28 Nov

Oh sweet irony, you are a cruel mistress sometimes. I thought I knew you so well by now but sometimes you are still able to surprise me.

Almost a year ago I made a post about my new determination to start jogging and get fit. This post contained the following paragraphs:

“On the one side a jogger is someone with a mission. As they run through the streets and fields in their trainers and tracksuit they are someone trying to improve their health through exorcise. You can see the determination and commitment on their faces as they speed by. These are qualities to admire.

However, all that changes the moment any jogger slows to a walk. Suddenly they no longer look like a jogger. Suddenly they look like a Chav. With out the act of running they simply look like someone walking around in a tracksuit as a fashion statement. The fact that they are still out of breath could be mistaken for the results of a quick get away from a shop security guard. At least that would explain some of the strange looks I have got in the street.”

This was just a simple observational joke but it seems that fact really does follow fiction. At least that would explain why I was just stopped by the long arm of the law during my last jog tonight.

Half way through my jog I got a stitch in my side and had to slow down to a walk, accepting the fact that I then looked like a chav. A short while later a cop car pulled up along side me. Apparently I (or some one else almost as handsome looking as me) had been seen near the scene of a car break in.

During what followed I actually got to experience the good cop/bad cop routine which (until now) I had only seen on episodes of CSI and Law & Order. While one of the two policemen was quite polite and made small talk about how cold it was (while asking for my personal details) the other suddenly asked me if I liked cars. I was caught off guard and thought this was more small talk so I replied that I was not into them that much. After all, I’ve never watched Formula 1.

“But you like what is in them don’t you?” was his surprising reply.

After five minutes of thinking I might be about to spend the night in the slammer as a guest of ‘the man’ I was allowed to go home, an innocent person.

To close this post I was going to make a joke and ask if anyone would like to by a car stereo but that would be incriminating and my lawyer really advises against it.

27 Nov

Anyone who has visited Amsterdam is probably at least a little familiar with the large banner that hangs just outside the central train station. It shows a small selection of the kind of people you might meet in Amsterdam and it is possibly one of the first things that tourists and locals gaze upon when they arrive in the city and the last thing they see as they leave. It has been there for several months.

I pass it myself everyday on my way to work and everyday the same thought enters my head; why didn’t someone tell them to smile? The photographer should have at least held up a squeaky toy to get their attention before the photo was snapped. Most of them look like they were caught off guard.

Some of them don’t really look like the friendliest bunch of people ever caught on celluloid which makes me wonder why someone decided to enlarge this photo and put it up for every new comer to see. It’s as if they are trying to say, “Welcome to Amsterdam. Some of these people don’t like you.”

No one knows who these people are but after several months of passing this banner every day I think I have finally figured out the identities of a few of them.

1) Jeron van Marionet
Once Holland’s greatest ventriloquist, Jeron has been in denial about his failing eye sight for the past five years. Ironically this photo documents the exact moment that he walked directly into a lamppost.

2) Debby de Kostuum
Ever since the video of her failed Dutch Popstars addition attempt became a brief YouTube hit Debby has become convinced that everyone recognises her and wants her autograph. So far Debby has only signed one autograph which was for Jeron van Koberg who actually thought she was Marina Sirtis from Star Trek:TNG.

3) Bart de Landbouwer
He does not like city folk. He likes photographers even less ever since an unfortunate incident when a badly timed camera flash made his prize winning cow stampede during a farm show.

4) Joris van Zaken
A young Dutch business man, fresh out of college who dreams of making Febo a world wide phenomenon.

5) Jenny de Standbeeld
Either the world’s oldest living statue performer or a very confused old lady. She is still standing on exactly the same spot that she was when the photo was taken.

6) Debbie ‘Switchblade’ McShane and Jane ‘Shotgun’ McLain (Left to Right)
Friends since childhood, Switchblade and Shotgun later became Ireland’s most notorious criminals and were believed to be responsible for most of the bank robberies in the country during the 1940s and 50s. In 1959 they faked their own deaths in what looked like a bank robbery get away gone wrong. They retired to Holland.

Since the decline of Shotgun’s mental health Switchblade has been looking after her with the money remaining from their 20 year long crime wave which is believed to still be millions.

Since they were unexpectedly re-discovered in this photo a nation wide old ladies search has been under way by the Dutch and Irish police. It is worth noting that the photographer of this photo mysteriously disappeared shortly after it was taken.

7) The Stranger
I would tell you his name but even just knowing this simple fact would give you nightmares. If I told you his story you would never be able to sleep again, instead you would rock back and forth in a corner of your house muttering to yourself. His spooky, dead eyes seem to follow you around the street where ever you go from his photographic prison. There is only one thing you need to know about this man, one simple fact that you should remember when ever you look upon his celluloid image as you past central station, you can see it in his eyes; he… wants… to… murder… you… in… your… sleep.

