Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Staatsbezoek Turkije

The Queen of the Netherlands, Beatrix is making the first visit of a Dutch sovereign to Turkey at the moment, taking along with her the Crown Prince Willem Alexander and his Argentinean wife, Maxima. This is to mark 400 years of relations between the two countries.

It comes at an appropriate time, given the recent discussions in Holland about the Armenian 'genocide', the dual nationalities of two state secretaries (one of whom is Turkish) and the question of Turkey's future membership of the EU. The Queen has been strongly advised not to upset the Turks by bringing up the subject of what happened to the Armenians in 1915. It is felt best that the Turks deal with this issue amongst themselves rather than be lectured to by a visiting head of state, a position I thoroughly support.

The issue of dual nationality has been brought up by a right-wing party which did very well at the last elections going from one seat to nine, on the basis of policies which are predominantly anti-Islam, appealing to people's base sentiments. This party is saying that a person with dual nationality has divided loyalties which could affect the way they think about and deal with various issues which some up. I do not believe they really feel it is such a problem but are using as a way of undermining the confidence of and in these two politicians and creating an atmosphere which is hostile towards Islam. The party calls itself the party for freedom, but the only freedom they particularly seem to stand for is the freedom to avoid Muslims.

Most important though is the question of Turkey's future membership of the EU. The Dutch government has been relatively neutral on the issue, being neither in favour, like the UK, or against, like France. Somewhere in the middle. However, our new Christian-tinged government has agreed to be tougher on new entrants to the EU, in what is basically seen to be a blocking of the door for Turkey. Maybe because it does not have a Christian heritage? I don't know.

We were watching the 1964 film The Fall of the Roman Empire, with Sophia Loren, Alec Gioness, Stephen Boyd, James Mason and Christopher Plummer, dealing with the time around teh death of the great Marcus Aurelius, when he was followed by his son Commodus, rather than his chosen Livius. Marcus Aurelius had made the Roman Empire great again, not necessarily by force, but through diplomacy and good government. Commodus only believes in force and gladiator fights. Livius wants to carry on the good work of Marcus Aurelius and it is the struggle between the two men which forms the basis of the drama.

Livius defeats the (German) Barbarians and offers to make the leaders, against whom Rome has been fighting for centuries, citizens of Rome, to share in the ideals of Rome, the Pax Romana. He reasons that by letting them partake in the Roman Empire as equal citizens will make them appreciate the values of Rome and will stop them continually fighting Rome. Livius is the voice of reason, of hope, of peace.

Of course, Commodus thinks he is mad and wants to kill and subdue the Barbarians, reasoning that they are different from the Romans culturally, that they have done bad things in the past and they need to be punished.

These look a lot like the arguments for and against Turkey's future membership of the EU where, as ever, the words of darkness and negativity seem to shout louder and be better understood than the words of hope and postivity.

This photo shows the old Roman bridge over the River Tigris at Hasankeyf, in south-eastern Turkey. Still here after all these years, a fitting tribute to the might of the Roman Empire.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007


I am having a break from the Africa photos, so having a look back at the photos I took in Argentina in August 2004, which was summer here and winter there. I had a lovely time in that country and had thought about going back there for a couple of months to learn the language and maybe invest my redundancy money in a lovely apartment in San Telmo in Buenos Aires. As it happened, I came back and was offered a job, which kept me based in Amsterdam until Fred and I were ready to make our trip to the Middle East and Africa. In the meantime, the prices of flats in BA have gone up a lot..... and ceratinly a lot more than the 2% I have been earning on the money at the bank!

Anyway, here is a scene from Mataderos, a working class area in the western part of Buenos Aires, the site of a big cattle market where on winter Sundays the gauchos meet to partake in a contest which has them galloping on a horse with a silver pipe, with which they try to capture a silver ring haning on a string about 2.5 meters high. A fascinating sight.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Monday, Somaliland Day

It is Monday today and Mondays usually mean nowadays that I can spend the morning reading through Somaliland Times online to follow the latest developments in Somaliland and Somalia. The link to this site is in the rright-hand column.

Not exactly so much news from Somaliland this week except that the President is showing signs that he may back down in the Haatuf journalists affair and pardon the journalists should they be convicted under the press law. I had been told already that a way would be found out of the impasse, in a typical Somali way, and so it appears to be happening., although the men are still being incarcerated.

Further, there is a lot of geo-political analysis looking at the US interest in the Horn, with US companies hving large concessions to explore for oil in Somalia, through deals signed with the contemptible dictator Siad Barre in his last days. I, myself, wonder why Somalia should honour such deals, if they were made by a disgraced war criminal such as Barre. I suppose the answer is that if Somalia does not, it risks being directly invaded by the US? I don't know. Anyway, again it looks like oil is more of a curse than a benefit.

On the positive side, there were demonstrations last week in both London and Oslo to mark the 25th anniversary of the uprising against Siad Barre. The London demonstration was attended by two Welsh MP's, Alun Michael and Kerry McCarthy, and a letter and a petition was presented to Downing Street. The article can be read here, where there is a photo of Hussein Bisad who is one of the tallest (and presumably biggest) men in the world.

Further, there was a letter reminding people of the online petition to Tony Blair, in favour of Somaliland recognition, which can be accessed here.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Killing Fields

After a long and expensive day and night on Friday, we decided to say in last night, which had us watching a DVD at home. I chose The Killing Fields, which I hadn't seen since it came out in the 1980's, the Oscar winning film showing the terrors of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970's.

As a film it was a bit annoying, as it was very much focused on the relationship between an American journalist and his Cambodian colleague, with a lot of stereotyped scenes and music and melodrama. But nevertheless, through this constructon they did manage to cover the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime and bring this to the world's cinema audiences, most notably in a half hour section near the end of the film.

When I was in Cambodia in November I was very aware of the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime and the accompanying genocide. It was an eerie feeling. And yet, apart from the odd monument to the horrors such as the genocide museuem of Tuol Slng and various Killing Fields sites, there was not much evidence of what had happened.

I remember seeing scenes like this of a new generation of students, all dressed in uniform cycling to and from school, through the flat countryside and realising that these are the future of Cambodia. Their parents and grandparents may have known and experienced the horrors of the Khmer Rouge but this is not what really concerns their current lives and their futures. As far as I could tell the current generation of Cambodians are more concerned with ridding their country of the rampant corruption and favouritism than dwelling on the past.

Apparently, a film was recently made by well-meaning Americans about the Khmer Rouge period in Cambodia with the aim pof distributing this to the schools in Cambodia so the children can learn more about their recent history. Another American-made film has also been made about child prostitution, set in Phnom Penh (although the director said it could just as easily have been made in New York, Rio or Amsterdam - in which case, why did he NOT choose one of them?). I find it distasteful that foreigners should go to places like Cambodia and make films concentrating on the darker sides of that country's history or current state of affairs, sort of rubbing their noses in it, especially when there is enough to be dealing with in their own countries.

