The lying-awake engine hands me a story


It wasn’t the dream engine because I was wide awake from 2:xx until at least 4:56 (I remember the succession of numbers) thinking this up. Much better than lying awake worrying.

Did I need a story? I feel I need to finish one of the things I’ve got lying around first before I can even think of starting a new one. The chance that I’ll actually write this is vanishingly small so I’m throwing it to the world so (a) I won’t forget it and (b) anyone who wants it can pick it up and use it. Please tell me if you do! I’d love to see it. And even if I do end up writing it they’ll be different anyway.

These are my thinking notes, without much effort to clean it up for clarity or consistency. I seem to have only a setting and a cast for now, no plot (but that’s usual for stories I think up). I’d hate to spoil the setting by having a destructive plot like many another story set in an idyllic village, and I don’t want a romance for the protagonist because she doesn’t want one, either.

Setting:¬†a remote village somewhere in Europe but probably in England, though it might have been Ireland or Wales. One of the reasons I’m not going to write this is that I don’t want to have to deal with Brexit, and I don’t know enough about rural Ireland or indeed rural anything to be able to pull this off. I’d much rather write in a setting I know either because I live or have lived in it, or because I’ve invented it. I thought at first it was going to be a realistic story and that “time stood still in [village name]” — oh, how I wish I knew [village name], I think I never knew it rather than forgetting it — was a metaphor, but it turned out that the village was caught in some kind of time-warp so that it had a village shop, pleasant pub, small school, friendly policeman, people who actually worked there instead of commuting to [nearest big city], et cetera. Sort of like the optimal microclimate in Tadfield in Good Omens.

It started out as “one of those villages where you can’t get without a car” but I resented the protagonist getting everywhere by car so I first gave her a bicycle and then invented a bus with a stop just outside the time-warp limits. Also, the cottage might include a shed with a dilapidated pedal go-kart in it, like the one I used to go to the supermarket on with my daughters on one island holiday when they were small (one daughter at a time, it was a two-person go-kart).

The protagonist: Jane Colby, possibly called Janet before she moved to the village and started calling herself by a more old-fashioned name. Though Janet is already an old-fashioned name! Her mother was a hippy who brought her up on her own until she died in Jane’s late teens, leaving her “with nothing at all except some awkward memories”. Jane is working in an uninteresting (insurance?) office job with few prospects, too much inertia to search for another job, when she gets a message from a [insert country-of-setting relevant law title here] telling her that her father died, who she’s seen literally never, and left her not only his weekend getaway in a remote village but also a decent-sized and well-invested fortune. First intimation of the time-warp is that the [law person] and his office are “like something out of a Lord Peter Wimsey novel, I was tempted to call him Mr Murbles”.

She goes to investigate Rose Cottage and finds it wonderful on the outside but horrible on the inside, “it needs unrenovating”. The only things she does want to keep are mod cons like bathroom/toilet and kitchen fixings. She’s seen a sign “T. Abbott, carpentry and renovations” on her way from the bus stop (or perhaps her friend drives her; I insist that Jane herself doesn’t drive) so she knows who to ask.

Just about the only thing Jane’s inherited from her hippy mother, though she won’t admit to it being a legacy, is that she’s interested in herbs and making her own soap and other natural cosmetics.

Other people:

Tom Abbott: sixtyish carpenter, married to Mary. He has a halo of white hair that stands out from his otherwise bald pate when he’s working hard or excited and defies any effort to pat it down.

Mary Abbott: (retired?) village schoolmistress. She’ll probably want to teach Stephen so he can stay as Tom’s apprentice instead of going back to school, where he’s very much out of place, at the end of the summer holidays. Tom and Mary may have grown-up children, or they wanted to have some and sadly never could.

Lucie: Jane’s best friend “since forever”, petite, French-looking and possibly partly French. Single because she can’t choose (Jane is single for lack of interest; this is a story with an ace protagonist, perhaps I should write it after all). Jane and Lucie have dinner together on the first Wednesday of every month and will keep it up even after Jane moves. Perhaps Lucie drives Jane to the village the first time she goes to look at the cottage. Engineer of the tiny ISP she runs together with Bill.

Bill: business talent of the ISP, “devastatingly beautiful”, “the most monogamous man in the universe”, married (now that they can) to secondary school teacher David. Both of them are friends of Lucie and Jane, and they occasionally all have dinner together, though not on the first Wednesday of the month because that’s reserved for just the two women. They’ve adopted Stephen and Claire from Haiti or some place like that with a lot of orphans (this is probably a reflection of a real-world gay couple I know who adopted two black kids from the US).

