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, January 29, 2007

International courts

Life here in The Hague is not all just eating cheese for breakfast and cycling through pouring rain to take the girls to school. Sometimes I have to go out to work and most often that is to one of the big three legal institutions here: The International Criminal Court (first permanent war crimes tribunal in the world), the International Court of Justice (highest UN judicial body, sorts out arguments between nations about where they should put their borders, whether or not they can execute one another’s citizens, whether war is bad – that kind of stuff) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (name kind of says it all really).
The stories all crawl along at the ailing snail’s pace of international justice with occasional bursts of excitement when a head of state is indicted or dies in his cell or the United States gets politely asked by the ICJ not to execute a German bank robber and goes ahead and offs him anyway. If you’re interested, details of that particular case are at: So, in the end, for dedicated members of the press corps what really sets the places apart are the amenities.
ICTY: Based in a former insurance building of reasonable architectural merit about a half hour bike ride from home. Nice if it’s dry and cool. Bad if it’s either raining or hot – either way you arrive damp-to-soaked.
Has very poor coffee from a machine around the corner from the disabled toilet (which smells pretty ordinary most times I sneak in there – like people using it are directionally challenged, if you know what I mean). Also just outside the disabled dunny is a machine that is supposed to dispense Mars/Snickers bars and the like. The problem is that instead of taking your euros and handing over the chocolate, this thing generally just takes your cash. In a place dedicated to prosecuting the worst kind of criminals, this kind of daylight robbery seems to me particularly out of place.
Saving grace are the esteemed colleagues from the former Yugoslavia who make coffee by pouring boiling water directly onto espresso grounds. You wait until the sludge sinks and then drink. Powerfully good stuff first thing in the morning. The ICTY also has a canteen that will deliver sandwiches and soup if you call them. I have a PC permanently stationed in a news-agencies-only office there, which makes for easy filing easy and a convivial atmosphere.
ICJ: Based in a Baroque pile called the Peace Palace in leafy Hague neighborhood. Jury’s out on architectural merits. 25-minute bike ride from Voorburg.
Facilities here are quaint. There’s a heavy emphasis on oak paneling in the press room and a window that doesn’t shut (even when there’s a gale blowing a minus-10 gale off the nearby North Sea) when a TV truck is outside because that’s the only way of getting its cables inside. You’ve gotta love a place with half-ton oak tables and chandeliers for the hacks – and I think you have to applaud the journalists for showing reserve and not carving their names into them. But the place has terrible comms – one computer and no broadband cables or wifi and extremely patchy reception for filing from mobile phones or data cards. Saving grace is the coffee. It is served from a machine in a canteen that appears to have been built in a crypt, but you can hear the beans being ground after you press the espresso button and it actually tastes like coffee. I think you can even get it in a china cup if you stay down there. Take it up to the press room and it’s standard court issue plastic, I’m afraid.
ICC: Based in architecturally just plain dull former telecommunications building (at night, they bathe it in blue light, which is simultaneously wasteful and distasteful) and with a media center cobbled together in the building’s car park. Five minute bike ride from home – so close you can see it from Julia’s bedroom window.
Comms are generally good – wireless that works well so long as they remember to turn it on or places to stick a LAN cable. Little sockets for headphones if you want to follow (and record) proceedings on TV/Internet and file at the same time rather than going upstairs to the court room where recording devices are banned and practice your shorthand. Coffee’s bad, but not as bad as the ICTY machine. Smoking room has very stylish 60s-esque plastic chairs but they’re not so good that you’d want to go there and suck up the fumes. Desks for reporters have extremely handsome lamps that the ICC has very wisely bolted to the desks. This place has a canteen that’s totally out of bounds to the media but it makes up for that by on busy days (of which there have been about three in the seven months I’ve been here) by providing pretty good sandwiches and bottled water free, gratis and for nothing. You have to applaud that. But the real pieces de resistance at the ICC are the unisex dunnies. The cubicles are painted a seasick green and always smell clean and have the most amazing hand driers. These things are like jet engines bolted to the wall. When you put your hands under them, the water flies off and onto the toilet seat below so it looks like the same person responsible for befouling the ICTY disabled dunny has been at work here too. Hold your hands under the jet any longer and your skin starts rippling like people’s faces do when they’re pulling Gs as they hurtle into space on the Shuttle. This is funny when it happens to the slightly slack skin on the back of your hands but when you turn them over and the blast starts causing your palms to ripple, that’s just alarming.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Esther' s room

