Category Archives: Holland

Motherlode

motherlodeSeventy-four years ago today, Holland witnessed the outbreak of World War II. I posted about this topic before, in a Letter From my Grandparents to my Mother. That post was spotted by Carolyne van der Meer from Canada, who was in the middle of writing a book about the Dutch experience during that dark period. She asked my permission to use my post – or rather my grandparents’ letter – as a source for her book – a request I could hardly refuse.

Carolyne’s book was published in January of this year under the title Motherlode, is well worth a read, and available on Amazon. I’m proud to quote the poem that was inspired by my grandparents’ letter:

 

Today, margarine fell from Allied airplanes.
Last week, we got
one hundred grams of oil and two kilograms of barley flakes
from the Janssens,
a tin of milk
from the Vissers, and
half a loaf of dark bread
from the Altenas.
Just last night,
Marinus brought
two kilograms of barley
and Cas another
kilogram of oatmeal.
Bitter when we mix it
but we get a good-sized pancake.
With the borrowed milk,
we got to have a nice cup
of coffee substitute
last Sunday.

There’s been an outbreak
of typhus,
some suffer from
hunger edema.
But us,
we are managing.

Motherlode, page 90.
Carolyne van der Meer.
Wilfrid Laurier University Press. © 2014.
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

The Windmill

The windmill near Marssum

One of the things that happen when you live abroad for a considerable length of time, is that you begin to see your native country through the eyes of a tourist. When going on a visit back home, you do things you would never do when you were still living there. Parisians don’t climb the Eiffel Tower.

I remember my uncle Meinte coming over from the US to visit us when I was still living in Rotterdam. He had been based in Springfield, Massachusetts, since the 1950s and spoke Dutch with a distinct American accent. One of the things he wanted to do during his stay in Holland was to go and see the “bollenstreek” — the famous endless fields of tulips in the West of the country. It struck me as strange that anyone who is from Holland would want to go and see something so blatantly touristy.

Although I have yet to visit the bollenstreek, I have in fact fallen in the homecomer’s tourist trap on several occasions — but this is not a Bad Thing. Like uncle Meinte before me, I have discovered the joys of being presented with experiences that are beneath our fellow country men and women, who assume they know all there is to know about our native land just because they live there.

Recently our little Irish family were driving through the wide open landscape of the Friesland province, my ancestral home in the northernmost part of the Netherlands. As we passed a lone wind turbine, my son remarked how he would like to see “a real windmill” sometime. No sooner had he said that, than his wish came true. We spotted an old fashioned — “real” —windmill some distance from the main road. Unlike the many other windmills we had spotted in the Dutch landscape over the years, this one was actually working, its blades rotating with surprising speed.

We turned off the main road and headed for the windmill, which turned out to be located outside the tiny village of Marssum. There was no big sign, car park or interprative centre — just a footpath hidden between a few houses, leading up to the mill. We parked the car and strolled up the path, which led past a field the size of a football pitch, with floodlights in the centre and deliberately submerged under water — in anticipation of the frost that would turn this setup into a fabulous public skating ring.

A group of men stood in front of the windmill, chatting in their native Friesian language. One of them asked us if we would like a tour — free and for nothing, the mill is operated by volunteers from one of the associations whose members look after these striking monuments.

Since the entrance to the mill was blocked by the swishing blades that almost touched the ground (categorising this type of mill as a “ground sailer”), the millner — our guide — first had to stop the mill by applying some sort of handbrake at the back of the building. A mill will always have two entrances on opposite sides, just in case the position of the blades blocks one of them and stopping the mill is not desirable.

Our mill was one of those classic types you see on Dutch picture postcards, a thatched octagonal construction with four white blades – a so-called “smock mill”. The head of the mill can be rotated a full 360 degrees to position the blades facing the wind, whichever direction it may come from.

The blades themselves are usually fitted with canvas sails, stretched across the wooden frame only when the mill is operational — and like on a sailing ship, sail cover is increased or decreased to suit the strength of the wind. This is of course a laborious process, requiring the mill to be stopped as the sail on each blade is adjusted. The windmill in Marssum is different — its blades are fitted with so-called “patent sails” which are like wooden venetian blinds and can be opened and closed to suit the wind without having to stop the mill. Incidentally, the proper term for a windmill’s blades is actually just that – sails.

Dutch monuments are as easy to date as Irish cars – the year of construction is prominently displayed. I presumed we were looking at something that was built about 200 years ago, and was surprised to see “1903” painted across the top of the building. The millner explained that the mill is a water mill, built in an era when steam powered pumping stations — which have become historical monuments in their own right — had already become the norm in maintaining most polders in the Netherlands. At the time, the polder near Marssum was deemed too small to justify the construction of such a modern pumping station, and the local authorities decided on the cheaper option of a traditional windmill.

At the back of the mill, a large cast iron Archimedes’ screw constitutes the actual pumping mechanism powered by the mill. Its function is now of course obsolete, the water levels in the modern day province are maintained by hundreds of pumps and a network of drainage canals that divert the water back into the sea.

The actual mechanism of the windmill is simple but very impressive. The power of the rotating blades is transferred by gigantic wooden cogs to an equally massive axis that runs the full height of the building, where at the bottom it ultimately powers the Archimedes’ screw.

We were allowed to view all of the different levels inside the mill — where the first level can be booked as the registry office location for weddings. Just below the roof level, a string with large lumps of what looked like meat was hanging from the ceiling. Pork fat, as it turns out, is used to grease the wooden cogs — mineral oil would destroy the timber.

Another method to preserve the wooden mechanism is the use of different timbers for the pegs of the interlocking cogs. The difference in the density of the grain of different types of wood ensures the longevity of these components as they constantly rub against each other.

That the power of this massive wooden machine should not be underestimated was highlighted by the sign at the steep ladder leading into the attic, warning us of “mortal danger”. Even though the mill had been stopped, we were slightly apprehensive as we crawled around where the blades transfer the power of the wind to the mill’s vertical axis, inside a space that can itself rotate in any direction.

Our guide did not speak English, so I acted as interpreter for my family. Funny enough, he regularly broke into Friesian, which was obviously his native and preferred language. Lucky for me, my grandparents — born before the Marsummer Mill was built — endowed me with at least a passive command of that language by exclusively speaking Friesian to their grandchildren.

Now that global warming, rising sea levels and renewable energy have become hot topics, we may yet see the mill in Marssum and its colleagues around the Netherlands come out of retirement. In fact, if that famous quote from around the time the mill in Marssum was built — Everything that can be invented has been invented — had turned out to be accurate, we wouldn’t have ended up with that mess to begin with.