Grace: part-time secretary of the ISP, “now with the twins she’s going to be a full-time parent for a couple of years, you [Jane] can have her job if you want” but Jane doesn’t want, she has the income from the decent-sized fortune to live on and is going to do witching in Rose Cottage. Grace is probably from Jamaica or some such place.

Stephen: thirteen, autistic and dyslexic, very unhappy in school. Bill says “I’ll send you Stephen, he’s got it into his head that he wants to be a carpenter”, and when Stephen appears “from the bus stop, with a rucksack on his back and a toolbox in his hand” Tom takes him under his wings immediately, “when I was a lad like you I got prenticed to old [whoever], you can be my prentice while you’re here”. Image of black head and white head close together, Tom and Stephen talking about the work mostly with their hands, not many words needed. (Sudden worry now I write this that it confirms the stereotype that only boys are ever autistic, though Stephen is not a white boy at least.)

What plot there is: The time warp is centered on Rose Cottage. The cottage needs a witch to come into its own. Jane moves to the village permanently, after all she has little to lose in [city] (which I don’t want to be London, but possibly Manchester), and grows into that role.

What the plot needs: Conflict. Or at least something to happen rather than just exist.

17th century lemon sauce for fish


From a book I found in the bookcase when looking for something interesting to do with a sea bream: The Dutch Table: Gastronomy in the Golden Age of the Netherlands.

The fish itself turned out to be rather meh but the sauce was delicious. It goes with any firm non-oily fish; we intend to try zander (pike-perch) next. The recipe says “cook the fish in the oven until just done” so that’s what I did, liberally buttered.

1 lemon
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp saffron
4 cloves
salt and pepper
200 ml dry white wine
200 g butter

DO NOT SKIMP ON THE SPICES. You can reduce the butter a bit (I used only 150 g because that was the rest of the package I was using for the fish) without it being any less delicious.

Cut the lemon into pieces, rind and all (so you need an organic lemon and/or scrub it very well). Put everything except the butter into a pan and boil gently for about 15 minutes, or until the lemon looks “done”. Strain (the original recipe doesn’t say this but you really don’t want all those chunks of lemon and threads of saffron and grated ginger on your fish). Let it cool for a bit and beat in the butter.

The original recipe says that will thicken it, but I disbelieve: there’s nothing in this sauce that can thicken it, it’s all fat and liquid. Next time I’ll make some of the butter into beurre mani√© (equal weight of butter and flour, mixed very well) and thicken the sauce with that, or use an egg yolk. Will report when I’ve tried.

Before you add the butter it seems to be uncomfortably sour, but the butter will fix that, don’t worry.

Period vegetables: cabbage, turnip, carrots, parsnips, fennel, cucumber, or even haricots verts (very new in the 17th century). Bread rather than potatoes.




Last night, about 9:15:

Brain: sleeeeeep
Body: yes please
Me: okay, even though it’s ridiculously early

Spouse had gone to bed even earlier to accommodate his current round of Really Incapacitating Cold, but was just about to get up again when I got in. I said “well, then you’ll have to turn the lights back on”, fell asleep and had the usual kind of entertaining but somewhat forgettable dream (there was a cat in it, though. It was black.)

Unfortunately, I can’t really sleep any longer than about six and a half hours, except when I’m ill or much more tired than I was last night. So I duly woke up at 4:00, the worrying hour.

Brain: AWAKE! ::worries::
Me: One moment. (puts glasses on, gets ereader, reads the last chapter and a half of War in Heaven, tries to start a Star Trek book, specifically Spock’s World, notices that this ebook version has something wrong with the encoding so it’s completely without italics and apostrophes, deadly for a book with a lot of thinking in it that’s set mostly on Vulcan; starts Miss Pym Disposes instead)
Body: ::all done with lying in bed:: (I hope I’ll never get any illness that makes me seriously bedridden, because my body really doesn’t like being in bed when not sleeping*; when I have a bad cold I sit up feeling miserable rather than lying in bed feeling even more miserable)
Me: Okay!

* or doing other appropriate things, but not reading, and definitely not eating. Breakfast in bed has never appealed to me.

So I was up before five o’clock, wide awake, though I did some yawning around my usual getting-up time, between 6:30 and 7. Put the recycling out and noticed that the threat of frost hadn’t been idle; this usually means that one street I can’t avoid is scarily slippery, and some of the bike paths on the way to the swimming pool don’t get sanded, so I decided to forego swimming in the morning and take the bus to the Council of Churches meeting tonight. Cycling in the dark on treacherous roads is something for younger and fitter people than me.


