Ladies & Gentlemen, March 19, 2015

susancarey:

So pleased to be selected to have my story performed on March 19th in Leeds. Go if you can!

Originally posted on Liars' League Leeds:

Liars’ League Leeds is delighted to present another night of marvellous storytelling. This Thursday, our Ladies & Gentlemen event takes you behind the scenes at the Coney Island freakshow, into the inner sanctum of the mysterious Cimmerian Club, to a romantic dinner-party for, uh, six, and up on stage for a stand-up’s worst nightmare…

For your entertainment and edification, we will be reading…

A Sideshow Story by Joe Saxon
Grim by Liam Hogan
The Comeback by Rosalind Stopps
The Cimmerian Club by Susan Carey
Knights Round A Table by Elizabeth Hopkinson

Also, FREE BOOKS! (if you are clever enough to triumph in our almost-famous half-time books quiz.)

You can find us at the wonderful Crowd of Favours pub on Harper Street, Leeds: https://www.facebook.com/TheCrowdOfFavours

Entry is FREE, FREE I tell you! Roll up on Thursday, March 19 from 7pm and – once we’re all sitting comfortably – we’ll…

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Getting in a Pickle!

On 14 and 15 March an Iamsterdam event is taking place called, 24H Amsterdam. All sorts of enterprises and entrepreneurs are opening their doors to public who might not usually get a chance to sample their services or wares. One of these events was the opportunity to sniff around the local pickle factory. Kesbeke have been pickling onions, gherkins and piccallili in Amsterdam since 1948. It’s a family-run enterprise. They started small, selling their hand-bottled products as street traders; taking their pickles on wooden handcarts and selling them in all the neighbourhoods of Amsterdam. The Kesbeke logo incorporates the three crosses which are part of Amsterdam’s coat of arms. The business is also run under the triple-p concept which means making a profit but also taking into account peoples’ needs with respect for the planet’s resources.

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With the current trend for locally-sourced products, Mr Kesbeke and his crew were overwhelmed with the amount of visitors wanting to learn more about their factory on the 24H Amsterdam open day. Fortunately our group also had about 10 minutes with Mr Kesbeke himself who still has a passion for sharing his extensive knowledge of the pickle trade.

Only ten people work on the factory floor but in one day they can process a mind-boggling 100,000 jars of pickles! Their signature product is pickled gherkins. Gherkins grow in sub-tropical climate and are all picked by hand and then shipped to Holland for processing. First they are washed, then potted, then vinegar and sugar are added and finally the product is pasteurised to kill all bacteria. They then go to the warehouse where they are labelled and eventually delivered. There is also a shop opposite the factory entrance where they sell more artisan products as well as their usual fare; Fijne Tafelzuren b.v., Adolf van Nassaustraat 2-8, 1055 RP Amsterdam

Kesbeke pickles is a national product, only sold in the Netherlands although there is a growing market in Saudi Arabia?! In the old days there were ten pickling companies in Amsterdam but now Kesbeke is the only remaining one. Nice to know there’s a thriving company employing local people on one’s doorstep. So the next time you spice up your meal with some picallili, spare a thought for all the people who have worked hard to bring it safely and tastily to your plate.

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FREE magazine by Writers Abroad

Hooray, it’s here; the second edition of Writers Abroad Magazine. Spring has sprung and a feast of FREE reading awaits you! Tickle your romantic taste-buds with short stories of love lost, love promised, love yet-to-blossom and love totally flabbergasted. The flabbergasted one was penned by yours truly. A husband reveals a secret no wife should ever have to deal with.

It also includes; a quick and tasty recipe for summer canapés, poetry that will make you see the so-called ordinary from a fresh perspective, book reviews, an interview with poet and novelist Sue Guiney, the ups and downs of living in France, a disastrous but funny camping holiday and two of our members reveal how living in rural northern Ireland and Yokohoma, Japan has influenced their lives and writing. Oh and asides from that the pleasures and embarrassments of visiting an onsen (hot spring) in Japan are shared, also the evolving nature of English is discussed and to cap it all, a short grammar lesson for language students. Individual members’ writing careers and published books are also showcased.

Last but not least there is a chance to sign up for the call for submissions in our forthcoming anthology, Kaleidoscope. Are you an expat who writes FICTION or POETRY? Are you looking for a chance to be published and support our chosen charity, Room to Read? Our theme this year is light and we will be accepting submissions from May to mid-June. Make sure you don’t miss the boat and sign up via the link in the editorial section of the magazine.

