The Bookshop

Dir Isabel Coixet, with Emily Mortimer and Bill Nighy

A dire film. It had something to say about the loneliness of widowhood, the lifeline and freedom that books can give you, and the rigidity of 1950s Britain (already being undermined by some of the novels stocked in Mrs Green’s bookshop), but ultimately the writing was more suited to a children’s adventure story. Bill Nighy as a recluse for forty years who was nevertheless smartly dressed and up to date with all the village gossip could have stepped out of a Famous Five tale, and the implacable lady of the manor was pure Cruella de Vil. The child narrator was way too perceptive to be believable. Despite being anchored in a particular era and a particular place (although that didn’t look anything like the Suffolk I have visited), the film was cast adrift by its odd accents and the way the dialogue veered between polite formality and instantaneous heart-opening.

I wasn’t sure if some of the acting was jarringly amateurish or if it was meant to subtly unsettle you so that you were in the same position as the valiant Mrs Green of never knowing who to trust. It did make me wonder briefly if I had misunderstood the film.

. . . Nah. I don’t think so. It just wasn’t very good.

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Utrecht to Nieuwerkerk aan den Ijssel



The first coffee stop today was in pretty Oudewater. It had a witch’s weighing house in the 16th century: if your weight was proportionate to your build + your soul (something *ahem* lacking in witches) you could get a certificate acquitting you of witchcraft. It sounds like a quaint little custom nowadays, but – of course – it could be a matter of life or death then.

I took a photograph of the house next door.

Another business hotel beside road intersections tonight. Two in a row is probably my limit, but this does have the (slightly noisy) charm of coots and their chicks on the water just outside the window. Wildfowl is certainly tamer here than on the canal at home: as soon as I opened the window the coots paddled over to see if there was anything for them to eat. I had a similar experience with a moorhen and its chick this evening: instead of striding away as at home, the moorhen came towards me. They come so close that you can see clearly the jointed toes on their webbed feet.

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Otterlo to Utrecht


Utrecht from the 17th floor: the Dom Tower, all that remains of a never-finished cathedral

Pretty much a repeat of last year’s ride, but it was very pleasant to be cycling in woods and over heathland. There were lots of elderly couples on e-bikes, and you can see why cycling casualties amongst old Dutch men are rising: they shed their common sense along with their physical limitations.

Another reminder of Napoleon: we passed through a village called Austerlitz, which was named by King Louis Napoleon of Holland in honour of his brother’s victory. (The Napoleonic era was such a whirlwind across the whole of Europe: the kingdom of Holland only lasted 4 years.)

This hotel is in a commercial district that is deserted after office hours. Outside there’s a tram line, a wide road, an extensive network of cycle paths and no humans. The advantage of it is that it had a room, it is easy to cycle to without going into Utrecht . . . and it has a large HD television on which to watch the Belgium-Brazil game.

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Bad Bentheim, train failures and Radio Kootwijk


Above the entrance to Building A, Radio Kootwijk (architect – Julius Maria Luthmann, 1920-23)

It was supposed to be a very easy day: the train from Osnabrück to Apeldoorn, then a short cycle ride across the Veluwe (with a detour to see what is left of the Radio Kootwijk transmitter station) to spend the night in Otterlo.

It didn’t work like that. The crowded German train stopped at Bad Bentheim for passengers to transfer to a Dutch train, which definitely wasn’t going anywhere for some time. Reluctant to embroil ourselves in the free-for-all that would ensue once things got moving again, we decided to cycle to another station and take our chances there. We bought a map in Bad Bentheim town (quite interesting to see it after years of waiting in its station while the locomotive is changed) and then headed towards Hengelo on a cycle path beside the main road. (Of course – this isn’t Britain.) We went first into Oldenzaal because (a) it was as far as our new map stretched, and (b) trains from there go to Zutphen, which would also be a good starting point for a ride across the Veluwe. At Oldenzaal we encountered passengers who had been waiting hours for a train. The announcement that the next Zutphen train was cancelled came thirty seconds before it was due to depart. Another dash beside a main road to Hengelo, where we caught a train to Apeldoorn with minutes to spare. Any thought that it had been rash of us to leave Bad Bentheim was knocked on the head by encountering a fellow passenger from the Osnabrück train on the Hengelo platform still waiting to continue his journey. The rail replacement bus was obviously no faster than our bicycles.


Building A from a distance

C5AEC582-67E0-4585-9940-F31A9A362CDAAt Apeldoorn we set off cycling again – 4 hours later and rather less fresh than planned, but still intending to see Radio Kootwijk. It was built after the first world war to enable easy radio communication (rather than electric telegram communication, which required cables) with overseas territories like the Dutch East Indies. First there is a hamlet called Radio Kootwijk, built to house workers, and then comes the wonderful Building A, which dominates the defunct site now that all the masts have gone. Unlike Nauen’s brick transmitter building, built by Hermann Muthesius, (which I still regret not having been able to see), this is made of concrete and goes all-out for Egyptian-inspired art deco with a touch of the Amsterdam School quasi-grotesqueness. On the back of the building is what looks like a crucified eagle  (radio waves take flight?), but the figures at the front are most striking: east and west are all ears, listening to what those radio waves are telling them.


Like the Nauen transmitter building (and the Villa Cavrois) there is a reflecting pool at the front, but sadly neither the sun’s direction nor the wind was favourable to the perfect stereotype photo today.

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Bad Rothenfelde to Osnabrück

The most beautiful stretch of the holiday was to Bad Iburg this morning: uphill through part of the Teutoburger Wald full of butterflies and birdsong. What could be lovelier? After Bad Iburg came another climb, with a wonderful view back to the Schloss:


Then past the site of a WWII forced labour camp to Osnabrück, which is bustling and not immediately attractive. Indeed, in parts the centre is fairly hideous – as if commerce has been permitted to plonk itself anywhere in whatever guise it wishes. It has the usual – a cathedral, a Jugendstil theatre, a Rathaus and some Fachwerkhäuser – amongst a jumble of other stuff.

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Bielefeld to Bad Rothenfelde


Foothills of the Teutoburger Wald. (It’s all foothills, really. No boot.)

04426B6C-75EB-4F44-AAB1-F0435535ED2BPast Dr Oetker’s this morning for the third time, but now heading northwards into the Teutoburger Wald. Another hot, sunny day (oh, I wonder how the garden is faring!) when the shade of the trees was very welcome. It’s pleasant countryside for cycling, and I enjoyed the gentle climb towards Borgholzhausen for the opportunity to enjoy the views . . . and the gentle downhill on the other side.

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Riege to Bielefeld

A mirror ride of yesterday’s, apart from a couple of navigational errors. It’s quite pleasant, once in a while, to turn up in a city where you already know which Konditorei, restaurant and hotel are the right ones for you.

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