Thursday, 31 December 2009

Closing hours

Nearly 10pm and 2009's last two hours approach. I returned from a family visit at 7pm. Dutch Railways are allowing all passengers to travel for 40% less than normal today (and yesterday) on account of the severe disruption on the network last week. Everything worked according to timetable, absolutely exemplary. We had to time our return to well before 8pm, when all public transport in this country stops for the New Year Eve celebrations.

Bussum Zuid railwaystation as the 2.35 to Leiden and Amsterdam is set to move out

View from the train at Hilversum

When the clock strikes midnight, my father and I will clink glasses on a new year, and a new decade.

I would like to wish all readers a happy New Year, in health and prosperity.

HAPPY 2010

31 December 2009

It's New Year's Eve and the year 2009 is starting to become history. Just over an hour after this post is published, people in Fiji and New Zealand will welcome 2010. The cycle will be complete 24 hours later, as all the world has moved into the New Year.

In spite of the recession, €65 million (that's £70m) has been spent in Holland on fireworks, which will be let off tonight. It is already legal to let them off now (from 10 am), but the permission ends at 2 am tomorrow morning. The usual warnings apply, and have been and will be ignored on a large scale. Torn off limbs, damaged or missing eyes, impaired hearing and all that being the result. Already. I'll reiterate nonetheless:

- don't hold on to fireworks if you're lighting them, except sparklers
- sparklers are very hot (their fire reaches 2500C)
- place fireworks in a bottle and light with a lit cigarette, not an open flame
- do not throw or direct fireworks at people or animals
- keep pets indoors, in a lit room with music playing and curtains closed
- any firework that fails to go off should be doused with water

It is perhaps safer to go to an organised, professional fireworks display. In my adopted hometown of Stornoway, such a display has been organised for 12.30 am.

Please be safe, don't overindulge in alcohol and most important of all:

End 2009 on a positive!

I'm posting a final entry for this year this evening. 

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Wednesday 30 December

Although the sun set some 45 minutes ago, it got dark enough to put on the lights more than an hour before that time. It is a dreich, wet and cold day, with the mercury barely above freezing. We can anticipate a continued downward movement in temperatures, as the Dutch Met Office (KNMI) merrily gives us temperatures below freezing and overnight lows below -10C in the days to come. What joy. It would appear that tomorrow and Friday will see some snow, but after that it will dry up. Looking to my adopted home in the northwest of Scotland, I see them under warning for icy roads. The council there doesn't grit the pavements, so the residents take it upon themselves to do it.

The Dutch Minister for the Interior has held a press conference this afternoon about the failed terrorist attack on a plane, which left Amsterdam for Detroit on Christmas Day. Mrs Ter Horst asserted that only so-called body-scanners would have detected the explosives on the Nigerian man. Queen Beatrix has commended the Dutch passenger who overcame the terrorist after he had tried to light the detonator to the explosives.

I have no pictures to show for today, apart from one of my father's moth orchid, which I may put up later. 

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Operation Market Garden

This was the official designation for the Battle of Arnhem in September 1944. The objective was to capture the Rhine bridge at Arnhem, an objective that was not achieved. After more than a week of intense fighting, the Allied forces had to retreat across the River Rhine. More than 1,500 Allied men died in the battle, the majority of whom lie buried at a dedicated cemetery at Oosterbeek, 4 miles west of Arnhem. For reference, the German dead are buried at Ysselsteyn, 35 miles to the south.

I visited the "Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery" today, it is less than 6 miles away from my dad's home. We went their by pushbike, on quite a cold and grey day. The cemetery was still covered in 2-3 inches of snow. Before I went there, I had to trawl the register on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website for the Scottish casualties. I am a contributor to the Scottish War Graves Forum, which shows photographs of wargraves in Scotland, and of wargraves of Scots overseas. For that purpose, I took pictures of 99 gravestones at the cemetery.