Anyway, I like the image of this photo of the new generation moving forward to the future ahead.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


Himba man - two, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Putting on my jacket just earlier to go out to the shops and betting shop, I could smell the stink of stale tobacco, a nasty reminder of the otherwsie very pleasant evening we had out yesterday, every bar we went to being very smokey indeed.

While most of Europe has banned or is in the process of banning smoking in pubs, bars and restaurants, in Holland we are in a process which is expected to take another four years until 2011, the previous Dutch government having conceded to the interests of the smoking and horeca lobbies.

Well, it turns out that the horeca (hotel, restaurant and cafe) industry has not been keeping its side of a bargain made with the government whereby in 2007 already 40% of establishments should at least have a smoke-free area. So, our new minister of health has said that if this indeed is the case, he will try to proceed to banning smoking in all such establishments by 1st January 2008.

It will be great if he manages to achieve this, as it was indescribable weakness on behalf of the government which gave the horeca so long to change. I mean, all that has to happen is that no smoking stickers or signs get put on the door, the ashtrays put away in the cupboards, never to eb seen again... and we are done! The horeca was given a chance to clean up and they didn't, so bang! A ban!

In the meantime, I have just come home cursing my luck with the horses. Two big races this afternoon and in both I fancy the chances of the number two horse: Lacdoudal in the first and Nil Desperandum in the second, both of which are about 8-1. I have ten euros and I put this on Lacdoudal, who runs a decent race without ever giving me the feeling he might win, although he came a close third. I decide I am not going to get money out of the bank to have a second bet, but i stay to watch teh second race, hoping above all that horse number two does not win. It is a long race and I watch him every second of the race. He is held in midfield and jumps well and looks enthusiastic. The jockey is giving him a patient ride whilst the one horse after teh other tries to take the lead, holds it for a while before dropping back. And, of course, what happens? Nothing other than this horse coming along to join the leaders at the start of the straight, taking the lead just before the last fence and storming on to win.

It is as inevitable as Manchester United scoring in the last few minutes to win a football match. Frustrating! At least, this time next year when I come along to lose my few euros I can do so without some annoying man blowing smoke in my face.

Happy Station

Happy Station, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Just back from the Art Launch disco at Studio 80 where Martijn played a modern day version of the Italo-disco classic from the early 1980's, Happy Station by Fun Fun. They don't make songs like this anymore. Just wonderful.

I even managed to find a video or two of this song on You Tube (click here), how great is that? Never seen the girls before, and I am amazed at teh way they are dancing. Anyway, it turns out that it was Ivana Spagna who sung the lyrics. She is a sort of latter day rafaella Carra with spikey blond hair who later in the 80's had a couple of international hits, namely Call Me and Every Boy and Girl, still Italo trash disco, but less scratchy. She later went on to less commercial more serious music, whuch I have not yet heard, although no doubt it is all over You Tube and My Space

To top a great evening, it was such a pleasure to hear the blackbirds singing on the cycle home, adding their song to the chorus of robins which have accompanied us throughout the winter. And, by the way, sound director of The Queen, the birds do not sing in early September. OK?

Friday, February 23, 2007

We also saw the Queen

Queenie, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

And while we were out in town, we also went to see 'The Queen'.

The Queen being a film about the relationship between the Queen and Tony Blair at the time of the tragic death of Diana. Helen Mirren who played the Queen and Stephen Frears who directed are both up for Oscars this weekend. An interesting and entertaining and sometimes quite funny film, but it definietly had its weaknesses, the most glaring of which was the near lack of portrayal of the relationship between the Queen and Prince Charles, which one can have imagined to have been quite tempestuous at the time..

The pity of it is, is that the Queen DID come to visit us in Amsterdam about two weeks ao, to celebrate 300 years of Anglo-Dutch relationship. She stayed for a day but her visit passed without much fanfare. This was quite different to her last visit in 1988 to celebrate the Glorious Revolution, whereby the authorities here made a London Park, with grass lawns and flower beds in Dam Square, and when we were encouraged to demonstrate against Thatcher's Clause 28.

And now, even Mrs Thatcher is being re-habilitated with a bronze statue of her being unveiled during the week in the House of Commons, whereby it is almost acceptable to praise her achievements in polite society, because despite being the destroyer of communities, wager of teh Falklands War and the collector of the Poll Tax, she also helped reverse the economic decline of the UK, North Sea oil, no doubt being a considerable help.

We are off to Istanbul

The Blue Mosque, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Off to visit "Istanbul, The City and the Sultan", an exhibition in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam. Another nice spring day here, with the daffodils shooting their way up through the earth in front of the house, so we will go off on our bikes, with our hardly-used Museumjaarkaarten.

Having come back we can report that while the exhibition might be good as an Istanbul for beginners type introduction to the city and its previous cultures, it lacked historical depth and really did not expose the very cosmopolitan nature which the city had for many centuries. Reading the first couple of pages about Constantinople in William Dalrymple's book From the Holy Mountain conveyed a much clearer image of this than this exhibition managed.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ordinaire genoeg?

Back in Amsterdam meanwhile we hear that the 'Jonny' Jordaan festival might have to leave the Jordaan for the first time in 55 years since it was started. The Jordaan is an area to the south-west of Central Station and was known as an area where poor people tended to live, poor people but people with a heart of gold. Lots of pubs and cafes and a tradition of singing and home to a number of subsequently very popular Dutch pop singers such as Jonny Jordaan and Tante Leen.

Needless to say that the area has been considerably yuppy-fied in the last 20-30 years, the locals moving out to new towns like Almere and Purmerend, their places being taken over by young professionals from the provinces. However, the Jordaan festival is one of the old traditions which is still carried on, usually on the second weekend of September. It is very popular and has been held by the Westerkerk for the last four years.

The local council for central Amsterdam has said that the festival has to move because it causes far too much disturbnace ot local residents (most of whom are the new yuppies I mentioned above). The council received a total of three (yes, 3) complaints from local residents last year and this is the basis of their decision. The tyranny of the minority. Not only did these three yuppies complain about the noise but at least one complained about the public attending the festival being 'ordinaire' (what we would call common in English). The cheek of it!

It is a pity that despite the fact that we had local council elections last year, the new council feels it has to carry on this senseless policy of stopping any event on the basis of the complaints of a few people, who no doubt profit from the fact that they live in the capital city but want to keep it for themselves.

[I should note that the women depicted in the photo above were photographed during the Hartjesdag festival, something completely (?) different].

On a different issue, I would just like to mention that it has been to my mind to buy energy saving lamps a few times the last few weeks, but never quite got rund to doing so. I was therefore quite glad to see that the new government is thinking of subsidising people to buy them and thereby save electricity... which means I can wait and profit from the subsidy! Excellent!

Somaliland recognition

Camel traders, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Here is the text of a letter I received from Omer Hussein Dualeh,
Somaliland Citizen, Doha-Qatar, for which I thank him most kindly.