To read online, click here or on the front page below. You can also download the magazine in PDF here The links will allow you to read the magazine on-line or alternatively download a PDF copy which you can read on your PC (including the Kindle app if you have it), tablet,  iPad or android device. The best way to read the PDF version is through a PDF reader app which are free to download.

Happy reading :)

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Between Art and Kitsch

The Dutch have an ambivalent attitude to their own traditional blue and white Delftware. I rarely see it in Dutch homes, only in museums or tourists shops. The blue and white pottery leaves me a bit cold, but the tiles on the other hand I do really love. So much so that I was lucky enough to pick up a table top of Delftware tiles, 50 in total for quite a low price. Now, I am not known for my canny way with money, in fact, according to husband I have got ‘a hole in my hand.’ Not a medical condition, just a Dunglish expression roughly equivalent to the English proverb ‘money burns a hole in his/her pockets.’

Anyway, this time, I think I have come up trumps. I believe these tiles are around mid-eighteenth century, in decent condition and highly decorative. They show mainly trades and occupations, a rosy image of Holland with every citizen happily getting on with their work and occasionally having time for a drink, a smoke or flirting with the dairy maid.

The term, Delftware is derived from the Dutch town of Delft where from the seventeenth century potteries produced hand-painted tin-glazed pottery of high quality which was exported all over the world. Alongside their other wares, the potteries in Delft produced tiles but these were not a major product. Most Dutch tiles were manufactured in Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Utrecht, and Gouda. In northern towns such as Harlingen and Makkum tiles were often the main line of business.

Delftware tiles are eagerly collected. Their hand-painted illustrations provide a unique insight into life in Holland at the time. I saw a few for sale on an antique dealer’s stall at the Noordermarkt last weekend. They weren’t as old, or as decorative as mine and I was told they retail at between 40 and 50 euros apiece! So pretty soon you will see me on the Dutch Antiques Roadshow, Tussen Kunst en Kitsch and I’ll say ‘oh, I think they’re worth about 200 euros all together’ and the expert will say, ‘add a nought to that!’ Clutching my heart, I will be dumbstruck with shock and head straight for the nearest gin and tonic to quieten my nerves. Or failing that I will keep them and enjoy them for as long as I can.

 

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Herefordian Through and Through

Touching Base
That’s part of being an expat. Sometimes you need to return to your real ‘home,’ and real people. Auntie Annie was born on a farm in Herefordshire, the eldest of five siblings. In June she will be 89 years old and she still lives independently, does all her own housework and is the principle carer for Uncle John who suffered a stroke six years ago. They both maintain a vegetable garden and eat many of their own crops, keeping alive that vital contact with the earth that was their livelihood for many years. Auntie Annie has Hereford soil mixed in with her blood. She farmed all her life and has wonderful stories to tell about living on the land. One that I particularly remember involved two SAS soldiers.

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Who Dares Wins
Is the motto for the Special Air Services, based in Hereford since 1960. The SAS counter terrorist wing, largely a covert regiment of the British Army famously took part in a hostage rescue operation during the Iranian Embassy Siege in London in 1980. It was reputedly an SAS man who, while watching a rerun of the Embassy Siege on TV with the Prime Minister, asked Mrs Thatcher to move her ****ing head out of the way. More recently SAS troops have been sent to Syria, tasked with trying to track down the Islamist State terrorist group and in October 2014, the SAS began executing raids against ISIS supply lines in western Iraq, using helicopters to drop light vehicles manned by sniper squads. SAS claims to have killed up to eight ISIS fighters per day since the raids began

Lifting Bullocks
The endurance tests the SAS have to pass in order to join this elite force, take place on the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains near the English/Welsh border where Annie and John farmed in Herefordshire. One blistering hot summer day while moving cattle across a road, one bullock decided the gate was for cissies and it was much more fun to jump the thick hedge. He miscalculated the hedge’s size and banked its width, straddling fore and hind legs either side. Attempts to drive him forward and off the hedge came to no avail. Tempers became frayed in the midday heat; a swarm of flies taunting the animal didn’t help much either. The bullock was becoming more and more distressed when the cavalry arrived in the form of two SAS men jogging down the road. They took off their stone-laden rucksacks (carried as part of the endurance test) linked hands underneath the animal’s belly and heaved the bullock forward and over the hedge. Without a backward glance the bullock bucked happily and went his merry way.

