Sunday, April 14, 2019

More nostalgic musings


As I've mentioned in the last few posts, I'm preparing for the release of my last South Africa memoir which covers a period of nearly twelve years in Johannesburg.

It was possibly one of the most exciting, difficult and challenging times to have been there, but I remember Joburg with great affection. We lived in a number of its suburbs and peripheral towns, five to be precise, and each one has its special memories for me. My favourite was definitely the last, Krugersdorp, but it seems I have no photos of our home there, which is something I find hard to accept.

It's not all that surprising, though, because I rarely took photos at all in those days. Before digital photography, photos were just not something we spent money on. It was actually very expensive to have films developed and printed, especially when so often they didn't come out well. I think we forget now(or at least I do) how lucky we are that digital photography makes it so easy to take hundreds of photos without thinking of cost.

Anyway, I do have a few from those days, and they're very precious to me. I've scanned some of them all, but instead of putting them in the book, I've made a link to an album so that readers can click on them if they want to have a look. The quality isn't very good, but at least they give some visual support to some of my words.

When I think back, much of life in Joburg was fairly mundane: we went to work, spent evenings doing chores and enjoyed our outdoor life at the weekends, but for all that, it was a different kind of life and Joburg was an interesting and incredibly vibrant city. There was so much going on at the time, both politically and socially, but there was no way I could write about it all. Even now I keep thinking of things I haven't included that I feel should have been there. Never mind...maybe I can write a supplement to the book, or follow it up with blog posts. Is it important? Probably not, but South Africa, like everywhere, is changing every year, so in a way, it is history, but the kind of history that might well be forgotten in time.

Here are a few of the photos of some of my favourite neighbourhoods of Johannesburg back in the day. These are some that will be in the album.

Melville, an old but charming inner suburb
Melville's main street

Shady walkways in Melville

Norwood, or Little Italy as it was known then
Norwood café, a favourite Italian restaurant where
we enjoyed both the food and the real cappuccinos

I should also say we had some terrific adventures during my years in Joburg. Three of the best were to Namibia, Zimbabwe and Lesotho. I posted a couple of photos of our Namibia trip last time, but sadly I can't find any of Zimbabwe at all. However, I went to Lesotho a bit later, in 2000, right at the end of my years in South Africa, so I took one of those disposable cameras that were fairly new and quite popular then. They were great because they came complete with a roll of film installed and once you'd finished the film, you just handed the whole thing over to the photo developers and bought a new one. Hopelessly wasteful really, but I took more photos with disposable cameras than I ever did with my very nice little Olympus Trip 35.

Back to Lesotho, though, the adventure was when we went pony trekking. My friend, Moira, her partner and I did a three day trip through the Lesotho mountains with a small group of other people. We had a guide, Johannes, who was a lovely, friendly soul and we spent the night in a rural village with nothing but absolute basics. I actually wrote about it here on my friend's 50th birthday, so if you'd like to read about the fun and laughter we had, feel free to read the post.

I added a few photos to that one, but as luck would have it, I found a few more, so here are some of them. Lesotho was breathtaking and I would have happily stayed there. I really loved it.

View over a Lesotho village

Roll call for the goats at our overnight village

Our accommodation for the night

Giving our bums a break on route

There aren't many rivers, but this was one we reached....

From up here. That's me at the back of the trail, clinging on for dear life.
It was a very steep descent to the river down there

Well, having immersed myself in memories of SA and Johannesburg during the writing and editing of the book, I am now hauling myself back to the present and what is now my real world, that of the waterways, which I also love. But I do miss South Africa. Very much. Writing about it so intensely has brought back so many of my feelings and impressions of the country that it's hard to let go of them and I find myself looking at properties for sale in places I know and wishing I still had the means to spend some time there every year. Still, as my mother used to say "If wishes were horses then beggars would ride." Bless her. Ever practical and grounded, she was. Not like me. My heart is always packed and poised for the next move.

Well that's it for this week, allemaal. I'll be back to boats and things soon. I've just got to shake of my nostalgic yearnings for my former home....after all, when you look at that scenery, you can't blame me, I'm sure.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Looking back in time: my past in travel documents

While I was sorting through my bits and pieces to keep safe now that my official status has changed, I came across two documents that aroused a whole heap of memories from the South African spell of my life, namely my second ever grown-up passport and my South African identity book.

