Saturday, 22 October 2022

She’s A Hundred But She’s Wearing Something Tight

 

She’s A Hundred But She’s Wearing Something Tight

(Leonard Cohen: “Closing Time” 1992)

 

 
Entrance to Kusadasi Harbour - Adrienne Higham

On board the MS Monet at Kusadasi, Turkey September 2022

 On the opposite side of the quay from our modestly sized ship was a giant cruise liner. While we were waiting to depart for a trip to Ephesus the never-ending line of tourists leaving the cruise ship gave me an opportunity for people watching. 

Somewhat apart from the general run of people walking along the quay was an elderly lady. She was lavishly made-up and dressed in an immaculately pressed white shorts-suit. I imagined her to be the widow of a successful American automobile dealer, at whose demise, her hair had turned quite gold with grief. (Thanks for the line, Mr Wilde). She toddled along the jetty, her back bent, towing a wheelie suitcase. I was intrigued but thought no more of her until much later in the day when she and we returned to our ships at the same time.  There she was, transformed. She had a new hair band that matched a royal blue chiffon ballgown all in flounces and frills. It was now clear that her suitcase had contained this change of clothes.

This time, she was in a wheelchair pushed by a muscular young gentleman dressed in the livery of a porter of some grand hotel. She stood up and parted from her new friend with a fulsome and tearful embrace.  I feel sure she had spent her time ashore well but exactly how she did must remain a mystery.

Thursday, 20 October 2022

The Power of Myth

 


“His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;” Revelation 1:14

 In about 95 AD in a cave on the Greek island of Patmos, St. John, the beloved disciple of Jesus of Nazareth, by then an old man saw a revelation sent to him through a three-legged crack in the rock ceiling of the cave that was his home. He dictated what he saw to his servant, who wrote down what is now the last book in the Christian Bible, the Book of Revelation. In September 2022, I was standing in that very cave.

Everything in that paragraph is untrue.

It was in the 11th Century that the cave in which I was standing was discovered and identified as the cave in which the revelation of St John occurred.  The 11th Century was not a time noted for the forensic rigour of its archaeology. The Book of Revelation does of course exist.  It was the last chapter to be added to the canon of Christian literature and not until the 4th Century AD, reflecting some doubts about its authenticity held by the early church bishops.  The Book of Revelation does identify “John” as its author but no one knows which John.  There is nothing to suggest that the vision reached the Saint through a three-pronged crack in the ceiling. So, while I was standing in a cave, any cave would have done.

Nor can anyone demonstrate that the vision was sent to the old saint by God rather than being a chimera emanating from the mind of a senile old man.

Standing in the chapel that has been set up in the cave, I could see the famous fissure in the ceiling and see the rock, on which, it is claimed, John laid his head.

My left brain was hard at work; it’s all rubbish, I thought.

But then …

I had arrived early. Embarrassingly, I walked into the tiny chapel while a Greek Orthodox mass was coming to its end. The light of a few candles, reflected from the burnished gold of ancient icons, cast the cave into amber light and dark shadows.  I breathed in air infused with incense. The deep baritone voice of a priest, chanting in Greek, and echoing from every bend in the rock, filled the air with ethereal sound. The priest, himself, was dressed in long white robes and a wide gold belt, over which he wore a surplice of white cotton, soft as gauze and decorated with tiny, brightly coloured embroidered flowers.  When he turned, he revealed fiery eyes and a long beard, white like wool, as white as snow.

‘That’s what God must look like,” came the awed whisper from my wife. She really is the World’s least convincing atheist.

My right brain asserted itself.  I was in a place that had been the object of sincere faith and veneration for more than a thousand years. That can get to you and it did. I had not been convinced but I had been profoundly moved.

Note:  Picture credit  ARCHELAOS - Etsy UK

Saturday, 15 October 2022

A Lost Empire on the Island of Folegandros

September 2022

 


The tiny town square of Chora, capital of the Greek Island Folegandros is everything it should be.  White houses with blue, almost indigo, doors and windows surround the square. In the centre are the chairs and tables of a café under the shade of fig and hibiscus trees.  Cutlery clinks: people chatter.

