Monday, March 31, 2008

Best not to drink too much beer

Dark scarf, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Otherwise, it was a nice weekend. I went out running on Friday night, training for the first time at the Olympic Stadium. It was raining, quite heavily at times and I had not been there before. I was not sure exactly where to meet the others and it was a time bfore anyone lese turned up as the rain got heavier and heavier. Eventually, there were about sevemn of us and we did some exercises under the roof of the stadium before going out onto the track. It was dark by now and the floodlights were on, the lights shining on the raindrops teeming from the sky.. There is something quite wonderful about running under such conditions. With modern techniques in textiles, it is possible to buy rain resistant clothes and it was quite incredible to come back after about a half an hour and to only really feel wet around one’s running socks and shoes. Time for a cup of tea before going home, probably to watch some debate on THAT film on TV.

I had a party to go on Saturday and Fred was still suffering and still had more work to do for school. It was a nice sunny day, the first for quite a while, just a bit windy. We were interviewed for the government’s statistical office by someone who had previously been a history teacher, who, of course, was very interested to hear that Fred was also a history teacher, and wondered whether he might not like to get back to teaching. We didn’t say anything, but the poor chap seemed to be altogether to be too timid to be a teacher at any school, let alone one in Amsterdam.

My party was due to run from 3 to 8 and it would have been nice to have been out in the garden, but the sun had gone in a little and the wind was up, so it was in the conservatory and kitchen. It was one of those parties where you don’t know hardly anyone, but where you can have a very pleasant time meeting new people in a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere. It was so nice, in fact, that at after 1 in the morning, I was last to leave the party, having arrived at 4.30 pm. I told this to Mum and she called it typical Roffey behaviour, which is interesting because I know that Mum and Dad were also quite often the last to leave parties which they attended and somehow, I seem to have continued the tradition. Would there be a not-leaving-the-party-until-last type of gene? Or would it rather be socially developed? I just wonder, myself, what the point is of leaving a party which you are enjoying when you don’t have to and where the host seems quite happy for you to stay? Maybe it is politeness, social etiquette, I don’t know…

The consequence of staying so long, most of the time with a bottle of beer in one’s hand is that you end up drinking too much. Seeing as we compounded the effect of a long party by going out later and having a couple of drinks in a bar and getting home even later is that you are not at your best the next day… and so it was (again)… We managed a short walk outside in the afternoon, played a round a bit on the new Apple and watched Jane Eyre on DVD. Not the latest, hi-tech, big budget BBC production, but a much quieter one from probably the early 1990’s, part of a boxed set of 11 BBC Classics, which cost just € 20 (for 40 hours of viewing time). Not bad!

What happened next...

White and pink, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The train is full of papers which are still full of Fitna, the new Arab-Dutch word, meaning ‘Strife’, the name given to Geert Wilders’ ‘film’, or rather video-clip. We also have another new word in Dutch, ‘Hiwar’, meaning dialogue, which is what was supposed to happen after this rather ridiculous man brought his film out. Dialogue with the Muslims in the Netherlands. Well, the first meeting was planned yesterday in West Amsterdam, Slotervaart, attended by the mayor Job Cohen and our dear friend Ahmed Marcouch, council leader in Slotervaart, and many others. Only, there was one empty chair, that reserved for Geert Wilders, who was ‘too tired’ to attend.

So far, a few parliamentarians in Jordan have petitioned the government there to boycott Dutch products, although I can’t think what Holland actually exports over there apart from red balls of Gouda cheese (he writes as the train pulls into Gouda). The Iranian government made some noises, but we have not seen any Dutch flags being set alight. The backlash, which Wilders had so hoped for has not happened and he, himself, is tired.

The only bit of naughtiness that we have heard about is that threats have been made to the employees of the web-hosting site in England, which ‘showed’the ‘film’, with the result that it ahs been removed, although I shouldn’t wonder that it is available to be seen somewhere else on the net. Wilders, of course, was not tired enough to say how scandalous it was that these employees had been threatened, although he was not man enough to take any responsibility for what might happen to Dutch people around the world should things go wrong as a result of his insulting film.

I am happy enough for him to make such a film and firmly believe that it should be shown, all in the cause of freedom of speech. I don’t think it is a particularly sensible thing to do, and the way he did it was crude in the extreme, showing him up for his deficiencies, more than that of the Islam.

We went fo a little walk yesterday afternoon, a short one as Fred still has bronchitis and I was still tired from too much drink the previous evening and because it was cold, damp and grey. Our walk took us through Oost, where we noticed that the Dappermarket was open (no idea why it should be open on a Sunday, but open it was). Most of the shoppers and stall keepers were from non-Dutch ethnic backgrounds, the large majority probably Muslims. One had to wonder what they were thinking about the hospitality of their hosts, where a man of such a low level as Wilders can attract so much attention and support by using his position as politician to attack Islam and Muslims.

As with all these things, I tend myself not to think in terms of either Islam, Judaism or Christianity, but as dated monotheistic religions which encourages people to be intolerant of each other, but I have been through this discussion on here before. There is enough nonsense in all their major books and enough examples of people who have taken this nonsense to extremes and committed crimes against humanity in the name of their religion.

