Archived entries for Uncategorized

Hoover sound

Do you ever notice how babies and young children are fascinated by the white noise of a Hoover? When my daughter was a baby, she was completely enthralled by it, and it was a good way to get her to calm down or to provide a distraction.

I needed to find a way that I could use the Hoover sound without actually having to plug the thing in every time. It’s not as if I’m going to drag the Hoover out in the middle of the night – it might have worked to calm the baby down but we would have ended up with screaming, crying neighbours instead.

So what I did was to record a sample of the sound and used Audacity to create a 10-minute track which I could then put into my iPod and burn onto a CD. It worked like a dream – the distracting white noise without needing to use the machine itself.

So I thought I would post the original audio file here for anyone else who might want to try it out:

Hoover Sound.mp3

(Right-click on the link and choose “Save target As…)

If you do use it, let me know how you get on in the comments below.

So I went to a Spa…and then this happened

Photo 22-09-14 10 56 41

So it is that I find myself, along with my wife of 3 days, in a Thermal Spa in Grimbergen, a chance to relax following our exhilarating, amazing wedding weekend. I’d originally booked the spa as a birthday treat for Zoe, imagining that she would go with one of her girlfriends, so when she actually said she would prefer to go with me, that’s how I ended up with an appointment for a Mother’s Day Special pedicure.

Now, I don’t have the nicest feet in the world, if I’m really honest.

So after sitting in some hot water outside for a bit, then sitting in a hot room for a bit, plus a lunch including a glass of the local brew, it was time to go upstairs to give our feet a treat.

We had to sit in this pre-pedicure waiting room drinking herbal tea with our feet in a bowl of oil. We did this to the soundtrack of dolphins and pan-pipes (you know, from a compilation like “Deeply Chilled Tones Vol. 8″, supposed to be relaxing but which ought to come with a warning: “The record company cannot accept any responsibility for damaged audio equipment as a result of prolonged exposure to this music.”) until we were called in.

Why do I always get the bad-tempered member of staff?

We started off on the wrong foot, or should I say, feet. My feet, to be precise. My woman asked Zoe, as if I were not in the room,

“Madame, has he washed his feet?”

“Yes, don’t worry, he’s been soaking them in the oil. Of course.”

I mean, honestly. Then we go through to the room where we have to lie on these beds. It doesn’t seem to be going too badly at the start, but then about 5 minutes in I look around and see that the woman dealing with my feet has a look on her face of utter, utter disgust. She looks like she’d be marginally happier sorting through last week’s rubbish bins.

Then she leaves the room. Just like that. I wonder where she’s gone? Has she been so repulsed that she has to go and get some fresh air? I feel a bit humiliated, really, lying there by myself having been left high and dry by my masseuse. Though not as humiliated as when she walks back into the room. She’s come back wearing surgical gloves.

Zoe nearly falls off the bed laughing.

Chaos in the kitchen

I’m not the most accomplished cook by any stretch of the imagination. Oh, I can make you a reasonable pasta dish and if you ask nicely, I might produce a decent Cottage Pie once in a while. Anything more complicated and I usually end up halfway through a recipe questioning the instructions aloud like a madman: “Simmer until tender?!” “Reduce by half?”, and so on.

So you can imagine what it’s like with me trying to cook alongside my two-and-a-half year old daughter Seren. Yep, utter chaos.

We tried baking a cake together the other day. Well, we did actually do the baking, but what came out of the oven couldn’t really be called “cake”, by even the most generous of descriptions. There we were, me trying to measure out some more butter on the digital scales – useless, useless things for measuring anything like butter. You put the butter on, but of course as you’re trying to hit the “reset” button because the stupid scales are telling you that your “ounce” of butter weighs in at 4Kg, the butter falls off the scales. Ah, the beautiful simplicity of old-school balancing scales, back in t’day!

Balance Scale (image: Nikodem Nijaki)

Balance Scale (image: Nikodem Nijaki)

Anyway, there’s me, swearing at the digital scales, while Seren is ever-so-helpfully putting the cake mixture bit by bit from the bowl onto the floor. “What are you doing?! Stop it!” I cry, “You’re supposed to be mixing! That’s not funny!”

“It IS FUNNY!” she yells, glad of the attention and spooning more of the precious cake mixture onto the floor.