Why I Don’t Believe in Santa

You’d have to feel sorry for kids in Ireland. And in the UK, North America, Australia… in all of the English speaking world in fact, and beyond. They have all been brought up to believe that this made-up character called Santa brings them presents on Christmas Eve, as long as they’re on the “Good” list.

Since today’s Santa is little more than an advertising mascot created by Coca Cola in the 1930s, it might as well be Ronald McDonald who supplies the toys. Hollywood has illustrated more than once that Santa belongs in the same category of children’s fiction as the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, by letting these characters appear alongside each other – most recently in “Rise of the Guardians”.

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet spotted in Heerenveen, Friesland.

Today is the 5th of December, and children in my native Holland are preparing for the imminent arrival of Saint Nicholas. Unlike this Santa fellow, Saint Nicholas is very real – I’ve met him on several occasions when I was younger. He brings us presents on the eve of his feast day, which falls on the 6th of December. No secretive break-ins during the middle of the night, no need for far-fetched fairytales about elves or flying reindeer – the Good Saint rides around on his white horse and is assisted by one or more helpers of African origin, Zwarte Piet (“Black Pete”).

Every year in mid November, Saint Nicholas arrives in Holland by steam boat from his current domicile in Spain. This event is televised live, and in the days that follow the Saint can be seen making his entrance in towns and villages around the country.

During the days leading up to December 5th, children can get a taste of things to come by occasionally placing one of their shoes by the fireplace (or another form of heating – nowadays it just serves as a general marker for the Saint’s helpers to locate the shoes). Leaving some hay and a carrot for the horse, the children will find them replaced with a small toy and some typical Saint Nicholas sweets when they get up in the morning.

Some days, just when you’re quietly reading a book or watching TV, an unexpected banging may rattle the door of the room you’re in, and someone shouting if there’s any naughty children in the house. The obvious denial then results in the door opening just enough to let a gloved hand appear and scatter sweets across the room.

These seasonal sweet treats are really something special – spiced mini biscuits, chocolate letters (of course you get one to match your initial), marzipan shaped and coloured to resemble almost anything… an endless variety of yumminess – pepernoten, speculaas, suikergoed and marsepein.

For the older kids and adults, the festival takes on an extra dimension with the creation of a “surprise” – pronounced as the French word, “sur-preesuh”. Poorly imitated by the misguided Santa-followers as a “Chris Kindle”, this is far more than just drawing lots and anonymously submitting a present. No, a surprise can be a work of art or intricate cocoon, the wrapping of the present being the most important part – shaped and modelled to represent something that will suit, please, amuse or indeed annoy the recipient. Listening to a phone-in on Dutch radio the other day, I heard people discussing their most memorable surprises – they would remember the surprise, but often not what was in it.

When darkness falls on December 5th, we sit and listen anxiously for any sign of the Good Holy Man. Often it takes a fearless adult to go check outside, who then runs the risk of missing the Big Moment when the doorbell rings or the knock on the window finally comes. Somehow Black Pete or the Saint himself always manages to avoid being seen, leaving a big box or sack – but most commonly a laundry basket – containing everyone’s gifts to be dragged into the house.

Discipline is of the essence here – there is no chaotic grabbing or unwrapping – this is Parcel Night (pakjesavond) and not Parcel Minute, so we’ve got all night. Sitting around the laundry basket, we take turns in blindly taking out a parcel and handing it to the person named on the tag. Most presents will be accompanied by a verse, carefully written by the Saint to reflect on events during the past year, or just to tease the reader – the verse must be read out loud before the present can be unwrapped. Sometimes such a verse can contain instructions on where to locate particularly bulky presents that may not fit in the original delivery.

Saint Nicholas became popularly known as Sinterklaas, and when pronounced by English speakers, the resemblance with the name “Santa Claus” is of course no coincidence. In the same way that the pioneers of Christianity supplanted existing heathen festivals such as the springtime fertility festival with Easter and the midwinter feast with Christmas – so the distorted Saint must have ended up on the nearest available feastday – Christmas.

Having been raised a protestant like the majority of children in the Northern part of the Netherlands, the fact that the Saint dons the outfit of a Catholic bishop completely eluded me. When confronted with television footage of a special occasion mass attended by high ranking clergy, my reaction is still, “Hey look, it’s Saint Nicholas”. Or as my son remarked when we bumped into the Saint during our latest visit to Holland, “He looks like the Pope”.

The large Anglican church just off Shop Street in Galway’s city centre is dedicated to Saint Nicholas. It is one of many such churches around the world, Nicholas being the patron saint of – among many others – sailors and fishermen (which explains his presence in Galway) and, of course, children.

The origins of the modern-day Santa are traced back to something as unimpressive as a poem written less than 200 years ago, when Clement Clarke Moore single handedly distorts the truth about a visit from Saint Nicholas and invents the reindeer-and-sleigh nonsense. The gullible Americans fell for it, and spread this stuff around the world along with their burgers and Coke.

“Het Sint Nicolaasfeest” by Jan Steen

Saint Nicholas celebrations however, can be seen depicted by one of the Dutch Masters of the 17th century, Jan Steen. The earliest mention of the Saint Nicholas feast is from 1360, according to infonu.nl. And of course, let us not forget that we are dealing with a genuine historic figure – Nicholas was bishop of Myrain what is now Turkey, early in the 4th century.

The Saint’s helper I mentioned earlier, Zwarte Piet, has miraculously survived the racial equality and political correctness of the modern era. It is obvious that his depiction as a Minstrel-type character dressed in a 17th century servant outfit is a reminder of the traditional origins, in an era when the Dutch were not only masters of the art of painting, but also of the slave trade. It seems, however, that some critics of the Zwarte Piet tradition fall into the same category of people as those who object to primary school nativity plays, on the grounds that they may be offensive to those who follow a different faith.

Saint Nicholas has nothing to do with Christmas, no matter what the words of The Night Before Christmas might suggest. In Holland, we were always able to celebrate Christmas as a religious feast with some heathen decorations thrown in – but the commercialism had at that stage already been taken care of by the Bishop of Myra.

The existence of Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus is not a matter of belief – the former is living history, the latter is a fraud. It’s as simple as that.

And then there’s coffee

Drink Coffee

It's True.

Earlier this week, Patina Vaz Dias posted a picture of one of those mock vintage advertising signs on her Facebook page: “Drink Coffee — Do Stupid Things Faster with More Energy.” I was sipping my own early morning coffee when I read that, and said to myself “En dan is er koffie”, which roughly translates into the title of this blog post.

