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Summer of Sports II


Yesterday I ranted about the weeks of sports that were nearly coming to an end. Last night saw the closing ceremony of the Olympics and that wasn’t half bad, with Eric Idle (singing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life), Brian May and The Who. The oldies still seemed to be going strong and after a rendering of My Generation the Olympic Games were officially over. I heaved a sigh of relief. Now everything would be getting back to normal.

However, I should have known better. This morning when I switched on the radio, there it was again. Topic number one was still the Olympics. All our athletes are to have a big party in Den Bosch on their return. They will be received by the mayor, everyone that could get a day off and, of course, the collected press. The athletes are now all called heroes. I ask you: HEROES!

In my opinion a hero is someone who does something really brave at great risk to his own life. To be really sure I also looked it up on Wikipedia and that says: hero (male) and heroine (female) came to refer to characters who, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, display courage and the will for self sacrifice—that is, heroism—for some greater good of all humanity. So when I hear the word HERO, I think of someone who rescues a child from a drain, hauls a cow from a ditch or turns over a sheep that has somehow managed to roll on its back even if it plays havoc with his already wonky back or dickey ticker.

A hero is not a spoilt brat with an uppity accent who has been trained to do a few great tricks and gets a nice trip to a wonderful event to boot even if he doesn’t win anything. Amateurs, my foot! Those athletes are not amateurs by a long shot.

It’s nice to see we got quite a few medals, even gold ones, but please, can you stop going on about it! I’ve had it with the Olympics. I don’t want to know that our HEROES will return to Holland by train and that, once they arrive in the country, they will all be put in a special orange train where Nick & Simon (a very famous Dutch singing duo) will play for them. Oh, goodie, goodie .....!

No doubt we shall be plagued by everything again this evening. In length, on both radio AND television. Deep into the night. And then tomorrow all the criticisms will start and that will last at least another week and between all those reports, they tell us the new soccer season has already started.

Did I mention I hate sports?


Summer of Sports


This morning I woke up to yet another sports bulletin. Someone was moaning the fact that the Summer Olympics are nearly over, but there appeared to be a light on the horizon, because the football season is nearly on us. Oh, joy!

The summer started with soccer. The Netherlands lost big time and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Soccer was followed by the Tour the France. I don´t think we managed to win anything there either, but every normal radio and television programme was scratched because sport is, of course, much more important than anything else.

And then it was time for the Olympics. Over the past two weeks it became worse and worse. It seems there are now 24 hours a day of radio and television programmes on the Olympics.

There are two things you should know. First of all, I love listening to the radio. Usually I start listening in the morning and while I am getting ready for work I listen to the news. When I come home from work I switch on the telly for some more news. I love listening and watching programmes about books, art and  topics of general interest while I´m doing the housework. I´m not a very good housekeeper and I always procrastinate when I need to do something even remotely resembling housework, but if I know there is a nice programme on the radio, it´s not nearly so bad to have to do the washing up.

The second thing is, that I absolutely hate sport. I don´t mind other people enjoying it, but please, please, please, don´t bore me with it! And don´t do away with all the programmes I like! It’s been weeks now since there was anything decent on the radio or the television. And it’s not just the matches and the games I hate. I can actually understand why people like watching those. But it’s the stupid talks before and after them. And the celebrities who want to show off their knowledge of everything to do with sports.

Please, when all this is over, can we have a special book week? A whole week long with nothing else but programmes about books on the radio and great films and series on the television. Only one week compared to the six we had of sports. That is not too much to ask is it?



Yesterday for some reason the subject of Napoleon came up in a lesson and I asked my 12-year-old pupils if they knew who Napoleon was. Here are some of the answers:

- It's a kind of sweet.

- I think he had something to do with the discovery of the potato.

- No, I'm sure it was Charlemagne.

- He died in a hut on an island.

- He definitely had something to do with the Spanish Aramada.

- I think he always had his hand in his coat pocket.

- He was a midget.

- He invented street names.

- And surnames.

- He killed his wife.

- I'm sure it's some kind of sweet!

