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When Theory And Practical Experience Collide (Or - Houston - We DEFINTELY Have A Problem)
6/29/2015 9:24:56 PM
This afternoon one particular friend of mine finally managed (without realising it) to answer a question he had asked me nearly a decade ago.  I am not going to mention his name because it is not relevant.  However, the question we were discussing when he answered the previous question is what I wanted to ramble about now.

Some people I know are like my favourite of all the photos I have ever taken.  They reflect your past back at you and don't let you escape - even when you want to.  They may be shiny new people who you have never met before but you instinctively think you know how they are going to treat you based on your experience of people like them.

Reflection of Rotterdam Library in the wall of the Markthal (Market Hall) near Rotterdam Blaak Station

(Funnily enough, I didn't have to do anything to get the photo of the reflection - apart from zoom in a bit from where I was standing - using my mobile phone.  I think it is a pretty photo.)

I have a confession to make - I feel more comfortable around strangers who look like they could physically damage me when I first meet them.  Friendly-looking people be warned - you will have to approach me before I approach you.

The two most interesting men I have ever met looked like they could inflict serious damage in one way or another but turned out to be the most gentle people.  (I ended up feeling so comfortable with one of them we sat in the corner of a field in the middle of nowhere at midnight with me being verbally educated on the effects of heroin - he was an ex-user - and he thanked me for not immediately judging him.  The other one introduced himself with his name and three Mental Health issues he had - we were on a sealed car ferry at the time - that was an interesting and enlightening conversation as well.)

However, my favourite kind of people are puzzles.  The ones who - when you think you know how they are going to react - surprise you and give you another piece to their life story.  Not only that but they do it in such a way that you feel like you have just been given the equivalent of a diamond necklace as a result.  I can name a few "Jewellery Box" friends - people who have shared themselves with me in such a way that I feel like their friendship is like a box full of precious diamond jewellery.

However, I digress.

Those people who reflect your past at you can be very difficult to escape from (especially when they reflect it at you in such a way that they appear to have the key to unlock yourself from it but you end up feeling like you have to fight them for it - to the point of death if that is what it takes).

As I type this I have one line of "Louise" by Clouseau (the Dutch version of the song) playing in my brain - the English translation is "How can I talk to walls?".

How did my friend manage to answer his own question from so long ago???

Well, later in the conversation he said the one thing which has always been guaranteed to make me feel envious of him (or rather, a slightly different take on it which had the same effect on me).

Put it this way - it is not a good idea to make me feel like I am stupid just because I am not as brainy as you - unless, of course, you really want me to come out fighting.  You may find yourself having to defend yourself in ways you have never done previously - trust me, when I feel I have to defend myself I can turn extremely nasty and sarcastic.

This particular human of the male species decided to inform me that important creatures had wanted to speak to him about something which he was very knowledgeable about (as far as theory is concerned anyway - it was connected with his profession).  Had we not been in the middle of a very public place I would have taken great pleasure in asking him if the creatures would not have been better off asking someone who had had practical experience of the subject.  I wasn't in the mood for a public argument though.

I suppose it is like the photo of the reflection from earlier.  The Library has been in Rotterdam for as long as I can remember - its distinctive pipes are almost as much of a landmark to me as the "Tourist Attraction" 'Cube' flats near to the Markthal would be to people who visit that part of Rotterdam.

The only proper "Tourist Trap" building I like in Rotterdam - the 'Cube' Flats (or "Paalwoningen" or "Kubewoningen")

However, the person who reflects your past at you may not be to your taste when you first see them - yet, as you get to know them they turn out unexpectedly refreshing with a different perspective on things.

A little like this building (which I hated when I took the photo - now I am starting to think it is not so much of an eyeshattering experience to look at.  Still think it is in the wrong place though.).

The front of the Markthal in Rotterdam (you can see the reflection of the Library on the right of the building).

I suppose it just goes to show how difficult it sometimes is for the theory side of things to match up perfectly with the practical side of things.

Without Prejudice (Or - The Hidden Art Of Empowerment Through Conversations)
6/29/2015 7:43:32 PM
This is probably going to sound like the strangest question you have ever been asked but I feel it needs to be asked - "Have you ever tried to be used?" - or - to put it another way - "Have you ever tried to encourage someone to use your practical experience to help them help other people?".

Some people react very well to being praised (or simply being told they are good at something) - they thank the person for the compliment and get on with their life.  I am not one of those people - praising me makes me wonder what your motive is - and I will usually be waiting for that "but..." which I have heard so often.

