Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Why's It So Bright Outside ?

I went to the seaside yesterday , on a tram * . Well , nearly .

In typical fashion , I chose the day when the line was being given its annual overhaul so I and hundreds of others were de-trammed for the last four stops and packed in a bus ( you notice I'm using the singular here . )
Still , I saw a merry-go-round ,

 ate some chips on the prom.

and stood on tiptoe to see the sea . But the really extraordinary thing was ... the sun was shining .

Because apart from that , August's been a bit of a washout , literally .

Still , my tomatoes are ripening .

And Friend took me out for lunch on my birthday .

Great conversation , delicious food and a candle ... and yes, it was this dark at one o'clock on Monday . Something to do with the monsoon season apparently .

 But , oddly , the sun still seems to be shining today and I'm going outside again

*At Den Haag's Central train station , there's a tram that goes out to Holland's most popular and iconic beach resort , Scheveningen , rolling through the city center and suburbs of increasingly ornate elaborate , over-balconied seaside  villas.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Ears Like A Horse...

The coffee break is , apart from the salary , the best thing about working . Once you retire you'll need to find a substitute  .
You know how a horse can point one ear to locate a sound ?  Well , when you don't meet so many people  every day , you'll find you need to develop something similar . Think Lady Bracknell ...  actually if you've ever had or worked with small children  , you already have .

 However busy your hairdresser's is you're never really going to hear anything truly entertaining , holiday destinations apart .
In good Supermarkets , the queues are not allowed to be longer than three customers anymore , so there's less time to  'news-gather'/earwig .  

The local paper's quite good ... I know , for instance , that  they're collecting money for new gnomes for the city farm  and which children have got their swim diploma . Or that if you buy a new bra in Stien's lingerie shop , you'll get a discount if you donate your old one ( they''ll send it to Rumania ... no , I can't think why either ) . But our paper's  going on holiday for a couple of weeks .

Which just leaves listening shamelessly to people in cafes or trains

" I'm allergic to everything . I can't help it , I can't eat anything at all ... I don't eat chicken , I don't eat beef , I don't eat pork . I only eat mince ." said the woman in yellow ... but then the bus arrived .

 There was the group of women sitting next to me as we all ate sandwiches in the park , who were discussing some their exes   ,  "Well , once he said that , I could see the message behind the message ... "   Everyone in a quarter mile radius nodded ...

Or the young girl on the train chronicling her food poisoning over the weekend to her mates , "I'd only had a few vodkas and a Berenburg earlier on Friday and Joris had made something with coconut and cider but I threw up the pea soup straight away on Saturday . Even the tiramisu made me queasy ... "...

In fact , sometimes there doesn't even need to be a conversation .
A young girl waiting for a train in Utrecht was carrying a large bag printed with "Awesome Shoes Take You To Awesome Places "... I hope they had , she was now wearing flip-flops and a BandAid .

I know , I'm just nosy ...

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

An Eighteenth Century Grand Tour Updated

By dint of working through endless weekends over the winter , supervising the rehousing of her firm's headquarters to larger premises the other side of town , Youngest Daughter earned two extra weeks holiday this summer .The offer of a flat in Budapest , a friend's desire to go to the Opera in Vienna and a love of Italian food ...  and she was off on a 2016 version of the Grand Tour .

I'd get 'phone calls from minor airports  , Alpine river banks , libraries , forests or street corner cafes ( preferably next to a tram line )  .
She was having the time of her life ,  and not even a superfluity of " potatoes and pig's elbows " on Munich lunch menus was daunting .  A couple of German castles revived her spirits swiftly .

The fact that Prague smelled of forests , had a municipal diving center in the middle
of the city and that the people all seemed to love living there made her want to stay for ever .

A huge park in Salzburg , breakfasts in Budapest , chocolate cakes in Austria , the Kunshistorisches Museum in Vienna and  having the Vermeers to herself ...  surviving the Marriage of Figaro in a 38C degree Opera House  , ...  the apericena in Venice with Aperol spritzers and buffets of endless delight  , five hours in Florence's Uffizi and some risotto ,

the market and food in Milan and a treasure hunt in its Salvation Army thrift shop made it all most uplifting and every bit as educational as any Grand Tour could hope to be  .

The first card is a self portrait of Sofonisba Anguissola  , "Her eyes look like mine in a Viennese cake shop "
And the second is Agnolo di Cosimo's  portrait of Giovanni de'Medici as a child in the Uffizi ... is it possible to adopt a postcard ?

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Well , At Least There's Not A Hosepipe Ban

It didn't rain on Thursday so I sat on the balcony and took stock .

The lavender hasn't died . The two cherry tomato plants are looking pale but brave and when I got down on hands and knees  and squinted , I counted five tomatoes . One this size , O and four this size   .

My Wildflower Plantation , a large-ish earthenware pot , sewn with a packet of Bee and Butterfly attracting plant seeds that the housing association gave each of us  this year

 has burst forth into one white flower too tiny to identify ,  two pink ditto  , a pretty purple sweetpea affair and a cornflower .

 Local bees seem to be reluctant to venture forth  however , though I have seen two hoverflies doing their silent best to fill the gap .

Never mind , with a balcony 10 by 6 foot , I was hardly hoping to be self-sufficient but yesterday's paper has a large article on page 2 telling us that due to flooding and hailstorms spinach , paksoi , lettuce and rocket will be in short supply till September , at least ... and I'm already a little tired of carrots ...

