Second book in the Gift Trilogy

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The Gift

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Friday, 11 October 2019

The Hague, matron to Amsterdam's floozy

The third day, we took the train to the Hague, which is a very fine city, the matron to Amsterdam’s floozy. The government buildings were particularly impressive as were the Mauritshuis museum and another devoted to Escher.

I’m too old to feel shame so I’ll just say it. I went to neither. It put me in mind of a similar experience in America many years ago. After a 36 day tour where I’d tried to do everything, we finally arrived at George Washington’s house. It was too much. I'd had too much. I remember lying on a vivid green lawn staring up at boldest of blue skies and going asleep. It’s my only memory of George Washington’s house, but it’s a pleasant one.

Now, after six hours in the Van Gogh museum, I was similarly galleried out: aching legs and a brain sizzling with sunflowers.

My wife went to the Escher museum, I ambled across to the Mauritshuis, which holds some fine Rembrandts and Vermeers, but instead of going in, I sat outside reading my kindle and listening to tourists.
Inside is a stylish cafe which sells some excellent beer. Rembrandt tomorrow, maybe.

They had cyclists in the Hague, too, but much better dressed ones and far more sedate. Or maybe I was just getting a little more used to them.

We walked about five miles that day passing some pretty intriguing statues like this for example. The statue of Johan Rudolph Thorbecke is a case in point. I was pleased to note that he was the man who drew up the Dutch constitution guaranteeing more religious, personal and political freedom to ordinary citizens. Worthy stuff.  But I was equally intrigued by the other half of the statue showing a woman with erotically crossed legs; well, as erotic as you can be in stainless steel. 

And like Amsterdam, it was packed with beautiful buildings that made you groan to think of the steel and glass monoliths that dominate our present day culture.

The three pictures below are those of the Binnenhof, essentially the seat of Government.

I like the contrast between old and new -  and where the new  has yet to take over
I loved the lavish architecture looming over every shop
A house that caught my fancy
The Noordeinde Palace - one of the three official royal palaces. 

Thursday, 3 October 2019

The van Gogh ear

The Vincent van Gogh Museum 
Close up, it doesn't look particularly attractive but, as part of a whole, it's very effective

And inside, it's stunning

The following day it was the Van Gogh museum where we spent six hours exploring the four floors of paintings. We weren’t completely mad. It also included a one-hour beer break in the café. One thing became obvious. If you decide to save money and not buy into the ‘audio’ tour make full use of the advantage. What we saw were painfully slow bottlenecks of ten to fifteen people blocking pictures and moving to the pace of the audio tour. Far better to make guerrilla attacks in the gaps: those pictures ahead or immediately behind the slow moving tortoise.
It was dizzying to see so much of his work in one place, at the end overwhelming. 

I never realised, for example, he’d done so many self-portraits, nor how little respect he had for his left ear, which may explain why he eventually dispensed with it. This for example. It looks like Mr Potato Head ear, a lurid perfunctory addition to otherwise subtle and beautifully painted face. Little wonder he decided to cut the real thing off; he couldn’t paint the damn thing.

The attendants were pleasant and most of the time unobtrusive, but they enforced one rule with particular vigour. No Photographs! As soon as the ubiquitous iPhone appeared, a fierce and sibilant whisper cut the air like a whiplash: ‘No photographs please.” The please was perfunctory, like  van Gogh’s ears.

As a result the few paintings I’ve posted here, were acquired on line. Two in particular, which I’d never seen before and which I loved.

After which we ate in the 'The Small Talk' sometimes known as the cafe on the corner, where I enjoyed fried chicken livers, bacon and mushrooms and two pints of beer. Culture begins and ends with the stomach; at least it does if you come from Liverpool

Friday, 27 September 2019

Spaced out on Cheese

It’s a fifty-minute flight to Amsterdam and half a lifetime checking through security. Then there’s the train from Schiphol airport to Amsterdam Central. And this is what you see on first leaving the station. 

