Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2014

Het Withstraat Dagboek: Herinnering aan Holland

Thinking of Holland, I see broad rivers ever-flowing towards the sea. I hear the low rumble of a Humber barge beating a hasty retreat to the sea, or the rattle of a tram trundling over the points at a junction. I feel the brisk February air tingling against my frozen white skin.
It's October 2013 and I find myself in Rotterdam, without any students. My girlfriend, perhaps seeing that I need to practice my Dutch, decided to book a semi-surprise trip to Rotterdam, a place she's heard a lot about, but never actually visited.
After a brief stop in Brussels to switch from the Eurostar to the Thalys train, discovering in the process a lovely health food shop selling Belgian-style gluten free chocolate biscuits, my first major input into the trip was to book a room at the Bazar Rotterdam.
In typical fashion, and without any encouragement from me, the hotel have placed me in one of their 'Africa' rooms, much to the annoyance of my proudly Caribbean girlfriend who doesn't …

Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by David Walsh

Being on holiday on a Caribbean island for four weeks provides ample time for getting some reading in. Anse des Sables in Saint Lucia provided a great backdrop for reading about one man’s manipulation of Le Tour de France for so many years.
In Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong, David Walsh introduces us to the depths of Lance Armstrong’s cheating in various races and chiefly his record-breaking seven Tour de France wins. Furthermore, he demonstrates that despite Armstrong’s name becoming synonymous with cheating in cycling recently, he cheated with plenty of help from others.
Seven Deadly Sins is as much the story of Walsh as it is of Armstrong’s deception, especially as the two stories seemingly become more enmeshed as time goes on. 
The book doesn’t just take aim at Armstrong; Irish cycling heros Sean Kelly and Stephan Roche also come in for criticism. Walsh talks about the rattling of pills in the back pocket of Kelly’s jersey in his early days as a sports writers an…

On the Beach in East Tilbury, Essex

The best thing about road cycling as a pastime is that you can literally put a pin into a map and cycle to most places - within obvious limitations
I had little else to do on warm but hazy Saturday 17th May and so I decided I was going to ride to a 'beach' somewhere towards the Thames estuary. It was a month or two after returning from Uganda and I hadn't done any 'big rides' since riding overnight from Walthamstow to Warwick in March.
The conditions were: as I was riding alone, I needed ready access to a station should I have a breakdown; there had to be something of at least mediocre interest at my destination; and that I should be able to cycle there primarily on B roads.
As things turned out, with the magic of Strava and Garmin, I ended up in East Tilbury, Essex. Granted, the village is pretty with a few pubs, and plenty of clapboard buildings, but the highlight was Coalhouse Fort and an old radar installation down on the shoreline.
The fort, in its current …

Het Withstraat Dagboek: Keuken Sessie II

The clock is ticking. The airport transfer bus is clearly not going to arrive. The students are beginning to suspect that something is amiss. What do you do? You call the first four taxis you can… so what if one of them is a six-door funeral limousine.
It is Sunday 16th February and we’re racing to Amsterdam Schipol, spread across four cars, all for €150 a go. It was just last night that I was considering how well we’d done to come in nearly €600 under budget for the trip.
The previous evening, in my efforts to ensure that the students who hadn’t broken curfew were rewarded for their good behaviour, I not only allowed them to go all out on food, but took some of them on the water taxi across the Nieuwe Maas.
The Kop van Zuid being as quiet as it is on a Sunday night and as self-contained as it is, meant that it was perfect for a post-dinner evening stroll, admiring the multitudinous lights reflecting on the calm surface of the Rijnhaven. For every drop of silence, the students were m…

Het Withstraat Dagboek: Waar Zijn Jullie?

