Tuesday, October 31, 2006

On the move

Here are Fred and me in Turkey. I am now on my way to Bangkok, sttng at an expensive internet cafe at Schphol. Fred is still snuggled up in bed, Tuesday being the day he doesn't have to get up so early.

What a stress, all the packing - the clothes, for warm and cold (the mountans), tablets, suntan cream, electronic gadgets, books, tickets, money, passport, keys, leads and so on. And then, at the last minute, the lift did not show up, so a quckly arranged trip in the taxi. He arrived early and started tooting so I left in a hurry (never a good idea), hopefully not having forgotten too much. Anyway, I do have tickets, money, passport (darling) and I have checked into London, all set to go.

After the BM flight to London, I transfer to Gulr Air who will take me to Bahrain and then Bangkok, all being well.


Monday, October 30, 2006

Richard with Granny Mac in garden in Bangkok, 1965

Here is a photograph of my brother Richard with my Granny Mac in the garden of our house in Bangkok, taken in about 1965 when Richard was one years old.

Tomorrow, I will leave Amsterdam to go to Bangkok where I will meet up with Richard with the idea of travelling to Cambodia and Vietnam and also seeing our uncle and aunty in Kuala Lumpur.

I have not been back to Bangkok since I was a young 18 year old and I imagine it has changed a lot in that time, like everywhere. Even then, just 14 years after we lefty it had changed an awful lot, the khlongs having been filled in and the motor car having taken over the city. However, now the process seems to have been reversed with the sky train, such that traffic is far less a probblem than it was.

My first memories of life were from Bangkok and one of them concerned a big flood we had which meant that all the goldfish in the fishpond had swam away. We were left with dirty looking river fish flapping around on the grass lawn once the water receded. I can alos remember the house, the maids (Patana and Mali), the khlongs, the hut in the garden, the garage with the coconut tree going through the roof, driving along empty oads, past the zoo (must go and visit that), going with Granny to the market and watching the kites flying, the kindergarten, standing on a bridge over a khlong and so on.

I am looking forward to seeing Richard and to be travelling again, a bit sad to be leaving Fred behind, as he has to work.

See you all again soon in Bangkok, I hope.


Atheism fight back

Ethiopia - Obelisk, Axum, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

After taking a bit of a backseat the past few weeks (we were told yet again on Question Time that the UK was a Christian country - the third week running!), atheism is striking back! It seems that the very excellent book by the extremely clever and articulate Richard Dawkins - The God Delusion - is set to be the best selling non-fiction book at Christmas in the UK. What a triumph of timing! It comes not so long after the Da Vinci Code - a very different sort of book, but one which can hardly be said to be pro-religious - has been a best seller.

So, it seems as if the silent majority in the UK are fed up with all the noises and obstructions and conservatism of the religious groups. Richard Dawkins book gives succour to their innate atheism, by dealing with the main arguments which have been put forward to justify or prove the existence of (a) god(s) and also goes onto show why it is that people have a need for a god, whether or not they exist. He also goes to explain why he thinks religion is mainly a bad thing, although I think he goes a but far here, concentrating too much on the extremists (he mostly targets Christians as most of the people reading his book will be in countries with a Christian cultural background).

But the main thrust of the book is to help people understand that they are, in fact, atheists and how it is that they are atheists, rather than agnostic or passively religious. He encourages atheists to come out of the closet and announce themselves to their friends and family and colleagues as atheists, much the same way as gay people are encouraged to do so.

Mentioning gay people, who along with children are some of the people most oppressed by established monotheistic religions, reminds me that there was another good ruling made by the courts the other day. the Gay Police Association ran advert in The Guardian showing blood coming out of a Bible, under a caption which noted a large increase in anti-gay related violence where people tried to justify their aggression and violence by claiming that their religion does not approve of homosexuality. Some Christian group took the GBA to court claiming that this was not fair. However, the judge, on looking at the evidence backing up the claims of the GBA did not agree there was any case to be had and that what the GBA had published was 'fair comment'.

In the meantime, I am going to go off and wonder what to celebrate this 25th December.. the birthday of Mithras, or Adonis, or Attis, Osiris or Dionysus, because indeed, all these man-gods, were said to have been born on that date, which as we all know is remarkbly close to mid-winter's day.

In the meantime, here is a pre-Christian monument we visited in Axum in Ethiopia this day last year. I remember my late Uncle Hector suggesting that we should make the trip up to Axum and, indeed, it was a fascinating and charming little place right up in the north of Ethiopia, looking across the battlefields towards Eritrea.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The clocks went back

Groningen - autumn colours, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

And it was another lovely sunny autumn day here, spent at Chantal and Gien's joint birthday party, followed by dinner with Fred and Henk back home.


Saturday, October 28, 2006

Travel consultancy

In the meantime, our friends Jon and Peter turned up for coffee and cakes this afternoon, with Peter asking for suggestions about here they might go on holiday in the coming weeks, to get both good weather and interesting sites.

We looked at Zanzibar, Sicily and Jordan.

We were in Zanzibar in mid-November last year, just catching the start of the south-eastern African rainy season, where we experienced two or three enormous downpours between the warm sunshine... a great combination with a three or four day safari up country in Tanzania.

Sicily has tremendous culture and can expect to be reasonably warm at this time of year, although now it seems to be experiencing along with much of the rest of Europe, very warm weather for the time of year. I'd recommend Palermo and Siracusa.

Finally, Jordan offers the beach life in Aqaba, desert life in Wadi Rum and the spectacle that is Petra.

I'd have liked to have ben able to suggest Marrakech and offer Fiona's riad for a week, but she is there right now, in the process of selling it. A pity, seeing as it was such a lovely place, but better to have your money where you need it.

And, in the meantime, I am wondering if there is money to be made in organising budget itineraries for far off places for other people.


Lucky pigs

and snout, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

A month ago, Mum, Nick and I were down on a pig farm in Somerset, a farm which stocked free-range organic Gloucester spots. The owners were looking to expand, such was the demand for their produce despite the fact that theirs was twice the price of battery-farmed pork in the supermarket. Very encouraging and we wish them luck.

