The end of a routine

Alex made the move to secondary school a couple of years ago, and doesn’t come home for lunch any more. With me working mostly from, Fiona and I have developed our own private lunchtime routines and patterns. This is Fiona’s last week at primary school, so that time is coming to an end now, and I’ll miss it.

The way it ususally works is that Fiona walks in the door around 12:15, and shouts “I’m home” up the stairs. Then I go downstairs, give her a hug, and we have a chat about how the morning went. I make her a sandwich, and fix myself something to eat. Fiona eats at the table, watching videos on her iPad, while I take my lunch upstairs and eat at my desk and work some more.

At 12:50 she calls upstairs, “I’m leaving”.

“I’ll miss you,” I reply, and come downstairs with any plates and cups I’ve accumulated. I drop them in the kitchen while Fiona heads for the door. I give her a hug, and ask if there is going to be anything interesting at school in the afternoon; sometimes there is.

I wait for her at the door while she heads round the side of the house to get her bike. She wheels it around to the front door, and leans in so I can give her another hug and a kiss on the top of her head. Then she jumps up onto the saddle, and starts her ride.

“Sleep well,” I say.

“I’m not going to sleep during school!” she calls back, in a tone of fake annoyance.

I stand at the door, and watch her cycle away until she’s out of sight. A couple of months ago we got her a full-size bike for the move to high school, and she could only just reach the pedals. Now it looks perfectly normal.

So grown up.

Mixed Media, Saturday 20 June 2015

The last couple of weeks I have mostly been listening to Royal Blood and Taylor Swift. Royal Blood because I was supposed to be seeing them live at Murrayfield in support of the Foo Fighters on Tuesday next week; but that’s cancelled because Dave Grohl broke his leg. Much sadness. Taylor Swift because we’re going to see her at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam tomorrow evening. (“We” = me, Abi, Fiona, and a friend of Fiona’s. Alex isn’t interested.)

I had bought my ticket for the Foo Fighters through My main worry about buying an after-market ticket for a concert abroad was whether it would get delivered to me in time, before I had to travel. (The original promoter said that actual tickets would be getting sent out two weeks before the gig.) That turned out to be perfectly fine: my ticket arrived by courier last week. After Dave Groh’s accident, Stubhub also sent out regular emails to keep me informed about whether the concert was going to be cancelled. And today I received a full refund: not just for the face value of the ticket, but for the (higher) price I actually paid to buy it. So I’m impressed. They did a great job, and I would use them again.

I’m planning to use the refund to get a ticket for the Foo Fighters’ concert in Amsterdam on 5th November, but it’s sold out as well, and after-market tickets are even more expensive than they were for Murrayfield. I know I’ll buy one (see my rule about live music); I’m just feeling a bit twitchy about the cash.

Abi and I have been watching the Kevin Spacey House of Cards, and it is excellent. We finished season 1 last week, and started on season 2 straight away.

Fiona and I went to see Jurassic World this morning. I found it a thrilling amusement park ride of a film, but the gender stereotyping was regrettable. As the operations manager of the entire park, Claire’s actions were colossally reckless. She chooses to rush out in person to look for her two nephews rather than stay to oversee the safety of the the 20,000 other visitors to the park. What’s troubling is that she wasn’t immediately excoriated for abandoning her duty — almost as if it is expected or excusable for a woman to do that. She even simpers at the end. Personally, I think that the film could have told exactly the same story with the genders of the main adult characters swapped. It probably would have been better for it.

Also watched recently:

  • Focus: Meh. It was nice to see Will Smith playing a sassy leading role again, but the second half of the film in Buenos Aires felt completely flat.
  • Blackhat: Awful. Shoddy script, clumsy directing, and incomprehensible action.
  • Continuum season 3: To be fair, I was only watching this with half of my attention, but the opening three episodes have failed to pull me in like the first two seasons did.
  • The League: I’ve watched the first three episodes. Some laughs, but the male chauvinism balloon gets in the way, and is never punctured.