Welcome to Amsterdam.

20 Nov

When I was just a young blogger, only knee high to a Google search, there were several blogs that I looked up to as examples of how grown up blogging was done.

In one such example having a boyfriend who is a twat and a large supply of red wine close at hand (in the garage via the kitchen) was clearly a recipe for a successful blog. I was not willing to go as far as getting myself a boyfriend but the wine sounded like a good idea. I continued to read and that is how I became familiar with the blog My Boyfriend is a Twat by Zoe McCarthy.

Zoe’s blog has now been turned in to a book with pages made out of paper and letters that form words which means it can be read with out the risk of RSI in your mouse hand. A few days ago she asked me to review this book.

Described as a mixture of ‘The Osbournes’, ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ and ‘My Family’ Zoe’s book and award winning blog (three time winner of the Best European Blog Award) tells the story of her relationship with her boyfriend (aka: Quarsan, aka: The Twat) and the comical chaos that regularly accurse.

The book contains many funny stories about why life living with a Twat might be difficult even if it is highly amusing to an outsider. It’s impossible not to like the character of the Twat even though he has obviously coursed Zoe to pull her hair out on several occasions. It is this love/irritated-by relationship that makes the book so enjoyable and means men and women will both get something different out of reading it.

As someone who started reading Zoe’s blog quite late in it’s creation I feel that reading the book is like watching the flashback episode of your favourite TV show and discovering the back story that explains the characters motivations and development. I discovered the moving tale about Zoe and Quarsan’s first meeting, the betrayal that started the well known satellite story and the shocking revelation about whose idea it was to start the blog. It is all humorously written down with in the books pages (which are made of paper).

I could continue to talk about how good the book is but I do have one big problem with it (sorry Zoe). The book is described as, “The definitive guide to recognising, dealing and living with a complete and utter Twat,” and this worries me for one main reason. As I started to browse the books pages and read the story of the twat I started to find myself identifying with him. My attempts at cake baking have met with similar success, I have been known to put empty jars back in the fridge and on at least one occasion I have considered purchasing an inflatable Dalek. Could I be a twat as well? Am I a member of the brotherhood of the Twat?

Despite the identity crises this book has coursed me it is very enjoyable and I suggest picking up a copy from Amazon or your local book store.

17 Nov

This Saturday Sinterklass and his Zwarte Pieten helpers arrived in Holland to prepare for December 5th when they give out presents to all the good boys and girls and drag the bad ones back to Spain in a sack while beating them with twigs.

Since I was in town when Sinterklass arrived I had the opportunity to take a few photos. I found the perfect snapshot taking location. Since they were going to be arriving by boat I was standing on the rivers edge at the entrance to town where it was less busy. The boat would have to pass right by me in order to reach its destination and the thousands of hyper children that awaited it.

A short while after I arrived I saw the boat approaching in the distance. I started to take photos as it sailed closer and closer while the Zwarte Pieten danced about in what almost looked like a strange re-enactment of a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean.

As the boat sailed past me I continued to snap away. Then, I suddenly saw him, the bearded white one, the pope hat wearing one, the one who should never be called Santa Claus unless you want to invoke the rage of the Dutch people, none other then Sinterklass himself. He was standing on the deck of his ship and he was actually waving to me.

This was great for two reasons. Number one, he was waving and not pointing at me while screaming to the Zwarte Pieten, “Get him boys! He’s been naughty this year!” Number two, I was about to get a great Sinterklass photo for this blog.

I quickly took up my camera and zoomed right in. It was going to be the kind of detailed photograph that would allow me to see what he had for breakfast by identifying the crumbs in his beard. I was just a fraction of a second away from pushing that button and capturing Sinterklass’s image in the photographic medium when disaster struck. The batteries in my camera suddenly died!

I started cursing, using the kind of language that might have had the Zwarte Pieten chasing after me with twigs if they had not been just out of hearing range. I was about to go home, beaten, crushed and a failure but then I was gripped by determination. I was not going to give up that easily. I would be victorious. There was still time to get that mug shot.

I searched for the nearest place I could find that sold batteries and restored my photographic equipment to fully working order.

I sprinted back to the river as fast as I could. I knew I could cut Sinterklass off by taking one of the other alleyways that would bring me out farther down the river. As I reached the end of the alleyway I could hear the excited cheers of children. I had made it and was about to see Sinterklass’s boat again. However, I only saw the back end of Sinterklass’s boat as it disappeared behind some buildings.