- He went to a far-off country with a big army.

- I think he was a captain on a ship.

We've got a long way to go ...... *sigh*


Autumn Holidays 2011 - Culinary Delights

England is empty. Well, as empty as it can be on a sunny Saturday in October. Even the M25, usually nicknamed the largest carpark in England, is nearly devoid of traffic. It takes me only four hours to get from Harwich to Devizes and that includes a stop at a Reading service station for an English breakfast, the famous heart attack on a plate.
There are four choices I can make. The ordinary English breakfast, the full English breakfast, the traditional English breakfast en the really scary-looking breakfast bap, which looks like a pasty, unbaked bun with a sausage, a rasher of bacon and a tomato filling.
I decide to be adventurous and go for the full English breakfast which consists of a rasher of bacon, no less than two sausages, a grilled tomato, two pieces of fried bread, a hash brown, baked beans and two fried eggs. Written down like this it seems much worse than it really is. I decide against the baked beans. I have never understood why the British enjoy something like that for breakfast. Or why they think baked beans on toast is tasty. I tried it once, but that was once too many.
So I tell the pimply youth behind the counter to leave them out. He stares at me blankly for a second as if he hasn’t got a clue why anyone can leave out a delicacy like that, but then it seems to dawn on him what I mean and he asks me if I would like two have two hash browns instead of one then. I nod, doubting if I will eat it, but he probably wouldn’t understand if I refused that as well and besides, he showed initiative and you should never nip something like that in the bud.
He fishes a few bangers from a tin which is kept hot au-bain-marie, scoops up a rather greasy rasher of bacon, two pieces of even greasier toast and the two hash browns, and tops it all off with the grilled tomato. Then he goes to the back and adds two eggs, after which he covers the plate with a rather dirty plastic cover. The till is at a nearby coffee counter so I really need the cover to to keep my breakfast even moderately warm, because lots of people are busy ordering fancy coffees. Coffees that take ages to prepare, cost a fortune and taste no better than what I get from the coffee machine at the school where I work. However, someone, somewhere, must be making a vast amount of money from selling the stuff. I think I might have chosen the wrong career.
When I finally have everything I ordered and have paid for it, it appears there is no cutlery at the next counter. The lady ahead of me complains loudly. Of course, there should be knives and forks but I don’t think there is any need to vent this so loudly, particularly not when the guy who has to take care of it makes every effort to remedy the situation.
When I’m ready to tuck into my breakfast I can still hear her complain loudly about everything that’s wrong in this place to her rather browbeaten hubby. She complains about the food, the taste, the chair she is sitting on and the temperature in the dining area, which to her taste is much too low. What do you want, woman? You are in a service station on the M4. Be glad there are clean loos and more or less hot food.
Granted, apart from the quantity, the breakfast is nothing to write home about. The fried bread is much too greasy and tastes faintly chemical, the tomato is unripe and not hot enough and the rasher of bacon is too greasy. The bangers on the other hand are absolutely perfect and the eggs are exactly right as well so I feast on those and leave the rest on the plate. The coffee with which I top everything off is not bad either, so after my little stop I’m ready to tackle the M4 again without falling asleep at the wheel. With little regret I leave the woman still complaining to her hubby. Hey, I know it’s not the Ritz. It’s a motorway service station and I never expect much from one of those, but it could have been a lot worse.
The rest of my journey down into Wiltshire is uneventful. In fact I arrive so early that I decide to do some grocery shopping in Devizes before going to the farm, where I rented a cottage. The sun is shining, the roads are mostly free of traffic, it’s sunny and I have a whole week before me in which to relax and laze about. What more can anyone wish for?


 You know you’re back in The Netherlands when

- the guy at the customs office instructs you to wear your seatbelt (mind you, he’s not a policeman and he’s not my keeper) even though his colleagues have put you in a lane where the window is on the wrong side of the car, so there is no way in hell you can hand the guy your passport if you have a seatbelt on. A friendly suggestion on his part would have been all right. It was the way he said it.

