Heroes: encounters with genius in the Netherlands

In a small act of defiance against TIME ITSELF disorganisation, I’m posting this a while after it stopped being really relevant. I won’t offer the usual apology, because the 12 Days of Christmas series massively increased my average posting frequency, thereby giving me  a free pass to be unproductive all January. Take that, self-imposed deadlines. But now, here are some post hoc cultural tidbits from my latest adventure.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Amsterdam with my mother. Before you decide that my family is weirdly liberal, it wasn’t that kind of trip – we were visiting my aunt, uncle and cousin, who live in a houseboat on the Amstel. This housing choice kills two birds with one stone: they’ve created a charmingly quirky home, and also cleverly circumvented the problem of What Will Happen to the Netherlands When The Oceans Rise Up. We spent much of our time looking at wildly varied objects of beauty in several museums, some of which I shall now expound upon for your reading pleasure.

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The twelve days of Christmas 12: Coughs and sneezes

Here’s a secret: I’ve been desperately scrabbling around for ideas throughout this ridiculous self-imposed challenge, and they’ve been arriving later and later each day. I was hoping to go out on a high but, due to my total lack of inspiration, I’ve decided to just portray the general ennui afflicting the King/Lyster family.

To be fair, we’re all ill. The house is resounding with the guttural music of three violent coughs, combined with tuneless grumblings about the bad backs our coughs have given us. I guess at least this aspect of the winter has lived up to expectations – although I have to admit that I’d have chosen snow over the common cold.

It’s twelfth night, which means the decorations ought to be coming down, but so far nobody has quite mustered the energy to attack the Christmas tree. Never mind; we can always leave it there for next year. Scan 46

The twelve days of Christmas 11: Rain

The weather outside is frightful. Genuinely, truly, dismally frightful – if you spend more than five minutes out of the house, you’ll be soaked down to the ankles and muddy up to the waist. We’re faring better here than a lot of places are, but the fields are waterlogged and small lakes are creeping menacingly across the roads.

Driving back from work today through the growing puddles, I couldn’t help worrying that it would just carry on and on until the rolling hills of Herefordshire become islands within the new Three Counties Archipelago. More importantly*, the ongoing drizzle and downpours are hardly conducive to writing Christmassy missives to the masses. Let’s face it, if I’m going to (extremely loosely) base a series of blog posts on a biblical story, the Nativity is no longer appropriate; we’ve moved on to the Flood.

I’ve got a trick up my sleeve, though. My job (aside from being a barmaid) is currently that of Assistant Carpenter at Hollow Ash Huts. Admittedly, I mainly do the painting and decorating, but I reckon I’m handy enough at woodwork that I could, if it really came down to it, build myself an Ark.

*I am aware that this is not actually more important than the potential doom of humanity.

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I saw one bloody great ship full of animals go sailing by… 

The twelve days of Christmas 10: Colouring books

Some bright spark in marketing recently came up with the idea of selling colouring books to grownups, and it’s taken off in a big way. You can’t walk through a bookshop this Christmas without being assailed by ten or twenty stylish offerings, from Harry Potter and Game of Thrones official merchandise to variations on the theme of ‘peaceful zen garden’.

The cleverest thing about the way these tempting but ultimately vacuous tomes are being sold is the use of the words for adults, which can be found defensively emblazoned across the prominently placed colouring-book table in fashionable bookstores near you. These words, combined with the claim that colouring is Mindful and therefore Serious, have magically removed the stigma of people older than twelve doing an activity traditionally only available to children and Geography students.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m massively in favour of everyone being a bit more juvenile most of the time. Children tend to be happier than adults in my experience, and that’s probably because they haven’t undergone quite so much pressure to redefine their idea of fun to include mainly not-that-fun things (Clubbing is Exhibit A).

However, it seems a tiny bit wilfully blind that we’re pretending to do colouring for Sensible Grownup Reasons. Let’s face it, most people just quite fancy a bit of colouring and are happy to have an excuse to do some. And honestly, it’s quite enjoyable; I had a go at a friend’s colouring book recently, and bought myself one the next day. For purely therapeutic reasons, of course.

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A likely future if the trend of “doing kid things but pretending it’s for adult reasons” continues. 

The twelve days of Christmas 9: Rural Broadband

As I mentioned the other day, I live in the dead centre of Nowhere. Llangrove is the butt of many jokes about not having electricity, travelling on horseback, etc. etc. Very funny, guys, but the last laugh is on you, because we were among the first areas to get high-speed fibre-optic broadband last year.

The new shiny internet has been going swimmingly at times, but it’s never quite been as fast as promised, and it’s geographically patchy. Superfast broadband hasn’t yet been installed in the pub, so its WiFi operates at near-dialup speeds. At a recent quiz, customers had to be asked to stop looking up a disputed answer because the internet had conked out from everyone using it simultaneously. Another embarrassing moment happened last week, when the card machine stopped working because someone was using the landline in the other room.

Our house has nothing on the pub, but it’s currently difficult to catch up with Christmas TV on iPlayer, because every few minutes an infuriating message about insufficient bandwidth pops up. Uploading these cartoons has also been unusually slow and frustrating, resulting in my computer taking a lot of unearned verbal abuse. It’s almost as if the technology here really hasn’t caught up with the rest of the UK…

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My technical knowledge is limited, but rural broadband is definitely either powered this way or by an arthritic sheep on a treadmill somewhere. 

The twelve days of Christmas 8: Festive Spirits

I’m currently in the odd position of being a barmaid who doesn’t drink much. Given that I spend several hours, several nights of the week, in an establishment dedicated to the purchase and consumption of alcohol, you might expect the level of temptation to be quite high. Somehow, though, it rarely seems worth the after-effects; I have the dubious distinction of being able to develop a hangover from half a lager.

Despite my general abstemiousness, I did overindulge a smidgeon last night and am feeling fittingly terrible today. Just like last year, I’m struck by the arbitrariness of the idea that the first of January should be the date you turn your life around. I’m even more struck by the inappropriateness of preceding this scheduled epiphany with parties at which the main aim is usually to stay up too late, eat rubbish and drink far too much. We humans truly excel at setting ourselves up for failure.

However, in a bid to get into the merry frame of mind that led one brewery to market a beer as “Santa’s Blotto” (recently on sale in the pub), I have developed a winter cocktail of my own. It’s called a New Year’s Day, and it tastes of guilt and exhaustion:

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