Magazine

Zeitgeist

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I am always exactly on time. We used to call this ‘military punctuality’. After all, I have served in the army. ‘Synchronise watches’ before a major operation has been drummed into me; in civilian life, being on time means being too early. No one expects you to be on time. The exception is the zeitgeist; you have to be in tune. For this, I hesitate to admit, I am usually too late or too early.

Complete List of Columns

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All columns published since 1st October 2009

A Scottish Sausage

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You have probably heard that Edinburgh recently experienced some very extreme winter weather. At one point they had to close the Edinburgh to Glasgow motorway and later on I found out that a sausages shortage had begun to loom large. Yet my publisher and I arrived in the Scottish capital by a straightforward train journey. The next day I was due to perform at The National Galleries.

Santa Claus or Sinterklaas?

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The American Santa Claus lives on the North Pole and it is often assumed that the British Father Christmas lives in Korvatunturi, Lapland. His Finnish name is Joulupukki. There is also a Mrs Claus and an indeterminable number of elves. He owns eight or nine flying reindeers. Yet Santa Claus, as well as Father Christmas, is of Dutch descent.

Living under Fire – Closed

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Your chance to get your short story published. The competition ended on 31 December 2010.

In the Author’s Den

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Video of A Poet’s Life – a unique portrait of a writer at work

A Presidential Turkey

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Over the past months there has been another widespread slaughter of turkeys in the United States but President Obama has pardoned two turkeys for Thanksgiving. This is an American tradition started by George H.W. Bush; rather depressing when, for example, you are on death row but great for the two turkeys.

Complete List of Columns

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All columns published since 1st October 2009

A Heavily Subsidised Mini Organ

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Elton John was christened Reginald Kenneth Dwight but changed his name to Elton Hercules John. A short, overweight man who chooses the name ‘Hercules’, I find this touching. I consider going by the name of Arnold ‘Hercules’ Jansen op de Haar from now on.

Combat Boots for Remembrance

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I wore them   yes   combat boots
you didn’t know   you said
what do you know
forget the rhyme and reason
of your suspicious thoughts
think when you see combat boots
of me   of me alone

Journey to the End of the Night

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Last Thursday I travelled by train from London back to The Netherlands. The advantage of travelling alone is that you can’t help but overhear conversations. On the Eurostar a man was talking into his phone. He was in high spirits. ‘We are on Channel 4 this evening,’ he said, ‘unfortunately I can’t be there.’ Afterwards he made another call. ‘I don’t think we should use the word nuclear tonight…’ He stopped, looked at me and left the carriage.

Living under Fire

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Short Story Competition – Closed

An Insipid Affair

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Young women can now freeze their ovaries so that they can be used by the time they are around forty, according to Dr Sherman Silber from the fertility clinic in St Louis, Missouri. ‘Trick or treat?’ as children would say when travelling from house to house at Halloween.

Complete List of Columns

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All columns published since 1st October 2009

What is the will of the people?

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Last week, Nick Robinson, BBC’s political editor, was a hit on YouTube. After he finished his report in front of the TV camera, he turned around. For some time, a demonstrator with a banner saying: ‘Cut the war, not the poor’ had stood behind him.

The Winking Waiter from Canterbury

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It was during the summer of 1980, just a month before I turned eighteen. I still had a full head of hair. My parents had arranged the ferry for me and my elder sisters, and had booked an expensive hotel in Canterbury. For the first time they spent their holiday at home. They did ask us to phone every day. Three years later my eldest sister would emigrate to England.

Operation Honey Trap

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It has been an exciting week. My attention was drawn to this headline: ‘Forbidden sex in the interest of national security’. ‘How can I apply?’ I muttered. It transpired to be an utterance by Rabbi Ari Schvat. In his opinion, it is perfectly fine for attractive female secret agents to lure the enemy into providing information for the greater good of Israel. However, the Rabbi insists that they should be single.

Living under Fire

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Short Story competition – Closed

Disaster Entertainment

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The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has acquired Volkert van der Graaf’s pistol. It is likely to be added to the exhibition in 2013. I have to explain this a bit for our overseas readers. In 2002 Volkert van der Graaf shot Pim Fortuyn, the Dutch politician who was well on his way to win the general election. I wasn’t a fan of Fortuyn, actually I disagreed with almost everything he said. However it is revolting to put Volkert van der Graaf, an animal activist who wanted to justify his cause by murdering someone, on a pedestal in the museum that houses Rembrandt’s Night Watch.

Long Live Belgium!

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There are many Anglophiles and Francophiles in The Netherlands, people who adore respectively England and France. There are also quite a few America Experts, a wide-ranging concept in my opinion. Does it mean that you are an authority on McDonald’s activities, know the ins and outs of Wall Street or are deeply into the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald? Yet, the America Expert does exist. However Belgium Experts are thin on the ground, quite apart from the fact that I have never come across a Belgophile.

