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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Science Of Taking A Bus

Taking a bus is not that easy. In fact, the bus companies (we got one for every region of the country : a Flemish one, a Wallonian one and one in Brussels) should distribute manuals. Yesterday an elderly couple was accompanying their grand-daughter on the bus – or maybe just harassing an innocent teenage girl. When they see that their stop is coming up, they start to say their goodbyes, kissing and hugging and giving farewell speeches and all. Then they tried to exit through the entrance, which was not possible because of all the people entering the bus. By the time they had found the exit and shuffled to it, the doors closed again. The next stop was a couple of blocks away. Not so much a problem for a young lad in the prime of his years such as me, but a long walk for those venerable old legs.

A bit further we enter a street and approach a bus stop full with people. They stare at the bus like a bunch of sheep that wouldn’t stop grazing their meadow even if a nuclear missile slammed into the ground right next to them. They didn’t signal the bus driver to stop, so the bus driver didn’t stop. They looked very surprised because the bus didn’t stop. Luckily, bus drivers have a sixth sense for these involuntary lobotomy victims, so he stopped a bit further and allowed the sheep to get on the bus.

I’m telling you all this to camouflage a bit what I did this morning. I was so busy contemplating the origins, direction and meaning of the universe, the existence of a supreme being (other than me) and whether women would really leave messages and phone numbers in men’s rooms – in other words my brain was still pre-heating that morning – that I completely missed my bus stop. My regular bus stop is very easy to recognise, what with that giant train station right in front of you and all the busses stopping there. So our bus stopped, people got on and off, we left again, passed the train station and only THEN did I realise that something was wrong.

Nothing so bad as getting off at a stop where no-one ever gets off and walk back to the train station.

Posted by Bart at 9:24 PM
Categories: Public Transport Pains

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Financial Shock

I have a new colleague since a week or two, to replace our old financial manager responsible chief-executive person. He was a bit worn-out so we shipped him off to Canada. We found a replacement just in time. We have a small office with only three people, and my boss is on maternity leave. For a while it looked as if I was going to be the only one left in the office, which would be very depressing.

But Thursday morning I got a phone call from the brother of this new colleague. She had fallen off her horse. Badly. She’s in the hospital at the moment, waiting for surgery on her arm. Her back received a serious blow too, she’ll have to wear a corset for a while.

I know you all sympathise with her, but think about me! I’ll be alone in the office for weeks. And worse still, I’ll be responsible for the financial management. We’re doomed I tell you! We’ll be bankrupt by Christmas!

My first job is to pay the salaries. Would anyone notice if I’d make an 'error' when I pay out mine?

Posted by Bart at 10:41 AM
Categories: Miscellaneous

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Autumn Sunbathing

The weather was incredibly nice today, I can’t remember if it’s ever been this warm in October. The thermometer rose to 22°C, we’re lucky if we get that much sun in summer. I couldn’t wait to get out of the confines of my dark, TL-lit office for lunch-break. I followed the example of the badge-people – the slaves of the European Institutions that have to wear a badge visible at all times to identify them as a separate race. Images of the late 1930’s spring to mind.

But anyway, I got myself a sandwich – boulette since they were out of filet américain – and seated my sexy bum on a park bench. I raced a young lady for an unoccupied one, but I lost by a narrow margin. Instead of pretending that I wasn’t going there at all and starting to look for another one, I asked her if I could sit next to her. As I explained before, this is very un-Belgian-like. So we sat at the opposite extremes of the bench and pretended that the other one wasn’t there. Then a bunch of her friends showed up and the park bench got quite full. The relative calm of the park turned into a busy gossiping and sniggering of young girls so after I’d finished my lunch I decided to go for a walk. Although I’ve been working here for more than a year now, I still don’t know this part of the city very well. That’s because it’s a boring part, as was confirmed by my strolling about. But I did enjoy the warm breeze, the warm rays of sunlight and the joy of the children that were still aware that someday they would have to return their asses reluctantly to their dark, gloomy offices.