Having showed Seren how to carefully sift the flour into a bowl, she soon realises that as well as shaking the sieve gently, she can also shake it really hard with the result that there’s a lovely snowfall of flour. Everywhere. My back is turned for 20 seconds while I look for the sugar, and I hear: “Uh oh. Messy!”

“What’s messy?” (Calm. Measured. Don’t turn around straight away, but wait a second and…breathe.)

“Seren’s did put it EVERYWHERE.”

“Arrrgh! What a mess! I said do it gently!! GENTLY. I need to put the sugar in now and there’s no flour and…(breathe). Right, I’ll do the flour, you can put the sugar in. SLOWLY, OK? No, you can’t just eat it. Put it in the bowl nicely.”

We eventually get the cake mixture into a tin and into the oven, where in my distracted-by-a-two-year-old state (I think we were playing a game of ‘Let’s Pretend’ or ‘Let’s Pin the Blame on Papa’ or something) I forget to check on it. One hour later…well, let’s just put it this way: we had to close all the doors and open the big windows. The texture was the sort that, after one bite, you’re thinking, “Was that a tooth?”

Seren baking

 

 

 

 

The customer is always…

Ah, customer service in Belgium. We meet again.

The first was trying to replace a faulty Blackberry. The man in the shop was all too happy to replace it…with a cheaper model.

“Not a problem, sir. I can give you a Blackberry 9360 instead. Free of charge.”
“…but that model is about 200 euros cheaper, with fewer features and no touchscreen.”
“It’s a very reliable device, sir, we’ve had to order some more of these models due to the big demand from our customers. It’s your lucky day, though, sir, because I’ve just got a new delivery in. Today, in fact.”
“…great, but it’s not the model I’m looking for. I’m actually looking for the one that’s the same as the Blackberry I’ve got at the moment.”
“Which model is that then, sir?”
“The 9790, as I said at the beginning of this phone call.”
“If you’d like to come into our shop sir, I can replace that model for you, no problem.”
“Thank you. Is three o’clock this afternoon convenient?”
“Perfect, sir. See you then!”
“Just to confirm…you do have the 9790 in stock?”
“Let me just check sir….no, sir, sorry, we’ve got none of those models left I’m afraid. I was expecting more to arrive, today, in fact. Can you call back next week?”

Picking up a parcel here can also be equally trying. I’d been left one of those “We Called In But You Were Out” pieces of paper, which instructed me to go to the post office after a certain time on a certain date and my post would be waiting. So off I went.

“I’m sorry, sir. Your parcel isn’t here.”
“But it says on this piece of paper that it will be ready to collect after 11am today.”
“Have you checked the date properly?”
“Well, my diary’s usually pretty spot-on at telling me the correct date. That’s it’s killer feature, you see. Never lets me down. So yes, that’s today’s date.”
“I’ll just check my calendar…yes, you’re right, it’s the fourteenth.”
“Well, I’m glad we’ve got our dates aligned. What about my post?”
“I have no idea. Maybe the postman forgot to drop it off this morning…it could be that, couldn’t it?”
“I don’t know! I don’t work here, you do!”
“Can you call in at the same time tomorrow?”

Need an authorised technician to fix your TV?

“Hi, is that the Sony Service Centre?”
“Yes.” (No immediate offer to help, then.)
“I’ve got a Sony flat screen TV which needs looking at, would it be possible to request an appointment with one of your engineers?”
“Yes.”
“…OK, thanks. Would he be able to come here on Friday morning, say ten o’clock?”
“We only carry out service repairs at the Service Centre.”
“So you don’t send technicians out to fix things? I have to bring the TV to you?”
“Yes.”
“Slight problem there…it’s massive, this TV. It’s not like I can just pick it up and waltz over with it.”
“We only carry out service repairs at the Service Centre.”
“OK, thanks for being so flexible. Goodbye.”

How about you? How’s the customer service where you live?

6 years and counting

Yesterday was a special day for me because it marked 6 years since I first arrived in Belgium. I’d had a fantastic weekend with friends in London en route, and then I took the Eurostar, for the first time, to Brussels.

Upon arriving, I’d arranged to meet my landlady in advance of moving in so I could store my things in the house. Being completely new to the city, I showed a taxi driver the address, which he looked at and nodded in a confident manner before proceeding to drive off in completely the wrong direction.

“Can I just check…was it the Avenue Albert Jonnart in Ixelles you were after, mate? Or the other one? No, hang on, No…I was thinking you were wanting the other Avenue Albert, the big one – no worries, I’ll just turn around right here in the middle of this lane and put my foot down even harder, and we’ll be there in no time!”

