First time out this year on the Mad Max trike, and it seemed to have developed an annoying creaking sound. After a lot of messing about, it turned out to be a loose bolt in the frame. Easily fixed. My own fault, too: it was one of the bolts that I had to undo to fold up the front cantilever for transport, and I obviously hadn’t exerted quite enough muscle power.
Since the good weather continues and I had a free day for the 1st of May, yet another NS walk: this time “Utrechtse Heuvelrug”, from Driebergen-Zeist to Maarn. Basically a walk in the woods, over the slightly accented sandy ridge that runs between Utrecht and Arnhem, and reaches dizzying heights of around 30 or 40m further east. Today’s walk was more in the foothills, changes of elevation just about visible to the naked eye, but I didn’t have an altimeter with me.
The walk comes through the village of Austerlitz, which takes its name from the “pyramid” (a sort of giant sand castle with an observation tower on top) built by French soldiers stationed nearby to commemorate Napoleon’s 1805 victory over the Russians and Austrians in Moravia. I didn’t go up the pyramid this time — last time I went up it, all that you could see were the tops of trees, and I don’t suppose it’s changed much!
This Sunday’s walk was close to home, and an entirely appropriate one for the day before Queens’ Day: the NS walk “De Horsten” from Den Haag CS to Voorschoten. The route goes past the queen’s residence, Huis ten Bosch, and the Eikenhorst estate where crown-prince Willem Alexander lives. Needless to say, I didn’t encounter any royal personages on my walk (although I’m not altogether sure that I would recognise one if I did…).
The walk zigzags around through a series of parks between The Hague, Wassenaar and Voorschoten, managing to avoid roads fairly effectively. Most of it I’d done before in the course of various cycle rides, but I did discover a few places I hadn’t seen before, not least the royal park De Horsten, which is very pleasant, although full of old ladies staggering to the teahouse on a Sunday afternoon.
Another very pleasant NS-walk: from Castricum to Egmond aan Zee through the Noord-Hollands Duinreservaat. More variety than I expected: open dune landscapes similar to those around Scheveningen, but also various different kinds of woodland and heath in between.
Egmond was a bit of a disappointment, although I should have expected that: any busy civilised place looks bad after a day in the country away from people. Oisterwijk last Sunday was nice because it was a quiet country town dozing after Sunday lunch on a warm day; Egmond today, was a beach village full of lively day trippers, all the trashy shops were open and the good ones shut.
I object to having to pay an entrance fee to go for a walk in the woods, though, especially when they are managed by a public utility company (the North Holland water board, PWN). I object even more when they provide ticket machines that don’t give change Their website is full of jolly statistics about the number of people they fined in the last year for cycling on footpaths or walking without a ticket, and how this contributed to the maintenance of the natural environment. When you see the huge modern visitor centre with supermarket-style car park (today the visitor centre was being used to market binoculars to birdwatchers), you wonder if they make more money from selling the illusion of nature than they do from pumping water to people…
This book was one of those chance discoveries for me (although everyone else seems to have known about it for ages…) — I happened to be listening to Nightwaves, something I don’t often do, when Daniel Kehlmann was on plugging the English translation. It sounded interesting, so I thought I’d give it a try.
If you haven’t read it, it’s a postmodern sort of historical novel taking as its pivot a meeting between Carl Friedrich GauÃŸ and Alexander von Humboldt at a scientific congress in Berlin in 1828. We see Humboldt’s adventures in the South American rainforest intercut with GauÃŸ’s more domesticated career as a professor in GÃ¶ttingen; we see them getting on each other’s nerves when they finally meet, and follow the effects of the meeting on them in old age.
In his interview, Kehlmann gleefully pointed out that he is being very radical in breaking away from the tradition of Grass, BÃ¶ll, Andersch and the rest and writing a German literary novel that is not about the Nazi period and World War II. Surely he’s exaggerating–I seem to remember seeing a few about the evils of Reunification somewhere? Or maybe he said that and it got cut?
More interesting is his use of humour, and in particular his decision to indulge in gentle mockery of a couple of the greatest scientists in German history. This is a bit like what Malcolm Bradbury does to Diderot in To the Hermitage, but in German it is somehow much more shocking. Diderot, after all, demonstrably had a sense of humour and would probably have had a good laugh at Bradbury’s book; GauÃŸ and Humboldt, in Kehlmann’s view, are unable to laugh at anything, least of all themselves, and this is precisely what makes them so funny. GauÃŸ sometimes comes over a bit too much like the absent-minded professor of clichÃ© — for example, when he comes home from a meeting and is puzzled to find the house full of mother-in-law, doctor and midwife, having totally forgotten that his wife is expecting their first child, or when he fails to notice that Hanover is at war with France. Humboldt is more interesting: a man of iron will and endless self-control, determined to impose order on the world, who is almost driven mad by the disordered world of the rainforest.
