Have politics become irrelevant?

Reactions to yesterday’s election results covered the entire spectrum: from enthusiasm (and sometimes outright vindictiveness) to extreme disappointment (and occasionally belligerence). The same gamut of reactions could be seen in the UK when the Brexit referendum mocked the poll results. GoodMorningAmerica

I think this reflects how polarised society, and, as a result, the political landscape has become. While it is popular these days to coin the phrase “the Divided States of America”, this phenomenon is not unique to the USA. In many countries in Europe (also in The Netherlands), there is a growing tendency to intolerance towards points of view that do not correspond to your own, and many European countries have their own alt-right movements. UKIP in the UK, Front National in France and the Dutch PVV (which is essentially the Wilders Show) are a few examples.
This polarisation is not just a political thing – political discussions on public forums have descended to insult contests, largely mirroring the tone struck by the more extreme political figureheads. Admittedly, Donald Trump has taken insulting and threatening his political opponents to a new (and disturbing) level, but Nigel Farage and Geert Wilders are not exactly shining examples of how a debate should be conducted.

The phenomenon of a large portion of the voting population fleeing to the extreme sides of the political spectrum (mainly a flight to the right) appears to be caused by a growing level of discontent about, and distrust in, politicians that are supposed to be part of the ‘establishment’. This is rather weird if you realise that Trump himself is very much a member of the establishment (even though most of his business ventures ended disastrously).

But what worries me most is that there is a large group of people who seem to have lost all interest in politics whatsoever, and appear to be completely unfazed by the fact that the nuclear codes will soon be in the hands of a man who has, until now, demonstrated that he cannot even control his own temper, and that the energy policy of one of the largest industrial nations of the planet are now controlled by a man who thinks man-made climate change is a hoax, perpetrated by the imageChinese (which essentially means that the Paris Agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on).
Some are looking at the proceedings with amusement, and there is the odd sentiment of “be your own president” – if we make sure we do the Right Thing, everything will work out just fine.

I will immediately agree with anyone that sitting around and waiting for someone else to save the world is not a solution. But I think it would be downright naïve to assume that not worrying about politics (and thereby, to society at large) and cocooning in your own world where you and the people you interact with do The Right Thing is a working solution.

First, my US-based LGBT friends will likely be somewhat happy to hear of my support, but they are going to have a very hard time the next four years regardless. Having the authorities turn on you sucks eggs, and there is not much that I can do about that. So yes, that’s worrying.

Second… yes, I have managed to reduce my CO2-footprint since 2010 with waaay more than the 20% that supposedly was the target for 2020. And yes, I’m actually a bit proud of that – although I have to admit that, what with technology making strides to support me in doing so, it wasn’t particularly hard.

But I also feel somewhat frustrated that I cannot do considerably more – public transport for my daily commute is not an option, as it would lengthen my daily commute from 90 minutes to 5 hours and 40 minutes (I kid you not…), but I would seriously like to drive an EV for commuting and other daily drives. Unfortunately, the municipality I live in won’t allow me to run a charging cable across the sidewalk, and they also won’t let me install a charging post. Which would render my electric vehicle useless.
So, yes… you can decide to be your own president, but politics can actually reduce the efficiency of your presidency.
Given Trump’s track record, I cannot see how Trump would act meglio-furs-swastika-trump-940x540in a way that the vast majority of climate scientists would deem sensible.

But there is another effect that politics can have on everyday life: it affects our behaviour.
Having a president-hopeful (and now, a president-elect) who has a proven record of repeatedly insulting his opponents, insulting, stigmatising, and even threatening entire sections of the population, and qualifying his own positively lewd behaviour as ‘locker room talk’ (which somehow should make it perfectly acceptable), and generally having a problem controlling his own temper, will influence what society finds acceptable – especially what the next generation will learn to be the norm.
We’ve seen the same thing happening after the Brexit referendum, where open hostilities against the minorities targeted by Farage’s UKIP suddenly spiked, and the same thing is already happening in the US.

