Sunday, 31 January 2010

Sunday notes

The snow from last night left us with a covering of nearly 4 inches at 10 am; the sun, which shone brightly all day, managed to melt a lot of the snow left exposed to its rays. Still, there was a substantial covering in many places. Went for a walk in the woods during the afternoon, and found snow depths up to 6 inches in places. The noticeable thing was that the open heathlands held hardly any snow as that had melted under the sun. It is surprisingly warm when you're in a sheltered location, even more so behind glass. Many people had had the same idea to go out into the crisp air, and there were quite a few youngsters out sledding in the village. For reference: it's hilly round here.

Sunday 31 January

An early morning post to look back at this day 57 years ago. A northwesterly storm battered northern Europe, leaving 2,000 people dead in the southwestern Netherlands and 300 in southeastern England. The storm first hit the Outer Hebrides, where the MV Clan Macquarrie was driven ashore at Borve in Lewis, 17 miles north of Stornoway. Its crew were all safely winched ashore on a breeches' buoy and put up locally. Some ended up marrying local girls. Further south, the Irish Sea ferry Princess Victoria sailing between Holyhead and Dublin sank with the loss of 133 after its doors were smashed in by the waves. As the storm progressed southeast, the force 12 winds on its trailing edge pumped the waters of the North Sea into the narrowing and shallower southern end. This hurricane lasted for many hours, giving rise to a phenomenal storm surge of 5.7 metres, 19 feet. It flooded the Fens area of East Anglia, Canvey Island in the Thames and broke the dykes in southwestern Holland. At low tide, the sea was already at the crest of the dykes; when high tide came at midnight, disaster struck. At daybreak, 8 am, the province of Zeeland in the southwest, was under water. Some 2,000 people drowned. In the 35 years after this calamity, the Dutch built a massive series of sea defences in the southwest, which now protects the islands of Zeeland. See the above link for further details.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Saturday 30 January

A snowy day, which ended even more so than it already was at the start. We awoke to about 2 inches of the white stuff, which looked quite pretty. After watching the ladies' final of the Australian Open Tennis championships, my father and I set off by bus, train and shanks' pony to my sister's, some 45 miles from here, about 20 miles east of Amsterdam. The journey went well, apart from the fact that the connection at Utrecht did not work. The 15.08 train was cancelled, so we had to wait 20 minutes for the next train going in that direction. A slippery walk through town brought us to my sister's house at a quarter past four. A convivial evening was enjoyed, celebrating a nephew's 15th birthday.

At 8pm, we headed for home and were offered a lift in a relative's car. That cut the journey time from 2½ hours to one, but the conditions were atrocious. Heavy snow left the A1 motorway, leading east from Amsterdam, in a state that can best be described as an icerink. Fortunately, the majority of drivers kept at a sensible speed of between 30 and 50 mph. One accident had occurred about 5 miles west of Arnhem, where a car had crashed on the opposing carriageway. The snow was not being cleared, and gritters were hardly in evidence. The heavy snow on the approach to Arnhem slowed traffic to about 25 mph and the driver had to pick their way between the reflecting beacons on either side of the road in order to stay on the carriageway. Visibility was extremely poor. We were dropped on the main road through the village and returned home like snowmen.

Snowy scene, late evening

On the A1 motorway near Amersfoort

Friendly puss in the snow

Utrecht Central Station

Waiting for the bus

Friday, 29 January 2010


This city in Belgium, 75 miles east of Brussels, was the scene of a tragic accident earlier this week. An old five-storey building collapsed following a gas explosion on Tuesday. The preceding weekend, people had complained of a smell of gas, but the fire service said nothing was wrong. Not so. At 2 am on Tuesday, an explosion occurred, and five hours later the entire building at 18 Rue Leopold crumbled to the ground. Today, the death toll rose to 12, after the remains of a young couple were found in the rubble. They had been in touch with the rescue services to pinpoint the location of a girl of 13, who was retrieved successfully. A fire subsequently ignited around their area, and contact was lost with the couple.

