Saturday, February 17, 2018

Rotterdam's lively library: a lesson in how to keep libraries alive!

As you might expect (me being bookish and all) I am a member of Rotterdam's central library. There are many branch libraries in the city, but the main branch is my local simply because my barge lies just a couple of hundred metres from its entrance. But you know what? even if I didn't like reading, I would go to the library just to be there. It is possibly the most invigorating place in the whole city, and I mean that.

Founded in 1604,  Rotterdam Biblioteek is a community hub like no other. According to Wikipedia, it's one of the largest libraries in the country and it's the most visited cultural institution in Rotterdam boasting around 2.5 million visitors every year. That's really something, isn't it? But it doesn't surprise me at all.

Courtesy of the library's website

This last week, I had a moment when it really struck me what a special place it is.

You see, far from being a quiet and restful, Rotterdam library is a lively, busy, noisy and intensely active place. Not what you'd expect, is it? It's also quite huge, so if you really want to find a peaceful corner to pore over books or do some research, you have to make your way up to the top floors (there are seven) and find a desk or table where all is still and hushed. But even there, it's normally pretty packed with students and quite difficult to find space. It's a favourite place for the young and learned to go and work, so empty spots are at a premium.

This aside, there are plenty of other reasons to visit the library and whenever I go through its revolving door, I feel an energy that you wouldn't normally expect from a place full of books.

On the ground floor, apart from a busy information desk, there's always an exhibition of some kind on display. Last week, it was on photos from Aruba and Kazakhstan. There was also a big screen where the olympic skating was being shown and benches were arranged for anyone who wanted to sit and watch. There were plenty of takers.

On a more permanent basis, there is a huge walk through chess game, also with benches around it. This is where you can usually find a number of elderly gents parked while they watch the game in progress. It's played with giant chess pieces that are shuffled across the floor from square to square. The 'board' is made up of black and white floor tiles and it's always in use. Always, yes. Next to it, there's a café, which is where I often meet prospective students. The whole ground floor has such a vibrancy about it it's just a lovely place to be.

Upstairs, each level has a different focus: the first is devoted to media and information. There are large, lecturn-shaped tables with reading lamps where anyone can go and read the newspapers available. Last week, I was just one of a number of – shall we say – mature ladies and gents occupying these spots. Then there are the books but of course these are categorised and spread over the various floors, along with other media such as music, film and other audio. As an information centre, it really has no equal.

Right at the top of the building, there are small rooms that you can hire as a study space and even sound proofed rooms with pianos for musicians who want a private place to practice. There are also meeting rooms for hire for small groups. If you're a library member, meaning that you've paid a subscription, the individual rooms are free, but I should say anyone can use the library, spend time in it, browse through the books and read there. No one is at the door to check you have paid. It's just that if you want to borrow books, or use the internet or other facilities, a subscription is needed. I'm pretty sure there are plenty of visitors who only go there to enjoy the community feeling without feeling obliged to fork out for membership.

Rotterdam has shown how important a library is to the community and ours is such an example. I absolutely love it and often spend time there between lessons, it's such a stimulating place to be. The council have managed to make sure it's still an appealing place to go and it is extremely well run. I can definitely recommend it as a place to visit too. The building is fascinating quite apart from anything else, with its bright, yellow exterior pipe work. It's just one of those off the wall designs for which this city is so well known.

The library to the left of the Pencil building from the Markthal

The library from the Markthal

Well that's it for me this week. Have a good weekend allemaal and I'd love to know if you have a special library. Do you think you'd like to have one that's as busy as ours, for example? What makes a library special for you?

Sunday, February 11, 2018

February freeze

It's been absolutely freezing this week, which has made me even more determined to find a place to winter in the warmth next year. I'm going to have to tighten a few belts, though, because that kind of luxury isn't going to come cheap. For one thing, it's a busy time of year for me work wise, so I'll be foregoing some courses that I know are good earners, and secondly, renting a property for six weeks or so might be pretty pricey. Does anyone know anyone who knows someone who might know someone else who would have somewhere I can rent? Cheap. Haha!

Well, anyway, it's in my scheme of things to make life easier and more pleasant for the remaining five years that I have still to work. Yes, still five years to go. That's the result of the increased retirement age here. Such is life.

Anyway, in the nearer future, we have a few things to look forward to and I am clinging on to these metaphorical pieces of driftwood to keep me going.

Spain...where I'm going in April!

