Friday, September 28, 2007
Thinking of Burma - two years after the bloodbath of Addis
Here is Fred standing by a wall in Addis Ababa. This was two days after the Ethiopian government forces (police and army) killed over 40 protestors and arrested over 2,000 people after they came onto the streets to try to overturn the election result which everyone (including the EU observers) had been fixed by minority ruling faction.
The streets were as good as empty everywhere by this stage (on the day of the murders we had been in Lalibela, arriving in Addis luckily a day later) and were relatively safe, although army convoys patrolled the main streets of the city.
The regime is still in power and sits cosily next to the US on its War on Terror, even getting help from the Americans to invade and occupy neighbouring Somalia.
And not only that... the Ethiopian minority governement is moving against Somali people living in its own borders in the Ogaden, denying them food supplies. If Ethiopia is really not interested in the people living in the Ogaden, why do they just not give up claims to the area and give it back to the Somali people. These people, by thway, have Queen Victoria to thabnk for giving their land away to the Ethiopian Empire (as it was then). It was the Empire's reward for having beaten the Italians at Adwa in 1897.
Who are the real terrorists?
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Fred (August 1985)
Continuing the short series on Fred, here is a photo of him from August 1985, taken outside the house he was born and brought up in. This was the first time that I would visit his parents, having met Fred almost a year before in England and it was the occasion of his mother's 66th birthday, his mother having been born in 1919.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
What is it with 'man flu'?
Fred and I have been laid low with colds and both of us spent the day at home yesterday. I was in bed most of the time feeling rotten. Fred didn't feel quite so bad so he spent some time working on things for school and looking after me!
Well, my colleague asks me how I was recovering from my 'man flu', whilst a colleague of Fred's refers to my 'mannen griep' (= man flu). The point these women, for they are both women, is that men don't deal with colds as well as women.... spending their time feeling sorry for themselves, demanding attention and care from their loved ones, as opposed to women who just get on with it.
I don''t know if that is so much sexist nonsense, but all I can say is that I did feel rotten yesterday and I very much appreciated having Fred at home to look after me. Fred was back at school today and I spent my time at home working on e-mails, and it wasn't a nice day to be out, being the coldest day of the autumn so far and wet as well.
I think I will stay at home again tomorrow, as there is enough work to do on the e-mail and I have a busy week next week, so better get my strength back as soon as possible.
Monday, September 24, 2007
Back at Oude Schuttingskanaal, Fred's birthplace
Not born on the grass, Fred was born in the house behind the trees on the right (where the car is parked). It used to be a shop and was used in the TV series Bartje in 1972 for filming, but had to close down a few years later after everyone started going to the supermarkets. The original house/shop was broken down and then rebuilt by Fred's brother, Jannes (at the back of the photo), after which he and his wife Grietje, shared the house with Fred's parents until they died in 1998/2000. The house was sold in about 2002 to some dog lovers who have now moved on. It was Fred's father's 93rd birthday yesterday and a beautiful day it was too. Sunny and warm, for the first day of autumn. It is good to see how relaxed Fred is when he goes back up north, even though he would never want to return to live there.
In what are now the fields opposite, there used to be poor people's houses and on this side of the road a school for 80 children, but they have all been destroyed and the land put to the plough. The people here, including Fred's parents were peat diggers and over the whole area the peat has been dug up by hand and transported. Some of the peat was left behind, which explains why the soil s dark and rich. Potatoes have been the main crop but now more and more maize and sugar beet is gronw for the bio-fuel industry, continuing the tradition of exploiting and exporting energy from the area.
First they came to take the peat, then the came to extract the natural gas fields underneath the soil, almost all of which is sent to the West of Holland where much of it is burned keeping the glasshouses warm to grow tomatoes, flowers and peppers. The removal of the gas from underground is also to blame for the frequent light earthquakes they experience here.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
An ode to De Wallen
De Wallen, or The Red Light District is under threat from the Labour Party dominated City Council - they have bought a large number of whorehouses and want to sell them onto yuppies who will then complain about the noise in the neighbourhood...
