Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Watch out....(powder) snowball coming your way!

When busy becomes too busy

(....or life in a tire depot after the first snow of the season in Belgium)

She's in the middle of a phone conversation when I walk in the office :

"Yes sir...no no there is no possibility anymore before Dec 30th.  Yes Dec ...Yes that is a 3 and 0 ...No we are really fully booked sir, maybe you have to hear elsewhere if you can be served earlier...Yes, have a nice day."

Before she can even breathe or we can move a step closer to the desk to announce our arrival for our appointment, she's picking up the next phone call.

"Which size sir? " [ticking in the computer ]  "I'm afraid we don't have them in stock, maybe you should hear elsewhere...No, we don't have any delivery time known, they are sold-out, we have no idea if we'll be able to order some more this winter...No I can't tell you when or if they'll be delivered again....Yes sold-out ... Ok no problem, goodbye."

"Hello this is ...   For winter tires today? And you don't have an appointment?"  
Her shoulders sink a bit deeper.
"No I'm afraid that is impossible, we are fully fully booked...Belief me sir, it's very very busy here and we have appointments booked for the weeks ah...  Well, we might not even have your tires in stock anym...  No sir, there is no way that we can serve you today. "   

Her face stares in despair at her screen while she's shaking her head.
In the mean time there's 4 of us waiting already trying to pass on our keys for our appointment.  While she finally puts down the receiver, she gives us an apologising look and I move a step closer but the phone rings again.

"I'll ask my colleague whether your cars been towed here"  (within 10 seconds a man with black hands and an almost finished sigarette opens the door with a portable phone at his ear)
"A Ford, yes"
"Is it a Ford sir? ...Yes it's here but ... what, you'd like winter tyres now sir? Well, we might be able to replace your flat tire, but you must understand that replacing 4 tires or just one makes a big difference. "
The man in the door opening is putting his finger at his head
"Well, we could do our best for that one tire "  
"Euh yeah right at 9 PM maybe"  he grumbles in disagreement
"Well, the towing company has not informed us at all and we really can't take you in for 4 winter tires without appointment here, you must belief that we drown in work.... yes, yes I understand, bu... well of course...Yes you can have your car removed again and bring it to another garage, that would be no problem to us. "    

She's got her one hand in her hair now while she's avoiding our looks.  
"We would love to help you if we were able to but it's impossible today...No no 4 tires really takes a lot more time than 1 and this hasn't been scheduled. ....yes it's fine if you phone the towing company to come and get your car again. "

By the time it was my turn I felt totally drained myself but I tried to give her my best patient and understanding smile while at the same time I quickly deposit my keys for my appointment which I have made already a month ago.  "Everyone has woken up by the snow I guess? "  She didn't really get the time to answer that but her look was clear.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The first snow at the High Fens

We didn't let our little incident spoil the rest of the weekend! Since winter has arrived in Belgium and there's snow in the Ardennes (and at the coast)  we headed there to check it out. At our little house the white mass wasn't very impressive but a few kms further at the top of Belgium the high fens were absolutely stunning. 

We made the same walk through the boglands as this time .  From an early fall then we now experienced a glorious early winter with a nice amount of snow to transform the landscape but not too much to hide all textures and forms.  All the cross-country skiing piste signs were up so maybe that's what I can blog about next time ;)

hi mom, doesn't this bring back memories???

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Change of plans

Sometimes you feel like you're always doing the same kind of things, similar experiences that you are comfortable with.  So last Saturday I got out of my comfort zone, quite literally, when we had to hit our brakes hard due to the nervous traffic on the ring road of Brussels and the unexpected traffic jam. Argh I hate to be on the road when Anderlecht plays at home. 

We stopped just behind the car in front thanks to good Volvo technology .  TONK...the car behind us clearly didn't stop just behind us.

The impact really didn't feel big so I was looking for some insurance papers to fill in when Jan had gone and check the damage and talk to the other driver. I assumed they'd agree on trying to move across the 4 lanes of the motorway to the safer emergency lane where we were not blocking traffic.

"Phone the emergency services", said Jan when he popped his head back in
"Come on, we're on the moterway and the other car can't drive anymore"
So I quickly glanced backwards, noticed everybody out of the car walking around and checking damage so I phoned the 101 police number.

