Saturday, 31 January 2009

31 January

Today is the 71st birthday of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. She has been on the throne for 29 years come April 30th, and is the second oldest reigning monarch this country has known. Only Beatrix's great grandfather, King William III, was on the throne at an older age, 73, when he died. Rumours are increasing that Beatrix may abdicate in favour of her son Willem Alexander (aged 42 come April). Beatrix herself ascended the throne in 1980, following in the footsteps of her mother Juliana who abdicated on grounds of failing health. She died in 2004, at the age of nearly 95.

Today is also a bright, sunny, but perishingly cold day, with a brisk easterly wind cancelling any benefit of the sunshine. Later this afternoon, I'm off for a family visit elsewhere in the country.

Friday, 30 January 2009

30 January

Brilliantly sunny day, not a cloud in the sky - which is deep blue from horizon to horizon. Temperatures of about 4C / 40F, but with a keen easterly wind which makes it feel quite cold. After watching too much tennis (the Spaniard won, oh, it was two of them slogging it out in the middle of the night there), jumped on the bike and headed for the Heathlands once more. Apart from a lot of traffic on the A12 and A50 motorways, which lie to the west of this area, not much moved. Once away from the main arterial route between Arnhem and Apeldoorn (the latter town lies 15 miles to the north), it went quiet. Pity about the cold easterly wind. Once at the Watchtower, we headed home.

A few pictures to whet your appetites, more here.

Approaching the Watchtower from the west

Rime encrusted grasses in a shady patch

Bare branches on a birch tree

Thursday, 29 January 2009

29 January

The first month of 2009 is already nearly over, only 2 and a bit days left of it. In terms of weather, Holland is slowly sinking towards another spell of freezing weather. Went for a cycle ride this afternoon, to the village of Rheden (4 miles away), to return via the Heathlands. This does involve climbing a hill up to 100 metres (330 feet) above sealevel, so it won't come as a surprise that my legs feel like lead this afternoon. Unfortunately, I did not take my camera with me, so you'll have to believe me that the rime-encrusted grasses and trees up there were magnificent. Frost is about to hit the UK over the weekend, although the forecast maximum temps of +1C is about as cold as it is here in Holland at the moment. I do prefer this weather to the 45C presently experienced in Australia though.

For those who are nearly losing faith that spring will ever come: here is a blossoming tree in the village, seen yesterday afternoon.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Afternoon stroll

At 3.30pm, we went out for amble around town and country. It was a misty afternoon, and the mercury was not above freezing. Returned home some 90 minutes later and just over a dozen pictures richer. Have a look here, after whetting your appetite on this one first.


I have scanned the pictures I have been taking with a film camera, and they are now available on the two Flickr-sites that I keep. The Lewis ones (month of January) can be viewed here. They show a series of graveyard pictures from North Tolsta, which I took on 7 January. I'll feature a selection of the other ones on Atlantic Lines. Here are three pictures I took last Saturday on a walk round the Heathlands.

Forest path

Forest clearance

On the edge of the Heathlands
Converted to black & white due to intrusion of light into film canister

28 January

A cold, misty and rime-ridden morning in the Netherlands. The blanket of cloud that was threatening us from the east for days has finally come across and covered us. Temperatures barely above freezing - if at all.

Information continues to emerge about the man, arrested on suspicion of murdering two babies and a nursery helper in Dendermonde (Belgium) on Friday. Newspaper reports suggest he suffers from severe mental health problems, for which he previously sought help - but did not get. According to his lawyer, the man realises he has done something terrible, but is not showing remorse. Yet.

The economic downturn has had its impact on the Dutch banks as much as on the British (and American) ones. After one bail-out at the end of 2008, the Finance Minister recently ordered another bucketful of Euros to be emptied into the trough of one bank - 27 billion Euros to be precise ($35bn). Consent from parliament isn't required, because the deal is going through at any rate. Still leaves us with the problem that credit is impossible to get hold of, in spite of all those billions. This is also the case in the UK and the US, and on last reading British PM Gordon Brown was getting rather hot under the collar over this. But then, we all know that banks are more concerned with maintaining their profits and dividends than actually doing their job.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Arbeit macht frei

This slogan stands above the entrance to the former concentration camp at Auschwitz Birkenau in present-day Poland. I already referred to it over the weekend, after a most appalling policy decision by the Vatican - to exonerate a Holocaust denier. Antonella reminded me of the actual Auschwitz Memorial Day. Which is today.