We arrived at 9 am (don’t ask me what time we got up!) and we weren’t allowed into our hotel until 2 pm. So, we set out to explore the streets beyond the river. It was a noisy business, trundling our wheeled suitcases over old cobbled streets and sounding like the 7th Cavalry on manoeuvres. It was also highly dangerous.
One word.
Before we set out they looked, from a distance, elegant and romantic, whole conveys of them swooping across streets like Valkyries on wheels. When you’re on the streets with them, it’s something entirely different. They appear from nowhere. You turn to check. The road is clear. Then whoosh, hundreds of them beamed down from the ‘Enterprise’ and you barely escape with your lives as they speed by, razor-like indifferent.

If you’re lucky enough to be on a pavement, not congested with parked bikes, you can appreciate the health giving benefits of a culture addicted to bicycles. It’s a bit like bird-watching made more interesting by the fact that most of the bikes are of the old ‘sit up and beg’ variety. This enforces a straight-back posture, arms outstretched to the handlebars with unfortunate results. It makes the riders look snooty as they glide by in their trickles, torrents and floods. They all have the same expression, one of serene indifference to trams and pedestrians alike.

As we walked farther into the area bordering the red light district, the sweet and heavy stench of cannabis clogged our noses, as did the sex. Hmm, could be better phrased.

 We passed shops selling cannabis ice-cream,  shops selling dildos the size of cricket bats, and embedded into the cobbles, a tasteful bronze sculpture of a hand fondling a breast. There were also cheese-tasting shops. We didn't stop to check out whether the Gouda was laced with cannabis too. Outside of one though, our suitcases  narrowly missed a flattened rat or large mouse, perhaps spaced out on cheese.

After checking in and jettisoning our suitcases, we embarked on a six-mile circular tour of the canals, before pasta, beer and then mercifully bed.

Fine buildings and water. It's indicative that Leopold of Belgium buried the beautiful river running through Brussels with a road. Nothing good has come from Brussels since. 

The first few miles were very nice, stopping at bridges and looking around.

Above and below examples perhaps of subsidence giving the buildings a jaunty air.

Holland's favourite son Rembrandt surrounded by sculptures of his famous painting 'The Night Watch
And who wouldn't want to see a horror movie in this cinema?
 Or buy a cannabis laced ice cream in the foyer?

Tomorrow  Vincent van Gogh - more accurately next week)

Friday, 13 September 2019


This story is about:

But begins with this

It had to come, the conclusion to the damson carnage: the bonfire. But not content with a damson bonfire, we also set about an ivy encrusted shed storing things we’d long since forgotten—mercifully so. The roof had long since collapsed letting in ten or more years or rain and snow and whatever else had chosen to enter.

Pieces of shed in an elegant sprawl

After lamenting various ruined possessions that we’d forgotten we had, we took them to the tip and began demolishing the shed with the help of two very good friends. It was hugely cathartic, sledgehammers and jemmies, my wife, suitably masked, wielding the chainsaw.

More lolling fragments of shed

And then it was done. The bonfire looked big, too big for one gigantic blaze, so we spent the afternoon feeding a much smaller, more controlled fire on the concrete slab where the shed had stood. Yes, we let the immediate neighbours know first, and they were, mercifully, as sweet as pie about it—though there was one complaint from an unknown house some distance away. Luckily, she accosted my wife who looked suitably menacing with her chainsaw and helmet, and she wandered away having vented but not very happy. As they say in latin, Lentus, or is it Resisto?

Somewhere in there were ten baking potatoes - Tescos' finest - wrapped in foil. We never found them

But what an eye-opener when it is done! Bearing in mind the majestic, living things we’d cut down, the size of the bonfire . . . and this, this small, pathetic pile of ash!

Remind me, I never want to be cremated.

On a happier note, we plan some rambling roses on the fence, various potted perennials on what will be a clean and white slab, and a wrought iron bench that we’ll probably never use.