Friday, March 17, 2017

Spring has sprung so time for a spuddle...

This last week has seen that sudden flick of the switch from winter to spring. It's odd how that can happen overnight, isn't it? Last weekend, it was still cold and I was wearing my immersion heater winter coat, as well as a scarf and hat, without feeling I was overdoing it at all. But then on Tuesday it all changed and spring shouted its welcome from the mast tops.

On Wednesday morning, we were up early so that Koos could go and do his duty as a citizen and vote (I can't as I don't have Dutch citizenship, not yet anyway). I won't go too deeply into the complexities of Dutch politics here, but suffice to say there were around twenty one parties on the ticket. Of those, there are about ten big ones and the rest are small, particular interest groups; for example, the party for older people, which focuses on pensioners rights etc. In the Dutch system, all have them have the chance of gaining a seat in parliament, but despite my interest in how it all works, it still foxes me at times. Nevertheless, I think that because of the issues at stake this time, the turnout was impressive. - over 80%! Anyway, the weather was glorious and we were able to have the hatch open for the first time in months, the downside of which was I saw all the dust in corners I don't usually notice. So while Koos was away, I did some much needed smooshing, both outside and in.

On Thursday, it was even better. The sky was cloudless and the air sweet. I looked out of the hatch at the Oude Haven and fell in love with it all over again. It really is a special and lovely place to be, and for this time in March, it was a deliciously warm and balmy day.

My view from the hatch - such blue, blue sky

Dew on the deck - this time last year there
was ice instead!
With this in sight, I decided that it was THE day for a first spuddle in the rowing boat - an occasion that we greet with much enthusiasm every year. Last year's didn't take place until early May, so we are more than a month and a half ahead.

Last year's first spuddle - 5 May with the trees in leaf
Of course, opportunity is everything and it may well be there were days last year when we could have done it before May, but just didn't have time. Anyhow, yesterday was the day this year, so as I only had to teach in the afternoon, I spent the morning cleaning out the little boat, after which I invited my daughter and her boyfriend to join us after work. We had two sets of oars and set off with great gusto; an easy enough accomplishment given that we had the impression were rowing on a slack tide.

The forward team cracking on
Once we were through the bridge we made great pace going upstream along the neighbouring harbour, Haringvliet, and had a lovely view of the ships. Koos was in good form yelling neighbourly greetings to all and sundry and almost deafening me in the process, but it was all great fun.

The Haringvliet
We even played the fool a bit, pretending to get snooty with each other and everyone else too, as captured by one of the forward team.

Koos and I playing the fool
But then we had to turn round and go back. Did I say something about a slack tide? Well, it was still coming in, so no wonder we raced upstream. Going back was an exercise in fortitude and endurance, not helped by Koos' ribald comments that had us going every which way and quite frequently in circles! Still we made it eventually and congratulated ourselves on a greatly enjoyable start of the spuddle season.

Oh and by the way, the elections turned out to be no table-turning of the status quo or the move towards extremism we'd feared, which was definitely a relief. Now we await the negotiations for who else will make up the coalition government. That's when the fun starts!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Grown-up millenials

We've all heard about the 'millenial' phenomenon by now, haven't we? That strange period we are currently going through where kids born in the eighties and nineties (although I think it's more nineties than eighties) are displaying certain characteristics never seen before, as a result of the internet age - the nose in their phones, not listening, not reading and wanting to be spoon-fed phenomenon?

Well, I've got news for you all. I've realised it's not just the kids. Don't put all the blame on them. No, no, no. I have personal and intimate experience of dealing with some fully grown forty to fifty-year-old, matured in wine, cheese head millenials with more holes in their memories than a lump of good Edam. You don't believe me? Well, I have proof...indisputable, unputdownable (oh no, that's books isn't it?), irrefutable proof. You see, I know them; lots of them.

Let me explain. My day job is to teach Academic Writing and Business Communication at the university in Rotterdam and also for students at the University of Amsterdam. Now without going into too many details, many of these students are not youngsters, but PhDers and Research Master's students who have returned to academia at a later stage in their lives, for what reason I don't really know, as I tend not to have time to get involved in their personal lives. By the way, the same goes for me too in their eyes.

When I go into class, I think they regard me as some kind of android. I have no existence outside the classroom. This conviction is so strong that if I inadvertently bump into one of them elsewhere in my other guise as a human being, they don't quite know how to handle it. It's true!