Go back more than 64 years. Imagine an operation on a continental scale. In all countries, occupied by Nazi Germany, Jews, Roma, homosexuals and others are rounded up in raids. Why? Because they were Jews. Because they did not conform to the notion of a supreme race, the Aryan Race. They were taken by train to concentration camps in their countries of origin. The trains weren't first, second or third class. The people travelled standing up in cattle trucks. The trains travelled all across Europe to converge on another concentration camp, in this case Auschwitz / Birkenau. Upon arrival, the people were taken out of the carriages and lined up. Some were ordered to go right. Others had to go left.

Those going right were taken to a bath house, and ordered to remove all clothing, for the purposes of delousing. Luggage they had to abandon too. Men, women, children, irrespective of age or social standing were taken to the bath chamber, which had showerheads hanging from the ceiling. They were packed inside. The last to leave, an officer with Hitler's Schutz Staffel (lifeguard), threw in a handful of crystals and quickly closed the door.

Half an hour later, the door was opened again. All inside were dead. Poisoned by hydrogen cyanide gas, which kills within minutes. Their bodies were carted out and taken to furnaces, to be incinerated.

Each person was methodically logged, with proverbial German Gründlichkeit. Their clothes, cases, spectacles, shoes and hair were all removed and stored. They remain there to this day.

Those going left were taken into the camp, and ordered to do hard labour. Help with the abovementioned process. The labour was not matched by nutritional intake, leading to severe starvation.

This mass murder on an industrial scale should be engraved upon the conscience of Europe. Because it is not solely the fault of the Germans that this came to pass. World War I was terminated in such a way that the Germans were bled white for reparations, leaving them open for a despot to take charge that promised them a restoration of self-esteem, heaping blame upon the Jews or any other segment of population. Had the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, signed in that railway carriage at Compiègne, been equitable to the vanquished - but it wasn't.

Auschwitz, Dachau, Mauthausen, Ravensbrück, Theresienstadt, Westerbork - need I go on listing the names of the concentration camps in Germany and beyond?

Never again.

Journals & Facebook

Well, I'm finally up to date with reading journals after my travels and the following couple of days. I am also up to date with things Facebook. One day you get 90 requests, and today it is less than 10. Well, for the most, it's just good fun. I am running into the problem that I don't know people's surnames when they submit their friendship requests. When I notice that they have a circle of friends from J-land, I usually accept.


Found this in Trees' Garden of Hope, and liked it.

You go into your pictures and find the fourth folder, then find the fourth picture in that folder and post it and write about it.

This was in April 1996, when I visited the island of Vlieland in northern Holland for the 31st time. The queue of traffic, unheard of at any other time, is of participants in a funrun for local islanders. Only under very special conditions are you allowed to take your car to the island. The funrun has stopped outside the Posthuys restaurant to work out a clue.

27 January

Nice sunny start to the day out here, but the temperatures were well below zero. Cars are covered in a thick layer of rime. Continue to enjoy the flurry of small birds around the feeders outside; great tits, bluetits, nuthatches, robins, wrens as well as blackbirds. Other feathered visitors include bluejays and magpies. The latter not around the birdfeeders (they're too big and too shy), but they are scavenging around.

My dad has the builders round to refurbish some woodwork around the house. Frost, water and other influences don't contrive to keep things in a good state. Not to mention that old wasps' nest from decades ago, which was still in the rafters of the garage.

This evening, I shall collect some pictures which I took in Lewis earlier this month, as well as 3 that I took on Saturday whilst out on the Heathlands. Sunday's pics are digital ones, and available on Flickr.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Voice comments

I have put on my sidebar the possibility to add a voice comment. It's only a phonecall away; you can even do it on-line through your PC's microphone. To do it by mike, you need to click on my name in the widget and you can add a voice comment from there. Look forward to hearing from y'all.

Images from yesterday

One of the dozen or so pictures I took yesterday, using my father's digital camera. My own is currently away for repairs, and not expected back before March. Others can be viewed here.

26 January

Good morning from a cold but sunny eastern Holland. We had a frost overnight, which is lifting only slowly. The sun is out, although high cloud is moving up from the west to obscure it later. The walks of the last two days have left me with some sore muscles - not enough exercise apparently.

Avalanches have claimed 13 lives over the weekend. Three people died on Buachaille Etive Mor in the Scottish Highlands, southeast of Fort William. Another ten perished in an avalanche in Turkey; some of those have not yet been recovered from the snow.

