zaterdag 14 oktober 2017

Morris Dancers

We knew this weekend was the Beer and Buses weekend. Vintage buses take you all around the Isle of Wight to all the pubs who are into the celebration. It's a great way to taste some local ale without having to drive your car while doing some sightseeing in lovely antiques vehicles.
A lot better than a pub crawl!

While walking on the Esplanade in Ryde we were pleasantly surprised by an unexpected spectacle: Morris Dancers. I had seen this a few times on tv, in programs about local things of interest.

Why they did it over here, near the base of the hovercraft, I don't know. They had drawn some spectators. The scene made me think a bit of National Lampoon Holiday in which Chevy Chase gets involved in a dance, a bit like this. They keep hitting him, like it is a part of the dance until he gets enough of it and it all results in a big fight. Luckily the Morris Dancers are not like that at all. It appeared to be very professional.

Of course I could not resist to search for the history behind this. The first mentioning of this is in 1448, so it is a very old tradition.
They used to be named Moorish Dancers, what eventually evolved in Morris Dancers.
The tradition almost disappeared in the 19th century, but was picked up again in 1899. Most mining communities were forming their own groups and there were competitions among them.

Another form of Morris Dancers were groups with blackened faces, or wearing scarfs to disguise themselves. The origin of this is the start of unions for miners and other workers. Unions were forbidden and when people attended meetings or rallies they risked being arrested.
The dances of these black groups are quite loud and (almost) threatening. You can imagine the sound of these must have been ominous for the owners of mines and factories.

Nowadays Morris Dancers can be found not only in England, but even in countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the Netherlands.
Nice to encounter some history on the street!

donderdag 12 oktober 2017

Halloween in Holland

I was asked to write something about Halloween. I'm afraid I'm not into scary Halloween stories, but I can write about personal experiences.

In parts of the Netherlands the 11th of November has been celebrated for centuries. It's named St.Maarten after the Saint Bishop Martinus van Tours who lived from AD 316 till AD 397. Since the 1920's the festivities have spread around the whole of the Netherlands.

Suddenly it was celebrated in my city too; very surprising because people in the region are mainly protestants so they would not have anything with saints. The attraction for children is the candy that they can collect with just walking around with lampions, ringing doorbells and singing a silly song about "cows that have tails". They don't need to tell me this, but when you open the door and the group of little brats start singing, with their parents behind them in silent admiration, there is not a lot else you can do but to put some candy in the sticky hands. The parents nod approvingly, they all go to the next door and you can only hope your doorbell will not ring again. Mostly this is in vain, within 10 minutes the next group will pop up.

My children were pleasantly surprised with this show of generosity and they decided to do this too the next year. So we bought them each a lampion and we were ready to go along, but the two of them pleaded us to let them do this by themselves. We agreed that they would try to go along with another group. So off they went.

We already had listened to the stupid song three times when my daughters came home again in a very angry state. They had been chased away by the other children and their parents. "We don't go to the same church and school, so they don't want us to walk along. And people opened their doors for us and accused us that we had been there before, so wanting a double treat. We hate it, won't do it ever again!" So we gave them some of the candy we had in store for the little singers and thought that was it.

The next year, on the 31st of October the groups of children popped up in front of our door, just dressed a little silly. No song this time, just sticking their greedy hands out. The parents watched it silently again from a distance. People seemed to have decided to celebrate Halloween. This American thing was new to us and we were not very prepared for an invasion of children. We did have some tangerines and gave them to these kids. A good thing too, better for their teeth and a bit of help to prevent them to become obese. Lucky for us we had less children ringing at the doorbell that night.

The next day we saw how they had appreciated our fruit. Some was smashed against walls, the rest was thrown on the street. We had enough of it all!
I could already foresee the same children coming to our door on the 11th of November; of course St.Maarten would not be skipped.

I was right, they did go around again. This time without silly costumes, but with their lampions. I had unscrewed the doorbell and drawn all the curtains. There were fruitless attempts to ring the doorbell, they would knock and bang at the door too. But I was determined: no more of this.