It is the feast day of the Holy Cross and the church that takes up one side of the square is flying two flags, bright against an azure sky.  One, the Greek flag, reflects in its stripes, the blue and white of the houses.  The other flag has an intricate design in maroon and yellow.  It is the flag of the Byzantine Empire.  What a model for taking a long and optimistic view of history.  The Byzantine Empire fell over half a millennium ago. Sultan Mehmed II, leading the forces of the Ottoman Empire sacked Constantinople after a 53-day siege on 29th May 1453.

Still, hope springs eternal…, I guess.


Photo by Adrienne Higham


Monday, 8 August 2022

Kursk

 


Way back in 2012, I visited Murmansk in the far North of Russia.  The Russian submarine Kursk, you may remember, suffered a catastrophic explosion in August 2000 and sank with all hands.  I went to the Museum of the Russian Northern Fleet to pay my respects to our old adversary.  There was an outdoor memorial to the men who lost their lives constructed from the recovered bridge fin of the submarine.

There were other exhibits inside.  Not all of the crew died immediately.  A small group survived for a time in the after compartment of the boat.  I spent quite some time gazing at the very note on which they had written their names in the darkness.

The note stayed with me and I have written a very short (101 words) story about it.  The story has been published online and here is the link. Kursk


Saturday, 16 July 2022

The Enkhuizer Almanak

 



Photo Kevin Hoggett



A fat, dense, little book sits in my hand.  It has a scarlet bookmark ribbon.  The cover shows a simple woodblock picture in red on a pale background.  The picture is of old man in traditional Dutch fisherman’s clothes, smoking a pipe. There is a Dutch barge and a windmill in the background.  The fisherman is, himself, holding a copy of the little book and so the picture is an infinite regression. Later, I learn that this is called the Droste effect after a 1904 advertisement for a brand of Dutch cocoa. There is something very pleasing about the look and heft of this book.



I am in the railway station at Hoorn in the Netherlands.  I shall shortly depart by steam train to Medemblik, from where I shall travel by the vintage motor ship Friesland to the small town of Enkhuizen.

In the station souvenir shop, the book is on sale for just one Euro.  I can see why; the book’s title is Enkhuizer Almanak 2019 and it is three years out of date but it has something to do with Enkhuizen. I happily part with a Euro.  On the train, I settle down to explore my new purchase.  It has 288 pages all in Dutch so it is going to take some enjoyable effort to work it all out.

I quickly recognise tide tables for Harlingen, Den Helder, Tershchelling, Rotterdam and Hook of Holland; names that take my mind to shipping forecasts, ferry timetables and small craft warfare in World War 2. 

There is a heavy-handed joke about Facebook on page 200 which is not improved by Google translate and on page 150, a sketch of rather a cheeky mermaid.



There is something else on the cover: “424ste Jaargang” which must mean 424th annual edition; this book has history.  It may have first been published in 1595 when Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne of England and Sir Francis Drake set off on his final voyage. In Holland, the first Dutch expedition to the East Indies set off.  I later learn that the oldest surviving copy of the Enkhuizer Almanak was printed in the town in 1680.  What a splendid and remarkable achievement it is to keep this small book in publication for so long. I continue to explore and find the dates for the sheep market in Oldebrook and the Pentecost market in Brummen Easte, events I didn’t know I had missed.  One of many household hints tells me that candles last longer if they have been put in the freezer before use.  I can even check on the regulations for the flying of flags. What a store of esoteric knowledge.

I have arrived in Enkhuizen, a charming small port with canals.  My wife Adrienne is lost in a haze of fantasy house buying.  She tells me she wants to retire to Enkhuizen.  I fear that I am not included and that she plans to retire from being my wife. 

Photo by Adrienne Higham


The Almanak has its own museum.  It is the old cold store for the fish market.  It is small like the Almanak and closed on the day of my visit but I discover that there is a website, which I shall explore later.  In the meantime, we enjoy dinner in Schipperscafe ‘t Ankertje (Skippers’ Pub at the Little Anchor).


When I get home, I open up the website.  The Almanak has its own weather forecasting system, supported by its own corps of weather observers.  It works on the principal of reversal days that divide weather into decades of 10 days about which weather changes.  I would tell you more but the full explanation is in Dutch.

I still keep the Enkhuizer Almanak on my desk more as a paperweight than a reference resource.  I just like it.