This is the result of a few days painting and building a new desk. Esther loves it.
The red wall is a "black"board.
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Friday, January 19, 2007


It was a bit windy yesterday. Gusts up to 133 kmh, plenty hard enough to blow people, me included, off their bikes etc.
The best thing to do was stay indoors and watch it all on TV but even staying inside was a bit hairy as my office window faced directly into the prevailing wind and spent the whole day pulsing as if it was about to implode and shower me with shards of glass.
Lots of people got trees through the roof or on their car but we escaped unscathed this time.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


While it still feels cold to we thin-skinned, fresh-off-the-boat immigrants, today's 10 degrees Celsius was positively balmy for this time of the year.
This picture is of a bush in our back garden bursting into flower apparently in the mistaken belief that spring has sprung. Hayfever season is likely to start tomorrow. Migratory birds who should be forming into V-shapes and heading for Tenerife are instead rolling out their beach towels and sipping pina coladas next to the North Sea - toasting George Bush and John Howard's refusal to sign Kyoto for saving them a long return flight.
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Dutch idiosyncrasies

Julia turned seven today. Which brings me to the latest in what is turning into a very occasional series of posts on Dutch idiosyncrasies.
Today's is the habit of congratulating people on birthdays. Not the actual person celebrating a new year - they do that too, but I don't consider it unusual.
No, they congratulate more or less anybody who has ever met, glanced at or read about the person whose birthday it is. I swear, if we had a dog, our guests today (each and every one of whom I love to death) would have congratulated it.
This is how it goes: Guest A walks in gives Julia hug and congratulates her, then Guest A turns to Irmie and says "congratulations on Julia's birthday." I consider this just on the edge of not being odd because Irmie was pretty intricately involved in Julia's actual birthday seven years ago. The A turns to me kisses me three times (left cheek, right cheek, left cheek) and then says "congratulations on Julia's birthday." Then they turn to Esther: big hug, "congratulations on your sister's birthday." Then on to Oma and Opa (grandma and grandpa). Same thing: "Congratulations on your granddaughter's birthday."
By the end of the afternoon, I heard this (honest): "Congratulations on your sister-in-law's daughter's birthday."(!)
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Monday, January 08, 2007


Irmie about to tuck into Christmas dinner.
The observant among you will notice that in this pic Irmie's wearing a necklace and in the photo purporting to be a family snapshot on Christmas Day, she isn't. This is because the family snap was actually taken on Boxing Day and not Christmas. Not a big point, but you know this blog strives for accuracy at all times except when it gets in the way of a good story.
Irmie does appear to be wearing the same clothes though. Guess that's why our luggage was so light.
I'm sure you're all profoundly interested in how I'm looking. Sadly, I can't post my pic as I was on camera duty throughout the festive season.
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Esther just around the New Year.
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For those of you back in Oz, here's how the girls are looking now. Not bad at all, though I say it myself.
This is Julia shortly before her 7th birthday (Jan. 10).
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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Corder clan at Christmas