"I need the exact location of the incident. There's km indicators each 100 m, tell me where you are"
"Euh, I can't see any of those from where we are"
"Well I need the exact number of the one closest by"
"Sir, I'm on the left lane of the busy motor way with traffic all around and I can't see any of those indicators from here. I'm seriously not going to walk around in the dark to look for the next km number."

Argh after that small surreal discussion, I had explained the situation and we were instructed to get out of the vehicles and wait in the middle of the motor way until police assistance would arrive.   We enjoyed the signals of some frustrated drivers in our caused traffic jam who showed their compassion with some yelling or hand signals for some 15 minutes in the freezing cold until the police showed up and marked the road with a nice lightshow.  They quickly gathered everybody's papers and got back into their car for a long time while we were still trampling in the cold watching the passing traffic.  Freeeeeeezing cold it was. Brrrrrr.  The discussion between the 2 towing companies that had showed up after a while was entertaining for a bit but not for long.

Since our car was still driving , we fortunately could leave as soon as they had done all the paperwork and alcoholtests etc. I learned that they were obliged to fill in the papers on Dutch documents because we were on Flemish territory even though the other driver was Frenchspeaking. I also learned that the FAST towing team (specialised & responsible for strict SLA's for clearing the Antwerp & Brussels ring road in case of incidents) had to tow the car to neutral terrain where the insurance company's towing car could take over. Ha, always nice to learn some bureaucracy on a Saturday evening.

Anyway, we left as soon as we could and returned home to warm up.  That took quite a while. Sorry cousin that we didn't make it to your drink. Happy B-day anyway.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Made in Belgium: Milk Inc

In the mid nineties Belgium was flooded with dance groups all over, conquering our and European popcharts and dance charts.  Most of them have disappeared again from the scene or are somewhere well hidden to be heard exclusively in clubs or so.  But Milk Inc.  has succeeded to pull their successes well into the next decade and are still going strong.  After 13 years they still manage to fill big concert halls with live concerts  and cause traffic jams on the highways nearby.

Walk on Water - 2000

Black-out - 2010

Whisper - Live @ sportpaleis 2009

In my eyes - 1998

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Random again

  • Sinterklaas is truly an amazing man. He'll visit the brewery at 2 different locations at the same moment. Respect for the holy old man
  • Wouldn't it be funny if Jan put a sticker on his car "Goofball on board"?
  • There's been 3 times a gas leak in the neighbourhood over the last 2 weeks...I swear we didn't eat onions or beans!
  • Would a restaurant with a big fountain/pond in the middle featuring turtles serve "turtle soup"?  It doesn't always have to be lobster tanks , right?
  • A hotel with a pillow menu...that's what I call service.  
  • Travelling is so tiring....why? it's not like I've done a lot.

Monday, November 22, 2010


  • Sometimes it's funnier to watch Jan when he's laughing over a comic movie or show, than watching the show itself
  • Since we have our new front door, I haven't hear the neighbour's door banging once anymore...I think our old door was still linked to theirs somehow.
  • When I'm really busy I have so much thoughts I want to share on this blog....now my mind remains blank. 
  • It might snow a tiny little bit in the Ardennes this week. We are hopeful. Although I won't be there anyway, but it's the thought that counts I suppose.
  • 3 workers start each morning at 7 AM repairing some parking spaces in front of our house. 3 spaces.  I think they are almost done now after 6 days. I'm somehow suspicious that they stopped each time when I left the house to go to work.
  • Sometimes things just sucks
  • I wonder if there's going to be a train strike tomorrow, again. Maybe that should get introduced in the schedules: every 3rd Tuesday of the month strike or so
  • I start to be in Xmas vacation mood.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Come on in, the door is open

Finally we're getting the new front door we've ordered many months ago.  Yeay no more cold draft coming in upcoming winter :).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Made in Belgium: Helmut Lotti

When I was 12 I was watching the popular "Soundmixshow" show on the Dutch television gasping at the many people showing off their talent in imitating one of their singing heroes.  At one point there was a Belgian boy coming in their with an Elvis imitation. His naive simple answers were a mocked by the Dutch presentor but his voice was good.  My sister came down from her room to watch it although she usually never watched the Soundmixshow. "We must phone for him, we must support the Belgian in it.  He's in my school" she said. I was in awe that a boy from her cpllege was on tv in The Netherlands in THE Soundmixshow. Obviously we had to vote for him. He made it to the final but never won.   Apparently he's done another Elvis imitation on a talent show at the school.

