Britsoc: The British Society of Amsterdam and the Netherlands. Serving the British Expat community since 1920.

Gemma White | Independent Forever Business Owner


Gemma White | Independent Forever Business Owner

Gemma has kindly decided to sponsor the Great British Ball, so in return we have agreed to tell her story here:

John Richardson, Zine Editor in chief 


GemmaMy name is Gemma White, I come from Scotland and around two and a half years ago my family and I moved to the Netherlands to start a new short term adventure.  In June 2015 we were to pack our bags and return home but we found that we had grown very fond of Holland and so we bought a house and decided to stay.   With this decision around two months ago I started my own part time business as an Independent Forever Business Owner.

I initially started out my business as a way to integrate and meet new people as sometimes as an expat it is not always easy to do so.  However, as time has gone on I have realized the benefits that come with having your own business and the opportunities that Forever provides and so I begin to expand my business to make a better and brighter future for me and my family.  Let me now tell you more about Forever and their wonderful products

It was over thirty years ago when Founder, Rex Maughan, turned his dream into a reality. His vision was to make aloe vera accessible to as many people as possible, and to help anyone who wants a better future for themselves and their loved ones. He says, “My aim is to help people lead a healthier life and to make them feel better.” A balanced lifestyle combined with the purity of Forever’s aloe vera products will provide optimum health and vitality for that ultimate sense of wellbeing.

With a commitment to quality and purity, Forever starts with 100% inner leaf gel, adding a fine balance of high quality ingredients to produce outstanding, effective products. The Forever product range is a testament to nature’s capacity to help us look and feel our best.

Benefit from the most potent formulas and high quality ingredients available in Forever’s Life Balance range.  As an example Forever Aloe Vera Gel is a pure stabilised aloe vera gel which is as close to the natural plant juice as possible, containing over 200 different compounds. This rich source of nutrients provides the perfect supplement to a balanced diet. Drink to promote a healthy lifestyle and wellbeing.  We have slightly different variations of the gel that target different ailments.


Fitness and weight management are key aspects of modern-day life, as people become increasingly conscious about the importance of healthy living.

Energy, stamina and performance are important to every fitness enthusiast, and Forever understands this. As such, we provide a range of products which caters to individual needs to ensure they work with your body to promote good health. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is simple with Forever’s two-step weight management programme. The Forever F.I.T programme combines a nine-day cleansing plan (the Clean 9) followed by a long-term weight management plan (Forever F.I.T.1 and F.I.T.2). A fitter and healthier you, made easy with Forever.

Clean 9

Look better and feel great in just nine days with this expertly-devised cleansing plan. Designed to kick-start the F.I.T. programme, cleanse your body and adjust your mindset, C9 provides the perfect starting point for transforming your diet and fitness habits. Based around Forever’s bestselling Aloe Vera Gel drink, this nutritionally-balanced programme will allow you to see real results in just nine days.  I have recently completed  the C9 and feel great for it.  I have increased energy levels, better skin and hair and as an added bonus I lost 9lbs and 8 inches.


Purity for skin and body – Forever’s luxury beauty and wellness range contains only the finest natural ingredients to leave your skin looking and feeling radiant. Using the purest form of aloe vera, these products enhance natural beauty to leave you looking and feeling your best.

Gently complementing the skin on both face and body, Forever’s range of beauty and wellness products work in harmony to create a natural and glowing complexion. Try Forever’s products from the beauty and wellness range for the ultimate body, hair and skincare experience.  Below are a few of my personal favourites.

Aloe-Jojoba Shampoo – Get beautifully shiny and easy-to-manage hair with this aloe vera and jojoba oil-infused shampoo. The gentle pH-balanced formula is suitable for all hair types and can be used to help replenish your hair’s natural moisture.

Aloe-Jojoba Conditioning Rinse – Contains jojoba and vitamin B to help nourish, protect and strengthen the hair. This pH-balanced conditioner gives hair a silky, salon-look finish. Enriched with nourishing oils and vitamins, it provides a great result when used in conjunction with the Aloe-Jojoba Shampoo.

Aloe Hand & Face Soap – Rich and creamy moisturising liquid soap, perfect for the entire family. The mild and non-irritating formula creates a luxurious lather to cleanse the face, hands and body on a daily basis.  I use this in the shower, as a hand wash in all my bathrooms and also for the kids as it does not sting their eyes when washing their hair and makes lovely bubbles!

