Saturday, November 17, 2012
Christmas arrives earlier in Belgium than it does in the UK (or USA) and I don't mean in the shops. Sinterklaas, the Belgian equivalent of Santa Claus, arrived in town today on his steamboat from Spain, where he spends the rest of the year.
Hundreds of excited children lined the streets of the city, many dressed in Sinterklaas or Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes, the Sint's helpers) costumes, waving flags and carrying balloons, singing Sinterklaas songs. Eventually, the much anticipated Sint Parade appeared at the end of the street and a huge cheer went up. The Sint was surrounded by his helpers who threw candy to the excited children. Marching bands played, cheerleaders danced and there were even clowns on stilts! A great way to bring a little cheer to a very damp, cold, grey autumn day.
The Sint will spend the next 3 weeks visiting schools and generally "keeping an eye" on the kids. Then, if they've been good, they will get a treat on his birthday (6th December).
In other news, thanks largely to the encouragement of my new Spark buddies, I'm still eating healthily and exercising well. I can't remember the last time I lasted this long! Still feeling motivated and chasing my next mini goal of 7lbs off by Christmas Eve........
Saturday, November 10, 2012
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Flanders is not a huge place so as I’m living here I felt a need to take a trip to Ypres to see for myself the area decimated during the First World War. My great grandfather and two great uncles were killed in battles around the Somme and are commemorated at war memorials in Thiepval, Richebourg - L’Avoue and Arras, France . It was an emotional trip, to say the least.
Tyne Cot Cemetery is perhaps the best known of the Commonwealth War Cemeteries. It is the largest war cemetery in the world, containing the graves of 11 956 brave soldiers (UK 8962, Canada 1011, Australia 1369, New Zealand 520, South Africa 90, Germany 4). In addition, huge memorial walls list the names of a further 35 000 men missing in action whose remains have never been found. A place of stunning beauty and great tragedy, it was a sobering and humbling experience for me to witness the row after row after row of simple white headstones standing to attention, marking the final resting place of men taken well before their time.
I was moved by the large number of tombstones of unidentified soldiers inscribed simply “Known unto God”. These make up 70% of the graves. There were also some fairly new graves. The area is still yielding up human remains, which are sent to Scotland for identification before being returned for internment with full military honours.
When you read some of the engravings and try to visualise the conflicts and struggles faced by the troops, you cannot help but feel a great sadness at the sacrifice made by so many. It is extremely overwhelming, the atmosphere emphasised by loud speakers relaying the haunting voice of a young girl who continuously reads the roll call and ages of the soldiers buried there. I was moved to tears.
I hope that one day people the world over will enjoy the sense of peace that we’re blessed to live with now and that all soldiers fighting wars abroad will be brought home safely to their families.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Friday, November 09, 2012
This week hasn't gone strictly to plan regarding the diet/exercise. My lovely son has been over visiting. Like many teenagers, he's not too keen on walking for walking's sake and I've not felt like going off to the gym and leaving him sitting home alone. So I've sacrificed some exercise hours for his company. I've stuck to the healthy eating side of things fairly well - except for the slice of his birthday cake that I allowed myself to indulge in yesterday. The actual slice of cake wasn't too bad - it was the "licking the bowl" calories that I managed to consume whilst making the cake that did the damage! He goes home tomorrow so I'll be strictly back on track.
In other news, I was out walking this morning and noticed that there have been some additions to the family of goats that live at the end of the road. Sooooo cute! 3 new baby goats, frolicking in the mud.
They brought to mind an encounter with an old chap we used to know when we first got married. We lived oop north in England, in Northern Lincolnshire. Eddie was the night watchman at the refinery where my hubby used to work and he kept pygmy goats (and rabbits too but they don't feature in the story). One day, hubby and I were out on our bikes, exploring the villages, when it started to spit with rain. We knew Eddie lived somewhere close by but were still surprised to see his head pop over the hedge and demand "Where's tha goin?"
"Goxhill," replied hubby.
"What's tha goin oop theer fer? There's nowt theer. Come in and see me goats."
That was an offer we couldn't refuse, especially in the rain. So we followed Eddie in, listening to him mumble something about "Goxhill's bin theer since time o' Vikings, it'll still be theer when thee gets theer - if tha ever finds it...."
Anyhow, long story short, I fell in love with Eddie's pygmy goats. They were just adorable. Shortly later, we left and cycled back home, deciding Goxhill would wait for another day.
The next day, Eddie turned up on our doorstep with a box.
"I've got thee wun!" he announced with a huge grin.
Hubby looked at me and stuttered "s-s-s-sorry?"
"I've got tha missus a goat!"
It took some delicate handling to explain to Eddie that, although his goats were gorgeous, we really didn't think one would live comfortably with us in our suburban semi.
The trees are truly beautiful at the moment.
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