Friday, March 28, 2008

All is quiet in Slotervaart

Alles rustig in Slotervaart, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

.. the day after the Geert Wilders' film, Fitna, came out.

And what a load of rubbish it was...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

And sometimes, things just don´t go your way

I had to go to Brussels for a visa - or rather two. The website said the Embassy is open from 09.00 to 15.15.

Fred without knowing anything about it says this morning that I should be there before 12.00.

I get there, after a delayed train journey at 14.00. The doors aned gates are closed.

Fred qwas right.

And now I have to look for a cheap hotel in Brussels, not having the telephone numbers of my friends here and not really wantting to impose myself at such short notice...

Oh yes, and just round the corner from the Embassy I spot a Sony shop., so a perfect opportunity to have a look nat the new 350 camera I was just talking about.... only they do not come out in Belgium until next week...

It is raining...

It is strange how well things work out sometimes...

Where did SHE come from?, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

It is strange how well things work out sometimes.

Every time I need a new camera, which is about every two years, Sony seems to come out with a new model which exactly suits my needs.

The current camera, the R1 was bought around this time two years ago after the previous had stopped working properly. The R1 was just out and was seen to be an improvement on the 828 which I had before.

Likewise, the 828 had just come out when my previous camera packed up and i ended up buying almost the first model to be sold in Holland.

Now recentlty, I have been looking at buying a DSLR, where i can take advantage of different lenses and faster reactions and a camera which does better in low light situations than my Sony's. However, i really love the swivel screen which allows you to take photos at hip level, without looking through the lens, which gives one tremendous opportunities for taking photos of people without them noticing.

So, I come back from Stockholm and everywhere I see adverts for a new Sony Alpha 350 which IS a DSLR and DOES have a swivel screen, which apparently is much faster than the one on the R-1. Just what I wanted! And, it seems not to be too expensive.

There is also a Canon 450 which has a swivel screen, so I can have a llok at that, but I have been happy with the Sony's, even though they do not seem to be made to last more than two years, albeit I subject them to pretty heavy use...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

This crazy weather

This crazy weather, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Easter Sunday and Monday

Happy Easter, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Seeing as we had not been invited around for a traditional Dutch Easter brunch by anyone.... we decided that we would invite Henk and Eric around and, sure enough, they turned up at midday whereupon we started off with a bottle of prosecco (apart from Fred who is suffering a bit from a bad cough). This was followed by a traditional English breakfast of sausages, eggs and bacon, fried tomatoes and mushrooms and toast, followed by hot cross buns and Dutch Easter bread, with coffee and orange juice.

After this we went off on one of our traditional Sunday walks through Amsterdam, through the ioccasional snow and hail shower until we found ourselves in our favourite bar, Cafe Stevens. Here we got a pack of cards out and spent the next few hours, until after dark, playing the simple but enjoyable game of ' pesten' which Fred went on to win time and time again... to make up for the fact that he was not drinking any beer like the rest of us. It was very enjoyable, even for those of us (Eric and myself) who hardly won a single game....

After this we visited another bar or two and fed ourselves on a kebab before visiting a few more bars after which we caught the bus home. An unexpectedly enjoyable Easter Sunday.

We didn'tg get up to too much on Easter Monday, although I did go out on the bike to take a few photos, trying to catch the mood of the sky, which gave us sun, hail and snow, cahnging ever6 quarter of an hour or so, before just turning grey later in the day.

Last year we had the hottest Easter on record, this year the coldest Easter for a while... not only cold but so very unsettled... I can't ever remember having ahd so many snow showers one day after the next... now five days in a row with more promised tomorrow.

I'll be spending tomorrow in Stockholm, flying out this evening and back again tomorrow - a flight which is costing as much as my flights down to South Africa. maybe the weather will be more settled there...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Happy Easter

Happy Easter, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Easter Monday and I've been off since Thursday and there is still no blog...

So here goes...

Thursday evening, we had a visit from a friend who is having some problems with the authorities in Australia, so we are helping him with writing letters to get matters solved. Maybe the subject of a blog another day... After this, we watched the final episode of the BBC series North and South... from a BBC Classics collection, four whole series on DVD for just nine euros.

Friday was Good Friday and as the sun was shining and it was still early, we went to the garden centre and bought some herbs and also looked at garden furntiture. The balcony at the back has been rennovated and the table and chairs we have been using the past fifteen years are falling to pieces. About time to splash out on a proper outside table and chairs. Having looked at some flimsy constructions, we eventually found the best looking (and, of course, the most expensive) set in the shop.... and getting the various sizes measured up and so. The balcony is quite big and t is always nice to have a large table. However, by the time we got home and started measuring up the balcony it was not quite a s big as it seemed, so rather than having the balcony dwarfed by a table we will probably go for a smaller version.

