Klein rond gebakje

Literally ‘small, round pastry’  and this is the Dutch name for a cupcake. One of the things we like to do here is talk to Dutch people and language is one of the things we often talk about. On of the reasons we sometimes fail to make ourselves understood(but we do try) is that there are many accents and dialects in Dutch and in Friesland another language altogether. Another difficulty  is not knowing where to place the emphasis in a word. That’s the problem with learning a language from a book, rather than by ear.

We’re in Utrecht, (and I’d love to post more pictures, but WordPress won’t let me!)

where last year it was Utrecht Gay Pride weekend and the whole place was busy, noisy, everyone having a good time. Quieter this year, which gave us more opportunities to explore the side streets, some of which are real green spaces, with every house smothered with climbing roses, lots of plant pots outside and lavender and hollyhocks just growing out of the paving stones.

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Utrecht is famous for it’s Dom Tower, the highest building in The Netherlands. The confident and competently bi-lingual young guide, told us she climbs the 456 steps to the top three time s a day. It was windy at the top and I was sure the tower was swaying. It wasn’t though. There are bells and which need a team of 25 ringers to get them all going. There’s also a Carillon, which is played for an hour every Friday by the Carilloneur and plays automatically, on the quarter of the hour.

But the thing which really hit me was an exhibition of photographs in the adjoining square. Comissioned by the Rijkmusem in 2017, it’s about statelessness. If you are stateless, you can’t travel, marry, open a bank account or get medical care. Officilly, you don’t exist. There are 10 million people worldwide in this position, 3.3 million of whom are children. 10 thousand stateless people live in The NL. Some of those featured in the exhibition have since been granted NL citizenship, but for most, this is an impossible pipe-dream. The admin is too complicated, it requires the person to have documents which don’t exist,or which were left behind. And proving a negative, is always more difficult than proving a positive. So what is life like for stateless persons? Pretty grim.  Some live in hostels, presumably run and supported by volunteers. If stateless people  work, it’s in  unregulated jobs and of course they have no employment rights or security. Many stateless people suffer tremendous mental health problems. Unsurprisingly. So when you see people on the streets, here,  in the UK, or anywhere else, it’s salutory to think about how they ended up there (you can be born stateless or become stateless, for instance due to political problems in your country) and how slim their real change of having the sort of life most of us take for granted, really are.

I was therefore in more sober mood, walking around the city later on. Even in The NL, a place which I consider has got many things pretty much sorted out, there are problems and unfairness is built into some of the systems. But I couldn’t help being cheered up by the sight of  these boys playing football and later on, two little girls playing with their skipping ropes, on one of the side streets. I hope their future is secure.

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