A couple of weeks ago, I was on a high speed ferry returning to Amsterdam from the beach in Ijmuiden, talking about the asbestos ship, the Otopan.

And, now we hear about a plan to build pig flats in the port area of Amsterdam, a mutli-storey building to house pigs and give them more space, light and air than they would have in the sheds which are dotted around the countryside. It sounds bizarre to be doing this amongst the container ships but if pigs are not be left to lead a free life on the farm, this flat complex apparently gives pigs a much better standard of living than most of them currently have to put up with.

Further, pigs can count themselves to be lucky as their meat is not eaten by Muslims and Jews, both of which religions require animals to be slaughtered in a ritual way, which usually means that the animal is strung up and has its throat slit, without it being first made unconscious. Making animals unconcious before slaughetring them is in fact the law in Holland, and most of Europe, I believe. However, we have granted these religious groups an exemption, as with so many things.

Unfortunately, it was bad news for sheep and cows this week when Albert Heijn, the country's largest supermarket, which seems to have an almost monopoly in Groningen, started selling meat from ritually slaughtered animals as part of its standard range of products.

So this week, it was much better to be a pig than a sheep or a cow.

Friday, October 27, 2006


We just had two days in Groningen, capital of Groningen Province in the far north-east of the Netherlands, where Fred comes from. This is wehere he lived as a student when we first met all those years ago and where he lived for the first six eyars of our relationship, before coming down to live with me in Amsterdam on 1st July 1990, already sixteen years ago.

We used to go back to Groningen quite often to see friends we had there but over the years the numbers of trips went down, as some people moved away, as we lost contact with some and so on. So, we decided that our trip during herfst vacantie would be to Groningen, more to take in the flavour of the city, visit museums than specifically to visit friends. And so it was that we arrived early Wednesday afternoon, after I had made a trip to the AMC to have my innoculations, in readiness for my imminent trip to the Far East.

Groningen has been constantly changing all the time I have known it and, sure enough, as we left the station, we found that the square had disappeared, whereupon they were building a so-called city-balcony, with views out across the canal to the impressive and playful Groninger Museum. The fanous statue of 'Het Peert van Ome Loeks' (a white horse) had disappeared again, although we were told he would be reinstated at the end of the project.

We checked into the Martini Hotel, formerly the WEEVA ( wonen en eten voor allen = housing and food for all) and quickly went out onto the streets to see what Groningen had to offer. A nostalgic walk past old haunts - shops and bars and clubs, some of which had survived the past 20 years, some of which had disappeared and a few which had been rennovated. My most vived memoroies of Groningen would have been from a busy Saturday afternoon and in comparison the city looked to be quite empty, despite the very pleasant weather - although as time went on it did become quite cold.

Happy Birthday, James

Finally, a proper teenager. It sounds like yoiu had a busy day, was nice chatting to you briefly earlier. Lots of love from Uncle Fred and Uncle Charles.

Here is a photo of a boat called James which we saw earlier this afternoon in Groningen.

Back in Groningen

He left 16 years ago on 1st July 1990, but he came back fro a couple of days in his autumn half-term holiday. Fred and Charles in Groningen during two very sultry days in October. More tomorrow.

This is Fred at the front door of his home in Groningen, chatting to one of the current inhabitants - not a student but a yuppie.... how things have changed in Groningen over the years.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Happiness, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Yesterday was a warm not-too-sunny day here in Amsterdam, and a lovely day to go out and celebrate the end of Ramadan. There is a fun fair in the centre of Amsterdam, on Dam Square and it was full of Muslims celebrating Eid, or Suikerfeest. Here is a Somali looking young lady, getting ready to go on a very scarey ride.

Let us hope that the people of Somalia are allowed by their Taliban-like governement to enjoy their time, however unlikely that might be.

Eid Mubarak

Matched, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Klein Karoo

Klein Karoo, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Remembering our time in South Africa at the start of the year, giving tips to Hans and Otty, rembering places like Het Dorpshuis in Calitzdorp with Alison and Tiny (not tiny at all!) and then the Malherbe in Montagu, whilst all the while my camera wasn't working. They are leaving at the beginning of November and we hope they have a great time and, especially that the sun shines on them as they make their way down the Garden Route.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Just like old times

Highlander in the woods, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

This evening, we are having two friends from Groningen coming over to have dinner and spend the. Hans was part of a group of six of us who used to meet up every two months or so to have dinner with each other, the five of them, apart from me, having met each other in an Italian course in Groningen in 1987. Th efirst time they met for dinner was just after I arrived in Holland in Novmber 1987, when we met up for a Sinterklaasfeest and did 'surprises'and wrote poems. More of that maybe another day.

Anyway, we met up for quite a number of years, say, ten, until the group started falling apart. I'd always got on particularly well with Hans, so I phoned him a couple of months ago to see how things were with him and the result is that he and his partner Ottywill be arriving in acouple of hours time.

It has been fun thinkung about what to cook and then spending a whole day getting ready.

I was at the market this morning and got my hands on a lovvely selection of mushrooms and toadstools and these are the basis of a mushroom soup which is now cooking upstairs. Fred is cooking beef medaillons with morels (tiny but very expensive mushrooms), accompanied by potatoes and carrots with a beetroot salad. And I have already made the ginger log for desserts. Nice autumnal fare.

One of the things about our dinners was that we would often stay up very very late, like it almost seemd that it could not be deemed a successful evening if we went to bed before. We are now ten years older, so it will be intresting to see how late we make it this evening.

Hans and Otty will be going to South Africa in a couple fo weeks so we have lots to tell them about where to go and how to find the best wines. I seem to have enough leaflets here to fill a tourist information centre.

It is still lovely weather here and the doors have been open all day, back and front, quite warm, mostly cloudy but with the sun peaking through every now and then. Maybe we can even have pre-dinner drinks on the balconty, a full month after the start of autumn. Why does global warming seem to have such benign effects on us city dwellers?

