Open Thread for Refugees

Welcome, anyone who wants to park here while Patrick and Teresa’s living room is under tarps. The beer is in the bathtub, the chips are really crisps, and I might bake a cake later.

In the meantime,

Otium, Catulle, tibi molestum est
otium exsultas nimiumque gestis
otium et reges prius et beatas
perdidit urbes

Translate, mangle, scan, discuss, ignore.

Note for my usual readers: the Moveable Type installation on the site where I hang out rather a lot is broken. I’ve invited the community over here until it’s fixed.

Don’t let this stop you from commenting – these are great folks.

Wednesday Nights Are Update Nights

Probably because I keep them free due to the need to pack for the weekend at home, I seem to be falling into a pattern that includes blogging on a Wednesday. So how has it been, this last week?

Things really divide into separate timeframes, based on the two cities I’m living in at the moment.


Returning home on Thursday was exhausting. It was the end of a draining week, and I had been with my colleagues at the drinks before a company dinner (I had to leave afterward to get my flight). It meant I got to meet company founder Thijs Chanowski, known to most of my Dutch contemporaries as the producer of the children’s show De Fabeltjeskrant (British readers: it would be like meeting Oliver Postgate. American readers: think of one of the early founders of The Children’s Television Workshop). He’s a perfectly delightful gentleman, with a gift for telling stories, and I was sorry not to be able to stay for the meal (though I wouldn’t have understood the speeches anyway).


Friday was a very pleasant day with the kids. Both had the charm going full blast, and we did a lot of playing while the washing machine repairman came and replaced a couple of parts. Then we went to the Gilmerton crossroads to pick up Alex’s friend Murray, and I had a funny moment. We were going into the small supermarket on the corner, and I caught myself mustering my Dutch to deal with the transaction before I remembered that here, I speak the language! It was almost a disappointment, like a challenge balked at.

Martin and I did a lot of packing and arranging on the weekend, and even managed a bit of garden work. I’d like to get the back garden weeded and mulched before we go, because otherwise the dock and the dandelions will eat the place alive.

I got the chance to admire the gap in Alex’s teeth, and to have a number of very pleasant conversations with both kids. There was some cuddling, too. And a bit of grunching, toward the end of the weekend, because they are human, and they miss me.


Coming into Schiphol, taking the train to Amsterdam Centraal, and taking the tram to the flat in the Oud West was almost routine. It was certainly easy – Dutch public transport is well thought out and pleasant to use. And the flat I’m borrowing, which seemed strange and foreign when I first moved in, seemed much more homelike.

Monday morning, I started a different commute. I work north of the river Ij, which used to be the northern border of the city, but has now been surrounded on both banks. There are two ferries that go to the appropriate section of the city, one from Centraal station, one from a less well-known area. And the knowledgeable at the office had pointed out that if I could bike, I could take the lesser known ferry, which would be faster and more fun than the tram.

My landlord was willing to lend me his bike (on the condition that I lock it well – Amsterdam is bike theft central!). It’s a classic “omafiets” – a black banger of a bike, with no gears and coaster brakes. These bikes are ubiquitous in the Netherlands, primarily because they are virtually indestructible. They also weigh a ton and are not very fast unless you pedal like a maniac (like the colleague I commute with on occasion.)

So I’ve been commuting by bike. And it’s been wonderful, even on rainy mornings. How can you beat riding along a canal on an omafiets?

The only thing that takes some getting used to about this method of commuting is the other cyclists. They scare me. In the Netherlands, if a car hits a cyclist, no matter what, it’s the driver’s fault. And in Amsterdam, the cyclists know this, and ride accordingly. Red lights are really for other people. It’s unsporting to indicate where you’re going next – just veer over and let the other traffic figure it out after the fact. The only thing a cyclist will get out of the way for is a tram.

But it’s kind of fun, once you accept that the fiets conveys immortality. It also seems to grant exceptions to any consideration of practicality – I have seen a woman cycling in three inch spike heels and a tight miniskirt*. I have seen children in wee baskets on the fronts of their parents’ cycles. I have seen kids with bikes and training wheels being pushed along by an accompanying parent’s hand on their backs. I have seen a window cleaner who used a bike to transport the tools of his trade, including the ladder (carried in one hand, parallel to but longer than the bike). I have seen a man riding slowly while his dog trotted along beside him on a leash. And that was just this morning.

And work has improved as well. I got further into the system this week, and got the chance to do some testing (you know, what they hired me for). I’ve even found an interesting bug or two, though I’m not sure the guys looking at them are as pleased as all that. And I feel more at home around the office, less concerned that I’m going to violate some invisible norm or offend people unwittingly (now I violate visible norms and offend people on purpose. But I am a tester.)

One high point this week was dinner with Dave and Liz, the couple who let me use their flat the first weekend in Amsterdam, and hooked me up with the place I’m in now. Every conversation with them these days is really a set of markers for much longer conversations we want to have over time. It’s really something to look forward to.

And the other high point was that Martin flew over today and we signed the lease for the house. Both of us had been worried that something would fall through…the product of the previous experience is a slight nervous twitch. But the paper is signed and things are committed. With luck, we can move on to the other challenges: getting school and childcare places for the kids, getting the move done, changing a lot of addresses and defaults.

All in all, though, we have been lucky. Nice house, nice jobs, and enough resources to see us through the unexpected. I feel much more optimistic than I did this time last week.

(So you can all stop worrying now.)

* I’ve cycled in a skirt one day this week, but it was long and loose. Dutch bikes tend to enclose the whole chain, so things don’t catch in the gears.

3 Days of New Job

I’m afraid I’ve been busy with social things these past few days, which is why I haven’t blogged about starting my job. Well, it’s one reason, anyway.

It’s very funny how I can move into a city where I know so few people (Dave and Liz, and people I met interviewing at MediaLab, and absolutely no one else), and still find myself dining socially two nights in a row. Monday evening was with Dave and Liz, and was a very pleasant chance to get re-acquainted after years of intermittent contact. It was less of a conversation we had than a series of pointers to future conversations – I don’t think we actually finished discussing any topics at all.

Last night was much, much stranger. You see, when Dave and Liz came home, I moved out of their flat (the cat prefers them and she owns the place, really). I’m now staying at the flat of one of Dave’s friends, Patrice, whom I have yet to meet. And Patrice has friends who needed a place to sleep last night, en route to Schiphol. He’d offered them the flat, and there are beds enough for all, so I threw together something easy for dinner*, and had dinner guests from two degrees of separation. We had a delightful time.

But now that’s all done with, and I get an evening alone. There’s some sorting through things to do, since I fly home tomorrow evening. (Which is a good thing. I miss my bunnies.) But really, I haven’t any excuse to avoid blogging about starting work and how it’s going.

Well apart from one. I don’t know how I’m doing. I can’t tell. The learning curve is very steep – it’s a lot of information to take in at once. But more than that, I’m not a standard new joiner. They can’t just sit me down in front of an IDE† and tell me to go code. I’m the first tester, and the first QA person, and it’s a little unclear what they expect of me. I know what I want to do – some of it – but I don’t know how to do a fair bit of that (in terms of what to type into the keyboard to get things to happen, not what I want to have happen), and whether what I want to do will make the company happy.

I just don’t know. And not knowing, I’m prone to thinking the worst.

On the other hand, I had been sure I’d failed my driving test.


* Chicken breasts wrapped in Serrano ham, in a passatta and basil sauce, served with pasta and salad. Which sounds like an awful lot more work than it was, particularly when the guests then cleaned up the kitchen!

† Interactive Development Environment, the place where coders write their stuff