Once more unto the intocht, dear friends

All of the Netherlands turned out yesterday to welcome the return of a pensionado (retiree) from Spain — Sinterklaas! And his merry band of pranksters, the Zwaartepieten (Black Peters), whose political incorrectness is tempered by the addition of fantasy Piets, such as the Elvis Piet.


Future anterior

Here’s another neologism for you — premem — similar to my previous new word, and also triggered by one of my children. It means “pre-memory”, and while sounding like something out of a Philip K. Dick story, my meaning refers to a more intimate epiphany, one of those “golden moments” when you can already visualize, at the moment it occurs, the image as a memory in the future.

I think this photo captures the spirit of a premem, playing as it does on mimicking old technology (pinhole photography) and the kind of future memory I can imagine having of my child, overcoming fear through determination and pleasure-seeking.

Walking the wavebreaks

Hold the front page

Another place, another great headline. Whereas my previous favourite headline from Jamaica was a classic in understatement, the front page headline in our local paper in The Netherlands this week was a gem of a different sort:

Man falls off bike
A 57-year-old man from E— was injured on Tuesday morning when he fell off his bike in his neighbourhood. At about 10:45, the man was cycling along Kolkakkerweg when he wanted to turn a corner. Because there were fallen leaves on the road, the man did not see that he had already passed the corner and cycled into the kerb. That is why he fell. The victim was transported to hospital.

Yes, that was front page news. The other feature on page one was about the retirement of local primary school teacher after 37 years of service. That’s about the pace of life in most of The Netherlands, at least outside the Randstad, that sprawling deltametropolis that covers most of the west of the country and includes almost two-thirds of the population (Dutch joke: There is only one Dutch city … the Randstad). For the rest, The Netherlands is a land of villages and small towns, more or less conservative and religious, that are worlds away from the tourist’s image of Amsterdamned coffee shops and red light districts.

The village in which we are temporarily resident is in the Bible Belt of The Netherlands, boasting more churches than bars, four religious schools to a single public one, and where Sunday is a day of deserted streets and solemn faces. The dour, guilt-inducing Calvinism of the Dutch Reformed Church can be found in many parts of The Netherlands; what is particular about our village is that the population is also very environmentally conscious and not at all short of cash. This leads to curious behaviour patterns such as cycling your kids to school, but driving your Porsche Cayenne hybrid to church; or recycling nappies (diapers) and complaining when the swimming teacher blasphemes; or having your children address you with the polite “U” form (“Mother, ma’am, may I …?) and collecting pine cones in the woods as an educational leisure activity.

I’m not complaining … well, maybe it is a little boring … but our kids can run around the streets and I can leave the back door unlocked all day without worrying. That’s got to be worth something, no?

Grimm times


The last few days have given us some beautiful misty mornings. I took this detour home after dropping the kids off at school this morning. Carved in the bark of the last tree were the words, “Dopey 4 Snow White”.

Hmmm … I wonder what will happen if I eat these mushrooms …

Shrooms in the mist

Getting away from it all?

We left Jamaica almost a month ago, leaving behind water and power shortages and the threat of hurricanes. We’re ending our break in Europe with other, unexpected hazards.

Groningen rocked by ‘record’ earthquake

8 August 2006

AMSTERDAM — An earthquake shook the north of the Netherlands early on Tuesday morning. Measuring 3.5 on the Richter Scale, it was equal in strength to the strongest earthquake on record in the northern Netherlands.

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And just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water …

Botulism in the Netherlands

In spite of all this, I’m an optimist who always sees the glass half full, or better still, just full.

Leffe pwns Heineken

(Big up to the visitors from the Jamaicans.com forum. Feel free to leave more of your flattering comments directly here.)