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, May 29, 2007

Shades of gray

Camping. I think my opinions on this pastime are reasonably well-known. Even in Australia, where most camp sites haven’t seen rain for 25 years, I think it’s a silly thing to do. If humans were meant to camp, we wouldn’t have been fitted with brains capable of developing flint axe heads and five-star hotels.
However, I am in the minority in our household so on Saturday morning we stuffed the boot of the car with our gear and headed to Texel, an island just off the coast of the northern Netherlands, to spend a long weekend with friends.
A car ferry takes you to the island, though I suspect if you rolled up your trousers you could probably wade there without getting your knees wet.
The crossing is short - no sooner have you clambered up the stairs to the top deck of the ferry to feed the gulls swirling in its wake than you have to start heading down to the car again. There wasn’t even enough time for Irmie to get seasick.

Texel seems to crouch in the North Sea. The legs of the sheep there are a few inches shorter than those of their mainland cousins and I’m told the meat of the island’s lambs is extra tender because they never walk anywhere _ they spend their whole short lives hunkered down behind dikes or sand dunes trying to escape the wind that relentlessly lashes the coast. They are reputed to be pre-salted by the sea spray.When you see a flock, you notice that all the animals point their arses towards the wind. Farmers’ barns that dot the landscape do the same thing, directing their pointy ends into the prevailing wind. The barns are odd – they look like they’ve been sawn in half (see Irmie’s pic). I assume that the design is intended to give a bit of shelter from the wind for farmers and their sheep. Also, if you turned them 180 degrees you probably wouldn’t be able to get the doors open on a windy day.
All of that said, we set up camp in a beautiful spot surrounded and sheltered by low, pine-clad sand dunes and there wasn’t so much as a light breeze to disturb the tents (or to dry them out when they leaked.)
I’m not going to bore you all with a blow by blow account of the weekend. Suffice to say our tent did leak catastrophically on night one. We stayed dry, but all of our clothes were soaked through. Our fellow campers were sympathetic but seemed unsurprised that we were the ones who got drenched. We’ve had our tent two years in Australia and never had a problem. First night under the Dutch skies and it’s like the Poseidon Adventure in there.
On the first day we glimpsed tiny slithers of blue sky through breaks in the cloud and the kids (there were seven of them and two dogs) even went swimming in the camp site’s pool.
Nobody suggested going to the beach for a dip in the churning sewer-brown waters of the North Sea.
Walking through the dunes was beautiful – though too wet for me to take my camera, so you’ll have to take my word for it. The rolling hills were covered in gorse and the occasional stand of stunted trees. I actually saw wild horses and wild cattle. In the Netherlands! If a wild horse wandered anywhere else in this country somebody would immediately shoot it and build 16 houses on the patch of ground it had occupied.
By the end of Saturday, the sky had clouded over completely and we never saw the sun again. I never knew there were so many different shades of gray, but we’d seen them all by the time we left on Monday.
Fortunately, Justine, whose father has a caravan stationed permanently on the island, knew of a fine bar on the beach which served a local brew called Schuumkoppe, which loosely translates as Scum Head, though the brewery’s marketing department might offer a more appetizing alternative. Anyway, it was a fine pint for a blustery Saturday and Sunday afternoon. We used it to wash down a Dutch delicacy called bitter balls. The less I write about them, the better.
Justine’s father is currently engaged in a legal battle with the Mafiosi who run all of Texel’s camp sites. He has been banned from using his caravan because he built a shed a meter away from it instead of actually up against it. This is despite the fact that the same officious dickheads who have blackballed him gave him permission to build the shed where it stands. The case reinforces much of what I think about Dutch bureaucracy gone wild. Of course, I have only heard Justine and her father’s side of the story. For all I know he was running the caravan as a noisy brothel and gambling den – though, this being the Netherlands, that certainly wouldn’t be enough to have him kicked off the site.
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Monday, May 21, 2007

Fuut and emu chick

This thing's called a fuut in Dutch. I don't know what they're called in English, but my guess would be a Great Crested Grebe. Now that I write the word grebe it looks and sounds so absurd I can't imagine anybody would call anything a grebe, but there you are.
A quick Internet search has confirmed that it is indeed a GCG.
If you click on the picture it should enlarge and you can see an emu chick sitting on its back. Not sure how it got there.
This family was paddling along a canal around the corner from our house where I take the dog for walks.
It's a pretty Darwinian stretch of water. For the last few weeks, ducks grebes and other water birds have been hatching their chicks and proudly paddling around showing off the new brood.
One day you see a duck with about 14 chicks bobbing it its wake and a couple of days later you count again and there are only 11 or so. A week later, there are about six. The chicks are under fire from above and below.
Herons prowl the river banks at this time of year. They usually dine on fish and frogs, but they apparently love the taste of newborn chicks too. Added to that, you sometimes get pike swimming in the rivers and rising from the murky depths like the shark in the iconic Jaws poster to grab the chicks. I saw this happen once and it's an alarming thing: Chick tootling along, quick splash, chick gone, ripples spread, mother duck looks around before shrugging her shoulders and herding the remaining family somewhere she perceives as slightly more safe. Bubbles pop on surface of water releasing sound of pike after-dinner burp.
A new risk, albeit a very small one, has emerged in the shape of Dingo who loves chasing birds. However, despite an elaborate hunting technique involving crouching on three legs to spy on possible prey and then crawling almost on his belly towards them (think lions stalking zebra in a David Attenbrough documentary), he always times his run just as the birds take off (in the case of pigeons) or hop into the canal (ducks, grebes etc) instead of slightly earlier.
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Sunday, May 13, 2007

