Monthly Archives: September 2013

Dunedin According To Keith Richards

I am reading Keith Richards’ autobiography and this is what he has to say about Dunedin, New Zealand:

But my God, there are some black holes. Dunedin, for instance, almost the southernmost city in the world, in New Zealand. It looked like Tombstone and it felt like it. It still had hitching rails. It was a Sunday, a wet dark Sunday in Dunedin in 1965. I don’t think you could have found anything more depressing anywhere. The longest day of my life, it seemed to go on forever. We were usually pretty good at entertaining ourselves, but Dunedin made Aberdeen seem like Las Vegas. Very rarely did everybody get depressed at the same time; there was usually one to support the others. But in Dunedin everybody was totally depressed. No chance of any redemption or laughter. Even the drink didn’t get you pissed. On Sunday, there’d be little knocks on the door, “Er, church in ten minutes…” It was just one of those miserable gray days that took me back to my childhood, a day that will never end, the gloom, and not anything on the horizon. Boredom is an illness to me, and I don’t often suffer from it, but that moment was the lowest ebb. “I think I’ll stand on  my head, try and recycle the drugs.”

To me Dunedin was very different, it must have changed a lot since 1965… At first I thought he was writing about Invercargill, or some of the smaller towns in the south of South Island, like Riverton, where famously the petrol was very cheap for a couple of years, because the head office of the petrol company forgot to change the prices on the pumps.


Riverton, New Zealand

Riverton, New Zealand, ‘Where life is for living’


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Pictures Of HollandThis post is for friends who are going to buy a house in Utrecht, possibly on the canal pictured below. When mentioning canals in The Netherlands people usually presume you are talking about Amsterdam. Utrecht, however, has got some lovely canals of its own. The difference with the canals in Amsterdam can be seen in this beautiful etching from Pictures of Holland, written and illustrated by Richard Lovett and published by the Religious Tract Society in 1887. He does not seem to be a big fan of the idea of living close to the water:


“Evidences of wealth are not unfrequent, such as fine streets, well-built houses, and well-stocked, attractive shops. The two main thoroughfares are the Oude Gracht and the Nieuwe Gracht. These canal-streets posses one very curious and not altogether attractive feature. They run through the town at a much lower level than usual, and have two roadways, one much below the level of the other. The upper one is lined with handsome buildings and fine shops. The lower one with cellars, and stores, and, in not a few cases, dwelling-houses. At intervals flights of steps descend from the higher to the lower roadway. On the whole, the effect is very picturesque; but the thought that a number of the inhabitants live so near to the uninviting waters of the canal is not pleasing.”

Oude Gracht

Oude Gracht

One of Utrecht’s famous inhabitants was James Boswell. He lived there for a year between 1763 and 1764 with the initial goal of finishing his law studies at the University of Utrecht. He did attend lectures there, but became too distracted by falling in love with Belle van Zuylen, a vivacious young Dutchwoman of unorthodox opinions, his social and intellectual superior, and his later attempts to win the heart of the young widow Geelvinck, who refused to marry him. In his diary he describes a very bad winter in February 1764:

“This is the worst winter that has been seen in Holland for many years. We have had scarcely any frost, which is surely the best winter weather in this land. Whenever it freezes hard, so that the canals are covered with good ice, the Dutchmen are happy; then everybody goes out to skate. But this winter we have had nothing at all but rain and wind and thick fogs; weather indeed so unhealthy that a foreigner cannot stand it. I myself have had a bad cold for ten days. I had a severe headache, but I am so regular that I have not been absent a day from my college.”

Utrecht Cathedral

Utrecht Cathedral


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Marken: Tourist Trap In 1907

For the average tourist in The Netherlands a visit to Marken and/or Volendam is an essential part of the holiday. Some people think that this influx of tourists is a modern development, prompting locals to walk about in costume and ‘perform’ for the visitors. What many people don’t realise is that this has been happening for a long time and that tourism has been an important source of income for these villages for over a century. In the late 19th century foreign travel became more affordable and was no longer the privilege of the aristocracy and nouveau riche. Even though it was still out of reach of most people, numbers were starting to increase.

Marken Costume

Marken Costume

The Botor Chaperon is a silly book that describes the holiday of four young people who travelled through The Netherlands in a boat, around the turn of the century. One of the protagonists is Dutch and he is a bit cynical about their visit to Marken:


Marken, with its tall-spired church, soon appeared to our eyes, the closely grouped little island-town seeming to float on the waves as San Giorgio Maggiore does at Venice, in the sunset hour.