Friday, October 20, 2006

More politics

This phot has been used to head up and illustrate an article on one of my favourite websites, namely, openDemocracy, which is is also referenced in the links in the right hand column on this blog.

The article can be read here, and a very interesting article it is too.

The good people of openDemocracy have actually broken the Creative Commons licence under which I put my photographs on flickr, namely a Attribution-NonCommercial License and also broken teh rules of flickr, by not attributing this photo to me. I am not too bothered, but it is quite ironic that openDemocracy itself published a very interesting in-depth article about Creative Commons and attribution.

Anyway, it is time for bed now. I am an eager viewer of Question Time on the BBC on a Thursday evening, followed by This Week, with Michael Portillo, Diane Abbott and some very interesting guests. I was very disappointed with QT, again we had a very silly and inarticulate Blair Babe and an inordinate 35-40 minute (out of a maximum of 60) discusison about the veil, in response to the question of whether or not a woman in a veil can make a full cntribution to society. (This in the light of today's ruling that a teacher can not expect to be able to wear a veil when teaching young children in class). Everything was wrong in this debate, people not answering teh question, too many silly comments from the audience including about 5 minutes given to some woman who had become a Muslim and decided to wear a veil as she 'deepened'her belief in Islam, and David Dimbleby realy did not control the discussion at all well, leaving virtually no time to talk about the other major issue of the day, namely whether Madonna was right to adopt the Malawian orphan. I must say that, yet again, it was stated that we were a Christian country.. this is being said so often that I feel that it will become the truth de facto.

This Week was much better and I was very impressed with Aleesha (a half black, half white, very beautiful and very articulate pop singer) and her piece on multi-culturalism. I liked especially the way she said twice how good she thought faith schools are - but then only after normal school hours or on a Sunday and that children should be allowed to mix with children from other religions and, by implication, other cultures. Excellent!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Perfect fish 'n' chips in Jordan

Jordan - Pella lunch, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Thinking about fish.... mmmmmm........

Red apples

Red apples, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

In the meantime, just a few things regarding economic liberalisation:

We have a new post office company here in Holland, or rather the national one has been taken over by the Australian company TNT, all part of the economic liberalisation of the post market. Since all this happened, we can see that prices have risen much more than the rate of inflation, especially for any letter which needs to go abroad (they try their best to keep the domestic price as low as possible by passing on their costs to those who send letters abroad), they no longer sell single stamps at the post office, although they do at the newsagent and, last week, we had seven deliveries of paper at the ddoor. These included papers, advertising materials, a parcel from TNT, the post from TNT and also the post from Deutsche Post. Needless to say, none of them came very early. Anyway, the question is, who, apart from teh governemnts which sell off the national post services and the shareholders of these companies, benefits from this liberalisation? Not sure it is the individual private customers.

Secondly, I was delighted to read that due to recent liberalisation measures, we can now by large, powerful (and dangerous) fireworks from our local shop. Before, we the public have been prevented from doing so, for obvious reasons, but now we can all buy these things. Why?

And thirdly, I went to the market today, thinking I might find there a better selection of fresh fruit and vegetables (yes, we DO sometimes eat them!). I was particularly looking forward to choosing my potatoes and apples and imagine my disbelief when every fruit stall was selling Gala Apples grown in New Zealand. In October! The middle of the apple season! New Zealand? You can not get further away from Holland to find appels than New Zealand, and yet here they were being sold for € 1.50 a kg in the middle of the domestic apple harvest. What perverse sort of liberalisation has allowed this to happen? Fortunately, I did find a specialist who did sell Dutch apples and managed to get my hands on a kilo of Dutch Elstars for € 1.60! Crazy!

However, as an afterthought, I think I should mention that I DID buy a pound (yes, a POUND = 500 grammes - even though we are not allowed to use that word any more, thanks to teh Brussels thought-police) of Chinese garlic, for just € 1.50. Great BIG FAT ones they were too! So, I shouldn't complain, although friends might complain in the coming months while I get to eat all of those delicious (and very healthy) garlic kernels. (Thanks, liberalisation!)

Further, it is odd that in the newspaper this evening there were some long articles about the liberalisation of the postal markets in Europe. By 2009, any company should be able to deliver mail anywhere in Europe.. and that can mean ANY company. Lots of people are upset about it, mostly the people living in the far reaches of Europe... and it was noted that in Sweden and Denmark where they already HAVE complete liberalisation, the prices are higher than anywhere else.

Fred in Paris

Fred with Annemiek, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Fred is now with Annemiek in Paris, enjoying an afternoon off, having spent the week with 30 students on an art-based study week in the French capital. He seems to be in good spirits whilst also looking forward to coming home tomorrow whereupon he will be having his autumn half-term.

I have been getting the house nd garden ready for his return, this afternoon, most importantly, stocking the fridge and larder with food. I have been living off tuna spaghetti this week, the only chance I really have to eat fish at home.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Red tomatoes

Les tomates, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Well, many eyars ago I had my first experience of the Socialistisch Partij (SP) here in Holland where they had a very successful campaign, using red tomatoes. It said Stem tegen, Stem SP..... Vote Against, Vote SP. I thought a profoundly negative campaign, but it worked as from that election onwards they have grown in popularity and parliamentary representation every year and may now be the fourth biggest party in Holland after CDA (Christian Democrats), PvdA (Social Democrats) and VVD (right-wing liberals).

They will have overtaken Groen Links (Green Left) and D66 (left-wing liberals). Indeed, D66 have done so badly recently that they face not getting a single seat in Parliament in the November elections, having been at about 15, just ten years ago. Groen Links are suffering too, being more intellectually left than green or socialist, and the SP may get double the number of seats than Groen Links, despite both those parties being on the left and sharing many aims.

Anyway, I am far from being a socialist myself, so it was with some interest and astonishment that when I performed the Stem Wijzer (vote chooser) this afternoon, SP came out on top, just above my old favourite D66. A good thing I do not have the vote.

