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2009-08-27 18:45

Mewling and puking: my thankfully temporary stints as a working single parent

So it isn't the first time the Countess has gone off on business leaving us nominally in charge of Boris van 't Bladet. In practice, of course, we rank somewhat after babysitters, grandparents, the neighbour's cat and Interesting Dirt when it comes to charismatic authority, at least. (We are a simple parent: if charisma doesn't work there is always coercion, and if you don't like it you can take it up with Max "Chuckles" Weber).

And its not even the first time that the Countess has gone off on business and little Boris van 't Blad has retaliated by becoming sick.

But up to now it is far and away the pukiest of these sicknesses. Boris is already out of blankets; the babysitter went home wearing one of our own American-style "T"-shirts; the washing machine is doing overtime, and everything smells of puke.

Also, Boris has taken to noticing, at four o'clock (0400 hundred hours AM) in the morning that his stomach is empty, and if we said he bore this discovery with equanimity we would be giving a quite inaccurate account of his bearing of it.

We've been out of practice at sleepless nights for a few months but we are relieved to discover that some skills do not seem to rust: we have slipped back into the rhythm of stumbling around ineffectually with a vague sense that there could profitably be fewer red-hot needles poking through our eyeballs into our spicy brain as if it had never been away.

If he's not in better shape tomorrow we will take the precaution of exhibiting him to the doctor, who will (being a Dutch doctor) refuse to commit to a diagnosis beyond "some virus" and laugh to scorn the notion of treatment. (This is not, our Varied Reader will be relieved to know a service they offer exclusively to children. Everyone gets treated the same.)

All of which is not intended to suggest our spirits are especially low: we do after all also have the TV to ourself and a choice of matches in foopball's League of Champions to admire, as well as a cupboard full of bier to wash it down with.

2009-08-23 10:10

Moondag review of stuff

Roberts R9924 Sports 924 3-Band Portable Radio with Long Wave, as brought to our attention by Anna K in the guestbladet, and many thanks to her for that.

We already had a few radios that claim to receive long-wave, but none of them could consistently get a listenable feed from the BBC's Radio 4 signal on 198 kHz from this side of the North Sea. Not a disgrace, but it has meant we can't listen to the cricket now that the BBC has had lawyering thrust upon it and closed off access to the Internet streams.

This little radio does quite a lot better. It still has to be turned to exactly the right angle, either outside or very close to a window (our house apparently wants to be a Farraday cage when it grows up), and the signal is not exactly crystalline even when it is, but it is certainly listenable.

As a bonus, the sound and reception on less challenging stations is superb for such a small device. Also it picks up medium-hard things like Radio Zweden's medium-wave signal quite nicely in the evenings.

It's quite possible that a Sony "world-band" receiver with phase-loop locking would do even better for our purposes, but it is after all quite possible that it wouldn't. And while the Roberts was cheap enough to make the risk worth taking, the Sony isn't.

So come the winter, when Eng-ger-lnd are touring somewhere half a day's timezones away, we will be found huddling in the garden in the middle of the night with a very small radio held at a peculiar angle pondering just how much fun it can be to be an expatriated cricket fan.

(Do not breathe a word of this to the Countess, Varied Reader, but one dag we are going to find ourself wondering just how annoying it would be to try and pluck the BBC Radio 4 signal from a satellite.)

2009-08-20 19:57

Of penises and plumbing

It is our theory, and especially the Countess's, that if two(2) adults share a house and if one(1) of them has a penis, it is he who is responsible for amending the plumbing should it need amendments.

Our downstairs toilet recently decided that it needed amendment, and the Countess decided we were clearly just the man for the job.

At which point we became immensely grateful to Kay Ward, who became the author of the penis-neutral Kleine klussen in huis, when her presumably less penis-neutral book The Feminine Fix-It Handbook got translated into Dutch.

The only downside to this book's excellent advice on fixing the American toilets of 1972 is that it doesn't actually work on the Dutch toilets of 2009 (or whenever; we suspect our downstairs toilet of having been installed when the house was built in the 1980s).

But after a trip to the Home Widget Emporium for a replacement vlotterkraan and a modest amount of swearing at the opaque installation instructions (given in the stylized form of diagrammatic mime which will undoubtedly be a source of great mirth and/or puzzlement to the archeologistes of the future), we appear to have triumphed.

(Our Varied Reader will, we hope, excuse us if we are not currently very curious what vlotterkranen are called in Engleesh - we currently have a negative amount of curiousity about all plumbing-related phenomena.)

2009-08-19 19:14

Moondag review of stuff!

Lost in Translation is an old-fashioned screwball comedy, in which Bill Murray stands to win two million dollars ($2,000,000) if he can teach Scarlett Johannson's arse to drink Japanese whiskey. If he fails, however, he will be reincarnated as a washed-up expat actor.