"Ethiopia is not honest about the Somaliland issue, regardless of the good neighborly relations that we have, and at the same time, as the Sudan papers say they do not want Somalia to be stable and prosper either. There was traditional man made enmity between Somalia and Ethiopia of the centuries, but if they [Ethiopia] think properly, its the interest of their country to have a peace of mind [peace with its surroundings] to enable them to have time to make use of the Nile water. This is the whole problem that Ethiopia has with Somalia, because Arabs [Egypt] are those who do not want Ethiopia to have more time to build Dams and irrigate the land to feed their people. This is whole problem in this part of the world.

It is therefore, the interest of Ethiopia to recognize Somaliland and have good brotherly relations with both Somaliland and Somalia. This will enable Ethiopia prosper and eliminate the Arab influence in the Horn.

I hope our brothers in Ethiopia will come to terms and extend hand with the Somaliland people. Let Ethiopia go back to the history and dig archives and see that they were one of the 35 countries who recognized Somaliland in June, 1960, before we join the Italian Trusteeship of Somalia. We united with Somalia for a purpose, and that purpose has not worked. We have now disengaged, simply because that un-rectified union was a failure..

The people of Somaliland build a nation from the ruins of Siad Barre Force bombardments, and we have institutions that are working and progresses by the day. We are at peace with ourselves and our neighbors. The viable democracy we have built is show case for Africa if they want to copy.

The moral values of the West are at stake and needs to be revisited by their head of states. Tony & Bush claim almost everyday, that they are promoting democracy in the Middle East, but they do not see what is happening this part of the Middle East, which could work with the interest of their slogan.

We are the only country in Africa, where the liberators of Somaliland did not stick to the power, but handed over to the people within the stipulated period of two years if not less. We put our house in order, by creating a unique peace formula, and came in peace with each other, by avoiding the reprisal and finger pointing to those who were fighting or supporting the old regime against majority of the People of Somaliland. The current President of Somaliland has said in different occasions that I am one of minority clan that was not part of the liberators of this country, and I was elected by the people of Somaliland who, for the interest of the country forget the past.

Where are the Ethics and fairness of the West and the wider world? We have been punished for the democracy that we built in our own way, without the help of the international community.
Somaliland could help and be part of the solution with regard to the regional geopolitical and stability, if we are given the chance to do that. We have nothing to do with the Africa’s so-called Pandora’s box, because we stay within our colonial boundary.

AU and others must come forward in dealing with the situation in Somaliland and extend a helping hand by recognizing this young nation."


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Himba boy with goats

Himba boy with goats, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

My picture of the day today... while I am still mining the photos I managed to take during our time with the Himba people of Kaokoland, in north-western Namibia. So nice to find ones which haven't yet been 'published'.

I saw earlier a remark about the one third/two third rule for photographs whereby a photo can/should be split one third/two thirds on the vertical and the horizontal. I am not generally a one for obeying the rules but this one does, in general, seem to be a good one. In this case, not so easy to achieve.... it sort of works on the vertical with the ground taking up the bottom third, but the boy is centred more at 60:40 than 67:33, but with the goat behind him, I didn't have a lot of choice. A pity, but one cannot expect them all to work out.

Further, today Fred returns (by himself this time) to the dentist to have the stitches out of his jaw) and then has to wait six months until his crowns get screwed in.

I will take the opportunity to return to the gym, to follow up the step I made yesterday in going back there for the first time since leaving for the Far East in October. I was more than a little surprised to see an advert for wine tasting evening (already passed) as I am not exactly sure that wine tasting fits in too well with the aims of keeping fit and healthy as espoused by the gym. Unfortunately, at any wine tasting which we attend, we end up like Patsy and Edina in France!

In the meantime, its a strange thing but I could not find anything on the BBC about the split in the Anglican church at the weekend, despite this being discussed in depth on the BBC's Heaven and Earth programme at the weekend. For news about the internal rumblings in the Anglican Church, a better site is the rainbow network news site, from where we can read that there has been a delay and a compromise made, whereby the Anglican church in the US has six months to change its policy with regards to ordaining gay priests and blessing same sex partnerships, in which they have been asked to exercise restraint. Back to where they were before then....

Interestingly, there is talk about the Anglican church returning to the Catholic church and submitting to the authority of the pope... the very same pope who is waging a war with the democratically elected government in Italy on their stance on regulating affairs for non-married couples.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Fat cats and Dutch Railways

Centraal, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Fred has half term now, so no need to take the train at six o'clock in the morning to school. Yesterday was his first day in public and the swelling on his face had come down an awful lot the previous night, although he looks like he is recovering from two black eyes.

There is a bit of commotion going on in Holland at the moment regarding fat cat bonuses for the people who run the Dutch Railways. The directors all saw their bonuses rise significantly this year, despite the fact that the company missed its targets for running the trains on time. The targets were quite lax, allowing one in seven trains to be late, but despite extending the timetables by having trians wait longer at stations and extending journey times, they STILL missed their targets, only just, but they still missed.

On the other hand, the general staff had to miss out on a bonus of € 300 per person because they JUST missed the targets for customer satisfaction. So tremendous double standards, especially when one cosiders that the directors' bonues run into the tens of thousands of euros.

Apparently, a justification was put forward for the directors bonuses, pointing out that passenger numbers had increased, as if this had more to do with the directors than the fact that the roads in Holland are increasingly grinding to a halt as a result of a dramatic lack of investment in new or widened roads the past two decades.

In the meantime, there is a customer satisfaction questionnaire which was e-mailed to me by Dutch Railways, waiting to be completed. Quite a responsibility given that my answers may affect teh bonuses of thousands of employees!

Fortress Ethiopia

The BBC reports heavy fighting in Mogadishu again last night. The Ethiopians are still there, supporting their puppets, the Transitional Federal Government.

There was a very interesting article in The Somaliland Times this week, originating in Sudan which points out that Ethiopia has very little interest in ensuring national reconciliation in Somalia as this might lead to a stronger, more prosperous Somalia, which is not something which the Ethiopian Government is really wanting, a strong neighbour being seen as a threat. The US does apparently want to see a reconciled Somalia but seems to have a greater interest in keeping Ethiopia sweet than anything else. Ethiopia is the US's fortress against the Muslim powers elsewhere in the region.

The article explains that this is why the US consistently and continuously supports Ethiopia in its cold war against Eritrea, whereby the impossibly weak and impoverished state of Eritrea is blamed for terrorist attacks in Addis Ababa (no evidence to support this claim), supporting the Islamists in Somalia (even though none were found) and so on.....

On the other hand, as far as Somaliland goes, Somaliland seems to have a very good relationship with Ethiopia, so who knows? Maybe this good relationship can be leveraged to finally obtain AU (and then world-wide) recognition of Somaliland. Its a strange world.