That phrase is an advertising slogan from the 1970s, praising the qualities of Douwe Egberts coffee, which has become ingrained in the Dutch vernacular forever more. The campaign was playing on emotional values and bringing people together, similar to the Irish “Golden Moments” adverts for Barry’s Tea.

Douwe Egberts TV Commercial, August 1982.

The comparison between those two advertising campaigns immediately highlights an important cultural difference between Ireland and Holland: tea versus coffee. When we talk about a “nice cuppa” in Ireland, this will always refer to tea, whereas the Dutch term “lekker bakkie” is reserved exclusively for coffee — and even immortalised in song by Rita Corita.

Of course the Dutch also drink tea, but as far as the Irish (or indeed, the Brits) are concerned — they haven’t a clue. Extremely weak and without milk, often polluted with strange fruit flavours, what passes for tea in Holland is an affront to tastes everywhere to the west of the North Sea. However, when I first set foot on Irish soil in 1984, the Irish interpretation of coffee was probably even worse by comparison.

Upon ordering a cup of coffee in an Irish establishment, you were presented with a mug in which half a teaspoon of that sawdust that comes in a red Maxwell House jar had been dissolved, weak enough to resemble Dutch tea. On that first Irish visit, my friends and I quickly got into the habit of ordering coffee by asking for the jar of instant and making our own, in order to at least obtain some caffein even if flavour remained elusive. Only once did we come across something drinkable — the little restaurant at the Cliffs of Moher served Rombouts Coffee, albeit those little plastic one-cup filters. It was heaven.

All of that has changed since the arrival of the Celtic Tiger, and even though that creature has now been assigned to history, it is no longer possible to order just a cup of coffee — Maxwell House or otherwise. Instead, we must specify a Latte, Cappucino or Macchiato, Espresso or Americano, Tall, Medium or Grande, the list is endless. Chains of specialist coffee shops have spread across the nation and it appears as if Ireland is trying to make up for a centuries old caffein-free tradition.

Before someone comes along to point out that tea actually contains more caffein than coffee, let me make it clear that I’m not interested in that or any other aspect of tea. I never drink the stuff. For as long as I can remember I’ve been drinking coffee, and I only recall drinking tea when I was still living with my mother, always in the afternoon. Coffee was the morning and evening beverage.

Comicbook hero Asterix the Gaul is invited by his British cousin to help fight the Romans. Since tea has not yet been introduced into pre-Christian Britain (until Asterix accidentally creates the first pot of tea at the end of the story), the British tribesmen and -women are depicted drinking cups of hot water at every opportunity. I guess that image stuck in my mind: tea is no more than coloured hot water.

Just a spot of milk, please.

My sister is the complete opposite of me — she only drinks tea. Some time ago I stayed with her and discovered that the only coffee available in her kitchen was of the decaffeinated variety. At least it was proper ground coffee and tasted good enough. After this morning cup of decaf, I went for a walk to try and clear an annoying headache. I came by a little coffee shop, was tempted, and slipped inside for another coffee. This time, it was real coffee — and within seconds, my headache vanished. I must have been suffering caffein withdrawal symptoms. In any case, it is my firm belief that decaf coffee falls into the same category as low fat milk, herbal cigarettes and alcohol free beer: Pointless.

The Maritime Museum in Amsterdam taught me a lesson about drinking too much coffee, back in 1983 when the Dutch State put me to work there as a conscientious objector (I foresee another blog post). On a typical day, we started “work” at 9 in the morning by congregating in the canteen for our second dose of coffee — we would already have had some with our breakfast. At 9:30 my boss and I would brew some more coffee in our office and go through that before 11. At that stage it was time for our coffee break and we’d return to the canteen for a well deserved caffein fix. One day we had a bit of a slack day and upon returning to the office we made another pot of coffee. By lunchtime my hands were shaking uncontrollably and my pupils had swallowed my irises. I was awake. Since that day, I limit my caffein intake somewhat.

Taken from the BBC’s “Walk on the Wild Side” series

For many years, I considered the ultimate breakfast to be a cup of coffee and a cigarette — freshly brewed and hand rolled respectively, of course. It is probably no coincidence that two of the largest purveyors of coffee in Holland — Douwe Egberts and Van Nelle — had an equivalently large share of the tobacco market. Although I became a non-practising smoker more than three years ago, I still miss this perfect way to start the day. At least I still have my coffee, without which life would become truly meaningless.

En dan is er koffie.

Grave Spotting

Glendalough

Read in Peace - Glendalough, Co. Wicklow.

I’m sure that most of us have spent time looking at monuments in a graveyard or church at one time or another. On holidays or at a funeral, reading the inscriptions on headstones, we may secretly (when at a funeral) or loudly (when on holidays) try to spot the oldest or youngest deceased or simply the oldest grave in the plot.

Living in Ireland, one is spoilt for choice when it comes to visiting old and fascinating burial places, ranging from the ancient passage tombs such as Newgrange in county Meath, to Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin with the final resting places of many Irish heroes. Both are in fact tourist attractions, complete with guided tours.

It comes as a shock to my Irish friends when I tell them that a final resting place in my native Holland may not be all that final after all. I would have a hard time trying to find the graves of some of my relatives, for example, even if I know where they were buried. This is because cemeteries in Holland’s urban areas have long run out of space. Just as most Dutch people rent their home during their lifetime, their final resting place is also — rented.

Around the city of Rotterdam, the average rental period for a grave is 25 years. I imagine that means that if you’re in your seventies and decide to pick that nice spot under the big tree, you’d better keep in mind that if you live for another 10 or maybe even 20 years, you’ll have precious little time left in your “final” resting place. When the rental period ends, surviving relatives are notified and asked if they wish to renew the lease — it seems that in most cases, they let it go.

If you had planned to spend your sunset days in Holland and this has turned you off, then you’ll be glad to know that you can always buy a grave, in which case your mortal coil does get the eternal rest you had in mind. Also, most cemeteries in rural parts of the Netherlands do not have the same space problems as their urban counterparts.

One wonders what happens to those graves that are cleared when their lease is up. Of course the official guidelines tell us about the sensitivity surrounding exhumation, and how the remains are placed in smaller boxes and interred in a communal vault — the practise will vary between cemeteries. It appears that these practises have not always been so sensitive, however.

When I spent a weekend with one of my friends in secondary school, he took me to the grounds of a church in a nearby village. At the time, we were going through a teenage Gothic Horror phase, reading Edgar Allan Poe and the like. The church grounds were of interest because part of the old graveyard had recently been cleared, and the freshly dug soil had been distributed around the walls of the church, presumably to provide bedding for plants. To my amazement, the white bits that could be seen scattered among the lumps of soil turned out to be — bones. Teeth, vertebrae, bits of ribs and skull… they were definitely human. Weirdos that we were, a few samples ended up in our pockets.

