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2009-06-08 22:14

Greenery, now with added Yoorp

As we write, the Green bloc in the EP has gone from 30 seats last time to (so far) 45 this time out.

It is, apparently, a good time to be a dirty, smelly (Yoorpean) hippy.

2009-06-08 21:36

God bless the BBC!

The World News channel is mostly useless, but tonight it is by no means so: they are sharing some of the parochial ("domestic") BBC feed, but doing a pretty good job of putting it in a wider context.

Of course, one(1) of the bigger stories in Yoorp is that the British Tories are leaving the Yoorpean Christian Democratic bloc to form a useless new rump. This may do a lot to undermine the Christian Democrats otherwise strong performance, with a surprisingly robust showing for Sarkozy's party - apparently largely fueled by contempt for his socialiste rival's obvious disarray - and a reasonable performance from Merkel's lot in Chermany.

(We note in passing that the British UKIPpers and Nasty Geert Wilders' Nasty Dutch party are completely irrelevant to the functioning of the Yoorpean Parliament itself, regardless of their alleged relevance to the Yoorpean dimension of their respective national political agendas. The BBC had the Chief UKIPper on, inanely claiming credit for the Irish referendum defeat of the Lisbon treaty, which is like having a point, only less so.)

2009-06-08 20:14

Yoorp elects!

Yesterdag we finally scored a smart card for digital telly-vision so we now have an even more intimidating array of options, including Espain's TVE and West Rumania ("Italy")'s RAI, on which to contemplate the elections for the Yoorpean Sittenchamber.

Unfortunately, (a) we understand neither Espanish nor West Rumanian ("Italian"), and (b) the national coverages elsewhere are largely made of fail.

In their half-hour warm-up show, the BBC devoted more than half to the Twilight of the Gord, and left the explanation of what the EP's blocs are and who's in them to almost the end, as a kind of light relief.

The East Belgians had a Vlemish parliamentary election at the same time, and they are busy chaotically arguing with each other about that on the East Belgian ("Vlemish") channel at our disposal. (This, it should be acknowledged, always happens when Belgians - East or West or especially both - gather together.) The Big News is that Vlaams Belang support has slumped quite hard from last time.

The Cherman state broadcasters have been taking a break (filled with a dubbed film), and even before that they were somewhat parochial in outlook: we learned only that the Cherman social democrats looked to be the big losers.

So for the time being we're trying out the Frenchy-French TV5Monde, which is a partnership between various Francophone broadcasters and (presumably therefore) unusually willing to look outside national boundaries.

If our French were only better, we would have learned a great deal about the liberalisation of the postal markets, among many other doubtless engrossing subjects.

We learn from somewhere meanwhile that the Danish elections didn't meet the 40% turnout threshold for the associated referendum on fixing the Monarchial Succession Genderbug, which is certainly a disappointment to Danish prinsesses everywhere. Be strong, Danish prinsesses, your day will surely come!

2009-06-06 21:05

ZOMG!!

We were so totally supporting Holland [sic]!

(Not least necause we are only too well aware of England's ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of the remotest proximity to minor inconvenience.)

2009-06-06 20:00

Weekend!

England are playing Holland [sic] at cricket.

The BBC won't bring us radio coverage, so we're reduced to checking the OBO in the adbreaks of My Super Ex-Girlfriend (which is rubbish but still better than The Passion of the Krist from Krypton.

2009-06-05 19:15

Martijn Greuter is our new hero

The Nederlands Dagblad (it's Extra Jesusy!) brings us a linkable version of a story we heard on the radio in the Stau this evening about the European elections:

Maar ook mensen die ,,wegens een geestelijke stoornis'' onder curatele gesteld zijn, mogen voor het eerst hun stem uitbrengen.

But also people who live under guardianship "because of a mental disability" can vote for the first time.

Motor achter dit laatste is Martijn Greuter, die zich al bij de Tweede Kamerverkiezingen in 2002 als kiezer wilde laten inschrijven. Martijn heeft een licht verstandelijke beperking waardoor hij onder curatele stond en hem op grond van de wet geen stemrecht verleend werd. Een politieke discussie volgde, omdat velen het ongerijmd vonden dat deze mensen niet konden stemmen. ,,Het gaat vaak om personen die wel zelfstandig wonen en slechts in mindere mate een geestelijke stoornis hebben. De curatele is dan vooral bedoeld om hen te beschermen tegen financile misstappen'', staat in een bericht op de website van de Vereniging van Nederlandse Gemeenten. Het wrange was dat personen die een ernstiger handicap hadden en in een inrichting woonden, vaak niet onder curatele geplaatst waren en daardoor wel konden stemmen.

