maandag 28 september 2009

The Holiday Home for Pets Meat Pie Company

For the duration of my illness, this blog has transferred to

While cruising around Heiloo on our electrical bicycles, we came across this little garden and holiday chalet. To our astonishment, it was for sale for the price of a set of tires for the Ford Ka. We have yet to find a real catch in the deal. It may turn out that you are not actually allowed to stay in the house nor hang around in the garden for more than 10 minutes except on Ash Wednesday or Pancake Day. What has happened is that this is the last year in which these places can be bought and sold. if you have one and don't get rid of it on time, you are stuck with it for life, as we shall be, and can only give it away to the Holiday camp to avoid the yearly rent for the ground. At my age, long term commitments involve looking at months rather than years in the future. The ground rent is about 2000 a year, and we paid 2000 for the house. Fill it full of germans (germans Fawlty?) for a week or two and all the costs are covered. The investment is too small to be thinking about a real risk, and the TV, fridge, gas fires, kitchen, garden hut and furniture are worth more than the price of the house. I wont say that the the people were keen to sell, but a pen was put in my hand and then they moved some papers around underneath the pen to make marks and then they rushed away crying 'Yippee'.

So, if any of you want some time in Holland, this is is your place. And we don't have to have you in our house making it look untidy.

It is primitive, with just one bedroom but it is comfy and the garden is huge, including swings and a slide.

Amazing virgin birth - a miracle

Some time ago we bought a rabbit for Merel for her birthday. A lady rabbit, or bunnette as they are known in the trade. Denise also acquired a lady bunny and they were quite happy together, though we used lo laugh how one was always trying to shag the other. Just girly friends. Listening to too much Thin Lezzy. However, we now have a population explosion and one of the ladies has made a trip to the the vet for a reasessment of its nuptials and the most unkindest cut of all.

zondag 27 september 2009

More tales of the Open Learning Centre.

It is the new term, and for the first few days we are welcoming the new students, making them feel at home, and helping them to set up their passwords to enable them to log-on to the computer system.

Before this I have been explaining to them that:

1. Drinks may topple over the computer, short-circuit the mouse and fry the student to a crisp.
2. Crisps are not allowed in the OLC, nor any other edibles. Keyboards don't like them.
3. If you use MSN, Hyves, Party Floxx, Youtube or Facebook, you cannot go to heaven.

All went well for a few days, so well that I told the whole group that I was most impressed. "Last year", I said, "you could pick up a keyboard and shake the crumbs out of it. Like this!" I picked up the keyboard to demonstrate, but it wouldn't move. With much force, I managed to lift it with a sucking, squelching sound. There was a hamburger and a cheese sandwich underneath, that had been pressed flat. Both had been opened, and the ketchup, mayonaise, cheese and butter had spread out under the keyboard, into a thin keyboard shape. Groan. Later we found peanut butter sandwiches pressed into the gulf between the desks where all the cables run. On top of this mess, a tin of cola had been hidden. Upside down and not empty.

Back to normal!

Anyhoo, each new student gets a Student Number which is to identify them in the class and the computer system. The first day, they have to create a password, first identifying themselves to the computer by entering the Student Number and the postal code of the house where they live . Many had already forgotten the Student Number. Others did not seem to know where they lived. They then have to choose a Secret Question so that, in the unlikely event that they forget the password, the computer can ask 'What is your mothers maiden name' or 'What is your dog called'. "Mister, I haven't got a dog!". Another rushes out crying because her mother is dead. And she probably hasn't got a dog either. Another can't take it anymore and screams at the computer and has convulsions. "I can't take it! I got stress, I gotta get out of here! It don't like me". Eventually we get to the point of choosing the password. "Mister, it says my password is not acceptable! Help". We read together the Password Rules.

Does it have a minimum of 8 characters? 'Yes'.
Does it have at least one capital letter? 'Definitely'.
Does it have at least one number? 'Without a doubt'
What, pray, is your password? 'cat'.
Do we see where our password may have failed one or more of the Password Rules? 'Not really'.

I shall survive.

vrijdag 18 september 2009

Rubiks Cube - Old Farts Day Out.


Once a year, the company treats its pensioners to a treat. This is in the form of a splendid meal with the director and dignitaries. Before this we sit through presentations of plans and prospects. Some among us fall asleep with our eyes open, nodding in agreement every six seconds, a technique honed by years of practise during our long careers. I loved building systems, problem solving and generally making things work, but was never too keen on the 'business' side of it all. Statistics, strategies, trends and pie-charts. This time we would get to see how one of the projects started after our retirement has come to fruition. The Technische Unie Distribution Centrum in Alphen was always a base for winning projects from the time of the old farts, and the heady days of the Logistiek Prijs.

