Locale revisited


So I thought I’d solved my Firefox language problems, but then I clicked on the empty-tab page. And that was still in Dutch.

firefox new tab page in DutchI did some more wailing on Mastodon, which duly crossed the bridge to Twitter, where a helpful soul on the Firefox support team picked it up.

That looked very much like the support person misunderstanding me completely, but fortunately I refrained from saying “please read before you mansplain” and said this instead:

(I’ll stop trying to conquer Twitter’s embed function and just give the text instead)

Me: My language for Firefox is English. The problem isn’t that I don’t know how to make it use Dutch, but I didn’t know how to STOP it using Dutch. Removing the locale with apt-purge solved that, except mysteriously for the New Tab tab.

MkII: Try a refresh: [link]

Me: That will also destroy my plugin settings, right? I’d rather not do that if I can help it. (Anyway, now I have the menus in English, which is what I wanted.)

MkII: Everything will be backed up in a folder on the desktop called ‘Old Firefox Data’

(So that was what the mysterious Old Firefox Data folder was that I found on the old laptop! I must have done a refresh and forgotten about it completely because I never used the Desktop folder.)

Me: But will that make the New Tab tab forget Dutch, too? (That’s LITERALLY the only thing I want, so if it doesn’t do that I don’t want the hassle)

MkII: It will reset all settings and preferences to default, so yeah it should.

Me: But the default (= what it did before I changed anything at all on the new install on the new computer) was to use Dutch, and that’s what I don’t want! (I do want en-BR, and it would remove that too)

(yes, I typed en-BR, which should of course have been en-GB; thanks, @bellinghman)

MkII: Do you have anything in about:addons?

Yes, I do, in fact: various blockers and the wonderful thing that replaces photos of obnoxious public figures with kittens. There’s no twitter record of me telling that to MkII so perhaps I didn’t, or else twitter lost it (both are equally likely). None of those are likely to do anything to change language preferences, but checking it does make me notice another thing:

Me: And on the extensions page, Privacy Badger and uBlock Origin talk to me in Dutch and the other stuff in English. Curiouser and curiouser.

MkII: What is your locale set to?

Me: I removed any reference to “nl” locale from about.config (which didn’t help at all), then purged the locale files (which did, partially).

I think I also sent MkII  the screenshot of the “after” state (last in yesterday’s post) but that doesn’t seem to have left a trace either.

Then it occurred to me that I might as well try to set all my system locale to en-GB to see what would happen. Scrolling through the list looking for B-for-Britain, and then G-for-Great, found en-BE and en-FI settings, obviously for Belgians and Finns who want their computer in English! That meant there was likely to be en-NL as well, and indeed there was. (Also exciting things like Irish — but not Welsh — and West Frisian. If I was a native speaker of an actual minority language I might even want to have my system in that, but somehow Dutch on a computer always looks to me like it’s been dumbed down.)

I set everything to en-NL. And that solved all my problems.

I did remember to thank MkII, after I’d already told them not to spend more time on it unless they were intrigued, because it was a mystery rather than an annoyance now:

Firefox’ locale information has gone even weirder, though:

What the bleep, Firefox?


I thought I’d changed all the system settings: set the system language to en-GB and the fallback language to en-US, kept all the locale settings Netherlands (after all I want the right timezone, money format, etcetera) except Time-and-Date. But Firefox was partly in Dutch. I tried to find a language setting in Preferences but all that does is serve web pages in your preferred language if several versions exist.

Then Kubuntu asked me if I wanted to install some additional language settings. Well, why not?

That caused Firefox to be completely in Dutch.

Now I’m absolutely bilingual, so much that I sometimes don’t even notice what language I’m reading something in, but an application interface is something else: if it’s a different term I have to do an extra translation step, or even guess what it means. It doesn’t help that Firefox’ Dutch translation is clunky, awkward Dutch — or perhaps that’s just a general characteristic of Dutch interface language.

I searched. And got several answers to “how do I get Firefox to serve me webpages in my language?” and “how do I cause Firefox to not be in English”?

