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

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


At long last, my motorbike has been unpacked, refilled with oil and all its other vital liquids, prodded and poked by Dutch traffic authorities and approved to be ridden here. The only change it needed was a new headlight because we ride on the wrong side of the road here.
After nearly five months in a crate, during which time the weather has been overall (apart from August, which was one long rain shower) surprisingly good, it finally hit the road today on the day the Dutch weather service warned most of the country to batten down the hatches and brace for a Cyclone Larry type lashing.
The day started inauspiciously as I missed my train from Voorburg to Zoetermeer where the bike was. Once I finally caught a train, I called a taxi only to be greeted by my first snotty Dutch person of the day.
Me: Can I have a taxi at Zoetermeer East station?
Snotty Dutch Woman: I suppose so, but you'll have to wait (in the horizontal rain) for at least 20 minutes.
Me: Shit.
SDW: Don't blame me, it's the time of day. (It was 9.15 a.m.). Peak period, innit.
Me: I need to get to Platinaweg, do you think I could walk that in 20 minutes?
SDW: Why don't you. Click, as she hangs up on me.
Off I trudge to the Harley garage, walking tilted forward to prevent being blown off my feet.
I fear this posting may sound just a touch anti-Dutch, so let's be clear here and now that the garage staff were all bend-over-backwards helpful and friendly and appeared to undercharge me by about 100 euros for all the stuff they did.
After lashing on my helmet, boots and rain gear, and just barely remembering which way around to sit on the thing, I steered the bike into the storm-tossed traffic (did I mention it was windy?)
The gale was at my back heading to the vehicle checking station in beautiful Waddinxveen, a town surrounded by waterlogged (did I mention it was raining?) fields of rotting maize stubble.
I got there ok, managed to elbow my way to the front of a small queue and filled out a couple of forms before the friendly but intransigent woman behind the bulletproof glass screen told me I didn't have the right papers. I told here I'd called her yesterday and asked what to bring and had brought exactly what I'd been told. Turns out that the letter from Australian vehicle registration authorities confirming that I'd cancelled my rego in Sydney was not enought to convince here that the bike had been registered in Sydney, nor was the registration plate still attached to the bike.
She needed more information. I gave it to her in the form of something called a certificate of compliance. I don't know what it's for, but it had all the details she needed.
All good, but then her boss came and started quizzing me as to how I'd got my hands on a Dutch certificate of compliance in Australia. I told him I'd called somebody in Holland from Sydney and asked for one. Apparently placated, they told me to go stand outside and wait by the door to Bay 1 for the test (I did mention it was a bit wet and windy, didn't I?).
I waited and waited and looked longingly through the glass door at the testers sitting inside chatting and drinking coffee and doing very little else. For an hour.
When I finally got in, I had exactly the same problem with papers I'd already been through with the friendly intransigent woman. I ended up having to ride home - wind/rain - to pick up the contract of sale the friendly intransigent woman had assured me a day earlier I would not need. I got back and after the (friendly and helpful) tester had fixed his malfunctioning computer he walked around my bike once, declared it fine and signed off on everything.
Back inside, FIW relieved me of 100 euros for services rendered, gave me a couple of bits of paper and told me to take them to the customs people at the next window along. They should be back any time now, they're just having lunch she said, as I longed for my breakfast.
I shuffled three steps sideways to a window with a closed venetian blind and a sign saying we open at 12.45. It was 12.50 and I could see a woman inside eating a cheese sandwich and reading the newspaper, languidly flicking back and forth through the pages. Ignoring me. Two other men then walked in, joked that they must be popular because people were queuing up to see them. I wonder how often they've cracked this gag. They went into their little hutch, took another few minutes chatting about the type of cheese they had on their sandwiches today and then one of them finally deigned to be rude to my face rather then by ommission.
I gave him the bundle of papers I'd brought and picked up and been issued with throughout the morning and he said, where's the forms?
What forms?
These ones, he said, reaching under his desk. Fill them in and come back. You need to calculate the resale value, calculate 20.7 (honestly) percent depreciation (or something like that) and include your inside leg measurement. If you need any help, let me know.
I need help.
Just fill in what you can and we'll take it from there.
Reading this back, the man sounds almost civil. He wasn't.
In just 10 more minutes I'd done it all, he'd done the maths and I was on my way, hunching over and clinging to the handlebars to prevent being blown off.
This evening, I shoehorned the bike into a storage unit round the corner from here where it will no doubt stay for the rest of the winter. Unless I decide to take it out tomorrow to tour the flooding and storm damage... Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 30, 2006


