corders in the hague

It's like having the Corders round for dinner - except the kids don't smash stuff and Mike doesn't drink all your booze. And when you're bored you can get rid of us with a mouse click rather than having to start tidying up the house.

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Location: The Hague, Netherlands

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Swamp

Before drainage:After - or at least halfway to - drainage.
We have been hard at work at the new garden. First we bought lots of mud to fill in an unsightly trench and today we spent the day digging it all up again to lay down drainage pipes.
The permafrost of this year's winter has finally thawed and last night it rained REALLY hard. So today as we arrived at the garden it looked ok, but when Irmie stepped off the path she immediately sank up to her knees into the mud.
We realized that we are going to have to heed the advice of our neighbor and install drainage or the new trampoline we bought for the girls will disappear underground within a couple of days.
So we spent today digging trenches that run downhill into the stream behind the garden. Let's just say: easier said than done and leave it at that.
At the end of the day we rebuilt the growing box that had dominated the left side of the garden. We thought it was too big so we sawed it in half and rebuilt it in a less obtrusive spot close to the hut. It has glass panels over it so we should be planting seeds in there sometime soon and before too long we'll be enjoying our first harvest.

Washing machine anchor.

Julia shows off our new technique for stopping the washing machine dancing around the attic. Just attach child. Easy.
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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hockey vs. hockey

Here's a blog I wrote for AP a couple of days ago.
VANCOUVER, British Columbia _ I play hockey (the field variety) and I sometimes _ when the canals where I live in Holland freeze over _ go skating. But do both at once? Forget it.
Before moving to Holland, I'd lived, in no particular order, in Australia, Hong Kong and Britain _ none of them exactly ice hockey powerhouses, so even though I'm a huge sports fan hockey has always been a bit of a mystery to me.
Sure, I've watched it on TV, but only during the face painting episode from the sixth series of "Seinfeld."
So taking in an Olympic hockey match was very high on my list of stuff to do here in Vancouver.
I finally got the chance today and went to watch the United States against Norway.
The first thing that struck me on taking my seat at Canada Hockey Place and reading the team sheet was how many American players are called Ryan. Is it obligatory?
Watching hockey when you're used to the game played on green artificial turf is tough. You never quite know where the puck is going next and which part of a player's body or equipment is going to be used to hit or control it. I saw hands, legs, boots. American goalie Ryan Miller even saved one shot with his head.
In my version of the game, you hit the ball with the front of your stick and a penalty gets called if the ball touches your foot or hand. Also, there are no boards _ the ball goes out of play all the time. At Canada Place, the puck only spiralled into the crowd three times that I counted (and in my genteel sport the fans would toss the ball back, not hold it up for the cameras and then pocket it).
As the game got underway, I was amazed by the agility and speed of not only the players _ but also the officials and the crew that dashes onto the rink to scrape up ice shavings every few minutes. Do they take that stuff up to the skyboxes to put in corporate margaritas?
The guys in the black and white striped shirts were unbelievably quick when they thought a fracas was about to break out. There was a disappointing (to me, at any rate) lack of fighting. I fully expected to see at least one bench-clearing brawl, but apart from a few minor skirmishes the whole game was as good natured as a sport invovling slamming one another into a plexiglass wall could be.
The match itself was over incredibly quickly. I'm used to American sports taking forever because of all the timeouts. There's none of that in hockey. I was amazed to see a couple of Norwegians skate off the ice after only 20 seconds of the first period. Surely they can't be tired yet, I thought. But I guess they were being swapped because there was a face off (which my version of hockey would call a bully off) and the coach wanted to bring on a couple more defenders.
In football (soccer), the sport I watch the most, substituted players amble off, touch the grass and cross themselves, blow a couple of kisses to their (or maybe somebody else's) wife in the stands and exchange high fives with the player replacing them. The whole process can take a couple of minutes.
Against all odds an American not called Ryan _ the stats sheet tells me it was Phil Kessel _ opened the scoring and the Americans added two more before their opponents unexpectedly hit back.
Maybe realizing that playing six against six on the ice wasn't working for them, the Norwegians had Tore Vikingstad sent off. The tactic paid off almost immediately as Marius Holtet broke away to score and make it 3-1. They nearly scored a second a few seconds later.
The Americans tried the tactic by having a player sin binned early in the third period, but they couldn't manage to turn their numerical disadvantage into a goal. Instead they scored a few more goals against the fading Norwegians with the right number of players on the ice. Final score: 6-1.
I headed happily out of the stadium still dizzy at the skill of the players and my ears ringing from hockey's signature sound _ the crash of fully-grown men against the boards.
My first live hockey match will defintely not be my last.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Tuesday in pix