The next day we could see that they had spit all over our door. We cleaned it and that was all.
The next two years we had to get the saliva from the door on both celebrations. After that they just left us in peace and my children never again tried to mingle with these children.

woensdag 11 oktober 2017

The new cook

The sight of my living room made me really happy. In just a few hours I had changed what obviously used to be an office room into a very cosy room. Where once the books and files of the company had been, now my books looked really smart. The second hand table and chairs seemed to brighten up because of the sunshine coming through the windows and my coffee table and the new bought sofa were a perfect couple. The book case filled with my records next to the coffee table with the audioset completed the room.

I had done the bedroom in the early morning; there was not a lot to it: my bed against the back wall opposite the wardrobe. I had plans to buy a bedside table later that week. Would be handy for the alarm clock and such. I walked around my new kingdom and was very proud. My own appartment and nobody was going to tell me what to do.

The owner of the building had told me that I eventually would share the kitchen and bathroom, but that for the time being nobody would disturb me. There was no other tenant and it would take some more time for them to find one. There seemed to be some legal problem. It was none of my business and I really didn't care.

The doorbell rang and I spoke for the first time through the intercom. It was a bit disappointing, it was my father. "I found some more things of you!", he shouted. I went downstairs and opened the front door. He had a box in his hands, completely full with books and other stuff. I took it from him and asked him to follow me upstairs.

He was my first visitor and I hoped for an approving word or such, but he hardly looked around, just sat down on the sofa. No need to give him some sightseeing through my domain, I decided. I took everything out of the box: it was very clear that he had tried to clear his loft a bit. None of the stuff in the box was mine. I saw school books of two of my sisters and some second hand books I remembered him buying in a sale from a bankrupt private library.

"Nothing of this is mine", I said, while he started to look a bit annoyed. Did he expect me to apologise or such? I didn't understand, I was certain he knew the contents of that box had nothing to do with me. He asked me if there was anything I wanted. I had noticed that there was one interesting book among all the romantic novels and school books, so I asked him if I could keep that one. That way at least he didn't make a useless trip to me. He nodded, so I laid the book by Rainer Maria Rilke on my table and put the rest of the books and other stuff back in the box.

He wanted to leave without the box, but I protested. I didn't have a clue how to get rid of anything but normal rubbish at my new place, so I insisted that he took the box home again. "I will carry it to your car. I'm sorry nothing was really mine, but I do appreciate that you came over with this." He hardly said a word anymore, drove away without waving or anything.

All this had made me hungry. Luckily I would be done with preparing my meal within minutes. Just a can of ravioli I had to heat up and I would add some already grated cheese.
So I went into my new kitchen where I had one pan, one plate, one fork, one knive and one spoon.
Only then I realised that this can somehow had to be opened. I had forgotten to buy a tin opener.

A look at my watch learned me that it was after 6 PM, so all shops were closed. There would be no cooking for me that day. It felt a bit like a defeat that I had to buy food from the "greasy spoon" that was situated around the corner.

The next day I came home from the office and found a present on my doormat. A girlfriend had dropped a little book through the letter box, called "How to cook for yourself". It seemed to be quite funny. The first recipe I read had words in it like: "put the can on the surface and open it with your can opener". I was feeling in control: I took my new opener out of my bag and laid it next to the can of ravioli. Nothing could go wrong for me!

vrijdag 3 februari 2017


Unlike you the chair didn't change, it's still that sombre dark green with the handy side pocket in which you keep all your remote controls so your wife has to ask you to please turn on or off the radio, the television , the d.v.d. player and all the other electronics. You used to take out a control and turn on the television as loud as possible when you got bored with visitors and pretended not to hear it when your wife pleaded to turn it off.

You yourself did change: the sturdy bon vivant became a dead tired shadow of that man. Your eyes lost their sparkle and most of the time you stare out of the window, a pile of books next to you untouched on the little table next to you. The remote controls stay in their pocket. My mother once in a while will ask you something, almost like she is checking you are still there. You lost interest in most things, starting a conversation with you is like dragging you from the bottom of a very deep sea to the surface.

I don't visit often after I left the country and in earlier years it was quite an event for you and my mother. But now it is like she is trying to convince you constantly somebody is there with you in the living room. We were never mates or buddies or whatever you want to name it, but during this stay it's almost like you forgot we are related. I look at you, hear the clock ticking and try to read on, like my mother is doing.

