Saturday, 17 July 2010


It's been 10 weeks since I was here. Is that long or short?
I don't know - it is almost a 5th of a year though and it scares me to realize it went in a flash.
Barely time, or opportunity, to write, I did some on Travelpod, you can check that out if you like (

Been to France, walked Hadrian's wall and now back in Amsterdam for a couple of weeks before taking off for France again, followed by South Africa end of August.
It feels strange; I wake up wondering where I am, then wondering what I am doing here, not just for the moment but in general.
Amsterdam is a great city, I have spent the best part of my life here but now I feel such an urgency to find out about different places. I suppose the urge was always there but raising a family, taking care of ageing parents, health issues - it just wasn't an option.
Lots of people feel the same way, needing to know, see, feel, and if possible, partake in other worlds.
Millions are just trying to survive, and will never know what it is like to travel, to escape the life they were born into. And many are perfectly happy to live their lives in the same place, the same house, finding everything they need right there.
My mother was like that; an intelligent and creative woman, always busy, pottery, painting, reading, playing the piano, she simply hadn't the time to travel, nor the desire, she was doing exactly what she wanted.
She just wished she had more time to do it.
Time, a serious word.
I wonder if there is a culture where time doesn't exist, or not as we know it, value it.
Maybe that's where I should be heading for
Right now I've got 2 weeks to catch up with things and prepare. I know I need that time, but somehow I am drifting, not focussing, all the stuff I had in mind to do, it has escaped me and I am wandering through my own house as if I am a lodger, mentally still unpacked, in transit.

I have got to wake up and make good use of my time.
But useful is that?
Don't have to travel for that, anyone can dream, anywhere, any time.............

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

under control

Amsterdam, May 8th, 11.34 hrs

The only thing that will help me through today is the thought that this time tomorrow we'll be on our way to Clédat.
If all goes well.

If all goes well - what's going wrong now? I have never been this stressed, this harassed and bad-tempered before when getting ready to leave. Well, I'll have 7 weeks of peace and quiet to think about that and hopefully learn something for the next time.
I have got to get going now. Intend to come back to catch my breath and thoughts sometime later and hope I can tell you everything is under control.
I can already imagine sitting here, typing those words. For the moment, I'll just use them as a mantra, everything is under control, repeat it to myself over and over, and hey, what is the worst thing that can happen? We leave a day later. So what?
Here goes. Wish me luck. Later.

Much later now. 10 days to be precise and I wish I could say I left the stress behind in Amsterdam, for yes, nous sommes arrivés, but it seems the pressure is still on.
I'll spare you the details of the final, frantic packing, like having to try on every scrap of clothing I own before deciding what to take with me, when I know I will be wearing the same stuff for months on end. Odd jobs put off for months, a loose curtain hem that needs stitching, a painting I meant to hang, suddenly require immediate attention. I spent hours searching for mothballs, all my sweaters and t-shirts had neat little holes eaten into them, exactly on the same fold, right in front - only just noticed as the one or two I wear end up lying on a chair or more likely on the floor. The moths apparently prefer to have their meals in the privacy of my closet.
Of course I could have just gone and bought some, would have taken me ten minutes at the most, but I was obsessed with finding them, and so on and so forth I wasted precious time; threw out all the food only to realise Rose would be coming in the next day expecting something for lunch.
By the time, 4 am, I stumbled into bed, I was a nervous wreck.
The alarm clock was set for an early start three hours on and after tossing and turning for two of them I gave up - I would sleep in the car. At least I'd make sure we did actually leave on time.
We didn't. Don't ask me how that is possible, I really can't remember or must have blocked it out.

Anyway, we finally left. Or so we thought. Wrong. Amsterdam had chosen to host the 'Giro di something' exactly on our departure day, right in front of our house and the whole area was cordoned off.
Try explaining to a Polish bloke in a black uniform with impressive red fluorescent stripes, waving his porto-phone, not a word of Dutch, English or French for that matter, that you want to get out, NOW, and not when the effing tour has passed.
Well, we somehow got past him and on our way, which was uneventful to the point of boring, meaning I had to stay vigilant and keep checking Peter did not fall asleep behind the wheel. Needless to say he would not let me drive.
Then, the one thing he had asked me to do, to make sure the mobile was working so he could reach the antique dealer in Paris he had an appointment with - timing was tricky and they needed to be able to communicate - well, when it became apparent we were not going to make it at the hour agreed I triumphantly produced a cell phone that was not only not charged, but after making an emergency stop at a filling station and begging the unwilling attendant to plug it in, I suddenly remembered the French sim card was up the creek.
I have to say Peter is normally a long-suffering person but now he practically accosted an elderly Dutch couple who were innocently stretching their legs at the parking space, slightly bewildered when Peter demanded to know if he could use their phone, throwing money at them in the process.
Dear me. The poor gentleman was much taken aback, turned out he hadn't a clue how to operate the thing, proclaiming he only had it on him for emergencies. Well, bingo - this was an emergency.
By the time the call was placed we got the answering machine.
No deal. Rien ne va plus.
Of course, the good thing was, I might have saved us a few pennies, but Peter was not in the mood of looking on the bright side - he was mourning the marquetry table he had his heart set on.

Never mind.
We had to get a move on to arrive before dark, to assess the evidence of mice and other creatures taking over the cottage in our absence.
Pray there'll be electricity, a working telephone, hot water - I desperately needed a bath.
To our delight everything looked perfect, just as we had left it almost seven months ago. Clean and tidy, save some cobwebs that would have inspired Charles Dickens.
Singing in the kitchen now, I shout out to Peter to turn on the water mains and shortly after I hear the clattering of water, ah, I must have left the shower on, well let the taps run for a while, get some fresh water.
Huh? I am standing in it - freezing cold water - I run to the bathroom and see it gushing from the ceiling, dirty and brown, staining the walls, and it's coming down the stairs too - god, the pipes have burst!
We should have known by now, it happens every year. The frost. Check first.

So the first hour was spent mopping the floor, cleaning up the muddy trickles. It was cold; the ancient house is literally stone cold after a long hard winter - a musty smell, it needed airing.
Irritated and tired after a long and, in more than one way, uncomfortable journey, we find we can't wash or even flush the toilet. I brush my teeth with the last of the Perrier and slide into a cold, damp bed, the words of the 'castle's' caretaker ringing in my ears:
'Welcome to France. Three days ago we had snow up to our knees.'

But we got here, safe and - well? 
It's going to be just fine.

Everything under control - I'm just going to keep saying that till it is......

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

bottoms up

Some of you have been inquiring after my weight-loss progress.
If any.
Ja, thanks a lot.

Well, here goes. I made a flying start, lost 3 pounds in two days and thought, this is great, it's going to take me 10 days tops.
However, after that it turned out to be a bit like dancing: 2 steps forward, 1 back, 1 forward, 1 sideways, 1 back, etc..
Anyway, I completed the 11 day course, stuck to it religiously, and am now in the 3 day free zone where you can eat whatever you like.

I have been carefully planning these days, dreaming of buttery asparagus, delicately cured ham and new baby potatoes sprinkled with fresh parsley, a visit to the best pizzeria in Amsterdam, or any really, the delights of sukiyaki and saké - anything with alcohol, truth be told.
But I would start off with hazelnootschuim gebak, a creamy hazelnut meringue.
I've just been dragging Shep from one patisserie to the next, in search of the perfect pastry and it wasn't there. Well, maybe it was, but the sight of all those delicacies was daunting instead of inviting, wolves in sheep's clothing, alluring but potentially dangerous, deviously beautiful sweet works of art - eat one of those and you'll be back where you started.
That's not what the diet-people say though, they say: go ahead, indulge for 3 days, it will confuse your metabolism.
What about my mind? It is utterly confused now and after pushing round some cornflakes I feel like I've just devoured a 5 course meal.
Is this some psychological diet-trick or am I being paranoia?
At the end of the day, eleven days that is, I lost 5 pounds. I think I deserved to lose more but I know if it goes any faster I will end up looking like a dripping candle.
Believe me, I have seen this happen before.
Hearty, sturdy friends transforming into peaky, odd-shaped people you hardly recognize.
Never felt better, they say, but you secretly think, you looked a damn sight better when you were fat.
Still, I want this thing done though it definitely doesn't agree with me. It goes against the grain, but I want to run up the hills, jump across the streams, light and easy, like a springbok.
Ach, I just want to show my silly sisters - they think I'm the weakest link - I am as good as the next.
I am determined to conquer the stupid Hadrian's Wall, and if this is what it takes, then so be it.

But on a more serious note, I am worried about my bum.
In training, I briskly walk round the Vondel park, a good 4 kilometres, every day. Yesterday I sat down on a hard surface to tie my shoelace and it felt like I was sitting directly on my bones. I actually jumped up and felt my behind. It was still there but soft and squishy whereas my calves looked as if they were ready to explode. What the fuck.......And another thing, my bras have become slack, they slip and slide along with the movements of my arms, under-wired, they chaff my skin.
Seems like a high price to pay for shedding a few pounds.
Instead of gaining confidence it looks like I am losing my assets.

