Tag Archives: Martin

First Easter in the Netherlands, an act in Three Parts

  1. Alex is fevered for the second day today, and has added barfing to his repertoire. I know he’ll be better soon, but it’s hard watching him suffer.
  2. My first thoughts on waking this morning and looking out at the snow:

    I’m waking to a white Easter
    Staring out at falling snow
    The church bell’s ringing
    Under thick clouds bringing
    More flakes to fall on us below.

    I’m waking to a white Easter
    Where every egg we dyed so bright
    Will not stay hidden
    But will show, unbidden
    We should just have left them white.

    I’m waking to a white Easter
    And feel that something isn’t right
    The leaves that shrivel with blight
    Put all my dreams of sun to flight.

  3. A dialogue between Martin and me:

    A: So what are we going to do with that bacon in the fridge?
    M: Ummmm…eat it?
    A: That sounds like a good idea.
    M: So should go downstairs and put the bacon on?
    A: (looks him up and down) Do you think it’ll cover enough? I don’t want you to be cold.


(at home, in Dutch)

It’s taken us so many months to get to this point that sometimes I don’t believe we’re here. But we’re in our rented house in Oostzaan, with our possessions around us (many of them not even in boxes; some of them even in plausible locations).

One thing we still don’t have is internet connectivity. I’m typing this on my laptop to save on a data key and post from work. If you’re trying to email us, be mindful of this. I can read emails during the day, but my replies will be either short or composed offline. Martin has no net access at all, poor thing.

The move was an enormous effort, but what has really been hard is how much of it we have had to do separately. It started when I went off to work in Amsterdam for the month of July. Though that was pleasant in many ways, it was also profoundy disorienting for both Martin and me. We’re used to having one another as backstop in so many ways. When things went wrong last month, each of us felt so deeply isolated.

The week of the actual removal was more of the same. The schedule was as complex as a ballet:

  • I returned home on Thursday 26 July, and was (as usual for the commuter lifestyle) fried on Friday the 27th. Nonetheless, we packed our possessions into boxes all weekend.
  • Monday 30 July the kids went to their childcare places. I packed, and ran errands in town.
  • Tuesday 31 July started with Martin going to the van hire place to get a van for the move. Although he had arranged it well in advance, it took him longer than we had hoped to get it home, because the paperwork was not in order. Then he helped me with two items I couldn’t manage on my own and went to work, taking the kids for their last days at their childcare places. And I started packing boxes into the van. I had it most of the way packed when it was time to take the kids for a final farewell to Mother Goose, the nursery they’ve been at since Alex was 9 months old.
  • The morning of Wednesday 1 August, we put the last items into the van. Then Martin’s family came over and we had a last lunch together. And in the early afternoon, Martin drove the van away with all of our things in it. That night, he took the ferry across from Newcastle to Ijmuiden. In the meantime, I cleaned the house, packed our suitcases, and played that we were camping out with the kids.
  • It was very early on Thursday 2 August when I got the kids up and into a taxi to the airport. We flew to Schiphol, touching down just about when Martin arrived at the new house from his ferry. So by the time the jet set had had lunch, taken the train to Zaandam, and taken a taxi from there to Oostzaan, he’d done the checkout with house owners. The kids explored their new home, and we started unloading boxes from the van. It was a quick turnaround – three hours later, he was gone, and I was alone with the kids in a strange house, in a strange country. Not that they were discontent – I put the pedals back on Fiona’s bike, and she and Alex spent the entire afternoon playing with bike and scooter in the garden.
  • Friday 3 August was setlling in time. I unpacked many, many boxes, put lots of things away. The kids and I went out to the grocery store (on foot), then they persuaded me to go for a bike ride. We rode for about an hour all told (well, Fiona and I rode. Alex rode his scooter). In the meantime, Martin arrived in Newcastle on the ferry, drove north to Edinburgh, met up with his parents, tidied a few more things in the Scotland house, and flew across to Schiphol.
  • Saturday 4 August was much more relaxing, apart from the two hour bike and scooter ride in search of a bike shop (we were going in the wrong direction entirely!

And what details should I tell you about?

About the house, which is beautiful, but huge? The space is good, but I worry that we will become too accustomed to it; barring a lottery win we can’t afford to buy something this size next year.

I could talk about Fiona, who thinks she’s died and gone to heaven. Instead of only riding her beloved bike when (a) the weather is good, and (b) there’s a parent to keep an eye out for her so she can travel the 30 meters to the letterbox and back, she can step out into the sunshine and ride it all the time, back and forth from the front garden to the back. Alex comes out too, and the two of them play long elaborate secret agent games on their vehicles.