This entry is in tribute to all the more than 1,600 casualties, from several nationalities, that lie buried at the Oosterbeek cemetery. My efforts are also a tribute to their valiant efforts to liberate Holland and Europe of the scourge of Nazism in 1944 and 1945. The fact that their mission foundered at Arnhem meant that those parts of Holland, located north of the rivers Rhine and Meuse, remained under occupation for another 8 months.

Tuesday 29 December

A cold start after a slight overnight frost, down to -2C. Some rime on the roofs and trees. The sun is making a pallid appearance, as we are under warning for snow. The battle between cold and warm airmasses will take place right overhead, over the Netherlands. In the end, it would appear that the New Year will see the introduction of extremely cold conditions, with overnight lows down to -15C or less (that's around zero Fahrenheit).

I was horrified to learn of the execution of a British man in China, for drug smuggling. Although I agree that drugs are a scourge of modern day society, and China has its own, unfair share of addicts, there are other punishments available other than death.

I disapprove of the death penalty, and on principle will not condone it. If it later turns out that a mistake has been made, there is no chance of reversing the decision. I am aware that many of my readers are from the US, where the death penalty remains on the statute book as an acceptable punishment.

Returning to the case of the executed Briton, he was found in the possession of 4 kg (9 lb) of heroin as he crossed from Tadjikistan into China. He had been handed the case containing the drugs whilst he was en route to China to start a career in pop music. Mr Shaikh is reportedly suffering from delusions, symptomatic of severe mental illness. Nonetheless, the Chinese authorities have proceeded with his execution earlier today.

In the 19th century, almost all the people in China were addicted to opium, an addiction fostered by the British. A war was fought on the issue. The matter is of particular interest to me, because one of the people behind the illicit opium trade into China was Sir James Matheson, owner of the Isle of Lewis at the time. His memorial stands on a prominent position above Stornoway Harbour, as anyone arriving there by ferry will know. The memory of Matheson is tainted with the summary eviction of his tenants in Lewis, with the opium wars in China. And with the death of Akmal Shaikh today.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Monday pictures

How do you mean, slippery?

Monday 28 December

A very nice day, quite sunny and reasonable temperatures. Until two hours ago, we were up at the dizzying height of +7C / 45F, and the snow has been disappearing at a good pace. Just some treacherous patches of ice remaining in shadowed corners. My dad and I went for a walk in the Heathlands north of here - old readers of this blog are familiar with the imagery from there - and the ice made the going a bit slippery here and there. Before that, I went into Velp, the nearest town (my home town has no shops) for a few bits and pieces. I went out at half past eleven, and the sun reflecting on the wet road surfaces practically blinded me. As I type, the mercury has nosedived to freezing, with clear skies overhead. The moon is shining brightly, and (to which I contribute a picture a day as user Castle Town) features quite a few entries from people around Europe with similar experiences.

Tonight will be spent in front of the goggle box with the news review of the year on NOS television. 

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Sunday pics

Melting snow

Art work - anyone managing to discern a butterfly or dragonfly in this?

Green space


Sunday 27 December

In Holland, the designation for Boxing Day is "Second Day of Christmas" (translated directly). December 27th, today, is increasingly referred to as the Third Day of Christmas. This naturally causes a lot of confusion with Anglo Saxon readers, who think of the Twelve Days of Christas, culminating in the Epiphany on January 6th. Enough of that, therefore. It is an overcast but fairly mild day, with temperatures currently at +6C / 43F. The result is a rapid snowmelt, with only about 5 cms remaining of the 20 cms I found on arrival here on Wednesday. A belt of rain is moving in from the west, but I'm not expecting that to be here much before sunset (4.30pm). It is a quiet Sunday, with my uncle calling round for lunch. The bluetits have been inspecting the nestbox outside on the wall, a wee bit ahead of themselves, I think. Full of the joys of spring, with winter still in full control.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Boxing Day 2004

Where were you on Boxing Day 2004? It was the day of the massive tsunami, that swept the Indian Ocean that day, in the wake of a 9.0 earthquake off Sumatra. 250,000 people (or so) died in Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and more than half a dozen other states.

