Friday, November 30, 2007

Traffic in Jigjiga

Traffic in Jigjiga, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Oh England, whatever happened?

England lost a week ago to Croatia, a country which made it to the World Cup finals in 1998 in France and a team with some very good players. Thanks to Israel they had only to win or draw to be certain of making it to teh European Championships next year. Instead they lost, with some pretty poor team selections and some poor performances on the pitch.

England were missing their captain, John Terry, who had an injured leg. Now, according to The News Of The World, John Terry had been seen dancing the night away at Shaun Wright-Phillips' 70,000 euro birthday party at a night club in London. Despote his injured leg he was dancing with a lap dancer, whilst one of his England and Chelsea footballer colleagues was apparently having oral sex in the corridor.

No wonder that these over paid people can't be bothered to perform for their country if they are expending all their energies on prostitutes in night clubs. Terrible.. the corruption of money.

Hoi An - in the jaws of a lion

Where we were a year ago: From the slithering snake to the jaws of the lion... a stop on the way from Da Nang (airport) to Hoi An.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Time to be reminded of summer

Time to be reminded of summer, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

See you all soon!

Friday, November 23, 2007

And there we were this time last week this group of people...

.. at the start of a great weekend!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

So who is going to miss England?

English supporter, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

So, twenty years after I move from England to Holland, they both lose their football matches, England 2-3 (to Croatia), Holland 2-1 (to Belarus). Both teams play very badly, as they have often done during the qualification rounds for next year's European Championships. However, for Holland, it makes no difference, they have qualified in any case. For England, it means they miss out altogther on the European Championships and, to be honest, I don't think too many people really cared. They played rubbish, they had a bad manager who put the wrong side on the pitch and they were outplayed by a much better team.

There would have been many times in the last twenty years when England have faced Holland at football, notably twice on my birthday, once when it was a 0-0 draw in Italy in 1990 and another time in England in 1996 when it was 4-1 to England, the only low point of the night , being the one goal which Holland scored which knocked Scotland out of the competition.

I missed England a lot when I first came here and I really loved my trips back. I still do, mostly, but maybe not quite as intensively as before. It was great working for Metron, where we had an office in Basingstoke, as I could often come over and see my Mum, or my sister, or cousins or friends, but now going to The City of London, it is not quite the same. Still, we have a trip planned in a couple of weeks (to coincide with yet another Marc Almond concert!), from which we will make a long weekend.

Anyway, Good Luck to Croatia or any of those teams competing in Switzerland and Austria, at least it will be a nice quiet tournament without the colourful English.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

21st November 1987-2007 - twenty years in Amsterdam

I left England with a one-way ticket to Holland, by ferry on the evening of 20th November 1987. The next morning, I arrived in Hoek van Holland, me, my Fiat Uno and my worldly belongings. Holland was not exactly the country of my dreams, but Fred lived here and after three years of having a relationship with him, it was time to give it a try.

I drove straight up to Groningen to be with my Fred for the weekend.

On Sunday, I was back down in a little village of Hoogmade, ready for language school on Monday morning.

After spending two hours in the traffic jams to drive 40 kms on a grey Monday morniing, I arrived at the Linguarama Language School at teh World Trade Center, where my teacher walked in introduced himself in Dutch and asked me my name in Dutch. I was having my first Dutch conversation.

Within two weeks, I had picked enough of the language and was fluent enough to face my new world in a new language.

I didn't expect to be here so long (the deal was that we would both go and live in England after a few years) but here I am, here we are, enjoying life and not missing England too much.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A weekend in the Ardennen

Donkey!, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

A weekend in the Ardennes….one has heard so often about people going off to the Ardennes, but after living in Holland for (almost) 20 years, we have never done it. And now we have. The Ardennes are in the eastern side of Belgium, stretching from the southern tip of Holland in the north, down to Luxembourg in the south. It is a region of hills, river valleys and forests… an adventure holiday paradise, with opportunities for mountain biking, walking, fishing, horse riding, kayaking, white river rafting and all sorts. It is quite wild and a good antidote to the flatness of Holland.

It took Eric 15 years to arrange this weekend and it was well worth the wait. 17 of us finally made it down to the large white-washed farmhouse (with room for 20) in the middle of the Ardennes, near the town of La Roche, in the province of Luxembourg. Fred and I, not having a car, managed to hitch a lift with Marlin, a nearby neighbour, and a cycling mate of his and Eric’s, Marthijn and we left sometime on Friday morning, taking the motorway down past Eindhoven to Maastricht, to Luik (Liege) and then on to La Roche, where we had some time to walk around town, while the lads went off on the first of their cycle rides.

