It's supposed to be only the British who talk about the weather, but most of Europe has been full of stormy tales over the last few days.

I spent last weekend in Amsterdam, and on Sunday it experienced some of the strongest winds in living memory. I know that similar problems were being experienced here at home, but what surprised us in the Netherlands was just how quickly the storm blew up.

Sunday lunchtime was showery and breezy, but by mid-afternoon it was monsoon like. In a matter of minutes it turned from uncomfortable to dangerous. As you might know, there are many tall buildings in the centre of Amsterdam, and soon roof tiles were raining onto the streets below. The Central Railway Station also suffered major damage and had to be closed, followed by the news that all flights in or out of Schiphol Airport were suspended. By the end of the afternoon, even the trams were stopped from running.

Amazingly, though, in the middle of all this, the hardy Dutch were still out for their Sunday afternoon stroll or shopping trip - many of them on bikes! It's a sight unique to this lovely city to see an elegant lady in a major storm riding her bike over a canal bridge while smiling!

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We were due to leave Ijmuiden, near Amsterdam, at 6 pm on the DFDS ship Prince of Scandinavia, and the captain wisely decided to delay departure until the storm had subsided. We boarded the vessel as planned at 5pm and a party atmosphere soon developed. Happily, the storm dropped as suddenly as it had arrived, and we were able to leave port at around 10 pm. These big ships can absorb a choppy sea and there was a special round of applause for the cabaret dancers who managed to stick to their expert choreography despite a little assistance from the dance floor. You'll be proud to hear that the North East contingent, including yours truly, didn't give in until 3 am and slept the sleep of the contented.

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Talking of time, the Dutch also ended their Summer Time overnight on Saturday which, like you, meant that we could enjoy an extra hour's sleep-in on Sunday morning. Back at North Shields on Monday morning, watches had to go back another hour to tune in to the new UK time. Back home to another tour of the house to change all the clocks and gadgets, so I'm getting good at the job now.

Some Dutch friends over the weekend were on the same debate which comes up twice a year here. Surely theres a better way than a process which must mean millions of hours being spent on clock tweaking twice every year. Suggestions welcome.

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I was away at the weekend as a result of the excellent conference facilities on the big DFDS ships which leave the North East every day (more of which next week), and, in true two way style, I learnt something over the weekend too.

Perhaps like me, you've been through Schiphol Airport many times without thinking what the name means. I now know that, very loosely translated, the name equates to "ship hole". Much of the land in the west of the Netherlands was originally under water, and before this area was drained it had been a patch of sea which had claimed many ships. When the land was being prepared for the new airport, many old shipwrecks were found including some intact cargoes.

Incredibly, some of those finds included glass in perfect condition and I saw some of it on Saturday night. I was in one of the best restaurants I've encountered anywhere in the word called, wonderfully, the Five Flies. It's spread over many floors of a beautiful old Amsterdam town house, and its decorations include original Rembrandts - and glass recovered from shipwrecks of the "Ship Hole". Next time youre in the city it's well worth seeking this place out for its fabulous food, beautiful surroundings, great staff - and tremendous value.

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One story in the British Sunday papers was arousing great interest in Amsterdam. This idea from a Chief Constable in Thames Valley that burglars should apologise rather than go to prison raised howls of laughter. The Dutch are liberal by reputation, and in many ways they are, but they couldn't understand the logic behind this at all. I was happy to put them right on your behalf I trust. I'm happy for letters of apologies to be written, and promises to be good in future, AFTER a suitable prison sentence. If you, or someone you know has been burgled, I think you'll find that the victim (forgotten word) is with me rather than the Chief Constable on this.

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Finally, thanks very much to everyone who was in the the two full houses at Newcastle Civic Centre last Wednesday and Thursday nights when I had the pleasure of compering the superb fashion shows in aid of Breast Cancer Awareness. Brilliant women, a fantastic atmosphere, and sheer inspiration.

I look forward to sharing more success next Monday night at Darlington Civic Theatre when I'll be compering the Awards Night for Darlington College. Having been through their list of success and a good rehearsal, I'm looking forward to something very special on November 4th.

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Published: 30/10/2002