Friends who Never Judge You

Growing Up
Some animals come into your life and forge a place in your heart. That happened to me when I was only young and got my first pony. Tim was a sweet-natured, Welsh Mountain, 11 hands 3 and ¾ inches high. Don’t forget the ¾ inch! I went to Pony Club to learn to ride but in reality it was Tim who taught me everything about riding and much more besides. On him I learned all the gaits, walk, trot, canter or tanter as I called it because I was only small and unable to pronounce the word. I would be out in our top field riding Tim and whenever he broke into a canter and felt me losing my seat he would stop until I had righted myself again. Some ponies would have then given a little buck to help me on my way but not Tim. He was no angel mind you. I remember the time we were in a show pony competition and placed second, and the judge positioned the line-up near a show-jumping fence. Tim decided that the brush fence looked too tempting and took a bite out of it. Subject matter for a Thelwell cartoon! Thelwell was a British cartoonist who specialised in portraying children and mischievous ponies.

Me on Tim at a country show in best-turned out competition
Ceramic inspired by Thelwell’s Angels on Horseback. Still in print

Animal Friends in the Netherlands

Since living in Holland there has been only one pet I’ve grown to love: Rakker. A Jack Russell, small of stature but with a big personality. A very handsome chap he oozed self-confidence. He had that indefinable element that makes us warm to people and animals, charisma. Like Tim he had a touch of mischief in his personality. He would happily let you know when he needed a stroke and nudged your hand if he felt it had nothing to do.

Rakker’s profile shot

When I saw his profile photo on Oopoeh, (dog and dog-sitters matching site) I could tell Rakker was good-natured with a healthy spark of fun. Joanna, his owner, had written a charming piece of text as if it were Rakker speaking and that appealed to me too. An appointment for all three of us to meet was soon made in June 2016. It was a rainy day and by the time I had cycled to Joanna’s apartment I was soaked through. Rakker offered me the opposite end of his rope to play tug of war with. I was a bit tentative of his teeth so close to my hand. Jack Russells can sometimes be nippy. We went out for a walk to the nearby dog exercise area, het Stenen Hoofd and I threw a ball for him. Ah, chasing and retrieving the ball was his passion. The energy and fun he radiated was a joy to see and back at the apartment Joanna and I drank a cup of tea together. I tried to stroke Rakker but he kept shifting away. Joanna assured me that he was an affectionate dog but that he needed to get to know people first.

Hey, give me a stroke or a Polo Mint
I saw some similarities with Tim and Rakker’s characters: the playful nudging when they didn’t get enough attention, focus on the possibility of titbits, the love of a good cuddle, but I have to say that Rakker was much better at recall! Tim was caught as a colt on the Black Mountains where he was part of a wild herd. My sister, Chris and I had to come up with inventive ways of catching him. When all else failed I would lie on the grass pretending to be ill and then he would come over to investigate and see if he could help. A quick grab of his forelock and we would have him! Both animals gave me self-confidence. I was a shy little girl, who wouldn’t say boo to the proverbial goose but on Tim I was, ‘the girl in the red ribbon’ (I always wore a red ribbon around my ponytail) who was a whizz at gymkhana competitions. (With help from my big sis.) And while walking Rakker, I even felt safe taking him out for his walk in the park after nightfall. I thought, Rakker is with me, nothing can go wrong!

Saying Goodbye
When one loves a pet there comes a moment when you have to say farewell. This happened so quickly with dear Rakker. He was eleven years old and in fine health we thought. A lump appeared on his upper back, and after a biopsy, malignant and fast-growing lymph node cancer was diagnosed. There was very little we all could do apart from make sure his last days were peaceful and that he received much love. It was painful to see Joanna’s grief at the loss of her dear friend. Some animals can never be replaced and so many memories are inextricably linked with their lives. I miss the happy sound of his paws running up the stairs when Joanna would bring him to us on Wednesday mornings. His smile, he would pull his top lip back in a sort of gummy smile when he greeted us, and a cuddle in bed with him in the mornings if he stayed the night. Farewell dear Rakker and Tim. Maybe you will meet each other on the other side and realise you have a mutual friend…

Rakker on a boat trip through Amsterdam in 2019
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Bargain Hunting in a Snowstorm

Dear readers, sorry for the radio silence. But what with the lockdown and commuting between Amsterdam and Nijmegen, and spending far too much time on Marktplaats sniffing out bargains, I have let my blog slide. So I thought, why not make MP a subject of my blog. Plus I am snowed in and can’t go anywhere anyway!