Well, I've got 3 hedonistic days to go before deciding whether or not to continue this ambiguous adventure.
For now, I think I'll just skip the cake and head straight for the whiskey.

Cheers, here's to funny diets, and pray, bottoms up!

Thursday, 29 April 2010

darling asus

Yesterday the postgirl delivered a package.
Ordered the day before on-line, a lucky guess, meaning the cheapest, as I hadn't a clue what to look for, an eee pc came to me.
It is absolutely delightful.
I marvel at what the little thing can do, which is all and more than my regular one.
I can carry it with me like a magazine, into the garden, to the park, the kitchen, play mahjong lying in the bath, take it to bed with me, chat, write - it connects wireless to the internet and battery operated if desired.
I love it.

I realise this is probably old-hat to most of you but to me it's the best thing since sliced bread. Oh, I'd love some sliced bread right now, but, never mind, I'll get to that later.
This nifty piece of equipment is nothing like the laptop I had last year in Clédat, the one I trusted pages and pages to, only to find the hard disc was irreparably broken when I got back home. I never got the hang of it anyway and Dick discretely disposed of it, sensing I couldn't stand the sight of it any more.
But this beauty looks promising and the instruction manual reads like a love letter.
I actually understand, it's all there, pure and simple - I feel like writing back:

Dear, dear mr. Asus, things will never be the same since you came into my life.
I've had computers before, more than a few, I'm ashamed to say, but none of them came close to you. I reach out and touch you at night, and know, you'll be there in the morning, ready for me. My fingertips already know their way about........

Hmm, think I am getting carried away here. But Asus and I are going places together, I've got plans for us and if he is anywhere near as good as he promises our union might bear fruit. Love some fruit now - sorry, this bloody diet is distracting me from my new buddy.

I'm going to find something to eat now, I am not starving, I am craving........ chocolate, strawberries and whiskey.

I'll leave Asus here though - it's too early in our relationship to confront him with my weaknesses.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

no limits

When I started off here some 7 weeks ago I thought I could easily write a bit every other day or so, but for the moment, I can't.

It's not just a matter of time, even though this is always a very busy period, getting ready for France, there is quite a lot to be seen to. Paperwork, practical stuff, business and private has to be moved from one country to another, it takes some preparation and organising to make that work.

Even so, I guess I could still find the odd moment to write, the computer is right here, but my mind is all over the place.
France, England, South Africa and now Rome too, where Rose and her lover Twan are spending some romantic days.
I find myself thinking of the time I lived in Italy, young and carefree. A wonderful way of life, different from anything I'd known till then. Vibrant and passionate.
Perilous too. I actually managed to get abducted by the Mafia. No?
Yes, it happened, but I live to tell the tale.

I think I will tell it. Not today, tomorrow, maybe.
Things to do, promises to keep. Diets to keep, or maybe not.......:)
After consuming vast amounts of halibut, bacon, roast beef and cheese, dozens of boiled and scrambled eggs, morning, noon and night for five days, I am beginning to see the true meaning of this Diet4idiots.
Not a carb in sight.

OK, I'm off.
Lunch soon. Let's see what's on the menu.
Bacon strips and ham slices. That's it. No bread, no veg. But you can eat as much as you like. No limitations, they have the nerve to say. Ha!
You could have fooled me.

I must be an idiot - at least they got that right......

Sunday, 25 April 2010

baby fat

One of the downsides of being pregnant, bearing children, is that your body will never be the same again.
Even if you are lucky enough to regain your former shape.
I was not one of the lucky ones.
Five pregnancies, resulting in three beautiful children, and with each one came some ten unshiftable pounds. But I was in denial through out the whole childbearing period. According to the professionals I am very good at blocking out what I don't want to know, I suppose this was a perfect example. I was high on being fertile and my body was doing something that astounded me, that it could actually do this - I was hooked; the mystery, the miracle, I wanted to be be pregnant, expecting, forever.
A natural high, I never felt better.

All my life, I was nearing 28 when I had Rose, I had been slim. Something I took absolutely for granted, I couldn't imagine the concept of being plump or fat. Women around me discussing weight-loss and diets might as well have been speaking a foreign language for all I knew.
Only once do I remember my thenadays boyfriend's father warning me: Mark my words, you will not always stay this slim if you don't look after your body properly.
I must have given him a funny look, what on earth was he on about? But he loved me as his own and had my best interest at heart. And he was right. Though at the time I wasn't receptive and it wouldn't have made an ounce of difference anyway.

Eventually I tried, in many different ways, to get rid of those pounds and most often with success.
A short-lived one, they just kept coming back soon as I thought I was all right, let go of whatever diet I was on. Bringing an extra bonus with them too, till I thought: Enough! What's so bad about being curvy anyway? Long as it stays within proportion.
My friend Remi has defined this very well: It stops being attractive when the stomach protrudes more than the chest.
Fortunately my chest is working with me here.
So, by and large, I came to terms with my more womanly shape and have stayed the same for years now, wryly watching others fuss, lose and gain, getting nowhere in the end, congratulating myself on making a wise decision.

Of course, you all know what this is leading up to.
For more than one reason, but one of them being the oncoming strenuous hike (thanks Bob, the party, remember?), I have grudgingly resolved to lose some weight.

It seemed a good idea to write about it here, maybe an incentive going public - for one thing I am sure of is I am not alone here.
Maybe some encouragement, some support might come my way?
Ach, I hate doing it, I hate any restrictions and I really love food, and drink.
That might prove to be the crux, one glass of wine a day??!!!

In case anyone might be interested, the name of the diet:


Sounds about right, hey?

Saturday, 24 April 2010

peeing for africa

Hi, it's been a while. I've been busy!
A surprise visit, American honeymooners, our dear friends' daughter and her new husband were caught by the volcanic cloud. It was a pleasure to have them and, of course, we got taking about South Africa.

Looking around me now, I see the town is getting ready to celebrate Queens Day, or Koninginnedag, Holland's biggest party, Amsterdam in particular. Every year on the 30th of April the place goes mad.
People dress up, silly hats and make-up, weird outfits or nothing much at all, but the predominant colour is orange. The Dutch national colour in honour of the 'Oranjes', the royal familie.
Podiums are being erected, there will be bands playing, music blasting day and night; people living near often go to sleep elsewhere.
It is a silly and happy party.

One of the best things is the free market. Everyone can sell whatever they like, junk, home-made food, you name it, or make money more creatively, let people throw eggs at you, strip, cash in on kisses, take people's picture. Children sing or play the violin, badly but cutely. There are all kind of games and tricks.
Some make a tidy profit but it is mostly about fun. Good humour, it is amazing, each and every year how happy people are - smiles, singing, laughing, dancing - of course the drink and drugs add to the sense of  daftness and freedom. Anything goes.
Good time for me to get a whole new wardrobe for next to nothing, taste new foods and find little treasures, join in the fun just let yourself be jostled around for the city is packed. People from all over the world, never mind Holland, are drifting in now.

So yes, it is my favourite day of the year. Usually it's Mieke and me, on the go, non-stop, you need some stamina. No trading for me, I'll be spending.
Last year I decided to forgo this pleasure - I was going to make money to take with me to South Africa. Volunteers are requested to try and raise funds before they arrive but the idea of asking my family and friends did not appeal to me. I was touched by the ones who generously handed over some cash without being prompted, and here's a nice opportunity to thank you all again. It came to good use, believe me.

Anyway, since we have the studio at street level, any given day  people are pleading to use our toilet and even offer to pay. If it's a real emergency, pregnant women, little kids etc. we'll make an exception, but in the past we've had the nicest people cleaning their syringes, hiding from the police or even checking the place out for valuables, on the pretext of using our w.c., so, no offence but sorry, no go.

Last Koninginnedag it seemed the perfect opportunity to raise funds for my project.
Peeing for Africa. Also to kindle some awareness. I had a table outside, covered with an exotic cloth, piles of information on the shelter, posters, an African bowl for donations, a little stuffed giraffe and hippopotamus and we made a big sign of a toilet bowl, the seat the map of Africa, inviting the party goers to use our loo for a small contribution.

What can I tell you?
It was an overwhelming experience, not in the least because I spent a large part of the day with my head down the toilet pot.
It was madness, too many people to handle, standing in line, drunk, rowdy, pushing and shoving. Safe to say more than a few didn't pay. And the hippo along with a handful of euros did not survive the day.