So here's the Corder matriarch (seated center, about to administer clip around ear) and her five kids and their various spouses, partners and children. Left to right from the rear: Alex, girlfriend (and now fiancee) of Will, who is behind her and clutching her turkey-distended belly; Sam; me; Boyd; Becky (pictured during the five minutes on Christmas Day when she was not hanging off a ventilator at the local hospital due to savage asthma attacks); hostess (and purchaser of the Wiiiiiii) Sarah; host, cook, carver, pourer Rob; Jim and Sally proving that you can pose for one of these ghastly family photos and take a postprandial snooze at the same time. Perched on top of the sofa are Lilly (and I feel like a bad uncle for not knowing if there's an e in between the last l and the y); Julia; Harry and Esther. Down below, next to grandma is Josh and acting up are Will and Danny who really just want to get the Wii going again.
The first Corder Christmas in years was a huge success - good food, fine wine, sparkling wit all around and Pauline Fowler croaking in Eastenders to cap it all off. It simply doesn't get any better.
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No doubt at all about the christmas present of the year: Cousin Danny's Wii. For those of you living in caves, the Wii is Nintendo's newest computer games console. It differs from its rivals by getting players (I blv the technical term is Gamers) off their arses and causing them to indulge in actual physical activity by putting in their hands a wireless sort of joystick that acts as a tennis racquet, baseball bat, bowling ball, nine iron or boxing glove depending on which sport you choose. There are also a bunch of stupid role playing games where you slay dragons or some such nonsense, but for adults and some kids the real fun is the sports.
I don't think I need go into any serious detail about the actual results of the fierce men vs boys confrontations (the confrontations were fierce, not the men) that erupted as the turkey/ham/roast potatoes gradually got digested and the red wine took a hammering. After all, sport is about taking part, not winning. Suffice to say (Uncle) Will and I
(combined age 70+) were the victims of unholy beatings by (cousin) Will and Danny (combined age 20+). Will and Danny took a while to get the measure of my fast ball but once they did, they pounded them out of the baseball park with a casualness a less thick-skinned uncle might have found insulting/patronising. Will and I, on the other hand, had trouble just swinging in a straight line and rarely made any kind of contact with our opponents' dizzying array of sliders, dippers and splitters.
We gave them a slightly better run for their money at tenpin bowling but still lost before finally beating the young upstarts at golf. But even then, we called it a day after five holes because they were clearly getting the hang of it and our beginners' luck was running out.
I think both pix here are of titanic tennis battles. Esther clearly had a touch of the Sharapova about her, mercifully without the grunting while (Uncle) Will was more reminiscent of a late - already battling the belt-stretching effects of endless booze and nose candy - Ilie Nastase.
Huge fun all around. I'm desperately trying to persuade Irmie that a Wii can be extremely educational if you insert the right game and gets kids moving, and frankly should be right at the top of Esther's next birthday present list.
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New Year

This picture is how the Christmas/New Year period feels now - bit of a blur and receding fast. Our naked christmas tree is out in the front garden waiting to be either picked up by the garbage collectors or doused in lighter fluid and torched by local youths, whichever comes first. The smart money's on the latter.
The Dutch, generally a pretty restrained and moderate bunch, tend to let their hair down in a fairly big way on and around New Year's Eve - the only time of the year when they're actually allowed to let off fireworks.
This was our first year back and the first year extremely large fireworks have been legally sold (previously you had to go over the border to Belgium to stock up on the most potent pyrotechnics).
I was always pretty shocked when I saw generally sensible grown men puffing on their one and only panatella of the year and then using the glowing end to light bangers. Seeing them use the same cigar to set off an explosive device that would probably blow an American Humvee of an Iraqi highway was just plain alarming.
The toll this year was surprisingly low; one man dead and another who survived but whose friends scraped his face off the nearby cars and walls and gave it to him in a bag. Both were victims of the excessive alcohol/cigarette/short fuse syndrome. An elderly couple went up in smoke when their apartment caught fire shortly after all hell broke loose at midnight. In The Hague, the commander of the city's constabulary proudly called the evening a huge policing success because only about 150 cars were torched, and only one of them actually had police in it at the time.
I just went out for a first bike ride of the new year and the remnants of the fireworks, which on January 1 are a pretty red confetti strewn over the streets, have degenerated into the sort of gray sludge you see on the edge of English motorways the day after heavy snowfall.
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