Monday, December 11, 2017

Let it Snow, let it Snow, then let it Go!!

I have a feeling that most of my blogger pals know how I feel about snow by now. I don’t like it. You’re all aware of that, I think.

This is not a newly made decision. It has nothing to do with all those years I spent in South Africa. Well, maybe it does, because the reason I was happy to go there in the first place was so I could escape the snow in the winter of 1981. Does anyone remember how bad it was? And the winter of 78/79? Awful they were, with deep snow and villages cut off, notably ours in the west country.

frosted glass

But no, the real source of my discontent with all things white and wet goes back much much further than that. It was the dreaded winter of 1962/1963.

I wonder how many of my friends here remember that one? I know Heron Mel does because he mentioned it in his blog too, but how many others of you do? I remember it vividly. It made a huge impression on my seven year old self. I believe it was the longest of the extremely cold winters of the twentieth century and I think every day of it is imprinted in my psyche. Don’t laugh. It’s true! I have a vivid recollection of trudging through heaped up piles of dirty frozen snow as we picked our way to the shops and to school. I remember my father desperately scraping the car windscreen which promptly froze again before he’d even finished. I remember crying all the way home from school because my feet were so cold (everyone together now...awww). I hated it. I hated it so much I have done everything I can to avoid the cold ever since. I’ve even written a book set in that winter (my Skipper’s Child) and some readers have told me they can really feel the cold coming off the pages...haha. Experience, you see! 

The funny thing is I project my hatred of it on everyone else too because I’m always worrying about friends and family being cold. My daughter teases me but, you see, I can’t imagine anything worse than feeling cold, so I don’t want anyone else to be either.

Well, you might ask what’s brought all this on? Why now? It’s this week’s snow of course. It’s not even Christmas yet! I’d got used to global warming. I was even enjoying it and now look what it’s done to me! This morning I had to travel to Rotterdam and it took me twice as long as usual. Why? Because of the snow! Why anyone should like the stuff, I don’t know. It’s not even pretty when  sky and snow merge into each other and there’s no other colour to be seen but white with a few spots of black where the trees poke their branches through it. It reminds me of those black and white war films. You know the ones. They  always seem to be set in Poland in winter where everyone is frozen and miserable. So, as far as I’m concerned, it’s made its point and it can go now. 

Okay, I’ve got that out of my system, so I’ll shut up  and smile again. But before I go, I’ll just post a couple of photos of when it started yesterday. Even snowy photos are better than no photos.

Dare I ask if you like it? Have a good week allemaal and keep warm!

Monday, December 04, 2017

Downsides and Upsides: Marking the end of another year

Our usual New Year's walk at the beach on 1 January
In case you're wondering, no. These photos are not from the last few days, although it's been cold enough and the garden at the little house has been covered in frost both yesterday and today. But it's also been misty too, which is hard to deal with as everything becomes a whiter shade of grey. Horrible.

These photos are from last December/January and I hooked them out because I'm making my usual family calendars. I do it every year as it's one way of showing my brothers and sister what we've been up to during the year. My family are all in the UK and I don't get to see them very often (and that's not on purpose – honest!). It's a year since I saw my sister and more since I saw my brothers, which is a shame as I'd love to spend more time with them (see?).

The garden at the end of December

As a result, I make it my thing to put together a calendar of month by month photos for them and I really enjoy doing it because it takes me back over the year and helps me remember what it's like to be warm now it's so beastly cold.

I will admit that 2017 has had its ups and downs but the summer was wonderful and I've only just got myself to accept that it's over. As with most people of my age, things are starting to creak a bit and I've been enduring a frozen shoulder since July (why 'frozen' I don't know, because it feels hot rather than cold), which was one of the down sides, but on the up side, we had two marvellous months 'faring' on the Hennie Ha from June to August.

Since there are far too many photos of our trip to put in the calendar, I've also made a book of photos, but even that doesn't cover them, so I'm going to be putting an album of them all on the Internet based photography site, Flickr, soon. It's lovely just to browse through them and see that we really had some wonderful weather. We both looked very healthy when we arrived back at the end of August, unlike the palid creatures we are now!

