Posts Tagged ‘Amsterdam’

Escape from Bank and National Service to Italy’s Bolzano.

June 4, 2015
Helvi in Amsterdam

Helvi in Amsterdam

The trip I took back to Holland was supposed to be permanent. While earning money was good in Australia, the jobs were not. My parents had the house built with the help of the Dutch Building society and a mortgage on ‘easy terms’. Apart from a mortgage, we also managed to get an electric frypan and a large wooden TV on splayed legs, all on easy terms. Life had settled into a routine and if the criteria of a successful migrant family was ownership of a house and white goods, we had achieved that in a remarkable short period, even if on easy terms. As the rest of the siblings grew older they too joined the workforce. Each Thursday evening was the keeping of Mum’s financial books. Our wages were produced and ledgers were ticked off. The family was prospering and it showed in our diets. Eating meat was now common and the sauce bottle wasn’t quite that much rinsed out anymore. A general relaxing of frugality was now creeping into our lives.

While the standard of living was going up the standard of my private life remained static and lukewarm.   I had saved enough and booked my trip back. I moved in with my terminal cancer suffering uncle in Amsterdam.  He was an ex-chess master and as I had picked up the game in Australia we shared many a game. He won all of them. He knew the moves and even had names for them. There was a ‘Budapest in 1933’ move or the ‘Vienna 1867 opening’. He kept on about his previous fame as a chess player while also eating huge portions of my mince meat and chilli mixture, which he thought was a magic cure for his cancer. He vested so much hope on this mince and hot chilli, it was pitiful. He blamed his ex wife for his misfortune and when that subject came up I suggested yet another game of chess, even though you would have thought he would at least give me a game in exchange for the mince-meat voodoo cure.  He never did and would thrash me merciless. I did mix the mince 50/50 with dry bread and an egg to try and bulk it out. He used to wolf it down while rubbing his shoulder in which the cancer was growing, hoping the benefit of the minced meat would shrink the cancer. The heat of the chilli is what he believed would cure him.

I had learnt some chess from a good English friend in Australia. He was a very good chess player but would always give me a handicap of a couple of pieces in order to have at least a fairly equal match. As my game improved the handicap would be reduced. After I arrived in Holland I received a letter he was back in England and was planning to rent a chalet somewhere in the Italian Dolomites to write words down.  He had put an advertisement in the Sud Deutsche Zeitung. He received a response from a German Baroness, a ‘Frau Johnson’  offering him a chalet high in the mountains at Bressanone. He planned to visit me in Holland on his way to take up this offer of the chalet.

Of course, a few weeks before while skiing in Lienz’s dolomites I had already met my future wife. Yet, it would be a few of years before our marriage. I had broken my glasses while skiing on a down-hill frosted over molten snow sheet of ice. There was no grip that my skis could hold and I just slid out of control deciding to just drop down to prevent slamming in a spruce tree. I had a bad nose bleed and broken my glasses. Fortunately I had a pair of optical sun glasses. It was while I was repairing my nose that a young woman asked me if I was alright. I said I was fine and noticed she had taken her skis off and was walking down to the place where I was staying. It was an old farm-house which in winter was let out to skiers and called Gribelehof. My father’s sister had a permanent kind of summer house at the same address.

It is still there and the same family, the Notdurfter’s are still running it. Amazing after all those years! The woman had beautiful eyes. I don’t know where I got the courage from but I said ” you have beautiful eyes.” Her answer floored me; “Yes, I know.” and calmly looked back at me as if trying to see my reaction. My response was surprise and looking nonplussed. However, there was already a feeling of liking each other. She was encouraging and even she said she was aware of her lovely eyes, there was no sense of exploiting the situation. She was really trying something out. We saw each other a few more times before we exchanged addresses and said goodbye.


But back with my uncle and my visiting English friend from Australia, a game of chess was proposed. It was a rather tense game with uncle being opposed this time to a very good player. It turned bad after an hour or so and my friend won. The uncle looked red and upset but wanted a return game. This game he lost too. My friend left to catch the train to Italy. My uncle was really upset and put the board back again with all the pieces. He remembered exactly the move that he should not have done and played it over, this time making the right move and winning. This gave me some relief. He was not easy to live with afterwards. A few weeks after I too moved to Italy and had a letter from my mother’s sister Agnes. My uncle had passed away. The mince meat-chilli mixture was of no avail.

