Tuesday, June 30, 2015

It's so hot that...

With this tropical temperatures, I thought why not crack a couple of jokes?

It's so hot that...

* the cows are giving evoporated milk
* the chickens are laying hard-boiled eggs
* hot water now comes out of both taps
* the potatoes cook underground, and all you have to do to have lunch is pull one out and add butter, salt and pepper
* the trees are whisling for the dogs
* Satan decided to have a day off
* you can make instant sun tea
* when the temperature drops under 25° Celsius, you actually feel a shiver!
* you learn that a car seat belt makes a pretty good branding iron
* your dream house is anywhere on either North or South Pole

Can you warm yourselves???

Monday, June 29, 2015

Return to the summer of '76?

When you are old enough, you'll remember the glorious summer of 1976 - the best one ever taken down in the records (which exist since 1835).

Back in time, the sun appeared and cleared our grey skies to even blue. That was in the middle of May. It was not too warm then, only around 25° Celsius, so nobody complained. And lo and behold - this nice weather continued into June!

The last days of June and the beginning of July were HOT. Temperatures over 30°, to which we are not much used in Belgium. It was so hot that it was hardly bearable. I was taken my second-year exams at the university then, and I remember we had to suffer the 30-minute train ride in a wagon that felt like a furnace. No airco existed then, not in our parts anyway. I studied down in the cellar of our house, my feet in a bowl of cold water and behind me an electrical fan. That was the only way of keeping cool. And every evening I went swimming in the big pool that once was the moat around the town wall of our city. Normally you can't swim in it, but because it was so warm, the town council made an exception and even appointed life guards.

There came an end to this extreme heat, but July, August and September remainded warm and sunny. Nowadays, we fondly remember that glorious summer.

Now it's the end of June - and the temperatures are shooting into the 30's once more. Everyone talks about the summer of 1976 and hopes for a return.

Well, it doesn't need to be that hot. A bit less is also OK. Because in those days, you had to be very careful with water. We used our bathwater to spray the garden and we were not allowed to wash the car.There were big fines for those who used water without care, up to a million old Belgian franks!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Regional beers replace ordinary lager

Up to 2-3 years ago, most Belgians drank a 'pils' (= lager) when they went to the pub. The number of small(er) breweries slank to only a hundred or so. Nowadays nearly every town or village has a local brewery - which produces the best beers in the world!

Yesterday, when we went shopping in our local supermarket, a guy was presenting a new beer, brewed in a village nearby. We allowed ourselves to be persuade to taste the beer - and went home with two six-packs.

The beer is called Paljas and it is totally biological, with no sugar added. It is brewed from 4 different types of grains - and it tastes wonderfully! No wonder it has won the Silver Medal in excellence in beers in Milan this year.

We slept well last night!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Hello, I'm Mario

When you'd go to the Mariott hotel in Ghent, this is how you could be greeted at the reception. Only - Mario is not a friendly guy, but a robot!

The robot Mario has been developed by QBMT from Ostend. This company formerly developed and created the hospital robot ZORA, which is already in use in several Flemish hospitals.

Mario can hand over the room key to a guest, after the clerk at the reception gave the order. He can also be used for other purposes, like presenting a powerpoint in one or other seminar.

Mario speaks 19 languages (!) and can recognize regular customers to the hotel.

Of course he can't replace humans, but he could be a good addition to their tasks. I suppose we'll soon use robots in our housekeeping too - actually, it would be quite handy when I had someone to do my cleaning & ironing....

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

No further complaints!

A couple of days ago, I complained about our weather - which was more like autumn than like summer.

Right now, the scales have turned once more. Today the sun appeared in the sky and the temperatures shot up. No more warm jackets, you could leave the house without. We have been cycling just dressed in light linen trousers and t-shirt. And it will even get better! For the coming days, the weather forecast predicts temperatures between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius.

Good prospects! I bet all those students who don't have to take exams anymore will be very happy - and so are we teachers, of course. The beginning of July is supposed to be sunny and warm. What more can you wish???

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Our youth can't spell anymore

This morning, I read an article in my newspaper about the inability of youngster to write properly. The complaint came from the universities, where professors notice how bad 18-year-olds write. "They think they're using the social media when writing a paper," one prof remarks.

