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

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hockey vs. hockey

Here's a blog I wrote for AP a couple of days ago.
VANCOUVER, British Columbia _ I play hockey (the field variety) and I sometimes _ when the canals where I live in Holland freeze over _ go skating. But do both at once? Forget it.
Before moving to Holland, I'd lived, in no particular order, in Australia, Hong Kong and Britain _ none of them exactly ice hockey powerhouses, so even though I'm a huge sports fan hockey has always been a bit of a mystery to me.
Sure, I've watched it on TV, but only during the face painting episode from the sixth series of "Seinfeld."
So taking in an Olympic hockey match was very high on my list of stuff to do here in Vancouver.
I finally got the chance today and went to watch the United States against Norway.
The first thing that struck me on taking my seat at Canada Hockey Place and reading the team sheet was how many American players are called Ryan. Is it obligatory?
Watching hockey when you're used to the game played on green artificial turf is tough. You never quite know where the puck is going next and which part of a player's body or equipment is going to be used to hit or control it. I saw hands, legs, boots. American goalie Ryan Miller even saved one shot with his head.
In my version of the game, you hit the ball with the front of your stick and a penalty gets called if the ball touches your foot or hand. Also, there are no boards _ the ball goes out of play all the time. At Canada Place, the puck only spiralled into the crowd three times that I counted (and in my genteel sport the fans would toss the ball back, not hold it up for the cameras and then pocket it).
As the game got underway, I was amazed by the agility and speed of not only the players _ but also the officials and the crew that dashes onto the rink to scrape up ice shavings every few minutes. Do they take that stuff up to the skyboxes to put in corporate margaritas?
The guys in the black and white striped shirts were unbelievably quick when they thought a fracas was about to break out. There was a disappointing (to me, at any rate) lack of fighting. I fully expected to see at least one bench-clearing brawl, but apart from a few minor skirmishes the whole game was as good natured as a sport invovling slamming one another into a plexiglass wall could be.
The match itself was over incredibly quickly. I'm used to American sports taking forever because of all the timeouts. There's none of that in hockey. I was amazed to see a couple of Norwegians skate off the ice after only 20 seconds of the first period. Surely they can't be tired yet, I thought. But I guess they were being swapped because there was a face off (which my version of hockey would call a bully off) and the coach wanted to bring on a couple more defenders.
In football (soccer), the sport I watch the most, substituted players amble off, touch the grass and cross themselves, blow a couple of kisses to their (or maybe somebody else's) wife in the stands and exchange high fives with the player replacing them. The whole process can take a couple of minutes.
Against all odds an American not called Ryan _ the stats sheet tells me it was Phil Kessel _ opened the scoring and the Americans added two more before their opponents unexpectedly hit back.
Maybe realizing that playing six against six on the ice wasn't working for them, the Norwegians had Tore Vikingstad sent off. The tactic paid off almost immediately as Marius Holtet broke away to score and make it 3-1. They nearly scored a second a few seconds later.
The Americans tried the tactic by having a player sin binned early in the third period, but they couldn't manage to turn their numerical disadvantage into a goal. Instead they scored a few more goals against the fading Norwegians with the right number of players on the ice. Final score: 6-1.
I headed happily out of the stadium still dizzy at the skill of the players and my ears ringing from hockey's signature sound _ the crash of fully-grown men against the boards.
My first live hockey match will defintely not be my last.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Tuesday in pix

My day in pictures. Back to front, but I can't work out how to put them in chronological order. Basically Tuesday was like this: First thing in the morning take a bus from media center to the Richmond Oval, venue for speedskating. Gorgeous building and nice looking schaatsbaan. From there to the Olympic doping laboratory. File story on doping from the bus back to media center. A bus with wifi. Quick salad for lunch - the only thing I've eaten here apart from an apple that was not deep fried _ and then onto another bus up to Cypress Mountain to check out moguls training and see how the course was looking. Not bad considering they have lugged most of the snow there by truck or helicopter. I had the slightly surreal experience of seeing the same kind of helicopter they use to battle bushfires in Australia used here to dump snow on the slopes.
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View from my office

Vancouver on the other side of the harbour from the Olympic media center. This is the view if I step out of the AP office. It's almost worth taking up smoking so you can go outside for a cigarette in the open air and look at this.
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Monday, February 08, 2010


