Blue and yellow

Back to work on Monday after an exhausting IKEA weekend: long trip to the mainland on Saturday, then six hours shuffling round the blue and yellow megabox, sustained only by Swedish meatballs and a family-size bag of Daims; Sunday busy with the allen keys, baffled by pictogram instructions simplified for our 23-language community.

What did we buy? Well, after Mr B decided that we’d made too many hasty decisions (during our six-hour visit), you can already find half of the stuff on, the local, most popular equivalent of eBay.

Mr B is right, of course; IKEA specializes in the borderline of the acceptable; the grey zone of style where no one feels exactly at home but is at a loss for anything better, or affordable.

As part of my extensive research for this post, I came across this song by The Used.

[audio: The-Used-Blue-and-Yellow.mp3]

As far as poignant adolescent longing goes, it’s … apparently much appreciated by fans who bicker about whether the lyrics refer to romance, friendship or dope. Of course, it’s none of those things. Check out the lyrics from the chorus:

Should’ve done something but I’ve done it enough,
by the way your hands were shaking,
rather waste some time with you.

The references are so obviously IKEAN: the tension between the desire for Scandinavian design (kräap) and the fear of having “an IKEA house”; the way your hands feel after screwing together several flatpacks of mdf with a 4mm allen key;

… and the realization that time could have been better spent with the ones you love.

Life’s too short to visit IKEA.

Future proofing

I’m trying to get my head around joining up various online activities. It’s a challenge, which may be ultimately pointless, but the potentialities of crossover are too inviting.

Current linkups include Squeezebox to and from Flickr, LastFM and Facebook; Stet (this blog) to and from Flickr, LastFM and Twitter, with a pending bug query for Wordbook for Facebook integration.

I have a nagging feeling that this type of laborious cross-linking will seem hilarious in the future, say about three years from now.

My 10-year-old daughter has already checked out of life and in to a virtual world, Habbo, where she is currently working as an unpaid doctor.

Is this the future?


Pre-dawn awakening to the sounds of baby Sam, our attic bedroom muted grey from the snow-covered skylights. From the panoramic kitchen windows downstairs, we enjoyed the views of virginal roads and footpaths. It was another hour before another soul stirred outside and spoiled the pristine effect. Another hour before the sun rose.

Went sledding with H-girl, Mr B and Jools, the latter preferring to drag the sled behind her rather than sit and be pulled. There are of course few slopes, let alone hills, in the Netherlands, so the best we could do was to slide down the steep riverbank and drive our heels in the snow to avoid shooting into the frozen reeds by the water’s edge.

New year, new look. I was never happy with the previous blog theme; this one is more minimalistic, as its name implies, but it needs some tweaking, especially to correct the photo resizing. A WiP.

Other plans, or maybe resolutions, given the season: get rid of verruca (small but extremely painful), being less pigheaded (suggested by Mr B, “I’ve run you a bath.”), make more time to cook better food (“The water’s getting cold.”), and print more photos to hang in our new house.

It’s a start.

(“Next time run it yourself!”)

The truckers were the real heroes

Our plan last night was to put up shelves in our wardrobe and further reduce the chaos of our living conditions, which seems to involve shifting boxes from one room to another, until it becomes unmanageable, then redistributing the boxes to other rooms. Every few days we generate enough garbage to fill the bus and go to the dump, but the total amount of stuff in the house seems to be growing.

It’s quite dispiriting.

So much so that we were quickly distracted from shelves and boxes after I started playing Costa-Gavras’ Missing, recorded on our digital TV drive several months ago.

It’s a great movie. Confusing at the beginning only to reflect the chaos at the start of the coup d’état. Jack Lemmon is fan-bloody-tastic as the conservative curmudgeon who, after a painful series of revelations, realizes that he has been more naive than his idealistic son, and that normal rules of behaviour don’t always apply.

The title above is a quote from one of the American military advisors during the Chilean coup. It stuck in my head, reminding me of other events where “heavy” labour was manipulated by conservative forces: mafia-controlled teamsters in the US; Romanian miners leading a counter-attack to the overthrow of Ceaucescu …

… Yeah my mind gets to thinking …

I had a Chilean cousin-in-common-law in France some years ago, an artist who made delicate mobiles hung before the painted canvas, who seemed to spend more time politicking in the ultra-cliques of Parisian écoles, who was put through the German highschool in Santiago by his hat-maker mother, who decried the Allende years as times of chaos and roadblocks (by those truckers), and who never understood the fuss about Pinochet.