The houses in the area are poorly maintained, and the authorities were actually not certain how many people lived in the collapsed building. Twenty were injured, twelve are dead. The owner of the property was evasive about the number of his tenants, saying many would have been 'visiting'. Many old city centre buildings across Europe have been converted into so-called "Houses of Multiple Occupancy", that unscrupulous owners try to cram as many people as possible into, and do little in terms of maintenance. Whether this applied to 18 Rue Leopold in Liège remains the subject of a forensic examination.

Friday 29 January

It has been a horrible day, with alternating showers of rain and snow. The mercury, you won't be surprised to hear, has been hogging freezing for most of the day. Now that the sun has set, the clouds have cleared away. That'll always be the case. We'll get -4C tonight.

Over in London, former prime minister Tony Blair was apparently very worried about having to appear in front of the Chilcott Commission, which investigates the British government's role in the lead-up to the war in Iraq in 2003. Mr Blair appears to have been at variance with his cabinet colleagues. When they appeared in front of the commission, they mostly said that the invasion was justified to disarm Saddam Hussein and remove the threat of WMD (weapons of mass destruction). Mr Blair said the war had been launched to remove Saddam from power. This was actually the line taken by president George W. Bush in the aftermath of 9/11. The strange thing is that Saddam had no part to play in that atrocity, investigations have shown.

Yes, Saddam was a very nasty piece of work, and around one million people have died as a result of his actions as head of state in Iraq. I certainly did not rue his hanging, in December 2006. However, it is my stated position that George H. Bush (sic) should have proceeded to take out the Iraqi dictator in March 1991. At that time, American forces in Iraq at the end of the 1990/91 war, could easily have done so. George Bush senior was dissuaded from the idea by Arab leaders. So, George Bush junior decided to finish the job his daddy left him.

Iraq is less of a problem these days than Afghanistan. Nobody has ever subdued the tribes of that dustbowl, not the British, not the Soviets, and NATO won't either.

Thursday, 28 January 2010


We all remember the uproar surrounding the alleged link between the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccination and early onset autism. This link has now been disproved, but the campaign by the doctor who suggested the link to dissuade parents from having their children vaccinated using that vaccine has led to an upsurge in cases of the diseases mentioned.

Dr Wakefield is accused of acting in a manner that did not serve the interests of children over the way he conducted his research. The British General Medical Council upheld that opinion today, although some of the parents that support Dr Wakefield heckled the GMC chairman as he delivered his conclusions. The GMC must now decide whether Dr Wakefield is guilty of serious professional misconduct. If he is found guilty, he could be struck off, and barred from practicing as a medical doctor in the United Kingdom.

Thursday pictures

Witch Hazel. Oh, it's got nothing to do with witches. Witch is a corruption of an old English word meaning bendable. 

In deep water - these statues sit in the middle of a (frozen) pond

Friendly puss

Kapellenberg, snowfree for the first time in weeks

Thursday 28 January

The weather has changed markedly since yesterday. After temperatures well below freezing for a few days we are now basking in +6C (43F) with occasional sunshine, but with intermittent wintry showers. If it was 8 weeks later, I'd be talking about March showers - that's the Dutch equivalent of April showers. Been back and forth to various shops today, such as the baker's and another photography store. The latter one was in a shopping centre in Arnhem, 45 minutes' walk away. Another day, another suggestion. I'll go to a few more shops before I make up my mind which camera I want.

Those on Facebook may be familiar with the dice game "Farkle". Well, I've got myself six dice and am playing it on my own table. No need to go on line for this one. There are quite a few on-line card games as well that you actually play with real cards, would you believe. Board games too fall in this category, and a few weeks ago I played a game of Monopoly on the table, rather than on-line. Much more fun, in actual fact.