I learned a lot though. My American visitors made me laugh by calling the lavatory 'the rest room' but actually that was very appropriate then, I mean folks were stuck in there for ages, what on earth were they doing?
Well, we cottoned on. The girls were doing their make-up and hair. Passing lipsticks back and forth, trying on clothes they just bought. Right, we removed the mirror and would only let one at a time go in. That's because we found two girls sitting fully dressed, high heeled, opposite each other in our bathtub, giggling and smoking.
That was not on.
The guys, we realised, meant business, they were not here to pee, they could do that in the park across the street like everybody else. My little park smells like a urinal for days after the event.
They took their time, used up rolls of toilet paper, pee-ed all over the toilets seat - some even threw up. Yuck!
The sign outside was changed to: Women and children only.
I was accused of discrimination.
Mieke and I took turns standing at the door, trying to control the impatient lot, some quite desperate, complaining. But we had a laugh, interesting talks, met all kinds of strange and funny people. Some genuinely interested, giving more than necessary, encouraging, and those who couldn't care less, one even wanting her money back!
One of my 'guests' was a South African woman, I was dying to hear what she thought of it all, the situation at home, how we were trying to lend a hand. She was ungracious, telling me: try living there for a while first and see if you're still this keen to help. Huh?

It was a crazy experience, if nothing else.
I wont be doing it again this year though. No fear. I am going to enjoy myself, I've still got time to think of ways to get some money for the next project in September.
Clédat first, then the Hadrian's wall walk.
That is going to be wonderful - not easy,  mind you.

Anybody fancy sponsoring me? :)

Friday, 16 April 2010

aunt hermine

Aunt Hermine is the only 94 year old I know whose hair never turned grey.
It was once striking, a pile of wonderful, chestnut brown shiny hair, like my grandmother's. The colour has faded and dulled, but not a wisp of grey. Unusual.

Aunt Hermine is unusual, she is a real character. My mum's eldest sister. Had she been young now she would have been someone to reckon with. A rock-bitch, a powerful business woman, a high class madame. Something outrageous.

Her husband, uncle Ad, a little younger, 88, but by no means a toy-boy. Never was - always the dependable, solid, slightly boring accountant. As kids we thought the most interesting thing about him was his glass eye.
He is said to be 99% blind now, so what does the 1% eyesight amount to?

Femke and I almost slunk away after ringing the bell. We waited for what seemed ages and were just deciding what to do now, when uncle Ad's voice came through the intercom, wanting to know who was there.
'Surprise! Your nieces, Femke and Katie.' Silence. 'Can we come in?'
'Suppose so' he says gruffly, as if we turn up on their doorstep every day. Haven't seen them for years.......
By the time we make it through the building's front door, reception, corridors, lifts etc they have regained some kind of composure and are standing at their open door.
I realise now, uncle Ad can't have seen us coming, aunt Hermine looked agitated and somewhat cross.
They were actually both dead pleased but taken off guard and our aunt always needs to be in charge.
10 years senior to my mum, who was in awe of her all her life. She used to terrify us when we were small but look at her now - a frail,old, bird-like lady.

She goes straight for the kill.
Her sharp beady eyes don't miss a trick and before we have our coats off she is interrogating us. Wanting to know about our families, our love lives, jobs and journeys.
It is amazing what she knows and remembers, as if we are all very much part of her life, she still wants to boss us around.
She cares. In her own obtrusive way, she is letting us know we are important to her.
And for the second time today I feel a pang of remorse. Family;  we too are responsible for these people, we share the same genes - I look at my aunt and see some of my mum. Tears well up.
Aunt Hermine must have been thinking along the genes line too when she approvingly remarked on Femke's bust and then sharply turns to me, pointing an accusing bony finger at my décolleté:
'And you' she says, 'aren't you done with that by now?'
Huh?  I look down to check my bosom, surely not that tacky?  A sideways glance at uncle Ad, he has an amused expression on his face. Ah, I'm sure he'd give an arm an a leg if he could see my, or anyone else's, cleavage.
 It is something short of a miracle the two of them are still together after more than sixty years. Uncle Ad could never curb Aunt Hermine's passion and waywardness, instead he turned a blind eye. No pun intended, but fitting, it seems.
And as the saying goes, an old fox never loses its tricks. Layed out on the table are aunt Hermine's water colours. The tubes twisted and the paint dry. She proudly talks of her arts teacher, the one she never met, the lessons are conducted by mail.
She is in love with him. She doesn't use those words but she doesn't have to.
It shows.
She casts a defiant look at us. Dare say she is a fool, too old to be in love, to be desirable.

Ah, aunt Hermine, she looks me straight in the eye and knows I know.
My heart goes out to her but I am proud of her, too. Till the very end, she won't give in, comply or deny who she is.
She will live her life, regardless of the waves, with what I can only call a wicked relish.

Our two aunties. Two very different women. Both special and worthwhile.

Femke and I drove back musing about the day, what took us so long to make the effort and how good it was to see them again.
We too had been surprised. We were impressed.

Funny how you sometimes overlook things, people, when they are right in front of you.
If only you could focus on what really matters.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

aunt marie

Last Sunday my sister Femke and I dedicated the day to visiting two old aunts.
Surprise visits, for they are 90 and 94 years old, and if they know you are coming, the stress is almost too much for them to bear.
We don't see them often, I am ashamed to say. Quite a drive, and then a good hour's distance between them.
Both still live independently, albeit in the shelter of an institution.
Small, modern little flats, more like bedsits, amongst the remnants of a whole life; bits of furniture, crockery, paintings.
It's depressing, is this what's left at the end of the day?
Aunt Marie, she remained childless,  has been a widow for many years. The last surviving of my step-father's siblings, her late husband was a keen antiques dealer.
What happened to all the beautiful pieces she once owned? There is not one thing in her home worth admiring. Ugly, sturdy ageless furniture, tired plants, a large outdated television. The view from her window, anonymous houses and boring little gardens, she must spend hours watching that, is giving away nothing.
It could be anywhere, it has no connection to her life as it was.

She is, very, surprised when we show up on her doorstep. We have obviously disturbed her routine and she is noticeably  struggling between the pleasure of seeing us and the fact that she'd just popped a pre-fab meal into the microwave.
Good manners prevail, of course, she is a very formal, stiff old lady. In spite of our protests to go ahead, tuck in, she sits down with us, relieved to hear we don't want anything to drink and are not staying for long.
We haven't really got that much to say and after the polite inquiries after her health and the extensive reply, it seems we have done our duty, on to the next.

Suddenly I realise this might be the last time we ever see her. When she dies all her memories go with her, there will be no-one left who knew my step-father as a boy, who can explain what it was like for them being adolescents during the 2nd world war, who was there when our family arrived in Holland after my daddy died.
There is so much I want to know, private, intimate things. But dare I ask, we have never been close.
Will she think I am cheeky or will she care to go back and reminisce?

Our stony, bourgeois step-aunt's face softened as she spoke of the secrets, the love and the shame she had met in her life. Behind the façade of correctness and reservation was a woman who had lived and loved but had learned to keep these things to herself, whose stories shall soon die with her.

An irretrievable loss of precious knowledge, family history, hidden tales - what a pity.

I hope to see her soon again.
I'd like to get to know this distant old lady.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

turkish delight

Just back from hospital where I spent the night for a neurological physiological examination.
Sounds worse than it is but I am sure my health insurer will be overjoyed when I finally kick the bucket.

Anyway, I was expected at 2 pm, and after going through the whole admission procedure, we had to change the sleeping arrangements.
I was accidentally booked- in with a, very nice looking, Turkish man, who could not sleep with me because of his beliefs.

I felt quite hurt; when I was in hospital for my back last November, I shared a room with three ancient gentlemen. I lay awake trying to find some rhythm to their nightly grunts, snores and wheezing to lull me to sleep, but they were the sweetest things, fussing over me, giving me all kinds of advice - as if I still had my whole life in front of me.
I wasn't complaining, they did me a lot of good, kind of put things in perspective.
Maybe I could do the same for my Turkish friend here?
Never mind, it got sorted and I was sent off to get geared up.

Dear me, I had electrodes and wires glued on all over my head and body, even up my nostrils.
A heavy recorder in a black leather case strapped to me and I was partly wearing what I would be sleeping in - a nice lacy little set - because I couldn't change once I was wired up.

Right, I had come well prepared. My notebook in case of a story welling up, a tricky cryptogram, a good book.
Time would fly.
But it didn't. I couldn't relax, just sit down and concentrate. I was distracted by the place, the coming and going. I was hungry, thirsty, wanted a drink. Preferably alcoholic.
Nothing going. Coffee then - I craved coffee. The shop was closed.

There was internet. I tried a game of mah-jong but couldn't stop thinking of the germs that must be on the keyboard,  I gave up.
I couldn't stand my surroundings any more so I went for a walk.
And missed the coffee lady. Damn.
'Where were you then?' asked the woman I was sharing a room with. She was quite upset because she had said 'milk' when asked what I might want to drink, and I couldn't hide my disappointment.

'But you are not allowed to leave the building, didn't you know? she said shocked.
I didn't and I didn't care anyway. Why ever not?
'I'm not sure' she answered, 'but have you had a look in the mirror?'
I went to the bathroom to check and the image I saw was of an agitated woman with dishevelled hair, strangely dressed in loose fitting lingerie and purple harem pants, wired up and carrying what looked like a detonator - the epitome of a suicide bomber!!!