I was very fond of him, nonetheless, for his naivety in life matters and his attention to detail in his art. He had lived uncomfortably in sin with his girlfriend in Paris for 20 years before he learned that his wife had unceremoniously divorced him in Chile almost as soon as he had left the country. All those years he had denied himself the right to marry and have children. At the age of 50, he was more surprised than disappointed.

After the movie finished, I cleared up the debris in the living room before trying a nightcap in the form of a dram of 37-year-old whisky that was mistakenly sent to us in a Christmas hamper (shortcake and champagne). Standing in the demi-gloom of the cupboard under the stairs, I raised the lid off the box, and it looked just like a coffin.

Maybe it was an association with the movie. Dead bodies splayed on the skylight of the morgue.

I’m sorry to say I didn’t enjoy the whisky.

Squeeze me baby, till I lose control

It’s odd coming back to this place that was once so familiar and now seems so … neglected and … quite frankly, dowdy. I reckon this blog could do with a makeover, a little nipping and tucking in the layout, minor facelift-like.

Since I stopped blogging regularly, I have maintained my presence in the cybersphere through occasional tweets, although I’m still not convinced that sending messages of fewer than 140 characters to largely unknown “followers” is the next big thing in communication. I still like reading long articles (sometimes on paper!) that give the writer the time to develop his arguments. I used to think magazines were a frivolous and decadent waste of money, compared with books, but I’ve changed my mind recently; I still have a few very overdue issues of The Atlantic, Esquire and The Economist from the Dakar International School library, and I’m still finding bits to read six months later.

One thing on this blog that is updated is my playlist of music in the right-hand sidebar. The big change is that I’m playing and uploading those files with our latest gadget: a logitech Squeezebox Duet.

It’s been years since we had any means of playing music at home. We had a crappy boombox system that I bought in Abidjan in 1998 and used until Rome in 2005. After that, we just listened to music on a computer. Kind of sad for people who have lovingly collected ten zillion vinyls, cassettes, CDs and digital files.

We kept putting off buying a music system because there was always something else that we needed more urgently (school fees, flights to Europe, rent, etc.), but last month we splashed out on a Bose 3*2*1 sound system … and it sounds great, even if the subsonic bass makes Mr B feel like a chav in a VW Polo. We didn’t stop with the Bose, however, because my dream was to have our massive audio library centralized, sorted and playable from the couch. We first bought a So-Smart drive from Dane-Elec, which turned out to be So-Dumb-and-Annoying because it had an unusable file management system (try searching for one track out of 26,000 only in alphabetical order) and froze unpredictably. We took it back to the shop, got our cash back, and bought a LaCie Internet disk. Very stylish, but it only allowed LaCie’s very basic software and would not run more sophisticated music management software such as Squeezebox; so back went the LaCie to the shop. With our cash back in our hands, we got lucky the third time with Logitech’s Squeezebox Duet. It’s basically a handset that allows you to stream wirelessly your audio files from a hard drive to an audio output. In our case, our music is on an external hard drive, USB-ed to an always-on laptop, and the audio output is through the Bose. Fantastic sound, and great fun rediscovering some blasts from the past.

And yet, I’ve come to realize that in the last month I’ve only played music for a few minutes on maybe six occasions. With four kids running around, one Wii-ing; another singing a new song from school; a third trying to demolish the furniture with her toys; and the fourth mewling and burbling … ANY music just comes out as unwanted noise, and so we shut it off quickly. Mr B reckons we’re just getting old and can’t handle lots of different noise. Maybe so, but we’re still going to make a conscious effort to LISTEN to our music now that we have the means to do so.

One of the downsides of having a new electronic gadget is that we now have another remote control to add to our collection. I will certainly agree with Mr B that it’s a sign of aging when one can’t work out how to access a TV programme without manipulating three different remote controls: TV control to set the input source, Bose control to control the sound, and the Humax decoder control to control the channel changes. After three weeks, we’re beginning to learn the correct sequence of commands, but still … sometimes we long for the days of just switching on the TV and nothing else.

(Oh boy. 1 a.m. again, with a feed on the way and an early wake-up call from toddler J at around 6:30.)