Monday, October 29, 2007
I haven't blogged a lot lately because of various virus attacks. Not computer virusses, but those little mean critters that turn your body into a pile of blubbering miserableness. I started the week with something of a flue, went to see the doctor and he ordered me to stay in bed for the rest of the week. Just as I was starting to feel better, poor little Wolf got ill.
My mother-in-law came over on Thursday to babysit for two days. She'd send us off to a restaurant to have a couple of hours for ourselves while she watched the baby. When we returned, we found her and the furniture covered in baby puke. Wolf had the colour of a bed sheet and in the background the washing machine was doing its best to get multiple sets of clothes and other baby stuff clean again. He'd eaten mashed potatoes with carrots that day, and it showed.
We went to bed, but in the middle of the night I woke up because he was vomitting again. His bed, sleeping bag, pyjamas and everythings else got drowned in a real lake of slime. We changed everything and put the little fellow back to bed, but the light was barely out again when we heard him hurl again.
So off we went, at three at night, to the emergency service of the nearby hospital. The doctor cheched him out but she said there was nothing much she could do. Luckily, the puking had stopped and we had no more incidents that night.
Saturday was the first day I felt really better. Wolf had slept a lot on Friday, but he was asking for a lot of attention the next morning. He and his mother drove over to a friend (of his mother's). I took advantage of this opportunity to throw myself into the city – not emerging before I had spent a ridiculous amount of money on comic books, a cell phone and a laptop (for Mrs.B). When we all got back home again, Mrs.B was not feeling well at all – she didn't even complain about my spending frenzy. And then it was her turn to throw up. She asked for a bucket. And then another one. And another one. And one after that.
When she was done reviewing her past seven or eight meals, she asked me to go to the shop to stock in on biscuits and apple juice – an old family remedy for intestinal problems. She can't take any drugs, because she's breast feeding. But in the shop I got a queezy feeling in my stomach, so I was sure to take a couple of pills the moment I got back home.
Alas, it didn't help. Although I didn't have to throw up, if it has to come out, it will find a way. I will refrain from divulging any other details, lest you be eating or something. But it goes in the direction of the sludge you'd find in a ditch that meanders through the slums of a city on the equator after a cholera epidemic. Only worse.
On Sunday morning, the three of us were just human waste, after a long, sweaty and sleepless night. Wolf was crying for attention, but the two of us felt like jellyfish on the beach. We were barely able to lift him out of his bed, let alone walk around with him on our rubber-band legs. So I called up my parents, who came over as soon as possible. But they had to go to a party at three, so I volunteered some friends to take the second shift. So Mrs.B and I spent the day in bed, not doing what you'd like to do in bed when someone's taking care of the baby for a change. Today, the grown ups feel a bit better, but Wolf has started puking again so he's off with his mother to see the doctor again as I write this. But I'm afraid the doctor can't do a lot against these nasty bugs. We'll just have to sweat it out.
Speaking of which, good thing I took a shower this morning.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Last month we went to Bokryk, an open air museum and park in the beautiful and green province of Limburg. I can't count how many times I went there as a boy on various school trips. History has always fascinated me, and Bokryk is like being dropped smack bang in 14th to 19th century Flanders. Or a slightly dusted-off version of it.
A farmer's bedroom in a typical cottage. Places like this begg to be photographed in black&white or sepia.
It's not just static displays of old houses and tools. Things are quite lively thanks to a bunch of actors that take their role to heart. This local sheriff, or champetter in the Flemish dialects, gave anyone visiting his village a stern look.
Visitors can place a bet on the cow dung game. A meadow is divided into 10x10 fields and then they let a cow in. Then, everybody waits until the cow drops her load and if it's in your field you win. I want to emphasise that modern Flemish people do not spend their weekends staring at cows until they do a poo. Instead we watch local television, which is shit anyway. Oh, well. That's progress for you.
These lot were very weary about my camera, until I explained it was a gift from the devil that would capture their souls.
I want a garden like this. With a windmill in the background.
Any tourist that's been to Belgium knows that Bruges is famous for its lace, but it was not the only place where lace was produced. This lady is making needle lace, while in the front you can see the implements to make bobbin lace.
The is an old machine to make... things... and... stuff.
I don't care how much easier it is to make pictures with a digital camera, it will never be as beautiful as this venerable machine.
This little piggie went to the market... AND WAS NEVER SEEN AGAIN!
The catholic priest herded his flock and protected the villagers against those dangerous socialists who tried to poison the workers with crazy ideas about workers' rights, the right to vote, equality and other rubbish.
A look inside the house of the local gentry, probably a notary or a lawyer, or maybe even the mayor.
Inside the shoemaker's shop.
Bokryk even has an old town, with an old market square, with old pubs. We are in Belgium after all.
Pre-industrial revolution mechanics: a tredmill driven by one horsepower.
The village pub.
I just love windmills.
