Some sad news reached Medd Towers yesterday: on the phone to my dad - our weekly lockdown catchup - and he told me that a much loved family friend had sadly passed away. Roelof der Nederlanden married my mother's maid of honour in the late 1950s and the couple made their home in Roel's hometown of Hillegom, 25 miles south of Amsterdam. Roel was a gentle man with an infectious smile and a never ending supply of stories.
Although it had been a long time since I'd seen him, I remember fondly the frequent visits he and Margaret (and their daughters Susan and Caroline) would make to the UK and their regular stopovers at my parents' house.
But it's a visit we as a family made to the Netherlands that I particularly remember. It was, I think, 1975 so I would been around 14. The trip was memorable in all sorts of ways. And not just because I discovered chocolate sprinkles on white buttered bread, or Dutch music magazines I couldn't read, or even trips to both Rotterdam and Amsterdam. It goes beyond that.
Any thoughts that 1975 was a fallow year for sport (no football World Cup or Olympics) should be dispelled now: it was the year L'Escargot won the Grand National, West Ham beat Fulham in the FA Cup and Jack Nicklaus won the Masters. It was also the inaugural year of the cricket World Cup - West Indies beat the Aussies, since you ask. But all the above pales into insignificance. And I'll tell you why. Set up in our hosts' dining room when we arrived was a wooden board about six feet long and a foot and a half wide, with a kerb a couple of inches high around three of its sides, and a shed load of circular discs. We were bemused. But, after pleasantries were exchanged and a few ground rules explained, the Medds had been introduced to Sjoelen. Such was our passion for the game that every morning for our two week vacation that year the kids would arise bright and early and play Sjoelen till the noise emanating from downstairs woke the adults. We were addicted. Before we came home I
And thus our love affair with this most quirky of games began. A love affair that still thrives to this day, 45 years later. Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without Sjoelen.
A lovely footnote to this story is that James' wife Janneke is half dutch and both Janni & her family were quietly shocked that her new husband and in-laws were masters* of the Dutch national game**. A great way to cement Anglo-Dutch relations.
I'm also grateful to Roel for introducing me to the world of stamp collecting. Roel was an inveterate philatelist and his enthusiasm was so contagious I totally 'got it'. Roel mentored me and donated many items form his vast personal collection to get me going - a collection I'm still proud to own. It was after a long lay off from stamps that in 1990 after the birth of James I collected every UK first day cover in his name - which he had delivered up to and including his 18th. birthday.
Rest easy, Roel.
* Sorry, did I say masters? I may be exaggerating a wee bit.
** Of course it isn't. I don't think it is anyway.