The Stem Wijzer gives you a yes or no choice on 30 different questions and then asks you to weight certain questions which one feels are more important, which is a very good way of going about things... the ferocity with which one holds certain views should definitely be part of the equation.

I answered most of the questions in a liberal and green sort of way, so was surprised that SP came out top, less surprised that the Christian and right-wing parties came out bottom! Although there was a funny article in the newspaper recently making fun of the fact that the SP's conference recently showed signs of the party almost embracing the religious people in society (and then the Christians more than the Muslims).

Anyway, SP have come a long way from throwing red tomatoes at things they don't like in society, but whether they are ready to participate in a left-wing government colaition (maybe with the Christian Union) is another question.

In the meantime, here are some lovely looking red tomatoes from Paris from four years ago, probably very squashed by now.


the rappers, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Happy Birthday, Thomas. Your Mum didn't send me your new address so here is a birthday wish to you. Hope you have a great day and hope to see you soon. Lots of love, Uncle Fred and Uncle Charles

A day out on the bike

Chewing, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Another lovely autumn day and the weathermen predicted a warmer day than Monday. There would be an easterly wind, which would mean it was bets to go west... and then to the beach at Zandvoort. It is a lovely and varied cycle ride which takes one through the middle of both Amsterdam and Haarlem, through a waterland area, with reeds, lakes and ponds, full of sun-bathing herons, ducks, coots, grebes and swans, along past some lovely old polders, with cows, horses and sheep grazing, under the flight path into Schiphol, through some lovely beach woods and over the sand dunes, with the deliciously scented lime trees and down into the town of Zandvoort spread out above the beach. A pity the town of Zanvoort is so ugly, but no complaints about the beach down below, with voews up and down the straight coastline to Noordwijk in the south and Ijmuiden in the north.

As it happened, it was not so warm and the wind was both cold and quite strong, but coming from the south east, it helped me along. Glad I had a vest, thick shirt and woollen jumper, even though I was wearing shorts. I popped in to the cheese shop in Haarlem, Sansom, where we traditionally buy a French stick, filled with cheese and tomato, an old fashioned shop, much better than our local one, which tends to stink because the owner likes to sell out-of-date cheese!

Zandvoort looked quite empty and bleak, as seaside resorts often do out-of-season, but I found a nice spot on teh beach, sheltered from the wind, to relax and eat my roll before thinking of the return journey. Well, I wasn't going to cycle against that wind, so I had the option of a train from Zandvoort or a ferry from Velsen back to Amsterdam. The latter is reached by a lovely cycle ride through the grassy dunes, past little lakes, woods, herds of highland cattle, sandpits and hills.

At the other end, I seemd to reach horse country as the whole area was full of green fields with horses grazing and riding stables. The horses coats gleamed beautifully in the afternoon sunshine and it was impossible not to get teh camera out to take a few photos.

Getting onto the warm ferry seemed a real treat, and time for a snooze as we spod past what is the port of Amsterdam, with container terminals and so on... a part of Amsterdam which is very well hidden from view. Just recently, the poison ship Otopan has returned, in what has been a major victory for environmentalists. This ship contains over 1,000 tons of asbestos and the owners had negotiated with a Turkish company to have this asbestos cleaned over in Turkey. The Dutch governement signed a release warrant for this ship, which it is only allowed to do if there was only less than one ton of asbestos. When the environmental organisations got ot hear about it, they pressured the Turkish government to refuse entry to this ship of poison. There was a diplomatic incident, when the Dutch minister tried to force the Turks to take the ship, but they did not back down and now the ship is back here in Amsterdam, where it will have to be cleaned using the best (and expensive) methods, thus avoiding undue risks to the Turks who would have done the same job, but using more dangerous methods.

There is another environmental disater for which a Dutch company seems to be responsible.... in Ivory Coast, where the company made millions out of a deal which include the dumping of poisonous substances in various places in Abidjan, whereby a number of people were killed and many more injured. It really isn't good enough for us Western democracies to export our filth to poorer countries. If we make a mess, we should be responsible for cleaning it up ourselves. If we did, we would maybe think twice before making the mess in the first place.

Anyway, back in Amsterdam, there was time to visit the travel agent, to visit Mariette and to watch Strictly Come Dancing - It Takes Two!


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

150,000 views on flickr!

Sana'a, Yemen - Red beard, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Yes, another milestone, with the lastest 50,000 views coming in just 50 days. I uploaded four photos from Sana'a in Yemen to mark this event.

A beautiful autumn day

A quick glimpse, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Monday and Tuesday, not a cloud in teh sky, the sun shedding a beautiful golden light down on Amsterdam, with the temperature around 17 degrees. Lovely!

Here are some of the last dahlias in the front garden, which so far have survived all the work going on in front of the house in connection with the drainage system and the preparations for the fountain.

Only not-so-good aspect is that a neighbour, who lives on the square has said that, contrary to what we thought earlier, the underground refuse containers will not be placed there, but probably next to our house on the corner of Hogeweg and Pythagorasstraat.... if so, hopefully in that dead area next to the butchers. Hmmmm... time for an e-mail to the local authorities, I think!


Sunday, October 15, 2006


Burqa, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

This is one of the most favoured photos I have on flickr and it is a photo of a woman tourist at Ba'albek in the Hezbollah controlled part of Lebanon.

In the UK at the moment there is a debate ongoing about the veil and whether or not it contributes to a feeling of separateness between people and communities. It is a very difficult discussion and one which in which many stupid things will be said, but I think it is a good idea to have a discussion rather than ignore the issue. It obviously IS an issue and I think it is better to have an open debate rather than having it kept as a politically correct taboo. Kept as a taboo, people become suspicious and open to nasty suggestions from right-wing racist organisations.

I think there is something to besaid for the fact that wearing a veil DOES encourage feelings of separateness and this is not altogether good. I am also aware that the veil tends to be more of a cultural thing rather than a religious/Muslim thing... certainly when one compares Yemen to Somaliland or Malaysia, for example.

