What are they smoking?

This article in the Irish Independent caught my attention. I applauded my countrymen for taking the leap and becoming the first country in the world to instigate a smoking ban in public places. This is something that has been replicated across the world, most notably across many countries in the EU (sadly the Dutch have made a half-assed attempt at it, resulting in flagrant flouting of the laws and nowhere near enough people out and about enforcing the laws) and will undoubtedly go a long way to improving the long-term health of the nation.

However, this latest twist, whereby the Government are contemplating implementing a law that would effectively make it illegal to smoke and drive, is in my humblest of opinions, unworkable.

Yes I understand the arguments being made in favour…..second-hand smoke lingers, and the environment of a car is just a smoking box by any other name…..that the simple act of fiddling with a cigarette in a car can, in some extreme cases, possibly lead to road traffic accidents.

But whilst I am not a smoker, and I certainly LOVE the fact that I can eat in a restaurant or drink in a pub without some stinky smoke floating in my direction (and yes, it ALWAYS floats towards the non-smoker in a group!!) I did in fact grow up in a house where my parents smoked. They still do. And going anywhere in the car then, as is now, is a fucking nightmare. I remember wanting to beat the shit out of my younger brother because he would whinge and moan about the “smell of smoke in the car” or “open a window” when it’s pissing rain outside or fecking freezing. Whilst I also didn’t enjoy the stink of smoke in the car, I knew it was a temporary thing and we’d be getting out soon.

But what exactly is the Department of Health thinking? Are they planning on putting a law on statute that would make it an offence to smoke and drive? And how would they enforce it….the Gardai driving down the road see a fag hanging from your mouth and turn on the “blues and twos” to pull you over and add a couple of points onto your licence? I understand drinking and driving and all the horrible things that result from that….but let’s face it….a car is the private property of a person, as is their house. As long as I abide by the laws of the land in my house or car and do not intentionally harm, hurt of kill someone, I can do whatever I like in my house, or in my car. Can’t I? And I have never heard nor seen anyone claiming that the cause of the accident was because they were lighting their “fag”.

It smacks a bit like the ever encroaching “Nanny State” that we’ve been warned of for years. And if it is ever implemented, this would make Ireland the first country to impose such a ban. Smoking in taxis, company cars and vans, which are classed as workplaces, is already prohibited. Whilst noble in concept and rationale, I just don’t see them pulling this off.

When did prisons turn into holiday camps?

I ask, because every few weeks there appears in the local Dutch press some article about the penal system in the Netherlands that just makes my mine boggle and, I might add, usually results in coffee being spat onto my computer screen as I try to comprehend the stupidity that is the Dutch Prison Service and the people who are responsible for running it.

Let me elucidate and expound a little more. For a start, convicted prisoners in the Netherlands typically live in single bed cells. The do not need to share their cell with other prisoners, and they can get Cable TV piped directly into their cells if they want. It used to be a point of fact that every prisoner had Cable TV, but in an effort to save money, the Dutch government decided that they could no longer foot the bill and now if a prisoner wants Cable in his cell, he has to pay for it himself.

Then there is the prison “shop”. Yes indeed, apart from the money sent to inmates by family members on the outside, prisoners in the Netherlands receive an allowance, which can then be used to buy the little luxuries in life, you know, stuff like sushi, sake, sweets, the obligatory cigarettes, DVD’s, even the odd few cans of beer! My goodness, how civilised. A recent article that made it into the British press spoke about how British prisoners convicted of drug related crimes described how they would hold “parties” in their cells at the weekend. Well, I guess they’re entitled to make the most of their time “inside”.

There are also an abundance of services that the prisoners enjoy. In a country that forces its citizens to pay mandatory health insurance, for a really shitty healthcare system in return, Dutch prisoners enjoy free healthcare and dental treatment provided by on-staff doctors and outside Dentists and Dental Technicians…all paid for out of my taxes. Meanwhile, I have to put up with Urologists telling me that if I “pee sitting down for a month” that this should help get my wife pregnant.

