Sunday, July 30, 2006

Deja vu

A deja vu: My new keyboard

It has become his favourite place for a nap. Makes it hard for me to programme, but at least today the keyboard is still on the desk.

PS: That is a creative mess you see on my desk. I assure you, I KNOW where everything is!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

La Defense

Back from a day trip to Paris to meet with the people who - as Nick put it - have taken over my workplace. They reside in La Defense; the building is huge, I am duly impressed immediately after our arrival.

I am not impressed however that they seem to have the same embarrassing hygiene problems like we have in our office. There is a sign inside the womens' loo:

Ours is in German of course, but it is saying the same thing. It's bad that signs like that are necessary, but it makes them more human at the same time.

The view from the meeting room on the 11th floor is brilliant:

From the other side of the building you can see the Tour Eiffel, but there was too much smog, so I couldn't take a picture. Lunch in their restaurant was also very impressive apart from the red wine, which was not very good. We did get some work done, but there are very busy times ahead of us. It's worse than I thought.

One of the company's drivers took us to the airport. Imagine that... they have chauffeurs. No wonder their cost ratio is worse than ours.

The plane back home was delayed, so there was time for a superb dinner.

Charle de Gaulle is probably the worst airport I ever used. There was only one announcement over the loudspeaker when the plane was finally ready for departure. All we understood was "... Cologne... Cologne". The gate did not appear on the screens and it was luck that we found out it was 64. Otherwise we would still be sitting there waiting.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Party time (part 3 - going home)

And then it was time to say good-bye to Stefan...

... and we got into the still non-airconditioned car and headed back home.

The people responsible for road construction in Germany are getting increasingly fond of roundabouts. They pop up everywhere in this country. But is it art...?

Susi, the lady who lives in this navigation system,...

... directed us onto the autobahn. She did a good job until we reached a route diversion. That's when she lost it completely. She even told us to make a U-turn on the autobahn. Now, call me overcautious, but a u-turn on the autobahn is not something that I would recommend, not even to my worst enemy. We switched her off, so she could get her act together again and then back on. She was silent for a long time (sulking, I guess), but when she reappeared she was back on track.

The monotony of long distance driving. "Wir fahr'n fahr'n fahr'n auf der Autobahn..."

No Kraftwerk on the radio, in fact no radio at all. We talked and listened to the engine instead. Along the road a great number of huge wind energy plants...

... closer...
German truck stops serve all the drivers' needs: there is a drive-in MacDonalds next to the drive-in erotic shop. Long distance driving can get very lonely.

It took us 15 minutes less back to Cologne than it had taken us the other way. Anna drove faster and it was downhill instead of uphill. Then on the train...

... and finally home and under the shower.

Party time (part 2 - wildlife)

The morning after the night before...

Before we left I went into the garden to take pictures of some of the wildlife in the Saarland. I don't know if it is my camera or me, but it's difficult to get focused pictures of things that are moving. Fortunately even butterflies need to rest sometimes.

This one is some kind of
Lycaenidae, probably a common blue:

Don't know which kind this one is. It looks a bit like Bolboreta, but who knows for sure...

And finally a Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni):

Some of the "flying" shots weren't too bad actually...

And there were other insects, too:

Party time (part 1 - the party)

Yesterday was Stefan's 30th birthday. He lives in Cologne now, but was born in the Saarland and that was where he was having his party. Lovely friends that we are, we got into Anna's non-airconditioned car (four people plus the lady who lives in the navigation system!) and drove some 250k through the heat wave that torments this country. It takes about two and a half hours to get to Völklingen, Stefan's hometown. (Völklingen's other claim to fame is a World Heritage Site, which we couldn't be arsed to visit.)

The host was casually dressed...

All the ingredients for a summer party had been organised. Colourful decoration...

... an impressive sound system...

... a barbacue (being a veggie I had a minute's silence here)....

... some wine...
... and other beverages ...

It was great fun! I spent quite some time talking to Pascale's friend from Canada, who had come to the party with her husband, who is Croatian. She works for the Canadian embassy and they are currently based in Kiev in the Ukraine. Before that, they had been based in Barbados (or should that be "on Barbados"?). She said, that Kiev was the much nicer place to live in. The weather is not as good, but there is much more to do. On Barbados there is only the beach. Lots of interesting information about live at the embassy in general and the pitfalls of living in the Ukraine in particular.

Then I put on my dancing shoes and danced with Stefan's dad. I trained ballroom dancing for 15 years, but stopped when I moved away about 5 years ago. And I only ever danced well with my then dancing partner. Whenever somebody else danced with me, I was always confused about the steps and ended up on their toes more often than not. Well, some things never change and after trying to dance a disco-fox with me for a couple of minutes, Stefan's dad gave up and resorted to what I call the "bear dance". You just shift your weight from one paw to the other and back. Easy enough, even for me.

Stefan's sister's birthday present was a belly dancing performance (another thing I have also done in my life). She was really good and looked very pretty. It's much more difficult than it appears to be and she did some quite complicated moves. Impressed!

Went to bed at 3:15 am and fell asleep dispite the heat and music still playing loudly.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Big birds

Anna has two fantastic Big Birds. They aren't yellow, but of impressive size. This one she brought back from a holiday in Africa (Namibia, if I am not mistaken):

Why does the other one make me think of Hitcock's The Birds?

