Monday, 26 December 2011

Boxing Day 2011

A grey and overcast day, rather a contrast to the severe gales that continue to lash the Western Isles of Scotland. Very mild, with the mercury at 11C / 52F this afternoon. I spent most of the afternoon and evening visiting relatives in a town 7 miles away, during which we had a good chance to catch up. Apart from at my mother's funeral in 2008, I basically hadn't really seen them for yonks. I had not even been in their house, where they had been living since 1987. Don't get me wrong: I have kept in touch, but just not face-to-face. Have done a lot of catching up in that respect over the past 11 days or so.

Just a wee note to say I am not posting on here until New Year's Eve, as I'm off internet until Saturday. I'm away on a journey to one of the Dutch northern isles - I'll be posting a number of back-dated entries to catch up with pics and the like.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas 2011

Darkness has fallen on Christmas Day. The past 24 hours has seen me in church twice, first with the Watchnight Service last night at 9.30pm, and this morning again, at 10 am. I participated as a chorister with the church choir - they're always short of tenor singers. The parson made a direct and stinging reference to the recently emerged scandal surrounding the abuse of children in the Catholic Church in Holland, although she did not referred to the Catholic church by name. The implication was clear though. The Pope has not referred to the issue at all - to my knowledge.

Queen Beatrix, in her annual address to the nation, called on all Dutch people to bear in mind the environment and the limited resources of our planet. She also expressed her opinion that material wealth should not be such an overriding consideration in our lives. A noble aspiration, but not entirely realistic.

This afternoon, we went for a walk of just over two miles round the immediate area. It is quite mild at the moment, with the mercury at 10C / 50F. It is even milder in the Western Isles, at 12C, but with a howling gale, with winds of between 65 and 85 mph.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas Eve

The sun went down an hour ago, and only a little light remains in the west. Today was bright and sunny, although not very warm. Went out for a walk to the Heathlands, to the north of here, and the chill wasn't noticeable until we left the forest behind and climbed the old moraine to the Watch Tower. This stands 350 feet above sealevel in an exposed location. The total distance covered was 10.00 km, just over 6¼ miles - measured by GPS. I have found my GPS not very reliable over the past week or so, sometimes going off track by as much as 200 metres (700 feet). It kept the trail beautifully today, but it tends to go wonky in amongst trees.

Later this evening, my father and I will join the church choir for the Watch Night service in the church, which starts at 9.30pm. I refer to the Christmas Eve service by its Scottish name, well, having lived there for seven years now, it does tend to rub off.

I have added the first picture in the below compilation to the sidebar of this blog - the Watch Tower being an integral part of the Shell Gallery remit.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Friday 23 December

Like yesterday, a wet day, but it did clear up a bit later in the afternoon. Went out for a walk in the woods, 3½ miles to the viewpoint at the Emma Pyramid. This was a work creation project in the late 19th century. However, in recent years, the trees around it have grown so tall that you can't see anything from the top of the original hillock. When I was small, you had a view all the way into Germany (about 15 miles away) from the top. Now you need to climb a 40 ft tower to see that far. I don't have a head for heights, unfortunately.

Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers has reached the International Space Station on board a Russian Soyuz space-craft. The Soyuz has docked successfully on to ISS, and Kuipers, preceded by his commander and one other cosmonaut, has drifted on board. He was shown on Dutch TV this evening, communicating with his family. His young daughter sang a song for him, which left his fellow astronauts a tad bemused, I think.

View from the Emma Pyramid (into the forest)

Commemorative stone for young men summarily executed by the Nazis in December 1944.

Picture post

This austere exterior belies the rather more genteel interior of the village church here.

This is the Christmas tree, as pictured last night.

This Jugendstil fireplace can be found in an adjacent part of the church buildings.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

A few more notes on yesterday

December 21st 2011 also saw the launch of a Dutch astronaut, Andrew Kuipers, into space on board a Russian Soyuz rocket, bound for the International Space Station. Kuipers, a medical doctor, is scheduled to spend nearly 6 months on board ISS, conducting 57 scientific experiments during that time. The hours leading up to launch revealed some interesting rituals, some of which date back 50 years to the launch of Yuri Gagarin as first man into space in 1961. These include signing the door of the hotel room with his signature, urinating against the right rear tyre of the bus that takes the cosmonauts to the rocket and not watching the rocket being wheeled out to the launch pad as that brings bad luck. At 13.16 GMT, the rocket blasted off into the night sky of Baykonur (Kazachstan) and within 10 minutes had reached cruising speed of 17,500 mph at an altitude of 220 km (128 miles). The ISS orbits the earth at an altitude of about 250 miles (400 km).