I got into about:config, disregarding its dire warning which somehow sounded more ominous in Dutch, and set general.useragent.locale to en-GB. No change. Reboot, in case it would need that to take. No change.

Trying to find something –anything!– that would help I stumbled on Troubleshooting, or rather Problemen oplossen, in the Tools menu (don’t remember what that was called in Dutch) and found this:

Ah, right, that would do it. But I had no way to change any of them (except Standaardlocale, which is likely the already changed general.useragent.locale). This being in Dutch made it hard to search too, but a kind Canadian soul on Mastodon sent me their version:

Now I can search. People on stackexchange acknowledge that the problem exists and say it’s a bug. But someone has a solution that can’t fail to work:

sudo apt-get purge firefox-locale-*

Which would be going a bit too far, because it would purge en-GB too! So:

sudo apt-get purge firefox-locale-nl

Tada! Firefox is in English again. And if I would ever want it in Dutch I could just apt-get install the locale back now I know what it’s called.

Check in the troubleshooting menu:

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen


Monday mid-afternoon the doorbell rang. LAPTOP!

First impression: oh wow. Wonderful, wonderful non-reflecting screen (which was just about the only gripe I had with the dear little old Helix: one doesn’t want to stare oneself in the face all the time while writing). Decent Lenovo keyboard. Matte black case that’s just asking to have a huge Kiki sticker stuck on it.

It started Windows 10, of course. The first thing I did was disable Cortana. Computers shouldn’t talk, and preferably not listen either. After all, it’s not Star Wars, I can read and type. Then I got as far as the “select your country” menu and asked Spouse “I don’t have to do this, do I? It’s not as if I’ll ever want to run Windows 10”. Now if it was Windows 8… probably the least exasperating version of Windows since 3.11. “No, of course you don’t,” he said.

The second thing I did was reboot with an OpenSUSE (they change their capitalisation every couple of years, I wonder what’s next) USB stick in the slot.


When I pressed Enter at startup where it says “press Enter to change boot options” or something like that, it did see the USB stick but I couldn’t select it in the menu: it kept booting into Windows. There was nothing for it but to finish the Windows install and choose “boot from a different device” in the advanced settings (Spouse had seen all of this before, I don’t think I could have figured it out on my own.)

Spouse went out for half an hour while I kept trying. Several episodes in which I was late to press Enter, or hit a wrong key, and booted into Windows again. When I got back into the boot menu, it could still see the USB stick and I still couldn’t select it. When Spouse came back I was on the tenth try. He went and googled: yes, other people had had the same problem! Apparently the boot loader couldn’t handle a 16GB USB stick. He did have a 4GB USB stick, with Neon on it, and yes, it worked with that! Not that I wanted to use Neon or indeed any flavour of Ubuntu, but any Linux is better than no Linux, right?

But! OpenSUSE has a web loader and that fits on a 4GB stick. Success!

Then I made a fatal mistake. I didn’t know it was a fatal mistake at the time, because I’d done the same thing several times before without any deleterious effect.

Rather than giving Windows a little box to kick its heels in, I completely destroyed it. “There is another operating system on this disk! If you accept these settings you will not be able to boot this other operating system!” Well, yes, if I remove Windows I will not be able to boot Windows, what of it? I’m not ever going to use it anyway. “Destroy!” I said, and clicked Accept.

Formatting. Watching the web loader fetch the other 4GB of stuff. Watching it install, slightly more interesting than watching paint dry because it tells you what it’s doing. “Remove the installation media and press Enter.”

I removed the USB stick and pressed Enter.

Nothing happened. Well, something happened: I got the boot menu again. Without the USB stick this time, because I’d removed it as per instructions, but with “Windows boot loader” listed. This time, I couldn’t select anything. And, of course, because I’d just destroyed Windows I couldn’t boot Windows.

Spouse took over from this point because he’d solved similar problems before. Tweak BIOS settings (no effect; I’d tried several different permutations already, but he also tried the ones I hadn’t dared touch). Try OpenSUSE again. It installed like a breeze but still couldn’t boot. Apparently destroying Windows had also done something detrimental to the boot loader.