                                                                                                  (I looked far worse)

It's a good thing I live in Amsterdam. Anywhere else I would have been shot on sight.
What was I thinking of?

Ah, that was exactly what was bothering me: What am I thinking of? And will my thoughts, my dreams somehow show in the data they  gather?
Silly, I know, but still, all this modern technology...................

Enough, I am home now and I am going to get into a nice warm bath, wash off the glue, finish my book and drink coffee, lots of it.
Nothing like the bath to calm down and collect your thoughts.
My thoughts?

Three old men, a foolhardy woman and Turkish delight - what would that look like on the doctor's chart?

Monday, 12 April 2010

empty nest syndrome

A few days ago Rose appeared in the doorway saying: 'Beschuit met muisjes, mum.'

Beschuit met muisjes is what is traditionally served when a baby is born. Rusk with aniseed comfits (according to the dictionary.) Pink and white, nowadays blue and white, if the newborn is a boy.
So when someone says that, it is to herald a birth or a way of letting you know someone is pregnant.
Which is she telling me? I mentally check any expectant mums about to pop, while scrutinizing Roosje's tummy.
Nothing comes up and a little panicky I stammer: 'Just tell me - who?'
'The duck' she laughs, 'come and see, the eggs are hatching.'

I jump up, the duck!
I am not a patient person and for weeks now I have been waiting for those damn eggs to hatch. Driving everybody mad talking about them, my friends in the park were starting to avoid me.
They were getting a daily update of nothing much really.
The weather has been pretty dreary lately, that poor mother duck has been sat on those eggs, which by now I was convinced were stone cold, forever. Each morning I would look out of the bathroom window and see her, just sitting there, in the same position, on the damp, uncomfortable nest.
She wouldn't bat an eye, even when we started feeding her - at a respectful distance at first, not wanting to disturb the progress of this miracle. All kinds of other birds came flocking in, pecking away at the bread, but she wouldn't budge.
What was she, some kind of a martyr?
I am ashamed to say I started pelting her with crumbs, stupid bird, I was trying to help, wasn't I?

Now all is forgotten, ridiculously happy we peer out of the window and low and behold, two eggshells have been cast out of the nest. The mother is shifting about, trying to accommodate whatever is going on beneath her.
We are actually holding our breath.
Of course I expected all nine? ducklings to just  hop out of the nest, hello world, hello Katherine.
I wanted to get there as I had heard they would follow the first moving thing as their mother, but that wouldn't have been fair.

On the other hand, I couldn't detect much emotion coming from the new mum. She wasn't jumping for joy. She wasn't doing much at all. After seemingly irritated tossing away a bit of eggshell she had regained her natural placid expression and eventually Rose and I gave up.

It was obviously going to take a while.
I was on a cloud the rest of the day, regular checks, no, nothing changed, and by the time I went to bed I was ready to pluck that duck from the nest, I wanted to see the babies!

Next morning I find an empty nest. Meaning no ducks but evidence of a messy labour. What the f........!
'Peter' I cry, 'the ducks, where are they, what happened?'
'Oh, they are fine' he replies matter-of-factly. 'All eleven of them. Have a look, I managed to take a picture of them as they swam off.'
I am inconsolable. I don't want to look at the stupid photo, I want my duckies.

They are gone. Swimming around the Amsterdam canals, the waterside is too high for the little ones to get back up to our garden.

Every day, the mother duck comes back for lunch, she thinks she's got that coming now. But she leaves her offspring at safe distance.
Safe from me, but not from the pike, the rats, the herons.
I heard their feeble quacking this morning and in the distance I could just make out three little ducklings.
What happened to the rest?

I should have stood by that nest, all night if I had to, while they hatched.
They should have followed me.
I would have done a damn sight better at being their mum than their own stupid one.

I am feeling down, a bit tearful and some thing's missing in my life.

I think I am suffering from the empty nest syndrome.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

a mixed blessing

This morning I found in my email messages from two old friends.

Jasmine and Remi.
Our friendship has weathered the best part of forty years now.
I met Jasmine when she was a promising young student and, accordingly, she became the youngest dentist in Holland.
Remi was starting out a career as stained-glass artist, an extremely talented painter.

Both their messages have to do with internet contact.
Remi tells me he read my last story and how he could relate to that. He struggles with what we call here 'mensenvrees', fear of people, and explains how it is crippling his social life. He lives only at night, has difficulties doing simple things like shopping, public transport, a visit to the doctor.
You can manage a lot on the internet but for some things you still have to leave your house.
He finds some solace in chatting late at night, but he wryly adds, there is no chance of him ever meeting any of his cyber-friends.

Jasmine has sent a common mail to all her friends, apologizing for the inconvenience, someone has hacked her hotmail account and is sending out stuff to her contacts, in her name.
She hopes we are not now infected by a computer virus.
Can anyone explain to me the point, the fun in interfering in someone's life in such an inane way?

I hope to see Jasmine soon, before I leave for France and onwards. She and her family moved away from Amsterdam years ago, but in spite of the distance, we make an effort to meet; a kiss, a smile, we walk and talk, eat and drink a little.
As friends do.

Remi? I haven't seen him for a while. But we keep in touch - by email.

The World Wide Web.

Remi lives just a few doors down from me.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010


How often have I been warned not to be too trusting?

Probably as often as I have thought I will not go through life with reservations, suspicions and fear.
As far as I can see people are potentially good and kind, and more often than not, there is a valid reason if they do not live up to those expectations.
Consequently, I suppose, I have been conned, robbed, taken advantage of in some way or other, more often than most.
I accept that as the price you must pay for naively embracing our fellow human beings and society in general.

Hopefully it will never be too much to pay.

Why am I saying this?
I have been wondering about a whole new danger zone, intangible, invisible, but not less harmful than the grabbing fingers, the school bullies, the knife that stabs you in the back.
An exciting place to meet new people, to make friends.
Here you can feel someone's presence at your very fingertips, magically believe you can trust and confide in a way you may never have done were you actually face-to-face with this person.
But internet contact has no room for body language, it doesn't show the tears in ones eyes, scorn in words spoken, a loving touch, the good and the bad intentions, the fine nuances and subtleties that can make all the difference.
 These are not transmitted when 'send' is pressed.

We live in a world full of warnings.
You find them on cigarette packs, drugs, booze, zoos, trains, areas considered unsafe.
Your mum warned you not to talk to strangers.
Why don't email accounts come with a warning?
'To be used with discretion'
'This product is potentially harmful to your relationships'
'Do not use in sensitive situations'

We are vulnerable.
Moreover because the potential harm is not visible, we are not using all of our instincts.
How high is the price of being lied to, financially duped or worse, robbed of your trust, your dignity, when you can't size up the opponent, when you had no idea of the odds?

By now, I have met quite a few nice and interesting people on the internet.
Probably by and large a representation of the people you meet in real life. But I am not sure I would have struck up an acquaintance with any or all of them, had we met in a different way.
That is a strange thought.
Maybe that is one of the wonderful things about 'internet friendships' - you get to know, in a special way, people you might otherwise have passed by, for whatever reason.

I have yet to really meet one of them though.

Can't wait to report back on that, if ever, if anyone dares....................

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

just follow me......

There is a little tag at the bottom of the page, statcounter, brown at the moment, but I can change the colour and also, I can make it public, if I want.
But that wouldn't be fair right now because when I started off, almost a month ago, I took the Blogger's advice and signed on for 1000 hits, at a small price. Just to get going.
Well, the goods are being delivered, spread over a month but as far as I can see it is not doing me much good.
I can boast to have readers all over the world, no, not readers actually, hitters. I am being hit from Siberia to Timbuktu, I see little red markers all over the world map, innocent people having being directed to my page, their visits lasting 0 seconds or less.

Am I the only one not able to hold these fine folk's, I'm sure, attention? I check with Statcounters help desk and to my relief I see other disappointed bloggers have voiced their doubts, too.
Not to worry, they say, you just have to make your site more interesting, like people take one look and are dying to know all about you.
Things like photos and gadgets seem to be the answer.
All I have is one little picture of my self, taken last Christmas. Passable I thought, if only you don't enlarge it - DONT ENLARGE IT , I SAID!
Obviously that's not doing the trick.
I have a request: Has any of you got some earth-shattering picture or tool I can use?
Sorry for laughing there, I'm sure some men are thinking their tool might qualify. But you know what I mean.

Another thing is placing a comment.
People I  know are telling me they  find it complicated. Not just my sisters who don't know a computer from a sewing machine, but computer competent friends too.
I am going to get to the bottom of this, well somebody is, Dick most likely, he's a wizard on the computer, and will get back to you.
I need those comments.
They motivate and stimulate me and if I don't like them I can delete them. Apparently I am the boss here, I can do what ever I like, if only I knew how.
It is a whole new experience for me and it involves a lot of time, more than I bargained for really, but who knows I can put these newly acquired skills to good use when I am back in South Africa.