Suddenly you call out her name and announce that you need to go to the bathroom. You know very well she can't help you with that, being unable to have walk normally. Old age is hitting you both really hard, I wonder if I will be like that when I'm in my nineties and realise it will be me who has to help him to the bathroom. I tell him, I will do it, I can help. My mother looks up from her puzzle.

I see anxiety in your eyes, almost a fear and you refuse. My sister and her husband will help you, you say. I answer that they will not be here for at least another hour, maybe even two, you don't have a choice: it's me or no help at all. I get up and stand in front of you, stretch out my arms towards you, invite you to take my hands.
"No, no, you can't!" you say and there is panic in your eyes, "Martin has to do it."
"He's not here, you don't have a choice", I grab your hands.
"You can't!"
"We'll see about that!", I take your hands and pull you up.

Your eyes are wild now and I feel all your muscles tightening. All the muscles that you still have.
I know that not long ago there would have been no way I could have got you out of that chair, but things go quite smooth even with all your resistance. I walk backwards leading you step by step to the toilet, humming a waltzing melody. "What a nice dance, we have!", I joke. You grumble, concentrate on the little steps you take.

We manage alright and I wait in front of the bathroom door till you are finished. I hear you peeing and sighing from relief. When you open the door again, you stretch a hand out to me. I take it and use the other to close the door before taking your other hand. We make the same dance again and you end safely in front of your chair. When I make you sit down, you squeeze one of my hands very lightly. Something has changed, we both know it and we also know we will not talk about it. There is no need.

vrijdag 9 december 2016


It took some time before I became aware that I was watching a scene on the beach. It was very difficult not to notice because the people who were involved were the only ones to be seen. It was a beautiful day at the end of August, holiday season over and done with, which made it very quiet over here.

A child, no older than 4, was playing at the shore line, jumping up and down in the water. Sometimes he shouted "Daddy, daddy! Watch! Watch!"
Daddy was not watching, daddy was on the phone, sometimes shielding his free ear off to be able to listen better without distraction from the child. A bit further away was a lady standing on the beach, her arms in front of her body. She made it clear she was not really involved and the child took no notice of her.

This must have been going on for at least 20 minutes, when an elderly man came walking along the shore line with a large dog, I think a labrador. The dog must have been quite young and a bit wild, the old man had no control over the dog whatsoever. The dog was not on a leash and was totally out of place. During summer dogs are not allowed on the beach and certainly not unleashed.

The dog ran like a little pony, jumping in and out of the water and jumped on the little boy. The dog was almost bigger than the child, so he fell over and into the water. "Daddy, Daddy! Look! I'm drowning!" The man turned around, shielded his ear off a bit better and walked a bit away from the child. The woman did not move at all.

The child stayed seated in the water and splashed it all over himself. When the father finally finished his phone call the boy was really soaked. The man took a towel from a bag and called his son over. He dried him while the woman remained where she was before.
After the man was satisfied with his work, he put the towel in the bag and told the boy to come along.

The child took the bag in his hands and started to walk towards the end of the beach. The man stopped him and yanked the bag with all his force from his hands. This caused the boy to fall and to cry. There are many ways of crying and the way of the child was the loudest possible. It was quite obvious that the man was very embarrassed. He held the bag under his arm and held the boy with two arms tight to his chest. Like this he started to walk away from the water, the boy screaming his head off and the woman following them, keeping some distance. It took quite some time before I could not hear the boy anymore and the seaside was peaceful again.

woensdag 12 oktober 2016


It's 15 October 2021. 

Theresa May is managing the Brexit as well as possible and maybe that is why the Conservatives have won the elections last year. She remained as the Prime Minister but reshuffled her cabinet a bit.

There is a constant flow of pensioners coming back from European countries like Spain, Portugal and Greece. The visas and permits to stay in these countries have expired and so they are forced to come back to the UK, often they have to sell property for a lot less than what the price normally would be.

There are already 600.000 of them and there are expectations that more than a million will follow. It has caused a housing problem. The Labour shadow cabinet has suggested that second homes and holiday houses should be used to solve this. The Tories have rejected this immediately, so the repatriates are forced to stay with relatives and friends.