I don’t know enough about either man to be able to judge how fair Kehlmann is to them: he clearly cheats at least a bit. Most notably, GauÃŸ and Humboldt are presented at the end of the book, ca. 1829, as old men at the ends of their lives: in reality GauÃŸ still had 25 and Humboldt 30 years ahead of him at this point. Also, Kehlmann doesn’t really engage with Humboldt’s sexuality. For the plot and to contrast with GauÃŸ, he needs to be presented as asexual, physically disgusted if he has to touch another person. There are just a couple of brief hints that he likes boys, but no indication that he ever does anything about it.
But this is a novel, not a history book: as a novel I enjoyed it a lot…
I’ve been meaning to try LibraryThing for ages — it’s one of those things you are always seeing enthusiastic comments about, and in my case I’ve noted it for future reference more than once (Andrew Brown was already plugging it in his Guardian column in September 2005, for instance).
The main reason I held back was that I already have a perfectly good standalone library catalogue application (BookCat), with more than 2000 books painstakingly added to my database over the course of several years. I didn’t fancy the slog of typing all those details in again, even if the social aspects of LibraryThing look like fun — how else could you find out how many people who own Lord Berners’ memoirs also own Mandl on Statistical Physics?
Fortunately, it turns out that you can import data to LibraryThing in bulk, provided you’ve got ISBN numbers. I dumped all my BookCat data into a CSV file, created a LibraryThing account, uploaded the file, and left it to churn away. LibraryThing managed to find bibliographic data for all but a handful of the 1600 books in my list that have ISBN numbers without more than a little bit of tidying up. Very quick and easy.
There seems to be some delay in transferring the data to the public server, so the link to my library that I’ve added to this page may not give you anything very interesting to look at if you’re not already a LibraryThing user, but I’m sure it will be working soon.
Bear in mind that it isn’t very representative of my books–at least one third of my library is too old to have ISBNs, and I’ll wait and see how useful and interesting I find LibraryThing before I start retyping or copying and pasting details for the missing 600 books! So for the moment what I have uploaded is very much skewed towards recent publications.
I woke up early on Saturday, and decided to take advantage of the remarkably good weather by going for a walk. I checked the list of engineering work on the railways (if I were a commuter I should be really happy that they always dig the track up at the weekend — as a recreational rail traveller, I find it a pain!) and decided that the least-problematic direction would be towards Tilburg and Eindhoven. I found a nice railway walk in the right area, printed out the details, downloaded the waypoints to my GPS, made some sandwiches, and headed off to the station.
I got as far as Dordrecht, then the train stopped and we were told that due to discovery of an unexploded WWII bomb at Breda, trains were going no further. I could have gone back to Rotterdam and got to Boxtel via Utrecht, but this would have wasted the early start completely, so I gave up and did something else for the day.
On Sunday morning, the weather was still beautiful, so I set out again, on the same train, and this time all went well, and I was setting out on my walk shortly after 9.00.
It was a superb day for a walk in the country. Warm and sunny, but not unpleasantly hot; not many leaves on the trees yet, so the woods were bright and sunny; larks twittering away above me on the heath…
…and of course hardly anyone stirs on a Sunday before eleven in the morning, so the first part of the walk was very peaceful and relaxing. In the middle of the Kampina, you can really imagine yourself far away from densely-inhabited Holland: no cars, no buildings, no pylons, the only conspicuous evidence of civilization a few early riders and dog-walkers.
Well, of course, I couldn’t resist finding out how those fancy DVD boxes with round corners work. I must say, I’m impressed — normally I can get into any packaging within 20 seconds or so (excepting the cheese slices in the EPO canteen, of course!), but the Vista box kept me puzzled for a couple of minutes, until I found the little red tab on the top…
I’ve upgraded WordPress to 2.1.3 and changed the permalink format so that you don’t get “no input file specified” errors any more (I think the previous version has ben broken for quite some time) — perhaps that may encourage me to post items of short-term interest here rather than in the Random Thoughts section of the main site.
I came across a strange manoeuvre while taking a short ride on the Rotterdam metro.
I got on a Spijkenisse train at Schiedam. I was in the front one of the two units making up the train. Before it set off, a second driver got on the rear unit, and the two were uncoupled. I thought they must be taking one unit out of service, but the passengers weren’t asked to get out. The unit I was in set off, but after stopping at the next station it hung around for an unusually long time, crawling up to the starter signal. After a little while, a single unit, evidently the other half of our train, came in on the wrong track, stopped, and then set off again. We followed it on the right track. We were held for a little while at the entry signal to the following station. When the signal cleared, of course we found the other half-train waiting for us in the platform, having crossed over to the right track again. Our train coupled onto the back of it, and our driver moved to the front, the spare driver going over to wait for a train back to Schiedam.
Evidently there was some sort of problem with one of the driving cabs that made it expedient to couple the trains the other way round. Still, it seems strange that they perform this complicated shunting operation in service, rather than take the train out of service at Schiedam and do it in the reversing sidings there.