Tomorrow is Holocaust Memorial Day, in which the victims of the persecution of Jews and others, deemed to be sub-human by the Nazis, are remembered. 27 January 1945 was the day the Auschwitz / Birkenau concentration camp was liberated. Yesterday, a ceremony was held at a memorial in Amsterdam, attended by some representatives of the Dutch Muslim community. Their presence was hailed as a move towards greater understanding between Muslims and Jews in Holland.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Mexico City policy

I've subscribed to the feed from the White House, and it makes interesting reading, particularly from a foreign policy perspective. One such move, related to family planning, made my jaw drop. Or rather, the policy that was being revoked had that effect on me.

Non-governmental organisations, receiving money from the US government would not be allowed to pay for the performance of abortions as a method of family planning, or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions. That's the way it started in 1984. The August 1984 announcement by President Reagan of what has become known as the "Mexico City Policy" directed the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to expand this limitation and withhold USAID funds from NGOs that use non-USAID funds to engage in a wide range of activities, including providing advice, counseling, or information regarding abortion, or lobbying a foreign government to legalize or make abortion available.

Nine years of this later, Bill Clinton revoked the policy. Only for it to be reinstated by George W. Bush, who extended the policy to "voluntary population planning" assistance provided by the Department of State. Barack Obama has got rid of this now. I'm glad he has.

It is, in my mind, not the business of the US government (or any government for that matter) to interfere with family planning in overseas countries, by forcing American / Western morals on the subject of abortion or even family planning down the throats of foreign nations. The policy that has now gone into the dustbin can safely be labelled positively colonial.

Family planning in the Third World is desperately important, and whilst I agree that using abortion in this way is very dicey to say the least (for medical reasons), other methods are available, which should be introduced with sensitivity towards local faiths and customs.

25 January

A nice sunny day, if a little on the cold side (temps of 5C) with what is locally termed a thin wind. It is called that as it penetrates any layer of clothing you may care to put on. High-level cloud slowly moved up from the west, but it will stay dry. A light frost is expected overnight. There is still ice on ponds and lakes from a recent frosty spell, but no major cold snap is anticipated. Went out for a walk (about 8 miles) in the Heathlands and forest area north of the village. My dad and I were not the only ones with that idea; dozens of folk were out there walking their dogs and themselves. The dogs had to do their little jobbies, the smell along some tracks bearing testimony to that. My father lent me his digital camera, so I shall be posting pictures of the walk later today or tomorrow.

Heard an item on the news about two men who were stopped cycling along a motorway on two bicycles. That's not allowed. It is even less clever to do so when you've nicked said pushbikes. They had been out for a night on the town, had missed their lift home, and decided to 'borrow' the bikes.

There is still no further news on the tragedy in Dendermonde, Belgium, where two babies and their carers were murdered on Friday morning. The nursery is to be closed down permanently. The suspect has not made any statement to police whatsoever.

Today is the 250th birthday of Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet. Although I'm not in Scotland this time round, I will post a poem on Atlantic Lines. Bearing in mind that I know what goes into a haggis, I am not entirely distraught at missing the Burns Supper tonight. A Burns Supper is a great social occasion though.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Denial of the Holocaust

Contents warning: This post is severely critical of the Roman Catholic Church. Although I hold it in deep respect, I feel it necessary to raise a critical voice.

The national-socialist regime which ruled Germany between 1933 and 1945 is held responsible for the death of 6 million people, purely because they professed to be Jews. Their extermination was perpetrated on an industrial scale, with people being carted in on cattletrucks in trains from the length and breadth of those parts of Europe that had been occupied by the Nazis from 1938 onwards. The former concentration camp at Auschwitz in present-day Poland has been maintained as a memorial to the unspeakable atrocity that was committed there, and in dozens of other camps.

There are people around to this day who deny that this happened. In many European countries, denying the Holocaust, or its extent, is a crime. Several high-profile figures are among those, such as David Irving (who states to be a historian). Another is a Roman-Catholic bishop, Richard Williamson, who was excommunicated by the Vatican in 1988 for his views.

I am dumbstruck, horrified and totally aghast to read this morning that Pope Benedict XVI has now reinstated bishop Williamson. He is liable to be prosecuted in Germany for saying that he thinks that on the basis of evidence seen by himself, only 300,000 people died, and that it was not a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler to kill all the Jews.

During and after the Second World War, the Vatican was ominously silent on the issue of the persecution of the Jews, well-known to be going on at the time, and only in the 1960s was any move towards reconciliation with the Judaic faith being made. Leaders of that faith have warned that the reinstatement of Bishop Williamson will serve to reverse all that was achieved since the 1960s.

Leaving the interfaith problems to one side, I find it incomprehensible that the Leader of the Roman Catholic Church, one of the largest religions in the world, is seen to be lending support to any holocaust denier.