A few weeks ago we received a letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Amber Rudd that I should prepare myself to be removed from the country for the obvious reason that I am a European foreigner. Of course we made use of the possibility to oppose to this. I received a reaction on this that my case was being handled but that it would not have the effect for me to not send me to a Return Centre when my time was due. It would be possible that the decision had to be made while I was being prepared for being forced out of the UK.

We talked about this with relatives and neighbours, but nobody really knew what could be done against it. A neighbour said this all was impossible, it was so very not British. I reminded him of some history: concentration camps were an invention by the British during the Boer wars. They had been very efficient, I added cynically, one third of the inmates died. He tried to assure me things would not be like that nowadays.

A Pick Up Truck drove up to the front of our house this morning. In the back I could see the pharmacist and her family (Chinese), the cook of the cafe where we sometimes ate (American) and two women from the staff of the hotel in the village, who probably were Polish or Bulgarian or such. They all looked a bit cold sitting there unprotected.

Two men came to our door, their hair very short like military. They were wearing civilian clothes but had armbands on saying Assistant Police. They told me to get on the truck.
I asked them if I could pack some things first at which they reacted quite irritated. I had a three week period already to pack, they said but they agreed anyway. While I was busy doing this, one of the men was ordering me to hurry, "they didn't have all day".

My wife pleaded with the other man, saying I was her husband and her carer. He reacted that there were plenty of Englishmen who could do this too.
I had my things packed and I could quickly kiss her goodbye.
At the door she asked the men where they would bring me; they told her it would be the Deportation Centre of Colchester.

"But how do I get there to visit him?"
"You don't!"
They pushed me on the back of the Pick Up and I sat down next to the pharmacist on a blanket. My suitcase was thrown in after me and the men went in the car and hastily drove away. I fell over and before I could wave at my wife we were out of the street.
Read this too:

zaterdag 16 mei 2015


It is such a joy to be back in Paris. Of all the cities she has visited in the world certainly the City of Light is by far her favourite, even when there are so many bittersweet memories attached to it.  She tries to avoid thinking of these memories, maybe new nice memories are in the make. It is good to be here with her best friends. When they came with the suggestion of this trip, it did not take her a lot of thinking. The money is never a problem, Anthony’s divorce settlement gave plenty of room for pleasant things.  And travelling is always a pleasure, the life with Anthony has made her accustomed to this. She is one of the few people known to herself to never suffer from jet lag.  

Kate promised her friends to show them around and not limit them to the obligatory tourist sightseeing. Of course they wanted to see some of these things, but they have asked her to show some of the daily life of Paris as well. Two of the girls have never been out of Canada before, Melissa did visit New York but never went further than that. They started the trips through Paris enthusiastically but after two days the jet lag has hit Kate’s friends hard. So she asked them to stay in their hotel rooms today and take it very easy. Tomorrow things will feel a lot better to them.

On her own she can take a trip to memory lane, visit all the places that are so dear to her. So she goes to Pont Neuf, walks to the middle and looks into the Seine. She half dreams away, remembers the embraces and kisses shared on this spot, but the traffic prevents her to completely getting lost in her memory. The average Paris driver seems to think that you can speed things up by using their car horn. One that honks right behind her makes her almost jump and she decides to get off the bridge and go to the riverside. She wants to sit on their bench again, where she has felt as close to heaven as possible.

Kate is disappointed when she sees that the bench is taken by an international mixture of people, so typical for the city. When she passes it she hears all kind of languages but no French at all. She decides to walk on, only to see that the next two or completely occupied too. When she comes near to the next one she feels her heart skip a beat: he’s sitting there! Her mind tells her it’s not possible, but her eyes don’t lie. He looks up from his book and his mouth opens without words coming out. They both can’t speak while she sits next to him.
After minutes that seem ages he is the first to find his voice: “Is it really you? Am I getting crazy?” When she is able to answer her voice irritates her, she sounds like a kind of frog: “I’m crazy too, Justin. And I have been insane!”                                                                                                                
They sit silently next to each other, the book seems to function as a borderline between them. She looks at it: Jean Paul Sartre’s “La Nausée”.  He notices what she is looking at, tells her he wanted to reread the book and this is a proper place for it. She nods, her hand reaches out towards him. It takes a while, but then he takes it in his hand.
“I want to explain…”, she clears her throat.                                                                                    “Only if you want to”, he reacts. She nods, her eyes are full with tears. Her free hand wipes them from her eyes. Of course she wants to! This man gave her so much happiness in such a short time and yet she abandoned him like he was a stray dog that had followed her for some time.                        She starts about the sweet memories she has: the lovely days they shared in this area, the afternoons they spend in little hotels when they hardly left their room; ‘til the bitter end.