I suppose it comes from trying to play by everybody else's rules my entire existence.  The first thing I was "taught" at school was - for goodness sake act like everybody else and try to save your tears for when you are alone in private.

So you can imagine my surprise this afternoon when someone who I would consider to be a "professional" told me that they want to make use of me because I am different - and that I can use my differences to make life a bit more bearable for other people.

The person who said this is a man by the name of Mr John Coster (ex-Citizen's Eye), who is now the Projects Manager for LCIL (Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living).

John Coster with Tina Barton from WotSpace

He is passionate about helping people tell their story.  So much so that he has set up a new kind of "Pop-up Shop" in the former Powerplay store on the Lower Mall of the Highcross Shopping Centre for the next 6 weeks (monday to Saturday).  A "Pop-Up Shop" where people don't try to sell you things - they offer you free Information, Advice, and Guidance on the issues affecting Disabled people.

However, for me that is not the best thing about it.  Apart from running workshops, etc, the "Pop-up Shop" is also doing something which I don't think has ever been done before - they are having what they call a "Creative Consultation" on the subject of some of the issues faced by Disabled people.

"Creative Consultation" Wall.  The Testtubes on the left represent six issues faced by Disabled people.  The bit in the centre is for feedback on the issue you feel is most relevant to you (or Disabled people).  The third bit is a way of finding out if people have heard of ways of getting support to achieve their goals.

As Mr Coster said to me - it is a way of changing the conversation from the "Daily Mail" idea that all Disabled people are Benefit Scroungers and giving us (yes - I count myself among the ranks of Disabled People) the opportunity to speak out and tell the "able-bodied" about our experiences.  Without being judged or told we are wrong.

Disabled people are not all the same - even something like a "Visual Impairment" (or sight problem in plain English) has varying degrees.  For example, compared to a blind person I have the ability to walk around unaided (except in the dark, in bright light, or when my glasses are removed from my nose, for instance), but my sight is closer to that of a blind person than someone with 20/20 vision - even though all you see is a pair of (slightly thicker than usual) glasses on my nose.

Both myself and Mr Coster would like to change the basis of the conversation which the "Mainstream" media tries to drag Disabled people into more often than not.

Instead of telling Disabled people that "you are Benefit Scroungers" or "you are a drain on resources which could be better spent elsewhere", or even worse, "you are too difficult for us to find suitable jobs for because we need to rebuild the entire building to accommodate your wheelchair, etc", we should be asking them things like "are you prepared to work for your money?", "can we make your life easier by making Public Transport more accessible?", "are you willing to teach me about your needs if I promise to really listen to you - and act on what you tell me - even if I think it is the stupidest thing I have ever heard and I don't believe you for a minute???".

I think you might know the answer I would give to that last question before you ask me.  Of course I am willing to teach you about my needs - all I ask in return is that you respect my choices even if you think I could do something different.

It is ironic that someone told me that I was "brave" by being so honest about my experiences of being bullied at school in my last blog post.  I saw it slightly differently.  To me - the "brave" thing would have been to give my experiences a one line mention and then sweep them under the carpet.  If I had done that I would have felt I was lying by ommission - also not letting you feel that I have "survived" a really bad experience and you can too.  (I really hate the modern definitions of "victim" and "survivor" where you can either be one or the other - when the reality is you are a bit of both and it is a sliding scale which varies from day to day.)

Take the blinkers off - set your prejudices to one side for a minute - talk to me like you would anybody else (especially your "able-bodied" friends) - basically - step into my world for a minute (I don't bite - honest) and let's see if we can help each other to make the world a better place for both of us.

The Strange Link Between Police Officers And Teachers (Or - We Will Write A Short Note About That!)
6/26/2015 10:29:06 PM
Have you ever written something (a poem or other piece of Creative Writing) which was inspired by one person and almost forgotten about it - only for it to be brought back into your mind by two people who were totally unconnected with why you wrote it - and you felt exactly the same emotions which prompted you to write it in the first place???

Well, you could say I had a few unexpected trips back in time this week.  Some were nice but others I could seriously have done without thank you very much.

It all started when I read a blog post by a Twittercop.  (I hope Mr John Sutherland excuses me for not stating his rank because - as will become apparent - it is completely irrelevant to what I want to discuss.)