In spite of my sneers at the island theatre and its performers, eagerness betrayed itself in the manner of my passengers, as we approached Marken, full petrol ahead.

“They see us,” I announced, as we drew near enough to make out that a crowd of huge green and yellow mounds massed in the harbour were hay-boats. “They’re congratulating themselves on an unexpected harvest, as the big audiences for which they cater every morning and afternoon in summer are gone for the day. When we arrive, there’ll be a stage-setting and a stage grouping, which would make a ‘hit’ for a first act in London.”

Still nearer we came, and now we could see men and women and little children playing at unloading the hay with pitchforks from boats large and small. It was the prettiest sight imaginable, and one felt that there ought to be an accompaniment of light music from a hidden orchestra.

The women and children of Marken have made the fortune of the little island as a show place; and to-day they were at their best, raking the golden hay, their yellow hair, their brilliant complexions, and still more brilliant costumes dazzling in the afternoon sunlight.

We landed and nobody appeared to pay the slightest attention to us. That is part of the daily play; but I was the only one who knew this, and seeing these charming, wonderful creatures peacefully puruing their pastoral occupations as if there were no stranger eyes to stare, I was reproached for my base insinuations.

“How could you call them ‘sharpers?'” cried Phyllis. “They’re loves – darlings. I could kiss every one of them. They have the most angelic faces, and the children – why, they’re cherubs.”

After having been invited into one of the fishermen’s homes some photographs are taken and the question of a ‘tip’ is raised:

Starr came to ask me if I thought the dear thing’s feelings would be hurt by a small offering of money.

“They may, and probably will be – if the offering is small,” said I, dryly.

“What are you insinuating?” exclaimed Nell.

“I don’t think they’ll refuse money,” I said. “In fact, they expect it.”

Their offering is not deemed generous enough, although they clearly think it is, and they are chased back to their boat:

Thus we left them, and I saw that the ladies were thankful to be safe aboard Lorelei again.

“Fiends!” gasped the Chaperon, gazing shoreward in a kind of evil fascination. “And we called them angels and cherubs! I think you are good, Jonkheer, not to say ‘I told you so.'”

“They’re terrible – beautiful and terrible,” said Starr, “like figures that have been brought to life and have sprung at you out of a picture, to suck your blood – in answer to some wicked wish, that you regret the minute it is uttered.”

They seem to be aware of the effect that tourism, even in its early days has had on the local culture:

“Tourists like ourselves have spoiled them; they were genuine once,” I said. “Probably Spakenburg, which is so unsophisticated now, will be like Marken one day; and even at Volendam, though the people have kept their heads (which shows they have a sense of humour), they’re not unaware of their artistic value.

They could not have been more accurate in their prediction. Spakenburg and Volendam now also create spectacles to attract tourists and the income that they bring.

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Philip Thicknesse

By all accounts Philip Thicknesse was a bit of a cad and a bounder. Born in 1719, he was the son of the rector of Farthinghoe. A rector is a vicar who receives all the tithes (=church taxes) of a parish as his income, whereas a vicar only got part of them. In 1742 he eloped with Maria Lanove, a wealthy heiress, after he abducted her from a street in Southampton and took up residence in Bath with her. In 1749 Maria and his three children contracted diphtheria; she and two children died, leaving only a daughter, Anna. When Maria’s parents died some time later, John Thicknesse spent much time in trying to claim their fortune. He then married Lady Elizabeth Tuchet, but she died in childbirth in 1762. His third wife was his late wife’s companion, Anne Ford. She was a gifted musician with a beautiful voice who was well-educated and knew five languages. She gave Sunday concerts at her father’s house, but her ambition was to became a professional actress and, in spite of her father’s disapproval, she left home to enter the stage. The couple spent a lot of time travelling in Europe. (adapted from wikipedia and other sources)


ThicknesseThe book in my collection, A Year’s Journey Through The Pais Bas: or, Austrian Netherlands, was first published in 1786 as a collection of letters written to the The Reader during one of their sojourns on the Continent. In these letters we find the customary sense of superiority often displayed in books written by travellers from England. A few interesting excerpts, including a description of water torture used by the courts of the Pais-Bas to obtain confessions (author’s italics):

“I must observe therefore, that strangers, who are permitted to the honour of eating, and conversing, with the high and mighty people of the Païs-bas, should avoid playing with them; first, because they understand play; and secondly, because they do not always, as Englishmen do, pay when they lose.”

