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

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ironic footnote

I didn't mention it in the original post about my little mishap, but I enjoy the irony so much that I do so here: The company I was playing for Monday night is called Arbodienst: A service which, its own website says, and I quote: "works together with employers and employees to improve the health, availability and productivity of your staff."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I don't want to sound ungrateful for my quality time with mum last week, but after a week sitting next to her in the Montpellier hospital I'd had a bellyfull of hospitals.
So imagine how delighted I was to find myself in the A&E department of our local hospital this morning with my arm in a sling.
It started with a call from my friend Bert asking if I could play hockey Monday night. His team was short-handed and anybody who knew which end of the stick to hold would be fine.
I was just back from France and had a stiff neck from sitting in the uncomfortable chair next to mum, but when duty and a good friend call...
So imagine my surprise when just one minute into the match I found myself upside down in midair looking down (through the heavy, freezing rain) at the astroturf where I was about to land heavily and wondering who could possibly have slammed me so hard from behind. You guessed it: Bert. Like all the best goalkeepers he likes to stamp his authority on the opposing striker early in the match.
I applaud this, but not when I am standing between him and the aforementioned striker. The target of Bert's charge limped away with blood pouring out of a gash in his knee while I picked myself and then my arm off the turf. It felt like my arm had popped out of its socket and straight back in.
As usual, I decided that the only course of action was to run it off, so I finished the match despite the fact that I couldn't actually hit the ball without dropping my stick in agony.
So that's how we ended up in another damn hospital this morning. A quick X-ray showed that Bert, sorry I, had chipped a chunk off the top of my arm bone. The bit of bone appears to be more or less where it is supposed to and in a place where putting my arm in plaster won't work. So I have a sling and the same painkillers mum is popping by the fistful at the moment and am hoping the bone chip doesn't drift off into another part of my body.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


How did this happen?
I’m sitting in a gay bar in Montpellier typing fast and wondering if patting the owner’s dog is tantamount to an invitation to take me roughly from behind.
I saw a sign advertising free wifi (pronounced weefee here in France) and just barged in. Only when I sat down and had already ordered a beer did I notice that they are playing disco music and there are flags made up of horizontal bars of all the colours of the rainbow hanging above all doors and windows. Now I look around me, there’s also a large painting hanging on one wall of a muscled man in a black singlet with well-coiffed hair and a moustache.
I think I’ll leave the dog alone. Who knows what the etiquette is in these establishments? I feel like a homophobe just for wondering about the dog. I mean, just because it’s a gay bar, doesn’t mean it’s a pickup joint, does it? Straight bars aren’t all pickup joints, are they?
When did I get so out of touch? And how do I keep that little poodle from sniffing at my crotch?
For those of you who don’t know, I’m in Montpellier looking after my mum as she recovers from having a new aortic heart valve surgically inserted last Friday. Apparently hers was bad from birth but doctors waited until she was 60+ before deciding maybe they should do something about it.
The new valve is made from a pig. I think I ate the remainder of the animal tonight mashed up with pepper corns and a bunch of other stuff into a very excellent terrie du maison.
What happens if I kick the stinking little mutt? It’s not sniffing anybody else.
My only previous experience in Montpellier was at the Rugby World Cup last year and then I was with two drunken photographers so I didn’t get to see much of the city – just a bad restaurant and an Irish bar. What is it with photographers and Irish bars? Still, at least they don’t generally take you to gay bars.
Turns out Montpellier is a beautiful old city with a university dating, the guide book tells me, back to the 13th century. What on earth did people learn at universities in the 13th century? How to detect a witch?
I’ve spent most of my time in the hospital watching mum lie there in pain and thinking that her days as a topless model are probably now definitively behind her. The wound where they cracked open her chest to get to her heart is not small.
All is well with mum, who should be allowed home next week after I’ve returned home and been replaced on Florence Nightingale duty by my elder sister.
It’s odd to be looking after mum (if doing the Times crossword with her counts as looking after) after all the years of her looking after me. Still, I guess what goes around comes around. Finally I can see the logic of having five kids. One of her children will be at her bedside pretty much until March.
Hey, a girl just walked in! No, hang on, TWO girls just walked in…
Montpellier appears to be a city of hospitals. They are everywhere. And the buildings that are not hospitals are clinics and the buildings not dedicated to the medical professions are driving schools. I saw a driving school today with a repair shop attached, I suppose for the poor students. Also, everybody here drives a 10-year-old Renault Twingo. Driving a car that ugly, you shouldn’t need to pass a driving test and you certainly shouldn’t take it to a body shop for repair if you put a ding in it. You should just drive it into the Mediterranean and leave it there.
It’s great to be in France again. I went to a very scummy Indian restaurant last night (I don’t get to ear Indian in Holland, so whenever I see a curry house I have to go in – even in France) and a man ordered a half bottle of house red and still insisted that the waiter let it breathe for a few minutes before pouring it into his glass. I had the house red too and, believe me, it didn't need to breathe, it needed life support.
I have to go. They’ve just put on Sade and turned down the lights. And a bloke who was also dining alone in the bistro has just walked in and he appears very drunk. I’m outta here.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