Anyway. Scarlett has just lately graduated as a philosophy major from Yale, but also moved to LA when she got married two(2) years ago. Bill, meanwhile, has been married for twenty-five(25) years, but still has children young enough to be irritated if he should no-show for their many ballet recitals.

Still, any film that can persuade My Bloody Valentine to reform[1] to do the soundtrack and put the Jesus and Mary Chain over the closing credits can do little wrong by us, even without casting Scarlett's arse in a leading role.

[1] Where by "My Bloody Valentine" we mean Kevin Shields and by "reform" we mean "get out of bed".

2009-08-18 19:32

The past is a foreign country: they go skiing there

You're skint. You live on a rock just south of the arctic circle. The winter evenings are pretty long. Also, you're skint. What do you do?

Just over nine months after Iceland's banking sector collapsed, the country is experiencing a baby boom.


"I think many, many of us have sought solace in love and sex," wrote Alda Sigmundsdttir on her popular blog, "The Iceland Weather Report".

Now, we had no idea there was such a blog, popular or otherwise. No one tells us anything, anymore.

But we do remember the halcyon days of the Iceland Review weather report:

Now, that weather report was pretty boring. Todays weather: strong winds from the south, temperatures x degrees, sunrise at xx sunset at xx. Period. Dullsville. So after a while, our YT and one other journalist started adding little bits to make it slightly more interesting. Things like, Frost last night. Was late for work because the ice was so glued to my windshield that I had to scrape until my fingers were numb. Or: Amazing sunrise this morning on my way to work. The mountains up in Blfjll silhouetted black against the sky looks like a good day for skiing or something similar. And sometimes wed make them funny. Or witty. Or charming. Or all three.

If it had been turned into a proper blog we'd probably have read it ever since but it wasn't and we didn't.

Then again, it isn't us who gets quoted in the Dismalbladet.

2009-08-15 18:52


1. The end of an era

Prinsessan Madeleine och Jonas Bergstrm frlovar sig. Kungen och regeringen har gett sitt godknnande. Vigseln kommer att ga rum efter kronprinsessan Victorias brllop.

Prinsess Madeleine and Jonas Bergstrm are engaged. The king and government have given them their blessing. The weddning will take place after kronprinsess Vickan's weddning.

It was pretty much an open secret that Madde and Jonas were ready to rumble a while ago, but that protocol demanded that Kronprinses Vickan go first, and that meant that for a good while everything was logjammed on the dubious acceptability of her Daniel.

And now that that's settled and this is settled, it is the end of "our" generation of Yoorpean prinsesses, bar the weddnings themselves.

It will be up to Boris van 't Blad to take on, should he be inclined to do so, the stalkning of the next generation of prinseses.

2. The excellence of the Doshbladet

In the Doshbladet ("Financial Times"), if you are called Jhanna Sigurardttir, they call you Jhanna Sigurardttir.

This puts them a long way ahead of their alleged rivals at the accent-stripping Dismalbladet ("Economist").

3. The fallibility of the Doshbladet

In the RSS feed the story was billed as:

The Alpine principality has signed an accord with the UK that aims to uncover up to 3bn salted away by British investors.

Which is of course a clear mistake: Liechtenstein (for it is it!) must always be referred to as the tiny Alpine princiality.

4. Is this in the news outside Belgium?

It's not really this bladet's sort of story, but no one else seems to have picked it up:

Un meurtre aprs lautre, lmission tlvise Canal Livre faisait fureur au Brsil : ses camras taient prsentes sur les lieux des crimes avant mme larrive de la police. Le prsentateur du programme, Wallace Souza, est aujourdhui souponn par les forces de lordre davoir commandit au moins cinq des homicides pour faire grimper laudience de lmission.

One murder after another, the TV programme "Canal Livre" caused a sensation in Brazil: it had cameras at the crime scenes even before the police arrived. The programme's presenteer, Wallace Souza, is today suspected of having arranged at least five murders to boost ratings.


From the holiday coast of north-west Croatia, it is a 20-minute ferry ride to Brijuni, an archipelago of 14 islands that for the last 30 years of Josip Broz Tito's extraordinary life became his private playground.

There are occasional attempts to persuade us that Croatia would make an excellent holidag destination, but we are holding out for a private archipelago.

2009-08-13 18:31

On yer bike, Tebbit! [1]

So the foopballing titans of foopball that are Eng-ger-lnd and the Oranjes of Holland will be joined in un-battle in a meaningless ("friendly") Interland tonight, and doubtless our Varied Reader is agog to know for whom we will be cheering.

Except, of course, that we won't: Interlands are rubbish enough at the best of times and meaningless ("friendly") Interlands are the worst of the bunch.