He had lost the last game of chess as well.





Business and National Service in Holland.

June 3, 2015


With the first sex and my curiosity about it somewhat satisfied and the Maltese woman and gun in wardrobe fading into Oosterman history, I concentrated with renewed vigour into saving and planning to go back to Holland. Readers (if there are any) might remember I had a little metal box into which I saved as much as I could. Of course while living at home I gave all earnings to mother with the getting of own block of land and own house. This too had been achieved within a few years. The garage was now being used to rent out to other migrants which was handy to top up mum’s income running a very busy household. Who would have thought the take up in the new country had made such rapid progress in such a short time. There was mum now collecting rent, the Merchant of Prosperity and now a Rent Lord.

With Frank now coming and going, from the nightmare of what was Callan Park, at his whim, the atmosphere was often tense. The first sight of Frank we would all just scatter to friends. The impasse between what we thought Frank would and ought to finally get in care, and the rough reality, went on without resolutions. We either had to sign up for his permanent incarceration at a lunatic asylum or put up with Frank basically doing what he liked at the hospital, coming and going whenever and in whatever condition he might find himself in. It was absolutely dreadful and  remained an unimaginable horror, not only to Frank but to the rest of the family. Friends urged my parents to send him back to Holland. Things were supposed to be so much better and more advanced in The Netherlands.

This wasn’t easy done with a mentally ill person. He would have to have nursing staff to accompany him as well as my parents and how would Frank feel being left in Holland without anyone? A conundrum if ever there was. This would finally resolve itself when both Frank and my parents went back for good to Holland in 1974. They had enough. On hindsight that was always the best thing to have done. Pensions and healthcare had improved well above the level in Australia. The pension here was ‘means and asset’ tested. This was achieved in an office of the Social Securities. On top of everything my parents were asked to empty all in pockets and handbags on the table in front of the person dealing with my parents pension. My mother never felt so humiliated in her entire life. In Holland everybody works towards a pension, rich or poor get the basic pension. Not means test. Even today, a pension in Australia is regarded as ‘welfare’ or ‘hand-out’ as is unemployment relief, and single mother’s income etc.  and not as  entitlements that  civil societies work towards.

It might all have contributed to the fomenting and nurturing of my rich curmudgeon psyche but I really wanted to go back and try regain what I had left. This was a mistake. But really, making mistakes is a  good way of spending years in preparation for adulthood. I always felt that. Never regret a mistake is my motto. I don’t know how but I had saved up for a trip to Holland within a few years. It was still the old monetary English system of complicated pounds and shillings, pennies. The single boat fare to Genoa and then the train to Amsterdam was 110 pounds in 1962/63. The boat trip over was fantastic. Can you imagine; the orchestra playing jaunty music, games of tombola, the daily sweepstake and lots of young people on their first trip overseas?  I do remember the orchestra’s players being so bored playing the same music, day in day out, week after week, month after month. It was a job so much like everybody had to make a job. Is the chopping of steaks or the soling of shoes any better ( year in year out)?

I also wanted to work in an office and wear a suit and attache case. In Australia, especially during the first few years doing piece work on machinery and clocking up lots of overtime, I was wondering how it would be to go to work with something like having some importance. I don’t know why I thought this would be better suited in Holland. The arrival by train in Holland was without fanfare. There was no one greeting me at Central Station. I could not have expected it. Even so, I almost thought; can’t people see I am a returned migrant from Australia? An absurdity of thought. I moved into a distant uncle place who had a bed that folded into a wall but who was also dying with cancer and an ex chess master. He was forever berating his ex wife and expected me to cheer him on. I used to mix great lumps of mince meat mixed with hot spices. He loved it and even felt the spices to cure his cancer. He wasn’t used to chilli but red in the face he would eat lots of the spiced minced steak to the exclusion of everything else. It might well have hastened his final demise.