The driving force behind this is Martijn Greuter, who wanted to register to vote in the 2002 general election. Martijn is lightly mentally handicapped and is therefore under guardianship and therefore was denied the right to vote under the law. A political discussion followed, because many found it unreasonable that such people couldn't vote. "It's often a question of people who live independently and are only lightly handicapped. The guardianship is only to protect them against financial mistakes", says a statement on the website of the Union of Dutch Local Councils. Ironically, people with more serious handicaps living in an institution were often not placed under guardianship and therefore could vote.

In 2006 lanceerde toenmalig minister Remkes een voorstel om deze ongerijmdheid op te heffen. ,,De regering is ervan overtuigd dat het goed is dat mensen zoals Martijn kunnen deelnemen aan verkiezingen. Kern van de ondercuratelestelling is het in bescherming nemen van mensen, niet het ontnemen van rechten.''

In 2007 the then-minister Remkes launched a proposal to eliminate this quirk. "The government is convinced that it would be good that people like Martijn could participate in elections. The point of putting people under guardianship is to protect them, not to take away their rights.

In 2008 werd het voorstel door de Eerste Kamer aangenomen. Senatoren waren verheugd en spraken van een 'historisch moment'. Bijna negentig jaar nadat in Nederland het algemeen kiesrecht definitief werd, is het kiesrecht nu pas echt 'algemeen' geworden.

In 2008 the proposal was accepted by the upper house of parliament. The senators were delighted and spoke of "a historic moment". Almost ninety years after universal suffrage was introduced in the Netherlands it had finally became really universal.

The radio had an interview with Martijn, and his political opinions certainly didn't strike us as unusually poorly considered by the standards the last few weeks have thrust upon us.

But more to the points that we are innclined to have, if you look past Nasty Geert Wilders the Netherlands is (sometimes) still out there flying the boundaries and pushing the flags for decency and tolerance and the Yoorpean Way. (They also make a pretty good apple cake, as it happens.)

2009-06-04 19:04

Ostalgie, Western-Yoorpean style

We probably blogged lah-di-dah DN's article on Zweden's camping boom last year.

And it looks set for another recordr:

Allt fler vljer att stanna i Sverige p semestern. rets trend r att campa. Men camping behver inte betyda total isolering mitt ute i skogen idag erbjuder Sveriges campingar allt frn stora poolomrden, fotbollsskolor och ventyrsaktiviteter till konferensrum eller kontorsrum med skrivare, fax och trdls uppkoppling.

More and more people are choosing to spend their holidags in Zweden. This years' trend is camping. But camping doesn't have to mean toal isolation in the middle of the forest - todag Zweden's campsites offer everything from large pool areas, foopball schools and adventure activities to conference rooms or office spaces with printers, faxes and wireless networking.

(This, they propose, is the most convenient way to read a 'bladet while camping, which doesn't say much for the alternatives. We, for one, favour paper copies purchased in exchange for the local currency in a nearby shop.)

And this year's Pinksterkamp (a family tradition) was by some margin the busiest we've ever seen, and the busiest the campsite owners can remember.

And there really is something odd but reassuring about a field packed full of (mostly) caravans by a modest resevoir-cum-lake with a few yards of scruffy sand-cum-mud at one end serving as a beach that feels like a flashback to an eastern Yoorp we had the good fortune never to know.

There were ladies of a certain age and more, frankly, than a certain size holding court outside their caravans all day in old-fashioned swimming costumes, and children squabbling over plastic toy cars and chasing ducklings and the quintessentially summery sounds of couples stress-testing their relationships and their geometric skills with the traditional rite of tent-pitching.

And by the "beach" there were surly adolescent boys with a foopball hanging as coincidentally as possible around the adolescent girls in their new bikinis.

And of course there was a great deal of bier and barbecue and not a great deal of vegetables (other than the ubiquitous Kartoffelsalat) to go with them. Inauthentically, everyone these days has a fridge (in which packets of samwidge sossage fight a losing battle for Lebensraum with the many biers), and the caravanners with season places (by their shady pitches next to the lake shall thee know them) mostly also have LCD TVs with multichannel digitennas.

But the rest is was as old-skool as you could hope for, down to the lack of bogroll in the locked toilets (one key per camping place; deposit required) and the trickle of lukewarm water in the showers.