 Notes:

  1. Hoorn Medemblik Stoomtram
  2. The Enkhuizer Almnak and its Museum
  3. Schipperscafe t'ankertje
  4. I travelled with the excellent PTG Tours

Monday, 13 June 2022

The Best Little Hat Shop in Utrecht


 

  Unusually, I had not planned our visit to Utrecht so I did not know what I might find.  I certainly did not expect to find a very fine hatter or, in Dutch, Hoedenzaak.  It was the establishment of Mr Jos van Dijck and Mr van Dijck knows the business of hatting.  Above his shop, at number 12 Bakkerstraat, was an elegant, metal, cutout sign showing the name of his business and three classic hats. His brightly lit window displayed a cascade of fine hats for both men and women.


Of course I did not need to buy a hat so we went in just for a look. Mr van Dijck was busy with a customer, a young man of fastidious fashion sense who was taking a long time to decide between two Panama hats.  One was a classic Panama and the other had a chequered pattern.  The latter was the sort of hat at which, had Bertie Wooster tried it on, Jeeves would have raised an eyebrow.  I thought better of stepping in to give advice even though I feel I know a bit about Panama hats. See my article: The Panama Hat Story

Still determined not to buy, I now had time to look around.  There were a lot of hats.  There was not much in the way of millinery.  The women's’ hats were classic and unfussy.  The Queen could find a hat here.  It was, thanks be, no place to buy a fascinator,  For both men and women there were Panamas, trilbies, fedoras, boaters and bowlers, caps and cloches, in all fabrics and colours.  However you walked into that shop, you could walk out in style. 

My eye fell upon a natty paperboy cap in woven sea grass. Its open weave would be cool in summer.  I tried it on — too small.  Noticing my interest, Mr van Dijck left the young man still with a hat in each hand to attend to me.  He agreed it was too small.

‘Too much hair,’ I said.

‘Too much brain,’ he said, recycling a joke as old and threadbare as a well-loved flat cap.

He was not sure if he had it in a bigger size.  He went downstairs to look but came back shaking his head.  He checked that the young man had not yet made a decision and sat down at his computer and tapped at the keys for about a minute, his face glum.

‘Sorry, I don’t have a bigger one in stock.  It seems I do not even have that one.’

Notes:

I was travelling with the excellent PTG Tours

 

Sunday, 5 June 2022

Riding a Renegade Tram in Rotterdam

Clang, clang, clang went the trolley

Ding, ding, ding went the bell

Zing, zing, zing went my heart strings

From the moment I saw him I fell

Chug, chug, chug went the motor

Bump, bump, bump went the brake…

 

Judy Garland’s Trolley Song has been an earworm since my tram ride round Rotterdam.  The Trolley Song

Rotterdam’s Tram Museum is just by the Kootskade tram stop on the No. 4 or 8 lines. As I walked into this old tram shed, I smelled the warm aroma of lubricating oil.  It was good and I inhaled.  Enthusiastic volunteers run the Museum and care for its many trams.  There are plenty of trams of all ages to climb in and out of.  Two volunteers looked after our small group.  They disappeared for a few minutes and returned splendidly dressed in proper tram driver and conductor uniforms. 



We boarded a 90-year-old tramcar.  'Ding, ding, ding,' went the bell.  The tram clanged and, with a screech of steel wheel on steel rail, we sped out of the shed onto a side street.  In a hundred yards we stopped, with a bump of the brakes, at a junction with Rotterdam’s main tram system.  Having checked, the way was clear we accelerated onto the main track and headed towards the centre of Rotterdam.

Our driver had told us that he had had a year of training to qualify.  He and we now had the run of the city’s tramlines; he took us wherever he wanted.  All he had to do was to avoid disturbing the routine trams.  We stopped for a photo shoot but, suddenly, he hurried us back aboard, “There’s a No. 24 coming up behind us!”

Indeed there was. We sped away. 




On some of the outer reaches of the system, we did U-turns on loops at the end of lines, where our conductor had to get out and change points.


For about 90 minutes, we enjoyed a swaying, squealing, clanging tour of the fine city of Rotterdam. 'Zing, zing, zing' went my heartstrings.

 


 

Information

 The Trolley Museum has limited opening hours.  Vintage tram rides are by charter or a hop-on-off from May to October Thursday to Sunday only.

Rotterdam Tram Museum

Tram Line 10

I travelled with the excellent PTG Tours PTG Tours

Photo credits: Kevin Hogget

Trolley Song written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane