Two Dutch Girls on a Road Trip to Wiltshire

Road Trip 2017 - 1 (Harwich to Richmond)

When the possibility arose that I would be able to go on holiday  after all this year (due to my caregiver responsibilities that was very un...

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Who wants to go chasing rabbits? -Or Keeping Strays 3

Honing, in all his splendour.
My darling daughter adores keeping pets. She has grown up with dogs, cats, doves, ducks, guinea- pigs, fish and rabbits. But when she reached the age of 11, and our last guinea- pig had died of old age, I put my foot down. No more rodents. I was extremely busy, and the cleaning of the hutch came mostly down to me.


She pleaded, moaned, sulked, sweet-talked, but all in vain - my foot was firmly down. For about a month.
Then, late in the afternoon of a drizzly April day, our dog Gina took my husband into the woods (no, this is no mistake on my part) and chased after something yellowish. My husband went to investigate, thinking it probably was a cat. But it turned out to be a shivering traumatised domesticated rabbit. My husband couldn't let it sit there, where Gina had it backed into a corner under a large tree. So he took it home.

When I came home from work, I was informed that there was a rabbit in the shed, but that it wouldn't survive the night, as it was in a terrible condition. It was dirty yellow, bald in most places, mangey, and had a large festering wound around its neck where there had been a rope.
So we gave it a nest of warm hay, some water, and left it to die in peace.


My daughter couldn't face looking at it the next morning, so I went. To my amazement I was greeted by a curious, very much alive rabbit. But it still looked awful. We made an appointment with the vet, who told us it had fleas, lice, mange, needed anti-biotics for the inflammation of the wound and the colour was due to it being absolutely covered in urine. He estimated his, for it was a guy, age to be anything between 4 and 10 years old. He injected it, salved it, powdered it, and we got a carload of stuff for keeping it in medicines.
My daughter proudly named it Honing, meaning honey in English, due to its colour.

Honing took up residence in an emergency shelter in the garden, whilst my husband quickly banged a new hutch together. When he inspected his new home, some hours later, Honing immediately started re-arranging his bedding, grunting and snuffling, and then when it was put down to his satisfaction, he started grooming himself. He was the most ugly rabbit imaginable. Hardly any hair, and the hair he did have was short, dirty and dull.

We gave him the run of the garden, trusting our cat (then Tigger) and Gina to leave him in peace, which they did. He could get into his hutch by means of a chicken stairway, but his preferred perch was on top of the woodpile. There he sat for hours and hours, surveying his kingdom. As soon as he was insect-free, and his wound had healed, his hair started growing back in, and to our joy he turned out to be snow white, and long haired. He kept himself immaculate. 
 Gina and Tigger respected him, he only had to grunt to make them back off.
Our previous strays:
Snuitje, guinea-pig: dumped on us by someone wanting to get rid of it;
Snuf, rabbit: we bought this one!
Tigger, we adopted him from someone who turned out to be allergic to cats.

Honing stayed with us for four years. Then, one morning, he was off his food, and died in the night.
He was an amazing rabbit.



Friday, 17 January 2014

Feeling the Drag of Life? Keep dreaming!

I had written a draft, and instead of deleting a photograph I wasn't happy with, I accidentally deleted the entire draft...Kismet!
So I will not rewrite it from memory...I will not rewrite it at all.
What do you do when it is a damp, cloudy, dismal day? I know what I do, I dream. I dream of sunshine, walking barefoot, feeling a balmy breeze on my face, sitting outside listening to the birds, and the frogs in my pond, and a lazy bee on my roses.
Here you are...walking down my garden path with me. We can take a seat next to the shed. Or would you prefer to sit next to the pond and watch the goldfish?



Wherever you prefer is fine with me. As long as we both dream the same dream.



Thursday, 16 January 2014

Chapter 4 - Part 1


The Haringvliet (photo © Wibe Koopman)


Chapter four

Bobby and Suzan arrived together through the back door, breathless with laughter, their lovely eyes sparkling and their hair wind-blown. They tossed their overnight bags down in front of the stairs and ran into the kitchen, where their mother was doing some tossing of her own. 
“Mummy!” 
Isa felt herself hugged from both sides at once, and spilled the salad dressing in the sink. 
“Oh! Bugger!”
 But she hugged her daughters back, clung on and breathed in their scent. 
“How wonderful to see you! You’re here, at last!” 
Her youngest, Roberta, named after her father and almost as tall as he, tousled Isa’s hair affectionately. 
“Mumsy... How’s life in Nieuwenhoorn? Gosh, that bus took forever! I keep forgetting what a drag it is to get here from Rotterdam, and then today of all days. We should have come down the day before yesterday, when there was a normal service.” 
“Yeah, but then we wouldn’t have seen André Rieu’s Christmas Concert on the Vrijthof, now would we? It was absolutely wonderful, Mum, you should have been there. Remind me again why you didn’t want to come to Maastricht?” asked Suzan, whilst mopping up the dressing with a kitchen towel. 
“I..eh...Uhm, I had to see a client,” mumbled Isa as vaguely as she could. 