Meanwhile, the family Englund-Glad get space in the best of all possible 'bladets to sing the praises of their own old-skool canvas bungaloo tent:

- I brjan var vi omgivna av bara husvagnar. Men p senare tid har tlten blivit fler, sger Susanne Englund.

- Dremot har vl de flesta modernare grejer n vi. Men vrt Furuvik de Luxe frn 70-talet har visat sig st emot allt.

"In the beginning we were surrounded by just caravans. But lately there have been more tents", says Susanne Englund.

"However most people have newer ones than us. But our Furuvik de Luxe from the 70s has shown it can stand up to anything."

The picture also shows it to be satisfyingly orange, but disappointingly leaves open the crucial question of whether it has flower-print "curtains" in its plastic "windows". That is, of course, the sign of the thoroughbred 70s canvas bungaloo tent. (The lack of flower-print curtains on contemporary tents is one of the few really incontrovertible signs of the Decline of Western Civilisation.)

2009-05-28 19:44

Canvas me harder! (Or for that matter, at all.)

Like an athletics race in a deserted stadium, the campaign for the European parliamentary elections is set for a tense finish and few except the most dedicated fans are watching.

We're sort-of watching. But so far we have also not been very impressed by what we've seen from the Dutch campaign. The SP - the populist hard-left - is trying to turn the election into a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, which they are against.

Still, it could be worse. Back in Blighty:

Take the promise in the manifesto that Conservative MEPs will force a vote to do away with the second parliament in Strasbourg. If Mr Cameron doesn't know, someone should tell him that the decision is nothing to do with the parliament itself. It is up to national leaders.

So we have a simple score-sheet for the elections: we will vote only on issues that the European Parliament is actually in a position to do something about, and we discount parties that campaign on issues it can't.

Given that we also discount the Dutch Christian Democrats (for being Christian Democrats) and the Dutch Social Democrats (for not being social democrats), the "liberals" of the VVD (whose liberalisme amounts to an uncritical backing of Capital agains Labour, and comes with a side-order of blood and soil authoritarian nationalisme), the PVV (the party of Nasty Geert Wilders, who wishes to ban the Koran, among other provocations), and the Party for Animals and various negligible grouplets, that doesn't leave much.

What it precisely leaves is the Dirty Smelly Hippies of GroenLinks and the muesli-munching left-liberals of D66.

D66 are a very annoying party on the national stage (long story) but this is not the national stage and their lijsttrekker, Sophie in 't Veld, is one of few working politicians publically in favour of civil liberties.

But it turns out that the two parties have barely-distinguishable European programmes, so we may yet be reduced to tossing a coin.

2009-05-26 19:10

Footnote/Disclaimer

We should have mentioned that we don't much care for historical pastiche as a literary form: we have never read any of George McDonald Fraser's Flashman series, and we never got past the first few pages of one of Patrick O'Brien's widely-heralded Master and Commander grizzly sea-dog stories.

So if our Varied Reader should happen to be looking for informed opinions on Bakunin, elsewhere might be a better place to look.

2009-05-26 15:51

Moondag review of stuff

1. Trigano Odyssee trailer tent

A trailer tent ("vouwwagen") is a compromise between a tent and a caravan. It comes packaged in a trailer, complete with storage space, but folds out into something recognisable as a tent.

They had their heyday in the 70s, when cars were less powerful and budgets less expansive, but they linger on today among those who want a little more convenience than a raw tent but are disinclined to spend their holidags in an oversized tupperware box masquerading as a microcottage.

Which would include us. Luckily, vouwwagen technology has also evolved since the dags of the exuberantly-poled Alpenkreuzer, and the Odyssee lives up to the manufacturers claim thaat it is very easy indeed to set up.

The trailer part folds out to form two(2) good-sized double beds, with slats and a real (if thin) mattress, which means that you sleep off the floor and (better still) you can change a nappy at a more convenient level than the ground.

It cost us a large chunk of cash, but based on our hemelvaart try-out camp, it is worth every eurocent.

2. Groningen stadscamping

This is where we went, and it is very nice. It is divided into several small, well-shaded fields; the restaurant is (we are ashamed to know) quite good, and the shop sells both bier and newspapers.

The only other thing we want is good weather, and we had that too.

3. De hondenrug sauna, Veenendaal

Our campingweekend was somewhat interrupted by the need to attend our brother-in-law's stag party, set in the above sauna.

This was our first ever encounter with a commercial sauna, and it was at least OK. We spent six(6) hours trooping around the saunas, turkish baths, relaxation baths and jacuzzis, with gratifyingly regular stops at the terrace for bier and food.