Rather less salubrious was the crazy incident during a football match in Amsterdam. A drunk hooligan ran onto the pitch and tried to tackle the goalkeeper of one of the teams. The goalie instead floored the hooligan and kicked him twice, before stewards intervened. The hooligan was arrested, but the match was abandoned. The goalkeeper was red-carded for violent conduct. The Dutch FA (KNVB) will decide on the eventual outcome of the match and the red card.

23 years ago yesterday, flight PanAm 103 was blown up over Lockerbie, leading to the loss of more than 200 passengers and crew, as well as 11 innocent townspeople in Lockerbie, a small town 30 miles north of Carlisle. One man was convicted for the atrocity, but he was repatriated to Libya in 2009. Although Abdulbaset al-Megrahi was not expected to live for more than 3 months, he is reportedly still alive. His paymaster, Muammer Gaddafi, was killed last October.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Wednesday 21 December

The shortest day of the year has come in suitably December-like: misty and grey. Not feeling really cold, but there was some light drizzle at times. Went for a walk in the Castle Country Park, and I'm posting a handful of pictures. Previous readers of this blog will be familiar with the images.

More images here

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Tuesday 20 December

Last weekend, the museum at the Deelen Airforce Base, a couple of miles north of Arnhem, was about to open when its staff noticed that the model of a F-104 Starfighter outside the museum had gone missing. A note on the pedestal where it used to stand said "Fly away. See you next year". The BBC referred to the incident as jet-napping and a spokesman for VLB Deelen Museum expressed the hope that the 1:2 scale model would be returned in the New Year - with a full tank. I took the picture below on 22 June last year.

And I came across this ludicrous site, which offers chunks of Glencoe for sale, from a square foot upwards. You can call yourself Laird or Lady of Glencoe, except that there will be dozens of different Lairds and Ladies. Which, according to those in the know, is impossible.

Today, I awoke to snow on the ground, which quickly melted into a mushy mess. I'm still not feeling all that great today, so have taken it easy.

Monday 19 December

Went out for a walk in the afternoon, to view the new bridge across the A12 motorway, a mile outside the village. Don't want to bother you too much with the details of what happened in the evening, other than to say that something I had eaten did not agree with me. Feeling a bit better now, the next morning, thanks.

Monday, 19 December 2011

A tale of two leaders

This morning, it was announced that the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il had died of a heart attack, aged 69. It was strange that I should have mentioned him in yesterday's blogpost, when I referred to the death of the Czech former president, Vaclav Havel. The contrast between the two men could not have been greater.

Havel, a writer by trader, had worked tirelessly to drive communism from his native Czecho-Slovakia. An aim that was finally realised in 1989. The people on the streets in Prague that year, demonstrating to be liberated from the yoke of communism, jingled their keys in the air. The same happened yesterday, when the Czechs gave voice to their sorrow. Genuine sorrow, for Havel gave them back the freedom they lost in 1939. First to the Nazis, in 1945 to Stalin's communists. An uprising in 1968 was brutally suppressed by Soviet tanks. Czecho-Slovakia split amicably in 1993, with the Czech Republic in the west and Slovakia in the east.

North Korea has remained on Stalinist footing since the Korean war in the 1950s. After Kim Il Sung's death in 1994, Kim Jong Il took over and maintained the regime of brutal suppression of dissent and focus on armaments. The people of North Korea have suffered greatly, as food production came second to arms. The North Korean regime is a nuclear power, and has tested ballistic missiles. Kim Jong Il died on board a train. His death triggered mass outpourings of grief - I should rephrase that. His death prompted the regime to orchestrate mass outpourings of grief, along the lines of "Weep or I'll shoot". Watching the crowd surge forward to the statue of Kim Il Sung, cry their eyes out - and then stop all at once. The successor is Kim Jong-un, a man in his late twenties. A period of great uncertainty looms, rendered even more dangerous by North Korea's nuclear arsenal.

This seems to be the year that the world gets rid of many of its dictators. Unfortunately, I do not believe that Kim Jong-il's death will end the dictatorship in North Korea.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Sunday 18 December

A cold day, which started with bright sunshine. However, showers appeared in the afternoon and those became increasingly wintry. Although the earlier brightness would have been tempting for a walk, the later rain and snow put paid to any such intentions. The forecast is for much milder conditions later in the week, as per usual in the run-up to Christmas.