Message to ESPN: Playing computer games in not sport.
En route to Vancouver I had to stop off in Chicago for a couple of hours. I dreaded it, as I thought I wouldn't have enough time to get my bags, clear immigration, recheck my bags, take a train across the airport, check in again and get to the gate. As it turns out, it was an incredibly efficient process that I breezed through in a matter of minutes.
That left me more than an hour to kill, so I did what most Americans appeared to be doing with their spare time _ I watched sport on TV and drank weak beer.
I was flattered to be asked for ID to prove I was over 21. I didn't realize that was even necessary for a glass of Bud Light, which I think has roughly the same alcohol content as a Coke Lite.
I then sat at the bar with a bunch of other blokes, feeling a little embarrased I'd left my baseball cap at home, watching America's premium sporting channel - ESPN.
As I ordered my beer there was a college basketball match on the box, but as soon as I sat down they switched to cover 10-pin bowling. I didn't really pay much attention after the first minute, as it just looked like a parade of strikes and _ much as I love sport on TV _ this got to be a bit like watching paint drying, grass growing etc.
So I was pleased when the next show came on and appeared to be what I had actually sat down for in the first place _ the Super Bowl between the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints. But no, it actually turned out to be coverage of people playing an American Football video game. I have to say it was a pretty cool looking game, but a game it remained.
Fortunately, my plane to Vancouver was on time and I left the kids to their consoles.
I had got myself a window seat at the back and was pleased I had because the view was amazing as we headed west more or less (I think) along or just south of the US-Canada border. Snow-covered fields gave way to what I suppose were the Rockies, all bathed in a late afternoon glow as the sun set. It sure beat watching bowling.

I am about to go out in the light in Vancouver for the first time, so I can't really give an opinion of the city. I got a chance to have a good look around in the dark last night as the bus driver who ferried me and two other journalists from the airport downtown (the four of us in a 60-seater bus - so much for Vancouver trumpeting these as the Green Games) got hopelessly lost. I'm not sure how long the trip should take, but we did it in more than an hour. The driver was incredibly nice and apologetic about the whole thing. He blamed a local organizer for incorrectly programming his TomTom. As with most Olympics, organizers here can't get enough local drivers for all the cars and buses needed to ferry around athletes and press. So this bloke drove two days from South Dakota to spend his holidays driving a bus here. Admirable, but it does lead to a certain lack of familiarity with the road network. There are always stories about these kinds of glitches in the days running up to the opening ceremony, but mostly they fade away as the sports get busier and the out-of-town drivers get a bit more local knowledge.
So in the absence of other images, I'll show you the delightful view from my hotel before I wander down to the harbor foreshore, which I'm hoping will be a bit more picturesque.

The Smiley Restaurant in the bottom left corner may become my regular morning haunt - they advertise a breakfast that includes a steak omelette.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Folk Garden

So this is the new project.
Given my profound dislike of gardening, tending a large allotment on which we plan to grow our own organic fruit and veggies may not seem the most obvious choice.
But I'm actually quite interested to see how it all turns out.
The plot is 260-odd square meters and until last week belonged to an elderly gentleman who has - let's put this politely - neglected the place a bit in the last few years.
Putting it charitably again, I like to think he's left us a blank canvas. It looks like a scene from The Road. I don't think anything has grown there in years. First job is to dig up everything, plough compost into it and then lay drainage pipes to dry it out a bit - there's a little canal running along the back border behind the house so the plan is to drain water into that.
I think the majority of the space will then be taken up by low-maintenance lawn - the girls want to put a trampoline on it and I'm looking for a place to string up a hammock and set up a barbie.
We officially take possession in a couple of weeks, when I'm in Vancouver for the Winter Olympics. Irmie and the girls are planning to have a go at cleaning up the little hut and maybe the greenhouse while I'm away and to leave the backbreaking spadework to me when I get back.
It looks idyllic covered in snow, but Irmie says it seems a bit more daunting now the snow has melted. Now it looks like a soggy stretch
of World War I no-man's-land.

The little hut, meanwhile, is gorgeous as you can see. No power or mains water, but we collect rain water and there's a little tap operated by a foot pump. There's a two-burner gas-fired stove, but we're not sure it'll still be there once the former owner's stuff is cleared out. I'm hoping he'll just leave everything there as there are a couple of handsome pairs of wooden clogs I have my eye on. We're mulling putting a solar panel on the roof to power a laptop so I can work there while Irmie's harvesting runner beans.
The allotment is part of a complex of Volkstuinen - Folk Gardens in English - which also features a little cafe and store for buying gardening stuff.
I will keep you posted when I get back and launch my horticultural career.