Forever Bright Toothgel – Created for the entire family – as well as your pets – this gentle, non-fluoride formula contains only the highest quality ingredients including aloe vera and bee propolis. Enjoy its natural mint flavour for a taste that will leave your mouth refreshed and your teeth clean. This toothgel is also suitable for vegetarians since it contains no animal by-products.  My husband loves this product and is always telling me how white his teeth are since he started using it.

Aloe Vera Gelly – Essentially identical to the aloe vera’s inner leaf, our 100% stabilised aloe vera gel lubricates sensitive tissue safely. This topical thick gel soothes sensitive skin and has a cooling effect.  I used this during the summer on my mosquito bites.  I have also used it most recently on my little girl’s head when she fell off the couch.

Aloe Moisturizing Lotion – A silky moisturising cream – containing nourishing aloe, jojoba oil, collagen and elastin – that leaves the skin feeling soft and supple. This lotion moisturises your face, hands and body whilst maintaining the skin’s natural pH balance. Its easy-to-absorb formula also makes a great base for makeup application. N.B. Suitable for people prone to dry skin conditions.

Aloe Propolis Crème – A rich, creamy blend of aloe vera, bee propolis and camomile to help maintain healthy, beautiful skin tone and texture, with moisturising and conditioning properties. The Aloe Propolis Creme makes an excellent everyday moisturiser and has a soothing effect on sensitive skin.  Contains lanolin.  I have extremely dry hands and really struggle to find a moisturizer that works but this cream really does the job.

Prouct-range-2I hope you have enjoyed reading about Forever and our products.  There are many more to choose from but not enough room to write about them all.  If you would like to know more please click on one of the icons below:




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Footprints in the snow

By Maggie Holman

The book is a Christmas story with a spooky moment at the end, for children aged 8-11. It tells the story of ten-year-old Jamie, a shy London boy who goes to stay with his grandfather in the Forest of Dean, where he discovers local people searching for an elusive panther and meets traveller children who talk to animals. Jamie thinks he knows the forest well, but he gets lost in the snow after he sets off alone.The question is, who will be able to find him?

When I first wrote the book, I asked a primary teacher colleague if she would read it and see if it worked for this age group. She loved the book, said the students would love it too and asked if she could read it to her class. The students stopped me around school to tell me how much they were enjoying the story, and they also sent me a collection of letters and pictures when their reading was finished. Because of this response at school, I decided to register as a small publisher and printed a first paperback run, all of which have sold.

Here are some examples of the reviews the book has received:

‘As I read aloud, every student was incredibly focussed and I swear you could hear a pin drop. This is an absolutely beautiful story and I feel lucky to have had the privilege to read it aloud to my class.’ (Lyndsay Gregory, primary school teacher)

‘I read the story and there are some really great elements; the characters are warm and engaging, the locations are great and the interaction between the travellers and non-travellers feels rounded and real.’ (David Collier, children’s television producer)

‘Being from the Forest of Dean myself, I really thought that you captured the magic of it. It was very uplifting, engaging and a pleasure to read.’ (Suzanne Phillips, the Winston’s Wish Charity)

And from children:

‘I loved your story so much. My favourite part of the story is when Caro talked to the stag. I just wish I could do that! It might even be one of my favourite books. It was just so exciting!’ (Lola)

‘Your story was really cool and fun to read. I thought the idea of the panther was awesome.’ (Elliot)

‘The more the teacher read, the more I couldn’t stop thinking of it.’ (Lucie)

‘Footprints in the Snow’ has a new ISBN and a professionally-designed cover from the Book Beaver design company. There is an organised launch of the book between now and Christmas, which includes a reading and Q&A in the AICS library, a Goodreads Giveaway starting on 17th November, a dedicated page on my website and promotion via my Facebook, Twitter and Amazon pages. Kindle version here.

The price of the book is 7.50.

The book is soon available at the new Scheltema store in Rokin and the van Rossum bookstore in Beethovenstraat.