Not for the last time we considered sending the laptop back because a laptop I can’t have Linux on is no good to me, but I liked the thing and didn’t want a different laptop, I wanted this one with Linux on it! “I’ll give it another day,” Spouse said. “See if we can get an emergency Windows to put on it.”

Both of us had been too preoccupied to cook so we went to the Italian around the corner. Then we tried to get a Windows recovery image but the site didn’t recognise the serial number, or perhaps it was too dark to read the tiny dim letters and numbers, but I really couldn’t make anything else of it. Spouse got the laptop to bypass the bootloader by starting from the USB installer, but that didn’t look like a permanent solution even if I got one of those teeny-tiny USB sticks.

We went to bed. I woke up at 1:30 with a stuffy nose and a sore throat, remnants or recurrence of the cold that stopped me going to church on my birthday, tossing and turning with worry (I don’t remember what exactly I worried about, except that it wasn’t about the laptop), so I got up and did some more of migrating Spouse’s blog on the Helix — I may finish it on that because the workflow I developed for it depends on the touchscreen. Night tends to cause hyperfocus, so when I looked at a clock again it was 5:45. Going back to bed now would definitely make me oversleep, and that would have been awkward because it was Tuesday when the Domestic Goddess comes and wants to vacuum the bedroom, so I dressed in swimming clothes and went swimming at the normal time. That woke me up all right.

I came home to Spouse who’d managed to acquire a Windows recovery image. Without the serial number: the site didn’t know it at all, even in a better light which only served to confirm that we’d got it right the first time.. But the Thing still wouldn’t read USB sticks larger than 4GB. “I have a spare hard disk!” I said, a 80GB one, which I put in the cradle that usually houses my backup disk, but apparently that fell under “larger than 4GB” and it wouldn’t boot either.

All this time I kept a running commentary on Mastodon and people came with all kinds of suggestions, most or perhaps all of which were things we’d tried already. A web search found 2 people with the same problem and 1 person who had solved a similar thing on a different model of Thinkpad in 2016.

Spouse found a way to restore Windows! And restored Windows! I’ve never been so glad to have a running Windows 10 computer. Not that I did anything with it — I’d completely ceded control to the local expert. He installed Ubuntu 17.10, gave Windows 60GB, rebooted.


I’ve never been so glad to have Ubuntu. Any Linux is better than no Linux. And it was ridiculously easy to upgrade that into Kubuntu with the newest Plasma. It’s still not OpenSUSE but at least it’s KDE.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have moved all my dot files: the OpenSUSE settings, at least I think it was that, made several applications hiccup and sometimes even crash. But that seems to have got itself mostly ironed out now. I set my hostname to tylenay, not to any of the words for “Thing” in exotic languages that I’d contemplated because none of them were pretty enough. I changed my temporary password to my usual password so muscle memory worked again. (Muscle memory makes me futilely poke the screen occasionally, but I’ll get used to that, too.) I changed the background to the castle in Valdis. I went through all the settings and changed the time and date format to en-GB to avoid my mail replies having an English header with Dutch dates (which the last OpenSUSE reinstall on the Helix had caused and I’d been too lazy to fix).

I went to bed at a normalish time. I slept without worry. I woke up at a normalish time. Everything still worked.

Glory, hallelujah!

Free as in beer


Drinking the alcohol-free beer Stuart gave me in Berlin. Surprisingly nice, slightly bitter without the sickly-sweet undertone that alcohol-free beer tends to have.

Oh, and that laptop? It’s the new one. Running Ubuntu now, with Plasma on top (does that make it technically Kubuntu?) I sort of promise to blog about the trouble we had getting it to do that.




(Repost from 2008 but relevant every year.)

Here is a very good blog post about the Liturgy of the Presanctified.

First Friday. With the story of the Fall, one of my favourite bits of Genesis:

Genesis 2:20-3:20

So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him. And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And Adam said:
“This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”
And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'”
Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”
So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”
Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”
And the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
So the LORD God said to the serpent:
“Because you have done this,
You are cursed more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you shall go,
And you shall eat dust
All the days of your life.
And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.”
To the woman He said:
“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;
In pain you shall bring forth children;
Your desire shall be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.”
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’:
“Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.”
And Adam called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.