“The idea of the riches of all Englishmen who travel, can never be rooted out of the natives of the continent; and though travelling is dear in England, I do aver, that even the Bath road to London is not so dear as on the great roads in France, or Flanders, with this difference only, that the traveller thinks he drinks better wine; he certainly does drink weaker, and perhaps wholesomer wine than English road port.”

“The Hôtel de Commerce was an inn much frequented by the English, but the people who keep it are rich and insolent, therfore I have used the New-inn, kept by an English family. When you have seen what this town offers to the notice of a stranger, you will be, as I was, glad to quit it, for the inhabitants (quite the reverse of their neighbours the French) are all shut up within their houses, and a stranger is apt at Bruges to think himself in a city just depopulated by the plague.”

“Assassinations are very common, particularly in and about Liege, a city as replete with vice as it is with inhabitants.”

“Though I have more than once, in my confidence with you, mentioned the question being put [a euphemism for the use of torture to obtain a confession], I doubt whether you know what sort of punishment that is, which is inflicted on a man before they know whether he be innocent or guilty! Whatever it be, it is a most shameful mode of proceeding; and the best account I can give of it is, that the supposed offender is fixed on a frame, to which there are certain stretchers applied to his limbs, to draw them gradually beyond their natural extension and at the same time, drops of water are let to fall upon the breast, or some particular spot of the body, which by repetition, become almost intolerable.”


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Today I Listened To …

On the the anniversary of the day that one of the best and most promising guitarists of the sixties joined the great band in the sky, I am  listening to another superb axeman: John Scofield (I’ll probably play some Hendrix later.)

FrontJohn Scofield is, without doubt, one of the best jazz guitarists ever. He has an enormous output and is not afraid to experiment with different styles, from straight Jazz, to Blues, via Funk, Drum and Bass, and Jazz Rock. Überjam is one of my favourites. It has not got the star studded cast of many of his albums, but all the musicians are very skillful and enable him to shine as a soloist.







Steady GroovinSteady Groovin’, another favourite, is a compilation from his work on the Blue Note label. Randy Brecker (trumpet, flugelhorn), Bill Frisell (guitar), Charlie Haden and Jack DeJohnette (drums) are some of the great musicians featuring on this disc.


BTW, this one and a few other John Scofield CDs are for sale in my Amazon shop.






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Friesland Meres

Another sub-genre of of travel writing that was popular around 1900 was the description of a holiday spent sailing through Dutch waters. I have a few of these books in my collection and one of them is Friesland Meres & Through The Netherlands In A Norfolk Wherry. It was published in 1889 and written by Henry Montague Doughty. I am trying to find out whether he was related to the writer Charles Montagu Doughty, famous for his Arabia Deserta. In the text there is an indication that Henry was a former naval officer from the UK, so he may also be related to Rear-Admiral Henry Montagu Doughty.

Friesland Meres


After having been towed across the North Sea the Gypsy, as the boat is called, sails on most of the lakes in Friesland, stopping in many of its towns. Their stopover in Dokkum was not a happy occasion. Perhaps the fact that the English Saint Boniface was murdered by the Frisians near Dokkum was an indication of the treatment foreigners could expect. Fortunately only their dignity was harmed:

“A crowd looked down upon us from the parapet; men and boys, hands in their breeches’ pockets, staring stolidly; women excitingly inquisitive. The bank was steep and slippery ; we had to clamber up under a battery of eyes; no hat was raised, as is the courteous custom of the country; the unyielding, sullen throng choked up the roadway, I could hardly force a way through them. Presently a clatter of sabots  on the coble stones, the rabble from the bridge had started after us, the boys and children shouting, screaming, pressing round us rudely. I took the girls into a shop; the mob swarmed in the street, and when we came out, hunted us again. … Dick and I pulled round the moat aftwerward; but our tormentors ran along the path beside us, hooting “Vreemdeling! Vreemdeling!” “Foreigner! Foreigner!” manned each bridge before us, and actually spat down on our heads as we pulled under.”

Sneek proved more to their liking:

“A very foreign-looking town, strange to our eyes; tree-edged water streets, old gables, singularly bright colours, and, to the eye, perfect cleanliness – filthy black smoke never sullies these Dutch towns, peat is the common fuel, and makes but little smoke – polite, simple-seeming people; such were our impressions.”

