Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’

Keep those wagons rollin’ …

Life is rollin’ on chez les Bacon — school’s almost out for summer, my contract at the university has been extended for another year, baby Didi is up and walking, and we interviewed a woman last night to come help clean for us, which of course meant we spent a mad hour tidying up before she came so she wouldn’t be frightened off.

On the work front, I see that a big translation I did recently on child witches in Africa has made the news. As with many of the texts I do for UNICEF, it produced very mixed emotions: on the one hand, it feels good to contribute to improving the lives of the kids; on the other, their lives are just so goddamn miserable, and people can be so extremely cruel and sadistic that I sometimes felt physically disgusted.

Meanwhile in my day job at the university, I’m alone in the office, having opted to push my holiday dates back to better match our oldest two kids’ break (the summer holiday is staggered in the Netherlands over three different periods to reduce the mass exodus in August).

The IT people have “upgraded” (sic) our system to Outlook and Office 2010, so I’ve spent the first hour reinstalling my own apps. If you consider we have upgraded from using Novell for our email, then you will understand that we are running about five years behind the cutting edge.

Now, everything seems to have stopped running … maybe I shouldn’t have tried to install Adobe CS4, Flash Player, VLC player, and 17 Firefox add-ins at the same time …

Back to work. Rawhide!

A man, a woman, a ‘tache

Translating agricultural development articles doesn’t often make me break out into a smile, so I was particularly pleased to discover this evening that the Chief Executive of the Seychelles Agricultural Agency goes by the wonderful name of Antoine Marie Moustache. It’s the mother lode of tease.

And then there’s his job: with a land mass of only 455 square miles spread over 115 tiny islands and coral outcrops, the title seems to rival that of Swiss Admiral*.

Determined to find more about Mr Moustache, I tracked down his M.Phil thesis at another of my old stomping grounds, the University of the West Indies: Fertilizer use in Cabbage with Special Reference to Urea-N.

– Irie! U-Ria! Why y’hafta pee on de cabbage dem?

– Yeah man, me drink me root juice
an’ forget de damn waterin’ can an’ ting.

(Read previous work-related highlights and other barely plausible names.)

* What’s the difference between a Dyson vacuum cleaner and a Swiss Admiral?
A Dyson vacuum cleaner sucks and sucks and never fails, while a Swiss Admiral …

House-hunting a TARDIS

Dear …

It’s been so long since I wrote a post that I forgot how to start. Dear me.

Since the previous telegraphic message, our house boss (huisbaas in Dutch, way cooler than landlord) has allowed us access to the Interweb; but only after several hours of Bergmanesque sighing, silence and alternately staring at 300 metres of ethernet cable and a very large drill. I held my tongue, for the alternative was signing up for our own connection with a five-day approval delay and a year-long tie-in. The former was out because I had a big translation job screaming to start, and the latter just gets my goat. I’ve skipped contracts in Rome and Dakar and I’m willing to do it again, but still … they’re just plain wrong and shouldn’t be encouraged.

Prior to getting officially connected, I had had to climb up to the bathroom under the rafters, in the converted milking shed we find ourselves in, and turn and twist the laptop to pick up a weak unprotected wireless network. The day I got the big contract, of course, I couldn’t pick up anything at all and had to walk up and down the street at 11 pm in a freezing wind in order to get a good enough signal to reply and accept the job. (It’s actually quite reassuring to find so many unprotected networks around in these times.)

I mentioned our milking shed in passing, almost a cliché, pregnant and no room at the inn-thing, except there are no cows a-lowing or sheep a-baaing. No sah! We got cable!

Still, it’s a holiday rental, meant for warmer periods, with no heating in the bedrooms upstairs and no insulation anywhere. And with the high-season rent at 500 euros a week, we are running out of time — Easter holiday an’ all.

It was part of our grand plan to return to northern Europe and buy our first house. It’s a buyer’s market, we’re told. Time to make a killing. Offer 20% off the asking price and they’ll still say thank you …

Hmmm …

Not so much. The debate of whether the economic crisis is real or not is played out in the housing market; after all, that’s where it started. And after extensive research — my recent browsing history (CTRL+H) is Funda, huislijn and JAAP) — my considered opinion is that people don’t care if everyone is talking about a crisis if they’ve got a house to sell. The prices are not dropping. (real) Estate agents may be going bust (boo…ha!), but that’s just because people are sitting tight until they get what they want. No one is selling unless they have to. So we’re counting on the greying of the Netherlands (baby boomers leaving family houses) and divorces; even there I imagine the estranged husband trying to make amends just to maintain the value of the joint property: “Baby, I love you … Let’s try and make this work, until the prices go up again”.

