Saturday, June 14, 2014

Day One of my stay here at Heinitzpolder in which I do very little in the run-up to doing even less, as the sun shines, the birds sing and the landscape is reassuringly flat. And will England, against all odds, prove us wrong? (Er, probably not, at least not against Italy, though they might, perhaps, take Bosnia apart. Trouble is Bosnia are in a separate group. Damn!) And why houses need children

Heinitzpolder Day One

In the grand tradition of a week off, I’ve done little today, which is, though, a little more than I intended. My brother went off with our niece and her boyfriend to check out some builder’s merchant because she wants to buy planks to install some skirting board. Where, when and why she wants to install skirting board I don’t know and as I’m not particularly interested, I didn’t ask.

I was going to go with them and we were going to return via Bunde, the nearest town, well big village really, to get several of the little things we always forget or leave behind (a razor, shaving gel a toothbrush, toothpaste and deodoroant if you’re interested). But I then decided to take off on my own and I’m glad I did. I headed straight to Bunde while they took off in the opposite direction and, I was later told, spent 40 minutes in a motorway jam caused by an accident.

I, on the other hand, didn’t. So I slowly mosied there, enjoying the very flat and very empty Ostfriesland countryside, visited Lidl, then Aldi across the road, then back to Lidl because for some odd reason (and this might well merely be a local quirk of Bunde’s Aldi) its selection of personal grooming products (I think that’s the phrase – ‘hygiene products’ makes it sound as though I have reached the age where I need incontinence pads, which I don’t) was piss-poor to non existent. On the other hand its selection of beers, wines and spirits would put Oddbins to shame.

After leaving Lidl, the items bought – as well as a 70cl bottle of Campari for €10.99 (£8.77 at today’s rate, which is must be great value in any Brit’s book, unless, of course, he our she doesn’t like Camari), a bottle of Brazilian Cachaςa to make caipiriniha for the football later on (oh, don’t be so sniffy, it’s the bloody World Cup, isn’t it, and anyway, I had to look it up, too) and a bottle of ready mixed mojito, it was a slow mosey back to the homestead here, a mile from the nearest small village, several hundred yards from the nearest neighbour and just a quarter of a mile from the Dollart.

The farmhouse is just half a mile from the Dutch frontier. The land around here is all below sea level and was reclaimed from the sea over the years for farming. It might be flat and for some boring (here’s a picture) but I love it, nothing but birds

Flat and gloriously empty

singing, a breeze in the trees, tranquility and the sun shining (plus the internet and World Cup football, of course – mustn’t get too carried away.)

Incidentally, I’ve just found out where the skirting board is being installed. My sister and brother-in-law bought this old farmhouse for his retirement and it is huge, with their own living room, bedrooms and bathrooms, and kitchen at the end here, two self-contained two-bedroom flats upstairs, and then further down the place, towards, the (cavernous but now unused barn) there are several more rooms which are being slowly converted into yet more bedrooms and living space. I shan’t reveal

(The light green bit is not a road but a standing shallow pool covered in algae. I should not admire it too much)

how much it cost my sister and brother-in-law, but it was an absolute bargain. At three times the cost it would have been a steal. I suppose its relative isolation (in European terms, of course) might not be to everyone’s liking, but that I think is as much part of its appeal as everything else.

Today and tomorrow, that nearest small village, Ditzumerverlaat, is staging it’s own East Frisian fete and we are off to sup their beer and take part. The highlight is several rounds of competitive straw bale hurling, and that is not something I have invented.

After that, it’s the football. At this stage it’s impossible to say whether England can beat Italy tonight, but even if they do and on the showing of Brazil and the Netherlands so far, they strike me, even at their best as very much a second-tier national side whatever the national delusion is today. England will be lucky to get through to the second round.

. . .

I’m baffled by England’s ongoing delusion that its national football side is up there with the great. Yes, on a good day, in atrocious conditions, and with a great deal of luck, England can often show the national squads of Bosnia and Morroco who’s the master and who’s not, but as rule they are en embarrassment. The football is pedestrian and unimaginative, and it is always accompanied by us, the punters, wondering how soon they will fuck it all up.

My heart always sinks when they take the lead within 15/20 minutes of the game starting, because invariably that early goal leads to a dull, lifeless game ending in 2-2 with England snatching a draw with a last-gasp 91st minute fluke. The wonder of it is that without doubt England has the most interesting Premier League in the world, consisting of quite a few sides who play entertaining and exciting football. Italy, Spain and Germany, on the other hand, who’s national sides as a rule see off England more often than not, have premier leagues which have two or three outstanding sides competing with a pool of far more mediocre teams. I mean forget Bayern, Real, Barcelona, PSG and Milan and what other sides can folk reading this mention who are known for their football.

Yet on the national stage it all comes apart. Given the the England squad has some excellent world-class players, I don’t doubt that they might win the odd game or two. But invariably and inevitably it is all done in such a dull, dull, dull style. Well, that’s my view, anyway.

. . .

We are sitting (or we were until half-time and I took the opportunity to come next door to write this next utterly fascinating part of this ’ere blog) in the living room of my sistere’s Ostfriesland farmhouse and I was thinking just how nice it was. It’s not as though it is particularly ‘elegant’ – in fact given that they haven’t actually moved in and that the only pieces of furniture are three chairs, a sofa and a TV (with lots of wiring) and Kachelofen, there is not a lot there. But it is welcoming and comfortable and, the point of this bit of the blog – crying out for people.

My sister (from where I sit, i.e. we can all be wrong) is lucky: she has often spoken of this house – house, given the size of it (three-quarters empty barn space) being something of an understatement – as being a place for grandchildren. In that respect she is lucky. She has two daugters and two sons. One daughter got married last year and, I should think, God willing, will in time have children. The second daughter (my godchild) has been seeing the same guy for years (they are both staying for the weekend, too) and I rather hope they, too, will settle for each other and have children together. Then there are my two nephews, and both are going steady and, I assume (this being Germany, he said inelegantly, will also stick togetther. So as far as grandchildren are concerned I trust (and sincerely hope) my sister will be lucky. And that will mean that Heinitzpolder, as the farmhouse is always referred to, will be full whenever at least one person is in residence. The bonus will, of course, be that the noise of that ringing will be children.

Which brings me, again in the horribly convoluted way I have unfortunately made my own, to the point of this part of the entry: houses are made for people, usually people we are close to and love and, at worst, people we at least like. I cannot for the life of me understand why people buy a huge house which remains empty except for those few occasions when they choose to fill them for a party. Just a thought. The last three words of that last paragraph were written several hours, several drinks and a World Cup match after the preceding words. If they don’t make sense, you’ll understand why.

NB Strictly Day Two, but . . . Well, we lost, but I'm glad to say England otherwise proved me wrong. They played well, and did none of that interminable pfaffing around passing game they all too often resort to. The equaliser was great.

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