July 2006

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Car Race

What was supposed to be a calm week-end, turned into a race to see as many cars as possible in as many different garages as possible. We had to do everything by bike, because as you know our old car’s engine is doing a very good impression of a solid chunk of steel. I think we did over 30 km yesterday, visiting a Citroën garage (open), passing by a BMW garage (too expensive), continuing on to a Nissan garage, passing by a Jaguar garage (way too expensive) on too the first Opel garage. That one was closed, so we moved further to the Renault garage and then to what I thought was another Opel garage but instead it was a Ford garage. We also passed by a Volkswagen/Audi garage that I didn’t know off, a Nissan garage that had moved and a Rover garage.

In the afternoon we drove to another Opel garage. It was closed again, but we learned that the other one nearby was also closed too because of summer vacation so at least our legs got spared there. Off it was then to the Peugeot garage at the other side of the next town, which was also closed. Then we rode to the other Peugeot garage that I knew, after calling them to make sure they were open because this one was rather far away and by that time we were in serious danger of getting our tongues stuck in our moving front wheels. Oh by the way, all this was done in about 34°C. My forehead can now be mistaken for a red traffic light, but luckily this sunburn doesn’t hurt (the nerves have probably been burned away).

But all this rushing around did lead to something. In the running where:

You may notice that these cars are especially suitable for young families. However, they don’t come with kids included so we will have to make our own.

 

And the winner is…

(drum roll)

Oh, look at the time. Must be off now, bye!

Personal Franchising

in

Although I am since my marriage allowed by all legal, religious and moral standards to have sexual relationships with a third person (i.e. my wife), my body took the initiative to start up asexual reproduction. To be more exact: I’m growing branches in my neck and between my eyebrows. At first I thought it was a bad case of acne, although I’ve left puberty long behind me (age-wise). But given the giant proportions these buds are taking, I suspect either an alien or a smaller clone of me will pop out of each of them any day soon.

Oil Shortage

Faithful readers of this weblog will know that it’s been quite the year. First we had to organise the wedding, and halfway through preparations we were told that the place where we were going to organise the wedding party got sold. So we had to look for a new place and organise (and pay) much more than expected. Then in February we were told that the apartment building we were living in was going to be sold, so we had to look for a new place. We decided we wanted to buy something, and luckily we quickly found a nice house. So we barely got off the plane from our honeymoon to Ecuador before we had to start redecorating the place, which included some re-plastering half the dining room. But finally, last weekend we could move to our new home.

And that was it. No more to do for the rest of the year, apart from redecorating the occasional room if and when we felt like it. No more pressure. No more major projects.

So yesterday she-who-makes-the-streets-unsafe-in-her-Nissan-Micra took her little car to the garage, for a routine check-up and small maintenance. This included changing the oil, and it was there and then that the mechanic noticed that the oil filter needed to be changed too. So he changed it and sent my wife merrily along her merry way to check upon our mare that – as you all know – is staying with a handsome yet riper gentleman (stallion) to get pregnant. Until she noticed that the oil warning light blinked. She quickly pulled over and called the mechanic. Says this Galactic-Class idiot: ‘No problem madam, just come back and we’ll fix it’.

For those who are not aware of the exact problem: NEVER, EVER drive a car when you discovered it has an oil problem, because your engine NEEDS oil like you need air to breathe. Without any oil, the pistons in the engine will block, or rather fuse with the rest of your motor. And that’s exactly what happened. So end of car, game over.

So now my wife is going to sue the garage, and we are temporarily out of car. Unfortunately, we are also temporarily out of money, since we already paid for a wedding with five million guests and for a luxury villa with five bedrooms, a lush garden and room for scores of ponies.

Maybe we can earn some extra money with our new circus act: my wife is so stressed up from all these recent events that she can walk straight up a wall and dance on the ceiling. We’re also available for business parties!