Unpleasant scenes in Howth

Of course the force of nature will sometimes compromise a final resting place, even in Ireland — where the thought of renting a grave is almost as abhorrent as renting one’s home. The torrential rain of last October washed away part of the graveyard at St. Mary’s Abbey in Howth, exposing some of the coffins. Pictures that appeared via Twitter and Facebook have since been removed from the more established news sites, probably because it emerged that the affected graves were quite recent.

Mud slides and rental graves notwithstanding, most burial places are of a more permanent nature, thankfully. My morbid teenage fascination with such places appears to have stayed with me, and over the years I have roamed among the permanent addresses of the faithful and not-so-faithful departed in various locations.

Père Lachaise in Paris was one of my first encounters with a different approach to honouring the dead than what I was used to. This incredible necropolis is home to the remains of countless famous people, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, Victor Hugo and Chopin among them. Recently the cemetery featured on the Irish news when the tomb of Oscar Wilde was restored, having become the victim of thousands of kisses.

A completely different experience awaited me when I visited the Piskariovskoye Memorial Cemetery in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg — once again). Around half a million victims of the Nazi siege of the city lay buried in enormous mass graves, marked only with a stone with the year on it. Tschaykovsky’s “Pathétique” sounded from dozens of speakers around the cemetery, adding to the gloom.

Much more colourful was the town cemetery in Comares in Andalusia, Spain. Perched on top of a massive rock, the location does not lend itself to the traditional method of placing the deceased six foot under. Instead, they are stacked up to more than six foot above the ground in drawer-like tombs, with neighbours on all sides. One gets the feeling of navigating the cemetery like supermarket aisles.

17th century graves in Malakka

Apart from the quirky architecture, the historic ties between Holland and Malakka in Malaysia become apparent when visiting the ancient graveyard beside St. Paul’s Church in the centre of the old town. Dozens of weathered headstones bear testimony to the adventurous souls who sought to start a new life in a new world, at a time when such an undertaking was far more dramatic — and permanent — than we can imagine. Dating back to the 17th century, the most elaborate and best preserved monuments adorn the graves of merchants and their families, whereas ordinary citizens have to make do with more clumsily carved markers of lesser quality. Plus ça change.

Back in Ireland, one of the more bizarre burial spots can be found near the village of Glencree in the Wicklow Mountains, south of Dublin. Nestled in the shade of a steep rock we find the picturesque German War Cemetery. That’s strange, because the last time we checked our history books there was no mention of a war involving German troops on Irish soil. It turns out that most graves are from the time of “the Emergency”, among them those of Luftwaffe personnel on one of their raids who somehow managed to miss England (where they refer to this era as World War II). The plot thickens when we spot a grave from 1947, when even outside Ireland the War was over. This grave belongs to Dr. Hermann Görtz, a German spy based in Ireland who committed suicide when the Allies were hot on his trail. De mortuis non est disputandum, or something like that.

Ids Haagsma, Ereveld Loenen

I’ll finish by referring back to my first blog post. My uncle Ids Haagsma was executed by the Nazis in November 1944; his body was found after the war, in a mass grave on the Waalsdorpervlakte near the Hague. He was re-interred, with full military honours, at the Zuiderbegraafplaats in Rotterdam, and later at the Ereveld (Field of Honour) in Loenen — the final resting place of some 4,000 casualties of various wars.

May they rest in peace.

Christmas Odyssey

Arctic conditions at Dublin Airport

This time last year, our part of Europe was in the icy grip of winter, and many Irish living abroad were struggling to make it home in time for Christmas. Ironically, I found myself “at home” in Holland for my mother’s birthday, and then tried to get back home to Dublin in time for Christmas. Things did not quite turn out as expected, and it took me more than 3 days of travelling through snow-covered airports and iced-over railway stations to get back in time for Santa’s visit to my real home in Goatstown.

This was the very first time I came to appreciate the power of “social media”, keeping in touch with friends and family throughout my journey via SMS, Email, Twitter and Facebook. This blogpost attempts to put all of the messages that I sent during those 80 hours – and some of the ones I received – in chronological order.

I was lucky enough to make it home in time to help Santa with his deliveries. To all of you who missed out on following me on Facebook and Twitter during those days, and of course to all of you who did, I wish you all a merry Christmas and a very happy New Year.

Email, November 26, 2010
ITINERARY/RECEIPT – All times are local.
From Eindhoven (EIN) to Dublin (DUB)
Mon, 20Dec10 Flight FR1965 Depart EIN at 18:25 and arrive DUB at 19:05
PASSENGERS
1. MR PIER KUIPERS ADT

The Start

I take the 13:00 train from Amsterdam to Eindhoven to begin my journey back home to Dublin.

SMS, December 20, 2010 at 17:28
Flight delayed. Supposed to leave now but not sure has it even landed here yet…

SMS, December 20, 2010 at 17:30
There’s about an inch of snow here but not snowing now. No plane either, though…

6 hours

SMS, 20 December 18:57
URGENT-Your Ryanair flight has been cancelled – please visit www.ryanair.com for free rebooking/refund

SMS, December 20, 2010 at 19:51
Amsterdam Dublin €300 with Aer Lingus. No Ryanair until friday at the earliest

SMS, December 20, 2010 at 20:15
Aer Lingus Booking Ref:28VPT2
EI0607 21DEC AMS-DUB
dep 15:10 arr 15:50.

SMS, December 20, 2010 at 21:40
Still on train travelling at snail’s pace. Jobien picking me up from station. Still snowing there?

12 hours

Twitter, December 21, 2010 at 0:07
OK, so I’m back in Amsterdam, having spent 6 hours in Eindhoven waiting for a Ryanair flight. Dublin Airport closed. Yikes.

SMS, December 21, 2010 at 8:48
Got stuck in Holland due to weather, trying to get home on 3pm flight.

SMS, December 21, 2010 at 9:41
Looks like dublin is in chaos. Praying that airport stays open

SMS, December 21, 2010 at 12:37
On my way to airport, but just heard that “We have had to suspend operations until 17.00 due to a recent heavy snowfall.” fucking great.

Twitter, December 21, 2010 at 13:17
On my way to Schiphol, second attempt at going home. Wish me luck.

24 hours

Twitter, December 21, 2010 at 13:36
Just in from Dublin Airport: “We have had to suspend operations until 17.00 due to a recent heavy snowfall.”
Great.