She didn’t want to admit to her daughters that she simply couldn’t face the 2 1⁄2 hours drive to Maastricht in her old Twingo and having to sleep on the sofa of Bobby’s draughty student pad, whilst the students Bobby shared the flat with were living out their dramas in the kitchen. 
“Oh well, we’re here now. What’s for dinner? What have you cooked us?” 
Roberta, wise to her mother’s ways, dug out the bottle of Chardonnay from the overloaded fridge. (Copyright Renée Koopman – If you steal this, you are a very bad person!) 
“I’ve got some new fancy glasses, hang on,” said Isa. 
They splashed the wine into the crystal glasses and toasted each other. Just when they took their first sip, Dirk wandered in from the living room. He saw the girls and froze.Bobby and Suzan froze as well. Isa noticed with a certain detachment that Suzan’s mouth did actually drop open, making her dribble her wine a bit. She suddenly giggled. This could turn out to be fun after all. 
“Suzan, Roberta, meet Dirk. Dirk, this is Suzan, my oldest daughter, and Bobby, my youngest but tallest girl.”
She fluffed up her hair with gusto.
 “Dirk will be joining us for dinner.” 
Bobby’s eyebrows rose up to her hairline, but she kept her peace. Suzan, always the more outspoken of the two, took her mother’s arm and dragged her unceremoniously to the hallway. 
“Mum! What do you mean, who is that guy?” she hissed. 

Instantly needled by her daughter’s tone of voice, Isa faced Suzan. 
“My toy-boy.” 
“Your what?!”
 “Oh, honestly, Suzan, don’t be such a prig! I’m only joking. He’s someone I know. A...friend.”
 “A friend? He’s a kid!” 
“He’s seventeen. How old are you again, exactly?” 
‘That’s not the point. Mum! How long have you known him? Where does he live? What does he do?” 
“Christ, Suzan, what are you, my mother? Enough now! It’s Christmas, he was on his own, I invited him, he’s interesting, and that’s final. Now, behave! He’s shy.”
 And with those words Isa turned on her heel and marched back into the kitchen, where Bobby and Dirk were sitting by the stove, leafing through Isa’s Jamie Oliver together. Dirk looked completely at ease.
 “Bobby is showing me a recipe for Asian duck salad” 
“I had taken you for a vegetarian, but you aren’t, then?” 
“He’s a flexitarian, like me,” grinned Bobby. And when we do eat meat, or poultry in this case, we prefer good quality, right Dirk?” 
Dirk grinned in return.

Whilst Isa and her daughters, one having fun, one hardly able to supress her annoyance, entertained their somewhat strange young guest, a lone dog walker along the Haringvliet didn’t pay attention to his Retriever. He talked into his cell phone and Prins, left to his own devices, ran into the shallows, where something intriguing was caught on some branches of the willow clinging onto the basalt breakwater. Prins got very excited when he smelled the large plastic bag. He barked once, his sharp little bark, meaning “look what I’ve got”. But his master was more interested in his conversation. So Prins barked again, more insistent. His master looked up, and ordered his dog back to his side. He tied the leash back on, and dragged his dog back to the car with long determined strides, Prins turning his shaggy head to look at his find. But to no avail.
© Renée Koopman

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Counting your garden birds - it is very much like counting your blessings, isn't it?

 This weekend I will be counting birds. NO, not the two-legged kind, but the feathered.
I've been doing this for years, at the request of our national bird protection society. Every year, somewhere in January, they kindly ask everyone who wants to, to count the birds they spot in their garden.

What I see here in the suburbs of Hellevoetsluis is the common garden variety, nothing spectacular. The photo above this blog is a good example. The feeder is full of what we call 'Groenlingen', or Carduelis chloris (Greenfinch). We don't see that many of them, really, so it is always an event when they arrive.
As much as I would like to see something like this (photo above), I know I will not. My chances of seeing an owl in my garden are approx. as good as winning the lottery.
But: when I am patient (and I am), there's a good chance I will see at least 10 species.

Our largest group of house guests (my husband has built them some cosy bungalows)are the blue tits and great tits (love that name, much more exciting than koolmees and pimpelmees), Parus caeruleus and Parus major. They brighten up my days, with their busy-busy behaviour and funny song.