I have not been there recently, but the Waterpoort has not changed much:

The Water Gate circa 1889 - The Water Gate now

The Water Gate circa 1889 – The Water Gate now

The Gypsy then tours to the south via the IJssel and the Rhine, passes Purmerend where “the girls brought back a herd of green and yellow swine; the sweetest little money-pigs of earthenware, long and round, with the most delicious twisty-twirly tails.” Via the Zuiderzee they arrived in Hoorn, where they were met by another “voluble, excited crowd of raggamuffins.” My friends from Hoorn can comment if the scenery in the harbour has changed much since 1889.

Hoorn Harbour

Hoorn Harbour


Hoorn - Main Tower

Hoorn – Main Tower


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On The Road In Holland

On The Road In Holland, notes and impressions in the quaint country of dykes and canals is a book by Charles G. Harper, an English author and illustrator. It was first published in 1922 and describes Harper’s journey as a tourist in Holland. In general he is positive about the country and its inhabitants, but after a while his condescending attitude begins to grate a little. It is typical of that time, when making journeys abroad was not all that common, and when every Tom, Dick and Harry (for they were usually men) who went to foreign places felt an urge to publish their descriptions, diaries, opinions on the locals and drawings.

On The Road In Holland

Harper introduces Holland thus:

“To visit Holland is, for the stranger to that country, to be interested and amused all day and every day. Everything is strange and beside one’s usual experiences. The scenery for most part is nothing… But if Holland’s scenery be tame, its buildings, public and private, are extremely often romantically beautiful.

The untravelled Englishman’s idea of Holland as a country where the people in general wear outlandish costumes and walk in wooden shoes is not altogether correct. Some do, in the rustic parts; but even in the smaller provincial towns the Dutch girls – the “meisjes,” – are often as up-to-date as any London flapper… They are not infrequently very pretty. They grow, it is true, what we think to be more typically Dutch: solid and with thick ankles.”

The author goes from Haarlem to Amsterdam and apparently the road between those two places was as dreary then as it is now:

“I left Haarlem for Amsterdam by road. Had I known what those ten miles of road were like, I would have gone any other way, for truly it is as depressing a route as well may be imagined; and it does by no means maintain the picturesque promise of the exit from Haarlem by the Amsterdamsche Poort. … In all those ten miles to Amsterdam you pass through dismal dull scenes such as you are accustomed to on the outskirts of every great and growing city. … An unpicturesque canal on one side, an electric light-railway on the other, and an ordinary railway, all combine to make the way very unpleasant; and there are many more motor cars here than anywhere else in Holland; a country where, as a rule, there are singularly few.”

Another recurring feature in many travelogues written before the second world war is the undiguised anti-semitism. Many travel books about Holland, and especially Amsterdam, contain discriminatory passages, full of insults and generalisations that were to become commonplace, and de rigeur, in Nazi Germany. In post war society these comments were, of course, denounced and condemned by the general public, conveniently forgetting that anti-semitism did not just happen in Germany. Here is an example from Harper’s book published in 1922 in the UK:

“Amsterdam has a population of 570,000, including not far short of 70,000 Jews in whose hands – dirty hands as a rule – is most of the diamond trade. … It needs no Sherlock Holmes’s penetration to identify a Jew when you see one; nor is the occupation of a diamond-merchant less obvious. His is the elongated, rarely cut nail of the little finger, with which it is found most convenient to sort diamonds and brilliants. … They [people wearing traditional Dutch costume] are better worth looking at than are the diamond-merchant Jews of Amsterdam, who wear a good deal of their stock-in-trade on their persons, but do not appear to make a fetish of washing themselves.”

In fact Harper’s politics are no less offensive:

“The Dutch, as I say, and shall say constantly in these pages, are a likeable and polite people, glad to please; but there is an objectionable leaven in the great populous cities. That is the way in cities populous and great and crowded. A man, intending to be rude, pushed me in the Harlemmer Straat and in the side. Just one of Amsterdam’s lower working-class men; one of those friends of Mr. Troelstra, the Socialist deputy, I suppose. … That is the kind of thing the Socialist Party in Holland, as elsewhere, may reasonably be expected to approve; the hatred of the neckcloth for the linen collar. … I returned the fellow a backhander which knocked off his cap. He took it lamb-like, although a more powerful man, and picked up his cap and disappeared. A policeman looked on, impassive, remote, non-committal.”

After visiting Amsterdam he takes continues the customary tourist route and visits Volendam, Marken and Monnickendam. This is still very much standard for package tours to the Netherlands today.



