corders in the hague

It's like having the Corders round for dinner - except the kids don't smash stuff and Mike doesn't drink all your booze. And when you're bored you can get rid of us with a mouse click rather than having to start tidying up the house.

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Location: The Hague, Netherlands

Sunday, January 17, 2010


It's been a while, again.
So what's happened since we got back from Australia? A load of normal stuff, really.
Our family has expanded again. At Sinterklaas, Julia became the proud parent and primary (or at least secondary) carer of a dwarf hamster. In line with our Australian-tinted pet naming policy, it was dubbed Possum.

All was well with possum until a brutal cold snap hit the Netherlands just before Christmas. Irmie and I were talking in the kitchen when we heard Julia screaming and running down the stairs.
Nothing new in that, of course. Julia - along with Esther - spends half her life screaming and stomping up or down the stairs. But this was a scream that immediately signaled to us that the cause wasn't a run-of-the-mill sibling scrap.
Julia ran into the kitchen clutching something small and stiff in her hand.
Possum was no more - or at least that was what it looked like; the little critter was flat and stiff as a mini ironing board. If we'd had two hamsters meet the same fate simultaneously, we could have played ping pong with them. Possum was beyond rigor mortis and it's little black eyes were trying to pop out of its flattened head. It was cold. It's cage had spent the night in the -10 cold of the attic playroom. I wouldn't have been surprised to see little icicles dangling from the bars of its cage.
I suggested to Julia that she might want to take a quiet moment cuddling and taking leave of the week-old love of her life. She was having nothing of it, saying she was going to nurse it back to life.
Who was I to deprive her of some quality caring time with the soon to be ex-hamster? My woolen hat was warming on the radiator, so I gave it to Julia and she placed Possum inside. She almost had to fold the hamster in the middle to get its stiff little body in. I could see a faint pulse in its neck, but was convinced Possum's tiny heart was pumping its last.
Unbelievably, as Julia continued to cuddle her (or him, for who knows what gender it is) Possum started to puff out a bit. Long story short, five minutes later she/he was hurtling aimlessly around its exercise wheel with no apparent ill effects from the near death experience. The upshot of this all is that Possum now lives in its cage on the dining table, which I think is disgusting - who wants to eat with a rat looking at you? I've been a student, I've done that.
As I mentioned, it's been cold. Today was the first time the temperature has resolutely stayed above freezing since Possum's flirtation with death. Ice and snow are great fun here in the Netherlands, except that the girls grab their sled at the first sight of a snow flake and that means dragging duties for me. In my youth, you pulled your sled to a hill, slid down it, pulled it back up the slope and repeated the process until frost bite started depriving you of toes. Not here in the land of no hills.

Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to warming up from this Dutch deep freeze by going to Vancouver for the Winter Olympics. With an impending absence of nearly a month, I've been looking around the house for stuff that needs doing. Irmie even commented on my new enthusiasm for DIY activities. She was impressed that I changed a light bulb without her asking me. I should say that in the last year, Irmie has painted all the window frames in the house and the ceilings downstairs (twice), as well as applying some kind of sealant to my office balcony to prevent a further leak that would have meant a third go at painting the ceilings.
Nevertheless, emboldened by Irmie's praise, I decided yesterday to unblock the bathroom sink, which was taking an hour to drain each time I shaved, presumably because of a wad of hair in the u-bend. Simple, I thought. Just take out the u-bend, poke a pipe cleaner through it and screw it back into place. What could possibly go wrong?
I moved the cupboard obscuring the pipes under the sink and tried twisting the things holding the u-pipe in place. My DIY knowledge doesn't extend to knowing what they are. Whatever they're called, they didn't budge. I scraped around in my shoe-box-sized tool kit and located some kind of a wrench. I managed to get a firm grip on the pipe and twisted. The thing holding the u-pipe didn't budge, but the pipe itself did and immediately cracked and spat a pint of water and a fur ball of Irmie, Esther and Julia hair onto the floor and my trousers. Not the effect I'd been hoping for.
It wasn't all bad, though. My first instinct in such situations is that fixing what I have just destroyed is beyond me. I break stuff. I don't mend it. So this was the excuse I've been looking for for months to get a plumber to install a whole new bathroom. Possibly not the cheapest solution, but the best in the long run, I felt.
Irmie played along skillfully and tagged along to the DIY store this morning to pick out a new bathroom. She feigned interest in a couple of expensive sink-cupboard combos I was enthusiastic about before wandering over to the aisle she'd been looking for all along - plumbing supplies.
I was going to have to at least try fixing the mess I'd made with a 10 euro piece of pipe before she would agree to spending thousands on a new bathroom. Feeling a fool for having been duped so easily, I sheepishly bought a fancy new u-bend - so fancy, that it was not shaped like a u at all. I took it home and whacked one end into a hole in the wall only to find that it didn't come even close to lining up with the down pipe sticking out of the hole in the bottom of the sink. Even I realized I was not going to be able to bend the pipes to make them fit together, so I disassembled the thing, tried to polish away the scratches and stuffed it back into its packaging. The 15-year-old girl at the DIY store's service desk looked at me disdainfully and gave me my money back.
I decided to take one more look at the plumbing parts and found a good old-school u-bend assembly that you could, with a minimum of bending metal out of shape, swivel at two different points - meaning you could move it laterally to position it under the hole in the bottom of the sink. And indeed, even I managed to make it fit. So now - somehow - I've managed to earn credit with Irmie for unnecessarily depriving her of a place to brush her teeth for most of the weekend. She must be looking forward to my trip to Vancouver almost as much as I am.