Alex is mostly absorbed in Pokemon Diamond version (at which he is very good, though too hard on himself), but he’s been taking time out to ride his scooter, eat Dutch cheese, and watch Sonic the Hedgehog DVDs (it’s comforting when he’s tired).

I could mention the kindness I encountered from Dutch people throughout the difficult day’s travel to Oostzaan, from the friendly immigration officer to the forgiving train conductor (turns out you need a discount card to get a reduced fare for a child…I didn’t know) and the charming and funny taxi driver. The lady at the Albert Heijn meat counter who started giving the kids lunchmeat (which they loved), and the fellow customer who chuckled at Fiona’s earnest explanation of how “lekker” is “yummy” and “heerlijk” is “scrumptious”, and the meat was “lekker heerlijk” – yummy scrumptious.

I could talk about riding on the road with Fiona, who is remarkably brave for someone whose previous riding experience was all helmets and sidewalks. I keep myself between her and the traffic, of course, and Dutch drivers are very careful of cyclists (I also only allow her to ride on very quiet roads). But she is in transports about cycling next to me on the road, which is a layer of maturity and togetherness she can’t get over.

I could describe my trial of my commute on Saturday evening, when I discovered it takes about twenty minutes to bike to the office and about an hour to walk back with a bike with a flat tyre.

I could talk about our attempt at a Sunday drive, which ended at the side of a road with two children throwing up (carsickness and dehydration, in ascending order of age). We abandoned the trip, but went cycling and scootering instead in the afternoon, and found a little beach on the local lake. It was about 20 minutes’ ride from the house, and the kids gleefully threw off clothes and went in (Alex in his shorts, Fiona in her underwear – there were plenty of little girls there in just bikini bottoms). Then we rode home to where Martin was setting up the office space, all but glowing from the fun of it all.

Or I could describe what life is like in a country where I don’t speak the language – how much it is like being deaf, in that I am excluded from verbal communication. Indeed, I don’t always even hear when people speak to me, since I won’t be able to understand it even if I do hear it. Not everything is easy.

For good or ill, we’re in the house, and this is the new home.

Alarming sounds from upstairs

Martin was running the bath.

Fiona said, “I need to poo!”, and the upstairs reverberated with her footsteps in the hall.

And then it came. A heart-rending howl of horror and despair from Martin, followed by Fiona’s bitter weeping. And I realised instantly that Fiona’s low spirits had been due to digestive difficulties, and that these problems had suddenly become much worse. And Martin hates that kind of thing.

Those of you, dear readers, who have or have had a three year old know what sort of a scene I walked into in the bathroom upstairs. You need no description.

And those of you who do not know, from bitter experience, do not want to know. Please trust me on this.

Security Theatre, Junior Level

I am seriously annoyed.

Alex’s school is doing a “Keeping Myself Safe” unit, and he brought the first book from it home today. It’s entitled “Laura Goes Home”.

In it, because her mother is late, Laura is left at school. She decides to walk home on her own, but she’s frightened and crying. A man walking his dog stops to ask if she is lost. End of book.

The homework exercise that came with it was a half sheet of paper that said only:

Please read and discuss this book – Laura Goes Home – with your child and then tick the outcome chosen by your child.
1.   Left open ended.
2. a. The man takes Laura away.
    b. Laura’s mummy comes up at that moment.
    c. Laura screams, “I don’t know you” and runs back to school to tell Mrs Smith

We have included the following letter in Alex’s homework folder back.

We have decided to excuse Alex from doing this piece of homework, for two reasons.

1. It’s unclear what he’s supposed to do. He puzzled and stewed over the various options, but we couldn’t figure out whether this is what he would do, what he thinks happened next, or some other answer. He was quite upset by his inability to figure out what the exercise was about.

2. We strongly object to the high level of paranoia that the exercise is designed to build. Although children do need to be told not to talk to strangers, we both found the idea of ending this story with “The man takes Laura away” really repugnant. And the third option, to have the child scream and make a scene, is also inappropriate when the man has does nothing more than crouch down and ask if she is lost, with no contact or menace whatsoever.

Although we appreciate the teaching on well being and safety, we are concerned that this goes too far. Children need to be taught to be cautious – but not to be afraid all of the time.

Would you be available to talk about this at some point on Friday afternoon?

I think I need to review the materials for this unit, because I really don’t agree with the tone they’re taking.

The fact is that stranger abduction is extremely rare (see, for instance, the statistics for England and Wales here – I couldn’t find the equivalent Scottish statistics, but they will be smaller due to the lower population here.) Our fictional Laura was in much more danger from crossing the road than from the man who saw her crying and asked if she was lost. She was in more danger of violence or sexual abuse from people she knew than from strangers as well – the vast majority of these crimes occur in the home. But I seriously doubt that the next book in the series will address those issues – parents would riot, for one thing.

