The rest is silence #MH17

Today is a day of national mourning back in The Netherlands: the first one in 52 years, after one of our longest serving monarchs died. The crash of the MH17 has shaken the world and taken 298 lives of which 193 Dutch ones. The tragedy during summer holidays means that whole families were wiped away with one press of a button.

A few weeks ago, we united in orange watching all 23 of our best footballers compete for the World Cup. Millions of us screamed at our screens in living rooms, pubs and communal greens: we witnessed men fly, score, win and finally succumb – only rise again to bronze glory.

United as we were in expectation, hope and celebration, this has been transformed into collective grief. 193 people: in a small country such as The Netherlands, it means you know someone who knows someone on that flight.

10530886_10152178534526765_1868105408882735664_nThe reactionary outcry about politics and alliances has only been heard outside of the borders. The response from the Dutch government has been called careful and measured, with articles alluding to the country’s strong ties with Russia. Yes. True. Yet we have all seen the result of pointing guns, gung-ho sans evidence… Not that we have the guns…

Our allies with their own agendas seem keen to lend us a hand but they can’t make a move until we move. Is it surprising that The Netherlands is seemingly still?  I imagine that the country in itself feels sixteen million times over that what I try to express, unscathed and a North Sea away. For them there is no war-mongering and terrorism threat on the front-pages: just shock and silence.

Tomorrow evening I will land at the same airport that today welcomed back the first bodies of flight MH17. The timing is coincidental but at this time of national grief, I cannot think of a better place to be than home.

London Life

I’m writing this from a Starbucks, drinking tea of course, after having met up with a new-found friend whose show I am to see at the Soho theatre tonight. This morning I went to work by Tube, instead of bicycle because I had to go out after. Today was a half-day (to theoretically accommodate the writing-dream) but really is there such a thing as a half-day; by midday I had resigned myself to the workload and went for lunch (mistakenly getting an egg-noodle broth instead of rice noodles, the latter being superior, as we all know) before staying two more hours trying to get stuff done.

When I walked out of the office, I made my way to Soho. Walked past the squares with their stately homes and houses, the tea rooms, the theatres, the cinemas, the cocktail bars. I bought an ice cream, in my favourite place where they don’t use scoops but turn your flavour choices into ice cream roses. I sat outside and watched the world go by: lovers, colleagues, tourists making their way over the cobble stones. Friday afternoon, early evening giddiness in the air. Hotel terraces are packed with wine-drinking ladies in power-dresses, men with the top button of their collar undone: the relaxation and expectation of the weekend.

Called a friend to see if she was interested in joining me for the performance but she had plans but pointed me in the direction of someone else who might be interested before inviting me to a party later tonight. We agreed to stay in touch and play it by ear. One text message later and I got myself some company to see the show.

I made my way to our meeting place, an Italian coffee bar; checked Facebook on my phone and saw he was running late. Ordered an amazing coffee and sat down to write a postcard. Sipping my amazing coffee, I sat by the window by myself: once again looking at the people passing by. My new friend arrived and we moved because the music was too loud to talk.

When we sat down, we spoke about performing, about writing, about creativity and parental expectations. We talked about siblings, about travel, about feedback, about the importance of deadlines and moving on.

He has left to prepare for his show and the barrista tells me that they don’t close til 10pm. So I stay and wait, I stay and write, I stay and marvel at my London life.

The Correct Utilisation of the Bicycle Bell

After a month’s break from this blog and running ( 26.2miles really was a long run…) I break the silence as an urgent matter has exposed itself. During these lovely summerdays (yes, I am making a note of this in case I ever look back on my London years and remember them drenched in rain…) I have been taking my bike to work. I am very lucky because most of my route to the office runs in fact past the canal and is not shared with cars. It is however shared with pedestrians, kids on scooters, dog-walkers, wheelchair-riders and canal pub drinkers.

Cyclist, we have one, one!, ‘weapon’ in our arsenal: this is the Bicycle Bell. It looks like this:Bike bell 1

Or this:

Bike bell 2

The sound it makes isn’t very loud but when travelling down a quite road or say, hey crazy example canal towpath, it would be ideal. Now over the last few weeks, I have noted with great astonishment that the average Londoner does not know how to operate the bell. So here a short essay on The Correct Utilisation of the Bicycle Bell.

The purpose of the bell.
The classic purpose of the bicycle bell is to let other roadusers know you are there and you want to over-take them. Note: this is over-take, not under-take! If we ride on the right, you over-take on the left, if we ride on the left, over-take on the right. Road rules still apply when you are a cyclist! If you ring the bell I move further left to let you pass – if you try to undertake me, we might both end up in the canal and nobody is a winner.

The adapted purpose of the bell around the towpath is to let people know you are about to go underneath a bridge. Especially if the bridge is on a corner, it is hard to see if there is oncoming traffic and the path is narrow. Cyclists, this might surprise you but BOTH sides use this method! Which means: you don’t only ring your bell like mad while you speed around the corner, you have to listen for other bells. If it sounds ‘echoey’ – you know, like a sound made underneath a bridge – then for the love of God, WAIT before proceeding to cycle on. We might collide, both end up in the canal and nobody is a winner.

Timing
It is a little tricky but generally speaking: you anticipate. Example: you are on top of a slope, about to ride down and you see a lovely old lady walking her dog. She is walking away from the slope with her back turned to you. Do you:
A) Ring the bell when you are right behind her, so you all get in a panic and a fluster trying to coordinate dog, lead and bike.
B) Ring the bell as you spot her, so she has time to move.
C) Not ring your bell at all because you don’t want to cause a fuss, even though this mean you nearly ride over her dog and scare her into the water.

A and C are remarkably common… So in conclusion: dear London cyclists, if you feel very British and shy about using your bike-bell, try saying ‘thank you’ when someone moves over. That should balance things out.