A new “service” that recently came to light are the opportunities for convicted criminals to enjoy the carnal delights of life. This article writes of how a convicted rapist who is serving four years in a psychiatric prison has been allowed to use a spare room in the prison to have sex with his girlfriend. The man is in a relationship with an older worker at another psychiatric prison where he spent time, and is said to be ‘hypersexual’. The man was convicted of the sexual abuse and rape of eight young girls, although police had received complaints from 35, the paper says.

Of course, there is another quirk of the Dutch penal system, which I have to confess, is probably my favourite quirk of all. The concept of “day release”. Yes indeed folks, you are found guilty of rape, or human trafficking, and then convicted to serve several years behind bars. But because the Dutch have your best interests at heart and think that staying that long in prison might be a little too harsh on you, they came up with the concept of letting prisoners out for the day. Some are even let out for an entire weekend so they can go home and spend time with their families. In most cases, the day release prisoners are under the supervision of guards. But there have been cases where the prisoners were allowed out for entire weekends unguarded and unsupervised. And the wardens fully expected the prisoners to return to the prison voluntarily….kind of like the “honours system” they have in place here for paying your fare on the trams and metros….and guess how many people travel without buying a ticket? So you can imagine how many prisoners leave, and never return.

There was a famous case recently where a notorious convicted human trafficker, a Turk by the name of Saban Baran, escaped from custody after being allowed prison leave to visit his new baby. Baran was appealing against a seven and a half year jail sentence for forcing over 100 women into prostitution, when he was allowed home, and disappeared in September 2010. It was believed that he skipped the country and fled to Turkey.

Thankfully the authorities in Turkey caught him five months later. They arrested him in Turkey on charges of blackmail and money laundering. Turkey does not extradite its own nationals, but according to Dutch media Baran may be forced to sit out his sentence in a Turkish jail. Maybe they’ll do a better job than the Dutch at keeping his ass in prison.

Of course, “day release” is not the only option open to prisoners in the Netherlands. There is also the option of psychiatric leave available to them, or the more daring might like to try their hand at walking out with the visitors. I still have not been able to find out what happened (if anything) to the prison guards or the wardens after their clear lack of attention and negligent performance of their duties resulted in them losing a prisoner. But if the rest of Dutch society is anything to go by, they will most likely get a slap on the wrist and not be held accountable for their actions…they’ll just blame somebody else, most likely the prisoner.

It is comforting to know, however, that those who do decide to go AWOL have their leave privileges suspended for a year. Now, say that out loud to yourself, and just let the absurdity of such a concept ring in your ears. What ever happened to the days bread and water, back breaking hard labour, one blanket and multiple prisoners to a cell? The press is full of these civil liberties lefty liberals spouting on about prison over-crowding and prisoner rights. First of all, the issue of “over-crowding” is all relevant. If they are running out of one bedroom cells, then yes, it’s over crowded….but stick them into four to a room, I say. They gave up their rights when the broke the law. As the old saying goes, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time”. What I would like to know is why they still think prisoners have rights when they have been found guilty of committing a crime and of causing harm to the normal law-abiding citizens of a country. Christ knows that the Dutch spout on and on about how us foreigners need to conform to their laws, culture, traditions and language….yet if you commit a crime, it’s OK, you’ll get an all expenses paid vacation in a Dutch holiday camp.

Well, I need to go an pay my parking fines 🙂

A profound message to live by

I have seen this before….I think it was being bandied about on the corporate email some years back. And whilst I appreciated the message then, I never really fully embraced it. Probably because I was a little younger, and less wise. The typical feeling of invincibility that is bequeathed to the young. However a friend of mine came across it and shared it with his friends and family, and I thought I would also share it with you.

In simple terms, the message is an easy one to understand….don’t take life for granted, get out and grab it with both hands and don’t sweat the little things. One interesting point is that in the clip at around 4:48, I have already started to grow nostalgic about the cost of living and children respecting their elders….and I’m not even in my mid 30′s yet. Hahaha.