Reading fanfic


I had a sudden urge to read some Lord Peter Wimsey that I didn’t already know by heart, so I turned to Archive of Our Own for fanfic. I opened about a dozen stories that looked interesting in tabs, after a several-times-refined search that excluded unfinished works, subjects I really don’t want to read about (like rape/non-con) and crossovers. Though that made me find stories that admittedly weren’t crossovers but weren’t Lord Peter Wimsey stories either!

(The problem with crossovers isn’t that I don’t want to read crossovers. The problem with crossovers is that they’re mostly crossovers with fandoms I’m completely unfamiliar with, and the reason I wanted more LPW was, this time, comfort reading; more time with people I know and love. One of the best stories I’ve ever read was a LPW/Sherlock Holmes crossover.)

What I’d found was, as I expected, the full range from “where’s my nopetopus” to “oh wow, this goes on my ereader immediately”. I also downloaded a 10-chapter story about the younger generation doing the detecting, which I haven’t got round to yet because I’m trying to read War in Heaven by Charles Williams, and that takes concentration. (May put it on my ereader now anyway for when War in Heaven takes more concentration than I can muster.)

One of the things I like about fanfic is that it explores parts of a world that the canon writer didn’t get round to, wasn’t interested in, or simply weren’t the things they were writing about though they can exist in the setting. (As well as things that can’t exist in the setting!) Sometimes I’m just looking for some juicy smut, but this time it turned out that the stories I liked most were about Peter and Harriet being happily married and solving a new mystery. I can see why someone would want to write a drabble about Harriet being disillusioned in her marriage after X years, but that wasn’t what I wanted to read. (Also, in another story, Harriet dressing up as Bunter and wearing a silver strap-on? Nope.) And sometimes the smut really got into the way: I’d have liked the story about Miss Climpson and Miss Lydgate developing a, well, ‘particular friendship’ much more if it hadn’t been interspersed with explicit Bunter/Jerry. Not “nope” so much as “but whyyyy?”

No links; do your own research ūüôā¬† Finding unexpected things is half the fun.

Choir interlude


Half the choir is on holiday, at conferences, visiting family abroad — Choirmistress for one, and also A who directs when Choirmistress isn’t there, and Regular Bass, and Trainee Tenor’s alto wife.

But we have E, who is here for six months as an exchange student from Belgium (an alto), and J, a bass, who is finding out if singing in the choir is for him, and Trainee Tenor himself (another J so I’ll abbreviate him as TT), and me. And it was me that organising choir practice fell to.

E and J can’t be in the service on Sunday, but I wanted to do all the changeable parts anyway, if only to give an idea how it goes (and for me and TT, of course, because we will be in the service). So we sang the troparia and kontakia in several different tones — TT knows the tenor part of the first tone, even the little variations from the plain third-above that tenors do and sopranos don’t; E sang the alto part because we haven’t trained her to sing the melody part by default yet, and I told J to sing bass if he knew a part or could make a good enough guess at it, and otherwise sing along with the melody.

This worked. And then we got to the Theotokion, “Protection of Christians”, in the sixth tone, stichera melody. And that we studied. The sixth-tone stichera melody is everywhere, and once choir singers know it they have a powerful tool in their toolkit. It’s one of those “simple but not easy” things, but fortunately all the parts were written out. I asked E to sing melody while I helped J with the bass part, and left TT to fend for himself with the third-above. Then, when J was halfway confident, I took the melody part myself and let E sing alto.

We were singing the sixth tone stichera in four parts!

Not perfectly at once, of course, but it was almost there, everybody knew what they were supposed to do and whenever there were lapses they were fixable.

This made me very confident, and we went on to the prokeimena, which TT described as “as soon as I know what I’m doing it’s over!”

We had the first and seventh tone for the prokeimenon, and the first and second tone for the Alleluia (which is, after all, merely another prokeimenon with the text “Alleluia”; the prokeimenon before the Epistle, and the Alleluia before the Gospel). I find the first tone easy, because I sang it for years and years on Good Friday thinking it was an idiomelon for that service, and I was thrilled to learn that it was just the ordinary znamenny first tone! But E said she had much less trouble with the second tone than with the first, so we practiced the first tone, and again, and again, until we could sing that, too, in four parts with some confidence. And the second tone. And the first tone again. The seventh tone sort of fell by the wayside, but I know TT can do it if someone strong-voiced sings the melody (er, me, I suppose. It’s my turn to read, but I’ll read the verses from the choir if necessary).

“Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia” was somehow harder than a full psalm verse. Perhaps because it’s not so obvious from the words where the changes in the tune are, though I could point out to J that both of his significant jumps fell on the “lu” syllable.

