Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Coming Soon

The paint is still drying, some things are held together with sticky back plastic and the Plummer has made a complete mess but the new and improved Invading Holland site is almost ready.

For that reason this post is going to be a little different from the usual kind as I invite everyone to contribute to the new site in a small way. Since it includes a profile page I am looking for any questions people might like answered there. Feel free to ask anything (but any inquiries into my credit card number will have to go unanswered). Any questions that won’t suit the profile page I will still try to answer here.

I would also like to hear which posts everyone has enjoyed the most for the most popular post section.

If there are not any technical hick-ups I will be revealing the new site in a week.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Student Politics

Politics has never really been my subject. It’s one of the topics that makes my head hurt if I think about it too much. Maybe that is one of the reasons why I decided not to run for the position of Student Council Class Representative when I was at college (as a theater design student). I left that responsibility to my fellow class mates who had more political ambitions. There were three candidates but only one clear winner once all the votes had been counted, Malcolm.

Malcolm had won by a land slide but there was one small problem, something that made it difficult for him to for fill his new position in student politics (or any thing else for that matter). Malcolm was an inanimate green amphibian, a stuffed toy frog to be more precise. He was our class mascot who had been nominated because we needed a third candidate.

He would have been more at home on the Muppet show then in a meeting room debating what should be available in the college canteen. It had been amusing to vote for him but we had to face facts. Malcolm was not capable of representing us (something that was fundamental to the position as the title suggested). His muteness would impair his abilities and influence on the student council. We were forced to take another vote.

Once all the votes were counted again the winning student was awarded with his new title. However it was not the title of Student Council Class Representative. That would have been unfair to Malcolm. Instead the chosen student was crowned, "The Voice of Malcolm." He became Malcolm's emissary, his vessel, his voice.

The Voice of Malcolm took Malcolm to every meeting of the student council and spoke his wishes aloud for them all to hear. I never attended one of the meetings myself but often imagined Malcolm perched on his shoulder while whispering ideas into his ear like something out of a Philip Pullman book. However, some suspected that The Voice of Malcolm was only speaking for himself. No one showed any signs of being unhappy though (even if it would have been a great injustice).

Then one fateful day disaster struck. Malcolm had been left by the studio’s open window. As he sat their minding his own business (either thinking about the pond out side or his dreams to climb the political ladder) he fell out of the window into the car park bellow. By the time we had reached the car park to rescue him he was gone. We will never know if it was a simple accident or a political assassination attempt that led to his disappearance.

We tried to find a replacement but no other toy frog was worthy of filling Malcolm’s shoes. He had become more then a class mascot, he was our leader and he was mourned. You might think the story of Malcolm I have told you is far too strange to be true but we really did vote for a stuffed toy frog to be our Student Representative, someone really was appointed as his voice and he really was lost the day he fell out of that window (we were strange/typical students). I like to think that maybe he is still alive some where (as alive as an inanimate green amphibian can be) living like a king and leading some small country we have never heard of to a state of prosperity. Long live Malcolm.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Back to School

Maybe it is because I am English and the stereotypical politeness that comes with it that courses me to ask a Dutch person “Spreekt u Engels?” before I bombard them with the language. Whatever the reason may be a lot of them reply with a very simple, “Yes, a little.”

However, when a Dutch person suggests they only know a little bit of English it is usually the equivalent of Albert Einstein claiming he only knows a little bit about mathematics or Steven Hawkins saying he only understands some Physics. In contrast to this when most English people say they can speak Dutch it’s usually the equivalent of claiming to be a gourmet chef when all they can do is burn toast.

English seems to come easy to the Dutch but most (not all) expats struggle with Dutch. Attempting to learn Dutch often feels like returning to school. This isn’t because every Dutch person runs around in school uniform, scraping their nails down any available chalkboard and making out with the girls from the neighboring country behind the bike shed (although some probably do). It’s because it’s like trying to learn reading, writing and speaking all over again (especially if you are dyslexic like me).

Counting has to be re-learnt. The system for telling the time is different. There are new names for the letters of the alphabet. You even have to learn how combinations of different letters make new and unfamiliar sounds that will course you to talk like a Klingon with a cold.

During the first few months of learning a conversation with a Dutch person is like trying to understand Scooby Doo. You might be able to figure out what they are saying from their hand gestures and the noises they make but the words themselves are impossible to understand.

Every conversation becomes an exam that you have not studied for enough, possibly because the X-Box or PS2 provided too much of a distraction. A simple solution to this might be to write the answers on your arm and have a sneak peak when no one is looking.

If you get caught however you might end up getting sent to the head masters office along with the Spanish kid who did not realize his Dutch friends were only teaching him swear words (which would make him seem to have Dutch tourettes) and whenever he thought he was asking for directions he was in fact asking for something that would make most prostitutes in the red light district blush.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Dancing the Night Away

Whenever I am in a bar or night club having a few drinks with friends I find it impossible to stop myself from tapping my foot in time with the music being played. It doesn’t even matter if the music is terrible. Half the time I don’t even realize I am doing it.

