Wednesday, 31 January 2018

31 January

This day is one for celebration - but at the same also one for commemoration in the Netherlands. The celebrations are for the 80th birthday of (former) Queen Beatrix, who abdicated the throne in 2013 to give way to her eldest son, Willem Alexander. A very private person, Beatrix still mourns the passing of her husband Prince Claus, who died in 2002; as well as the loss of her son Friso, who died in 2013, a year after being severely injured in a skiing accident in Austria. I experienced Beatrix as a slightly distant monarch; her son is by contrast very open, without forgetting about the deference due to him.

Sixty-five years ago today, a violent storm struck the Netherlands. The northwesterly winds combined with a storm surge, which elevated water levels in the southern North Sea. This caused flooding in the Thames Estuary in England, as a result of which 300 people drowned. The flooding in the southwestern Netherlands was catastrophic. Warnings had been issued by the Netherlands Met Office (KNMI), which were broadcast too late in the day (radio broadcasts ceased at 11pm each night, and TV was in its infancy) to reach the authorities in the southwest. Only local people were aware of the dangers, when waterlevels at low tide were at those normally experienced at high tide. The dykes breached, flooding large areas of the provinces of Zeeland, southern South Holland and western North Brabant. More than 1800 people drowned, as well as thousands of heads of lifestock. A major flood prevention scheme, the Delta Works, were initiated, only completed in 1986.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

30 January 2018

Two and a half months have now passed since I returned to Holland. My uncle was buried a week after I came back, and his affairs have been put in order. The house he rented for more than sixty years was cleared in the space of a few weeks, and returned to the landlord. A major refurb will be in order before anyone can move in. The house is close to my father's, and I frequently pass it on my way through the village. Just this week, I noticed the snowdrops and crocuses near my uncle's house are budding, the distant beginnings of a new spring. Before his death, my uncle gave me his old bicycle to use, which I have done: quite a few miles on various runs around the heathlands and woods that adorn this part of the world. The highest point is about 350 feet / 105 metres above sealevel, and against expectation perhaps, this part of the Netherlands is anything but flat.

Two weeks ago, the Netherlands was visited by a violent storm. It claimed two lives, created transport chaos with no trains running, trucks overturned on the motorways and people bowled over in 70 mph gusts. Highest gust was 90 mph at the Hook of Holland. Thousands of trees were blown down, blocking roads and hurting if not killing people.

Last week, I visited the town of 's-Heerenberg, 25 miles east of here, on official business. It is a quaint wee town, right on the German border near Emmerich, with an old castle and church.