Then I showed them the two other things we sing to the prokeimenon tune: “Let every breath praise the Lord” before the Gospel, and the Sunday exapostilarion, “Holy is the Lord our God”, both in Matins. We tried those in the first and second tones too, and I promised more of the second tone next week (though A will probably be back, so there goes my program).

E thanked me when we were going home. And yes, I think I did well. I still have a sore-ish throat from my voice going all over the place, I don’t have the kind of range I was trying to deploy, but that’ll probably be all right in the Vigil tomorrow night.

Out of Left Field


Cover of Out Of Left Field
Ellen Klages, Out of Left Field

We read Passing Strange and wanted more Ellen Klages, so I picked up Wicked Wonders and Out of Left Field because they looked the most appealing out of the list that Kobo provided. I didn’t see soon enough that Out of Left Field was burdened with DRM or I wouldn’t have bought it from Kobo (dear publishers: DRM does not prevent piracy; it only prevents legitimate buyers owning the books they buy. Please stop). What I usually do when faced with DRM is to try to buy directly from the author — with one author I have an arrangement: they send me the book for free and I donate the full price I’d otherwise have paid to a worthy cause (last time I sent it to a trans acquaintance to buy stuff for her skin and hair). If that’s impossible, I tend to buy the dead-tree book and see if I can find an illegal copy to read on my ereader, because I do want the author to have my money, but I also want to own, not rent, my files.

But enough digression. Wicked Wonders is a collection of short stories — I’m not much of a short-story reader, and this collection is a mixed bag like all collections, from “okayish” to “oh wow!” (Most other short-story collections I’ve read have a much less positive average, so there’s that.)

But Out of Left Field. It’s a middle-grade book, and I wish I had a ten-year-old with English reading skills around (my daughters would have qualified but they’re more than twice that age now, and my youngest godchild is 12 but doesn’t read English yet) so I could give them their own copy and get their opinion, because, well, oh wow!

I don’t care about baseball, but Katy Gordon made me care.

It was hard to put the book down. I had the ereader at my elbow while I was doing other things, picking it up again and again. Wow, this kid. I have been the kid with short hair and jeans and an ambiguous name (my birth name wasn’t actually ambiguous, but easily misunderstood as a common boy’s name) not allowed to play (street soccer, in my case) any more when outed as a girl. I wasn’t by far as driven as Casey/Katy, though.

In 1957 I was a fetus so I can’t know from experience, but the writing seems to be very true to its time. I’ve read plenty of books from the nineteen-fifties, and this almost read like one of those books (but with the sexism and racism less implicit as a fact of life, and more explicit as something that’s not right with the world but is hard to fight, as a plot point). Katy’s mother smokes all the time! Which is, to say the least, unusual for a children’s book published in 2018, even if it’s normal for a kid’s mother of that time. My mother did, even with fetus-me inside her.

Also unusual for a children’s book: adults aren’t all absent or evil or incompetent. Some are antagonists, like the Little League letter-writer, some are nice but powerless or misguided, like the coach; some are just plain okay or more than that, like several teachers and librarians and Katy’s Aunt Babs. But they’re there: the author acknowledges that the world is full of adults, sometimes they’re in the way, and sometimes you really need them.

I was all set for Katy’s mother to tell her to suck it up, but instead she encouraged her to take a day off from school so they could make a battle plan together. “Girls in this family don’t go down without a fight.” Darn sure– that Katy’s parents are divorced, we learn later, is because of a political conflict.

Another good thing: all the women baseball players that Katy researches are real people, and there are little capsule biographies of each one at the end of the book.

I’ll probably reread it Real Soon Now, but I got distracted by the Young Wizards.

Baghali Polo ba Machiche


That is, Iranian lamb stew. Adapted from a recipe in the NRC (one of the few serious Dutch newspapers) by Abdelkader Benali and Sa√Įda Nadi-Benali.

The only lamb in the supermarket (it was too warm to cycle 15 minutes to the Turkish butcher and back) was frozen New Zealand leg slices, so I used that and it was excellent for the purpose. I’m afraid our lamb was a hogget, but so would lamb from the Turkish butcher have been, and anyway really young lamb doesn’t have enough flavour for this.

I was rather generous with the spices, used mace instead of nutmeg because nutmeg makes me annoyingly dizzy while mace doesn’t, and put in twice the saffron and garlic. I added the sugar to the meat rub instead of with the fruit, and put off the rose water until the end instead of adding it in the middle and boiling all the aroma away. Also, I noticed while cooking that the amount of water was far too much — the stew was soupy and I had to fish out the solids, not a bad thing on hindsight because I could take the meat off the bone, and reduce the liquid to about a quarter — so I’m changing that in the writeup. (Note that the amounts in the recipe below are already mine; if you want the original you can easily reverse-engineer or if you can read Dutch look it up on the newspaper site.)