Apart from the obvious problem with public nudity - most persons have bodies one would just as soon not see naked, and it is neither polite nor convenient to admire the rare exceptions - we had a fairly good time, muchly thanks to the company.

4. Turks gambiet by Boris Akoenin

Its nearly twenty(20) years since we used to borrow Thomas Hardy's books from the university library and spend a bunch of time discovering from the end notes how many words there had once been for kinds of carts in the Wessex area.

Reading Akunin [sic] in Dutch brought those heady dags back, only this time it was mostly words for kinds of horse and horsing equipment. Only without the endnotes.

Otherwise, we were pleasantly surprised: derring is certainly done, and swashes are certainly buckled, and the writing is rather better than it ought to be (which could in principle also be a compliment), but the underlying book is recognisably a Krimi, and by no means a bad one.

We have no other idea what might have occurred in the war between the Russian and Turkish empires that forms the book's backdrop, and we're not in any urgent hurry to find out, so historical accuracy was never going to be a big issue. As narrative colour it all works well enough, though.

We're now reading Leviathan, the next in the series, after which we anticipate stopping. We do after all have plenty of genuine pulp to get on with, without having to put up with literary merit of even the middlebrowest kind.

2009-05-19 15:07

Transliterate me somewhat less harder!

At our local tobacconist cum newsagent cum office-supplies supplier cum bookshop - kind of like a small branch of Blighty's WH Smith, only not quite as rubbish - they generally have a selection of discounted fiction out the front, apparently to keep the postcards and newspapers company, and we mentioned to the Countess that we wouldn't especially mind if a couple of the medium-high-brow Russian Krimi's we spotted there happened to come into our possession.

Our timing turned out to have been unusually good, since the weekend found the Countess in the act of passing said establishment while contemplating the amount she had just paid in town for a pair of shoes. So we ended up with two(2) of these said books, being the second and third of a series, the first not having been anywhere to be seen.

But the blurps had reviews from l'Express and Lire, which suggested they were also circulating in France, and given our abiding love of cheap French paperbacks, a visit to Amazon.fr seemed called for.

The author's name is given in Dutch as Boris Akoenin, but of course the "oe" is the idiosyncratic Dutch rendering for phonetic [u], and equally of course the French ending would have to be "ine", to actually get the [n] pronounced.

But we tried Akunine, which is of course wrong - French "u" is rounded (phonetic [y]) and it is properly Akounine.

But irritatingly Amazon's search engine made no attempt to help and it took a round trip via Wikipedia to get this minor lapse fixed.

There was a time when we could freely map between English, French and Swedish transliterations of Russian in our head with pretty good success, but that time is by not especially now.

Anyway, we'll probably review the books in a future Pulperama!, in which we will certainly hold it against them that they appear to have a degree of literary merit. (Our evidence of which being that they are annoyingly hard to read in Dutch translation.)


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2009-05-19 10:21

Moodag review of stuff: Citizen Kane

We'd never seen Citizen Kane, so when it came on Nederland 2 in a graveyard slot we videoed it. And since our attempt to also video Underworld: Evolution, which is by no means accused of greatness, but which we would have preferred to watch last night, failed when we mistook RTL 8 for Veronica we made a virtue of a necessity and watched it.

(We should have been watching earnest documentaries about Yoorpean politics and Belgian political history, but it is surprising how often the mood doesn't take us.)

Bearing in mind the possibility that Citizen Kane is made out of clichs the way that Shakespeare is made out of quotations, it didn't really do a lot for us. We certainly don't see how it could outrank Casablanca or The Maltese Falcon.

We suspect there is some mythic resonance between the life of Orson Wells and that of Charles Foster Kane, and that this has become part of film over the decades, and the cinematography is certainly a thing to behold, and there is of course also the fact that we had had the punchline pre-spoiled, but it is mostly a straightforward story, told in flashbacks, of a materially successful but spiritually unfulfilled press baron in the dags when press barons where real press barons, and that is about that.

(Disclaimer: we have given up - twice - on reading Moby Dick. Apparently it is about a whale. Apparently also we are unable to appreciate the masterpieces of American art.)

Bonus review of stuff: Superman Returns!

We never liked Superman. Even if he isn't a whale, he is powered-up to the point of almost-complete physical invulnerability, and pulp heroes with no capacity for peril and boring pulp heroes.

This particular film is also too long for our abbreviated evenings, and having bookmarked it halfway we have found ourself unwilling to resume.

It was already fairly clear to us that the filmmakers were planning to juxtapose Superman's physical invulnerability with some emotional turmoil at being jilted in absentia by long-standing love-interest Lois Lane, but this is not a very good plan.

