Wednesday, 31 January 2018

31 January

This day is one for celebration - but at the same also one for commemoration in the Netherlands. The celebrations are for the 80th birthday of (former) Queen Beatrix, who abdicated the throne in 2013 to give way to her eldest son, Willem Alexander. A very private person, Beatrix still mourns the passing of her husband Prince Claus, who died in 2002; as well as the loss of her son Friso, who died in 2013, a year after being severely injured in a skiing accident in Austria. I experienced Beatrix as a slightly distant monarch; her son is by contrast very open, without forgetting about the deference due to him.

Sixty-five years ago today, a violent storm struck the Netherlands. The northwesterly winds combined with a storm surge, which elevated water levels in the southern North Sea. This caused flooding in the Thames Estuary in England, as a result of which 300 people drowned. The flooding in the southwestern Netherlands was catastrophic. Warnings had been issued by the Netherlands Met Office (KNMI), which were broadcast too late in the day (radio broadcasts ceased at 11pm each night, and TV was in its infancy) to reach the authorities in the southwest. Only local people were aware of the dangers, when waterlevels at low tide were at those normally experienced at high tide. The dykes breached, flooding large areas of the provinces of Zeeland, southern South Holland and western North Brabant. More than 1800 people drowned, as well as thousands of heads of lifestock. A major flood prevention scheme, the Delta Works, were initiated, only completed in 1986.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

30 January 2018

Two and a half months have now passed since I returned to Holland. My uncle was buried a week after I came back, and his affairs have been put in order. The house he rented for more than sixty years was cleared in the space of a few weeks, and returned to the landlord. A major refurb will be in order before anyone can move in. The house is close to my father's, and I frequently pass it on my way through the village. Just this week, I noticed the snowdrops and crocuses near my uncle's house are budding, the distant beginnings of a new spring. Before his death, my uncle gave me his old bicycle to use, which I have done: quite a few miles on various runs around the heathlands and woods that adorn this part of the world. The highest point is about 350 feet / 105 metres above sealevel, and against expectation perhaps, this part of the Netherlands is anything but flat.

Two weeks ago, the Netherlands was visited by a violent storm. It claimed two lives, created transport chaos with no trains running, trucks overturned on the motorways and people bowled over in 70 mph gusts. Highest gust was 90 mph at the Hook of Holland. Thousands of trees were blown down, blocking roads and hurting if not killing people.

Last week, I visited the town of 's-Heerenberg, 25 miles east of here, on official business. It is a quaint wee town, right on the German border near Emmerich, with an old castle and church.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Saturday 18 November

Last Thursday, I took the plane to Holland in order to be with my family. I had been aware that my uncle had been terminally ill with cancer, and the illness was moving towards its inevitable conclusion. This came last night, just a day after I came back. At the time, my uncle was very distressed, and I was advised against a visit. However, I did attend a brief ceremony which took place a few hours after his death, at 11 o'clock at night. The coffin was taken from the hospice, where my uncle had been cared for during the last months of life, and conveyed down the driveway and up the street for a brief distance. At the nearest junction, we halted whilst the hearse continued on its way, finally disappearing from view round a distant corner. When I last saw my uncle, he was in good health and good spirits. Just last January, we celebrated his 90th birthday. I'll hold on to those good memories. RIP.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Monday 8 May

The anniversary of Victory in Europe Day (VE Day), the day in 1945 when all the forces of Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies. Adolf Hitler had committed suicide eight days previous. Europe lay in ruins, but was to be rebuilt in the decades to follow. Today, the newly elected French president, Emmanuel Macron, observed a commemoration of VE Day in Paris. Relief has been expressed at his election, as Marine Le Pen was all for leaving the European Union. However, we need to pay heed to the vote-share of Ms Le Pen, 35%. That is a substantial percentage of the French populace who would be prepared to leave the EU.

Is the EU then such a fantastic institution? No, it is very flawed, and is in need of an all-encompassing overhaul. Maybe it's too big, maybe its bureaucracy holds too much power without really being held to account. The reason why people do not wish to see the EU fail lies in history. In 1957, the Benelux countries, Germany, France and Italy established a free-trade association for coal and steel, which later grew into the European Economic Community, and since 1992 the EU. It came in the wake of two World Wars, which were sparked off by nationalistic fervour and competition between states. Western Europe has known peace for 72 years, although we have seen a vicious war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, which also should serve as a warning and reminder. The nationalistic talk of Marine Le Pen, railing against the perceived German hegemony, could so easily lead to renewed conflict. We already have to be watchful of Europe's eastern border, with Putin's Russia. We don't need to go looking for conflict within.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Monday 1 May

Just found it has been six weeks since I wrote on a blog, with the exception of my more than once-daily updates on Tropical Cyclones. Unheard of, really, but I seem to have moved to Facebook what I used to write on a blog. Facebook is a lazy blogger's heaven [cough]. The disadvantage is that you can only really write a couple of lines. So, the Shell Gallery is open for business, for a few weeks.


In the sidebar, it is mentioned that this blog was set up in the aftermath of my mother's death in 2008, now 9 years ago. This rainy day we're having today reflects the mood perfectly.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

The Turk and the Tsar

Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdogan. A dangerous mix, which puts Europe in mortal danger. On April 16th, the Turks will vote in a referendum to afford the Turkish presidents sweeping powers which would turn his presidency into an autocracy. Erdogan is pulling out all the stops to get the diaspora to vote as well, some 5 million strong. His ministers are travelling the length and breadth of Europe - and we saw what happened in Rotterdam last Saturday. It was thoroughly disconcerting to see the mass of flag-waving Turks in the city, turning to rioting when their minister was sent away. And some militants claiming that the city of Rotterdam will soon be theirs.

It has been suggested that Erdogan wishes to reinstate the Caliphate, which ruled Turkey until 1924. He could just as easily wish to reinstate the Ottoman Empire, which (at one point) reached as far as Vienna in the 17th century. What does that remind you of?

Vladimir Putin. He wishes to reinstate the Russian Federation to within the borders of the old USSR, abolished in 1991. He also wishes to extend his sway to the whole of Europe, made easier by US president Donald Trump. He is not too bothered about Europe, and Putin knows that.

If Erdogan gets his new powers, he could just as easily foment trouble in the Turkish communities in Europe, setting off civil unrest if not worse. Erdogan could cancel the migrant deal, that has stopped the flow of migrants from Syria and other places across the Aegean Sea into Greece and the EU. Hundreds of thousands would come across, causing further instability in Europe. And, with Donald Trump not really minding what happens in Europe, Vladimir Putin could march in to restore stability on Russia's borders. In Ukraine. In Poland. In Germany. In Holland. In the United Kingdom, where Brexit will loosen the ties to continental Europe, where Sturgeon's Scotland seeks to secede.

There is one other angle on this. If there is conflict between Europe and Turkey, this also means a schism in the NATO alliance. Should this really come to pass, then Putin will have achieved his aims. We should be very worried - if Erdogan gets the majority of Turks to vote Evet. Yes.