My worry is that not having an opinion about this is not going to reverse this trend. And that is why I think that pulling out of the public debate because you ‘cannot be bothered’, or because you think that, as long as you do the Right Thing yourself, that’s enough, is not going to cut it. I can see where this sentiment is coming from… but I don’t subscribe to it.

… rain? What rain?

If you’re in the Netherlands, this post’s title is supposedly hard to swallow.
We’ve had some rain on Monday evening and during the night. More than a drizzle, but no huge quantities. It started after we had gone in for the night, and it stopped again before we woke up on Tuesday morning. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the weather’s been brilliant, and today, it’s been hot (>30). It’s been a dry heat, but still.

We’ve seen some beautiful evening skies

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some nice buildings

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some that were beyond repair

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and today, because it would be too hot in the sun, we decided to take a hike in the Hainich, a dense, natural deciduous forest that borders our campground.

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As long as you would stay in the shade, it was very nice.

Tomorrow morning will be the start of another hot day, but the forecast says that by the end of the afternoon or the early evening, the rain will reach the middle of Germany. So, we’ll break camp tomorrow morning (which will allow us to pack our stuff, and fold our trailer tent, dry), and then head back, to arrive home in the late afternoon.

20062016

Yes… ten years ago (on 20 06 2006), Janny said yes to me. Or actually, to the minister in Killin, Scotland, in a small chapel on the banks of Loch Tay, to his question if she would fancy marrying me.

20062016 started out as a gorgous day.

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When you are in the Netherlands, it’s probably hard to believe, but it stayed like that all day long. We learnt later that, 400 kms to our west, it pissed down all day… but here, the rain only started at 21:30. At four in the afternoon, the first signs that a change was coming could be seen, so that came as no surprise. Right now, it’s pissing down consistently. Which is fine – the tent has already proven to be 100% waterproof, and also this means that it’s not going to get cold tonight. Last night was really cold… which is fine in our decent sleeping bag, but it also means that, at 7 am, it’s still fairly nippy. If we are really really lucky, by the time we wake up tomorrow, all this will have passed and the weather will be fine again.
One can always hope. 😉

Anyway, since Janny threw her back out yesterday, we did not expect to be really active today. We did have to do some shopping (remember we were fresh out of salt and spices?), so we headed for a town called Bad Langensalza, which supposedly had a choice of supermarkets.

Bad Langensalza was actually a lot bigger (and nicer) than we had expected — not that we had reason to expect anything but supermarkets, so a traditional German town with its city centre intact was a pleasant surprise.

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We took a stroll through the centre, which was not as ‘raped’ by commerce as the Celle centre that we visited two days earlier. Some of it was really nice… well-kept, and most of the renovations were done with at least a minimum of taste. The glass front in the traditional Fachwerk house below is not screaming for attention.

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It’s interesting to see how some of the longer beams follow the shape of the tree from which they were cut, and how the granite slab under the lowest beam follows the shape of the beam.

We also made sure that our stroll included some of the less touristic bits of town…

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This facade could probably use some TLC. As you can see by the curtains, and the brand new lock, this place is actually inhabited.

It did get worse… this door hasn’t been used for a long time.

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Somewhere else, the integration between old and new has not been wholly successful. I sense a smouldering architectural conflict at the roof level.

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As Janny’s back was giving in, we concluded our visit with a cup of coffee and a light snack.

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We do intend to come back here later this week, when Janny is feeling better.

After a quick visit to the Netto supermarket, where the staff treated us (and everyone else) with an attitude that lingered between depression and contempt, we returned to the camp site to laze around the tent, and feast on a home-prepped meal with barbecued meat and a fantasy salad, which was fine, accompanied by a Chianti of 2.30 euro, which tasted like… a Chianti of 2.30 Euro, really.

There’s nothing like listening to the sound of rain falling on a cotton tent roof and thinking that there’s nothing to worry about. Tomorrow morning, we’ll see whether that is justified.

Of a disappointing town, and of new surroundings

Did I say that Friday was the worst day up to then, weather-wise? … yes, I did.

