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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Blogger Tim & Meraiah said...

Your story only reinforces my view that the only tents worth buying in Australia are made in New Zealand. Those Kiwis understand the meaning of the word, "waterproof."

8:10 PM  

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