The first is a trip to Spain to visit a friend in April. I visited her last year, and also discovered another former teaching friend from Rotterdam lives close by, so I'm hoping to see her too. It is a lovely area south of Valencia and inland from the sea. I loved it and although it's not quite warm enough for my winter plans, it would be a good contender otherwise.

The historic boat lift at Thieu near La Louviere

The second is a boating trip. In May, we are taking the the Hennie H to Belgium and going to the famous boat lifts at La Louviere and also to the really monster 72 metre one at Strépy Thieu. I am so excited about this I can barely wait and would love to just hibernate between these two trips so I can get this cold spell over and just go. The ascent of these lifts in our own boat has been on my wish list for years. I hitched a lift (excuse the pun) on the historic ascenseur on someone else's barge a few years ago, but I've never been up the monster at all. I'm so glad I haven't lost my ability to be awed by these things.

The seventy two metre lift at Strépy

And another view of it. This section on the right is the
upper canal. Now imagine starting at the bottom of
the building and ending up cruising along this top part!

As for the current situation, my group of Syrians are doing well, although we've hit a bit of a motivation plateau. I can't say I'm surprised as this time of year gets to most of us and I can only imagine what it's like for them being so far from their loved ones. I am aware some of them are really homesick, so it's quite sad and I really feel for them. I only hope I am helping them with some light and laughter during the lessons.

In other news, you may have noticed I've published a new book. African Ways Again slipped onto Kindle at the end of January, so I'll need to add a page about it here, but for now, I hope you don't mind if I shamelessly put the link below to the preview. Thanks a million, allemaal, and have a great week!

Monday, February 05, 2018

Terry Tyler Book Reviews: AFRICAN WAYS AGAIN by Valerie Poore @vallypee

I’m over the moon with this review of my new book. Many, many thanks to Terry Tyler!

Terry Tyler Book Reviews: AFRICAN WAYS AGAIN by Valerie Poore @vallypee: 4.5 out of 5 stars On Amazon UK On On Goodreads How I discovered this book : I've read all or nearly all Val Poore&#3...

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Dreaming of the sun

As most of you know by know, (and if you don't, you will) I don't like the cold; nor do I like the wind, and I especially don't like the rain.

So why, might you ask, am I living in the wettest, windiest country in Europe? Okay, maybe Britain beats the Netherlands when it comes to extremes, but we've had our share lately, haven't we? Which brings me to my next point and that is an idea that is germinating in my soul about spending winter somewhere else.

At the moment, it's just a dream, but it's one I'd like to try and realise. No, it's more than that. I'm determined to realise it one day because I really don't think I can endure too many more of these northern European Januaries. Actually, perhaps I should rephrase that. What I mean is that Koos won't be able to endure me if I have to...well, you get my drift.

So where would I like to go for the winter? I'm thinking of the Spanish/Portuguese border area. That looks a pretty nice place to dream about. There's a river, see. It's called the Guadiana and it is navigable for quite some distance upstream from its mouth at Vila Real de San Antonio and there's a very pretty town where the boats stop at Alcoutim. The river is also the border between Spain and Portugal for quite some way as well. I like what I see of it. I like it a lot, and I could imagine spending winter months there very easily. I could also see us spuddling about on that river too.

Sanlucar (on the Spanish side) and Alcoutim on the opposite
Portuguese (photo courtesy of Rightmove Real Estate)
Faro airport is not so far there seem to be plenty of practical advantages to this dream of mine, don't you think?

Marina on the Guadiana
at Sanlucar (again courtesy of Rightmove)

There's even a train that runs along the coast from the mouth of the river. I think it goes all the way to Lagos. I've been on the stretch from Faro to Tavira on the same line and it was lovely; delightfully informal and hopelessly late, but who cares? There is something warm, relaxed and very friendly about that part of Portugal. The eastern Algarve is not very picturesque, its scenery is a bit sparse and some of the towns are quite shabby, but it has great winter temperature, friendly locals and the kind of informality that I like.

The station at Faro
So you see my dreams have some form, even if they have little chance of early fruition. I can scheme, though, can't I?

Where do you dream of spending the winter months, allemaal? I'd be interested to know.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

From Africa to Amsterdam: meet Lucinda E Clarke

It's been a long time since I did a weberview here, so I'd like to offer a very warm welcome to Lucinda E Clarke, whose amazing books set in Africa have entertained me on many a long cold evening in Europe. 

Lucinda has written three full length memoirs, one humorous novel and a four book action adventure series. Apart from the humorous book, all her writing is set mainly in Africa, which is where she has lived most of her life. She now lives in Spain, but I can tell from her books her heart, like mine, still lives in the southern hemisphere.