Mr Sutherland wrote about his experiences as he went through the ranks in such a way that I was reminded that under that smart looking uniform he wears is a human with feelings.  He wrote about how he supported his colleagues and members of the public during some very difficult times (including the London Bombings on 7 July 2005).

As well as that the Twitter Double act of Constable Chaos and Sgt TCS were up to their usual fun and games.

Another blog post I read was by the Chief Constable of Leicestershire Police - who had got drenched (as well as muddy) at the Download Festival.

Not forgetting the occassional tweet from the local Twittercop for the part of Leicester I live in.

All the above was relatively relaxing to read - Twittercops being human and humane, and showing their caring sides.

Fast forward to yesterday when two (completely unconnected) Twittercops managed to combine to send me back to school - or so it seemed.  (The fact that I literally ended up going to the town I went to Secondary School in later yesterday afternoon was a sheer coincidence.)

I have mentioned Wilco Berenschot a few times before on here.  The Twittercop who I am quickly coming to the conclusion is his English equivalent is a guy going by the Twitter name of Nathan Constable.

Why do I think that???  Well, it might have something to do with the fact - nearly every time Mr Berenschot has tweeted something about an incident connected with his Pop-up Police Station Mr Constable has written a blog post on that exact subject.  Both of them saying exactly the same thing - one in English and the other in Dutch.

It is the last two Twittercops who have inspired this blog post in their own ways. I will explain more in a minute.  First - I would like you to read something I wrote after a discussion with my all time favourite teacher (I had left school quite a few years before the conversation which led to me writing this);

Teacher, Teacher

Teacher, Teacher,
I don't understand.
I know I'm not very good,
But I didn't think I was this bad

My head's so stretched,
I just can't cope.
Feels like someone's,
Put my brain on overload.

I don't know why,
Everyone's going on at me.
Where's the door,
To 'Escape Capsule 3'?

You think I'm living,
In a daydream more often than not.
Dear Sir, to stop me doing that,
Would turn my life support machine OFF!

You say I could do better?
Well, I couldn't feel much worse.
It wouldn't surprise me,
If I left school in a hearse.

Don't get me wrong,
I know you're not to blame.
I want to ask for your help,
But the other kids would still call me names.

Teacher, Teacher,
Now do you understand?
I never was very good.
But I wasn't really that bad.

You might be wondering what a poem about my experiences at school has got to do with all the above-mentioned Twittercops???  (After all, I would only expect the Chief Constable of Leicestershire Police to be able to locate Lutterworth on a map - Lutterworth being the town I went to Secondary school in.)

Well, I will start with the easiest two who I can connect with it - Mr Berenschot and Mr Constable (and the connection may be stranger than you think).

Mr Berenschot had previously set three boys who had been bullying an 80 year old pensioner some "homework" in the form of an essay on what they had done - instead of throwing the book at them and punishing them more severely.

Yesterday afternoon Mr Constable posted a blog about how he had built up so much of a connection with a man who kept getting into trouble when he was younger that - when the man started causing problems where Mr Constable works - Mr Constable seemed to be the only person who was able to calm him down so the other officers could deal with the man.

Meanwhile - Mr Berenschot decided to do a "Periscope" chat (using an app where you can film yourself talking live whilst people can type questions for you to answer).

Now - in order for this to make perfect sense you have to know a few bits of information about me.

I was bullied at school (to the point where I seriously considered suicide - I even told my Year Head that I wanted to leave during the first term of my first year at Secondary School).

My all-time favourite Teacher had a habit of saying one particular sentence so often that it almost ended up as his catchphrase.  "We'll write a short note about that" should have been an internationally recognised signal that he was about to write a six whiteboard essay which we were supposed to copy down - but I could never write quickly enough to do it.

Oh - and - my all-time favourite teacher was the one who - after I had left school - confirmed why I liked and respected him so much - he didn't "teach" so much as "helped to learn".  His way of describing it was like the difference between filling a jug and watching a waterfall.  One involves putting water into something and the other one involves helping the water which is already in something flow out.

(A slight side note is that Mr Berenschot doesn't look very different from how Steve Bowkett - the teacher in question - did when I first met him.)

So, there I am watching this "Periscope" broadcast (and firing one question in my best Dutch) - when I start to get the feeling I am back in Steve's classroom (E3 of Lutterworth High School - Now you know where that bit about "Escape Capsule 3" in the poem comes from).  Most of Mr Berenschot's broadcast is in Dutch (he does answer my question in English) - but in the back of my mind I am still expecting Steve to utter his immortal catchphrase.  In fact, Mr Berenschot was so interesting that I wanted to be told to write about what he was telling his audience.