Now it would go a stage further. At a cost of many millions, a giant rubik's cube system allows stuff to be stored in (in the initial stage) 60,000 plastic crates. Eventally 180.000. Only the system knows where stuff is, and it works it to the front, hours before needed, so that it arrives, along with other crates, to form an order for a customer. The Picking Ladies control about 6 meters of the 'Picking Face' and they follow simple instructions. "Take 3 out of tray 4" etc. The crate with the order then dissappears and eventually arrives at a place where it is stacked on a pallette and goes into a truck. Each stack of crates goes into the truck in the sequence that it needs to come out along the drivers route. Nobody has touched anything except the Picking Ladies until the driver takes something out to deliver it. He only has a list of where to stop. It cost a lot of money, but it keeps Technische Unie one step ahead. Most impressive.

A model of the project. The brown area is the old forklift truck part, still needed for products too big for the crates. The grey is the new system. At the top is the cable park.

Old Farts descend into the edge of the old warehouse

The cable park.

The old and the new meet. On the richt, things are put into crates which are then transported into the cube. If something is not often ordered, it will go into the deeper corners., Fast moving products are placed closer to the Picking Ladies

Looking over the top of the cube, about 14 meters high

The lights are from one of the tall, thin 'cranes' that run between the stacks of crates. The crane is 13 meters high and travels at 6 meters a second on linear motors. On either side of the crane, arms rush up and down to move boxes from one place to another, either for picking or for storage.

One of the many picking rows. These are found between the storage lanes of the cube. The cube is 14 meters high, so there is another picking row beneath each one on this floor. Each Picking Lady has a station of about 6 meters long. Lights and numbers tell her what and how many to pick. The order goes onto a track for despatch, the crates go back into the cube. Everything is checked at each step of the way. Cameras scan bar codes and the crates are weighed constantly to make sure that the right stuff is still present.

Stuff coming out of the cube to the sorting buffer, where the crates are formed into full truck loads and pushed into the trucks.

The most notable thing about the whole place is the silence. There are few people, and they are only looking to see if The System is running properly. It is.

Next time you see a Technische Unie truck on the road, you will know what is behind it. A splendid diner with the Top Brass, and the old farts all agreed that the company is doing well. Even without us.

The Big Apple and a Wrongfully Accused.

The one and only apple that came to fruition, or should that be fruitition, is now ripe. The plum got eaten by something but we still have the apple. A real beauty you will surely agree. Despite the scabby appearance, I can assure you that parts of it were excellent. And while on the subject of gardens...

Regular readers will know that we have spent most of our waking hours protecting our fish from reigers (or herons as we say in your country). Especially after finding a poor dead fish in the garden, obviously dropped by a reiger as he flew away, startled by my automated disco-lamp. Last saturday I chanced to see 'The Great Escape' on the TV, and as I watched all the tunnelling and plotting to escape from the german concentration camp, a revelation came to me. I had been wrongly blaming the herons for taking my fish, but the truth was now plain to see. The fish were themselves escaping! I felt betrayed and disappointed. I had built them a fish paradise with waterfalls and underwater lights for an exciting night life, oxygen plants and a regular, varied diet. But its not good enough for them, oh no, and they are off to look for something better. The grass is greener on the other side of the hill, they thought. If it had not been for the one that died in the attempt, exhausted and abandoned by his fellow traitors, I would never have unearthed their ingratitude. But the 'Great Escape' also gave me the solution. Admire my new double-stranded electric fence in the photo. Let them try to jump over that, the ungrateful bastards! 50000 volts up the ventral fin will soon change their minds!

I have just read back the above, after the fourth Guiness, and conclude that I may need help.


There is a piece of ground that includes our house, Jan's menagerie and Tinekes Garden, destined possibly to become a part of a huge housing estate called Zandzoom. The Heiloo Local Council has plans which include taking over a lot of local land, but they have failed to disposess enough owners, and have found a lot of contamination in ground that they have taken over. The project is tottering a little. This is actually the reason we bought this house. The council placed an injunction on the place which dictated that Opa Sprenkeling could only sell his assets to his children or the council. On his passing, the council could engulf it all. At 82, the succession looked dodgy, so sold to his children it was, in bits. Other pieces of ground taken by the Council have just fallen fallow, in a state of limbo awaiting the bulldozers. Last chance for any archeological research.