And then we have our sparrows, both ordinary (Passer domesticus)and the ones with the white ring around their neck (Passer montanus), making them very distinguished, and the hedge-sparrows (Prunella modularis). They used to be far more numerous, they are struggling these days because of all those idiots who put their entire garden full of paving stones surrounded by a wooden fence. Not to mention what that does to the hedgehogs...so I won't.

Of course we have the robin (Erithacus rubecula, much smaller than the American species), the wren (Troglodytes troglodytes - wonderful name!) and the blackbird (Turdus merula). And the thrush (what peculiar names the British have given their birds!) Turdus philomelos.
When we are really lucky we see the redwing (Turdus iliacus) and fieldfare (Turdus pilaris), but they only visit when it turns very cold in Scandinavia.

My absolute favourites are those tiny long-tailed tits (Aegithalos caudatus), which we rank under the "mezen", but they aren't called Parus, so that makes it bloody confusing in my opinion. They always travel in loud groups, like my pupils at school, natter natter natter, and let's all go together to visit the caff.
And we get the somewhat larger birds as well like the cheeky magpie (Pica pica), the feisty jay (Garrulus glandarius) and the ordinary crow (Corvus corone corone) and many many jackdaws (Corvus monedula)who think nothing of using our ghost birch as a meeting place before they take wing in their hundreds.

But once in a while we are extremely lucky and we see the green woodpecker (Picus viridis). We have a friend who is so very keen on birds, and every time we have this woodpecker in the garden our friend misses it...And so far we haven't managed to photograph it. We get the smaller red and white variety as well (Dendrocopos minor).

Right, have you been keeping count?
I will be sitting in my window seat, cup of tea and notebook close at hand, at dawn this weekend. Wish me well.
Oh..okay...just for fun then...




Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Viggo Fat Cat - the proof.

Hi, cat lovers!
I've told you some tales about my cat Viggo, right? Well, I have something new to share with you: he is getting disturbingly FAT.
Viggo in summer; not that fat.
We try not to feed him too much, or too often. But he is expanding...fast! We now suspect he has found another source of food.
It's quite alarming really, when he washes himself he rolls over more often than not...
And when I tell him too stop stuffing his face, he gives me the evil eye. 
My daughter has made a little film of that exact moment.
video
Just watch that look...


Chapter 3 - Part 2


This is where Isa's adventure is set. The sea arm connects to the North Sea on the left hand side (not in the map).

Chapter 3 – part 2

Not much later they skidded to a halt at the car park. Isa got down stiffly, wobbling a bit on her broken shoe. Remembering Dirk didn’t do hand shakes, she gave him a grateful smile and a nod. 
“Thanks ever so much. I don’t know what I would have done without your kind help.” 
His deep-sea blue eyes twinkled. 
“Screamed some more at the waves, probably,” he muttered. 
This time he didn’t catch her out quite as much. 
“Are you always this blunt?”
 “I didn’t mean to offend,” he said quickly. 
He looked as if he meant it, too. His gaze was direct and frank, the twinkle replaced by an innocent honesty. Isa felt herself drawn.
 “I mustn’t keep you,” she said with regret. “You will be expected at home, no doubt, Christmas dinner?”
 But Dirk gave a swift shake of the head. 
“I have no plans.”
 “No plans? Won’t you be having dinner with your parents?” 
“Nope.” 
“Who with then? You will not eat alone, will you? At Christmas?” 
“Yep.” (Copyright Renée Koopman – If you steal this, you are a very bad person!) 

She watched his eyes. Either he was telling the truth, or he was a bloody good liar. Seventeen, and then home alone? This shouldn’t be allowed, she decided. 
“Come home with me,” she suddenly blurted. “My girls will be there, it will be fun.”
 “Girls?” 
Dirk looked scared again. His sudden mood swings amazed Isa. 
“Nothing to worry about, they’re coming over for dinner, you’ll like them. Bobby is a student, she’s 19, and Suzan is 22, she’s a teacher in Belgium but over for the holidays. Older than you, but not that much older. Come on, Dirk, it will be good fun,” she repeated breathlessly. 
Still he hesitated.
“I have more than enough food! I always buy far too much, and then I’ll only feed it to Tom, and he’s too fat as it is.”
 “Is Tom your husband?” 
“What? No, he’s my cat.”

Isa suddenly felt deflated. Inviting Dirk wasn’t such a good idea, perhaps. But Dirk did an about-turn once again. 
“Okay, I’ll come. I can go get my bike later, I’ll lock it to the lamppost over there.”