In the afternoon, I went into town and bought the i-Mac on which I am writing this blog. I had been eyeing them up the last couple of months, after friends had recommended them to me. Fred needs a new computer his being about fifteen years old) so the plan is to give him my PC while I take charge of this new Mac. The transaction went very smoothly and I was given a cardboard box with a plastic handle to take it back home. As I was walking with this box through the snow which was tumbling out of the sky a chap wished me a Merry Christmas and, indeed, it did feel more like Christmas.

The rest of the day was spent trying to get acquainted with the new Mac. It looks very good and the photos look excellent. The music sounds good as well. I had to search for some Mac versions of software which I use, like msn messenger and I came across a program called geophoto, whereby you can attribute co-ordinates to your photos and have a globe around which you can travel and zoom into your own photos (or photos which you can download from flickr). All very nifty. I bought this software for twenty euros but it will not allow me to enter the registration code, which is a pain.

Friday night was clubavond. Fred stayed at home, sensibly as he was not feeling too well. I had a nice time, probably drunk too much and came home just before two.

This meant I was tired almost the whole day on Saturday, much like last Saturday after the Gold Cup. Saturday also brought more frustrations with the Mac and I am finding it difficult even to get along with the keyboard. All of a sudden letters and then whole words disappear whilst I am typing. Sometimes they just move... very strange. On the other hand, there seems to be an automatic spelling check, ebven while I am writing this blog within flickr. This should improve the quality of my spelling in future... I just wish they had automatic correction so when I type 'teh' it comes out as 'the' or and instead of nad...

Major frustration though is that it seems almost impossible to delete photo files on a Mac, when using the standard software i-photo. A friend had warned me about this and maybe I should have taken more notice. I saw an advert for a different Mac program called Aperture and its main and first selling point seemed to be the ability to 'cull' unwanted photos.... I thought this was strange at then time and now I know why. With photo files being so large and disk space so expensive, you need to keep a good check on the amount of files you have saved... and it is very necessary to be able to delete the unwanted photos quickly and efficiently. I have subscribed to a 30 day trial for Aperture and while it IS possible to delete files, it is not a quick nor an efficient process....oh dear.... what have I done?

Fred watched Jesus Christ Superstar in the afternoon, we both watched an episode of Lewis in the evening (a gay-themed episode at which you have to groan, given the type of people they always come up with to depict gay characters...). Fred was watching a programme about Richard the Lionheart, while I fell asleep at his side on the settee... it was time for bed...

Charles in late afternoon sunshine

A nice reminder of sunnier and warmer days. This Easter is quite cold, with the odd sleet and snow shower and a brisk wind from the north. This was three years ago on the Tuscan coast.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Imperial Leisure - gig at Yoyo tonight - go if you can!

I manafed to get Fiona onto teh guest list but she was not feeling so well, so she probabky did not go. It was also strictly 18's and over only, so Thomas could not have gone. A pity because I am sure they would have enjoyed it.

Anyway, tghe promised rain arrived eventually this aftrenoon, combined with a string and very cold wind. It is raining heavily right now and we can expect the rain to turn to snow during the weekend, to give us a white Easter, the first since 1982 apparently. We'll see...

Anyway, I hope Impreial Leisure had a good gig and I hope to see them sometime later this year.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Cigarettes and alcohol - a budget for 'families'

Cheltenham racing folk - beer and cigarettes

So that (below) was the news from England last week, when we were not talking about the economy and The Budget. Like the recent budget in Holland, it was supposed to be a budget for everyone, most importantly ‘families’, business, pensioners and so on … blah blah blah… It seemed to be more like a budget for a government trying to raise money to pay for all its financial commitments by increasing taxes everywhere. This was the reality, very different from the hype. Poor people will see a doubling in the amount of income tax they pay when the rate goes up from 10% to 20%. How nice. Then, if such poor person wants to smoke, drink or drive, he/she will be clobbered by price rises there. More if they drink than if they drive actually, because whereas the duty on alcohol was to go up the following Sunday, the already announced increase in petrol duty was delayed from April to October. Driving a private car, despite all the oil price rises and hikes in insurance rates has actually become cheaper under Labour (by about 10% in real terms) whilst if you are lucky to have any public transport in your neighbourhood, this has gone up about 15%-20%. So much for a green government concerned about climate change, as the current Prime Minister says he is.

Well, one good thing that they have done is to introduce a salesroom tax on 4x4 gas guzzlers, which should discourage people from choosing such big and unnecessary cars/vehicles – the Chelsea mothers brigade. Just as effective, if not more, should be the hikes in the congestion charge for such vehicles whereby they have to pay 15 pounds a day to enter London. Excellent!

My friend, Philip, said that London was the one city in Europe where they are seeing reductions in car use, mainly due to such measures. I begged to differ as I think that Amsterdam has doen a good job in reducing private transport, through narrowing roads, reducing the numbers of parking places and making residents pay for parking and restricting the numbers of permits. That, along with maintaining an excellent public transport system and creating cycle lanes all over the place (proper ones too).

