A few years ago I visited an exhibition of Victorian painting at the Royal Academy in London. The painting, The Entomologists’s Dream, 1909, by Edmund Dulac inspired me to write a prose poem. I was so struck by the devastation on the butterfly collector’s face that I felt compelled to create his back story. Although I didn’t know it at the time, Dulac’s original painting was an illustration for a tragic love story.
This work is an illustration for Le Papillon Rouge (the red butterfly) by Gerard d’Houvillehe. The tale explores the supernatural potential of dreams and the hallucinatory power of a moonlit night.
My poem is a riff on the powerful and sometimes devastating effect of dreams, and last month I got the delightful news that it had been shortlisted in the Fiction Factory poetry competition. The judge was none other than my tutor from Jericho Writers, Helen Cox. The competition was judged blind so she got a (I hope) nice surprise when she discovered I was the author. I hope you enjoy the poem! In the end I felt sorry for the collector, after all, he was only trying to capture the transitory beauty of butterflies as I have attempted to do in my poem.
The Entomologist’s Dream
African Glass Blue, Cinnabar Moth,
Fiery Copper, languish inside glass chambers
their wings pinned against velvet.
A soft-soled intruder carrying a hammer
steals in from the dreamer’s underworld.
Years. Collecting. Lost.
Desiccated wings ache into movement.
Antennae twitch, exoskeletons tremble,
pierced thoraxes inhale life-giving
breaths of sequestered air.
Camberwell Beauty and Painted Lady
jeté towards the open window.
The man’s body torques in anguish,
raging at his confetti of brides escaping.
Wait. Stop. Crouch.
The Koh-i-Noor of his collection
pauses and settles on the spreading board.
Hands cupped, he leap-frogs towards her.
His work table clatters on its side. All ajangle, tools
If you’re wondering where to spend a few days in the Netherlands then instead of visiting the over-touristy Amsterdam, why not choose my hometown Nijmegen? It has loads to offer in terms of culture and open countryside. I am not the author of this article but wanted to share it here with you. Hope to see you IRL in my neighbourhood soon!
Nijmegen may be the oldest city in the Netherlands, but it punches above its weight in terms of green initiatives and sustainability.
In the east of the Netherlands, just 10km from the German border, is Nijmegen, a dynamic and progressive university city that manages to fly under the radar.
This clean, compact city is the oldest in the country, and its number of green initiatives rivals Amsterdam, with residents prioritising quality of life and sustainability. Its historic centre is car-free, it has 60km of cycling “superhighways”, its buses run on green fuel, and there are schemes in place that encourage car-sharing. It even has the power to inspire others facing climate change disruption.
While no city can be 100% sustainable, Nijmegen is making some of the boldest strides in Europe in this area. They even decommissioned their coal power station in 2016, which has been turned into a solar park that’s home to 9,000 solar panels and two wind turbines that power almost 400 homes in the city.
Yet few outside The Netherlands have even heard of it.
“Nijmegen is referred to in Holland as ‘Havana near the Waal’,” said Margot Ribberink, a climate activist and the first female Dutch TV meteorologist, referring to the majestic Waal River that cuts the city in two. “The people here are very open-minded.”
Nijmegen’s Grote Markt dates to the 15th Century but the city was actually founded more than 2,000 years ago by the Romans (Credit: AleksandarGeorgiev/Getty Images)
Ribberink and I had met up in Grote Markt, the 15th-Century cobbled square at the heart of the Nijmegen, so she could show me how the city punches above its weight. As we strolled past traditional Dutch townhouses, I breathed the clean, fresh air. One of the main streets – Lange Hezelstraat, which claims to be the oldest shopping street in the Netherlands – was lined with independent shops, vintage boutiques and vegan and vegetarian eateries. I was struck by the potted olive trees lining the litter-free streets, people cycling past on e-bikes and surprisingly few chain shops.
Nijmegen was awarded the title of European Green Capital in 2018, but its progressive roots go back much further. The city has a long history of student activism. It was the centre of Dutch counterculture and protesting back in the 1960s until the mid ’80s. In 1963, the Dutch National Student Trade Union Movement was founded here by a student from Nijmegen, named Ton Regtien. By the 1970s, it had become the setting for other socialist gatherings, like women’s groups and communes. And today its sustainable values continue to thrive thanks to its large student population.
