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2009-02-18 19:18

How to play pannetje-pannetje

Ingredients: one(1) pan, three(3) scraps of paper per player, more than one(1) team of two(2) players per team. It is considered gauche to team up with the one who brought you.

Preparation: Each player writes the name of a person or fictional character on each of their scraps of paper, folds them and puts them in the pan.

Play: It is split into three(3) rounds, described in more detail below, but in each round, each player gets 30 seconds to take slips of paper from the pan, and have their team-mate guess the character on it. Success gets the team a point and the slip of paper is removed from circulation. Failure just runs out the clock, except in the case of tactical rule-violation (it is always against the rules for the paper-holder to say "America!", so that became the standard way to abandon a slip), when you get to return the slip and get a new one.

After each round, points are tallied and all slips are returned to the pan.

Round 1: The slip-holder describes the character, using sentences with no words with capital letters (in Dutch, months and days of the week don't have capitals - adapting the rules to English is left as an exercise to interested readers).

Round 2: The slip-holder describes the character using a single word.

Round 3: Mime.

Then you keep playing until the bier runs out, the baby wakes up and refuses to go back to sleep and at least two(2) players leave to go nightclubbing instead.

2009-02-18 19:08

Why we are sometimes not a touriste

It is not especially for want of trying, that's for sure. But our weekend in Mnster was spent entirely outside the historische Altstadt, visiting friends-in-law and exhibiting Boris for their admiration.

We saw no castles, a couple of churches from the outside only in passing, and quite a lot of bars, also from the outside only.

We did read the local 'bladet, though. (Well, some of it.) And we did drink some delicious Cherman bier and we did play pannetje-pannetje, but that deserves a post of its own.

2009-02-12 20:28

On Lisp and Zombies

Geeky: It turns out that our lilputer's Linux is a vandalised edition of Debian Etch, and that Debian Etch doesn't include a Prolog. Also, it is not possible to install gcc on the vanilla distribution so we can't build it from source. This irritates us more than a little, but we eventually coerced Lisp into installing instead. So we at least have a Classic AI langwidge, on what would have been a supercomputer in the dags of Classic AI and now fits comfortably in handluggage with room left over for handluggage. (One fine dag we will have the mighty Poplog, and we will smirk considerably. Chortling cannot be ruled out either: you have been warned.)

Less geeky: Little Boris van 't Blad celebrated our return from Zwolle by making his ambulatory debut. In practice he totters around like a sea-sick zombie for a few steps and then has to grab something for support or fall over, but still.

2009-02-10 21:07

Book of the Month!

It is Timothy Garlic Mash's History of the Present! And although we did indeed finish reading it in January it has subsequently contrived to go AWOL, and we can't find our notes either, so this isn't going to be an especially in-depth view.

The good bits - and there are plenty - are when he leverages his considerable knowledge of the languages and histories of Central Yoorp, his extensive contacts in the area, and a keen sense of historiography to write essays no one else could have written: the analysis of the implications of various conceptions of Central Yoorp and the meditation of how history benefits or otherwise from perspective, in the context Hungarian uprisings of the fifties.

The less good bits - and there are plenty of those too - are where he crosses over into punditry, accepts the World-Historical Inevitability of Thatcherisme-Reaganisme in Chermany, which conventional wisdom he gets pre-nuggetised from the businesspersons who stand to gain from it, or just goes on and flipping on about the bickerings at one of the endless conferences and summits he seems to be forever attending.

But in our memory of this book, at least, the good bits dominate. Which makes it something of a period piece itself: since at least the EU enlargement, Garlic Mash seems to have turned away from his home turf in Central Yoorp towards a career collecting airmiles (he holds positions at Oxford and Stanford) and unremarkable punditry.

This is all the more of a loss when you consider who else is patrolling that turf: no one should have to rely the Economiste's in-house comedy Russophobe Edward Lucas, even if Putin's Russia is admittedly quite scary.

We've now got a feed from the Cherman taz, and that seems to have fairly OK coverage of Central and Eastern Yoorp, at least by the underwhelming standards of Western Yoorpean bladets, but there is still a Garlic-Mash shaped hole in our readings.

2009-02-10 20:55


We're just back from a weekend away in the allegedly-Hanseatic city of Zwolle, which turns out to have a very agreeable and compact Historische Aldstadt. (Although to our eyes, not an especially Hanseatic one - lots of Dutch cities claim a Hansa link, but it never seems to have left much of an impression just five- or six hundred years later. Bah!)

We particularly recommend Poppe for eating, if you happen to be their and your wallet is bulging and you wish to do your bit to save capitalisme. (Bonus: in the current climate there is no need to book.)

