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Friday, March 30, 2007

Iron Man

The Iron Man Triathlon is one of the toughest sporting events in the world. The main event is held at Hawaii, and involves almost 4 km of swimming, 180 km of cycling and a complete 42 km marathon to topple it all off. Only the best of the best compete here, and you’d better be an iron man to even think about appearing at the starting line.

I don’t know if I could ever make it, because let’s face it: I’m a 35-year old desk jockey that can barely cross a swimming pool, stay upright on a bike and when I have to make a run for the bus stop, I’m running out of breath before I even reach the corner of our street. But a man has to challenge himself in live.

So in a fit of lunacy, I ironed six whole, over-stuffed baskets of laundry in less than 24 hours! Try to beat that, you steroid guzzling, over-developed, flab-less freaks!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Corporate Slave

I’ve been at home all week because little green men that nobody sees or hears but me landed their flying wok pan (flying saucers are so passé) in our garden and invaded my body last Sunday. They started installing some mysterious spying devices in my throat, using pikes, hack-saws and coarse sanding paper. I barely slept that night, as you do when aliens take over your body. Mrs Bart claims that I snored, but it was really the noise of their power tools.

Why doesn’t anybody believe me?

The doctor looked into my ears and nose and mouth and said it is an infection. I have to stay in bed all week. I almost followed his advice yesterday, dividing my time between the computer and the TV. But today I slightly adapted the resting-schedule to go to a job event in the congress centre nearby. It was interesting, because there were only big companies and no NGOs or government services (or not that many anyway) and I got to talk with a number of people that gave me a better idea about what kind of job I could do if I don’t find work soon as a certified world-saver. Besides, pay-rates are way better at the dark side of the economy. I should start finding me some money instead of foolishly handing it out to starving children in Africa and stuff.

And if things don’t work out that well I can always start a Dilbert-like comic.

Posted by Bart at 6:32 PM
Categories: Miscellaneous

Monday, March 26, 2007

Bruges

We went to my inlaws this weekend, for various visits, birthday parties and dinner parties. This reminded me that I still had a bunch of pictures on my hard disk from a couple of months ago. I took my camera with me then, to make a couple of pictures in bad light conditions and grey weather. Excellent for a black-and-white portrait of this ancient city.

Bruges - Smedenpoort - one of the many entry gates to the old city

The 'Smedenpoort' (Smiths' gate).

Misty view on the cathedral

Bruges is world famous for its canals

One of the smaller canals. Bruges has almost as many canals as ordinary streets.

The crusifixion of Christ in the old hospital of Sint-Jan (Saint John)

The crucifixion of Christ in the old hospital of Sint-Jan (Saint John).

British tourists: loud but harmless

British tourists: loud but mostly harmless.

Tourist trap, commin' through!

High-speed Christmas decoration.

Alley

Ice-skating ring

Bruges is one of those cities that installs a skating rink every year on the square in front of the famous Belfort.

Bruges is famous for its lace

Bruges is world famous for its lace. Given the amount of lace that the tourists buy here every year, you'd expect that every person living in Bruges does nothing but weaving lace all day long from the moment they are potty-trained until they are put to the grave, 24 hours per day, seven days a week.

The Belfort tower

Saint-Mary

Christmas market by night

The skating rink at nightfall, photo taken in the main gate of the Belfort.

Skaters on the outdoor skating rink

Posted by Bart at 6:29 PM
Categories: Framed

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

…EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE…

I took the day off on Monday so I would have a long weekend to work on our bedroom. I had to adapt the building-plans recently for budgetary reasons. I calculated how much the new false ceiling would cost, and it was a pretty penny. I also wanted to sound-proof the two walls between our room and the neighbours houses, but the additional cost is too high. So no false walls then, but it meant that I couldn’t hide the electrical wiring behind them and that I had to cut about 10 meters of new trenches into one wall. The prospect really annoyed me, I was so glad when I was finally done with the stone-grinding. It makes a hell of a noise and creates tonnes of very fine dust that keeps infesting your whole house up to two months after you’re done. Also, the machine tries to kill me, which is a minor annoyance. Every now and then the grinding disk will get stuck and because action equals reaction the machine will jerk up and try to burry itself deep in my skull. Luckily, I don’t store anything important up there.