I’m not a very relaxed traveller. I would rather spend an hour and a half in a crowded departure lounge waiting for a plane than three minutes in a cab racing through traffic to make a connection.
So I was not all that happy about leaving myself just 45 minutes to make the cross-town trek from Paris’ Gare du Nord to the Gare de Lyon today. But travelling on a Sunday cuts down options and unless I wanted to get up really early and catch a slow train from The Hague to Brussels then change to get to Paris, I had no choice.
So imagine my delight when we got to Brussels on the fast train only to hear that it was buggered and would all passengers, including those carrying babies and all their worldly possessions in baby strollers, mind getting off and walking up the icy platform to get on another train that we really hope will be working.
I was screwed.
I took the opportunity to upgrade myself to first class – the conductors didn’t seem to be checking tickets - which had the advantage of being the first carriage on the train. If I was going to miss the TGV in Paris, I was not going down without a fight.
I won’t stretch this out – you know how it ends: Our hero, panting slightly, battles through hoards of French people defying the smoking ban on the TGV platform and leaps onto the departing train as its doors swish shut behind him.
Yes, there were hitches: The metro ticket I’d saved from a visit to Paris last year no longer worked so I had to buy another one causing me to miss one GdN-GdL metro; When the next metro arrived it was held up by a man of Arabian appearance who was lugging a rolled up carpet so large and heavy that the only reasonable conclusion to draw was that it contained at least one and maybe two dead bodies. Honestly, I checked the ground to see if it left a trail of blood as he dragged it up the stairs of the train.
Finally, as I looked for my reserved place in the TGV I was forced to ask a 300-pound skinhead reading (I swear to you this is true) a hunting knife magazine (who knew they even existed?) to vacate my seat.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Skating on thin ice

Suddenly, everybody's an expert on ice.
All it takes is a week of temperatures that cause snot to pour out of my nose and freeze before it hits the ground and the whole of the Netherlands goes skating crazy and dredges up a barge load of dubious old wives' tales that are supposed to keep you safe.
The worst of them is: Creaking ice is not cracking ice.
This is a fable that has already probably caused one death - a 50-something bloke who went out on his own to strap on the skates in a deserted nature reserve when there was little more than a light crust on puddles. He was found five days later peering up at his friends from under ice that by that time was perfect for skating.
Usually, Julia's only encounter with caution is when she picks it up and throws it to the wind, but the dead skater story made her strangely circumspect about taking to the ice.
Irmie bought both the girls handsome white and pink skates but Julia would only go on extremely thick ice with me holding her hand.
Back to the creaking vs cracking ice. People insist to me that the booming/creaking we heard on the early days of the big freeze was just "the ice settling." I have no idea what this means, but decided it was nonsense when I was skating on a lake near our house.
I heard the familiar creaking and thought nothing of it until it was followed by what sounded like a gun shot and i saw a crack open up between my skates and shoot more or less from one side of the lake to the other. I made my excuses and left the ice. Nobody else seemed bothered. The small kids (who have never seen natural ice before) who had been carving me up just moments before continued to hurtle around the ice as if nothing had happened. And indeed, none of them sank. Admittedly they probably were carrying a little less weight than yours truly.
The fact is that the ice is full of cracks, but very few of them actually opens up to expose the water. It takes a bit of getting used to, but you end up skating over a lot of them and barely noticing them.
Today, I went to the next village along from where we live and the whole river was frozen solid - as you can see from the pic above.
Apparently you can skate from there to Leiden, a distance of several kilometers, only getting off the ice to avoid a big hole kept open for ducks.
The Dutch have a whole vocabulary built around iced over canals. Getting out and walking on your skates is called klunen and the hole itself is called a wak (any other hole is called a gat. don't ask me why a hole in ice deserves its own name). The traditional post-skate treat, is called zopie
and is supposed to be a mixture of port and beer with eggs, cinnamon and cloves. Alternatively you can drink pea soup called snert, which is excellent stuff.
You may remember me mocking people for buying old speed skates at traditional Queen's Day jumble sales. Those people are now having the last laugh as they flog off the skates at vast profits. I managed to get in early and buy a pair of nearly new speedskates for just 25 euros on the Dutch equivalent of eBay.
The experts propel themselves forward at alarming rates with slow and graceful outward sweeps of the blades. They stand upright or bent forward with their hands behind their backs clutching the protectors you put on the blades when you have to get off the ice to klun around a wak. The upper body barely moves as they glide along.
I, on the other hand, weave wildly left and right, leaning backwards and waving my skate protectors around above my head in a vain attempt to keep my balance.
The true speedskaters' technique for going around corners fast is known as (and I translate not all that loosely) getting your leg over. It involves (for a left turn) leaning into the corner on your left skate and then bringing the right skate around in front of your left and planting it to the left of the left foot. The experts almost seem to pick up speed as they do it. Suffice it to say, I haven't tried it.
I'm much better at falling than going forwards. I find that with a good thick sweater and jacket I can fall backwards and slide to a stop without breaking any bones - any of mine, at any rate. Not everybody is so lucky. Irmie, who is sporting bruised knees from falling off her bike on an icy road, watched on old bloke break his hip on the ice yesterday.
Anyway, I'd better go _ have to get out onto the ice again before dinner.