In the same way that I liked Steve's way of teaching by not teaching - as opposed to the Maths teacher who I had in the same year - Mr Kendall seemed determined to teach me in exactly the same way as he taught the other children.  Unfortunately, Mr Kendall's methods left me with a lifelong hatred of both him and his subject - I think I have found the perfect way to police.

The best way to police is don't even try.

I have met some Police Officers who seem to be on-duty even when they are off-duty.  These characters just seem to have been programmed to be POLICE at the expense of everything else - a bit like "Robocop".  They are the ones I find most scary because I don't feel like I can be myself around them.

My favourite Police Officers (and Twittercops) are the ones who make it obvious that there is a line that I shouldn't cross unless I want to get arrested but - on the other hand - show their off-duty selves even when they are on-duty (as in they let me feel I can have a laugh and a joke with them but let me know that they are there if I need them for anything serious).

Oh - there is also something else which connects all the Twittercops I have mentioned in this blog post.  They are not afraid to use somewhat unorthodox methods to get results.  Why stick rigidly to a rulebook when the situation you find yourself (or another person) in hasn't had a rule dreamt up for it???  If you find yourself having to metaphorically "get out of your uniform" in order to help someone by showing your human and humane side - do it - they will remember you for it.  Carrying someone's shopping home for them, or getting involved in a game of football with some children may not be seen as "proper Police work" but it does count as community engagement.

The Police Motto (in the UK anyway) is "Policing for the Public by the Public".  Some officers may be in danger of forgetting that - and it would be a great shame.
A Rollercoaster Ride On A Pancake??? (Or Just Because There Are No Geological Hills Doesn't Mean The Land Is Completely Flat!!!)
6/20/2015 10:28:40 PM
I am always amused when people tell me that The Netherlands shares its characteristics with a pancake (totally and utterly flat).  If that was the reality the country would not exist at all (apart from part of the province of Limburg which is distinctly less flat due to it being the location of "Drielandenpunt" - or "Three Countries Point" - the hill where The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany share a third each).  You read that correctly - The Netherlands would be seabed!!!

In fact, if you want to know where the lowest point of The Netherlands (and all their territories) is I would take you to a place near Rotterdam called Nieuwerkerk aan den Ijssel.  It is a quaint little village which is kind of overshadowed by the town which is the next stop on the Railway line heading out of Rotterdam - Gouda.  (A family friend lives in Nieuwerkerk aan den Ijssel.)

During my recent trip to Holland I decided to go to another place I have had a family connection with - this connection was over 30 years ago.  We had relations living in a place called Lekkerkerk - to be perfectly honest all I could really remember were a jigsaw (made by Oom Aad), a cobbled road which shook you to bits as you drove along it, a ferry, and a kind of double decker pavement which you had to climb up to see over the river wall.

I love water and boats.  Especially large barges which you can see going along the larger Dutch rivers.  (In fact, had I put my brain into gear and got the bus to the next place along the river, I could have gone to the riverside cafe in Schoonhoven which my parents and I went to a few times with Oma when she was alive/)

A barge on the River Lek (the river Lekkerkerk is situated on the bank of).  Please accept my apologies for the quality of the photo but I was on a bus at the time.

The above photo was what I could see out of the window on the driver's side of the bus.  What I saw out of the window on the other side of the bus was more than just a bit scary (it is what gave this post the first part of its title).  It was a sheer drop covered by grass.

Yes, I know I have got problems with angles which can make them appear steeper than they are but - trust me - when the bus is near the edge of the road with nothing preventing it from tumbling down the side of the dyke as it drives round a particularly narrow and winding bend in the road - even those with good vision will tell you it is scarily steep (if you don't believe me you could always ask my Dad - who has experience of driving on that dyke, as well as better sight than me).  I have felt safer in my Dad's car as it drove up mountains in Switzerland with hairpin bends in them (with nothing preventing the car falling to the next bit of road below us).

Although - I must admit my favourite road in The Netherlands (and also my favourite bit of railway which is nearby-ish) can be even more dangerous.  At least Lekkerkerk has only got water on one side of it.