The Thrill of the Chase

Marktplaats is a much-loved, online trading place for everything and anything. Most sellers live in the Netherlands and as far as I know the concept hasn’t been rolled out beyond our borders. Unlike eBay it doesn’t charge the buyer or seller for using its forum and it’s pretty user-friendly. Having bought mainly larger items we have picked up cupboards, lamps, and rugs in our van so you get to meet the owners of pre-loved items and that is usually a nice experience. You can also search locally and it was an good ice-breaker in our street in Lent when we bought a table nearby and our neighbour offered to pick it up for us because he had the use of a trailer for the day.

I’m a firm believer that objects pick up their previous owners’ auras (yes, I have watched ‘Surviving Death‘ on Netflix) so we like to feel that the previous owners are pleasant. And like every online forum these days you get to review each other so it’s important to remain polite.

Good for the Environment

Since the lockdown, Ikea has been so busy that they don’t accept online orders anymore. For larger objects they charged a 50 euro delivery fee anyway. So MP is pretty much the only place you can get reasonably-priced items and view them beforehand. Plus buying second-hand items is better for the environment, reduces packaging and waste.

Eats your Time

The whole business can be rather time-consuming though. And before you know it you’ve spent a couple of hours searching out the right item at the right price in the right location and you still haven’t scored! My list of favourite items is ridiculously long. Often sellers don’t bother replying to inquiries or ask daft prices. Many people don’t realise that if you shop at places like Ikea or Made as soon as you purchase the item it devalues. Anyway, those are the downsides, but the upsides far outweigh the negatives. Here are a few photos of aforesaid bargains, or ‘koopjes’ as they say in Dutch! Plus some pictures taken around Lent, Nijmegen and de Waal. Before and after snowstorm!

Kelim carpet 185 euros

Bevelled mirror 25 euros

Zenza lamp 80 euros

Corner cupboard 10 euros

Corner cupboard 10 euros

Copper lamp by Made 15 euros.

Copper lamp 15 euros

Oak veneered cupboard 100 euros

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Farewells in 2020

It’s been a strange year. There’s been the pandemic to cope with, I’ve had some mental health struggles, we have bought a new house in Nijmegen and plan to leave Amsterdam in the new year. As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, another emotional challenge awaited us in October.

An Amazing Woman

Sadly, on 25 October, my mother-in-law, Dee de Smalen, died after a short illness. She celebrated her 95th birthday on 11th August, and was then in good health and very with it. To celebrate her birthday we gave her a book, Billy de Kat, (When Fraser met Billy) about an autistic boy who forms a special friendship with a cat. For her 90th I had given her, ‘A Streetcat named Bob’ which she really loved. When we were house-sitting in Worcestershire later in August she phoned me on my birthday, (we are both Leos which explains our love of cats) and told me how much she had enjoyed Billy de Kat.

I read a few passages to her from the book when she was in the final stages of her life. Frank held her hand. Whether she registered any of this or not, we don’t know. But Frank and I were there when she passed. She was born in Cheribon on Java on 11 August 1925. I imagine her early years must have been quite idyllic. She told tales of monkeys raiding family picnics, playing high jinks with the local children, convivial gatherings on the veranda, learning to cook Indonesian food with the house-keeper, and the sound of cicadas as she drifted off to sleep. But things changed dramatically for her and her family when the Japanese invaded the island in March 1942. Some of you have read the article about her years in the internment camps in Java during WWII which I published on my blog on her 90th birthday. Her life was truly a story of survival against the odds. Returning to the Netherlands after the war, she and her husband had to build up their lives from nothing.

