Tag Archives: The Netherlands

Whistling for Stalin – poem

This w/end my poet friend Kathleen Kummer will be celebrating her 94th birthday. We first met 20 years ago on a writing week held near Cambridge. Kathleen lived and worked in The Netherlands after marrying a Dutchman.

To mark her special day, I’m posting a poem from her debut collection Living below sea level, published by Oversteps Books. The poem first appeared in the original 14 magazine, edited by Mike Loveday.

Whistling for Stalin

Circus performer summoned to the dacha,
you arrived empty-handed, no sign of the treasure
at the tip of your tongue. The signal was given,
you pursed your lips, made them a channel,
floated a tune on a cushion of air,
like a bird in a cage, lusciously trilling.
They sat around in their white, belted tunics,
he and his henchmen, legs stretched out rigid,
but ready to jack-knife to a Georgian folk song.

Did your whistling enliven the poker-face,
make it genial? When he clicked his fingers,
your tune slid back into its voice-box.
How much did you know about Uncle Joe?
When you whistle, you’re bound to sound carefree.

Tomatoes – poem

Credit: Couleur via Pixabay

Fruit & veg, toms, salad, mayo, salmon, ½ loaf … I’ve not yet managed to write a shopping list in Dutch even when the words are shorter (sla) or similar abbreviations (gr & fruit). It’s too much hard work late on a Thursday evening when I’m sitting with a glass of wine (wijn) and contemplating the moving project: flooring, top-down & bottom-up blinds, two chairs – ordered; research on fridge/freezers needed, also a new GP practice and pharmacist.

Here in the Netherlands the distance is important: the GP must be able to get to your home within 10 minutes. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to register. In Scheveningen (where I spent the winter) three practices did not take on new patients or had a four-month’ waiting list. A tomato a day may keep the doctor away …

Tomatoes

I am stepping away from my life,
my life as short as a haiku.
I have turned biographer,
am writing vignettes,
pale green, the length of celery.

My vignettes may concern
elderly mules with dental decay,
the struggle to remember
maternal aunts. I am numbering
my vignettes 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D –
narrow seats in the small airplane
Aer Lingus would use
on the late Saturday flight.

I could write a vignette
about the plastic dummies
they use in ambulance training.
Today I’m going to focus on pretend
tomatoes. My invisible friend
has started her new diet.

Sirens

Credit: AdAdriaans via Pixabay


Tomorrow is the first Monday of the month when the 4,000+ alarms through the Netherlands are tested. This alarm-and-warning system was set up after the Second World War. The monthly test stopped after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and for a period the sirens were only tested once a year. The government wanted to introduce a warning system by mobile telephone, but this did not prove effective. So, from September 2003 the monthly sounds can be heard for exactly 1 minute and 26 seconds.

The alarms aren’t rung if the first Monday falls on a religious or national public holiday, or on the national Remembrance Day of 4 May. This month, the Dutch people will be reminded beforehand that the sound is just a test.


On Monday I am sending the final manuscript of my collection Remembering / Disease to Aaron Kent at Broken Sleep Books. I have chosen a poem from the new book that includes a siren and want to thank Isabelle Kenyon of Fly on the Wall Press for first selecting it.

Credit: TBIT via Pixabay

Voice

I’m scared of the voice that tells me to let go of the wheel
it’s an old man’s harsh gritty cold pushing me
that time Monday sunny A487 heading for Porthmadog

black figures carry bags home whatever home might mean

silence only sirens calling the dog-end of the year

falling is kind of doing something
you can fall sideways head-first backwards
I have worked all these years to stay upright
running like a rabbit on a metal track

Driving Licence


If the United Kingdom was still in the EU, I could have carried on driving on my British licence for another five years here in NL. I discovered recently I only have a few weeks left to convert the UK licence into a Dutch one!

Because of my age, I need a medical. Getting booked in with a local GP would have taken too long. Online I found ‘Rijbewijsdokter.nl’ and I and got myself an appointment for yesterday morning at a hotel in Leiden. The regional bus from The Hague stops right in front. The hotel has a great location: by the side of the Old Rhine river, close to Leiden station.


Eyes ok, blood pressure ok, urine ok. The medic did the form online after I left. It’s an automated process, a few hours later the confirmation came that I’m fit to drive. I’ve put in a request with the Town Hall for an urgent appointment to sort out the paperwork.

Totem

Three years since I gave away the blue hatchback for a pile of dirty £20 notes.

I made sure I removed it from its space behind the handbrake where it had kept me safe on motorways, on narrow lanes in Cornwall, Devon, Suffolk, on roundabouts in Holland with their shark’s teeth. Kept me safe for almost thirty years.

A bunny from Liberty’s in King Street (long since gone). Fluffy ears, tiny brown boots, denim trousers.

Tulips from Amsterdam

Credit: Kang-min Liu,  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license


Today is dovetailed between yesterday’s National Tulip Day and Blue Monday. Nationale Tulpen Dag is an initiative started by Dutch tulip growers 10 years ago. On the third Saturday of January, about 200, 000 tulips are placed on the Dam Square in Amsterdam. These free flowers start the tulip season. This year people will be handed two bunches and are asked to give one to someone else – share the happiness.

Credit: WCoda on Pixabay


Research seems to have pinpointed the third Monday in January as the worst day of the year. There was some easing of the lockdown here in The Netherlands. However, the hospitality and cultural sector are still closed. I’m leaning more towards being blue …
Here is my poem about tulips.