Andrew Watchorn
Does that mean that you’re just in from Dublin Airport or just in from Dublin airport – as in news. Former = Congratulations. Later = Commiserations!

SMS, December 21, 2010 at 16:39
Hell on earth. Queue at rebooking desk 3 miles long.

SMS, December 21, 2010 at 16:45
If you’re online, would you mind checking if ferries from holyhead are sailing?

Caoilte Guiry
Holyhead to Dublin:0040-0630, 0130-0630 or 1310-1810 (at £41) on 22nd according to national express. I’ll check bus routes too as its quite busy apparently

SMS, December 21, 2010 at 17:25
Stena offices closed, am on the train. Packed to capacity, people standing. What a madhouse

SMS, December 21, 2010 at 17:27
Everything booked out until Friday, including Cork. Thousands stranded. Trains chaos. Making my way to ferry to England, is only hope to get home before Christmas. Not joking.

30 hours

Twitter, December 21, 2010 at 18:48
Flight cancelled, nothing available until Friday. Making my way to Hook of Holland to try and catch a ferry to England.

England here I come

Facebook, December 21, 2010 at 20:30
Fuck Dublin Airport

SMS, December 21, 2010 at 21:55
Status update: Just pulled away from the quay, ferry from Hook of Holland – Harwich. Arriving tomorrow 7am, then train to London, onward to Holyhead. Across the Irish Sea, and home for Christmas:-)

Twitter, December 21, 2010 at 22:40
And the band played “Dreaming of a White Christmas” When the ship pulled away from the quay…

Henk Kuipers 
It was Christmas Eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me, won’t see another one
And then he sang a song
The Rare Old Mountain Dew
I turned my face away
And dreamed about you
etc. etc.

Twitter, December 21, 2010 at 22:47
OK guys, this is it. On the North Sea en route to Dublin, with just that pesky bit of land inbetween. Wondering when I’ll lose my network.

42 hours

Foursquare, December 22, 2010 at 7:43
Harwich International Station
So far, so good

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 8:56
Home sounds like a good place to be! Just arrived in London, gonna check flights. Will keep u posted

Foursquare, December 22, 2010 at 10:07
Liverpool Street Platform 6
Getting tube to Euston station…

Mark Palmer 
You seem to be running to your new schedule OK. Good luck with the rest of your journey.

Chaos at Euston Station

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 10:21
In London Euston waiting for delayed train to Chester. No flights available until Saturday. Not sure if I’ll make Holyhead in time for tonight’s ferry…

Foursquare, December 22, 2010 at 10:41
London Euston Station (EUS)
See if Virgin can get me a ticket all the way to Dublin

Facebook, December 22, 2010 at 11:14
Train to Chester delayed. Massive crowd here, but maybe it’s always like this :-/

Twitter, December 22, 2010 at 11:28
Chester train cancelled. Fuck.

Sinead Lawlor
Don’t lose hope!!

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 11:41
Train to Chester cancelled. Now on the train to Crewe.

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 11:42
It’s unlikely that I’ll make the 5:15 ferry. There is one at midnight, it appears. Still need to get from Crewe to Chester to Holyhead first, though…

Twitter, December 22, 2010 at 12:07
OK, on train to Crewe, it’s a start. Seat with table, power supply and free wifi – no excuse, better do some work :-(

Twitter, December 22, 2010 at 12:15
Right, so the wifi is useless. View from window nothing but SNOW. Read my book?

48 hours

Snowy landscapes near Birmingham

Twitter, December 22, 2010 at 13:07
Picture postcards views of snowy English lanscapes near Birmingham somewhere

Foursquare, December 22, 2010 at 13:54
Crewe Railway Station (CRE)
On to Chester

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 15:03
Given up on ferry, Fully booked so no guarantee of getting across. Eoin got on alright, the bastard. Booked flight from BMX at 20:15

Facebook, December 22, 2010 at 15:57
Leaving Chester, heading back to Crewe. Stena not accepting any more passengers until Friday, so not heading to Holyhead but to Birmingham to catch a flight – hopefully…

Gerry McLoughlin
Jesus Pier, I hope you get sorted.

Tom Wiebe
I sense a book in the making…

Willie Van Velzen
ya poor git!

Email, December 22, 2010 at 14:30
Passenger(s): MR PIER KUIPERS
Flight: EI0277 – Wed 22 Dec 2010
Departs: Birmingham-Terminal 1 (BHX) 20:15
Arrives: Dublin-Terminal 1 (DUB) 21:15
Status: Y/Economy Class CONFIRMED
Airline: Aer Lingus

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 17:14
Made it to Birmingham Airport, flights looking good. fingers crossed.

Foursquare, December 22, 2010 at 17:44
Wetherspoon, Departure Lounge (BHX Airport)
FECK! DRINK!

53 hours

Facebook, December 22, 2010 at 17:53
Having travelled all this way over land, getting on a flight at this stage feels like cheating. But let’s not speak too soon – it may yet be cancelled…

Facebook, December 22, 2010 at 20:49
OK, flight’s delayed until 2300. Things are looking up for the anti-cheating squad.

Facebook, December 22, 2010 at 20:56
In Birmingham Airport sipping pint of ale. Flight delayed until 23:00. Aer Lingus gave me a €5 voucher – yay. I lost it – sigh.
Recent experience has taught me that delay is the first step to cancellation…

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 21:39
I am so goddamn bored and homesick. Entering day 4 of my attempts to get back. I’ll get the Aircoach to Stillorgan and a taxi from there no matter what the time, they go all night.

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 21:56
Latest news: flight delayed until midnight. I think I’ll have a pint, so.

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 22:16
Delayed, estimated 0001, gate opens 1 hr 5 mins. Believe it when i see it.

Now boarding...

Facebook, December 23, 2010 at 0:35
“passengers please proseed [sic] to departure lounge by 2355.” Woah. I’d better drink up.

Facebook, December 23, 2010 at 1:26
NOW BOARDING AT GATE 48. Oh yeah, baby.

SMS, December 23, 2010 at 00:27
I can SEE the plane, and people getting off it. They’re very slow, though…

61 hours

Facebook, December 23, 2010 at 2:56
Guess what? My flight has been CANCELLED.
Aer Lingo are putting us all in the Hilton tonight, along with the crew who need their 12 hour beauty sleep now, rather than flying us back to Dublin first.
OK so. Whatever.

SMS, December 23, 2010 at 2:56
Latest travel news: flight from Birmingham CANCELLED at the last minute. Staff need their 12 hour beauty sleep. We’re told we’re flying tomorrow at 14:45. Yah right. All of us being transported to the Hilton now (at 2:45am)

Foursquare, December 23, 2010 at 3:56
Hilton International Birmingham
Ireland? Huh? Where’s that?