Turns out Saturday had heard that, and it did not want to let Friday get away with that. The day started off with a dreary, drab, uniformly grey sky, from which water was leaking steadily. This lasted all morning, and it soaked the grass, the tent, and the general atmosphere.
So… we decided to visit Celle.
On going there, I regretted that I had forgotten my camera. That would change later on. Celle’s Wikipedia entry tells us that the old, historic centre has been spared during World War II’s bombardments. What it doesn’t tell us is that this historic centre has been thoroughly raped afterwards, by local commerce. 90% of it has been turned into a  buying gutter on the ground floor, which creates a horrible, unresolved dissonant with the (mostly historic) facades from the first floor up.

Celle also has a castle. Its construction has started in the 12th century, but most of it is High Baroque, and quite sugary.

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The back of the castle shows some period inconsistency (which is to be expected), but most of it is a bit too rich to my taste. Welcome to Germany, I suspect. I have to admit I like the castle that is my workplace (Kasteel Nederhorst) a lot better as a building. Less showy, more honest.

Luckily the rain had stopped in the afternoon. It still wasn’t pretty, but at least some of the time we could do without our jackets.

We did manage to find Janny a pair of very nice shoes, though.

On our trip home, we went into Lidl to buy us the ingredients for a pasta meal. No prefab stuff, everything fresh from the veggies dept. The only canned stuff I used was tomato paste and ham. One of the things I have bought for our camping trips is a small chef’s knife. Nothing fancy, just a standard knife from (somewhat softer) European steel with a 20 degree cut. On cutting up the onions and the paprika I noticed that this is overdue for some sharpening. Remind me to do that when I get home…

Anyway, I cut the stuff up (onion, paprika, zucchini, ham, and some other stuff) and fired up the Safari Chef to fry things up a bit, only to discover that we had managed to not bring the salt and spices. Oh well.
I added a healthy dose of the red wine we bought at Lidl: a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon at the staggering price of… ONE euro fourty nine. Yes, you read that right. For a standard 70 cl bottle. I have to admit that, much to my amazement, this is actually drinkable stuff. In terms of value for money, it is right up  there with the ” vin de table” that you can buy when camping in France!
Anyway, the pasta was tastier than expected.

Today, we decided to pack up and move south. We are now at a camping outside Weberstedt, a cul-de-sac to the southeast of Kassel. Hilly country, and our camp site — and in fact our tent — overlooks a valley.

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It is a small, very (and I mean VERY) quiet camp site.
We are still improving our setting-this-thing-up skills. Despite the fact that the ground we are on is not particularly level (which complicates setting up the living tent), and despite the fact that Janny had managed to pull a muscle in her back when packing up this morning, which limits her mobility, it took us almost 24 minutes.

It is now 23:20, and the sky in the west is still dark red at the bottom.
This picture was made 2 hours earlier:

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Tomorrow is going to be a wonderful day. Dry, sunny, 24 degrees. Since tomorrow is our 10th anniversary, that would be most pleasant. I do not plan to do any cooking tomorrow; there should be some fine restaurants nearby.

Cooking On Gas

Should you ever go on a camping vacation to Germany and your equipment relies on a supply of Campingaz (the exchangeable blue 3kg or 5kg containers that accept a threaded pressure regulator), be sure to bring enough – it is NOT available in Germany. We found one store that had them, but the price was extortionate. As a result, campings do not stock them.

For our kitchen, we had a nearly full container, which I trust will last throughout the vacation, but for the Cadac Safari Chef, we didn’t. We ended up buying a 5 kg refillable propane container and a new regulator yesterday. In itself, that’s a good buy – the refills are a lot cheaper than Campingaz refills. But it’s not usable inside the kitchen of our Combi Camp trailer tent, as even the smallest propane container is too high to fit under the sink, and a Campingaz 5kg container fits in there snugly. So if that one’s finished, we’ll end up doing all our cooking on the Cadac 😉
Which we did for the first time yesterday evening, using the thing as a barbecue. It did require me to visit the Winsen DIY store as the propane guy in Celle had sold me the wrong hose.