Goodness, what feelings a few stamps can evoke. My old British passport was black (I don't know where they get this blue idea from) and it was issued in 1984 with both my daughters listed as my dependents. In those days, the details were hand written and my height was even recorded. That no longer seems to be the case in UK passports, as my last two had no mention of my height in them. Apparently, I was 168cm in those days. I think that was a bit hopeful even then and when I applied for my Dutch passport, I had to give my height, which I think is more realistic at 166cm. Still, I've probably shrunk a bit since my twenties...but not that much, at least I hope not. No, I think I was stretching things a bit quite literally then, especially the truth.

Anyway, enough of that, what really had me poring over these old documents were the entry and exit stamps I found in them, and much to my delight they confirmed the years we went to Namibia and Zimbabwe, which I've just written about in my new book. I was making a thumb suck when I wrote that we'd gone to Namibia in July 1990, but it seems I was right. Isn't it great when you find your memory's served you well?

Another find: Namibia photos
Sand? You're not kidding

Camping in Namibia July 1990

Our campsite in the Naukluft Park, Namibia 1990

Added to the pleasure of these finds were the stamps from when we crossed borders into what was then the Transkei and to Swaziland. Then, of course, the several stamps of visits to the UK and back to visit family. My South African residence permit was also printed into it, so for me, this old passport is like a whole slice of my life and I shall treasure it even more now than I did before. Okay, I didn't treasure it before. It was skulling around in my files, a bit mouldy and unloved, but now it's had a wipe clean and is carefully wrapped in its own plastic folder.

As for my South African ID, that too is fascinating. All in one little green book, it has my birth and marriage certificates, my driving license and a gun license in it. Yes, I know. For a very short time when we lived on the farm, we used to go shooting bottles in an old disused kraal. For that, we borrowed the farmer's 2:2 rifle, but I also used to practise target shooting now and then with a tiny handgun that belonged to me. I was a useless shot with it, and it actually scared me more than the rifle, so I didn't keep it for long. I think the difference was that the rifle wasn't mine and I wasn't responsible for it, but the baby Browning was and I was terrified of losing it. Can you imagine? Anyway, I think we sold it long before we left the farm simply because I rarely used it and didn't feel comfortable owning a gun anyway.

So there it is, all these memories evoked by a couple of old identity documents. I took a photo of them together with a recent British EU passport and now my new Dutch life wrapped up in booklets that tell their own stories. I shall now try and find more photos as I need them for the book. That'll keep me off the streets for a day or two!

Well, that's it for this week allemaal. Have a good one. Enjoy the spring if you're here in the north, and the autumn if you're down south. They are both lovely seasons!

Friday, March 29, 2019

Cutting the ties

I've just realised I've missed a week as I didn't post a blog last week. That's pretty rare for me, but it just means I've been exceptionally busy. I can't honestly  say there's much to report, either. It's simply been a case of work overload and trying to keep up with all the marking that accompanies the courses I'm currently giving.

That said, I am slowly moving towards the final severing of the citizenship ties I've had to Britain since my birth. Last Monday, I applied for my Dutch passport at my local council offices. It was amazingly easy; in fact, it was completely hassle free, relatively inexpensive and pleasantly friendly. The process is also very quick. I shall be collecting it this coming Monday and then I'll be able to travel on it. I've already begun the process of surrendering my British passport, which I'm obliged to do under Dutch law. I just hope that with all the upheaval that's going on in the UK now, it won't be unduly delayed as I have three months in which to prove to the Dutch authorities that I've done the deed.

There's not much I can say or want to say about what's going on in the UK this evening. It's March the 29th, and Mrs May has lost the parliamentary vote over her Brexit deal. I can only keep everything crossed there won't be bad repercussions and that somehow or other, the situation will be resolved. It makes me very sad to see how divided the country has become.

Oddly enough, I had a letter from the Dutch immigration authorities today telling me about my residence rights following a no deal Brexit. I have a feeling they've got their lines crossed where I'm concerned as the letter actually stated I am a Dutch citizen. A bit puzzling, I must say, but since everything else is in a state of flux, maybe it's not that surprising.

On my own home front, spring is here, the forsythia is in full bloom and the daffodils are out. I'm itching to work outside and on the barge, but until next week, I've still got to keep my nose to the academic grindstone. It's wearing me down quite well at the moment, but I'll emerge soon, bruised but not beaten. Oh and yes, I have a book to launch as well when I finally get a moment to do a final proofread.

Here are just a couple of photos of brighter days from last year. I'm looking forward to enjoying some spring sunshine like this soon.