What Came First

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Penny Boxall is the winner of the Frederik van Eeden Competition

 

It was the first fine day.
Not even hot – just that the sky
had broken to show itself, modestly,
startlingly blue. We watched through
the high classroom windows, the shuddering
of cloud and sky. After break, we filed
down the lane to the burn behind the village.

Island Bays

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Venetia Ghozlan is the runner-up in the Frederik van Eeden Poetry Competition

A Brit in the Attic

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Each year when it turns autumnal, purple flags with Pegasus, the winged horse, on them are flown from houses, balconies and flag posts all over Oosterbeek and Arnhem. Pegasus is the official emblem of the First Airborne Division. On 17th September 1944 this division was dropped in and around Oosterbeek as part of Operation Market Garden to capture the bridge across the Rhine at Arnhem. I don’t believe there is another defeat of the British army anywhere in the world that is still remembered to such an extent.

Dancing Resembling Lugging Potatoes

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Dancing in public requires a bit of courage. It can be quite an amusing spectacle. Remember, for example, political correspondent John Sergeant on Strictly Come Dancing when it looked as if he lugged a sack of potatoes across the dance floor. Unfortunately it was his dance partner. This week it was announced that politician and writer Anne Widdecombe will take part in the new series. I am curious to see how she gets to grips with the ‘sack of potatoes’.

Did Tony drink too much?

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This is the question I pondered upon this week. Tony Blair mentioned in his autobiography that when he was Prime Minister he drank a stiff whisky or a gin & tonic before dinner. Followed by a few glasses of wine at dinner, or maybe half a bottle, Tony admitted. ‘So not excessively excessive’, he concluded. I think it must have been just that little bit more. It makes Tony human.

Living under Fire

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Short Story Competition – Closed

 

To celebrate the release of Arnold Jansen op de Haar’s King of Tuzla, Holland Park Press is holding a short story writing competition, because often fiction describes reality more truthfully than an item on the evening news.

Go Camping

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I have done it all, a stay in a villa in the Dordogne, in luxurious hotels in Barcelona, Paris and Madrid, or in a palazzo in Florence. This makes little impression these days. However, when you announce that you have been camping in Luxemburg, people look at you as if you have been visiting the North Pole in your swimming trunks.

Summer Writing

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It must have been about fifteen years ago Рit was a year after I left the army to make writing my full time vocation Рwhen I decided to relocate for two weeks to a small cottage in Fontenoy-le-Ch̢teau in the French Vosges.

The Flying Cigar

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Winston Churchill considered it prudent not to disclose an alleged UFO sighting because it would create a panic … bookmakers immediately increased the odds by 20 percent for David Cameron or Barack Obama to acknowledge the existence of extraterrestrials…

A Plump Athlete

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When I was young I could beat the fastest woman in Europe. If I had competed this week in the European Athletic Championships in Barcelona my old personal bests would have been fast enough to reach the 100, 200 and maybe even 400 meter finals, with a real chance of winning a gold medal. Well, in the women’s races. Unfortunately I am a man.

Spare me the Blushes

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One day on your way to work you think: well, why not, I will call my boss dad (or mum when the boss is a woman). It is hard to take such an idea seriously. Yet calling your boss mum or dad is the biggest slip-up you can make in the workplace, according to British research which contacted 3000 employees. So it does seem to happen.

A Great Family Tree

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This week Zsa Zsa Gábor (aged 93) fell out of her bed and as a result has broken a number of bones. The picture of this marvel of plastic surgery holding a poodle is implanted on my mind. Actually, it belongs to the memories of my youth; I didn’t know she was still alive.

The Other Orange Team

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Queen Victoria produced beautiful drawings of her children. She didn’t advertise this, she didn’t organise any exhibitions of her work, but what she did do was encourage the arts. She and Albert commissioned many artists. There are, however, quite a few modern day Royal Highnesses who think that they are artists, architects, writers or bankers.

Please, don’t call me middle class!

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‘I use middle class as an insult’, wrote Cath Elliott on The Guardian website last week. I do employ this insult myself from time to time, but for totally different reasons than Cath Elliott’s use of the term. She positions herself as a feminist and trade union activist.

Beckham’s Underpants

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Anky van Grunsven, Dutch dressage rider and triple gold medallist at the Olympic Games, needs to wear one of her old hats to win a competition. She has tried competing when wearing a brand new hat but the results were dismal. According to scientific research three quarters of all people taking part in sport at top level are superstitious, and especially among footballers this affliction reigns supreme. For example, during his time at Manchester United David Beckham wouldn’t dare to play without wearing the same underpants.