And Martin and I both really object to raising our children in irrational fear. They will have to adopt realistic threat assessment strategies when they go out alone in public, which won’t be for some time. (To go back to the book, I would teach Laura to stay on school grounds and get the office to call her mother. She’d never have gotten to page 3 until she was old enough to make the walk home without her mother.)

But if we tell them that every stranger is out to get them, and they find out that we were exaggerating, then where will our credibility be? How, then, will they believe us when we say not to go out at night, or through bad neighbourhoods, or with an ostentatious display of wealth? How can I teach Fiona the caution necessary for a woman to be safe, if she’s been immunised by cheap scare tactics now?

And what does that do for their fellow feeling with mankind? Are we really trying to build Margaret Thatcher’s world, where there is “No such thing as society”, one isolated child at a time? There are ways for a child to react to – and reject the assistance of, if appropriate – a strange adult that don’t involve screaming and running away, for instance.

I was annoyed enough that the nursery discussed Madeline McCann’s abduction with the kids (as though there was any cautionary or educational element to it – are they not to sleep with the windows open, perhaps?). But to hear this same message of fear from the school, from the official educational channels, really gets my goat.

It seems like we’re protecting our kids from everything but irrational terror. It’s almost like going to the airport these days.

Akron and the Abi Field

When the going gets tough at work (as it is now), I often wonder why I do what I do. This is one of the little stories that remind me why I am a software tester.

Martin works for SkyScanner, a flight pricing site. He was testing out some code one evening, a couple of months ago, and ran into the sort of frozen-brain feeling you get after too long at the keyboard. So he pushed his wheely chair back from his desk, into my line of sight.

“Bun,” he said, “Name me two destinations. Just any cities.”

“Düsseldorf,” I replied, “and Akron, Ohio.”

“Thanks,” he said, and wheeled back to his desk to fiddle with the new test data. taptaptap. “[insert curse word].” taptaptap. “[insert worse curse word].” taptaptap.

I looked up as he rolled back into my line of sight, looking exasperated. “How do you do that?”

Turns out that Akron, Ohio, USA, is served by two airports, Akron and Akron Canton. And some clever soul, somewhere in the ancestry of the data they were working with, had remapped Akron Canton to Guangzhou Province in China. That was giving him some…funny results.

So they had to go clean up their data. And I remembered why I’m a software tester.

How to Make Your Husband Cry

A week or two ago, one of the commenters on a weblog I frequent quoted a line from one of her dreams: “Sometimes the petal is as effective as the flower.”

And I felt the tug I feel sometimes, when there’s a sonnet somewhere inside me, waiting to come out. It took about half an hour from tug to completion, but when I read it to M, he thought it was so sweet he cried.

So, for Valentine’s day, a love sonnet.

He knows me well, and so his slightest glance
Conveys a sonnet’s worth of loving thought.
He speaks my mind so often it’s not chance
And I say what he’s thinking, like as not.
I brush his shoulder as I pass his chair,
Or as he drives, reach out and tap his knee.
He leans his head back as I stroke his hair
Then turns back to his work, away from me.
We could say more, but other things intrude,
And evenings are too short to get things done.
Our common terseness might be seen as rude
But one word’s wealth, when there is need for none.
A word, a touch, our deepest feeling shows:
The petal is effective as the rose.


5 Little-Known Things About Me

Martin tagged me with this meme, after I took the pictures for his entry. No photos in mine, I’m afraid, but here are five things you probably didn’t know about me.

  1. The bass line
    I have a real affinity for the bass line in music. I love the way a well-written piece will use it to buoy up the melody. I first learned to appreciate it in high school, when I played the bass clarinet (ordinary clarinet didn’t suit my snobbish elitism). Now, although I am technically a soprano, I prefer to sing alto.
  2. Black? Not so much
    Although you can’t tell it by looking at me, black is not actually my favourite colour. I like wearing it, but I prefer looking at shades of green (not too bright) and purple.
  3. Not long all along
    Although I am known for my long hair, I haven’t always worn it this way. When I was 13, I had it cut in a Princess Di style. That lasted less than a year, before I decided I did prefer having it long.
  4. Feats of toughness
    When I was a teenager, I almost never wore shoes in the summer (“summer” being defined as April to October in California). Inevitably, I developed some amazing calluses on my feet. I used to be able to pirouette barefoot on concrete without pain. I gave it up when I moved to Scotland, mostly because we lived in a couple of areas where the dog owners have no manners.
  5. Fabric Fussiness
    I learned to sew when I was 13 or 14, and have been making clothes on and off since then (it’s handy when you don’t match the dominant body shape, or the current taste in styling). This means I’ve handled a lot of different fabrics, and learned a lot about their different properties. Each type of material has its own hand. Over time, I have come to prefer – strongly – the hands of natural fibres such as wool, cotton, linen and silk over synthetic ones. Synthetics have a perceptible greasiness that repels me. I rarely buy anything of artificial fibre now, particularly to wear against my skin.