Read the first chapter
Download and read the first chapter. It takes about half an hour


Iconic food for an iconic ball

By Kate Murphy

“Don’t throw the past away
You might need it some rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again”

Everything Old is New Again, by Peter Allen and Carole Bayer-Sager

Michelin stardust over the three course menu

ChrisNaylorBanner5On a recent rainy day, I met the man who has been charged with making culinary dreams come true again at next month’s Iconic Britain Ball. Chris Naylor, Head Chef at Restaurant Vermeer in the NH Barbizon Palace in Amsterdam, has strewn a little of his Michelin stardust over the three course menu he has developed for the British Society’s charity ball on December 12.

Making 1960s food new again


The 1960s: cool food; cool women

At first glance, the 1960s doesn’t exactly stand out as the most exciting basis for a memorable meal in 2015. To my mind, the most interesting aspect of the food from the decade of my birth was the Bunnykins plate that I ate it off. How, I wondered, did Chris find inspiration for making 1960s food new again?

“The biggest issue I have is overcoming people’s perceptions,” he explained, pausing to check that I had understood his subtle reference to my own closed-mindedness. “I have identified some really interesting dishes from the time, but I won’t just reproduce them. I’ve tried to make them more modern by adding some surprising ingredients and building up the flavours. We also use different techniques these days for preparing food, and that changes each dish too.”

“The 60s was a time of massive social change and experimentation, including with food. The middle class really developed very quickly during the decade, and people were open to new ideas. They were freer to travel and so were exposed to different ingredients. It was a pretty exciting time I think. The first supermarkets opened in the 1960s too, which gave people even more food choice.”


1625_chris_naylorNostalgia with creativity

Chris Naylor’s menu for the Iconic Britain Ball combines nostalgia with creativity in a way that will surprise you and make you smile. In a different decade we might have even called it a psychedelic experience.

The world on a plate

steamThe prosperity that Britain enjoyed in the decades after the Second World War encouraged us to experiment widely, and not only with hallucinogenic substances and free love. We started going out to restaurants where we learned how to pronounce and eat unfamiliar meals like chop suey and chicken tikka masala. We went on package holidays to Europe and brought wild and crazy kitchen ideas back to Britain – spaghetti bolognaise, cheese fondues, beef bourguignon, black forest gateaux. We began inviting friends into our homes for dinner parties. The more sophisticated among us provided bottled wine for our guests – chianti and Liebfraumilch were a testament to our elegance and worldliness. It was a time of optimism, freedom, fun and discovery.

The immigrants that set up corner stores and restaurants in Britain during this time increased our access to a new and exciting culinary world. One of the most notable and enduring of those restaurants is Le Gavroche in London, opened by Albert and Michel Roux in 1967 after they emigrated from France. It’s fair to say that the Roux brothers, having introduced haute cuisine to our nation, and having kept it there for five decades, are themselves British icons.

Full circle

Somewhat ironically, Chris Naylor did an internship with Albert Roux at Le Gavroche. So, the man who has been influencing Britain’s eating habits since 1967 trained the man who is overseeing our 1960s meal at the Iconic Britain Ball in 2015.

And just like that, everything old is new again.

Chris Naylor, making 1960s food new again.

Chris Naylor, making 1960s food new again.

Are you coming to the Iconic Britain Ball on Dec 12?
If you are joining us for Chris Naylor’s delicious reinterpretation of some iconic British fare, please make sure you have submitted your menu choice


Balti House |Nick’s Nosh| Guest Reviewer


By Andy Symmonds

Readers may have spotted the fact that the regular author of Nicks Nosh is currently distracted by the fact that he is the new Chair of the British Society. Rather than lose this regular slot in Zine editions, we are inviting guest contributors to submit their restaurant reviews for consideration. There is no fee for being published, just the joy of seeing yourself published in Zine.

Send your suggestions to Nick's Nosh
We cannot guarantee publication, but we will give all entries full consideration.


Our first guest review takes us to the increasingly fashionable Pijp area in pursuit of Indian food (a popular theme at the British Society – you may have noticed that the Curry Club is now dining on a regular basis), although the Balti House has been serving great food on the Albert Cuypstraat for many years. As a past advertiser and sponsor of BritSoc events we felt that it was time for a revisit to see if the standards were still at the same high level.


Andy clearly enjoying his Balti night out

We visited on a Saturday evening, and were relieved that we had booked as the restaurant was in full swing when we arrived. We had to wait a couple of minutes to be seated as the previous diners were very relaxed about their speed of payment, but we were able to get drinks by the bar before being seated, and (most welcome) papadums swiftly arrived with some sauces to keep us going once we were seated and preparing to read the menu.

