July 23-29, 2022
SATURDAY 23 Paul Whiteley notes in the Conversation that Liz Truss wins the popularity contest among Conservative party members, but Rishi Sunak comes top among Tory voters.
📌 “If your life depended on it,” I asked my wife, “who would you vote for: Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak?” She chose death.
📌 At Anne’s end-of-term drinks party we heard lurid stories about Liz Truss and our former MP, Mark Field, and that the latest way to get high is to inhale nitrous oxide from an inflated balloon.
SUNDAY 24 In South Korea they put their solar panels down the central reservation of motorways, pitched to form a canopy beneath which cyclists can journey safely.
📌 Lots of reports saying Boris has Liz Truss eating out of his hand.
MONDAY 25 The imagined crowd surge at the Eurostar terminal in St Pancras became a real one as we arrived two hours prior to departure for Amsterdam. Being disabled can be very helpful in situations like this and we were duly whisked through the mêleé and escorted to our train by a friendly assistant. On board my wife swears she saw “Stanley Tucci” checking tickets.
📌 The Eurostar leg from Brussels to Rotterdam is a bit of a slog, so it was such a pleasure when a joyous picture from Sam arrived.
📌 Amsterdam is windy, and predictably full of militant and delinquent cyclists, cheese shops and wonky buildings. We found a “local bar” quickly and felt comfortable from then on and not too stressed about the measly number of coathangers in the hotel.
📌 Our hotel is right outside the railway station for ease of travelling to Basel early on Friday morning. Such areas are never in my experience a city’s most genteel. Beggars congregate, pickpockets loiter and cheap souvenir shops proliferate. And so it is with Amsterdam and our first encounter with local life was to amble along a human cesspit called Damrak. Not far, however, is a gentler area called Jordaan, which is apparently more reminiscent of scenes from the recently reinvented TV detective show Van der Valk, starring Marc Warren. We will explore there tomorrow.
TUESDAY 26 The No2 tram covers an awful lot of Amsterdam’s major attractions, if museums, art galleries and canals are your thing. A canal boat trip took us on a fascinating exploration of Amsterdam’s maritime heritage, then a stroll around the “Nine Streets” area of Jordaan in the western canal zone took its toll on our legs.
📌 Chips and mayonnaise are a thing, a big thing, on the streets of Amsterdam, serviced by an outlet called Chipsy King.
WEDNESDAY 27 The time difference is between London and Amsterdam is only one hour, yet it is causing disruption. Last night we lost track of time in a stylish American cocktail bar and forgot to eat. We ended up with fast food and the final minutes of women’s football on the TV. England beat Sweden 4-0 in the semi-finals of the Euro 22 competition. England’s coach is Dutch and looks like a female Sven-Göran Eriksson.
📌 The Amsterdam tram system is a remarkable feat of engineering in action. Except when one breaks down and it’s the one in front of yours.
📌 Dutch can be a surprisingly beautiful language. The word for juice is sap (plural sappen). Tomato juice is tomatensap.
📌 The Rijksmuseum was rammed with tourists and only the sharpest elbows were in contention to see the Dutch masters. My wife expressed a preference for Vermeer over Rembrandt, though Rembrandt did up his rating a bit when she discovered that unlike many other artists known by a single name (Picasso, Goya, Van Gogh) the name Rembrandt is not a surname. It is his first name (imagine Pablo, Francisco, Vincent). Rembrandt’s surname is Van Rijn. We found peace in two smaller galleries housing 20th Century Dutch masterpieces, which surprisingly echoed the best of British art from the same period.
📌 Nearly got run over by a cyclist so was pleased to spot another form of death while strolling the canals. It coincided with a big story in the Guardian about how many bikes end up in canals.
📌 We dined in a very busy Italian restaurant, Lucca Due, in the north end of Jordaan, which was a microcosm of Italian family role-play. All the staff had specific roles and one man, who my wife believed to be Lucca himself, smarmed all the guests but ran the operation, and his subordinates, with an iron fist.
📌 Germany beat France in the women’s Euros. They will play England, aka The Lionesses, in the final on Sunday. A campaign to have The Lionesses degendered to The Lions is kicking off.
THURSDAY 28 Amsterdam seems to have successfully made some kind of civil settlement with vice. The smell of marijuana is everywhere, but nowhere do you see sallow, sunken-eyed junkies or even bottom-shelf stoners. Sex working is obvious but also obviously regulated. As contentious as that might be, at least it is some kind of civic deal that allows a permissive society to putter along. Yesterday on Damrak we saw what passes for a police incident: one short, tubby man standing barefoot with his back to the wall surrounded by six police officers, three of them women, all socially distanced, all stock still. The “criminal” was talking, the cops looked bored. Nobody knew what all the fuss was about and carried on as normal. It was the least aggressive crime scene you could ever imagine.
📌 In the Van Gogh Museum my wife spotted “Alan Bennett” in shorts, mooching around the drinks cabinet in the cafe. He plumped for a small bottle of red wine and a small tart. We spotted him later in the room containing 14 of Van Gogh’s self portraits talking loudly on his mobile phone.
📌 A message from Stuart arrived and for once I never knew how to reply…
Hi there, u shameless hedonistic heathen. Just to report I’ve just returned from The Way [Headway] where there was much talk of your having moved to Amsterdam to start your new job as a window-seated mannequin luring punters off the streets to admire your pornographic silk-screen prints, including the ever popular Laars And His Banana.
📌 Back to bar Louis for a farewell drink and a massive bowl of cheesy nachos.
In the corner I spotted what I call a real-life still-life, which my wife didn’t like (“too colonial”). The bust reminded me of George Formby.
FRIDAY 29 The memory that lingers most as we leave Amsterdam for Basel is that its disabled access is appalling for a modern European country. The big galleries and museums are an exception, but most of the neighbourhood bars, restaurants and shops make no effort whatsoever. Wheelchair users, forget it.
📌 Far too many people on our train to Basel did not wear face coverings. And many of them broke into fits of coughing.
📌 At a cafe table outside our hotel on the River Rhine in Basel my wife swears she spotted “Simon Rattle” guzzling deep-fried calamari.
📌 There’s a weird punk bar next door to our hotel in Basel, where tattooed degenerates and random exhibitionists dance to bad euro new-wave music that never managed to escape Switzerland.