Archive | January 2012

Evolution at work

The dog was snoozing in her basket, trying to ignore the signs of the house waking up. As I walked into the kitchen I spotted a red fox ambling through the garden. Dog spotted it too and all hell broke loose. Dog sprints to door, heckles up and barking mad; door is unlocked, fox notices dog and pelts for the back fence. Fox runs up and over the fence, its tail a red flag just as it disappears down the other side; dog splats into the fence and has to slink back into the house hoping we didn’t notice. This, I told the children, is evolution at work.

The Blonde deception

Being blond is, on balance, a blessing. If I wasn’t blonde I might even dye my hair.

People underestimate me. Their starting assumption is that I am nice and will probably agree with whatever it is they put to me because I either won’t quite grasp what they are getting at but am just bright enough not to admit it, or because I don’t have it in me to disagree with anyone. Especially not them. I relish the endless opportunities to win one over on them. Just the other day a colleague who had not known me very well before he saw me in action told me of his surprise to find I really was not fluffy. He seemed impressed.

I can switch on the blond moment to avoid situations where I truly am out of my depth, such as negotiating a good deal on a new car – so a man’s world. I totally go blond and let my husband do the talking. Or to get someone else to do things I’d really rather not: helpless charm.

I get to cross the road without stopping in Mediterranean countries. Even most women drivers stop as long as I don’t make eye contact with them.

Nobody can tell whether I am starting to go grey or not.

I don’t tend to get selected for random checks at airports.

The drawback? Get in a lift in China and you really, really stick out like a sore thumb. At least I can flash a universally vacant blond smile and disarm them.

Living forever

Why would anyone want to live forever? Or even live twice as long as everybody else. I simply don’t understand. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a confession of a depressed person about to slash their wrists in the bath while everyone is out to the movies. Life is a gift and all that, I wouldn’t miss it for anything. But

a.) we have a problem with overpopulation on this planet that we have not cracked yet. Unless we spend equal resources on a solution for the question of how we are going to feed and water all those people and provide them with the health, energy and space they crave, any resources diverted to research into eternal life are misguided.

b.) does your life really become more valuable as it lasts longer? Imagine the scenario:  Because you are super smart or were selected for an experiment by visiting aliens you have acquired the know-how to keep yourself alive and in good health for twice as long as the average life span of the people around you. Well done you! Better start planning all the great things you will now be able to do that you never thought you would have time for. You can visit those far flung islands and the hidden valley at the foot of that volcano filled with rare species; you can learn five more languages and try a few new sports. You could even buy a bigger house, because you will be working twice as long. Snag 1! Unless you really love your job this was perhaps not the picture you had in mind when you decided to take that drug. Oh well, you’ll manage. You take another look at your life, and realize that your partner will be getting older and speeding towards death twice as fast as you. So will your friends. Your children will catch up with you. It dawns on you that you will be  spending the second half of your life without all the people you know and love, unless you take some drastic measures. You brew some more of your miracle potion or beep up the aliens, and convince all your loved ones to take the drug too. They will only agree if they can offer it to their loved ones too, but you don’t have enough miracle potion or the aliens are just mean. Snag 2! Do you really want to start all over with friends and family once the first lot have all gone?

Life is a sociable undertaking. A feeling of accomplishment is relative to how others do, not to outliving everybody else. I am with the Southbank Centre in London, whose “Festival of the Living” is making a case for more personal rituals around dying: enjoy life, and exit with personality and grace. This is what I intend to do. Must remember to write that will.

Belgium revisited!

Leuven

When I landed in Brussels for the first time in 11 years I didn’t recognize anything. I had expected to feel home, the way I had when I landed here during the months of commuting between London and Belgium before making the move west. Since then I have been back and forth with cars full of family, dog, and lots of stuff (the stuff mostly of the edible and drinkable kind, strictly going west) but never by plane. This being the first business trip in all those years time was finally more valuable than space and so I found myself in a bright, busy could-be-anywhere airport.

That all changed at night. Many things do. I made it into Leuven town centre on a nostalgia trip, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The hurdles on my path were so many I had begun to believe the whole idea was jinxed. The first was: I was seriously sleep deprived and a part of me was screaming to just go to bed in that lovely loft room. Hunger however was worse so I had to have dinner. Easy: eat at the hotel, then go to bed before anyone notices. Problem number two: the hotel restaurant was closed, and the hotel was just out of town. Problem number three: I had let my colleagues, who had the good sense to go home at a reasonable time, lock my coat in the office and so had no coat to brave the frost that night. Desperation set in.

I did the lost girl thing to the hotel receptionist, which is not my usual style but desperation is the mother of resourcefulness. And hark: he could lend me a nice warm coat, only slightly oversized, a bike, and a set of bike lights; he showed me how to work the bike lock and gave me directions. The answer to all my problems! I’d forgotten how well suited a bike is to seeing a town. Just the right speed and hop on and off as you like. London is finally cottoning on, but in Belgium we’ve known this for yonks.

Leuven town centre still looks very much as I remembered it. The historic buildings of course ensure the cityscape does not change. But I even found many cafes and restaurants we used to frequent as students way back then: one where they had good spaghetti, one where we’d occasionally splash out on a steak, and many cafes that bring back memories of evenings out with fellow students. The drowning Margriet statue is still there, as is the experimental theatre cafe that still seems to attract the more obscure “Culture” fanatics.  They had huge screens in there now that were displaying some experimental video work.

I ended my pilgrimage in a restaurant with its own house brewery, enjoying a delicious pheasant with chicory and wine poached pear accompanied by the house Troubadour blond beer. Which I had never heard of but enjoyed greatly. Not a bad workday night.