I fell in love with the city because of the people. Especially the students, who are also very concerned about the world, the environment and the climate
Ribberink came to Nijmegen in the 1980s to study biology. She met her best friends here as well as her partner, and the two settled in Lent, a village on the left bank of the Waal River. “I fell in love with the city because of the people,” she said. “Especially the students, who are also very concerned about the world, the environment and the climate.”
Nijmegen’s coal-fired power station has been decommissioned and is now home to solar panels and wind turbines (Credit: Mischa Keijser/Getty Images)
“A lot is happening in Nijmegen around sustainability and the environment,” she added. “Radboud University has put sustainability at the top of all relevant fields of study, while businesspeople in the city are active in making our city more sustainable, healthier and greener, including working together to become energy neutral by 2045, and creating options for green mobility and sustainable shops.”
As she told me this, we arrived at Het Duurzame Warenhuis (The Sustainable Department Store), the Netherlands’ first and only eco department store, which opened in 2014. The spacious, ground-level shop was a zen-like space, with white walls, low lighting and lots of natural untreated wood. “We try to stock almost everything you need to live a less-wasteful life,” explained buyer Lisette Hijink. “We stock mostly clothing, all of it eco-friendly and fair-trade… We have a sustainable hairdresser on site and a fully vegan kitchen. Zero waste is one of our core values, and reducing waste in our business is important too, which is hard, but we are focused.”
Our next stop was 512 Nijmegen, a stylish and edgy fashion boutique specialising in sustainable clothes and accessories for women. “I sell mostly sustainable and fair-trade brands,” said owner, Jettie Wakker. “We make clothes in either small, medium or large and only a few pieces at a time, so we never have debt or waste.” She added: “I also know all the people behind the brands I stock. I know their backstories, who their manufacturers and people working for them are.”
Residents prioritise sustainability, riding bikes through the city’s car-free historic centre (Credit: AleksandarGeorgiev/Getty Images)
I noticed that one side of the shop was filled with plants. “All of these are pre-loved,” explained Wakker. “If people no longer want their plants, they can bring them to us. Every second-hand plant we sell has its own story, which we pass on to the new owner – for example why it was donated, and how old it is. We don’t like to throw plants away.”
We wandered into Njmegen’s cobbled backstreets for lunch at De Nieuwe Winkel, a vegetarian fine-dining restaurant with two Michelin stars and one Green Michelin star. Opened in 2011, chef Emile van der Staak and his team create experimental multi-course, meat-free tasting menus using an array of herbs, roots, flowers, nuts and plants – some common, others less so – grown in a “food forest” in the village of Groesbeek, 13km from the restaurant. If you don’t know what you’re looking at, this six-acre plot of land resembles an ordinary wood, dense with free-growing shrubs and trees. But there’s one main difference: everything in it is edible.
It’s the first ‘food forest’ of its kind in Europe and we’re one of the few restaurants around the world collaborating in this way
“It’s the first ‘food forest’ of its kind in Europe and we’re one of the few restaurants around the world collaborating in this way,” said Van der Staak. “Menus are planned around more than 400 different species of edible plants grown in the forest, such as peach, chestnut, walnut, pawpaw and Japanese plums.”
The Waal River is the longest river in the Netherlands, connecting the Rhine in Germany with the port in Rotterdam (Credit: Frans Lemmens/Alamy)
Surprisingly full after my lunch of acorn seitan kebabs, sunflower-seed risotto and other vegan delights, we hopped aboard the Zonnetrein (Sun Train), a novel and sustainable mode of transport consisting of two connected solar-powered buses for taking visitors on sustainable guided tours of Nijmegen. As I looked onto the vast river Waal, which is the longest river in the Netherlands and spans up to 400m wide at points, it was easy to understand how it has shaped the city, both geographically and psychologically.
That’s because life in Nijmegen goes hand in hand with flood risk, making the effects of climate change impossible to ignore.
In 1995, the city experienced one of the worst flood threats in its recent history. The water levels became dangerously high in Nijmegen, and the river almost burst its banks – or dikes as they’re called in the Netherlands – which could have been devastating. As a precaution, 250,000 people in the region were temporarily evacuated from their homes. Faced with this constant fear of flooding, a nationwide water-management project, Room for the River, was initiated. At Nijmegen, the local council and residents were consulted on how best to protect the city, and a plan, which included creating a bypass river, was agreed.