I'm not sure if this was frost or snow at the University where
I work, but whatever it was, it was a lovely day too!
Another down for me is that in the last year both my daughters have moved out of Rotterdam, so I don't meet up with them often. But one of them has started teaching at the university where I work too, and that at least gives us a chance for a brief get together once a week most of the time. I've also just heard the other daughter will be teaching there again soon too, so there's my upside again.

The Dutch doing what they love...skating on natural ice
Of course we also had the downer in May that our slipway and yard in the harbour were going to close, but as I mentioned earlier, that's had a stay of execution too and we'll be keeping it for at least 18 months – something to celebrate when we have our harbour Christmas drink this coming week!

All these clouds have silver linings, don't they? We don't do much in the way of Christmas festivities at home, but we do like to have a family meal around the day and I put my little tree up with all its home-made decorations. And then there are the lights in the harbour to look forward to. It's lighting up week this week which is a lovely moment and one I always cherish. On balance then? There've definitely been more upsides than downsides in 2017 and that's how I like to keep it!

What will you all be doing for the festive season, allemaal?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Let it blow, let it blow, let it blow

It's been a windy week, and I'm talking weather in case any of you had other ideas. Since Monday we've had those restless days of winter showers interspersed with spells of brilliant sunshine before the clouds gathered again. There have been rainbows too and, as I said, wind. Lots of wind, which is something I'm not fond of.

Wind, rain and rainbows

On Tuesday I had to go to the Hague but the wind was so bad I decided not to take Buttons, my little car, fearing it would fly there rather than drive. I don't have a pilot's licence yet. Still, the trains are good in the Netherlands and I enjoy the relaxation it offers now and then as well as the chance to do some work on route. I was travelling up from our southern hideaway which involves a bit of a journey. I drive about 15kms first to the bus stop and then take the bus under the Westerschelde estuary to Goes which is where I catch the train. All in all it's a three hour journey there so it gives enough time for some work, reading and a snooze if I'm lucky. I then spent all of two hours in the Hague before doing the same thing in reverse, but I have to say it's a lot less tiring than driving all the way (or flying).

Buttons, my little car
Wednesday was just rain, rain and more rain, and then on Thursday, Koos was down with the (man)flu. Because it was blowing a gale again I did the trek by car, bus and train again to Rotterdam and back. Why I didn't stay there in the first place on Tuesday is still puzzling me but I didn't and when I arrived back on Thursday night to minister to the invalid, I realised I could probably get used to the commute eventually. It really wasn't that taxing at all and it would save having two bases. Some thinking on this is needed.

A view on the walk I took this morning

The point of all this is, well, I don't know actually. It's just been one of those slightly disconnected weeks when the purpose of anything has escaped me. On the upside, it seems Koos is feeling more himself and less fluey. Plus, I did manage a lovely walk in bright sunshine today. It was bitterly cold but the light was wonderful. I also managed a bit gardening. That felt good. I’m trying to spend as much time out of doors as possible really as winter and I are not good friends and I know I need my daily dose of UV. Of course I'd rather be a doormouse and hibernate when the weather's so inclement, but once I'm out and tramping along at a good pace, the scenery makes up for it all. Well with dramatic skies like this, how can I go wrong?

Have a great week, allemaal.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Things I love about the Nevereverlands

Some time back I wrote a blog about aspects of living in the Netherlands that I like. When the weather is as gloomy and 'Novemberish' as it is now, it really helps to look on the bright side of life here so I thought it was time to write another 'things I love' post to stop myself from pining for the sunshine in my former South African home.

I've travelled through much of this country, although admittedly it's not very big and I should really have seen more than I have, but mostly it's the east that has escaped my attention. That said, and even taking into account the parts I've missed, there really aren't many hills here at all. There are a few humpy parts in the Veluwe, north of Arnhem, and a few more in Limburg and the odd 'wal' or two (ridge of high ground), but apart from these, the country is flatter than the proverbial washboard. Many people don't like this, and I'll admit there are times I would love to stand on a hilltop and enjoy looking out over undulating scenery, but there are advantages to these flatlands.