Once I've uploaded my pictures, I'll post them here.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Wednesday pictures

Went for a walk in and around the next town, Velp, this afternoon. It was below freezing, and in exposed parts, it was very cold. After I went to a camera shop to enquire about a replacement for my faulty camera, we went to Castle Biljoen (which translates as Billion), a small, privately owned castle just outside the town. On the way there, I noticed catkins beginning to come out on some willow trees in town. We returned home through the forests.

Crossing the tracks

Castle Biljoen

Ice build-up at a weir


Auschwitz Memorial Day

This afternoon, a ceremony took place at Oswieczim, Poland, at the site of the former Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Two survivors addressed the gathering of a few thousand, as did members of the Polish, Russian and Israeli governments. A few things struck me.

One of the survivors had been asked what was the worst aspect of the camp. The cold? No. The lice? No. The living conditions? No. The humilitation had been the most unbearable of all the unspeakable aspects of 'life' in Auschwitz.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, also spoke, and his political standpoint rang out a wee bit too loud for my liking at such an occasion. I recognise that the Jews were targeted by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945. I will go so far as to say that starting a new life in the land they assume to be their homeland (of 2000 years ago) is understandable. But if they'd just asked the sitting population if they could join them, an enormous lot of grief since 1948 could have been prevented. In other words, Mr Netanyahu should have toned down his speech.

Wednesday 27 January

After an overnight low of -12C, the temperature is now on an upward trend. This evening, milder weather will move in from Scotland, where the mercury has risen to +10C yesterday. The result here, where the temperatures have been so low, will be freezing rain. It is likely to lead to havoc on the roads overnight and in the morning rush hour.

Today it is 65 years ago since the infamous Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camp was liberated by Soviet forces. More than a million people, mainly Jews, were killed there during the Second World War. The process was conducted as an industrial process. To date, some of the goods left behind by the victims of the Holocaust remain on display. These include suitcases with name tags, spectacle frames, hair and shoes. I have never visited Auschwitz and am not likely to. January 27th is Holocaust Memorial Day, remembering all the victims of the Nazi's policy of extermination of all those they considered to be sub-human. We must never forget.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Tuesday 26 January

A bright and sunny day, but ever so cold. The day opened with the mercury at -9C, and we only went as high as -4C by mid afternoon. As I type, the temperature has plummeted right back down to -9C, and it's only half past eleven. Heaven knows what it'll show by sunrise time tomorrow morning, just after 8 am. Went for a walk in the Castle Country Park, which is always a nice amble. Most of the noteworthy water features have frozen over, and the ornaments have been wrapped in tarpaulins to protect them from the hard frost. People are waiting for the ice to grow thick enough on the castle moat, but the weather should change to a less cold spell tomorrow afternoon. So, more snow in the offing.

Politics is the same wherever you go. The Dutch minister for Transport did a nice Duke of Wellington impression in Parliament this afternoon. The issue is around the introduction of charging for the use of the roads, in order to relieve the massive congestion on this country's roads. The Dutch automobile club ANWB published a survey on its website, where drivers could register whether they fancied the idea to be charged for every kilometre they drive, although road and cartax would be abolished. The Minister, Camiel Eurlings, said on Friday that a negative outcome of the survey would mean the shelving of the scheme. The Lower House of Parliament in The Hague did not fancy the idea that government policy would be decided by a poll on an ANWB website rather than through debate in Parliament, so Mr Eurlings was called to account. He promptly backtracked on his words last Friday and stated that Parliament was supreme. Remember the Duke of Wellington? He marched his army right up the hill - and then marched it all back down again.

A few pictures to close this post

The well

The Castle from an unusual angle

The Castle Moat

The Torck School (former primary school)

Monday, 25 January 2010

Monday 25 January

A cold, cold winter's day. Temperature no higher than -3C all day, and it was just as well that there was no more wind than this force 1 from the northeast. Tomorrow is going to be even colder, but then the sun will be out. Today was grey and misty, and the few pictures I took in the next town, whilst walking to the shop, bear that out. I shall post those tomorrow.