This is the New King James translation, which I usually like a lot. I have some issues with the translation of this section, though; especially the capitalisation of “your seed and her Seed … you shall bruise His heel” showing the translator’s bias. The Dutch translation I read from has the equivalent of “your seed and her seed; it shall bruise your head and you shall bruise its heel”, which is more universal, less prophetic, altogether more sensible, in my opinion.

But that wasn’t the point I was going to make. The reason that I like this reading is the story-shape, the symmetry of it. The serpent tempts Eve and Eve tempts Adam; when God calls Adam to task, Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the serpent. The serpent, poor thing, has nobody to blame so he gets the worst deal– not that Adam and Eve are all that much better off.

Note that Adam is also blaming God: “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” It sounds almost petulant. Almost? It does sound petulant. Adam, at this stage, is not an adult. I know I ought to consider the Fall a bad thing, but it did force humans to grow up.

From the earworm deconstruction department


Van de visser

Another Perelaar song. I have a special soft spot for it because Peter Moree and I used to be in the same circle of friends around 1980, and he came to my birthday party and sang a proto-version of it. (And brought a very delicious bottle of wine, actually from my birth year.) Lyrics from memory because I can’t find a written version anywhere.

Adultery (which I don’t like) but full mutual consent (which I do).

Een visser ging uit vissen zo ver al op de Rijn.
Hij vond daar niets te vissen dan een mooi maagdelijn.

A fisherman went out fishing, so far on the Rhine. He found nothing to fish there except a fair maiden.

“Maiden” is stretching it a bit, as we’ll see.

Zeg visser, zei zij, visser, wat vis heb jij gevangen?
Te Groenland op de klippen, daar is het goed vissen gaan.

“Say, fisherman,” she said, “fisherman, what fish have you caught? In Greenland on the cliffs, there’s good fishing to be had.”

Greenland? Not on the Rhine? Probably not metaphorical (like “Oostenrijk“) because Greenland was a popular place to fish (mostly whaling, though).

Te Groenland op de klippen daar is zo koude sneeuw
Daar bevriezen mijn handen en voeten, mijn hoofd doet er zo zeer.

“In Greenland on the cliffs there’s such cold snow, my hands and feet freeze there, my head hurts so much.”

Also suggests actual Greenland.

Bevriezen jouw handen en voeten, doet er jouw hoofd zo zeer?
Kom dan maar in mijn stoven, want daar vriest het nimmermeer.

“Do your hands and feet freeze, does your head hurt so much? Then come into my warm room, for there it freezes nevermore.”

“Nimmermeer”, as I said in another (now lost with the old server, may repost) earworm deconstruction, doesn’t mean “not any more though it did in the past” but “not at the moment, and not in the future if I can help it”. “Stove”, though cognate with stew, doesn’t mean “the stews” here, however bawdy the song, but “a room that can be heated”, possibly the only room in the house with a hearth or, well, a stove. This is adultery, not prostitution.

Stoof also means  “foot stove”, same word.

Maar toen de loze visser in haren stoven kwam
Toen begon zij daar te praten van haar getrouwde man.

But when the clever fisherman came into her warm room, she started to talk of her wedded husband.

That’s some maiden.

“Loos” means “clever, sly”, like in the song Daar was laatst een meisje loos, “A girl was clever” — not “wanton” as I used to think, because that song is about a girl who dresses as a boy and enlists as a sailor. (Nobody ever told me the meaning of loos, even when I learned part of the song as a child. I found out by myself much later.)

Wat heb jij daar te praten van jouw getrouwde man?
Mijn man is in de kerke en hij bidt Gods heilige naam.

“Why do you talk of your wedded husband?” “My husband is in church, praying to God’s holy name.”

And that apparently gives her licence to seduce a fisherman. Tsk tsk. Though…

Is jouw man al in de kerke? ‘k Denk bij de koele wijn,
Dus laat ons eten en drinken en laat ons vrolijk zijn.