Anyway, some good and some bad news on the religious debate in the UK. The good news is that 'faith' schools are being told that they should accept at least 25% of their intake from families from outside that faith. I'd have rather there were not any faith schools myself as I think this can lead to brain washing of young impressionable children. An example of this would be Fred's niece "K" who is 11 years old and goes to a Christian school (because this is much better than the local non-religious school). All of a sudden, she wants prayers to be said before and after dinner, despite not coming from a religious background.

However, at the risk that such children might be indoctrinated towards the religion of the 'faith' school, as seems to be the case with "K", maybe the intake of 25% of outsiders may do something to temper religious extremism in such schools.

The bad news is that a Catholic Minister in the UK is seemingly trying to get an exemption for religions to a law which bans discrimination on basis of sexual orientation. This Minister, Ruth Kelly, also a member of the infamous Opus Dei sect, has taken over responsibility for having this Bill drafted and passed by Parliament and she is now delaying the introduction of the Bill in order to atke on objections from religious organisations. So, a Catholic school for example is allowed to teach that homosexuality is a sin (one of their very many strange and inhuman dogmas) and evn get funding from the taxpayer for teaching such utter nonsense.

Not only that, but then they also wants to deny the right of say, a local gay/lesbian organisation to use the school facilities after school hours, deny employment to a gay teacher or caretaker and so on and so forth. The same would go for one of the UK's new Islamic schools, unless this very important law is passed as it is, without any exemptions.

It will be interesting to see how strong the resolve is of the Government in the face of opposition from the Minister responsible and the religious groups claiming the right to carry on discriminating.

A couple of days in Drenthe

Just too late, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

We spent the last couple of days up north with Fred's youngest brother, Jan and his family, Jannie, Kimberley and Raoul, in Klazienaveen, in the province of Drenthe, based around Jan and Jannie's joint birthday party on Friday evening. This was very enjoyable and went bon quite late with the result we were quite tired yesterday!

We accompanies Raoul to his football match where his under-seven team from Kalzienaveen played against a team from nearby Sleen (pronounced Slane). It was avery one-sided contest with Raoul's team winning 8-1, Raoul scoring one of the goals. At least the Sleen goalkeeper had something to do, as in here where he is saving a ball from the feet of Raoul.

It was disturbing to watch Match of the Day to see two very very nasty injuries to two of Chelsea's goalkeepers, Pieter Cech and Carlo Cudicini who were both concussed. Not a very good incentive for potential young goalkeepers, but these things do happen and it was probably just a bad coincidence that these two injuries occured in the same match.

Back in Amsterdam today, it is the Amsterdam marathon, being run under dull grey skies. I used to run the Amsterdam half marathon regularly but have not sone so for two years now but would like to get back to running again when I have recovered properly from my ankle injuries.

But back to Sleen, it was near here that Fred's great uncle was shot by police for poaching. The silly man had been caught one week and had in his turn shot at a policeman. So, when the silly man went back a week or two later, the police were waiting for him and shot him dead. Rough folk up there.... fortunetely the football game yesterday morning went off without any problems.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Egalité, Fraternité and Stupidité

Well, it seems as if the French Lower House passed a Bill yesterday to make denial of the so-called Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottomans an offence punishable by a fine of € 45,000 and eight months in prison. Very verty stupid of them, notably the Socialists who put up and voted for the bill. At least the Prime Minister there showed some sense in saying that it is not right to legislate on issues of memory and history. Again, I am thinking what right does a governemnet have to legislate over what one is allowed to think. Verty very dangerousThe Bill not go any further, however the fact that it got so far has rightly managed to offend Turkey and Turks.

This episode goes to show just how dangerous a well-organised lobby group, such as the one in France of 400,000 Armenians, can be, in pushing legislators to advance their cause against the run of good sense and fairness. In Holland, where we have a similar issue, where a small Christian party proposd to make it illegal to mock a so-called genocide, was also heavily infuenced by a very small but very noisy group of Armenians. Put together, it would look like a concerted effort on behalf of the Armenians to undermine respect for Turkey and ultimately their efforts to become members of the EU.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Football supporters in town again

Albanian fan, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The Albainas were in town yesterday, all dressed in red and black, so we had to assume that there was a Euro 2008 qualifying at the Arena.

It turned out that there was and that Holland played very badly but still beat the Albanians 2-1.

In the meantime, both England and Scotland lost 2-0 away to Croatia and Ukraine, hardly surprising really, although England apparently played even worse than anyone had expected.

Hard to get too excited by these things, with the tournament two years away, but seeing the football supporters in town on a nice sunny day, and meeting up with Fred and Annemiek for a drink after work DID remind me of high summer during the World Cup.

Today started off nicely and is ending pleasantly but it has been mostly grey and dull during the middle bit of teh day with some rain.

Tomorrow a photgraphic progress report of the work going on outside the house as they prepare for the placing of the fountain.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Harar maidens

Harar maidens, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Still some lovely undiscovered photos to be found on the African CD's. This will ahve to be one of my all-time favourites. Can't think how I missed it the first time round.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Safe haven

Palms in the desert, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

I have no idea what a difference it makes to the world that North Korea has let off a nuclear bomb. I did already say a couple of months ago that these things were probably the worst things which mankind has invented.

However, proabably the best thing is not too make too much of a noise about it. I am not aware that North Korea is actually threatening any other country or peoples, at least no country which the US or China are not very well capable of defending themselves. As with Iran, when the 'West' sees another power getting nuclear capability, the way we look at it is dependent upon whether we regard them as friend or foe.

I seem to remember George Bush congratulating both India and Pakistan on having nuclear capabilities... these countries which are in perpetual virtual war with each other, but fairly friendly to Western interests. If Iran or North Korea want a capability to defend themselves against the implacable pressure from the West, the West tends to get very upset, very upset indeed. So, with North Korea having proved it has the capability, it might feel more confident and less scred that it would otherwise be of an imminent invasion from the US supported South Korea. maybe it might styart treating its own citizens slightly better. But if they do not, I hardly think that we in the West are in much of a position to do anything about it.

