31 May

I never planned to live in Holland but fate seemed to push me towards life in the land of windmills and canals. It was purely by chance that I got a job in Amsterdam… or was it. Over the last few months I have made a discovery, something that could indicate unseen strings being pulled by shady characters in secret rooms to get me and countless other expatriates into Holland. You may think what I am about to say is far-fetched but I have evidence. It all started when one of the ‘actors’ told me more then he should have.

“Of course Holland is a fictional country.” A Dutch co-worker suddenly announced during lunch. “Come on… A completely flat country, built on land reclaimed from the sea where drugs and prostitution are legal and the locals speak a mix of German and Klingon…. Who in their right mind is going to believe that apart from tourists?”

I continued to listen as I ate my fictional uitsmijter in the fictional café as my fictional co-worker told me the truth. Holland is not real. Holland has never been real. Holland is just a television show.

To be more precise Holland is an unscripted dramatic reality TV show in which unsuspecting expatriates and tourists contestants from around the globe are let lose in a fictional land of legal prostitution, drugs and late night bars so their actions can be secretly filmed for the amusement of viewers. A sort of ‘Temptation Red Light District’.

This means every Dutch person is an actor. The person who checked my train ticket, the waiter who served my lunch, even the man who rescued me from the lift, all of them were actors. In fact there is no such thing as a Dutch person. It seemed hard to believe but after the ‘actor’ who told me the truth lost his job in strange circumstances I started to connect the dots and the peaces of the puzzle began to fall into place. The clues were all around me:

1) Secret cameras are hidden everywhere. I even managed to find one that is not far from my fictional place of work.

2) Like many other shows on TV these days Holland seems to receive a large amount of its funding from company sponsorship in return for advertising and product placement. Cheese and tulip companies appear to represent the majority of the sponsors in this case. In fact some of the larger companies must have donated a lot of money because they were able to get towns and cities in the show named after them. The Amsterdam Brewing Company for example.

3) I’m not the only person to unexpectedly end up in Holland either. I recently found out my new flat-mate did as well. How many other people living in Holland were manipulated by the television executives to become part of the show with out their knowledge?

You might not believe me. I don’t expect you to. People will say I’m mad but I know the truth now. However, I’ll play their little game. I will pretend I don’t know that I am on a reality TV show (but I might start showering with my clothes on). I’ll be a typical English Expat. No one is voting me off. I bet there is a huge prize at the end of all this. Hopfully its not just a life time supply of cheese and tulips.

25 May
Categories: Dutch Weather

Summer Rain

Having ginger hair means I can’t stay out in the sun too much because I burn very easily. One summer I made the mistake of sitting in the same position for most the day with the sun rising and setting to my right. It did not take long for me to end up looking like Harvey Two Face due to the sun burn down one side of my face and body. Some vampires can enjoy more sun bathing time then me.

However, despite all this I enjoy summer. I just have to be sensible and use sun-block cream. Its great when winter comes to an end and going to the beach becomes an option again or sitting out on a terrasse some where enjoying a drink with friends. Its a good time of year.

So with summer starting this year I packed away my jumpers, put on my sunglasses and stepped out into the sun to be greeted by… the Dutch Monsoon season. I never thought Holland had a Monsoon season but it seems it does. The Armageddon style weather waited until I was out getting lunch to start. By the time I had battled my way through the raging winds and rain (and nearly got blown off a bridge) to get back to the office I looked like a drowned rat. I would have been drier if I had jumped in to a canal.

We had two weeks of warm weather which did seemed to signal the start of summer but for the last few days its been nothing but rain and the forecast is predicting more. It has started getting colder again as well. A few days ago I almost resided to sleeping in the fridge to stop myself melting into a bucket during the night but now with the sudden weather reversion I am turning on every available heat emitting device and even the cat is trying to hide in my bed for warmth.

Last year the office had to be closed twice because it got too hot to work. This year it is more likely that the office will have to close due to flooding. If you don’t see any more posts here you will know Holland has been reclaimed by the sea.

21 May

Trapped in a lift

I’m going to tell you a story so scary you will never be able to look at a lift (or elevator if you Americans) the same way again. Stairs will become your new best friend. What I am going to tell you is a true story of how I suddenly found myself trapped in a lift, between floors in a deserted building.

The dictionary describes a lift as such:
Function: noun
A platform or an enclosure raised and lowered in a vertical shaft to transport people or freight.

But I describe a lift as so:
Function: evil
A platform dangling over the void of darkness or a claustrophobic enclosure of terror raised and lowered in a vertical shaft of doom and death to transport and create fear in people or freight.