Thus on Monument Day, the day on which all museums etc are open to the public for free, we were enticed by local advertistments to Zandzoom for a cultural rebirth and to be informed about the wonderful things from the past that had been unearthed by local archeologists. It was a little sparse to say the least. A miniature stonehenge made of firewood that was itself a reproduction of something that had been found somewhere else. A plaster cast of the skeleton of a dog that had been found here and may have been 2500 years old. And a wooden spoon, obviously new, that was in a hole in the ground, which marked the spot where a wooden spoon had really been found. Or something.

The high spot was the cinema, a container fitted out with 1930's decor, sloping floor to accomodate about three rows of four or five real cinema seats. A red carpet and a tasselled rope barrier to keep back the crowds and the photographers when the stars came for a premiere. It was beautiful, a real gem. We went in and saw a film about all the things that had been found here. Some stones which, not surprisingly, were from the stone age. And two small pieces of earthenware from the bronze period which, the film assured us, posed the interesting question as to whether they came from the same pot, or from two different pots. We shall be wrestling with this poser for quite some time I said to Bernadet as we mounted our electric bicycles to return home.

A concert in the park

We don't get out much these days in the weekends. I am using the good weather to paint the house and in the weekend Bernadet does all those things that men are not good at. Washing, ironing, cleaning, gardening, book-keeping, tax and insurance forms etc. I do occasionally clean the toilets and the bath. I am at home for three days in the week while my poor wife is slaving away at one or another seminar. It is difficult to find time for household chores as much is lost having a morning bath, joining compulsory coffee circles and generally thinking about the question of where all the time goes. And there is golf on Wednesdays which I would not miss for the world. In order to look as if you have done something, try putting all the chairs on the tables and roll up the rugs. A quick trip over with vacuum cleaner and a wet swiffer gives the impression of a total house cleaning. When the wife appears, spring up from the sofa, turn off the TV and start putting chairs back on the floor. Sorry, my love, I had hoped to have it all finished, but the day is short. Mirrors are a good bet, along with sinks. If the mirrors and sinks are shiny, there will be few questions, just compliments.

I digress. In the park in Alkmaar there are free concerts on Sundays.

This time an Irish Music fest. Having just seen the departure of the God halpin, I was not looking forward to a dutch band playing 'Dere's whiskey in der jar!', but I was actually quite impressed with all of them. In particular the fantastic 'Garlic' with two ladies with beautiful voices. Sisters in fact, who harmonised like the McGariggles. Truly great music and talent, and we shall certainly chase them down for another great gig.

There was also some Irish dancing.

I have never been a great fan of watching loads of girls kicking and goose-stepping with hands held rigidly at the sides. I mean, what is the point of the restriction? Kieran says that his country is ashamed of only three things: namely Chris de Burgh, the Dubliners and Riverdance. Nevertheless, many do enjoy it and the girls were certainly enthousiastic and athletic. Only there were lots of pauses while they all changed shoes. When they came back on, I failed to detect a change in the sound or the rhythm. I suggest a switch between flip-flops and waders may have had more impact.

A great afternoon, so well done all.

I add that I am a fan of Dockside, a Dutch band doing English language folk. We had them at our wedding and I hereby mollify any implied critiscism of the Dutch playing English/irish/American folk music. Dockside are wonderful.


In order to express her gratitude to those who had helped her, and generally to have a girly get together, Irene invited all females in the family for a brunch in her new home.

Here are all the ladies. And Wisse. I'm not sure what he is doing there. It looks suspiciosly like the last hours of the Titanic, when men dressed up as women to get themselves a place in the last of the lifeboats.

Lisa has gone back to Harvard. We will all miss this brilliant young lady and look forward to her return at Christmas

Other great news on the family front this month. Emma (big Emma that is!), is pregnant again. Also Cris is to be a father. Coupled with the news that Adam and family are returning from New Zealand and that Cris is organising another Ricketts Fest next summer, the near future is looking very bright.

Another male intruder at the Ladies-Only Brunch. A confused Julius.

So I said to her, I said, What's that you said? I said, so she turned to me and said, You can't talk to me like that, she said, so I said to her, I said, If I want to talk to you like that, I said, I'll talk to you just like that anytime I want, I said, But I'm not going to talk to you at all from now on, and she said Good, because I'm not talking to you either, and I said You just talked to me, and she said So did you and I said Only to say you was still talking to me, and you always want the last word, and she said I'm not going to say anything else and I'm not interested in having the last word, and I said Me neither and she said Good, and I said I'll hit you if you say another word and she said I won't say another word.....

So I hit her..........