His first singles were typical Flemish schlagers that were rather ridiculous and worth to be forgotten quickly.  But in the mid-nineties Helmut Lotti and his manager must have had a idea that turned out to be a gold-mine:  let's sing classical (opera) songs with a symphonic orchestra. I wonder if he realised at that moment he condemned himself to wearing a tuxedo for the rest of his career. The "Lotti goes classic" trilogy are the best sold albums ever in Belgium and were an international hit.  It were the only Belgian CD's that were for sale in the tiny music store in town in Canada during my student exchange.  Seeing Helmut in the racks and remembering his typical down to earth naieve interview style  with his juicy accent from Ghent made me feel connected with hime.   After 3 "classical" CD's it was time for something new and then he has successively created albums themed with Russian songs, Latin songs, African songs, German songs, crooners  and also a tribute to the King, his hero.

I'm not sure if the world needed a non-schooled pop-singer to cross-over to classical music but he surely brought classical music to the masses and became rich in the process.  Far more than his singing I like hearing him getting interviewed. His (faked?) simplicity & naivity is so funny & refreshing.

Hay Fiesta en la hacienda

Return to sender -



Nessun Dorma - 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The lake is filling again

No no it's not related to this weekend's inundations.... The lake has been filling for 4 weeks now and it starts to be visible. At one end, it's still clearly the Warche river running through the bottom....a bit swollen through all the rain but a clear little river nevertheless.

Still lots of space to fill up with water....quite consoling to stand there while the rest of Belgium was flooding

Look halfway the lake, closer to the dam, ....you see! I told you the lake was filling :)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Wet weekend

The clouds broke open
and poured over the wet land
past saturation

Raindrops kept falling
with an attitude as if
they'd never stop

soldiers building sandbag walls
pumps against the odds

"Stay home" was advised
but traffic was quite heavy
we saw while driving

Ducks floated gently
on newly formed pools and lakes
alongside our roads

we escaped traffic chaos
and flooded asphalt

We visited friends
and babies and relatives:
no rain has stopp'd us

Now we are mopping
water on the basement floor
to keep our feet dry
.... while defrosting the freezer

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remembrance day

The Great War....never to be forgotten, never to be repeated

(this is a repost twice... more info also here)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Made in Belgium: Ozark Henry

When I started this "Made in Belgium" series a year ago (yep 1 year next week!!) I immediately had Ozark Henry in mind. This talented songwriter/producer has always found a fan in me and I'm in good company as David Bowie is also an Ozark Henry fan :).   We saw a concert of him in The Hague several years ago.

Anyway I had heard that Piet Goddaer was working on a new album, so I figured it'd be cool if I could wait until that one was out and immediately include it in my post.  Geez, I had to be patient but now finally he has released Hvelreki last week, and it launched itself right to the number 1 in the album charts.  Clearly more people were waiting for his new work.

The new single "This one's for you" is so smooth yet very typical Ozark Henry.  It gets a lot of airplay and I catch myself humming along unconciously.  So....this one is for you my readers.

This one's for you - October 2010

Vespertine live - 2007

Intersexual - 2002

Sweet Instigator - 2001

word up - 2002

These Days - 2005

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Botanic garden in Leuven

It had been months since we were in Leuven on a Sunday and we took the opportunity to make a small walk to the Botanic Garden in Leuven. Not quite the ideal season unless you love the rotting seeds of former flowers.  Nevertheless it's a nice green oasis in the city center.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Deflating now

D-day was approaching.  For months we had been working on processes, designs, tests and trainings.  Dutch consultants had come in, Polish & Romanian & French consultants had come in,  time passed and the issue list remained long.

D-day approached and I came home later and later.  Jan packed his suitcases .  1,5 years in advance I knew already I would miss out on the club diving trip but I'd be too busy working anyway to realise it.

