Thursday, 31 January 2013

Snow, cold and far too early thawing...

Europe has been deluged with snow for the last two weeks, and a bitterly cold snap. It's been many years since I have lived in such an old house and experienced some of the drawbacks of pre-central heating construction. I've developed an amazing ability to spring gazelle like from bed and dive almost instantaneously into my clothes. I've learned to squirrel the next days underclothes under the pillow to impart a modicum of warmth to them and Louie the Cat is developing a smug look as he gets to break the bar from travelling upstairs as a result of his regular hotwater bottle duties. Calls of nature have become short and sweet, as each visit entails a brush with potential hypothermia, and definite frostbite on parts of one's anatomy.

All this said, I am sad that the weather has warmed up and the snow has left. I wanted it to stay for a few more weeks as the Netherlands was gripped for a few short days with speculation as to whether this year would be the year the Elfstedentocht ran again.

The Elfstedentocht is a skating tour almost 200 km in length, following a route along frozen canals, rivers and lakes visiting the eleven historic Frisian cities: Leeuwarden, Sneek, IJlst, Sloten, Stavoren, Hindeloopen, Workum, Bolsward, Harlingen, Franeker, Dokkum, then returning to Leeuwarden. The finishing point of the Elfstedentocht is a canal near Leeuwarden, called the "Bonkevaart", close to the landmark windmill, De Bullemolen, Lekkum. The tour is only if the ice is, and remains, at least 15 centimetres thick along the entire course as about 15,000 amateur skaters may take part, putting high requirements on the quality of the ice. There is also a professional standard race for 300 skaters which requires snap decisioning to partake in, as the announcement of a 'go' is made a mere 48 hours before the race is run.

As of 17 January 2013 the last tours were held in 1985, 1986 and 1997, so the prospect of a possible go decision causes a flurry of anticipation.Even the military and emergency services get warning of possible duty roster changes.

Sadly, it's not going to be this January. We may get another chance in February, so I'm doing many snow-dances in preparation.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Etymological snobbery....

There is a certain type of book, often emblazoned with 'Mills and Boon' on the cover, which is richly populated by dashing heroes and swooning high class but impoverished heroines. These colourful characters (particularly in the historic sub genre) are frequently graced with double barrelled surnames in an attempt to insinuate class or position in society.

I'm currently stumbling my way though the mispronunciation (and frequent misspelling) of many such double barrelled names here in Holland, and this set me wondering why the english author has this view that double barrelled = status ; and whether or not it is true here.

I started by asking my housemate where his surname - van Buren - originated from, and promptly dived into a complex world of tussenvoegsels, the importance of capitalisation, and the risks of poking fun at bureaucrats. Historically, the Dutch operated a system of patronymics.... Pieter, son of Jan was Pieter Janssen , Jan, his father, was Jan Hansen etc. Perfectly viable in small close knit societies, but a nightmare if you were an invading general and wanted an easy way to keep tabs on your new subject : enter Napoleon, and his 1811 ruling that all Dutch must have a registered surname.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of people opted for similar patterns to those of medieval England...the smith became Jan Smit, the fisherman became Pieter Visser. Many opted to be known by their home location - 'van' meaning 'of' or 'from; 'van de' - 'from the' : these intermediary words being the tussenvoegels. 'Buren' is a little village in the Netherlands, and there are many other surnames that can be similarly linked. There are also a fair smattering of surnames given mockingly to the census taker, and their descendants bear that cross today - 'Poepjes' being the inevitable 'Poo' or 'Zeldenthuis' describing the individual's wandering ways- 'hardly home'.

So, case disproved, huh? Double barrelled doesn't mean posh in the Netherlands. However turns out it can mean posh, and there is a way of telling. If a name is written in full, or with an initial, the tussenvoegsel is not capitalised : Pieter van Dijk or P. van Dijk. If the name is written with an title such as Dr or Mr but no initial, then the tussenvoegsel is capitalised - Mr Van Dijk. BUT if the individual is classed as nobility, the tussenvoegsel is *never* capitalised - thus indicating status.

I foresee novels filled with lovelorn heroines subtly leafing through their would-be beloved's post, in an attempt to discern if all is 'capital' abroad......