Posted by Bart at 9:44 PM
Categories: Miscellaneous

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Wish-list

My sister gave us her and her husbands wish-list for Christmas and New Year. It’s October. It’s still 20°C outside, the geese refuse to fly to the south and the flowerbeds are still in bloom. But I guess I shouldn’t complain, at least it was her wish-list for this year’s Christmas and not for 2007 or 2008.

I hate making wish-lists. I never can think of anything I want, until the day after New Year. Then I find out I need a lamp or a kitchen robot or an office chair or a herbs-and-spices-rack. And by the time I have to write a new one, I’ve forgotten all of those things.

Posted by Bart at 8:48 PM
Categories: Miscellaneous

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Feeding The Poor

Getting married and organising big wedding parties, going to the other side of the world for your honeymoon, buying real estate and cars all in the same year doesn’t do wonders for your bank account. This month we paid the last bills for the wedding, and we also paid insurance and other costs for the car for the coming year. So our empty bank accounts are gathering dust and cobwebs, while in the supermarket we try to decide whether we will eat white beans with or without tomato sauce today. I tell you, tomato sauce is getting ridiculously expensive these days, what with the rising oil prices and all.

So when people invite us, we start to behave like tramps that accidentally got access to a cooking convention, but with the subtle difference that we don’t stuff food in our pockets… yet. Yesterday we went to celebrate my father’s birthday. He’s become 61 last Tuesday, so let’s give him a warm round of applause here people! Anyway, the menu read stone-grill and as usual my mother had bought enough meat for all of us and for the Red Army’s 4th division should they decide to invade the country that day. However, despite the humungous amount of food, a couple of hours later nothing much was left.

We gorged ourselves, my wife and I. We stuffed every spot in our digestive system and stashed away food reserves in empty places with non-vital bodily functions, such as our lungs. It got to the point were it became a bit embarrassing. Everyone had finished for ages, only the two of us kept laying sausages, mini wiener schnitzels, bacon, steak, chicken on the top grill, while the little pans underneath were used to prepare paprika and potato covered with grilled cheese and mushrooms in cream sauce. And then there was desert...

In return, my father did get some presents of course. My sister had bought them and we were going to split the bill. But we forgot to pay our part. By accident. I swear!

Posted by Bart at 8:12 PM
Categories: The Hunter Gatherer

Friday, October 20, 2006

Dirty Pictures

In order to further discourage smoking, especially by youngsters, our government has decided that the cigarette producers have to put ‘dirty pictures’ on the packets of cigarettes.

What moron thought of this? I would think that dirty pictures would attract young boys rather than frighten them. If anything, it will be a reason to start smoking:

- “Did you see my latest cancer picture yet?

- “Whoaaaaw, that’s soooo gross. I’ll trade you for three pictures of tar lungs!

- “Nah, everyone has tar lungs.

- “How about rotting fingers? I’ve got some nice ones of rotting fingers.

- “Ok, show me.

These fools clearly know nothing of the psyche of young boys, or of the psyche of grown men for that matter. Grown men are very fond of dirty pictures, that’s the whole reason why they spend so much time on the internet.

Except me of course, because I’m above that sort of thing, being a married man and all that.

Posted by Bart at 8:11 PM
Categories: Being Belgian

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Tricked

I’ve been tricked, framed, put on the wrong foot! A couple of days ago I wrote an angry post about the announcement that a new bank would settle in Brussels that would offer its clients to invest in unethical investments. But apparently, there is no such thing as the ACE bank. It was just an advertising trick of Netwerk Vlaanderen (Network Flanders) a non-profit organisation that ‘promotes an environmentally and socially responsible approach to money’. By advertising for this bogus bank, Network Flanders wants to attract attention to the fact that existing banks still invest money on unsuspecting people’s savings accounts into dubious projects and businesses such as the arms trade, environmentally disastrous activities and so on.

Well, they surely fooled me! I thought it was outrageous that something as this could exist. The bank opened their ‘office’, where actors play the roles of the bank staff and try to persuade people to buy antisocial financial products. I think it is a great stunt.

If someone still wants to buy shares in the war in Iraq or Lebanon, you can visit them between 11-14h and 15-18h from Tuesday to Saturday until the 2nd of November. The ‘bank’ is located at the Muntplein / Place de la Monnaie in Brussels.