First, if we wanted Hamlet we'd watch Hamlet. Second, despite Shakespeare's best efforts, Hamlet isn't really much of a pulp hero. Third and last, the actor playing Superman appeared to have been chosen for his likeness to Christopher Reeve rather than any ability to act, and if you are going to do Hamlet you really do need to bring the acting.

But of course the second half may or may not be very awesome: we do not anticipate ever finding out.

2009-05-17 10:25

Vriendjespolitiek considered unsubstantiated

It is Paul O'Brien, a man who blogs on comics we don't read and American wrestling we don't watch, but who is worth reading anyway, turns his attention to the Yurovizhn:

Until recently the winner has been decided by phone vote, but they're introducing a convoluted hybrid system of judging panels this year, after Russia won in 2008 and the western nations threw a collective tantrum, accusing the Eastern European countries of all voting for each other out of mutual loyalty. This was vastly overstated; it glossed over the fact that nobody voted for Poland, which last I saw was in eastern Europe too, and it completely ignored the fact that the winning Russian song was a multinational number one hit, the first single from the new album by a major Russian star, produced by Timbaland. They voted for it in eastern Europe because they genuinely liked it, a point which the British seemed to have trouble grasping.

This is all exceptionally true, and none the worse for that.

The Yurovizhn semis also managed to give us our first taste of something resembling a point to Twitter: "Eurovision" [sic] showed up as a "trending topic", and it was somewhat interesting to surf the tijdgeest ("Zeitgeist") across the many langwidges represented.

The idea that the voting is all "fixed" is still, it turns out, firmly entrenched in the more arse-witted regions of the Anglosphere.

Dutch has the rather excellent word vriendjespolitiek for the alleged phenomenon, but this week in Offlinebladet there was finally an investigation into 'Vizhn voting habits that took into account cultural factors (although we're not entirely sure how) and discovered that these rather than vriendjespolitiek pur sang accounted for much of the voting patterns. For example, countries with access to each others' TV are more inclined to vote for each others' artistes.

No amount of analysis could shift the entrenched belief of the arse-brained Anglospheroids that Johnny Foreigner is a cad and a bounder, but one of the advantages of a life in exile is that we no longer feel a strong obligation to care.

2009-05-15 21:05

Yurovizhn! (Again)

What a dreary bunch of nothing-muchery it's been this year (so far). We thought last year had some good stuff, although much of it stalled at the semis, but this year is really rather poor.

As we write, Albania is doing its best to change our mind, but too late: we're declaring for Moldova.

This is really the kind of year that makes us wonder if we're too old or too insufficiently of sexuality for this malarkey.

We didn't get a vote on Tuesdag, when we might possibly 've used it, and we do get one tonight, when we won't. (We're watching on Belgian TV anyway, so they will tell us we can't. Which reminds us of one(1) good thing about this edition: the BBC's Terry Wogan has finally consented to spare us his "hilarious" world-weary commentary and passed the baton on to someone who isn't him and is thus necessarily better. Not that this entirely compensates for losing RTL Chermany from our cable package.)

2009-05-15 19:44

Yurovizhn!

We watched Tuesdag's semi alone (the Countess retired to bed before it started) and sober.

Tonight the Countess is at a work's do, so to avoid repeating what was not the most rewarding evening we can recall we're finishing up the supermarkt own-brand Lente Bock bier. (Bock bier is really an autumn thing, to celebrate the new harvests, but it sells so there are now spring editions. We don't especially recommend the Oettinger version available from Lidl Netherlands, but it's not as if its going to drink itself.)

The highlight of Tuesdag was that Iceland and Malta made the final - leaving Yoorp with a very real chance of annointing one of them the winner and thus bankrupting their national broadcaster by obliging them to host next year's show. (Andorra would be better still but they never seem to get anywhere near the final.)

Belgium didn't make it yesterdag, and tonight we get to see if the Netherlands' new policy of handing selection over to the populist broadcaster TROS and the singing to an impromptu supergroup of Dutch Schlager singers can entice the wider public into letting them through for once. (We are betting against - the song is particularly horrible, and not in any of the ways that tends to enjoy Yurovizhn success.)

As our Varied Reader is surely aware, the Big Four of Blighty, France, Chermany and Espain are not obliged to go through the semifinal process, which means we'll have to postpone our official outbreak treasonous Schadenfreude[1] until Zaterdag, when we're expecting no enthusiasme for Andrew Lloyd-Webber's charmless dirge, and it looks like Luxembourg has opted out again.

