa's upcoming World Cup hosting.

The SA attacks were labeled 'xenophobic' and the several members of the international community decided that this meant SA was not fit to host a major tournament. Especially as all tourists and spectators were going to be slaughtered. 

Another angle of delight was the white-on-black hysteria, reporting that thousands of white farmers were being killed on a daily basis in SA, in a war "that you won't read about in your World Cup holiday brochure". 

Even once we got through the World Cup without incident, the UK press weren't going to let go of the "natives are restless" narrative that easily. SA was left 'bracing itself' for post-World Cup violence, "as police numbers [were] scaled down after the tournament".

Cut to just over a year later. The world remembers a highly successful tournament with very noisy implements called "voo-vah-zeee-lahs". Or similar mispronunciation.

In the last four days, several areas in the UK experienced outbreaks of violence, with various groups of youths destroying property and looting shops. It is yet to be determined what they are actually protesting. I don't think they even know. All they know is that no one is stopping it. Authorities have been caught completely unprepared and now seem to be in a state of shock as to how to deal with the large-scale ransacking.

And now the SA press is reporting about concerns for security in London's Olympic hosting for next year. My how the tables have turned

My favourite headline so far: "Tottenham rioters aged just seven". Considering the sensational nature of The Sun, one should take the content with a pinch of salt, but I can also fully accept that very young children have been running rampant in these areas. And why the hell not? If their parents are barely out of their teens... which is also highly likely ... then their mum and dad "yoofs" are probably running with the wolves too. 

This is a sign of a nation in distress; a nanny state crying out for discipline. A truncheon and an Alsatian on a leash are not going to quell this in a hurry. 

I could never support police brutality, just as I could never condone domestic violence. But there is a difference between abuse and discipline. It's a fine line, but an important one. Without proper means of dispersion the looters are in control, and will remain so. And they know it. 

Monday, August 08, 2011

We're revolting

Dear Social Media, how about a spot of rioting and shop-looting this evening?  

Things have kicked off, you see, 'cos a number of us were a bit put out about the killing of a youth. We don't really know what happened in the shootout, but you know.. the coppers don't have the greatest track record of asking questions first, shooting later. So there was a walk of solidarity for the victim and those affected, just while we waited for the actual investigation. 

Haha, who am I kidding... Who cares about the investigation? We know it was all about racial profiling. It always is. 

So anyway, there was this walk. And you know, when there are more than 5 people in a mob, the average intelligence is the square root of the lowest IQ in the group. So all it takes is one knob-head to kick a dustbin and next thing you know, there's a whole lump of electronics spilling out in to the street from a busted window and well... they don't put the shit stuff in the display. 

And it was fun, you know?. It was powerful. Running wild, kicking stuff, grabbing shit. Have you ever smashed a car windscreen in, just because it's there and everyone around you is on a similar rampage of destruction? Can you imagine the rush? I bet you can't. It fucking beats sitting at home on the dole, I'll tell you that much. 

You slowly become aware of the pigs standing guard in the distance. Maybe you don't hear the sirens, but you will notice the dogs.
 They're watching, holding their riot line. Waiting... incapacitated, knowing that the outraged cry of police brutality is just one over-reaction away. If they strike, even in defence, it has to be controlled. But we don't have such rules. We're don't have to hold back.

So they have to bide their time as you run amok. They can't make the first move. They're scared, you can see that, if you get close enough to look behind each plexiglass helmut. You can see it, you know... The Fear. 

You don't want to get arrested, or identified though... There is that. But if you keep your head down and your face covered, who are you but a set of rage-empowered eyeballs in the mob? No one. Nameless. Faceless. But so powerful. 

So we're doing it again. It's a fucking fantastic rush. Anarchy. 

We're striking out against The Man. 
We're revolting. 

No. Don't give me this crap about taking our grievances to the council. Why the fuck would we converge on those buildings, what's to be had in there? Nah. We're talking more local, in the 'hood.... you want to hit the High Street. The looting is much better. 

See you there. 

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Anti-neat freak

I don't know why it has to be so hard. I tidy it up, and I give myself a stern talking to each time. "There..." I tell myself, "now all you have to do, is just put things back as you use them/don't need them. It's so easy really, I don't know why I didn't think of it before.."

It should be that simple. And yet, just a few days later (a week, if I'm particularly well behaved), we're back to the same stage: 

Piles, lumps and clumps of clothing, hair accessories, toiletries, jewelry. Which will get moved around or regrouped as when items are required and discarded. It's horrifying. I literally disgust myself.