Posted by Bart at 7:39 PM
Categories: Miscellaneous

Monday, October 16, 2006

It’s Going To Be A Warm Winter

To make up for a most dreadful spring, autumn has been lovely so far with temperatures reaching over 20°C and loads of sunshine. But the last couple of days, I started to see the signs of colder times ahead. The leaves of the chestnut trees in the park are already brown and dropping to the ground, while other trees are getting red and yellow rims on their foliage. And the mornings are getting quite nippy, we’re huddling together at the bus stop all grumpy because the bus is late again.

We turned on the stove this weekend, for the first time since we moved. And for the first time since I took it completely apart, move the bits and pieces to a different room, moved them back again and re-assembled it. It’s an electrical stove, or more precisely an accumulator. It heats up during the night when electricity is cheap and stores it in big chunks of metal the size of large bricks. Each piece ways a tonne, so taking it apart and filling it again with the metal bricks wasn’t easy. But despite all of this, it still works! Not that I ever doubted that of course, I was just very glad that there was no need to turn on the stove until now.

So yesterday evening it was all warm and cosy. And this morning it was quite a nice surprise to find that the temperature in the living room was very nice. That will make such a big difference this winter, until the end of last winter (April) I had to scram from my toasty bed through the unheated bedroom, kitchen and hall – passing by the ice-cold toilet – to the freezing living-room of the apartment where I’d have to wait fifteen minutes with my behind on the gas stove for it to heat up my frozen body and the room itself. Gone are those bone-chilling winter mornings!

I love this house!

Posted by Bart at 9:55 PM
Categories: Miscellaneous

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Capitalist Pigs

I’ve read and article in the newspaper about a new bank that’s coming to Brussels. They advertise for unethical investments. That’s right, ethical investing is for pussies! Invest in pollution, no-one cares about the Kyoto protocol. For people that aren’t afraid of quick decisions, we advise investing in wood from the tropical rain-forests. Don’t wait too long, because those forest are almost gone! Landmines are a growth market too, legs outnumber anti-personnel mines a hundred to one, so buy your shares today! Or how about the lucrative sport brands that let their shoes, footballs and clothing produce by children under 10? You can’t beat the competitiveness of child labour! And this weeks special offer: cluster bombs. The Israeli Air Force and Army have fired every last stockpile into Lebanese territory, so you know they’ll have to buy-buy-buy LOADS of new stuff in the coming months. Now don’t you miss this unique opportunity.

I can’t believe ‘banks’ like this still get a permission to operate. They should be banned, together with their clients.

Posted by Bart at 10:41 PM
Categories: Miscellaneous

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Bump

I bumped my head last Saturday, or rather I slammed it with vicious force against a plastic container. I had to pass the clean laundry that she-who-washes-whiter-than-white had hung up under the veranda. So I ducked to get underneath and during that move I had a close encounter with the container that we have to use for our organic garbage. We Belgians are serious about sorting our waste, you know.

Following the head-slam, I may have produced a cross word or two. Maybe even three. I just hope that our neighbours’ kids weren’t playing outside at the time or their young innocent souls will be scarred for life. And it wasn’t for long before I felt the place of impact swell up to an impressive bump.

It annoys me every time I wash my face, comb my hair, scratch my head, put on sweaters or otherwise touch it. And I get a headache every time I bend over to tie my shoelaces or something. Luckily it didn’t change colour in the days that followed, I’d hated it if I would have to walk around with a colourful disco-ball on my face.

Posted by Bart at 8:07 PM
Categories: Miscellaneous

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Going Through The Roof (Water)

I didn’t post during the last couple of days, because the number of leaks in the ceiling of the computer room quickly increased. The problem is that this room has (or in the mean time had) a false ceiling, so there was no way to know how serious the problem was, how it was evolving, how many leaks we had and where the water was coming from exactly. So I spent the weekend on the roof.