Anyway, that's beside this particular point. Where was I? Ah yes, Edam cheese. The truth of the matter is they are just as bad as the teenagers. When I teach their classes, half the time they are fiddling with their phones under the desks (at least I think that's what they're doing; I dread to think what else it might be), or they're checking their Twitter or Facebook messages on their tablets. Then they they seem to have to rush out of the room for urgent calls in a sort of cyclic rota system throughout the lesson. I swear they've arranged it all in advance! There's no pretence that they need the loo; no, nothing as subtle as that. They have about as much finesse as a bull in a china shop and the tact of a northerner stripped of his charm (apologies to any northerners reading this, but you're much better, I promise). This of course means that they don't listen, they don't read, and they don't know what they're supposed to be doing at the end of the class, and then they blame me when things go wrong. They do. It leaves me speechless. The Edam cheese analogy is no joke; it really isn't, Any gems of information I impart seem to disappear into the holes and out the other side. Nothing is retained.

Then there are the written assignments that have to be submitted online. After dealing with the torrent of emails they dump on me when they realise in panic that they haven't understood (for that, read 'listened to') the assignment and the deadline is a matter of hours away, I then start receiving their offerings. If that's what you can call them. I have a very strong suspicion some of them might be trying to write their theses, or at least their papers, on their smartphones. I mean it! I say this because I'm totally convinced they do their assignments on them.

Firstly, they manage to overlook instructions that are written in capital letters, bold type and outsize fonts, which are as clear as flashing neon signs without the neon; secondly, they can be guaranteed to upload them in the wrong style format even though every assignment has aforesaid neon sign equivalents telling them how to do it, and finally the end result is so shoddy, messy and badly presented that I cannot believe they have the temerity to send them in as an academic writing or business document.

Now everyone makes the odd typo (see my tweets, says she hanging her head in shame), but these, dear readers, these are supposed to be serious, graded assignments. I am, I have to say, flabbergasted. This evening (and after this I'll shut up, climb down of my high horse and shuffle off to bed) I read an assignment where the word 'synopsis' was spelt in each of the following ways: synops, synopse, sinopsys, and synopsise. And all in one paragraph. Yes.

So, my friends, you want to tell me about a millenial generation? I'm not buying it. I think it's a complete millenial society, or should I call it a symptom of close encounters of the Edam kind?

Happy Sunday everyone! I'll be spending at least some of the day trying to unscramble gobbledegook and answering daft questions that Google has much more patience with than I have.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

A flurry of activity

Well here we are at the beginning of March already, and it's been quite a busy time in a number of ways. The trouble is I don't quite know how and what to say about it, but let's see what comes out!

As you all know by now, I published my new book last weekend. I haven't launched it as such, so there's been no party or fireworks lighting up the Oude Haven (hmm, that was a missed opportunity) ; maybe I'll celebrate more when I've brought out the paperback which I still have to do. Having the real book in my hands is still something I cherish. Nevertheless, it's going well and so far, those who've read it have enjoyed it - or so they say.

Then last Monday, we were treated to a visit by some very special people. John and his Dee from Yorkshire popped in to say hello while visiting Rotterdam for the weekend. John is a friend of my sister and brother-in-law and has in fact known the latter since they were kids. I met John some years ago, and knew then that he had lived in Rotterdam for a while back in the seventies. He was blown away by the changes to this great city; something I can well imagine as when he was here last, there were still massive wasteland areas that had not yet been rebuilt after the bombing in 1940. Rotterdam is now famous for its fabulous modern architecture, most notable of which is the new Markthal.  We had to take them to see it, of course, so here's a photo I took from inside it with my not very smart phone. I love the view of the famous Potlood building!

And here's another I took outside. This is the library with its unusual exterior pipe design. I really like it but I know it's not everyone's cup of tea. The light on it was amazing after a day of constant rain, but the photo isn't really good (see remark re phone). Still, you get the idea.

Then on Thursday, poor Koos had to have some surgery - nothing serious, but it's kept us harbour bound for the last couple of days. The handy thing was that he had it done at the local Havenziekenhuis hospital, so as they wouldn't let him out before I had to go to work (later than anticipated), they took him back to the barge in the hospital electric taxi, an odd little contraption that looks like a fully covered golf cart. We'd decided he could wait till my daughter could fetch him, but the nurses offered him the ride, which he gratefully took.

Then yesterday, I had to have my annual training session to maintain my position as a Cambridge ESL speaking examiner. Given that I've only done one lot of examining ever (this time last year), it was very necessary, believe me. I'd forgotten a lot and as I'm actually going to be examining next week, I was very glad of the refresher. I'm not sure who's more nervous about it - the candidates or me!

So we are now on board this wet (again) Saturday morning when we would normally be at the crumbly cottage. Still, all is otherwise well, Koos is on the mend, and I'll catch up with everyone next week. Now that wasn't bad for someone who didn't know what to write, eh?