This is what worked for me. Something else may work for you.

Not counting marinating time, this takes at least 3 hours, possibly longer if your meat is on the tough side, but most of it is just simmering so you can go away and do something else.

According to the Benalis, if you don’t want meat you can replace it by okra or broad beans. I don’t think either will make a good replacement for technical reasons — the long stewing does something with the overall taste, not just with the meat — but I do want to try broad beans with this seasoning. And if I can ever get goat meat again, I’ll try this recipe on that as well.

Stage 1

about 750g lamb (or goat), pretty much any cut will do but preferably with bones in
1 heaped tsp ground cardamom
1 heaped tsp ground cinnamon
1 heaped tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp mace or nutmeg (it tends to dominate)
1 tsp cane sugar

Mix all the spices and the sugar and rub the meat with it all over. Cover and refrigerate, preferably overnight but otherwise as early as possible. Some meat juice will leak out; don’t throw it away.

Stage 2

a good pinch of saffron
1 lime, organic or at least well-scrubbed
1 orange, ditto
150ml hot water

The original recipe says “fill a large glass with 150ml hot water” but of course a large glass would be only half full then; I’ve taken it to mean “don’t put the water in too small a vessel because the lime and orange juice need to fit in too” and used my glass 1/2 litre measuring jug. I have a nice hoard of Spanish saffron but if you can only get it in those ridiculously tiny paper packets you need two of them.

Soak the saffron in the hot water, add the zest and juice of the lime and orange (the easiest way is to grate the zest off the fruit right into the jug with a small hand grater and then squeeze the fruit). Stir, and let it stand while you do the next stage.

Stage 3

the marinated meat
olive oil
1 medium to large onion, cut fairly small
3-6 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
12 sprigs of fresh thyme

Cover the bottom of a wide, thick-bottomed pan with olive oil and let it get properly hot. Brown each piece of meat separately and put it back into the marinating bowl. Then fry the onion, garlic, bay leaves and thyme in the same fat until the onion begins to colour. Put all the meat back in and sprinkle with salt.

Stage 4

about 450ml tepid water

Add the saffron/juice mixture to the pan. Swish tepid water in the marinating bowl (hot water would make the protein in the leaked-out meat juice congeal immediately, cold water would impede the initial stewing) and add to the pan as well. The liquid should barely cover the meat. Add some more water if you’re concerned, you can always reduce it later. Bring to a tentative boil, reduce the heat to very low and forget the whole thing for an hour or so. If you happen to pass the stove, you can turn the meat and put the bottom pieces on top.

Stage 5

a small handful of raisins
6-8 prunes

Wash the raisins, cut the prunes up coarsely. Add to the pan and stir in. Leave it on very low heat for another hour or more, turning the meat occasionally. It’s ready when the meat falls off the bones.

Stage 6

1 tbsp rose water

Take the pan off the heat. Fish the solids out with a slotted spoon. If there’s a lot of liquid left and/or it’s very thin, reduce it on high heat until it starts to thicken.

Sort the solids into edible (meat, fruit) and inedible (bones, spent bay leaves and thyme, fatty bits you don’t want to eat) and put the edible parts back into the (possibly reduced) sauce.

At this point you can abandon it until you’re almost ready to eat, and cook fragrant rice (either pandan rice or ordinary rice steamed with a stick of cinnamon and a couple of cardamom pods) and any vegetables you like.

Reheat the stew if necessary. Taste to determine whether it needs more salt or sugar or lime juice, and add rose water just before serving.




Part 2 of the Hans Brinker repost, with the names deconstruction.

If you’re actually using this page as a resource –I decided to split the blog post in two when I suddenly realised that some people might want to do that– please comment or mail to tell me if you’d prefer the names to be ordered thematically or alphabetically instead.

Here they are in order of appearance, place names as well as personal names, but skipping quoted bits of Dutch which also need copy-editing, because my command of nineteenth-century Dutch isn’t up to scratch:

Mynheer von Stoppelnoze –¬†¬†“Mynheer” is probably the usual 1865 spelling, so I’ll let that pass. But “Von Stoppelnoze”? “Von” is German, as are many of the names Dodge presents as Dutch, and I can only find Stoppelnoze as a German name too.

Hans Brinker –¬†¬†“Brinker” is okay, “Hans” is probably okay (slightly German-flavoured) though if he’s a peasant boy the usual form would have been Hannes.