Dave Slater
Well, at least you’ll get to see what the outside of the National Exhibition Centre looks like – which I am sure has always been one of those boxes in life you wanted to tick.

Pier Kuipers
Heh. I ticked that box a few months ago when I was here for a meeting. Any other suggestions as to why being here might be a good thing?

Dave Slater
Pier, I was just trying to give you some encouragement.

69 hours

Facebook, December 23, 2010 at 10:12
From Dublin Airport via Twitter: “We are temporarily suspending flight operations for about 30 minutes to allow the runway to be sprayed with de-icer.”

Ronan Doyle
i think dublin is closed until 1.30 :-0

Willie Van Velzen
snowing heavily in Leixlip at the moment

Ronan Doyle
Ever feel like that steve martin from Planes, Trains & Automobiles??

Mr Flight Delayed

SMS, December 23, 2010 at 10:55
Dublin Airport closed until 13:30 to clear snow

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 11:13
Latest News > 09.30: Flight Operations Suspended At Dublin Airport
Think Happy Thoughts.

Facebook, December 23, 2010 at 12:43
The name is Delayed. Flight Delayed. And that’s Mr Delayed to you.

Andrew Watchorn – Classic!

Johan Sölve – Bummer.

Facebook, December 23, 2010 at 13:45
Look! I got another boarding pass for my collection.

73 hours

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 14:09
Yesterday Dublin Airport was open, but we had no plane.
Today we have a plane and a crew, but no Airport. Two out of three ain’t bad?

Facebook, December 23, 2010 at 14:11
Dublin Airport Flight operations resumed at 13.00. Woot!

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 16:21
“ladies and gentlemen, can you please take your seats to enable a speedy departure so we won’t miss our slot”.
HURRY UP YOU MUPPETS!

77 hours

Arctic conditions at Dublin Airport

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 18:06
LANDED IN DUBLIN

SMS, December 23, 2010 at 18:07
Just landed after circling for 30 minutes. Nowhere for the plane to park, pilot describing “chaos & confusion”.

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 18:22
Chaos at Dublin Airport with planes fighting over spaces as if they’re in the car park at Tesco’s

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 18:45
Our plane’s captain needs a martialler to guide him to our parking spot. Can anyone help?

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 18:48
That should be “marshaller” of course. Anyone with a couple of torches and big earphones will do.

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 19:09
OK, plane’s parked. But now the air bridge is stuck, so we can’t get off. Oh, and it’s snowing again.

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 19:42
And bingo: Dublin Airport closed.

SMS, December 23, 2010 at 18:53
Getting next available aircoach out of here

SMS, December 23, 2010 at 19:56
Sitting on bus but not going anywhere fast. It’s supposed to go to stillorgan shopping centre, trying to find out. Chaos here.

The Finish – 80 hours

I finally arrived home at sometime after 21:00 on the 23rd December. I shared a taxi with a fellow Christmas 2010 Veteran from the Burlington to somewhere in Goatstown where the taxi driver told us to get out, because he wasn’t driving any further through the snow drifts.

Twitter, December 25, 2010 at 1:25
Merry Christmas to all, and especially all of you who kept me company on Facebook and Twitter during my recent odyssey – thank you!


View Christmas Odyssey 2010 in a larger map

Language of the Upperlands

For many years, the small seaside town of Greystones was home to the Dutch literary and artistic genius Marten Toonder. His contribution to the Dutch language has been considerable and it is unfortunate that the English speaking world will never appreciate him fully, even if his cartoons appeared in Irish newspapers too — only in English, of course. Observant readers (to use one of Toonder’s phrases) will have noticed that I am Dutch also, and I still consider Dutch to be my first language.

It is probably a bit bizarre to write about the Dutch language in English, but I am trying to share some of its weird and wonderful traits with readers whose upbringing has forced them into the straitjacket of such a common language as English.

The Dutch refer to their language as Nederlands, Dutch being the anglicised version of the ancient Diets, which has the same origins as Duits or Deutsch, referring to German. And yes, German is a completely different language, although English speakers may be forgiven for getting confused between Deutsch and Dutch.

The first thing one notices when looking at the written Dutch language is the length of some of the words. Dutch uses compound nouns, so where English uses two words for “swimming pool”, the Dutch version becomes zwembad instead of zwem bad. Speaking of bad, this is a bad example, since zwembad is of course nice and short. Try “Government Study Grant” instead, which becomes Rijksstudietoelage, and in theory the application form for one of these grants could be compounded into a Rijksstudietoelageaanvraagformulier.

Double vowels and diphtongs are also prominent, as can be seen in the previous example. One of my favourite vowel-rich words is eendeëieren — duck’s eggs. The umlaut here has the function of a hyphen, to indicate a break between the two e’s. Unfortunately this is no longer the correct spelling and should now be “eendeneieren”, but since this new spelling was introduced after I left the country, I declare myself exempt from this rule. En zoo is het. Still spelled correctly is an even better example, the Dutch word for “seed onions” being zaaiuien. With six vowels in a row, that’s hard to beat.

Many of our diphtongs are unknown to and unpronouncable by English speakers, such as the “ui” in my own surname. Funny enough, ui and ei are Dutch words in their own right, meaning “onion” and “egg” respectively. Alongside ooi and aai there appears to be a number of Dutch words that are completely void of consonants. The unusual combination of I and J in words such as lijst and prijs is in fact an incarnation of the letter Y, which itself is rarely used — thereby making it a more valuable letter in Dutch Scrabble than in the English version. And you thought Scrabble was language-agnostic.

We consider languages such as Russian to display an impossible sequence of consonants in many of their words, but few can beat the Dutch for “cry of fear” — angstschreeuw. Eight consonants followed by three vowels, that’s beautiful. A different beauty can be seen in the word for “supplied” which holds the record of four double characters in a row — bevoorraadde.

Dutch infinitives usually end with -n or -en, as in staan (“to stand”) or lopen (“to walk”). A perfectly acceptable, gramatically correct Dutch sentence can have multiple infinitives, like this one which contains six infinitives in a row: Ik zou jou daar wel eens hebben willen zien staan blijven kijken — “I would have liked to have seen you stand there and watch”.

Opperlandse Taal en Letterkunde, written by Hugo Brandt Corstius in 1981, contains a wealth of linguistic gymnastics to please any Dutch speaker.