It all started one Saturday evening a few years ago. I was working late, during my free time, trying to complete my work in time for a deadline. I was the last person in the building. Around 10pm I finally decided it was time to go home, shut off my computer and got in the lift to go from the fourth floor to the ground floor… if only I had taken the stairs.

As the lift moved down the shaft it suddenly jerked to a stop. At first I thought nothing of it. I thought I had arrived at my destination. Only the doors did not open. I tried hitting a few buttons, nothing happened. It only took a few seconds to realize I was trapped between the first and second floor. It was a Saturday. Monday was a bank holiday. I realized there was a good chance I would not be getting out any time soon and I might have to eat my own arm to survive. I was trapped in a lift.

Trapped in a lift

I don’t mind telling you that for the first couple of minuets I was very scared. Visions of the lift falling down the shaft danced through my mind. Shouting and using the emergency buzzer did no good. There was no one else in the building. No one was coming to my rescue. In my panic I tried to open the doors with my bear hands. They opened easily but what was behind them was another horror like something out of the ‘Twilight Zone.’ An old red brick wall up to waist height and then the outer lift doors. I tried to force open the outer lift doors but they would only open an inch and no more. For a while I let the panic in, pacing up and down the small space of the lift (but being careful not to shake it too much).

Then, as I started to calm down, came the moment that every man who grew up watching 80s TV dreams of… MacGyver time. Also known as ‘The bit at the end of the A-Team where they made something cool’. So I found myself thinking, “What would MacGyver do?” I took stock of my inventory.

1)A laptop with only a little battery power remaining
2) A mobile phone with a dead battery
3) Some paper
4) A technical drawing pencil
5) A can of coke
6) And my back pack itself

I started thinking things like, “Maybe I could somehow wire up my laptop battery to my mobile phone and charge it up. No.. wait… the lift is a dead spot for mobile phones.”

“Maybe I could use the technical drawing pencil to chip away at the mortar around the bricks and tunnel my way out. No… no good either, I might bring the whole building down.”

“I could open up my laptop, find a long wire and tie it to the Coke can. Then I could shake the Coke can really hard, open it and use it as a rudimentary grappling gun to climb up and out of the shaft. Dam… that wont work… there is no hatch in the lift to open.”

“Ah screw it… I’ll use my backpack as a pillow to sleep on till someone comes and rescues me.”

I used the paper and technical drawing pencil to write a note and push it through the small gap in the lift doors in case anyone came along while I tried to sleep. I wrote my SOS on both sides of the paper since I did not know how it would fall when I pushed it through the gap. Luckily I only ended up with spelling errors on one side.

Then insanity started to set in. The creaking and groaning noises the lift was making started to get to me. It sounded like evil mocking laughter telling me no one was coming. The only thing I could do to keep my spirits up and block out the sound was to sing to myself. No songs came to mind so I started making up my own. I came up with great hits like:

1) I’m stuck in a mother %$#@! lift.
2) I hate lift.
3) Why does this %$#@! have to happen to me.
4) I should have asked that girl out. Now I’m going to die in a lift.

After a while I tried to sleep. In a strange way I had come to accept what was happening to me. There was nothing more to do but wait. Panicking served no purpose and if the lift was going to drop me to my death if would have done so by now. Still I could not sleep. The mocking laughter of the lift kept me awake.

How did I escape my fate you might ask. The simple answer is… I didn’t. I’m still here, using the wireless connection on my lap top to send this blog entry in the hope that someone will see it and come to my rescue.

Ok… maybe not. Here is what really happened. The sounds from the lift and thoughts of what I would have to do if I needed to go to the toilet kept me awake. Around 2am I heard something… not the lift… something else… movement… from down stairs. I jumped up and started shouting. I was found by a very surprised Dutchman in a suit from one of the other companies in our building. I don’t know what he was doing showing up at 2am. I did not care. All I cared about was I was saved.

One thing I feel really bad about was I never remembered his name. It went in one ear and out the other because of all I had been through (If you are reading this I am sorry about that). He phoned the fire brigade and sat and chatted with me while we waited. He even tried to hand me a bottle of Bacardi between the small opening in the lift doors but it would not fit and we did not have any long straws.

Eventually the fireman arrived, opened the lift doors with a crowbar and pulled me out. I could have hugged them… in a manly way of course. I thanked everyone, signed some forms that the firemen gave me, walked out of the building and took in a lungful of the air of freedom. In total I had been trapped for a little over four hours. I never saw the man who found me again. Maybe he was an angle… or a smartly dressed cat burglar, I don’t know. I’ve also never set foot in that lift alone again and never ever late at night. I still swear when ever I hear the lift creek it is saying, “I’ll get you next time Stuart and you’ll never escape.”