Other than that, we bought slightly too many books and just enough shoes. (Sandals and weddings aside, we have worn the same pair since before we moved to the Netherlands, and the Countess duly decided that enough had been enough.)

And we did a whole bunch of nothing for a change; Boris van 't Blad spent the time with some grandparents, who spent the time watching localish hero Sven Kramer win his third consecutive world all-round long-track speed skating title, which is a Very Big Thing here. Not that they neglected Boris - these days he can amuse himself quite happily, if not always especially quietly.

2009-02-04 19:19

Minor arts: Poetry

Poetry, of course, is a pre-industrial taste that the First World has largely abandoned. (The Slavs would do well to start neglecting it: the Icelanders didn't, and look what happened to them.)

Luckily Dutch poetry is largely ignored even in its country of origin, and unheard of outside it. That being said, there remains a role for a poetry establishment: it is its duty to inflict poetry on the young, to inoculate them against more virulent strains. (Established religions, of which we are also in favour, serve a similar purpose.)

And we rejoice to announce that since 2000 the Netherlands has had its very own tradition of laureates, elected every few years and endorsed by the NRC Handelsblad newspaper, which gives space to the laureate's perpetrations in their august pages.

Last time out, however, the popular vote opted for Driek van Wissen, whose output can be politely described as light verse (although it is more often impolitely described). Fearing a repeat, a jury was summoned to compile a long- and then a short-list of more appropriately ametrical candidates, one of whom was duly elected. (Any or all of them might be decent poets, for all we know: we can tell good free verse from bad in the Silly Engleesh, but the distinction escapes us entirely in Foreign.)

Anyway, what with the laureateship being a relatively new thing, with no state backing it clearly needed an exceptionally pompous name, and it got one: the incumbent gets to be referred to as the Dichter des Vaderlands. Which is to say, with the anachronistic genitive neuter article des. And as it happens the other archaic article in occasional use, the genitive plural der is also identical to its Cherman counterpart.

Not that Dutch is at all like Cherman, of course: perish the thought!

And indeed, our musty copy of Nederlandse spraakkunst voor iedereen (Urecht: Prisma, 1960, which we consult only when All Else Has Failed: we suspect it of prescriptivisme) gives the following table of Obsolete Articles from Middle-Dutch:


As you can see, any resemblance to Ancient, Middle or High Cherman is strictly coincidental, which is certainly a great relief.

Incidentally, in attempts to use this rule (and in a couple of other places in Very Formal Dutch) one is expected to pretend that the masculine and feminine have not merged, which is very irritating since of course they actually have. (Native speakers need to consult dictionaries to be sure in most cases, which in descriptiviste terms means that the distinction doesn't actually exist.)

We just hope our Varied Reader is as glad as we are to have this straightened out.

2009-01-31 20:39

Minor arts: comics

It is the return of Eppo. But since we do not expect our Varied Reader to have been a Dutch teenage boy in the 70s or 80s (anymore than we were ourself) this may need a little glossing. Eppo, then, was a weekly comic magazine, serialising imported and homegrown adventure adventures, from the likes of Asterix to assorted strips in which implausibly-physiqued ladies, um, strip.

And now it's being relaunched:

Zelfstandig uitgever Rob van Bavel weekte de titel los bij de tijdschriftengigant Sanoma en is vast van plan zich ermee te richten op de jongens van toen. Het is een avontuur waarmee hij naar eigen zeggen zijn auto en zijn woning op het spel zet, maar de financiering voor de eerste jaargang is rond: vanaf 29 januari verschijnt de nieuwe Eppo in elk geval 25 keer, in een tweewekelijkse frequentie.

Independent publisher Rob van Bavel developed the title with magazine giant Sanoma and is planning to pitch the comic to the "boys from then". It's an adventure in which he admits he's risking his own home and car, but the finances for the first year are settled: from 29 January the new Eppo will appear for at least 25 issues, at fortnightly intervals.

Rather independent publisher Rob van Bavel than us, for sure. (He is actively disdaining any attempt to pitch it at the adolescents of today, which may be a stroke of genius but may also not be.)

But since we had a baby-wrangling dag todag and we like to take a stroll to the shops on such occasions, we picked up a copy. Our verdict: without a pretty hefty dose of nostalgia, EUR 4.00 seems a lot for a bunch of (in most cases) two-page spreads per fortnight, even with some humour strips (in which we charitably include the Beetle Bailey translations) thrown in. And scarcely-clad cartoon ladies don't really strike us as a Useful Selling Point to forty-plusers with access to the many wonders of Teh Internets.

