Saturday, 31 December 2016

Let's Draw A Veil Over 2016

And  make 2017 the year when everyone is nice to one another . Everyone .  All year long .
I'll raise a glass to that . Happy New Year !

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Having A Day Off

Having spent yesterday afternoon writing cards and finding the tree decorations  , I was all Christmas-ed out this morning .

Though our Keep-Fit trainer did spend today's session singing 'The Snowman '  to encourage us to achieve miracles of balance and bendiness , it failed .  Instead we commandeered all the exercise balls and sat in a circle , eating Kopiko coffee toffees and giggling  about clothes we'd worn in the '60s . Except for the Class Swot , of course , who was lying on a yoga mat doing press-ups ... and giggling ( fortunately not with a toffee in her mouth . It's been a while since any of us has done a First Aid course. ) .
We're all going to have to start behaving like grownups tomorrow  . But until then  ... 

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

No Eye Candy

Blogger or Google-thing or whoever now runs the world seems to have decided that I can't upload any more photos here .
So you'll just have to imagine what Groningen looked like last Saturday ... twinkly .
And rather busy . And full of large people carrying huge parcels . And crowded with people cycling past with Christmas trees . Those of us who are neither agrophobic or claustrophobic had a lovely time .
In fact it was so nice , I'm going to Den Haag on Saturday to Christmas shop there .
Not that I'm having much luck actually finding anything suitable . There was in fact a moment last night , when I wondered if it wouldn't just be O.K. to send everybody a Playmobil airplane via Amazon ... 

But now I've bought some lovely gift tags and it would be a shame not to use them

Monday, 14 November 2016

Fleeing From Reality...


This grumpy teenager ,

born just up the road and destined to become a solicitor like his father , provided the perfect escape last Wednesday morning after the shock of Trump's election win .

The Fries Museum  currently has a large Alma-Tadema exhibition , showing a lot of privately owned treasures . His huge canvases full of rose petals and mosaics ,

draperies and marble , breastplates and togas proved to be just the distraction needed  .

First thing in the morning there was plenty of room to admire his attention to detail

... later on it became busier and I could sink gracefully on a bench and watch excerpts from the many films which should have listed him in the credits as set designer .

A couple of school groups swooped about with their work-sheets , the boys impressed by the swords and the girls by this slice of Roman high life where lolling about was a virtue . Later, they would go into a side-room where they could all dress up in togas and swirl capes and weapons to their hearts content .

We instead , just tottered off and sank into a cafe corner over coffees and  tried to understand what's happening this year ... 

But I'm going to have to go back again to pay proper attention to Alma-Tadema's family portraits . His real talent lay in his portrayal of faces , whether  of a childhood friend

his daughters or this little boy ,

waiting while his mother talked to a friend she'd met in the street .

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Golden Oldies ...

I've just spent the afternoon singing along with the Shadows , Elvis and an Indonesian band .
The band members were all on the elderly side ... the drummer tended to nod off between numbers , which might be why he'd been carefully positioned in the corner  ... but then so was the audience .

We all had a lovely time , ate all the biscuits and danced when the mood took us . Those of us , who remembered how to , hand jived and one totally round woman insisted on being hauled to her feet to demonstrate Hawaian dancing at regular intervals , collapsing back into her wheelchair each time after a couple of seconds , beaming .

No , don't worry , I was a visitor , not having got to care home age which here is usually 80+ , but if every Sunday afternoon were to be like this , it wouldn't be too bad ...the biscuits would have to be better , though . 

And who will we all be singing along to by then ? The Animals ?

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Transported ... To The Wrong Film Entirely

Temporarily bike-less and carrying a far too heavy ruck-sack , there I am , wandering down the street , humming the Dr. Who music and wishing I hadn't taken quite so many books out of the library  , since I can only read them one at a time anyway , when something caught my eye .

A new plaque on the corner ... and there I was face to face with an Oscar winner , Richard Hageman , who got it for the music for  "Stagecoach"  .

Altogether carried away by this unexpected  brush with fame on a wet Thursday afternoon  , I swapped my Tardis for a dash through the Badlands .

And only realised when I got home that , actually , I was humming Annie Oakley's " Whip , Crack Away "  instead . Did John Wayne and Doris Day ever share a screen ?

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The Fourth Dimension ... Or Something

I'd run out of crosswords . ( I have a subscription to the Times puzzle page and tend to print them out in batches , rather than one a day . Henry Ford has nothing on me . I've streamlined the whole process . )   So ; coffee , laptop and printer ... 

Only now I've  got Windows 10 and Windows 10 refused to co-operate with the printer . It seemed that I had to formally introduce them . Well , at least one of us must be socially challenged because it took all morning .

Never mind , in between all the faffing about wailing , I also managed to cook a pot of  pork and beans , clean the kitchen windows and swear a lot . I've now got a big pile of crosswords , enough for weeks , which is just as well because I'm worn out ...

