15 Apr

Speculoos Note

Case File #113e

Long time readers will know that the mystery of the anonymous speculoos gifts that occasionally appear on my desk at work is my greatest unsolved case. Despite my best efforts I have been unable to uncover the identity of the perpetrator. I have considered closing the case. It is becoming harder to find new things to write about on the subject since every clue simply leads to another dead end. However, every time I think like this there is suddenly a new twist in the case that takes me down another path. The latest twist arrived in the form of an empty chocolate speculoos wrapper with another note.

Speculoos Evidence

The lack of edible contents comes as no surprise since I had recently announced my attempt to reduce my sugar in take. Since I basically told everyone on Facebook I was planning to do this it does nothing to help me reduce the list of suspects. However, the note still provides a new and shocking insight in to the case.

A closer look at the handwriting suggests that I might have been wrong about a key element of this case all along. I always thought that all these gifts were coming from the same person. It seemed logical to assume that there was just one mastermind behind it all. However, I am now forced to reassess that theory.

Examining the handwriting in the latest note and comparing it with that of the previous one reveals enough subtle differences to suggest that they might not have been written by the same person. Taking this new evidence into account there is only one logical explanation; I am at the centre of a conspiracy!

Well…. It’s also possible that the difference in handwriting is just a red herring designed to miss lead me or my mysterious benefactor has an accomplice or it’s a copycat but conspiracy just sounds cooler.

Speculoos Conspiracy

Comparing the two sets of handwriting is a little tricky since one is written in block letters and the other in lower case. It is possible that this was done on purpose just to make analysis more difficult (which supports the red herring or accomplice theory) but it could also just be coincidence (which brings us back to copycat or conspiracy). However, it is still possible to see several differences between the two sets of handwriting. The block letter note has a slight hint of messy-ness to it as if written by an unsteady or rushed hand. The lower case note however has a more elegant stroke to it that causes it to slant ever so slightly to the right (which handwriting analysis websites suggests indicates an assertive and confident person).

Speculoos Handwriting

As if that was not enough the two notes are also signed differently (the first with a B and the second with a U). It’s possible that later notes will be signed with different letters that will combine to spell out a hidden message or name but for now I am sure that these two notes were written by different people.

It’s difficult to draw any further conclusions from the two notes at this time but this revelation revealed by the handwriting changes everything. What will happen next? Where will it lead? I do not know. For now I will be patient and wait to see if more members of this conspiracy attempt to make contact. One day one of them will slip up and break this case wide open.

4 Apr


In the Netherlands there is only one true way to know when Spring has arrived. It is not the blooming of the first tulip or the birth of the first baby duckling. It is quite simply Rokjesdag.

Rokjesdag (also known as skirt day) is the name given to the first day of the year when it becomes warm enough for Dutch ladies to start showing off their bare legs again as they once more begin dressing in a selection of short skirts, dresses and shorts.

It also happens to be the day when most Dutch men start wearing their sunglasses in what they ‘think’ is a clever deception allowing them to enjoy the ‘traditions’ of Rokjesdag without getting into trouble with their wives of girlfriends. It never works out as they expect.

Most people in The Netherlands are familiar with the concept. In fact, a lot of Dutch people don’t consider spring to have officially started until Rokjesdag has taken place. The term was made popular by Dutch writer and columnist Martin Bril who called it a great and beautiful day. It has become so recognised now that a Dutch movie was released this year about it. In short, it is the most official un-official holiday in the Netherlands.

When is Rokjesdag?

The Dutch probably would make Rokjesdag an official holiday if the unpredictable Dutch weather didn’t make it impossible to set a fixed date for the event. One year Rokjesdag might be in April, the following year it might be in May and the year after that it might be in April, May, June or July. It’s the only holiday that can be affected by chaos theory. As the old saying goes, “A butterfly can flap its wings in Brazil and cause a Hurricane in Hong kong and Rokjesdag in The Netherlands.”

This unpredictability is probably the only thing stopping the Dutch from creating official ‘Happy Rokjesdag’ greeting cards for the occasion as well.

How do you celebrate Rokjesdag?

There is no official way to celebrate Rokjesdag (yet, give the Dutch time). However, most people agree that at least 50% of the female population has to be showing off their legs for it to be considered a true Rokjesdag. Anything less and it is simply a group of women who have badly misjudged the weather (and are probably freezing).

Wearing tights or leggings is viewed as cheating. Only items of clothing that put bare legs on display count; skirts, dresses, blouses, shorts. Men are also free to join in with the tradition of skirt/dress wearing if they wish. Rokjesdag is for everybody to enjoy, male or female. It should be fun for everyone… However, most men choose to wear shorts.

The important thing to realize is that Rokjesdag is more than just one day. It is merely the opening ceremony to (what is hopefully) a summer of clear skies, warm weather and short dresses… That is if the Dutch weather does not spoil everything.

Happy Rokjesdag

26 Mar
Easter Egg Hunt Comic

Dutch Easter Egg Hunt

This cartoon first appeared in the March/April edition of DUTCH:The Magazine

14 Mar
Ten Years of Blogging

Ten years ago today I made the very first post on Invading Holland.

Wow! Ten years! Please forgive me if I freak out a little bit for a moment. I can’t believe that I’ve been writing this blog for ten years already. Even writing that sentence does not seem real. When I started ten years seemed like such an impossibly long way away. When I saw other blogs celebrating their ten year anniversary I thought it seemed like such an epic milestone (and it is). I’ve been writing this blog for a decade! I’ve done the maths and that’s more than a quarter* of my life (so far). That’s a long time to be doing anything.