I was in Lewis at the time, spending the day glued to the television as the horrifying images of a 20 ft high wall of water were shown, washing ashore in Thailand. And seeing the devastating aftermath in Banda Aceh in northern Sumatra. The rail carriages, washed off their tracks in Sri Lanka.

Flight scare

Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit was the scene of a failed terrorist attack yesterday. The aircraft was approaching Detroit when a man attempted to detonate an explosive device, strapped to his leg. A flame shot out and a bang was heard. Passengers subdued the Nigerian man, who had started his journey at Lagos. He was taken into custody for questioning by the FBI.

Stringent new security measures have been put into place immediately on all flights departing Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, and on all flights headed for the USA. The culprit has admitted that he acted on orders from Al-Qa'eda, the worldwide terror network, led by Osama bin Laden.

Pictures - Boxing Day

Pictures from the Castle Country Park

Chain bridge


Low sun through the trees

Christmas Day

Christmas table

Christmas tree

Pictures - 24 December

Feathered friend: bluetit on fatball

Snow along the road through the forest

Snow-covered trees

Schoolmaster's House

Pictures - 23 December

A neighbour's garden

The old village school

Country park, road to the cemetery

The Heathlands under snow

Broken treestump

Pictures - 22 December

Departing Stornoway: in the end, 90 minutes late.

Snow on trees at Glasgow Airport. Result: a 5-hour delay

Bemused cat

Boxing Day

A bright, sunny day, and slightly milder than of late. The snow is now melting, and I expect it to be gone within a day or so. Went into the park this morning, but found the roads treacherous. The meltwaters had frozen in places, and some people nearly went for a flyer. Visited the cemetery and my mother's grave there - our second Christmas without her. Kept a quiet afternoon, updating on pictures and the like. The next couple of entries will show some images from the past 4 days or so.

Christmas dinner

So there were 12 at the dinner table last night, enjoying a good feast of what the Dutch call "gourmetting". This involves frying meat in tiny pans on a hot plate; if one of my pics makes it clear, I'll post it later. It was very nice. The Christmas presents were distributed in an unorthodox fashion. Just like last year, everybody had bought 3 presents. Using a set of instructions and a dice, these found their way around the family. I think I did quite well, with a colossal bottle of shampoo, a stapler, an almanac, a card game and a penlight. Kept us all busy in between courses of the meal for a handsome number of hours.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Christmas morning

The day started with snow, which has now turned to rain. The snow that is still lying on the ground will probably melt in the next day or so, although the weather is not expected to turn mild. Nonetheless, whilst I was in church, the snow did fall, giving us the first White Christmas in many years. Like last night, I sang in the church choir this morning. At lunchtime, Her Majesty Queen Beatrix held her annual Christmas address on radio and television, focusing on inter human contact, compassion and the barriers, posed and removed, by computers. Blasting away at someone from behind a computerscreen is a lot easier than face to face. It is easier to just communicate in 140 characters (or 160 if you're texting), yet it may be possible never to meet the people concerned. Queen Beatrix held that it was not possible to show true compassion without face to face contact, without hearing a voice. I respectfully beg to differ, and point to our Call for Support journal for evidence to the contrary. It is a subject on which I hold strong feelings, and on which I have had frequent strident arguments with people.

Later this afternoon, my two sisters, their partners and children will call round for the Christmas family get-together. I'm pleased that driving conditions are OK on the Dutch motorways today; there was a warning out for freezing rain, but that has failed to materialised.

If you're to have your Xmas dinner yet, enjoy, but don't overindulge.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas

I'm only too aware that Christmas is not jolly to all. Some miss those that have gone before, and no longer have anyone around. Others do not have the means, not just monetary, to celebrate. Yet others more have lost sight of what Christmas is actually about, instead focusing on the popular perception that it is a festival of gifts, the more exorbitant the better. The only gift that counts at this time is the gift of charity, i.e. friendship, consideration, life and love.That cannot be measured in pounds, dollars or euros.

