The carnival is over

After an end to August that was bathed in glorious sunshine, Autumn has arrived under a bit of a cloud – literally. For several days now I have been pricking my ears at the sound of rain spattering on the kitchen skylight and have been caught in a few unexpected downpours (only to find myself sweating it out in my mac when the clouds lift ten minutes later). Suddenly layers – and umbrellas – are the things I need to be thinking about.

I was walking back from East Finchley on Monday afternoon – the sky drab with cloud and the air heavy with humidity – and decided to pop into Long Lane Pasture.

It’s been two months since I first discovered it during a geocaching exploit with stepmum-B. On a warm summer day back in July, we had plodded curiously along the grassy pathways, stopping to admire a bright flower, taste some small golden plums or wonder at an unusual plant. Profusions of ripening blackberries, just a few short weeks from plump purple readiness, lined the paths and we had been delighted to find a patch of cool relief under a draping willow tree by the railway fence.

LLP July montage

Since then, the blackberries have all but gone and with things having been mowed and generally tidied, it was clear that the volunteers had been hard at work.

LLP Sept (3)

LLP Sept (4)

LLP Sept (2)

This grass circle (above left) contains 17 different species of native grass which, apart from being hand-weeded, are left to grow wild.

And speaking of native, the middle picture below is a Guelder Rose (viburnum opulus), native to the British Isles and named for Gelderland, a Dutch province. It grows in hedgerows and still grows wild in the London Borough of Barnet although this particular shrub was planted in the Pasture. Birds love the berries but they are acidic and slightly poisonous for people.

LLP Sept (1)

I also got a gander at some rose hips (above left) – which I’d only ever experienced during my childhood as ‘jelly-in-a-jar’ – and all to the accompaniment of bees buzzing away industriously. On the way out I put some coins in the donation box by the gate to support the efforts of the volunteers who tend this little patch for the community.

I continued on towards home and as I passed Victoria Park, I noticed something unusual on the grass.

Victoria Park

No, the aliens have not landed. Rather over the last ten days, the park has been playing host to a kiddies’ carnival – rides, bouncy castles, you know the sort of thing I mean. I’d grown used to it on my morning walks. But on Monday it had vanished leaving nothing but the marked grass as testament to their stay. With the rain, it will no doubt green up even more quickly than usual but I was astonished at how much of an impact the ten days had made.

And speaking of astonished, the garden at Gidday HQ continues to surprise and delight, particularly given the absence of green-coloured-thumbs. Small sprays of roses keep bursting forth, the insects continue to buzz busily and a flourish of striking red poppies has cropped up along the garden fence.

ChezGiddayFlowers Sept17

I did not plant any of these but most days I wander out to visit them, enjoying their delicate freshness and vigour and wondering what other surprises might be in store. I’m also flabbergasted at their undaunted survival and the unequivocal claim they have made at the home of one so horticulturally-challenged.

Nature is a marvellous thing isn’t it?


As I type this, my feet are tucked into my cosy sheepskin slippers. The lounge room is noticeably darker without the sun streaming in and while the desk lamp illuminates the keyboard under my fingers, the floor lamp in the corner behind me casts soft light across the room. The days are already feeling shorter.

Yes peeps, the carnival is definitely over. Long summer days are already yielding to brisk autumn nights. The kids are back at school and daily commutes are crowded with the busy and the anxious again. The steady march of annual comfort telly – the flurry of The Great British Bake Off and the flounce of Strictly Come Dancing – has begun.

Nevertheless I’m hoping that it’s not quite over yet. A bit like the roses at Gidday HQ, just when I think they have finished their annual flowering, their scented petals burst forth again, enchanting me one last time.

Peach roses.JPG

So if you are looking for me, I’ll be the one still smelling the roses…and keeping my eyes peeled for a late burst of summer.

Postcard from Amsterdam…

With Lil Chicky back home now and me trying valiantly to get back into life’s rhythmic swing, I’ve been working through the few hundred photos I took during our adventures together. And as I have been sorting, one question has kept going around and around in my head. What do I share with you first?

It had to be our trip to Amsterdam – and it warrants a couple of posts. Firstly because it’s such a wonderfully photogenic city and secondly because it was something of a pilgrimage for the two of us – but more about that in my next post.

This was my fourth visit to Amsterdam. There is something rather special about cities built in commune with their watery roots and I cannot count the number of times we turned a corner and wielded our respective ‘piccy kits’ (mine a point-and-shoot Nikon, hers a ‘fully-optioned’, rather hefty Canon SLR) in an attempt to capture ‘a moment’. 

With the exception of the 15 minute downpour walking from the Central Station to our hotel, we were blessed with four days of gorgeous weather. Crisp blue skies meant that a shared cone of chips generously dolloped with lush, luscious mayonnaise and a plate of bitteballen were best tackled outside, the latter with a local beer in hand.