We live in a town that boasts over 1,200 registered monuments, that is, historically ancient or significant buildings. Some of the houses we’ve been looking to buy are over 400 years old. Problem is, they tend to be spread over four very narrow floors, with poky bedrooms in the rafters. And with (soon) four kids under ten years old, we’re looking for more horizontal surface area, and are obsessed with finding “the fifth bedroom”.

We’ve seen beautifully restored townhouses with no yard or garden or place to park the bike; newly built villas with no soul or sense of space; 1920s semi-detached with most recent maintenance in 1970s (No more brown tiles! Ever!) … in short, we’re stumped.

When my son #1 took out Dr Who from the library, I realized that in our house-hunting, we were looking for a TARDIS, an example of perfect building in land-limited Netherlands — small surface area, but endless inner volume: did you know that inside that 4m² area, “apart from living quarters, the interior includes an art gallery (which is actually an ancillary power station), a greenhouse, a bathroom with a swimming pool (which was jettisoned by the Seventh Doctor in Paradise Towers after it sprang a leak), a medical bay, several brick-walled storage areas”.

To which my immediate reaction is, “dump the gallery, we got the fifth bedroom”.

I’m nothing if not a practical philistine.

P.S. I need more regular work to boost our mortgage rating. Not too fussy. Anything well-paid that can be done in school-time.

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911 Translation

I lost a job last week.

It was a 30-page translation on children’s rights, a subject I’ve worked on regularly since summer. It would have been a straightforward job, and although in Senegal I accept fees at half my regular rates elsewhere, the amount would have nicely rounded out the end-of-the-month finances (translation: bring us back to zero).

So what went wrong?

It was a classic example of the warning that my old boss in Rome used to have pinned to her noticeboard:

A lack of planning on your part
does not justify an emergency on my part.

I was first called about the job on Thursday 20 November. The document was for a high-level meeting and the deadline was the start of the meeting, Tuesday 2 December. As usual, I asked for a copy of the document, to assess the length and complexity of the job.

First problem: the document would not be ready until Monday 25 November because the author was still working on it. Par for the course, I thought. But there would still be enough time to turn it around.

Monday. No news.

Tuesday. Nothing. I call. The document had just arrived. I got a copy, gave it the once over and sent back my pro forma and deadline: Next Monday, 1 December. This was accepted. However, I was asked not to start work until the Director approved the contract. So I waited.

Wednesday, I call. The Director had not yet given approval and was in a meeting. Worse still, they had just realized that they needed to get the document printed before the meeting … So could I not return the translation by Friday? No, was my reply. No sooner than Monday.

*grumble* *sigh* was the reaction.

Can I get started? I asked. No, we need to wait until the afternoon for the green light.

18:30 Wednesday, I call. Director still in meeting.

20:00 Wednesday, I receive an email asking me to be patient.

10:00 Thursday, I reply saying that with less than two working days remaining, it was no longer possible for me to meet my deadline and that in consequence I was withdrawing my offer.

10:03 Thursday, I receive a call telling me to start work.

Surprised, I asked, “Didn’t you receive my email?”

“What email? Ahh … oh … I see. But we were counting on you!”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t see why I should have to work through the weekend because you didn’t plan this better.”


She actually had the nerve to hang up on me!

Mr B, ever understanding, suggested the poor woman had been about to burst into tears.

Maybe so, but it was her own fault. The meeting must have been scheduled months before. There should have been a plan of what needed to be done by what date, and it should have been monitored. Instead each person in the chain let their delivery dates slip by, maybe just a few days here or a week there, but no one paid attention until they realized the meeting was fast approaching. And then they expect the final members of the chain to pull up all the slack and bring the schedule back on track?

I don’t think so.

I’m a professional. Treat me with some r.e.s.e.p.c.t. (sic)

Lack of planning