Camping out in the big attic with the entire team monitoring the progress of about 100 inventory lists coming in and getting validated , boxes checked in green done  or red delay, laughter over the questions the external auditors had been asking during their inventory checks, stress over a list of materials created in the news system with the wrong valuation category that need to get corrected before anything can get loaded, many queries in the old systems, consolidation & merger lists. Giggles when the director goes out for Chinese food to feed the masses and he gets to suggestion to go and buy some cutlery in the next-door supermarket first. A special-before-the-end-of-the-month financial closing, gather lists and uploads and consolidations of the figures before and after. Unexpected problems and frights causing minor hart attacks.  Managers that take pictures of us working during the big weekend.  Interfaces don't kick in when we expected them to do so, escalations ; phone calls and reviewed planning. A big splendid buffet to keep us going.  Status updates of what is happening in the other plants, we're all in this together. A news bulletin on the radio reminds us that the world is turning outside of this project go-live without us and that in fact most other people are enjoying a long weekend.  It sounds unreal.  Waiting for a predecessor to end and killing the time in social talk and silly laughter from fatigue. Oh help I can't stop laughing and it isn't even funny at all. Damn the supply of Coke is running low and no I couldn't possibly eat more chips or desserts right now.  It's strange to see some of the colleagues so casually dressed. Ah great a technician in Poland is checking that non-responsive interface right now, hopefully that'll be alive soon.   Aaaargh, if those project managers wouldn't phone every 5 minutes to check the status, maybe we could actually make some progress.  Yes we'll test that in a minute.  Oh damn, clearly not all master data is fine yet, where are those guys sitting in the building, they must fix this list right away! Pffff the rest will have to wait for tomorrow, we won't get this done anymore tonight, I'm going to go and get some sleep filled with database tables dreams now. Fortunately there's no traffic jams at night.

Aaah look the open transactions have been loaded, look look, how exciting to see our familiar data in the system!   Super! Ok what do we have to do now?  Have you heard that manager had missed the time change for winter time and was an hour early at the worker's briefing this morning....totally hilarious!  Some HR colleagues are visiting with their kids to see how we're all doing and to give us some support. No no, those who are "stand-by" today won't need to come in, we'll make it on schedule we think. Oh did they start entering our first orders now?  How's that going?  Give me a call when we are going to run that interface for the first time, I want to monitor it! Gosh I'm so tired, I hope I don't make any mistakes on this list.  It's going to be a long day if we continue at this speed.  It was supposed to be fixed an hour ago but they don't seem to get anywhere with it , so I'm waiting again. A quick glance on my ignored feedreader tells me it has grown huge over the last week but there's no way I can torture my overloaded brain with more computer texts now.  Maybe I can go to a happy cheer for the accountants and tell them how well they're doing and then help checking a sales list.  We all look like zombies, this must be a Halloween party. We wink supportingly to each other in the hallway and ask how we're doing.  But we're almost at the end of the weekend and most things are nicely checked off.

We've switched the core software of 3 breweries , 4 big logistic depots and many satellite locations & subcontractors  from sales, logistics, production and accounting over the weekend.  It's been a roller-coaster of emotions, stress and successive problems and challenges but also an incredible time of bonding and cheering over achievements. Yeah I "lost" my long weekend and had to stay home from a diving vacation and have not eaten home in 6 days but projects like this are beautiful to do......once every 4-5 years or so ;).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Made in Belgium: Flip Kowlier

In the past I have presented the dialect hiphop band 't Hof van Commerce to you.  One of their MC's Flip Kowlier went solo and went through his own musical evolution. From a sincere fuck you to the relaxing coccooning in the sun sound of Swimming Pool, he explores different styles.   His last record "Ottoradio" brought out in 2010  proofs that reggae beats and a local strong dialect mix well.   Jan heard a few songs and immediately bought the record full of enthousiasm. My sceptiscism melted soon ... Just sit back and listen and you'll surely get a smile on your face as well .

Zwembad (swimming pool) - summer 2010

Mo ba nin (but no) - April 2010

Welgemeende (a sincere ...) - 2006

Min Moaten (My pals) - 2001

Bjistje in min Uoft (a little bug in my head) - 2004