These Safari Chef thingies are genius, by the way. Packed, it’s the size of a small tom (that’s part of a drum kit for the uninitiated), and it contains a very decent burner that is capable of getting things hot enough to do a good steak, a grill net, a baking plate, and a big deep pan to prepare one-pot meals. The more recent Safari Chef 2 has non-stick cooking surfaces too. The one we’re using now is borrowed off Alette and Matthijs, but I am thinking of, at one point, getting the non-stick version for ourselves. Remind me to post a photo of this thing tomorrow…

Today was the worst day up to now, weather-wise. Again, the day started out sunny and warm, but quite soon, dark, grey stuff started to appear to our southwest, accompanied by ominous noises.

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For a while, it seemed as if this would slip by southeast, and indeed most of it did. We spent half an hour admiring the view (and the noise – nothing beats distant thunder when camping)…

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… but at one point it started to edge us, and we were driven inside the hab that is our trailer tent.
The good news was it didn’t last long, but the bad news is it was on repeat for a couple times – until 16:00 or thereabouts. We used this as an excuse to have an Ultimately Lazy Day At The Site, of which we have at least one each vacation. We enjoyed the spells in between to laze in the warm sun, and the rainy spells to laze inside the hab reading a book (okay, on our e-readers. And yes, I re-read Andy Weir’s book. Hence the Hab-references).

Oh…one more tip. You know how wet socks can be a bother when camping?
Well, not for me.
I’ve had Nomad hiking socks before, and liked them because they last for years, even when used daily and washed hundreds of times. Recently, I threw the last pair out because they caved in after something like six years of heavy use.
Recently, Albert Heyn had them on offer for 10 euros for three pairs. I bought 12 pairs.
I’m not sure what they do to these socks… but I’m sure NASA is involved or something. Even when they are definitely damp on the outside when you put them on, they immediately feel dry on your feet. Sock-wise, this is the Best Buy Ever. Added advantage: as soon as you put your shoes on, they look like regular plain grey or blue dress socks. 

Tonight, someone is apparently organising a party at the other side of the river. There is a stream of bad music coming our way, so I am writing this with a headset emanating Not This Time. It is now approaching midnight; I hope they’ll be done soon.

A sobering experience

Apparently, we are getting used again to that heap of cotton on wheels that is our trailer tent – I definitely slept better than the night before, and I’m getting back into my camping rythm, which includes waking up at six (predominantly by my bladder).

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When I got up, it was blue skies as far as the eye could see, but the sun is doing a good job of drying the land, so it’s now a mix of blue skies and the odd patch of stratocumulus… which, if there wouldn’t be any larger-scale atmospheric interventions, would be perfectly fine, but I’m afraid that we’ll have some less pleasant stuff to deal with later today. 

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But for now, let’s just enjoy a beautiful morning. We may be visiting the Bergen-Belsen memorial today – it’s quite close to Celle.
Here, have a flower, viewed against the natural backdrop that is the Aller. You’ll need that when you read on…

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Bergen-Belsen

This day, we visited the site of the concentration camp in Bergen-Belsen, where morethan 70,000 people were left to rot by the Nazi’s. Anne Frank was just one of them. 50,000 of these were Soviet POW’s.
Today, the site is just a site; in april 1945, after the camp was liberated by the Allies, the place was literally burnt down to the ground because of the immense health risk – typhus was running rampant in the camp. Germany built a memorial on the site. There is a permanent exposition that does one thing very, very well: it gives faces, names and voices to the faceless, unnamed, silent victims. These are not just Jews or Russians (or Muslims or Mexicans or Kurds or Pakistani), these are sons, husbands, mothers. If you visit this place, it is all too apparent that “nie wieder” (never again) is a long ways away these days… because, just like today, in the thirties, politicians fed on fear in what we call “us” for nameless, faceless groups of “them’s”, and cultivated that fear in order to rise to power… and there is not a single logical reason to assume that today’s Trumps, Farages and Wilderses are any different.

A very sobering experience.
Yes, it is absolutely necessary that we make sure this never happens again. But I’m not optimistic.

First full camping day

The first night in the trailer tent is always a somewhat uneasy one (much like the first night in a hotel, but different). Yet, I woke up this morning to a bright, sunny sky, and at around 7:45 am I was enjoying my first morning coffee in full sunshine.

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Janny, however, woke up to a cloudy sky (considerably later), and soon, from the south, a steady rain came in and took hold of the camp ground for about 45 minutes.