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

They’ve not yet reached one of the tulips,
the central one of this display.
You can imagine a window, if you like.
Five parrot tulips lean towards the light.
Degrees of purpling. The ants appear
half-way up the bulb-shaped vase.
I’ve left the thin pencil lines
indicating a flat surface.
Look closely and you’ll see this vase
should tumble, fall or slip.
Three fingers’ width, water level
in the glass. Greying water extracted.
The tulips were a present.
You can count the ants, if you like.

Note: This is the title of a watercolour painting, donated by the (anonymous) artist to Manchester Art Gallery. The poem was published in my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2019).

Adopt a Christmas tree

Adopteer een Kerstboom


This week I saw a feature on tv about various adoption schemes here in The Netherlands. One of those, Adopteer een Kerstboom, now has 3,000 people who have adopted a Christmas tree. There is a waiting list: it takes five years for a tree to be tall and big enough for adoption. Each tree carries a metal tag with a number, so that the adopters know it’s their tree. Many people have given their tree a name. They pay a small deposit on collection in November from one of 13 locations, and trees are returned in January when they are planted back in their slot. The fee goes up a little each year the taller the trees get.


I think it’s a great scheme! Season’s Greetings to you all. Thank you for following my blog and for your comments. A short seasonal poem:

I’ve never been to that desert island
though the removal firm sends me
a bill each month for the books I left there.
I’ve never been to Iceland for that green light,
nor Lapland for those dogs and sledges,
but I have kissed Father Christmas.

Uniforms

As you can see from the picture, I’m back in the Netherlands. The camp site closes 12 noon this Thursday, so I’m making the most of the good weather to work in the garden and plant bulbs.

On the last Sunday in September I’m posting this poem which is included in my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous.


Uniforms

I saw the van turn and park
by the old oak tree
at the heart of our cul-de-sac.

It was early September and sunny.
It must have been afternoon,
because I worked part-time.

Our white cat was asleep upstairs.

Two men carried it, though
it wasn’t heavy. A metal
trunk, shiny in the sun.

The ship safely back in Southampton.

That sheen on the dark brown coffin
as it was helped from the limousine.
We had buried you in May,
a cemetery next to the Ford factory.

White and black uniforms.
Shirts, trousers, shorts.
Black shoes, white shoes,

cracked by too much cleaning,
and yellowing socks
in different stages of decay.

That stale ship’s smell still clings.

A poem about my father …

Building prev. Middelaarkerk, Beverwijk, NL

My father was born on the 2nd of September. Here is a short prose poem about him. That so-called High Street was the Breestraat in the small Dutch town of Beverwijk, a few miles from the coast. In 1996 the building was last used as a church. When looking for a photo I came across a website offering accommodation. There is an apartment with a stained-glass window…

Hat

That Saturday afternoon my father had been drinking with the sales reps who had driven in to collect their bonus and, of course, being pleased with their bonus, they would have bought my father a drink. My father, being generous and liking his drink, anyway, would have bought them a drink. How the subject turned to hats, I don’t know, but around three, or three-thirty, my father came back home and picked up my mother’s hat, the one she would wear to church the following day: a large peach-shaped, red-wine-coloured, black-velvet-edged-bonbon-of-a-thing. I watched my father put on this hat and leave the house. I went out and followed him. The three sales reps stood outside the café at the end of our road. With the disdain of a Spanish matador, my father strode past them, heading for the High Street.

(published in Another LIfe, Oversteps Books, 2016)

A walk in summer in Holland

Heide by Steinchen via Pixabay

It’s only days since I returned to Manchester and I’m slowly getting back into the English language. It has been a great pleasure to feature poems here this year by my friend Kathleen Kummer. I hope you enjoy this one.

A walk in summer in Holland

No ditch, no canal, no river here,
no heron to remind me, as always, of Gandhi,
hunched up, as it studies the text of the water.
This landscape, the heat at Blaricum,
its sandy paths moist from yesterday’s rain,
never seem to be still. It moves with a gentle,
rocking rhythm. The mass of heather,
shrubs and trees, the tipsy ladders
of vapour the jets leave behind like litter,
the cirrus snagged on the sky, the flock
of sheep, horned flecked with brown,
expertly nibbling between each dainty,
filigree sprig – all of these
frolic round us: moving pictures
on a frieze like those in a child’s bedroom.

An illusion? Call van Gogh as a witness.
His olive groves writhe, his crops are waves,
cypresses rock on an ocean of fields
or boil with the stars in a fiery furnace.
But here, there is no such fever. Under
the huge Dutch sky, we are cradled, rocked
on a warm bed of purple heather.

Item – a poem

Photo credit Stux via Pixabay

This week I am featuring another one of Kathleen Kummer’s poem. It’s short and the neutral title belies the heart-breaking content. The poem is addressed to her adult son.

Item

You left behind: your silver spoon –
there are days when I stir my coffee with it;
the drawing of yourself with the Mona Lisa eyes;
I sometimes wonder how you got the chestnut avenue
from that angle, and I’m suddenly happy, as though
you’d just sauntered in from school and were upstairs
moving your table, shouting down you were hungry;
all the photographs of you – if I flicked the pages
fast enough, would those in the top right-hand corner,
at least, spring jerkily into life?

Item: a bank account – didn’t you need
the money? Your sisters; me. People hope
I don’t mind them asking about you. As if
in a language I’m learning, I say, no, I don’t mind.