“Is your husband in church? I think [he is] where the cool wine is, so let’s eat and drink and be merry.”

Cool wine and warm women, I suppose.

Maar toen zij daar zo lagen, daar kwam haar eigen man.
Och Here, zei de visser, och, hoe kom ik nu hier vandaan?

But as they were lying there, her own husband came. “Oh Lord,” said the fisherman, “oh, how do I get away from here now?”

Er, yes.

Het meisje was behendig, zij deed de lichten uit.
Toen sprong de loze visser van boven het venster uit.

The girl was crafty, she put the lights out. Then the clever fisherman jumped out of the window from above.

And leaves it to her to explain why she’s lying in bed naked among the leavings of food and drink, I suppose…

The dream engine sends a bus


I’d been visiting an aunt — I don’t have many aunts left, and I don’t think the dream aunt was one who actually exists in waking life. The house was the previous one we lived in though in a different town and much further from the station than the real house is. And this was part of the problem: I had to take a train at about 11, and when I got off the bus at the station I realised that my handbag must still be at the aunt’s house.

I searched frantically for a bus schedule at the station, but when I’d finally found one I saw a 170 bus pull up in front of the station, the right one to get back to the house! When I got on it the driver called me back to swipe my transport pass. (which I actually had! so I could have gone on the train with it!) Usually it lives in my purse in my handbag, but when I’m travelling it’s occasionally in my coat pocket, so let’s call it that. I wish it had been in my phone case in my coat pocket so I could have called someone, like the aunt to warn that I was coming back and/or home to warn that I’d be late and might even miss the last train, but the dream engine didn’t conveniently provide a phone. In fact I’d been thinking of asking one of the station staff to use their phone but I didn’t know my aunt’s number.

At the back of the bus a woman was smoking, but when I objected to that she ignored me so I went to the front, where an old man was smoking a little cigar! “You can’t smoke in here,” I told him, but he said “Yes, I can.” Then the driver came from the cabin (while the bus was still miraculously going) and lit a cigarette as well. I pointed out the “no smoking” sign but the driver seemed to think it didn’t apply to her, or indeed any of her passengers. “Well, if you’d like to sit in the reek of my vomit, just keep smoking!” I said — not that it was that bad but it did make me feel physically sick.

I half woke up around that time and tried frantically to finish the dream, as one does.

I remember a conversation on the bus — probably the first one, come to think of it — about taking a berth on a ferry on the day crossing to get some sleep in the middle of a long journey, “especially when you’ve come all the way from Poland on the train”, paying for the whole cabin if you could afford it or else hoping it would be empty because it was daytime — but that was no option for me because while I didn’t live in the same town as my aunt, it wasn’t across any significant body of water. I did consider a hotel, but woke up completely before I even knew if I got my bag back.



Making it worse


Today’s Gospel readings: the first for the Sunday of the Forefathers and the second for Daniel and the Three Holy Youths.

Luke 14, 16b-24

A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’ And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.’

Luke 11, 47 – 12, 1

“Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. In fact, you bear witness that you approve the deeds of your fathers; for they indeed killed them, and you build their tombs. Therefore the wisdom of God also said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and persecute,’ that the blood of all the prophets which was shed from the foundation of the world may be required of this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah who perished between the altar and the temple. Yes, I say to you, it shall be required of this generation. Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.”

And as He said these things to them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to assail Him vehemently, and to cross-examine Him about many things, lying in wait for Him, and seeking to catch Him in something He might say, that they might accuse Him.

In the meantime, when an innumerable multitude of people had gathered together, so that they trampled one another, He began to say to His disciples first of all, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”

We had Typika — Fr T was serving elsewhere — so the reading fell to me. The first thing I noticed when reading it through before the service was that “from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah” neatly covers everything, A to Z! But in Greek, of course, Z is not even near the end of the alphabet.

(Then I got distracted by the next bit of Luke, which has “Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins?” and I knew I’d read that elsewhere and found it in Matthew: “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin?” Buy four, get one free! And wondering why you’d buy sparrows in the first place, but Choirmistress and I rather thought it was to eat, if you can’t afford a chicken you buy smaller and cheaper birds.)