As a teacher of Dutch and English, I can only agree. In the course of my long career, I've seen spelling become less important, even in the options Latin-Greek, or Latin-Modern Languages. If I'd take a test of spelling right now, I'm sure about 30% of my classes would fail the test. How often do I not see a 'D/T' fault? (The "d" or "t" belong to the ending of a verb, but it takes some cleverness to know when to use either of them.)

Also a lot of mistakes a made in the national newspapers. Every day I can spot one or other when reading through the articles. I wonder who the editors are? Don't they have a training in languages, as should be? And even in subtexts at the national news I've spotted a 'd/t' mistake more than once!

Another problems with our younger generation is that their general knowledge is getting less. Once one of my students gave up 'Cairo' as the capital of France!!! (Well, this is not only so for us in Belgium - when watching game shows on BBC I often hear how little knowledge the English have of everything that doesn't belong to their island.)

My generation belongs to the lucky ones. We can spell properly AND we know about the world around us. I know history, geography, biology and physics. I can calculate and make up accounts but must confess math doesn't interest me at all...

What about you?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Holiday exodus

As of today, lots of people with kids will head to Brussels airport (or pack up their cars) to go on holiday abroad.

The reason? Well, it's a lot cheaper to travel before the big summer vacation starts. Tour operators charge less the days before a school holiday and most parents don't think it's important for their kids to attend school to the last day.

For high school students, the exams will be finished and afterwards nothing much remains. The teachers need time to  correct these exams and deliberate the results. Then there's a day in which books for the next school year can be obtained, and old books handed in. So nothing important really (not for the students, anyway) and that's why parents think they can just as well leave a couple of days ahead of the general holiday - and save money.

Alas, we poor teachers can't do the same! I really think it's not correct that prices go up when the school holidays begin. That way we always have to pay the lot, and we'll have to wait until we're pensioned (whenever that will be, as our government can't seem to form an agreement on this) to pay less for our travels.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Is this summer?

Today was officially the first day of summer. Not that it feels like that! No, it's cold and grey and sometimes rain falls down.

I think by this evening, we'll have to put on the heating once more. We're both shivering with cold - and we both have a nasal cold!

How is the weather in the rest of the world? Here in Belgium it is more like autumn. Hopefully we'll get some nice and sunny days soon!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Your chance to win a free book

I've announced a summer contest at my other blog (http://nickieflemingswritings.blogspot.com)

The prize will be a paperback copy of either Maria Gonzalez or The Haversham Legacy.

For all details, please visit the other site.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Battle of Waterloo remembered

Today it is exactly 200 years ago that the Battle of Waterloo was fought - the defeat of the French army under command of Napoleon.

A coalition of English, Prussian and Russian soldiers (among which one of my ancestors - a foot soldier under the command of general Blücher) fought against the forces of Napoleon, who had been conquering big parts of Europe before. And they won.

Why was this battle fought in Waterloo? Well, because Belgium has been - and still is - of big stragetic importance. If you go back in history, you'll find out how many battles were fought on our soil - and this is also one of the reasons why we Flemings are able to speak more than one language.

All of this week there have been ceremonies in and around Waterloo (a little village near Brussels, by the way). When we were kids, the school always organized a school trip to Waterloo, to learn about the big battle and see the statue of the lion which has been put up later on. Prince Charles and Camilla were present, just like the Dutch king and his spouse (Belgium was part of the Dutch kingdom in 1815). Also a great-grandson of the Duke of Wellington and likewise of Blücher were there, just as a great-grandson of Jerome Bonaparte, Napoleon's youngest brother.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Two-three clicks and you know...

Who lives in the street/block where you want to buy a house or flat. What they do. How much they earn. How close you are to shops, schools, transport. What origin your neighbors have. Whether or not they work. Etc etc

A new site has been launched for prospective buyers. And already there has been a lot of protest against it. The Center for Equal Chances has filed a complaint, also the Privacy Committee. What do you think? Do you think this can be allowed?

Personally, I think this goes a bit too far. For how can others decide whether or not you live 'rightly'? I have a university degree (a master) but the neighbor on the right can't even write or read. She used
to work as a cleaner and her husband was a factory worker. Same goes for the neighbors on the left. They are from Polish origin (and next to them are Turkish people). Richard is unemployed, and has been for some time when his factory had to reorganize.