I spent a bit of time today in the Dutch Senate. Old building, overstuffed green banquettes, tables with what appeareed to be pewter ink pots on them. And paintings on the walls and ceilings. All very impressive indeed. Apparently done by students of Rubens. Being Dutch and therefore genetically - how shall I put this ... er, frugal - the old 17th century members of the States General probably thought students of Rubens were pretty much the same as the man himself. You've seen one fat chick or cherub and you've pretty much seen them all, right? How hard can they be? They were right. The students did a nice job. The fuzzy picture, again a product of my phone, is of the central panel of the ceiling and depicts kids gazing through a hole in the roof at the proceedings below (in today's case, a speech by King Abdullah II of Jordan). More interesting, I thought, were the portraits around the edges of the room - I counted about eight, which suggested to me that they were kind of founding fathers of the place. Leaders of the old states (Holland, Friesland etc, etc) who got together in The Hague once in a while. For Calvinists, the blokes in the portraits seemed to have taken a lot of care with their hair. Many carefully clipped moustaches, and who knew they had curling tongs in those days? I suppose the Calvinism kicked in with the black robes and white bibs, but still they all seemed pretty vain to me for a bunch of protestant fundamentalists. (Maybe I'm historically challenged in all this and Calvinism only reared its shaggy head here in the 18th century, but anyway they all looked vain to me, but then which member of parliament isn't?) Apparently some of the other murals depicted people around the world who were exploited by (oops, sorry, traded with) the Dutch East Indies Company. I got that snippet of information from a clerk who was explaining the history of the place to Jordanian journalists. I was glad, because I'd been wondering what to make of the foppish man in the turban or the badly painted American Indians or the bloke in the fur hat brandishing a harpoon.
On a separate but slightly linked subject, as I was rushing through downtown The Hague to get to the houses of parliament, I nearly slammed into an owlish old bloke on a handsome black bike. He gave me a quizzical look as I swerved around him and I realized it was Piet Hein Donner, the Justice Minister whose resignation I covered a month ago. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 22, 2006


I wish I'd taken a picture of it, but I didn't. My Sydney instincts kicked in and I tossed it over the fence to allow our new neighbors to enjoy its beauty.
Homesickness can come in all shapes and sizes and it has come thick and fast in the last couple of days as moving into our new house makes our return to the Netherlands feel very permanent.
The first two are maybe obvious.
1: Reading Are We There Yet by Alison Lester to the kids last night.
2: I turned on our portable stereo this morning. It had languished for four months, along with all our other belongings, in our container before finally being reunited with us on Tuesday. I played a couple of CDs _ Missy Higgins was painfull _ before flicking the switch to the radio and seeing the numbers 702 appear. For anybody reading this who doesn't live, or hasn't lived, in Sydney, that is the frequency of the local Australian Broadcasting Corporation station. It was a sort of soundtrack to our lives in Beecroft - news in the morning, James Valentine in the afternoon, James O'Loghlin's quiz in the evening. Even the idiotic building/gardening advice shows on Saturday mornings - and to hear just fuzzy static on that wavelength here in Voorburg was somehow heart-rending.
The third, to which I allude above is possibly slightly less obvious.
Stuck, dead, at the bottom of one of our moving boxes was a good old Sydney cockroach.
I've never really taken the time to admire roaches, preferring instead to stomp, torch, gas and generally kill the bastards as fast as possible. But for those of you still in Sydney, take a while to admire one before you stomp, burn or nuke it.
As unpleasant insects go, they're pretty big - this one was about the size of a 50 cent (two euro) coin, excluding legs. I've seen plenty bigger, but I guess big ones are wily enough not to get sealed into a box along with my golf clubs and bicycle pump. But check out the color of these critters - it's a sort of burnished mohogany. It's the color and slightly matt shinyness I'd like our new wooden floor to be. Plus, look at the muscles on those bugs. I'm not even sure insects have muscles, but Sydney cockies undoubtedly look buff. If you turn one over, I'd expect to see a bulging six pack. Is it possible all roaches are gay? By their number and the speed with which they reproduce, I'm guessing not. They can't all be adopting baby roaches from third world countries, can they? I don't think Australian quarantine regulations would allow that.
Anyway, I wish I'd actually kept and framed the roach.
Apart from my homesickness, we're loving it here in our new place. Yesterday we all walked through two parks to the Voorburg market, bought cheese and vegetables and headed home. There were even parrots flying wild in one of the parks to make us feel slightly Sydneyish.