The suitcase saga has thankfully come to a positive conclusion. Although I was told the case would arrive between 8 am and 1 pm, the delivery van did not turn up until 2 pm, by which time I was already phoning the airport again. Not impressed with the driver who chewed on his pen whilst talking on the phone in the middle of delivering the case to me, before handing it to me to sign the chit. Yuk.

Today is Burns' Night in Scotland, and the poetry will have done the rounds, as will the haggis and the drams. Here in the Low Countries, I have been busy solving a postal mystery - I have written about that on Atlantic Lines, as it is a Scottish story. Tonight will be a cold one: down to -11C in places, with a daytime high of -5C. I'll wrap up warm.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Sunday 24 January

Apart from all the hassle surrounding my missing luggage, I can report a mildly wintry scene here in eastern Holland. A thin layer of snow fell in the night, although it was rather thicker further west in the country. After receiving confirmation that my bag had turned up, I was able to go out for a stroll. Ice from the cold spell around New Year still paves the paths in the forest, and only thanks to the thin layer of snow was it possible to walk fairly normally.

Watched television tonight, including the final instalment of a show in which an actress is selected who would play the role in the Mary Poppins stage musical. Starting with 11 girls, the evening started with 3, finally going down with the one who had been a clear favourite right the way through. The idea had been picked up from the BBC, but comparing the two, including the surrounding media coverage, I will go so far as to say that the Dutch programme was milder and good humoured. It gets incredibly competitive and personal on British TV, whereas there was a nice atmosphere of camaraderie here. I am not saying that in a vein of 'better or worse', in my mind it reflects a difference of culture.

Another programme reunited a school class from 1981, and that was quite interesting too. One lady had been in New Orleans at the time of Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, and her stories were horrendous.

Nearly half past eleven; time to shut up shop.

The staggering journey

Well, I don't know what I have to do to get a normal trip by plane. Yesterday's trip to Holland was full of weird events. It started at Stornoway Airport, when my 09.00 am departure to Edinburgh was delayed by ice. The flight to Glasgow, departing at the same time, left without problem, but the aircraft used for the Edinburgh service had to be de-iced. Normally, the plane would have been sprayed with ethylene glycol, but that is not kept at Stornoway. So, the groundstaff set to with scrapers, more commonly used on cars with iced-up windscreens. After it was established that the ice grew back as soon as it was removed, they moved the aircraft into the hanger, which is kept at 21C / 70F at all time. That would certainly thaw any ice, but by the time it returned from there, the sun had appeared, and the mercury had risen by 2 degrees, from -1C / 30F at 9 am to +1C / 34C at 10.30 am.

The flight to Edinburgh afforded some stunning views over the west coast of Scotland, from Lewis all the way to the Paps of Jura if not the mountains of Mourne in Northern Ireland beyond. The Isles of Skye, Rhum, Eigg, Canna lay in full view, and it wasn't until we crossed over the spine of the country that cloud increased. Rain fell heavily over Fife and it was dismally grey and wet over Edinburgh. We landed at around midday, but I did not mind that delay. I was scheduled a 4 hour stop-over there, so it would shorten that wait.

Well, it wasn't long before the departure screens announced my onward flight to Gatwick to be delayed by an hour. Which did make me a bit concerned about the connecting flight to Amsterdam; I had 90 minutes at Gatwick, so it would be a very tight connection. We left Edinburgh just after half past three, more than an hour behind schedule. The delay was caused by a flat tire on the aircraft (i.e. in the landing gear), which had to be replaced before the aircraft was able to leave Gatwick on its inward journey. Beautiful flight to London, during which I saw nothing except for the sun and low clouds. Arrived at 4.40pm, and my flight to Amsterdam was going to leave at 5.10pm.

