“Beg your pardon?”

British business executive Rob Atkinson’s plane touches down at Schiphol.
He meets his Dutch colleague in the arrivals’ hall. “Welcome on Schiphol”
says Jan de Witt, with a big smile. And for good measure: “Welcome in
Holland”. Ah yes, those little prepositions. It must be tricky for
foreigners to navigate them. Who knew it should be “Welcome
to Schiphol/Holland?” Not Jan.

Rob thanks Jan for picking him up and they start making small talk. “What’s
the weather been like here, Jan?” “Terrible” Jan groans. “We have dog’s
weather here!” Rob looks puzzled. “You mean it’s not fit for man or beast?
“Yes, that’s it”, agrees Jan and then guides his visitor to the exit. He
continues: “We say here that March stirs its tail”, as they button their
coats against the snow. “Oh, in England we say that March comes in like a
lion and goes out like a lamb.”

“I had luck. I found a parking right for the door.” Rob starts to go right,
only to be redirected left by Jan. “You were lucky, indeed, to get a
parking space there.” They load up the car and head towards Amsterdam. “The
bad weather throws my plan in the war” Jan complains. “I had planned to
walk you around the new office building site but with the snow – it befalls
me nothing.” “Pardon?” asks Rob, “did you have a fall?” “Me? No, not at
all. But I don’t want to drag you around in this bear weather. “Bear?” “You
don’t even have hand shoes.” “Hand shoes?” “Yes, like these from me,”
indicating his gloves. “Oh, I see. That’s right. I forgot to pack mine.”

“Well, maybe you can tell me about the planned new office site as we
drive”, suggests Rob. “OK. I have real sin in it.” “Sin?” Rob thought of
the famed red-light district but couldn’t quite make the connection. “It’s
going to be a cloud-scratcher.” “Cloud-scratcher?” “Yes, you know, it goes
very tall.” Oh, it’s a skyscraper? How high will it be? “It becomes taller
than 200 metres.” “Was it a problem getting planning permission?” “Yes,
the city council had a whole washing list of points for the to-be-realized
building.” “Washing list?” “Yes, a long list of issues. You know how it
goes with local government: they are not good wise! Is it so bad in England
also?” “Yes, they’re crazy there too,” Rob admits.

“But no problem. We are well good on the road to achieving our goal.” Jan
assures him. “The project is well on its way?” ‘Precise. We worked very
hardly to get this far.” Rob smiles. “Yes, that must have been very hard
work.” “Still, we have to keep it all in the holes.” “Holes? Is there a
golf course planned too?” “Golf? No, but we have to keep an eye on how goes
it. The company had to make the council cut through knots.” “Knots? Were
there kinks in the process? Have they been ironed out?” “Yes, yes, we
managed to be there like the chickens. “Chickens?” asked Rob, scratching
his head. “Yes, after all, we have a deadline to keep and handling with the
council can be a dead walking way.” “Er, yes, I guess dealing with civil
servants in any country is a total nightmare and can get you nowhere” he
replies, hoping he’s guessing right.

“By the way, we shortly pass the building site and you can see it from the
head road.” “From the motorway?” “Yes, if you like it, I can go three
quarters at the rondo and you can see it up close.” “Three quarters?”
“Yes.” “You mean left at the roundabout? Yes, let’s do that, since we’re so

They stop and admire the building site, through the windscreen, as it’s
still snowing slightly. “I’ll show you where we are on the cart” Jan says,
as he points out their position on the map.

“Great design. Is the turnkey still on target?” enquires Rob. “Well, there
were some problems to solve up. Like the permission for the communications
mast on the highest floor.” “You mean on the roof?” “Yes, we had to look
the cat out of the tree. It lasted a time.” “Sorry, cat?” “You know, we had
to wait up a long time for the department of the environment to agree with
it, because it lies so near the airport.” The penny finally dropped. “You
had to wait and see which way the wind was blowing with the DoE?” “Yes,

“So how’s it going now, Jan?” “Very good. We came out of it with all of
us.” “All of who?” “You know, the department and we ourselves. Now we’ve
got it under the knee.” “Knee?” asks Rob. “We have it under control.”
“That’s great. Well done, Jan.” “Thanks, we had luck too, because a lot of
it was wet-finger work.” “Excuse me?” Rob asked, not sure he had heard
correctly and conjuring up an entirely different image in his head. One
more related to that red-light district than a cold office building. “Well,
we had to guess which way to play it to get the permit”, Jan explained.
“But in mine opinion, now it worked out very fine.” “Yes, it has worked out
really well in my opinion too,” Rob concurred.


And he wondered silently about that whole menagerie of unexpected animals -
dogs, bears, chickens and cats - that had straddled the conversation so
far. This was going to be a very interesting trip. Luckily, he had always
been good at the Times crossword puzzle.


Watch this space for my next blog on Rob’s flying visit to Amsterdam.