Archive for August, 2013|Monthly archive page

Rotterdam, museums

Rotterdam-20130815-00305Rotterdam, at first sight, seems not to have  any recognisable iconic buildings that so differentiate other European cities. However, Rotterdam makes up for this in museums and food. Spoilt for choice, just wandering around ensures that one encounters objects – cranes, boats, steam engines – from the maritime museum (left) with bi-lingual history plates.

The Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is the City’s primary art gallery, home to an eclectic mix Rotterdam-20130815-00308of pictures, sculpture and furniture. Some of the pictures are very special. Paintings by René Magritte always seem like old friends, unless one has not met them before as in the case of La jeunesse illustree,1937 (right) with its path occupied by some familiar – and not so familiar – Magrittian objects against a blue sky and deep green grass. There are examples from a number of notable surrealists including Man Ray and Salvador Dali. Cubism in the guise of Picasso is also well represented.

Rotterdam-20130815-00311There is work by Van Gogh; for example, Cineraria’s from 1885. Still life is celebrated more widely, with Claude Monet’s Poppies in a Vase from 1883 (both left).

The curators of this museum have much humour integrated into the20130815_140453 plates. For example, Jan Adam Kruseman’s Damesportret from 1829 (pictured right) is, according to the curators, apparently a lesson in timelessness. The unnamed sitter is dressed in all her finery, which, at the time, may have been the height of fashion, but now looks a little overdone and reflects badly on the judgement of the painter rather than the sitter. Lovely smile, though.

Equally, the plate accompanying van Gogh’s Cineraria’s (above), informs us that this painting was supposed to be lighter  and more commercial to help sales. However, the plate concludes with the statement, “it is still not very colourful”. Contrasted with Monet, certainly.

There are also examples of the legitimisation of the flat landscape as a subject. Paul Gabriël’s 1898 work, Landschap bij Overschie (Polder with mills near Overschie) is a notable example (bottom left). Earlier one finds the more traditional approach to landscape painting such as Andreas Schelfhout’s Landschap met rechts een boerderij tussen hoge bomen (Landscape with farm between high trees) from 1817 (below right).

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The museum also houses a collection of modern design artefacts. This collection is not really systematic nor specifically Dutch. There are collections of desk lamps, chairs, even door handles all tracing design innovations and materials. There are also plenty of metal and ceramic artefacts.

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Left luggage facilities – Rotterdam Centraal

20130815_191946Rotterdam Centraal Station is huge and new. It was very much a building site when we arrived (15 August 2013). The left luggage lockers (left) are located near to platform 17, come in two sizes (5-8 Euros for 24 hours) and require a credit or debit card – no cash. The key is a flimsy card a shade bigger than a credit card. The lockers open when it is inserted. Once open it cannot be relocked without payment.

Wretched terms and conditions

Brighton and Hove-20130808-00294There is a lot of talk at the moment in the UK media about Zero Hours contracts for employees. Seemingly – and to the surprise for some of the UK’s lawmakers – many high profile firms offer these contracts as standard. For example, MacDonald’s and Burger King Hamburgers, Mike Ashley’s  Sports Direct clothing retailer (Ashley also owns Newcastle United football club), Domino’s Pizzas. Less high profile is how certain private firms that provide public services such as home helps for the elderly and handicapped use Zero Hours contracts for their ’employees’ who are paid only for their contact time with ‘clients’ and not for travel time, fuel, etc; nor are they afforded national insurance contributions. Moreover, Zero Hours workers do not know how many hours they may be working from week-to-week. This builds in immense uncertainty and affects negatively things such as credit ratings. There are over 1 million British workers on these contracts according to a recent poll by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development.

Oddly, Mike Ashley seems to be able to pay his footballers well and on long contracts. I assume footballers are well represented by agents who earn for themselves a nice percentage of any footballer’s transfer fee – a good case for organised labour if ever I heard it.

Now here is my link. I have been for many years a satisfied customer of Charles Tyrwhitt menswear. Until now. My last online order – few sale items including some shorts it being summer – was confirmed with the message that my order will be delivered by Hermes Couriers.

Hermes is a German company, part of the Otto group (German readers will know aboutHermes_Europe_van Otto), that came to the UK in 2000 in what seems to have been a joint-venture with Speedlink. Its business model is based on sub-contracting the delivery to ‘self-employed’ drivers. My attention was brought to this company by chance watching a TV documentary made by Germany’s national broadcaster ARD. (http://programm.ard.de/TV/daserste/ard-exclusiv–das-hermes-prinzip/eid_281066630812527)

This sub-contracting was found to involve sub-sub contractors all earning progressively less as the parcels moved down the food chain. The sub-contractors are effectively paid piece rates, often having to work very long hours to deliver the requisite number of parcels to cover costs. When the man or woman from Hermes arrives at 2100 it is not because it is convenient, but rather that the sub-contractor needs the delivery to make a living.

Hermes_PacketHere is the package (left) that arrived from Hermes a couple of days ago. Fortunately in this box is a shirt, tie and a pair of shorts. On the whole not fragile. One must ask, however, what kind of operation is it that does this to a humble box of clothes? Actually, we do not need too much imagination.

So, what I thought was a reputable retailer – Charles Tyrwhitt – uses a disreputable courier to squeeze out profit. Oh, and while we are at it, those very same lawmakers who are so surprised at Zero Hours contracts want to privatise the Royal Mail – a state-owned parcel service that has organised workers who earn a living wage.

Credits:

Hermes van: Musikmichi1407

Make the call

IMG-20130806-00288Ok, this is my latest purchase. A wirefree doorbell. With a loud chime.

In my bid to source from as near to home as possible, I was expecting a difficult task in finding a Europe-made doorbell. This one is made by Electrium Sales, a Siemens subsidiary. I thought that I was in with a fighting chance, having not been aware previously that Siemens had made doorbells.

No country of origin on the box. I then opened the box and looked on the instructions. No guide to where it was made. Then on the device itself. No.

I then opted to phone them, they having conveniently given their number on the instructions. A model number and two minutes later we had tracked down the device to its manufacture in Withernshaw, near Manchester. Thanking the woman who engaged me in this investigation, I asked why such information was not on the box…

Worth the call.