On the other hand, we're really looking forward to seeing "Holland" competing in EnglishandWelsh cricket tournaments, along with Ireland and Scotland and possibly various other lands with at best at tenuous grip on EnglishandWelsh geography.

[1] Norman Tebbit was a EnglishandWelsh politician noted for his father's keenness for bicycling and his own disapproval of cricket matches in which more than one(1) team had supporters.

There aren't very many things we miss about the 1980s, and he is certainly not any of them.

2009-08-11 19:21


Featuring De Grote Slag by Thomas Arvidsson.

Which is part of a series which is or was apparently well-known in Zweden (where they spell Thomas Tomas), but which doesn't seem to have ever been Englished.

Which in turn is most of the reason one would ever want to mention the book in Engleesh circles. Otherwise it is larded with rather a lot of laboured satire on mid-70s Zwedish society (midlife crises, the frustrations of work in the public sector and vertiginous income tax). When it takes time out to be an actual caper-style crime novel it improves enormously, but that accounts for entirely too little of the book as a whole.

Which won't stop us reading the two(2) other volumes we have in Dutch, but it does mean we're not in any especial hurry to do so.

2009-08-07 20:12

Moondag review of stuff

De ijssalon van doktor Harry, by Bas Vlugt, is a travelogue in which the author retraces, as far as possible, Dr Livingstone's many steps in southern Africa (specifically, what is now South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia).

It's all reasonably enjoyable and - if you know as little about Africa as us - informative, but it isn't very deeply researched. A running gag is the counterpoint between the Lonely Planet (the author's entire corpus of secondary literature, apparently) and the facts on the ground.

And it won't be translated anyway: a fair amount of the comic relief hinges on the impression that Afrikaans makes on Dutch readers. It really does look at first like a kind of Dutch baby-talk, with all the inflectional morphology having been stripped off and the pronouns streamlined (Dutch has "wij" and "ons" for Engleesh "we" and "us" respectively; Afrikaans has "ons" for both).

And then there is negation: the word "nie" goes not only where a Dutch or Cherman would expect it, but also at the end of the clause if that isn't there, so that you get "Dis nie die moeite werd nie" ("It's not worth the trouble") and "Hy praat nie Engels nie" ("he doesn't speak Engleesh").

The examples are cribbed from Kauderwelsch's Afrikaans Wort fr Wort, which is as good as that series so often is and which we delighted to find in a bookshop in Baden-Baden. (They didn't have many other volumes, sadly.)

And we should spare a word for issue 6 of het Alledaagse leven: Dialect en taalvariatie - from a partwork series produced by the Nederlands Centrum voor Volkscultuur. It amounts to a short introduction to the issues around languages, dialects, accents, "correct" usage and the implications of social change on patterns of language use, all of course in the context of Dutch.

But since it was produced in collaboration with the Meertens Instituut, which is the Dutch centre for scholarship on these things, it is impeccably sensible about everything, as well as being attractively designed, lavishly illustrated (including a few lovely maps of isoglosses, which is just the sort of thing we love) and very well written.

If you read Dutch and you are at all interested in its associated socio- or historical linguistics, you should certainly procure this with all due haste, even if there isn't as much about Afrikaans as we had hoped. (There isn't as much about anything as we had hoped, since it is very short as well as very good. Except for Johan Cruijff; there's a boxed section on his idiolect that is quite enough for the rest of our life.)

We assume it is still available from sources more complicated than the supermarkt where we got ours when it came out; if our Varied Reader is keen for us to find out, let us know and we will oblige.

2009-08-04 17:58

Ek kan dit nie glo nie!

It isn't easy being a cricket fan. The BBC seems to be blocking Furriners even from domestic matches now. We have Radio 4 on cable, but that's the FM feed and we need the long-wave one; we have an ancient and mostly kapot transistor radio that can sometimes sort-of get the long-wave signal, if you stand outside and point it in exactly the right direction.

So we were wondering if we could get at least an Afrikaans feed for the next series, in Seth Efrika, but that isn't looking promising either, as Alf remarks:

Ek kan dit nie glo nie, die krieket word nrens op radio heeltyd uitgesaai nie ! Net nou en dan op RSG ?

I can't believe it, the cricket isn't being broadcast live anywhere! Just occasional coverage on RSG [Seth Efrika's Afrikaans state-broadcaster]?

(Also: we have acquired a reading knowledge of Afrikaans. Not a very long or surprising story but it'll still have to wait.)

2009-08-03 14:09

Moondag review of stuff

Teach Yourself German Grammar, P.G. Wilson (1958).

We've failed to learn much of the inflectional morphology ("grammar") of Cherman from an assortment of books over the years, which is not especially to our credit.