My day in pictures. Back to front, but I can't work out how to put them in chronological order. Basically Tuesday was like this: First thing in the morning take a bus from media center to the Richmond Oval, venue for speedskating. Gorgeous building and nice looking schaatsbaan. From there to the Olympic doping laboratory. File story on doping from the bus back to media center. A bus with wifi. Quick salad for lunch - the only thing I've eaten here apart from an apple that was not deep fried _ and then onto another bus up to Cypress Mountain to check out moguls training and see how the course was looking. Not bad considering they have lugged most of the snow there by truck or helicopter. I had the slightly surreal experience of seeing the same kind of helicopter they use to battle bushfires in Australia used here to dump snow on the slopes.
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View from my office

Vancouver on the other side of the harbour from the Olympic media center. This is the view if I step out of the AP office. It's almost worth taking up smoking so you can go outside for a cigarette in the open air and look at this.
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Monday, February 08, 2010


Message to ESPN: Playing computer games in not sport.
En route to Vancouver I had to stop off in Chicago for a couple of hours. I dreaded it, as I thought I wouldn't have enough time to get my bags, clear immigration, recheck my bags, take a train across the airport, check in again and get to the gate. As it turns out, it was an incredibly efficient process that I breezed through in a matter of minutes.
That left me more than an hour to kill, so I did what most Americans appeared to be doing with their spare time _ I watched sport on TV and drank weak beer.
I was flattered to be asked for ID to prove I was over 21. I didn't realize that was even necessary for a glass of Bud Light, which I think has roughly the same alcohol content as a Coke Lite.
I then sat at the bar with a bunch of other blokes, feeling a little embarrased I'd left my baseball cap at home, watching America's premium sporting channel - ESPN.
As I ordered my beer there was a college basketball match on the box, but as soon as I sat down they switched to cover 10-pin bowling. I didn't really pay much attention after the first minute, as it just looked like a parade of strikes and _ much as I love sport on TV _ this got to be a bit like watching paint drying, grass growing etc.
So I was pleased when the next show came on and appeared to be what I had actually sat down for in the first place _ the Super Bowl between the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints. But no, it actually turned out to be coverage of people playing an American Football video game. I have to say it was a pretty cool looking game, but a game it remained.
Fortunately, my plane to Vancouver was on time and I left the kids to their consoles.
I had got myself a window seat at the back and was pleased I had because the view was amazing as we headed west more or less (I think) along or just south of the US-Canada border. Snow-covered fields gave way to what I suppose were the Rockies, all bathed in a late afternoon glow as the sun set. It sure beat watching bowling.

I am about to go out in the light in Vancouver for the first time, so I can't really give an opinion of the city. I got a chance to have a good look around in the dark last night as the bus driver who ferried me and two other journalists from the airport downtown (the four of us in a 60-seater bus - so much for Vancouver trumpeting these as the Green Games) got hopelessly lost. I'm not sure how long the trip should take, but we did it in more than an hour. The driver was incredibly nice and apologetic about the whole thing. He blamed a local organizer for incorrectly programming his TomTom. As with most Olympics, organizers here can't get enough local drivers for all the cars and buses needed to ferry around athletes and press. So this bloke drove two days from South Dakota to spend his holidays driving a bus here. Admirable, but it does lead to a certain lack of familiarity with the road network. There are always stories about these kinds of glitches in the days running up to the opening ceremony, but mostly they fade away as the sports get busier and the out-of-town drivers get a bit more local knowledge.
So in the absence of other images, I'll show you the delightful view from my hotel before I wander down to the harbor foreshore, which I'm hoping will be a bit more picturesque.

The Smiley Restaurant in the bottom left corner may become my regular morning haunt - they advertise a breakfast that includes a steak omelette.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Folk Garden

So this is the new project.
Given my profound dislike of gardening, tending a large allotment on which we plan to grow our own organic fruit and veggies may not seem the most obvious choice.
But I'm actually quite interested to see how it all turns out.
The plot is 260-odd square meters and until last week belonged to an elderly gentleman who has - let's put this politely - neglected the place a bit in the last few years.
Putting it charitably again, I like to think he's left us a blank canvas. It looks like a scene from The Road. I don't think anything has grown there in years. First job is to dig up everything, plough compost into it and then lay drainage pipes to dry it out a bit - there's a little canal running along the back border behind the house so the plan is to drain water into that.
I think the majority of the space will then be taken up by low-maintenance lawn - the girls want to put a trampoline on it and I'm looking for a place to string up a hammock and set up a barbie.
We officially take possession in a couple of weeks, when I'm in Vancouver for the Winter Olympics. Irmie and the girls are planning to have a go at cleaning up the little hut and maybe the greenhouse while I'm away and to leave the backbreaking spadework to me when I get back.
It looks idyllic covered in snow, but Irmie says it seems a bit more daunting now the snow has melted. Now it looks like a soggy stretch
of World War I no-man's-land.