- you find a notice in your letterbox telling you there is a package for you at the post office which you can collect the next day after 10am, but when you go to collect it, the package isn’t there and the idiot teen behind the counter treats you like a piece of dirt when you are annoyed and want to know when it will be there. Of course, how did I have the audacity to ask?

- you are surprised when a person behind a counter treats you like a human being.

- the people in the restaurant at the table next to you are speaking so loudly you can’t hear yourself think.

- your ears are being bombarded with the voice of the singer Jan Smit everywhere you go (and believe me, he’s a very bad singer).

- you have to wait for a long time before you can buy a ticket at the safari park and people are constantly trying to jump the queue and bump your legs with their push chairs.

- car drivers in a car park where there are lots of children running around want you to drive at least 50 mph and start blowing their horns when you refuse to go any faster than the 15 mph you’re allowed to.

- you experience the same thing on the highway where the maximum is 80 mph and they want you to go even faster by signalling with their headlights and tailgating.

- you get the feeling that even in these troubled times you’d rather live in London.

- you break out in a rash again and are back to being a grumpy old woman.



A while ago I went to a big pop concert at Ahoy in Rotterdam, a big complex of concert and conference halls of which the biggest can hold thousands of people. Sting was playing and I had decided to brave the crowds. Usually I hate places where there are lots of people, but sometimes you just can’t avoid it, especially when you’re a Sting fan and want to see him perform live.

Driving into Rotterdam isn’t very pleasurable at the best of times, so I arrived slightly disheveled but fortunately still in one piece. Because I always leave much too early, envisioning terrible traffic jams or worse, I arrived much too early as well, but that gave me the advantage of being able to park quite close to the entrance.

On occasions like these, where I sometimes have to wait a while, I always bring a book. I can’t remember what I read that day, but I spent a nice half hour reading.

When the hall opened, I was one of the first people to get in. With a few other early birds I was ushered into the hall where the concert was being held. The seats were built like in a football stadium (they have big sports events there as well), not something I like very much, because I was high up in one of the outer rings and that doesn’t help my fear of heights, so it would never have been my personal choice, but my attending the concert had been a last minute decision and there hadn’t been many seats left. Those that had been, had obviously not been the best ones, but who cares? I was going to hear Sting play live.

Because it had been a spur of the moment thing, none of my friends had been able to come, but I don’t really mind going somewhere on my own. However in this case I started to have second thoughts about this when the hall started filling up rapidly and the seats around me were being taken one by one.

Either my backside had become bigger over the years or the seats had become much narrower or both, but the fact was that the red plastic seat was not very comfortable and it became even worse when the seat on my left was taken by one of those men who have to show how really manly they are by sitting with their legs wide open. Maybe their unmentionables need a lot of fresh air, but the things is, for someone like me, who values a bit of personal space, something like that is very annoying.

I don’t like being touched by strangers if it’s not absolutely necessary and I certainly don’t like a stranger’s leg being pressed against mine for the duration of a concert, so I wriggled a bit sideways, careful not to touch the person on the other side, who fortunately was just like me and remained in his own space. I hoped, that by doing this, the guy on the left would understand he was being a bit rude, but it appeared he was absolutely clueless, because once I had moved out of his way a bit, his knee came my way even further. The lady on his other side didn’t seem to mind, because he was doing the same to her, but she was probably his wife or girlfriend.

If I had known the guy I would probably have made some sort of a joke and asked him to move a bit, but I didn’t know him from Adam and I’m definitely not very good with rude people like that, so I kept quiet, hoping he would change his position after a while, which of course he didn’t. He remained exactly as he was for the duration of the concert which took over two hours, and spoiled a great deal of my fun, because every time I wriggled out of his way, he seemed to think I did that to give him more space.

Sting was very good, as always, although I envied him his personal space, which he seemed to have a lot of. By the end of the evening I was thinking of murder, but I got my revenge when we were shuffling towards the exit.

Totally by accident of course I had to take a step backwards and the high heel of my shoe landed straight in the middle of my tormentor’s foot. I heard a satisfactory “ouch” behind me, but pretended not to notice.