You Move Me

Voila, it’s done. After months of meticulous planning (Where you want that – Erm, dunno. Basement ?) we finally moved to our new house. As with our wedding, the weather gods didn’t exactly help us out. Instead of the cold drizzle and occasional showers we got during our wedding, this time they threw a smouldering heath wave on us. Okay, the wall paper glue and the paint dried quickly, but it made the cement and plaster crack too. And toiling for days on end in 30°C is no fun, even when you’re used to desert heat like I do.

Things were tense until the last minute. Twenty-four hours before moving, the diner room’s walls still needed plastering at places, the ceiling needed to be painted for a second time and then we could finally start decorating it. Friday night I was still taking furniture apart in the apartment, while Mrs. Bartlog was frantically cleaning up the new place. Luckily we managed to sleep that night, by sheer exhaustion and because we threw the cats in the living room so we could open all windows and have a gentle fresh breeze cool us down.

Next morning it was stress-stress-stress from the first second after opening my eyelids. Finish taking apart the furniture before the mercenaries arrived. We had nine friends and family members helping us out, and they were all experienced furniture haulers. I took care of logistical coordination, and before I get any snappy comments: I worked my ass off dragging everything on the van we rented. It was the biggest size we could get with a car’s licence, and I suspect we seriously overloaded it. It made funny noises when I left with my first cargo and it swayed from left to right every time I drove over a manhole cover or a dent in the road.

Just at that point it started to rain. You see, Belgium’s been sweating for weeks on end under a heat wave, praying for just a little rain. And right at the point where we want to offload or stuff and carry it into the house, it starts to pour. But without hesitation, our helpers set out to work, keeping our photo-albums and paintings above their heads for protection. We should’ve thought a bit more about what we were going to set in which room, because some rooms were stuffed with stuff and others are as empty as our bank accounts. But anywhere, there we went for a second run which was thankfully a short one.

I wiped away a single tear when I finally closed the door behind me for a last time, after living in that apartment for almost eight years. Sniff

The troops did a great job in putting the furniture together again, despite the fact that I put the nuts and bolts of different pieces of furniture together in one bag (per room mind you, I’m not completely daft). The next day, my parents in law dropped by to help us load everything in the cupboards and on the shelves, so we have a fully functioning house now.

But there shall be no rest for the wicked, for in my wife’s head plans are brewing. About redecorating the sleeping room, and making her an office, and redoing the hall way and the stair case. And the room for the baby… Oh yes, there is work to be done for old Bart, and not just with a paintbrush.

Great Great-Uncle

My great-uncle Frans died this weekend. It’s been a while since I last saw him; he hasn’t been much about lately since his health was a bit fragile. That’s an understatement. He looked like a bag of bones made of parchment.

He was a nice man, especially so because he used to provide me with tonnes of comic books when I was a child. He worked in a printing firm where they printed a comic book series called ‘Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber’ (lit: Pete Smart and Bert Tremble). It’s a very typical Flemish comic with a lot of action, inventors, archaeological discoveries, vintage Ford cars, mean bad guys and the lot. But what makes it so typical is the magnificent humour of its otherwise very shy author Pom. Let me declare here frankly and without any quiver of doubt in my voice that I am an enormous fan of this series. And let me add to this bold statement that my great-uncle Frans is solely responsible for this.

He was also my grandfather’s best friend. They met when they were transported to Nazi Germany during the Second World Evilness Olympics, where they were forced to work in the German industry will being bombed by the allies. These things tend to create a bond. Frans had a girlfriend then, Tinne, and he invited his best friend over to meet her and her family. That’s where my grandfather saw Tinne’s sister for the first time. They fell in love, and thus Tinne’s sister Rosa became my grandmother (after producing my mother and waiting for a bit obviously). Incidentally, after my mother was born, the young couple moved to the street where I recently acquired a new home. I love history. Unfortunately, his funeral will probably on Saturday, when we move to the new house. I feel bad about not being able to go.

Anyway, I will miss the old man, and not just for the comic books. That source dried up many years ago when he became a pensioner. But not before I got him to bring me the numbers that were missing in my collection. However, I will not miss the way he used to crunch my hand, with his bloody firm scouts' grip.