I had a conference all and had to set up office on the pavement outside somebody’s house, tapping onto their wireless network, placing my laptop on the electricity meter cupboard facing the street, and talking to my colleagues on the mobile phone. A discussion about pensions, which could have taken place any time in the last few weeks, but happened to have been planned for this afternoon, whilst one of my colleagues was calling in on his mobile from the airport in Singapore. The wonder of technology.

Unfortunately, my office was on the cold, shady side of the street so I was bitterly cold by the time I came off the phone an hour and a half later, when I managed to catch Fred just as he was half way through a delicious plate of Belgian cheese croquettes and salad and a glass of delicious brown Belgian beer. Mmmmm….. and a couple of beers later, the café had filled with the returning cyclists, plus four girls who had come from Utrecht and Eindhoven… and it was time to find our white house…

to be continued...

Monday, November 19, 2007

"Geert, Geert, Belgisch peert"

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Forests of the Ardennes

Forests of the Ardennes, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

We're back. It was a great weekend. Thanks, Eric!

Friday, November 16, 2007

To Belgium, for the last time ever?

We go to the Ardennes today.. maybe our last ever trip to Belgium, as the country may soon be splitting up.

Our friend Eric has rented a house in the countryside for about twenty people (see it here) and we are all going down there in various meabs (we are getting a lift from a neighbour). Once there we can do what we like, like mountain biking, walking kayaking, horse riding or whatever. No doubt, we will be enjoying some Belgian ber.

The weather is bright and sold, with an easterly wind and maybe we will get some snow. We'll be back on Sunday.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby!

Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby!, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby!

Went to see the Kaiser Chiefs at the Heineken Music Hall last night. Totally excellent, if just a bit short. Was therir with quite a few friends and we all had quite a lot of Heineken to drink and were, if truth be told a luttle but drunk. All the easier to enjoy jumping up and down to their modern take on punk/new wave. Great energy, flashy lighting, fast, poppy songs and loud guitars. Excellent.... recommended - catch them if you can.

Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby! was their number one single earlier this year at just the time that Kauto Star and Ruby Walsh were winning all the top races.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Battambang - moving the buffalo through town

A reminder of where I was (with my brother) a year ago..... Battambang in the Cambodian countryside.

I recommend anyone going to Cambodia to make the boat trip from Siem Reap to Battambang and then get in touch with Tee who can take you around the local countryside, visiting villages, modern temples, ruins of Khmer temples, caves, killing fields, markets and so on.... His details are on the Around Battambang website.

French poodles

Faces of France - quatre, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Taking a break from a snooze here on the plane back from Lyon to Amsterdam... There is something about planes, even more than trains which make me want to sleep as soon as I get into them, which is good. The problem this time is that I have been given a B seat, stuck between the window A and the aisle C, so I cannot rest my head against the window. In the meantime, someone keeps pushing his knees into the back of my seat, so not the most comfortable flight. Air France and all I got was a Perrier and a bag of dried pretzels… and I was thinking just how well KLM have improved the quality of their food offerings since they were sold to Air France. Oh well, it probably didn’t have too much to do with the French, in that case.

Last night was spent out in the sticks at a hotel stuck between a motorway and an industrial estate, outside the town centre. No internet connection either. What do people do in such situations? Well, I had a clue about that when my colleague handed over a dvd to another colleague in the office this morning. I suppose I could have spent my time writing a blog for later publication, but I went out for a walk instead and didn’t get much further than the other side of the industrial estate before it was time to return for dinner at the hotel.

It was a buffet offering and we were expected to choose from the € 14 a meal menu, rather than the more expensive ones on offer. The starters (hors d’oeuvres) and desserts were all available from the buffet whilst the main course could be ordered. No haut cuisine, but I did manage to get a lovely slice of potatoes dauphinoise (a local speciality) with my chewy steak and haricots verts. My colleague would not drink red wine so we went for a nice light white Burgundy, a whole bottle which was quite a relief. I had been down in this part of France once before with my previous company. It was one of my first truips abroad with that company and I was shocked (putting it mildly) to realize that we were only allowed one half of a bottle of (red) Burgundy between the three of us!!!