Monday, February 19, 2007


Namibia - Herero woman, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Monday today and Fred has his half term. He is looking a lot better finally, the swelling around his upper jaw has gone down a lot, so he is looking orward to going outside for the first time in a few days. We will go for a walk with Henk into town. It is a nice enough day, a bit cloudy but dry.

I ate an awful lot of garlic last night and I think Fred will be happy to have me outside of the house... he has the windows open!

In the meantime, the letter I wrote to Somaliland Times, was published, so maybe it'll not be so easy to visit the country again until the government changes!

Otherwise, I am being bombarded with flyers and e-mails from Cheltenham racecourse, trying to encourage me to buy more tickets for the Festival next month. They are silly buggers because normally teh tickets would have sold out already in December. However, being very greedy and miscalculating th public's reaction, they decided 2-3 eyars ago to extend the festival to four days, making each day less exciting and watering down the quality of the races. And, whereas it was possible to stay for the whole three days of the old festival, four days is a bit too much. So, to compensate for lower attendances and maintain their income, they increased the prices a lot this year, with the result that they seem to be be having great difficulty in selling the tickets. I wrote to them last year suggesting very strongly that they go back to three days but was ignored. I have a ticket for the Gold Cup on the Friday, thinking about maybe going on the Tuesday (Champion Hurdle) or Wednesday (Queen Mother Champion Chase), as well, but i will avoid the dreadful mess which they have made of Thursday!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Anglican Church to split today?

Sailors on the beach, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Here is a picture of two young men on the beach in Stone Town on Zanzibar. Just opposite, on the mainland of Africa in Dar-Es-Salaam the senior primates (sounding like a bunch of old monkeys!) of the Anglican Church is having a meeting - a general convention.

It is being reported that the Anglican Church might finally split today, ceratoinly after reports that seven primates were unable to join the others in Holy Communion earlier this morning.

The row is, of course, about homosexuality, with the conservative wings mainly in Africa, headed by the Archbishop of Nigeria, but also in the US, unwilling to accept homosexuals into the church membership, still less to see them ordained as priests or even a bishop, as happened a couple of years ago in the US. The Anglican church has long been split over this issue and it is thought that the final break may come today.

There was a debate on the Heaven and Earth Show this morning, where it was reasonbly pointed out that there are more important things for the church to be busy with than sexuality and indeed areas where Jesus was much clearer about what he expected of mankind (think of the Parable on the Mount). Everyone agreed that it would be a pity for the church to finally split, but unfortunately, the mild and broad Anglican church has allowed itself to gradually be infiltrated by the poison of religious fundamentalism which is diametrically opposed to the liberal views of a church, which in the 1950's and 1960's in the UK was one of the biggest supporters of the moved to decriminalise homosexuality.

Further, there was an article on the OpenDemocracy website about how church groups were helping civil groups in Africa trying to affect changes in society with respect to women's rights, child labour, the environment and so on, the point being was that anti-church people in the west do not realise the good work being done in the name of the churches in places like Africa. Well, apart from their evangelising and proselytising, I pointed out that if it was not for the mental block towards homosexuality induced by a fundamentalist interpretation of their religious books, such groups would probably be fighting for gay rights as well. Instead, with seeming support and succour from the churches the governments of Africa seem to want to be out-doing each other in designing the harshest anti-gay legilsation they can possibly dream up.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Getting married

Getting married, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

It is three years ago to the day that our dear friendsand neighbours, Henk and Piet were married here in Amsterdam Oost. It was Piet's 70th birthday and, tragically, this would be his last ever birthday, may he now be resting in peace.

Marriage had been made available to same-sex couples three years earlier (almost to the day) and the first ceremonies took place in the Stopera in Amsterdam, officialted by Job Cohen, the mayor of Amsterdam. Henk and Piet's marriage was officiated by a local civil servant, an acquaintance of the two.

It was a lovely day, where we first met up at Henk and Piet's and walked up over the bridge to Oost for the ceremony at the council offices, whereafter we took a tram into town and spent the afternoon on a small boat, motoring down some of the smallest and oldest canals in Amsterdam, before being transported down south to the Okura hotel, where we had dinner on the top floor with a view across Amsterdam by night. A memorable day.

There has been a lot of discussion in the Netherlands about the plans by the new coalition to allow civil servants to discriminate against gay people and to allow them to refuse to officiate a same sex weddings. Well, most of the mayors of the large cities have said that they will not allow their civil servants to refuse and indeed, the conditions of employment would preclude any civil servant to refuse. Further, today there is a meeting of the PvdA (social democrat party), to approve or dis-approve of the coalition agreement and it is expected that the party members will voice, very loudly their disapproval of this proposal. We will see how far the protest goes.

In the meantime, it is good tpo have the opportunity to reflect on the day three years ago when Henk and Piet were married and teh joy th shared together.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Mad elephants and hot dogs

South Africa - and a shake to the riiiight
We were face to face with this great African elephant in the Umfolzi National Park, us two in a small Kia and the elephant happily spraying himself in the middle of the road. The Dutch national news likes to end every bulletin these days with some light/happy/good news and today we were treated to the sight of an elephant going mad at a polo match in Sri Lanka and attacking a Kia van! Fred was very happy to se this with a 'told you so' look on his face!

He is feeling a bit rough just now, but has been up most of the day, keeping inside. His upper jaw is very bruised and swollen, the skin having been held back for two hours yesterday, but he takes the pain killers every now and then.

I was sent out to buy soft things and came back with yoghurts, soft cakes, soft buns and frankenfurters.. so Fred had hot dogs for dinner this evening, the buns smeared with a mixture of mustard and mayonnaise... mmmmmmm!!! Nice to treat oneself to some real junk food every now and then!

The Sparkling Diamond of Africa

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Fred, back from the dentist, still alive!

Poor chap spent the best part of two hours leaning back in a dentist's chair while being operated on his upper jaw, the dentist drilling holes into his gums, which eventually, after six months will be filled with crowns. It has been something he has not been looking forward to for a long time, but now it is done and he has just had his first meal back home..... liquidised tomato soup.

We both went there (Amsetlveen) together by tram and I left him there to go for a walk in the meadows at the back on what was a gloriously sunny spring-like day. Fred meanwhile was being injected every which way in order to numb him in the sterilised room made available for him. I came back after an hour and a half and peeked in through the blinds to see Fred lying there surrounded by the dentist and his assistants, looking calm enough, although I didn't dare to look for too long. As it happened he only screamed the once when the dentist cut into some area which was no longer numb.

When I was eventually called in he looked a bit like Herr Lipp from The League of Gentlemen, with a protruding upper lip, a bit bloody and a big gap where his teeth used to be, but he seemed to be chirpy enough, and well enough to take the tram back rather than a mafia-run taxi. Unfortunately blood would seep out of his mouth a cover his lower lip making it look as if he had put on some exotic form of lipstick, earning him stares from fellow passengers.