When I read the two parts as one, like one does in a service, I noticed something else: it’s perfectly possible to interpret the Luke 11 section as admonishment to the people who declined being at the supper. Wow, that escalates quickly! But only if the Sunday of the Forefathers happens to fall  on the 17th; otherwise it’s not by far as bad as the equivalent parable from Matthew which I blogged about before.


Rereading Elemental Masters (4)


Three books this time because I seem to be on a binge.

6. Unnatural Issue

This is the one I always dread because of the very disgusting villain. Isn’t there another way for villains to be bad than to be sexually depraved and/or disgusting? (The villain from Reserved for the Cat is disgusting too, in a different way, and that’s much more functional.) But when it’s good it’s very good. The protagonist actually has agency, though she doesn’t really seem to know that she does, and ends up with absolutely the right people.

I hate the original fairy tale (Donkeyskin) too, for that matter. Reviewers are recommending Robin McKinley’s Deerskin instead, but I hate that even more.

I don’t mind slow pacing, on the contrary! What I do mind is the Elemental Masters gimmick of putting a protagonist in a perfectly comfortable situation for 60% or even 80% of the book and then WRECKING IT ALL. This one isn’t as bad as some of the others, but it has the gimmick all right. At least the protagonist gets to learn to be a real nurse, after she’s been working as an unqualified but effective nurse for some time. I’d have been disappointed if she’d only (spoiler) married Peter Almsley and been relegated to charity work or whatever afterwards.

7. Home from the Sea

Stakes aren’t high in this one, but that’s okay. People on Goodreads complain that there’s no plot to speak of, just daily life, but that’s okay too. People just live!

I have a strong feeling that Mercedes Lackey used a pop-history Welsh folklore book as source for all the Welsh customs, because they seem over the top and pasted on at times.

There’s gratuitous sexism, but I can shake that off as “sign of the times”. It does say “the Club and the Lodge are closed to the fair sex” at some point, after Maya Witherspoon has already been admitted, but there are more of those continuity glitches in the series so I’ll just let it go. (Eager to get my grabby copy-editor hands on the series, though. There are worse things, much worse.)

The villains are, for a change, mild and not disgusting at all: the one on the land is just annoying and, eventually, laughable, the one from the sea seems harsh but turns out to be powerless against Mari’s intelligence and resourcefulness. This may just be my (current) favourite because of that.

8. Steadfast

It’s so good for so long, why does Dick (nice punny name) have to come and spoil it like this? In other words, very bad case of the Elemental Masters gimmick. At 74% according to my e-reader.

I’d like it a lot better if “Africa” wasn’t presented as one country. Come on, the Boer War didn’t encompass the whole continent! Name names, confound it!

Also, giving in to misogyny a bit much? “The man is her husband. He has every right to do what he likes with her, and the law will support him.” *shudder* Perhaps that was indeed the case in Edwardian England, come to think of it. I don’t want to research it.

It’s in the same vein as Reserved for the Cat but with much less magic — no magic cat, no supernatural villain — so I’m wavering between “much better” and “much worse”. I think they both need to exist, anyway.




Celebrating the forefeast of Spouse’s birthday (which fell on Sunday so we wouldn’t have time or energy to celebrate on the day itself) with a little city trip. We’d planned one day in Dordrecht and one day in The Hague, and booked a hotel room (a suite, no less) in The Hague for that.

Took a train to Rotterdam, where I realised that it was the Feast of Mizran (the autumn equinox) and we were in the city in the Netherlands I’ve always associated most with Mizran: industry, trade and shipping.

Then things started to get strange. “Atypical” was what we called it at the time, though in hindsight it was probably a fairly typical outing for us.

The water-bus site wanted us to be on the other side of the bridge from where the water-bus actually was, and when we’d found it we narrowly missed it. And the Erasmus Bridge isn’t hospitable to pedestrians. Remind me to take the tram next time — er, take the 7 rather than the 25 or get off one stop earlier.