They say that the legalisation of prostitution (since 2000) has not worked and that the Red Light District has become a centre for human smuggling, enforced prostitution, violence, illegal drugs and money laundering. Instead of the police breaking down the criminal gangs, it seems they want to turn the area into a trendy yuppie-hood and destroy a centuries old tradition (and famous tourist attraction) and push the illegal activities back into the underworld, where the police are even less likely to tackle the crimes being committed.
Friday, September 21, 2007
Rotterdam Station and pigeons
I had twelve minutes to change trains in Rotterdam yesterday and my train arrived thirteen minutes late, meaning I had 29 minutes to wait for the next train. Time to have a look around the 'new'temporary Rotterdam Station on a grey dampish day and take some photos.
The sign on top of the old building says 'Traan Laten', meaning shed a tear - for the old but really quite ugly station building before it gets pulled down and replaced with something ultra-modren. In the meantime, the new temporary station has been constructed using containers, stacked on top of each other, similar to the containers Fred had to teach in for a year while they pulled down and replaced his old school building.
A friend of mine, Shane, wrote a comment about how ugly Dutch train stations are (with the exception of Amsterdam Centraal) and I was replying to him just as the train was departing from Amsterdam Bilmer-Arena. This is a brand new station which was finished last year and which has a very modern, comfortable and roomy feel to it.
Today, I just happen to read in the paper that this station has scored another success, namely that it is pigeon-free. The architects were aware about how annioying pigeons can be to passengers as well as their pigeon poo being destructive and smelly. So, they decided to build the station in a way to make life as difficult as possible for pigeons to perch and live there and, sure enough, it worked; no pigeons.... and I checked this both times we stopped today, not a pigeon in sight.
Pigeons really are not my favourite birds, especially when they come to steal our grapes in August, but as much as I fantasise about popping a shot at them with a gun (like my cousins used to do in the carefree days on the 1970's), I would never really mean to harm them. So, it was altogether unfortunate that yesterday when I was cycling back from Central Station that a pigeon did not get out of my way, with the result that I ran over the poor thing. Injured but not dead, I was faced with a dilemma about whether or not to finish him off and put him out of his misery, I chickened out and carried on cycling, letting nature take its course, after my sad intervention.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Gare du Nord, as never seen before
Amazingly enough, given the number of times I have used this station, I have never seen it like this, althouigh I can assuem that it has looked exactly like this for many years. Funny how one can continue to be surprised.
I am staying at a hotel next to the station and will catch the first train back to Holland tomorrow, hopefully being able to grab hold of a pain au chocolat before I do so. The train which brought me down here yesterday had, inevitably, ran out of pain au chocolat by the time I decided I wanted to buy one to accompany a coffee. In typical French (or is that Parisian) fashion I was told I should have come to the buffet car earlier an not fallen asleep. Well, thank you! No thought that they should have ordered more to cope with the expected demand.
Anyway, I am going to have to find a way to enjoy this city better. Maybe a book with historical walking tours or something. I do not come here to hate the place, but I do find it hard to like it.
One good thing they have introduced but which I have not yet tgried are free bicycles. There are bicycle racks generously spread throughout the city. You enter your credit card and they take a € 150 deposit off you, and then you are allowed to atke a bike. It is free for the first 30 minutes, € 1 euro for the next 30 minutes and € 2 for the next and € 4 for every subsequent 30 minutes, theerby encouraging you to return the bike as soon as possible after getting from A to B. An excellent idea. I did not take my bcredity card out with me this evening and no have blisters on my feet from having walked so far. So Fred... we will se Paris by bike in two weeks time!
Time for bed now... bon nuit.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
A lovely day
It was a nice day for the geese, but by the time I arrived at the beach the clouds had taken the upper hand and there was a stiff breeze blowing. Blijburg was no so busy but between the huts, behind glass and out of the wind, it was very nice. The sun came out again and I nowhave a nice tingly feeling on my skin. It was very nice to come across an ex-colleague from 12 years ago and her husband and we chatted about Dutch and Middle Eastern poltics while they drank their Sol beers and I drank my Spa Rood. Later, I chatted to a neighbour who had also come down to the beach before battling against the wind on the way back home.
