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, April 30, 2007

Queen's Day

Today is Queen’s Day, when the Dutch celebrate the birthday of former Queen Juliana, mother of present Queen Beatrix.
For reasons that have always eluded me the day is marked by everybody clearing out their attics of junk, piling it up on a blanket outside their home or in a shopping street and hawking it to passers-by.
Effectively it’s a nationwide garage/jumble sale and we were on the wrong end of it this year.
After our move, we have vast piles of stuff we either don’t need (surfboards? You know my opinion of the North Sea), can’t use (golf clubs? Three words to describe Dutch golf courses: expensive and boring), or have no place to store (golf clubs and surfboards again) . And yet we ended up BUYING junk instead of selling it.

Here’s a quick tally of our new belongings:
Many books. Nobody in this family appears capable of walking past a pile of cut price books without picking up a fistful. The best book purchase, by a country mile, is a 1940s pamphlet I bought that is full of handy housekeeping advice for housewives. My favorite tip involved using lead to coat the inside of clothes to make them waterproof. The pamphlet wasn’t exactly a bargain. It was in its original dustcover which said 25 cents and I paid a euro for it. I guess maybe when you take into account inflation and the guilder-euro conversion I did alright…
From now on the stuff is ranked either useful or useless or annoying.
Useful: Hockey shoes for Esther, almost unused, and new canvas shoes for Irmie. Totally unused.
Useless: A pink fake leather punctured volleyball.
This brings me to two other points. First, our Queen’s Day started early when drunken youths stole Esther and Julia’s football and netball out of our front garden last night (getting smashed on the evening before Queen's Day is also a tradition of sorts) and second, the Dutch truly are a nation of traders and not always the most scrupulous ones.
Irmie tried to haggle on the ludicrously high 2 euro asking price for the pink fake leather volleyball but the woman flogging it refused to budge, swearing that A: It was leather, despite the fact that it said in large black letters on the ball that it was made of synthetic leather, and B: That it was in mint condition. She must have meant polo mint because when Irmie brought it home and I pumped it up it was flat again within 30 seconds.
Useless: About five kilograms (I know, I carried them home) of marbles of various sizes/colors. Esther and Julia disagree, of course.
Useless: Knee pads for Esther that offer the same degree of protection as wearing a pair of long trousers while rollerblading. Dingo would disagree with the Useless tag, she thought they were very tasty.
Annoying: A handheld electric organ bought by Julia. I give it a maximum of a week before Julia loses interest in music or the bossanova beat it plays nonstop causes me to bin it.
Annoying: Julia wandered off at one stage and came back with her hair painted orange. Question: Did Esther (A) Say, that looks nice and continue hunting for punctured balls? (B) Say, that looks stupid and continue hunting for punctured balls? or (C) Go and get her hair sprayed orange too? The one saving grace is that I think most of it came out in the bath tonight.
Stuff we didn’t buy included speed skates. Everybody was selling speed skates this year. I think the whole global warming message is sinking in here.
However, I think there’s another thing at play. My guess is that a lot of the junk being sold today (and especially the ubiquitous speed skates) were bought last year, tossed in a cupboard and sold again this year without being used. I suspect that if you put a tracking device in a pair of skates 10 years ago you’d find that they changed hands once a year on Queen’s Day after spending the previous 12 months in a cupboard. The nearest any of them got to ice in that time was the cube in the gin and tonic being held by the man selling them on Queen's Day.
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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Life's a beach

The weather was do damn warm today that not only did I have the first barbie since arriving back in the Netherlands 10 months ago, but afterwards we went to the beach. Admittedly the barbie was a disposable tinfoil tray of charcoal that nearly burned a hole in our table while only lightly warming my steak and the beach was on the North Sea, but as they say here: You have to row with the oars you're given.
Despite the green scum that was washing up on the beach, it was very pleasant. The dog learned the hard way that drinking sea water is a bad idea.

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New vocab

Today’s new word: Burgelijk.
It’s a very difficult one to define. It’s essentially a derogatory term which means something like bourgeois or middle class or conformist.
I’ve known of the word for years and used it as a slur to apply to other people and their actions.
It’s something I’ve always snobbishly aspired not to be.
Buying matching his ‘n’ hers bikes is burgelijk.
The act of washing one’s car can be burgelijk if you own a special bucket and sponge and hose attachment used exclusively for car cleansing duties.
In a reference back to the last new vocab, sleurhuts are extremely burgelijk – and only slightly less so if they’re rugged off-road models.
There are so many examples, but way up there on any scale of burgelijkheid is trimming one’s hedge.
For the first time, at age 40, I trimmed a hedge today.
And I kind of enjoyed it.
More specifically, I enjoyed the fact that I didn’t totally fuck it up. The hedge is still standing (though our helpful neighbor pointed out that it’s a little top heavy on our side) and we appear to have more garden as a result of my snipping.
The only really disconcerting moment came when I asked Irmie, whilst holding a big sign saying: This is a rhetorical question! if she thought I was too youthful and sexy to be trimming a hedge. Managing to be casual and sincere at the same time, she answered, No.

