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 02, 2007

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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