Unfamiliar streets whizzed past and I found myself at the door of what was to be my new accomodatiom for the next 6 months. Dropping my stuff at the house was brief, because I only had with me what I could carry, and then it was just a me, a rucksack to take with me to the Youth Hostel – no, really – and the rain.

I sat in Pain Quotidian to dry out, ordered a coffee, and wondered what on earth I’d let myself in for.

Fortunately, I didn’t need to sit there contemplating my next move for too long. Thanks to some contacts at BBC Wales where I’d recently done a work placement, I had found out about a Welsh reception held in Brussels every year to mark St David’s Day. So I went along, grateful to be somewhere that was a bit “home from home” on my first night in a new city abroad. I’ve been going to the Gwyl Dydd Dewi reception every year, a sort of annual marker of my time here. See below a photo from this year’s event.

Carwyn-Jones-St-Davids-Day-2013

First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones opening the reception

St-Davids-Day-reception-2013

People enjoying the Welsh lamb, cheese and beer in the grand surroundings of the Bibliotheque Solvay

Christmas List 2050

What’s on your Christmas List for 2050? You know, things you’d like but which have yet to be invented:

Socks which match themselves – everyone’s had mornings have there been where you’re already running late and now you’re cursing the sock drawer like a madman, hopping around with one sock on, throwing clothes everywhere and insisting that your wife/boyfriend/mother/pet dog must have hidden the other sock out of spite…

Intelligent suitcases – it’s Summer, it’s the holidays and you’re just about to leave for that long-awaited break. You’re all packed, when you suddenly remember that you’ve forgotten to include your washbag. Damn. You’d spent all weekend sorting it all, packing and re-packing so that everything you needed fitted into your suitcase perfectly, and now your shaving cream means you can’t close the thing.

Intellicase (TM) would solve all your problems by re-arranging and re-adapting itself using only the power of mathematics and a pre-programmed spatial awareness you can’t even begin to work out. You start the holiday smiling rather than swearing…

Finding a free table – you’ve arrived in a new town or city and you’re starving. where’s good to eat? There are numerous apps out there which will cleverly use your location to find, rate and recommend restaurants in the area. You look inside, people are enjoying what looks like absolutely delicious food. “Great”, you think, stepping inside…only to be told that you should have booked ahead, I’m sorry Madam but we’re full.

What’s need is a restaurant app which also lets you know whether the good restaurants actually have any free tables. Proper tables, too, not the ones that they cram together so close that when you lift up your fork, you accidentally jab your neighbour in the face with your elbow.

What would be on your list?

Easily distracted

Click. Has anyone seen….You have 24 new message…seen my atten..click. You might want to re-connect with…Has anyone…click. Has anyone seen my…Results 1 to 10…attention…of about 482, 200, 78….span?

It’s important to pay attention. How much, though, and for how long? Ideas about this are changing. The old way of thinking was, you sit down, you learn (whether it’s how to fix a car or how to study a text) and, over time, you absorb the necessary details. This is all changing, however, with the way we are all connected through the internet on our computers, on our mobile phones, our televisions, music systems and, soon, our fridges and washing machines. You have one new message: your socks are clean.

There’s just so much information now out there, on Twitter, on rolling news feeds, on the hundreds of mobile applications fighting for our attention, we’re becoming more and more used to scanning and filtering information by the bucketload. Is this always a good thing, though? I for one know that after a busy week at work, a week of endless emails pouring in, constant flicking between websites and documents and different applications, my ability to concentrate is exhausted. We need to make sure that we’re able to keep up with the flow of the thundering river of information, to avoid becoming stranded, waist deep, unsure how best to proceed.

What about our ability to sit and listen, to concentrate for an extended period of time? We’ve all been in situations where we would expect to have someone’s undivided attention, only to find, five minutes in, that they’re checking their phone.

You’re halfway through a sentence, but that doesn’t matter. Out comes the phone, and “Ah ha ha! Pete says he’s just bought a ticket to Australia for twenty euros. Legend. Sorry, go on.”

No, you go on. I might as well talk to the wall behind you, at least it doesn’t interrupt what I’m saying. “No, I’m listening, honestly. I just need to reply to this.” You don’t need to reply. You’re not wearing a flourescent jacket and Pete’s not screaming at you to help him get his hand out of the shredder. It can wait.

