Saturday, March 28, 2020


I don't think anyone's in any doubt about the critical nature of the current situation...even without the possibility of media hype, we know it's very serious. I've heard many people quote the mortality figures for normal seasonal flu, which I admit are much higher than I ever realised, but the point is it's seasonal and covers the whole period of winter from (probably) October through to March in the northern hemisphere. This particular scourge is condensing what we normally see in a period of several months into just a few weeks, thereby stretching medical resources and hospitals to the limits, and adding dramatically to the normal seasonal problems.

So yes, we need to be very careful. But it's hard, isn't it? Many people are out of work and are living in a very uncertain and precarious position. It's not just the risks associated with the virus that are affecting them; it's their livelihood that's at risk too. The danger is that we become not only anxious, but confused and depressed as well, so I thought that maybe this week I could focus on some of the positive aspects that I've seen coming out of this very strange time, because there are indeed some very good things happening.

Spring is here, a natural upside

On a local level, I've noticed people are being kinder and more tolerant to each other in all sorts of ways. It's inevitable that we have to cancel appointments and plans, but the level of acceptance about having to do this is really heartwarming. Just as an instance, I'd asked a tree surgeon to come and prune our tree at the crumbly cottage, where we are now self isolating. Bearing in mind I initially made the enquiry in January, it's taken a long time to organise, but first we had the terrible march of Ciara, Dennis and Ellen across the country, which meant he was otherwise occupied with more urgent pruning. Then the poor man sprained his ankle, so he couldn't come when he was going to, and now we have Corona.

So when he asked if he could come next week, I baulked. I'm really not ready to have anyone here yet and even though there's no real reason why he shouldn't, I asked for some leeway. I explained about being nervous of contact at the moment; Koos is in the high risk category and I have allergies that affect my airways. Luckily, he was totally understanding, which relieved me no end. There've been other instances of this too, each of which has given me such reassurance in cases where frustration and annoyance might have been the usual response.

Then there's the notices I see around the supermarkets: the call for us all to work together and keep this thing contained. 'Samen kunnen we het doen' (Together we can do it). I know it's just a little thing, but I find it lifts my spirits. We're all in the same boat, aren't we? On the other hand, you'd all chuckle if you could see me skulking round the aisles trying to avoid other shoppers. When I see anyone coming my way, I freeze, backtrack and duck into the next aisle, only to find I have to do it again because someone is browsing the shelves there too. Shopping has become quite an adventure. I can just imagine the security bods watching their screens and saying: "Aha, sit down, lads. Weekly entertainment time. Here's that old bat again again," and having a good chortle at my antics.

Apart from that, there are the work initiatives, which are actually quite exciting. It's been a big change to switch all my teaching to an online environment, and there will be more challenges to come. This morning, I had a virtual 'meeting' with my two daughters to see how to conduct an online class in real time. For them, of course, it's as easy as breathing, but for me (old traditionalist that I am) it's a big deal, but they made me laugh and showed me that it doesn't really need to be alarming. When I heard that in my daughter's last online class, one of her students was sitting in bed, while another had his little boy crawling all over him, I realised it would probably be a lot of fun. As for our management at the university, they are all being incredibly supportive of these changes.

Then there's the morale boosting on a more national level. One morning last week, all the radio stations across the country played 'You'll never walk alone' at the same time, and there have been evenings where people in the cities have applauded the medical and essential services the way they've done elsewhere in Europe. It's been very moving and a powerful way of giving a sense of togetherness through the need to be apart.

More signs of spring, although this is last year's a bit later

Individually, none of these things is huge, but they're all signs of a growing level of patience and tolerance among people, which can only be positive. Of course, you'll always get the bozos who think none of this applies to them, and the people who refuse to keep a distance from you in the shops, but I think that overall, the response has been rewarding and the general level of warmth and good cheer is increasing.

Add to that is the fact that on our highways, the speed limit has been reduced to 100kms per hour everywhere between 06:00 and 19:00, then even the roads feel calm and relaxed. The authorities sneaked that in without a whisper during the early weeks of this crisis, but I really like it, so that can't be bad either, can it? Oh and of course, Spring is here, which is a wonderful upside in itself as we are having some gorgeous sunshine filled days.

Keep well, iedereen, stay home and stay safe.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Teacher without a class

I was hoping I could skirt round the subject of the Corona virus that's been sweeping across the world, but it seems it's not going to be possible. The subject is dominating everything we do, so it can't be ignored. In fact, when I look back on my blog in years to come (says she with fingers firmly crossed), I will probably remember the first months of this year as some of the most dramatic I've experienced in my life, and for all the wrong reasons.