He is OK now and in reference to what we were talking about earlier, his children at school all wished him the best of luck when he left earlier today, while they all go off and enjoy their half-terms.

The happiness of children

Taking the donkeys home, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The UK has been accused of failing its children, as it comes BOTTOM of a league table for child well-being across 21 industrialised countries. Unicef looked at 40 indicators from the years 2000-2003 including poverty, family relationships, and health. Interestingly, the Netherlands came TOP.

Interesting for me, because I live here and also because of the perception here in Holland that things are NOT right with children that they have recently created a Minister's for Children and the Family which will be filled by Andre Rouvoet, the leader of the religious minority party, the Christian Union.

A look down the BBC messageboard on this subject reveals that people attribute the sad state of affairs in the UK to:

(mostly) The Government (!)
Liberal ideas leading to a breakdown in family values
Parents spending too much time working
Commercial pressures on children to consume and conform
Making children learn too much too young
Social inequality
The parents (!)
Lack of decent housing
and so on...... but mostly the Government...

While I think it is easy to attribute blame to all players in society to some extent, I think the biggest problem which the UK has here, as in so many other things, is social inequality, whereby a large part of society cannot reasonably expect to get good schooling, followed by vocational training, a skilled job and decent housing. For all the UK's economic success (which is largely skewed towards London and the South East), there are large parts of society which cannot look forward to a decent moderate life. Forced to go to massive schools, where the teaching staff change from week to week because they cannot cope, leaving school early to get a low-skilled job or live off social security and so on, there are far too many teenage pregnancies and a drinking and drugs and consumeristic culture amongst teenagers and young adults. (It is here that the British children score particularly badly and, here, that I see the biggest contrast between the UK and the Netherlands).

I don't think this inequality thing can necessarily be blamed on any one government or another, as they all seem to be as bad as each other. It has more to do with the political system and institutions whereby we do not value education and training as a public good, but as a way of supplying the labour market with the skills it needs. Britain's economy being based on low technology, low investment and low skills does not have very high expectations. The Dutch economy does have higher expectations, but it annoys me when I see constantly how demands from employers dictate the endless changes being made to the Dutch educational system.

Otherwise, I think bullying is a particularly bad aspect of childhood which neds to be tackled in a good way, everywhere it is encountered - and I think in schools which are too large and where the turnover of staff is too high, this is very difficult. In Holland, under the new cabinet they are going to put a stop to schools merging.

Also, extra-curricular activities, like sport, music lessons, dancing and so on are also very important, even though I was not so keen on them much myself. In Holland, I think you might see less organised sport at school, but a much higher participation in sports clubs outside of school. (I think this is also the case in Italy).

There we go... we all have our pet theories and both the top and bottom countries have their own problems, the gap between them probably being less than what the report would have us believe.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tony Chocolonely - slave-free chocolate

Slave-free chocolate, something different from Fair Trade chocolate and a very interesting story which had been going on here in the Netherlands. Teun van der Keuken (Tony) runs a consumer programme here and a few years ago he came across information which suggested that child slaves were being used on cacao plantations in West Africa, most importnatly in Ivory Coast, where a large proportion of the world's cacao production is located. These slaves are mostly boys/young men from the neighbouring countries of Togo, Benin and Mali from where they are sold into slavery, sent to the plantations and are treated verty very badly for little food and no money. This pracrice has apparently been confirmed by UNICEF and various independent research projects.

Tony decided that he would try to create a brand of slavery-free chocolate, avoiding, in the main any cocoa beans coming from Ivory Coast and tried to launch this at the premiere of Charlie and Chocolate Factory in London in 2005, but was prevented from doing so, leading to the commercial introduction of the Tony Chocolonely chocolate bar.

Taking the campaign further, he reported himself to the police for having knowingly consumed a product which was made illegally (i.e. by child slaves). The Dutch authorities refused to prosecute, saying they had other things to do with their time. In the meantime, he managed to upset quite a few of the large chocolate makers in Europe, with one (Nestle) saying that there is no such thing as slave-free chocolate. He was also very disappointed to note that so-called Fair Trade chocolate being made and sold by Max Havelaar in Holland also included cocao shipments from Ivory Coast which could NOT be guaranteed to be slave-free.

Anyway, during the trial, he was able to produce an ex-slave, one who was fortunate enough to have been able to run away who told the story of how he was sent from Ghana to Ivory Coast as a young man of 15, sent to work in the cocao plantations and was treated very badly. However the outcome of the process was that the Dutch state would allow him to call his own chocolate slave-free but he would not be prosecuted for knowingly buying a product which had been produced illegally. A pity, as it would have represented a major challenge to the large cocoa traders and chocolate makers if they were forced to protect their consumers by avoiding cocao harvested by slaves.

However, whatever else, it was a very brave attempt and a very effective way of publicising this problem.

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Ethiopia - Die Heimat des Kaffees

Die Heimat des Kaffees, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Ethiopia - the Home of Coffee, indeed, because coffee was first discovered by man in Ethiopia, growing wild in the forests in the south of the country.

There is a very interesting history and overview of Ethiopian coffee production on the following link.

This is the advert for FairTrade coffee from the Sidama Coffee Union Project, as put together for the German and Austrian market, an advert which uses a photo I made of women in Harar (on the left hand side).


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A letter to the Somaliland Times

Strong country, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

I would just like to register my support for your stand on the issue of the unlawful arrest and detention of the Haatuf journalists and the ones who followed.

I was born in Somaliland myself in 1961 and returning back to Somaliland again after 43 years in November 2005 was one of the highlights of my life, so proud was I of the efforts made by the people of Somaliland to create their own peace, stability and independence, crucially with democracy and the rule of law.

I was asked by so many people in Hargeisa, including on Somaliland TV, about what I thought about Somaliland's claim for recognition and why it was that the UK was waiting and so on. I was very enthusiastic about the call for recognition and I said so, although pointing out how happy the country could be with what it has done on its own, without recognition and dependence on foreign aid and so on. I have talked about the issue many times on my blog (, and I have signed petitions and so on.

However, now I feel that the people of Somaliland and all their supporters have been betrayed by the President and those parties who have been involved in this shameful episode. Very telling is the fact that the courts wanted to refer to the law of Somalia rather than Somaliland's own press law when reviewing the charges. Disgraceful.

I am a firm believer in locally tailored democratic institutions, together with a pluralist civil society where there are press freedoms, freedom of speech, freedom of association and various civil bodies, from trade unions to women's groups and environmental groups and so on, non-monopolistic companies, the rule of law, an independent judiciary and so on. I thought that Somaliland was successfully on its way down the right path, but apparently not.
All the plaudits which Somaliland receives such as Africa's best kept secret and all that sound a bit hollow and false when compared to the current reality. For sure, no-one thinks or expects Somaliland to give up its independence, but recognition can hardly be a reward for good civil government, at least not now. And the scarey thing is that if a government wants to act like this at a time it is putting itself into the world's (or Africa's) spotlight with regards to recognition, one can easily imagine what it will be like when recognition arrives, along with all the World Bank loans, oil exploration concessions and so on..., unless things change at the top.