Lucinda's memoirs and her humorous novel
Unhappily Ever After

So Lucinda, I'm going to mix my questions up a bit, but they are all things I've been curious about since I started reading your memoir 'Walking on Eggshells'

Firstly, then, I've read all your books (I think) and have enjoyed every one of them (I know), but which of your books have you most enjoyed writing?

Val, firstly thank you for the opportunity to talk about me, myself my books and my life – no one I meet in person is the slightest bit interested (sad eh? I don't believe it! VP)
I most enjoyed writing the 4th book in the Amie series “Amie: Cut for Life,” because I was beginning to feel like a proper author. I knew where I was going with it, even though I never map out of any of my books. It took longer than the others, but I believe the end product was the best. I think I’m getting a bit better with practice. Only another 50 or so to go and I should have cracked it.

Well,  I've just finished your Worst Riding School in the World, Parts 1 and 2 and I laughed my socks off, so I think you've more than cracked it if you can write both humour and drama so well! Anyway, I saw you mentioned how much you loved Botswana. Is that the country you have in mind when you are writing your Amie novels and how well did you get to know Botswana before you moved to South Africa?

I lived in Botswana for almost 3 years and it’s the real Africa. South Africa is more a first world infrastructure (shopping malls, high rises, excellent road network etc) dropped down in the middle of the African bush. There was none of that in Botswana, though we were beside ourselves when they opened the first cinema and a Spar shopping supermarket in Francistown, such luxury!

Lucinda's action adventure series set in Africa

I can imagine that. It sounds wonderful in your books, though. Can I ask which you find it easier to write: fact or fiction and why?

The fact is so much easier – you are simply recounting what happened so the story is all mapped out in your head. You don’t get to page 149 and suddenly realize your heroine can’t come to the rescue because you’d put her in a wheelchair and left her in a prison three thousand miles away!

Haha, true, but fact has its own challenges, doesn't it? Do you think your travels have helped you as a writer? If so, in what way?

Goodness yes! Despite the reviewer who told me I didn’t know what I was talking about (she had never been to Africa, but she had seen it on the television news). You get to meet people who have a different mindset, opinions, knowledge, education and you realize that everything you have been taught until then, was only from one point of view – possibly the media in your own country. Our thoughts are shaped by the propaganda we are fed. “Travel broadens the mind” is one of the truest sayings I’ve ever encountered.

I so agree with that. But how do you think living in Africa has influenced you and your writing?

I was just so incredibly lucky. Like you, I was far away from the suburban areas, living in the bush. My filming took me to chiefs’ kraals, witchdoctor’s huts, agricultural projects, schools, hospitals, local government – I could go on and on and on. I was so privileged to be welcomed to places where I would joke with my African crew “Look after me guys, I’m the only white person for miles and miles!” So many of the people I met touched my heart, so few possessions, so brave, so accepting and often bewildered by the fast-paced modern world that was trying to drag them into the mainstream.

One shoot I remember was when the African government official could not understand why the San (Bushmen) should be allowed to hunt and live as they had for centuries. No, the official policy was they must live in houses with running water and send the children to school and the men must get jobs. They had rounded them up and pushed them into this housing estate miles from anywhere and the San looked so miserable. It was so sad; they didn’t want to live what we call a conventional life.

Lucinda with an African chief

Strange how even Africans can totally misunderstand other Africans. Now, as writers we are always striving to improve, aren't we? Is there anything you find difficult in the writing process, and if so, how are you trying to overcome it? (Sorry, this is a boring question, but I really am curious!)

There are some days when the words don’t come – onset of word retrieval or lack of. Other days I can’t type fast enough to keep up. I get twitchy if I don’t write for a couple of days, but then I’m writing up blogs, or the newsletter or commenting on social media or composing reviews. Basically, I live to write and that’s what was so wonderful about my work in the media. I would be bouncing out of bed screaming “Yeah! It’s Monday!” – although I’d probably worked right through the weekend as well! 

I’m a workaholic and was heartbroken leaving the production work behind when we left South Africa. If I feel I’ve hit a brick wall in a book, I plough on, even though I might delete a whole lot later. I’m very disciplined having worked to deadlines so often, I occasionally have to tell myself that it’s not a train smash if I didn’t get 5,000 words done today – I am supposed to be retired after all.

My word, I'd be delirious to write even 1000 words every day. That's amazing, but Lucinda, I know you've been writing for years; do you remember the first thing you ever wrote?