Right, better get off my ass and go book those kite surfing lessons 🙂

Air travel in the modern age

I would consider myself very fortunate and privileged to have a job that has enabled me to travel a lot. I love travelling. I love exploring a new city or country, meeting the people, sampling their food and culture and making new friends along the way. But I am starting to grow tired of the hassle of air travel.

It starts off with an element of excitement. Myself and Herself are packing our bags, trying to figure out what clothes to bring. If the destination involved somewhere in Northern Europe during Summer, that task can be easier said than done. For a start, you try to balance the shorts vs trousers ratio because you never can tell if it’ll be warm and sunny, or raining cats and dogs. And inevitably it will result in me finishing my packing first, going downstairs to make a cup of coffee and returning an hour later to scrutinize and challenge everything that Herself deemed necessary to bring with her. I have to admit though that over the years she has become much better at packing only stuff she will wear. Gone are the days of multiple pairs of high heels being packed “just in case”. I never did figure out “just in case” what?

But the excitement quickly vanishes into the ether to be replaced with an air of foreboding. Your mind begins to fret over a dozen things, all at once. Will I make it to the airport on-time, will there be a huge fecking queue for check-in, will the flight depart on time, how big will the queue at security be this time? But fear not, as I have figured out various ways to avoid a lot of the above issues in order to expedite, eliminate and evade as many hassles “landside” as possible.

The first weapon in my arsenal is the suitcase itself. If I can get away with it, I will travel with hand-baggage only. This tactic is a double win, because I not only get to avoid having to check the bag in in the first place, but I also get to avoid having to wait for ages until is reappears on the baggage belt at the other end! A real time saver. I even had herself buy me an electric razor so I could avoid having to check my bags in just because I had to pack shaving foam.

If you factor in the latest statistics from the AEA (Association of European Airlines), which documents that in 2009 the industry average was 13 lost bags for every 1000 passengers, you can see why I would hesitate putting my bag in the belly of a plane. “Thirteen lost bags is not a lot” I hear you say. Ah!!, but if you factor in travellers like myself who fly with NO bags in the belly of the plane they’re flying in, you can quickly see that the statistics are flawed, because they base it upon EVERY passenger that flew, regardless if they checked in luggage or not. So the chance of you and your bag reuniting at your destination is still somewhat dubious.

The next challenging bit, and probably the one that get up EVERYONE’S arse when travelling by air are the dreaded security checks. I have tools to alleviate the stress involved here too. There are only two companies in the Netherlands that I actually like and whom I think are both innovative and worthy of any praise. KLM is one of them. The second one is Privium.

Privium is my secret weapon when dealing with airport security at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. Amsterdam is my base, and so all my flights usually begin there. What does Privium do to warrant such lofty praise? Well, they scan the biometric markers from my iris, stick them onto a chip that sits on top of a credit card sized membership card which when swiped into a machine at the airport, lets me scan my eyes and whizz through passport and security in a matter of mere seconds. They have their own dedicated security screening too, which means I get to avoid all the geriatrics and infrequent flyers who inevitably always hold up the line at security due to them fiddling in their pockets looking for loose change, or removing their belts and mobiles and God knows what else they carry about their person.

It sounds elitist, and to some extent it is, but I would rather be in a queue of like minded seasoned business travellers who can have all their junk packed away in seconds and zip through security without setting anything off, than to be stuck behind a mother of three who is struggling to pass through security with her push-chairs and offspring.

When travelling on the return leg home, I adopt another tactic. I first look for Asian businessmen. They are usually always extremely quick and efficient going through security, which means you’ll get through the line quite quickly too. If I cannot find the Asian businessmen, it then becomes an exercise in risk mitigation….I start looking for old people, families with kids, young couples and anyone who looks Islamic, and then I avoid them, switching lines if I have to. Again, this all might sound elitist, and to some extent even racist, but it’s a fact that they will slow you down.