A nice dinner outside on the balcony where we were accompanied by two young blackbirds pecking their way through sticks and leaves looking for food.
It has been a very good day, in a very special and unexpected way. It is good to see how even a very dark cloud can clear away to let the sun flood back in...
Sailing on the Med in Southern Turkey
We did not have a summer holiday by the Med this year and iut is nice to be reminded of previous holidays by photos like this where the sea is clear and blue, the sun is shining and everyone is happy.
We were going to get a blast of summer this weekend, today, Sunday promising to be as sunny and warmer than yesterday. It IS possibly a bit warmer but the clouds have come over, casting into doubt a possible visit to Blijburg, where this time last year it was full-on summer.
Oh well, we enjoyed our trips to Stockholm and Madrid, and however disappointing this summer was, it probably wasn't teh worst we have had or are going to have.
Friday, September 14, 2007
Thomas starts his new school
Here is Thomas a few years ago when he came to visit us in Amsterdam with his Mum.
He is now a big boy of 11, going on 12 next month and last week he started secondary school. I was in London for a couple of days work and spent the night with Thomas and his Mum, saving the company a night's hotel bill and spending that on taking them out to dinner at a place near their house called Bumpkin. Very nice English food, organically produced and for a reasonable price.
I had hoped to see Thomas in his school uniform, but he had already changed by the time I arrived and teh next morning he was still asleep when I left the house 7.30 for my trip back to The City. A pity.
Anyway, the school seems to be fine and well equipped. They already have smart boards, like those TV detective series on which you can write as well as project pages from the internet. Fred is just receiving lessons on how to use such a smart board, the first one having just been introduced into his school.
Thomas has already earned two credits - one for Art and one for Religious Knowledge, neither of which he has really excelled before, Thomas being like his uncle, better in Maths! He has also been appointed counsellor for his year, so other pupils can talk to him about their problems and so on. So he seems to be doing very well.
Keep it going, young man, your uncles are very proud of you.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Here we were yesterday...
... celebrating our anniversary on the balcony in the fading light.
The champagne was gulped down and the cottage pie was washed down with a South African Merlot and after chatting to various members of the family, we watched the last half an hour or so of Moulin Rouge together.
Up very early today and feeling very tired.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Anniversary time again...
Yes, it is 11th September again, which means it is our anniversary, the day we mark being the day we met each other in a bar in Earls Court in London, back in 1984.
Fred has been to work, whilst I stayed at home* and did my work behind the computer, whilst also tidying up the house a bit and cooking a cottage pie for dinner. We had agreed to wait until autumn for the first cottage pie and although it is not yet autumn yet, the evenings are getting shorter and without any sun, it feels like autumn already.
In the meantime, I was happy to welcome Mar round for a cup of coffee earlier this afternoon (and thank you very much for the chocolates!). I also saw Henk later on and he turned up with a lovely bunch of flowers, which was nice.
The champagne is in the fridge, having waited since my birthday to be drunk and we'll be drinking a delicious Catena Malbec from Argentina to accompany the cottage pie.
We are suppsoed to be going to a public meeting organised to support the fountain against those silly women who would have it switched off. The meeting starts at 8 pm, but I doubt we'll be fulfilling our civic and neighbourly duties. We'll see.
(By the way, this was us having a mudbath near Dalyan in Turkey on our holiday there four years ago).
* - Fred tells me it was a good thing that I did not try to go to work as the track around Breukelen was closed causing serious disruption this morning... oh well.