Every word in every language has its own history, and I’m glad to say that some Dutch words have left their mark on the English language. Of course Dutch itself has been swamped with English words and expressions over the last few decennia, and we have to go back a couple of centuries to trace any Dutch in today’s English. Most Dutch words that survive in modern English stem from an era when the Netherlands were a powerful trendsetting nation, during the country’s Golden Age, the 17th century. The list is much longer than you would think, and includes such quintessential everyday terms as skipper, yacht, coleslaw, rucksack, geek, cookie and of course Santa Claus.

It's a Decoy

It's a Decoy!

My favourite however, is decoy, from the Dutch eendekooi – literally “duck cage”, a device once used to catch water fowl — an eend being, you’ve guessed it, a duck. The observant reader will have noticed that my favourite Dutch words appear to involve ducks, but I digress. Unaware of the Dutch love of compound words, some smart ass must have decided that the first part of this word was the indefinite article een (“a”) and the rest must therefore be a noun — dekooi. Thus the misspelled een dekooi became “a decoy”.

Admittedly Dutch is not an easy language to master. Pronunciation of the famous guttural G may take a while to get used to, but in my experience the most difficult sound for an English speaker to reproduce is the combination ZW like in the word zwart (“black”). Even after almost a lifetime of training, practicing, being gezellig and blending into Dutch society, the most hardened Dutch language students will still give away their linguistic origins when attempting to pronounce anything beginning with those two consonants. Even so, I think everyone should learn Dutch, if only to appreciate this limerick by John O’Mill:

A terrible infant called Peter
Sprinkled his bed with a geeter.
His father got woost,
Took hold of a knoost,
And gave him a pack on his meeter.

Culture Shock

Culture ShockHaving spent more than half of my life living in a foreign country, I have almost forgotten which of the differences between my native Holland and my adoptive Ireland struck me most when I first arrived on these shores. Of course we can’t really speak of “Culture Shock” when moving between two Western European countries (so much for the title). On the other hand, sometimes it’s the subtle distinctions between largely similar cultures that can cause more frustration and misunderstanding than one would expect. Most of the time however, we just feel that the other nationality displays some odd but harmless behaviour.

I’ll forget about the obvious oddities of driving on the wrong side of the road and speaking an inferior language — and I’m not telling which nationality’s hat I’m wearing when I say that. I’m also ignoring the fact that some of the anomalies I have come across over the years are not necessarily typically Irish – they may just as well apply to nationalities closely affiliated with the Irish (you know who you are).

In Ireland, you may see women walking down the road with their arms folded across their chest. I had never seen anyone walk like that in Holland. You swing your arms by your side, or you carry a bag, or whatever – but folding your arms is something you do when you’re standing still, not when you’re walking. Even stranger is that the behaviour is displayed only by women.

In Holland, many homes have toilets where the bowl is of a design that will freak out Irish people. Instead of being funnel shaped with a puddle of water at the bottom, they have a flat surface some distance below the rim with a drain to the front – so whatever is deposited here will stare back at you until you flush the toilet when the water pushes the lot off the surface and into the drain from back to front. As one of my Irish friends puts it, the Dutch “shit on a plate”.

In Ireland, another toilet experience may freak out Dutch men – but this time it concerns urinals in public toilets. The nice semi-private Dutch variety has little partitions between separate wall mounted bowls. The Irish style may involve just a wall. OK, it has a sprinkler tube running across the top and a shore at the bottom, but on a busy night you’re guaranteed an intimately shared experience when splashing your boots.

In Holland, if you have a mug of tea or coffee and stir it with a teaspoon, you leave the spoon in it, since taking it out will leave you with nowhere to put it without dripping some of the liquid onto the table. An Irishman will take the spoon out because you could stab yourself in the eye with it.

In Ireland, people go to someone’s birthday party and then hand that person a birthday card. “What’s the point?” asks the Dutchman, “Can’t you just wish them a happy birthday since you’re there?” – Dutch people will only send birthday cards if they can’t be there in person.

In Holland, you start a tab when you’re having a few drinks in the pub. At the end of the night you then split the bill between the members of the party. In Ireland, no self-respecting barman will trust you to actually pay the bill at the end of the night, and no self-respecting punter will trust himself to remember to pay it – so they work a rounds system. This gets interesting when there’s a mixed company of Dutch and Irish having a few drinks together. Regardless of who bought the first round, an Irishman is likely to say “I’ll get this”. A Dutchman’s reaction to this is invariably “OK” – but that’s like failing to haggle in an Arab market. The correct response to the Irish statement is “No, I’ll get this”. This should then be returned with “No, no, you got the last one”, followed by “No it’s OK I have it here” and so on, until the end result is that everyone pays at least one round. “Going Dutch” is obviously not an option here.

In Ireland, you have to strain to hear the music in a pub (if there is any to begin with) because there is so much talking going on. In a Dutch pub you have to shout to make yourself heard over the blaring music.

In Holland, many people don’t know the difference between the North and the South of Ireland and may assume it’s only a geographical denominator. In the days of the Troubles, the Dutch knew to avoid Ireland because of bombs (ignoring the fact that this applied mainly to the North), nowadays they know its economy is in shreds. In Ireland, people know about the Zuiderzee and the IJsselmeer, the dykes and the Randstad, the industry and agriculture and enough other things to put the Dutch knowledge of Ireland to shame.

In Ireland, they are very fond of salt in their diet. So much so, that I often see people grab the salt shaker and liberally apply the stuff to their dinner before they have even tasted it. Interestingly enough, Irish salt shakers have a single hole in the top, and the shaker with multiple holes is reserved for pepper. In Holland – you’ve guessed it – it’s the other way around.

In Holland and most of the rest of the world, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday in May. In Ireland it’s on the fourth Sunday in Lent, and you’ll need a degree in astronomy to work out which date that will be in any given year. A mother however, will just know. You have been warned.

In Ireland, you may still experience an outburst of patriotic fervour at the end of a night out. As the bar closes, the band will play the national anthem and everybody will stand up and sing along. Many will have parents or grandparents with a living memory of gaining independence. It’s easy to forget that the Republic of Ireland is still only a young nation.

In Holland, whipped cream is sweet because they add lots of sugar by default. In Ireland, the idea of putting sugar in cream is revolting.

In Ireland, the first time I went to get a bag of chips, I was surprised by the now familiar question, “salt ‘n’ vinegar?”. Even after 20-odd years, I will not accept that chips could or should be served with something that belongs in a salad. In Holland, chips (patat, not to be confused with the Dutch chips, which are crisps, and in Ireland come in the horrid salt ‘n’ vinegar flavour also) are either served plain or “met” (with) — which is short for “met mayonnaise”. Proper order.