(We never quite got over the shock to our nine(9)-year old sense of decency and justice when their 1980 work of genius Papa Pinguin only made fourth place.

Fourth! We ask or enquire of you, Varied Reader: how could this be?)

[1] The Dutch have a word for Schadenfreude. It is in fact leedvermaak, which just goes to show.

2009-05-13 18:51

Pulperama!: Smrgspulp edition

It is the evening of the first Yurovizhn semi, but we haven't heard any of the songs. (We're familiar with the Dutch entry: it is bad, and it is in the Thunderdag semi.) We blame parenthood, as we do for most things these dags.

But instead of blogging that, we will blog some pulp. To our surprise and disappointment there do not seem to be any pulpblogs that span a gamut wide enough to embrace Doc Savage, Chermany's very own Doc Savage, the Eurotrash of Grard de Villiers and Jan Guilliou, and the Italian fumetti whose pictures, at least, we admire considerably.

1. Geisterjger John Sinclair by Jason Dark

(On the occasion of finishing Sammelband 1729 - three(3) 64-page stories for EUR 3.10, bought on a trip to Bonn a couple of years ago - our Cherman has improved noticeably during, and at least partly through, reading this.)

The remarkable thing about "Jason Dark" is that although it was originally conceived of as a "house name" to be shared by assorted writers, it quickly became exclusive to Helmut Rellergerd, who bashes out 64-page episodes of mild supernatural horror on a weekly basis, using (in true pulp style) a manual typewriter.

Neither the stories nor the prose is exactly scintillating, but they are both always functional, and this is certainly all we ask.

John Sinclair is semi-affiliated with Scotland Yard (we for one love English heroes written by foreign authors), has assorted companions (his faithful Chinese friend Suko, his semi-retired colleague Bill Something-or-other) a gun full of silver bullets and, crucially, a magic cross adorned with the names of assorted archangels which invariably turns out to be just the ticket to defeat whatever zombies, vampires or possessed medieval priests he happens to be up against.

But Suko and co. take most of this Sammelband off, and even Sinclair's archnemesis the Black Death is off-duty, so this collection is not the most representative of the oeuvre.

But it is still OK, because turning out OK stories is exactly what Rellergerd does. (We are anxious to try out his full-size novel sideproject featuring Don Harris, Psycho-Cop - if we do, our Varied Reader will certainly hear about it.)

2. The Red Panda

Brand new retro pulp podcast outfit Decoder Theater is no doubt proud to present the half-hour episodes of the Red Panda - superrich Canananadian socialite by dag, masked crimefighter by night - and his driver/sidekick the Flying Squirrel.

These radio-style dramatisations take place within a faithfully old skool pulpiverse, where the eponymous hero is talented in hypnosis and bogotech inventions, and Egyptian artifacts have high levels of mystical energy and so on.

It is all played at least as straight as possible, and if we liked listening as much as reading or they were in Foreign we'd probably like them quite a lot. As it is, we listened to one and it was OK, but we are at a loss to imagine when we might usefully continue.

3. G-8 and his Battle Aces

This, on the other hand, is genuine vintage stuff (set in World War One, written mostly in the 30's) and surely the greatest achievement of world literature in the twentieth century:

G-8 is both a master pilot and master spy. Often times, the mission calls for G-8 to go in disguise deep behind enemy lines and into the enemy headquarters to uncover the secret plans that threaten the allies. G-8 must face the likes of Herr Docktor Kruger and his companions who use the latest in science to help conjure up giant bats, vikings, wailing banshees, werewolves, and other monstrosities.

Unfortunately it is currently available only in overpriced collectors' edition reprints, but we can feel our will to resist draining from our bodies as we write...

4. Doctor Who in Belgium!

When Doctor Who was revived by the Beeboids we were quite pleased, and when it turned out to be also good we were quite very pleased indeed.

Unfortunately, there was a lot of it that we didn't get around to see for one reason or (especially) another, and we are neither a child of the bittorrent age nor someone who is in the habit of buying boxed sets of DVDs, so we were exceptionally pleased when Belgian TV took to repeating it.

Our debt of gratitude is such that we don't even mind too much when they cancel it to make space for bicycle races. Belgians do love their bicycle races very deeply, after all.

Doctor Who is one of the few true pulpy shows to grace our TV screens in these dark times: nominally a science fiction show, the time-and-space hopping means that it is can have clockwork space-robots from the future plotting nefarious plots in pre-revolutionary France, or Agatha Christie herself outwitting giant killer space wasps.