For centuries, the Dutch have approached managing river overflows by building dikes to contain the water. Instead, this new project worked with the flow of the water by diverting it. To be effective, the dikes had to be moved and some of the river’s original floodplain recreated on the northern side of the river. This meant cutting through the village of Lent, where several homes, including Ribberink’s, were located.
Nijmegen was awarded the title of European Green Capital in 2018 (Credit: Frans Blok/Getty Images)
“The local government saw this as a chance to change the whole area, which meant clearing 56 houses, including mine,” said Ribberink. “Most people were offered money to leave their homes to be demolished. But our farmhouse is considered a monument, so together we decided to move it. We put it on wheels and we moved it 1km in one day. We were on local TV at the time.”
The result is a huge urban regeneration project that has created a haven for wildlife, a city beach and acres of recreational space where people can swim, take classes, listen to concerts and be outside, including a newly created central island that’s filled with flowers in spring. The project – which Ribberink described as “the biggest climate adaptation project in Europe” – has proven it’s possible to improve infrastructure while respecting and considering the environment.
“People in our city love the new environment, especially the island we have for recreation, but, as a climatologist, I think we still need to be aware of the fluctuating water levels,” said Ribberink. “We need to remember the summer of 2021 when Germany, Belgium and South Limburg in the Netherlands had catastrophic flooding. This could happen again in the future.”
Nijmegen is making big achievements in sustainability and is a great example for the rest of the world
She added: “Nijmegen is making big achievements in sustainability and is a great example for the rest of the world. Room for the River has huge power to influence other cities experiencing climate change disruption, especially in the way the local government involved the community to make decisions. Of course, we were shocked to hear we had to leave our homes, but in the end, everybody found a good new place to live and is proud of what the area is like now.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Nijmegen’s distance from the German border and the location of the flooding. This has now been updated.
Green Cities is a BBC Travel series that profiles innovative cities and towns around the world that are making bold strides towards a more sustainable future.
Thank you for your patience! I have let my blog posts slide a bit this year for reasons better known to themselves. But just to update you a little I am posting a list of shiny things in 2022. It’s always good to appraise what has happened over the last 12 months. Most of them have been very good. The only low point was falling and hitting my head against a brick corner, semi-scalping myself and having 15 stitches in my head. But happy to say I’ve made a full recovery.
Frank and I celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary in September and I turned 62 in August. Tuppence celebrated her 1st birthday in August. I can’t believe how quickly this year has gone, and yet it seems ages ago since last Christmas! Time has somehow taken on a different aspect since Covid lockdowns. I hope this year has gone well for you, and I wish you all the best for the next 12 months!
New and Old Things in 2022
Tuppence the dog! (OK, we picked her up in 2021 but her influence extends to 2022 and beyond)
Making new friends who are dog owners via Doggy Dating app
Saying a final goodbye to our home in Amsterdam
Finding a hairdresser and salon I like in Arnhem, Maria at Le Coupe
Stopping using henna and using 6.8 Hair colour by WeColour.
Meeting local expats now that Covid restrictions have lifted. Finally!
Being able to travel/house-sit again in the UK, Belgium, Germany and Norway
Taking a cruise to Pulpit Rock in Norway
Buying an e-car (Renault Zoe)
Completing the Ultimate Novel Writing Course by Jericho Writers. Read the anthology by clicking below.
Taking part in Nanowrimo and completing 50,000 words
Finding a dance class I enjoy
Buying a new e-bike
Making a little free library outside our front door
Have you started anything new or rediscovered something in 2022? Perhaps you plan to do so in 2023. I’d love to hear from you!
You will have noticed the absence of my blog over the past few months. Sorry about that! Having a little dog to look after and working on the novel-writing course via Jericho Writers has taken over my life (and writing) to a great extent. Happy to say I have completed the first draft of my novel, ‘Born to Race’! More to follow on that later.
Fortunately, this summer we have managed to get in some house-sitting adventures in England in July. Started off our house-sitting adventures in Somerset and then moved over to Wiltshire.
Tuppence took travelling in her diminutive stride and settled in pretty quickly to our house-sit homes and chumming up with the resident pets. She has acquired many new canine and human fans in England! She was very happy to see my sister and brother-in-law Christine and Colin Hardinge who bred her. Definitely remembered them, and gave a well-tuned howl of joy when they stepped out of their car when we met at the Locksbridge Inn for lunch in Bath.