She was always a faithful follower of my blog and it moved me to see the Prisma English/Dutch dictionary on her desk next to her computer so that she could read and understand my blog posts or stories. It’s difficult to believe that she won’t be reading these words. I am sad that she didn’t get to hear some of my stories which I have now translated into Dutch and even had one recorded for Youtube TV. I’m sure she would have enjoyed this one on Thuisbuis (lockdown TV) about Koko, the heroic dachshund who chases a thief into the woods.

Farewell, dear Dee. You live on in our hearts.

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Story Collection available on Amazon now!

I am delighted to share this good news with you! My short story collection,‘Healer,’ is available for worldwide buyers as an e-book and paperback on Eighteen flash fictions, 9 short stories, and illustrations for your enjoyment. Many new pieces have not appeared in print before. This collection is dedicated to the memory of my mother, Ellen Rose.

Please spread the word on your social media channels and if you enjoy the book, leave a review 🙂

If you see me in person in the coming weeks you may order a paperback copy directly! 

European buyers, E-book 2.70 euros, on Paperback on 6.90 euros, or your local Amazon. My net proceeds from sales go to, Target Ovarian Cancer.​
Thank you!
Angela (writing as Susan Carey)

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Shifting Horizons

Some of you may know that in the not too distant future, Frank and I are planning a move to Nijmegen in Gelderland. We don’t feel at home any longer in Amsterdam (Plus the fact that like its southern counterpart, Venice, it’s slowly but surely sinking into the unstable ground it is built upon.) In the period up to and including 2023, some 23 bridges will be renovated, 800 metres of quay walls will be renewed and the replacement of 3,800 metres of quay walls prepared. The total cost is estimated at 450 million euros. Can you imagine the disruption and noise this will involve in an already over-populated and noisy city?

Beside the Sea
Now in these Covid times when we have less freedom to ‘escape’ Amsterdam with our house-sitting adventures, we have decided that a new start is on the agenda. Exciting times! At present, we still have one of our pied-a-terres in Amsterdam and in the meantime we are making full use of visiting the nearby coastline which we will miss when in Nijmegen.

Blow away the Cobwebs
There’s nothing like a walk along the beach on a windy day to blow the cobwebs away.  This time we plumped for Egmond-aan-Zee which is about a half-hour drive from Amsterdam. The former fishing village has a wide, sandy beach which borders on the northern Dutch dune reserve. It has had blue flag status for 10 years and won the award again in 2020. Blue flag approval guarantees clean swimming water, daily cleaning of the beach and the presence of a coastguard. We did however manage to find a stray bit of blue fishing net which Frank disposed of, but I guess because it was Sunday the cleaners were having a day off!

Colonial Past
An important landmark at the end of the boulevard is a lighthouse named after, ‘Jan van Speijk’ a Dutch naval hero of the 19th century. For his attacks on Java and Bangka he was given the dubious nickname, ‘Terror of the Bandits.’

Those in Peril on the Sea
On the dune bank leading up to the lighthouse is a bronze sculpture of a coastguard crew. ‘The Lifeboat in the Surf’ is based on a real lifeboat displayed in the Egmond aan Zee museum. The boat was used many times to rescue those in peril on the sea during the period from 1912 to 1939. The KNRM (Royal Dutch Lifeboat Association) has been in existence since 1824. The sculpture which commemorates the bravery of the coastguards and all the lives they saved, was erected in December 2004. The creator of the stunning sculpture is Louise H. van Meurs-Mauser (1929 -2013). The backdrop of the lighthouse and sky I think you will agree, is stunning! Egmond is well worth a visit but make sure the seagulls don’t nick your fish and chips!

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Apartment for Sale in #Amsterdam


With some sadness in our hearts, Frank and I have decided to sell our apartment in Amsterdam. Hoping to garner as much publicity as possible I am sharing it with you here! Please feel free to share on FB or whichever social media channel you prefer. Alternatively, you can use that old-fashioned but probably more effective method, word of mouth! Thank you! Click on picture below for the full ad or on Funda.

