Winter Whimsy

Dropping temperatures and shrinking days, balding trees and nights that suck up the morning, frosty windows and chilly fingers, winter is on its way. As a foreigner the Dutch winter takes me by surprise every year, like an icy assassin. The lack of daylight hours leaves me listless and grumpy and I am all too often confronted by the heavy reality of gravity as icy pathways whip my feet and my bike out from under me. I spend far too much time in the winter months lying on frozen pavements, which has bought me to the conclusion that concrete is even harder when it’s frozen. I loose all contact with my toes from November through to March, and when the feeling finally returns to my distant digits I feel like 10 strangers have been attached to my body.

I also start moulting, like a snake loosing its skin I leave items of clothing all over Holland; A scarf at a friend’s house, an umbrella in the train, another in the umbrella parking lot (a large metal bin next to the entrance) in a department store. I have particular issues with gloves; a left hand forgotten in a café, a right hand travelled on to Amsterdam after I exited the train several stops earlier, another glove jumps ship out of my jacket pocket onto a cold city street and a gaping (as yet unnoticed) hole in my jacket pocket allows a pair of brand new mittens to make a stealthy escape. I feel like I am leaving a trail so I can find my way home…. Just follow the fluffy accessories. But, every winter as I walk through the frozen streets I take great comfort in the fact that I’m not the only one shedding my winter woolies all over the city. Every winter after the first frozen mornings I start to notice lone gloves on side walks, lost scarves in public transport or a beanie left hanging on the back of a café chair. I can’t help but feel sorry for these lost pieces of winter armour. They are like ‘fallen soldiers’ lost tragically in a valiant fight against cold ears and frostbitten fingers. Every time I see one of these fallen soldiers I can’t help but think about the cold hand somewhere, that will reach into a jacket pocket chilled fingers fumbling awkwardly only to discover that the woolly finger armour that it expected to find is alas, nowhere to be found. The fingers are then forced to soldier on unarmed and defenseless against the attack of the winter chill. I started collecting these ‘fallen soldiers’ out of sympathy a couple of years ago and I am now cultivating a glove orphanage in the bottom of my closet. 

But the ‘fallen soldiers’ I have the most sympathy for are the umbrellas. Despite their inherently flawed design they do their up-most to protect us against the almost ever inclement Dutch weather, but their flimsy wire frames and cheap material are no match for fierce winter winds that rip them inside out, twisting wire arms and ripping material leaving it flapping sadly in the wind. Then if that’s not enough torture, once they are wind battered and broken they are stuffed into a garbage bin or discarded in a gutter because no one ever goes to the effort of fixing an umbrella, they’re just not worth it. Ah… the miserable plight of the umbrella, such an unappreciated accessory…

Whilst I try to spend plenty of time frolicking in the snow, breathing warm air into cold hands and other such cliché winter related activities I think I prefer the winter hibernation, curled up on couches, under blankets and perched on café stools whilst partaking in more than my fair share of warm beverages, everything from tea to mulled wine. I particularly like to wipe the condensation from the inside of a foggy window just enough to give me a peep hole into the outside world, and from this vantage point I decided that winter is actually quite pretty. I just prefer to observe it behind glass, preferably near something that is giving off warmth.


1 Comment

Cities never sleep, a tale for the urban insomniac.

It’s almost 3am on a Tuesday night, well I guess oficially it’s now Wednesday morning, but whatever, this is no hour for semantics. You might be wondering why I am not curled up in my bed counting sheep while breathy zzz’s rythmically exit my mouth. Sometimes I think I must have been an owl in a previous life (no, I don’t hang out in trees waiting eagerly to pounce on small unsuspecting mammals, nor do I have aspirations of delivering post to young wizards. I’m referring to the nocturnal nature of the owl, watching the world in darkness as the rest of it sleeps.) I have regular owl-esque phases, (I guess you could call it insomnia) and despite the sleep deprivation there is something about the wee small hours before the sun breaks through the darkness and the cogs of daily life start to whir again that I would miss, were I to suddenly develop a regular sleeping pattern. If you ask me a city is the perfect habitat for the insomniac. Life for an insomniac in small coastal towns in Australia is a confrontingly lonely existence. You feel like you’re the only person left in the world, it’s so quiet that the silence is taken over by a cachophany of incidental noises that would normally be drowned out in the daily din. The buzz of a streetlight, the rythmic roar of the ocean in the distance, the buzz of a hungry mosquito circling like a sniper pilot, the hum of your refrigerator and the tick of your alarm clock; a 60 second reminder that time stops for no one, that seems to get louder with every minute that rushes from the present into the past.  And then you move to a big city and you realise that it’s not just New York that doesn’t sleep but cities in general. No matter what time it is, as I stand in front of my window or on my deck with a cup of tea in my hand the city is living breathing and moving, life goes on after the lights go out. Whether it’s the cry of a siren, the pitchy serenades of bar flies who’ve been swatted out of closing pubs, the meaty growls of souped up cars as macho hoons run laps of the city like urban Schumacher’s or the rattle of bikes over the cobblestoned street below, this symphony of the night is a calming reminder that I’m not alone, that the world hasn’t stopped and that I’m still a part of something, even at 4 am.

1 Comment

Autumn fizz.

Having lived in a climate for several years where the only discernible seasons were hot and wet and hot and dry you could forgive for thinking that ‘season’ is something you do to food with salt and pepper. But then I moved to Holland and despite the occasional wardrobe shortcoming (cold hands, feet, ears, and other extremities) in the last three years I have come to enjoy the quarterly makeover that takes place in the world around me. Every couple of months the city takes on a completely new personality and a new world unfolds in your daily stomping ground, still familiar yet different at the same time. My favourite part are the subtle changes that mark the beginning of a new season, like now for example, summer green palette is gradually being taken over by warm yellows deep reds and earthy browns, the wind goes from refreshing to fresh and the daylight hours start to shrink. What I love about autumn is that is seems to fizz, that’s the only way I can describe it. There’s an energy that bubbles up throughout the city as everyone makes the most of the last rays of sunshine and become overly productive in preparation for the winter hibernation that is inevitably just around the corner. There’s an honesty and a romance about autumn that I adore, as the trees are stripped bare with nothing left to hide, the leaves blow around  in flurries as if if all of summer’s secrets have escaped into the city’s streets.

For me autumn is time for warming up cold fingers on hot cups of tea, behind slightly foggy windows. For hearty food, blankets, sniffy noses, wind blown hair and inside out umbrellas. I love the seasonal twists, right now with a bit of autumn fizz.



Leave a comment

Cliches: alive and well, and coming soon to a gym near you.

People whinge about cliche’s all the time, but I love a good cliche. I love that we talk about these stereotypes as if they are characters from a cartoon, imagined and living in some fabricated universe inside the television or a book, and then occasionally  you’ll find yourself up close and personal with a cliche in real life. What I love even more than one good cliche is when several cliches come together in a surreal, ‘stranger than fiction’ moment.

At the gym tonight I took my first Body Balance class, an odd mix of Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi, imagine my surprise when the men out-numbered the women three to one. This gender imbalance in a class so obviously geared at women puzzled me, that and the fact that the places in the front row seemed to be considered prime real estate. A cubby Asian man (who I would later discover is called Harold) informed me in no uncertain terms that I was in HIS SPOT. When the instructor entered the studio everything became clear in an instant, she was like the the frankenstein of stereotypes a bizarre mashup of female clichés, on really long legs. Enter Tatiana; a tall, blonde, Russian, ex-ballerina with a cleavage you wouldn’t expect to see in swan lake. She’s wearing short shorts (I would even go so far as to call them mico-shorts, or just underwear) she has a small heart tattoo on her hip and a belly button piercing (yes we can see that part of her anatomy too) she has a breathy voice and a heavy Russian accent that sounds more like it belongs in an old Bond film. She starts the class with “Hhhellooo darlinks” and all the men hang on her every word. We start the class and Tatiana shows off a flexibility that you would expect from a ballerina, she does standing splits in front of the mirror (at this point I’d like to remind you about the micro underpants) and a lot of forward bending (cue porno cleavage).  Every now and then Tatiana saunters around her pupils giving words of encouragement, things like “Aaah Harold darlink you are do-ink soooo gooood.” Harold cannot touch the floor with his hands, in fact he can barely reach his knees yet I think that Tatiana’s breathy words of encouragement might be having a positive effect on another part of his anatomy. At the end of the class they (the men) flock to like her like moths to a flame, me and the other three women leave unnoticed. In the lift I bump into one of the moths (oops, I mean men) from the class, he makes small talk and asks how I found the class, I reply “it was interesting”. He gives me an odd look and then adds, as if defending himself in some way  “this class is good for my back” I reply, “I’m sure that’s not all it’s good for.” He blushes and the doors open, I think he was glad we were only had to travel three floors together.