That said, it's more our cup of tea than 2000AD ever really was, and we wish it well. If it turns out there's room in the market for more than the Donald Duck weekbladet, to which little Boris van het Blad has been a faithful subscriber since rather before birth, we'll be pleasantly surprised. But we wouldn't personally bet a Slovakian koruna of our own money on it, and they don't even use those anymore.

2009-01-29 16:58

Updike vs. Houllebecq

Like Jamie K, we never read a novel by the late John Updike.

And until now we'd never read any of his essays either, but his attempted trashing of Michel Houllebecq deserves a place of honour in the low-intensity Kulturkampf that whimpers between the advocates of the Novel of Character, who have appointed themselves heirs to the laurels of the nineteenth-century giants while addressing themes not quite entirely limited to adultery in places not quite entirely limited to New Jersey, and everybody else (dont, needless to say, nous.

It is to Houellebecq's discredit, or at least to his novel's disadvantage, that his thoroughgoing contempt for, and strident impatience with, humanity in its traditional occupations and sentiments prevents him from creating characters whose conflicts and aspirations the reader can care about.

And of course he isn't trying to do anything of the sort, as Updike would never have been able to know.

The zingtastic closing clincher is:

The sensations that Houellebecq gives us are not nutritive.


But really, we strongly recommend reading the whole thing: it is the best thing of its kind we've read since George Steiner failed to see what was so funny about William S Burroughs' Naked Lunch.

2009-01-28 13:58


On Saturn's dag we went to the mighty trade-show they call Caravana in the vicinity of Leeuwaarden.

It is, as the name suggests, full of caravans we didn't look at, having no particular interest in looking at caravans, as well as EUR 100k campers which we did look at, although the most absurdly bloated bus-style ones were patrolled by salespersons to screen out the unserious, and we are after all very unserious. (We do wonder just how recession-proof a business it is, selling bus-sized fridges on wheels at EUR 100k+ a go, but it is not a business we are actually in so we don't wonder all that hard.)

What we were actually there to look at was trailer-tents ("vouwvagens" or increasingly often "trailertents" in Dutch) and happily all the major brands and models were represented for our comparison shopping convenience. We didn't change our mind about what we want, but that is after all a good thing.

We also picked up rather more brochures on campsites than were strictly necessary, especially on Luxembourg. (Even given that we are very fond of Luxembourg, and that we would happily stay there if the weather is good this summer.)

And of course we also picked up an information-overload headache. (We're better than we used to be with that sort of thing: it used to be that we had trouble with common-or-garden supermarkts, but we will probably never be a match for a serious trade-show.)

2009-01-26 19:56

Iedereen spreekt toch Engels?

1. Chermany

A useless but exclusionary modification to the mighty Grondwet:

The German language is under threat. Thats the view of Angela Merkels ruling Christian Democrats party, which wants to change the countrys constitution to include German as the national language.

In fact, no: even among the Jesusy Popular Front it doesn't enjoy overwhelming support. (Merkel, to her credit, is unenthusiastic.)

2. Danmark

Make universities Danish-speaking:

The Danish newspaper Berlinske Tidende reflects on the merits of passing a law making Danish the compulsory language at universities.

Danish universities have an enviable reputation for international excellence, except outside Danmark. Making it impossible to get any cold hard cash from overseas students seems a particularly interesting way to secure their future irrelevance.

3. Franceland

A beeboid reports:

French executives draft reports, send e-mails, converse with their international colleagues - and increasingly even amongst themselves - in English.

It is of course a kind of bastardised, runty form of business-speak full of words like "drivers" and "deliverables" and "outcomes" to be "valorised", but is nonetheless quite definitely not French.

Needless to say, everyone in the world speaks this so-called Globish, except the Engleeshes. (Which slightly surprises us: we have heard more than enough runty business-speak from natives.)

4. Netherlands

The authoritarian political one-joke wonder that is Rita Verdonk once proposed (during a thankfully brief stint as minister for Xenophobia and Minority Harrassment) to make it illegal to speak a language other than Dutch on Hare Koninklijk Majisteits streets.

Then everyone laughed at her and the world moved on, which is just as it should be.

2009-01-21 19:33


Blimey - it was like a Vogon fleet got stationed to tell us about the 44th President of the Free and Democratic Republic of United States of America.

It was on at least two(2) Dutch channels, two(2) Cherman channels, one(1) Belgian, the Beeb and even the Frenchy-French's TV Cinque(5) Monde.

Either way we heard the rubbish John Williams piece and Aretha Fatlady sing and the slightly-scratched oath, and then we had had more than enough and flipped before he'd managed more than "My fellow Americans...". (If he's such a flipping hotshot orator, you'd surely think he'd know by now that we are not in fact a Murkan?)