But before I could storm the walls, I had to finish the door. I had taken it out of its hinges to burn off the paint, but it still needed some sanding before I could put it back on. I had to sand off a bit from the edges because it won’t close anymore ever since I re-plastered the wall around it. In fact, the drying cement exerted so much pressure that it cracked the wood in a couple of places. I was very lucky that I got it open again in the first place.

So: sand door – re-install door – grind trenches in wall – remove dust – install sockets – install wiring – fill up trenches again. Piece of cake.

After sanding half the door with my Bosch PBS-7A 600 Watt Belt Sander with 75 x 457 mm sanding belt, micro filter dust collector and nail-polish protector, I noticed that my hearing was suffering a bit. The loud high-pitch wining sound of the power sander was strong enough to create a permanent echo in my ear. When I cut off the machine, I would still here this continuous eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-sound in my head.

Better late than never, I started looking for my ear-plugs. I was sure I had some lying around somewhere in the house, but you try finding anything in this complex system of interconnected caves that we call our home these days. It was Sunday, so the DIY-shops weren’t open. In the end, I decided to use a make-shift solution and stuff some cotton wool in my ears. But that night, I went to bed with that annoying sound teasing my eardrums.

Monday was angel-grinder-day, but before I started hacking my way through solid brick, I hopped on my bike to get me some ear-plugs. Because I was alone in the toy shop DIY store with no guidance from my responsible adult wife, I bought myself another couple of absolute necessities to get the last paint out of the nooks and crannies of the door.

I must say the ear-plugs did a great job, helping me to keep the headache that I woke up with under control. The combination of the belt-sander and a soirée with some friends and red whine was just too much for my poor head. So I ground away the whole day, cutting two parallel lines into the plaster-and-brickwork and then chiselling out the brick in between. By the end of the evening, everything was ready to install the electrical wiring.

To end that day in style, I had to drill three holes through a wall that was more than half a meter thick. Quickly before diner. No ear-plugs, until I understood that it would take longer than expected and that my hearing might get permanently damaged if I kept pushing my long, hard, throbbing shaft into that hole at ferocious speeds.

Two days later, and I still hear that beep in my ears. It’s getting better, it’s not so loud anymore. But maybe next time I should be a little more careful with these powertools.

Posted by Bart at 10:23 PM
Categories: Home Improvement

Friday, March 16, 2007

Big Belly – Big Baby

We went to the gynaecologist’s yesterday evening, for the baby’s monthly check-up. We had an appointment at 7.15pm, but when we arrived there were some 50.000 people in the waiting room. The doctor had been called away to a delivery earlier that day, so there was a delay of at least two hours. ‘Probably more like three’, said his helpful yet slightly pessimistic secretary.

No use in planting ourselves in the waiting room for three hours, so we drove back home to grab a bit to eat. After a healthy diner consisting of two large packets of fries, a curryworst spéciale (kind of sausage buried below layers of sauce and onions), a grizzly (spicy minced meat in batter), bitterballs (crispy balls with unspecified saucy filling), a sito-stick (alleged turkey with slices of onion in batter on a stick) and a kipcorn (industrially-processed chicken waste in corn batter), we returned two hours later to the baby-doctor.

Unfortunately, the waiting room was still packed. We had to wait for another hour before we could enter the doctor’s cabinet, and we were the lucky ones. Some people had their appointment scheduled at 9.30pm. I really felt sorry for the doctor when I shook his hand. He looked very tired and he still had hours of work in front of him. Still, he was his usual calm, confident and humorous self. A couple of minutes later we were all staring at the monitor, looking at slices of our child-to-be. The biggest surprise came when he calculated the weight of the baby. Normally it should weigh around 900-950 grams. Ours is a bit bigger. Actually, a lot bigger. Make that a whopping 30% bigger, bending the digital needle of the virtual scales to 1 kilo and 200 grams.

The doctor explained that this was rather exceptional. And then he blamed me for the baby’s size. My dearest darling is a bit apprehensive, she is trying desperately to imagine how she is going to press that little bundle of joy out of her tummy and into the delivery room in a couple of months time. I assume there will be some cursing and other foul language and I expect to be the main target. It may even get to physical violence. I start to understand why some new dads prefer to pass-out during delivery.