A water-bus is ordinary public transport, at the same price as a land-bus (slightly over 4 euros with our chip cards) and gives a trip that tourists would gladly pay ten times as much for, and without obnoxious explanation. We saw lots of strange sights, including the replica of Noah’s Ark in Krimpen aan de IJssel. And more than one supermarket geared to the inland shipping industry. I love those “didn’t know it existed” things.

Dordrecht confused us by being eerily quiet. Almost as much as Malines, where we happened to arrive on Remembrance Day, but it couldn’t be that. We live in a town centre; on a normal Thursday there’s bustle below our window all day. It was nice weather — very nice weather — and early afternoon. The shops were open. Where were all those people?

We found a place to eat and sat down outside.

Piccola Italia Dordrecht

Piccola Italia

Real Italian. The pizza had a spongy crust, not the as-flat-as-possible as most other pizza places, and I think it was a regional thing though I wouldn’t know which region. It also came in two sizes, and the small size was a perfect lunch portion. Now the traffic was picking up a bit, but mostly because of Escape in the City groups, probably all from the same company outing.

bike shop Dordrecht


View from the terrace: large bike shop with puzzle pieces in the window, making me wonder if they had special bikes for autistic cyclists. (Not really. Just one of those random-decoration things that make one think there’s a deeper meaning, I suppose.)

The first thing we saw when we were walking around again was a board advertising boat trips. Well, we hadn’t been on the water enough, so we squirreled the information away (the next two tours were already fully booked) and went to investigate a passage to the water, the Dark Jetty (Donkere Steiger).

the Dark Jetty in Dordrecht

The Dark Jetty

It’s called “dark” because it’s the only fully covered one of the numerous alleys-with-a-jetty connecting the town streets to the water. Nice medieval roof-beams, under the second narrowest house of the htown (this is what the unreadably small sign above in the picture says, at least).

And what did we see there? A boat! “Can we still come?” we asked; the boat didn’t seem to be full. It was completely empty, in fact, because the people we thought were entering were leaving at the end of their tour. The boatman (helped by us) persuaded a couple from Antwerp who were dithering on the bridge to come as well.

That was hands down the best boat tour we’d ever had.

The boatman was working on his own, probably a hobbyist pensioner, so he didn’t have to conform to a corporate script but could show us what he was interested in, and what we were interested in! He even crossed the Beneden Merwede (or some other river, there’s a confluence of three right there, but I’m pretty sure it was that one) to show the cityscape from a useful distance. And there was a firefighter boat practicing with the hose, making a splendid rainbow which I was too late to take a picture of, but the boatman got one for his on-board picture book.

boat on the river through Dordrecht

DD Cornelis, with skipper Jaap

He’d got us so interested in the history of the town that we bought the local historical atlas when we happened on a Real Independent Bookshop.

Me: I should leave now because otherwise I’ll keep buying books.
Bookseller: I wouldn’t mind!
Spouse: Yes but we have to carry them to Deventer on the train.

Which led to a nice conversation about books, though no more purchases. The bookseller thought Deventer was as cool as we thought Dordrecht was, with the book market and all. But Deventer has hardly any museums, only a toy museum (not a museum that’s a toy, but a museum of toys) and the sad rotating exhibitions in the old weigh-house that purport to Tell A Story, but the people behind them seem not to be able to decide who exactly they’re telling it to, so they dumb it down so much that we felt we weren’t being taken seriously when we visited the current one. (Sorry, the language drop-down menu there has only Dutch. These exhibitions are obviously not for the tourists.) And Dordrecht does have museums, in spades!

“May I tell this story about the people who came especially to Dordrecht from Deventer?” the bookseller asked, and of course we said yes.

Then we just had time for the Patrician’s House, which we’d seen from the boat. Nice video in the attic, such a breath of fresh air after the inane videos we’d seen in Deventer. The view from the round room was amazing! It made me envious of the children who’d had this room as their playroom — just think that the parents moved out, to a house with a garden, for the children. I don’t know if they had any part in that decision.

We found an atypical comic shop: kept by a middle-aged woman, and with a lot of things that our local one doesn’t have. There was a beautiful boxed set that I gave to Spouse as a birthday present.