New phrase

Today I introduce you, at least the non-Dutch speakers among you, to a new phrase: “Zonder blik of bloos.”
Literally translated, “without a look or a blush,” English equivalent is something like “without so much as a by your leave” though when I look at that phrase, I’m not sure it even exists.
Anyway, I hope the meaning will become apparent and I invite you all to insert the phrase in the true story recounted below.
Before we get to it, and without wanting to hype it because it wasn’t THAT big a deal, I recall that when we first got to Australia in 1999, driving along Lane Cove Road into central Sydney, Irmie was amazed by the long and orderly lines of people standing at bus stops. She couldn’t believe that anybody in their right mind would willingly turn up at a bus stop and politely wait their turn to get on. If you’ve ever tried to battle your way out of a Dutch train swimming hopelessly against the tide of humanity attempting to get in, you’ll know why this was such a shock to her system.
So here’s my latest whinge.
On Friday, I had to take Esther to the doctor – she’s been crook for a while, going from one bug to the other; when snot wasn’t pouring out of her nose or ears, she was throwing up. Generally she was miserable and irritable and that made us all miserable and irritable. So off to the doc to enquire if there might be some underlying reason why a perfectly fit and healthy child keeps getting sick. The doctor, who appeared to be at least 20 years younger than me, made it clear she didn’t know why I was wasting her valuable time with such a question. She prodded and poked Esther, said she looked pretty damn fit and healthy to her and finally as a way to get me out of her office (presumably so she could play with Barbies, or whatever girls of her age do) she told me to take Esther to the hospital next door for some blood tests.
When we got inside (Esther already whimpering in anticipation of the needle), a thin woman was standing behind the counter dealing with another patient.
The counter had one of those little things from which you pull a number so you know when it’s your turn. The number on the reel was 36; the number on the screen was 35. There was nobody else anywhere near the counter. I thought I’d do my bit to combat Amazon deforestation and not pluck a number and instead just wait there (like a commuter waiting for a Sydney bus) until it was my turn.
From nowhere, a woman elbowed past Esther and me and (alright, I’ll give you a clue – here’s where you insert the phrase) TOOK THE NUMBER 36 and went and sat down!
The more observant among you may have noticed that I don’t often unleash the old exclamation mark, but there it is.
My astonishment turned to horror when the (how can I say this politely?) scrawny bitch behind the counter finished with the patient she was dealing with, looked through me and pressed the button under the counter that let off a ping and clicked the number board to 36! The woman with the number strolled past me (you may insert the new phrase here again if you want) and attended to her blood letting business. I’m not a vengeful person, but I hope she got a particularly persistent strain of hepatitis.

Hammock sandwich

Buying the parasol I mentioned in a posting a couple of weeks ago broke the drought that had gripped the Netherlands for a full four weeks. It's rained more or less non-stop ever since. However, this morning there was a break in the clouds and I decided to dust off and hang up our hammock.
The picture is intended as a little light relief as a reward for getting through my rant above (and I'm feeling very pleased with myself for finally remembering to file this post first so it's under the one above - if you know what I mean...).
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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Handy hints

The book of 1,000 housewife’s tips I picked up on Queen’s Day is a goldmine of sound advice.
Here are a few of my favorite. And I swear to you they’re all direct translations.
-Velvet hats (and I know there are many of you out there with velvet hats) can be cleaned by rubbing them with a piece of dry bread. Marks on the edges can be removed with a cloth soaked in petrol.
-Get rid of insects and fleas on your animals by giving them a firm brushing with water you’ve boiled potatoes in.
-You can treat wood worm holes by filling them with petrol and sealing them shut with bee wax.
-Protect your fruit juice from mould by covering it in a thin layer of paraffin.
Hang on, I’m spotting a pattern here. I’m just going to check see if Shell is sponsoring this fine publication. No, apparently not, though it does say the list was put together with the cooperation of countless experts.
-Drive away rats by smearing tar over the holes they use to get into your house.
-Cigar ash is very fine. It doesn’t scratch metal and is ideal for cleaning windows and mirrors.
Remember this handy tip next time you go to a restaurant and suspect the sommelier is ripping you off: -You can find out if your red wine has been falsified like this - Allow a porcelain plate to float on a bowl of hot water and pour in some wine. Falsified wine will leave a bright red ring behind while genuine wine gives a dark brown ring.
And finally, for all you housewives who like a sip of gin while you’re smearing tar on rat holes: Alcohol, nicotine and caffeine cause arousal of your nervous system. The less often you take them the more sensitive you remain to their salutary effects _ and (pay attention here) the more you limit their inevitable damaging effects.
I’m thinking that it could be very damaging indeed if you decide to light up a cigarette while you’re cleaning your velvet hat with a petrol-soaked cloth.
That’s it for now, but don’t think I won’t be dipping into this treasure trove of petroleum-soaked tips on a regular basis and sharing them with you.
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