Banish “Interesting”

I’m trying to excise the word “interesting” from my conversational and written vocabulary, because it doesn’t actually say anything. Whenever I catch myself about to say or write the word, I pause, and try to answer the question “what specific feature of that thing or concept has caught my attention?” instead. Because that’s more important to convey.

Mixed Media, Friday 29 May 2015

Just a quick list so I don’t slip too far behind…

  • 2 Days in Paris: I like Julie Delpy, but Adam Goldberg’s character was so annoying I stopped watching part-way through.
  • A Lonely Place To Die: Tight little thriller set in the Scottish Highlands. Good, if a little predictable.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road: So much has been written about this already, and it’s all true. Excellent.
  • Tomorrowland: This was released under the inane and uninspiring title “Project T” here in the Netherlands because of stupid trademark issues. Seriously, Disney, you couldn’t come up with anything better? Anyway – I loved it. Playful, mysterious, and full of spectacle and hope. It almost felt like a Disney live-action movie from an earlier era, but brought up to date. Not a classic, but heaps of fun.
  • The Imitation Game: I’ve read so much about Turing, Enigma, and Bletchley Park, that this felt like a walk over old ground. Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance felt over-the-top to me.
  • Top Five: Chris Rock plays a comedian and actor struggling to be taken seriously, and failing. On the release day of his new movie, he consents to being interviewed by a journalist (Rosario Dawson), and they end up learning more about each other and themselves than they had bargained for. It’s not a laugh-a-minute riot, and it doesn’t try to uncover deep meaning; it’s just funny and touching. It reminded me a bit of Before Sunrise, and it also reminded me that I still need to see Birdman

I was staying with Mum & Dad while I was in Edinburgh this week. I took the day off on Monday, and we went to Glasgow. We did some shopping (I bought a new suitcase), saw a couple of music videos at the GoMA, and had dinner at DiMaggio’s (their gluten-free pizza is excellent).

I had rented a car and was driving back and forth to Edinburgh. I still am not fully caught up on 99% Invisible, and so I had a stack of episodes cued up for the commute. One of them was episode 118, which features a different podcast, Song Exploder. In Song Exploder, Hrishikesh Hirway invites musicians to deconstruct some of their work, and show how they build up their soundscapes layer by layer. This particular instalment was with Jeff Beal, who composed the soundtrack for House of Cards. It was fascinating, and I think I’m going to have to listen to all of Song Exploder’s back catalogue now. Also, it put House of Cards further up my priority watch list, and Abi and I sat down to the first two episodes yesterday evening. Very good so far!

My flight back home on Wednesday evening was more interesting than usual. About 45 minutes into the flight the pilot announced that we were diverting to Manchester for a medical emergency. We banked right, and landed quickly. An emergency services crew came on board and spent some time with the passenger before taking her off the plane in a wheelchair. She did not look well, and I hope she is okay. Afterwards we spent a while refuelling and waiting for an exit slot at Manchester. The second leg of the flight was incident-free, but it was late by the time I got back. The Easyjet flight crew were excellent throughout.

To pass the time I listened to some other podcasts I had on my iPad, including a couple of episodes of Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything. Eh, I can’t say it struck me right. I found the content engaging, but I don’t like Benjamen Walker’s voice. Like Adam Goldberg in 2 Days in Paris, it made me give up part-way through.

Finally, Mark dropped a bomb in the music chat room at work: Garbage are touring again in November. They’re playing the Usher Hall in Edinburgh on Saturday 14th November, but I went for their gig at 013 in Tilburg on 4th November instead. They were great on the Not Your Kind of People tour in 2012, and I’m looking forward to seeing them again.

Even better: the opening act will be Dutch Uncles. In my second week at work with FanDuel (HELLO, WE’RE HIRING, HARD) back in 2013 someone (I’m guessing it was John) dropped their track “Flexxin” into the shared New Music Monday playlist on Spotify, and it became one of my favourite songs of the year. (It also has one of my favourite music videos of all time.) Their last album Out of Touch in the Wild was brilliant, and I spent today listening to their new one, O Shudder and liking it a lot. Despite it being fresh and unfamiliar, the rhythms and vocals lodged themselves in my brain very quickly, and contributed to a couple of hours of actual flow at the end of the day. Wow.