We found an atypical wine shop and bought a bottle of Macedonian red for the evening at the hotel. (But didn’t drink it until we got home, because we had a beer with dinner and cider afterwards.)

Back to the quay to narrowly miss another water-bus. Apparently it’s very easy to miss water-buses.

water bus on Merwede

Water bus. Without us on it.

The next one made us reach Rotterdam just as the sun was setting, which makes me want to take an early-evening water-bus in the middle of winter to see all the harbour lights. What we did see was the party boat Nehalennia, looking deceptively historic.

On the train to The Hague we talked about how splendid Dordrecht was, “what’s against going back tomorrow?” Nothing, of course. But first the most luxurious hotel room I can remember having ever been in. A suite, including a huge bathroom with a bath actually designed for two people.

double bath Parkhotel Den Haag

Double bath!

We shamelessly used nearly all the towels. And tried all the intriguing tiny controls, some for bubbles, some for water jets (turned those off quickly because everything made a dreadful noise) and some for underwater lights. We left the underwater lights on and lay in the bath reading for a while. Then the ultimate decadence: room service food (rather decent chicken satay with peanut sauce but far too many fries) which we ate dressed in hotel bathrobes. Cider from the craft beer shop on the corner — good thing we only had one little suitcase between us or we’d have bought far too much there.

The mattress was better than we had at home, but the covers were much too warm (besetting fault of hotel rooms everywhere, I’m afraid). Excellent breakfast but I’d have been disappointed by anything less at that price (32 euros! Each!)

And best of all, another day in Dordrecht. The weather wasn’t as splendid as Thursday, so it was a good thing we’d already had the boat trip and today was museum day.

Dordrechts Museum. I love this kind of medium-sized-town museum, with art as well as history, often set up by collectors and other rich donors in the 19th century. Exactly the right size: plenty to see but your feet don’t ache and your brain doesn’t fill up. Lots of wonderful paintings of families with many children, good-looking young men and women, and rich little kids. (One painting of a rich little kid I couldn’t see as extensively as I’d have liked because every time I got back to that room there was another high-school group being told about it, four times in all.)

stationery on a table (Dordrechts Museum)


Also delectable stationery in the shop, which I resisted.

The fish restaurant on the bridge was advertising a lunch deal, so we went in and ate something completely different. Partly because the lunch deal included eel, which we don’t think humans should eat if they can help it — there are many less-endangered fishes in the world — but mostly because other things on the menu looked even more attractive: Spouse had proper bouillabaisse, with at least three different kinds of fish in huge chunks, and I had the best shrimp croquettes ever. With salad made of 90% tiny root celery cubes and 10% equally tiny tart apple cubes. And once we knew that we could get almost every wine by the glass, we had interesting wines (one each, different but I don’t remember what they were) as well.

Then Huis van Gijn, where what impressed us most was the wonderful lighting. Summary of the Dutch article: they’re using special LED lamps in the old lighting fixtures, which come as close as possible to the original gaslight or candlelight. It cost loads of money but it’s absolutely worth it: it gives a very good period impression, it doesn’t generate heat that can damage the exhibits, and it’s better for the environment than other kinds of lamps.

Here’s a random bull’s head in one of the narrow streets.

bull's head

Or an ox’s head, probably.

We’d seen in the margin of the free tourist map that the Rutte distillery had tours with a mini-tasting, and it was actually more or less on the way to the station, so we thought that a good close to our outing. Bought interesting booze (alder-bud eau-de-vie, extra-aged korenwijn, pear eau-de-vie, ginger liqueur) and had a “kickass older woman” (in the words of someone who called me one once; she qualified) show us and half a dozen other people around. One woman wasn’t used to strong drink at all, and three others (including Spouse and me) wanted to taste our gin without tonic because we couldn’t bear tonic. Verdict: celery gin tastes better than most other gin I’ve tried but I’d rather have the juniper stuff.

We got home in the middle of the evening and ate the crackers and ham and cheese we’d bought for the hotel, and drank the Macedonian wine, and were content. (A)typical and wonderful outing.