The wonderful thing about Rotterdam is that so much of the city centre, from the Nieuwe Maas to Centraal station, and beyond, is built on a grid system. This, to most mortals, makes navigating the streets a breeze, but to students? 
It is Saturday 15th April, the sun is shining and feels warm, but we’re all waiting on a street corner. Amazingly, in the half a mile walk from Albert Heijn by the Vaasteland tram stop to Rotterdam Centraal, The Couple have gone missing – building on the curfew-breaking performance of the previous evening.
In my inimitable style, and channelling my inner Julian, I am remaining calm about things. I attempt to call both halves of The Couple, but to no avail. I’ll be honest, although it destroys my idealised version of Rotterdam being permanently covered in snow, I am enjoying the sunshine.
Unfortunately, Pia isn’t quite as polite about the situation. The fuse was lit following the reporting of last night’s curfew breaking at breakfast time. The fuse had hal…

Doctor No by Ian Fleming

Once more the summer James Bond novel tradition is resurrected. This year, with the beaches of the Asturias and Cantabria regions of Spain as my backdrop, and the promise of chorizo and sidra in the evenings to come, I set about readingDoctor No (1958) by Ian Fleming – the sixth novel in the Bond series.
At the end of the previous novel, From Russia With Love, we are left with a serious doubt about whether Bond has survived. Having brought about the demise of SMERSH’s latest plot, he is poisoned and the reader is unsure about what will have become of him.
Obviously, he survives thanks to some quick thinking and good luck. As part of his recuperation a slightly grumpy M decides that the warm climes of Jamaica will suit Bond where he is to clear up the small mystery of a couple of Secret Service operatives seemingly eloping and abandoning their station. Added to this is a fire at a bird reserve on Crab Key, an island off the Jamaican mainland, which an American pressure group seems kee…

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

A few years back, my father went through a phase of reading a newspaper that was giving away free DVDs. For a few weekends the DVDs were all old Alfred Hitchcock films, and included the original 1935 version of ‘The 39 Steps’ starring Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll. I decided to get my hands on a copy of the novel on which the film was based.
Following on from my trend of reading James Bond novels, The 39 Steps by John Buchan is, in many ways, a precursor to those novels. The flipping between fast-paced action and moments of tension, all set against a backdrop of espionage and counter-espionage, is very reminiscent of The Cold War world of Ian Fleming’s character.
The novel follows Richard Hannay, a man living in London, struggling to get into the rhythm of life there after having been based in Rhodesia for a period of time. 
The action starts when Hannay is approached by an American gentleman, later identifying himself as Franklin P. Scudder, who states that there is a conspirac…

Het Withstraat Dagboek: Keuken Sessie #1

As the dusky light descends over Rotterdam, I am woken from my late afternoon slumber by squally rain hammering against the small window pane of the droom room. When I look out of the window a little while later, the darkened city streets have been laced with rain, there smooth surfaces reflecting the lights like a perfect mirror glass.
It is still Friday 14th February 2014 and we’re preparing to go out for our evening meal. After yesterday’s stamppot, we’ve opted for the slightly more popular idea of heading to the Bazar on Witte de Withstraat for a meaty halal feast beneath the beautiful Middle Eastern light fittings.
We stroll along the rain soaked streets with the student group representing every possible point on the spectrums of both happiness and excitement. Pia is also being a bit on the slow side. Having moved out of the Maritime Hotel this afternoon and into the Love room at the hostel, she has clearly been sleeping deeply for three hours, despite me not even making her wal…

In the Dead of Night

In the dead of night, moonlit country lanes are nothing more than a grey ribbon floating between the silhouetted branches of trees, tied at each end to orange orbs surrounding sleeping villages and towns. In the dead of night only your bike’s wheels whir as conversation dries up, the Garmin registers one mile intervals with ever decreasing frequency and any rattling sound goes increasingly unnoticed.
When you have undertaken a sponsored ride, like London to Brighton, in order to raise money for your students you realise that, in order to get money again, you have to try something bigger the following year. So it was, inspired by the feat of four Dutch riders, I decided on a simple concept: ride from my current home in Walthamstow, London to my hometown of Warwick on a Saturday in March, in one go, overnight, starting at 10pm and arriving in time for breakfast.
The response was overwhelming. Not only was enough money raised to help two deserving west London students take part in the c…

