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Holland Park Press

Cowboy in the Kingdom

5 December 2013 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar

When I was a child I owned a cowboy outfit, which I wore until it burst at the seams. Later, when I was in the army, I would, in a similar way, burst out of my gala uniform.

The cowboy outfit came with two toy cap guns. I’m not sure if that’s still allowed. You used to have toy stoves that let you cook for real. They no longer exist either. But I couldn’t have anticipated that I would finally become a proper cowboy at the age of fifty-one. A cowboy without a horse, by the way.

The closest I have ever come to riding a horse is on a donkey. When I was a youngster it was one of the rides on fairgrounds. I always asked for a ride, complete with cowboy outfit and cap gun.

But last week I was involved in catching cows while not on horseback. Well, not exactly catching. It was late at night and I decided to go out for a stroll. I live on the edge of the city centre but there is a park nearby with grazing cows.

At the corner of the road is a canal, and a strip of grass. That’s where the cows were. For a moment I thought I had drunk too much, and I had, yet the cows were real.

They had escaped from the park. Apparently they can clear the gate, as I later heard. If the farmer tries to erect an electric cattle fence, local people cut the wire because they want to be able to walk through the field.

Colossal beasts. I could barely see over them. There were about ten people there. They had surrounded the cows and, with their arms spread wide or holding their bikes in front of them, were trying to keep them back. There were also three female students shivering in bathrobes, plus me.

The cows’ noses were steaming. The cows seemed to grow even bigger in the sparse street lighting. All of a sudden the cow in front began to move. She was coming towards me!

The other cows, too, began to move. Suddenly, it reminded me very strongly of Pamplona. It would be great if I could tell you I was in possession of a lasso, which I threw round the cow’s head, or something equally heroic.

Before I realised it, I had taken shelter behind a parking meter. It didn’t cover me completely, but none of the cows would be able to hit me full on. Excruciatingly slowly, the herd passed.

People got on their bikes to follow the cows. One man with a briefcase and a mobile phone followed on foot. This triggered the cows into a gallop, or whatever it is called when cows are on the run.

At the next crossroads the cows disappeared from sight. They may well have taken a turning through the railway tunnel, on their way to the shops. It wasn’t even a late shopping night.

When I arrived at the crossroads, the man with the briefcase was still there. Our eyes met, cowboys together.

It took me a week to tell anyone about it. Well, it was a bigger spectacle than the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

This is another thing that I’d rather not pass on to people abroad. They were to re-enact the landing of Prince Willem-Frederik on the beach. However, it was too windy, so the barge was replaced by an amphibious navy vehicle. Hence the famous actor playing the prince, dressed in nineteenth-century costume, found himself standing on a modern navy vehicle. Later on he was allowed to travel by horse and cart. The entire amateur acting community of greater The Hague was engaged.

When, that evening, in the presence of the Royal family, a performance took place in the Circus theatre which can only be called amateurish, I concluded: the Dutch aren’t really proper cowboys.

How can I summarise the 200th anniversary of the Kingdom of the Netherlands? Make yourself as insignificant as possible with a lack of heroism. Or hide behind a parking meter, like me, amidst the cows in my street.

© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press

arnold jansen op de haar

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