If you go from Rotterdam down to the Dutch/Belgian border following the North Sea - you will come to a spectacular road which feels like it could feature on an episode of "Ice Road Truckers" (the desolate routes where all you can see for miles around is snow).  Just replace the snow with water for as far as the eye can see.  This is near the Delta Dam which was built in 1953 (after the floods).  It is not advisable to drive on it towards Belgium if it has been snowing!  My parents and I tried that journey once in exactly those circumstances - I was relieved when we were back on roads with visible ground around them, I can tell you.

However, the best way to experience that stretch of water is to travel from Rotterdam to Breda on the top deck of a Double Decker train.  You feel like you are floating on the water.

I have a more than vague memory (which I am still trying to erase from my brain after all these years) of a ferry between Vlissingen (sorry - Flushing) and Breskens.  This was before the solid boat which I saw a few years ago when I went down to Vlissingen.  The one I remember rolled from side to side so badly that - one minute I could see sky and the next minute I could see underwater.  Miraculously I wasn't seasick.  Even more miraculously our car (which was also on the ferry) survived the trip as well.

It is amazing what sort of places you find yourself in when you don't stick to the Tourist traps.

Reading Voices (Or - How To Draw Me Into Your World Through What You Write)
6/20/2015 9:17:50 PM
Before you decide I have finally lost all grip on reality I suppose I had better explain the title of this post.  This post was partially inspired by (two parts) Constable Chaos and (one part) Sgt TCS - there are other people who have played a part in the inspiration side who shall remain nameless (otherwise this post will be taken up with the roll-call of people instead of what I want to ramble on about).  The above-mentioned Twitter doubleact got me thinking about the voices and language people use when they want to communicate using the written word (and the affect (intended or unintended) this can have on the people who read what has been written.

Regular readers of this blog know that I love reading and writing.  They are my two favourite forms of communication (even though I can sit and listen to almost any kind of accent for as long as they wish to talk to me).

However, language can be a very complex tool.  You have to make sure you are using the correct language (as in - there would be no point in writing in Czech or Greek if you want me to understand it, for example), you have to use the correct grammar and words (business correspondence is different from texting your friends arranging a meetup in town - oh and whatever you do - try not to use swearwords in something like a letter applying for a job),  When you have finished getting all those sorted out you might like to consider what "voice" you use to convey your message.

That can be the tricky bit.  If you are using a "voice" which does not come naturally to you the chances are it will show up when someone else reads it.

Allow me to explain;

A few years ago I was listening to a radio programme where two of my friends were being interviewed (a father and daughter).  The interview was being done in the native language of the father (not English) which I had never heard the daughter speak prior to the interview - I had heard her parents speak it between themselves a few times.

The change in the father's voice when he was discussing subjects with the interviewer compared to when he speaks in English was amazing.  He has lived in England longer than I have been alive and his English is excellent but his way of speaking can make me a bit wary of him sometimes.  During the interview he sounded comfortable and relaxed.

Back to the point though.

I have never met either Constable Chaos or Sgt TCS but (thanks to Twitter, their blogs, and the occassional "Periscope" video) I have read what they have written and heard the pair of them speak (I don't think their "words are spoken by an actor" like Gerry Adams in the 1970's and 1980's).

The first thing I should say is that they both seem to write like they speak.  Chaos is that nice combination between serious and fun - when he wants to have a joke he lightens up but he can be serious as death when he wants to be (like this blogpost he put up this evening constablechaos.wordpress.com/2015/06/20/holding-out-for-a-real-hero/).  As far as I can make out - Sgt TCS appears to have one setting - "Put one foot out of line and I will arrest you" - maybe he is different around those who know him personally.

I know which one I would prefer to have on the end of a phone if I was in any kind of trouble and I had to choose between them.

I must admit the decision on what "voice" you want to use for your writing can be a tricky one.  It depends on what you want to say to your reader (and - more importantly - what you want them to do as a result of reading your writing).

The most disappointing book I have ever read was David Coulthard's autobiography.  Here was a man who had had an interesting career as a racing driver before he became an F1 commentator but - when it came to writing it down - he managed to make it sound extremely boring.

On the other hand - Sir Jackie Stewart wrote in such a way that I felt as though I was upside down in the trees with him after a spectacular crash at one circuit.  He wrote in such a way that I felt like he was sitting down with me and talking me through his life as I read his autobiography.  (For me - the sign of a good book is that I don't want to put it down until I have read it from cover to cover - even if it takes me all night without sleep.)