1 Comment

The devolution of love

Every facet of society is in a constant state of evolution (or devolution…) even the way we (people in general) interact with one another. So by this logic you could argue that love also evolves; how we love, what we define as love, how we define a relationship, how we find said relationship and inevitably how we end a relationship.

So here we are in 2012 the era of technology and love has evolved into a formidable beast, it’s developed (an often limited) intelligence but it’s cunning, competitive and sometimes cannibalistic.  We now live in a world where love has become a commodity. Sex sells and so does desperate and dateless. People have less time to socialize so we go online and let a machine with a fancy algorithm tell us who we should fall in love with. We can start and finish a relationship with the click of a button and even have a relationship with someone you’ve never seen in 3D. Romance might not be dead but it’s definitely choking on a plague of promiscuity bad behavior. We’ve been playing around with love’s DNA and we’ve created a monster, Franken-Love, a freaky love monster who is going to love us all to death if we’re not careful. What I want to know is how did we end up here, with Franken-love? And, can we do anything about it?

100 years ago relationships that didn’t end in marriage (or in many cases started with marriage) barely existed, and those that did were taboo and conducted behind closed doors and in hushed whispers.

70 years ago most relationships still ended in marriage, but what had changed (in most western societies) was that people had more freedom in choosing their partner, people could fall in love instead of having to learn to love the one chosen for them. Also, love had become less monogamous, no I’m not saying the world was getting promiscuous… that comes later on loves evolutionary highway. But people did have more freedom to experience more partners, people would often have had more than one relationship before running down the aisle with their chosen spouse to be.

50 years ago love was shedding its traditional skin and taking on whole new look. The biggest changes were in how people met each other, love’s habitat was expanding. 50 years prior people were introduced by their families, people were usually chosen for each other. Love was a business deal. There was nothing romantic about it, most of the time. 50 years on and society was changing, wars had been waged, feminism was on the boil, men (and increasingly more women) were setting the alarm and heading out the door 5 days a week to bring home the proverbial bacon. But one of the main differences (this is really like converting gills to lungs or swapping tails for legs) was that people made time for fun. Life wriggled into the Petri dish all work and no play, grew legs walked out and decided it wanted to go to a restaurant, see a movie, have coffee with friends and go to a dinner party. Social life (as we know it) was born. The primordial soup had been stirred and people were keen to enjoy a bowl, with each other. They went to dances, they went to university mixers, they joined social clubs, they held social functions, they got together every week and played cards, knitted sweaters, discussed comic books, watched birds, people joined fan clubs, people volunteered, threw parties, went on picnics, went to concerts, people even spoke to their neighbors (heaven forbid!) what I’m getting at is that people had a multitude of opportunities in which to bump into one another which in turn created endless new ways in which to meet prospective lovers, leavers and spouses.

In this era love was flamboyant and frivolous it was the era of love letters, courtships, long engagements, no sex before marriage, flowers, serenades, and grand gestures.

I think we’ve come too far, we need to devolve. Franken-Love is our ‘make an immediate U-turn’ moment.  I think we should turn off the computer, slam on the evolutionary brakes, raise a hand (with opposable thumb) to the gnarled, slobbering face of Franken-love and say “STOP!” In the name of love.

Leave a comment

One half of a whole.

Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow. My body hates me today, I feel like every work out I’ve ever done has come back to haunt me.  Why is the floor so far away? Typing hurts, sitting, hurts, walking, hurts, lying down hurts, stairs are my enemy.

I ran a half marathon yesterday, 21km. It was a truly epic experience. When I first decided to run  I honestly thought that the more I trained the more achievable the task would become but the closer the date got and the more kilometers I was putting on the clock the bigger the undertaking seemed to become.