The ride to the suburb of Nieuwenhoorn was uneventful. Isa didn’t like to talk when she was concentrating on the road, and thankfully Dirk seemed to sense her mood and kept his mouth shut. In no time at all she turned into her own street.
“Here we are.” 
She locked the car door and bent down to give Tom, who had materialised from under the box hedge, a quick stroke under his chin. 
“Come into my parlour, said the spider to the fly,” she tossed over her shoulder to Dirk, only to see him start at the threshold as if she had tossed him a dead rat. Isa, you stupid twit! she admonished herself. 
“It’s a joke! Honestly, come in, come in, make yourself at home.” 
She made herself turn around and marched into her house, hoping he would follow her as he had done at the harbour months ago. He did. Isa busied herself with putting the kettle on, guessing he would like tea better than her usual chilled tipple from the fridge. When she came back into the living area, she saw him standing in front of her bookshelves, intently reading the titles on the spines. 
“You like detectives,” he stated a fact. “And Art.”
 “Yes. I’ve made you Earl Grey, it’s the closest to ‘just tea’ I have, is that all right? What kind of books do you like?”
 “I don’t read,” Dirk said.
© Renée Koopman


Sunday, 12 January 2014

Chapter 3 - Part 1





Chapter 3 - part 1

November slowly but surely slid into December. Isa kept herself busy. She had landed a nice assignment for a new women’s magazine, having pitched furiously to get it, and the glow of having got the job lasted her almost until Christmas. Then, as she had feared, the warm feeling of achievement faded, and she found herself on the slippery slope once more. 

Ellen invited her over for Christmas dinner, but the thought of having to sit through an evening with Ben and Ellen’s overbearing Mum-in-Law (“Have I told you about Ben’s chance to become a partner in his firm, I always thought he had it in him, he does take after me, you know, I would have been a great professional, had I ever looked for a job, blah-blah-blah”) gave her a case of instant tummy-ache. So she made up an excuse and stayed at home, overfeeding Tom on expensive smoked Gravad Lax and drinking an entire bottle of Chardonnay and then being violently sick.

The next morning found her on the Zeedijk along the Haringvliet, trying to walk off her hangover before her girls would arrive for dinner. She might be turning into a lush, but she’d be damned before she would let it show to her daughters.
 The wind blew her hair straight into her eyes, almost blinding her to her surroundings. Gulls shrieked at her, and a couple of moorhens called from the water’s edge. Last night’s rain had made the path slippery, especially at the patches where sheep’s droppings littered it. The sheep themselves had been moved to meadows closer to their pen. It gave the dyke an empty feeling, desolate and grim. Isa allowed the wind to push her along, hardly watching where she put her feet. So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when her heel got caught in the cattle grid and broke off, but it did. She almost fell, and only just managed to keep her balance by gripping the barbed wire on top of the sheep wire. (Copyright Renée Koopman – If you steal this, you are a very bad person!)
“Ouch!”
Pain and frustration made her lose it, and she howled wordlessly into the wind. 
“Can I give you a lift?”
 Isa screamed again at the unexpected sound of the voice behind her. She whipped her head around, and apparently looked frightening enough to make Dirk take a bewildered step backwards. He kept his bicycle between them as he gave her a tentative smile. 
“We’ve met, you bought me a tea,” he said. 
“What? Tea? Oh...yes. I did, didn’t I?”
Taking a deep breath, Isa realised he looked positively scared. Mustn’t upset the locals, Isa, she admonished herself. 
“Dirk! Hi! How are you?” she asked brightly, at the same time hiding her bloody hand behind her coat. 
“Fancy meeting you here. Were you cycling to Hellevoetsluis?”

He nodded, giving her another smile, but kept his bike firmly in position. 
“I was just on my way to...I was walking...I lost my heel. I keep losing things when we meet, don’t I?” 
This time his smile flashed broadly. 
“Yep. First your hat, now your heel, and soon your mind,” he grinned. 
Isa felt herself agreeing before his last word had fully sunk in. 
“Yeah, I...What?” 
But he had gotten hold of his bike, and offered his carrier with an old fashioned gallantry. 
“Hop on. I’ll give you a lift back to town.” 

They rattled over the cattle grids and slithered along the path, pushed by an ever stronger growing wind. Isa had to hold on to his coat with both hands, leaving a few specks of her blood on the denim. Dirk didn’t attempt to speak, but simply concentrated on not crashing the bicycle. They passed the monument to the Great Flood of 1953 on their left, its rusty styles a reminder of the spot where the sea dyke was breached. After the last bend they reached the fork in the path where you can choose between continuing along the Zeedijk, or going towards the tennis club. 
“Where do you want to go?” shouted Dirk. 
“Oh, anywhere is fine. You can let me off now,” Isa replied.
“I’m going to the Vesting, myself. But I can take you anywhere you like.” 
“I live in Nieuwenhoorn. But my car is at the car park just outside the Haaven. So you can drop me off there, if that’s not inconvenient.”
 “Sure, no problem”.
© Renée Koopman