And there has, in this household at least, been much rejoicing at such things.

But now it is Yurovizhn time, so we won't keep you.

2009-05-10 10:35

Birthdag time

A recent article in the New York Graybladet sheds fascinating light on the experiences of lavishly-renumerated expat North-Americans living in Amsterdam. (Via Making Light.)

Since we are not North American, living in Amsterdam or lavishly renumerated, we'll just shorter it:

They have taxes! The shops are shut on Sundags! They have universal healthcare! They pay lots of taxes! But somehow it isn't really socialisme!

He also traces what is recognisably Rhineland capitalisme to the development of polders in the Netherlands, which may come as something of a surprise to the Chermans. (And, like so many North Americans, he complains bitterly about tax without apparently having grasped the straightforward principle of marginal rates of taxation.)

Anyway, the tax we found most shocking here when we arrived is not fiscal in its nature or being, it is the Weekend Birthdag Tax: about 10% of our weekends are spent attending the birthdag celebrations of our many Dutch relative-in-laws.

And this weekend is very much one of them. Then we have a weekend to ourself, and then it is Hemelvaart ("Ascension") which marks the beginning of our camping season and is this year also the occasion of our brother-in-law's stag party.

While we wouldn't necessarily claim to be "integrated" into Dutch society, we admit to no longer finding this very odd. (It is, our Varied Reader will be astonished to learn, largely a question of what you're used to.)

2009-05-06 13:15

EU Election Watch: Enclaves and cheese

Preamble

No one has yet tried to win our vote for the elections to the Yoorpean Parliament, which we consider a shame. Meanwhile, the BBC is sending its various Beeboids here, there and especially everywhere to muse with greater or lesser profundity on the implications, and where would we be without them?

1. Enclaves

It is Baarle-Nassau/ Baarle-Hertog!

The town lies several miles north of Belgium. It consists of 22 pockets of Belgium entirely surrounded by Holland. But within those pockets are more enclaves, which are Dutch.

"Our borders follow a capricious course", says Jan Hendrikx, the burgemeester or mayor of Baarle-Nassau.

This story is of course entirely made out of quirk, but we are after all a sucker for enclave-related quirk.

2. Cheese

An oasis of cheese in a desert of ponderous feecher-style pondering:

[I]n the Normandy town of Cambremer, there is a celebration of all the good things the region produces.

Up and down the winding streets of the town stalls are heavy with cheese, calvados, more cheese, cider, sausage and more cheese.

Mmmm, cheese! Our local Aldimarkt has a permanent exhibition of stinky French cheeses, although not especially from Normandy, and very good they can be too if left out of the fridge for a few dags before consumption.

Young calvados - the kind that still tastes of apples - is pretty scarce around here though, which is probably for the best given that we like it rather too much for comfort.

The rest of the article is about the shock to the French system that EU enlargement has posed: the original compact of the EU was memorably summarised by (we think) Timothy Garlic Mash as "France pretends to be important, and Chermany pretends to believe them", and this model has fairly obviously not survived the expansion east, nor been replaced by a new model acceptable to the French.

Not that French politics is even especially principled or coherent even when applied to France, anyway.

What we're really waiting for is the Beeboids to bring us the ins and outs - to say nothing of the cuts and thrusts - of European political debate in the exemplary European Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

2009-05-06 12:34

Slacktivisme

Our wereldbeschouwing - which owes at least as much to Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion cycles as to the Church of the Subgenius - is based on a dialectical relationship between rigour and slack.

Today we have slack: it is the Dutch national liberation dag, which is a full public holidag only once every five(5) years (and in particular, not this one), but our contract as a public servant grants us the dag off every year notwithstanding.

So Boris van 't Blad is at the nursery as usual, and we and the Countess have nothing in particular to do, and that is exactly what we are doing.

We could be profitably learning Cherman - the Cherman Wedding is now closing in fast, and we have done little to prepare - or reading the many books we find too demanding for dags full of work and/or child-care. We could seize the moment and go to town, where we never go these dags, or for a long bicycle ride in the country.

And tomorrow we may yet reproach ourself for having done none of these somethings, but right now we have a Red Sox game playing on the internet radios and a sofa to lounge on, and we do not experience much desire for more than that.

2009-05-01 19:17

Party royally gepoept

For the first year in our Dutch history we stayed at home to celebrate Queen's dag (normally we attend a nephew's birthdag, but this year we're going a bit later). We went to the local fleamarkt and bought Boris van het Blad two(2) shiny new plastic tractors (for a total of EUR 1.50) to replace the plastic car that he played with until it plasticed its last as well as a couple of boeks, and had just put the tv on to watch the queen, whose dag it after all is, when this happened:

A car has crashed into a crowd watching a parade involving Dutch Queen Beatrix and her family, killing four people and seriously injuring several others.

