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 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.


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