Monday, August 08, 2011

The Cataclasm

Last night, we suddenly awoke to a tremendous uproar happening downstairs. It sounded like plastic thunder. As if someone was throwing every single non-heavy item in the house to the floor. This fearful clattering happened in bursts of up a minute or more and moved around at great speed before stopping eerily for several moments.

I went down to investigate, fully clothed in the suit of armour God gave me on by birthday. But for some reason, the plastic nature of it lead me not to suspect young hoodlums. I threw the light on and the only visible signs of life downstairs were two terrified cats. One immediately started running and the thunder began again, setting off the other cat.

Flashback: recently the local council had started to collect plastic packaging for recycling. And being good little creatures of this Earth, we had enthusiastically taken to throwing old cartons and bottles into a bag in the kitchen. Both cats were strangely intrigued by the new bag and frequently stuck their heads in for a good old sniff. Borneo, who loves hiding in plastic bags anyway, was naturally the more curious.

So the scene that greeted us when we came down last night was that of a cat whose body was wedged in the handle of a plastic bag completely filled with empty plastic bottles. When he moved, it followed and made a tremendous racket, which scared him out of his little cat wits. This made him run faster which made more noise. Meanwhile his sister also tried to run away from the loud monster chasing her brother, but found it very almost impossible because Borneo was running just about everywhere he could to find safety.

If they weren't so terrified, and if we didn’t love them as if they were our own fat, lazy, spoiled children, we would probably have found it hilarious.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Netherlands: City Part Tin Can Tower

The Netherlands is a country that is continuously in danger of being engulfed in a sea of red tape. They erect great dykes to keep this sea back called Stadsdeelkantoren. This means "Local Council Offices" or, literally, "City Part Tin Can Tower" or "Town Slice Side Ears." It depends how you divide it. There is a story that the "kantoor" part of the name is a contraction of "kan niet, hoor" (Trans: "NOT possible").

These are places where forms are filled in to get permission to fill in further forms; Where a receipt for a document is longer than the original document; Where anything outside of predefined norms is not possible or at the very least, the responsibility of some other vague department that you may never get in contact with.

This departmentalising (or, more accurately, compartmentalising) can be quite extreme. My mission to the local Statsdeelkantoor today was show them my birth certificate. This was to show them that I am not merely alive (that has been proven already) but that I was born and, I guess, not created in a factory or laboratory. (Although if I had the correct paperwork for that, it would be fine.)

Unrelated elephant
This is not a normal procedure, it would seem. This is evident by a few facts. Firstly, although I had a letter confirming the appointment, it wasn't in the receptionist's system. In most organisations this would mean a screw up with the system. But the receptionist, after a few moments of perplexed searching, realised that it meant it fell outside of the norm. She took me to the next level of people. The ones who deal with most of the people who come through their doors clutching pieces of paper. It was in their system, but they had no idea what to do about it. A couple of them discussed if for a few moments. In the end, they had to take me to a third level. Now, for me, none of this was a big issue. It meant I had to wait a few minutes for someone with the authority to work around the system to become free, but they do seem to have created extra work for themselves. Plus, given 3 members of their staff some moments of confusion. But, then again, these anomalies might be what keeps them going.

In think it's all part of bigger job creation scheme. The longer it takes to process anyone, the more people are needed. Proof of this scheme is shown by the entrance and exit doors. They are automatic. Great. Except that a security guard sat behind a computer has to press a button to approve it each time before they open. So they are not, in effect, automatic at all.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Travel: 17/6/11 Texas: Sugar and Flags

So the local Walmart has a flag aisle. Mostly because it's near the 4th of July, my girlfriend's sister tells me. But partly because this is Texas. I resisted asking in my most middle-eastern accent, "Zis. Iz zis flamable?"

People think that America is a country run on oil, but quite frankly it's sugar that the country doesn't seem to be able to do without. It’s in everything from bread to milk to carrots. Meanwhile scientists are baffled by an epidemic of obesity. I blame the Communists.

Despite this epidemic, one of the malls near my girlfriend's parents seems to have more sports stores than anything else. It's bizarre, because in general people don't seem so sporty round here. However, the ones who are, are pretty hardcore. We saw several people running in the midday heat of this heatwave. Apparently because it makes them work harder.