Still I like my neighborhood. Everyone looks out for the others. I get along fine with both Yvette and Rizhard. When I'm not home, one of them collects my mail and Yvette always has a key to the house. Nothing ever happened. Better still, when we return home from two months away (abroad or at the coast), we find our home spic and span. Yvette cleans and sometimes she even washes the curtains!

So I think it's up to a person to know where you want to live and who your neigbors will be. What's your opinion?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Pink is fashion

Nowadays, pink is the new black. When you look around shop windows, you'll notice pink in all shades - for girls and boys, for women and men.

Do you follow fashion because it is 'in'? Or are you one of those people who don't care at all?

Personally, I have nothing against pink. But then only because this color flatters me very much now my hair has turned completely white. When I was young, you could have shot me when I was wearing pink. It did not suit me at all. Then I was better with dark blue, green and black.

These days, I can't wear any pale shades anymore. No more light-blue, no yellow, no light-green. And especially nothing in grey or beige! Only hard colors go with my complexion and hair color.

So no, I don't follow fashion as a rule. I've always picked those colors and clothes that suited me and made me look better.

What about you?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Just imagine....

Just think it is possible to travel through time - like Claire Beauchamp in Outlander - and arriving someplace 200 years back.

You'd find yourself in 1815, right at the time of the Battle of Waterloo where Napoleon was finally defeated.

What would you take along to such times, if you could fill this one rucksack to bring along when you step through the stones?

For myself, I think I'd carry the following:
* some bars of soap
* enough toothpaste to last a while
* toothbrushes too
* dental floss
* some sets of clean underwear (bras and undies)
* a pair of soft slippers

And of course I would leave wearing sturdy walking boots (normally I can wear shoes or boots for over 5 or 6 years).

What would you take?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

How far should privacy go?

These days, 'privacy' is the big word in discussions. There are lots of action groups who defend the right to privacy.

I.m.o. privacy is over-rated. A few examples:

The Belgian State sues Facebook because this company uses private information to sell to third parties. Honestly! If you use Facebook, you should be aware of the fact that all things you put on it will be viewed - and used - by others. If you don't want that, just don't use Facebook or see to it you don't put private information on it. Same goes for all social networks.

Belgian police also has no more right to check phone calls and emails of criminals - in the name of privacy! Before that, the law said that phone companies should keep record of all traffic, and these dates could be asked by the police.  Do criminals have a right to privacy? I should think not!

Also, if you are on TV or in films, or a best-selling singer, you should be aware that you can't do anything you want anymore when you appear in public.The price of fame!

And so I could continue for a while, but I'm sure you get my drift.  I was always taught that when you want to keep something private, you don't share it with anyone. Right???

Friday, June 12, 2015

Crazy weather!

How's the weather where you live? Here in Flanders it's been playing crazy, going up and down. The beginning of the week was cool (wind out of the north) with rain now and then. Midweek it became warmer and right now it's over 30° Celsius. With a good old thunderstorm to be expected.

Just the same scenario last week - and it look like it'll be the same the coming week as well.

Why can't this blasted weather never be what it should be for the time of year? Snow and cold in winter, rain in spring and autum, and SUN in summer!!!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

New rules for hand luggage

Today it was announced that new guidelines for air travel will come into existence. Suitcases brought along into the cabin shall be no more than 55 cm high, 35 cm broad and 20 cm deep. Most likely the airlines will adopt these new regulations as of next year.

Will that be a problem for you? When I'm travelling, I see lots of passengers heave big cases into the overhead bins. These would certainly not fit the new rules!

Both my sister and I have two different suitcases that would meat the regulations. One is even a lot smaller than stipulated, and the other has the exact measurements.

The trick is to pack cleverly when going abroad. You never have to take too much (you'll end up with a sore back afterwards). Just take into account to which place you are going, and pack accordingly.

When travelling to the south of Europe, don't bother with thick coats. Just take a light umbrella just in case! And handy is also to have a handbag in which you can fit a lot of things. My handbag is big enough to carry some sets of underwear, slippers, some t-shirts and toiletries. That way I never come to surprises when the luggage doesn't arrive together with the plane.