My old school friends I revisited and within ten minutes they were watching TV. It had all moved on and they weren’t interested in re-visiting that which had gone by. One of my friends had married and with two children gave me the sage advice and unhappily said ; ‘never get married.’ As is known today, I did and it was the best thing I ever! So, there is so much uncertainty about life. It is all such a risk and bobbing about on tides that can sweep you out as well as sweep you ashore. We do our best.

I haven’t yet even come to ‘business and Dutch National service. That will come next time.

All aboard to sunny Australia.

April 27, 2015

‘Let’s now move forward to, or back to, depending on what you might have read so far, to our period of migrating to Australia. The first murmurs I heard involved Argentina followed by South Africa. Australia came about because some war-time friends had already taken the step in the very early fifties or perhaps even the late forties. It took them 9 days to fly to Australia, so I am inclined to think it was the late forties. Their choice had been Australia. Many letters were exchanged and they were of the most euphoric kind. The streets of Australia were paved in gold and all was possible, own cars, own homes, cake eating on Sunday with mountains of cream, you name it, Australia had it all. My mother was really taken in by it,  ‘own home’ was beckoning more than anything, and especially with a bathroom.

At three years of age with same cousin Eva and her brother Paul. This time bare-footed. Fruit trees in background?

At three years of age with same cousin Eva and her brother Paul. This time bare-footed. Fruit trees in background?

Here a quick look again at those earlier war time periods. I seem to be joking or having fun still… Thirteen years later and I would find myself in Australia. It took a while for ‘fun’ to surface again.

But getting back to migrating and those last few weeks. The planning stage evolved rapidly with a visit to the Australian embassy and inspection by Australian Doctor. X rays were taken and the basics of our health determined by standing around in underpants while chests were listened to and asked to turn this way and that way. We had to touch toes and stick our tongues out to the Doctor. All our vaccinations were always strictly adhered to. Soon we all were deemed to be fit for Australia. We were the perfect white family for migrating and as there were six of us, Australia must have been drooling licking its still very British oriented but recent Australian Federation lips. Not a hint of a brown colour or smidgeon of Dutch colonial imprint of any kind. Blond and fair, just what the Doctor ordered

The canvas hooded walkway to our ship that we all walked through. Bye, bye Holland. I took my first photo onboard.

The canvas hooded walkway to our ship that we all walked through. Bye, bye Holland. I took my first photo on-board.

Above photo shows the gate-way to five weeks on-board a luxury boat full of Dutch migrants. There was a little band that would play over and over, ‘t was on the isle of Capri that I found her, with ‘O’ sole mio’ after we left Genoa. All hell broke lose when the boat pulled away from Sicily’s Messina. Many of those sons of Italian families would never be seen back again in those ancient villages.  Their mothers would be milling together, shedding tears around the water-wells for many months yet. The journey away from shores and love, so sadly final and permanent. A return impossibly expensive and at the time would not have been contemplated. Luigi, the best cobbler in Palermo now gone so was Antonio the dressmaker’s son. When the boat pulled away from Amsterdam and harbour, my mum and dad must have felt that too, but with six of us needing to find our cabins, they soon kept busy.


Brother Frank,(tall) with Herman on his left, sister Dora on right with brother Adrian

Brother Frank,(tall) with Herman on his left, sister Dora on right with brother Adrian

Photo above; Bye, Bye Holland. I took this photo with my newly bought camera earned from delivering fruit and vegetables to Embassies in the many weeks before. (mainly from American Embassy tips, which were extraordinarily generous,and with hot soup as well)

A sunset in mid ocean. Pity about the rope.

A sunset in mid ocean. Pity about the rope.

Of this photo I remember the on-board film shop developer praising me. I think it might also have been a moon shot. I don’t see any sun, but…it was a long time ago now. The time on board was amazing, a holiday as never before. Can you imagine getting a new menu to chose from each time?  The decisions to make; pork or beef, chicken, and in morning, eggs boiled or fried? There was table tennis, a sweep stake which we always won some money with. And that little orchestra; It was on the Isle of Capri that I found you, forget about the walnuts! The Italians were still doe eyed, sad!