I don't consider myself a complete slob. I generally take a vague interest in looking somewhat presentable when I go out in public. My handbag is always organised, my car (when I had one) was never a pigsty. I am a logical, rational person. I like order. Not chaos. Why then, can I not simply put things away in an reasonable fashion?

I've tried the tricks. I've got the tubs and containers to keep jewelry and hair products in their place. But they somehow still end up encroaching and intermingling with each other, along with make-up and possibly feminine hygiene products. It does not make for easy locating of the matching earring when you can't see the counter for tampons and face creams.

So why do I put it off until it all gets to a complete state of disarray - to the point that I want to (and do) scream in frustration because I can't find ANYTHING. Literally, a room full of crap on the floor and I can't find ANYTHING.

I blame my upbringing. I don't know why, but I think this is the appropriate course of action for personality malfunctions. Which this clearly is. It's not me, it's my personality.

Right, procrastination over... I really need to tidy my room now.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Different POVs

Every morning when I wake up, I have to gently or not so gently roll GBM back onto 'his' side of the bed. The gentleness/force required is directly dependent on his body position at that stage. 

If he's on his side, I can use a variation on the classic Friends "hug... and roll".  

My variation is a gentle squeeze, while at the same time nudging his bodyweight so it rolls away, back on his side. If he's on his front or back, this is more difficult and will usually require a less-subtle prod from my elbow or knee. 

So... I can kinda understand why he didn't believe that when I accidentally (genuinely) smacked him in the eye socket the other morning, I swear I did it in my sleep and not on purpose... I woke up to the slow realisation that I had hit something fairly solid with my elbow, and rolled over to see him clutching his face, looking very confused and bewildered. But let's be honest here, he was obviously encroaching on my side in order to be within range of my bent arm.

[He wants to know what I'm blogging about now. I reckon I'll leave the slumber-hog to read it himself.]

From GBM's side, he doesn't see my problem. To be fair, his head is always on 'his' pillow. That's not my issue. The encroachment always happens from torso down, usually ending with his leg in the lower bottom half of 'my' side of the bed. This means that I have to contour to what space is left. I can't curl up, because this sends my knees into him, or off the edge of the bed. And I can't fully stretch out without having to kick him out the way first.  Which is usually my choice of action; cos I've learnt that politely asking doesn't work. 

Friday, August 05, 2011

Proper consumption of Zoo Biscuits

The absolutely wrong way to eat a Zoo Biscuit: 
Friendships have ended over less. 

Everybody who's anybody knows that the first step in Zoo Biscuit consumption is to nibble the edges, like so:

Then (as a personal preference) I like to eat the biscuit off the back, whittling down to sugar only. 

The next bit is where opinion's differ. Some people choose to lick the animal icing off the top at this stage. They are wrong. What you should do, is nibble around the white icing, gnawing the appropriate animal-shaped cut-out. Then you consume the white icing and sugar layer at your leisure. 

Your Zoo Biscuit treat is now complete. And my job here, is done. 

NB: The squirrel/flat tortoise/amorphous blob was saved from incorrect consumption -

*No Zoo Animals were harmed in the making of this blog*

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Warning: do not come between a girl and her ice cream

A perk in my office is that we occassionally get DVDs. Some good, some bad, but they're new and up-coming shows so it's fun to watch before the rest of the world gets to them. I receive them, cos that's my department and I I make the other minions aware that a DVD titled "Blahdittyblah" or "Working Title" has been received. We generally don't know much or anything about the shows. They're unknown entities, view at your own risk. 

So this morning, I got a short email from a colleague in the finance dept asking if they could borrow one to screen at lunch time in the boardroom as a treat for his team, it being summer and quiet season. Sure, I replied, I'll put Blahdittyblah on your desk for when you get in. He thanked me and that was the end of our correspondence. 

At 1pm, as I was just starting to tuck into my post-lunch treat, he stormed up to my desk to demand why the screening wasn't "set up". I was genuinely taken back - I didn't realise that I was supposed to be putting on the DVD and pressing play. So I duly escorted him to the boardroom, where his team were waiting in eager anticipation. 

Facing him and his team, I held the DVD like a game-show prize on display. "Dee-Vee-Dee", I started, loudly and clearly.

"Dee-Vee-Dee Ma-chine", I pointed to the appropriate device, making sure I had everyone's attention, before pressing the open/close button, placing the disk in and closing it.

"Turn on Tee-Vee", I continued in Troglodyte. With a sweeping (and some might say, sarcastic) gesture, I pressed the button like Eddie Eckstein in his prime on Telly Fun Quiz.  