Well if you can't beat them, join them, as the old adage says. And as I can't beat that adage, I have to concede to its wisdom. I bought some running shoes. Some of you might know this already, but I have recently started running. I'll write more on this soon as I'm quite the running bore these days. In fact, Running Boar is my new Native American name given to me by the North Pumadikas tribe.

As well as shoes I bought some special running socks with the letters "L" and "R," one on each. Now I really feel like an athlete.

Lunch was at Chick-fil-A who claim to have invented the concept of putting chicken inside buns. Maybe they did. Although it really just seems like a specific application of the Earl of Sandwich's original patent ("A process of serving a variety of foodstuffs by placing the same between two slices of bread").

Dinner was at the Meddlesome Moth, a restaurant that was like a gastro pub in a warehouse. The food was great, but in those gastro pub sampler sizes. It also had a great selection of beers. We Europeans rightly denigrate Americans for their general awfulness in the beer department, whilst forgetting that it's also a country with a large enough population that anything is possible. It also has a strong German heritage. Because of this, it does have some great breweries. They're often small, local and they don't export. So we tend to think the only choices are "Buttwiper" and "Flavor Lite." And in this we are wrong. That's not to say that vast swathes of the community don't drink these poor options, mostly because every 5 minutes the TV tells them to.

Anyhoo, to end on a positive beer note, I had a thoroughly tasty, local brew called "512 Pecan Porter" which was like a nutty stout and worth tracking down.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Travel: 16/6/11 Atlanta to Dallas

Would you leave two overweight, grumpy siblings who hate each other locked in the same flat for a week? We just did that with our cats. If they were people it would be cruelty OR a new reality show. ("Fat Family Feud" it's called and I hope the exclusive world rights.) But enough about cats, we're on holiday.

Atlanta is a spikey outcrop of skyscrapers in a thick medieval forest. Like something out of a Swords and Sorcery movie. It feels like we should be fighting our way to it in order to steal the sacred chalice of Cocacola from the wicked King Thrasher. But instead we just flew in, were shepherded through various checkpoints and then thrown on another aircraft heading towards the fabled city of money, Dollars-For-t'Worth (or, as it's now known through colloquial corruption, Dallas-Fort Worth).

When we get to our final destination, we find that Texas is undergoing a sort of heat wave. The kind that TV stations scream about and make doomful predictions about; meanwhile the locals shrug at and point out that it's not actually broken any records yet. My girlfriend asks what's the equivalent of this Texan heat in Europe. "Gas Mark 4," I respond.

Monday, July 04, 2011

16/6/11 Travel: Amsterdam to Atlanta

The large, loud guy with a Southern drawl waiting to get on the plane to Atlanta only needs to be chewing tobacco to complete the stereotype. Oh, and maybe a Stetson instead of a baseball cap.

A Jewish man in historical garb rocks back and forth nervously muttering to himself in the corner. Okay, he's not nervous so much as praying. But it's the sort of praying that would be the onset of craziness in an atheist.

Flying is like being strapped into a hospital waiting room for several hours while the Earth spins away below you. The seats even come with their own dog-eared magazines which tell you how wonderful it is to be in various places around the world to take your mind off how awful it is to actually get there.

Planes these days often come with tiny little screens behind the head of the person in front of you. These ones are so tiny and low resolution I thought I was looking at an ad for "Miss Dim" for a minute before I realised it was for "Miss Dior." I'm not sure how wrong I was, to be honest.

I've seen about 20 movies in my life silently, over people's shoulders in planes. Not movies I want to see; but I'm attracted to moving pictures. I believe it's called Scapulavision.

On my tiny little screen, I saw a movie and a half to help pass the time because I sleep quite badly in uncomfortable chairs suspended over two miles of nothingness. I saw the King's Speech, in which an Australian teaches Colin Firth to speak so he can replace another Australian as king. I believe the working title was, George, King of the Desserts.

I also watched the first half of Robot (original title: Endhiran). If you wanted to know what Terminator would be like if it was mashed with The Matrix, made in Bollywood and starred Elvis, this is it. Sublime.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Beans of Wrath

People of the Netherlands a cancer is encroaching your country. I have enjoyed my ten years here without it, but the proverbial triffids are at our door. They are in our train stations; they are in our high streets; and they are bent on stealing your culture.