This is a re-fuel stop at Aden. Last port before Freemantle

This is a re-fuel stop at Aden. Last port before Freemantle

The two weeks after leaving Aden to Freemantle was mainly spent by my parents getting their luggage trunks from down the bowels of the ship on deck to make an inventory and make sure we would all be ready for Sydney. My parents wanted us to make a good impression in Australia and only Sunday best would do. The arrival in Freemantle was on a Sunday.  I have to go back a few months  now. A good friend told me; tell your parents to think twice before going to Australia. ‘It is a very boring country and on Sunday everything is closed’.

The arrival in Freemantle on a Sunday proved his warning and I remembered. The only people walking around were the passengers from the boat. It was something like out of the Neville Shute book and film ‘On the Beach’ that was yet to be made. All of us looking at each other, all of us dressed Sunday-best with proper coats and ties, cleanly scrubbed necks and underpants. But, what for?

Freemantle was empty or at least it looked empty. I did hear a cricket score filtering through the blinds, not that I knew a cricket score then, but do know now.




Arrival in Sydney.

Sydney's arrival at last, and my last photo on-board which I developed myself later, hence the 'quality'.

Sydney’s arrival at last, and my last photo on-board which I developed myself later, hence the ‘quality’.




A perfect place, Amsterdam?

January 29, 2015


Is there a place that is perfect? A place that meets all one’s wishes, expectations and needs? A community of men and friendly beast, that lifts spirit and soul, offers shelter and fulfils the most. A Mecca of sun and sated dreams! A final garden seat in which to rest, repose, restore, revitalise life’s joys, offer an escape from the hovels of hurts. Rivulet of small stones and flowing waters, frogs a croaking and barking dogs with vision of fleeting ducks. Is there such a place and can it be found?

We lived for very long periods in few places, countable on the fingers of one hand. Our main departure from having permanently lived in Australia, were the three years spent in Holland. It was between 1973 and 1976. We have very fond memories of that period. A lovely very old farm-house, a thatched roof and giant oak beams spanning the walls of a very large living room. We had a couple of sheep, an obstinate Shetland Pony and brown chickens all on about two and a half acres. In many ways it was idyllic. But, we did go back!

The obstinate Shetlander and foal

The obstinate Shetlander and foal

On the farm in Holland

On the farm in Holland

Now in final years still left to live, we again dream on for possible places to explore. The kids have gone and grandkids getting ready to tackle life. We love and wish them all the best. Retirement was meant for us. The time is ours and we can afford to be somewhat selfish. May the devil take the hindmost is an expression that seems to occur with greater frequency. A final plunge in unknown pools, a journey to ‘the perfect place’. Of course, deep down we know that it does not exists but in dreams alone. The frangipani flowers but only in warm enough climes where tulips and daffodils will not.

Yesterday I took the luxury of dreaming what it would be like to once again pack up and try a dip into the unknown. The unknown being explored in real estate of Amsterdam, specifically its beautiful centre. You know, something around the Westertoren or indeed in the Jordaan.
This is what I found.

Or this one;

Dream on! Alas, it often involves climbing many stairs and at our age? But just imagine.

Those Frugal Dutch Robotics have their use.

October 29, 2014

Look at this video of a machine in Holland that reads the value of containers and then gives you a credit to use inside the supermarket. They have been in use for at least twenty years.

If you wanted to learn about becoming even more frugal, don’t go past The Netherlands which is very easy to do. It is such a small country. A blink and you have passed it. Mind you, small in size, large elsewhere. I know that fitting twenty people in a VW car involves chucking a sixpence in front of Scottish caber throwers. I believe the same would be achieved in Holland. Perhaps 24 Dutchmen would pile in seeing they are much slimmer.

The frugality has flown into all areas of Dutch life, including the disposal of goods at the end of their used lives.