In the meantime, the best places to be in the world have got to be in the southern hemisphere, far away from all this shenanigans. Better air quality too. Here are some photos of the deserts in Kaokoland, Namibia.

Scenes from Kaokoland in Namibia

Monday, October 09, 2006

Ecological overshoot day

Chard, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

An environmental organisation in the US has calculated, probably as a stunt, that today, 9th October, is environmental overshoot day, the day of the year on which we, as humans, have consumed what the bworld can fairly offer us in a year. This means that whatever we consume from now on, we are eating into the world's reserves. Of course, as each year goes by this days becomkes earlier and earlier.

It is similar ot the tax break-even day, the day, usually in June or May, where we have worked enough to pay all the income taxes and the day we can start working for ourselves... those who have a job, that it.

In the meantime, I feel allotments should be encouraged, like the one my Mum has, producing potatoes, beans, spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, sweet corn, cabbage, brussels sprouts and so on.

The French

Interesting magazine, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

In the meantime, we hear that the French have decided to ban smoking in public places.

Also, we hear that the parliament in France will be voting on Thursday on whether to make it illegal to deny that the mass murders of the Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire in 1915 was genocide. Interesting, especially as the word genocide was not invented until 1944.

Charles Aznavour, who along with Juliette Greco, is our favourite French singer, was Armenian.

Cafe Stephens

Smokey cafe - six, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Cafe Stephens.... one of our favourite cafes in Amsterdam... on the Nieuwmarkt in the centre. The sun always seems to be shining through these windows, at least, whenever it is out.

Last week was the first week of October and we had as much rain as we could expect for the whole month, so this week we are having nice warm-ish dry-ish weather to make up for it... but somehow it seems as if there is rarely a month going by when some meteorological record or other is being broken. September was warm, but not extremely so, after the wet August and hot July.

Deck chairs

Deck chairs, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Fiona has said goodbye to Brighton and is back in London. The sun on the beach was one of the best things Brighton had to offer, but it did not come out all that often and the rest of the town? Well, it was never our favourite place, ever.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Armenian question

Diyarbakir - Armenıan church, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

What is the world coming to?

When I arrived back from Paris, Fred told me about the latest political scandal, namely that teh two largets political parties in Holland had removed three candidates from their lists of candidates for the upcoming parliamenmtary elections in November. These candidates were Dutch people of Turkish origin and their crime was not recognising the massacres of the Armenians by tthe Ottoman Empire in 1915 as 'genocide'.

Why should they? Well, a lady from a small Christian party wanted to introduce a bill making it a crime for anyone to make a mock any genocide. (People would be allowed to deny it or have their own opinion about it, but would not be able to mock it). Somehwo this started a series of events whereby these two parties asked their candidates of Turkish origin to formally stae their recognition of the Armenian masscres as genocide, as apparently this is part of the internal party business... i.r.r the parties tehmselves recognise the genocide and it would majke sense that the candidates they are presenting to the public also recognise the massacres as genocide. Well, three of them did not and they have been removed from the lists.

Of course, many Turlks are quite shocked about this, as are the rest of us, as what do events from 1915 have to do woith governing Holland from 2007 to 2011? Also, why all of a sudden this request? And, what's more, even the Dutch State does not formally recognise the genocide. Many Turkish leaders have called for a boycott of the elections, especially as the majority of Turks have traditionally voted for PvdA (Social Democrats), which had kicked out one of their candidates.

In the meantime, it seems to be against the law in Turkey to admit that a genocide took place and France is passing a law to make simple denial of a genocide. All set for a collision course.

By all accounts, there were large scale massacres but historical research has not conclusively confirmed that tehre was a genocide and also the context of the genocide has not been dealt with properly. By many accounts, just prior to the genocide, when the Russian troops left that part of the Ottoman Empire which was crumbling to pieces at the time, the Armenians saw theur chance to grab some territory and killed very many Turkish villagers in that area of what is now Eastern Turkey. So there is more than one side to the story, but as is our want, we tend ot side with the underdog and feel sorry for the losers, which in this case, are the Armenians.

We are also left wondering why it is that we have laws telling us what we can say and think when we are supposedly living in a free society, especially with regards to genocide denial. OK, making a mockery is not something we would want to encourage, but to legislate that everyone should have the same opinion is going a bit far. In our own time there are massive legal battles taking place to define whether or not the events in Darfur amount to genocide, so it is obviously not so easy even to define genocide.

Again, one is left with the feeling that the political leaders in this country lack a sense of perspective and the ability to calm issues down. Where are the statesmen? Maybe that is a question every generation asks, whereby only history can give us real statesmen retroactively - we only notice them once they have gone.


Friday, October 06, 2006

Only a matter of time?

The green mosque, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The BBC reports this morning that the Union of Islamic Courts in Somalia are demanding the release from prison of a muslim cleric Sheik Mohamed in Somaliland. They have said that if Somaliland does not release this man, they will 'forcefully free' him. This man is under arrest for involvement in terrorist activities such as planning to undermine the Parliamentary elections last September by letting off bombs in Hargeisa.

Apparetly some fake pictures were put on an Islamic website showing this man being tortured in order to stir up unrest in Somaliland. It had the desired effect, and like in so many Islamic countries these days, a few people took to the streets to protest, easily roused.

In the meantime, Somaliland Times reports that the commander of the (UIC= ICU) militia that seized Kismayo, Hassan Turki, confirmed that the strategic objective of the ICU is to bring the whole former Somalia including Somaliland under its control. And if in the past there were rumors linking the ICU to Al-Qaida, Turki didn’t put them to rest. He told a crowd of supporters in Kismayo on Tuesday that the “foreign faces” they saw among the ranks of the ICU militia were volunteer fighters from other Muslim countries.

These Islamic militiamen*, armed to the hilt with weapons from Eritrea, Yemen and Saudi Arabia are making inexorable progress in conquering Somalia and it is surely only a matter of time before they turn their attentions to Somaliland. Every week which goes by during which no progress is made on achieving international reognition is a week which brings closer the possibility of Somaliland's annihilation at the hands of their Muslim and Somali brothers from down south.