I'm a huge fan of coffee. My fandom resembles that of a fresh crack addict. I love my drug of choice and what it does for me. I am convinced I can kick it whenever I choose. As an addict, I do like the coffee Starbuck's sells. And I enjoy the look of their cakes, although they do inject them with more sugar than a healthy man should consider eating. And their décor within them is not unpleasant.

Artists' rendition of your future.
However, their business model is parasitic. The aim is not to compete with other establishments in a healthy competitive manner, but to strangle them by flooding as many Starbucks as they can into a particular area so that if you go into a random coffee house, the chances are it's a Starbucks. Then, once the competition has all died out, they close most of their stores and enjoy being the people's only option.[1][2]

It's a savage use of money to deny people free choice. It's Soviet-style coffee communism aggressively brought about by abuse of people liberal attitudes to the free-market.

Now, I can understand it not mattering in a country like the US (or even the UK) that doesn't have a café culture, but this country does. Most bars and cafes actually have good coffee. They have atmosphere. And they are usually run by individuals with character and often a connection to or compassion for the community they serve.

If you go to a Starbucks, you are contributing to the eradication of the café culture of the Netherlands. You are saying, "I don't want 'gezellig' places with charm and character. I don't want a choice of places to go and drink coffee." You are, in short, supporting the Stalinesque purge of your nation's cafés.

Anyway, rant over, enjoy your coffee.

[1] No Logo, Naomi Klein, 2000;
[2] The Simpsons episode 3G04: Simpson Tide, 1998.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Whinging about Pommes

Firstly, I'm going to have to preface this with a whole explanation to avoid the crisp-chip / chip-fry confusion. Basically it can be explained thus: What the Americans call "Chips," the British call "Crisps;" and what the British call "Chips," the Americans call "Fries." (For more scientific information, see my own research at More's Uncyclopaedia, the world's (mis)leading database of facts, figures, lists, and general trivia.)

Being British, I am inclined to use the words God gave us and not the more common, colonial / international corruptions. I assume this stance will not offend anyone.

But I am not here to talk about the ongoing Anglo-American Lingo Wars, I'm here to talk about the Dutch. The Dutch like their chips (fries) so much they have more than one word for them. They called them "Frites" or "Patats" and the only difference in usage I can see is that frites tend to come in paper cones and patats in polystyrene cartons. The highest form of frites you can get here are Vlaamse Frites, or Belgian Fries. It's odd here, because the Dutch love to look down on the Belgians. Pointing out their country is really just the quickest way to France; and that it's a place where signposts can change language half way through because the left half is in a French-speaking part and the right in a Flemish-speaking part. Yet, two things the Dutch are very, very fond of are frites and beer, and the highest form of both of these, as far as the Dutch are concerned, are the Belgian varieties.

What aren't so popular here are crisps (or the American potato chips). Or at least they weren't. When I arrived some 9 years ago there were 3 flavours of crisp in the stores. Three. "Natural," "Salt and Pepper" and (for the people with exotic tastes) "Paprika" (sweet pepper). That was it. I'd just come from the UK, where crisps were considered a good substitute for pretty much any meal of the day. In the UK, and even more so in the US, the array of crisp flavours (as well as crisp brands and styles) is staggering. But in the last few years, there are more and more crisp flavours and types appearing in the Netherlands. So much so that Lay's, the multinational crisp conglomerate, had a competition locally to vote for new flavours. So what do you think the winning flavour was? Huh? The winner was "Papatje Joppie" – chip-flavour crisps (or fry-flavoured chips). I'm not joking.

Now, clearly they are not purely chip-flavoured – they are the flavour of chips dipped in a mustardy sauce, but still. Really, are you so obsessed as a nation that when offered the chance to have ANY flavour in the world, you chose that your potato-based snack should taste like a different potato-based snack? I sometimes wonder if the ultimate Dutch snack would be a crisp that tastes like a chip dipped in mashed potato and sprinkled with flaked potato skins. Mmm, starchy.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Mars Needs Women

I'd like to thank Invader Stu for drawing attention to this song... Bruno Mars – Granade:

The fact that a bearded blogger has to draw my attention to a best-selling, Grammy-winning artist shows how out of touch I am musically. I just don't like to look at music news in case Ike and Tina have split up.