Screenshot from 2020-08-06 12-47-54

With a view over the picturesque Kostverlorenvaart, we offer a unique opportunity to live in a spacious apartment of approximately 80m2 square meters in the popular Westerpark neighborhood. From the balcony window you have a view over the canal towards one of the few remaining windmills in Amsterdam. Here you have all the amenities of the city nearby, but the apartment is very quiet if you have to work from home or just want to relax.

An elevator takes you to the first floor on your private terrace outside your front door; a lovely place to sit and dine in the summer months. Inside you will find the intercom system and a spacious bathroom on the right. On your left is a built-in wardrobe and the sleeping area. The kitchen has a hob with two induction plates, refrigerator and dishwasher. A food preparation table also serves as a breakfast bar. In the pantry is the connection for the washing machine

The seating area with floor-to-ceiling windows offers fantastic views over the canal where you can watch the boats sail by. The sliding door can be fully opened.

The apartment has a beautiful cast floor.

The apartment has a living / working destination

There is a common bicycle shed.

The apartment is a short distance from the Westerpark and the Jordaan. The Westerpark neighborhood has markets, festivals, galleries, a cinema and restaurants, which gives it a creative atmosphere in an oasis of green.

The apartment is easily accessible by both private and public transport. Various roads, including the A-10 ring road are a short drive away. in the area there are various tram and bus connections and the Central Station is also quickly accessible.

• Living area approx. 80m², NEN2580 measurement report available
• Double glass and cast floor in the house
• Annual land lease payments surrendered to September 30, 2048
• Owned HR central heating combi boiler from 2014
• Professional, active and healthy VVE with 64 members. Monthly contribution € 139.54
• Availability: directly

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Give us this Day our Daily Exercise

In these troubled times when the Corona virus is dominating our lives and restricting our freedom, it can be a challenge to find a secluded place to exercise if you live in a city like Amsterdam. Finding quiet places is especially important if you fall into the high risk category. As I have two underlying chronic conditions; asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, it’s essential I exercise somewhere not too overcrowded. Our nearest park, the Erasmuspark is only really accessible to me early morning or late evening because of excess crowds. So this morning I headed out west on my electric bike and was delighted to stumble across the oasis of peace, Heemtuin Sloterpark

Heemtuin doesn’t have a direct translation but it means that the garden only has indigenous plants and is left to grow without too much human intervention, save to keep it accessible to visitors. The spring birdsong was so calming to listen to. I love to see and smell bluebells in the UK, but as that won’t be possible this year, the Dutch variety will have to suffice! The visit to this little natural haven offered me solace in troubled times. The Heemtuin is an enclosed section within the Ruige Riet,a 10-hectare park which has walking and cycle paths meandering through it. Before 10 am it is practically deserted with only the occasional runner or walker so it was easy to keep the advisory 1.5 metre distance from other people. There is a red walk of 3 km or a blue walk of 1.5 km. It is also dog friendly and dogs are welcome in the Heemtuin provided they are kept on a lead.

The cycle ride to and around Sloterplas (lies adjacent to Ruige Riet) is approx 5 km so I have done 10 km on my bike as well as 5000 steps this morning. It’s ironic that the weather is so glorious when we are supposed to be mainly staying at home! A lot of people appear to be flaunting the rules and picnicking in groups of more than three in our local park. Occasionally, a police car drives through and hands out fines but the police seem to be turning a blind eye or have other more pressing concerns. I think that the difference in Dutch and English mentalities regarding authority play a big role when it comes to observing social-distancing behaviour. Here many folk seem to take it all with a pinch of salt.

Anyway, let’s hope if we are all sensible we will remain safe and healthy. And I hope you manage to find some quiet and inspiring places to exercise where you live!