The wife of a coal miner. Poor people from all over Belgium would leave their rural villages go and work into the coal mines in Limburg and the French speaking south of Belgium. They would wear the same clothes all week long, but on Sunday they had to dress up nice to attend mass.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Tomorrow we celebrate my father’s birthday – actually his birthday was on Wednesday, but tomorrow we get together with the whole family. He’s 62 and he doesn’t have a lot of hobbies apart from classical music and DIY-ing (I know, it runs in the family). So buying a present is no easy feat, because he already has everything there is to have. If we buy a CD, there’s a very real chance that he already has it. And apart from a forty-stories concrete pump or underwater welding gear, there’s not much he doesn’t have in the DIY department either.
Now that people tend to live longer and longer and get wealthier and wealthier in general, maybe we should make a rule that they have to throw away at least half of their hobby stuff every twenty years or so. Then we have a clean slate to begin with and we can buy presents again. Because now the presents we buy get less and less useful with each passing birthday.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Wolf started - erm - eating mashed potatoes.
Despite a defensive perimeter of 25 yards and a general mobilisation of emergency services, there was considerable collatoral damage. It took a lot of time and effort to get some 100 grammes into his mouth. By contrast, it only took a fraction of a second to get it out again, once he discovered the infamous 'Vomit Comet'-manœuvre.
We may have to change the wall-to-wall carpet.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
I arrive at the bus stop at 7.20 AM. The Old Man is there, as usual, with his hands deep in his pockets and the cable from his MP3 player running up along his coat, then behind his beard to the small earplugs. I wonder what he’s listening to, but I take it it’s not Metal or Grunge. He’s too serious for that, I think he’s a teacher or something.
The Crazy Woman is not there, we’re the only two at the bus stop. I haven’t seen the Polished Bimbo in a while, maybe she’s broken a finger nail.
The bus arrives at 7.24, sometimes a bit later but today she’s on time. A lot of busses pass here on this busy entrance to the city. If I don’t pay attention I might miss it, but then again the Old Man always pays attention. I really think he’s a teacher.
I sit down next to Mrs. Eyeshadow. I don’t like sitting next to her because of the place where she gets out, but all the other seats are taken, except for the ones facing backwards. I can’t sit in one of those on a bus, I’d barf the breakfast that I didn’t have yet over every passenger. Fraggle, a middle aged woman sitting a couple of seats before me, would probably drown in it. She’s not very tall, and she aged a lot after she decided to change her haircut after the summer.
We leave the busy main road and turn right towards the centre of my suburb. A load of kids get up to drive to school in Antwerp. Two steps further the Bulldog steps in. She always looks at me with this dangerous smirk, as if she would call me names just for the fun of it. She waves to the apartment above the stop and throws kisses. It’s strange to see a fifty-year-old woman with such a face throw kisses.
The Man From UNCLE is the next one to get on. He’s not really the type to be a secret agent, I call him that because he looks a bit like the youngest brother of my father. He has thick glasses and a round beard and holds his leather briefcase tightly on his lap. During summer there was a lady waiting at the same stop. She was so very enthusiast about the whole public transport experience. She would get on the bus with a radiant smile and throw her bus pass forward so that the driver wouldn’t miss it.
The next bus stop is difficult to reach, two streets come together here. The bus driver just pretends he’s the only one on the road and forces the drivers coming from the right to break (the breaks) or break (their car). Rat Boy is already waiting. If you want his picture, look up ‘nerd’ in Wikipedia. He is the archetype. I expect he must have had a hell of a youth with his big upper front teeth, his constantly drooping lower jaw, his pronounced nose and his tiny glasses. My front teeth are smaller than his, but I know I was teased a lot as a kid.
Oliver Twist clambers on too. You can see his a mischievous kid. A couple of weeks ago he had to get off the bus again because he couldn’t pay or didn’t have a pass.
At the first hospital, Fraggle sounds the bell. She used to get off after the second hospital, but I guess she changed jobs.
Mrs. Eyeshadow is the next one at the second hospital. The stop is at the entrance of the hospital, which has a winding climbing road leading up to it. So I have to let Mrs. Eyeshadow pass and get up while the bus is dancing around. That’s why I don’t like sitting next to her, apart from the obvious layer of getting covered in a coat of powder three inches thick should the bus hit a hole in the road or something.
A couple of stops later we cross the bridge over the ring way that marks the entrance to the city. The Old Man gets off at the first stop behind the bridge, Oliver Twist and the Bulldog at the second.
The bus takes a turn and enters the Hood. Ali G, Ali H, Ali I, Ali J, Ali K and Ali L slide on to the back of the bus or chill on one of the handle bars. Some Alis are from Northern Africa, others are from Belgian decent. They try to look as cool and mean as their brothers in the Bronx, but ask them to organise a drive-by shooting and they’ll go looking for a bike and a super-soaker. Life is a bitch in the hood of Antwerp-Berchem, with the free education, overall decent housing, generous social welfare, low drugs abuse and numerous facilities for youngsters. Their brothers in the States must laugh their fraternal asses off.