The little hut, meanwhile, is gorgeous as you can see. No power or mains water, but we collect rain water and there's a little tap operated by a foot pump. There's a two-burner gas-fired stove, but we're not sure it'll still be there once the former owner's stuff is cleared out. I'm hoping he'll just leave everything there as there are a couple of handsome pairs of wooden clogs I have my eye on. We're mulling putting a solar panel on the roof to power a laptop so I can work there while Irmie's harvesting runner beans.
The allotment is part of a complex of Volkstuinen - Folk Gardens in English - which also features a little cafe and store for buying gardening stuff.
I will keep you posted when I get back and launch my horticultural career.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


It's been a while, again.
So what's happened since we got back from Australia? A load of normal stuff, really.
Our family has expanded again. At Sinterklaas, Julia became the proud parent and primary (or at least secondary) carer of a dwarf hamster. In line with our Australian-tinted pet naming policy, it was dubbed Possum.

All was well with possum until a brutal cold snap hit the Netherlands just before Christmas. Irmie and I were talking in the kitchen when we heard Julia screaming and running down the stairs.
Nothing new in that, of course. Julia - along with Esther - spends half her life screaming and stomping up or down the stairs. But this was a scream that immediately signaled to us that the cause wasn't a run-of-the-mill sibling scrap.
Julia ran into the kitchen clutching something small and stiff in her hand.
Possum was no more - or at least that was what it looked like; the little critter was flat and stiff as a mini ironing board. If we'd had two hamsters meet the same fate simultaneously, we could have played ping pong with them. Possum was beyond rigor mortis and it's little black eyes were trying to pop out of its flattened head. It was cold. It's cage had spent the night in the -10 cold of the attic playroom. I wouldn't have been surprised to see little icicles dangling from the bars of its cage.
I suggested to Julia that she might want to take a quiet moment cuddling and taking leave of the week-old love of her life. She was having nothing of it, saying she was going to nurse it back to life.
Who was I to deprive her of some quality caring time with the soon to be ex-hamster? My woolen hat was warming on the radiator, so I gave it to Julia and she placed Possum inside. She almost had to fold the hamster in the middle to get its stiff little body in. I could see a faint pulse in its neck, but was convinced Possum's tiny heart was pumping its last.
Unbelievably, as Julia continued to cuddle her (or him, for who knows what gender it is) Possum started to puff out a bit. Long story short, five minutes later she/he was hurtling aimlessly around its exercise wheel with no apparent ill effects from the near death experience. The upshot of this all is that Possum now lives in its cage on the dining table, which I think is disgusting - who wants to eat with a rat looking at you? I've been a student, I've done that.
As I mentioned, it's been cold. Today was the first time the temperature has resolutely stayed above freezing since Possum's flirtation with death. Ice and snow are great fun here in the Netherlands, except that the girls grab their sled at the first sight of a snow flake and that means dragging duties for me. In my youth, you pulled your sled to a hill, slid down it, pulled it back up the slope and repeated the process until frost bite started depriving you of toes. Not here in the land of no hills.

Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to warming up from this Dutch deep freeze by going to Vancouver for the Winter Olympics. With an impending absence of nearly a month, I've been looking around the house for stuff that needs doing. Irmie even commented on my new enthusiasm for DIY activities. She was impressed that I changed a light bulb without her asking me. I should say that in the last year, Irmie has painted all the window frames in the house and the ceilings downstairs (twice), as well as applying some kind of sealant to my office balcony to prevent a further leak that would have meant a third go at painting the ceilings.
Nevertheless, emboldened by Irmie's praise, I decided yesterday to unblock the bathroom sink, which was taking an hour to drain each time I shaved, presumably because of a wad of hair in the u-bend. Simple, I thought. Just take out the u-bend, poke a pipe cleaner through it and screw it back into place. What could possibly go wrong?
I moved the cupboard obscuring the pipes under the sink and tried twisting the things holding the u-pipe in place. My DIY knowledge doesn't extend to knowing what they are. Whatever they're called, they didn't budge. I scraped around in my shoe-box-sized tool kit and located some kind of a wrench. I managed to get a firm grip on the pipe and twisted. The thing holding the u-pipe didn't budge, but the pipe itself did and immediately cracked and spat a pint of water and a fur ball of Irmie, Esther and Julia hair onto the floor and my trousers. Not the effect I'd been hoping for.
It wasn't all bad, though. My first instinct in such situations is that fixing what I have just destroyed is beyond me. I break stuff. I don't mend it. So this was the excuse I've been looking for for months to get a plumber to install a whole new bathroom. Possibly not the cheapest solution, but the best in the long run, I felt.
Irmie played along skillfully and tagged along to the DIY store this morning to pick out a new bathroom. She feigned interest in a couple of expensive sink-cupboard combos I was enthusiastic about before wandering over to the aisle she'd been looking for all along - plumbing supplies.
I was going to have to at least try fixing the mess I'd made with a 10 euro piece of pipe before she would agree to spending thousands on a new bathroom. Feeling a fool for having been duped so easily, I sheepishly bought a fancy new u-bend - so fancy, that it was not shaped like a u at all. I took it home and whacked one end into a hole in the wall only to find that it didn't come even close to lining up with the down pipe sticking out of the hole in the bottom of the sink. Even I realized I was not going to be able to bend the pipes to make them fit together, so I disassembled the thing, tried to polish away the scratches and stuffed it back into its packaging. The 15-year-old girl at the DIY store's service desk looked at me disdainfully and gave me my money back.
I decided to take one more look at the plumbing parts and found a good old-school u-bend assembly that you could, with a minimum of bending metal out of shape, swivel at two different points - meaning you could move it laterally to position it under the hole in the bottom of the sink. And indeed, even I managed to make it fit. So now - somehow - I've managed to earn credit with Irmie for unnecessarily depriving her of a place to brush her teeth for most of the weekend. She must be looking forward to my trip to Vancouver almost as much as I am.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Corders back in Sydney

We've been back in Australia for just over two weeks. I came with a list of stuff to do and see that included the usual tourist icons but also things like buying a carton of beer and bag of ice from a drive-thru bottle shop, watching a game of rugby league on television on a Friday night and eating a bowl of chicken laksa. With a week to go, I've already done most of them and keep adding stuff to the list.
One thing that wasn't on the list was running down one of Australia's 1,200 surviving cassowaries.
The cassowary is a giant and savage flightless bird - a kind of psychadelic emu. It has a spectacularly blue and red colored neck and head and appears to wear a roman legionnaire's helmet at all times to help it crash through the dense undergrowth of the rain forests of northeastern Australia. If they feel threatened by a hapless tourist, they can leap in the air and carve open the person's chest using their huge toe nails.
Despite the helmet/claw arsenal, they are very shy birds and it is pretty rare to spot one - loss of habitat and speeding drivers are taking a heavy toll.
So imagine my delight when I saw one at the side of a road in Cape Tribulation and then my horror when the damn thing made like a lemming and dived towards the rear wheels of our hire car. I managed to avoid it and glanced in my rear view mirror to see it swerve out of the way of the car following us and back into the relative safety of the forest.
I also saw a stingray flapping over the seabed of the Great Barrier Reef but wasn't able to ascertain if it was the same one that did for Steve Irwin.
All four of us set off for the reef last week on a tropical northern Queensland winter's day that started warm and calm and degenerated fast. By the time we got to the catamaran anchored in the relative calm of Cape Tribulation bay there was a fair wind blowing and a strong swell charging south-to-north up the coast.
I may have mentioned in the past that Irmie is not a great sailor (or flyer or car/bus passenger) and she lasted exactly five minutes before throwing up and getting ferried back to shore before we actually weighed anchor.
As it turns out, she did the right thing. We endured a shocking trip to the reef and a far worse one back. It was too rough to sit outside and stare at the horizon so we were stuck in the cabin looking out of the windows at a view that alternated between sky and sea as the boat pitched or rolled or did both simultaneously.
While actually out at the coral, the boat was moored behind the reef and was very stable. I snorkelled over beautiful coral and fish with Esther and Julia and that made the horrors of the boat trip worthwhile. Back on land, Irmie enjoyed herself wandering through rainforests and mangroves that remained mercifully anchored to dry land.
Apart from our trip north, we have spent our time visiting old friends in Sydney and loved every minute of it. Julia visited her old school today and gave a talk to the entire year four which was a test of her rusty English but went well.
Sydney has put on a very enticing show for us - it's been hovering around 20 degrees and sunny every day so far in the deepest of its deep midwinter and all our old mates have greeted us like ... long lost friends.
I've eaten in pubs, drunk pinot noir in Paddington, pinicked and played crickets nest to Sydney Harbour, lounged around drinking beer while watching kangaroos lounge around near the Hawkesbury River north of Sydney and just missed one of the roos with a low five iron shot onto a green on a golf course hugging the river's western bank.
A few more days then we're heading to Hong Kong and then back to NL to resume wondering why we left this place in the first place and maybe post a few of the 10 million pix I've taken.