This book was the first that explained the morphology of adjectives sensibly enough that it penetrated through our thick skull into our tiny (but spicy) brain, so we're now giving it a chance on nouns. (We can read Cherman without having to worry very hard about this stuff but we worry about it sometimes anyway.)

Also, Wilson is spectacularly sane about grammar for 1950:

You do know grammar even if you have never been to school nor even learnt to read or write. Let me prove that assertion. You speak your native language so that other natives understand you, and hence you speak it according to a pattern which is familiar to those who hear you, pattern being merely a homely word for grammar. If you did not follow this native pattern you would not be understood. Of course you may not follow the pattern in every particular: you may, for instance, say "You was", "I come home late yesterday", "I seen him". That merely means that you do not in certain respects conform to what has been accepted as correct by a certain socially important section of the community; your pattern is slightly different from the accepted form. Nevertheless your language as a whole is governed by the national pattern - that is to say, that it conforms to the national grammar.

This was certainly a view that the American structuralist linguists had established within academia by then, but we weren't aware it had propagated much further, and certainly we haven't come across it in other British sources of the era, and we certainly wonder where P.G. came by his MSc.

He still lists the cases in the wrong order, though: accusative is meant to be fourth, not second. (Engleeshes tend to follow the example of Engleesh grammars of Latin, rather than Cherman grammars of Cherman, and sadly even Wilson can't seem to buck this trend.)

2009-08-01 17:58


Reading the bladets

2009-07-30 20:23

Of bicycles and cricket bats

A while back, the FT's (Paris-based sports correspondent) Simon Kuper wrote an article saying that nobody, by which he meant nobody in France, by which he meant nobody in Paris, was very bothered about this year's Tour de France.

But we certainly had no trouble finding plenty of coverage, either on the road or at home.

Now, while we were on the road we missed the first two(2) Tests of this summer's Ashes - a cricket series between England and Australia - and without Internet access and possibly the BBC World Service (both of which we were without) we didn't catch so much as a mention of it anywhere, anytime, anyhow.

This may or may not be karmic payback for all the time we spent watching the World Twenty20 cricket championship on Eurosport 2, but it certainly seems to us that the Tour is doing OK after all. (We had promised to be in Luxembourg if a Schleck had won, but circumstances prevailed on both sides.)

If we can just get the Internets to bring us Test Match Special tomorrow, we may restore some of the faded bloom to our Engleeshness; if we can't we'll presumably end up going just that bit more native. (What we really want is a Magic Long-Wave Radio, but these turn out to be hard to find.)

2009-07-28 14:24

Assorted poxes

Chickenpox is waterpokken in Dutch, Windpocken in Cherman and varicelle in French.

But it was mostly in Chermany that little Boris van 't Blad had it. We had to go to the Cherman doktor because Cherman pharmacistes won't give you anything useful without a prescription (they all seem to be full of adverts for homeopathic "remedies", which we hope doesn't amount to a national Plan B).

The other languages were mostly relevant to check that other childrens on campsite playgrounds had already had it and couldn't therefore get it again.

(If you hang around municipal campsites in France, the vehicularest language with co-campers seems to be Dutch, and only partly because our car has Dutch plates.)

2009-07-27 19:21

Holidag reading notes

Shopping for books in Francophone hypermarchs

In big French hypermarchs (as opposed to small French hypermarchs) there are generally piles of paperbacks sorted first by publisher and secondly not at all. (Even Foyles of London has abandoned this strategy by now.)

In big Wallonian hypermarchs they do that too, but they also have an extensive selection of bandes dessinnes (AKA comics). This is quite handy, because the real comics shops also shelve by publisher and it is not at all practical to browse them while trying to wrangle an exuberant toddler away from the plastic smurfs ("schtroumpfs").

Krants and bladets

German local bladets (this time, Seigener Zeitung in Sauerland and Schwartzwlder Bote in the Black Forest) are much better than French local bladets (Le Bien Bublic in Burgundy and L'est-clair in Champagne).

The German ones deploy detachable sections so that only one is hyperlocal and deals with the hyperlocality you are actually in, while the other sections have news of the outside world and general interest.

French local papers are big fat single-section gazettes of all the trivia of all the villages and towns in their catchment area, with barely a page or two for real news.

But either will do to follow developments in the Tour de France, although Belgian local papers put either of them to shame for that.

Fred Vargas

In the bookshop in Baden-Baden they wanted twelve (12) euros for a French paperback of Fred Vargas, but they also had one in German translation for just EUR 7.90. So we figured we'd just read it in German.

It turns out that of the six(6) of her krimis we've read - including one we bought later in France and just finished todag - the only one we didn't enjoy was the one in German.

Our Varied Reader may or may not have been warned.

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