Local Vexillology

Yesterday evening I showed Fiona Roman Mars’s TED talk on the design of flags:

In his closing remarks, he says:

If you see your city flag and like it, fly it. Even if it violates a design rule or two; I don’t care.

But if you don’t see your city flag…maybe it doesn’t exist. But maybe it does — and it just sucks.

Here in Oostzaan, it’s hard to avoid the city (town, village, gemeente) flag. It’s everywhere. Its design is fairly simple and recognizable:

The same elements are found on the city (town, village, gemeente) coat of arms:

Until today I had no idea what the three-pointed thing on the flag is. According to the Heraldry of the World site, the current city crest, as recorded in 1949, represents a three-pointed pitchfork, with each prong stabbing a sod of green earth. (“In goud 3 smalle dwarsbalken van azuur; over alles heen een drietandige greep van sabel met aan iedere punt een graszode van sinopel. Het schild gedekt met een gouden kroon van 3 bladeren en 2 paarlen.“)

The emblem was different before 1949. The gemeente’s arms were first officially recognized by the Dutch Hoge Raad van Adel (the High Council of Nobility, your one-stop shop for flags, heraldry, titles, and other noble paraphernalia) in 1816. At that time, they were defined as “Van goud, beladen met een drietandige vork van sabel, aan welks punten 3 kazen van sijnopel.” That’s right, the pitchfork used to stab green cheeses. This stamp from the 1930s shows regionally appropriate spherical cheeses being used:

(That stamp itself is from a fascinating slice of early 20th century history, the Koffie Hag Album of Dutch Heraldry, which was a special book for collecting the heraldic trading cards issued by the Koffie Hag company.)

This illustration of an even older stamp shows the pitchfork impaling wheel-shaped cheeses:

But although the emblem wasn’t formalized until 1816, it has an even longer history. No one even know when it first originated. One story suggests that in the time of the Eighty Years’ War with Spain, an Oostzaan buccaneer was taking part in a raid on a Spanish ship off Amsterdam. He couldn’t find any Spaniards to kill, but he found three cheeses and stabbed them instead. Way to go, buccanneer guy! I reckon this one is a drunken Pampus tale.

An alternative explanation for the cheeses being green is that they’re not really cheeses, but cabbages. The Oostzaan region used to be known for farming cabbages, and Oostzaners used to be nicknamed “Kooleters” or “Koolhanen” (cabbage eaters). That would cover the “green” and “round” aspects. But whether they’re cheeses, cabbages, or grass sods, they’re an unmistakable link to the agricultural heritage of the region. Totally unmistakable.

So now I know a bit about the Oostzaan flag. But yesterday evening I was even more more curious about the flag of Zaandam, our big town next door. The Oostzaan flag is everywhere, but I couldn’t recall ever having seen a Zaandam flag. A quick search revealed it to be this gorgeous piece of work:

Just look at that! The red, white, and blue background are the same as the Dutch national flag, but right in the middle there’s a freaking windmill carved out of negative space. The Zaan area is one of the world’s first industrialized areas, powered by literally hundreds of windmills.

Our local windmill, with its party hat on.

Here’s Roman Mars again:

I’ve seen first-hand what a good city flag can do in the case of Chicago. The marriage of good design and civic pride is something that we need in all places. The best part about municipal flags is that we own them. They are an open-source, publicly owned design language of the community. When they are done well, they are remixable, adaptable, and they are powerful.

We can control the branding and graphical imagery of our cities with a good flag, but instead, by having bad flags we don’t use, we cede that territory to sports teams, and chambers of commerce, and tourism boards. Sports teams can leave and break our hearts (and besides, you know, some of us don’t really care about sports!), and tourism campaigns can just be cheesy.

But a great city flag is something that represents the city to its people, and its people to the world at large. And when that flag is a beautiful thing, that connection is a beautiful thing.

The Zaandam flag is a gorgeous, cheeky piece of design that takes that history of the area and places it right at the heart of the whole country. With style. I can’t believe we don’t see it on every street corner.