These ads have been going up all over the place  , any suggestion of a connection to a certain Windows programme is pure conjecture .

Thursday, 29 September 2016

It's On The Turn ...

It's on the turn , finally ...

No , not the carton of milk in my fridge , but summer into autumn . A whole month of warmth and blue , blue skies had lulled me into a glow of careless good humour .

Till this morning when a predicted brisk wind became ferocious and , fearing for life and limb , instead of going on the bike I took the bus to Keep Fit . Well no , two there and two back actually ... a total of four bus rides , admittedly short , so that I could use the gym's cycling machine for ten minutes and the treadmill for another ten .
What was that about global warming ?

Apart from that I'm building up layers of fat to see me through the winter ... not round my middle , fortunately , but stacked as pots of chickpeas ( much nicer than tinned ones ) and soup in the freezer , as though I didn't live a three minute bike ride from the supermarket . 
Even YD , not normally a squirrelly person , reports in her turn a freezer full of small mineral water bottles of home-made chicken stock and a future of Venetian risotto .
I might even make some muffins .

Outside the rain's coming down sideways , and inside I've just filled the biggest mug in the house with coffee and picked up my book again .

I've got to find out what happens at the end .

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Back To Work ...

No , I'm not going back to work and I doubt whether anybody would rush to offer me a job these days ;  but I would like a shot , if I could just do it via this place's back-to-work-scheme .

 It was Open Monument day in town last Saturday , dedicated this year to our industrial heritage . Usually only too keen to nose in normally non-public spaces , I couldn't summon up the enthusiasm to admire the  'pancake factory's'   deliveries yard or queue in the sun to have another look at the old jail's smithy .

But as I came round a corner near the supermarket , I almost cycled into this and couldn't resist  .

An old shipyard run these days by enthusiasts to look after old boats and  to provide apprenticeships  .

It's tiny and very run-down but ingeniously cobbled together with whatever was to hand .... one wall consisted of a patchwork of old shed doors . They seemed to specialise in rehousing orphaned windows , too .

 But the boat builders were all overwhelmingly keen to explain every process ,

the tools were impeccably stored , every piece of work glowed as beautifully planed and sanded wood should

and you knew that nothing would ever be wasted . I wandered about wondering if there was a vacancy for a coffee-maker /wood-stroker ... 

The only snag , of course , being that , much as I love all the boats I see every day 

I don't really like the water and am a hopeless sailor . The chances of suddenly getting very wet indeed are just too high .

Thursday, 8 September 2016

What Can I Say ?

I'm becoming boring ... unfortunate in someone who blogs .

It's become so bad that the other day as I walked into a shop , the young assistant didn't even blink and just carried on moaning into her 'phone  , "Yes , I know so-o quiet . Only loads of women with grey hair ." , and didn't notice that , having cast a glance at her bemotto-ed cushions  ( so last year ... a bit like me , obviously )  I'd  left . I can be sniffy , too,  you know . 

Luckily I was in Deventer , a smallish town I like inordinately and promptly found lots of better things to do .

It's full of narrow alleyways , full of nice surprises .

Like the big working river , full of barges , just at the end of this lane

Or this imposing gate in an alley only wide enough for one small passerby

The spray of orchids in someone's window box

or these very blue and very perfect trumpets winding up a drainpipe  .

There are dozens of little shops and they're , all but one , packed with interesting things  ... I liked the way this one , full of bricabrac , even when forced by illness to close for business had found something pretty to write the message on . Who else remembers collecting angel scraps at school ?

The street names ; Long Bishop Street , Short Bishop Street , Behind The Monks  ... 

the tempting bars and the way that just round the corner there are two Cuban cafes and a proper tapas bar for the witch to sober up in ...  

The shop that just calls itself  THE Bread Shop .

And , of course , the best street decoration I've seen this summer ... dozens and dozens of rainbow coloured brollies everywhere .

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Meanwhile , Of Course , They're Probably Watching Me ....

With less free time this summer , I haven't done much exploring , even locally . But it doesn't really matter ... there's still plenty of people about to watch .

Like the solid matron with a wheelie suitcase , the other day . She's heard that they're made to be pulled along behind one but not believing a word of it , resolutely , though slightly inaccurately , pushes it before her causing people to avoid her nervously . Is there a small part of her that wonders why the confounded thing's so difficult to steer ? 

Or the variously-mustached chaps in hiking boots and unfortunate shorts wandering about the station on Tuesday , looking lost . At last two of them bump into each other and hug delightedly , peering at one another in amazement . Then a third wanders up diffidently , and a fourth . Suddenly there are six of them . They can't have seen each other since school or , more likely , National service and seem to be about to celebrate by hiking off to wherever it was they bonded 50 years ago .

But this week's favourite has to be the middle-aged man cycling up the road on the hottest day this week , wearing a traffic cone on his head ....

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 ...