This from Wikipedia:
Facts and figures[edit]

Landfills are used for less than 10% of all waste. Dutch household waste recycling averages to 60% (2006).[citation needed]
Compost (2003):
The separately gathered organic fraction is 50% of household waste, or 1500 kilotonnes. This is processed to 600 kilotonnes of compost, and the end-product partially exported while over annual national consumption.
Paper (2005):
In the Netherlands itself, the recycled amount in 2005 was up to 2.5 million tonnes, which is 75% of annual consumption. By contrast, in the EU, over 50% of paper is recycled.
The Dutch have a lot of experience in recycling, stimulated by lack of free grounds and significant government funding. This expertise is sensibly exported. A 2006 article reports Dutch involvement in reform of recycling in the UK.[1]

Have a read of this.

Elements of the Netherlands National Waste Policy

The Netherlands’ current waste management policy largely focuses on tackling problems at their onset by preventing the production of waste. When waste production cannot be avoided, waste materials are recycled, and non-recyclable waste is disposed via environmentally acceptable means. The main elements of the policy are:

The Netherlands has the highest percentage of household waste recycling in Europe and the lowest level of land filling.
◦Waste Disposal Hierarchy, (aka Landlink’s Ladder)
◦Waste Treatment Standards
◦National Waste Disposal Planning
◦Producer Responsibility
◦Prevention and Recycling Regulations

Waste Disposal Hierarchy

The main ideas in the Netherlands’ waste policies are represented in a hierarchy model, commonly referred to by the Dutch as Landlink’s Ladder. Named after a member of Dutch parliament who designed it, Landlink’s Ladder applies levels of importance to five core waste management components:
◦Product Reuse
◦Waste Recovery


The model serves as a guide for waste management techniques and places prevention at the top of the hierarchy, as most the desirable means. The idea behind prevention is simple: Avoid waste production as much as possible. The second and third components on the hierarchy are product reuse and recovery. These components include packaging and material reuse and the use of waste as fuel.

Fourth on the hierarchy is incineration. All Dutch waste incineration plants produce energy for electricity generation, heating or industrial steam generation. Last, and most avoided on the hierarchy, is the landfill. Waste in the Netherlands is only sent to the landfill after all other options on Landlink’s Ladder have been exhausted.
Because of prevention-of-waste programs, the volume of waste has been growing more slowly than the Netherlands’ Gross Domestic Product since 1995. The main sources of sustainable energy for domestic consumption – which account for 75% of the total amount – are the co-combustion of biomass in power stations, wind energy and energy from waste incineration plants. The Netherlands’ main sources of sustainable energy for domestic consumption – which account for 75 percent of the total amount – are the co-combustion of biomass in power stations, wind energy and energy from waste incineration plants.

Stringent Waste Treatment Standards

The Netherlands practices stringent standards for waste disposal, and landfills are regulated by checking soil and groundwater for pollution. Incinerators are regulated for air emissions, plant construction and the incineration process itself.


Bans on 35 waste-streams from landfills help keep contamination levels low. Any waste-streams that can be recovered or incinerated, such as household waste, organic waste, plastic waste and demolition waste, are not allowed in landfills.

Certain environmental standards are also set to guarantee quality of secondary raw materials made from waste used for building materials, fuel and fertilizer.

The demise of the Car in The Netherlands.

August 5, 2014


Here you go. The answer to planning, more intimacy and a vital caring community.
Have a look at this video. It shows what bike power can achieve.( and no silly helmets nor lycra clad maniacs)

And the Words we use.

May 18, 2014

href=””>Amsterdam Amsterdam[/caption]

When H and I met almost some five decades ago we had no language in common. Of course mere words are superfluous when love is there and the eyes have it all. H had studied German and Swedish at the Finnish university in Jyväskylä but not English, while I had studied nothing. In those early (and many if not most following) days, engaging with just few words was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Ever since we got hooked, we kept in close contact. 😉

Language is a strange beast. I was fifteen when leaving Holland and yet, my dreams are still in Dutch. I also still cannot follow the English way of spelling. Spell me a word phonetically and I get it immediately. Spell a word in the non-phonetics of the Anglo world and I am totally bewildered and lost. The same with adding and subtraction. I have to do it in the Dutch numbers language still. Is there any hope of losing my skeleton of Dutch language? Cutting the umbilical cord of mother’s tongue seems to take a long time. Even though writing or talking in English by mentally translating Dutch ceased a very long time ago, I have yet to feel that I have successfully migrated to the other side of now owning the English lingo.

