Monday, May 29, 2006


I keep seeing Burberry in the Netherlands. Every eighth person is wearing a hat, a scarf or a coat, even carrying an umbrella, in the sickly-coloured plaid.

Burberry used to be posh person's gingham but has since become synonymous with Chaviness or Chavnicity. "Chav" is the new word which is currently enjoying a range of uses from people of low means and very poor taste to hooded, drug-doing, petty criminals. I read somewhere not too reliable its etymology is from Chatham a seaside town in Kent. It's similarity to "chaff" can't be discounted.

Being (if you buy an original) a pricey brand, wearing Burberry is all part of "bling bling" idea of wearing something expensive to show that you are not actually financially challenged. The effect, of course, is lost when you wear it with a tracksuit or when you step out of a badly patched Ford Fiesta complete with cardboard spoilers. I assume nowadays the sort of people who used to buy Burberry have moved on, and Burberry is now like one of those boroughs in cities that were once prime areas but are now faded and all the big houses divided up into tiny separate flats.

Anyway, time to slip into my Burberry pajamas and slip between my Pussycat Dolls bedsheets.

[Actually since I wrote this, I had a brief stay in the UK (more later) and in fact got to sleep under a Burberry bedspread. If only I'd brought my Pussycat Dolls nighty!]

Monday, May 22, 2006

Wet Wet Wet

Summer has definitely arrived in The Netherlands with torrential rain daily and wind the precise speed and direction to fell bins. The pavement is littered with upturned umbrellas and water collects around drains hoping to pour down but finding them too full.

Spring gave us two weeks of good weather. Several afternoons and evenings were spent in the park playing Vondelpark-rules volleyball and even picnicking. It had been easy to believe the summer would be glorious by extrapolation. But Dutch weather, like its English cousin, eludes logic. A perfect morning can easily be followed by a downpour of rain that is almost biblical. And conversely, the blackest of skies can disperse in minutes and the sun will shine down as if nothing had happened. The only way you can tell it had rained is the sopping wetness of everything and everyone, and the fact that around every drain is a two-meter-wide puddle. I guess it’s hard to make water go downhill when it’s below sea level.

Monday, May 15, 2006

8-11/5/06 Brussels

Am in Brussels for three days. Belgium, with its bad roads and hidden, confusing and contradictory road signs. Where it's no surprise to see pedestrian lights simultaneously on red and green. Where I am certain congestion is 18% higher than it should be due to tourists and out-of-towners having to go all over the place to get back to where they were before they took the wrong turning thanks to a poorly placed road-sign.

The Belgians (in this part of the country) drive like the French, with that barely-concealed death-wish, which combined with road markings that can sometimes even direct traffic head-to-head makes for exciting driving.

If the French Belgians drive with a death-wish, they eat with an appreciation of life that makes the Dutch and English eating style seem like a death-wish. On the first night, we directed ourselves to a Tunisian restaurant and pigged out on Couscous which we topped with apple flavoured smoke. I'm still digesting it.

Top International TV moment: MacGyver dubbed into French.

Monday, May 01, 2006

28-29/4/2006 Koninginnedag - Queen's Day

Last weekend was one of several days in the Amsterdam social calendar when the whole city pours onto the streets. This time celebrating the birthday of the queen (on the date of her mother's birthday). The day comprises of three distinct sections:

1. Koninginnenacht - Queen's Night
This is the party night, the night before. When every square has a podium or two and people clamour onto the streets to fulfil their Queen-given right to consume alcohol until their higher brain functions cease.

2. Koninginnedag: Morning

This segment is when people (especially children) grab a piece of pavement and sell all their old tat (especially toys). People start selling early to be sure they get a good spot, and keen bargain-hunters (as the Dutch naturally are) rise with the stall-holders to snap up the best deals.

The must-sell item of this year appeared to be rollerblades. So many stalls I passed had them. Queen's Day is great for assessing last year's trends.

Later in the afternoon, the make-shift stalls (those not selling food that is) start to close up. Most usually with a lot unsold. Some people in fact just leave the crap they were selling where it is, and much is picked up by people who like things no one else does.

The one important thing to know about Queen's Day is that if you are going to venture out on the streets or canals, you must wear something orange - the colour of the royal house of The Netherlands. It is a absolute must. A simple hat or scarf will suffice, but it is not uncommon to see people decked entirely in this colour. This year included people in orange bath-robes. People with their hair en-oranged is also very common.

3. Koninginnedag: Evening

During the afternoon, the buying and selling gives over to more drinking. People still wander aimlessly, but this time it is between bars or beer stalls or many of the impromptu stages playing anything from loud techno to cheesy Dutch folk songs interspersed with loud techno. Some stages have bands. On the Museumplein they always have several stages often with big names. I didn't see the schedule, but someone mentioned Jamie Cullum, the Diet Jazz popstar. Many of the smaller podiums feature live bands. It's the sort of day that if you are a cover band but you don't get a gig, then give up, because you're obviously crap.

A lot of people take to the water during the day. Boats cram the canals and sections get so clogged with boats full of people drinking, dancing and playing loud techno that you can spend 30 minutes fighting for a place to get through a small bridge. Strangely this is usually very good humoured. Any flashes of anger soon dissipate. If the same thing would happen in England - with people stuck on boats unable to go anywhere, or with the streets so crowded with drunks, there would be fights on every corner.

The day starts winding down early as people have usually had a very late night the night before and started on the beer pretty early. This does seem to be the difference between the Dutch and the English. The Dutch will drink until they go, "I've had enough," and then go home. The English will drink until they're lying in their own vomit and only conscious in as much as a house-plant can be said to be conscious, by which time they will only leave when the barman says "you've had enough."