Oh yes, it was a report on the Sunday School class I was teaching (to win brownie points to get into teacher training). It was published in the church magazine, but I think I was the only one ever to read it, as I snaffled all the copies and took them home to read! I cringe when I think about it now.

Now you're being too modest, I'm sure! Are you writing anything at the moment. Can you tell us what it is, and when it's likely to be available?

I am currently writing book 5 in the Amie series. She’s the young English girl I uproot from the London suburbs and dump in Africa and then, when war breaks out and the last evacuation plane takes off, she is left behind to survive as best she can. Since book 1 I have put her through all kinds of hell, and in this book she gets mixed up in high level international politics over mineral rights which are necessary for nuclear devices. I can’t give much more than that away at this stage but she is still under threat from the government forces who are using her. I hope to have it out sometime this year, but I’ve been so busy marketing I’ve neglected the writing side. I need an extra 6 hours a day!

Well, that sounds as if it's going to be as unputdownable as the others! I won't keep you any longer now, Lucinda, as I'm going to pack you off to your keyboard to get writing! Thank you so much for joining me here today. It's been great to have you on my barge for a chat. At least it hasn't been windy today so you haven't had to cling to your cuppa.

The day I met Lucinda on her flying visit to Amsterdam
A meeting I enjoyed because I admire her immensely

For anyone interested in sampling some of Lucinda's great books, click here for her Amazon author page.
Lucinda is also active on Facebook 
And on Twitter

Have a good week allemaal. I'll be back with all that's wet and watery next time!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Wind and wuthering

You've probably all heard about the Great Storm we had in the Netherlands this last Thursday. The 18th January 2018 will go down in history as the 7th worst storm in Holland since records began in 1901 and maybe even the worst so far this century.

Here's a video of what it was doing in Zeeland not far from the crumbly cottage:

What is interesting, though, is that according to weather experts, we've generally had quite a peaceful time since the nineteen seventies and eighties. Apparently, bad storms were more frequent back then, and the last really serious one countrywide was eleven years ago. Oddly, however, it's seemed to me that we've had an increasing number of serious weather events in the last few years, but now I wonder if that's just an illusion created by the growth of our communications network; in other words, the internet.

Perhaps we're all inclined to think things are much worse because we see so much more; it's all over social media like a rash. The point is, I didn't really know how bad our storm on Thursday was until I saw all the footage on Twitter and on the news sites when I got home. As far as I was concerned at the time, the worst thing about it was the fact all the trains stopped running due to trees falling on the line. It was simply inconvenient because I had to take a very round about way back from work.

I will admit I got blown sideways by the wind when I was walking through the campus and nearly ended up in a pond (not quite as bad as in the video below, but you get the idea). The thing is, it's always bad at the university; the buildings tend to form wind tunnels, so even then, I wasn't really conscious we were having a record breaking day. But once I saw all the images, and all the damage it had caused, I was mighty impressed. Suddenly, it was something to be shocked about.

The best thing about the social media coverage was the way people helped each other get home. On Twitter there was a brilliant initiative to offer stranded train travellers lifts by connecting through the hashtag #stormpoolen, a really heartwarming and useful way of using our modern technology.

Here's another video of news footage about the storm:

Of course, in the last year, there have been some of the worst hurricanes ever recorded, and weather wise in general, the last twelve months have been horrendous, haven't they? But I can't help thinking that without all the excitement caused by instant messaging, instant videos and instant images, most of us wouldn't be half as awe-struck by these extreme weather events unless we were personally affected by them. Or would we?

I was in London during the Great Storm of 1987. Now that was impressive, it really was, and even without social media. I remember the wind positively screaming round the flats in Woodford Green where I was staying with my small daughters. I also remember going into my eldest's bedroom and finding her window ripped open and banging against the outside wall while the wind howled through her room like the proverbial banshee. I was horrified and rushed to haul the window back in place, which was no mean feat, I can tell you. After I locked it, I checked on my child. She hadn't even woken up, bless her. The next day, though, we had to climb over numerous trees that had come down in the streets around Woodford. There was debris everywhere and everything was in chaos; it was almost apocalyptic.

Since I've lived on the Vereeniging too, we've had a few other memorable storms that even resulted in fallen trees across my bows, but they remain in my memory because they actually affected me. Had they not done so, I probably wouldn't have noticed given that these events were before the age of Facebook and Twitter. I may or may not have read about them in the paper (I didn't have TV even then) but I doubt if they'd have made all that much of an impact on me – not the way the trees did!

So what do you think? Are we more alarmed, impressed and worried because we see and hear so much more? I'd be interested to know what you think!