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First House-sit of the Year

Unless you are a Buddha living under a tree you will have noticed we are in the grip of a pandemic which has severely restricted our freedom of movement. It now seems like some distant dream when we could move about unfettered! In February this year Frank and I had a two-week house sit in SW France in the region of Lot-et-Garonne. The weather was truly awful with almost non-stop rain each day so it will go down in history as a memorable house-sit for all the wrong reasons. I had some health problems too, but hey, we survived.

We had to care for two cats, an elderly brown lab and four horses. No trips to the vets fortunately but plenty of trips for me to the doc’s for an infected salivary gland. (With thanks to my cousin, Cheryl for her kindness in taking me back and forth to the surgery.)

I got in two decent rides on the Fjord pony, Carmen, then unfortunately she went lame but it was far too wet for riding anyway. The last night before our flight back to Bergerac we decided to stay in a grand chateau, Le Stelsia The chateau has been restored in bright colours and is owned by retail mogul, Philippe Ginestet, local man and owner director of the Gifi group. In 2011 he purchased the estate and, with his friend and architect Jacques Bru, decided to create a unique hotel complex. Several months of work was necessary to get their audacious architectural project up and running and thus give birth to this exceptional place.

Frank and I first visited the spa within the hotel complex and were very impressed by its design and the friendliness of the staff. The deluxe room was on special offer for Sunday night and it most certainly did not disappoint. Definitely a high point of our trip. The lawn and gardens and topiary animals were also very impressive! Afterwards we took a trip up to Penne d’agenais and admired the mighty river Lot winding through the landscape. Atop the hill is the impressive Basilica of our Lady, needless to say I lit a candle and prayed for the safety of humanity.


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Central Library, Oosterdok – The Jewel in Amsterdam’s Crown

OBA which stands for Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam boasts in total 26 branch libraries, 177,000 members and has 1.3 million books, CDs and DVDs in its collection. Amsterdam Central Library, Oosterdok is one of my favourite places in the city. The Central Library was designed by architect, Jo Coenen, the former state architect of the Netherlands. The Central Library project cost an eye-watering 80 million euros! It was completed in 2007 and was selected as the best library in the Netherlands in 2012.

Fond Memories?
When I moved to Amsterdam in 1986 I remember the rather shabby library on the Prinsengracht. Although I preferred its location along the historical ring of canals, and its homely feel, I was less charmed by the first thing that always greeted you as you entered the building; the smell of the public toilets! So it was with some excitement that I visited the new library in its location in 2007! And I still feel the same excitement and anticipation of enjoyment when I visit nowadays.

Membership isn’t Free
Unlike the UK, library membership is only free for those under 18 years old. Currently, an annual basic membership is 35 euros per year. However, you do get bang for your buck as it is not only a place to loan books, the Central Library (spread over 10 floors) has 600 computer work stations, 1200 seats and a floor entirely devoted to help those seeking work. There is also an auditorium, an exhibition room, the Gerard Reve Museum, and (not unimportant in Amsterdam) 2000 parking spaces for bicycles! On the seventh floor is a restaurant and summer terrace which offers fantastic views over the River Ij and the city. If you are visiting Amsterdam do go to the library even if it’s only to enjoy the views from the top floor.

Multi-Language Sections
One quarter of the second floor is entirely devoted to English language fiction. Also available are books in French, Spanish, Italian, German and Arabic, so that those who don’t speak Dutch as a first language still have plenty of literature to choose from.

Access to Libraries
It makes me sad to read about libraries in the UK closing down. It’s so very important that children and young adults have access to books. It is heartening to go to the Central Library, or indeed any of Amsterdam’s smaller local libraries, and see them being well used by people of all generations from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Libraries are one of the institutions, alongside schools, which enable social mobility and help young people to better themselves.

Back in the Seventies
Growing up in the English countryside, our school only had access to a mobile library. Being a pony-loving child I always devoured the Jill pony books by Ruby Ferguson, and of course the series by Elyne Mitchell about the wild Silver Brumby horses in Australia. If I had experienced the children’s section of the library in Amsterdam I would have exploded with excitement at all the choice on offer! The circular shelves, big stuffed animals, and soft chairs create a playful space for parents and children to enjoy together.