"So, in summation, DVD goes in machine, TV goes on. DVD starts automatically. Here is the remote for volume." I handed the remote to the team manager. "I think you can handle it from here."

I know the patronising tone was not necessary, but if he had made it clear that he wanted or needed me to coordinate his group screening, instead of arriving and bombing on me for his lack of communication, it might have been a different situation.

Maybe... but we'll never know for sure. Because the main reason for my irritation was that he completely destroyed my ice-cream indulgence experience.

Ben'n'Jerry's can only be fully be enjoyed without disruption or distraction; it melts much too fast when subjected to rude and unnecessary interruptions. 

Consider yourselves informed for future reference: Ice-cream comes before dumbasses on my list of daily priorities. 

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

More bike woes

I feel like a peddling version of Goldilocks at the moment. Priscilla is lame, and currently running on a duct-taped frame. GBM's bike is a 'proper' road bike, with actual functioning pedals and breaks and gears and all that convoluted stuff, but it's a boy's bike and that entails actual skill in dismounting. Plus the saddle is horribly uncomfortable, because the manufacturers were counting on cyclists wearing padded shorts, rather than friction-inducing jeans. The spare bike is a) too low on the saddle b) also low on braking ability and c) rickety on the wheels at best. 

So one is too high, one is too low, one is just right... but broken. 

I borrowed a bike for my cycle out to Oudekerk aan der Amstel the other evening, because I was not confident that Priscilla could do a 20km round trip without falling apart. The problem with my friend's bike is that it has back-pedal brakes and further to that, is monstrously heavy. 

I can use back pedal brakes. I stop when I need to stop. The problem is that I am in the habit of NOT using my pedals to stop. Priscilla has handbrakes, so when I'm free-wheeling over the top of a little canal bump, I take great delight in adjusting the pedals backwards to a comfy position (my default = right pedal at base, left at top), and I do the same to get to a comfy starting position from stand still. It doesn't affect my forward momentum. 

These are bad habits to develop before trying to use backpedal brakes. So I'd power the monstrously heavy borrowed bike all the way up and over a canal bridge and then I'd sit back and relax on the downhill... for all of 2 metres, before I unconsciously shifted my feet backwards... and inadvertently slammed on the brakes. And then, because almost all of the monstrous weight sits in the back wheel on this bike, the rear would swing out as its momentum continued despite the brakes kicking in. It was not fun. 

Similarly, from standing position, I'd do my hop-hop-jump start and unconsciously rock my foot back on the pedal to get it into (what is usually, on Priscilla) a better position to pedal from. But in doing so, I'd again inadvertently slam on brakes. Which is kinda counterproductive when you're trying to take off. 

Oh, and at the end of  it all, we chose to park our bikes underground - which entails walking down a flight of stairs while wheeling the bikes next to us on a very steep ramp. Again, with pretty Priscilla, this is no problem - apply handbrakes, stroll down at leisure. But without handbrakes for control and with a (have I mentioned this?) monstrously heavy arse of a bike, it was all I could do to stop myself and/or bike ending up in a tangled pile at the base of the ramp. 

So I want a bike that works, is in one piece, isn't ridonkulously heavy and preferably not one that is more suited for cycling the Argus. Is this too much to ask for?

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

This is not a drill

I don't know if I'll ever take summer sun for granted again. I see friends back in SA complaining about how miserably cold it is in winter, and I know I used to be like that. I would bitch and moan when day-time temps did not soar past 15 in winter. But now, I choose to take my breakfast on the balcony as long as it's in double figures and sunny. 

With 90mm rain received seemingly solidly over two weeks, and gusts of wind 90kmph to boot, July was not a good month for summery breakfasts. The average temperature was a whopping 15 degrees across the Netherlands and according to the KNMI weather website, we accrued a grand total 157 hours of sunshine. We're supposed to get about 15 hours of sunshine a day in theory, at this stage of the year. So of the 465 hours of potential sunshine, we got barely a third of our allocated share. Bastard rain clouds. Amsterdam received a solid 179mm over the month, only slightly higher than the 81mm average. Other areas of the country received as much as almost 300mm.

Good news though, the Netherlands is no longer in drought... not that I realised we were experiencing this in the first place. I cross more than a handful of canals on my way to work every day. They all looked pretty damn full last time I checked.  

