2 MARCH 1929, Page 11

In Frozen Holland

IT was exciting to be told on the night Boat-train that the Hook steamer ' Archangel ' was frozen up somewhere beyond the Zuider Zee and that a sub- stitute had to be found. Such a fate for a ship branded with that Arctic name was hardly matter for surprise, but that rather grim two hours of uneasy foreboding between London and Parkeston quay were brightened by the prospect of polar adventures ahead. Haply the North Sea itself, in this year of many wonders, would be frozen over and. we should perforce have to cross it—if at all— in an ice-breaker like the ` Krassin ' rather than in one of . the prosaic packets that pitch and roll at the whim of turbulent waves. For whatever the discomforts of sailing in an ice-breaker may be, at least it is that rare sort of vessel that rules the waves ; it may be slow-going but it keeps an even keel ; it may not be luxuriously appointed, but its cabins have no lurking terrors nor need its restaurant (if it boasts One) be furtively passed by on the way to bed. Phlegmatic Englishmen, roused -from their Customary calm, began to discuss the possibility of ice-bergs floating across the bows ; and even polar bears were mentioned. After all, had not wolves attacked the Orient Express ?

But alas !.for the frailty of human hopes (and the regu- larity of the night-service), the ' St. George ' rather than the ' St. Lenin ' was waiting for us at the quay-side, looking as ship-shape and cunning as usual, with not a solitary icicle in the rigging to warm the blood.

Except for the intolerable stuffiness of the cabins, nothing disturbed the silent watches of the night.

But at the Hook next morning, as the faint yellow beams of the harbour-light illumined the black sea, great slabs of ice could be discerned floating about the water as if the pack-ice about the Pole was just breaking up. The gelid air nipped the ears with a suggestion: of frostbite and even scurvy, • while the windows of the warm train were frozen fast with a thick beading of old ice.

Dutchmen talked of their canals :being frozenwith a pardonable touch of pride—" a metre and a half thick " ; of a temperature incredibly below zero ; and of an ice- bound countryside. But, frankly, I suspect these foreign temperatures. They are not based on honest Centigrade or Fahrenheit like ours ; • but on something called Celsius, I think,. which is as meaningless to most Englishmen as millimetres and small foreign change. Like the *currencies, too, the temperatures seem to be inflated (or should it be deflated ?) ; 'and have to be ruthlessly reduced before they can be fairly compared with ours.

The truth is, it did not seem a whit colder in Rotterdam thali in the Strand the previous Saturday night, though the fact remains that' the rivers, dykes, and canals have all been frozeu over for the better part of two months. Every night a loud voice fronaBlversum. booms over the wireless a report on the state of the ferries throughout the land ; the Maas, the Waal, the Ijsel all impassable ; Rotterdam and Amsterdam more or less ice-bound and inland shipping at a standstilL - At Nijmegen, for example, the Waal (a branch of the Rhine, which is almost as broad as the Thames at London Bridge) is so firmly frozen that horses and carts, waggons; private cars, walkers and cyclists (who look strangest of all) are going over all day. Itinerant musicians, haWkers and photographers are doing a roaring trade in the middle of the river, and scores of leisurely Dutchmen are indulging in the.unwonted exercise of walking for the sake of telling their grandchildren that they " walked over the Rhine in the Great Frost of 1929th To an Englishman, it is like a living pagetrom Pepys! diary. _ _ Long chains of fat barges stand imprisoned in the canals : hulls, rudders, anchors, skiffs and all. ',Josephine' of Amsterdam snuggles alongside Gerard ' of Hertogen-. bos-ch ; Juliette ' crouches beside the huge hulk of Jan ' of Rotterdain. every other deck, Jaeobean " nightwatchmen " may -be seen smoking their meer- schaums- and taking a philosophic view of life generally ; their enormous shirts, socks, and pants. hanging stiff and stark on the line above their heads ; for it will take much more than a two-months' frost to damp the national enthusiasin for washing-days. Meanwhile the gates `are frozen in the locks and the. barges wait for the thaw. Even the windmills seem to have stopped work in syin: pathy with the rest of the frost-bound land, while the swans and • cygnets in the ponds. of the parks and castles sit brooding in the snow, disdaining to use the insulting circle water which the keeperS hive hacked free for their ablutions.

All Holland seems to have settled down comfortably to the business of freezing.

It is a condition - of thingS that -apparently Suits the Dutch temperament and one can imagine no other European race freezing so contentedly. With their great bulk and strength, their folds on folds of clothes, their fat faces and legs,. their -tabu; easy-going disposition, and their laughing good . humour, they seem. specially endowed by Nature to resist the- cold. At any 'rate; they seemto be resisting it admirably—chiefly by skating or sliding.

It is as if a royal edict has gOne forth'1Ci the effect that- skates -must be worn, and loyal- Holland hastens to obey: Old,- middle-aged; and young—anything -between font' and fourscore-all are going about with skates on their feet or-slung over their shoulders at the ready. Skates of all shapes and-sizes may be seen ; long slender things curved .with the grace of scimitars : squat wooden skates- like-little barges or clogs ; nobody is too poor to buy a pair of some-Sort; lior,too lazy to use.them.-- Down the broad - canals, round the great flat frozen `fields; Mynheer and his family are keeping their spirits and their circulation- up- at -this most exhilarating of all- pastimes. Legs have come into their own again at last. The HollandscheNrouweri may not be particularly lissom or " willowy," -but- nobody can deny. them legs—and fine legs at that I How delicious, then, is the sight of hundreds of doughty Dutchmen _carceting- round and rotid"a._grpat - linking their ladies ? lo- no other sport do you get such perfect rhythm, such delightful poise of the body, such. thruat and such speed with -so little-apparent effort ; and. the Dutch are past masters of the. airt.. Seldom do they make a false step, but -how cleverly _they' dodge past one another and, if they collide at all, "-cannon off " as easily as so many billiard balls. Over at Hadrian and the isles, the tulipare.making a brave attempt to push up through the mail-clad eattlivf but for the moment the jolly little 'Dutch girls, arrayed in all their brighteSt hues, their cheeks. flushed crimson, look as pretty as any tulips and -as' gay as spring.: And at night, when the god Celsius domes into his own again and the air begins to . sting, the Dutch. ". in- teriors." with their dazzling pewters and sparkling nappery look more fascinating than even their own artists .have . portrayed them.. .Mynheer, with his feet on the stove, _pours out _a. glass of red wine and settles down to an evening at-Pandoeren with his 'cronies. AtThis elbow, a box of cigars and a bottle of Oude.qe!iever await the frostbitten late-comer. • -. - • It freezes ; but Mynheer sits back and- chuckles.