And if this happens, will the West even notice? I doubt it.

A man with a mission

Red cardinal, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

A cute face on a postcard in Rome? The dear sweet Pope? Not at all, this man is dangerous, very dangerous. He is clever too, cleverer than the John Paul II, who for many was an acceptable face for the leader of the hateful* Catholic Church.

He is a man with a mission. A mission to return Europe to its so-called Christian roots (the Roman Empire, later the Holy Roman Empire). For starters he has made a deal with bfellow German, Chancellor Merkel to get her to try to have an explicit reference to the 'Christian roots' of Europe in a new EU consitution.... the absence of which in the constitution rejected by the French and the Dutch was both remarkable and admirable. He has also been to Poland, the most Catholic country in Europe and one which he would like to use as a bridgehead into the rest of Europe, trading off the goodwill engendered by his Polish predecessor.

Pope Benedict, or as we like to know him, Sister Bernadette (given his penchant for red prada shoes) got himself in a bit of trouble recently by quoting a 14th Byzantine Emperor criticising some teachings of the Prophet Mohammed as "evil and inhuman*". (We can come back to these last words later. He even went so far as apologising to Muslims which he had offended.

Yet, to me it would seem as if he has an interest in stirring up tensions between Christians and Muslims and making people afraid of Islam. By seeing Muslims as a threat, there is a chance that non-Muslim Europeans may start identifying themselves as Christians as an antidote to Islam. Indeed, on Question Time last night, a rabid anti-immigration and anti-Muslim member of the public mentioned that we (UK) are a Christian country and blah blah blah. Although I saw a member of the panel bat an eyelid at this suggestion, it was not followed up at all. In small ways like this, I can see a process whereby people really do start believing that we really are Christian countries and what's more, under seige from Muslims who wish to wear a veil, excuse themselves from police duties, go to religious schools, speak in Arabic an so on.....

He is also busy on another front, and this in fact turns out to be the main theme of his famous speech, which is an attack on science. As science increasingly finds explanantions for the way things are in the world and the universe, there becomes a smaller and smaller role for a god in the whole. From the discovery that the world is not flat, that the earth revolves around the sun and not even in a perfect circle, and that the sun is but one of millions and millions of stars in one og millions of galaxies, that living organisms have evolved over millions of years and so on, the church has had to reluctantly give away ground to scientific discoveries and explanations, leaving an ever smaller role for a god. Not a good prospect for a religious leader. Time for a counter attack - The Counter Enlightenment. Be prepared.

As for the hateful side of the church which he leads and the cheek with which he can talk about the teachings of The Prophet being evil and inhuman, let us consider what the Pope says about gays and gay marriage, particularly in the context of the Italian political process, where by the democtratic will of the people, there is a government in place which has promised to at least provide gay people the right to register their partnerships, such that partners begin to recieve some of the rights of partners withing a marriage. He has said:

that the legal recognition of gay partnerships around Europe is "aggression against the family", a "diabolical project" and that this tolerance is "an absurd cult of Satan, a mad desire for transgression, a false liberty without conscience, that exalts caprice, vice and selfishness."

Thanks mate... very humane!

There is evidence, by all accounts, that the church under his direction is directly intervening in Italian politics, in contravention with the Italian constitution, to stop the introduction of legal recognition of gay partnerships. The new Prime Minister, Mr Prodi, a Catholic himself from a Catholic family, appears to be wavering, on the point of breaking promises he made before the election as a result.

In the meantime, this man was in charge for many years in organising cover-ups of paedofile priests around the world using a
secret document which sets out a procedure for dealing with child sex abuse scandals within the Catholic Church. This Crimen Sollicitationis instructs bishops on how to deal with allegations of child abuse against priests was enforced for 20 years by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he became the Pope. This according to last night's Panorama programme on the BBC, which interviewed a number of the victims of the horrifying practices of these priests. Again, how humane is that?

We aware, be very aware.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Karo warrior with AK-47

Karo warrior with AK-47, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

One of my favourite photos here. I love his nonchalant pose and the feeling of height he displays. I was looking through and found out that it had been designated as a private photo on flickr and that no-one had had the chance to look at it. I edited it a bit and replaced it, so here it is in all its glory.

Omo river people

Karo women, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

While in Paris, I came across an exhibition, near Bastille, of photos of people of the Omo Rover region. The very people we met this time last year on our Omo River trip. The photos were taken by Hans Silvestre and there is a very lavish double volume book coming out in a couple of weeks time. I would recommend anyone in Paris to visit this exhbition.

Much as I admired the photos and the undoubted skill of the photographer, I had my doubts about some of the subject matter. The way the people had painted themselves and posed, hanging in a tree, hugging a young calf and putting large green leaves over their heads suggested to me that these were very much staged, theatrical portraits rather than natural ones, and I found this quite off-putting.

Now these ladies here in this photo also dabbed a bit of paint on their faces as we arrived in order to make themselves photogenic and maybe earn a few bir for having their photos taken. And they were posing. But this still seems slightly more authentic than many of teh photso at this exhibition.

I would love to go back and stay longer and have enough batteries and memory sticks to take al the photos I wanted, a good guide too, such as the one recommended to us by Monique Jansen.

Looking back into flickr, I can tell that a year ago today, we were on the bus travelling from Harar to Nazret, through the beautiful green mountains of eastern Ethiopia before it started raining and we entered the dry Awash valley. This was on our way to Addis Ababa for our eventual rendez-vous with the Omo River gang at the end of the week.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Hats in Paris

Reflections on Paris

Paris is not exactly my favourite city, but not the worst either! Sometimes when one goes there one is impressed by the snobby nose-in-the-air attitude of the Parisians and the next time they seem to be not so bad. I do think however, that many of the streets are very much the same, the same colours, the same feel, the same architecture, the same looking bars, with their rattan seats outside round small tables, the grocery stores with their trays of grapes, apples and oranges and so on. And then there are the wide open spaces of Haussmann, along the Seine, towards Les Invalides and from The Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe, which are of course impressive and are really what Paris is all about.