So, the big social enemy seems to be drink, alcoholic drink, whereby beer needs to cost 3p a pint more, wine 14p a bottle and spirits 55p a bottle. Maybe a response to underage and anti-social drinking, but more a ready way to make lots of money on products with an inelastic demand curve… people will be drinking just as much, within reason, despite the price… and this can be done with the vague idea that the government is trying to protect the health of the population by encouraging them to drink less. Drink a bottle of wine a day, and the tax increase is a pound a week and 50 pounds a year, just the amount extra which pensioners (like my Mum) will receive extra this year (as a one-off) as contribution to their heating bills.

And, then we had the all of a major US bank, Bear Sterns and what happens to the economy once the financial system starts collapsing? We’ll be talking about more than a few pennies here and there. The unraveling of the US unregulated financial system, which has been financed by the Chinese, Japanese and Saudis has long been heralded, it was just a question of time. An interesting article in Dagblad de Pers today pointed out that the Dutch economy should be reasonably well insulated against shocks to the American system because trade with the US is less than 5% of the total export and the banks do not have a high exposure to the US banks and their financial instruments, although this remains to be seen… the Sunday Times mentioned the Belgian/Dutch bank Fortis as possibly being in trouble. Anyway, it is a good feeling, at least from this side of the channel. In the UK, it is quite probably a different story… we’ll see…

Monday, March 17, 2008

Pure Irish thoroughbred for Saint Patrick's Day

Pure Irish thoroughbred, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

St Patrick's Day today. Many, if not most, of the winners last week were bred in Ireland. Here is a store horse, sold at auction last year who we hope to see run at Cheltenham maybe next year, if not the year after.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Kauto Star vs Denman

14th March 2008 - Denman and Sam Thomas' day
I couldn’t really believe that Kauto Star would be beaten in the Gold Cup. During the past two seasons he had proven himself to be the best steeplechaser of at least the last twenty seasons by winning championship races from the minimum two miles to the Gold Cup distance of three-and-a-quarter miles and his previous race at Ascot showed him to be as good as ever.

A lot had been made of his stablemate and neighbour Denman who had won the Sun Alliance Chase the year before and who had won his three races this year, including the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury. Could he be even better than Kauto Star?

Now if you have seen what is the best chaser of the last twenty years, how likely is it that there is another horse, and in the next door stable who would be even better than this one?

Anyway, after the two horses won their races at Cheltenham last year the plans were laid out for the two horses such that they would avoid each other all season until the Gold Cup, where they would go head-to-head in the championship for staying chasers, the Blue Riband of Steeplechasing.

And, so remarkably, it turned out. Kauto Star had won three of his four races, losing the first one when not quite fully trained and conceding weight to the very good horse Monet’s Garden on that horse’s favourite track of Aintree. Denman had won his three races. Both had been kept sound, without any training setbacks and here we were with the races ahead of us. Rarely do things work out so neatly, the months before any Gold Cup being filled with reports of this horse or another having to be pulled out of the race due to injury. This year most of the defections from the race were more to do with the fact that trainers thought that their horses would not stand too much of a chance against Kauto Star and Denman.

Mum told me she was in the Denman camp when I arrived earlier in the week, having seen both horses being filmed at their stables in Ditcheat in Somerset, not too far away from Crewkerne. He looked a much stronger and more impressive horse than Kauto Star. I already knew this but I had already seen Kauto Star win all his races despite not being the best looking horse in the world. I had also bet against Denman when he was favourite for last year’s Sun Alliance Chase and had put my money on the 20-1 outsider Aces Four. Aces Four led throughout the whole race before making a mistake at the difficult fence three out, which gave the race to Denman. I was not so very impressed, but then I had not seen Denman in any of his races this season and had not had the chance to see how much he had improved.

Anyway, we first had the surprise and disappointment of losing Wednesday’s racing due to the storm which was passing through which would have made the racecourse possibly unsafe and in these days of Health and Safety, they could not take the risk that anyone would be injured. It turned out to be a glorious sunny day, albeit a bit windy. The races were transferred to Thursday and Friday and we would have ten races on the Thursday and nine on the Friday.
Thursday came and went with some wonderful performances in the three main races won by Master Minded, Our Vic and Inglis Drever (winning his race for the record third time) and Mum and I set off in the rain on Friday morning in good time to get to the course for the first race. Fortunately, the weather cleared as we went north and although it wasn’t sunny, it was dry and not to cold and no wind…

At the track, people were walking around with rosettes, some with Denman and some with Kauto Star and all the Totesport advertising hoardings were referring to the Showdown between these two great horses.