My Gareth Malone Moment

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He is a young man with a hairdo that cannot get ruffled. The same is true for my own hair but this would lead to a totally different story. Last Thursday the BBC broadcasted the first episode of Gareth Goes to Glyndebourne. In this programme Gareth Malone converts children who have only a very vague idea about what opera entails – ‘singing fat ladies’ – into a choir that will take part in the opera Knight Crew. This makes me go weak at the knees.

Vuvuzela Democracy

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The vuvuzela is not allowed to be longer than 1 meter according to the International Football Association FIFA. This measure was introduced to limit the amount of noise in South African football stadiums. Actually, this is rather pointless because even a shortened vuvuzela makes more than enough noise. Other hooters, kuduzelas (hooters made of antelope horn), scooter helmets and loudspeakers are strictly forbidden inside each of the FIFA World Cup venues. However an exception is made for the vuvuzela.

Freud is back

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Last week, figuratively speaking, Sarah Ferguson was on the couch with Oprah Winfrey. Oprah’s website showed a few excerpts. One of the video clips opened with a constipation remedy: ‘To enable you to be yourself again.’ A commercial with a sense of timing because it was immediately followed by a close-up of the Duchess of York, referring to herself in the third person – ‘the royal she’.

Advertising God

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This week the Advertising Standards Authority revealed that an ad displayed on buses proclaiming the existence of God drew more complaints than any other advert. Asserting one’s belief in God antagonises people in the Western World to the same extent as the Islamic World reacts to secularism.

Boris Bear

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Two walking mobile telephones: that was my response to a first glimpse of Wenlock and Mandeville, the mascots for the London Olympic Games. The mascot is a tricky phenomenon. Everyone wants to voice their opinion. Actually, I think a mascot works best when it emerges unprompted.

A Secretive Society

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It could well be that you have heard of The Bullingdon Club, a secretive dinner club in Oxford University. In the eighties it counted David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson among its membership. Another high profile member was David Dimbleby, of course he joined them half a lifetime earlier, but even so The Bullingdon Club is firmly established into the centre of power.

Running in High Heels

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‘The Queen nearly moved to London again.’
‘She stays quite often in London anyway.’
‘But I am talking about the Dutch Queen and what happened during the Remembrance of the War Dead.’

Don’t ask Pigs

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I wasn’t familiar with Peppa Pig but it seems that this little pig, star of the British children’s television programme has at the last moment refused to take part in a Labour campaign stunt. The Daily Telegraph immediately declared her to be a Conservative, this on account of her grandfather’s boat and nice kitchen curtains. If we look to pigs to tell us how to vote, which prefer rolling in the mud and grunting sessions, then we must be in quite a pickle.

Column: Sized to Vanity

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According to a British research survey, which questioned 1500 women, owning an iPhone makes men more attractive.  It also transpired that women think iPhone-men communicate better and are more into humour. Thirty-seven percent of the interviewees find iPhone-men more trustworthy. Well, that is a bit of a put-down for men without an iPhone. Besides, I don’t own a mobile phone at all.

Column: Ashes to Ashes

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‘Are you also devastated about the tropical fruit salad?’
‘The tropical fruit salad?’
‘Yes, the one that is flown in three times a week from Ghana.’
‘Ah, it just reminded me of John Cleese.’

Column: Saint Messi

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‘Lionel Messi is the new Messiah’, according to the newspaper headlines after Barcelona beat Arsenal. He did score four magnificent goals, but to crown him the Messiah is going a touch too far. Besides, this week Barcelona acquired an honorary chairman, who has made a very legitimate claim to such a title for quite a few years, Johan Cruijff, aka ‘El Salvador’ (The Redeemer).

Column: You shouldn’t have to mince your words

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Dutch people are hospitable, friendly and tolerant, at least that is how the Dutch view themselves. Of course, the best country to live in is The Netherlands. All surveys report the same result: The Netherlands is one of the happiest countries in the world. Well, that is the Dutch opinion. However The Netherlands is not a paradise, actually sometimes it resembles hell.

Frederik van Eeden Poetry Competition

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On the 3rd of April, it was the 150th birthday of one of Holland Park Press’ authors, Frederik van Eeden. To celebrate this day we are holding a poetry competition.

Frederik van Eeden Poetry Competition

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On the 3rd of April, it is the 150th birthday of one of Holland Park Press’ authors, Frederik van Eeden. To celebrate this day we are holding a poetry competition.

Column: To Jamie Oliver’s Taste

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I am not sure what they think about this in the USA; first the Brits sent them Borat (Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan), followed by Stephen Fry, who during a TV series answers questions such as: ‘How do I hypnotise a lobster?’ in his own inimitable fashion. As if this wasn’t enough, the Golden Globes were dominated by Ricky Gervais. Now Jamie Olivier follows hot on their heels. He doesn’t waste any time at all; he takes the bull by the horns and starts a battle against obesity in America.