Posted by Bart at 8:56 PM
Categories: Big Belly

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Spring Is In The Air

The weather’s been lovely these last couple of days. What a contrast with last year, when the Spirit of Spring returned home and found the God of Winter on top of his wife and the kitchen table. He got so angry then that he left the country and refused to come back until his place was finally taken over by the Lord of Summer. But this year it seems that Mr. Spring and his wife have consulted a marriage counsellor, because the sun is shining, the flowers are popping up and the birds are singing – until our cats bite their sweet little heads off, the darlings.

The nicest thing is that I’m seeing daylight again. In winter I leave home in the dark, take the bus in the dark to the dark train station and it’s still dark when I arrive at the office. I spend my whole day in a dark corner of the office. And when I leave in the evening it’s dark from the door of the office to my own door. Very depressing!

Just before my trip to Niger, the light came back. I first noticed it while waiting on platform 8, the sun just peeped its head over the horizon. Now, a couple of weeks later, the sun is already up before I am. And in the evening, it accompanies me from the office to the train station and all the way back home.

Posted by Bart at 8:06 PM
Categories: Miscellaneous

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

On The Dole

It’s official now, I’ve lost my job. We’ve all lost our jobs, because our organisation has no money no more. Well, just for a couple more months, but then it’s really finished.

It’s no surprise really, they told me when I applied for my current job that the organisation urgently had to improve its fund-raising abilities. But after two years of struggle, it’s become painfully obvious that we are unknown, unloved and therefore unfunded.

I’ve been looking around for another job for a couple of months now. I’m terribly picky, because I want to continue in international development or international affairs, but on the other hand I don’t want to go abroad for long periods of time anymore now that I’m married, expecting a baby (well my wife is) and sinking into mortgages and loans up to my eyebrows. On the other hand, when I do apply I’m always invited for an interview. ‘Always’ meaning twice, and as you know I couldn’t make it the first time because of my recent business trip to Niger. The second time they were more flexible and I was able to postpone the interview until after the trip, even with the four days extra. Another big hug for Air France which almost made me loose two job opportunities, apart from the funeral of my grandfather.

Anyway, they invited me last Thursday, the day after my return from Niger. Despite still being very, very tired the interview went rather well. So much so that they invited me for the second and final round next Thursday. Please keep your fingers, toes and tentacles crossed that day. So far I’ve done well since I got selected together with seven others from a hundred letters. I don’t know how many of us remain in the final round, but I really want that job.

If I do get it, I will return to emergency relief aid and food security programmes. I would be responsible for the projects in the Somewhat Democratic Republic of the Congo. But they were also very interested in what I’ve been up to these last couple of years in terms of structural development. Could be a very interesting job!

Posted by Bart at 7:41 PM
Categories: Miscellaneous

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Marooned

So I finally made it back, my trip to Niger was extended by four long days. I was supposed to fly back home last Friday, but Air France let me know that their plane had less seat than would-be passengers. Hiking a ride on the wing was no option either, so I had to take the next plane. ‘The next plane’ in Heathrow or Paris or JFK means you have another flight in a couple of hours or so. ‘The next plane’ in Niger means you have to wait four days.

I missed my Pooky and her Big Belly. I also missed my grandfather’s funeral, for which I was very pissed off. Bloody Air Frog. So I worked my bottom off for four more days and had a long, uneventful and strikingly uninteresting flight back. The temperature shock was not so big as last year, when I consistently jumped from 40-45°C in Africa to -5°C in merry old Belgium.

I took the rest of the week off, that is to say, I worked at home. Or rather, I was going to work on the bedroom which is still in shambles and needs to be finished urgently, what with the baby and everything. But then we got a phone call from the child-care office, which let us know that the nanny we’ve chosen has to stop her baby-refugee-centre because of health reasons. Whether they were talking about the babies’ health or the ladies’ health was unclear. Anyway, this led to a state of general panic, because it’s virtually impossible to find another nanny in such short notice. I started to phone around, and most nannies broke out in hysterical laughter when I mentioned August 2007 as a starting date. They were overbooked until April 2008.

Swallow!

Sweat!

Swallow again!

Luckily I did find a nanny, and a Spanish speaking one at that! Our baby is going to be multi-lingual from the onset! However, we do foresee serious problems when he/she’s going to bigmouth us in Spanish every time she/he doesn’t get what she/he wants. Ayayay!

Posted by Bart at 4:13 PM
Categories: The intrepid explorer


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