I realised that there is a lot involved in taking your own dog on a house-sit or on any kind of visit so I thought why not share my experiences with you?
Tips for house-sitting/visiting/holidaying with your own dog
Always inform your home-owner you’re bringing your own pet.
Get as much information as you can about the HO’s pet beforehand. Age, breed, temperament, energy levels, socialisation, etc and estimate how well they match your own pet. Ask about house rules regarding pets allowed on furniture, upstairs, on beds etc and adjust to owner’s rules.
Check your destination country’s entry requirements. UK requires a valid EU passport, chipped pet and tapeworm treatment signed off by a vet prior to travel.
Include plenty of pet’s own toys and baskets and bowls in packing list. Amazon offer amongst others, the Teamoy Travel Bag where you can pack everything for the urbane canine.
Rescue Remedy for dogs may help pet anxiety around travel, change of scenery etc. I bought mine at Holland & Barrett.
If booking a cabin on a ferry opt for a pet-friendly one. (Stena line from Hoek of Holland to Harwich offer this option.) You can also eat in your cabin if your pet is young and needs your presence as reassurance.
Ask a crew member to show you where the ‘exercise’ zone is for pets. I defy anyone over the age of 40 to read the floor plan we were given on Stena Britannica.
Make sure that collar tags have the international prefix for telephone number printed on them.
Introduce the pets outside in the garden first.
Only leave them alone together when you are sure that a level of trust has been achieved. A crate may be useful the first few nights.
Divide levels of affection, treats, playtime, as equally as you can between your own pet and the HO’s pet.
Feed in separate areas just to be on the safe side. Given a chance your pet will prefer the HO’s pet’s food far above her own!
Have lots of fun on walks and days out with the pets in mind.
Luckily we have a van so never have to travel light. A few photos!
Here it is then, the long-awaited news about our new family addition, puppy named Tuppence. She is six-months old now. Sire, pictured below, the fabled blue mini JRT, Louie, of Much Wenlock; dam the even-more-fabled patterjack, Faith, of Herefordshire.
Late August last year I got a Whatsapp from my sister announcing the birth of six puppies in Faith’s litter! We were going to England early October so by then the puppies would be at their most adorable. Frank mentioned it was possibly a dangerous time to visit and not because of Covid!
Marie Kondo where are you?
One of the reasons we moved to this new area in Nijmegen was so we would be able to fulfil our long-held dream to have a dog. There are an endless variety of walks here for humans and dogs. But you know how it is, moving is stressful and suddenly you are dealing with thirty-six years worth of stuff, much of which has been jammed in a box and long-forgotten. It all needs to be sorted and decisions need to be made about whether to keep, chuck, upcycle, or donate. Unlike on the telly, there wasn’t some nice lady called Mari Kondo helping us out, so it often felt (and still feels) like an insurmountable task.
The Cherry on the Cake
Anyway, stuff is always waiting for you when you come back so the October trip to England offered a welcome break. During one of our favourite house-sits near my sister and brother-in-law’s home, we had ample time to get to know the puppies and decide which one was destined to become ours. At that time Tuppence seemed the calmest of the litter, not always indulging in the rough and tumble of the others. As there was a lot of interest in the pups I thought I should get in quick! And so the gavel fell. Once Tuppence had had all her vaccinations, rabies jab and health certificate she would be fit to travel to the Netherlands.
Whence her Name?
Her name was inspired by the actress Tuppence Middleton, and also from the Agatha Christie detectives, Tommy and Tuppence. As Frank loves to tell people, I had the name before the dog. I believe these things are pre-destined. She had to be small, didn’t she, with a name like Tuppence. Later I recalled it was also an important line in the song, Feed the Birds, Tuppence a Bag, of Mary Poppins fame. The theme of the story rests on the message in this song. Share your wealth rather than hoard it for yourself. A message for our troubled world at this time…
Tuppence is a delightful addition to our gang. We had a professional dog-trainer pay us three visits and she kept saying how lucky we were to have such a good-natured dog. Tuppence loves people and other dogs but tends to bark at the sight of her potential four-legged chums. For some reason many canine lovers around here own labradors, labradoodles, mid-sized dogs in general. Fortunately, we have encountered mainly friendly dogs so far but even so they can be a bit boisterous and big for Miss T. I’m no dog psychologist but I imagine that when Miss T. sees another dog(s) her thought processes go something like this:
YOOHOO! I’M TUPPENCE! PLAYTIME! OH! OH! OH! I’m a DOG! Not a RABBIT! I don’t like your big paw on my back. I made mistake. Human legs, please. Safe place. Wrong human legs. Where’s Mum! Pick me up! BYE BYE SEE YOU NEXT TIME! WHEN I’M BIG AS YOU!