Have a good time, as the year enters its final week, as the decade closes. Reflect on what the past 10 years have brought, good and bad. Reflect on what the next 10 years will bring to us all. Enjoy your dinners, and enjoy company - if you have either. If neither, enjoy life itself, however hard it may be to you.

Merry Christmas

Thursday 24 December

Christmas Eve dawned bright and sunny, but we lost the sun soon after lunch. Dire warnings from the Dutch Met Office (KNMI) about freezing rain this evening, but as I type this at 11.30 pm, it's still dry. Went for another amble with my father at 2pm, through the forests only this time. Thick snow on the ground, making it hard to walk. Any tracks made by vehicles were slippery, so I resorted to walking in the undisturbed snow. Temperature +2 to +3, leading to evaporation of snow and misty conditions. The professional dog walkers had lost a dog - you can hire someone to walk your pooch for you round here. Some people have more money than sense. I went to the Xmas Eve church service at 9.30pm - participating as a chorister. My standing as a tenor is in doubt; I was a bit bunged up on the airways so did not manage the high F#. Shame on me. Am back in church in the morning for the full Christmas service.

Wednesday 23 December

I rose at 6 am and after breakfasting with sister, I took the 7.15 bus back to Schiphol airport. The railways were back to 80% of normal service, and I was able to make good time to Arnhem. It took me an hour and a half, only 15 minutes longer than normal, to cover the 75 miles. I only had to wait for 5 minutes for the no 21 bus, which wound its way through northern Arnhem, past large piles of dirty, swept up snow, which covered the bus stops. Alighting from the bus in my dad’s home town landed me in a foot of snow. I reached my father’s house at 10 in the morning. In the afternoon, we went for an amble in the forests and the Heathlands outside the village. It was calm, no wind, but when we came into the open Heathlands the wind did put in an appearance and made it feel very cold. The road that ends on the edge of the moorland was covered in snow, and had not been used for a few days. Normally, dozens of people come here every day to walk their dogs. On warm days, the smell can be quite unpleasant. A jogger overtook us on the cyclepath (only used by a few people since the snow fell). Did I say there was 8 inches of snow on the ground? Sunset was at 4.30, an hour later than I am used to. Although the day started misty, if not foggy, the sun came out at 3.30, giving us a clear end to the day. I had a very early night, as I was completely whacked.

Tuesday 22 December

Another journey from hell, although not quite as  bad as last February. It started straightaway at 6.30 am, when I was advised by text that my Glasgow to London flight had been cancelled. Trying to get through to BA by phone was impossible, and their website did not permit me to change the flight. The taxi took me to Stornoway Airport, where the check-in staff wished me good luck on my journey. An elderly lady, from the same street in Stornoway where I stay, was talking to me as she was due to go on the same cancelled flight. Her destination was Dusseldorf in Germany; mine was Amsterdam, 150 miles to the west. After due consideration and discussion, she decided to abandon the journey; her age did not look kindly upon waiting at airports for long periods of time. My 8.30 flight did not take off until 10.00, as the aircraft had been snowbound at Inverness the night before. After a 50 minute across snowcovered Scotland, we landed in Glasgow. I immediately went to the BA desk to reschedule my journey. I was now going to Birmingham (England) at 15.10, thence on to Amsterdam, where I could arrive at 20.00. Well, after having lunch and reading my paper, I went to the gate. There I was able to look outside, where it was snowing hard. The flight, with FlyBe, was put off until 18.35. That would land me in Birmingham, without any onward connection to Amsterdam. So, I rescheduled again (try to get your baggage back out of the system) and was now flying KLM to Amsterdam at 19.35. The snow closed the airport until about 7 pm. In the meantime, I had some dinner (chili con carne). I sat down at gate 27C, where Easyjet passengers were effing and blinding about their delayed flight, which was finally transferred to gate 10. That was not easy on the elderly and the infirm who needed a wheelchair. The airport obliged. My plane took off at 8.15, 9 hours after I had been due to take off from Glasgow. The runway and apron had been cleared of snow, and the journey to Amsterdam proceeded well. We landed at 10.20 local time, just over an hour after departing Glasgow. You pass along the east coast of England, able to discern Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Norwich, with London a distant glimmer on the horizon, 120 miles to the south. At Schiphol, there was no onward train to Arnhem, so I rang up my sister, who lives a few miles away, and jumped on the bus there. After catching up on events, I bedded down on an inflatable mattress, surrounded by bemused cats.