NO PANIC

Sorry, no time to blog. Busybusybusy. Walls to plaster. Gaps to fill. Ceilings to paint. We're moving on Saturday, and we still got tons to pack. I have to take the furniture apart. Oh, and rent a van. And inform the water/telephone/internet/electricity company. Must run off now, bye...

Park Life

The weather’s been lovely the last couple of days. Actually it was rather hot. Make that extremely hot, I’ve been sweating like a woolly rhinoceros in a Turkish steam bath. In short, the weather is terrible here. Damn global warming!

The bright side to this is that we have a park right in front of our office, complete with tall trees, lush lawns, frivolous fountains with Donald, Daffy and Daisy Ducks and broad benches to seat your big bottom on. It’s quite a large park and it has a lot of benches, but it is also located in a city district stuffed with offices, including the European commission and its subsidiaries. So finding an empty park bench can be quite difficult during lunch hour. Of course it has to be an empty park bench. We Belgians are reserved to the point of being anti-social, so we wouldn’t dream of sharing a park bench with someone we don’t know. This despite the fact that the benches are a full three meters long, which means they can provide parking space for quite a number of arses, depending on their respective width and expanding volume once the hard wood makes contact with blubberised fast-food and candy bars.

So once a single person has seated himself or herself on a bench, it’s taken. Gone forever. Conquered. Unavailable. Out of the running.

When you walk trough the park during lunch time on a beautiful day as this, you will see people running around with their brown paper bags or lunch boxes in hand, peering from one side of the park to the other in the hope to find an empty bench. The benches most sought for are the ones in the shade of one of those big trees. Only die-hard sunbathers take a bench in the full blaze of the sun and generally they have to flee it after ten minutes or so. When two people find their looking for a bench at the same time, they will nervously try to beat the other one.

In any case, what everyone tries desperately to avoid is to be left with the dreaded Shit Bench. Oh, many a desperate luncher has felt his relieved grin fading away when they found out that this last free bench they discovered in the shadow of the big chestnut tree on the west-side of the park turned out to be the Shit Bench. For some reason, this tree attracts billions of pigeons that reserve one particular branch right above this bench as their public toilet. This poor bench is for the most part covered in a layer of white slurry and most people wouldn’t dream to take a seat here.

But amazingly, some people seem so desperate to find a seat in the park, that they ignore the pigeon poo. They precariously lower themselves on the small corner that’s free of droppings, eating their sandwiches and salads while forcing their backs away from the back of the bench. Others even pretend their nose bleeds and plant their finely dressed office ass on the bench, poo or no poo.

You have to be desperate to sit there. It’s a sure sign your career has reached a tragic ending. Everyone has seen you sitting on the Shit Bench; you’ve become an outcast, a pariah.

Lunching in the park: it’s the survival of the fittest.

Third Bottle From The Sun

This morning, I woke up with a terrible head-ache and my stomach felt like it was turned inside out. I couldn't remember at all what had happened yesterday evening.

The obvious conclusion is that I got kidnapped by a UFO again. Some hyper intelligent alien species travelled thousands of lightyears to subject me to strange and unpleasant medical experiments. Then they erased my memory to prevent me from warning my fellow human beings about the approaching invasion.

And their cunning plan works! My wife just refuses to believe me, instead she claims I drank too much white whine yesterday at the barbecue party her boss gave. It's clear the aliens have brainwashed her, so now she is their willing spy!

We're all doomed!

(picture: lamps in one of the new departure halls at Madrid airport)

Forget About Senility (Again)

Sunday was the first time we could work a full day in our brand new vintage villa. I dressed for the occasion, which meant a pair of shorts that are at least 16 years old and a T-shirt that got a very negative review in the 1987 Moth’s Michelin Guide. Yes, it was going to be a long hot day.