Monday, September 10, 2007
On the train now back to the office in Rotterdam, after a week away. I missed my train this morning as I had to queue up behind a group of Swedish Protestants on their way to Veenendaal who wanted to buy their tickets one-by-one. I had to buy my ticket at the counter because my debit card isn’t working as the magnetism on the back of the card does not work anymore, apparently it reacts badly to being in the vicinity of a mobile phone. I phoned the bank for a new one and they promised I would have it within a week. It is more than a week now, so I can blame the bank for getting to work late. Not an especially good start to the week, but never mind.
It is grey and wettish outside and we are still waiting for our Indian summer, which we may or may not get at the end of the week. A high ridge over the UK is giving them decent weather but is bringing is cool wet air from the North Sea.
We had a good weekend, all in all. Friday, after the journey back from Paris, it was straight to the Club Avond at Spargo. Saturday late up to find out that the party in Groningen was starting at 4 in the afternoon, rather than later in the evening, so off we went to catch the train up there, a journey taking 2 hours 40 minutes, a good deal more than the same journey would have taken 80 years ago. The party was to celebrate the 25th anniversary for a couple of friends of ours from Groningen and was great fun. Excellent Spanish food with paella and various tapas, washed down with beer from the tap in the garden.
Again late up on Sunday, a breakfast at the Croissanterie on the Grote Markt, where we always used to come. The brie and onion salad baguettes were still good, but the coffee was terrible,a s was the service, so maybe it will also be the last time we go there. The journey back was a half hour shorter than the journey to Groningen due to better connections, so we were home by 3, enough time to enjoy some of the open air events in Amsterdam. Locally, we had the Rode Loper festival, the highlight of which was a display of Turkish oil wrestling on some specially laid down grass in front of the Tropenmuseum. The aim of the wrestling is to get your opponent with his back on the grass and his tummy facing up, while the oil on their bodies and leather shorts make it ery difficult to grab hold of one’s opponents. Intriguing.
After, this I cycled over to the Homominument which was celebrating its 20th anniversary with a discussion about how to deal with increased aggression and intolerance towards gay people in Amsterdam. I was surprised to hear that schools can not be forced to allow people from the COC (Dutch gay rights group) into the schools to give presentations on various aspects of homosexuality. Given that 60% of the children in Amsterdam schools come from ethnic minority backgrounds where, often, acceptance of homosexuality is hindered by religious ideas, I would have thought that this would be a good place to start.
Back home, we ate the osso buco which Fred had made, on the balcony, both of us wearing jumpers, so we can still have a little bit of the feeling that it is summer, finishing off the evening with watching our Almodovar DVD of Live Flesh. Very sexy and quite thrilling!
Saturday, September 08, 2007
Argentina win in Paris
Yesterday was the start of the Rugby World Cup in Paris, when France were playing Argentina at the Stade de France, near our office in the north of Paris. From the little I could see, Paris was going only a little bit Rugby crazy and it was great to see an exhibition of Tango dancing at Gare du Nord on my way to catch the train back to Amsterdam (another four hour, two dinner journey).
Fred and I will be back in Paris, all being well, in four weeks time for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp when there will also be a quarter final being played at the Stad de France stadium. If Argentina win their group (they will probably have to beat Ireland to do so), they are due to play, which'll be good. No Argentinean horses expected to run in the itself however.
Silly me, I did not get round to booking the train a week ago and now the price has gone up from € 69 to € 202 per person, which is a bit of a bugger. Travelling by train isn't necessarily cheap and one hardly gets rewrded for taking a form of transport which is 90% cleaner than flying. In the meantinme, the Dutch Government wants to impose a tax on air travel of between € 12 and € 24 a flight. All very well, but they will not be spending the income on environmental policies but on tehir social policies. Again, all very well, but with more expensive flights there will be fewer flights and fewer jobs and more money to be spent on umemployment benefit and how does the environmnet realy benefit? Silly people.
Friday, September 07, 2007
Taxi rides in Paris
It has been a trying time here in Paris. After a difficult day at work, there came an even more difficult task of finding a taxi driver to take me from my outside suburb to Porte de Clignancourt, for a train to the city centre. I eventually found one who then gave me a dismissive look fo scorn when I offered him a € 50 note to pay for the € 6 taxi ride. So, it was off first to Burger King, where there was a long queue, then to an Algerian-French bar for some smaller notes. A row of African women in colourful clothing were standing at the entrance to the metro station, while a Chinese man was cooking maize for them on a barbecue. The air was warm and the sky was dark, getting ready for a downpour.