It also meant A LOT of photos. Here are just a few of my absolute favourites.

We stayed at the Hampshire Eden just near Rembrandtplein – while the square itself was literally at our back door, this was the view from the front of the hotel.

I love that this photo looks like a painting – the curve of the canal, the buildings, bikes and boats lining the banks and a spire to aspire to in the distance.
There was something rather innocent about the dappled shade on the canal wall and the friends enjoying their moment in the sun, legs dangling childishly over the edge.

Begijnhof is a beautiful oasis tucked away in the heart of Amsterdam. Blink and you’d miss not just this entrance leading off Spui (we did) but also Amsterdam’s oldest house (no 34), the 15th century Engelse Kerk (English Church – above) and the Begijnhof Chapel, a clandestine church where the Begijntjes worshipped in secret until 1795.
No trip to Amsterdam is complete without a wander through its infamous Red Light district. The scarlet-draped windows line the streets and canals around the Oude Kerk (Old Church) yet as night falls and the lights reflect off the water, it easy to forget the deals ‘being done’ and get caught up in how pretty it all looks.
Oude Kerk itself is rather lovely in a stark kind of way. Not for it the intimate spaces or crowded decoration of many of Europe’s other places of worship. There’s a feeling of spacious calm beneath the gothic arches and when you’ve had enough, an unassuming door off the nave leads to a cosy tea room and outdoor courtyard for some quiet enjoyment and a reflective cuppa. 
If you are visiting Amsterdam, whether coming directly by train or by plane via Schipol Airport, you are likely to come through its Central Station. Intent on your destination, it’s easy to miss the opportunity to turn around and admire the magnificent entrance to this fabulous city. True to form, we were dashing away from the station on our arrival but had the opportunity to appreciate it from our canal cruise the following day.

As our canal boat rounded a corner, the colour and light in this scene was breath-taking. I love how all the elements – the bridge, the boat, the terraced buildings and the leafy boughs of the tree – come together to create what for me is inherently Amsterdam.
Our canal cruise took us past the Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge) which was constructed in 1670 and is probably the most famous in Amsterdam. I didn’t get a great photo of that bridge but as we drifted past it and turned right, this boat-load of ‘locals’ caught my eye and while not the Magere Brug, the typically Dutch bridge in the background gave me another moment in the sun to capture.
And last but not least, our photographic journey returns us to the ‘back yard’ of our stay, Rembrandtplein. It’s a vibrant square lined with cafes, bars and restaurants and pays homage to Rembrandt van Rijn himself and his most famous painting, The Nightwatch. (Like I did last trip, you can see the real thing in the Rijksmuseum. It’s enormous!)


So here endeth the armchair tour and I hope you’ve enjoyed it even half as much as I’ve enjoyed revisiting our trip in the writing of this post. S
tay tuned for more next time, an alternative look at our sibling sojourn as a pilgrimage of ‘all things Dutch’.

A Skip In My Step…

So the great Chicky Adventure is done and my sibling partner in crime has arrived back on the other side of the world (and is working through her jet lag by all accounts). 

It was such an amazing two weeks – firstly for the unadulterated ‘just us’ time, secondly for the opportunity for me to introduce her to this amazing city I call home, and thirdly for our shared pilgrimage to Amsterdam, Dad’s childhood home, and the delicacies we enjoyed in memory of our Oma and Opa.

I’ve been meaning to pick up the blogging ‘pencil’ again over the last few days but I have felt so full of everything we did that I haven’t known where to start. The anticipation of Lil Chicky’s first trip here. The pride in the sharing of my new hometown and experiencing its fabulous-ness through her ‘new’ eyes. The privilege of helping her celebrate her 40th birthday. The sheer intensity of spending 2 weeks – 24/7 – together for the first time since…well forever. 

All underpinned by a lifetime of sisterly memories, the effortless and uncomplicated recall of funny stories, childhood scrapes and sibling rivalry, and squillions of photos… 

…including a few selfies.

DAY 2: Fab Finchley – looking for coffee in the pouring rain.
DAY 3: Can’t go to London without visiting the Queen.
DAY 4: Hamers do ‘the henge’ (squeezed between visits to Salisbury and Bath). Technically not a selfie thanks to a kind Aussie chap on the tour, but close enough.


There’s a small selfie gap here while we undertook birthday celebrations (part one – The Mousetrap and dinner in Covent Garden – and two – Pret-a-Portea at The Berkeley)…

DAY 5: Fashionista food at the Berkeley

…Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, Globe Theatre and a visit to Carnaby Street.

DAY 6: Yes, we bought these. Because we had to get out of the rain. And the Irregular Choice shop was just there. Really.