 It's chicken barley soup for supper and a kiwi fruit .

P.S. The plant pots and labels aren't mine . Not even I am  that optimistic . They were stacked ín a corner of the Orangery in Utrecht's Hortus , where the cactii were sheltering from the rain .  

Monday, 27 June 2016

Why Would Anyone Choose To Shrink ?

When I go into town during the day , I'm passed by throngs of students all talking about everything under the sun . Chinese , German , Iranian , Spanish , Canadian , Italian , Dutch and Danes . They're exchanging ideas , networking , chatting each other up ... learning about the world and all its possibilities . Learning about each other , how to work with each other and how to get on .

 That Europe consists of a lot more than hen nights in Amsterdam , making out in Magaluf or getting frustrated in a traffic jam on the way to a tent in Brittany . That there are many different ways to organise  train networks , schools , theaters , hospitals , hotels and libraries . That not everyone remembers the 20th century the same ... 

These students aren't the future elite , our college is the equivalent of an old polytechnic , but what they pick up in the next few years will affect daily life for us all for years . 

British students need to be able to join them , they need to have the freedom to get work experience in Bremen or Bologna . To sofa-surf in Munich or Lisbon or to commute in Salzburg . To eat something ribsticking in Budapest and to swing through Antwerp in a tram .

I want this for my grandchildren and their friends . But thanks to Brexit , it's just got a lot harder .

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

I've Been Left Behind ...


Do you actually like  roasted cauliflower ?
Or is it just me ? Perhaps I didn't cook it very well ... but I come from a generation that ate cauliflower decently cloaked in cheese sauce or later , influenced by Mahdur Jaffrey , as Gingery Cauliflower soup . I watch young cooks now making couscous from it ... and rather wonder why they don't just use couscous .

But then , I'm post Fanny Craddock and pre no-carbs . We post-war children were encouraged to eat everything in sight by grannies who'd battled through rationing , and experimented on by Festival of Britain mothers who wildly added gherkins or pineapple chunks to things .
My generation  , armed with Elizabeth David and complete ignorance , burst with brio into a world of olive oil and After Eight mints .
I have memories of cheerfully deciding to make Beef Wellington for a dinner party ... I was 20 , I think , and only had a rough idea of how to make pastry but we and the guests survived ... though both I and the beef had turned grey with worry by the time it was served  .
Still , we all learnt and ventured into moussaka , chilli and kebabs . Chicken became clichéd , cod scarcer , rabbit stew a curiosity ...
 I ran away to Spain and lived there for twenty years , so I learnt how to clean and cook fish , make tortillas and hearty lentil stews and what to do with pigs trotters  . Then we came to Holland and ate lots of good cheese and searched for a decent tomato and non-watery cucumber . More and more North Africans appeared and they opened shops , filled with olives and feta , proper tomatoes and chick peas . The world slowly became more organic , bread better and pineapples broke free from their tins . Had it stopped there , all would have been well ... 

But somehow or other , the last year or two have taken another giant step forward ;
 gluten's bad , milk's bad if it's been anywhere near a cow , carbohydrates are unmentionable in polite society , butter was bad but is now good , and this week's taste sensation appears to be ice cream made from coconut milk , green tea powder and vanilla .
 And anyone worth their salt can perform miracles with cauliflowers . Well , anyone except me ...

Still , I'll just celebrate a recent brunch , simply and perfectly delicious  and eaten in the best of company :  perfectly fresh free range eggs with green asparagus 'soldiers ' to dip in ,  and  freshly baked , still warm Turkish rolls from a nearby baker .  And best of all , not cooked by me .
* A rather tatty recipe leaflet given out in 1928 by the Dutch Confederation of Potato Merchants , containing 90 recipes ranging from mashed potatoes to mashed potatoes with cheese ...

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Who Knew ?

Had someone told me a few years ago that the best way to widen one's circle of acquaintances was to hang over a bridge with a handful of similarly idle adults , exchanging breathless updates on a bird's nest , I wouldn't have believed them .

The eight eggs have become three plump fledgelings and are , as of today , allowed out of the nest , carefully shepherded by both parents  . The gloomier among us who predicted instant disaster in the form of ingestion by huge fish or being turned into mincemeat by outboard motor have been proved wrong .
The woman who won't feed them even a crust of bread in case they become "too reliant on Fast Food" is being ignored by another fan who buys them biscuits .
And the man who knows everything now says he knew they'd have three , because coots always do  ... even though at first he'd said it was a ( adjective deleted ) stupid place to have nested and no good would come of it .
And , so far , I've managed not to drop my camera in the water  .
I've only lived here for twenty years so can't hope to know everyone yet  , unlike an extremely elderly neighbour who pointed out a wizened old chap in a scootmobile to me , yesterday , "He was my mother's milkman , you know " .
But now  I'll be able to say in fifty years time , "That's the Gwyneth Paltrow woman of us waterfowl fanciers , you know ."

Of course I have been doing other things , too .

The Annual Scarf gets a centimeter longer every day . It was inspired , in part , by this poster

And by a couple of recently painted  houses in Groningen

Oh , and talking of posters ...

I now find myself considering every cat I come across ...  The power of advertising .