Sunday, October 04, 2015

Maritime Museum - the East Indiaman Amsterdam (and a hornet update)

Steve's half-brother proved too elusive to rope him in for hornet eradication; in the end I contacted someone further off who had done a wasp job for us. He arrived the same day, with a ladder and toxic powder, and set to work. People sometimes grumble about the €100 plus flat rate it costs to get rid of these bestioles, but this time he earned his fee; he was here for nearly an hour in his sinister veiled clothing and used one canister after another of The Product while the drunk and furious insects whirled about his head. I ventured into the utility room below while it was going on, and it was filled with infernal noise: a deadly low drone punctuated by high angry buzzing. I invited the Agent of Eradication in to hear it, and he was somewhat surprised and concerned that there was only a thinnish layer of polystyrene insulation between our living space and the arthropod enemy. He advised us to shut the door and not go in there for the rest of the day and night, and call him in the morning if there were still any live hornets around. Luckily there weren't, I can only assume we have a large number of dead hornets, mummifying (I hope) between the insulation and the roof slates. He said it was a very large nest, which had probably been building since the spring, though we had been almost completely unaware of them. In fact they are mostly discreet and peaceable creatures, until the nest reaches critical size and then you can't miss them. I do have some qualms of conscience about initiating such mass murder, but live with them we cannot at this point, and I tell myself hopefully that at least they've had a whole summer of going to and fro quietly, building industriously, chewing up old wood and spitting it out again as nest wall, eating pests (and possibly honey bees), making and feeding baby hornets etc, before they would presumably all die off anyway except for the hibernating queens. I am almost an entomologist manquée, but not quite, the bugs creep me out too much.


Neither could I have been an 18th century sailor. Apart from living in the wrong time and being the wrong gender, even if I could have had the head for heights and the constitution, I've concluded I could never have mastered the geometry and other maths and the applied-in-extremis physics, or indeed the knots. I can however contemplate it in smitten wonder, thanks to Patrick O'Brian and places like the Amsterdam maritime museum. 

Oh dear, I took so many photos there, and it's taking me an unconscionable long time to get around to posting them. One of the reasons I find I'm now shying away from photography (and by consequence, blogging*) is the matter of selecting and editing the results afterwards. I can never quite decide between this angle or that, so I keep both, and I can very rarely just leave a photo alone; as well as needing to shrink, export and upload them to web albums I'm almost always sure it needs a trim or a fiddle with the contrast or a tweak of the white balance, maybe it does but it would likely do a blind man good to see it, as my mother used to say. Tom has been cheerfully producing egregiously sunny, extrovert, unexamined-life travel posts for the last week or so, uploading his perfectly good photos without any fiddling with or interference from me (huh, what do you mean you don't need me for tech support, do you want me to have an existential crisis or something?), but I did bags the maritime museum, and will probably need a couple of instalments for them. 

The museum is housed in the old Admiralty building, a grand, elegant, four-square place, on the wharf a little way from the main part of town, twenty minutes walk from the Central Station, or any other tram stop. Its once open courtyard has been glazed, rather like the British museum, with one of those marvellous, attenuated webs that create quiet, softened, outside-in spaces where one instantly stops, breathes and looks upward:

We had already seen the East Indiaman Amsterdam the evening before from the water, floodlit and looming, which impressed us with something of how such vessels might have appeared to the people of the time whose lives they were part of, so we knew we wanted to see more of the ship, and made our way out to the quay.

It is, as most grand sailing vessels you might see now, a replica. The original was built in the middle of the 18th century, but foundered in the Channel near to Hastings in Sussex only a year or two later. The wreck was, by degrees, covered in mud and sand. It was excavated some years ago, and the replica was built with the help of voluntary work and public subscription, a matter of justifiable pride. At very low tides you can still see the remains of the original off the coast at Hastings, they say.

the outside is a riot of colour and carving, from the fearsome-funny lion figurehead,

to the striped sides,

and the florid stern, peopled by rather pale and modest gods: Mercury

and Neptune (who amused me especially by his coy attitude and odd resemblance to our local Dutch vet),

and their attendant animal familiars

(I don't know why Mercury has a chicken either...)

Sailing ships are full of geometry, even before you start any stellar navigation,

and knots and tangles and ropey things (as I say, I don't really do the technical stuff, I just admire it)

The spaces below deck were full of painterly compositions, interiors both grand and humble (the higher your rank the better your head room, on the whole):

and still lifes of objects, attractively and, I imagine, authentically rendered

I was interested in this crate of cargo in the hold, green coffee beans mixed with cinnamon sticks, and wondered how that worked, and if it was what they did, since you couldn't roast them together.

We had a good clamber and wander about, then went on to the next part of the museum, via the café. The Dutch, we found, do good museum cafés. More on what we saw inside next time.

There's more about the Amsterdam on the museum website here

* also because once I start writing I blather on too much and don't know when to stop. QED.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Been away, come home

Which it's I, for all love, upon the taffrail,

and in the master's cabin of the Dutch East Indiaman Amsterdam*.