“I remember far too well waiting hours at the Gare du Nord for you. Sitting on a bench, my suitcase at my feet, glancing at my watch every few minutes. At eleven o’clock the reality of you not showing up hit me like a brick. Like a zombie I stumbled out of the station, took a taxi and went back to my hotel. I was lucky I could get my old room again.” She can hear the hurt in his voice. Even after more than three years has passed. “I loved you so much, trusted you so much. I would have done anything you wanted.”

She goes on: “When I got to the hotel that day Anthony was sitting on our bed. He was so excited, he told me not only the conference had been a success but he was going to be rewarded by the Minister. We had been invited by him to have dinner and Anthony would officially hear that he had been appointed as Undersecretary of the Delegation at the United Nations in New York. We had to fly back that evening. I realised that he would not get this job if he was going to the Minister on his own. These functions require people in so-called normal family situations. I could not get myself to hurt him and ruining his future at the same time. He had been so busy that week, hardly aware at all of my existence, let alone me having an affair. I know, it was more to us, but to him it would be like that. You have to realise that we were a couple since we were teenagers. I simply could not leave him.”
“Why didn’t you warn me in any way of this. Leaving me in this uncertainty was so cruel. I don’t know if I can ever forgive you for hurting me this much.” His expression is angry and sad at the same time though his hand fondles the hand he is holding. She is crying now, but he is not able at this moment to hold her, telling her everything will be alright. 

When she is stable again, she tells him about the pain she caused to herself. She felt so guilty and sneaky towards him while he thought so highly of her. Months later she had confessed to Anthony what had happened in Paris. First he forgave her, seeing clearly that she had chosen him above her English lover. Their relationship was not the same after the confession and had caused their marriage to be wrecked after all. Anthony now was somewhere in Asia at an embassy with his new wife, his former secretary. When he informed Kate, he had told her that he trusted his new wife completely. She would never betray him.

Justin tells her that he stayed in Paris a few days longer, first hoping that Kate might pop up after all. Of course he knew better that that, he expected nothing else than that she had gone back to Canada with her husband. When boredom and loneliness crept up on him he had gone back to London and had picked up his old life at the bank. For months he had felt numb, just functioning like a sort of robot. The plans had been so nice: he would have showed Kate Europe. He had been waiting for her with the tickets to Brussels in his wallet. It would have been such a nice start.

“We could do things now, Justin. We can travel the world if you want.” There is hope in her heart and she thinks she sees a sparkle in his eyes. Can she restore what she once ruined?     

“First I need to get to know you again. I need a clean start, need to forget my moments of misery.” She feels she might have a chance to win this love of her life once more. She nods, she understands what he needs. She suggests that they could start with having dinner together tonight. She will have to tell her friends they will have to spend the evening without her, but they certainly will understand. He tells her the name of a restaurant; it’s not familiar to her. According to him it’s new and quite cosy. She tells him she will dress up for it and he nods approvingly, telling her he needs to go now.
She is sad to see him go, but feels delighted to be able to see him again tonight. That really is a new thing, they always met in the afternoon.

Her friends are happy for her and when she is dressed, they have a good look and give her their approval. She orders a taxi, it arrives soon at the hotel; the restaurant is not very far, but part of the distance she has to walk. The taxi driver explains how she can reach the spot. He looks at her dress in a funny way but she tries to ignore him. When she gets near the restaurant she sees that there is something wrong: it is almost a hamburger joint. The people are mostly sitting outdoors and are noisy. It looks like they are all Americans.

A boy starts talking to her: “You look beautiful, madam. Are you going to celebrate something?”
“I fear it’s the opposite”, she answers in tears while she is certain he will not be there.

Photo courtesy of Hera Bell,