Gretel –¬†¬†Someone told the editor that this was a German name (like Ludwig and Carl) and Dodge added a note: “Ludwig, Gretel and Carl were named after German friends. The Dutch form would be Lodewyk, Grietje and Karel”. Greetje would perhaps be even more common than Grietje, but Hansel and Gretel are called “Hans en Grietje” in Dutch and that might have some influence. Because she’s a main character, the name Gretel quickly becomes annoying. The first Dutch translation called her “Griete”, a more modern one “Greetje”.

Dame Brinker –¬†¬†I don’t know the 1865 meaning of “dame”, but none of the modern ones seem to fit (“the female equivalent to a knight”? “slightly derogatory way of referring to a woman?”) I think “vrouw Brinker” or “jufvrouw Brinker” would have been better. “Dame” means “lady” in modern Dutch; as a vocative it’s distinctly lower-class now.

Raff Brinker –¬†¬†Raff is not even a German name; it’s probably a faux-Dutch abbreviation of Rafael.

the Veermyk sluice –¬†¬†Probably a misreading for Veerwijk or even Vreeswijk.

Hilda van Gleck –¬†¬†At least she’s Van and not Von, but Gleck is pure German. Also, Hilde is more plausible than Hilda, but as she’s rich Hilda isn’t outrageous.

Annie Bouman –¬†¬†Nothing whatsoever wrong with it.

Rychie Korbes –¬†¬†Her father is Mynheer van Korbes, which would make her “van Korbes” too. And “Rychie”? Probably Rietje (pronounced almost “reechie”), or Riekje, or Riekie. Perhaps “ie” was too daunting for American readers.

Carl Schummel –¬†¬†“Carl” has already been covered. “Schummel” is probably “Schimmel”.

Peter van Holp –¬†¬†Nothing wrong with that, though “van Holp” is a very uncommon name.

Ludwig van Holp –¬†¬†Already been covered. He ought to be Lodewijk, possibly spelt with y.

Jacob Poot –¬†¬†Nothing wrong with it.

Voostenwalbert Schimmelpenninck –¬†¬†Er, yes. Called “Voost” by his friends. I’d have suggested “Joost-Albert” if I’d arrived on Dodge’s doorstep by time machine.

Katrinka Flack –¬†¬†She’s a flighty kind of character, so it’s fitting for her to have a gypsy-like name, but it still doesn’t ring quite true. And the surname is either German or English/American (Roberta Flack!), though there may be some in the Netherlands.

Meitje Klenck –¬†¬†Dame Brinker’s maiden name. “Meitje” will do, though “Mietje” would be more believable. “Klenck”, again, has German spelling and is unlikely to have been a normal Dutch name at the time.

Harengracht –¬†¬†Misspelling of “Herengracht”. It’s spelt right later on.

Mevrouw van Stoop –¬†¬†Normal, though plain “Stoop” would have been even more normal.

Dr. Boekman –¬†¬†Normal.

Laurens Boekman –¬†¬†Completely normal.

Ben(jamin) Dobbs –¬†¬†Jacob’s English cousin, with an ordinary English name. Also, his brother Robby and sister Jenny.

Jan van Gorp –¬†¬†Johannes Goropius Becanus, spelt right and quoted right.

Karel van Gleck –¬†¬†Karel is indeed the proper form.

Kathrine –¬†¬†Uncommon but not unheard-of form (see Katrina below).

Hendrick –¬†¬†May have been an obsolete spelling even in the 1840s (when the book is set): usually “Hendrik”.

Broom –¬†¬†May be a misspelling of “Bram” (from Abraham).

Katy –¬†¬†English spelling; Dutch would be “Kaatje”.

Huygens –¬†¬†Patronymic surname; “Huygen” or “Huigen” are Dutch forms of “Hugo”, but Hugo itself would also be plausible.

Lucretia –¬†¬†Evidently named after an Italian business associate’s wife!

Wolfert –¬†¬†Uncommon but okay.

Diedrich –¬†¬†German name; Dutch is “Diederik” or “Dirk”.

Mayken –¬†¬†Obsolete spelling, even for the time. “Maaike” is perhaps too modern, but I can’t think of an intermediate form.

Voost –¬†¬†This is probably not Voostenwalbert himself. May be a misspelling of Joost.

Katrina –¬†¬†Uncommon but not unheard-of form. Catharina (or with K) is more usual.

Jakob Cats –¬†¬†Only ever -c- in “Jacob”.

Lambert van Mounen –¬†¬†“Lambert” is completely okay; “van Mounen” is unique to this book though it looks normal enough. “Van Manen”, for instance, is a perfectly ordinary Dutch name.

Van Tromp –¬†¬†Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp would have been surprised to see “van” in his name!

Gerard Douw –¬†¬†did spell his name with -w occasionally (and even as “Dow”), though I’d only seen “Dou” until now.