It is a flat roof, covered with tarmac with a number of ventilation shafts and chimneys in different sizes. On top of the tarmac there’s a layer of pebbles to prevent it from heating up too much so it won’t start to bulge or tear apart. But that layer also held a load of mud and moss, and we suspected that was what causes the water to remain on the roof. The moss might also be responsible for making cracks in the tarmac.

On Saturday, we shovelled and sifted approximately five tonnes of pebbles and mud and separated it into two tonnes of pebbles and three tonnes of mud and moss. It was by far the heaviest and dirtiest chore I did so far on the house (geddit: on the house?) It was cold and wet up there too, with the occasional shower, but by the end of the day the sun came out. Despite a reduction in man-power (or rather woman-power) in the afternoon – my wife really had to go see a friend for an hour and didn’t make it back to the roof until four hours later – the roof was cleared and cleaned by the early evening.

The next morning, the neighbours nearly choked on their cornflakes because of the ruckus we were making in bed (reading comics and building pillow forts). Then we went off to the polling station to cast our democratic vote and smite the evil fascists in the deep fiery furnaces of hell. That’s right: we win! They loose! Democracy and tolerance have prevailed! We haven’t been standing in the pouring rain and hail for nothing on that concert! But anyway, back to the roof…

Things were a lot easier and much less back-breaking on Sunday. I moved the pebbles to the side of the roof, gave it another good scrubbing, and another one. I also removed the tiles of the false ceiling in the computer room, because they were bloated with water anyway and the chances of them returning to their original state were nil. I’d also grown worried that at some stage they might simply drop off and onto my head as I write my posts. Imagine, the first blogger killed in the line of duty. By a water-soggy bloated ceiling tile.

This allowed me to see that the leaks were not situated right above my computer and measure up the probable location of the hole(s) in the tarmac. The culprit proved to be a ventilation pipe – you know, those black plastic mushrooms you find on flat roofs. I peeled away the old sealing stuff and gave it a good scrub. Then I waited until my wife went horse-riding and borrowed her hair-dryer to dry the tarmac. First I treated the area with a primer, then after 90 minutes of drying I applied the reparation mastic which I reinforced with a layer of reinforcement mesh. It still needs a second layer, but it was raining yesterday evening and anyway I was home too late from work and shopping. But so far, so good: it seems to hold.

So now I can put my computer back, in a room with half a false ceiling and strange, smelly vegetal life forms on the wet spots. If only our bedroom would be finished already!

Posted by Bart at 10:21 PM
Categories: Home Improvement

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Slimy

My new recipe for snot:

  1. Poach deep-fried ray-fins for ten minutes until they’re not quite ready.
  2. Serve with runny spinach and mashed potatoes.
Posted by Bart at 9:25 PM
Edited on: Thursday, October 05, 2006 9:25 PM
Categories: The Hunter Gatherer

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Leaking

They say dog’s owners resemble their dogs (or vice versa), but I never knew house owners also resemble their houses. At the moment, we do: both my house and I are leaking.

It all started on Sunday, during the biblical storms that nearly drowned us at the Concert for Tolerance. The hail and rain chilled me to the bone. Yesterday I got up not feeling well and returned to bed in the evening feeling worse. I did go to work, but my productivity was not even close to optimal. Today it’s the same scenario, although I got to sleep a bit longer. But I had a meeting just after lunch that I didn’t want to postpone yet again. So this working men’s hero dragged himself to Brussels, with a clogged up nose with built-in waterfall, a pounding headache that started as soon as I set foot on the bus and a somewhat reduced hearing ability. I also got a very annoying pimple right on the rim of my right nostril, so it hurts as hell every time I wipe my nose.

The house’s symptoms are a dripping ceiling in my wife’s office. When I checked my e-mail on Sunday I heard this alarming ‘drip-drip-drip’ noise close behind me. It took me a while to find the leaks because the light isn’t working. Luckily I put my socked foot right into the puddle so then I knew where it was for sure.

The water is seeping in at three places. The problem is that there’s a false ceiling, so I can’t actually see where it enters. I changed into some shorts and a T-shirt and climbed onto the flat roof to check for damage. Getting up there in typical summer outfit (the weather was nice earlier that day) in chilling wind and pouring rain didn’t do wonders for my health either. I didn’t find any obvious holes, which means that next weekend I can spend all of my time removing two tonnes of pebbles, cleaning up the roof, scanning for damage and repairing it. Hopefully I’ll just have to pour some of that liquid repair stuff on it. If not, I’ll have to lay a new layer of tarmac roll on it.