Troubadour blond

Vanity

Thank you Blondgirl008 for awarding me the Versatile Blogger Award! I only started blogging a few weeks ago and feel like I am still trying it out, playing around. I am so chuffed with the recognition. So there you know the first fact about me, which I am surprised to learn myself: I am vain! I did not have myself down as vain at all, I am way too cool for that. Was, obviously.

It seems odd that anyone might want to know anything about me. I am but the messenger, there to entertain you with stories and observations. But one must play by the rules, so I shall throw you a few herrings:

I wish I could travel more. My list of places to experience before I die predicts a long life. I can’t wait for more experiences like spending time in the Masai Mara. The space, its very own rhythm, the intimate confrontation with the cycle of life – there is nothing like it.

I have a bit of a green thumb. Don’t judge me, I give you honesty. The greenery calms me. And it doesn’t talk back.

I function better with regular doses of Belgian chocolate and the odd Tripel Karmeliet or Westmalle beer, chilled to cellar temperature.

I don’t have a cellar. I cool my beers in the garage in winter. In Summer I turn to white wine or lagers.

I love my Mini. It truly is a go-kart. It makes me feel I drive a supercar when really it’s only got a small engine and fits inside a Landrover Discovery (we tried, kind of).

I have recently cleared my driver’s licence of the burden of 2 speeding tickets – partly thanks to the Mini: it gives me an unreal sense of speed.

I would like to share the versatile blogger award with these blogs:

iLOOKstreetstyle

Per Alia

Randomfemaleblog

The insanity aquarium

The Fly

Knock knock – “Can I ask you a question?” The man looked at me expectantly as he hovered in the doorway. I looked up, my concentration broken. Then I remembered: he was the new lawyer, only been here a few weeks. I had never had a proper conversation with him beyond polite phrases while brewing coffee. He seemed quite pleasant and eager. As my mind was mapping him my eyes were drawn to the fly that seemed to be following him like a pet. “Sure!” I managed in my most welcoming voice. Damn, the fly was breaking loose. It struggled to propel its heavy self but managed to zigzag its way over. Encouraged, the lawyer stepped forward and asked his question. I did my best to listen while I was transfixed by the fly – I am genetically predisposed to multitask, after all. The fly was carefully picking a good landing spot. Decision made, it headed straight for a nice flat letter on my desk. My focus was razor sharp. I slid a note pad into my right hand just in time to SLAM the fly to splat. “HA!” I let out triumphantly, looking up at the visitor in my doorway. He was clinging to my door, an expression of sheer terror on his face. If he hadn’t frozen on the spot he would have turned on his heels and run. Crazy lady!!  It was only then I realized what terror I had put the poor man through. I am a bad, bad person! I apologized profusely and assured him I was not usually violent. Flies just irritate the hell out of me, and I have to win over them. He has been cautiously polite to me ever since.

Cold

How frustrating! I’ve been working from home today and experienced the exact opposite of the slice of life described on the Dark Globe recently. Patrick Dykie wrote about the incessant flow of knocks on the door at inopportune moments. Whereas I was left waiting all day for a delivery that did not arrive. Then again, my work flow was churned three times by a cold call, putting me in Dykie’s camp again. Do you have any idea how many cold calls you miss when you are at work all day? They don’t even bother with real people anymore. They’re all prerecorded messages. Which is a shame because I quite enjoy to let cold callers do their spiel while I move on to something else, leaving the phone just close enough to hear their feigned enthusiasm turn into indignation when it dawns on them their audience has disappeared.

The soft side in me feels for the cold callers actually, it has got to be one of the lousiest jobs out there. I’ve done some awful jobs myself to survive, but I reckon none of them were as bad as that. I have blanked out the train station hot dog shack job because my mind cannot cope with the memory. Moving on, the bottom two jobs were sorting apples according to size in a cold store on an apple farm, and serving in a posh restaurant. You would think the apple sorting was the worst because of the sheer numbness of the task and discomfort of working in the cold, but for me the restaurant waitressing was infinitely worse. Many customers treated me like the gum splat on the sole of their shoe and the owner/chef was a more demeaning boss than Sir Alan could ever hope to be. In the apple job we would occasionally joke together, but most of the time your mind was left to wander while you acted on auto pilot. You could map out a whole novel in your head while you were earning your crust. I now understand how some people choose a routine job and are happy with it. They can leave at the set time stress-free and move on to something that really interests them. Writing, perhaps. Is there a career change in here, I wonder? Tough one. When would I have my stuff delivered then?

Belgium

We decided to sit down with a beer and enjoy the atmosphere before strolling back along the river and rejoin the mayhem. We found a table with a marvelous view over the river and the quay opposite and ordered 2 Kriek Boon beers. One 500 ml for two – just a little bit more than if we’d ordered two separate ones. The place is cosy and a bit naff, with an old stove in the room and a few low slung oldfashioned wing chairs in the corner. Every chair is taken, many by Dutch day trippers.

When the beer arrives all of its 0.5l comes in one huge glass. The waitress, thinking of the shopping she still has to do or the party she is going to in the evening  – anything to take her mind off what she is actually doing right now, tries to argue with me that this is what I have ordered and I should just make do. All I want is for her to bring me another small Kriek Boon, and we’ll have both. Never too much of a good thing, especially one you just can’t get anywhere else. Rolling her eyes she speeds off and eventually returns with another beer for the morons. Wonderful.

When it is time to leave I shake out my smallest euro coins and build a pile that pays our bill. The Dutch guys behind us are grinning. My husband is shrinking. I pretend not to notice. I never claimed I was a nice person.