So, what about me??? If we were together would I sound the same as I "read"???  Those of you who know me in "real life" may think differently, however, I think I write exactly as I speak.  I hope you get the sense that I am friendly (I do take time to trust people though), caring, and that I always say what I think.  (I may not say it exactly as I think it - if I am really comfortable in your company - and I think you can take it - the English "Diplomacy" totally disappears and you will get my undiluted thoughts.  The rest of the time you will get a choice between a more "discreet" version and complete silence.  Complete silence is the most dangerous option as it means that I know you won't like what I want to say to you!!!)

I prefer sitting quietly with people I trust.  The more comfortable I am with you the less talkative I get.  Put it this way - the time to start worrying if I am OK is when you cannot shut me up.  If you find yourself in this situation I am extremely uncomfortable around you for some reason (or - to put it bluntly - I just don't trust you and I cannot see myself trusting you in the foreseeable future).

We all have our ways of making ourselves heard and understood by our audience.  The question is - do we show our true selves in how we write about our world (be it our version of the "reality" we live in or a fantasy world we create in a story)???

You might spend your entire working life speaking in three letter acronyms but is that really the most appropriate way to teach someone about your job???

I must admit there was one thing I found amusing regarding an acronym a certain person used in a Tweet last night - I am still no nearer finding out what the acronym stands for (as in what the different letters mean) but, apparently, whatever they stand for isn't looked upon very kindly by those who come into contact with it.  The response to my request for a translation can be summed up as follows - "a waste of time, energy and effort which we are forced to attempt to use as part of our job - that is all you need to know".  That was me told!!!

We need to be open and honest in our communications about our different worlds - otherwise - how are we supposed to learn to live comfortably with one another???

Learning a second language is all well and good but I don't think we have explored the limits of how English can be used yet.

You Speak WHAT??? (Or - Adventures In A Second Language)
6/18/2015 4:46:36 PM
I am still amazed that I got the same Grade (B) in both my Dutch GCSE and my German one.  Considering I never learned Dutch at school (but did a two year course in German prior to my exams) it is a very good grade.

Of course, my parents spoke between themselves in Dutch at home and my Mum had a wonderful habit of starting a sentence in English and just substituting any English word she forgot with the Dutch one then continuing the sentence in English.  Any non-Dutch speakers had to wait until she realised what she had done before they got a description of the English word she had forgotten.

I was not quite so lucky!!! Her method of teaching me Dutch involved me having to work out what she was saying by deduction.  "Would you like a boterham?" was one of the easier questions for me to learn the meaning of - If I said "yes please" a plate would appear in front of me with at least one sandwich on it - "no thank you" would leave me in a sandwich-free zone.

I also very quickly learned that - in Dutch - "at" and "on" are interchangeable.  As in they are both covered in most sentences by "op".  When I was little - any request for me to sit "at" the table (as in when my Dad said it) turned into a reqest to sit "on" the table when my Mum said it.

After buying a book in Rotterdam last week (Unfortunately I didn't manage to buy a "Friesian to Dutch" phrasebook when I was in Leeuwarden) - I am even more stunned about my GCSE Grade for Dutch.

"The ABC of the Rotterdam Dialect"

I could really have done with that book when my Mum, Oma, and Tante Jannie (Oma's sister) were all alive - especially when they were all in the same room together chatting.  I would have loved an audio version of it too,

When I was reading it I learned that three words and a phrase that Mum frequently used were not Dutch (as I had previously thought) but direct from the Rotterdam Dialect.  (I suppose it is a bit like trying to learn English when your teacher keeps throwing in words and phrases from Geordie or Glaswegian without explaining they are not part of Standard English.)

At least now I can stop wondering why on Earth the Darleks from Dr Who kept getting mentioned in conversations involving my parents and any Dutch friends or relatives they spoke to - "Daluk" apparently means either "soon" or "immediately" to your friendly native of Rotterdam.

Speaking of Rotterdam.  I bought myself a couple of tshirts when I was there.  One was a "Black Tshirt With Yellow Writing" and the other one was a Rotterdam Tshirt.

"Zwart Tshirt Met Gele Text" or "Black Tshirt With Yellow Text".
Ladies And Gentlemen - You Find Yourself Needing At Least 20 Euros In Coins (Or THe Perils Of The Dutch OV Kaart and System)
6/18/2015 3:32:02 PM
Well, the Dutch Government were threatening to have a debate about ways of making the OV Kaart (or Dutch version of the "Oyster Card") easier for tourists to use!  I just decided to help them along a bit!!!