Today was going to be Sam Thomas’ big day. He had never ridden a winner at Cheltenham but had the ride on Denman, the stable jockey, Ruby Walsh staying loyal to his Kauto Star. I had been following Sam for quite some time and last year he rode my fancy My Will in the race. He had quite a few good rides before the Gold Cup itself and I went about backing him in most of the races, to no avail as none of the horses won. In the race before the Gold Cup he came to won the race on The Tother One but had obviously taken the lead too early as he started moving about from left to right and back again and allowed himself to be caught and beaten before the line. Not a very good way to get your confidence up before the big one. In the meantime, Ruby Walsh ahs won two races, including the Triumph Hurdle on Celestial Halo. Mum had put some money on his Kicks For Free who was last almost all the way round until the very end when he lost by a short head, which was enough to give Mum some place money as he was at 11-1. My money had been on the white Sporazene, who managed to finish 19th of 21…. It wasn’t really my day betting wise…

We found our way to the pre-parade ring to see the Gold Cup horses before they entered the paddock. Unfortunately the light was going and it as drizzling, so not the best conditions for viewing the horses. Still, Denman looked mighty impressive, a big dark chestnut (chocolate) coloured horse, very broad, a wonderful specimen. Knowhere looked strong and healthy and the Irish Afistfullofdollars looked exceptionally beautiful, although not exactly strong. Kauto Star looked like he did last year, a bit lanky. I was interested in Iron Man from Peter Bowen’s yard and while he looked strong he didn’t seem to be in such good nick and you wondered really what he was doing in the race. I remember not liking the looks of Exotic Dancer last year, but I warmed to him more this year and he looked well enough, as did the grey Neptune Collonges.

Then off to the main paddock to take some photos of the horses going around with their jockeys on board, after spending a bit of money on both Iron Man and Afistfullofdollars as possible outsiders. Not much point in putting money on Kauto Star as he was already odds on and I never bet odds on. Denman was drifting out to 9/4 and it seemed that the hype was receding. Mum stayed at the paddock to watch the race whilst I went down in front of the stands to watch the race from there, although I would mostly be watching the race on the big screens than through my binoculars or live. I didn’t even think of getting to the rails to watch from there as it was just too crowded and to dark take photos anyway.

Twenty-five years ago, on the day Michael Dickinson saddled the first five home in the Cheltenham Gold Cup: Bregawn, Captain John, Wayward Lad, Silver Buck and Ashley House, I had gone out onto the course and tied a plastic bag around my arm to make it look as if I was a press photographer and was able to photograph the field jumping the last fence, with Cleeve Hill providing the wonderful backdrop. But that was back in the days before security and health and safety were uppermost in everyone’s minds…

Three years ago, Mum and I had been to Cheltenham for the first time together. It was a glorious sunny day, with the temperature reaching above 20 degrees. I was working for Metron and earning a massive salary and the Cheltenham authorities had not yet hiked the prices up yet again…. So then we had tickets for the Club Enclosure, which gave us more space and the opportunity to watch the race from the inside of the track. We were both on the 66-1 outsider Take The Stand and, having already won some money on Moulin Riche, we were thrilled to be able to watch Take The Stand move into the lead as they turned for home and to watch him eventually come second to Kicking King. Wonderful… so close and yet so far…

So here, we were three years later in the damp gloom watching the most anticipated horse race for years and off they went… the grey Neptune Collonges leading Denman with the rest in a pack a few lengths behind. The commentary said they were going an easy pace, but this was not exactly the case. The usual no-hopers were already strung out at the back and Kauto Star was among those leading the pack along with Halcon Genelardais… and so they carried on… everyone hoping there would be no falls and that we would get to see the showdown between the two main protagonists. They passed the stands for the first time and at the top of the hill, rounding the bend, Denman put in a grand leap to take the lead off his grey stable companion and off he went, increasing the lead at every leap. Magnificent, he was. And then we would look behind to Kauto Star and we would see and hear from the commentary that he was in trouble, his jumping going to pieces under the pressure he was being put under.

Denman was out there leading by an ever increasing margin and the Gold Cup had been decided…. Denman had powered Kauto Star into submission… he was winning the Gold Cup. However, just towards the end it looked as if Denman might be tiring and Kauto Star, brave horse that he is, was closing the gap, but it was too little and too late, Denman had flown and he passed the line seven lengths in front to the roars of the crowd in the grandstand… and then just behind there was Neptune Collonges running his best race ever to give Paul Nicholls the trainer and amazing 1-2-3 in the race.

14th March 2008 - Denman and Sam Thomas' day

Time to run back to the winner’s enclosure to take photos of Denman and his jockey Sam Thomas come back to even more cheers And unfortunately I missed both the opportunities to photograph the jockey standing up in his stirrups and then doing a Frankie leap off Denman, my camera’s battery recharging during those valuable seconds… It seemed a lot busier down there than it had been the year before when I had taken some nice pics of Kauto Star and his connections. That was the only sense of ant-climax and I was thrilled that Denman had won a fair race and that both horses managed to run their best races. Under the conditions, the slowest ground since 1995, Denman was the rightful winner. His tactics had worked and he was the better horse on the day. Kauto Star had had his conditions last year, when it was a good deal firmer, and he had duly won his Gold Cup, so all square. I just felt a bit guilty that I had put Mum off betting on Denman, as at 9/4 he was a good price and much better value than the 20-1 they were offering on Knowhere, which had carried her couple of quid. Sorry Mum!