I have no photos that suit the subject, but this one fills me
with a certain calm, which seem apt right now

Having coped with what I call the 'winds and gales of outrageous attrition' that accompanied storms Ciara, Dennis and Ellen across our flatlands, we are now in virtual lockdown due to the spread of this awful virus that's claiming lives and making people, especially those of us in our later years, very unwell. I have to say we've never known anything like it. Ten or so years ago, we had the Mexican flu, which was also pretty nasty, and which I had. Since then, we've had SARS, Bird flu and probably another one I've forgotten. The thing is it's not unusual for new flu strains to cause a certain amount of havoc, but this one has been the most virulent and is likely to get worse before it gets better.

I'm desperately sorry for everyone who's lost loved ones and whose lives have been forever changed by it. Caf├ęs, restaurants and bars have had to close, big events have been postponed or cancelled, and who knows how many people's investments and finances will crash as a consequence? On a personal note, as of tomorrow all my teaching has been cancelled following a government directive, and we are anxiously trying to find ways of keeping education going both at the schools and universities. Online classes are being proposed, but that fills me with trepidation as I have no experience of doing anything like that. This coming week is going to be interesting to say the least. I am, for the moment anyway, a teacher without a class.

Another tranquil Dutch scene

Of course, we are all talking about it constantly, which probably doesn't really help, but it's like picking at a pimple, isn't it? We know we shouldn't, but we do anyway. We laugh at playing footsie instead of shaking hands, and giving each other elbow nudges too; we make a big act about keeping our distance from neighbours, joking about our stand-offish behaviour. But in the end, the conversation always ends up on a serious can't be otherwise, can it?

On the upside, there've also been some lovely and moving film clips coming from Italy where apartment dwellers, confined to their homes, have been singing wonderful Italian arias from their balconies. So inspiring. What it does show is how such a crisis brings communities together even when they have to keep apart, a special kind of paradox.

As for us, we are at the crumbly cottage and it seems we'll be here most of the time until the worst is over. Being in a rural area, it's probably the best place to be. The local shop is still open; we can still get fresh veggies, and except for the bizarre run on toilet paper that also seems to have swept the world, most goods are available – although I noticed at the nearby Lidl across the border there was no pasta or rice, but luckily plenty of wine! So at least if we can't eat, we can drown our sorrows in good bacchanalian style. I can think of worse things.

I'll be going to the Vereeniging in Rotterdam too as and when needed, but given the city's denser population, and my reliance on public transport when I'm there, I think I'll keep that to a minimum if possible. Just for now, anyway.

Keep well, iedereen. Don't take risks, and keep washing those hands. Till next time.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

The history in my daily commute

I've been very remiss this last week as I didn't write a blog post at all. This is rare for me because I value my blog and my interaction with others in blogosphere. The only reason is because I've been very busy with work and it's taken up all my available time. Even now, I know I'll have to keep this brief because I have plenty to do for the coming week, but there was one subject I wanted to share with you, and that is the remarkable piece of history I pass almost every day on my way to work.

My view of the last section of Rotterdam's
 original city wall

Rotterdam is an exciting modern city; its architecture is famed the world over for being innovative and daring. However, the city itself is actually very old and was founded in 1270 when a dam was built across the River Rotte. It gained city rights in 1340 and has since grown to become the Netherlands' second largest city. To quote Wikipedia, "Rotterdam is known for its Erasmus University, its riverside setting, lively cultural life, maritime heritage and modern architecture."

But what does this have to do with me and my daily commute to work? Well, what a lot of people don't know is that this modern city used to have impressive walls encircling it. By the 20th century, these had long gone, sacrificed to the expansion of the urban area. However, when the metro line was being built in the late 80s, what is thought to be the last remaining piece of the old wall was uncovered, and in honour of its evidence of Rotterdam's long and noble past, it's been preserved. These days it sits in its original position, but suspended above the tracks of the adjoining mainline railway which follows a tunnel under the river. Since I pass it virtually daily on my way to the metro or the station below, I've become used to seeing it there, but I still appreciate its significance to my home city.

As a result, I was tickled pink to be sent an article about our piece of wall by my American Twitter friend, Lisette Brodey, all the way from California. I think it's great that it's being highlighted as a tourist attraction. Most people come to our harbour to see the cubist buildings and the nearby Markthal, but I've never seen our wall presented as a sight to visit. Personally, I love the fact I see a piece of the city's ancient history so regularly, and I find it fitting that I also live on and in a genuine Dutch monument.

Have a good week iedereen! I hope I'll have a bit more time to devote to my blogging friends again soon. 

Here's the link to the article