It is a good thing that there are elections in 2008 and let us hope that these are free and fair, as the others have been said to have been. In the meantime, I feel the biggest challenge facing Somaliland is the restoration of democracy and the rule of law and I appreciate the efforts made by yourselves to achieve this.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Fairtrade coffee project in Sidamo

Women with goat, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Just catching up..... I did manage to make it to the party on Saturday as luckily enough I remembered that I had imported my address book from mozilla thunderbird to the new google account whih I had to open as part of google having taken over blogger... so I managed to fire off an e-mail just in time and get an answer.

It was a very nice party and we ended up going into the centre for a dance at Studio 80. Unfortunately, I woke up the next day feeling terrible... a bad hangover, like the one I suffered in Sa Pa in northern Vietnam, only this time I had not actually drunken that much, although maybe I had mixed my drinks a bit. So, I spent the day in bed until the last few rounds of the men's 10 km speed skating, which was won in world record time by Sven Kramer.

I feel a lot better today and with no computer at home and a pile of papers needing to be sorted out, tax bills to be refused and other bills to pay, I spent the morning going through my administration, listening to the Adrian Sherwood CD together with a pile of LP's from downstairs. So good to have a break of 13 years of listening to records as they sound so fresh after such a break. A big surprise was listening to Yvonne Fair's The Bitch is Black. Not a very nice title for what is a formidable soul record from the mid-1970's. I had bought this off the internet about five years ago but had never got round to listening to it before. So, with Fred at work, the house otherwise empty, it was possible to turn UP the volume and enjoy!

There was also another nice surprise this morning when the man from Deutsche Post arrived with a small parcel. A parcel containing a bar of chocolate and a packet of coffee and a poster with this photo on it! I had been contected just a couple of weeks ago on flickr by a lady asking if she could use this photo in an article about Ethiopia and a fairtrade coffee project in Sidamo, and here it was! A very nice gesture.

By coincidence, there is a very interesting programme on Dutch TV this evening about Tony Chocolonely and slavery-free chocolate. More about this another time, maybe.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

A great day for Nederland!

A great day for Nederland. First we had two world skating champions, Irene Wurst in the women's and Sven Kramer in the men's and he also broke the 10 km record with a time of 12 minutes 49.88 seconds, a good two seconds lower than the previous world record. She is 22 and he is 20 and they are both trained by former skating hero Gerard Kempkes, who was champion in the time I first came to Holland.

And then to finish off an excellent day, we had the choice of the Dutch entry to the 2007 Eurovision Song Festival in Helsinki (12th May) with the above song ' Nooit Meer Zonder Jou' - Never again without you. She has a fantsatic voice and obtained the best positioning for the Netherlands since they won in 1975 with Teach In, namely coming a very close 4th in the very strong 1998 contest, with 'Hemel en Arde' (Heaven and Earth) Terry Wogan saying that he thought it was by far the best song on the night. Let's hope that this song at least makes the final (and only 10 out of 28 semi-finalists will go through) and then hopefully get a high positioning at the end.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Here we were a week ago, down on the beach, the sun lighting everything up and giving us warmth. A week later and we are back to a real Dutch winter, cold and grey, with an easterly wind blowing. Well, we said we liked the seasons, so we will feel all the better when spring comes around.

I am supposed to be going to a party this evening, but I do not have the address of my friend, having never been to his house and having received the invitation by e-mail. The computer is broken and in to be mended, so I have no access to my e-mails, nor my addresses. My friend is not listed in the telephone directory and nor can I trace him through a search engine. I do not know his friends either, so cannot ask them... so... it looks as if I'll be staying at home this evening. A pity... and it makes one realise just how dependent we are on computers.

Yesterday, I mentioned that a Belgian couple refused to be married by a black man, well Fred tells me that this black man is now the most requested civil servant for wedding services in Belgium.

While we are talking about race, I am interested to read that Barack Obama is going to be running for the Presidency of the US, not so much that I am that bothered with the hype about an election which will tak eplace in almost two years time, but because he is almost always referred to as black. With a 'black' father and a ' white' (or, as they like to say in the US, Caucasian) mother, he would seem to be as much black as he is white, so why is he always referred to as black?

What's extra nice about Obama is that he IS a Christian who opposes the death penalty, wants controls on guns and supports gay marriage. Let's hope he wins... maybe he will be someone who finally gives Christians a good name over there.

Friday, February 09, 2007


Blijburg - hands, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

A change of season here, back to the hot hot days of summer on Blijburg beach for us to consider what the new government wants to do. Namely, it wants to allow civil servants the right to refuse to officiate at weddings where both partners are of the same sex. I will not call this a gay wedding, because here in Holland, we do not have a separate concept of a wedding for gay people and adifferent wedding for straight people. There is one type of wedding and it is open to any two people, albeit they are over a certain age.

So, to repeat. thanks to the religious Christian influence in the government, they want to allow civil servants to REFUSE to officiate at certain weddings, even though this is their job.

To put this into perspective, we heard that last week in Belgium a (straight) couple refused to be married by a BLACK civil servant, because they did not like black people. This was, rightly, condemned as unacceptable racism.... how could people DARE to think like this in this day and age?

Is it really any different to discriminate against gay people in the same way? And to allow professional people to discriminate? I don't think so and I know that the only reason why they are allowed to do so is because they cling to some outdated ideas which go under the name of religion.

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Not the best day

Hail storm approaching, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Here we are back in an internet cafe. My home computer decided to stop working last night and is now in the hands of Computerloods, a social workplace for people in Amsterdam Oost. They were very friendly and helpful last year when my computer gave up, due to some problem with a tattoo on the hard disk. This was an HP problem which they eventually fixed for free, only after all the data had been taken off my computer by a local company and meant I was without a computer for a month, lost all my e-mail addresses and quite a lot of the work I had done on the family tree.

It just so happens that I signed up for another free two weeks on and what should happen but the computer breaks down again. Hmmmm... well having gone around Amsterdam looking ot see if I could find anyone to help, I decided to return to Computerloods and the money they want to charge for repairing the problem (ANOTHER typical HP problem, I am told) is less than others were asking just to spend 3-10 days looking at what the problem might be. (Basically, I cannot switch it on). So, hopefully by Tuesday, I will be patting myself on the back for having made the right decision.

Back to yesterday, I mentioned that I was going to see Adrian Sherwood in concert in Paradiso and indeed, I went off very much looking forward to it, so imagine my disappointment when I arrived there to find out that the concert had taken place on Wednesday. Hmmm.... well, the man in the shop who sold me the ticket told me twice that the concert was on Thursday and although I looked at the ticket to check the time it started, I did not bother to look at the date. A pity. Anyway, I went back to the shop this morning to explain what happened and he was quite unsure about how to respond. I helped him by suggesting that he said sorry, which he duly did. Sorry, to sound like a grumpy old man, but one finds it very difficult to hear anyone saying sorry these days. So, I bought the album and when I go back home and have a nice hot bath, I will play it very loudly!