Next, it is hard to become a follower.
A follower makes me think of some sect, I have 3 public followers who managed to get in, and also some anonymous ones, but they might come out of the closet some day.

But on the whole, I am very surprised and happy to find quite a few are enjoying my stuff, encouraging me to go on.
Just waiting for my month of prescription visitors to run out and hopefully I'll still be this pleased.

No, honestly, thank you all for reading, wouldn't be much fun without you.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

not my cuppa tea

I am drinking tea.
You might think, so what? but I hardly ever drink it. People in Holland think because I am English I must drink it all the time. But I don't, I don't really like it. I like English tea, but only in England, it's just not the same here.
However, this is Chinese tea, Chinese slimming tea.
So that explains a lot.
Nah, not really. Thing is, I don't actually believe it will help me slim, more than that, I know it won't.
I guess it's the idea I am doing something, like the buying of soap and Vim gives you the feeling you have already made great progress cleaning up the place.

The other day we went to a party, unexpectedly we got a call asking us to come straight away.
Hmm, that probably meant no-one showed up and they were desperate. I honestly didn't like the idea of having to crank up a dud party and besides, I had other plans, but Peter already had his coat on, urging me to get a move on.
I was not looking my best, never am, but as a rule I make an effort for parties and doctors, a confidence boost, nothing to do with stripping. But I wasn't granted the time now and thought, sod it, they'll just have to take me as I am.

To our surprise, the party was in full swing when we got there.
I was soon engaged in a lively conversation with a amiable, big man with curly hair and a chequered shirt. Beaming at me, actually listening and giving the right answers, I felt encouraged, see, he is interested in me as a person, not checking me out.
I moved on though, who wants to be taken serious at a party?

Back home Peter, the insensitive bastard, tells me: 'You know that big man with the shirt you were talking to? I told him you were going to do the Coast-to-Coast with your sisters and he said you could stand to loose a few pounds first.'
'No,' said Peter, 'it was funny, because he was really sincere, but he immediately realised that could be taken wrong and profusely stated that of course you were a very attractive woman. He actually blushed.'

Oh shut up, you are making it worse, the damage is done now.

Dejectedly I feel about my bra for the calling card an adventurous rock-star/gardener had slipped me.
I suppose he just wanted to get into my garden.........

Now I am sipping this horrible slimming tea, thanks to that oh so congenial and understanding man, who could do with a few gallon of the stuff himself, by the way.

It gives you the runs.

You know, for people who are full of it :)

Thursday, 1 April 2010

most taxing


But instead of feeling relieved I feel deflated.
The last days passed in a flurry of utmost irritation and chagrin,  ready to lash out at anyone who dared come near me let alone speak to me. Nothing went smoothly, everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong.
I cursed this day and age, where you can't simply add up and subtract a few bills and hand it over, pay up, or maybe get a return.

First of all, I discover I made a bit of a hash of things last year, doing the 2008 taxes.
I remember I had left it, literally, to the last minute. Trying to rush off a wild guess before midnight on the 31st of March, I couldn't log in, the server was overcrowded so it didn't get sent till 01.30 hrs April 1st.
I got fined for that, 90 minutes late, typical Dutch, time is money here.
Totally pissed off I just shoved the lot into my desk and blocked it all out, till now.
And now I can't make sense of it, too much time has passed, got to go over it all again and come up with something credible.
Then there's the calculator.
Each time I add up numbers, the outcome is different. It's not just this calculator, I have had them in all shapes and forms, always the same problem.
Must be me, an unconscious form of passive resistance? Very annoying and counter productive.

I'll save you the aggravating details, like all of a sudden everybody I know needed me for some trivial thing or other, disturbing me, well, I told them where they could stick their cups of coffee and feeble attempts at joviality.
Are they mad?
Well, they are now. I just about managed to alienate everyone near to me. 

A few hours before the deadline I came up with something I hoped we could all live with.
Log in, fill in, get their result and if that seems right, you submit - not that I am feeling in any way submissive. But, hey, almost there.

Can't log in. Something to do with the password. But I've got it here, worked last time.
Two more attempts to go. Caps locked? No, one more go and if that fails I can't try again till after the zero hour.
Damn. Another fine.

I find out you have to renew your password every two years, mine has lapsed.
God give me strength. The new passwords that come to mind are not fit to repeat here, but use your imagination.
I fill it in, just in the nick of time, quick, without checking, I send it off - hold on.............
What did it say at the bottom? What was the result? Pay, return, even?
I didn't look. Stupid.

But at least I got it done in time and I can now take it easy and calmly study what I have actually done.
I need to print it out for my accountant too (of course, I do have one, I am just doing the prelims.)

I can't. For some incomprehensible reason I can see I delivered the goods but now the taxman wont let me check what I sent, probably laughing his head off now.

I am going to have a drink or two.
Sooner or later a blue envelope will fall onto the doormat and all will be revealed.
I am past caring.

Whatever happened to those unsmiling tax-inspectors who summoned you to their bleak offices?
One once demanded I'd show him the minus 2.038, 67 euro I had in the kitty.
Explaining it's impossible to have less than nothing in your possession, he all but slapped me with his ruler.
I was mortified.

Come to think of it, on-line bureaucracy has its advantages.
No tell tale blushes or stammering, never mind hot angry tears.

Well, dear cyber tax man, see you next year, same time, I guess, or maybe just a little sooner would be prudent............

what do you think?

Sunday, 28 March 2010

follower of fashion

Just a quickie before I get cracking, calculator at the ready, can't wait.

Walking Sheppie in our little park I was amazed at the amount of lighters I saw lying about, always are - lighters and ballpoints, never need to buy one.
Must be the things that easily fall out of pockets, but how about some cash then?

Anyway, that took me back to when Mieke, the sister closest to me in age, and I were teenagers.
At that time school days still included Saturday mornings. Those were the longest hours, leading up to an afternoon of 'dweilen' or hanging about Purmerend, the little village we lived in.
You could say we were a modern version of the Bronte sisters, there was really nothing exciting going on there and besides, our very strict upbringing meant we were not allowed to do anything exciting anyway.
So we made up our own adventures. On the pretext of needing female hygiene stuff, note books, the library, anything our parents wouldn't object to, we would gulp down our lunch, do the inevitable chores quick as we could and try leaving the house without our parents noticing we were wearing make-up. Soon as we were round the corner of the street, we'd hoist up our skirts - we were going to see boys!!
And so, one fine Saturday, great expectations, arms linked, we walked up to a little bustle, a festive opening of a new tobacconist and they were handing out free cigarettes. As a special attraction they had installed a shiny copper bowl on a stand, burning what seemed to me, the eternal flame.
People standing around it, casually lighting their cigarettes, chatting, laughing, as if it wasn't the most outlandish thing to do.
Smoking was, of course, strictly forbidden, a mortal sin in fact. Something we had never even contemplated but now the fags were practically thrown at us, it didn't take long to succumb.

The thing was not to slip up here, there was a lot at stake. First of all, was there anyone in sight who would tell our parents, and next, how to light up as cool as possible, so the boys would be impressed by our worldliness.
On second thought, that was most important.

I went first. I always went first, even though Mieke was older.
Praying this wouldn't be the moment my 'mini-skirt' would let me down, I leaned towards the flame, sophisticatedly placing the cigarette between my pink lip-sticked lips - and my hair catches fire!

Not just singeing it, no, the crackling and the smell of burnt hair told me I was seriously alight.

Try explaining that to your parents. As for the boys.............sigh.

But on the bright side, I must have been the first in our provincial town with an a-symmetric hairstyle.
All the rage in London then. Mary Quant and the likes:

                                       Mary Quant and her mod-bob

A little daring, but then I never could resist a dare.

Friday, 26 March 2010

getting down to business

I didn't, of course.

The tax returns still weigh like a lump of un-bunkable clay on my conscience.
I painted the bathroom walls instead though.
Well, some-one came in last Saturday and he did a really nice job, thanks Danny, but he brought along the wrong kit, grey instead of white, and that kept showing through the paint.
I promised to apply the finishing touches later.
Another chore I've been putting off though yesterday it suddenly seemed infinitely more exciting than the tax forms and it did give me some satisfaction.

I'm  really going to do them now, no excuses and besides, I have suddenly got time on my hands.
I had an appointment this afternoon and was just getting ready for it when the person I was supposed to see called up asking where the hell I was?
I got the time wrong (by 3 hrs!), I won't go in that just now but there is a perfectly good explanation, anyway, rushing to my desk to check my agenda I knocked over a bottle of black current juice.

Everything lying on it, and that is a lot - I am not very organized, is now soaked in sweet smelling, sticky stuff.
Some of it looks quite nice. My multi-coloured memos come together beautifully steeped in the dark purple moisture.
The map of the world has totally changed, continents merge together, new violet islands appear in the oceans.
My mobile looks odd, probably ruined, well, I've got a couple more, never use them, not charged, and even if I remembered to take one with me, I still wouldn't know how to work it.

