28 Sep

Amsterdam is well known for its canals and although they are one of the cities main attractions they are well known for not being very clean. It’s not a desirable place to go for a quick swim even if you are diving for abandoned bikes. Drinking the water would most likely end up in the mutation of a third arm or eleventh toe. Given my accident prone nature it might be surprising to know that I have never fallen into a canal myself. However, I do know someone who has.

After leaving a house warming party late one night with a small group of friends we stumbled around the streets of Amsterdam looking for something to do while we waited for the trains started running again.

When a pile of bricks was discovered by a canal an impromptu game of ‘throw the brick in the water’ began. Despite the very simplistic rules I did not want to not take part. The first of the group picked up and threw his brick, almost reaching the other side of the canal. The second person grabbed a brick and did the same but his did not go as far. Then the drunkest person in the group decided it was his turn.

The drunken Scotsman picked up a brick, pulled back his arm and flung out as hard as he could in an awkward move that looked like it might dislocate his shoulder. The brick tumbled forward a few inches and landed just in front of his toes. However, he did not let the rather girly throw dull his determination and another brick was picked up for a second attempt. This time he decided a run up would give his projectile the acceleration it needed.

He took a few steps back, breathed in a deep breath, held the brick up high and ran towards the canal edge. Using the momentum of the run he extended his arm out into a powerful throw. He used all his strength to send the brick into the air. It looked like it could fly for miles. At least it might have if he had not forgotten one important thing. He forgot to let go.

The brick with the Scotsman still firmly attached flew a short distance before plunging into the brown water of the canal. There was panic all around but most of it was coming from the now soaking wet Scotsman who was trying to paddle back towards us. Baywatch might have made life guard duty seem glamorous but there is nothing sexy about fishing a drunk Scottish friend out of a murky Dutch canal at 3am on a Saturday night.

It only lasted a few seconds but as you can imagine he was very happy to be back on dry land again. He let us know this by screaming, “I’m alive,” every few minutes and sounding very surprised of the fact himself. Sadly the same could not be said of his mobile phone which was announced dead on arrival.

We dragged him back to a nearby friend’s house so he could dry off and shout out a few more times about his mortal status. This also gave the owner of the house (and the bathrobe the Scotsman had to borrow) a surprise when we turned up on the door step. The joke, “you look like you’ve been swimming in a canal,” didn’t really work at the time.

The next morning we were all very hung over but still amazed by what had happened. There was a lot of talk about what might have happened over breakfast as well as a few failed attempts to revive the drowned phone. Since that day I think the Scotsman has had a new respect for canals and to my knowledge he has never grown a third arm or eleventh toe, not yet at least.

22 Sep

I’ve always been fascinated by dream logic. I think it’ one of the reasons why I like writers like Neil Gaimen. So it is interesting when I can remember my dreams with such detail like the one I had the other night.

The dream started in an old Wild West town. I was there with my father (who has a great interest in the Wild West in real life). We were trying to fit in so the locals would not realize we were outsiders. My father was blending in perfectly but I was in trouble. All my clothes were too modern so I had to hide in the house as I tried to search for something close to a cowboy outfit. The best I could find was a checker shirt and jeans.

Then the dream suddenly changed location as they often do. I was in a hospital which was in my parent’s house. Although I did not remember arriving there I knew the reason for my visitation was to find a solution to my problem of not blending in. I spent what felt like ages waiting in the corridor. Every now and then a slightly over weight hospital orderly would come over and apologize for keeping me waiting.

Then the dream changed location again and the corridor was a locomotive pulling into a large train station. Some how I knew I was on my way to see a hypnotist to help me with my problem even though I could no longer remember what the problem was. I had a feeling of suspicion about the whole situation.

I stepped out of the train onto the platform expecting someone to meet me but there was no one around and yet the platform was crowded with people at the same time. Someone called out my name and I looked around to see a smartly dressed train station conductor. His hat was pulled down low over his face so I could only see his mouth under the caps peak. He was obviously trying to hide his identity so I took his hat off and discovered it was the hospital orderly I had seen earlier. Suddenly I knew I was being set up for something bad. Even though I knew this I followed him to the lab but I phoned my Mother for advice as we walked. She agreed that the way they had contacted me was bad (although she said it with many more swear words then she ever would in real life) but suggested going along with the experiment anyway.

I was introduced to the doctor who would hypnotize me. He explained that I would be taking part in a month long experiment to help people improve them selves through hypnosis. They promised they would not wipe my mind but I was still a little suspicious. Then with out warning they suddenly put me under. I was in a trance but I was fighting it so I could hear what they were trying to do to me. I struggled to keep my eyes open as the hypnotist instructed me to paint more and express myself on canvas. It didn’t sound like such a bad instruction. There was a second instruction. I know there was but I can not remember what it was and shortly afterwards I woke up.

It was a dream I kept on thinking about during the day and imagining what the out come might have been. I wondered if the suspicious behavior had been a set up to get me into the right frame of mind and what I thought was the experiment was just a distraction from the real experiment. Maybe at the end Darren Brown would have appeared from behind a curtain.

I still can’t remember what the second instruction in the dream was but if I suddenly start barking like a dog or try to kill a famous celebrity after someone says a trigger word one day I’ll know it must have worked.

18 Sep
Categories: Amsterdam Life

– Friday – 3:55am – 5 hours after the incident:
No one really knows how it started. All they can do is unimaginatively suggest scenarios from late night horror movies they have seen. “Maybe it’s a virus like in that movie based on that computer game,” or, “It’s a curse just like that movie starring Bruce Campbell,” they say.