Here we have a photo of a hailstorm which we had on Wednesday. Yesterday, the country was prepared for snow and sure enough it came, all three or four centimetres of it! In the meantime, the NS, Dutch Rail, had decided to cancel many of the trains running already the night before, some of Fred's colleagues decided they would not ' risk' the journey to school, many schools were closed at midday and ceratin friends of ours were also sent home after half a day's work! My goodness, a light covering of snow and so much trouble, maybe global warming isn't such a bad thing after all.

As it happens, by the time I went outside to take some photos of the snow, it had already stopped and was turning to frozen rain. Anyway, in the main, I think the best photos of snow are under a blue sky with the sun shining upon it, although we never get this in Holland, any snow which has fallen having melted away long before we see the sun again.....

So, my excuses for a moany old blog, but surely this is allowed every now and then?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Golden light over Park Frankendael

Yesterday we had spectacular skies of sun, cloud and hail. Today it is altogether grey and a lot colder and we are expecting snow, the first snow of the winter. It is moving up from the south of the country and it remains to be seen whether the snow will stay around long enough to be photographed.

The snow is falling now (mid-day) and I am waiting for Zorah, our cleaning lady to turn up. Thursday is her day. Three weeks ago, we had the worst winter strom in years, two weeks ago the coldest day of the winter, last Thursday was mild and bright and otday it is snowing... not such a problem for her to get here but maybe a worse problem to return home.

I will be going to a concerrt in Paradiso later, a concert by Adrian Sherwood, of On-U-Sound records fame and producer of the African Head Charge albums. We now have Fred's old record player upstairs as mine was not turning around properly and being a Technics, it is apparently very difficult to repair. Fred, on the other hand had a 'Dual' record player, made in Germany and very reliable. The only problem is that it is a bit too big for the cupboard and I have to find a way to support a shelf above, where we can put the CD's. The CD's are now stacked up next to the cupboard and there are so many of them, so many that it is quite incredible how they all managed to fit in in the first place.

Apart from African Head Charge, we are also listening to many records of Black, best known for 'Wonderful Life' from 1987.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Mother and child

Mother and child, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Here is a timeless image of a mother with child, this one taken on the banks of the Omo River in southern Ethiopia.
It is an image we found many times in Sicily in the religious paintings and frescoes in the churches, baby Jesus suckling at the breast of the Virgin Mary.

Whilst investigating this Sicilian phenomenon on the internet, I came across a book called 'Dark Mother - african origins and godmothers', which explains how 'the oldest veneration we know is of a dark mother of central and south Africa, whose signs -- red ochre and the pubic V -- were taken by African migrants after 50,000 BCE to caves and cliffs of all continents. The oldest sanctuary in the world was created in 40,000 BCE by African migrants at Har Karkom, later called Mt. Sinai, foundation place of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.''

It is startling, therefore, to find that, despite these beginning, these three religions have all officially turned their back on the goddess, all worshipping a distinctly male god.

However, as was very clear to us in Sicily, when we were there in 2004, many societies feel the need for the sacred feminine, thus the local practice there of worshipping Ceres/Demeter/Kore/Virgin Mary as evidence by an unending and unbroken stream of her representation in all sorts of art forms on the island, from small statues to great baroque masterpeices.

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A little bit Christian and a tiny bit green

Light throwing shadows, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

This is a photo of a window, showing both shadows and reflections, one such reflection, on the left, showing what looks to be, but isn't, a cross. A good time to reflect, then, on the perceived Christian influence on the plans of the new government. Het Parool made a list as follows:

- better off pensioners have to pay contributions to their own pensions
- general pardon for asylum seekers from before 2001
- continued moratorium on stem cell research
- development of alternatives to abortion
- no new experiments with further extension of euthanesia rules
- no 'coffeeshops' near school
- civil servants can refuse to officiate at marriages where both are of same-sex
- prosecute people who use under-age prositutes
- increase taxes on cigarettes and alcohol
- attention to be given to the consequences of divorce

Altogether not so drastic, even though one continues to ask oneself, why did it have to be a small Christian party called to make up the numbers, when there were other alternatives? Just as in the UK, they are making great strides in stopping religious groups from discriminating, why here in Holland so we have a government which is allowing discrimination?

Just as Europe was never mentioned during the campaigns, despite it being a major issue, the environment was also relatively ignored while people discussed whether or not kindergartens should be made free and whether or not the pill should be included in the basic health insurance policy. Again, when everyone knows that the environment is a big issue, one might have thought there would be more discussion. As it happens, the new government seems to think that spending an extra € 800 million on the environment (€ 50 each) will be enough to ensure that Holland will be the cleanest country in Europe by 2020. A mis-match between goals and resources. About half of the money to be spent will come from taxes on flights. Oh dear...

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Roman Red Regeerakkord

Ripe, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The elections were in the middle of November, the results were strange but now, at the start of February, we now know what Government policy will be for the next four years. The two biggest parties, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats have joined up with the sixth largest party, the Christian Union, to form a Roman Red coalition.

The parties in the coalition seem to be happy but those outside, predictably are not. Tremendoes hypocrisy from at least the Socialist Party and Green Links, as both had the chance to join the coalition, but decided that they coudl score better by throwing tomatoes than taking responsibility.

Anywy, I am suere there are many sites one can look at to see what is or what is not going to be government policy. Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to find out what is so Christian about the new government as it seems as if the main ethical questions of abortion, euthanesia and same-sex marriage are going to be left alone, as they surely should.

The main thing which caught my eye was a decision that the Dutch Government will try to avoid seeking another referendum on the subject of the European Constitution. When the time comes they will defer to the Council of State for a decision on whether or not they can get away with not calling a referendum.

I am sorry, but i find it highly undemocratic to call a referendum and, once they have got the 'wrong' result in that the public voted against teh wishes of the political classes, these political classes look for ways to get around it.

The vote of the Dutch people against the European Constitution was a sign of the failure of the political classes to take the public with them on the European project. This was the first chance the people had been given a direct say in this process and they said 'nee, dank je'.

The immediate reaction was to completely ignore the issue and not to even mention Europe at all, and ceratinly never during the election campaign, the thought being that any time a politician mentioned the 'Eu' word, it would cost their party votes at the election. In other words a total lack of respect for the voters.

Is it any wonder that voters feel more and more estranged from the political establishment, when they are ignored in such a blatant way, over such a major issue?

There was a meeting two weeks ago of 18 countries which had ratified the Constitution and they made it clear that they had no wish to have any changes made to the draft Constitution. Very big of them, but how many governments actually bothered to ask their voters? And those which did, how many are large net direct recipients of EU money?

