Saturday, June 20, 2020

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Lifting lockdown in a special way

It's been an odd couple of weeks. I'm struggling towards the end of the academic year and have to admit to feeling tired. My inclination to mark assignments, motivate students and keep the smile going on camera is fading, as is my enthusiasm for producing the articles I write for the university's language centre blog. All this means I've been a bit backward with my own blog.

To catch up then, I'm just going to do a kind of picture post of the last week's highlights, which included some new experiences for me.

The first of these was when during a walk last Sunday, we stumbled across the airstrip for a local gliding club. We approached with some hesitation because it wasn't actually open to visitors but no one seemed to mind. In fact, they weren't strictly open at all except to members of the club, but we were told we were welcome to watch and we were both fascinated by this wonderful way of lifting that lockdown feeling.

The VW camper van above is their clubhouse. I loved the ‘control tower’ on top of it. They had everything they needed on it, but reception was the table under the umbrella. It had a wonderfully 'cool' air about it all.

This was the little John Deere tractor that pulled the gliders into place once they'd landed.

And here is a glider that was ready to take off. There were two people on board and we watched them go through the pre-flight checks. There didn't seem to be all that many; just a few flaps to wiggle and they were ready to go. I would love to try it sometime, and I know Koos would too. I used to have an ambition to go sky-diving, but this looks just as much fun and distinctly less terrifying.

And here is the same glider just before it left the ground. It's amazing to see them being launched by a single cable drawn by a winch somewhere at the end of the field.

Later that day, I went on a ride around the dykes and saw these gorgeous babies in one of the nearby nature reserves. The one in the foreground looked very new to the world.

During the week, I like to cycle to the shops and this is my sturdy steed. I took its photo while waiting for the bridge to close after the two coasters below had been through. Funnily enough, we nearly always have to wait for the bridge one way or the other, but it's never a hardship when we can watch these stately sea-goers passing through.

Then on Thursday, it was back to Rotterdam again for some more examining. This time I went by bus and train, so I had to don one of the disposable masks I'd bought for just such occasions. I've seen some very fetching, nicely fitted masks around, but I'm afraid these twenty per box types aren't designed for beauty. It was strange to be on public transport with everyone covered up. Luckily it wasn't busy and as there can only be one person per pair of seats, the space was marvellous. I don't mind how long this 'distancing' goes on if I can have that much elbow room, I must admit.

The last photo below is one I snapped on a walk today in Belgium. We celebrated the newly open borders by going for a verwenkoffie (treat yourself coffee with advocaat and ice cream. Sinfully yummy) at an outside terrace in Zelzate, after which we walked along the canal to enjoy the Belgian side of the waterway again. This pusher was 'parking barges, so of course we had to stop and watch the action.

So that's a snapshot of the past week up as far as today. The lockdown is lifting and it's great to be resuming some kind of normal life. I hope you're able to do so too!

Wishing you all a wonderful weekend, allemaal and keep well wherever you are.

Monday, June 08, 2020

plexiglass, plastic and people

The back road to Belgium

For the first time since March the 12th, I actually met some students and colleagues face to face last Friday and what a lovely first step back to normal life it was. Not that it was really normal, because circumstances and policy dictate that we still have to take quite stringent measures to avoid infection.

Although the schools aren't completely open yet, we had to conduct some speaking tests for students taking their ESL exams. I am one of the examiners and I was together with a team I haven't seen for months (other than on video), so it was really quite a special reunion. We still had to keep our distance from each other. No hugs, cheek kissing (not even air kissing), or any kind of touching were allowed, but we made up for it in spirited conversation.

The examining itself took some getting used to. Instead of tables quite close together, where the candidates sit next to each other and share certain tasks, they had to be separated and even further divided with plexiglass screens. The examiners too had screens in front of their desks, and we had to wear plastic gloves. Instead of booklets, we had wipe clean laminated exam materials. It was a bit of a scuffle now and then, especially for me.

I'm a bit absent minded at times, I confess. Not the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to remembering procedures. I'm that mother who forgets to feed her children until they holler, or cooks food for visitors without ever giving it to them. Once, years ago, I made fried eggs for a visiting boyfriend and found them a week later. No wonder he didn't hang around.

Anyway, apart from forgetting to change the materials until seconds before the next round, and then giving the wrong speaking task to the wrong student on one occasion (luckily no one noticed and it didn't matter anyway), it all went well enough. Some of the students looked a bit alarmed by the unexpected screening, but we did our best to make them relax and feel comfortable; not that we were all that at ease either. It was a toss up as to who was more nervous, but I'm guessing the students won that one.

I often muse on whether this is going to be part of that 'new normal' everyone's talking about now. Seriously, I have a feeling some things are going to change permanently as a result of the Coronoa crisis. Not only do we have a whole new way of teaching, otherwise known as Zooming, we may well have to employ more rigorous practices when it comes to classroom and exam work in the future.

I'd love to think things will go back to the way they were again, but I do wonder. What do you think?

Meanwhile, the border between the Netherlands and Belgium will be open again next week. I'm very much looking forward to crossing over and returning to my customary shops. We've had to drive quite a bit further in recent months to go to the hardware store, the pharmacy and the bigger supermarkets. It will be a relief to go to our nearest serious town, which just happens to be in Belgium.

That'll be a little bit of 'old' routines back again.

Have a good week allemaal. Here are a few photos of our surroundings now.

It's poppy time. I love poppies.

The Belgian border nearby. That gap on the right?
That's where the bicycles creep through

Koos might look a bit serious, but we were actually enjoying our first cup of
coffee at a local hostelry in several months. They are now opening up.
Another step towards normal life, but all at a distance, of course.
The photo foreshortens things, but everyone was the regulation 1,5m apart.
Interestingly, many of the customers were from Belgium, where they still
have more restrictions than we do, but our borders are open while theirs aren't.