Then we went to Amsterdam…

DAY 9: Arriving at Amsterdam’s Central Station about 2 minutes before torrential rain…
Waiting for our first poffertjes (teeny tiny pancakes served with butter and icing sugar and eaten with a toothpick) of the pigrimage trip in Dam Square.


(More on Amsterdam in a later post).

After 4 days, we returned to London, hired a car and drove first to Silverstone and then to Donington Circuits to tick a few things off Lil Chicky’s motorsport bucket list. Looks like Day 13 was a lucky one…

The Winners’ Podium at Silverstone – cheesy but had to be done.


We decided to take Day 14 easy with a visit to the Museum of London after the ‘wild storm‘ had abated…and when Day 15 dawned bright and blue-skied (if a little chilly), there was just one thing left to do…

DAY 15: It endeth on The Eye – our last sibling selfie of the trip.
Full of our time together and tired from our two weeks of tourist-ing, we said our emotional good-byes at Heathrow last Tuesday. After I’d waved until she’d disappeared behind the security barrier, I made the long trip home to Gidday HQ. It’s still my warm and cosy haven but a little quieter. And yellow banner of the Money Shop, which became our welcoming ‘nearly home’ beacon as we turned into my street each night, has now taken on a new and poignant significance. Another memory, meaningless to anyone else but enough to inspire a skip in my step…

…one that only Lil Chicky will understand.

Think You Know Your Geography?

During my recent visit Down Under, Dad thought it was a good time to expand my understanding of my Dutch heritage.

Limited thus far to wooden shoes…


…a love of tulips and a fetish for poffertjes


I opened the video he sent through with considerable alacrity only to end up more confused than ever!

Let me show you what I mean…


I rest my case.

Driving Our Future…

Could you imagine driving your car along roads that adapt to the traffic and the conditions around you?

Sounds like something out of a futuristic sci-fi flick doesn’t it? But in fact, it could be closer than we think.


In my itinerant innovation meanderings last week, I came across a cracker of an idea from a couple of literal clever clogs. Dutch design firm Studio Roosegarde have partnered up with Heijmans to develop Smart Highway, their vision for roads…

…which are more sustainable and interactive by using light, energy and road signs that automatically adapt to the traffic situation.

This looks like it responds to the weather conditions – we have many changes in weather here in the UK. Perhaps a highly lucrative market may not be so far away…once our road taxes have paid for all of the tearing up and re-laying of asphalt, the filling in of potholes as well as visibility jackets, hard hats and shovels…
Looking at this, I think the car is actually charged up when you drive in the ‘induction’ lane…what a fantastic idea! Now that might just give the oil companies a run for their money.
I love this idea of having lighting that is triggered by the traffic flow. Bit like turning the lights on and off as you enter and leave the room. No nagging required…and energy saving too.


During Dutch Design Week in October, this brilliant idea won a Best Future Concept award and Studio Roosegaarde claim that the first Smart Highway will be a reality in The Netherlands mid 2013.

What an amazing use of technology – concepts like this really do inspire me. What do you think? Could you see yourself driving on these highways of the future?

NB: All images sourced from: www.studioroosegaarde.net

Commuting Gems…Something To Aim For

Being a half Dutch person so to speak, most regular Gidday-ers will know that I have a finely tuned radar for all things clever clogs. Remember last year’s excitement about Den Bosch catherdral’s modern nod to the man upstairs?

Well, I was reading The Metro on the way to work last week when I came across yet another example of Dutch pragmatism and ingenuity. Apparently the fine folk at Schipol Airport had reached the end of their tether about men…well schhh-ing everywhere but where they should be schhh-ing. In the bowl, that is.

So what do you think they did?

They etched an image of a house fly in the bowl, giving the ‘little gentlemen’ something to aim for…and thereby ‘increasing accuracy up to 80%’.

Brilliant!

And given I was in the land of the clogged just a day later, it got me thinking, I wonder what other clever things the Dutch have done? So I googled when I got home and here’s what I found (on www.socyberty.com).

Father and son team Hans & Zacharias Janssen invented the first microscope so that they could see really small things. (Could they be related to Linda of Adventures in Expatland fame? It’s a small world you know…)

Hans Lippershey invented the first telescope so he could see far away things. Given the Dutch liked to voyage, this is likely to have proved quite useful.
  
In the natural world, Jan Ingenhausz discovered the process of photosynthesis in 1779 and Anton van Leeuweenhoek was the first to observe bacteria in 1626. Not to put too finer point on it but these gents probably needed to get a life (and one of them new microscope things).