For everything, an app
In an effort to find more suitable playmates, I downloaded the app for DoggyDating. When I saw that a lady and her dachshund were organising a lakeside date nearby, I accepted the invite. Tuppence happily plays with smaller dogs, dachshunds, mini poodles, boomers, yorkies, havanese, chihuahuas, etc.
It turned out to be a lovely sunny day and as well as Tuppence enjoying herself, I made two new human friends as well. Ellie and sausage dog, Bikkel came to accompany us on another sunny walk along the River Waal and enjoyed appeltaart at the Zijdewind last Friday. Below a few photos.
Can we take these silly hats off now? Paw Patrol is on telly!
It’s been a long time, I know! If you’re wondering, I’ve been busy on a new course I’m following via Jericho Writers. The Ultimate Novel Writing Course to be precise. It is quite demanding of my time. We aim to complete a novel in a year and each month we have at least two group Zoom calls and weekly homework assignments. Peer assessment is an important part of the course as well as sending 3000 words to your tutor each month. I am really enjoying it and the support and encouragement from my tutor and peers is invaluable in the otherwise solitary art of writing fiction!
Despite the recent Covid restrictions it’s been a much better year for me personally than ‘20. Regarding my writing I’ve had some successes as well. Not being one to blow my own trumpet, I have been encouraged to share these successes with you by my tutor on the UNWC, Helen Cox.
Firsts this Year
I performed a Zoom reading of my story, A Pocket for Secrets’ for an audience of English Majors in New York. And the editor and owner of NewLit Salon Press, Brian Centrone nominated me for the Pushcart Prize. I got a sizeable payment for my reading so it was worth staying up till 2:30 am! You can purchase the anthology, Dress You Up, here or alternatively get in touch with me for a hard copy.
In the UK I was runner-up in Mslexia flash fiction contest with story, ‘The Half-seeing Horse.’ (The title is a nod to Annie Proulx and The Half-skinned Steer) The HsH piece is included in the anthology, Best Women’s Short Fiction 2021. E-book costs 6 pounds via the link.
Best Women’s Short Fiction 2021 contains 12 flash fictions and 12 short stories from women writers around the world. These stories were shortlisted for the 2021 Mslexia Short Story and Flash Fiction competitions.
‘I can honestly say I have never read a stronger set of submissions.’ – A L Kennedy
‘I marvelled at the language, detail and implication used to create such strong and emotionally resonant stories.’ – Jude Higgins
Featuring: Neleigh Olson, Brid Cummings, Moira Dalgetty, Amanda Hildebrandt, P R Woods, Carole Burns, L J M Wadsworth, Lyndsey Croal, Sarah Klenbort, Ruby Bosanquet, Nera Hart, Christina Sweeney-Baird, Marissa Hoffmann, Corrine Leith, Nafisa Muhtadi, Letty Butler, Jules C Anemone, Susan Carey, Karen Ashe, Hazel Osmond, Alyson Porter, Stephanie Ryan, Ruth LeFaive, Stephanie Donowho
Story written in Dutch to be published!
Hoor de Dieren (Listen to the Animals) will be published in hyper-local magazine, Lentse Lucht, in their pre-Christmas issue. A story inspired by a folk tale which my mum told me about how at midnight on Christmas Eve farm animals have the gift of speech. I have translated other tales from English to Dutch but this is my first one written directly in Dutch.
Another new development is going on behind the scenes. I will blog more about in my next post in 2022! This song made famous by Mary Poppins may give you a clue…
It’s my new home town but asides from that there is much to discover about this city which is built on the banks of the River Waal on the Dutch/German border.
It’s the oldest city in the Netherlands. Its Roman name was Noviomagus, meaning new market. In 2005 the city celebrated its 2000 years existence.
The film about Operation Market Garden in WWII, ‘A Bridge too Far,’ was partially shot here. Although OMG’s prime aim was to take the bridge in Arnhem, bridges in Deventer and Nijmegen were used for shooting the film.