In Holland, when arranging to meet someone for the first time, this is likely to take place in the home. Only when you get to know someone better might you venture out and go for a drink. In Ireland, first (and subsequent) meetings are on neutral ground and involve going out somewhere, usually a pub — visiting someone at home is usually reserved for family.

In Ireland, people use clocks to find out what time it is, which is then rounded to the nearest half hour. “I wonder what time the train is due?” In Holland, people use clocks to find out what they or someone else are or should be doing and how long it is overdue or will take — rounded to the nearest minute. “The train is 3 minutes late”.

In Holland, when they invite someone to drop by sometime, they are surprised when that person never shows up. In Ireland, they are when he does.

In Ireland, when people become more familiar or at ease with the company they’re in (usually after about 20 minutes), they may engage in some good-natured teasing, making fun of a person’s background, beliefs, or anything associated with that person. The practise is known as “slagging” and the Dutch don’t really get it at all.

In Ireland, the hot tap is indicated by the colour red. In Holland, the cold tap is identified by the colour blue.

Letter from my Grandparents to my Mother

Ids Haagsma GraveToday is Liberation Day in the Netherlands, when the Dutch celebrate the end of the occupation by Nazi Germany, 66 years ago. At the time, my mother was living and working in Waagenberg, in the southern part of the country, which had already been liberated by Polish troops in early November 1944. While she lived among the ruins of the orphanage which had been destroyed during the fighting and bombing raids, she was unable to make contact with her family, who lived just 50km away in Rotterdam – still in occupied territory.

After six months of being cut off from each other, my grandfather finally managed to get a letter across to my mother. A translated extract follows here. Note that my uncle Ids mentioned in this letter was executed by the Germans the day after his arrest.


Rotterdam, 10th May 1945

Dear Rins,

Just now mr. Numan told us that someone is going to Breda tomorrow and there may be an opportunity to get a letter over to Braband. Therefore we hurry to briefly tell you a few things in the hope and expectation that you will soon be in our midst. Presently a few things in telegram style.

8th Nov. Ids and I were picked up by the S.D. Ids was detained for possession of Trouw en Vrije Pers. I was allowed to go home. Since that day we have heard nothing whatsoever from Ids. We have absolutely no idea where he is.

10th November Jacob was taken away with the raid. Went to Osnabrück. 16th Feb saw him safely back home. They are doing really well, Annelien too.

10th Nov. Douwe managed to go into hiding. No work this winter, at the moment he is with de Waard, Groene Hilledijk, and now gets 10 Kg potatoes per week. 3rd/5th January I brought Meinte on a bicycle without tyres to Friesland. He is doing really well there at uncle Bouke’s. Last news from him was 4th April. Uncle Bouke has pleurisy, so does Piet Busink, he’s in the Zuiderziekenhuis. Jitske’s Sake from Weidum has passed away. Tine – Jantje have lost their little one after only a few days. Uncle Ate had an accident while cutting trees en aunt Treintje is expecting. We think later this month. Uncle Jan and Jacob were in hiding with uncle Inne and made clogs there.

In spite of the hunger we are doing well here. We are still healthy, but very weak the same as everyone. Today we received our first margarine from the aeroplanes. Mother had not had coffee with milk since November. Because I had been to Friesland and Beekbergen I had gotten milk and some fat.

This week the food supplies were critical. There is absolutely nothing left. Our canned reserves had been finished for 14 days. Still we continued to get help in wondrous ways. On Mother’s birthday Mrs. van de Feijst gave her 100 gr oil, 2 kg barley flakes, Mrs. Amoureus gave her 1 tin of milk, Mrs Kuipers half a loaf of bread. I managed to get 1.5 litres of milk from Mrs Verschoor across the road, so that we managed to have a nice cup of coffee substitute last Sunday.

Mrs de Leeuw gave Mother 1 pound of flour. Because Douwe was working at the greengrocer’s we managed to get something now and then. Also from his friends, who are with the merchant navy. They slept here this week. We didn’t have any bread, but that day they brought some kidney beans.

When you get home, we would love you to bring something home with you. It doesn’t really matter what. We lack everything, or rather we have nothing left. Douwe got 2 Kg. barley and last night Jacob brought home 1 kg oatmeal. That’s somewhat bitter, but when we mix it we can bake a good sized pancake with it.

But don’t overload yourself just because we have nothing. It might be best if you manage to pick up some food stuffs, to leave some behind in Wagenberg if you have to, because it’s quite a journey by bicycle. Soap, washing powder is something that especially Mother is looking forward to.

Henny Kuipers is still based in the Hague. But Monday she came home and now today she wasn’t allowed to return to the Hague. She’ll have to stay here for the moment.
Old Mr. Founon has died. A large number of people are suffering from hunger edema. There also appears to be an outbreak of typhus here, which is why the Zuiderziekenhuis is no longer taking in any patients.

There’s been a party since last Friday night. Sunday night during the thanksgiving services (2 at six thirty and eight) there was heavy fighting, between the underground en German marines and infantry against the Dutch S.S. Monday there was a party on the Dreef. This has been beautifully decorated. There was lots of singing. Mr de Greef’s piano had been placed at Aurora.

Even now it is busy everywhere. Monday and Tuesday the girls who were going out with Germans had their heads shaved. At the moment members of the NSB are rounded up and detained and are getting a treatment just like the Germans used to do. Van de Kraan from the Restaurant was ordered to eat sugar beet in public, from a nicely garnished dish served with grass.

At last we are now getting milk, margarine and biscuits and thus our nutrition is much improved, so that we are gaining strength.

Now that we are free again, a weight has been lifted from us. This year I once again have an allotment at de Enk. The civil servants give us vegetables once a week. Douwe is still with de Waard (Groene Hilledijk) and has 10Kg potatoes extra per week and perhaps this week he’ll go to van de Vorm, so he is also supplementing our food supplies.

You therefore do not need to worry about us and our immediate future. On Ids’ birthday we would love to be able to at least report that he is doing well, and for all of us to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary together here on June 26th next. Of course we don’t know if you are going to stay there, but if that were the case, we count on you being able to come home on that date if God provides the opportunity. Mother put the clothes together. I picked out something to read. I would have liked to include a good book for you, but there is almost nothing available in the shops. On my birthday all the books I got were second hand, which were much to my liking even if they didn’t look the best.

[My Grandmother takes over and finishes the letter]

Well Rinske, we have written you about a few things, take good care of yourself, en we hope to meet each other soon and in good health. Should we hear from our Ids, then we hope to let you know as soon as possible. The very best regards from Father, Mother and Douwe and may God give that you get well soon!