The train station comes into sight, next stop’s mine. Ali M, Ali N, Ali O and Ali P can’t wait to get on the bus and join their mates, and block the exit. I squirm myself through and clear the path for Rat Boy, who follows me together with a bunch of other commuters. The 502 bus races me to the other side of the crossroads and then disappears in the blue diesel fumes under the railway bridge.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
I had a meeting at Auntie Marianne’s Humanitarian Office yesterday, although I didn’t see her. I guess she must have been in the garden, plucking the last tomatoes and basil from the greenhouse.
Anyway, there was a very important meeting with lots and lots of people. I’d say there were eighty of us, all crammed together in the Red Room, which was decidedly and disappointingly un-red. Another characteristic of this room – with its wall to wall carpet – was that it has very bad acoustics.
Given this setting, the organisers had conveniently decided NOT to use any microphones or megaphones. They also couldn’t be arsed to stand up and speak in a clear voice. We could barely hear them at best, despite regular request to speak up. And often they would sag in their chairs and mumble a bit. To make things worse, there were native English speakers mumbling in French, and native Spanish speakers mumbling in English.
So when my boss asked me the gist of the meeting this morning, my answer was mumblemumblemumblemumblemumblemumble.
Saturday, October 06, 2007
Mole In Da House
It's not everyday you meet one of these fellas in your house.
Unless you once foolishly decided to share your living space with two cats. Both of which did their very best to look innocent.
But they have the same effect on the local eco-system as a nuclear missile. It just takes them a bit longer.
Friday, October 05, 2007
We moved Julia and her foal yesterday evening. They couldn’t stay on the meadow they’d been grazing for the last couple of weeks (Julia grazes, the foal fools around and annoys its mother).
Jack, a friend of ours and Mrs.B’s horse jumping trainer, lend us a hand and his truck – it’s difficult to cram a horse in your car, let alone two. He was late because of traffic jams and after he’d picked me up we got to enjoy two more of those. There used to be a time when there were barely any traffic jams in the late evening or during the weekends, but now it seems everyone drives three cars at a time.
This waiting and staring at the back of another lorry gave me ample time to imagine how on earth we were going to catch a young horse on a big meadow and stuff her into the truck. Normally with an adult horse, you put on the halter and lead it by the rope on the truck. But a foal doesn’t know about halters, ropes, trucks, dangerously high ramps or cooperating with humans in any form.
First hoorah: they didn’t hide on the other side of the dark field, but came over to greet us at the fence. Second hoorah: the foal didn’t scramble when I put the halter on her mother but stayed close to her. It took four adults to lead Julia to the truck and drive the foal without any lead to the back of the truck. Then Jack and I grabbed her behind her hind legs and around her body and pushed/lifted her on the ramp while the anxious mother stood half on the ramp and half in the truck. Somehow we got her in without anyone getting kicked by the foal or an angry mother. And surprisingly quickly too, the whole operation had taken us barely ten minutes.
So off to the new stables, as fast as the old truck would go. That’s not very fast, and Jack had to be careful that he didn’t create a giant heap of minced meat by turning or braking to abruptly.
An hour later we arrived at our destination. Getting Julia and her daughter off again took some effort. This time I held the big mare while Jack and Kirsten, the owner of the stables, tried to coax the little mare off. Diplomacy didn’t work, so in the end they practically had to lift her off the truck and off the ramp onto the street. I had my hands more than full with Julia, who was getting fed up with humans manhandling her baby. But in a matter of minutes the two of them where safely in their new stable. First order of the day for Julia: picking a fight with the new neighbour. Just that he’d know she’s the boss and nobody touches her food and baby (in that order).
Julia will stay there for a couple of weeks, until we find stables with indoor riding facilities and jumping equipment. For the filly, it’s time to part from her mother. This weekend she’ll be weaned and go to a special farm where she can grow up with lots of other foals and get all strong and learn some social skills. A stable is not a good place to grow up for a foal.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Get Out And Stay Out
Alarming phone call from Mrs.B yesterday. She left the house and closed the front door leaving her keys inside. Even worse: she thought that here keys were still in the lock, which meant that waiting for me to arrive made no sense because I wouldn’t be able to open the door with my keys either.
Luckily the baby was not inside, he was still at the day-care.
The good news was that the window on the first floor was open. The bad news was that the blinds were almost completely down. So Mrs.B mobilised half the neighbourhood to get inside again. One neighbour brought a ladder, the other climbed up and squirmed through the narrow gap while the first one pushed the blinds up with a stick. Somehow, no-one got hurt. We have real stunt-neighbours, we have.
Naturally, her keys were not on the door but on the table. So I could’ve simply unlocked the door with my key when I got home.
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Old And Tired
Wolf went to his first pyjama party this weekend. Well, he was in PJs anyway, none of the grown-ups was wearing one.
The party made it painfully obvious that we’re not young and hip anymore. For starters, we were the old farts there. Two guys were discussing how they were nearing the big 3-0. I’m well underway to the big 4-0, so I pretended to be invisible.
Apart from having the baby with us, you could easily spot that we were the only parents there. All the other people were engaged in lively conversation, while we concentrated on breathing, nipping from our glass and trying not to fall asleep. Not that we didn’t enjoy the party; it was nice to get out of the house for a change and mingle with friends.
But it’s very clear that we aren’t students anymore. We’re officially old gits.