Paul Potter –¬†¬†Usually “Paulus”.

Kanau (Poot) –¬†¬†Misspelling of “Kenau” (see below under Kanau Hesselaer), and a very uncommon name in the nineteenth century.

William Beukles –¬†¬†Bad misspelling of “Willem Beukelszoon” (van Biervliet), who invented the process of haringkaken, gibbing (thank you, Wikipedia as a translation engine!), a way to clean fresh-caught herring that makes it easier to cure.

Breedstraat –¬†¬†Yes, okay, but I happen to know that it’s been called Breestraat since time immemorial.

Rood Leeuw –¬†¬†Ought to be “Roode”.

Huygens Kleef –¬†¬†Another first-name Huygens. “Kleef” is all right, but there I’d expect a Van.

the Vleit Canal –¬†¬†it’s “Vliet”, which already means “canal”; cognate to “Fleet” as in Fleet Street.

Bilderdyk –¬†¬†The -y- is probably nineteenth-century spelling; it’s usually Bilderdijk these days.

Van der Does –¬†¬†Spelt right. Strangely, though he appears in history as Dousa, the street in Leiden called after him is called Doezastraat. (There’s a Dousastraat in Noordwijk, about 10 kilometers from Leiden.)

Kanau Hesselaer –¬†¬†Misspelling of “Kenau Hasselaer” (see this women’s history page, in Dutch).¬†Her name has some variant spellings, but Dodge’s -a- in the first syllable probably comes from her source. John Lothrop Motley used the spelling “Kanau Hasselaer” in The Rise of the Dutch Republic in 1856, which she may well have read. It’s clear that Georg Ebers (The Burgomaster’s Wife, 1882) and G.A. Henty (By Pike and Dyke, 1890) read the same book…

Lucas van Leyden, or Hugens –¬†¬†Thought for a moment that I’d caught a real Huygens (either Constantijn or his son Christiaan) until I looked him up by date. Anyway, neither of the Huygenses were painters. Apparently we don’t know whether Lucas van Leyden’s father was called Jacob or, indeed, Hugen. Lucas van Leyden is spelt right in spite of the -y-.

Harel de Moor –¬†¬†Either Karel or Carel.

Van Dyck –¬†¬†According to Wikipedia the name of the painter has many variant spellings, but for once here’s the most common one.

Fortunatas –¬†¬†From context, probably Fortunatus.

Mevrouw van Gend, Jasper van Gend –¬†¬†Normal, though “Gent” is more usual.

Quentin Matsys –¬†¬†lots of variants again: “his first name also recorded as Quinten or Kwinten and his last name as Massys, Metsys, or Matsijs (1466-1530)”. Dodge obviously picked the most familiar-looking one. He painted the Ugly Duchess.

the dockyards of Saardam –¬†¬†Saardam is the eighteenth-century name for what is now Zaandam.

Maurits Huis –¬†¬†This is one word, “Mauritshuis”.

Van Speyk –¬†¬†Again, the less purely-Dutch variant of the name was chosen (Van Speijk is the more Dutch one).

Geraerts (or Gerard) –¬†¬†G√©rard, note acute accent, is actually correct, because he was a Frenchman.

Louisa de Coligny –¬†¬†The correct spelling is “Louise”, because she was a Frenchwoman.

Van Stoepel –¬†¬†The name seems to be unique to this book, though it looks very Dutch.

Schlossen Mill –¬†¬†Looks German to me; can’t find a reference. It could be “slotmolen” or “sluismolen”, that is, “lock mill” or “sluice mill”, referring to a windmill used for draining the polders.

Janzoon Kolp –¬†¬†“Janzoon” is a patronymic and can’t be used as a stand-alone name. He should have been called “Jan Janzoon Kolp” at the very least. Kolp is a rare, but existing Dutch surname.

Kate Wouters –¬†¬†“Kate” is the English form; Dutch would be “Kaat” or “Kaatje”. Wouters is perfectly ordinary.

Vollenhoven –¬†¬†Dutch noble name, usually preceded by “Van”.

Rip Donderdunck –¬†¬†Absolutely a made-up name, nothing Dutch about it.

Voppelploot –¬†¬†Ditto.

Von Choppem –¬†¬†German-style, but obviously made up. “Van Schoppen” comes closest.

Hoogsvliet –¬†¬†Plausible enough, though usually without -s-.

Jan Kamphuisen –¬†¬†Ditto, though usually with -z- instead of -s-.

Saint Bavon –¬†¬†“Bavo” is the usual form. Patron saint of Haarlem.

Gottingen –¬†¬†Needs an o-umlaut, G√∂ttingen.