To begin we combined three starters to make our own mixed starter, each of us choosing one element. The final combination was sheek kabab with hot wings and some onion bhaji’s (an old favourite for all of us). The mixture of flavours and textures worked well, the drinks flowed and we relaxed into a gezellig evening.

The other diners in the restaurant were the usual mix of British expatriates seeking a fix of Indian food with other expatriates and Dutch customers. Some guests clearly knew their way around the menu whilst others sought advice from the waiting staff. Everyone seemed happy with the outcome, and we joined the happy bunch when our main courses arrived.

menuThe three main dishes we chose were the lamb saag, chicken bhuna and lamb dansak. These dishes are all from the section titled medium curries, so they would have been ideal for Goldilocks as they were not to hot and not too cold in spice terms. At special request, the dansak was made with madras strength spice levels and this turned out to be my highlight of the evening. The dishes were all well prepared and the lamb in both dishes was succulent and very flavoured. The dansak won points for having lentils that were clearly lentils – so many restaurants serve dansak that is closer to soup in texture that I have almost given in trying to get a good one. Saag is another favourite of mine and the combination of the lamb with the spinach was very good. The bhuna was also consumed with gusto but this dish is a little creamy for my taste, although clearly my companions had no such concern as all three dishes were consumed to a point that left the bowls remarkably clean. The dishes came served with rice and vegetable curry and we all ordered naan breads to help mop up the sauces. Having had starters the side dishes were sensibly restricted to one mushroom bhaji, as there have been more adventurous occasions when we over ordered in the excitement of the moment and left mounds of food behind.

Feeling pleasantly stuffed, the lack of dessert options was almost a relief, even for sweeter toothed members of the party. The lassi was tempting but even that looked like a mission too far, so I rounded the meal off with a tasty bottle of Kingfisher in lieu of something sweeter. As I gently quaffed my beer some later arrivals were served and the smell of the sizzling Royal Tandoori Mixed Grill gently drifted over to our table – a scent so delicious that it was almost tempting to start again. Common sense prevailed but I know what will be high on my list the next time that I visit the Balti House. This was a great way to end a very good evening. The food, service and atmosphere (and company, natch) were all to a high standard yet the cost per person was most reasonable, if slightly inflated by the volume of soothing beers that were quaffed throughout the evening. Recommended!


Andy’s Neologism Collection


Contributed by Andy Symmonds

Every year the Washington Post publishes the winning subscriptions to its annual neologism contest. Readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words. Colour me impressed! These are some VERY clever readers! See If you agree.

The winners are:

Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.
Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.
Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.
Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent.
Negligent (adj.),a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.
Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.
Gargoyle (n.), olive-flavored mouthwash.

Gargoyle (n.), olive-flavored mouthwash.

Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.
Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.
Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
Frisbeetarianism (n.), (back by popular demand): The belief that, when you die, your Soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.


Love these? Me, too. Here’s some more:

Giraffiti (n): Vandalism spray-painted very, very high
Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.
Inoculatte (v): To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
Hipatitis (n): Terminal coolness.
Osteopornosis (n): A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)


Have any of your own you’d like to share? We’d love to hear ‘em.

Send your suggestions to Andy
Heck! If enough people use your neologism it may end up in the dictionary


Spectre Review


By…my name is Andy…Andy Symmonds

Film reviews are not a regular staple of Zine, so we thought we would start with a British classic packed with British elements and head for Spectre, the latest James Bond movies. It might be relevant to point out at this stage that I am a life long fan of the Bond series from Dr. No onwards, but it is only in recent years that the on screen iteration has matched the character originally penned by Ian Fleming. Daniel Craig has brought a much harder and arguably even more cynical edge to this perennial British secret agent with the 00 license to kill and is now viewed by many as matching Sean Connery when the ‘who is the best Bond’ discussion starts.

There are the faintest echoes of Live and Let Die with the scenes from the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations in Mexico City, but this is where the similarities end. The new James Bond is low on gadgets and even lower in terms of the louche behaviour portrayed by Roger Moore, but the action is relentless even if you can pretty much predict the outcome from the start. Live and Let Die certainly had an opening song with a lot more drama than the Sam Smith tune that opens Spectre but at least the opening credits are almost worth watching for a change.