It rained while I was underground, so it was a wet Chatelet which greeted me as I came out of one of the rabbit holes, trying to find my way to the Marais for a drink at our favourite bar in Paris, namely the Cox Bar. This did not disappoint, it was still Happy Hour, the beers were flowing and the pavement was teeming with punters. I ended up chatting to a supply teacher who had just come back to Paris from teaching in London, just as Fred was having a drink with his colleague back in Amsterdam, on his first week back at school. And to top it all, the charming Faycal behind the bar offered me a free beer to confirm that this really is an island of friendliness in the difficult city of Paris.
Eventually, it was time to go home and therefore to find a taxi. Another forty minute wait until a Tunisian taxi driver eventually stopped. We spoke as best as I could in French and he asked me which country I preferred from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Yemen. I could not give him an answer as they were all brilliant in their different ways, so he asked me which felt the safest and I told him Syria. I thought I had better not tell him I had been to Morocco, as I ahve very mixed feelings about that place. Tunisia might be a nice place to go to though...
Thursday, September 06, 2007
Moulin Rouge! - five years on...
A strange thing - five years and two days after I attended the Premire of Moulin Rouge! at the Odeon Leicester Square, I am being driven past the real Moulin Rouge by a colleague on our way back from dinner... I saw the film 14 times at the cinema and never grow tired of seeing it.
The dinner was nice, on a converted barge on The Seine, not so far away from La Defense (and Bois de Boulogne). Very trendy interior and fabulous looking waiters and waitresses dressed in black, serving delicious food. It made up somewhat for a difficult day in the office. As in my previous company, it seems to be the French office which causes most of the problems... still, we live to fight another day.
Monday, September 03, 2007
Hair is down these days, but in the early 1960's it was UP, and this became the inspiration for a film from the early 1980's called 'Hairspray', by cult film director John Waters, featuring cult transvestite Divine.
It was a step into the mainstream for both of them, featuring kids at school and a local TV dance show. Lots of song and dance and dealing woith themes of being different (fat and black) and of integration. Not a gay film at all, but in terms of being an outsider, it attracted a gay audience just like Muriel's Wedding would a decade later.
Anyway, Hairspray became a Broadway musical and is now out again as a film of the musical (of a film). Now altogther in the mainstream, with big name actors and actresses, it was great fun. All very sweet and missing the bite of the original. How odd to see John Travolta from the 1970's films Saturday Night fever and Grease now take the place of Divine as the overweight mother, Edna Turnblatt. How times have changed... homosexuals were still invisible in most western societies when Grease was such a big hit with the schoolgirls and boys of the late-80's.
We saw the film on Saturday night, after which we went for our now traditional beer and dance at de Prik, which was fun. In the meantime, Hairspray was being shown for free at the new Cultural Centre which opened quite near where we live, at Timorplein, yesterday. An old buildimg has now been converted to a youth hostel-theatre-cinema-restaurant-bar-internet space-training centre. Now, this is just the sort of thing that can be done with tax money... so keep it rolling... Let's hope it all works out there. Maybe we will try a Friday Club Avond there one day.
Saturday, September 01, 2007
We like Septembers
We like Septembers - mostly because bfor the last twenty years or so we have had very good weather in September, always a nice consolation after a disappointing summer (as they tend to be). Whereas in July and August one expects sun, one feels that sun in September is a bit of a bonus and after any really nice day there's always the question of whether that was the last day of summer.
The strawberries are ripening again, the tomatoes expanding and the grapes are just so sweet. A good thing that pigeons don't like sugar, so they have gone off to pinch someone else's food.
Here is a picture of me fronm June three years ago in Taormina on the wonderful Mediterranean island of Sicily.