Children’s Section
My favourite thing in the children’s section is, The Mouse House,  made almost entirely by hand and inhabited by mice created from felt. Its creator is Karina Schaapman. The two main characters are Sam and Julia, and Schaapman has written a series of children’s books about their exploits. I could happily spend hours perusing each tiny room in the Mouse House, admiring the hand made details, imagining what Sam and Julia get up to when the library closes at night…

The OBA café
I also like just sitting in the OBA cafe situated on the ground floor and reading through the magazines. A regular thing for me is reading the short story in, The New Yorker. The stories are usually far too literary and go way over my head but I enjoy it nonetheless. Also, I find it more relaxing to catch up on UK news when reading from paper rather than a screen. The experience of smelling the news print and turning the pages helps one absorb the information more deeply. Anyway, I hope I have convinced you that the Central Library is worth a visit. Perhaps I’ll see you sometime in the OBA café! I’ll be the one reading The New Yorker with a puzzled expression on my face.




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The End of the Dutch Golden Age

A Night in the Museum
Only last week I was invited to an evening in the Rijksmuseum by a girlfriend who is a friend of the institution. The event offered a chance to speed-date with various experts dotted around the museum and you could linger by paintings or artefacts and learn from the specialists’ knowledge. Our first port of call was the doll’s house that featured in the book, The Miniaturist.

Of course I have a Museumjaarkaart, (an overpriced 64,90 euros per year) and I can visit the Rijksmuseum whenever I want, but I hadn’t seen the doll’s house since before the 10-year renovation, so pre 2003. More pertinently I hadn’t seen the doll’s house since reading historical novel with magic realist elements by Jessie Burton. The TV adaption was broadcast over Christmas 2017 and in the Rijks I recognised the house instantly from BBC set designs. Just the three of us alone in the room with the doll’s house was quite an experience. Usually one would have to shuffle behind endless amounts of tourists to admire this priceless, miniature world.

I told my Dutch girlfriends what a great novel The Miniaturist was and quickly googled to find out what the book was called in Dutch. Het Huis aan de Gouden Bocht. Literally translated; ‘The House along the Golden Bend.’ The Golden Bend is the curve in the Herengracht (one of the ring of canals) where the most prestigious houses were situated during the Dutch Golden Age.

het Gouden Bocht

Painting of The Herengracht in the Golden Bend

Lost in Translation
It amazes me how book titles can change so radically in translation. And it also got me wondering if now with the controversy around the Dutch Golden Age terminology, it hadn’t been a poor choice. The book is good, do read it, but pay no heed to the Dutch title, which to my mind makes it sound like a rather dull history book.

In September this year, the powers that be at The Amsterdam Museum, announced that they were going to scrap the term, Golden Age. In a bid to be more inclusive and truthful about history, this period will be known in the museum simply as the 17th Century.

The name Golden Age was coined because the Netherlands was an economic and military world power in the 17th century, said curator Tom van der Molen. “The term ignores the negative aspects such as poverty, war, enforced labour and the slave trade.”

Post-Colonial Guilt
Generally speaking the Dutch do not suffer greatly from post-colonial guilt, so this announcement has met with quite some resistance. The Rijksmuseum announced that they would continue using the term Golden Age because it also represented a flowering period in the visual arts and in their exhibitions they strive to show all sides of the the era, warts and all. Changing the name would simply be a whitewash of history.

The Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, said the discussion was rather silly (I’m paraphrasing)  and that a small country like the Netherlands should be rightly proud that it had achieved such power on the world stage. Of course there were things that wouldn’t stand the light of day nowadays but we should mention those too.

While I agree it wasn’t a Golden Age for everybody, I’m not entirely convinced that the term should be scrapped completely. Probably two generations from now youngsters will never even have heard of the Golden Age, and whether that’s a good or a bad thing, well I leave that up to you.

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