It is difficult to avoid re-tracing one's previous steps around Paris - wandering around Le marais, eating a falafel at Chez Marianne, happy hour at Cox Bar, Centre Pompidou (ooh la la!), Notre Dame, Rive Gauche, Montmartre, Moulin Rouge, Amelie cafe, The Louvre, pyramid and gardens and, of course, the Eiffel Tower and the Arc. The order changes from year to year, of course. I am sure there are many other thiungs to be doing, such as outdoor markets, museums and so on, just one doesn't exactly know where.

Some things are very expensive, some less so. A hotel room, albeit without a shower, for less than € 30, but a cup of coffee or a small glass of beer for € 3.60, ration of 9:1, where in Amsterdam a hotel room will cost at least € 80 and a coffee or glass of beer € 1.80, a ratio of 44:1, quite a difference! Food can be cheap - from the € 4 for a kebab with chips or an excellent falafel, or a 3-course menu for € 12. They get you though with the drinks - € 6 for a bottle of water, € 4 for a glass of beer and so on....

So with a bit of planning, it can be very cheap, but try to spoil yourself and it can be a financial disaster! And you can be lucky or unlucky. Some of the menus may look good, but the food being served can be terrible, an insult to French cooking... like the (fatty) 'steak' with (runny) gorgonzola sauce at the Corsican restaurant. On the other hand, something as simple as an avocado salad, can be made into a sublime dish, with the right presentation and the addition of a delicious vinaigrette/dressing.

Anyway, it was a lovely long weekend. The Parisians not particularly more or less friendly than normal. The weather was good.... mostly a cloudy morning, brightening up to give warm sunshine for the afternoon, also typical for this time of year. Fred is going to Paris in two weeks with school but does not see much point in me joining him as eh will be too busy with teh children. A pity, as a retrun would cost only € 65 against the € 100 I paid for a single back to Amsterdam. Oh well!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Arc

It was that time of the year again... the first weekend of October, well the first Sunday of October, the traditional time for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. I try as often as I can to be in Paris for this weekend and for me Paris is always a city at the beginning off autumn, usually with some warm sunshine, the leaves on the horse chestnuts changing colours and the flowers in the flower beds still colourful but slightly past their best.

The race would usaully attract the best middle distance horses in Europe, mostly France, Great Britain and Ireland, with maybe a horse from Germany or Italy and, exceptionally, a horse from Argentina, Brazil or Japan. This year, the exotic horse of the race would be Deep Impact, the champion racehorse of Japan, who had only been beaten once in nine outings. He was bred in Japan from a mare with close connections to a family of The Queen's horses, namely Highclere, Burghclere and Wind In Her Hair. There would be lots of Japanese and many of them would think of their horse as unbeatable. As it happened, they literally poured their money onto their horse, waiting in long queues to be relieved of their money to such an extent that they totally disturbed teh betting market, making every other horse in the eight horse race an excellent betting proposition. Last year's winner was 3-1 in the UK and 12-1 in France, for example.

The British had just one runner, Sixties Icon, who had just won the St Leger three weeks earlier, but at least he was ridden by the people's favourite jockey, Frankie Dettori. 'My' horse, Dragon Dancer who finished second in The Derby (at 66-1) and has still to win a race was, disappointingly, withdrawn a couple of days before the race.

I did not have too much of an idea which horse would win the race, having missed last year's race and being not so interested in the French horses and as it happened, it was a three year old French horse, Rail Link who won at French odds of 25-1 (excellent when there are only eight horses running), beating a six year old mare, Pride, and the Japanese Deep Impact. A bit of an anti-climax really, but he won fair and square. The owner's previous winner was in 1986 when Dancing Brave won what was probably the best Arc in the 85 years of its existence. Quite a contrast.

The afternoon was warm and sunny and Longchamp was thronging with people, swelled by the numbers of Japanese, in addition to the large contingent of English, who could be seen all weekend sitting outside the cafes of Paris with half-full tankards of beer in front of them.

Having been to the Arc many times and having hundreds of photos of parts of horses, whose bames have long been forgotten, I decided not to concentrate too much on taking yet more photos of horses, but to look at the human menagerie which had assembled. Lots and lots of women in stunning hats, for example, smart and less smart men, the Japanese, the people populating the champagne bars. Time was too short and the memory cards too small to capture them all, but I am very happy with the results.

The time of the race has been put back later and later by the authorities, starting now at 17.35, when my programme from 1988 has the race starting at 16.30. (Here I can read the names of such equine legends as Triptych, Kahyasi (great grandfather of Rail Link), Unfuwain (related to Deep Impact), Mtoto, Diminuendo and the Italian winner Tony Bin, ridden by jockeys sich as Willie Crason, Greville Starkey, Freddie Head, Pat Eddery , Michael Robert and even Frankie Dettori! The point now is that with the race starting so late, there is not enough time to cross over paris afterwards, to Gare du Nord to ctach the last Thalys train back to Amsterdam, as it leaves at 18.55. A deliberate ploy to keep visitors in Paris a day/night longer, I wonder?

Anyway, this year, without a job and paying just € 30 a night for a hotel (a shower was € 3 extra, after one had received the key and a towel from Madame La Concierge), it made sense to spend the extra night in Paris and return home the next day, savouring the atmosphere of the post-race celebrations and prize giving.

A day like Arc day in England would cost at least € 60 - € 80 for spectators. In Paris, it cost just € 8 and thyere were free buses to and from the course from Port Maillot and Porte d'Auteil. In France there is a governemnet monopoly on betting and a lot of money goes back into racing. In England, it is bookmakers who take most of the betting money and line their own pockets. We Anglo Saxons like to decry the French model, but it must be said that it is not all that bad!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Back from the Arc

Charles going to the Arc, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Arrived back home this afternoon, after a very pleasant journey on the Thalys. Will be back on the blog tomorrow with news of the long weekend in Paris.

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