I’m happy to report that some of the Bond regulars continue to appear with the shaken, not stirred Martini, and the achingly delicious Aston Martin DB10 that more than held its own against the Roman backdrop. The use of the prototypes built during the ill-fated development of the Jaguar C-X75 as the chase car was inspired, so we have two British beauties going head to head (or nose to tail if you prefer serious accuracy) through the centre of Rome in one of the better Bond chases.

As with any James Bond release, there are fights and glorious women galore all set against the backdrop of incredible locations and with the inevitable high octane plot that leaves very few moments for introspection. Daniel Craig manages to combine effortless cool with the ever lurking threat of violence, a blend that effectively underpins the entire Bond franchise. If you’re looking for real plot surprises or the chance to reflect upon the deeper issues of today then maybe the Bond genre is not for you, but if you find yourself looking for a good old fashioned action movie with chases, thrills and spills then book your cinema tickets now.

Screem and pier girl

Edvard Munch at the van Gogh Museum


By Alison Smith


I was looking forward to the Edvard Munch exhibition, currently showing at the van Gogh Museum until 17th January 2016, as his work was being compared to that of van Gogh and I wasn’t aware of the similarities.  I booked an early slot to avoid the queues and signed up for the audio tour.  I had been to an earlier exhibition at the same museum which showed the influences of Jean Francois Millet on van Gogh. Van Gogh reproduced Millet’s scenes almost exactly, but used his own technique and palette (think of The Gleaners, The Sower and Noonday Rest)  but I always thought that Munch was more influenced by German expressionism and I wasn’t really aware of similar subject matter, so I went  prepared to be convinced.

The two self portraits, which are presented as an introduction to the exhibition, show Munch and van Gogh in a similar pose, the artist at work, staring out of the canvas, palette and brushes in their right hand.  If you Google “self portrait with palette” you will find that many famous artists painted self portraits in this very pose; Edouard Manet, Paul Cézanne, Rembrandt van Rijn. So why was I still looking at these two paintings and privately nodding my head? Stylistically, these two portraits are not obviously similar.  Munch’s loose style and thin paint versus van Gogh’s meticulous layering of paint and build up of colour.  It is something in their eyes. A similar expression. Both van Gogh and Munch frown at you with a look of pain and confusion in their eyes.  But more of that later.

The basement floor of the exhibition takes you through the “How” of the link between these two artists.  How did they hone their skills?  What were their influences in common? One answer which looms large is PARIS.

Detail of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, left, compared with Vincent Van Gogh’s The Bridge at Trinquetaille. The artists’ work is being shown in a joint exhibition in Amsterdam. Photograph: Reuters

Detail of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, left, compared with Vincent Van Gogh’s The Bridge at Trinquetaille. The artists’ work is being shown in a joint exhibition in Amsterdam. Photograph: Reuters

Both painters went to Paris to learn new techniques and soak up the bohemian life. In fact they were in Paris at the same time for a short while, though they never met.  Here we see not only similarities of subject matter but also style and technique as they both dabbled in the new techniques of realism, impressionism, pointillism and portraiture, following painters like Manet, Seurat and Gaugin.  Both painters were clearly influenced by Gaugin’s use of colour to express emotion through paint.

As you progress through the exhibition more similarities in subject matter and use of colour emerge, though their techniques and style diverge. Van Gogh’s ‘Yellow House and Edvard Munch’s ‘Red Virginia Creeper could be compared for their use of vibrant colour. Munch’s ‘Kissing Couples in the Park is very similar to van Gogh’s ‘Garden with Courting Couples and it’s clear that Munch felt an affinity with van Gogh’s work. Their techniques remained worlds apart though as Munch adapted a much looser, expressionistic style, using thin paint and vague shapes to depict human forms next to Van Gogh with his meticulous layering of paint to create texture and his more precise brush strokes, loading the canvas with thick dabs of colour.  Van Gogh believed that practice made perfect and often made many versions of a painting before he was satisfied.  Munch, on the other hand, sometimes didn’t paint the whole canvas, leaving parts of it “unfinished”.