The announcement came over the tannoy on the boat from Harwich to Hoek van Holland - "OV Cards are available from the Guest Service Desk on Deck 9 - You will not be able to buy them at Hoek van Holland".

That announcement (as I was to find out) contained two partial untruths.

The first untruth was the fact that the so-called "OV Cards" on sale at the Guest Service Desk were actually only "Day Ticket" type for nearly 18 Euros.  The OV Card I had misplaced somewhere at home was an "Anonymous"one which cost me 7 Euros and 90 cents and was valid for 5 years.  All I had to do was top it up if I wanted to travel (more about that sneaky idea in a bit).

The second untruth was - there is in fact a machine on one of the platforms at Hoek van Holland Haven railway station which will happily dispense an OV Card in exchange for either the insertion of a Credit or Debit Card or at least 20 Euros in coins (lets just say that catching a bus to some very obscure part of The Hague is cheaper than getting the train to Rotterdam [this is before you even consider boarding it] - you still need an OV Card though).

The best places to get OV Cards from (if you are nowhere near a Central Railway Station and you haven't got the patience to argue with any kind of Ticket Machine (be they yellow or pink and white) are a bookshop or a newsagent.

Before I confuse you further with my attempt at explaining the strange Dutch "thought" processes behind the OV Card - I think I will take you back in time to when things were simple when it came to Dutch Public Transport - and methods of paying for it.

Back in the Dark Ages (before the entire Netherlands decided to go Electronic) you could appear at any railway station desk and buy a train ticket in person.  Nowadays, if you want to do that you have to go to somewhere like Rotterdam Central Station.  Smaller stations have all reverted to machines.

When it came to Buses, Trams, Local Trains, and Metro (Underground), there was a different ticketing system - called the "Strippenkaart".  This was a long thin strip of paper which you could either turn into a concertina (thus rendering it absolutely useless - it was not even wide enough to use as a fan on really hot days) or you could fold it into the required zones you wanted to travel in and feed it into something called a "Stempelautomaat" to get it validated.

A Stempelautomaat in Hoek van Holland Haven Station (Most of these have been removed)

Back to the con-trick commonly known as the OV Card.

OV Chipkaart (or OV Card)

This can be used on just about every form of public transport going (except Taxis).

We have discussed the discrepancy between the price of the card and the amounts you need on it to travel on Public Transport?  We will now attempt to explore them more deeply.

If you choose to travel on a bus, Metro, or Tram, you can do so as long as you have at least 4 Euros on it.  The scanner will take the 4 Euros as a deposit for your journey when you swipe the card to check in at the start of your journey and will refund the difference when you check out at the end of it (it will show you the price of your journey when you check out).

If you choose to travel by train you will need at least 20 Euros on it before you even approach the scanner.  It will not even let you check in if you have not got that 20 Euros on it.  (Trust me - I tried!)

There are two ways around this - especially if you are camping in somewhere like Delft.

You can either go to a bright yellow ticket machine and buy a single or return journey ticket (this is expensive as it charges you at least a Euro extra compared to what you would have paid using an OV Card) or you can do what I did.

I went to the bookshop in Delft railway station and bought myself an Anonymous OV Card which had been pre-loaded with 10 Euros (this cost me approx 18 Euros) - then I caught the bus to Rotterdam Central Station (remember - I only had to have 4 Euros on the card for that journey) where I topped it up at the Service desk so I could use it all week (repeating visits to Rotterdam Central whenever I needed to top up).

Now - if some bright spark in the Dutch Ministry of Transport who is in charge of the OV Cards happens to be reading this - I have some information for them.

English people (and other foreigners who do not live in the Eurozone) find it impossible to get their hands on large amounts of Eurozone coins - if any at all.

I, for one, am wary of using my Debit Card to pay for anything in The Netherlands.

So, if you would like to reset your Ticket Machines so they go back to accepting Euro Notes you will find Tourists will be very happy to use your machines.

I - on the other hand - will be esctatic when you realise that it is stupid to have the same OV Card for Train and local transport but keep the two systems separate as far as charging is concerned.  Just merge the NS Ticketing System and the Local Transport Ticketing System.

Here endeth the lecture!