Anyway, I’ll have to get better first if I want to play super-roof-repair-man on Saturday.

Posted by Bart at 5:47 PM
Categories: Home Improvement

Monday, October 02, 2006

Sing And Dance Against Intolerance

Belgium is running to the ballot box again next Sunday, for the local elections. So our letter box got stuffed with election adds the last couple of weeks. Despite having some interest in politics, I couldn’t tell you what the points of view of most of the Flemish parties are, except in general terms. The socialists want more jobs and better social welfare, the liberal democrats want less taxes and less government, the greens want more green and the nationalists want all of the above as long as they don’t have to share it with the French-speaking part of Belgium.

No, the really big question of these elections is whether the Flemish extremist party Vlaams Belang will rise in popularity or not. Vlaams Belang (which you can translate by Flemish interests but also by Flemish importance), formerly known as Vlaams Blok is a party that has grown out of the Flemish nationalist party Volksunie (People’s Union) when its founding fathers thought that that parties’ demands concerning the independence of Flanders were not radical enough. In the beginning the Vlaams Blok was mainly popular with people who gambled wrong during the Second World War and grew a moustache to copy the one the Führer had brought into fashion at the time. So the party was a marginal phenomenon until a number of young hotshots with equally wrong ideas but with a far better communication strategy took power. Their populist programme was remarkably simple and clear:

  1. Whatever the other parties say is wrong, they are morons and we know what’s best for the people and what the people want, which is exactly the opposite of what the other parties say.
  2. Moroccans and other Muslims are to blame for crime, insecurity and unemployment, and should be transported by military plane back to their country.
  3. French speaking people are to blame for being French speaking people, for not speaking Dutch, for speaking at all and for making holes in ‘our’ social security.
  4. Politicians of other parties are to blame for all the rest. Especially French speaking politicians, who love the king and queen too much and who secretly dominate the government in order to make more holes in social security and import Moroccans.
  5. Democracy is for wimps, because any idiot can see that we’re right.

As you can see it avoids any nuances that might make it difficult to understand, unlike the programmes of those other democratic parties (poufs!) They gave the Vlaams Blok a nice present too, by making sure that their stupid ideas could never be faced with reality. They were given the gift of perfect isolation in what’s known as the Cordon Sanitaire, so that the Vlaams Blok could grow without hinder and indulge in its role of the eternal underdog. They’re masters of populist communication and a number of law suits against the party and its subsidiaries concerning xenophobic behaviour gave them ever more votes, although they had to change their name into ‘Vlaams Belang’.

At the moment, Vlaams Belang can count on one third of the voters in Flanders and it’s become the largest party here. So keeping it out of power requires some political DIY-ing of the highest order. And now the 1000 € question is: will they gain absolute control of a number of municipalities or cities in Flanders? While the 500 € question is: will local delegates of other parties fall for their power and make a coalition with them?

Civil liberties are at stake here, so it’s no trivial matter. Although in such a scenario they will do their utmost to prove that they are a ‘decent’ party that know very well how to govern a city, thank you very much. At the local level, they can’t deport foreigners with suspicious dark tans, but they can make life harder for them. And for us too! I don’t want them to spend all our money on a police force that controls my every move, chase away companies and break down social and cultural infrastructure.

The fuel for this party are the feelings of insecurity and intolerance. Me! Me! Me! And not you! Things need to change to how I want them and right this minute!

So it was about time that those brave and good souls that still form the majority of the population here to make a stand. A bold but positive statement, to show that not all of us are racists or wining nincompoops. So stand we did, with 100.000 people in four cities in the whole of the country, in a great and free concert to celebrate tolerance. Even massive rain and hail showers couldn’t chase us!

And the extremists grumbled in their dark holes and prepared their dark plans…

Posted by Bart at 7:10 PM
Categories: Being Belgian


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