One thing I have noticed is how different countries have very different opinions on what constitutes good overall security. In some cases it’s refreshing, in others it’s alarming, and when I’m tired and just want to get home, just downright annoying. For example, at Schiphol, they are quite thorough, but not overly in your face, unlike the U.S.! If you set off the metal detector, they will give you a very thorough pat-down check followed by the waving of their magic wand. However, there are inconsistencies across Europe. Whilst travelling back from Italy, for example, I managed to set-off the metal detector. When the guy came over to frisk me, his touch was so light that if I was smuggling anything he would have most likely never come across it. But then I was thinking, maybe they took one look at me and guessed right that I am not a terrorist and thus no real threat, so they would spare me the hassle and go through the pat-down protocol? But when I went to pick up my bags off the x-ray machine, they were not even looking at the screen, rather they were talking about last nights football match with the folks on the machine next to them!

So I’ve made it through to “airside”, now it’s time to avoid all the low-frills numpties who are splashing out wads of money on booze and fags in Duty Free. I will usually head off to the sanctity of the airline lounge, or, if I’m flying from Schiphol, head straight to the gate because I will have used that precious time that Privium spared me on the way in as extra valuable minutes in bed with Herself before having to leave to the airport.

Suitably refreshed and relaxed from the lounge, I will make my way to the gate. Here I am forced to mix with the throng of holiday makers and fellow business travellers. There is usually a few kids ranging from between toddler age to around 9 or 10 years old running around screaming their heads off. This will either result in a parent scolding them (if they are Irish, British, French, Asian or Canadian) or nothing (if they are Dutch, German, Russian, American, Italian).

The boarding call will come, asking all Business Class and certain members of the airlines frequent flyer program to step forward. But which results in EVERYONE trying to board at the same time too! Some airlines are quite strict on this, forcing the queue jumpers back until they are called to board, other airlines don’t give a crap, just so long as everyone is there and that nobody is sat inebriated at the airport bar, having completely lost track of time and no clue where their gate is, thus resulting in the ground staff having to retrieve and remove their baggage and bumping them from my flight.

I’ve made it….my favourite window seat up near the front with ample legroom and a glass of bubbly resting on the armrest beside me. Yes, I fly “Cattle Class” too, and I also have my favourite seats there too, but given a choice, I would be happier sipping champagne in the front than dealing with some fat American down the back.

Amazingly, there are copious rules and regulations here in the EU that cover the safe and humane transportation of animals, yet not a single law or white paper outlining the same for humans. For example, a cow, when being transported to the slaughter-house, should have enough food and water for the trip, should have adequate rest periods if the journey time is longer than several hours, and it should have enough space in the truck so as to facilitate it to turn its head around in order to groom itself! What do we get in “Cattle Class” on the airlines? Barely enough room to scratch my arse and if you’re lucky, a crappy sandwich and a cup of coffee that tastes like it’s been filtered through the fat Americans underpants!

On board, I usually turn on the iPod and try to zone out on what’s going on around me. But there is one noise that is able to penetrate all forms of music that I have on my iPod…that is the dreaded screams of a child who has not yet figured out how to equalise the pressure in their sinuses. I do feel sorry for the parents, really I do. But I have avowed to come up with a solution to this. I had originally thought about creating my own airline, which would firstly enforce an aptitude test for all passengers, ensuring that no morons or numpties were allowed to travel (thus eliminating the detritus of society from the entire check/security process altogether) and secondly, banning all children under the age of 5 from flying. When I put this idea across to my Dad one Christmas, he came up with a clever alternative. Whilst he agreed with the riff-raff idea, he suggested that I build a sound proof section at the back where all the families with screaming kids could sit together and make as much noise as they wanted, without disturbing the rest of my passengers. This way I would maximise revenue, maybe even charging a premium for seats in the baby-free cabin.

Well, I need to go check-in online for my next flight. Anyone for tea or coffee??

Twitter….what’s the fucking point?

I admit it, I use Facebook….and if you believe Herself, I use it a fair bit. One social media I DO NOT use however is Twitter. In the beginning I figured that since I had enough trouble keeping up with everyone on Facebook, trying to do the same across two different platforms was both impossible, and just a tad idiotic. With a little trimming of the fat and “unfriending” (I think it should really be “defriending”) people I really didn’t like or know very well, I have now managed to limit my Facebook account to those people who actually matter. However, I still have friends saying that I “need” to get a Twitter account. Erm, no, I don’t!