That is another thing.
I have a shipload of stuff sitting around the house, apparatus that nobody knows how to use.
Dvd players, a KISS ?-box, a smart engine, never used, probably outdated by now.
We miss all the messages on our new answering machine, not a clue how to play them, the cv thermometer, after 5 years yet to be programmed so our house has the permanent climate of a nursing home. It takes me ages to switch on the tv,  I just give up, more likely than not got the wrong remote control. I have lost count of those, and who knows how they match up anyway?

 * * * * * * * * * *

Sorry, that was Femke, my youngest sister on the phone. We had a long talk, discussing the details of our hike, which is going to be Hadrian's Wall now by the way, Coast-to-Coast a bit too ambitious.
Still 80 miles, or was it kilometres? A lot of that up-hill.
I am really excited about it, it's where we grew up, beautiful part of the country, north-east England.
I've just been checking the ferry and b & b's, and oh, just look at the time now - best part of the day gone........

Ah, never mind the taxes, got the whole week-end to think about that.
Not just think, of course, I am going to do them, honestly, I really am.

Hey, maybe I can find a nice young account, willing to put in a few hours in exchange for some nifty bits of modern technology, good as new - tax-deductible?

Thursday, 25 March 2010


No time for writing today, I have got to do the books.
VAT and income tax, to be handed in before the first.
My pet hate job and of course, I always leave it till the last moment.

I am not the only one, all three of my children have small businesses of their own, so I worry about their paperwork too.
Maybe this is a good time to warn anyone contemplating the joys of having children:
they do grow-up and leave home eventually, but that is actually when the real worrying starts.
More about that later, first things first.

In the meantime you can take a look at these links, if you like, meet my family:
Ezra, what's yours? (Answer the phone, please........did you do your taxes yet?)

and there's my travel blog too:

I have got to stop procrastinating, tackle the stupid stuff.
I'll get the Beatles to help me along, always put me in a good mood.
Revolver, great album, here goes......:
'Let me tell you how it will be, there's one for you nineteen for me..............'
From a time when there were still twenty shillings to a pound, anyone remember? Taxman.
'If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet............'
Funny lyrics and that reminds me, I want to tell you about the coast-to-coast walk my sisters and I have planned for July.

Oh heck, I wish I could stay here gabbing on but I've really got to get the tax return done.

I'll be back, feeling much relieved having done my duty, paid my dues - just want to look up the history of that phrase first - and then I will get started, yeah, yeah, yeah..........

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

lame ducks

Yesterday I spoke of my mother and her admirers.

To be honest, more than a few of them were lame ducks.
Lame ducks, or, lamme eenden, as the Dutch say, meaning, people with a flaw, misfits, people whose life does not run smoothly. Alcoholics, divorcees, illegal immigrants, petty criminals or just plain nut cases.
People like you and me, well, me, in any case.

One of them was a real character, mr. Vrolijk, that is Dutch for merry, but he was a miserable sod.
He came to clean our dustbin, nothing my mum couldn't manage herself, but she felt she was doing the right thing by letting him squirt his carbolic liquid into the bin, so he could make a few pennies, even if our garden ended up smelling like a chemical plant.
She also took it upon herself to offer him cups of coffee and tea, feeling sorry for him and his nasty job.
After some per-functional hesitating and resisting, he accepted but would not enter the house to drink it.

However, not much later he asked, cap in hand, would she mind if he had his sandwiches with his tea?
He had no-where else to go, he would be no trouble, happy just to sit out on our bench in the foul weather and enjoy his frugal meal.
Now this really bothered my mother, she was like that, and she tried to coax him in like a shy animal.
And lo and behold, the next time round he ventured in, clutching a newspaper for him to sit on, he would not dirty the lady's chair.
Or maybe by then he had already started to call her Femke, but I can't recall her calling him anything but mister Vrolijk.

Mr Vrolijk turned out to be something of a religious fanatic.
He actually started to bring along his gospel records and we children began to dread coming home from school on Mondays to a whiff of tar and psalms bellowing out onto the streets.
On top of that, he was beginning to boss us around: go do your homework, I am talking to your mother.
Stuff like that.

Needless to say we were dumbfounded but the bloody limit was him sitting in our stepfather's chair!

This was a major offence, no-one dared sit in his chair.
Even our dog, Keesie, jumped out of it soon as he heard my step dad's Deux-Chevaux approaching.
He could hear it a mile off, not that much traffic then, and that gave us just enough time to collect our stuff, turn off Radio Luxemburg and scarper.

That dog was a blessing.
Mr Vrolijk on the other hand was rapidly becoming a considerable pain in the ass.

Of course we complained to our mum but she was at her wits end herself. The long and the short of it is she didn't know how to get rid of him without hurting his feelings.
Funny thing is, I knew what she meant.

Anyway, it all came to an end when my stepfather, whose name was Smith, rang my mum one day.
Mr Vrolijk turned down his music, leaned back in my stepdad's chair, crossing his legs he calmly picks up the phone and says:
Smith speaking...........

That was the last we saw of him. In our home, at least.
He was seen skulking about for sometime after - we would duck when he passed our house, casting vengeful glances our way.
And then he just disappeared for good.

Mr Vrolijk, a lame duck or maybe more of a cuckoo?

Ah, you were never one to discriminate.
Miss you mammy.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

invisible women

I was invisible today.
Trying to make contact on the MSN chat but no-one could see me.
It was weird.
I thought it was just me but turned out to be a world-wide problem, something to do with a server.

It reminded me of an article I read recently. An attractive looking middle-aged woman wrote about how she feels more and more invisible the older she gets. To my dismay I could relate to that.
As a young girl you take it for granted men look up when you walk into a room. It's no accomplishment, it's a given, human nature.
At some point you realise it is not something you can take for granted any more, something you have coming - hopefully by then you have acquired a different kind of presence.

Today it was suddenly spring.
Right on the dot but still took us by surprise. Some still clad in winter coats, others t-shirts and shorts, as if winter never happened.
I hung away my furry purple coat, with a: ' See you later, not too soon, I hope,' and went for a long walk - the Vondel park, this time.
I wore a v-neck top and little black jacket, great to finally shed some layers.
I couldn't help noticing I was getting some looks - no,  I am not being immodest, honestly, I am my own worst critic, but it has a point.
It meant I was not invisible.
Still being noticed, as a woman, at some level.
Ok, the level might have been questionable, the glances were not directed at my face, but still. And I was not about to be all insulted and huffy, more like happy and relieved.

Am I being silly?
My mother would have laughed, but then she had nothing to complain about. Good-looking, girlish, creative and lots more, till the very end, and most of all, infinitely charming.
She had suitors decades younger who adored her, age was never an issue.

There is one person I am sure would understand. W.B. Yeats.
The poems he wrote about Maude Gonne, an unrequited love, as she grew old - ah, if only I could spend an evening with him, in front of the fire, a glass of red wine, let his grave, melodious voice soothe me into believing each age has its own beauty.

Another poem comes to mind:  How Do I Love Thee?.... Let me count the ways...... E. Barrett Browning, and at the end she says: with the breath, smiles, tears of all my life......
It is so beautiful and touching, not a mention of appearance or age, but maybe a hint of life experience making it possible to love more deeply.

Oh, I am getting all dreamy now, time to wake up and peel some potatoes, get supper going.

Invisible or not, still got to eat. Bye now.

Monday, 22 March 2010

lumps and all

Eyeing up some cooking apples in the kitchen I thought I'd better use them soon before they got all wrinkled. Apple pie seemed a good idea, pretty sure I could find some people happy to tuck in.
All of a sudden there was nothing I wanted more than to bake that pie.

I rushed off to the shops to get some fresh butter, rolled up my sleeves and got going.
I love baking, the feel of it, the smell, the fact that a delicious cake appears after putting some simple ingredients together.
So I was working the butter into the flour and sugar, pinch of salt, kneading it with my fingers. Lovely.
Hold on - I felt some little hard bits, what was that, the sugar?
Never mind, I wanted to stick it in the oven, get a quick result.
But they kept coming up, I couldn't ignore them - ok, I'd have a look.
Floury little lumps, search me...... On closer investigation they were dark on the inside. Chocolate sprinkles? How did they land up in the flower?
I called Rose, hoping she would come up with a perfectly innocent explanation, so I could continue making the pie without poisoning anybody.
She confirms what I already feared but tried to block out.
'Mouse droppings, mum.'

Yes, I had seen the blighters scuttling about but I didn't want to make a fuss in case someone thought they had to go. And now this.
Great. Now what?
Well of course I had to chuck it away, waste of good food, and start all over again.
With less enthusiasm, but it went down well none the less.

I am telling you this because it makes me think of a book I have been working on for quite some time now.
I made a flying start and before too long it started to look like something.
Only I couldn't get the end right. I started changing it, pulling it this way and that, adding bits, deleting chunks, trying out different styles.
You know when you paint a picture and you are quite pleased but you think, if I touch it up here, that would be perfect? But it isn't so you try to cover that up, making it worse and in the end you have spoilt the whole thing and you can't get it back to where you still liked it?
Well, that's what happened to my book.
Now what?