Het Withstraat Dagboek: Paleisen van Glas en Staal

You can say many things about Rotterdam. People often go along with unfavourable references to the city, commenting on it being rather nothingy. Naturally, I don’t feel this way about what, to me, is a beautiful city.
It is Friday 14th February 2014 and I’m knocking on the doors of all the students' dorms, trying to make sure that they all actually eat before we hit the rails, due for Einstein Lyceum.
Slowly, looking a little like moles that have had bright lights shined into their eyes after a year of being underground, the students trickle into the dining room. First down is the Georgian girl who, despite more sleep than everyone, seems to still be asleep. In time more come down, The Twins, an Eritrean girl and the Grenadian, along with our fictional friend Sharkeisha. Then something strange happens. The faint scent of bakhoor nasaem floats in on the breeze and a noise sounding like ‘buff, buff, buff’ echoes down the halls; our Senegalese girl is awake.
Thankfully, breakfast go…

Het Withstraat Dagboek: Een Nieuwe Straat voor Ons

One joy of teaching is that literally nothing stays the same for a long period of time. Even if you take charge of a group for a few years they change so much over the course of two years that the young adults you wave goodbye to are almost unrecognisable.
It is Thursday 13th February 2014 and I’m sat in my room – named ‘Droom’ [trans: ‘dream’] – on the third floor of Hostel Room on Vollenhovenstraat in Rotterdam. After two years at the Home Hotel we’ve finally decided to try somewhere else to take our group of students.
This year’s group of students easily matches the diversity of the previous years’ visits and we have representatives of Somali, Dutch, Eritrean, Pakistani, Afghan, Nigerian, Grenadian, Senegalese and Georgian extraction, along with a fictitious girl everyone calls Sharkeisha. As with previous years, I am accompanied by Pia, whose attendance, I concluded prior to departure, was safer than the alternatives.
Our journey started at silly o’clock in the morning, but not s…

Wiggle New Forest 100: Part Two - Godshill to Finish

Godshill to Bashley
Upon leaving the first feed station in Godshill, we head out along the Southampton Road. Here, the landscape is much more agricultural and fields seem to head off into the distance over the well-kept hedgerows. A little top-up of air in the new Specialized Roubaix tyres has given my bike a bit of extra zip, especially when combined with the handful of jelly beans I’ve just eaten.

After a mile or so, we take a left onto the narrow Blissford Road and continue rolling along at a sociable 35kmh. We continue onto Abbots Well Road and the landscape begins to change again. Firstly, the neat fields lose their uniform hedges, then the fields turn to open heathland, the road begins to rise a little, before we come to a small switchback that carries the road upwards in a sudden burst. 
At the top of the mini-climb we’re greeted by the sight of a dead horse. Jones has started to flag a little on the climbs and with his head down in a determined fashion makes it to the top wit…

Wiggle New Forest 100: Part One - Lyndhurst to Godshill

Late Starters
Some things in life are certainties. Some things in life are less certain. Some are a combination. You can, for example, be certain that where Mr Jones is concerned, you can never be 100% certain of anything.
In preparation for my first organised cycling event, accompanied by my increasingly cycling-mad friend Jonesy, I had done plenty. I’d been training up and around Epping Forest in all weathers on a route that takes you up three different climbs twice. I had been averaging around 200km a week and had given myself a three-day rest period prior to the Wiggle New Forest 100 on Sunday 6th October
As it was, as Jonesy arrived in his gleaming 'pearlescent blue' Audi at 10.30pm in Walthamstow, ready for the drive to our hotel just outside of Southampton the night before our 8.30am start, I could feel the preparation slipping through my fingers. After around four hours sleep in a reasonably comfortable Holiday Inn, we headed towards New Park Farm on the outskirts o…