So, superstar racehorse that Kauto Star is, he failed where so many have failed before, namely in winning a second Gold Cup (only Best Mate has done this in the last thirty years – but he didn’t run in hardly any other races during the year). He might have his chance again next year, although that would almost be too much to hope for… another round in the ring with Denman… Anyway, we got our race and although they did not go to the line neck and neck as sometimes often has, both horses had their chances and we were treated to a true match. This does not happen so often…

Tales from a broken down country

Brick Lane
Otherwise, the news is dominated by recession and complicated family relationships, for the want of a better phrase. We had a senior policeman killing himself as a reaction to his apparently difficult personal circumstances ( he had one or two mistresses plus a wife and family). Then we had a nine year old girl go missing up north in West Yorkshire, found again on Friday, at the house of the uncle of her mother’s current boyfriend, after a search of over three weeks. The mother is 32, looking older, and her boyfriend is 22, looking younger than his age. The mother has five or six children all by different fathers. The uncle who abducted the girl had split up from his wife and was not allowed access to his two children so he abducted them and was banned from seeing his children ever again, or at least until they were adult. The police found the uncle and the girl after they called on the flat downstairs and were told by the people living there that they were a bit suspicious about the fact that they could hear a child’s voice upstairs in the house of a single man. Now, this investigation had received a lot of publicity. If they were suspicious, why did they not contact the police and save them three very expensive weeks of their time? The girl has been placed with foster parents and has been allowed to watch DVD’s and play with a kitten. She has also seen her mother for a few minutes. Finally, we have another mother who has nine children, also by different fathers, whilst living on benefit. She decided she would take most of these children, who are of school age to India for six months holiday. They went to Goa before she decided to leave her 15 year old daughter there and take the other ones traveling with her. The 15 year old ended up getting murdered after first being plied with drugs and probably raped. Terrible, but the question is asked about how responsible is such a mother to leave a 15 year old daughter in a strange place in the hands of a man ten years older than her, knowing that Goa is dangerous and full of drugs…

Friday, March 14, 2008

Denman and Sam Thomas win the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Fabulous Five

The Fabulous Five, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

1983 Cheltenham Gold Cup

25 years ago.
I was there, watching history being made.

The first five home were trained by Michael Dickinson

1 Bregawn
2 Captain John
3 Wayward Lad
4 Silver Buck
5 Ashley House

A never-to-be-repeated performance.

Silver Buck was the best of the five and he had won the previous year, but he had been injured and so was unable to be trained properly for the race. He was retired after another season and then was tragically killed in a car accident.

Paul Nicholls has four runners in tomorrow's Gold Cup. It will be interesting to see if he can at least get a 1-2-3, or even 1-2-3-4!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Celandines in the bright March sunshine

Back in England for the horse races at Cheltenham, staying with my Mum in Crewkerne.

The races were called off today because of the high winds, giving us ten races tomorrow and nine on Friday. We will be going on Friday to see the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The irony is that today was a gorgeously sunny day, warm in the sun, albeit windy. We can expect rain and drizzle for the next two days which will not enhance our viewing experience.

A couple of my colleagues go to the Wednesday every year. They were on the station this morning when they get a call from our boss telling them that the races had been cancelled. They did not believe him. Only when they got an sms from a friend did they believe it.

One of the worst racing experiences ever (apart from the occasional death of a racehorse) was the 1993 Grand National when the race was declared void after the starter had declared the race a false start. Two or three years later the race had to be delayed to the Monday when there was a bomb scare, but at least they had a race, which was won by Lord Gyllene.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

It's that time of the year again...

Posing in the Cotswolds
... the third week of March (although this year it is just the second week of March... but anyway)... the Cheltenham Festival is on this week, with today the Champion Hurdle, won by Katchit, who we saw winning the Triumph Hurdle last year. He is the first horse in 29 years to have won both races in consecutive seasons and is also the first five year old of the last 73 which have tried, to have won the Champion Hurdle. Great.

I missed it as I was travelling over to Exeter at the time, to be picked up by my (superstar) Mum, where I am now. The weather was dreadful in Amsterdam, a lot better here but it is a lot worse than it was three years agio when I took my Mum to Cheltenham for the Gold Cup, when it was 21 degrees and sunny, like summer.

Anyway, good to see Mum looking well, also Nick and George the cat, will be staying with them until Sunday. In the meantime Fred is in London with his 72 schoolchildren and today they visited Harrow School against whom we (at MTS) used to plat sport if we were in a school team (which I never was...).

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Another... African sunset

Another... African sunset, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

We haven't sen anything of the sun today. It was been wet and grey all day. Fred goes to England tomorrow with 72 schoolchildren, crossing the Channel in a ferry from Calais to Dover. In the meantime, the forecasters are predicting that the strongest storm of the winter will pass through tomorrow, early in the morning and then again in the middle of the day, just as Fred is due to cross. At least he knows what to do when the sea is rough... having had enough practice in tiny aeroplanes flying through thunderstorms in Africa.

This was a sunset in Etosha National Park in northern Namibia, where we were waiting fr an elephant or a rhino to turn up... as it happens, we saw an elephant...

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Sparkling Diamond of Africa

After a massive spurt the last few weeks, this is now the most viewed photo of my 11,000 plus flickr collection, with 19,321 views. She overtook the headless and topless lady on the beach at Blijburg from two summers ago just today.

There is another photo of this beautiful lady which is flickr's choice as 'most interesting' photo of my collection, so she is doing very well.

Type 'Africa' into Yahoo images search and this Sparkling Diamond shows up on the first page, if not actually the first photo. As a result, she is being viewed between 150-200 times a day.

Friday, March 07, 2008

This week the Israelis killed 132 Palestinians in their own country and

Resistance Martyr, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

We are not sure how many inoocent people were killed by teh Americans when they bombed Somalia, from their basis in nearby Djibouti. They claimed to be trying to kill an Al-Qaeda member, always Al-Qaeda. A pretty heavy handed way of trying to kill someone and they probably didn't even kill him despite killing all the others.

I am not sure but I don't suppose that many of the 132 or so people killed by the Israeli army last weekend were active fighters.

In the meantime, we are still hearing from people who want to boycott the Olympic Games being held in China. It seems to be OK to use sportsmen as political tools, but don't anyone dare try to stop companies from investing in China and making large profits there and passing them on as dividends to their shareholders.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The race back home

New life after the fire, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Back in Holland again now, involved in a race to get home. Of course, I arrived on the station platform in Rotterdam Centraal in time to see the train pulling its way out of the station towards Gouda, Woerden and Amsterdam Amstel where I have my bike, a journey of 65 minutes. It would be another 29 minutes before the next train left, giving a total of 94 minutes to get home, 19 minutes longer than the flight from Grenoble. So 94 minutes is the target and I am trying to beat it by catching the Intercity to Schiphol, another train to Zuid and a tram to Amstel, getting to Schiphol 54 minutes after starting, giving me 40 minutes to complete the rest of the journey to beat the Sprinter. We’ll see.

Holland is under a blanket of cloud and it has rained today, but it is a few degrees warmer than it was in Grenoble and the biting wind we had a few days ago seems to have died down, thank goodness. I really did not like that wind which saps the strength out of you as you try to cycle against it.

Grenoble has obviously had some very nice weather since I was last there as all the forsythia is out, as well as quite a lot of pink and white blossom. Forsythia is very popular in Grenoble as it is everywhere, especially alongside the motorway, where for kilometer after kilometer there are bushes of bright yellow forsythia, planted at regular intervals. How wonderful that so many of spring’s flowers, including primroses, cowslips, celandines and, of course, daffodils are yellow.

So, I’ll be back at home for a few days, not long as it is Cheltenham next week and I will be making my annual pilgrimage. In the meantime, Fred will also be away, with about seventy pupils, in London. I really do not have much of an idea about which horses to back at Cheltenham this year. I hope to use some time this weekend to go through the Racing Post site to look for likely candidates. My favourite trainer, Peter Bowen, is not in form at the moment and I would not necessarily trust Andy Turnell’s horses, which seem to be quite popular with the bookies. However, the highlight is meant to be The Gold Cup next week when Kauto Star will meet the upstart Denman for the first time on a race course. It is just to be hoped that these two horses both give their running. So often, when a race is built up from beforehand, one or both of the principals fail to give their true running and the talk after the race is of the race which not was rather than the race which was actually run.

Further, it seems that countries are busy choosing their candidates for the Eurovision Song Contest. Given that I now have a job and last year did not, I suppose I will not be able to spend as much time becoming acquainted with the songs as I was last year. A lot of work went into choosing Serbia as the winner last year. This year, I feel I have lost my touch…

Well, that is enough blog for today, the train is on time and on target, as we pull out of Leiden, where Fred was just about an hour ago. Someone has brought heated food onto the train and it is stinking out the carriage. The train is still full and fairly noisy but at least everyone has a seat and the contingent of Chinese (who I had tried to avoid but still managed to make it into my carriage) have all gone quiet now, after all the excitement of getting in the train and trying to find a place for all their luggage. The top floor of a Dutch double decker train does not have that much room…

Well, I won the race with 18 minutes to spare, it taking only 22 minutes to get from Schiphol back to Amstel station, so I was not back much later than Fred who had been on the train an hour earlier but who had gone all the way to Centraal and then 'lijn negen' back home.

New life after the fire

New life after the fire, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Waiting around at another airport, this time Grenoble-Isere, while the plane is now expected to land at the time we were due to take off. Not such a problem, but it would have been nice if they had told us before going through security because the sun is shining brightly outside, and out of the wind, it was quite gorgeous. Could have had another half an hour of that rather than the waiting lounge here.

It’s a strange place, 40 kms away from Grenoble in a flattish area of farmland which is being turned over into airport/industrial estate and shopping area, even though it seems to be in the middle of nowhere. No doubt one or two of the farmers here have become very rich by selling their land to the developers.

