31 Mar

Official Statement

Dear people of Holland,

This is not something that I normally do but I feel that it is important for me to make an official statement on something that you have all probably been wondering about.

I did not cause the power cut that affected large parts of the Netherlands last week.

Given my extremely accident prone nature it is understandable that some of you might have thought this. It is true that I have caused power cuts on several occasions in the past. However, those power cuts were always limited to my own home (as too was the fire). At the time of last week’s power cut I was not doing anything that could intentionally or unintentionally cause a large surge of electricity. I was not plugging something in, changing a light bulb, rewiring my house or performing any questionable experiments.

As for those of you who were wondering about my well being during the events of the power cut I am happy to report that I did not end up trapped in any lifts or trains (I am surprised too). In fact, I was quite unaware of what had happened until sometime later. The power cut happen moments after I stepped off the train at Amsterdam which might seem suspicious… but I’m sure I was not involved.

24 Mar

Personal Belongings

My morning train ride was going smoothly. The train had arrived on time, it was heading in the correct direction and I’d even managed to get a seat. As we arrived at our final destination the intercom crackled to life and the conductor started his routine announcement, first in his native language of Dutch and then in his not so native language of English.

These announcements are often a source of amusement because the English part does not always go as the announcer planned or would have liked. The meaning of a sentence can be so easily changed by misplacing a few words (I know because I do it all the time in Dutch). This morning’s announcement ended up being a little suggestive.

“Ladies and Gentlemen. The next station is Amsterdam. Please remember to take off your personal belongings as you leave the train.”

It took me a second to realize what I had just heard. Take off our personal belongings? I know the Dutch are a very open minded people but had the train announcer really just suggested that we all take off our clothes as we leave the train? I’m not sure I want to know my fellow train passengers so intimately. It would be quite a shock for the people on the platform too if the doors opened and a steady stream of naked people suddenly exited the train.

I decided to keep my clothes on. Luckily so did everyone else.

15 Mar

The Escape

When I receive an email from someone offering to lock me in a room for an hour I am normally a little hesitant to reply. However, when the team from Claustrophobia invited me to play their latest escape room game (titled Wake Up) eager to let them do just that. I’ve always wanted to try an escape room game.

The basic premise of an escape room is that you are locked in a room and have to find a way out within an hour by completing various puzzles. It’s kind of like a live action point and click adventure computer game but without the load times. However, Wake Up takes the basic premise of an escape room game and runs with it, creating an amazingly immersive experience.

The game is based around the imagination of Matilda, a little girl who’s dreams are usually happy and cheerful places until something goes wrong. Thousands of fantasies, riddles and illusions become mixed up in one mysterious and unpredictable knot, and you are trapped right in the middle of it.

Before I went in I knew I would need some help so I assembled a team of friends. After we arrived the three of us waited outside the door to Matilda’s dream world, not knowing what to expect. The door opened, we entered a room, the timer started and then…

…this one thing happened and it was great…

… and this other thing happened and we all jumped… it was awesome…

…and later Luke figured out this one puzzle we were all be stuck on and we cheered…

…and later still we found this thing we needed for another thing… and we were all very pleased with ourselves…

… and all this other amazing stuff happened and…

Ok. I can’t actually tell you what happened after we entered the room without spoiling the surprises that followed. I really wish I could but I can’t. I have been sworn to secrecy. If you want to know what happens in Matilda’s dream you’ll simply have to enter it for yourself.

What I can tell you is that we were instantly sucked into the amazing atmosphere, and genuinely mind blown by some of the surprises that awaited us upon completing parts of the mystery and the many fun puzzles.

You’re probably wondering if we actually escaped (or if I am writing this from inside the locked room). We escaped. We completed the room in 41 minutes and 13 seconds, just a few minutes behind the record. Why not see if you can beat our time?

Click Here for more info about Claustrophobia: Wake Up

Claustrophobia Escape Cartoon
Claustrophobia Escape Photos

And don’t worry. They do actually let you out if you don’t complete it in time…… I think.

24 Feb

Dutch Queue

As a stereotypical Englishman I have a particular (and some would say unhealthy) interest in queuing. Most English people do. It is a natural instinct for us to wait in lines. We might complain about the amount of time it takes to reach the front of the line once we are in it but this is just all part of the tradition. We like the queue. We don’t like the waiting. We like the sense of order, of rules, the idea that even if we have to wait an annoyingly long time at least there is a system.