Have a good week allemaal, and to my UK friends and family, keep courage and keep smiling!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Citizen Val

Last Thursday was my big day. I became a Dutch citizen in Terneuzen, Zeeuws Vlaanderen, after having lived here since the beginning of this century and it felt just great! I'll admit Brexit prompted me into action, but I've been thinking about doing it for years. I'm at home here in the Netherlands, my daughters are here, Koos is here and I have my barge and a small (if crumbly) cottage here too. Why would I leave?

I took my Dutch exams back in 2010 with the possibility of becoming a citizen in mind, but to be honest the cost of applying put me off for a while. It's not a cheap business and I guess they want you to really feel committed. Still, there are undoubtedly expenses for the authorities too as they do all sorts of checks to make sure you're the kind of person they want. All the same, until Brexit came along, it wasn't such an issue that I felt impelled to spend the money and take the step.

Having finally taken the plunge last year in February, it was an exercise in patience and chewed nails to wait for the decision. Would they kick me out? What would I do if I received a negative response? My daughter applied months after me and got her citizenship last year in November. Why was it taking so long for me? What had I done wrong? "Aah," my friends nodded, smiling. "You're in Zeeland. Everything takes longer there." And with that I had to be content. Making jokes about slower country folk didn't do much to ease my anxiety (or make my nails grow) but it was a nicer thought than any of the alternatives.

When the decision finally came, I was more relieved than delighted; so were my nails. However, I was pleased to see the King himself had accepted my application. That made me stand up straight again. "Zijne majesteit, Koning Willem Alexander" had given me the stamp of approval. Phew! "I didn't get a letter like that," said my daughter. "Aah, but you're not old and potentially expensive like me," I replied, laughing. 

Well, I have no idea why the king had to give the nod to mine and not hers but it made for some entertaining speculation and it helped me feel a bit special for a while.

Anyway, that was at the beginning of February this year, just inside the 12 months they had, by law, to make the decision. Then came the wait for the naturalisation ceremony. As this was going to be local, I accepted another long wait. Thinking I might be one of a very few, we joked about having to wait until they'd collected enough of us in Zeeland to make the ceremony worthwhile. The invitation finally arrived two weeks ago, so imagine our surprise when on the day itself, we turned up to find I was one of thirty three new Nederlanders in Zeeuws Vlaanderen and one of quite a crowd.

The downside was we didn't have tea, chats and cake, which we did at the small intimate affair that my daughter's ceremony involved. The upside was that I didn't have to give a speech about myself in Dutch, which she did (with great fluency and ease, I might add).

Despite the numbers at Terneuzen, which more than doubled with all the supporting relatives, it was a friendly and very cheerful occasion. The mayor, a very tall, very Dutch local man was smiles and charm incarnate and made us all feel genuinely welcome, but I need not say more now as Koos' great photos show the atmosphere even better than I can describe it. 

"Ha," the mayor said, "Poore met een e. Welkom"

And the deed was done

And then we had to have a group photo...
But only the mayor is looking at the camera. Oh dear...
So we had to be directed by this lady here....
who told us to say cheese, although I'm not sure everyone understood!

But then we all got it. She did a great job and this was it
My next challenge will be applying for a Dutch passport, following which I will have to surrender my British passport, another major cost. I'm a bit peeved about that. I thought I could just go along to the consulate and hand it over, but no, I have to pay close to €450 for the privilege of giving it back. Since dual nationality is not permitted in the Netherlands if you aren't married into or stem from a Dutch family, it has to be done. Such is life and long may I live in my Flatlands – the home I have chosen to call my own.

Have a good week, allemaal! Till next time!

Monday, March 11, 2019

Stormy weather

This last week has been a seriously stormy one, weather wise. While I was in Rotterdam, I spent time on the Vereeniging after work emptying my little boat during the few dry minutes, then listening overnight to the rain pounding on the hatches and having to empty it again the next day.

The wind has been ferocious, but luckily, my spot is quite sheltered. Even so, there was plenty of rocking about and I couldn't manage to get much of an internet connection. It kept dipping on and off, which is quite tedious when I'm trying to do my online course work.

On Thursday when I drove to Steenbergen, the wind was so strong it buffeted my poor little jam jar of a car about as if it were a punch bag. I felt the wind was shoving me sideways constantly, especially on the highway, so at the first opportunity, I took the back way where it felt inexplicably safer. It probably wasn't, though. There are far more trees close to the road, so my ideas of safety were illusory. Judging by the number of fallen trees we've seen today, I'd say now that it was worse than illusory and quite possibly deluded of me, but then on Thursday we hadn't had the real storm.

I know I tend to exaggerate about the wind; I actually hate it with a passion. Ever since I was a child, I've found it gets under my skin and bothers me; makes me grumpy and unsettled. But yesterday was awful. The wind howled and I was really quite worried about the amount of damage it was doing.