Vincent van Gogh’s The Yellow House (1888); and Red Virginia Creeper (1898-1900), by Edvard Munch Photograph: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam/ Munch-Museet, Oslo

Vincent van Gogh’s The Yellow House (1888); and Red Virginia Creeper (1898-1900), by Edvard Munch Photograph: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam/ Munch-Museet, Oslo

I thought as the exhibition went on that the comparisons became less visually obvious. Munch’s paintings become more abstract and his themes darker and more nightmarish.  A recurring feature of Munch’s work is a figure in the foreground which seems to pop up from nowhere and peer out of the front of the canvas.  It appears already in his ‘Red Virginia Creeper painting but in later work the figure looms nearer the front of the canvas until it is not even fully in view, just the top of a head, and the form becomes less defined.  His human forms in general become more metaphorical and slightly macabre. His famous picture ‘The Screamis a good example of this.  Originally called ‘The Scream of Nature’, Munch painted it after an experience he had while walking on a hot sultry night with a friend by a lake.

 “I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature.”    The dehumanised figure in the painting holds his hands to his face in torment.  Munch later described the personal anguish behind the painting, “for several years I was almost mad… You know my picture, ‘The Scream?’ I was stretched to the limit—nature was screaming in my blood… After that I gave up hope ever of being able to love again.”

‘The Dance of Life, painted in 1900 is another example of this. The figures dancing represent the stages of life; youth and innocence, love and passion and the sadness of bereavement. The women are clearly painted but their dancing partners are relatively faceless and the dance is a slow sad affair devoid of gaiety.

Van Gogh very famously went mad and spent much time in mental asylums struggling with his mind. In 1888, van Gogh travelled to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence where he committed himself to an asylum. Here  the style of his work changes dramatically and his brush strokes became a torrent of energy. Although he could not draw and paint for long periods of time without suffering from an attack, he managed to create The Starry Night, one of his most popular works. The swirling lines of the sky are a possible representation of his mental state. This same shaken style is visible in all of his work during his time in the asylum. ‘Wheat Field with Crows’ is another example of an extremely dramatic piece, conveying intense feelings, and is one of his most haunting works. The dark cloudy sky filled with crows and the cut off path seem to ominously point to the artist’s imminent death.

Self-Portrait as a Painter (1887-88) by Vincent van Gogh; and Self-Portrait with Palette (1926) by Edvard Munch. Photograph: Reuters

Self-Portrait as a Painter (1887-88) by Vincent van Gogh; and Self-Portrait with Palette (1926) by Edvard Munch. Photograph: Reuters

For me this is what ultimately emerged as the link between these two artists. They both used their work as a cathartic release, to externalise their feelings and express their angst. Colour is used to symbolise emotions, and vigorous brush strokes to exemplify energy and passion. The subject matter is often a clear metaphor of their state of mind.  Munch was unlucky in love, suffered bouts of deep depression and felt alone and victimised for much of his life. Van Gogh’s decline into madness and eventual suicide attempt, which led to his death, is well documented in the history books. The look of pain and confusion is what I saw on their faces in the two introductory portraits and that sums up to me what these two artists had most common. Both were troubled souls who used art and colour as a way to express emotion.


Postcard from | Iceland


By Alison Smith


A schoolfriend recently turned 50 and, having commiserated with me when I hit the half century, she called in the return favour and asked me to go with her to Iceland to see the Aurora Borealis to fulfil the number 1 item on her freshly written bucket list.  I thought 50 was still a bit young to be writing a bucket list, but, apparently in her case, it’s a long list, so better get cracking.  Before I could say “ I’ll see if I can get time away from the office”  she’d booked it and we were off.

I was totally in the dark as to what to expect, which was a fitting expectation as so are the Icelanders for most of the winter days.  I’d never ventured further North than Scotland, preferring sunny climes, so Iceland was to be a new experience and I approached it with no pre-formed ideas except a few Google images of snowy landscapes, colourful wooden boarded houses and grey skies.   I also have nothing whatsoever in the way of Icelandic weather gear so had to invest in a pair of the ugliest, but sturdiest, boots I’ve ever seen, lots of grungy looking layers from Bever outdoor shop (why is everything grey, black and beige?!) and a fleece-lined anorak! My application to Country File is in the post.

My friend Denise had it all sorted.  She’d booked an organised holiday with flights, Hotel B&B, airport transfers and a trip to the Northern Lights included.  Iceland is expensive and I heard from other travellers that this is the best way to go.  We added one other organised guided tour to our itinerary as we were staying for 4 days but didn’t want to hire a car.  All the trips and transfers were booked through Gray Line, who I would recommend as they were on time, efficient and the guides were great.