This is why (as an Englishman) queuing in Holland has taken some time to get used to (putting it mildly). In Holland queuing is an extreme sport. There are no rules, only survivors. The most extreme cases of this can be observed when attempting to board a busy train in Holland. This is something that I have to do daily so I have had a lot of time to analyse it scientifically and take notes. There are several steps to what can be loosely termed ‘queuing for the train’ in Holland.

Step 1: The Cluster

Preparations begin the moment the train is spotted in the distance. The Dutch start moving towards the edge of the platform, trying to predict the best place to stand in the hope that they will end up near a door once the train has stopped. This causes small clusters of people to form around the predicted door locations. However, since they never get it right these small clusters end up shuffling along the platform with the slowing train as they try to keep up with their chosen door. This often causes them to walk backwards into other people, swallowing them up into their group.

Step 2: The Gap

Once the train has come to a full stopped the cluster of people (that have gathered around each entrance) will reform slightly to create a narrow gap leading away from the door. This gap is for the people exiting the train, however it is more of a gesture than a practical exit route. It is kept as narrow as possible just in case anyone at the back of the cluster tries to use it to gain ground.

Step 3: Hold The Line

As passengers exit the train the people on the outer edges of the cluster already start to get restless. They shuffle and move around, trying to see how much longer they have to wait and if there is any weakness in the group that they can exploit. Always be on your guard.

Step 4: The Collapse

As the last person exits the train the cluster of eager Dutch people will immediately collapse in on itself as everyone tries to rush forward through the doors at once. Arms, elbows, bags, large suitcases, hot cups of tea or coffee and body mass are all legitimate strategies to keep people back and gain ground on others. A battle cry is optional.

If a passenger is too slow getting off the train before this happens they are doomed. They will be swept back up onto the train by the unstoppable current of oncoming passengers and find themselves at the next station before they realize what has happened.

In Conclusion:

If you survive and are able to board the train you are one of the lucky ones. Many people have not been so lucky. Dutch queues take no prisoners and should not be taken likely… Of course, if you have made it on to the train there is still one challenge that awaits you; The race to find a seat.

Good luck.

10 Feb

Bilingual Child

I am thirty five years old. I have been learning Dutch for the last fourteen years. During that time I have gone on courses, attended classes, filled out homework and taken exams.

My daughter is two. She has been learning Dutch for two years (the first year mainly involved listening). She has not gone on any courses or attended any classes. She has never had to do any homework or take any exams either (unless that is what the scribbles on the wall in crayon where last week).

She might be half Dutch but there is no denying that my Dutch is better. This is because I have a twelve year head start and a really good motivator; I can’t let her get better at speaking Dutch than me… And that might prove to be difficult because she is already gaining.

Language Race

Alarmingly she has already over taken me in some areas of the Dutch language. For example; unlike her I am unable to name all the Care Bears in Dutch, I do not know all the words to the Nijntje theme song and until yesterday I did not know the Dutch word for rainbow (until she told me).

This is a little unfair because I don’t get to practise the same kind of words that she does. I simply don’t get a chance to use them in my everyday life and would get strange looks if I tried. I can’t stand up in the middle of a meeting and say that, “the points made are all well and good but we must consider that the tijger doet rrraaaaaaa and the poes doet miauw.” I would probably be escorted out of the building and advised to seek help.

To add insult to injury my daughter and I will often have ‘disagreements’ over English vs. Dutch. Just last week we were having a debate about whether her favourite ball was green or groen. She was of the strong belief that it was groen. I was trying to introduce the idea that it was green. She was having none of it. When I tried to meet her half way and concede that the ball was both green and groen at the same time she only became more defensive in her beliefs.

“Neeeeee Papa! Groen!”

Sometimes when I do say something in Dutch she might try to repeat it but get the pronunciation slightly wrong. When that happens I repeat the word for her again so that she can retry. Because of this we usually end up in a loop, each saying the word one after the other, again and again. To be honest, after a while I get slightly lost and start to wonder who is leading who. It’s possible that she is actually trying to teach me the correct pronunciation of whatever word we have ended up saying over and over again to each other. When this happens I try to use the ‘I am an adult’ approach to proving that I am right and break the loop but then my wife usually enters the room and tells us that we are both wrong.

It is possible that I am going to lose this race.