So in this post I thought it would be interesting to talk a little bit about why and how I started, as well as a few of the things I have learned from ten years of blogging.

How It All Started

I didn’t actually start out with the idea of creating a blog. Like so many things in my life it just sort of happened by coincidence.

For a long time I had had the vague idea that I wanted to create ‘something’ online. I just didn’t know what that ‘something’ was going to be yet. I was interested in the way a website could be a creative thing itself as well as a means to reach an audience. I liked the idea of doing something self contained that was my own thing.

I thought about it casually for a couple of months but I didn’t really get anywhere with the idea. It wasn’t until my flatmate introduced me to his latest online discovery that I knew what I was going to do. He had started reading something called weblogs.

I had never heard of the concept of blogging before so he explained it to me and shared a few of his favourites. While reading them I started to become fascinated with the idea of people sharing their stories and experiences online (this was before Facebook and social media became big and made sharing a normal part of internet life).

I started to think about all the crazy little stories I had of my own; the time I got stuck in a lift, the time I was lost in Amsterdam at night with a broken ankle, even the strange story of how I ended up in The Netherlands. They all seemed like the perfect subject material for a blog.

So I started writing.

Benefits of Blogging

Slowly, over time, I started to rediscover the love I had for writing at school before self doubt had convinced me I wasn’t good enough at it. I started to find that confidence again as I continued to write. Lately I’ve been enjoying writing short fictional stories too.

Finding an audience took time. Every new comment was exciting (and still is). My writing started to improve and I slowly developed a style. Some elements of that writing style were conscious choices while others simply developed overtime by themselves without me even noticing.

I was once told during a radio interview that a big part of my writing style was, even though I made jokes about the Dutch I was never mean about them. I’d never realized until that point that I was doing that or that it was somehow noteworthy. Now it is one of the things I pride myself on since I love the Dutch so much.

Writing this blog also forced me to deal with my dyslexia. You’ve probably noticed the odd spelling mistake, incorrect word or bonkers sentence structure that still gets through sometimes but you’d be surprised what it used to be like before I started. My spelling and grammar has improved more than I could ever have imagined ten years ago.

Simply through developing a regular writing habit (500-1000 words a week) I started to make incremental improvements. I started to notice some of my regular spelling mistakes and after fixing them a few times the corrections started to stick in my mind until I was no longer making the mistakes in the first place. My writing is not perfect of course. I’ve by no means ‘fixed dyslexia’. I still make mistakes but I no longer feel that dyslexia is something that defines me or holds me back. I’m surprised how often I forget about it sometimes. I certainly feel that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of, even as a writer. Luckily spell checkers also exist and I have a text-to-speech program I use to read my stuff back to me (sometimes with comical results).

The cartoons which were just the results of some doodling soon became a large part of the blogs identity too. They became just as important as the writing and just as much fun to create. Before I knew it my blog had evolved and become its own thing; The adventures of an accident prone Englishman living in The Netherlands. Best of all, people seemed to like it too.

Dealing with Writers Block

I’ve discovered that it is never a good idea to take yourself too seriously. The times I’ve struggled the most with writing have been the times I’ve started to become too caught up in measures of “success,” like visitor count, number of comments and shares or even the regularity (or lack thereof) of my own posting schedule. It created self doubt which led to that old creeping feeling that I was somehow not good enough and that I had been a fraud all this time. Worst of all it created massive writers block which turned that little bit of self doubt into its own self for-filling prophecy. In those moments I’ve found it useful to step back and remind myself why I started writing this blog in the first place; to have fun telling silly stories.

My favourite writer Neil Gainmen was once asked by an inspiring writer, “I want to be a writer when I grow up. Am I insane?” to which he replied, “Yes. Growing up is highly overrated. Just be an author.”

Ten Years of Blogging

The best thing about blogging for the last ten years has been being able to laugh at myself and amuse other people with those stories at the same time. It’s been amazing to have the support of all the people who read this blog. It’s seeing people’s reaction to it that has motivated me to keep going.

I could never have imagined some of the things that have happened as a result of writing this blog either. I’ve been interviewed by a Dutch newspaper, I’ve been on the radio and on television, I became a part time columnist, and I’ve met lots of amazing people (both bloggers and non-bloggers).

As I suspected, back before I even knew what I was going to create online, this blog has become a place that has allowed me to develop and share my creativity. It’s become an important part of my life and has allowed me to do one of the things I love doing the most; writing.

Who knows where I and this blog will be in another ten years’ time. I hope I am still going in some form or another. I will certainly never give up writing.

Thank you for making ten years of my silly stories possible.

(*27.02% of my life to be exact)

4 Mar

Invading Holland T-Shirt

Exciting news! You can now walk into a physical shop and buy a physical Invading Holland T-Shirt for your physical body. During the month of March I’ll be taking part in what has become known as Loppisstores, rent your own table.

Loppis sales are a fairly recent phenomenon that started in the north of the country. It comes from the Scandinavian countries. They are special shops where you can rent a small areas (a stand or table) to sell your own stuff from. You can sell anything from self made clothes and decorations to second hand books, vinyl records and more. It’s perfect if you don’t want to wait for Kingsday each year to sell your own stuff.

There are two sales locations where I am selling the Invading Holland T-Shirts; Loppisstore in Heerenveen and MijnTafel in Sneek. If you are in the area (or fancy a visit to Friesland) be sure to check it out. The T-shirts cost 8,50 and are still available through the webshop as well.

Loppisstore 1
Loppisstore Heerenveen

Loppisstore 2
MijnTafel Sneek

I’m also trying to find a location in Amsterdam. If anyone is aware of one please let me know.