We stayed downtown in the Hotel Centre Plaza which was nicely situated for the bars, restaurants and shops. The main part of Reykjavik is quite small and easy to wander about and was perfectly safe.  There are many good restaurants but it’s quite pricey. To give you an idea, we went to a restaurant called Laekjarbrekka (don’t ask me to pronounce it!) which was really good and offered some Icelandic specialities.  We had the house cocktail,  starters, mains, a bottle of red and a coffee for Kr. 26,540 which is about € 85 a head.

Reykjavic-2tiltshiftOne tip. Avoid the Fermented Shark!  On some menus it’s called “rotten shark” and that’s exactly what it is!  Our tour guide warned us off it, telling us that part of the processing involved peeing over the salt in which it’s preserved.  I have no idea if this was a wind up but we saw some in the market and it smelled of ammonia.  Glad we didn’t choose that then!  On one of the evenings we had a seafood buffet and I did try a bite of smoked Minky Whale, but it wasn’t my thing.  There is plenty of seafood, fish and lamb on the menus, which we really enjoyed but there are also the usual burger places, pizzerias and steakhouses, so something to suit all tastes.


The main event for us was our trip to the middle of nowhere to try to get a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis.  Best time to see it is between 21.00 and 02.00 and you need to be in the middle of nowhere to get a good view.  It has been seen from Reykjavik town centre but you have to be lucky.  Last year was the best it’s been in years with clear sightings right in town and they say they expect the same this winter.  We didn’t get dramatic green skies but we did see it and Denise left a happy girl. If you go to see the Aurora Borealis, which I recommend, I would take a flask of something warming, (hot tea, chocolate, whisky, vodka). You need it as you stand outside and watch the sky for an hour or so and it’s bitter cold at that time of night.

The main tourist trips are the Northern lights (nighttime excursion)  The Golden Circle (all day) and The Blue Lagoon, but you can also walk/climb the glaciers, do a Jeep ice safari, or go whale watching. We didn’t get to the Blue Lagoon, but it’s down on my list for next time.  We did a Golden Circle trip including two hours at the Fontana Spa.  These are naturally heated pools and Icelandic steam saunas (one of which was too hot to sit in!) and the plunge pool to cool off is the lake! (…and yes, I went in!)  The Golden circle tour also includes  a trip into the Pingvellir National Park, where the Icelandic parliament Alpingi was established in 930 AD and where the tectonic plates of Europe and North America meet.

GullfossYou also get to view the wonderful Gullfoss waterfall, if you make it in one piece walking on the sheet ice to the viewing platform, then on to see the Strokkur Geyser at Geysir (yes that’s where we get the word from).  It splurts hot air about 15 metres into the air about every 8 minutes.  The surrounding area is full of bubbling hot springs and geothermal activity which makes you very aware of the volcanic nature of Iceland.  Ice and fire.  Our tour guide on the Golden Circle told us of Iceland’s rather brutal history with most stories ending in a bloody execution.  He also regaled us with Troll stories and described the colourful folklore.  There are 13 Christmas Trolls with great names such as Sausage Stealer, Door Slammer and Spoon Licker, who cause mischief in the run up to Christmas.  The Christmas tradition sounds a bit like the Dutch Sint with kids putting out their shoe hoping for a gift if they have been good but getting a raw potato if they have been naughty.

Strokkur-GeyserIceland is stunningly, breathtakingly beautiful and feels very pure and unspoilt. It’s a great place for a long weekend, very calm and relaxed with really wonderful people.  We had great weather with clear blue skies and crisp icy air.  All the energy for heating and water is provided by the underground hot springs.  This sometimes means the shower water smells a bit sulphurous and the air outside of Reykjavic has a bit of a “country”  smell giving Denise and I a couple of “ was that you?”  moments, but it’s not unpleasant, just different.

I’ll certainly go back and explore some more.


Hints and Tips

If you go in a more independent way and hire a car we were given some useful tips. The roads are good and well maintained but they are icy.  Make sure you get a car with winter tyres with the little spikes on, which is allowed and necessary during the winter months.  Black ice is not unusual but we didn’t slip at all during our travels, which makes me think that the locals have it sorted.

the-icelandic-yule-ladsIf you are travelling independently of an organised tour and are venturing into the wide unknown, there is a service available where you check in and tell where you are going and what time you expect to be back and when you return you log out.  If you get stuck (car breakdown etc) and need help but find yourself stranded with no phone signal, the service will report you as missing when you don’t logout on time and send out a search party to the area where you said you’d be.  Maybe good to know. I don’t know the name of it but I’m sure it’ll come up on Google.