Dendermonde / Dunblane

Yesterday, the Belgian town of Dendermonde was struck by the news that a deranged man had entered a nursery school with a knife, and had killed two infants and a helper. He was apprehended shortly afterwards, but to date has not made any declaration about his actions. The 20-year old will appear in court on Tuesday.

An eerie parallel exists with a similar incident in the Scottish town of Dunblane. In 1996, a man entered a school in the town, just north of Stirling, and killed 16 children and one adult, before taking his own life.

My thoughts are with the parents of the children injured or killed at Dendermonde, similarly with those at Dunblane who will experience a flashback to that day in March 1996.

24 January

Resuming blogging from Holland for just over a week. It is a grey day, but with a few sunny intervals. Temperatures 5C, so quite similar to the Hebrides. After last week's storms in Scotland, it is now France that has been hammered by 110 mph winds. The area around Bordeaux has had a dose of that, and it has wreaked devastation. The Scottish islands are used to that sort of conditions, so damage was relatively light (leaving the 12 crushed cars to one side). In France and Spain, hundreds of thousands are without power, road and rail travel is blocked. Two people died in Lugo, Spain.

Last night, I joined my father's birthday party with ten other members of the family. We had a nice evening all together.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

4 January

Today is a day of thaw, with the mercury well above freezing (+3C / 37F) this afternoon. Although we had some light snow in the morning (which did not settle), it is now raining. The thaw is likely to be only short-lived, as frost will return on Monday night.

Although I mentioned that my camera no longer functions, I was given my father's digital camera to take pictures over the past couple of days. On return to Stornoway, I am reverting to film and a good deal fewer pictures, which will also be very late in appearing. Meantime, my digital camera will go away for repairs, which will hopefully not take long.

This is my final post on the Shell Gallery, as I am travelling back to Stornoway tomorrow. This is a journey that will take me about 15 hours from door to door. My next post will appear on Atlantic Lines on Tuesday.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

3 January

Cold night, with the mercury down to -7C. It is now close to freezing, but the trees and everything is covered in a reasonable layer of rime. Went to the shop at 10 am (still very cold). Old Christmas trees were already sitting by the roadside, ready to be picked up for recycling. Not a needle left on them. The bottlebanks were doing a roaring trade, with everybody dumping their New Year empties. Otherwise, it was quiet in town. Should explain that town is a mile down the road; our village has no facilities at all; no shops, pubs or what have you. It does have a restaurant with incredible prices, and a tourist place down at the Castle. Not sure if it's open at this time of the year.

Went out at 11 to take pictures of the village in rime, and passed the Castle on my way round. It has a pond around the main tower, and as I said yesterday, covered in ice and coveted by skaters. The majority though went on the ice opposite the Town Hall, which is where a stream runs down a hill into the pond. Consequently the ice tends to be thinner there. Fewer people joining the ice at the right place, which is just inside the Castle Gates. Fancy having to walk or cycle an extra 200 yards, no can't have that.

PS: Am still uploading pics as I post this, so check back by midday (UK time).

Friday, 2 January 2009

2 January

Bad start to the day, with rain falling on frozen surfaces. Area was more like an ice-rink first thing this morning. Fortunately, temperatures soon rose above freezing leading to a thawing of the ice. Gritters also came out, but not in time to prevent a few pile-ups on the motorways. Had a family visit in the morning, which was very nice. We went out for a walk to the Heathlands this afternoon. In the open, there was a cold northeasterly wind. Although the mercury was at 2C, it did not feel like that. My dad very kindly lent me his camera, as mine has now completely given up the ghost. It does show me the pics already on the memory-card, but won't take anything else but black pictures now. The little screen also has no preview.

I'm currently uploading the pictures, but after about 6pm GMT you'll be able to see them here.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

1 January 2009

Happy New Year to all.

The New Year tends to be a cause for celebration as well as violence in Holland. It was not as bad as last year, it would seem, but still, dozens of cars torched, dozens of people in jail, petrol bombs hurled at emergency services, several schools and other buildings set alight does not constitute a very quiet start to the new year to my eye. Alcohol plays a major part in it, obviously. I don't condemn the consumption of alcohol, but do condemn excesses which lead to the above-described mayhem.

I did manage to take pictures of fireworks in my area, but my camera seems to be suffering from a major fault, as all sorts of stripes and blotches appear in the images which were most definitely not present. I think I was lucky to get a good run of pictures yesterday afternoon. You can see them all here. Please note that I store pictures taken in Holland on a different Flickr account, but the link takes you to the right place.