As it happened we lost a roof tile at the crumbly cottage. Not much in the greater scheme of things, but it happens to be about the most expensive tile it could have been. It was one of those edging, finishing off ones that has an L shape which hooks over the side of the facia board. Where the normal flat tiles sell for around €2 a piece, this one goes for whopping €70. I was staggered. We still have to put it up, but I'm wrapping it in cotton wool tonight, nurturing it and making sure it doesn't get cold. It needs some serious TLC at that price.

Lovely Gent

But when we drove to Gent this morning we were made aware of the real scale of the storm by the large number of trees either down or snapped off mid-trunk. There were dozens of them. There's no doubt it was a baddy, and it's been blowing quite hard most of today too, so I sincerely hope we've had our share for a while.

I think Koos does as well, but not for the same reasons. I'm not particularly nice to know with this kind of wind in my hair. I prefer a peaceful life and if storms are some kind of gauge of what people like and are like, I'm definitely not one of those that appreciates drama in any form.

Looking forward to spring and a more peaceful life

I'm back in Rotterdam and on the boat again tomorrow, hoping there's no damage there, but I'll be up and down and round and round this week. Reasons include the great citizenship shift, but more on that later.

For now, keep safe and have a good week allemaal

Sunday, March 03, 2019

The first post Portugal post

Last week I promised I wouldn't post anymore about Portugal, but now I have a problem. What should I be writing about instead? I know I've been very busy, but in the past weeks, none of what I've been up to is terribly blog worthy.

Since the end of January, I've resumed my treks up and down country to various teaching locations and I've enjoyed catching up with the group of teachers to whom I'm giving exam training in Roosendaal (town about 60kms south of Rotterdam). I've also been to Amsterdam again to the first session of a new online course and to Steenbergen (another town south of Rotterdam), where I've been teaching an elderly lady and a young Afghani man on Thursday afternoons. Other than this, I've had my usual academic writing courses at Erasmus University and a couple of workshops for a company in Steenbergen, which I thoroughly enjoyed as a change from the academic English.

It was fun to set up the workshop in these pleasant surroundings

When I first started teaching, I mainly did business communication, but that's changed in recent years and the focus has shifted to academic writing. It was lovely to go back to my training roots again and work with business people on the simple art of writing a good email.

But what else has been happening? Not much to be honest. I've spent most of the time enduring the cold weather and confess I've neglected the Vereeniging by staying in Rotterdam as little as possible, but yesterday marked the beginning of spring for my barge. After I had my stint on the helling in December, I didn't put my gangplank back on the quay. It seemed safer then because we had Christmas and New Year when the harbour can get a bit lively and as I wasn't going to be there (remember said trip to Portugal) in January, I just left it off.

A winter scene just before I went on the helling
We had more of the same in January; hence
the halt to the work
For the last month, I've been clambering over my neighbour's barge to get on and off, but now I want to start working on the boat again and for that, I really need it, so yesterday, we put it back in place and now I'll be getting on with my ongoing projects again. Believe you me there's plenty to do, and the first step was to wash it down and get some of the winter greening off. I hope I'll be resuming my panel replacement work in the coming weeks, but of course today it's been raining...just to spite me.

One other and perhaps more important event that's coming up is that on 14 March, I'll finally be taking the oath at the official ceremony to become a Dutch citizen. I'm doing the deed in Terneuzen, Zeeland, which is where I'm registered as a resident (not so far from the crumbly cottage), and following that, I'll be getting my Dutch passport.

Bye bye British Passport
The downside is that I have to surrender my British passport. Unfortunately, Dutch law doesn't allow for dual nationality except in specific circumstances, none of which apply to me. Such is life, and that is how it has to be, but it will feel quite strange, I must admit.

Still, I'll be posting again before then, so maybe I'll have more to say on the lead up to the great event next week.... will I or won't I feel more Dutch? That'll be interesting to see.

One thing I promise, though...I won't be writing my blog in Dutch. For one thing, I'd lose all my readers, and for another, it would take me hours to write a post! I have my Dutch exams, but real proficiency is a long way off. You could say I'm still working on it...have a good week, allemaal. Tot volgende keer! (Till next time).

Saturday, February 23, 2019

The last (Portugal) Post

Since I have actually been alive and busy since we went to Portugal, I realise I should get on to blogging about my current doings rather than wallowing in one week in January. So this is definitely my last post about Portugal, but it's visually a feast.