Lie on your stomach and see into next week
Firstly, it makes driving a breeze. Our country getaway is in Zeeuws Vlaanderen and the drive down from Rotterdam every week is only ever made difficult by the volume of traffic on the roads during the first part of the journey – urban centres are always hell on wheels. The rest of it I could do (and am sometimes at risk of doing) in my sleep. The roads are wide and straight and you can see forever. Even the country lanes are unencumbered by bends and high hedges. They might be narrow, but as we used to say in South Africa, you can lie on your stomach and see into next week; all right, I agree Holland is smaller so perhaps the next half hour is closer to the truth, but even so, visibility is no problem. Still better, any approaching cars will be seen minutes before they reach you too.

I can hear some of you saying already that this must be boring, but I don't find it so. As I've mentioned before, the skyscapes here are wonderful and the light is often pure magic. The sun on the side of a  solitary white-painted cottage in the distance can stand out as a beacon against the gold spread of a wide cornfield and the vast expanse of the water-washed blue sky. Everything is outlined with a sharp pen, even the furrows in the fields. It can be stunning.

High hedges beside the narrow and winding lanes in England, for instance, often mean you see nothing of the beautiful scenery behind them. Hills there might be, but you can also miss half the beauty by having to concentrate on finding a safe place to pass the tractor in front of you going at half a mile an hour. With all those bends and hedges, you can hardly see more than a short distance ahead. There are rarely such problems in the Netherlands although I must admit the tractor drivers here think they are driving go-carts instead of lumbering agricultural machinery. As a result they pound along nearly as fast as anyone else on the road unless they're pulling a trailer load of hay or spuds, but that's another matter.

What's next then? Well, there's the beautiful old Dutch towns of which there are many. Some of my favourites are Dordrecht, Zierikzee (see last week's post), Deventer and Middelburg, all lovely places criss-crossed with harbours and old boats. Those that have their old centres still intact are just a picture of traditional Dutch culture. Most of these have cobbled streets, and quaint narrow gabled houses with outsize windows. Often they have flowers in boxes outside, hollyhocks growing up through the paving cracks and bicycles leaning haphazardly against walls and doorways. There is a kind of ramshackle but elegant charm about all these towns and I love them. There is also much more trust than I have ever experienced anywhere else.

Just the other day, Koos and I were walking through Leiden (which is quite a large city) and someone had put a small table outside their front door with pots of jam in a box. There was a small notice politely asking takers to put the money in the tin provided. Now in the country, I imagine that is quite common in most European countries, but in a large, cosmopolitan town? I think that's pretty rare.

An elegant Dutch townhouse in Goes

Lastly (for this time), let's not forget the people themselves. The Dutch are a puzzle to many other Europeans. Their direct way of speaking can seem blunt and insensitive for those not inured to it as I am now. Unexpected verbal side swipes that catch you off guard can seem to be a uniquely Dutch art. The point is, there is no malice intended – not that I'm aware of anyway. It's just being honest as far as they are concerned. I remember an occasion when I was grumbling to a friend about the amount of work I had to do to prepare and mark assignments for my classes. She looked at me and said with painful candour, "Well, you chose to do it."  I winced, having hoped for just a hint of empathy. She was right, of course, and we laughed about it later on.

It's just one side of the sort of practical no-nonsense approach to life that has the Prime Minister cycling across the Hague for a meeting with the king. Why waste time, money and energy driving a fancy car when you can nip through the city on a bike?

A country farmhouse in North Holland
Nevertheless, most of my Dutch friends would give you the shirt of their backs if you needed it; they are incredibly generous people. Their easy self-confidence and friendly informal familiarity might take some getting used to, but I've realised now how much I've grown to appreciate it and when I arrive back in the Netherlands after being away for a while, I feel a sense of relief. When the immigration officials at the airports greet me with a joke and a smile, I can't help feeling "here I am, home again".

There are plenty of other things to appreciate about the Netherlands too: the inspiring way they look to the future in terms of energy production, agriculture and water management; the constant attempts to find solutions and compromise in social and political matters; the intrinsic culture of 'anything goes as long as you behave sensibly'. The obsession with health and safety is thankfully not something the Dutch have taken on board and although there are problems here just as there are everywhere else, my feeling is that compared with other countries, this is still an essentially good and wholesome place to live.