But the truth is it does not really matter how it started. We only have enough food to last three more days and the looks of mistrust have already started. It won’t take long for that mistrust to turn into something much worse but that does not matter either. Our improvised barricade will fail long before that happens.

I don’t know how bad the outside situation is. Maybe they have already spread across Holland or even the whole of Europe. Either way there is only one thing left that I can do. It’s time to gather whatever weapons I can find, go outside and take down as many of the zombie scum with me as I can…

That or I could just turn off the games console and go to bed.

– Friday – 3:55am – 5 hours past my bed time:
I might have spent a little too much time playing the zombie slaying game Dead Rising this weekend. On Friday night alone I was laying waist to the undead until 4am which left me feeling very tired and zombie like myself for most of the Saturday and Sunday. It also caused me to have some very strange zombie themed dreams. If I had carried on playing my sleep deprived brain might have blurred fantasy with reality, causing me to board up all of the windows and start shouting questions of, “Have you been bitten?!” at my house mate.

If there really was a zombie scenario in Amsterdam I don’t think anyone would realize for a while. For the first few hours it would simply seem like an influx of stoned tourists who have spent too much time in the local coffee shops. However, when the stoner’s ‘attack of the munchies’ takes on a scary new meaning panic would set in as the population realize what is happening.

At this point the government would put into effect an emergency plan to systematically destroy the bridges around the city. The spider web pattern of the canals would make it possible to isolate areas and at the very least slow down the infection. However if anything was to be the cause of a zombie invasion in Holland I bet it would be the canal water.

With the bridges destroyed the few survivors left would live on islands of what was once Amsterdam (who knows if the man trapped on the newly formed Red Light Island would be happy or not). Life for the non-Dutch survivors would not be easy. All the remaining food supplies would be covered in mayonnaise or pinda (peanut) sauce and Dutch music would be played to lift people’s spirits. At that point I think I would swim back across the canal and take my chances with the zombies if they have not already been scared away by the Dutch music as well.

13 Sep

A few people have asked me about the process of moving to Holland and what they might need to do with in the first few days of arriving. For this reason I am going to take a break from my usual style of writing and attempt explaining a few things which might be useful.

Most of the information I am going to give will be from personal experience so I would still suggest checking other sauces of information for more details. Most companies will also help new employees with moving to the country and give them information on the essential things they need to organize upon their arrival.

The Move:
It may not be necessary to bring everything with you when you move to Holland. There are a lot of stores in the country where you can buy everything that you might need for modern life. The question you have to ask yourself is will it cost more to transport all your belongings or buy new ones?

Stores like Hema and Blokker are good for essential kitchen, bathroom, cleaning and other house hold items. Media Markt is a place where you will find lots of electronic equipment you might need and there is no shortage of clothing stores either.

A lot of Dutch towns also have second-hand (‘tweedehands’) shops if you are looking for cheap furniture and other items.

Residence Permit:
If you are a non-EU citizen one of the first things you will need to do is apply for a Residence Permit so you can stay in the country. For EU citizens a passport is enough to allow them residency in the country. Although a Residence Permit is optional for EU citizens it can still prove useful as an extra form of identification when organizing other things.

EU citizens do not require work permits. However, they do need a Sofi number to register in the tax/financial and social system (non-EU citizens also need one). This is usually straight forward and can be done by taking your passport to a local tax office and asking for a Sofi number.

Finding a House:
Finding a reasonably priced place to live in Holland is not always easy if you are looking for accommodation in Amsterdam, Utrecht, The Hague or Rotterdam. However it is not impossible.

If you are looking for a place to rent you will normally be asked to pay a waarborg (deposit). This can be between one and three months rent. Some employers will help new staff find a place to live (maybe as a temporary situation) if the job is the reason for them moving to the country.

Opening a Bank Account:
If you are planning to stay in Holland it is advisable to get a Dutch bank account. There are several major banks in Holland such as Rabobank, PostBank, Abn-Amro and ING Bank.

Health Insurance:
You will require health insurance when living in Holland. There are a few companies that offer different packages (from basic to premium). Some employers also have health insurance (and pension) deals that employees can join.

You will also need to register with a general practitioner in your area. Most medical insurance companies will provide you with a list of general practitioners near your home.

Basic Translation:
If you do not know anyone who speaks Dutch but need something translated Babel Fish can come in handy. However, it is not the most accurate translator so you may wish to try other means as well.

10 Sep

I have never been someone who is easily scared by spiders. However, when I saw Arachnophobia as a young teenager in the early 90s I have to admit that I was creped out for a few days. As a result I felt uncomfortable walking under lamp shades and I could not look at pop-corn the same way again. However, it was only a movie and the chances of a spider attack on that scale really happening seemed highly unlikely….. until a few days ago.

Earlier this week I noticed a rather strange amount of spiders in the Dutch town were I live, much more then you would normally expect to see. Most of them were near some form of foliage and if there was no spider in sight there was at least a very big web that looked like it was still in use.Some of the arachnids have managed to spin webs over seemingly impossible distances from one tree to another, possibly with ambitions of catching a human. It is lucky that I do not suffer from Arachnophobia otherwise I might have started running through the streets screaming, never to return. The little eight legged freaks have spun webs every where around town. Maybe this is the start of a combined attempt to cocoon the whole of North Holland. Shelob’s little minions might already be at work in other locations around the country.

Luckily they are only European Garden Spiders (I think) and their bite is harmless unless you happen to be a fly. However, if they form an alliance (or worse, a hybrid) with the mosquitoes we are all doomed. At the very least I will likely get sued by every arachnophobia sufferer for coursing them emotional distress with this post.