So after finishing most of the bottle between the two of us it was time to turn in and I had no problem sleeping although I am sure I dreamed about work. Woke up in the morning to a beautiful view of the sun shining on the snow on top of the mountains which surround the valley. It was cold but not exactly frosty, just crisp. A morning of light work was followed by a lift into town from where I could catch my bus to the airport, after first having wandered around town with my camera. I might not have achieved (or even done) too much, but I came up with one or two bright ideas, and these are things which a company can often benefit bmore by than plodding hard work... at least that is how I tend to justify my salary.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Norway has its problems too

Sandvika - and the other, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

This is the outside of a multi-storey car park in the suburb of Sandvika to the west of Oslo. i am currently in a train waiting to leave Sandvika for the city on its way to the airport to the east of the city. It has been waiting here for half an hour already and although the doors are now shut it is not going anywhere. A good thing I have left myself a long time to get to the airport. I had hoped to have some time to walk around town, but this is now time being spent writing this comment onto flickr.
I was supposed to be joining my colleague, Arne Rasmus on his journey home but I left him waiting on the platform for his suburban train,
He normally cycles to work, but having fell off his bike a couple of days ago (he slipped on the ice) and having heard the dreadful weather forecast this morning, he decided to take the train this morning. A pity for him as he would have had a strong tailwind on his way in and no wind to fight on his way back. For it has turned out to be a lovely sunny afternoon, or it was until the sun set a few minutes ago.
So, the train system is a disaster (where in western europe is that not the case?). Lack of investment means that the signals do not work properly and there are too few trains. Too few people to work on the trains as well. With very little immigration allowed and an oil-rich booming economy, there are not enough people who want to work on the trains. Then, with the Swedish economy picking up, more Swedes will go back across the border putting an even greater strain on the workforce in Norway. Time to open the borders maybe?
We are on our (slow) way into town now and we have glimpses every now and then of the water to the south, beyond the traffic jams on the motorway next to the track. Being so few people in such a large country, it is odd to see it so crowded here.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Sandvika - one side of the road

I am still in Norway, hoping I can get back home before the big storm arrives.

I have been eating brown cheese and reindeer meat. Delicious!

Had a very nice meal with colleagues at the hotel last night, the meal for four of us, with good Italian wine, costing only slightly more than the cost of my single room for one night, which cost € 280, which makes it about the most expensive hotel room I have ever stayed in, apart from maybe a night or two at a country mansion in England for work a few years back.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

And now for something completely different - Oslo!

I am going off to taste some winter later today, as I am about to make my first trip to Norway, courtesy of my work. I am on a cheapie flight which does not get in until 23.45, after which I’ll need to take a train to the city centre and then somehow find my hotel. There’ll not be many opportunities for taking photos as it will be dark in the mornings and evenings and in the middle I will be working. Not a very glamourous prospect all-in-all. At least I will be able to meet some more of my Scandinavian colleagues. We (our company) must be one of the few US-multinationals which does some of its best business (sales and profit) in Norway.

I associate Norway with fjords and au pair girls, the latter because we used to have Norwegian au pair girls living with us in the 1960’s when my father would go to the Sahara for three months at a time and leave my Mum, who was in her early thirties, to bring up four rowdy children. There was Ingunn and Inge, both mousey blond, and they both came from Stavanger and they both liked to listen to the Beatles and wear mini-skirts, as far as I can remember. The other one we had from Belgium, Astrid, was more the quieter type (I think).

Other than these au pair girls, the only other Norwegians I know happen to be the partner of my best friend in England, a lovely woman who, amongst other things, introduced me to the stinky brown cheese they seem to eat over there.

Some friends of mine have been way up north (of Norway) in the Lofoten area and made some very beautiful photographs of clean sandy beaches, rocky bays, rounded islands and fishing villages, all under the clearest of blue skies. Looks absolutely wonderful, worth a visit one day, although I read that Oslo is, in fact, nearer to Rome than it is to certain parts up in the north of the country.

In the meantime, thinking of the Arctic Circle and Lappland and so on, we have to hear that Santa is going to have to go on a diet. He is too fat for the modern era it seems, setting a role model for people to become obese. Well, the dear man is very old and maybe he is fat because of his metabolism. We are not allowed to consider this fact and are expected to equate body and substance with fat and unhealthiness. How typical of this new modern world where we all have to conform to what ‘they’ tell us.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The end of squatting in Holland?

Vrankrijk, the most (in)famous squat in Amsterdam. As Dutch society embraces intolerance there seems to be unstoppable pressure to ban squatting.

The Mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen is for a ban, as are many of the parties of the right, although the Christian Union does not want to ban squatting without something being done on the other side to stop speculators leaving buildings unmaintained and empty.

Squatting is 'no longer of this time...', has no part in modern society they say. Indeed, once you have abandoned tolerance and embraced unchecked capitalism, maybe there is no place for it.

And, oh yes, we can blame the foreigners too (it used to be Italians but now we can blame the Poles). They are the bad squatters who just want to live here for free.

Fred was a squatter before he met me. He does not have a lot fo time for the squatting movement himself - and looks back on his own squatting days as a period he went through, just as he protested against cruise missiles in the Dutch countryside during the Cold War. However, he sees as well that the current climate against squatters is part of a general pull to the right amongst the Dutch population, egged on by opportunistic populist politicians, the list of which is getting far too long...

Sunday, November 04, 2007

DJ Tiesto, the world's ex-best DJ

November is never my favourite month as within a couple of weeks of the start of the month, the leaves have fallen off the trees and we are left with greyness. The weather becomes prgressively worse, every week, the average temperatures falling a degree or two. The days get rapidly shorter, the mornings darker and the late afternoons as well. Winter is coming and we have to live with it.... with the prospect of it continuing into March, five months further on.

However, the start of the month sees Amsterdam at some of its most colourful with the trees turning a flush of yellow before the leaves drop, or get blown off in an autumn gale. Funnily enough, we always associate autumn with storms from the west, throwing down rain and blowing off the remaining leaves, but this year we seem to have more of those sorts of storms during the summer than during the real autumn, although they may come yet.

This first weekend of November has been spent very pleasantly. On Friday evening we were out for dinner with friends and yesterday was a quietish day at home and in town, followed by an evening of Strictly Come Dancing and Robin Hood, before I joined Eric at a DJ Tiesto concert in the Heineken Music Hall.

DJ Tiesto, a previous holder of the Best DJ in the World award, now awarded to another Dutchie, Armin van Buren. Hmmmm... well havoing never been to Ibiza and having grown up in the 1970's and been into glam, disco, punk and new wave, and having never been to Ibiza, I am not really of the DJ-cult generation. However, Eric asked if I would like to go and I thought 'why not?', so yesterday it was time to experience the cult of the DJ at first hand.

Maybe going to see DJ Tiesto a week after the fabulous Marc Almond made for a slightly unfair comparison but I mist say that I was slightly disappointed. Not that I wasexpecting too much from someone playing records on a deck in front of 8,000 people in a big music hall, but to me the whole thing fell a bit flat. Sure enough the sound quality was excellent, as was the light, laser and firework show, but the event lacked an atmosphere or any sense of excitement. People stood around in the dark waving their arms up and down in the air every now and then, but there was not excatly an awful lot of dancing going on. And what is the point of being there at a five-hpour long DJ-set if you are not going to dance around and jump up and down and enjoy yourself? The music was unremarkable and although Ithe point s to create different types of atmosphere and sense of anticipation by skillfully mixing bits of music together, I seemed to miss all the ecstatic bits, which surely are what he was supposedly building up to.

I know I am too old really for this sort of thing, the most of the audience being 'normal' Dutch people from their late twenties to late thirties, but I thought I might find more than what I did. Maybe I was missing that magic pill, through which it may all make more sense than to someone who has just drunken a few glasses of beer. Oh well. An experience. The previous ex-best DJ of the World. I don't think I will particularly bother with the other ones...

Today, we went for a walk into town and are back home ready to watch the result of last night's Strictly. I reckon it is John Barnes' turn to leave, not so much that he is the worst, but because he is one of the worst, is not a current TV personality, is a bit overweight and is not exactly white. I see he is a 6-1 chance to be knocked out this week, behind the dreadful Kate Garraway and Kenny Logan ( both of whom will probably be saved by the public vote again).

Red, yellow and blue

Red, yellow and blue, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

As seen in Amsterdam, earlier on this afternoon.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

November in Amsterdam

November in Amsterdam, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Two years since the bloodbath of Addis Ababa

Tigrayan shepherd, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Today, 2nd November, is the day which marks the two year anniversary of the bloodbath of Addis Ababa, where government troops and police killed over forty people on the streets of the capital city. They were protesting against the manipulation of the election result earlier in the year, where widespread abuses were reported on, notably by EU observers.
Just four months earlier, the Ethiopian Dictator, a Tigrayan, Meles Zenawi was sitting side-by-side with Mr Tony Blair on his Africa Commission, a body set up to promote freedom and democracy and ecnomic growth in Africa.
Tony subsequently turned his back on his ex-friend, The Dictator, by his other friend, George Bush closed his eyes and within a year was encouraging The Dictator to send his troops into Somalia.
The only good thing to be said about this is that these troops, stationed in Somalia, could not be used aginst his own people.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

About the shoes...