I simply do not “get” Twitter. First of all, it only allows 140 characters per message. That’s twenty less than an SMS. Secondly, it doesn’t facilitate archiving….for example your holiday snaps or video of the baby’s first steps. And most “tweets” usually consist of mind-numbing pointless babbling (usually in the form of celebrities spouting off about something or other, which is then reported by todays rubbish media as “News Updates”).

The newest trend that news outlets having taken to is “trending” tweets! As if reading the cacophony of utter bullshit from anonymous morons and celebrity morons wasn’t enough, I now have to put up with the news channels reporting on “what’s cool on Twitter” whenever they have a slow news day. This was highlighted recently when the Japanese Ladies team recently won the FIFA Womens World Cup. Along with the historic win over the United States, in the same report they even mentioned the fact the Twitter had reached an all time record high of 7,166 tweets per second. WHO GIVES A FUCK!! Why is the fact that 7,000 morons who found it compelling to talk a load of shite for other morons they’ve never met to read interesting or even news-worthy?

Well, enough grumbling….I need to go and update my “status” on Facebook 🙂

Tributes to a Junkie

Amidst news reports of the famine suffering in Somalia and the horrible tragedy beset the people of Norway came reports of Amy Winehouse’s death.

Along with the usual reports in the media of her untimely, but inevitable death, were comments peppered with celebrities tweeting their surprise and sadness of her passing. A spokesman for the singer said: “Everyone involved with Amy is shocked and devastated.” Whilst I might sound cold and callous, her death at a young age is devastating to those who knew her, but it should hardly be “surprising” now, should it?

Winehouse has had a long history of alcohol and drug abuse. Three years ago a photo of the British singer apparently smoking a crack pipe was splashed across the front page of the U.K. tabloid The Sun. The photo of the beehive singer, taken from a 19-minute video whose source The Sun has not revealed, was accompanied by reports that she had allegedly engaged in a drug binge of cocaine, ecstasy, Valium and crack.

She was repeatedly in and out of Rehab. Her most recent stint was early June, 2011, when she checked into London’s “Priory Clinic”, for apparant alcohol abuse. However, she quickly checked herself out again two weeks later just before embarking on a European tour. That tour was cut short after she was booed off stage in Belgrade. Understandbly, the locals, who paid €300 (one  months salary for the average Serbian) were pissed off at the sight of her mumbling and singing incoherently, and stumbling around in a drunken stupor on stage. Despite the best efforts of her band to help her our with the reminding her the lyrics, or picking up the singing when she was simply mumbling, she ended up getting off stage, and later cancelling the European tour altogether.

Sadly now she will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. Whilst I liked some of her songs, I would certainly have never regarded her as a role model or someone who inspired me. But with all these celebrities tweeting over her death and how “amazing” she is, it makes me wonder what kind of message the world is sending out to the young and impressionable. What are they trying to say? Is it “Say NO to drugs, but if you can’t, then it’s OK, because when you die of an overdose, we’ll love you all the more”?

I hope her troubled soul finally finds peace, but I would prefer if the world actually called it as it is, rather than what they’d like you to think….another junkie just killed themselves.

Now, where’s my bong?

Giving Parties….Dutch Style

It’s one of those things you look forward to when you find yourself in a new country. Making new friends, inviting them over to your place for a BBQ or dinner and getting invited over to theirs in return. However, with one except, it seems our luck runs out every time it involves the Dutch.

You see, back home in Ireland, or when I was living in Finland, Germany, Switzerland or Ukraine, if you were invited to someones place for a dinner party, it was customary to bring along a bottle of vino and maybe flowers (depending on the country’s protocol) for the lady of the house. The only major exception to that rule was perhaps a BBQ. In which case it was generally still BYOB (Bring Your Own Booze) and never “BYOM” (The M meaning Meat). Until, that is, we moved to the Netherlands.