Sometimes I’m not very nice. Especially not when somebody spoils a Sting concert for me.


No Danger

Did you ever get the feeling that you got trapped in the middle of a Stephen King novel?

His books always start with quite ordinary situations, ordinary people going about their business, doing the things they usually do. Working in shops, bars, restaurants, schools and offices. In short, everything in his books is always so much like ordinary everyday life that anything scary which happens later is made all the more scarier because of that.

Last week an enormous chemical plant blew up at about fifteen miles from where I live. It started at about 2.30pm and I didn’t get to know about it until a friend of mine called me to ask if I was all right. It seemed the fire was totally out of control by then and explosions were seen and heard in rapid succession.

Fifteen miles is too far away to hear explosions from where I live, so I ran upstairs and from there I was able to see the fire from the spare room window. The sky was tinged orange and every time there was new explosion I could see the flare going up in the sky.

Back down again to switch on the telly and sure enough, live reports were being broadcast. They were telling us to keep doors and windows closed and to remain calm and keep watching the broadcast. The wind was in my direction, so at that time nobody knew more than that a big black billowing toxic cloud was heading my way and of course the way of the whole city of Dordrecht with its nearly 120,000 inhabitants. But, the presenter told us reassuringly, there is no need to worry, because there is no toxic material in the air.

Chemical plant? Big black clouds? Fire out of control and the wind in my direction and no danger? Yeah, right! Of course there was every reason to worry. Not because of the fire, because there is a very wide river between Dordrecht and Moerdijk where the fire was raging, but nobody seemed to know exactly what chemicals were stored in the plant, so obviously nobody knew what chemical reactions would be triggered in a fire.

I briefly considered getting into the car and driving away, but where could I go? South was out of the question, because that’s where the fire was, besides, by that time there was an enormous backlog of traffic because they had more or less closed down the motorway in that direction. North then? But no, that was where the cloud was headed and according to the news reports nobody had any idea how far and how wide it would spread. I could go east, but I don’t know many people there I could go to with the cat, which I obviously would have to take as well. Under no circumstances was I going to leave him behind. So I decided to stay until I knew more.

In the course of the evening the situation became worse. There was even talk of evacuation, but on the island where I live, they won’t start that until it’s absolutely necessary. I sincerely doubt if they could actually evacuate all the people off the island in case of a calamity, because there are only three motorways leading off it. Two across large bridges and one through a tunnel. There is a fourth route across a smaller and older bridge and there are a few small ferries, but nothing big enough to get thousands of people out at the same time. I decided ‘they who are in command’ were trying desperately to avoid people from panicking and were silently keeping their fingers crossed and hoping that things would not become as bad as could be feared.
Round about midnight the fire brigade started putting a foam blanket over the fire to get it under control and this caused more toxic clouds but considering the weather conditions it was the only thing they could do.

By then there was a decidedly nasty smell which could distinctly be noticed even with all the doors and windows closed, but all the roads from and to the island had by this time been closed down. People on Twitter were sending out the strangest messages, so I stayed up and watched the reports going on on the television, keeping my fingers crossed that at least a few people knew what they were doing.

They got it out. After a few hours most of the danger was over. It took the fire brigade until well into the next morning to extinguish everything completely, but by that time there were no new black clouds. I finally went to bed at about 3am, when the worst of the nasty smell was gone.

What we all breathed in that night remains a guess. The reports from ‘those in charge’ remained very evasive and we all have to believe there was never any danger at all. I guess we’ll know more in a few years time, when people who lived under the smoke from the fire will be getting strange diseases or start sprouting extra heads, which of course will have absolutely nothing to do with that at all.


Generation Gap

I am Dutch, and we Dutch are not very polite, at least not in the eyes of some other peoples. Maybe it’s because we are known throughout the world as a hard-working no-nonsense sort of people, who can’t be bothered with polite niceties like “excuse me” and “please” but this is never a problem with other Dutch people, because they behave just the same, apart from old crones like me who can still not get used to the way people behave nowadays.