Column: Beyond the X Factor

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Philip Larkin, the ‘hermit of Hull’, is in my opinion the finest poet of the last century. The likelihood of a new Philip Larkin emerging is extremely slight. He no longer fits in with our current society. He kept himself to himself, he dressed like a proper gentleman, he adored Margaret Thatcher, wouldn’t have won any beauty contest, was shy, and moreover he turned deaf in later life. On top of this he refused to become Poet Laureate.

Column: In Bed with Sarkozy

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The French spend more time asleep than any other nation, a full nine hours. They also eat for an additional two hours a day, another world record. This conjured up a picture of Nicolas Sarkozy nibbling on a bit of foie gras on toast while enjoying a lie in with Carla Bruni and being in control of the French nuclear arms, ‘La Force de Frappe’,  prompting Carla to utter in a sultry whisper: ‘Force de Frappe’. It seems utterly impossible that this man could find enough time to have an affair.

Column: Feisty Old Fellows

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On the 4th of March I had a date at the Letterkundig Museum in The Hague to view my self-portrait which has been acquired by the museum for their National Writers’ Portrait Collection. Youthful writers were very thin on the ground because they hadn’t yet earned their portrait, and so the average age was around eighty.

Column: Thunderbird Brown

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‘If only the Dutch Prime Minister was a proper bully,’ was my lament when I heard of the commotion about Gordon Brown’s behaviour. Bully Balkenende; it sounds great but doesn’t fit his utterly proper personality. Recently, the Dutch governing coalition broke up because several cabinet ministers failed to back each other in public. We don’t, however, know if there was much shouting during this process. In as far as we know, no one was pulled from their chair.

Column: On Defending a Pike

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I am totally against putting animals on equal footing with human beings. This muddles the debate, which was something that sprung to mind this week when I read that a Swiss advocate had defended a pike in court. The defendant, an angler, was accused of having spent ten minutes landing the pike and the pike didn’t survive his ordeal.

Column: A Blessing for Elderly Ladies

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‘Excessive internet use is linked to depression,’ according to a report produced by British scientists this week, ‘but it is not clear whether the internet causes depression or whether depressed people are more prone to be to drawn to it.’

Column: The Pope’s shoes

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The new Equality Bill has caused quite a lot of commotion. The Pope made it known that he thinks the bill threatens religious freedom. The gay movement is at the forefront of the protests. They maintain that the Roman Catholic Church cannot refuse to open lay positions to gay people. These reactions made me think: the Pope, who wears the most adorable little red shoes, can’t really be that vehemently opposed to gays. I put this opinion down to my Catholic upbringing.

Article: My Little War

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My little War by Louis Paul Boon, translated by Paul Vincent, Original Dutch title: Mijn kleine oorlog. This is the first in a series of articles looking at examples of Dutch & Flemish authors in translation.

Column: ‘I am having my first period’

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People from the UK have one big advantage: they speak rather good English, although we can make an exception for people from remote Yorkshire valleys. English, the language, is the most important product exported from the UK. Looking at it from a different angle, if only they spoke English in Germany, it would be the leading industrial nation. At present the United States fulfils this role, so actually you could argue that Americans are really just Germans who speak English.

Column: With the benefit of hindsight

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‘With the knowledge of the facts I had back then, I wouldn’t have acted differently at this moment,’ said the Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, after the presentation of the David’s Report about the decision making process that led to the provision of political support for the invasion of Iraq.

 

Just for a moment he acted in the spirit of Margaret Thatcher, ‘the Iron Lady’: ‘The Lady’s not for turning.’ However, after a night fighting to keep his Cabinet together, he declared: ‘With today’s knowledge of the facts, I would have acted differently back then.’

Column: The Noughties

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In English there is a name for the first decade of the new millennium: the Noughties. Did you know that in The Netherlands this poor decade goes nameless?


At the start of the Noughties I had only a handful of friends. At the end of this decade hundreds of people claim to be my friend courtesy of the social networking sites. By the way, this development has not made the slightest difference about who I consider my genuine friends.

Engel in Pictures

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Arnold Jansen op de Haar, the author of Engel, took his Christmas break in London. He visited several of the locations featured in his new novel Engel and luckily his publisher had her mobile phone to hand to record the events.

Column: Letter from London

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I found myself at Brussels South station on Christmas Eve. For several days now Eurostar had been battling with severe delays.

 

The pictures shown on TV made trying to board a Eurostar look like the Dunkirk evacuation – ‘Try to catch a boat!’ – but when I arrived at the check-in desk, I was surprised to learn that I could travel on an earlier train to London but it had to be in first class.