If memory serves, the plane from Edinburgh disembarked near gate 59. We were bussed to the terminal building, and that was where the mad dash began. First to passport control (for a domestic flight???), then to Arrivals, up the stairs to Departures, through Security, and then into the Departures lounge. By that time, it was 5 pm. My flight was marked as Final Call, so I hared down the stairs to gate 59. After a few minutes, all passengers were allowed on board, and I sat in my allocated seat, 23A. If this was the same plane that had taken me from Edinburgh, all I could have done was move from 23F to 23A and not have done that blessed half marathon through the North Terminal at Gatwick. OK, I'm only joking.

Left Gatwick at 5.35pm for Amsterdam. Halfway across the North Sea, the snow began and we arrived into Schiphol at around 7.40pm, broadly on time. I waited at the baggage reclaim, but no bag. When the belt was stopped, I proceeded to the service desk and filed a report for a missing bag. Then, I went to Schiphol railway station and travelled to my dad's house near Arnhem, where I arrived at 9.50pm.

I was quite relieved when I received a phonecall at 1pm today to say my bag had arrived at Amsterdam Airport, and it would be delivered some time tomorrow morning.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Photo video - 3 January

The below video is a compilation of pictures I took on Sunday 3 January.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Monday pictures

Winter fun on a frozen town pond

Path on a steep hill in the woods

Stream in the forest

Road Closed

Village pond

Returning northwest

Tomorrow, I shall be returning to Stornoway once more. The weatherforecast is poor for the airports where I change flights: London Gatwick and Edinburgh, so it is perhaps just as well that I have several hours waiting times there. The heavy snow showers, predicted at both locations, could well cause disruption. Well, what's new.

Posting, all being well, will resume on Atlantic Lines on Wednesday (January 6th). The Shell Gallery will close until my next visit to Holland. My Sitemeter tells me that a lot of visitors come here from Atlantic Lines, but feel free to add this blog to your Followers and/or your feedreader.

If I have any pictures to share from this afternoon, I'll post them later today. 

Monday 4 January

Here in eastern Holland, the morning dawned cold but dry; overnight low was -7C. Current temperature at -4C, but the windchill is at -10C. In other words, not a nice day out in the open. This village has a lot of trees in it, so in the shelter it is not too bad.

An echo from the past occurred over the New Year, when clashes occurred between people from two different ethnic groups in the town of Culemborg, some 40 miles south of Amsterdam. One man reversed his car into the garden of a house, where several people were standing outside. There were injuries. The ethnic groups involved were Moroccan and Moluccan; the latter are from the Spice Islands, in the east of Indonesia. That country used to be a colony of the Netherlands until 1949, when it gained independence following the Second World War and a war against the returning colonial power. The Dutch East Indies Army (KNIL) comprised of a lot of Moluccan soldiers, who could not stay in their islands after the war. They were promised independence for their islands, an independence that never materialised. Bitterness and frustration boiled over into violence in the 1970s, when two trains were hijacked in the north of Holland. Several people were killed. With the passage of the years, this frustration has subsided, and most Moluccans appear to have integrated into Dutch society very well.

The Moroccans in Holland came here as migrant workers in the 1950s and 60s, supposedly only for a little while. So at the time, no attempt at integration was made. The other problem is that many of the Moroccans came of Berber stock, who are itinerant shepherds, living in tents in the Atlas mountains. When their third generation came along, living in Holland, they were no longer prepared to subject themselves to the strong social control and patriarchal aspects of Berber society. They saw the freedom that their Dutch contemporaries enjoyed and rebelled. In some cases, went wildly out of control. A few years ago, a number of them disrupted the Memorial Service on 4 May in Amsterdam, which caused a lot of upset. After talks with the community leaders, a number of them agreed to go to Auschwitz and see what the 4 May Memorial was all about.

Inter-ethnic clashes are nothing new, and a signal for the authorities to talk to both groups and sort out any problems that there might be. The mayor of Culemborg has invoked emergency powers to stop people from outside of town to join their respective groups and cause more trouble.Speaking on NOS TV this morning, he said he wanted those lifted as soon as practicable.

Sunday, 3 January 2010