Going Dutch

The first time we went to the Netherlands was to the Holland region. It was quite recently, 2011, and was just somewhere we wanted to experience on our way home from our main holiday down in Luxembourg. We spent only the weekend there and stayed just outside Amsterdam, in Volendam.

Once we arrived in Volendam, we started exploring straight away, and drove to Alkmaar for the first time. We enjoyed Alkmaar so much that we centred future visits around the city. I would love to go back there now, it should be possible but when I think of it, I just think faff – I haven’t even travelled to London since…


The second day, we took advantage of the Netherlands’ decent public transport system and took the bus into the centre of Amsterdam. As far as I am concerned, the most must do thing in Amsterdam is to visit Ann Frank’s house. No objections from the family. We spent the rest of the visit discovering that central area.

And that was it. Next day, we drove home via Belgium and Dover.

We enjoyed our taster so much, that we went back the next year. My daughter was at a Summer Camp up in Yorkshire, so my wife and I made plans to return. This time, we stayed close to the coast, but still quite near to Alkmaar, at a beautiful seaside hamlet called Camperduin. I gave up on my Dutch when I realised that even this simple name was just not pronounced as it should be (to this dozy Englander)!

But from Camperduin, my wife and I had the week to explore north Holland. Another day in Amsterdam, by train this time, fish’n’chips just up the coast at Callantsoog – we learned to ask for kibbeling, basically cod bites, but not cooked in the same way as in Britain. The beautiful island of Texel, a real step back to a more relaxing time. And lots of cycling – hundred km rides hither and thither across north Holland, I learned to appreciate both the flatness of the landscape – and the wind! In a week full of new experiences, we ended with a visit to the beautiful city of Utrecht, en route to the ferry at Rotterdam.

Texel, Vuurtoren Lighthouse

Our appetites whetted, we returned the next year as well. By that time, daughter liked to be on her own, but the promise of wi-fi at the holiday cottage did the trick. Again, not far from Alkmaar, again the obligatory visits to Amsterdam and to Texel. A festival we had found, quite by accident, the previous year was on again this year (in Schagen). All told, a very successful break.

Our last trip, to date, was to a different part of the Netherlands, the Limburg province, right on the border with Germany. In fact, there were big tank battles here around the start of 1945, and I visited a museum specifically commemorating these battles. This holiday was to a Centerparcs (a very overpriced modern-day holiday camp) and is probably the holiday where we saw the least of the Netherlands, because we stayed mostly on-site, although we did visit the cities of Venlo and Nijmegen.

The Rhijn (Rhein) at Nijmegen

Enjoying some memories.

Better Days

I’ve had better days. In fact so far today, everything that could go wrong, I think it probably has.

It started innocuously enough. One of the daily tasks in my getting up routine is to test my sugar. I posted about diabetes a little the other day. I mentioned the word test, but beyond that, I didn’t elaborate. I shall do so a bit here, and also tell you why it went wrong this morning.

There are various ways of testing your sugar. The most lo-tech is just peeing on a strip. The strip goes different colours depending on your sugar. As you can imagine, because you pee on it, it is totally painless. It’s also not very accurate. So most diabetics don’t rely on it. I don’t even have the strips.

By contrast, the most hi-tech is a full-on blood test. You go to your doctors surgery, there is a needle and syringe, they take some blood, send the sample off to the lab, and the next day you get your results. We’ve probably all had this test as part of a standard blood test, but if the value is in the expected range, generally nobody says anything.

There is a middle way, one favoured by most diabetics. It’s in the privacy of our own bathrooms, so there’s a big advantage straight away. It’s still a blood test, but only a drop of blood is required. Just like the image. You push the drop of blood onto a (nother type of) strip, and this goes into a machine called a glucometer. These things are tiny, easily fit into the palm of your hand, run off batteries, nice and portable. In about 5 seconds, the glucometer will tell you how much sugar is in your blood at that time.

I don’t know how they work, but it has got to be something electrical, because the machine is basically a circuitboard with a screen. At a guess, the drop of blood makes a circuit, they measure the voltage across the blood, and I guess that thanges with your sugar level. So they probably do a little conversion, and the number is on the screen.

Did you note back there I briefly mentioned pricking your finger? That in itself has become an art-form. I mean, you could start with a knife and cut yourself, but that’s way more blood than required, and way more pain!

So these machines have evolved where you pull a kind-of trigger, and they thrust a piece of sharp metal about 1mm into your skin! You know, shallow enough that you only bleed a drop of blood. But at the same time, that’s all the machine requires.

Now, these little pieces of sharp metal are called lancets. They come out of the factory sterile, and that’s just how they are intended to be used – a new lancet every time. But most diabetics don’t bother. I am the only person who uses my lancing machine, so I’m not particularly worried about catching something (new 🙂) from the last person who used it! So, the measure of when to change one of these lancets besically becomes when it gets blunt. Normally every month or so.

So, as you can imagine, all sorts of various finger-pricking contraptions have come along. They’re only really a bit of plastic, so every glocometer comes with one – the glucometer is the smart device here. It’s a bit like the wild west – every manufacturer, and pretty much every model, does its own thing.

And that’s what started the ball rolling this morning. I decided that the lancet was a bit blunt, so hunted out my stash of new lancets. It didn’t fit. Or rather, it did fit, but the bit of metal was too short to come and poke me. Even on maximum. You’re using the wrong lancet with that device, my wife says. I’m pretty sure I’m not, but I check anyway. So I raided a brand new glucometer. Fresh finger-pricker, fresh lancet. Same result. Thirty minutes of faff, and at that point the hammer came out – well at least that gave me some closure, made the outcome a bit more final! So, a big Thank You to Onetouch, for their totally shitty finger-prickers.

Not to worry, I have a backup. I measure myself twice a day, it is important so I keep backups of backups of backups… Basically, I take a new glucometer every time it is offered, and with every glucometer comes a finger-pricker.

I go to the bathroom to find the backup – not there. Well, it’s not where it is meant to be. It might be somewhere, but there is so much crap in there… So, I’n searching on my hands and knees – I’m never too sure I can get back up from there! In the end, I find the backup – some dozy twonk has put it in another cupboard, safe and sound. And, that dozy twonk might well have been me!

So, not quite midday – we still have things to do today – and all I really feel like doing is going back to bed.