There are views down south to the snow capped mountains, under which you will find the old city of Grenoble, in the alluvial plain of the Rhone river. I have still to find anything too attractive about the town/city, although the views up to the mountains are good, when the sun is shining. Otherwise, it tends to be a very grey city. The shops look good though… maybe I should go shopping one time, as it looks as if I will be back again next month, after which I should start handing the work over to my colleague, who I am sure can do a better job than I can of making the balance sheet balance…

I had two nights here, the first I was by myself, all alone in that restaurant and last night Iw as out with Mister Trouble, starting off again with a glass of Affligem in the pub before going on to the restaurant for another glass of Affligem. The way he says it, it sounds like a glass of African, which is a bit disturbing. Anyway, the restaurant yesterday was more like a café/bistro and the food not as interesting or as good as the previous night, even though the price was at least as much. Unfortunately, I ended up with a very large glass of green Chartreuse, a local speciality, which I remember my grandmother having a bottle of, serving it in small but colourful liqueur glasses. It would taste a bit like Strega but without the bite.

Anyway, I obviously made it to my hotel, as I woke up there this morning as the local church clocks range very quarter of an hour, one after the other… I avoided breakfast after my thirteen euro surprise last time and instead went out and bought some pain au chocolats for half the price, but enough to hand around at the office when I finally arrived, an hour late as I got stuck on the wrong side of first the Rhone and then the railway tracks, spending a quarter of an hour in a traffic jam to get back into Grenoble from where I was going to start my journey all over again… Modern French road planners seem to be even more quirky than their British and Dutch counterparts.

Well the plane has just landed and is standing on the runway just in front of the lounge, which is quite charming. It is the only aeroplane at the airport right now and we will be flying to Rotterdam airport which is similar. Much better than all those mega-airports like Schiphol or, dare I say it, Charles de Gaulle, the worst airport in the world. I had been very proud of myself in terms of being eco-friendly and taking the train to Grenoble, with two over night stops in Paris. But this flight cost € 130 return, which might be enough for one leg to Paris, let alone the return journey and the € 180 Paris-Grenoble return fare. And, I am saved the four hour plus slo-speed (they have the cheek to call it hi-speed) trip in the Thalys and I will be back home in time for a nice dinner with Mister Fred! He has had a bit of a difficult week on his return to school after half term so he will be happy to be starting his weekend this evening.

OK, it is ten minutes after the plane landed and we are being called to board, although from where I am sitting it looks like we are being called to get up from our comfortable seats and stand up and wait around in a queue… they always treat passengers with so much respect (not)… anything that is convenient for the plane companies or the airport staff… Oh well, better go and join the others as I don’t want to be missing another flight.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Now in Grenoble

Cape blues, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

.... where it has been a grey day. I just spent the evening having duinner all by myself in a wonderful, little restaurant on a side street in downtown Grenoble. Just me and the lady owner/cook/waitress.

She served me:

Salad Grenoblois - lettuce, tomato, potato, walnuts, egg and a delicious home made matyonaanise

Le Poulet crevettois - stewed chicken in a crayfish sauce
with Potatoes Dauphinois - a local speciality

followed by a cake filled with vanilla and chartreuse flavoured ice cream

washed down with a delicious Cote Du Rhone wine from 2005.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Cape 'fijnbos' plant kingdom

Blog to follow... something I wrote a few days ago...
Getting a bit tired now, as I wait around London City Airport for my VLM flight back to Amsterdam where I will go home for the first time in over a week. Looking forward to seeing Fred again. He is still on half term and has had to spend it all alone, but I think he has seen quite a few of our friends and the weather has been exceptionally good, I understand. In London, which was ‘rocked’ by an earthquake last night, they are saying that it will be the driest and sunniest February on record, beating the previous 1920 record. In Johannesburg, conversely it has been a cool and wet summer, the hottest weather being when I visited.

So, I am a lucky bugger – they did NOT take away the suntan lotion bottle I had in my rucksack, despite it being over 200 grams. I paid my now customary visit to Marks and Spencer this afternoon to pick up my biscuits and cheese (funny to be going to England to buy cheese – west country farmhouse cheddar and Blue Stilton, when in the old days English people would go to the continent to buy their cheese. The € 1.33 pound makes it worthwhile to go the other way. Anyway, my rucksack was full and I spent the DLR journey trying to arrange everything in there to take all my provisions, which I succeeded except for the two bags of hot cross buns. They watch the number of bags like hawks here. However, it turns out that they have changed the rules and are now allowing two bags and so I am hoping I have not crunched the biscuits up too much that we end up with crumbs. In the meantime, the Dutch will be relaxing their rules on liquids in the summer, but have to be strict now because an undercover journalist from a commercial TV station recently exposed lax security at Schiphol – the bastard…

Anyway, reading ‘thelondonpaper’ in the train when I wasn’t reorganizing my bag, I read that there is a direct action targeting the M&S website today in protest against the company’s exploitation of casual workers and dubious labeling practices in respect of beef imported from Brazil and Thailand…. Hmmm… with so many causes around, I am not feeling too guilty about having gone through their doors today.

The battery is running low and I have probably written enough today, so I will close down the laptop and go back to the excellent ‘Notes from a Small Island’ by Bill Bryson. It really IS very funny… and a nice way for me to end my week long trip away from home.

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