I rather pity the Higgs boson. As far as I understand it, this particle flies back and forth like a madman but no one can see it. The most it amounts to is a spike in the ‘background noise’.
Following the talks in Brussels, the front page of The Times showed David Cameron as Manneken Pis aiming at the head of Nicolas Sarkozy, and the next day someone remarked to me that Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel reminded her of Punch and Judy.
Last week I read somewhere that Pippa Middleton is having an identity crisis. Apparently she is finding it difficult to accept that people think of her as ‘Kate’s sister’.
I was twelve years old when I attended my first and only live football match. The football club NEC was playing against the mighty Ajax in my home town of Nijmegen.
Looking forward to something is often better than the event itself. Take skating: it looks very enjoyable when watching it on TV. When you actually stand on the thin blades, you immediately feel the strain on your ankles. After a couple of laps you can no longer feel your legs from the knee down. Skating on natural ice also induces the first stages of frostbite.
It all started immediately after crossing the border, as I was travelling back home from London by train the other day.
This week I’m off to London again. As you read this, I’m probably already there. I’m regularly asked for tips on great places in London. ‘The Polish barmaid at The Mitre,’ is, of course, not the right answer.
The Occupy Wall Street Protest is a flash-mob that camps out. It’s as if the neighbours come round for a cup of coffee and end up sleeping over.
It’s Monday 10 October and within the next few minutes they’ll announce the winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics. Strictly speaking economics isn’t a science otherwise things would have been going better by now.
Featured in Angel, a new novel launched on 27 October
I read this week that the Dutch are most worried about ‘the way in which we live together’. Of course the ‘we’ are other people. At the same time it transpired that 55% of the Dutch think that people who smoke or drink should pay a higher health care premium. This makes me think about emigrating.
I recently ran a workshop on making love. Before you get the wrong end of the stick, it was about how this act is portrayed in literature. I could have called it Sex in Literature, but that sounds rather coarse.
It was a special day when my mother moved home. She had lived in her old house for fifty years, my sisters and I were born there, and that’s where my father had died. The day was 11 September 2001.
It’s a well-known fact that it’s often pouring with rain in certain parts of the UK. Whereas it’s raining cats and dogs in England, it’s raining pipe stems in the Netherlands. I would like to suggest that in Scotland it’s raining ‘cows and horses’.
It was so busy at the Edinburgh Festival that my publisher and I had to book into Pollock Halls, the student halls of residence. Plain but pleasant rooms with a view of Arthur’s Seat, their only disadvantage was a haphazard wireless contact with the outside world.
I was born in 1962 and in secondary school some of our teachers were ‘anti-money’. This was then very modern. They often had beards and reeked of unwashed socks. Luckily they smoked during class, so we couldn’t smell the teacher.
‘You can’t live on nostalgia,’ someone told my publisher last Saturday on Portobello Market. They were talking about The Travel Bookshop, which is for sale. Yes indeed, Hugh Grant’s shop in the film Notting Hill.
I have always been interested in sociological phenomena. For example, this week I pondered why the Chinese do not close their mouths when eating. You don’t gain anything, but it is one of those things that strike you when you move in public places.
What is the difference between Julian Assange, responsible for WikiLeaks, and Andy Coulson, David Cameron’s former communications chief and ex-editor of the News of the World? Many people will consider one a hero and the other a villain. Papers that published juicy details from WikiLeaks now shed crocodile tears over the British hacking scandal.
Rumour has it that Charlene Wittstock tried to run away just before her marriage. Albert allegedly phoned the airport trying to stop her. ‘Hello, this is Albert speaking, please stop my fiancée!’ But don’t we all know a Charlene moment? When life grabs you by the throat.
I think I am just a normal guy but many people may well consider me rather crazy. Let me give you a few examples.
I was on my way to a symposium about poetry and religion at Radboud University in Nijmegen, less than a kilometre from where I was born. It all began in the shuttle bus from the station to the campus, which was full of girls.
‘Would you consider yourself a green?’ Fiona Bruce asked in an interview to celebrate Prince Philip’s ninetieth birthday. Prince Philip’s mouth resembled that of Kermit the Frog before he answered, ‘There’s a difference between being concerned for the conservation of nature and being a bunny hugger.’
The advent of social media has increasingly shortened the lifespan of news. What is news today is forgotten tomorrow. Had Jesus been crucified now, he would have been a trending topic on Twitter for just one day.
The other day, in the centre of Arnhem, I ran into footballer Theo Janssen. He was wearing sunglasses but even so I recognised him; his tattoos gave him away.
