Death of a Shopkeeper


It was in March, 2016 on a flight from Bangkok to Amsterdam, that I heard about the suicide bombing of the Brussels airport – called ‘Zaventem’.  

News of the attack had appeared on the international media a day before, but at the time I was travelling on local buses in the east of Thailand.

For the last three weeks, I’d been travelling in what were then remote areas of Asia –  north east Cambodia and the west of Vietnam. For most of that time I had been staying in small family run hotels which had no wifi. I’d been disconnected from the real world – like a hermit – and hadn’t missed it.

On the flight to Amsterdam, as chance would have it, I found myself sitting next to a Belgian man, who along with thousands of other Belgian tourists elsewhere in the world, had had his flight to Zaventem cancelled and was forced to change his flight. He was lucky enough to have gotten a seat on the flight to Amsterdam; from there it was a train trip of a few hours to Brussels.  

We made small talk and that’s how I found out about the terrorist attack at Zaventem.

At least 30 people had died and a hundred injured, he told me.    

I knew then what was waiting for me on arriving back in Europe and it wasn’t exactly something to look forward to….. Read more

The Windmill


It was after hearing the stories from my dying mother in law that I decided to visit the old windmill. It was one of those things I’d always meant to do but never got around to and I mean it’s not as if it was far away: 10 minutes or so on my bike.

Originally built in 1738 and restored 20 years ago, the windmill was situated in the somewhat appropriately named ‘Southern Corridor Park’ (zuidelijk randpark): a long strip of land, approximately 200 meters wide and two kilometres long sandwiched between apartment blocks on one side – and the main  highway from Rotterdam to Amsterdam on the other. The park had been turned into a recreational area, an oasis of green in the midst of a big city; there were open grassy areas, lines of trees, a number of small lakes, a bike trail ….and the old windmill.

For years I had regularly ridden passed it but never really gave it a second thought. Then one day, I stopped, got off my bike, and took a closer look.

It was 21 metres high – high alright – but windmills 40 high were not unusual. In 1738, there were an estimated 10,000 windmills in The Netherlands, most of them concentrated in the west of the country between Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

Windmills were used to pump water out of the soggy farming land and over the dykes and into canals and rivers. But they were used for many other purposes such as milling grains, sawing planks (crucial for the shipbuilding industry) and grinding spices.

Inside the windmill, I was surprised at what I found: a complex system of shafts and cogs – like clockwork – most of them made from wood. In its time I realised this was an impressive piece of machinery: high tech.

No other visitors appeared.

I was alone inside this strange, centuries old machine. My thoughts drifted and another windmill appeared before my mind’s eye, along with the reminiscences shared by mother and daughter during their last days together …….

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Schiphol Geese


At Schiphol Amsterdam Airport there was a problem with geese.

A decent sized flock of geese in the air can present a real danger to planes landing and taking of, but compounding Schiphol´s problem was this: The Netherlands is a paradise for geese. You’d almost think that centuries ago, when the Dutch began reclaiming their country from the waters, they did so in order to create Goose Paradise: a flat land with a surfeit of water and grass.  

Water where the geese can flock together and keep safe from enemies.

Watery grass they can eat: the richest, the greenest grass in the world which feeds the cows which provide the milk which produces some of the best cheese in the world.

And smack bang in the middle of this flat watery grassy land – Schiphol Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world.

The geese weren’t bothered about the constant roar of jets taking off and landing at one of the world’s busiest airports. What they saw was lots of flat grassy land lying vacant, not being farmed or cropped or used – empty.

As their numbers proliferated, they became a part of our modern globalised world in ways which were truly remarkable….

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Devastated City

Until May, 1940, Rotterdam was an elegant city of canals and stately historic houses in the Amsterdam style. It was a fine example of the Dutch genius for constructing beautiful cities where once, there were only water and swamps.

Then the Nazi bombers appeared in the skies, like a plague of buzzing wasps and demolished Rotterdam within a few hours.

Only one building survived: the St Laurens church near the city center. Built in the time of Erasmus, the St. Laurens church is portrayed in many fine old sketches and paintings done in the time of Rembrandt (copies of these can be seen today on a touch screen in the restored church). The St. Laurens church with its single, tall tower was badly damaged but it was still standing after the aerial blitz was over. 

The ruins of that church serve as a powerful symbol of the horror of the new era of aerial bombing which began on that day in 1940; the era of The Devastated City…….

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Casuality Part 2 The Netherlands 2016


On a winter’s morning in Rotterdam, in early 2016, I fell off my bike. Easy to do with a strong wing, snow on the bike track and more fatally, a layer of ice underneath.  

I wasn’t wearing a helmet, which wasn’t obligatory in The Netherlands (after this incident, I promptly went out and bought one). 

The fall off my bike was like in a dream.

One minute I was on my bike, the next minute I was sprawled flat on the ground. There was no sense of the bike keeling over and me falling. 

As soon as I got up I knew that there was a problem.

There was blood on my clothes and on the snow. The blood was coming from my forehead.

Two other bicyclists stopped and helped me up and offered to phone an ambulance. One man looked at my forehead and said that it would definitely need stitching. For some reason I didn’t want an ambulance. Instead, I held a handkerchief to my head and rode home with one hand. The sunglasses helped in keeping the blood out of my eyes.

When I got back to my apartment, I put fresh clothes on and got a taxi to the casualty department of the nearest hospital……

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