But my point today is that when the sun came out and it soared to a whopping 26 degrees yesterday, the entire country wasted no time in getting out and getting semi-clad. I took the opportunity to cycle (fully-clad) to a small town along the Amstel river, for no reason other than "get outside! Get some sunshine! This is not a drill!"

And today, again... what is this strange bright burning ball in the sky? It makes my eyes hurt, and it burns my skin when exposed. What is it called again? I have faint recollections of days gone by when this was a normal experience. 

Everyone is out and enjoying as many summery things as possible, because we know it can't last. It's going to rain again and it's going to rain soon (probably tomorrow).

So this is what I hope to be doing by 7pm this evening. 

Get your summer on, folks. 
This is not a drill.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Potential Pets, in no particular order

Snakes - I love handling non-venomous snakes. I'm not stupid about this option, I don't have a death wish, but the little constrictors are cool. They're much softer and silkier than most people (who haven't touched one) would think. Feeling them wrap around your appendages when they use you as a climb frame is actually quite exhilarating. And not in a life-or-death drama kinda way, but in a "woah, that thing is just one massive muscle" kinda way. 

Pros - they are clean, once you've got the terrarium sorted; they don't need much maintenance and shed about once a month. They eat once a week, they poop (about) once a week. They don't need socialising. 
Cons - they can live for up to 20 years, it's a massive commitment. Predominantly live curled up, in a box. Not particularly interactive. Most partners/housemates are not happy to share freezer space with pre-killed snake prey.

Chameleons - I just threw this option in 'cos I think these dudes are cool. They're just so... chillaxed, you know? They check you out sideways whether they dig you or not and they will not be rushed. Unless they're lining up to eat some tasty tidbit. But they're not big on being handled and when I did get to hold one in school, it chose to climb onto my head, using my earhole as a foot rest. I don't think I ever recovered from that. So I guess these are just on the list 'cos I wouldn't mind sharing a living space with one, nothing more than that.

Pigs - I've always loved the idea of having a pet pig. Just saying it makes me feel happy... Pet Pig. I firmly believe that when they're not living in a sty layered with their own faeces, pigs are probably very good pets. 

Pros - They're highly intelligent, apparently easy to train (do you need more evidence than Babe? I think not). Tea Cup pigs are possibly the most adorable things I have EVER seen. Maternal hormones peak every time I see one. That's not weird, is it?
Cons - Apparently they are very big on pecking orders and will try to "subordinate" house guests by charging, barging and possibly biting. This could be awkward, especially if you want those guests to ever come back. Also, there's a small chance that you could unwittingly purchase what you think is a tea cup pig, which turns out to be a potbelly... Not cool.

Rats - I'd love a rat. I think they're fabulous. Again, similar to pigs, they probably make very rewarding pets when they're not scurrying through raw sewage. I don't understand the aversion to domestic rats. Why are hamsters so much more acceptable? They're less smart and less interactive - rats are more social in nature and bond easier with their owners, whereas hamsters are just... there. Running frantically in a wheel. Going nowhere. 

Pros - it's not a long-term commitment, they live for about 3 years. While they might use you as a climbing frame (see Snakes and Chameleon), they're affectionate with owners. Apparently. 
Cons - females go into heat about once a flipping week. No wonder you're 'never more than six feet away' from a city rat. 

Cats - I'm not cat-person per se, but I like cats. I don't have anything against them. I love their haughty attitude and they make great pets, as long as you don't expect any gratitude in return. They amuse me when they try to pounce on reflected lights or lose shoelaces. As someone who can blow and catch bubbles for hours at a time, I can relate to this kind of frivolous fixation. 

Pros - they clean themselves. They only poop in the litter tray (supposedly). They are relatively low-maintenance and can be left alone all day or even overnight. 
Cons - the associated reputation. Just typing "cats as pets" into Google quickly brings up, "do cats have souls" followed closely by "80 ways to share cat pictures". Getting a cat might result in other feline owners thinking we have something in common. I can't be having with this. 

Dogs - what's not to like? Dogs are social, affectionate, intelligent and inquisitive. They greet their owners, and generally guests, with enthusiasm. They almost always seem happy, or at least pleasantly surprised, to see you. Dogs respond to the mood of their owners and can be trained to play or calm down on cue. 

It's hard to draw up a quick list of pros and cons. Depending on the type of dog you want, or the space/facilities you can offer, a dog can be high maintenance or can just fit in with its owner's schedule. Probably the biggest con for me, would be associated with people who think they are dog owners, when they actually treat them as animated accessories

If you want a pet that size, get a guinea pig. Stop trying to pretend it's descended from domesticated wolves.

What's not to love?