Friday, 10 July 2009


Pretty abysmal day - wet and windy. It has only just dried up, but the temperatures remain low (15C). Today is my last day in Holland for this visit; tomorrow will see me winging my way northwest towards western Scotland. As I am visiting some of the other Western Isles en route to Stornoway, I do not anticipate being able to blog until next Thursday. If I can, count it as a bonus. You'll see any postings Facebook or Twitter. My next blog post will be on Atlantic Lines.

The Shell Gallery will go under wraps from today, until I next return to Holland. Before the tarps come out, here are a few of the shots I took this week. Not many at all, due to the grotty weather.

How do you mean, wet?


Castle and Lake


Went to The Hague last night to see a hit-musical, "Ciske de Rat". It is based on a novel by Piet Bakker about a street urchin between the two World Wars in an unnamed Dutch city. His life is turned around by attending a new school, where he gains many friends, including that of his teacher. His home situation is dire, with his mother making him work in a pub at night. When his father tries to make a clean break after meeting up with a good woman things appear to be on the up. However, tragedy strikes when Ciske's mother rips up a book, given to him by a sick classmate. With the red mist coming down, he flings a knife - which kills his mother. After a stint behind bars, Ciske is released into a new life. His ever-absent dad has found a new woman.
Parallel to this childhood story is Ciske's adventures as a man, when he is mobilised in 1939 as the clouds of war gather. He meets up with his old schoolteacher, and his friends and foes from class. When the Nazis invade, he is severely hurt, but escapes death only by virtue of a statuette of the Virgin Mary, which was given to him by the prison chaplain.

Ciske de Rat is a quintessentially Dutch story, and a 1984 movie on the book was a blockbuster success. I had my doubts at the time whether songs were the appropriate medium, and had them before going to this performance last night. Fortunately, the show was fantastic in all respects, kept well to the storyline (always difficult and dicey in theatre and film) and had some very funny moments, as well as the tragic ones.

Thursday, 9 July 2009


Today is another day of hefty showers, but a bit brighter than of late. Have transcribed another 100-odd names on my project, with the total now at 1160 out of 6000. Previous two entries show more pictures from last week's walks in Yorkshire. The locations are within 10 miles of the village of Reeth in Swaledale, itself 10 miles west of Richmond - all James Herriot country.

This evening, I am joining the rest of the family for a theatre performance in The Hague, 70 miles west of here. I will not be making further updates until tomorrow, as our return is not anticipated until after midnight. Show starts at 7pm, finishes at 10pm and then it's a 90 minute journey back by train.

Yorkshire pics - Tuesday 30 June

Surrender Smelt Mill [Surrender is the name of the location, it's not an imperative]

Old Gang Mine

High Level Bridge

Abandoned mine level

Forefield Rush

Foregill Ford - All Creatures Great and Small

Tan Hill Inn, the highest hostelry in England at 530m / 1750 ft above sealevel

Muker village

Yorkshire pics - Monday 29 June


View across the moors

Passage through mine spoils

View north towards Whaw and Tan Hill

Sick rabbit at Booze (that's a village)

View of Langthwaite

Bridge at Langthwaite - All Creatures Great and Small

Fell End

Barn amidst buttercups, Hurst