The Maritime Museum (het Scheepvaartmuseum) in Amsterdam was glorious, and one of the few places where I took many photos on our holiday, some of which I'll post later. Otherwise I didn't take so very many, but probably enough. The whole trip was such a wealth and a welter of experience and sensation, (even an Embarrassment of Riches perhaps) in so many ways: Amsterdam was lively and upbeat and friendly and beautiful and full of wonders and Bruges was exquisite and bijoux and beautiful and full of marvels, and everywhere there were all kinds of people to listen and talk to and watch and enjoy, it mostly seemed better simply to ride and soak than to try to capture and record. Tom took more, and I may pick over and pinch some of his later, and I may remember some stories to tell.

Now on our return, the swallows are still with us, and as a result of this, we have these, I've counted four so far, on the fennel and the Mexican orange (which is having a second flowering):

and while the sunflowers are coming to their end - I cut the last decent blooms to put in a bunch to thank the friends who took us to the railway station - the dead heads can stay, so we can still enjoy the goldfinches on them:

Unfortunately and less welcome on the nature notes front, we also returned to find that we now have these:

Hornets, finding ingress in some numbers into a weak point under the roof where the extension joins the main house. It's late in the year for them but evidently not too late. However, this fact did promote a friendly exchange with the lad next door, part of an unspecified family grouping who moved in unannounced just before we went away. We are rather used to our space and privacy and not having to anticipate arguments about the ill-defined parking space, so we were a bit grumpy about their arrival; I made an approach (in part to establish boundaries about the parking) and offered my name but received a somewhat reserved response and none of their names, and I instantly saw them as unfriendly, potentially troublesome, and this chap in particular as rather ferrety and feral looking. And we were slightly miffed that the house's owners, our former neighbours, hadn't given us any warning that they'd re-let it, which of course they aren't obliged to do but they always have done in the past.

I think we needed to get away and out into the world; too long behind your own walls, minding your own business and guarding your space can make you fearful and defensive, and inclined to see evil everywhere. In the light of shared concerns about the proliferation of frelons, the youngster was sympathetic and helpful, and went and found his i-phone to give me the name and number of his half-brother, who, he said, was in the business of pest control and lived locally. He's not weasle-like or surly, I thought, he's just thin and wan and shy, and very young. I asked his name and he told me it was Steve. That sounds English, I remarked, and he smiled rather sweetly. And their parking habits so far have been neat and considerate. So far so equable.

More to come about the trip.

* Read Desolation Island end to end in the course of the trip. I like to have the appropriate holiday reading matter for the location.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Sunflowers, unicorns, ladders and toad.

Just some later summer sunflowers, before they go.

Warm woollen mittens: the latest gift knitting, in an attempt at a cute, tasteful, trendy-knitting-book-style, still life. Not well done really, that edge of the the mat adjacent to the mittens is compositionally very irritating.

However, I was quite pleased with the mittens themselves, and thought perhaps they merited some coordinated props, blue china fragments, marbles, a late hydrangea head, and some old books, the ones one's mother read from in an old-fashioned, spoiled and sheltered childhood spent immersed in a mythos of horses and the countryside, some of the time at least: Kilvert's Diary, Borrow's Wild Wales, Lamb's Essays of Elia, and of course Jerry, the Story of an Exmoor Pony (or maybe the top one is Samuel Butler's Erewhon, which in fact I've never read and which doesn't really conform to the nostalgic, bucolic, middle class English idyll of the others, but it was still a bookshelf familiar from my personal Olden Days, and anyway, it's blue). 

The knitting is for a grand-daughter's eighteenth birthday in a couple of days, I'm fairly certain this won't spoil any surprises and that she doesn't read here, as I understand she is something called a Youtube vlogger and so probably ignorant of the very existence of old-fashioned blogs in general and this one in particular.  She's a dear girl anyway and fond of unicorns, I believe, or she was five minutes ago but not any longer and I'm probably hopelessly out of touch. She was very appreciative of her very long Hufflepuff scarf for her sixteenth anyway ("one of the best things I own") and still wearing it sometimes, even in the aforesaid vlogs, so I'm hoping she'll humour me. The original design, a very basic chart, was for horses but I converted it to unicorns, and made the rest of the details up.

They are even lined, an exercise I rather enjoy when the fancy takes me, as it involves knitting a smaller mirror image, second mitten attached to the first, which is then turned inside out inside it, as it were.

The fibre of the linings is made from the hair of humanely reared, free-range, gently combed unicorns.

Tom's constructive endeavours have been rather more practically useful; re-roofing part of our corrugated iron hangar barn in clear pvc.

I did in fact spend a fair amount of time up a parallel ladder myself holding ends up, standing at the bottom of his passing things, lying on the corrugated iron holding things down, and generally being an unskilled roofer's mate, a job which took me back a bit. (I know the photos look a bit pale, I lightened them up lot as they were too dark and shadowy, being contre-jour).

Last oddment, toad in the hole:

Quite a small one, with pretty little coppery eyes. I thought it might be one of the midwife toads which we hear chirping and chiming all spring and summer long but rarely see, but the eyes give it away: midwives are unusual among batracians  in having a vertical dark pupil/eye slit. It took up residence one day below a rose bush, but was gone by the next morning.

Off in a day or two to the Low Countries with high hopes, for a little while. Staying on-line but still somewhat scarce. Be seeing you.