The car careered into a monument after narrowly missing an open-topped bus carrying the royals.

For a while it wasn't clear if it had been staged as an odd part of the official festivities; when it became clear that it hadn't, the party atmosphere largely evaporated and has not subsequently returned.

Queen's dag is the national party here, and now it has been more than somewhat spoiled for everyone.

2009-04-29 19:58

Pulp me harder!

In the wake of JG Ballard's recent death, we have seen entirely too many commentators exercising their cultural cringes by asserting that Ballard's own brand of SF was Proper Literature, not like that nasty pulp stuff.

While we don't doubt the orthosituation of their many hearts, this seems an odd line of defence to offer on behalf of someone who once said that everyone should watch at least four(4) hours of television a day, regardless of what was on, and who admired few novelists other than William S Burroughs, whose writing was steeped in pulp imagery.

Anyway, our book of the month is the Doc Savage tale, De dodelijke dwerg (original Engleesh title The Vanisher), which we read in just over a dag on holidag last week.

It wasn't very good, to be honest, but it was kind of fun, and sometimes that is more important and this was after all one of those times.

Pulp fiction, we continue to feel, is the perfect reading matter for langwidges we do not know well: the narrative is strong and clear enough to compensate for the occasional confusions, and the prose is mostly workmanlike enough that the occasional confusions are not a lasting source of regret.

But it is true that the appeal somewhat pales as we approach competence in the langwidge in question, and with the fancier kind of Dutch pulp (the kind producd as actual books) mostly being translations of Engleesh, we have been struggling to find anything we could be bothered with lately.

But Golden Age pulp is Golden Age pulp, in or out of translation, and Doc Savage remains (as Warren Ellis has pointed out, notably via his Planetary comics) a glimpse into the prehistory of superheroes.

He is pure human, but physically and intellectually exceptional (like Batman), as well as having his headquarters at the top of a Manhattan skyscraper and being the greatest scientist of his era (like Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four), and so on.

One notable difference, only mentioned in passing in the book under review, is that he has his own brainwipe and rehabilitation centre for criminals, as well as enjoying (except when drama demands otherwise) the full support of the police.

The 1936 bogotech is dated, the prose is mannered, but the Dutch translation is enagagingly mannered and the book is after all agreeably short.

We've got another Doc Savage adventure on our in-shelf in French and we're rather looking forward to reading it, and we don't ask for more than that.

(This has been a Book of the Month feature, apparently.)


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2009-04-25 15:41

Gewaddend

We're just now back from a few dags on the smallish island of Terschelling, which would be little more than a sandbank in a country less pressed for space than the Netherlands. In a country as pressed for space as the Netherlands, however, it is basically a sandbank with a highly developed touriste industry.

According to the Dutch Wikipedia the island is noted for its linguistic diversity, with assorted dialects of Frisian and one of Hollands of all things. According to our own ears, the languages audible to touristes are standard Dutch, Cherman, and (on the ferry) occasional outbreaks of French.

The bladet shop had a corresponding selection of Cherman, Dutch and Belgian bladets (although none in French), with the quirk that the localest papers came in on the lunchtime boat, so that we never actually got around to reading them.

Instead we read the Belgian Standaard, which turns out to be actually not very good, the Sddeutsche Zeitung, which is of course pretty darn fine, Zeit, which is enjoyably extensive, and the sonntag edition of the FAZ, which takes extensiveness to frankly poignant levels.

We stayed, Boris, the Countess, the Countesses immediate ancestors and us, in one of row of remodelled World War II cabins. (We're not sure who built them or why; given the Dutch record of military success last time out we decided against asking.)

Particularly exciting for Boris, the access to the cabins was up a moderately steep hill. Particularly exciting for everyone else, Boris greeted the hill as an old friend and spent his copious free time trying to escape from the assembled company and hurl himself down it.

More soothingly for the rest of us, but ultimately a bit trying for Boris, we spent much of our copious adult free time in the many eating and watering holes the island is largely (other than sand) made of, watching the fiets- en wandelbejaarden going through their paces. (Our own plan to hire a tandem and tour around a bit fell through, although not especially for want of hireable tandems.)

And now we're back, and the weather is still glorious. There'll be plagues of locusts and/or frogs before May is out, mark our words.

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