We spent most of our time to the east of Faro and Olhao and loved our visits to Vila Real, Ayamonte and Tavira (which I haven't yet mentioned...oh dear). Olhao stole our hearts and I've no doubt we'll be back there next winter as it seems an ideal place to find some warmth and sunshine. Anyway, I digress. Two days before we left, we took the train to Lagos in the west, mainly because I wanted to see the amazing rock formations at the coast there. The journey took more than two hours to cover the 100-odd kilometres from Olhao, but it was worth it.

I was afraid Lagos would be horribly touristy, but it wasn't at all. It's a charming town with some very steep hills, narrow streets and typically Portuguese architecture. It definitely owes its living to tourism, I admit, but not in a tasteless way. I found it friendly, attractive and quite appealing.

View from the upper town over the harbour

In the heart of the tourist centre
As we walked through the main street in Lagos, we noticed the tourist shops and the cafés with English boards, but it was very pleasant, and we were greatly entertained by a sixty-plus Englishman busking on the street doing a sterling job with well-known folk songs by the likes of Johnny Cash.

Cafés and restaurants abound on this hilly street

Boats always draw us

We had lunch at one of the more outlying cafés, which was served by some very friendly local ladies, and then we walked towards the end of the harbour where we found what I was looking for. The headland to the west of Lagos harbour is the most amazing lace-work of stratified and eroded rock that result in some stunning formations. I realise we only saw a fraction of them and had we taken a boat tour, we'd have seen much more, but for us, this was enough. I shall let the photos speak for themselves.

I think it is all amazing and very beautiful, but it's also quite dangerous as the rocks crumble easily and are prone to falls. We trod through the holes that enabled us to go from beach to beach very carefully.

Here's an aerial photo I pinched from Google just to give you an idea of the headland. It's astonishing.

After crawling from one section to the next, and gazing at them in complete awe, we made our way back through the upper town before descending to the station to make the homeward trip back to Olhao. We'd only spent a couple of hours in Lagos and by the time we got back we'd spent a total of five hours on the train, but we wouldn't have missed it for anything. 

And now back to normal life again... have a good weekend allemaal!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

I spy with my little eye things beginning with S (in Portugal)

It's hard to believe it's a month since we were in Portugal and I'm still processing everything we saw there. 

Three special things that really grabbed me and keep coming back to me were the storks, the salt pans, and the traditional Portuguese side streets. Okay, so they aren't unique to Portugal. Lots of places have storks and the Carmargue in France is also known for its salt pans (and maybe storks as well). Many more have fascinating back and side streets, but for me they were special here in the Algarve: nothing to do with tourists, totally natural and with a sense that these are essential to Portuguese life.

Take the storks here, for instance. I love the way they utilise all the high spaces to build their multi-storey nests, which can also be home to other birds and small critters. I watched them with fascination, awe and amazement as they circled the high buildings looking for the best spots or finding older nests that could be recyled...the stork version of being environmentally friendly. They are part of life in the Algarve and as such, they are as inherent to the atmosphere and colour of the region as the buildings and the people.

And then there are the salt pans. The Algarve, like the Carmargue in France, produces sea salt in the most natural way possible. Huge pans are flooded at regular intervals during the warmer seasons and allowed to evaporate to the point where the salt is harvested. It is quite a long process, but I was intrigued to see these pans as they lay waiting, ready for the operational activities of the hot months. It seems a marvellously traditional method and a special feature of these coastal marsh and lagoon lands. I'm so glad they still maintain the custom of producing their salt in this time-honoured way.

And then finally, there were the side streets with their colourful tiled houses and their rooftop terraces. I loved seeing this little dog peering over the roof and the wonderfully random tiling that you can see everywhere if you duck down a back street in Olhao. It's intimate, it's charming and we wandered around for hours taking it all in and enjoying the friendly greetings of the people who lived in these neighbourhoods. These are folk who've probably lived there since childhood and the streets are as much a part of their homes as their rooftops. We saw old ladies sweeping the paving in front of their houses, old men sitting outside their doors and children skipping through the alleyways. Lovely!

And then to come across the train track, in the middle of nowhere, but on the edge of a quiet neighbourhood. It's still the line that runs all along the coast.

Now I've had a chance to absorb it all, I know I'll want to go back. For longer next time. The eastern Algarve is not 'wow' kind of country; it's a 'yes, I like this; in fact, I love it' kind of place. Gentle, charming, scruffy, warm and friendly, but also calm, open and untamed.

Next week, I'll post my photos of Lagos and its amazing rock formations...really wow stuff, but for now, I hope you enjoy these more serene scenes.

Have a good weekend allemaal.