I've just finished reading Ben Coates' very good Why the Dutch Are Different, so I'll finish with a quote from the last chapter of the book as it sort of sums things up. The Dutch are "happier than Britain, more efficient than France, more tolerant than America, more worldly than Norway, more modern than Belgium and more fun than Germany." All in all, it can't be bad, can it?

Monday, November 13, 2017

Beth Haslam - Author of the Fat Dogs and French Estates series: The Runaway Porker

Just a diversion from my own posts! I loved this story by Beth Haslam and can recommend her blog on country life in France. She writes wonderful and funny stories!

Beth Haslam - Author of the Fat Dogs and French Estates series: The Runaway Porker: “Interesting, or bad, news depending on how you look at it,” announced Jack, my husband, striding across my clean floor in his fore...

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Too cold for faring

Hasn't it suddenly got cold? In just these last few days, the temperatures have dropped and we've realised for the first time that it really isn't summer anymore. I'd got used to being outside in just a tee-shirt, albeit a long-sleeved one. I'm such a summer lover, it's hit me quite hard and I'm struggling to get up the energy to do anything constructive.

I don't have a neighour at the moment, which is rather nice
for my view both on board and on the quay

So what's my response to that? Well, being pig-headed (or should I say bull-headed being a Taurean?), I rebel against my own lethargy and am forcing myself to go for walks every day when I'd really rather hibernate in my dressing gown. I'm also getting off the tram a stop earlier on the way to work to make sure I have more fresh air (unless it's raining; even I'm not that rebellious). Then to be able to give myself a pat on the back, I spent some time after work on Tuesday painting my back cabin roof; not that this turned out to be a good idea. It froze over night and when I looked at my new paintwork the next day, the frost had already robbed it of any gleam. Murphy was having fun again, so I'll have to do it again.

Another thing I've managed to do is move on a little further with the interior of said back cabin. It's no warmer in there either, but at least it's out of the wind. I'm hoping I'll be able to show off its new floor soon. Koos has been busy with the engine, although still no joy as yet. However, he has put one of those squishy gas things on the opening hatch, and that makes it a dream to open and close. I am really so grateful as with my bad shoulder it's been a painful job to open it.

In other news, over the last few weekends we've have been to Ghent twice; once to an art gallery where a contact of Koos' had some paintings in an exhibition, and again yesterday, but that was just to go to Ikea. I love Ghent, so any excuse to go there is fine with me.

Two paintings by Randell Sarneel with Koos doing his
own exhibiting between them.

All the artists involved in the exhibition and Koos

We've also been to the theatre, which is something I always want to do more but never manage to get round to. This occasion had an extra incentive because my daughter had a role in the performance. It was called Duets and was a wonderfully witty series of four short plays involving two people in each segment (hence the title) by Peter Quilter. It was terrific and beautifully performed by all. Very funny and well staged too. I hope they will do more as I need that kind of push to go and I really enjoy it.

The cast and single all-in-one crew member of Duets

Then this last Friday, we went to Zierikzee. I've been before and just felt like going again on our way down to Zeeland. It's a really lovely, traditional Dutch town, and it lies on the shores of the Oosterschelde, the tidal estuary behind the great Delta project dam walls. Most of the time the sluices are left open, so the tide comes in and out normally. I was surprised at how much of a drop there is at low tide. It's much more than in our Oude Haven and is probably close to four metres. Zierikzee is on my list of top towns in the Netherlands and is a place I wouldn't mind living.

The tidal harbour at Zierikzee

Zierikzee's town gate and tower
The history of the harbour telling visitors
how the town got its name. The tidal creek was
called the Ee and it was named after a local
leader by the name of Zierik, hence Zierik's Ee
of Zierikzee as it is now.

And a photo of what it used to look like at the end of
the 17th century

What are you all doing to keep the blood circulating in these cold days? Or maybe hot days in some cases! I'd be interested to hear.

In any event, and whatever the case, have a good week allemaal!