Sometimes It Is Not The Electronic Ties That Bind Us - Just The Caring Stranger Who Can Be Bothered To Try To Find Us! (Or The Police Officer Who Highlighted The Dangers Of The Disconnected Electronic World)
6/18/2015 2:04:00 PM
Well, I must admit it was a bit different last week for me to be in the right country when it came to finding a newspaper so I could actually read about the subject of this post at my leisure.  (I even ended up being able to take a photo of their very useful sign - even if I didn't actally manage to find them to speak to.  Call me crazy but I don't actually feel comfortable wandering into the homes of total strangers.)  I am seriously considering asking them if they would like to be included in the "Inspirational People" section of this blog - at least I know their English is good!!!

The most useful sign I saw in Rotterdam - If you see this sign you are standing outside Wilco Berenschot's Pop-Up Police Station.  (Actually getting into the venue may be a bit difficult if it is in someone's home.)  Sometimes he is also found on street corners with a folding table and two folding chairs.  If you are not in Rotterdam but you want to find out about his venture he is on Twitter at @WT_Berenschot.

OK - before I get much further with this blog post I suppose I have to admit that - if there was a fanclub for this Police Officer I would become a member (and that was before the events of last week).

I think I was on a train back from Leeuwarden when this story started.  I read an ominous looking tweet from Mr Berenschot saying thar one of the residents of a street in Rotterdam near where his Pop-Up Police Station was located was worried because they hadn't seen someone for a while.  So, he decided to go to their flat and investigate.  The next tweet from him read that he was scared that when he found who he was looking for they would be dead. ("Hart in mijn keel" translates into "Heart in my throat".)

Never before have I felt so involved with a story which was being drip-fed to me in chapters of 140 characters - even if it was in Dutch.

This reader was extremely relieved when the tweet came through that the missing person was alive and well - if rather alarmed by a Police Officer climbing up his balcony and getting into his flat (I think they thought Mr Berenschot was chasing an intruder).

I didn't think anything more of it until the next morning when I saw a tweet from Mr Berenschot including the link to a newspaper article.  Usually, I would have been frustrated by the link because it showed half of the story and then asked you to subscribe to read the rest of it.  Not this time!  I went to the shop on the campsite I was staying at and bought a copy of the newspaper in question (it is on my desk as I type).

Then I started to get really upset by the full story.

Apparently the man who had "gone missing" had actually been in his flat the whole time - as well as for the previous decade - due to Agoraphobia.  If that wasn't bad enough there were stories (in the same article) of people laying dead in their flats for years before they were discovered.

The part of the story which upset me the most was Mr Berenschot saying that the man's bills were paid directly from his Bank Account (Dutch version of Council Tax, etc) so nobody had any excuse to come and visit him to find out if he needed any help.  I don't think the man had any family to make sure he was OK.

Mr Berenschot stayed with the man and helped him look through his post, etc, for a couple of hours.

This got me thinking about the perils of the Internet and Social Media as far as the vulnerable and alone are concerned.

Forget about the Child Abuse, Terrorism, Fraud, etc, which goes on, for a minute.  They are all instantly recognised as "Bad Things" which the Internet can be used for.

Maybe we should start worrying about things like "Isolation", "Fear", "Loss Of Money", even "Loss of Dignity", which can be and (in some cases) is the byproduct of the Internet age - especially when people either do not have mechanical (as in computer, mobile phone, or the funds to run either) access to the internet or the "theoretical" (as in not knowing how to use the Internet) access.

I remember being amazed when I managed to teach my English Grandma how to text.  This was a lady who was born in the era of the "Cat's Whisker" Radio - during her lifetime the TV was invented, computers were invented, homes started getting their own telephones (then the phones shrank and went mobile).  Oh - and the Internet itselt was invented.  Subjecting a lady in her late eighties to the "delights" of the internet just struck me as a cruel and unnatural punishment for the mere "crime" of having been born in 1922 - so I didn't bother with that.

Don't misunderstand me - I am as big a fan of the Internet as anyone.  After all, I can annoy you with my ramblings on here, I can find interesting humans to communicate with on "Social Media", I can read about (and watch videos of) events in different countries, etc.

However, what I cannot understand is how some people, Councils, Goverments, and Businesses, seem to have decided that the Internet replaces the human contact element of Society at large.  Thus leaving people like Mr Berenschot and his colleagues (both in The Netherlands and the UK) to pick up the pieces and help people who have fallen through the net.

The Internet should be used as a supplement to human contact instead of being used to replace it.

So - next time you don't see one of your friends or neighbours for quite some time, go round to their house, or ring them up to see if they are OK.  You never know - you might be the difference between someone being helped and them facing a very lonely death.

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