Saturday, August 30, 2014

200 years a Dutch nation

WP_20140830_002 (1300x734)The Netherlands celebrates its 200 year anniversary in Maastricht today.  It feels a bit strange to say that: so many of the stories of the Golden Age (and a lot of the city-core buildings) are much older.  But the Kingdom as it currently exists started with independence from the French at the Prince of Orange’s return in November 1813 and his investiture in September 1815. 

We’re in the middle of a 2-year celebration of that founding, and the Royals are visiting Maastricht for a day of celebration. The Dutch King and Queen are being joined by Belgian and Luxemburg royals (the Kingdom was all one country uniting the Netherlands and Belgium 200 years ago) and the Federal President of Germany.

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Plans begin this afternoon with a musical fashion show, “Everything Flows”, in the Markt Square in front of City Hall.  A lecture on Dutch foreign policy follows (lending some balance?), leading to a lavish dinner and musical theater on the Vrijthof this evening.

‘No sign of favorite son Andre Rieu on the agenda.  But Pruvenemint, the annual food fair, is also filling the Vrijthof this weekend (and the royals are dropping in for a full ten minutes to sample the food), so it will be a busy evening in the city center.

The military has set up a staging area outside my apartment along Kesselskade, communications trucks and tents, armored vehicles alongside police and emergency responders. 

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They all compete for space and attention with the cafes, spilling tables out across the street and along the river, drawing crowds that security folks would hold at arms length.  A warm rain drizzles over the entire assemblage, huddled beneath tarps and umbrellas and eying one another across the glistening street.

DSC08178 (975x1300)I was up early to wander the venues, looking for a pastry and a coffee and a good seat.

It’s been an uncharacteristic month away from these pages, I know.  But I needed a vacation to focus on various bits of life that needed attention and to recharge my thoughts.

Thanks to those of you checking in to see what was up.  Business and life are going well: no major issues to report.  I’m looking forward to sharing stories, photos, ideas (and the occasional biertje) with you all once again.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Life in the UK (reprise)

Pass snipI passed my Life in the UK test!

This has not been an easy adventure.  The book is dense with information, and the practice tests indicate that the questions require memorizing tiny scraps of information buried in individual sentences.

(Try it for yourself here or here: it takes a score of 75 to pass, I generally got 92 or better)

I created a spreadsheet of key dates, memorized population every 50 years from 1600 onwards, drilled on lists of poets, sports figures, and scientists.  I know the dynasties, the wars, the battlefields, the Union and Reform Acts.

Each evening, I went down to the pub, drew a single pint, sat on the terrace, and drilled with the w.wezen by phone.  Distinctions blurred: Who used Proportional selection vs First-past-the-post (AM vs MP); What happened in 1215 vs. 1314 (Magna Carta and Bannockburn)). 

I started to waver, confidence ebbing…

DSC07878 (1300x973)This morning, I was on the road at 6 am to the testing enntre at Eastleigh, stopping only to sketch a diagram of English History from memory, then drill on Authors works and Olympic athletes.  Head filled, I joined a half dozen others tight-lipped aspirants in the county building.

Everyone on staff was very friendly and encouraging, especially to those repeating for a second or third time.  IDs were checked, residence verified, and we had a quick scan for any electronic devices.  We were each assigned to a computer and given a quick practice test.  Then, off we went: 45 minutes to answer 24 multiple choice questions.

I was done in 5 minutes, yet was the 4th to finish.

The test was easier than expected: heavier on judicial questions, lighter on history than expected.  I only hesitated on a question about individual registration for electoral roles (only required in Ireland) and whether DSC07863 (929x1300)police complaints must be made to the Chief Constable in writing (credible, but unlikely).

Otherwise, my study had prepared me for knowing the distinction between Great Britain and the United Kingdom (Ireland), England’s official flower (rose), and the attackers of 1588 (the Spanish armada). 

Even the time and place seemed easier than they could be (The Bill of Rights of 1689 transferred power from the king to the parliament or from the parliament to the king?)

Another wait and I reached my exit interview: the computer said that I passed (without telling me my score: the clerk was apologetic about not being able to say which , if any, questions I’d missed). There was a printed, stamped, signed certificate and a handshake, a big smile.  On the way out, I donated my book to others who might need it: it seemed a fitting conclusion to pass along a bit of (heavily annotated) luck.

In the end, it as ass much a test of desire and belief as of facts and customs.  Would I put in the work to learn the material; would I accept this version of history and culture?  (The US, for example, doesn’t figure at all in British versions of WWI or WWII.)

The qualification gives me the right to seek Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) or Dual Citizenship, ‘next stop is my immigration advisor and to see if we can get this done.

But if really feels good to have this one over.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Morning in Sandbanks

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