I was too late and even worse; the bridge I needed to cross to get ahead of the boat again was up so the boat could pass through. I was cut off from the main land but I still had another chance.

I knew of an alley way farther down that gave a view out onto the river. I dodged and dived my way through the crowd to my secret photo snapping location. This time I arrived just before the boat. There was nothing that would stop me getting that photo this time. At least that would have been the case if someone had not blocked off the end of the alleyway with wooden boards. Since I did not have an axe with me I had to watch as the masts of the boat passed by.

I had come so far. It would have been insanity to give up at this point. I knew I had one last chance, the boats final destination, the dock where Sinterklass was going to disembark. Once again I rushed through the streets and alleyways that would bring me farther along the river.

When I arrived I realized that I was still cut off from a good view point. This time by a large group of Pepernoot hungry children and their parents. It was only my English sense of politeness that stopped me from pushing a few children into the river so I could claim my prize.

My chance to get a photo of Sinterklass on his boat was lost. However, I could still get a mug shot of him during the parade around town. The crowd was too big to get through so I had to go around it. After some more running through streets and hidden alleyways I finally found a good spot over looking the parades route, just behind a group of children whose heads I could easily see over on account of me being a grown up and all. Finally victory would be mine. Nothing would make me give up my spot so I waited.

And waited…

And waited some more…

Then suddenly, out of no where the man himself was standing in front of me. He was so close that I could almost reach out and touch him. He had his back to me but my heart leaped with joy and I felt butter flies in my stomach as I turned my camera on.

Then I realized it was a child dressed as Sinterklass, sitting on his mother’s shoulders. I felt kind of stupid.

Finally the parade started and I began to snap photos. First to pass by were Peter Pan, Wendy and Captain Hook. I don’t think the Captain Hook costume was very authentic, not because it was actually a girl in costume but because she was clearly in possession of both her own hands. That did not really show much dedication to playing the part really.

Then I spotted him, the great white beardy one, riding his horse. He was just behind Harry Potter.

Maybe Harry Potter was acting as his magical body guard or the students of Hogwarts had be rounded up for performing naughty magic and were being paraded around town as an example to other children before being dragged off to Spain in a sack by Zwarte Piet.

As Sinterklass got closer I started to snap photo after photo. I was not able to get the quality photo that I had had the chance to get earlier but I still considered myself the winner. I allowed myself a small victory cheer which made several children look at me in confusion but I did not care. I finally had the photo I had been working so hard to get.

I now realize that if Sinterklass had seen me at every location where I tried to sneak a photo of him he might have become worried and thought I was some kind of strange obsessive stalker who never got over the fact that Sinterklass did not give him the fire truck toy he wanted as a child. I guess I will know if there is a restraining order in my clog on the 5th of December.

5 Nov

Amsterdam Emergency Alarm

On the first Monday of every month at noon the Dutch government likes to test the emergency alarm system in Amsterdam and the rest of the country. Wailing sirens can be heard every where through out the famous European city. I’m not sure what kind of disasters these alarms are supposed to warn the citizens of Amsterdam about but it occurred to me that if such a tragedy was to actually happen on the first Monday of the month at noon no one would realize something was really wrong until the flood drowned us, the meteor struck us or the rampaging dinosaur ate us.

“What’s The Emergency Alarm For?”

That’s the other strange thing; no one seems to know what kind of impending doom the alarm is supposed to alert us for. Most of my Dutch co-workers enjoy shouting, “the Germans are back,” whenever they hear the loud test sirens. However, I have come up with a few of my own explanations that I like to confuse tourists and freshly arrived expats with when ever they ask me the question, “what is that noise?”

“What’s That Noise?”

1) “That’s to remind me to take my medication.”

2) “Dam, I left the oven on.”

3) “Somewhere, (insert name of bad Dutch sing here) is performing.”

4) “That’s the chav alarm. An Easy Jet flight must have just landed at Schiphol airport.”

5) “That happens every time Febo sells 100 kip burgers.”

6) “Time to put on your clogs… it’s the law.”

7) “What, that? No, that’s nothing… Incidentally, if anyone asks, I was with you all night.”

8) “Dam it. They just finished cleaning up the last Zombie apocalypse. I hope the road cleaners don’t go on strike this time.”

9) “It’s the expat-man signal. Someone needs my help. Up, up and away.”

10) “Quick, hide me! They’re hunting expats again! Please, I don’t want to be a frikandel!”

11) “Oh dear… The Dutch supply of cheese just ran out.”

12) “Oh no, it’s the Sinterklaas alarm! If we don’t make an offering of our naughty children quickly he will take his rage out on all of us!”