Concerned for the animal’s welfare, and clearly in touch with his softer side, one of the soldiers said, ‘Now, Missus, that animal has been traumatised and when you get him home he’ll need some calming down.’ Annie smiled, thanked the men and herded the beast into the field to join his mates. She and Uncle John then headed off home for a well-earned glass of home made beer. They told my cousin Rose what had happened. ‘Only someone from Off could come out with a line like that.’ Uncle John said, Traumatised bullock, my elbow, silly ole bugger more like!

Below a few pictures of the Black Mountains and Llanthony Priory.

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Shanks’s Pony Enjoys a Day at the Beach

My New Year’s resolution is more frequent use of Shanks’s Pony (Brit. idiom for walking) and I can’t think of a more picturesque and bracing place to do it than the North Holland coastline.  New Year’s Day in Holland was dismal and wet, so I took my traditional New Year’s walk on January 4 along the beach from Wijk aan Zee to the North Pier in Ijmuiden. The North Pier is a favourite spot for birdwatchers, I saw plovers and seagulls but a huge variety of sea birds can be seen here if you have the patience to stand and wait. The pier is only suitable to walk when the sea is behaving and it’s shut when the waves get above a certain height.

The world and his wife were out with their children and dogs so the two eateries that were open on the beach were heaving with people. Can you tell me why children turn public spaces into a playground? When I went to restaurants as a child I remember being told to shush for slurping through the straw of my milkshake too noisily. I wouldn’t have dreamed of getting up from my chair running riot and ambushing waitresses with lego like today’s offspring do. We headed into Wijk aan Zee and had a bite to eat at the lovely and civilized Gewoon in Wijk aan Zee They serve high tea or the traditional Dutch winter fare of erwten soep and chocolade melk. (Not usually consumed together!)

The Ijmuiden to Newcastle DFDS ferry shuttles mainly Geordies to and from the Netherlands for day trips or longer. Watch the ferry depart from De Kop van de Haven in Ijmuiden. This fish bowl restaurant is famous for its fish and chips, or kibbeling and patat as they call it here. Connexion Bus 82 from the Elandsgracht takes you all the way from Amsterdam to IJmuiden, or as I mentioned in this post, it’s FREE to park in Wijk aan Zee I guess I am a true Amsterdammer now, the way I luxuriate in any place that offers free parking! Although that’s the beauty of Shanks’s Pony (sometimes Shanks’s mare), you never have to park her anywhere :)

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The Delights of Dresden

A few months ago, I was just like you. When I thought of the town of Dresden, black and white images of devastation from the TV documentary ‘A World at War,’ filled my mind. But I recently met Professor Dr. Gregor J. M. Weber, who worked at the Alte Meister Gallery in Dresden and he extolled the artistic and architectural beauties of this beguiling city. Christmas approaching, I booked a flight with small but friendly and efficient, Darwin Airlines.

During my research for the trip I discovered, oh joy of joys, that one of my favourite Tales From Europe was filmed at Moritzburg Castle, just a short bus ride from Dresden. Three Gifts for Cinderella has always stayed in my memory, associated with halcyon days of childhood; I suspect because Cinderella had a horse and she liked hunting and jumping in the forest! She was pretty handy with a bow and arrow too. A sort of seventies Katniss Everdeen…

We stayed in the Baroque Quarter which is a desirable neighbourhood in Dresden Neustadt on the banks of the River Elbe. Our apartment was on the fourth floor and we enjoyed wonderful sunrises and sunsets over Dresden’s skyline. Neustadt was burnt down in the 17th century, was rebuilt and has since been known since as the New Town although in fact it’s older than the Old Town, if you get my drift.

You can’t go far in the city without coming across the former ruler of Saxony, Augustus the Strong. How shall we put it – Augustus was a little bit fond of himself and enjoyed spending lavishly on art and porcelain. Augustus the Strong and his successors with their skill, artistry and determination filled the Grüne Gewölbe (Green Vault) and Türckische Cammer (Turkish Chamber) with treasures from all over the world, collected paintings and porcelain, and were patrons of the great composers. No wonder then that Dresden today ranks as a world-class city of art and culture.

The main sights are; The Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche), Royal Palace, Zwinger, Semper Opera House, Elbe castles, Villa Quarter, Hellerau garden city – not forgetting the ‘Blue Wonder’ bridge to the east of the city centre, so named because it survived the bombardment.

Although Dresden is a big city (big as Manchester in UK) it’s very tranquil and calm. Even amongst the crowds of tourists on the Christmas markets I didn’t feel rushed or harassed; neither did my husband and he has a low threshold for the crush of shoppers. Public transport is cheap and easy to use. Eating out is also considerably cheaper there, as are wine and food in the supermarkets. Make it a New Year’s resolution, go visit this marvellous city and banish those war-ravaged images from your head. A weekend is not really long enough, four or five nights would be ideal.