The sun was shining on the heaving mass behind the start line as the gun went off, and then we started running like cows in a stampede. It’s an odd experience running with an audience and in a crowd considering it’s usually a fairly solitary sport.

I came around a corner and a huge crowd of friends were standing on the sidelines egging me on, it was the most amazing feeling. I never thought hearing my own name could give me so much energy. By the last 5 kilometers I was struggling, I felt like someone had filled me legs with cement and my lungs with acid. My knee was torturing me and I felt nauseous, I thought about stopping but I figured if I stopped I’d have to walk to the finish anyway and even at the snails pace I was going I decided that would be faster than walking. By the last 2 kilometers I was officially in hell, the only thought running through my mind  was “holy shit! This is only a HALF marathon why would ANYONE in their right mind want to do a WHOLE one?” luckily for me I had a cheer squad on bikes cheering me along the final stretch. I was overcome with emotion and came crying over the finish line. I fell into the arms of a strong and friendly volunteer who said, with all the soberness you would expect from a Dutchman  “Well done miss, your not the first but your not the last, I guess that puts you somewhere in the middle.” Within 2 minutes of stopping my legs went from concrete to jelly and my arms felt like 2 pieces of over cooked spaghetti. But, I’d done it, 21 km. I couldn’t walk but I felt on top of the world, and despite the pain I’m ready for next year.

Leave a comment

Frozen fever

Holland has been waiting with baited, icy breath  to hear whether the “Elfsteden tocht” (a ridiculously long ice skating race, something like 200kms across natural ice in the North of Holland) might finally get the green light this year. The last one was in 1997, so the Dutchies are keen for a re-run. Every year the air buzzes with icy excitement and everyone is sure that this will be the year, the  weather bureau confirms it, old farmers with beer bellies  jump up and down on frozen canals confirming that it’s no joke, “it’s frozen folks!” (I cant help but hope they fall through, I know I’m a sick puppy. I have the same with formula one racing I always feel a pinch of disappointment when no one bursts into flames)

Where does this frosty rumor mill leave me as the token tourist? I fall for it every year, collecting packets of pea soup and cans of sausages getting all set for the frozen spectacle, but it never happens. Winter melts slowly into spring and everybody pins their hopes on next year.

And here we go again, we’re in the middle of Frozen Fever it’s front page news, and there are hourly ice updates. My optimism has chilled and turned into frozen cubes of skepticism so I’m starting to wonder if this isn’t perhaps the Dutch Leprechaun or the pot at the end of the rainbow.

I’m going to blame it on global warming, it killed Big Foot, the Lochness monster and maybe the Elfstedentocht is the latest victim… But what do I know, maybe this WILL be the year….

Leave a comment

Frozen, not stirred.

I grew up on the beach so I prefer my water preferably salty with a little wave in it. As far as I’m concerned ice is belongs in the freezer or in my drink, not under my feet.  This is my fourth Dutch winter and it seems that no amount of time can change the fact that salt water runs in my veins (notice I said runs, not sits in frozen channels). Snow and ice is pretty when your inside looking out at it, with the heater on, a cup of tea in your hand and Frank Sinatra crooning in the background. But in practice ice and snow leaves me cold (I know I know another bad pun, I’m  a sucker for them).  What many people refer to as a winter wonderland I see as a frosty  fright-fest. It’s cold and slippery and dangerous and it makes me cranky, yup the icy whites turns me all Scroogy. Frozen pavements even require a new way of walking, I can’t do it, so I slip and slide around the pavement like a constipated duck.

And here we are again, the big freeze. The two weeks of the year that I dread and I just hope to god, goddess, Santa, the tooth fairy or whoever is sitting up there on a cloud listening to my dragons breath prayers that I make it through with all of my bones in tact.

Today I put my bones on the line and went ice skating, something I’ve managed to avoid for the last 3 years. Bright and early this morning we rocked up the picturesque Kinderdijk, a  long network of canals peppered with windmills, I felt like I’d done a Mary Poppins and walked into a postcard.