Gerard and Lambert Boomphoffen –¬†¬†The first names are okay; “Boomphoffen” is outrageous. Something like “Boomhoven” would still be strange but much less silly.

And I’m not commenting on all the English names in the penultimate chapter, which seem to have been chosen for quaintness.


Hans Brinker


Repost from 2008; I promised some people. Will be in 2 parts: this reading notes post with some afterthoughts added that I originally posted later, and a deconstruction of the names. Somewhat edited (for instance the link to the book text now points to Gutenberg; it wasn’t there yet when I first posted it).

I don’t know what prompted it [ETA: a daughter trying to keep a beer bottle from squirting by plugging it with her finger], but I read Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates. And couldn’t stop reading it once I was underway, though it’s very dated (that figures; it was published in 1865) and it kept me wishing I had a time machine so I could go and be Mary Mapes Dodge’s copy editor, because she badly needed one. It’s surprisingly gripping.

Note that Hans Brinker is not the name of the boy with his finger in the dike. It’s a story-in-the-story in this book. That story is not, and never has been, something that every Dutch child knows; it’s only known in the Netherlands from translations and retellings of Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates. I shudder to think that whole generations of children in the United States had most of their knowledge of the Netherlands from this book alone. No wonder so many tourists arrive with serious misconceptions.

The style is uneven: pleasantly entertaining narrative with sudden outbreaks of lyricism (but that’s the nineteenth century for you) and expositions of history (ditto, I think) or heavily coloured accounts of Dutch culture. I won’t go into the facts I think she got wrong. Some of those may be things that really were that different in the mid-19th century (but did literally every man smoke a pipe all the time? and did harbour workmen work completely silently?), some may be because her only source for Dutch culture at the time was one old couple who had emigrated to the United States as children. That also explains why she states that there’s ice thick enough to skate on the whole winter: the first decades of the nineteenth century were the tail-end of the Little Ice Age, and the old couple may have remembered that from their own childhood.

She got a whole lot of facts right, too. The middle part of the book, chapters 10-14 and 16-31 (of 48), is a travelogue and history lesson, not really relevant to the plot so most abridged versions cut it. Here it’s obvious that the author did do her research. The Rijksmuseum and the Mauritshuis still exist, and still contain most of the things the characters see there.

It’s the wrong names –some spectacularly wrong– that vex me most, and I’ll have a shot at them. The most striking one is Voostenwalbert Schimmelpenninck: the surname does exist, but nobody except this boy in the book has ever been called Voostenwalbert. Ewoud Sanders wrote in 2007 (NRC, article sadly no longer available online) that Dodge might have read the name of “W. Albert van Oosten” written indistinctly as “v.oosten w.albert”. I’ve put the deconstruction of names in another post because it was getting long, and I thought people might want only the list.

There’s a statue of the boy with his finger in the dike in Spaarndam. According to this rather good article about Hans Brinker (in Dutch), it was placed there for the American tourists, who all wanted to see exactly where the boy had put his finger in the dike. Also, I recommend reading past the pictures of the statue in the first link.

For months after I posted this Hans Brinker kept coming to my attention by a kind of serial serendipity. Jaap de Berg wrote in the language column of¬† Trouw basically what I wrote above, prompted by a news item in another paper about President Obama: “as if he were a modern-day Hansje Brinker, able to do heroic work with one finger kilometers under water”. (Again, the link has disappeared.)

This made me look up the Wikipedia article, which turns out to be surprisingly accurate and complete. And of course, there’s a non-zero chance that the boy with his finger in the dike –if, which I doubt, he existed at all– was also called Hans, or rather Hannes.

(Also, a student wanted to quote my names deconstruction; recognition at last!)

I’m going to Akademy


At A Coru√Īa I did sort of offer to give a ten-minute talk at the next Akademy where I’d find myself, but I haven’t been following the open software world much and my talk would be social rather than technical (“Users Versus Developers”) so I don’t have the grounding. Not that I’d feel any more confident with grounding, but if I tried to get something together I wouldn’t have enough facts to please the nerds, including myself. I might try to make some notes if I think there is really still something to talk about.

But I’m looking forward to it: first a nice long train journey, then a city I’ve never been to before, and seeing lots of lovely people again (and probably a number of lovely new people).

I am down for the training in online fundraising and campaigning on the Thursday, because that’s something I feel I should be able to do but don’t know the first thing about (duh, that’s what training is for, right?). It might be interesting and useful, or it might be miles over my head, or it might be terminally boring like a similar corporate thing I went to years ago and completely forgot the details of the moment I left the room. I hope the first, of course (but fear it will be the second).

Mostly, though, I’m going to Vienna. We’ve got a proper city and museum trip planned around Akademy.