The Dutch are generally a nation of tight arses. So firstly it’s not that often that you get invited to their place at all. If you do, and if there is no “BYOM” in the invite, then you should eat a hearty meal at home first because all you’re going to enjoy is a very awkward, boring and stuffy “nibbles and drinks” do. What’s that I hear you say? Yes, canapes and crackers, potato salad and bitterballen….in a nutshell, fingerfood, along with some €2 bottle of crap bought in Lidl and bottles on hangover inducing Heineken. If there IS to be any real food involved, then two scenarios present themselves.

Scenario 1. BYOM – Bring Your Own Meat and cook it yourself. The Dutch man has no real interest in cooking on a BBQ, unlike his Irish, British, Aussie or American counterparts. My own theory is that due to the amount of hair gel they use, it’s probably an accident waiting to happen and probably a wise decision to avoid any naked flames, lest his hair catch fire. Irish and British men revel in the thought that they get to cook meat on an open flame. There is something almost primordial about men and BBQ’s. It’s the only type of cooking a real man will do. When a man volunteers to do the BBQ the following chain of events are put into motion:

1) The woman buys the food.

2) The woman makes the salad, vegetables, and dessert.

3) The woman prepares the meat for cooking, places it on a tray along with the necessary cooking utensils and sauces, and takes it to the man who is lounging beside the grill — beer in hand.

Here comes the important part …..

4) THE MAN PLACES THE MEAT ON THE GRILL.

5) The woman goes inside to organize the plates and cutlery.

6) The woman comes out to tell the man that the meat is burning.

He thanks her and asks if she will bring another beer while he deals with the situation.

7) THE MAN TAKES THE MEAT OFF THE GRILL AND HANDS IT TO THE WOMAN.

8)The woman prepares the plates, salad, bread, utensils, napkins, sauces, and brings them to the table.

9) After eating, the woman clears the table and does the dishes. And most of all ….

10) Everyone PRAISES the man and THANKS him for his cooking efforts.

11) The man asks the woman how she enjoyed “her night off.”

And, upon seeing her annoyed reaction, concludes that there’s just no pleasing some women.

In a Dutch BBQ, it’s usually the guests that were invited to the BBQ in the first place doing all the cooking, whilst the hosts slowly get more and more intoxicated sucking back on beers or fruity white wines and showing the guests where everything can be found in their kitchen.

Scenario 2. Invite YOURSELF to dinner. This one happened to us also. A good friend of ours, who is a dab hand in the kitchen, has always brought up the idea of meeting for dinner whenever we met for beers and the like. Usually we’d meet for beers and end up eating out somewhere. The topic of his latest culinary feats would come up in conversation, which would always end with a “You should come over to my place for dinner some time” type invitation.

The frustrating thing is, we still haven’t HAD dinner at his place. This is despite the fact that he continues to experiment and post photo’s of his latest culinary endeavours on Facebook. What HAS happened though is him calling me up one day, asking how I am, suggesting dinner, me giving him dates that we were free and he inviting HIMSELF over to OUR place for US to cook for HIM. When I hung up the phone, I found myself asking “How the fuck did that just happen”? He came over with his girlfriend, Herself prepared a fantastic meal, and everyone enjoyed themselves (except for me as I had to do the washing up afterwards).

However, we have still not yet mastered the art of inviting OURSELVES over to HIS place. Either he’s too clever to get caught out, or maybe we’re too polite, I don’t know.

For now though, we play it safe. We have one Dutch friend who gets the “dinner party” concept, and that’s because he’s lived abroad for ages. Everyone else is either an expat or a Dutchie married to an expat. In the case of the latter, they follow the usual civilised rules, such as “not getting your guests to cook their own dinner” that their spouses have grown up with.

As for the BBQ’s? I used to always bet good money on a Aussie BBQ being a well catered event. That is, until we experienced our first ever Braai. Without a doubt, the South Africans know their meat and how to cook it. Cheers Bru!!

Now, where did I put the matches? 🙂