Anyone running a book on us waking up to find we're at - transformational and very very hopeful - war with Iran?

2009-01-19 21:31

Zondag Review of Bladets: Die Ziet

So I have had the Belgian Flu, the Countess has it and Boris has something that had him spend a great deal of last night crying, all of which has not been so much fun.

But still: the Countess got us a copy of Die Zeit from the station on her way back from her grandmother's funeral, and we are generally happy to read Die Zeit.

But this week's was a bit blah: what we mostly wish to read about is the unrest in Bulgaria and various Baltics, and this apparently isn't what they wanted to write about.

In fact we're beginning to wonder if there is indeed a Cherman-bladet that gives Central and Eastern (and Baltic) Yoorp the attention we wish it to have. (Occasionally we attempt to forgive the Ostrichan press its country of origin, but frankly it doesn't seem that much more useful.)

Still, Die Zeit is nicely laid-out and typeset, and it is not too hard to read despite being in Cherman, and it is full of stuff, not all of which is obviously stupid or irrelevant. And we particularly rejoice in the enormous section of academic chop adverts!

2009-01-18 19:55

The Netherlands discovers Slovakia's discovery of the Netherlands

In todag's paperkrant, but apparently not online, is an interview with Adam Bzoch, the only translator of Dutch literature into Slovakian. (He took over when the previous translator died.)

He is not especially positive about Slovakia's current cultural and political climate, and given the horrible press law the current post-Communist government has introduced we can hardly blame him.

A particularly uncharming anecdote has the editors of a new Slovak dictionary being pressured to remove all Czech words and expressions, despite these allegedly being in wide-spread use.

Still, we do slightly wonder if there is even as many as one(1) full-time professional translator of Slovak literature into Dutch. (Which is by no means to suggest we would be willing to step into the breach should there turn out to be one.)

2009-01-17 20:39

Prescriptum: Don't mess with the Belgian Flu

L'pidmie de grippe qui frappe actuellement le pays risque d'avoir des consquences srieuses. Elle pourrait faire deux fois plus de morts cette anne que l'anne dernire, estime Dirk Avonts, un gnraliste anversois. Soit 4.000 dcs.

The epidemic of flu which is now hitting the country [ie, Belgium] risks having serious consequences. It could cause 4000 deaths - twice as many as last year, estimates Dirk Avonts, an anversois generaliste.

Our Varied Reader may or may not be relieved to know that we are confident we'll pull through, even if that is what we have.

2009-01-17 20:30


Boris goes to daycare on Tuesdags, so we get sick pretty much every Thursdag after what he brought back has had a chance to incubate.

But this one is more than usually annoying and it is just possible it may be the Belgian Flu passing through on its way to Chermany.

Which is especially convenient right now since the Countess has gone off to bury a recently-deceased grandmother and left us holding the baby.

Still, we'd rather we were sick and we was well than the other way around. But weekend blogging may be a bit curtailed, and we had so many fascinating insights to share with you too.

2009-01-10 19:47


1. Rot op, Kuifje

It is Tintin vs. Spielberg:

Tintin turns 80 at the weekend as Steven Spielberg begins work on a Hollywood film of the comic book hero. He has long been a star on the Continent, but the cub reporter is almost unheard of in the United States and little more than a cult in the UK, writes Laurence Grove.

The article is largely concerned with the fact that Americans never got Tintin, but we don't hold it against them, writes Des von Bladet. We were exposed to them on French exchange trips to France as a child, and we still don't like them. Spielberg - whose work we also avoid - is surely the perfect director for the film version.

2. A year in the life

Boris van 't Blad turned one(1) year old yesterdag, and well done him.

3. Indo-European considered anomalous

It is Language Log's awesome guestpost on aboriginal langwidges of Yoorp

Before the arrival of speakers of IE languages in the Mediterranean, the linguistic situation must have been even more diverse; a reasonable estimate would be more than thirty languagespossibly many moregrouped into more than twenty families belonging to at least fifteen different stocks.

(It was the horses what done for them, if our Varied Reader is wondering.)

4. IJs!

It was all but abandoned at werk todag - the country has gone, as it does on the increasingly occasional occasions when the ijs - skate-crazy.

No sign of an Elfstedentocht yet, though.

5. A new project

We propose to start a Book of the Month feature on our humble 'bladet. Which is not to say we will choose the finest book we have read in the month except by default: we merely hope to read more books than none(0) per month in 2009. (Boris is lower-maintenance than he used to be and scarcely qualifies as an excuse any more.)

Look forward to abject excuses come the end of January!

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