Even when we went skiing we never had too much luggage. How about you?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Those little grey cells

When you grow older, it's important to keep your mind busy. I read a lot (and write when I have occasion), but together with my sister we play word games when we find a moment.

We play Words of Wonder and our aim is to score highest of all those playing... We first try to get three stars per game, and then check every now and then to see if we're still in pole position, When someone betters our score, we play the game again until we've beaten that person.

What do you do to practice your mind?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

How difficult is it to fill in the tax form???

Well, according to the national papers, in Belgian this is VERY difficult!

You see, we have a federal government and also regional governments (one for Flanders, one for Wallony and one for Brussels). Lots of authorizations have been transfered from federal reach to regional, and this creates lots of problems for most of the people.

What causes most problems is what to do with your house/apartment? Here it is custom to take a mortgage to buy a house or flat, and then you'll get money back from the tax office. But now all the codes have changed (depending which goverment is responsible) and most people are afraid to make mistakes.

I.m.o. it's not that difficult. Although the codes have changed, the wording remains the same. So I just went looking for those words on the new document - and easily found out where to put my figures.

But apparently now there are long lines before every office where help is offered to fill in the taxform. Perhaps it would be better if the government calculated everything itself and just let you know whether you get money back or you need to pay more???

Monday, June 8, 2015

Belgian Red Devils nr. 2 in world-ranking!

Believe it or not, but our national soccer team has just become the number 2 in the world ranking of FIFA. They were in third place before, but Argentina took a fall and so the Belgians moved up. They only have to let Germany, the world champion, go before them.

This has never happened before. But since Marc Wilmots became coach, the Red Devils have made great improvement - and of course, they also have players of value. Like Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois, Kevin De Bruyne, ...

I'm not especially a soccer fan, but well, this makes you proud, doesn't it???

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Sunday tennis fun

With the Roland Garos' Men's Final going on, why not post some funny quotes about tennis? Here goes:

Q: What do you serve but not eat?
A: A tennis ball.

Q: Why are fish never good tennis players?
A: They don't like getting close to the net.

Q: What did one tennis ball say to the other tennis ball?
A: "See you round.."

Q: Why should you never fall in love with a tennis player?
A: To them, "Love" means nothing.

Q: Why is tennis a noisy game?
A: Because each player raises a racket.

Q: What do you call a competitive tennis player who just broke up with his girlfriend?
A: Homeless

Q: What do a dentist and a tennis coach have in common?
A: They both use drills!

Q: What did the tennis ball say when it got hit?
A: Who's making all the racquet?

Q. Where is the first tennis match mentioned in the Bible?
A. When Joseph served in Pharaoh's court.

Q: Why is it not good to play tennis in a court?
A: Because you might get arrested


And a little joke....

A middle management executive has to take on some sport, by his doctor's orders, so he decides to play tennis.
After a couple of weeks his secretary asks him how he's doing. "It's going fine, " the manager says.
"When I'm on the court and I see the ball speeding towards me, my brain immediately says, 'To the corner! Back hand! To the net! Smash! Go back!'"
"Really? What happens then?" the secretary asks.
"Then my body says, 'Who? Me? You must be kidding!"

Have a nice Sunday!!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Icecream with...

On sunny days like these, nothing better than an icecream, don't you think? Here in Flanders we have 'tearooms' - places where you can have a drink (coffee, tea, softdrinks, wine, beer) and pancakes or waffles, pastries.

Our favorite place in Dendermonde is tearoom Valentino (at the corner of the shopping street). In winter we have pancakes with eggnog (which we call 'advocaat') but in summer we prefer a bowl of icecream with the stuff.

Three or four (big) scoops of creamy vanilla ice, topped with whipped cream, a bit of chocolate and a lot of eggnog - plus a cookie. Who wants one????

And what your favorite icecream?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Stefanie Plum

At the moment, I'm reading the 21st novel in the Stefanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich.  Laughs!