When the sky had cleared again, we had breakfast, relaxed a bit, and then departed to pay some friends in Bucken a visit. Again, the weather held up beautifully – at one point, it did get somewhat cloudy, but only briefly.
This is the local security officer overseeing the proceedings in the swimming pool.

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After having enjoyed the generous hospitality (and the quirky sense of humour of our hosts) and after having been made sufficiently jealous with the house, the pool (and the substantial quantity of luxurious bass guitars… there was one in particular that made me really have to make an effort not to pick it out of the rack), and after having spent a substantial amount on an absolutely gorgeous quilt made by Dof, we headed back to the campground, stopping halfway to get ourselves some dinner ingredients.

After dinner in front of the tent, we watched a rather spectacular display of atmospheric disarray.

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It took about an hour for the weather to make up its mind and rain down on our tent, in which we were enjoying a game of cards. 

Right now (11 pm), in the distance, a sound can be heard which we initially associated with fireworks, but there was nothing to be seen… until suddenly, I remembered that, in the late 70’s, when I was in the military, we were at a fairly large NATO shooting range near Celle (a town nearby), which was also used for fairly heavy stuff such as the 90mm Oerlikon guns atop the M113. So that explains that. 
Time to do the same thing as I did almost fourty years ago: lie down and sleep through it (at a much greater distance this time).

Vacationing!

We postponed leaving for our camping vacation with a day… and then with another day because of the dismal weather predition for where we were going, but today we decided to throw all meteorological considerations to the wind, and leave anyway.

So…
Just past Zwolle, we picked up a hitch hiker who was headed for Dresden; we gave him a good swing to just before Hannover. He had never heard of Sebastiaan Cornelissen; after a couple hours in the car, he now has, and he wanted to know more. 🙂

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At around 17:30, we arrived at the camp site we had aimed for, and, believe it or not, the weather was gorgeous. In a full sun, we unpacked and set up the trailer tent, and 25 minutes later, we enjoyed our traditional “all-set-up-we’re-done” beer.

We had a lttle bit of rain as we were having dinner – just a drizzle, although we did hear some rumbling in the distance to the east of us. Apparently, I still have this thing that causes bad weather to avoid me. 🙂

It’s half past nine and we’re pretty drowsy now. Guess we’ll turn in early. Tomorrow, we will probably be paying a visit to some friends in Bucken.

Sebastiaan Cornelissen–Spirit vs. Origin (and more)

Spirit vs. Origin cover art

After releasing “Not This Time”, his fifth solo album (depending on how you count) on October 1st, 2015, Sebastiaan Cornelissen surprised his (too narrow) fan base with a new solo album exactly 7 months later.

For those of you (all 8 billion) who don’t know Sebastiaan Cornelissen: this is a Dutch musician with firm roots in the jazz/fusion soil. Primarily (academically) schooled as a jazz drummer, and probably best known for his drumming with Isotope, One Spirit, On Impulse and lately Tristan, the Dutch acid jazz band that is taking the UK by storm these days (a band which is named after his oldest son).

His solo work, originally starting out on Aggressive Attack as excellent, honest-to-God jazz, with hints of hard-bop, but also harmonically reminding us of Allan Holdsworth (one of his earliest and most enduring influences), has gradually acquired a more unique “voice”, which became more prominently audible on Not This Time, and appears to be even further developed on this newest release. 
Sebastiaan CornelissenAt one point I pondered the thought that Sebastiaan’s music develops in a structural direction which can be found on a (virtually unknown) album called “Short Tracking” — by none other than Ruud Cornelissen, who just so happens to be Sebastiaan’s father. Both seem to favour short compositions with angular structures. Harmonically, though, the two couldn’t be more different. Sebastiaan has a habit of starting out with a stark rhythm, and then, with a key change, suddenly let the song spread out with intricate harmonies and layered sheets of sound. The result is an album that could be called fusion, but it isn’t that easy to stick a label to it. While too many fusion albums these days sound just like the next one, this is not one of them. The music is highly inventive and truly original, in an exuberant way.