It’s as if a little devil and angel are sitting on either shoulder while they argue with me in the center. The subject of their argument is not my mortal soul however. The debate that rages between them is much more important then that. To dance or not to dance?

Despite my involuntary foot tapping I have always been someone who initially resist the call of the dance floor as if everyone’s attention will be on me as soon as I step a single foot upon it.

However, I always find it impossible to stay on the side lines for long. Slowly the foot tapping turns into a head bob. The head bob turns into a sway. The sway turns into a dance and before I know what has happened I suddenly realize I am out on the dance floor getting jiggy with it as if guided by some unknown mystical force. This might partly explain why I ended up dancing like a maniac last Friday while wearing a large novelty pimp hat. I was later described as a dancing machine but still have no idea of where the hat came from. Hopefully it was not from an actual pimp.

Threw my experience with involuntary dancing I believe I have worked out the mathematical formula that predicts what will make someone dance. I have worked out this highly scientific theory using a percentage system. The closer to a 100% scored during the course of the night the higher the chance that dancing will ensue:

If there is no one on the dance floor: -20%
If there is a small group on the dance floor: +15%
If there is a large group on the dance floor: +25%
If there is a really embarrassing drunk person on the dance floor who will over shadow even your worst moves: +15%
If the really embarrassing drunk person is alone on the dance floor and you will be in direct competition with them -20%

After consuming four beers: +25%
Every additional beer after four: +10%
After every beer over eight: -12%
After 12 beers: You are the really embarrassing drunk person.
After 16 beers: Call an ambulance. Find a stomach pump. Reset to 0%

Your favorite song (otherwise known as the Catalyst Song) is played: Multiply score by 1.5.

The Catalyst Song rule also applies to the following: YMCA, Fame and the head banging part of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Little Lost

I freely call myself an accident prone man. I am comfortable with doing so because it is something that gives me a lot of funny stories to write about. Lately I have been a lot less accident prone but I still got a chance to live up to my blogs reputation this week when I met fellow blogger Blonde but Bright.

We had arranged to meet at a bar for a few drinks along with another of her friends but I was having trouble finding the place. After some unsuccessful searching I decided to give BBB a call.

Me: “Hi. It’s Stuart. I’m near the cinema but I’m not sure where this bar is.”

BBB: “Ok. What tram stop are you near?”

Me: “Er… None I think. I don’t know this area too well.”

I’d only ever been there to go to the cinema.

BBB: “Really?”

Me: “Yeah.”

BBB: “Do you know The Heineken brewery? It’s right near there.”

All I could see was the Heineken Music Hall but I didn’t think they would be hiding a distillery behind the bar where any drunken customer could get to it and drink them into bankruptcy.

Me: “Umm. I don’t really know where that is either.”

I suddenly felt like I could not truly call myself English because of my lack of beer related landmarks.

BBB: “Really?”

It sounded like she could not believe I was English anymore either.

BBB: “It’s South of the flower market.”

Me: “Flower market? They have one of those here?”

I knew of a flower market but that was a few miles away.

BBB: “Yes. It’s near the big clock tower.”

I knew of a big clock tower as well but that was also a few miles away near that flower market. Slowly realization started to dawn on me…

Me: “Oh… wait.”

… and then I suddenly knew what I had done.

Me: “You’re in Amsterdam aren’t you?”

BBB: “Yes.”

As soon as my brain reorganized the landmarks into their correct setting I knew exactly where the place was. It was in a part of Amsterdam that was very hard to mistake for any where else and I wasn’t even in Amsterdam. I had got the address wrong by a few miles. Another train journey later and the charming Blonde but Bright got to meet Ginger but Dim.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Blown Away

To say it has been a bit windy lately would be an understatement. Yesterday Holland suddenly descended into complete chaos as a large storm swept across the country coursing more damage then a visit from Godzilla.

The streets turned into high powered wind tunnels populated by pedestrians struggling to keep on their feet. Anyone carrying an umbrella ran the risk of being blown into a near by canal or Belgium.

All trains came to a complete stand still by order of the traffic police due to leaves on the line. Normally this would not be too much of a problem but the trees were still attached at the time.

Roads turned into rivers, people in high rise buildings were getting sea sick, traffic took over an hour to go just one hundred meters and everyone was advised to stay indoors and off the roads.

My journey home that normally takes 20 minutes took four and half hours. I spent the evening listening to the high winds raging outside as parts of the house rattled and shook. I would not have been too surprised to wake up in the morning and discover that the house had landed in Oz after being swept up in the storm and crash landing, killing The Wicked Witch of the East in the process.

On the upside, all the wind turbines in Holland must have generated enough power to supply the rest of the world into the 25th century.