I blame the soap series, really. We have on in particular here called “Goede Tijden, Slechte Tijden” (Good Times, Bad Times) and when I got back into teaching 11 or 12 years ago I was slightly amazed at the language the students were using. When I discovered what their favourite soap was I decided to watch a few times and found out the language there was just as bad as what I heard at school. Of course I realized I was by that time reaching the top of the hill, so I decided I was not letting it get me down, but I decided there and then that I would never stoop to using such language myself.

Now that I’m over the hill I still hold true to that principle en funny enough the young whippersnappers seem to accept that from me too. We have agreed to disagree, so to speak and I realized there will always be a generation gap, which is as it should be.

I remember when I was about 15 my father was in his early 50s like I am now and he had ideas and did things I could never imagine me doing ever in my life. And so right I was. I still don’t do the things he did, even now that I am the same age as he was then, because whatever has happened in the meantime I am still of a different generation than he was at the time.

I’m wearing clothes my mum wouldn’t have wanted to be seen dead in and I will never ever wear the stuff she was wearing when she was my age. When I was younger I always had this terrible vision of having to end up like my mum, with tightly permed curls and good conservative clothes, which make you look like 110 even if you are still 50.

So when I look at my students and hear them talk their way nowadays, I just smile and remember how absolutely horrified my parents were when I used the word “shit” for the first time in my life. Of course, when my mum was watching The Towering Inferno and heard Steve McQueen say the same thing, she thought it was rather funny. Double standards no doubt, because she probably thought something like that was rather funny for a guy, but it was not at all ladylike.

Now when going to London with a group of fifteen year old students, like I do every year, it’s always very hard to bring it home to them that the things that are quite acceptable here in Holland are not done in England, well, at least not where my generation is concerned. For instance, here it is perfectly acceptable to shout out the word f*** at the slightest mishap (except I should add in my classroom) and every year it takes everything I got to persuade them not to use it once we cross the Channel. Every year I seem to succeed and they don’t use it (at least not when I’m present), but last year on our school trip the worst thing happened.

It was a drizzly Sunday afternoon and we had arranged to go to Camden Town to visit the markets, which is always a great experience to everyone. We usually give the students an hour or two to have a good look around before the coach returns and this time it was no different than any other year.
We instructed the students to stay together in small groups, hold on to their bags and not do anything we wouldn’t do and sent them off. We settled down in a noisy pub because anything is better than the hustle and bustle of a crowded market and awaited everyone’s return while enjoying a nice pint and a pub meal.

By five o’clock everyone started returning, the coach arrived on time and everything seemed to have been going without a glitch, until the last group of boys returned with the biggest one in the lead sporting an enormous grin.

“I have a new tattoo!” he grinned proudly.

At first I thought he was making a joke, thinking he had one of those stick-on things that come off in the shower, but then he pulled up the sleeve of his tee-shirt and I could see he had a real one, a big black letter “F”, for his favourite football club Feijenoord.

I got visions of livid parents coming to school bearing hatchets to decapitate every teacher they could lay their hands on and the only thing I could think of uttering was: “F*************!!!”

Suddenly the verbal generation gap was not so big anymore after all!

Summer Fun

The last Monday before the summer holidays. 90 degrees in the shade and I’m awfully glad I brought my straw hat. Funny enough my students don’t laugh when I put it on in the sweltering heat. They even look a bit envious. Good. I’m envious of their perfect bodies, their perfect tans, their perfect teeth and the fact that they are allowed to show so much naked flesh nowadays without feeling at all uncomfortable. Even if I had a perfect body I would never feel at ease like that.

My parents, especially my mother, came from a strictly religious background, and when I was young even wearing trousers wasn’t really done; at least not when you had to go to school, although it was something else when we went on holiday to the seaside. There we were allowed to wear shorts or even bathing suits.

Oh, that very first bathing suit! I remember it was red with a little white sailing boat stitched on the front. My mother had knitted it herself. Just think of it, a knitted woolen bathing suit. Of course it was a perfect fit until you went into the water, because then it began to sag. When you came out of the sea the thing was so saturated with water that the bottom immediately dropped down to the back of your knees and the whole thing filled with water as well so that you looked like an over-sized red bumble bee. With a super large bottom like that the shoulder straps became twice as long and the top dropped down to your waist. I know, I was three or four, so that didn’t really matter, but it must have been a funny sight.