In the modern age, the compact disk appeared in Eindhoven in 1979 thanks to Dutch company Phillips and the company founded by rally driver Maurice Gatsonides developed the first ‘road-rule-enforcement-camera’ in the 1950s thus creating the concept of revenue-raising amongst local constabularies the world over.

And last but not certainly not least, the Dutch claim to have been the first to discover Australia with Willem Janszoon checking out the Gulf of Carpentaria – that’s in the north bit – in 1606. No doubt helped by Lippershey’s telescope.

In fact, did you know that Australia was called New Holland for almost 190 years? The monikker was first coined in 1644 by Dutch man-about-sea, Abel Tasman, and remained part of the lingo right up until 1837.

But interestingly it was the English who first colonised that big, brown, inhospitable land down under, landing in Sydney Cove on the 26th January, 1788.

Seems like everyone was aiming for a piece of the Lucky Country.

But the ultimate clever clogs, the piece d’resistance of going Dutch, struck me full in the face as I walked into Eindhoven airport on Wednesday afternoon…

And I am left wondering whether in fact, I grew up in the wrong lucky country!

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Part of the Post of the Month Club for June 2012

Going Dutch…She’s Got The Look

I’ve been catching up on some of my favourite blogs today and a post by Linda from Adventures in Expatland has inspired me to put some thoughts on paper – or fingers to keyboard if that’s your fancy.  Linda is an expat like myself but she is an American living in Holland and just recently she posted on another expat site Expatria Baby, about cultural differences.

You may be wondering at this point why a post on cultural differences has inspired today’s theme on Gidday. After all, I am an expat and consider myself to be a well-travelled kind of gal. But you see, Linda wrote about integrating into the Dutch culture and me, being half-Dutch, was nodding away through the whole piece, muttering ‘oh yes’, ‘absolutely’ and ‘of course!’.  And it got me thinking: why do I identify so strongly with this part of my heritage having never lived there?

First, let me create a bit of context. Dad is the Dutch one. Born in Amsterdam, he emigrated to Australia with his parents and older sister when he was seven years old.  He married my Australian Mum (her lineage is English/Irish a couple of generations back but that’s a whole other story) in 1969, the same year I was born. We lived two suburbs away from Oma and Opa until I was nine years old. We never spoke Dutch at home.

While we never learnt to speak the language, Oma and Opa taught us nursery rhymes in Dutch, (Klaps Eens In Je Handjes was a particular fave) and we all toasted special occasions with ‘Prosit!’ so the cadence of the language surrounded our early childhood. There was even an ‘authentic’ Dutch costume that was passed down from me to Lil Chicky and we still have the clogs despite growing out of them ‘several’ years ago.

Fast Forward – I first visited Holland (Amsterdam in fact) in 2000 at the age of 31. I have been back twice since: once to wander around Amsterdam on my own for four days in October 2008 and again just a few months ago for work, I visited Den Bosch. It felt comfortable and sounded like my childhood – no huge surprise there.

But there’s a Dutch ‘thing’ my sister and I both feel (although not completely – after many a bruise-inducing attempt, I have concluded that riding a bicycle is not really my forte.)  An affiliation if you like with their mix of aloof-ness and pragmatic blunt-ness. I found myself nodding furiously at this observation in Linda’s post:

All part of a culture that believes strongly in a Calvinistic sense of personal responsibility. The door is there, of course one should be prepared to open it.

and then completely understanding (and seeing in myself if I’m honest) the blend of friendly yet aloof polite-ness (which creates space) and then, as fond feelings develop:

 …the standard Dutch greeting of three kisses. Not two as in many cultures, but a full three! Hands holding the other person’s upper arms to draw in for a partial hug and then left, right, left…

But there’s more: apparently I have a Dutch ‘look’ and a Dutch nose ‘to look down’ (although Mum, I don’t think it looks particularly Dutch, or any nationality really). 

And to top it all off, a guy I was absolutely smitten with when I was 19, remarked to Mum in the early stages of our relationship that I was very pragmatic. This may have been true (and in fact, quite insightful) but my tender and romantic teenage heart was crushed.

So in between my ‘get off your a***’-ness’, ‘give me space’-ness and ‘I am fond of you’ effusiveness, there’s a romantic soul who believes in life’s ‘journey’, an idealist who always looks for the best in others and a friendly Aussie lass who thinks a passing exchange of greetings in the street makes the world a nicer place. 

There are plenty of times when these two opposing forces vie for attention – my desire to believe it will all turn out for the best constantly confronted by the voice saying that if I don’t make it happen, it won’t.  

So how do I manage this dichotomy I hear you ask?  Well let me tell you, I am a whizz at delivering tough news – direct as you like – with a smile.  And if you happen to provide below par service to this particular customer, don’t object in the face of my refusal to pay the service charge. 

You’ll only make it worse. And then, you will see…

…the look.