Monday, 21 January 2013

The differences between cats and dogs - & Louie

Most pet owners will empathise with the traditional differences between cats and dogs : a dog is a (generally) willing slave, following you about, permanently on the look out for scavengable bits of food, randomly coating you with glutinous, gooey, slime; and vocally expressing its view on life, the universe, and everything. A cat, on the other hand, treats you as its slave : you *will* provide it with tasty food at the appropriate time, it has ownership of all the warm cosy locations in the house, it ignores you completely unless it desires a scratch or some additional padding to curl up on, and generally has minimal desire to converse with you other than to inform you that you have offended in some form.

And then there is Louie the Cat. He is fixated in being as close to you as possible at all times (subject to the cat proviso of warm comfy spot available) and achieves this by selecting every possible awkward location to settle down in - between you and the keyboard, on you in just such a way that his tail obscures the centre of the t.v., on top of the crafting box *just* when you need access to something inside it. He is omnipresent (when food is around, with whiskers trembling just millimetres from your fork) and vocally demanding in expressing a continuous opinion on the world...particularly the disgraceful lack of a continuous stream of treats. And as for the goop factor, his finger chewing fetish ensures that almost everything you wear gets coated in a fine layer of cat slime.

Today, Louie has been ousted from his favourite seat on top of my PC. Previously, I had a lovely smooth expanse of  toasty heated black plastic, in perfect reach to allow a tentative claw to be inserted into my kneecap on a regular basis. This weekend, I finally got around to replacing the PC case - (incidently enabling me to switch the PC on and off as a result) and went for a case with two large mesh covered fans on the top. Will he decide that the warm air fluffing his fur is a price worth paying to continue his knee-accupuncture? Only time will tell.

Road mutterings

Today, I had a near miss. A little car decided to amble out in front of me with no warning, indication or space at half my existing velocity. This shouldn't have been a surprise, because that's daily driving on the M25 . But it was. Because here, people indicate, keep a safe distance, and pull over into the 'slow' lanes on a regular basis.

Followers of this blog know that I have been doing a lot of driving in Europe recently, and every country has its own 'style'. The Dutch are without question the politest and most consistent drivers I've seen. Are the Dutch a nation of paragons, I asked myself? The answer is no, and is far more pragmatic than that. Unlike the UK, which has invested a major percentage of its police road budget over the last twenty years in 'safety' cameras which generate revenue from a single snapshot of time without caring about the broader situation, the Dutch still have an active traffic police arm. They fine you if tailgate and drive too close to the car in front. They fine you if you fail to indicate prior to manoeuvring. They fine you if you sit in the wrong lane needlessly and block the traffic.

In summary, they hit your pocket hard if you drive badly or dangerously. And yes, they use 'safety' cameras too : I drive through 2 on my way to work - one is on the major junction/crossing in front of the Feijenoord football stadium, a road which is regularly deluged with flag waving fans. The other is on a segment of the ring road which has a *lot* of junctions on and off, and a variable speed limit. In places where they make a difference.

Oh, and the car that nearly hit me? Italian. When in Rome, drive like the Romans. I'd just forgotten that all roads lead to Rome.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Post Xmas snuffles & childhood foods

This Xmas break was kinda topsy turvey : with the new job starting on the 17th of December, I didn't get a lot of time to make winter plans - so I spent Xmas with the folks in Cambridge and watched Mum stuffing under the skin of the turkey with lemon butter . It made for a beautifully moist turkey, so that has been noted in my list of 'things to do to turkey"......

Back to Feijenoord on Boxing Day, and straight into one of the worst colds I've had in a long time...managed to keep the worst at bay for a few days, but by New Year's Eve, curling up on the sofa was as good as I could manage, and since then, getting out of bed just hasn't happened. An emergency doctors visit later, I now shake, rattle and roll with pills to keep the fever down, suppress the cough, and clear my lungs so I can breathe again. Hopefully this mass of medication will get me back on my feet in time for work on Monday. That said, there hasn't been much to blog about, since mostly I've been sleeping or coughing or spluttering.

Food wise, my appetite has completely gone and I've had to force myself to eat at all. As nothing has any flavour, it's been like chewing sharp craps of cardboard - so I retreated to a childhood food which is easy to swallow and at least is so fiery in flavour something breaks through the taste barrier...Gari & chilli sauce. Gari is ground up cassava which when reconstituted makes a slightly sour, slippery purée , which I dipped in a hot Surinaam chilli sauce. It's easy to swallow on a sore and swollen throat, and the chilli makes for a good holistic medicine.

Here's to getting back on my feet sometime soon.