Next stop will surely be “attention rehab” clinics. Please leave your phone at the reception and get ready to embark upon a weekend of re-capturing your concentration skills. Last free places available for our Summer residential course, “Talking without Texting: the Ten- Minute Challenge”.

Receipts and revolvers

The last few weeks, we’ve read about daggers, bloodletting and repeated mentions  of “handing over the revolver.” Not to mention the “torture” and those who have already “fallen“.

Is this some sort of brutal military prison in the middle of a desert? A war zone? A new film, perhaps involving drugs, gangs, sadomasochism and a close-call car chase?

You’ll realise that of course I’m talking about the UK government and the scandal over MPs’ expenses, currently making all the news in Westminster.

Of course, I can see the appeal for the media in using the most vivid language possible, but are we not making our politicians feel even more sorry for themselves by describing their ordeal over financial fiddling as if it was some epic war saga? Just imagine if this sort of language applied to the rest of us:

Dave: “It was only 50p to pay for a pint of milk on the way home, Mike, but they’ve noticed the petty cash tin’s been unusually light since Monday. Do you think you could top it up a bit, do us a favour?”

Mike: “Sorry, Dave, what’s done is done. I know you thought you could get away with it and all, but if I were you I’d work something out quick or things might get pretty nasty if you’re not careful. I wouldn’t want to be here when the boss comes in tomorrow morning, could end up with blood everywhere.”

Pete: “I think he’s right, you know, Dave. Might be quicker to…well, it’s your call but there’s a revolver in the stationery cupboard and we can all plan to get the ten past five train home if it would help…”

Dave: “Well, lads, do you fancy twisting this dagger in my back, while you’re at it? I was counting on you both to help sort me out over this whole I-just-fancied-some-fresh-milk fiasco. Tomorrow’s going to be a right festival of torture, I can tell you.”

Mike: “It’s every man for himself in this office, Dave. We already lost Jim to a thoughtless pub lunch, remember? If we get involved, the boss will only think that we’re all in this together. With any luck you might just be able to weather the storm and still come crawling out of this one without too many fatal injuries.”

Pete: “Best of luck to you, Dave. It’s by the printer paper if the shame gets too much.”

More articles available

I’ve uploaded some more of my articles that have been published recently, you can find them on this section of the site or by clicking on the image below.

Articles Nov 2008

Getting the message

I shop for herbal teas bilingually. Don’t worry, it’s not one of my chat-up lines; I can’t begin to imagine an appropriate response to such a declaration (“Really? I get my fruit and veg in Hebrew, myself”).
No, it’s just that in the health food shop near where I live, one of the girls working there is Francophone, and the other comes from the Flemish part of the country, and so it’s easier for her if we speak in English. So it’s often the case that I end up saying things twice, once in French and then once again in English. It’s one of the charming aspects of life in Belgium which, I think, brings a bit of variety to everyday life. Obviously another reason I support bilingualism is that I’m from Wales, where we live life in Welsh and English all the time. Even the sheep are bilingual.

welsh-sheep.jpg

Getting the message across in another language can, though, cause more confusion that one might have bargained for. Translation’s not always easy, even for the European parliament, with it’s army of interpreters for the 23 official languages of the EU. When Yulia Tymoshenko (below), prime minister of Ukraine, came to visit yesterday, they had to resort to the stop-start method of waiting for an interpretation to be read from English to Ukranian and vice-versa.

It causes a bit of trouble at the individual level, too. I should know, I nearly found out the hard way. Last week I had quite a nasty cold, and so I left work a bit early and went to the pharmacy. I started speaking in French, trying to explain that I was blocked up and that I’d like something to relax my lungs. There’s a tightness in my chest, I explained, and I’d like to ease it a bit.
So after a bit of thought, the pharmacist asked if it was asthma that I was talking about, because I’d have to get an inhaler from the doctor, she couldn’t give me one just like that. I said no, sorry, I wasn’t being clear; it wasn’t asthma, I’ve got things for that. We discussed a bit more what it might be that I was after; me trying to explain that I wanted something to clear and relax my lungs, her trying her best to understand. On reflection, perhaps I used the word “relax” with too much emphasis. Eventually the pharmacist asked me my maternal language. As it happened, she was actually Flemish, and found English easier than French. Thank heavens we managed to reach an understanding. Instead of wanting a simple flu remedy, the pharmacist thought that I had been asking for muscle relaxant.



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