Dear readers, now it is your turn. Surprise me.

Alex starts school: actual information here!

I can’t believe Martin hijacked the entire story about Alex with a rant!

Other information that the less clothing-obsessed readership might be interested in:

Alex was very nervous before school started. I could barely persuade him to eat his breakfast, and he was anxious and big-eyed on the drive to school itself. We dropped Fiona off at nursery on the way, then drove to Gilmerton Primary (it’s all within a few minutes’ walk, but we were running late).

The families gathered in front of the two classrooms, with all the nervous little children in their uniforms. There was some confusion, because they’d renamed the classes from Primary 1a (taught by Miss Bain) and 1b (taught by Miss Stewart) to 1b and 1s respectively. This meant that we were queuing at the 1b door, confused to see the wrong teacher’s name, until Martin went to investigate. Then we went to the correct place, waving at Alex’ former nursery-mate Keir as we swapped (his parents were also reversed).

Alex was welcomed into the room by one of the classroom assistants (two women, older than Miss Stewart, very friendly). We hung up his coat and stashed his backpack while he got busy threading beads. Then Miss Stewart shooed us all out of the room, because it was time to start. All of the children waved, and none of them wept.

It was a short day – only an hour and a half. We got home pretty much to turn around and go back out to get him. He came out with a picture of the sun, coloured yellow, and a big smile on his face.

“How was it?” we asked.

“It was good. I thought it was going to be hard, but it was really easy.”

All the factors were in place for him to love school. Miss Stewart is lovely, the classroom assistants are friendly, he’s mature enough to be confident in the situation, he was tired of nursery and ready for a change, and actually, he’s quite bright. He’s still enjoying it hugely, a week and a half in.

But back to the day itself. We came home, Alex changed clothes, and we all had lunch. Alex and I went to the movies (we saw Cars) while Martin went back to work. He and I then bought a belt for his school uniorm, to reduce the degree of shirt-untucking to a believable level. By the time we were on the way home, Alex was tired and thoughtful.


It was a good day.

How To Break Things Real Good

Martin has been absent because he’s been redesigning his side of the site. (Go check it out. It’s cool.) I’ve been absent for much less interesting* reasons.

Basically, I’ve been studying for a test. About testing. The Information Systems Examination Board (ISEB) Practitioner Certificate in Software Testing, or, as I think of it, How To Break Things Real Good.

After eight days of classroom instruction spread over two weeks, I had less than a month to cram the syllabus in between my ears (Only click on the link if you have persistent insomnia. Not suitable for reading whilst operating heavy machinery*). I did it – I can now go on at great length about the relative strengths of boundary value analysis and state transition testing in the design of functional tests, name 18 types of automated test tool, and describe three software development lifecycle models and how they relate to testing.

I wasn’t a very good classmate, I’m afraid. I got massively insecure early on in the instruction section, when I came in on the second week to find that someone extra had turned up and taken my seat and my course materials. The instructor was mortified, but I felt deeply unwelcome, and turned to the same obnoxious behaviour I used to get through high school. When I feel out of place, I become the most annoyingly, articulately intelligent pain in the posterior ever…trying to prove that separate does not equal inferior, I guess.

I did this throughout the second week of classes, and only got worse in the revision session. I even straightened the instructor out on his understanding of one area of the syllabus. Yes, I was right and he was wrong. But that doesn’t make it less obnoxious**. I hope I made up for it a little with some of the tutoring I did on the side.

The exam was a pig, but I knew it would be. I think I did OK, on balance, though I won’t know for a couple of months. The pass mark is 60%, and if I get over 80% I get a distinction. (Which is, in a small community, considered rather cool.) I’ll be content to pass.***

I promise, now that I’m done with that, I’ll post to the blog again. I’ll even go back and pick out the best photos I took over that time, tell you about the time Fionaberry did a face plant at full speed running downhill, and even update my cinnamon roll recipe. Promise.

* I don’t think it’s boring. But I know everyone else does.

** Peter, if you’re reading this, I am sorry.

*** This is a lie. I would be marginally content to hear that I got 100%. I’ll gnash my teeth over every missed point. I know I missed at least 7 marks, and it’s driving me nuts.