* - from the note - Someone's trainers..... you have to go barefooted into the churches and, whilst being guided around by one of the deacons, a novice will accompany the group to look after the shoes as one enters each church, for which he will expect a small tip at the end. The French chap who was with us gave our shoe boy all of one birr = eight eurocents. He told us he had had his money stolen somewhere else in Ethiopia. However, the next day we saw him heading off towards the mountains on a three day trip on a mule and a stash of hashish which he had bought for forty dollars! Amazing!

All Saints' Day

Graveyard in St Michael's Church
Graveyard in St Michael's Church, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

It is All Saints Day today, a public holiday in many Catholic countries, when families will go and visit or have a picnic with their dead ancestors in the cemetery. This could be quite charming were it not for the fact that many cemeteries in countries like Italy and Spain are grey stoney places, with one’s relatives lying in vaults inside a large concrete wall. Not a nice grassy churchyard under the trees as you might expect to find in England. However, I suspect that although this is the way we think of our cemeteries in England, this is not exactly the reality, where one is probably more likely to be buried in a council-maintained site out of town, next to a dull crematorium.

I have no particular idea about whether I would like my body to be buried or cremated when I die. I know that all my grandparents, great uncles and great aunties have all been cremated, so it sort of makes sense to be cremated as well. However, I have always appreciated more a burial and most of the people I have known who have died in Holland have been buried. There is something extremely touching about gathering around the grave and saying goodbye to someone as their body is lowered below the ground and then to throw some soil onto the coffin.

If I would get buried I would not really want to be buried in a large wooden coffin, with metal grips and handles. The Muslim tradition of being buried in white sheets makes more appeal. Marc Almond refers to white satin, in When I Was A Young Man, a haunting folk funeral song – ‘he was all dressed in white satin’ he sings. Satin or cotton, I am not too bothered, but white is good.

I suppose one of the difficult issues of being buried is choosing one’s final resting place. At least when one is cremated, one’s ashes can be thrown to the wind, maybe in a wood, on top of a hill or mountain or on the beach, while the wind catches all the ash and spreads it around. In terms of a burial, one’s remains are going to stick around a long long time in the same place. I’d like to think of being laid to rest in some dark moist soil, full of worms and other such creatures, turning into compost and pushing up the daisies. I suppose the only other thing to be said here is that I’d like to be next to Fred, having spent most of my life with him (this event will be in five weeks time on 5th December – Sinterklaas, when I will be 46 years and 170 days, by which time I will have known Fred 23 years and 85 days)…

Anyway, I am not planning on going anywhere at the moment… just going home in the train from the office to Amsterdam. I spent last night in Paris, having finished work too late to catch the last train back to Amsterdam and checking into the Hotel de Milan near Gare du Nord. I was offered a room for € 40 without a shower and € 62 with a shower (including breakfast). I chose the latter which turned out to be a waste of money as I turned over for a couple of minutes after the alarm went off and woke up again with just seven minutes to catch my train…. so it was a whore’s wash (a splash of cold water under my arms) and a quick exit past the breakfast tables and a short run to platform 8 of Gare du Nord, just in time to catch a train which ended up being delayed by 20 minutes! Oh well!

At least, my half day in Paris in the office was fairly peaceful, my boss joining me there, putting them on their best behaviour. However, during the day we were given three reports to read about the state of the financial control in the two companies we have in France, meaning that I will probably have to spend even more time down there.

But for now, I can look forward to a nice evening at home with Fred, watching an hour-long episode of Eastenders where ginger-head Bradley is due to marry his seemingly ill-suited wife, the head-strong Stacey. How wrong is this going to turn out? Either it goes wrong and they don’t get married or they do get married and it goes wrong afterwards, the point being is that Stacey has been having a sexual affair with Bradley’s father, the slimey Max. Hmmmm….. And before that.... It Takes Two - the latest update on Strictly Come Dancing. I am rooting for Alesha, but I think Kelly might win.

Locations of visitors to this page