There are many sayings that I cannot translate back in Dutch as well. English sayings such as; ‘let’s do lunch,’ ‘give us a call,’ ‘see you later, he/she is such a lovely person,’ are sayings that are not used in the Dutch language. Of course approximate words can and will suffice.

This brings into focus what I feel like. Do I feel Australian or am I still feeling very much Dutch burger? Sorry for this exercise in navel gazing but it does sometimes well up on what one’s cultural ties actually mean or pen out to. In my dreams, mainly nightmares, which probably are tied to bladder urgency, I always am in a muddy bombed out scene but can see Amsterdam clearly in the distance. No matter how I struggle, I can never really get close to it. The mud is treacherous and opens up at each step. Yet I can see Amsterdam’s ‘Westertoren’ in the distance. I am always almost there but never reach the city.

The dilemma is also in the use of thought words. When they float by on the rivers of languages, they are sometimes in Dutch or English and often both. Even Finnish, German words float by. Is it part of knowing words away from one’s only known mother tongue? Most people are born with and take on just one language. It is enough to get by with.

Strange that the city is always Amsterdam. I know the city well but have only lived there for a short while. I was hoping that the nightmares would by now have morphed into Sydney or Bowral.

What does one have to do to obtain those?

Dig up your Che Guevara T-Shirts girls and boys

March 5, 2014


The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall.
Che Guevara.
Brilliant, watch the video!
“We’re a few weeks out from the Western Australian Senate election on April 5, a do-over after 1370 votes were lost from the September 7 poll. Greens Senator Scott Ludlam was one of the likely losers of the initial botched attempt, narrowly missing out on a seat – and yesterday he stood in front of Parliament under the guise of inviting Prime Minister Tony Abbott to visit his state, and gave the Coalition one of the roundest shellackings you’re likely to be treated to.

Delivered flatly, calmly, just short of menacingly, his speech covers everything from environmental policy to penalty rates; from school funding to broadband; from the Trans-Pacific partnership to the shark cull. It includes so many incredible lines that it’s hard to pick the best one — but it’s probably the bit where he describes the Coalition’s leadership team as “blundering and technically illiterate”; the bit where he describes Abbott’s relationship with mining billionaires and media oligarchs as “awkward, and kind of revolting”; or the bit where he calls the current Government “a thin, greasy layer in the core sample of future political scientists”.

“Your thoughtless cancellation of half a billion dollars of Commonwealth funding for the Perth light-rail project has been noted,” he says at one point. “Your blank cheque for Colin Barnett’s bloody and unnecessary shark cull has been noted. Your attack on Medicare, on schools funding, on tertiary education; noted. The fact that your only proposal for environmental reforms thus far is to leave Minister Greg Hunt playing Solitaire for the next three years while you outsource his responsibilities to the same Premiere who presides over the shark cull? That’s been noted too.”

He goes on to list the false assumptions that the Coalition has made about his state. “If your image of Western Australia is of some caricatured redneck backwater that is enjoying the murderous horror unfolding on Manus Island, you’re reading us wrong. Every time you refer to us as ‘the mining state’, as though the Western third of our ancient continent is just Gina Rinehart’s inheritance to be chopped, benched and blasted, you’re reading us wrong,” he says. “Western Australians are a generous and welcoming lot, but if you arrive and start talking proudly about your attempts to bankrupt the renewable energy sector, or cripple the independence of the ABC and privatise SBS; if you show up waving your homophobia in people’s faces and start boasting about your ever-more insidious attacks on the trade union movement and all working people, you can expect a very different welcome.”

And it finishes as strongly as it starts. “Prime Minister, you are welcome to take your heartless, racist exploitation of people’s fears and ram it as far from Western Australia as your taxpayer-funded travel entitlements can take you,” he says, in a sentence which you can only imagine read very differently in the first draft. “We want our country back. Through chance, misadventure and, somewhere, a couple of boxes of misplaced ballot papers, we’ve been given the opportunity to take it back: just one seat, next April 5, and a whole lot more in 2016.”