“If towns, like persons, may be said to have retired from business, then Monnickendam is one of them. There is an air of quite satisfied well-being about it, and about most of those old Dutch towns said to be “dead,” that really renders the description absurd.”

This place still looks very similar today:

Monnickendam Now

Monnickendam Now

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The Destruction Of The Bastille

One of my books about the Netherlands contains a description of a journey through northern France and Paris. The journey was made by Samuel Ireland in the autumn of 1789 and the book, A Picturesque Tour Through Holland, Brabant; And Part Of France, was published the next year. One of the many beautiful illustrations in the book shows the state of the Bastille as seen by the author when he visited Paris in September 1789. This was only a couple of months after the storming of the Bastille, which had taken place on 14 July and was the starting point of the French Revolution. A year after this etching was made there was nothing left of the prison that had such a fearsome reputation.

Destruction Of The Bastille

I am surprised how easy it was for a foreigner to travel around in France, while it was in turmoil. In Paris the situation was fairly calm, under control of the new Commune de Paris, but in the rural parts of France members of the aristocracy were in fear of their lives and many fled their estates for England. The way the author describes the situation is not exactly like we were taught at school. It brings it home that nowadays, with violent conflicts being televised live on the TV in our living room, we know so much more about what is going on the the world. It all seemed simpler in 1789 when Samuel Ireland wrote:


 “… we are now in the midst of a people created, as it were, anew, who are boldly judging and acting for themselves; from a revolution formed with less effusion of blood, and I believe in a shorter period of time than can be parallelled in the annals of the history of the world.

The humble and gentle manners of the lower orders of the people are now totally changed; every man is become a soldier and feels the happy truth

That love of liberty with life is giv’n                                                                                    And life itself’s th’ inferior gift of Heav’n

The industrious peasant, who when groaning under penury and wretchedness was scarcely heard, even to whisper his grievances, now speaks aloud, and imputes his miseries to their true cause, a government formed on principles inimical to the dearest rights of mankind.”


Samuel Ireland was an interesting character. His first job was as a weaver in Spittalfields, London, and this may explain his favourable view of French society just after the revolution. Later on he taught himself drawing, etching, and engraving and once exhibited in the Royal Academy. He started to collect books, pictures, and curiosities and gradually this turned into an all consuming passion. In 1794 his son, William Henry, claimed to have discovered some documents by the hand of William Shakespeare, including the manuscript of King Lear and an unknown play called Vortigern and Rowena. His father displayed these documents at his house in London, where famous visitors like James Boswell and the Poet Laureate Henry James Pye declared them genuine. Shakespearean scholars of the time, however, quickly denounced them as forgeries. Samuel stood by his son at first, but in 1797 William Henry confessed to the forgery. His father never recovered from the ignominy and was widely ridiculed. He died in July 1800, and Dr. Latham, who attended him, recorded his deathbed declaration, “that he was totally ignorant of the deceit, and was equally a believer in the authenticity of the manuscripts as those who were the most credulous”. He was never reconciled to his son. (adapted from Wikipedia)

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More Food Photos

In addition to shooting the food at the Hearth of the Ram I also took some shots of the garden that they share with Incredible Edible. The herbs and vegetables are used in the kitchen so that ultimate freshness is guaranteed. Sometimes it gets from the garden to your plate within 2 minutes!




Half a Lobster, with Samphire and lots of other nice things

Half a Lobster, with Samphire and lots of other nice things

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Food Photography

I spent this afternoon at The Hearth of the Ram. I was not tucking into the scrumptious food that is served there for a change. Nor did I sit at the bar to sample their excellent beer collection. I was there to only photograph the food and drinks this time. The Hearth of the Ram website is getting a thorough makeover, adding new functionality in the shape of a table booking system, and I was asked to provide the photography. I enjoyed the work very much, but at times I was tempted to eat the beautifully prepared and plated dishes even before I had taken a photograph of it. Trying to get across on two dimensions how good this food is was a difficult task. The smells and flavours were absolutely gorgeous (yes I did get to eat some of it!) I just hope my pictures can do justice to the skills of the chef, Nassem Abdullah, and his staff.

Scotch Egg & Ham Hock Terrine

Scotch Egg & Ham Hock Terrine

Doing this work also gave me an insight in the skills required to produce good food images. Attention to detail is certainly required, and fortunately the restaurant owner, Euan Watkins, acted as my assistant for the day. He removed the fingerprints and minute spills of sauce that I had not spotted. During the day he also became very competent at handling the reflector.


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