Ever since the first novel, One For The Money, I've been following the adventures of 30-ish Stefanie Plum who lives in Trenton, New Jersey and it out of work. So she decided to go working for her cousin Vinnie, as a bounty hunter. Just imagine! Right from the start, it's normal that Stefenie's car gets blown up or any other 'accident' happens. Just as well Stefanie can rely on two guys who want to help her out: police officer Joe Morelli (with his grandma Bella who gives everyone the 'eye) and South-American born Ranger, who is ex-special services and who owns a security company. It's hard to choose between the two of them - and Janet Evanovich, the author, once told me she's going to keep this a secret for as long as possible.

And at the office, there are Connie, the manager, and Lula. Lula's an ex-hooker who now works a a clerk at the bond office and often rides shotgun with Stefanie. Amond the two of them, they sometimes manage to get someone in who's 'forgotten' about his court date...

Although after some time the books get a bit predictable, I can still laugh out loud when reading. I advise other not to read these novels when travelling on a train or such. You'd get weird looks when you start laughing!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Summer has finally arrived

As from today, we finally have warm and sunny weather. What a change to the autumn-like situation of last week!

I don't know about you, but I like to feel the sun on my skin every now and then. Normally we in Belgium don't get spoiled by sunshine, which is the main reason why most of us travel to sunnier parts during the holidays. Ask a Belgian what his or her favorite holiday is, and they'll answer: a hotel with a couple of swimming pools and lots of sun. The place is less important, although most Belgians travel to France in summer.

This year we'll be among them, as we are going to spend a week in Saint-Raphael in July. And after that we make a trip to Rome, which will also be (very) warm and sunny. When we go to our flat at the coast next week, I have to remember to bring along my sunhat and some other things for high summer. We bought these sunhats years ago when in Vancouver, and they have done good service since. They are made in cotton thread and you can make all kinds of models out of it.

I need a hat because my hair is very thin and I'd burn my skull when I don't put something on my head. Moreover, it's better to see where you're going!

For tomorrow they predict 30° Celsius. I have to do some ironing, but I'll postpone that if it's really that warm. Time for barbecue, I suppose. You'll smell the fires in all the surrounding gardens, I bet. And it's likely it will be warm enough today as well to dine outside. I've cleaned up the table and chairs so that we can dine al fresco. (Have to exercise the few notions I have of Italian...)

How's the weather in your parts?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Negative reviews gets noticed

Those who read my blog will probalby know that I sometimes write reviews for Tripadvisor. As I'm not a difficult person, mostly these reviews are good ones - and every now and then I use superlatives.

But this time I wrote a negative review. We were spending a long weekend in London and stayed near the Tower of London, at the Hilton Doubletree in Pepys Street. Right from the start we had some points to make remarks on.

For starters, when you get a mail from Hilton hotels you have opportunity for early check-in (at a rate, of course) and you accept, we expected the room to be ready when we arrived around 11 a.m.
But when we entered the hotel, we were told our room would only be ready after 3 p.m.

We left our luggage at the lobby and went shopping. When we returned to the hotel later that afternoon we could go to our room. However, it looked like the previous guests had just left. The toilet was not quite clean and one of the bathrobes was wet.

The next morning we went to have breakfast. There was a long waiting line, as the breakfast room was rather small. When you have a hotel this size, with hundreds of rooms, you expect they can increase the size of their breakfast room, don't you? Well, after a wait we were given a table. It was then we noticed how the tables were cleared. The waiters did not take the trouble of clearing the tables entirely, they left standing what they tought was unused! Not quite up to my standard of hygiene.

I wrote these remarks in a review that I posted on Tripadvisor, and a couple of days later I got a mail back from the Hilton management, offerering me an instand update if I went back to this hotel.... And thousands of people have already read this review.

Well, I only write what I experience. Truth must be told.

Monday, June 1, 2015

New sensation in Belgian tennis

Well, as of today we have a new sensation in women's tennis. A Flemish-speaking 21-year-old player, Alison Van Uytvanck, has just reached the quarter finals at Roland Garos.

Born in Vilvoorde (where I worked some years ago) in 1994), tennis soon became her hobby. Alison studied at the Flemish tennis academy and is trained by Ann Devries, a former player turned coach. She has always shown promise, but only now her full capacities seems to show off. She plays right-handed but also has a two-handed backhand. And she can do a lot more than just hit the ball hard...

So perhaps after Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin, we'll have another good player who's able to win a Grand Slam tournament?