It is frightening to think that all over the EU we are allowing a super-state to be created without any input from the common people of Europe. There are many benefits for sure, but these never or rarely ever get explained just as there a many costs. Unless we address them up front we will be storing up problems for the future and we can expect to see more and more of the strange election results like to Dutch one of last November.


Junk food junkie

Cocao beans, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

I always thought , apart from not eating enough green vegetables, that I had a good diet. But today, it seems as if I am a junk food junkie, should I chose to believe the British Government. The reason is that I like Marmite on my toast, cereals for breakfast, camembert on crackers, tomato ketchup in my cheese sandwiches and low-calorie mayonnaise with my fried or roasted potatoes, cooked in olive oil. All junk food, apparently.

Instead, if I went to a fast food joint and ate hamburgers and chips washed down with diet coke, I would be OK.

I know this because the British Government decided it wanted to intruduce new rules on advertising junk food to children, which meant they had to investigate what is and what is not junk food.

This list has been published and, surprisingly, companies such as McDonalds, Burger King, Kentucky Chicken and Cadburys will be allowed to carry on advertising, whilst Marmite, olive oil brands, low fat magarine and Heinz Tomato ketchup ads will have to stop.

The nonsensical results and findings seem to have come about because the researchers did not look at what one normally eats in a portion. For sure, Marmite is very salty, as Jon noticed when we gave it to him to taste (being an Australian he only knew Vegemite) last weekend. But the point is that one spreads Marmite very thinly over ones toast (on top of the low fat magarine), so one's intake of salt is therefore very small.

Tomato ketchup is similar, in that it IS salty (and a bit sugary) but it IS healthy! It contains Lycopene, a substance also found in papaya, mango, water melon, guava and pink grapefruit. More than carotene, which has a good press already, Lycopene is an even more potent antioxidant, and this might be one of the reasons why it lowers heart disease risk. It also seems to reduce the risk of skin cancer. Amazingly, the lycopene, which is inherent in raw tomatoes as well is more easily absorbed into the body when the tomatoes are processed, as with tomato pastes for pasta sauces and also tomato ketchup.

Anyway, I was feeling a bit miserable a bit earlier, having brought home a basket fo groceries including sprouts, carrots, hummus, garlic, ginger, peppers and mushrooms (ready for a stir fry later) that I went out again and bought some bars of chocolate, choloclate digestives, gangmakers and cocoa powder and now I am feeling abit sick!


Monday, February 05, 2007

Valentine's Day

Yes, Valentine's Day will soon be upon us, so maybe we are thinking about sending a card to the one(s) we love.

For many years the shops have been on at us not only to buy a card but also to buy a present, such as a book, a bunch of flowers, a box of chocolates or a bottle of wine, and then maybe a romantic dinner in a restaurant.

However, in this year, the year when we know more about global warming. climate change, carbon footprints and the like, what do we have? Nothing other than airlines, pushing us to take Valentines' Day flights. It is ridiculous, of course, but I have received e-mails from KLM, Flybe and all encouraging me to go away and take Fred on a Valentine's Day extended weekend somewhere.

I know I am one of the worst fliers and therefore a hypocrite in these things, but I think that socially aware, let alone socially responsible, companies should know better than to encourage this sort of unthinking disposable type of travel. As it happens, I expect to be at home and Fred at work, a day before he breaks up for his crocus holiday, during which he is going to be operated on his teeth, poor chap.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Cows or jet-skis?

Cows in de Ronde Venen, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Last night we had our dear friends Jon and Pieter round for dinner. We were supposed to be going into town together, but we ended up staying at home enjoying good food (thanks, Fred!) and delicious Argentinean wine (Argento Cabernet Sauvignon and Alamos Malbec).

Pieter had spent the morning being interviewed by Dutch Radio One, the foremost national news broadcaster about plans to flood the area where they live, the Groot Mijdrecht Polder. Apparently, a decision about this will be made on Monday and Pieter was invited to talk about these plans on behalf of the people who live there, not exactly as a campaign leader but more as a spolesman who can communicate the thoughts of the inhabitants.

The Groot Mijdrecht Polder is an area of about 1,000 hectares, about 20 kms south of Amsterdam. It is mostly farmland but has the distinction of being about 6 meters under sea-level, not exactly the lowest area in the region, but close to it. Jon and Pieter have a lovely home there, with a beautiful garden and they are famous for giving excellent parties, most usually accompanied by superb weather, except famously the one time they gave a party at the beginning of July a couple of years ago, when it rained. Anyway... there is always plenty of birdlife around, notably a family of storks with a great big nest in the garden, and also waders, herons, ducks and geese.

The reasons given by the authorities for flooding the area concern the fact that the area is sinking, that it costs a lot of money to pump the water out and that the water which IS pumped out is of bad quality (not sure why but it could have something to do with fertilisers).

However, it should be mentioned that there also happen to be plans to not only flood the area but to raise some of the the ground and build a town of 3,000 houses. The flooded area would then be used largely as a recreation area, causing people to pose the question of cows or jet-skis?

In the interview, Pieter mentions that there have been very few discussions about alternatives to the so-called problems of the area, noting for instance that there is an area even lower than his polder, near Gouda which is being used to build another few thousand dwellings. Anyway, what started off just a couple of years ago as an investigation into the problem and possibilities has quickly turned into a matter of possible no-return, as tomorrow (Monday) a decision is going to be announced.

By all accounts, the area is not under immediate threat of being flooded, this may take over ten years, but a wrong decision will destroy everyone's confidence, and so we wish everyone on the polder that the decision tomorrow goes the right way.

Pieter's interview (in Dutch) can be found on under the title "Protest tegen 'uitpolderen' Groot Mijdrecht".


Saturday, February 03, 2007

A quarter of a million flickr views today!

250,000 views - things, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Thanks ever so much to any of you who have stopped to have a look at the flickr photostream and/or have made a comment on any of the photos there.

Here is a mosaic of 25 photos, going from red to orange to yellow to green and to blue, each photo representing 10,000 photostream view.


Light coming through the roof

Light coming through the roof, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Just back from the cycle ride to Blijburg, the beach where I spent so many days in the heat of last summer. The sun was there again and it felt great!

I mentioned earlier on some of teh great things the local council has been doing with our tax money, so I ought to add here the beautiful cycle and pedestrian bridge, the Nescio Bridge, which they recently built to connect us to the new lands of Ijburg and Blijburg beach as well as all the beautifully laid cycle paths around the city of Amsterdam.

Just yesterday we cycled down the street where I used to live for five years, namely the Vrijheidslaan, where they have reduced the lanes from two to one, each side of the road and have just added a wide cycle path, meaning we can avoid the cobbles and the bumps of the side road. It might take a while for them to finish such work and Amsterdam does seem to be full of holes and road blocks, but the result is a city which keeps getting better, at least for cyclists.


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