“Game on, Prime Minister. See you out West.””

The running of the XMas Shoppers.

December 6, 2013

There really needs to be an historical investigation on so many different varieties on the theme of Santa. How come there are a dizzying number of personages claiming to be the original Santa. There is the Bishop from Spain with a servant called black Pieter or Pete by its more colloquial name. He travels to Holland on a White Horse. This Bishop wears a mitre with a white beard and despite this neat attire he climbs down sooty chimneys to either bring gifts to good children or a good thrashing to naughty ones.

Today, the 5th of Dec. Saint Nicholas is being celebrated in Holland. There is wild uninhibited dancing on the streets and herrings are being freely traded on the Amsterdam Bourse and Dam Square.

He, the Bishop of Spain as mentioned before, hails (logically) from Spain and he mucks around in Holland on the 5th of December when the good children are scared witless by black Pieter (Pete). However, the presents make up for the scary bits and the Dutch children’s tears soon dry up. In Spain no one has heard about him. A bit like that Dutch fable of someone holding a finger in the dyke; world famous legend except totally unknown in The Netherlands.

Of course in winter the Dutch during Santa’s ride over roofs don’t have fires going. Just imagine the ire from the Bishop singeing his mitre or blackening his beard while clambering down a red-hot chimney? Most Dutch families therefore sit in the dark corner of the room, shivering, while staring at the chimney. His future is in doubt while many are now claiming poor old black Pete to be a product of racism. There is no peace or understanding in traditions anymore. All is tinged with pc. When will it stop?

Then there is an Anglo/American Santa. He rides in a sleigh pulled by reindeer and is hailed from Finland or Disney Land. He humms and does ho, ho, ho. In Finland there are bits of Sibelius’ ‘Finlandia’ thrown in for good measure. In Finland he is also known as Father Christmas not so much as Santa. He brings presents on Christmas Eve. He is a more generous version than the pure Anglo Santa by giving presents to both good and naughty children. The only thrashing in Finland is of the stubborn reindeers. In England of course, especially during Charles Dickens days both children and reindeer got daily beatings, keeping it all in the hallowed tradition of ‘teach the bastards a good lesson’. 😉 It is all so complicated.

They escape blame now by pointing out that the nasty Santa comes from Finland. It is confusing especially when over the last few years children are put on soft bosomed female Santa’s knees. So many bishops have done bad things no one trusts the male clergy of any domination in England. In Australia too, male Santa has been put on the backburner. He is skulking at home and suffers from deep depression. The male Santas now seek counselling but end up kicking the cat and are nasty to bank tellers.

The female Santas in the meantime do a roaring trade with the mums and no doubt get a sling back from the photographer immortalizing the littlies in black and white.

I don’t know the cultural intricacies of Santa/and or Bishops in America. They have a mixture of both and I have heard that turkeys are involved. They traditionally eat turkeys at Thanksgiving but also eat them a few weeks later again, with relish (or without relish) at Christmas. They, the turkeys must be terribly nervous there.

Thanksgiving is when many Americans dance around haystacks and hand bound sheafs of wheat, all spread in neat rows on the stubbled yellow land, not unlike a Vincent’s painting. In the evening they partake of a large oven roasted turkey with a dessert of pairs of pared pears and fresh cream.

Lately, the turkeys have been given presidential pardons so, they go gobble, gobble even lustier, till…come Christmas and Santa holding a sharp cleaver hidden up his sleeve, creeps behind many a hapless (and soon headless) turkey. Turkeys then prefer to lay low hidden in the crofts of old leaning sheds and at the back of very rusty Ford utilities resting underneath old willow trees.

You can tell Santa is getting close when “the running of the shoppers” start. The atmosphere within giant shopping Malls, the holy Mecca for shoppers, crackles with static combustion caused by the frantic fanatical movements of shoppers running manically en masse through shopping aisles. Huge hams are being fought over. Children get smacked ripping into overblown sized bags of Violet Crumble bars while sitting in the trolley on top of mum’s bacon rashes. Husbands look pale, frightened and wait in Japanese cars below in grim concrete parking bunkers. From Germany a report is coming in from someone being beaten senseless by a frozen turkey that was being swung around by an elderly gent, overcome by the relentless jingle bell, jingle bell chiming.