‘Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the Bill Clinton of the IMF’, I read recently. Poor Bill Clinton, it makes what he did seem even worse, because a derivative is always weaker than the original.
There was a time when countries showed each other some goodwill during the Eurovision Song Contest; when I, a seven-year-old, watched TV and was very much in love with Dana (All Kinds of Everything) from Ireland. Nowadays the song contest resembles a continuation of war by alternative means.
In the early morning of 30 April, I am walking with my publisher along the deserted Notting Hill streets. It is the start of a new endeavour: taking publishing to Portobello Market. Holland Park Press’s premises are within walking distance.
It is not always such a bad idea to hide in a kitchen cupboard, especially not when a doctor has just told your mother the results of an important medical test.
For years my sister has been earmarking hats for my wedding; proper hats, not fascinators. A fascinator is one of these tiny concoctions worn at a jaunty angle on one’s head. They are very popular at the moment because they show off the hairdo.
Fifteen-year-old Regina Mayer from the village of Laufen in Southern Germany has succeeded in making Luna the cow jump like a horse. Her farmer parents refused to give her a horse, so she simply saddled one of their cows. After a bit of effort, she managed to teach the cow to jump over a fence.
A new poetry competition to celebrate the publication of Angel.
When I come across a group of tourists, nine out of ten times I can guess their country of origin. It may be that you simply recognise the language, the number of cameras is suspiciously large or in any case they look very Japanese. But even with European tourists you can spot their roots miles away.
The past week brought nothing but misery; still, there was marvellous news from the Middle East. Apparently some 2000-year-old codices have been discovered in a Jordanian cave. The texts are supposed to mention the Messiah and the Resurrection. Most scholars are cautious; before you know it, your reputation is in shreds.
My Japanese earthquake was called Kimiko and happened 25 years ago. All of a sudden, dressed in a kimono, she appeared on my parents’ doorstep.
I have never won a prize, not even a literary prize. This week I caught myself in the act of practising a Colin Firth in front of a mirror. ‘I am the bald Colin Firth,’ I said and moved my voice down a register. ‘This is my acceptance speech.’ Luckily I didn’t have an audience.
A new story by bestselling Dutch author Herman Koch in English and Dutch
‘There are two kinds of writers,’ the author had replied. ‘One attempts a new approach with each book. The other keeps rewriting the same novel.’
Things expressed in English sound more dramatic than in Dutch. This is caused by the greater use of intonation and word stress within a typical English sentence compared to the Dutch. When speaking English the Dutch feel they are overdoing it, as if they are taking part in a play.
This week the film Howl is released in the UK. Howl is named after a poem by Allen Ginsberg. This is how the poem begins:
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
If humans have something in common with chickens it must be having a pecking order. Hierarchy is absolute among chickens. Number one eats first. Put hens too close together and they will peck each other to death. That is why battery hens’ beaks are trimmed.
Aziz Khan follows a day in the life of an Afghani migrant in Calais – First prize in the Living under Fire short story competition
It has been a bad week for the Society of Dictators. In particular the Middle Eastern section has been under fire. I am glued to the box. I want to get every detail. So I wondered: Is Dr. Zahi Hawass a minor Mubarak?
During his State of the Union address, President Obama referred to a Sputnik moment. It took me back to Destination Moon, one of the adventures of Tintin. This was my only comic strip. I didn’t really like strip books. Yet Destination Moon appealed to my imagination.
This week I nearly attended a meeting. Luckily I spotted in time that I should have registered in advance. So I didn’t have to go! After reading the attachment, it transpired it wasn’t even a proper meeting. In fact it turned out to be an ‘inspirational get together’ to reflect upon ‘providing a cultural offering to people in care’.
Dutch writers and readers celebrate Gedichtendag (National Poetry Day) on Thursday 27 January 2011.
The mayor of Moerdijk, a Dutch council, announced that he will resign this summer after 2.5 years in the job, even though he had been appointed for a six year period. Continuing to work past his 65th birthday apparently would reduce his monthly pension by 1000 euros. He had only just made this announcement when a large local chemical factory burned down to the ground. You could conclude: it is time to pay.
On Friday I read an article about England winning The Ashes. It was the first win in Australia in 24 years. England secured victory with ‘an innings and 83 runs’. Since 1882, the Ashes is a test cricket series that takes place between England and Australia. Actually this is one of the big differences between England and The Netherlands: the importance of cricket.
‘Je hebt twee soorten schrijvers,’ had de schrijver geantwoord. ‘De een probeert elke keer iets nieuws. De ander schrijft elke keer hetzelfde boek.’
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,