The Oversteek brug was completed in 2013. It is the largest war memorial in Europe. It was built to commemorate the death of 48 allied soldiers in their attempt to cross the Waal in canvas boats on 20 September 1944. Every evening the Sunset March takes place. A war veteran (from armies worldwide) accompanies the 48 pairs of lights on the bridge which come on sequentially at walking pace. Members of the public are welcome to join the march.
Nina Simone lived here from 1988 to 1991 to get away from the media spotlight after her huge hit, ‘My Baby Just Cares for me.’ A street in Nijmegen is named after her.
Also known as, ‘Havana aan de Waal’ because of its socialist leanings in the sixties and seventies, it is now run by a coalition government and the present mayor, Hubert Bruls, is Christian Democrat.
‘Room for the River’ in the Gelderse Poort (flood plain of the River Waal) is a showcase for contemporary European rewilding. In 2018 the city was awarded the title, European Green Capital.
Radboud University in Nijmegen has existed since 1923 and in 2021 was awarded the prize of best ‘traditional,’ broad university in the Netherlands by the Keuzegids.
The 104th Four-Days March – vierdaagse, will take place in and around Nijmegen from 19-22 July 2022. Owing to Covid19 this worldwide popular walk was cancelled in ‘20 and ‘21. If you are lucky (and fit) enough to win a place on this much coveted 4-day event you will discover the beauty of the Overbetuwe between the Waal and the Rhine, the legendary Land of Maas and Waal, and climb the famous ‘seven hills’ of Groesbeek.
During the Cold War, the Netherlands felt isolated as the UK and US reduced there military presence in Europe. Captain Joop Haex, the Dutch State Secretary for Defence, hatched an idea to take advantage of the local topography in eastern NL by preparing a natural defence line against invasions from a Communist army. The plan was to form the Ijssellinie – Ijssel Line by constructing movable floating dams along the Waal and Lower Rhine. If implemented the dams would enable the flooding of The River Ijssel. The border area from just above Zwolle to the Ooijpolder in Nijmegen would then form an impenetrable barrier to invaders. Four-hundred- thousand residents would have had to be evacuated from the flooded valley. Luckily the plan was never called into action!
On a lighter note, if you come to this part of the world, famed for its fruit growing, you will be surprised at the culinary delights awaiting you, the friendliness of the people, and the stunning beauty of the river and its surroundings. Some tips for a visit here: Day trip Nijmegen Gelderland.
Last weekend an open studio event was held in our street. Some of the artists we had already met on our brownie expedition in the winter. We were moving in (this was a very long process) during a hard lockdown so I thought it would be a good ice-breaker to deal out homemade brownies from door to door. One neighbour we met at the weekend who hadn’t been in when we delivered the treats said, ‘Ah, you’re the new neighbours, the ones with the brownies.’ Word had spread. A nice monniker I think you’ll agree.
The house where we live was originally built for artists to work and live at the same location. The village of Lent had a reputation of being rather staid so artists were encouraged to move in. Artists and other entrepreneurs are allowed to operate from the ground floor area which has a display window on the street side, a high ceiling and French windows out to the garden which allows plenty of natural light. Four talented artists took part in the open studio: Andro de Jong, Els Crum, Karin Bucholtz, and Dies Janssen. We could only see the artists’ exhibiting on Saturday as we had our second Covid jabs scheduled in Amsterdam on Sunday, so we missed Dies Janssen’s work but a selection of her diverse work can be seen online here.
Frank and I always enjoy hearing personal stories of what inspired a painting or collage, or what triggered the elevation of a found object into an objet trouve. The art work then takes on an extra meaning to the viewer. Open studios offer a unique opportunity to get to know creators and their work better. If there are open studios in your neighbourhood, I encourage you to go along and engage with the artists!
With the artists’ permission I took a few photos of them and their work. It was also an opportunity for us to see how our neighbours had utilised their indoor and outdoor spaces! I bought four ‘stoute doosjes’ roughly translated as saucy boxes from Els Crum. Cigar boxes decorated inside with drawings from a life model who is proud of her generous curves. I’ve long been a fan of Joseph Cornell and love the anticipation of opening a box to see what is within. Brings out the child in me. The ‘saucy boxes’ now have pride of place in our book cupboard.
Oh, and I couldn’t resist adding a herd of Konik ponies which graze just a few minutes walk away from our house. They are not the least bit interested in art but have lots of foals and were having a Saturday morning lie-in by the river Waal…
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.
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.
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…
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!