Wearing those shorts gave a bit of a logistical problem, because when I put my mobile, my keys and my wallet in my pockets, they tended to slid down to my ankles. I was afraid to damage the good relations we have so far with our neighbours at both sides, so when we arrived I quickly decided to empty my pockets. I put my keys and my cell phone on the chimney in the kitchen, and I put my wallet… I put my wallet… somewhere…

 

We started removing the wall paper in the living room, which was not easy but by noon it was almost completely finished. Then we started on the dining room, where we were faced with a very experimental way of decorating a room. Apparently, the previous owners had put rubber matting against the wall. Because the stuff must have weighed considerably, the used the same glue that NASA uses to stick the heat resistant tiles on the bottom of the Space Shuttle. However, the rubber mats weren’t glued directly on the wall, our predecessors put up a triplex wall that wasn’t too difficult to remove. My wife released the emotional rage she had accumulated over the past couple of months and I hope it wasn’t me that has been nagging her because that room was finished in the blink of an eye.

However, getting back to our main subject, sometime during that process my stuff was moved to another location, and then moved again.

 

So after a hard day’s work, concluded by an excellent T-bone steak of colossal proportions on the barbecue, I gather my stuff to return home. And for the life of me, I couldn’t remember where I had put my wallet. I searched everywhere and then started to wonder if I’d taken it there in the first place. Probably not, was my conclusion. It must be at home.

When we returned, there was no wallet to be found. Then I started to get really worried. Did I leave it with my parents-in-law the day before? No, of course not because when we returned I distinctly remembered putting it on the dashboard. Yikes! Did I leave it in the car? No, there was no trace of burglary this morning.

I jumped into the car and drove back to the new house, with much chagrin. I may have killed the odd pedestrian and someone’s dearly missed pet underway, I don’t know. But a very thorough search there didn’t produce the damn wallet either. Now I really broke into a sweat, my train pass was in my wallet and without it I couldn’t go to work the next morning and I had to take a job interview at 10 and send a very extremely important letter that was already urgently overdue…

When I came home again (score: one cyclist, an old lady in a wheel chair and half a busload of Japanese tourists following their guide’s red umbrella), I admitted defeat to my wife. On which she promptly jumped out of the sofa, stepped to the sports bag with our spare clothes and produced the missing wallet.

 

I’d searched that bag three times. In my defence: the inside of it is black, as is my wallet. When she gave it to me I remembered I put my wallet in there so it wouldn’t get lost in the house. I also remembered thinking I mustn’t forget that I put it in there.

Honeymoon pictures I

How about some pictures from our honeymoon to Ecuador? Do I hear a yes? Anyone? Oh, what the heck, I'm not going to wait until the internet really becomes interactive...

The side portal of the cathedral of Quito

Backpacking to the hot springs of Papallacta. From left to right: my wife, the kiwi couple (New Zealand) that travelled with us and our GAP guide.

A small chameleon in the tropical rain forest in the east of Ecuador.

I spotted this spider on a boulder in the middle of a small stream. It was as big as my hand!

A jungle pool close to our cabin.

We hiked a day trough a jungle stream with a lot of waterfalls. This is our guide on his way to fasten the rope on which we could steady ourselves. Often we only had the rope to climb the slippery and steep rocks.

On one of these climbs I jammed my bare shoulder in a rock next to the waterfall. Needless to say the rock didn't survive the collision. I also suffered some minor damage, my shoulder was bleeding a bit. Since open wounds can get seriously infected in a tropical forest before you can blink with your eyes, our guide / medicine man treated me with a plant that has antiseptic and antibiotic characteristics. Anyway, as you can see I got used typing with only one arm...

On our way we met this (young) Bushmaster snake. It's very venomous and our guides got a bit apprehensive, but luckily he'd already eaten a tourist that day so we could pass it without getting harmed. Notice that the photo is blurred due to the photographer trembling with fear (and bad light conditions and a 200mm zoomlens at maximum range).

Can you find the stick-insect? If it wasn't for the guide we'd never have seen this one.

Local women are a bit shy, but our guide's wife was a great cook.

So, that's all folks (for now).