Friday, October 20, 2006

On the move

We've moved. This is a before, during and during sequence (I suspect the after shot may have to wait a few weeks yet) of pix of the front room of Schellinglaan 18 starting Monday night after we exchanged contracts. I thought the fact that the previous owner was weeping as she signed over the house was a good sign.
Second and third pix are Tuesday and the final one is Friday. Still a long way to go with unpacking boxes, getting bits of new furniture, hanging up paintings, but we're getting there. The only thing damaged in the move was a picture frame which i'd actually been considering replacing for a long while. When I thanked the removalist for dropping it, he looked insulted and said that it had come out of the container that way and that he NEVER dropped anything. Earlier Tuesday the same man had borrowed our car to go rescue his cat. I thought it an inauspicious start to the unloading of the container, but I think it somehow put him in our debt so once he got back from retrieving Tiddles from the tree it all went extremely fast - he and one his sicekicks even lugged our new washing machine up two flights of stairs. The machine is tiny but packed with concrete to stop it dancing around the attic so it is as heavy and unwieldy as an old English phone box if you're carrying it upstairs. I know, because I lugged it with the help of Irmie's dad and our burly ex-traffic cop friend Rob Stevens (take a bow boys) down two flights of narrow stairs at our old canalside house. After one set of stairs i was ready to toss it out of the window and try my luck fishing it out of the canal.
Just when I was getting totally pissed off with unpacking boxes today I found a large unopened pot of Vegemite and my golf clubs. Made it all worthwhile.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Dutch idiosyncrasies 3

More odd Dutch stuff.
After much hunting, this typeface is about as close as I can get to how Esther and Julia now have to learn to write at school. It's still not nearly as strange as their writing, which includes letters like g and y which swirl back up to join to the next letter, an open b and p, if you know what I mean, and a very strange x that I can't for the life of me learn. (A better typeface in Word is Script MT bold).

Esther came home after one of her first days in class and said it was great but she couldn't read any more.
This sounded odd (she can read Dutch and English just fine) until we realized it was the handwriting she couldn't read, not the words themselves.
Both Esther and Julia are now getting the hang of this rather baroque way of writing and I've decided to learn too.
The process is not speeding up my note taking at press conferences, but it is kind of fun relearning a skill I've taken for granted for so many years.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Julia's gap

Well, it took a little longer than we expected, but Julia's finally lost her front tooth. For the first time, the tooth fairy turned up with a euro instead of an Australian dollar. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Dutch idiosyncrasies 2:

Not unrelated to my first Dutch idiosyncratic post.
When Esther and Julia go into their class at school every morning they're expected to shake their teacher's hand.
On the first day of term, I thought it was a reaonably polite way to kick off a new school year, but we're now well into the term. Enough already.

Monday, October 02, 2006


After a course in Geneva last week I rented a car and bowled over the border to France to visit my brother Will in Chamonix. While there, we took a quick flight in a helicopter over a glacier that I believe is called the Sea of Ice. To get there we went past a pale imitation of NSW's Three Sisters. This kitsch rock formation is called something original like The Needles. I think. According to our pilot through the fuzzy intercom on board the chopper. Little bit too Lord of the Rings for my tastes, but still worth a look.

Around the corner we got to the start of the glacier which then trundled downhill towards Chamonix, breaking up spectacularly as it nears the bottom of the valley it's carved through the mountains.
Fortunately for the picturesque little French Alpine village (which appears to be inhabited exclusively by Brits and Scandinavians), global warming has stepped in to ensure the Ralph Lauren and Gucci skiwear boutiques don't end up as terminal morraine. The glaciers are hightailing it back up the hill so fast you can almost hear them. Posted by Picasa