The Philippines are cleaning up after tropical storm Washi lashed the southern island of Mindanao with very heavy rainfall. These washed away entire towns and cities, and left hundreds dead and many more missing. The Philippines are in typhoon alley, but even storms with lower winds tend to cause massive devastation on account of rainfall. The typhoon season is drawing to a close, but could rumble on until its resumption next spring.

I was saddened to hear of the death of the first post-communist president of Czecho-Slovakia, later of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel. His Charta 77 movement lay the foundations for the later democratic state, once the communist dictatorship had been overthrown. This in turn prompted similar uprisings in neighbouring countries, finally causing the downfall of the communist system in eastern Europe. Only China has a communist state, although it has embraced capitalism - only North Korea remains as an anachronistic true communist state in this world. Although I wonder whether Marx or Lenin really envisaged such a state-sized prison as North Korea is.

Saturday 17 December

Today, my father and I went to a family get together at Hardenberg, 70 miles northeast of here. The occasion was the 40th birthday of a cousin. The party was very well attended, with about 100 people in the hall. We were treated to coffee and cake, a drink or two and finally a meal. Part of Dutch cuisine consists of mashing together vegetables and potatoes, served with fried bacon or sausage. Stodgy but wholesome and healthy. We took the train, which took us two hours. Weather was iffy, with showers encroaching from the west and rain upon our return south. Return home was at 11pm, after a walk from the nearest railway station.

As a rule, I do not post pictures of people on here for reasons of privacy. Instead, I'll feature some landscape and railway shots I took on the journey to Hardenberg.

Hardenberg Station

Electricity pylons at Zwolle

Between Deventer and Zwolle

St Walburgs Church at Zutphen

Our train pulling into Velp Station

I'm afraid you'll have to scan the map below for the other places mentioned in this piece; Velp is near Arnhem, at the bottom of the map.

View Larger Map

Friday, 16 December 2011

Friday 16 December

Overcast and cold in eastern Holland, and with an inch of snow on the ground at daybreak (8.45 am). The snow turned to drizzle and that continued all day. France and Spain were lashed by stormforce winds on the southern flank of the causative depression.

A major news item in Holland, which even made it to the frontpage of the BBC News, is the revelation that there was evidence of systematic child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in Holland for decades. Even though concerns were raised within the Church, nobody took action, from the top of the hierarchy down. The Dutch RC Church has expressed profound regret. A former cardinal gave the ominous phrase: Wir haben es nicht gewusst. This line in German (meaning: We never knew about this) was commonly used after the Second World War when many Germans claimed to have been ignorant of the mass murder of Jews and other so-called non-Aryans in the death camps. In recent times, a similar abuse scandal rocked the RC Church in Ireland.

Thursday 15 December

I left Stornoway by plane at 8.30 this morning (that was the schedule, the plane was about 15 minutes late) and arrived into Glasgow at 9.30 without major problems. The snow-capped Scottish mountains peeped through the clouds and the fog was lifting from Glasgow when the plane touched down. An hour later, a large plane (capable of carrying 200 passengers) departed Glasgow for London Heathrow, and it had so much tailwind that it arrived over London 20 minutes early. It was held in a holding pattern for those 20 minutes, giving me the same inspiring view of the town of Luton (Bedfordshire) four times over. I was able to go straight through to departures for my connecting flight to Amsterdam. I had brought some sandwiches from the Tesco in Stornoway, saving me the overpriced sarnies from WH Smith at Terminal 5, and I had plenty of time to eat them. The Amsterdam flight was 40 minutes late leaving Heathrow. We landed at Amsterdam at sunset, 4.30pm, in pouring rain. Between actually disembarking the plane and jumping on a train at the railwaystation in the airport was only 20 minutes. At 5.05pm, the direct service to Arnhem rolled out of the tunnel and into the stretch of line which sits between the opposing carriageway of the A10 Amsterdam Circular motorway. Whilst I scooted east at 90 mph, traffic was at a crawl in the early evening rush. Reached Arnhem, 75 miles away, in 80 minutes and only had to wait a short while for the number 21 bus to my father's town. I close this post with a few images shot from the plane's windows on the flight to London. I try to get a window seat on a plane anytime to alleviate the grinding boredom of airtravel.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Shell Gallery unwrapped

This post will be published just as my plane lands at Schiphol Airport near Amsterdam. As posted on Atlantic Lines this morning, I am going to spend Xmas and New Year with my father, doing the rounds of family etcetera. My dad and I will also head for the Wadden Isles for a few days after Christmas.

I am resuming blogging tomorrow, Friday, on this blog.