Also apparent is the prominent use of an instrument which is highly unlikely to appear in any jazz or fusion lineup: the melodica.
There is a bit of history to this. In 2014, Cornelissen wrote and performed Mini Bitz, a well-constructed, fun, yet beautiful piece, which was solely intended to celebrate the 7th birthday of Caspar Tristan, his oldest son. It was performed solely on children instruments: a tiny drum kit, a very short-scale bass guitar, a toy piano, a ukelele, and indeed a melodica), and with vocal duties performed by both Caspar and his younger brother Lewis. This alerted him to the possibilities of the melodica, and on Not This Time (with which Mini Bitz was included as a bonus track), another track also featured this seemingly humble instrument.
And today, on Spirit vs. Origin, the melodica plays a prominent role, and Sebastiaan has it down to a tee, using it as the most cost-effective breath controller ever.

Sebastiaan and AntonAs usual, the album showcases some of the best fusion musicians around. Russian bass guitar virtuoso Anton Davidyants came over to Studio 27333 to perform bass guitar magic on quite a few of the tracks, and Martin Miller and Ray Russell supplied some excellent guitar work – and Gary Husband plays a sublimely dark, brooding, bubbling synth solo on one of the tracks. Also present on one of the tracks are Rob van Bavel on Fender Rhodes and Oscar Schulze on vibraphone.
But (without this explicitly being mentioned), apart from his stellar drumming, Sebastiaan plays bass guitar, double bass, guitar, and an interesting array of keyboardy stuff, of which the melodica is only one. On three tracks on this album (including one of my favourites), every noise is made by the young Dutchman.

But primarily, he remains a drummer, and that is where, as a player, he really shines. When appropriate, he can pull all the stops, but when called upon, his ability to create deep pockets, leaving room for other music to shine, is well documented.

This, then, is an excellent ten-track album. I could bore you out of your skull by describing each track in detail, but one of the advantages of this digital age is that you can actually check this out yourself before you decide to spend your money on it by clicking these blue words.

My favourite tracks are

  • Deflated 8, a complex structure in 9/8, in which the melodica starts out joining the rhythm, and then, after the key change, provides the melody against layers of sound, causing my synapses to dance with glee, and
  • Unbound, a slow-moving, meandering, melancholic, simmering, superb ballad, in which the melodica and Frans Vollink’s bass take turns in carrying the haunting tune, and Rob van Bavel doing the embroidery on a Fender Rhodes.

En Media Markt kwam in beweging!

Voorwaar, het kan dus wel!

Op 14 april schreef ik een nogal pinnig artikel over hoe Media Markt, alweer meer dan drie maanden na het incasseren van €429 van mijn Syrische buurman (die recentelijk zijn huis en bezittingen is kwijtgeraakt, en nu hier in het relatief veilige Waarder probeert zijn leven weer een klein beetje op de rit te krijgen), niet de tegenprestatie leverde in de vorm van de bestelde televisie.

Ik beklaagde mij luidkeels over het feit dat Media Markt zich verschool achter het feit dat de order “vast zat in het systeem”, en dat er daarom helemaal niets was dat ze konden doen, en ik voerde als argument op dat Media Markt het eigenlijk niet kan maken om een probleem in hun ICT-systeem af te wentelen op de klant.

Dus verzond ik op 20 april een aansprakelijkheidsstelling, Zo ééntje op poten. Met daarin coole zinsneden als “indien een bevredigende reactiie uitblijft, behouden wij ons het recht voor om…” et cetera, met afwenteling van gerechtelijke en buitengerechtelijke kosten en wat dies meer zij.

Maar ik had ‘m nog niet op de bus gedaan, of mij bereikte bericht dat, op 20 april, Media Markt mijn buurman berichtte dat ‘ie zijn geld binnen zeven dagen terug zou krijgen!

En voorwaar, op 26 april hoorde ik dat het bedrag ook daadwerkelijk was teruggestort.

Het heeft dus wat duw- en trekwerk gekost, maar het gewenste resultaat is er. Toch, na meer dan drie maanden, een klein duimpje omhoog voor Media Markt; ze hadden kennelijk toch door dat dit echt niet kon.