As if hedge trimming was not burgelijk enough for one day, I also bought a parasol for our back garden. Is parasol even an English word? I have certain Dutch words for which I no longer know the English translation – my favorite is ontsluiting, meaning dilation – as in how far is your cervix dilated madam? I only learned the English translation for that when Julia was born. Irmie dilated like a tortoise when Esther was born and like a hare for Julia.
Buying the parasol was bad but it also vindicated my insistence that we buy this house. As I may have mentioned before, when Irmie first saw it she shook her head and said, it’s nice, but the garden’s on the wrong side.
The sun-worshipping Dutch have a sort of built-in compass when it comes to gauging on which side of a house the garden is. Southeast good, northeast bad. While I was trying to persuade Irmie that we should buy this place I was dispatched to look through the windows every hour of one afternoon to see when the sun stopped shining on the back garden.
Still, thanks to climate change and a slightly lower roof than Irmie feared, we can sit in the sun pretty much all day at the back of the garden even in April.
April has already broken all records for warmth, hours of sunshine and lack of rain. My colleague at AP in Amsterdam even wanted to write a drought story. I said that until he kicked his way through a field of bleached sheep bones on the way to work or a dust storm hit Amsterdam he should probably wait, if only out of respect to Australian farmers. The farmers here are whinging because they have to dust off their pumps to suck water out of the thousands of kilometers of streams that criss-cross the country so they can irrigate their paddocks.
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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

New vocab

Today's new word, brought to you by Heidi and Bert, is: sleurhut.
Literally translated this means drag shed. Refers, of course, to the quite rightly much maligned caravan. I can see why one might need one when heading through the Outback for six months at a time - though what's wrong with a couple of swags in the tray of the ute, is beyond me - but why own one in Europe. For the amount of money you add to your fuel bill dragging one to the south of France, you could stay at a beachfront hotel in Monte Carlo - or at the very least drive down in a civilized way and pay for some French lackey to put a tent up for you somewhere on the Mediterranean coast. This has the added advantage of having a French person do a menial task for you, a foreigner. Doesn't get better that.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Dingo facts and figures II

I’m no longer keeping count, but shitting and pissing in the house has already reduced to a trickle, so to speak.
To balance it out, any turds she does inside, she now tends to hide more cunningly, so they can lie unseen but not unsmelled for several hours stinking the house out until somebody works out where they are. The advantage of this for shallow and lazy dog owners like me is that I can just pretend not to see/smell the little steaming pile and leave it for somebody else to stumble across and clean up.
Car crashes caused by the dog’s refusal to ride in the car anywhere at all but on the driver’s lap: None (Yet).
Longing looks by attractive women in my general direction (but primarily, I fear, in Dingo’s direction): I’ve lost count. Seriously. This dog is actually more of a babe magnet than a real human baby.
Patio paving slabs undermined by digging: 3.
Flies and bees chased in the back garden: Dozens.
Flies and bees caught in the back garden: None. I think once she finally catches a bee this particular game will end.
Complaints from neighbor: None.
Unsolicited pieces of dog rearing advice from neighbor: Six.
Visits to the vet: One, but it was just for a scheduled vaccination and was thrown in for free by the pound when we bought her.
Nights that the dog has slept from the time I take her out for evening toilet stroll to the time Irmie’s alarm clock goes off in the morning: 1.
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Swimming off

I know I’ve written something like what follows before to one of my faithful readers in a personal e-mail (remember when I still wrote those things?) so whoever got that mail, you can skip this post.

On Saturday Esther and Julia took part in what translates literally as “swimming off.” This is the culmination of weeks of training apparently designed to ensure they never drown if they fall into one of the many miles of streams that criss-cross this country – they have something to do with keeping the place dryish, but don’t ask me how.
Of course, this ignores the fact that most of the streams are so clogged with rusting bicycles, thick mud and the bloated bodies of cattle who rode their bikes into the water then got stuck in the mud that you couldn’t possibly drown in them. In fact, they’re mostly so shallow you’d be lucky to get your socks wet if you jumped in.
Nevertheless, the Dutch want all children to be able to paddle around long enough for a passerby to haul them out if they do take the plunge. Also, and infinitely more importantly, swimming pools don’t allow you in the water without arm bands unless you have successfully swum off.
They start off swimming half a length wearing clothes and shoes. Julia was doing the A diploma and Esther the B. Julia had to wear shorts and a T shirt while Esther was in long trousers and long-sleeved shirt. If you keep progressing, the clothing becomes increasingly bulky until the Z diploma when you have to swim a mile in a full suit of armor and carrying a broadsword.
Once they’ve completed that, they have to hop out, strip down to their cozzie and swim a bunch more laps on their front and back. A key part of the test is THE HOLE.
This is a sheet of plastic that is suspended vertically in the water with a circular hole cut in it. The kids have to dive in and swim through the hole. As you progress through the alphabet of diplomas the hole gets deeper, further away and smaller until only an anorexic eel would be able to get through.

Julia and Esther, who spent most of their waking hours in Australia picking stuff up off the bottom of our pool, both kicked up an unholy stink about THE HOLE. The problem is that they’re not allowed to wear goggles while doing the test. I’m guessing this is because tests have shown that 99 percent of children who fall into muddy streams are not wearing goggles. The exact significance of THE HOLE is lost on me – maybe it is a replica of some kind of drainage culvert or maybe a hole in the ice that a child has to find should he/she fall through while skating. Whatever it is, it required extra training by us to get our dolphinesque children through it. Of course on Saturday, they did it easily and everybody was happy.Enhancing my long held suspicion that the whole process is a way of fleecing parents, all 34 children swimming off with Julia and all 33 in Esther’s group passed and got their diplomas. Even so, we were as proud as if they’d just performed a piano duet of Beethoven’s 9th at the Opera House. For those of you who’ve been waiting for it – and I know you’re out there – coming soon to this blog is my critique of Dutch dunnies.
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