Fortunately my dad never took a picture of that, because pictures at that time always had to be perfect. Film was expensive and prints too, so every picture had to be posed for and me and my sister had to stand for hours in the same position until my dad had got the lighting right. This usually made me look stiff and stilted, while sis often looked fuzzy, because she didn’t like to stand still for a long time.

When I got older, I got my first real bathing suit. Dark blue with white seagulls. I remember it very well, because I was so happy with it. It was made of some new-fangled spandex, nylon with a bit of elastic woven through and, oh great miracle, your bottom now remained perfectly covered. I never became a big fan of swimming, mainly because the water was rather wet and I didn’t like sand getting everywhere, but swimming costumes were never the problem anymore.

Although, there was my first bikini. Orange that one was. It wouldn’t have been all that bad, if the inside of the bra hadn’t been made of some kind of plastic that became hard as a rock when it got cold and wet in the water. Now that was really uncomfortable, beside the fact that bikinis were never my cup of tea. The material it was made of was not like it is nowadays and the thing still lost much of its shape in the water, so it was very easy to lose the bikini bottom while swimming, or finding your bra covering your ears like great big orange earmuffs when you jumped into the water.

No, I never developed a great fondness for swimming and now that I’m over the hill and will probably never be able to see my feet again, I know I will not possess a bathing suit ever again. I do like to be beside the seaside now and again, properly covered up however, preferably in a sort of tent of ginormous proportions, a big hat and loads of suntan oil factor 2000.

“Don’t you find driving on the left-hand side of the road is terribly hard?” a friend of mine asked, just before I was leaving for my holidays in Wiltshire last summer.

“Actually, it isn’t,” I told him, and of course I was right, for driving on the left is not nearly as difficult as you would think. This is mainly the result of the fact that on most roads (apart from the narrowest country roads) you either have right of way or you haven’t, and when there is a complicated junction they build a roundabout.

Everyone on the roundabout has right of way, so that’s easy enough to remember and at the bigger ones they usually put traffic lights as well so that makes it even easier. It takes a bit of getting used to the very small roundabouts that consist of nothing more than a big white dot in the middle of the crossing, but after two or three narrow escapes because you did something wrong, you quickly feel confident enough to brave anything in the British road system. That is, until one eventful day you have to pass through Swindon and discover the by all Brits dreaded Magic Roundabout.

The adjective Magic has not been added lightly as you will soon discover that you need all the magic powers of Gandalf and Dumbledore combined to be able to cross it. I’m sure the dangerous Mines of Moria or the slopes of Caradhras are not nearly as scary as having to cross here. The whole thing was probably conceived after a night’s hard drinking while still under the influence of the mother of all hangovers. I’m sure that if they had built something like that at Dover or Harwich, no foreigner would ever have dared venture entering England again.

The roundabout consists of a combination of no less than six roundabouts at a junction of five roads. When you have to go straight on you have to find a kind of zigzag route past at least three of the white dots.

The first time I had to accomplish this feat I think I must have just pressed the accelerator and closed my eyes, only opening them again when I miraculously arrived safely on the other side, the sound of blaring car horns still ringing in my ears. I took a detour on the way home and am not planning to go there ever again.

Funny enough not many accidents happen on the Magic Roundabout, because I think not even the locals have been able to figure out how to negotiate it, so everyone probably drives extremely carefully (except the odd foreigner who is completely out of his depth).

No, driving on the left is not hard at all, that is as long as you can manage to avoid Swindon, or the M25, or the circular road around Cambridge (where I once spent an exciting two hours trying to get off, never managing to find Cambridge proper). I’m already looking forward to the fateful day when I will not be able to avoid passing Spaghetti Junction, something to be experienced near Birmingham, I believe.

No, I don’t mind driving on the left, but there are some places I avoid at all costs.



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