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Not a lot of time to blog. At work it's deadline after deadline after deadline. Everything is urgent, everything is priority 1. My French counterpart has paid me a visit and I will have a look at his humble abode in Paris next week. More travelling in the weeks to come, London first, then Toronto.

It's too hot for any physical excersise. In the afternoon my office turns into a sauna. I try not to move too much. Running is impossible. I am turning fat and unfit at incredible speed. And miserable. Mr Cat suffers too. And with his feline aversion to water, he shuns the only way to cool off that exists.

In my insomniac nights I am working on another website with a friend. It's nearing completion (really? will it ever be complete?) and I am immensely proud of what we have achieved. A couple of weeks ago I didn't even know how to spell HTML. More about that in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Playing for parsley

So, now the World Cup is over. Italy is world champion and I will hear the sound of Italian cars with honking horns for the rest of the night (there are quite a lot of Italians living in this place). Bless their cotton socks. Congratulations!

And what a game! What was Zidane thinking? To spoil his last game ever like that. And what did the Italians say that provoked him so much?

Thanks to all of you for your comments and your kind words! Yes, it was very sad Germany lost the semi-final, but we had a wonderful game yesterday and the whole country celebrated afterwards. Funny thing, third place play-offs. We call them "Spiel um die goldene Ananas", which means that all the winner will get is a golden pineapple. I have tried to fing the origin for that, but haven't yet. And I have read in the papers that in another country - and sadly I have forgotten which one, but think it was Costa Rica - it is called "playing for parsley".

My new keyboard

Running again

Blogger is driving me CRAZY!!! I don't know why, but when I only had one more picture to upload it decided yet again that it had had enough and refused to display it. This happens more and more often. You can work around it by posting pictures with Picasa, but then they have the smaller size and it more work anyway. Is anybody else here who is using Blogger experiencing problems like this?

And if that wasn't enough, typing is difficult too. There is a huge black cat lying between the screen and the keyboard, slowly pushing the keyboard onto my lap. (I would post a picture, but... *sigh*) Well, it could be worse. He could be pushing the screen off the desk. Always look on the bright side of life.

I went running again this morning for the first time in weeks. My foot felt better, the weather is not quite so hot, so I thought it is worth a try. I didn't want to overdo it, so I ran only 10k in a slow pace (65 min). If my foot doesn't hurt tomorrow, I will go back to training three times a week. More will not be possible due to the situation at work, I fear.

It's surprising how green everything still is.

After days of heat and sunshine I had expected brown to be the predominant colour. But there even was some lilac around:

One thing I still have to figure out with the camera, is how to optimise the focus when doing close-ups. The little insect fellow in the first picture is not focussed enough, I think.

(Right. Now he's done it. The keyboard is on my lap. Ah well, never mind.)

The sheep are still here:

And this Sunday post would not be complete without pictures of ... yes, you've guessed it... water fowl:

(The little ones consist mainly of feet. It's the only part of their bodies that is already fully grown. A hilarous sure. Is some sort of coot? Looks different than the other ones, but similar.)

Beauty is in the detail...

But not always...

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Allez les Bleues

I did not have a lot of time for blogging lately for a number of reasons. One of them was the fact that we were going through the final stages of what felt like the 100th due diligence in about four years (our lawyer counted them and he thinks it's eleven in total; surely it must be more than that!). And on Tuesday night, when Germany had just lost against Italy, our company was finally sold to a French competitor. According to the marketing department we are creating a top-tier life reinsurer, reaching the position of fourth largest life reinsurer in the world. Wow!

I have to admit the French were not my preferred buyer, but at least they were my runner-up (over the last couple of months - apart from them - we have had the good, the bad and the ugly in the data room), so I can live with this outcome. And I will never know if "the good" would really have been better.

On Thursday the CEO of our new "maman" paid us a visit to welcome us into his company. I get weak knees when someone speaks German with a French accent, but managed to listen very carefully nevertheless. He said, it is not a take-over but a merger between two companies of equal size. He is "deeply European" and regards the new company as a European rather than a French company. The office in Germany will not be closed down, our jobs are safe. They are currently no. 1 in the French market, we are only no. 2 in Germany. Could we please rectify that asap! (May have sounded like a joke, I am sure it wasn't.)

Overall it didn't sound too bad, but it remains to be seen if he is true to his word.

Tomorrow I will support France to honour the occassion. Allez les Bleues!

Aikido cats

Tom sent me an email entitled "Aikido cats", saying "I thought you might like these". I love them, Tom!

There are more pictures here: Harvey Nichols. Ok, Mr Cat. You are going to Aikido classes with me from now on! Oh boy, he is so excited, he can hardly contain himself from starting immediately...

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Over and out

I don't know what's wrong with Blogger again, but it's difficult to upload pictures at the moment. Therefore the first three are of diminutive size.

My desk in the office was a mess, so I tidied up:

Now I can't find anything anymore. Not good.

The day of the World Cup semi-final between Germany and Italy. A couple of hours before the game, I am waiting in the lobby of our office building. We have decided to watch the game in a place round the corner, that has a video screen.

Is it art or is it a mirror-inverted map of Cologne?


At least one of us is wearing something as the occasion demands:

Still life: Crutch, wheat beer and blackberry


The teams...

Italians singing...

Germans, not singing...

The game...

Miro in overtime...


Off the train in the little town I live in. Masses of people get off with me. They are still singing "Deutschland, Deutschland". We may have lost, but we are happy that we got this far. At least the fourth best team in the world, if not even the third; that's cause to celebrate.