The idea of walking on ice, in shoes with knives stuck to the bottom of them made me nervous. As I sat on the edge of the warf with my skates on trying to work up to actually walking on water (hahaha Jesus, the jig is up!). A golf buggy drove across the ice and a pack of skaters sped past and I heard a loud cracking noise as the ice around the boat next to me, opened in a great angry gash. At that moment all  I was overcome with panic and my ability to think rationally left me completely. I raced on hands and knees along the warf and across the frozen ground and took shelter at a picnic table. Passers by gave me an odd look. I didn’t care, I was frozen with fear. I suddenly decided that people on ice was totally unnatural and ridiculous and there was no way anyone was getting me on the ice, now way no how. I clung to my picnic table, my island of safety. My boyfriend pleaded desperately with me and tried to get me to see reason but my mind was made up, hell would have to freeze over before I would get on the ice.

Well, someone must have turned the heating off in the devils lair because after a lot of coaxing and reassurance I found my self standing on the ice, my heart was beating a million miles an hour and despite the fact that it was -10degrees I was sweating like a pig on a spit.

The panic subsided with each second that passed without me falling through the ice to meet my frosty death and I spent the day pushing a chair around the ice (the chair is the ice skating equivalent of training wheels, I hung on to mine for dear life).

I spent the majority of the day doing the splits and generally sliding around in very unbecoming poses but I slowly begun to get the hang of ice skating (a little, by the end of the day I could stand still without falling over, quite an achievement I thought!). I just had to keep reminding myself not to think about the fact that I was walking on an ice cube, in the sun, with a couple of hundred other people.

With the sun in my face and a cup of steaming hot chocolate in my hand I started warming up to the idea of people on ice. Maybe ice is nice after all.

Leave a comment

Exploding into 2012

Fireworks are synonymous with New Years eve the world over, Holland is no exception. It’s an odd tradition really, if you think about it; lighting small explosives and watching in awe as they explode over-head, filling streets with debris and blowing off the occasional digit. But, there is often little logic in tradition. The Dutch are particularly enthusiastic about fireworks I’d go so far as to say that in some cases it borders on pyromaniac obsession.

Holland is highly regulated the Dutch love rules, laws, policy etc. But you know what they say about rules? … They’re made to be broken. Fireworks are actually illegal in Holland until a day or two before New Years Eve then the law is overlooked, firework shops pop up all over the country and if you walk around with your eyes closed it you could easily fool yourself that you’re in a warzone. On the 30th of December I went to bed in 2011 and felt like I woke up in WWII. It was total madness. The explosions started early and intensified with every hour. The streets were full of teenagers hopped up on the thrill of loud noises and the power of being able to blow various objects to smithereens. Bike riders were now considered moving targets. The air was heavy with smoke and the smell of gunpowder. I spent most of the day with my hands over my ears trying not to get blown up. But I must say with increasing amounts of champagne (Dutch courage) I actually begun to enjoy some of the whizzing, whirring, singing, colorful, ones… ooh, aah, pretty!

I discovered that there are essentially 3 kinds of fireworks, ones that make noise, ones that make colours and noise and illegal ones that go BANG, BOOM! and when I say BANG BOOM! I mean window shattering, car alarm triggering, hearing loss inducing BANG, BOOM! The BANG BOOM variety generally come from Belgium – yup, masters in diamonds, chocolates and explosives… how is it they are are not running the world?

I also discovered that there when it comes to fireworks quantity is key, the more you can set off simultaneously the better. 10,000 at once or even 100,000! (Thanks Belgium… and no I’m not over exaggerating).

I also noticed that males in general (age really doesn’t come into it) seem to be more partial to these explosive treats than females, it took me a couple of days but I think I worked it out. A guy walked into the party with a giant rocket over each shoulder; a thick cylinder with a pointy cap attached to a long stick…. sound phallic yet? Typical men, it’s all about penis’s! Fireworks are like sex with a bigger bang at the end, and it’s more acceptable to get your ‘explosive stick’ out in public.

2011 was on it’s way out and the intensity of the explosions grew as midnight approached. We rode our bikes through the carnage of celebrations and headed to the highest point in The Hague for a better view. We tramped through the dunes towards the perfect lookout, we reached the top just in time to pop a bottle of bubbly and join in the countdown… 10, 9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 and then it really started… The usual inky darkness of a winter night disappeared as the sky exploded into a myriad of colours. I’ve never seen anything like it, there wasn’t an inch of horizon that wasn’t exploding into colour, it was as if every second of 2011 was exploding to make way for 2012.

Leave a comment