The song is basically an insanely intense young man dragging a piano through the streets of LA and listing all of the ways ye would kill himself to prove his love. He'd catch a grenade, put his hand on a blade, jump in front of a train, take a bullet through the brain, drink strychnane, and many more vaguely rhyming deaths and mutilations. He makes the mistake of many insanely intense young men and takes his death wish as proof of the depth of his feelings. His girlfriend, quite rightly, is not so keen to have her innards blown out or receive an extreme manicure just to show she has feelings. In fact, in the video, she has rightly moved on to someone who rather than wanting to get his guts spread along a railway track wants to make sweet love to her. I would argue that three weeks in four girls would much rather make sweet love than become a widow. The other week, it's not so clear.

There is a film title that comes to mind as being apt... Mars Needs Women. (Note: the title is apt; not so much the plot.) Maybe Mars just needs to get out there and experience a lot more women (as many of his lyrical contemporaries are advocating) to temper the intensity of his yearnings. Otherwise I have a terrible picture of young Bruno Mars rushing ecstatically up to his girlfriend's side and saying, "Hey, baby, look what I caught for you!" Turns out she would die for him, or, rather, because of him.

At the end of the video, it implies he does actually step in front of a train (alone, which means that somewhere on the streets of LA is a random, abandoned piano). It reminded me of James Blunt videos. They usually end with him jumping into a ravine or some other act that could be taken as ending it all. With James Blunt I'm always left with the feeling, "three minutes too late, buddy." With Bruno Mars, I can't help wondering if this intense reflection and constant referencing to bullets in craniums couldn't be turned outwards somehow and used to create something altogether more worthy.

Random Link: Rage Against the Machine - Bullet in the Head

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New vignette at The Character Project

image via
New short character vignette at The Character Project: The Year at Cannes.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

5 Bill Murray Holidays

1. Groundhog Day (US)
2. Losten Translayshen (India)
3. Gho Sbu Sters (Korea)
4. Skrøøjd (Denmark)
5. Groundhog Day (US)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Magic Bean With Miffy

Seen at a local garden centre. I love it because the name doesn't in any way say kids growing educational toy to me. It's exactly the title of a free-wheeling, 1960s drug-culture comedy. Probably featuring a cameo of up-and-coming star Jack Nicholson

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Huffy Fluffy Morning Club

The common wisdom is that pets calm you down. People are always throwing pat phrases at me to that effect. Or they throw the scientific equivalent of pat phrases at me, statistics. I don't deny that the majority of people who have pets are calmed by their presence, charmed by their actions and generally enraptured by the fact that this little furry bundle loves them like they were its own little mummikins.

However, statistics is a two way street. As readers of British tabloids know (although the papers themselves do not seem to) for every study showing X is bad for you it is only a matter of time before a study appears showing that X is good for you. (It's called Dacre's Mirror in newspaper circles, I believe.) Thus I am sure I can dig up statistics demonstrating the following:

People in a state somewhat akin to sleep, when greeted every morning by constant, bad-tempered whines and attempts to block their every step by something fat demanding to be made even fatter, find their levels of calm are shown to drop sharply.
I'm not saying that I never find the cats charming, or even on occasion (when it's their wish to be stroked) calming. (Although it is patently clear their love is at best that which you might have for an occasionally conscientious servant.) But for me the key moment of every day is when I awake. The hopes of the whole day are forming in my clouded mind. The whole mood and outlook of the next segment of daylight is created by the first few events between emerging from the sanctity of bed to that first taste of the brew of life. Were I to be wafted from my bedroom, held aloft by a set of adoring felines and carried to my study and a waiting mug of steaming coffee, then the cats could be said to have a truly calming effect.

But instead I get a chorus of ill-tempered mews berating me for spending all those hours sleeping when I should have been shovelling chicken-flavoured globules in their beaks. I get petulant demands to head down and replenish their bowls with poultry-based kibbles whilst at the same time, the same cats stand directly in front of my feet making any serious attempt to head anywhere almost impossible. It makes me wonder if they are simply without concept of cause and effect or whether they are deliberately out to annoy me.

Somehow they don't seem to mind that their breakfast is thrown in their bowls in the most begrudging fashion. And I shouldn't be so begrudging, really. Because that moment after the food is down and the coffee machine is preparing to do it's Jesus trick of turning water and a bag into coffee – when the only sounds are a few late morning birds asking around where the worms are, the gentle rumble of the Jesus machine warming up and the restful "nom nom" of God's creatures stuffing their furry faces – that moment is the calmest point of the day. Thank you for making me appreciate it, cats. Thank you. Who loves their daddikins?