Thinking of the apple pie, I suppose I should just chuck it away and start all over again.
Of course, writing a book is a lot of hard work, you put in a few more hours than when baking a cake, but it is not impossible, just tough. Start again.
The real problem is the enthusiasm. You just can't do it without all the conviction, passion and devotion you can muster.
Without a burning drive, you might still turn out something that goes down well enough, it will not be what you had in mind when you started out, starry-eyed and excited.

I don't want my first, and maybe only, book to be less than its promise, even if no-one ever reads it but me.

Maybe I shouldn't have minded the lumps. Maybe they were part of it; does a story have to make perfect sense, be clever and have a happy, or at least, satisfactory ending?
Or can it still be embraced with all its imperfections?

I don't know. Should I go on regardless or drop it like a hot brick?
Like a hot pie?

Would anybody care for a slice of my pie, lumps and all?

Sunday, 21 March 2010

double dutch

I am going to tell you something disgusting now, so you might want to give it a miss.

Walking in the park the other day a woman in front of me stepped into a gob of spit.
A slimy thread stuck to her shoe for a moment before snapping back. I felt sick.
I have a little trick to help make things like this palatable (yuck, can't believe I said that.) I break it down to more acceptable substances.
What is spit? Molecules of bacteria, water, chemicals, stuff like that, I guess.
Nothing to be afraid of, get over it.
Doesn't always work though. I still had visions of someone - who? - collecting his saliva  (must have been a man,) and spitting it out.
What was he thinking, did he check to see if anyone was looking or did he not even realise he was doing it - causing someone like me to wonder about it?

And why does the mind do this to you anyway?

How about you?
Like do any of you take things literally when they are meant metaphorically?
So when someone says: 'He's a real prick,' then presto, the image of that particular person appears in the form of a giant prick?
In Holland there is an expression, it is not considered bad language, and nobody thinks twice about using the c-word in this respect:
'Voor de kat zijn kut,'  translates as: 'for the cat's pussy (excuse the pun.')
It is what you might say when you are doing something but nobody is taking any notice.
Or, when you are improvising, just fooling around.
In both cases you are doing it for the cat's etc.. You might as well not bother.

There is something puzzling about this saying though. The possessive pronoun used in Dutch, 'zijn', is masculine........
No-one can accuse me of being unimaginative, but there are limits.

Sorry, how did I get here?
I don't know, I'm just thinking out loud, writing ad lib, voor de kat zijn kut, as one might say here.
So you've learnt some Dutch today.

But I've got to hurry now, I'm late for an appointment, said I'd be there with bells on!

Right - tell me what you are thinking now :)

Saturday, 20 March 2010

name game

Rose-Anne, our daughter, and I were talking about names.
Names for babies. In case she had one - not that she might have one stashed away somewhere, but sometime in the future.
That would make me a  , yeah well, it's bound to happen sooner or later, three healthy grown-up children..........I have very strong feelings about all that stuff, but I"ll get to that later.
Now for the names.

 Three lovely names surfaced, names I had in mind for any more daughters  I might be blessed with, but the rest turned out to be boys. To my surprise, and dismay, Rose tells me they are all in the top ten of most popular names today.
That made me think, first of all, how did she know? Obviously she has been doing some research, but why? Just hours before I had joked about her inheriting the Boddé genes, meaning an ample bosom.
Maybe it was more than her grandmother's genes making them flourish.
Dear me.
Well, as I said, we'll get to that later.

Names. Boys names are not so easy.
Besides, what seemed perfectly fine decades ago, is now a common four-letter word.
Our eldest son's name. A name that has been passed on from generation to generation in the Scherpenzeel family.
A solid, straight-forward name, no?
No. A refined English gentleman once asked Dick his name: 'Ah, yes, Richard - nice to meet you,' he replied benignly, as if he had just saved us all from embarrassment.

My son's contemporaries have less mercy, of course.

But his second name is Saefren, the a and e joined as in Caesar, not on the keyboard though.
I loved this name, found in an old book; it is derived from the river Saefern or Severn in Wales.
Very romantic.
Of course one must allow for the hippy influences I was subjected to.
 We thought the better of giving it him as his first name, too unusual,  hard to pronounce and spell, certainly for the Dutch.

                                           the river Severn - Wales G.B.

 So Dick it was.

Though I know for a fact he uses 'saefren' on-line,  playing Counterstrike and  Quake.
It does a hell of a lot  more for his image than 'dick'.

I have got to rush now, get some food for the week-end.

I'll be back, like I said, to tackle the other stuff, you know, babies and things.

Friday, 19 March 2010

middle finger?

Middle age doesn't much agree with me.

 Young enough to still want to enjoy all life has to offer, old enough to realise time is running out.
Just when you have reached a point in your life where money is not so tight, the children are standing on their own two feet, parents passed away, hey, seems like you can do whatever you like.

Then it hits you.
All the warnings and good advice from your parents, your teachers, preachers, doctors - the stuff you refused to listen to cos you were too busy living, experiencing, experimenting; smoking, drinking, sex and drugs, not to mention the lesser sin of over-indulging in food. Rock 'n roll, late nights, no exercise - but you thought you were indestructible.
And even ìf, you could walk under a bus tomorrow and never have really lived.
You owed it to yourself.
Ya, we all used that excuse, thinking later, I'll get to it later. Plenty of time to fool around now, I'll start towing the line when I'm older. Like 30. You think you'll be past it once you reach 30. But when you are 30 you are in your prime, at 40 you still look good, feel good, who's counting anyway?
Later, not now.

But over 50 there is nowhere to hide, your friends are beginning to fray at the edges; cancer, heart attacks, strokes - words that keep popping up more and more frequently.
Guys who once drove you wild at the disco have become old farts, your thenadays sassy girlfriends - for all the make-up, the nips and the tucks - the dash of youth is lost forever.
Dear god, these are my peers. I would dearly like to believe it has not happened to me, by some fluke, some incredible stroke of good luck, it has passed me by.

It takes one look in the mirror.

If I possibly can I will avoid doing that, go without make-up, brush my teeth with eyes closed, give the hairdresser a miss - but sometimes in a fitting room, or like when I needed pass-photos, I see myself and I can't believe that's me.
That reminds me, I still have to collect those photos, but I told the man I would not have them sitting in my passport for the next ten years.
He was quite offended when I said that. 'Perfectly good likeness,' he thought.
Thanks a lot for destroying that last bit of confidence.
'In that case,' I said 'I'll be back after I've seen a plastic surgeon.'
He thought I was joking...........

It is not just about looks of course, even though they are a humbling reminder of what you want to ignore: middle-age. And old-age already grinning at you: come come, my lovely.

Time to start reckoning - how much time left to cram in all the stuff I put off and desperately want to do now?
I think I can safely cross off the universities I meant to attend, I won't pick up where I left off after 4 years of piano practice, and the classic example, ballet dancing, no, I never desired that anyway, but belly dancing, yes, maybe, at least I've got the belly now.
Hmm. How many books left to read till my eyesight is blurred?
But I don't want to think like that, I just want to pick up any old book without worrying it means I might miss out on a really good one.

See what I mean, it's a bugger, and I haven't even got to the things that really matter yet.

It's lunchtime and I'd better stop anyway. Calm down and give it some thought.

I'll be back, this quinquagenarian is not quite done yet.

Just look it up:)

Thursday, 18 March 2010


The other day I went to buy some logs for the hearth.

That meant a trip to Purmerend, some 20 kilometres from Amsterdam. I lived there when I first moved to Holland, and later in life too, for a while.
I go back there for wood, I like the ride and I like the place where it is sold.
It's an institution for the mentally handicapped, or mentally challenged as we are now supposed to say.
I think that sounds odd, so I looked up 'challenge', just to check.

The Oxford dictionary says: an invitation or summons to engage in a contest, duel etc; provocation, a calling in question to prove one's ability, skill etc; summons to justify one's presence.
Excuse me for laughing but I don't think my friends there would think much of that if they had the foggiest, and they haven't, but they would laugh their heads off if they had.
These men don't have to prove or justify anything, they are fine just as they are.

A motley crew, if ever I saw one. If I were an artist I would ask them to sit for me, their faces, bodies, their whole demeanour is so fascinatingly off beat, surprising and strangely alluring.
It is always a great pleasure to spend some time with them.

I used to take the kids along when they were small, thought it would be good for them to get to know people who were, uh, challenged, learn to appreciate we are not all the same.
The first couple of times they stayed in the back of the car, a little afraid, a little shy and timid, big round eyes taking it all in, and quiet too. Until we drove off and the questions kept coming - I answered as best as I could.

I was teaching them respect.

Were they once reluctant to abandon their play and accompany me on these trips, soon they began asking when we could go again, bolder now they would leave the car, though sticking close to me.
Eventually they started to talk to the gawky men, giggling when they realised they were smarter than these adults, catching each others eye, trying not to burst out laughing.