 

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Rotterdam, Rotterzwam and Shimmy Shake Festival

A couple of weekends ago I visited Rotterdam. I went to see a friend and former student of mine, Josephine Jansen perform in the Shimmy Shake Festival at the Maaspodium. Shimmy Shake is an organisation that supports new and emerging belly dance forms. It was a spectacular evening showcasing not only up-and-coming talent but also some big names in the world of belly dance fusion, Sharon Kihara was the headline act but the evening also included top Dutch belly dancers, and my personal favourite, Rachid Alexander. Rachid is one of Holland’s best known male belly dancers and has been featured on Holland heeft Talent. He has wonderful stage presence and a mind-boggling flexibility and fluidity.

In the morning Frank and I went to Rotterzwam, which is a business set up by two entrepreneurs. We had crowd-funded the enterprise and went to pick up our DIY mushroom kit. What does this business entail? The two business partners and their team collect coffee grounds from local businesses in Rotterdam and in an abandoned building, propagate and grow mushrooms in the fertile coffee grounds. Their business is run on the principle of the Blue Economy which tries to reduce food miles and keep business benefits within the local community. Their business location, Tropicana was a former swimming paradise with sliding chutes, whirlpools, beauty spa, changing rooms; the whole works. Visiting it now is a surreal experience. Several times I felt I had stumbled into a science fiction film set, human creativity and ingenuity emerging from the ruins of some unspeakable disaster; in fact a metaphor for the phoenix-like city of Rotterdam itself. The guided tour was informative and hunger inducing so we also lunched at the former Tropicana restaurant. I had Canterel mushrooms on toast; they were delicious.

We booked an Airbnb room in a family home in the Delfshaven area of Rotterdam where the Dutch founding fathers set sail for America. Much of Rotterdam was bombed during the WWII but picturesque Delfshaven has survived. For an Amsterdammer it was a bit coals to Newcastle but worth a visit nonetheless. Hearing the bells from The Pilgrim Fathers’ Church was especially poignant.

The sculpture, De Verwoeste Stad (the devastated city) tells Rotterdam’s story of destruction and resurrection better than any words can. This eloquent and visceral sculpture was made in 1951 by Ossip Zakdine. It was removed from its original setting outside Central Station in 2007 and is now displayed in the much more suitable Plein 1940.

To round the weekend off we went up the Rotterdam Euromast and got breathtaking views of the city from a rotating glass lift. There is so much to see and do in Rotterdam, in fact I’ve already booked myself in to abseil 185 metres down the Euromast next summer ;) Believe that and you’ll believe anything…

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Meet the Head of Fine and Decorative Arts at the Rijksmuseum

During a recent serendipitous encounter I had the good fortune to meet Professor Dr. Gregor J. M. Weber, Head of Fine and Decorative Arts at the Rijksmuseum. Rembrandt: The late works is currently showing at the National Gallery in London and Professor Dr. Weber was closely involved in its realisation. Don’t worry if you can’t make it to London because in February 2015 the exhibition, Late Rembrandt will be opening at the Rijksmuseum. The show in London has had fabulous reviews so I urge you to go and see the exhibition when it comes to Amsterdam. I have also been reliably informed that there will be four extra Rembrandt’s to admire in the Dutch exhibition! Be sure not to miss it and buy tickets via this link, well in advance.

Gregor Weber is a modest man who usually stays out of the limelight but he has been kind enough to show us a glimpse of the man behind the curator.

Professor Dr. Gregor J. M. Weber

Professor Dr. Gregor J. M. Weber

What made you decide to become a curator?
During my childhood in Germany, I was surrounded by art. Whenever we went on holiday my family and I visited galleries and churches filled with decorative arts, paintings and sculptures. My father also asked a local artist to create paintings for us to hang in the family home. When I was about fifteen years old my father received a book about Pieter Breughel. I was so enchanted by his paintings and the magical world he portrayed that I travelled to Antwerp and Brussels to see Breughel’s work for real. I will never forget the frisson of excitement when I surreptitiously touched a Breughel painting for the first time.

