Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Coming Home

I was a bit down on Coevorden, but in the event it did us proud, with a copious meal, an interesting display of proper billiards, a clean, dry comfortable bed and a very nice breakfast. OK - it's a town with a sort of hang-dog feel, a bit dusty or down-at-heel, but so what? The old guys playing billiards were terrific.

Our room also had BBC1 on the telly, which turned out to be very useful as we saw the weather forecast... yet another belt of very heavy rain heading up the Channel and due to smother Holland and Belgium for the next two days. We'd been wondering how to spend theses last two days of our holiday but seeing the forecast made it easy to add a new choice to the list: hit Dunquerke and get home tonight. In fact that is what we did, but decided to spend the morning off the motorways and exploring a bit more of inner Holland. Two places in particular were well worth the wait: the lovely national park which fills the middle of the Netherlands (including forests and the Hooge Veluwe, sorry if I have spelled it wrong); and Deventer. This gorgeous little town seems to have very little bombing damage and has in any case been lovingly restored, with its huge Grote church with its romanesque crypt, lovely worn slate memorial stones, and painted vaults in the nave, and also having Holland's oldest stone house. There was a queue of (admittedly middle-age and older) people waiting for that to open at 10am. Stone is so rare, or was so rare, and almost all the buildings are brick. We had a coffee in a smashing place in the 'New' Market (ie mostly 17th? century), with books everywhere and a special barstool arrangement built round the little grand piano. The coffee there is traditionally served with a tiny slab of the local cake, which is fruity and with ginger and other spices.

Then we made it across the lovely open heathland of the national park and eventually reached the motorways. It is hard to know how anyone managed without satnav. Even then it can be quite difficult, frightening even, to negotiate which lane you are meant to be in to get through the huge spaghetti junctions.

We called in at Ede to buy some provisions for a picnic - in a greengrocer we bought red and green plums, and also some fresh salads which were laid out most invitingly in chilled trays. We had our lunch eventually on a hill top covered with wild flowers, overlooking the Neder Rhein. True, it was not far from a recycling plant and there was a steady stream of rubbish lorries behind us on the road, but we had peace, fresh air, the beauteous fields and flowers, the light, a flock of crows messing about in the long grass (were they playing hide and seek?), and friendly cyclists wishing us a good day. A perfect meal, and the rain stayed off too.

I must say, the horses in Holland are marvellous: they look like real pets, and of all kinds too, palominos, tiny ponies, herds with foals, piebald and skewbald groups, solitary mares in little paddocks, long-haired golden things, some carthorses. All in fine fettle, all shining and looking loved. And without the ghastly 'equestrian' mess in the landscape that we seem to acquire. We also saw a few small private pet flocks of deer, a couple of llamas, some large birds (could they have been storks?), and one amazing thing - three black cows in a small field each with a perfect white stripe round the middle. I wish, I wish I had stopped to take a photo of them.

Another unexpected glory was the fact that most of the old windmills in that part of Holland are thatched - ALL OVER! Not just their caps, but the whole structure, sometimes with the date of origin or reconstruction cut out of the reed, or left in relief.

We belted through Belgium, getting past Antwerp before the rush-hour thank god, and thence down to Dunquerke. We queued in the rain. Could we change our booking and come home 26 hours early? Yes, perhaps, but we would have to be quick. We skidded through the customs etc and ran through the puddles into the Cash Ticket office. The girl said yes... and then her computer seemed to lock. The people behind us in the queue were told it was too late, they would have to wait another two hours. But, we did eventually get our ticket, and were nearly the last car aboard.

Unusually, Andrew thought we should eat aboard, which has never really happened before, or not recently, as we usually take a picnic. The meal was disappointing, and we exchanged commiserations with the couple on the next table. They are house-master and house-mistress for the international college of a public school in Dorset, although they live and have their own house in York. They told us about some of their young charges, the children of Russians, Arabs, or Chinese families who can afford to send their young to England to be educated for a year or so. Some of these youngsters arrive speaking no English but manage A* GSCEs in one year. Some have only ever had servants to do for them, and don't know how to dress or look after their clothes. Some have drivers based in London, who they summon when they need anything brought for them. Some say how nice it is to be treated as an ordinary person. Some leave and go on to other schools and then say how they miss having bedtime stories read to them. Some travel unaccompanied from the furthest places on earth, and may not go home again for 18 months even though they are barely 12 or 13.

How lucky I am, we are, to have been born into this time and place. Free to travel, think, write without censorship. With good health, education, enough money to take holidays and go abroad. Able to use the internet, and cars, and phones, and able to see our children grow up healthy and I hope happy. As a female, in the history of the world, this is a truly remarkable thing to have experienced.

On our holiday we saw so many things. I have tried to capture some of them in this blog, but have missed out loads I wanted to say. I will try to scoop those things up within a day or two. I loved my swims in the sea in Denmark, and the churches right across Benelux, Germany and Denmark. I loved the castle at Egeskov with its wonderful toy museum in the huge roof. I loved seeing a red squirrel at |Gentofte. I loved the beautiful flat lands of NW Europe. I loved the granite blocks which have been used so widely to make broad paving and clean streets. I loved the ancient houses, some artificially reconstructed after the wars, which so many generations of people have chosen to live and work in for so long. I loved hearing the different roots of English (in French, Flemish, Dutch, German and Danish) so close together one after another, and I was impressed by how so many people speak English so graciously and so well in all these different communities we saw. I took loads of photos which I will try to inset into this blog to show you some of what I saw... even though the words may have given you something to go on.

Dover, the A2, a police car racing ahead of us in the dark and wet, ringing various family members to say we're back, watching for too much water on the road as the rain plummeted down, thinking about the notorious aquaplaning section of the A2 London-bound by the turning to Chartham Hatch, finding the police-car beside a smashed-up car at that very point when we finally got there, coming into the house, picking up the mail, ferrying things in from the car while the rain hammered down, padding about the house which looks as if we had never been away.... So, home at last. All those things we saw are already slipping away into 'the past'. It feels like a transitional moment, so I have one self still in Denmark, or Germany, or Holland, and one self here, now, back in the 'real' world.

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