There’s an iPhone app which allows you to make fab pictures of the Aurora Borealis.  Apparently it sets the right aperture etc.  I wish I’d have known about it before I went.  The photos turn out better than the view from the naked eye!

Final tip. Take lots of layers and strong shoes with rubber or textured soles as it’s icy underfoot, even in Reykjavik.  Bobble hats and anoraks are de rigueur in Iceland and I was grateful for my new gear.


Joke of the Month | Nov 2015


By Alison Smith

Three blondes


Three blondes were all applying for the last available position on the Texas Highway Patrol.
The instructor conducting the interview looked at the three of them, and said, “So y’all want to be cops, huh?”
The three blondes all nodded.
The instructor got up, opened a file drawer, and pulled out a folder. Sitting back down, he opened it, pulled out a picture, and said, “To be a detective, you have to be able to detect. You must be able to notice things such as distinguishing features and oddities, like scars and so forth.”
So saying, he stuck the photo in the face of the first blonde and withdrew it after about two seconds.
“Now,” he said, “did you notice any distinguishing features about this man?”
The blonde immediately said, “Yes, I did. He has only one eye!”
The detective shook his head and said, “Of course he has only one eye in this picture! It’s a side profile of his face! You’re dismissed!”
The first blonde hung her head and walked out of the office.
The detective then turned to the second blonde, stuck the photo in her face for two seconds, pulled it back, and said, “What about you? Notice anything unusual or outstanding about this man?”
“Yes! He only has one ear!”
The detective put his head in his hands and exclaimed, “Didn’t you hear what I just told the other lady? This is a side profile of the man’s face! Of course you can only see one ear! You’re excused too!”
The second blonde sheepishly walked out of the office.
The detective turned his attention to the third and last blonde and said, “This is probably a waste of time, but….” He flashed the photo in her face for a couple of seconds and withdrew it, saying, “All right, did you notice anything distinguishing or unusual about this man?”
The blonde said, “I sure did. This man wears contact lenses. ”
The detective frowned, took another look at the picture, and began looking at some of the papers in the folder. He looked up at the blonde with a puzzled expression and said, “You’re absolutely right! His bio says he wears contacts! How in the world could you tell that by looking at his picture?”
The blonde rolled her eyes and said, “Well, Hellooooooooooooo! With only one eye and one ear, he certainly can’t wear glasses.”


The lawyer

The lawyer says to the wealthy art collector tycoon: “I have some good
news and, I have some bad news….”
The tycoon replies: “I’ve had an awful day, let’s hear the good news first.”
The lawyer says: “Well your wife invested €50,000 in two pictures this
week that she figures are worth a minimum of €20 to €30 million.”
The tycoon replies enthusiastically: “Well done…very good news indeed!
You’ve just made my day; now what’s the bad news?”
The lawyer answers: “The pictures are of you with your secretary.”



An Engineer or A Doctor?

An Engineer was unemployed for long time. He could not find a job
so he opened a medical clinic and puts a sign up outside: “Get your
treatment for €500, if not treated get back €1,000.”

One Doctor thinks this is a good opportunity to earn €1,000 and goes
to his clinic.

Doctor: “I have lost taste in my mouth.”

Engineer: “Nurse, please bring medicine from box 22 and put 3 drops
in the patient’s mouth.”

Doctor: “This is Gasoline!”

Engineer: “Congratulations! You’ve got your taste back. That will be €500.”

The Doctor gets annoyed and goes back after a couple of days later
to recover his money.

Doctor: “I have lost my memory, I cannot remember anything.”

Engineer: “Nurse, please bring medicine from box 22 and put 3 drops
in the patient’s mouth.”

Doctor: “But that is Gasoline!”

Engineer: “Congratulations! You’ve got your memory back. That will
be €500.”

The Doctor leaves angrily and comes back after several more days.

Doctor: “My eyesight has become weak.”

Engineer: “Well, I don’t have any medicine for this. Take
this €1,000.”

Doctor: “But this is €500…”

Engineer: “Congratulations! You got your vision back!

That will be €500.”