Thursday, 31 December 2009
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.
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
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
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.
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
Tonight will be spent in front of the goggle box with the news review of the year on NOS television.
Sunday, 27 December 2009
Saturday, 26 December 2009
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.
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.
Friday, 25 December 2009
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
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.
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.
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.