Garlic bread is suffering a late run and so are crumbed calamari, stuffed olives and jars of maple “flavoured’ syrup.
One young lady wearing a T-shirt which had ‘fu*k U’ written on it, went for some early snifters of Christmas spirit. She was found spreadeagled over at ‘smallgoods’ on top of a raw Kiev chicken that had been pre-marinated in Finland Vodka.

Many Santas now do courses in self esteem with the help of white boards and large textures while also throwing pillows at each other. Is it any wonder? Who can blame them/

Dear Santa, give us our daily rye bread with just a slice of smoked salmon. (A Dutch croquette would be nice too.)It all taste so good and nice.

Moments of Conception amongst Dutch Reeds.

September 12, 2013

It can’t be much more comforting than to know a few particulars about one’s conception. I mean we all can imagine what went on. The usual thrashing and ohing and ahing with desperate and frantic hips seeking each other out, but the actual atmosphere, geographic and locational scenery remains mostly hidden. We were just too small, not much more than an ovum hungry tadpole swimming up the creek without a paddle. Most of us including myself were just too young to remember.

This is my mother’s story of how the tadpole met the ovum and became me.

Ecoutez SVP and get a bit closer to your screen. Consider the snoopy neighbours and close the curtains too. Just in case!

It was during a stormy period during late November 1939, before that terrible war, that my mum and dad went for long and arduous bike trip from North East of Holland at Leeuwarden to Amsterdam via the Afsluitdijk which closed the former Zuiderzee turning it from a salt water sea into a nice freshwater lake on which half of the Dutch population still loves to sail around in, even today.

I was told this story by my mother on a few occasions, always accompanied by a cup of tea and almond cake. The almond cake seemed to be part of this exchange of confidentialities but I have never really understood the significance of it. The almond cake had a soft inner core not unlike the inner core of a pregnant woman. Perhaps that is the missing link! My mother loved reading detective stories especially tinged with romantic interludes.

Anyway, it was still during those ardent first years of my parents’ marriage that I can well imagine, indeed believe, the veracity of my mother’s recalling of events of what followed on that stormy day with both pedalling like mad against the westerly storm howling over this barren tree-less 32 kilometre dyke with angry waves leaping up against the protective clay and rock barrier. Any inattention or lapse in reverence to the elements and my parents could have been snatched by the sea. I would not be here to tell you my mother’s tale of those few minutes of my heroic conception.

My mother told me she had packed a lunch of cheese and jam sandwiches with a crispy apple to be consumed afterwards at Den Oever, on the other side of this unforgiving dyke and about a sturdy two to three hours from their destination. Den Oever has a few kilometres of a reed growing wilderness. Well, wilderness is a strong description for Holland, but in any case a kind of protective barrier against the wind. ”It was there where we stopped and had our sandwiches,” my mum told me, with another bite of the almond cake followed by a sip of tea.

“We had thrown our bikes in between the tall reeds and were well hidden. Your father had put his long woollen coat down for us to keep a bit warm even though we were not really cold having wrestled for almost 4 hours against the storm. Out thighs were tingling and, if anything, we were flushed with all that exercise of relentlessly moving our legs pushing the bike chain around the wheel into our propulsion towards the Amsterdam destination.”

”We needed the lunch and were ravenous, also strangely excited. After the last of the jam sandwich was devoured I took the two apples out and gave one to your father. (Another almond cake bite) Your father looked at me, I looked back, and without even a first bite, we embraced each other in glorious happiness.”

”We were so healthy then”, my mum regaled pensively. We ate the apples afterwards,” she added, as always her practical and economic side prevailing!

“And that’s how you were conceived, Gerard.” “I am sure.”

So, over seventy three years later I can now sit on a saggy sofa with my lovely Helvi, write these words and take long walks with Milo.