Whoa, this was not what I had in mind.
On our way back home I gave them a good talking to and said if they couldn't behave they must stay in the car next time.
And they did.
As the men carted the heavy sacks to the car, my boys knelt back-to-front on the back seat, ready to watch the show.
The loading is a serious matter, they have to count how many go in and need to concentrate hard for that. The men count out loud, hesitant, squabbling, correcting each other, and checking until they feel sure enough to call the therapist and give him their best guess.
Once he agrees we proceed to settle the finances. Slowly and deliberately we work out the price, for the benefit of the men, but they are more interested in the cash.
Who do I hand it to?
They exchange glances, shift from foot to foot, cough, nudge; a silent inside bartering - who may take the money?
It is solemnly collected, fumbled and smoothed, gazed at by all, then suddenly, as if in a hurry to get rid of it, passed on to the boss.
A done deal, they amble away, the big moment already forgotten.

But this time our pleasant routine was disturbed.
My sweet little boys, who could already count to ten and more, were extremely amused by the spectacle.
I mean falling about laughing, faces lit up with glee, as they randomly called out numbers, counting backwards, imitating the men's gruff voices, causing total confusion and upset.

The poor fellows were most disturbed, unable to hold on to their adding, they decided to haul out the lot and start all over again.
Angry, shouting at the kids to shut up, they plod on:  1, that is 2, and 3, uh, 4........
13, 8, 27, 5, 4, 3!!!! the children shriek, hiccuping, almost choking on their merriment.

This is not on!

I am not in favour of hitting your children but at this point I could have happily bashed their heads together.

Still, it taught me something.
My children were not poking fun at my friends because they were handicapped,  they just found the situation comical and acted on that, unhindered by what was correct or not.
And it was, very amusing, truth be told.
So you try teaching respect and get shown up for being double.

Kids - now that's what I call a challenge.........

Wednesday, 17 March 2010


We live in the centre of Amsterdam.

Whereas normally the canals run in front of the houses, ours is at the back. The street was once a 'schans' or trench, defining and defending the town. The front is 'bovendijks', the back 'onderdijks' - above and under the dike, so the building has dropped levels.

Anyway, we have a small yard at the back where the canal flows. Facing north-east, so it is a challenge to get anything to prosper other than ivy and moss, but Peter has managed to create a pretty little garden, with a beautiful wisteria twisting round the pergola, met by a grape vine, surprisingly sturdy and flourishing in the cool Dutch climate.
In the summer we can have lunch or supper there, a place to dream on a balmy night, though the view is dominated by a massive modern office building - not very romantic.
Not much doing at wintertime, but we had some fun retrieving our boat that had sunk under the heavy weight of the snow that fell amply this winter.

Peter also put in a pond. Now I never understood the point of that, as we are surrounded by water, but still, it's his thing, he nurses the plants, he puts in the work, least I can do is admire it.

To be honest, I think it is a bit of an eye-sore, but the rewards are the water lilies, after braving the cold they return each year, and, a fat little goldfish.
I like to think it is the same one that survives the cheeky town herons. Each year a new lot gets tossed into the pond, foolhardy, knowing full well the ugly birds will come and snatch them. And each spring we peer into the muddy depths of the little pool and rejoice to see there is still one left.
There he is. Has got to be the same one, the really smart one.

And so, for this reason, Peter keeps a pump running, day and night, every day of the year, to stop the freezing over when it's cold, to supply oxygen when it's hot, probably adding quite a bit onto the electricity bill, all for one tiddly goldfish........
Not this winter, though. It was bad, heaps of snow and the canals were solid ice.
Ducks started visiting our garden, our pond, to be precise. The pump kept an opening in the icy surface, as big as a pizza plate, and they took turns swimming around.
Eventually the thaw set in and less and less ducks came to use our spa, just one couple kept hanging around, checking the place out, making themselves at home.

A week ago Peter thought it was time to start getting the garden ready for the new season. To his delight he finds under a broom shrub, next to the pond, a nest with three perfect eggs.
We are not agreed on their colour but I like to think they were a soft turquoise; we won't know for a while because the female is now seriously brooding and the male is swimming and waddling about importantly, defending his mate and their, last count, 8! eggs.

Alas, I have little hope they will hatch, I have often seen the mum bunk off after covering the nest with some twigs and dead leaves, but the frost had returned. Those eggs must have been stone cold. Maybe someone ought to tell her the bad news, I feel sorry for the whole ritual they are going through for nothing.

I ask the gardeners who work in the park opposite our house. They seem to know all about these things and explain if the eggs are not viable the couple will sooner or later abandon them and simply start over again.

Well, that's a relief. But will they choose our garden for the next laying? I was so looking forward to all the tiny ducklings, had fantasies of them following me about, crossing the street with Sheppie and me to the park to have some fun, meet other ducks.
The only thing is, how long is the whole business going to take, because as for the moment, we can not get into the garden. The male gets excited, pacing back and forth by our back door, quacking - we are to stay away.

Peter is scratching his head, eager to start pruning, planting, sowing.
Now is the time.
He turns to me and says: Maybe you were right about the pond, maybe it should go..........

He can't be serious, what about the ducks?

I don't want to be right.
That stupid pond is here to stay!

Monday, 15 March 2010


This morning I had an appointment with an ENT doctor. Nothing special.
I was told to allow 15 minutes to register, bring along some identification and insurance card.
OK, I checked how to get there, pretty easy, and left nice and early.
Every thing under control, I made my way there, could see the hospital from the road and then somehow managed to lose my way.
And lose precious minutes trying to find it again.
The Dutch are sticklers for time, I don't want to be late.

I got there.
Now where to park the car? Opposite the building seemed most likely. Are we supposed to pay? Yes. I see a man standing by the parking-meter, looking around him, obviously needing some help.
An immigrant, Moroccan I think, looking puzzled and, I sense, a little reluctant to ask me, so I offer.

The ticket dispenser is something new, incredibly complicated, with buttons and switches, menus and choices, even some kind of keyboard behind glass, to register your license plate. Operated by a large knob to select numbers and letters.
The gentleman, regaining his composure, starts dictating his to me. His voice now authoritative but the accent makes it hard to understand and I don't want to embarrass him by letting him know.
And thus we struggle on together.
The positioning is very sensitive, the indicator jumping all over the place - it takes skill and concentration to hit the right spot.
And time.
Just as I think we might have managed to master the machine, my ally, who was noticeably becoming agitated and impatient, reaches out and masterfully presses the red button.

I give up, sorry, I have an appointment to keep, can't even see to my own ticket now - I'll probably get fined.
I dash into the hospital reception area, it is enormous, like the Central Station, and all the signs and brightly coloured directions are not helping.
I am confused. Where do I register?
I have to take a number first. Another machine. No buttons, no knobs, how does the number come out? Someone waves a hand over the clever little box on a pole, and out pops my number.
C0125, that means 7 to go before me, and what, 5 minutes to my appointment time?
But the numbers come up quickly and soon it is my turn. What is there to register anyway?
Name, address, insurance? Ya, that and a whole bunch of other stuff I have no idea what they need it for but I am in no position to spend time questioning that, so I answer whatever, grab the forms and back to the labyrinth of coloured paths to destinations less cheerful.
(Would be a great place for a children's party, treasure hunts, hide and seek.)
Now I am late, running through the corridors I crash into an angry looking man in a wheelchair, he turns around and glares at me, then moves toward the lift, raising his arm, shouting at the people inside to hold it for him.
I'd better take the stairs!
To my satisfaction, I get there first. Panting at the receptionist's desk, about to creatively explain my tardiness, I am kindly asked to fill in yet another form and to take my time as the doctor is running late.........

20 minutes later my name is called. The doctor.
Sometimes just one look is enough to know: I like this person.
I liked my new doctor.
He had kindness and fun written all over him and I happily followed him into his little office-cum-practice, ready to answer more questions, fill in more forms.
His eyes twinkled, his smile twinkled, his silver hair unruly like a teenager's and it seemed perfectly natural to be sitting there talking like old friends.
At some point I must have forgotten the reason of my visit, must not have realised he was about to examine me - I simply found my face being held in his warm hands, his face close to mine, I almost closed my eyes..............he gently eased a spatula into my mouth.

And so I left him, hugging my file. The nurse at the desk said my next appointment would be with another doctor as this one was leaving end of the month.
She must have read my expression for she gave me a knowing look and said: 'He is very nice too, promise.'

Outside, and back to reality, I see a group of parking attendants.
I get into the car meaning to inconspicuously drive past them, only I can't drive in reverse. It's not just me, lots of people can't, you can look it up, something to do with the brain.
Hmm, not sure that is making it better, but anyway, they were in stitches, pointing, shaking their heads.
Still, they helped, even offered to do it for me. And of course, I told them I hadn't paid for parking, had they fined me?
No luv, you're lucky, that machine is out of order.

Great. Thanks for telling me.
And as for lucky?
Come to think of it, yes, I was........ but how could they know?