Think this story sounds to crazy to be true? Then let me leave you with a scan of the actual note I wrote that fateful night:

Trapped in a lift note
18 May

As I made my way to work this morning I noticed the early indications that the tourist season in Amsterdam is getting into full swing. Although the clues were all around me there was one sign in particular that made me realize the city was about to be invaded by sightseers again. It was not the people dragging their suitcases around the streets. It was not the confused looking people trying to work out the tram system. It was not even the canal tour boats that have started passing the office every half hour.

No, it was none of the conventional warning signs. The first indication that came before all of these was in the form of an announcement over the crackling speakers in Amsterdam train station:

“Gelieve te houden een oog op uw bezittingen. De zakken van de oogst werken op dit gebied.”

“Please keep an eye on your belongings. Pick pockets operate in this area.”

“Veuillez garder un oeil sur vos affaires. Les poches de sélection fonctionnent dans ce secteur.”

Why this stood out for me more then all the hints I don’t really know but it did. After that I started to notice all the other tourist activities.

Tourists come in many different shapes and sizes but they can be categorized into groups. Here are just a few you might see this summer during the sightseer migration:

The Suitcase Pullers:
All tourist types start out as suitcase pullers. This also means they are the only group capable of evolving into other types of tourists. They are often seen wondering around Amsterdam and can easily be identified by the suitcase they drag with them and the lost look on their faces as they search for their hotel. The suitcase itself can some times act as an indication of how long they plan to stay in your country. The smaller the suitcase the shorter their stay maybe (or the smellier their clothes will be by the end). They can originate from all countries.

Camera Tourists:
These kinds of tourists are mostly found congregating on bridges over looking long canals or other scenic locations. They travel as a group but are in fact split into two sub-groups. One sub-group operates the cameras and the other sub-group poses for the photos. Between them they are capable of blocking entire paths with the invisible barrier which seems to form between them during the photo taking process, forcing locals to stop and wait until it is over. Most camera tourists originate from England, America and Japan.

Sightseeing tourists are the most vocal of all tourist groups and believe they can break the language barrier with volume alone. If talking louder fails they will resort to the tried and tested method… of… talking… slower… and pointing to a picture of the place they are trying to find. These tourists can often be identified by the guide books or maps they cling too. It is not uncommon for there to be a cross over between the Sightseer and Camera Tourist groups. However, this particular variety of sightseer (the loud speaker) is known to originate mostly from England and America.

Excessive Tourists:
This group is a common breed mainly originating from England. To call them ‘tourists’ in the true sense of the word is miss leading since most of their sightseeing will only involve the inside of bars and coffee shops before stumbling around the streets of the red light district. They often travel in packs at night and can be seen trying to carry the most inebriated of the group even though they are all quite intoxicated themselves. They have been known to approach locals and sluringly ask one of the following questions:

– Do you know where we can find a good night club mate?
– Mate. You don’t know where we can get some [ insert drug name here] do you?
– How much do the prostitutes cost around here mate? Do any of them [insert bizarre sexual act here]?

It is because of this group I would like to close this post with the following statement:
People of Holland. Although this has not been officially approved by my government I would like to here by apologize for acts by any and all drunk and loud British tourists. They do not represent Briton in any official capacity. They know not what they do or how they make us hang our heads in shame.

15 May

It’s amazing what you can find when you are moving house. There always seems to be lots of objects you either forgot you had or thought you had lost. Then there are also the objects you know you should throw away but just can’t quite do it. At least this was my experience of moving. Since I’ve only moved once I can’t clame to be any authority on the subject.

One of the things I did find again (and did not throw away) was all my early sketches of the cartoon characters I used on this blog. Since a few people have complemented my sketches I thought it would be interesting to share these early scribbles.

It might sound strange but I started drawing these characters because of the South Park Character Creation Tool. At first I was just messing around making South Park versions of myself and my college friends. Then I started arranging them together in comic reconstructions of things that happened to us during our three years of study. Considering we once voted for a toy frog to be our student representative (No, I really am not joking) there were quite a few funny stories so I got the idea of making an on-line comic from them. The frog won the vote by the way but another student had to act as his voice.

I started making a few comic but sadly did not really have enough time to keep it up (I only just have enough time for this Blog at the moment). Maybe one day I will be able to start again. I still enjoy drawing them and its been fun making new images for this blog. For now here are the few I did get around to finishing (Click for more).