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What do you love about your job?
A curator decides about restorations, hangings, selections and acquisitions; dealing very closely with the objects that one loves. But one should be careful not to identify too much with ‘your’ collection. I know some curators who suffered a lot after retiring because they were separated from their ‘friends’. Others linked their self-esteem to the number of Titian, Raphael or Rembrandt paintings they had the pleasure to administrate. But this is as dangerous as it is ridiculous – only if you really know a lot about these paintings and artists and if you can effectively share this knowledge with the public and your colleagues, then perhaps you can become a sort of spokesperson for the art.
Having such an extensive knowledge of art history, whenever I am in the great cities of the world; Venice, London, Florence and Amsterdam I can see those places through the eyes of great painters that have lived and worked there. It’s time-travelling but without the aid of a time-machine.

What do you like least about your job?
When you have twenty or more curators reporting to you, you end up working more for them than for yourself, but that’s something that comes with the job and is only right and proper. I have fortunately done very well in my career and sometimes that means my job is more administrative than I would like. But I do try and stay abreast with my field of science: staying in touch with students, colleagues, etc. Talking about art and not only administrating it!

Which is your favourite Rembrandt painting? Why?
Hm, it depends on my mood, the weather, or just how I feel on that day. It’s the same with music, sometimes I listen to Lady Gaga, other times I listen to Pergolesi.

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However, one of my favourite Rembrandt paintings is the Blessing of Jacob from the museum in Kassel. It is a very emotional painting. Rembrandt plays down the conflict in the story. (Joseph is worried about the blessing because he thinks his father Jacob is making a mistake.) Rembrandt chose a moment when Joseph is supporting his father while he blesses the grandchildren – so the harmony in the family is underlined, not the conflict that all other painters have depicted before and after Rembrandt.

Which is your favourite film and/or book?
Do you know the film by Ariane Mnouchkine about Moliére? I think it changed my life, the settings, characters and music transport one to another plane of being. The film is also full of references to famous paintings. An actress is lit like Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring, Moliére’s childhood room is based on a painting by Pieter de Hooch. If you can recognise all these references then the film gains extra layers of meaning.

The last book I read was by Jonas Jonasson, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. It’s entertaining as well as sympathetic. It encourages the reader to copy the protagonist and jump headlong into adventures, go to foreign climes and start anew!

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An unexpected fact about yourself?
At the age of fourteen I switched from piano lessons to organ lessons. I was an organist in our local church; playing almost every afternoon and occasionally giving concerts. But this is a long time ago, now I’m happy with my piano in Amsterdam. But another thing – and I know only one other person who can do this – I can write without hesitation in mirror script. It is just a question of turning the words around in my head, and it’s very useful for keeping a confidential diary!

Which is your favourite city? Why?
I love living in the Netherlands and above all in Amsterdam. It is a beautiful city, full of fine architecture. And the water makes it very liveable. The reflections and humidity create a special kind of light. In my house on the ring of canals I enjoy contemplating the wave-like reflections of the water on my ceiling. It’s enriching. Maybe later I would like to live in a quieter city like Delft, Amsterdam is busy and overcrowded at times. But for now I love its vivid character, the young people and the tourists from all over the world!

Late Rembrandt runs from 12 February – 17 May 2015 at the Rijksmuseum.

rijks

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Tiptoe Through the Tombstones

Pumpkins, spiders and zombies galore! Halloween is coming up. Did you know that the original Hallowmas, (the evening before the Christian festival of All Hallows) was a time to remember deceased loved ones or saints. It had nothing to do with vampires, ghosts or Egyptian mummies. Even if you don’t believe in an afterlife, most of us take flowers to relatives’ graves, or keep photos and mementoes of people and pets we once shared our lives with. It seems strange to think of the dead only on one particular day of the year; not many days go by when I don’t think of the people and animals I have loved and lost. This article on Open Learn gives insight into the original meaning of All Hallows.

Tranquil Places
I’ve always felt quite at home in graveyards. On the whole, I find the living more problematic than the dead. One of my favourite quiet places in Amsterdam is the graveyard, Huis te Vraag in Oud Zuid. It has the same tranquillity that can be found in a rambling country churchyard in England. Walking amongst the overgrown ivy and looking at the lichen-covered headstones fills me with peace, as if I’ve stumbled through some magical door into another world. The hubbub of the city has repeatedly tried but failed to encroach on this oasis of stillness. Spring, summer, autumn, winter it’s hauntingly beautiful throughout the seasons. There was some talk of it being sold but that is thankfully no longer on the cards. The website Huis te Vraag is being revamped but the graveyard is open to visitors on Tuesdays thru Fridays from 11am-5pm. Closed on Sundays and Bank Holidays. Address is, Rijnsburgstraat 51, 1059 AT Amsterdam.

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