Tag Archives: netherlands

Conversations in Drenthe and Friesland

Last weekend I headed north. For the past few years, Culturapeida has had a partnership with PeerGroup, a theatre company from Drenthe in the northern Netherlands. We worked with them on a project for the Preston Guild in 2012 and have maintained the relationship ever since. We are currently working with them on a project called Bridging Blackburn which is about conversations with strangers and encouraging communities to communicate. Our other partner in this venture is a project that works with young people in Blackburn called Slyncs which is headed up by an old friend and ex employee of Culturapedia, Jaf Hussain.

20160917_115447Last weekend a group of seven young people from Blackburn visited PeerGroup to work with four of their young people to further explore ideas that will ultimately lead to a performance/happening/event, in Blackburn in the Summer of 2017.

I headed off, with my bike, and caught a train to Assen. From there I had a 45 minute cycle ride up to PeerGroup’s HQ which is an disused 1960s cold war ammunitions base called Donderboerkamp, surrounded by forest. The site consists of a grid of streets with buildings sparsely placed amongst the trees. Peer Group manage this site. It is where they are based but it also houses sheltered work opportunities for people with learning difficulties and mental health issues. Most of the buildings have been, or are in the process of being, converted from storage units for ammunition into useful spaces for staying, rehearsing, building, eating and creating. They are functional red brick boxes but they have a simple aesthetic with their shutters in amongst the trees.

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The weather was great and we had good company. The chall957447848282696132-account_id2enge was focusing on the task in hand – to think about how you had conversations with strangers and how we communicate – with words, pictures, actions…

On Friday night we set off in a convoy to go and see PeerGroups current production, an hour and a half drive away in the village of Kimswert on the Friesian coast. Five hundred years ago this was the home of Grutte Pier, a celebrated Friesian freedom fighter resisting Dutch or Saxon rule. Friesland still  has its own language, quite distinct from Dutch and a proud identity all of its own. The performance, which came half way through a four year programme of activity celebrating Pier’s anniversary, was spectacular. We were lead from the road, past the site of Pier’s farm house, (burned down on January 1515), by a giant drum and a choir of local women farmers and farmers wives. We arrived at a massive outdoor theatre with seating for over 400. An army, made up of 20 local people were training hard in the mud, preparing for battle. The stage was marked out by upturned tree trunks, brutally thrust into the ground and standing fifteen meters high. This was a hard setting – we were going to witness war. Beyond the trees lay the battlefield. Throughout the performance we witnessed layers of activity, body-bags being dragged, buried and burned. We saw Grutte Pier’s descent into madness, despair and cruelty. His conscience was represented by a narrator dressed in red – the only colour in the production. She tormented him and fought with him verbally throughout. She was his mind, his dreams, his ideas. All the dialogue was in Friesian apart from the narrator who spoke in Dutch. A lot of what she said had been directly lifted from the speeches of Geert Wilders, an frightening, active, charasmatic, outspoken right wing, nationalistic politician here in the Netherlands.

Naturally, I didn’t understand what was being said. I could pick up the odd word but it didn’t matter. This was physical theatre and the actions portrayed the meaning. It was fantastic. I loved every minute. I feel privileged to have seen it. Ticket sales have been so good, they have extended the run. By October nearly ten thousand people will have travelled to this small village on the coast of Friesland. Amazing.

20160917_084224_001B20160917_121006ack in Donderboercamp we further explored ideas and got to know each other better. Connections were made and strangers became friends. We improvised and we discussed ideas, ambitions and dreams. The next phase of the project will be back in Blackburn in mid October….

We had seen a depiction of war and violence on a field in Friesland and I had slept in an old weapons store. I cycled back to catch my train back to the noises and hubbub of Rotterdam having spent some wonderful tranquil hours in the peace of Donderboerkamp – glad that the weapons were a thing of the past and that Bridging Blackburn will be about talking to strangers, not fighting them.

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Saturday in Deliplein

From the north just follow the signs to Tattoo Bob. Across the Erasmus Bridge, over a bridge by the New York Hotel and behind the Fenix Food Factory, you will find Deliplein. A triangular ‘square’ with the brick and concrete Fenix warehouses to one side and early 20th century red brick on the others. It was missed by Hitler and is a scene of concerted regeneration activity over the past few years.

Tattoo Bob has played his part. Many a lamppost around the river has a yellow sign pointing you in the right direction but there is plenty else to keep you occupied. On one side is the Walhalla theatre. Fenix Food Factory backs onto the square, a highly fashionable food court with its own brewery, bakery, butchers, Moroccan spice stall and more. It’s built into the rough and ready surroundings of an old warehouse with rough wood and old sofas. It’s great but a bit pricey. A Sunday brunch platter, where you got a speciality from each stall is fun but it’s becoming a bit our a tourist trap.  I prefer Posse, next door. Built into another part of the same warehouse, it has a more more relaxed style than Fenix. It has bicycles and art photographs on the wall and the food and wine is really rather good. Sit outside in the Summer but they’ve plenty of room inside if it’s raining. The whole square is surrounded by eateries. I’ve not been to them all but they include a raw food, vegan food and pizzas.

Last Saturday (27 August), Sue and I went to Rotterdam’s street art festival in the square. It wasn’t Mintfest but fun and extremely busy nonetheless. The highlights included the washer women.  A group who largely took over the square with white linen and a LOT of water. Cast, audience and just about everything else got wet. This was a piece with no language which could work anywhere. It probably could do with a bit of tightening. Another highlight came from a Belgian company, Pikzpalace, in the form of a butcher’s van – but without meat. The four hander was in Dutch but it was quite clear what was going on, They were butchering soft toys and barbie dolls. Grotesque and funny, the audience loved it. This was clearly a polished piece that is already travelling. It would work in English and be enhanced by Belgian accents. Some might go home with nightmares but… Barbie paté anyone? Or teddy leg on a stick?

On Saturday evening we had booked for dinner at De Matroos en het Meisje (The sailor and his girl). A renowned table dote restaurant on the southwest corner of Deliplein. It was a lovely evening so we sat outside. You can choose 3, 4, 5 or 6 courses – we went for three which was more than enough. You get what you´re given with no menu or wine list. The wine has been pre-chosen to go with each course. The food is exquisite. I have been twice now and enjoyed every course. For the quality, the price is good. 35 for three courses 6 for a glass and 3.50 for a half glass of wine. This is definitely the best food I’ve had in Rotterdam so far. ***** from me.

Back by popular demand

Or I soon will be. My first year in Rotterdam was fantastic – I’ve loved almost every minute. Sorry for my absence from your screens. I have been duly reprimanded and will endeavour to try harder.

After a Summer break, back in the UK, August turns and I start to think about coming back to Pancake Street. I’ll be sharpening my pencils and filling my fountain pen in readiness for the MA proper. At the end of June the results were in – confirming that I had cleared the hurdle of passing the Pre-Master year.

My Pre-Master thesis was on the relationship between CEOs and boards of arts organisations. I got a good grade but gratefully take on board the feedback that I made it a bit too complicated. This is great learning for next year when the thesis element will be twice as long and worth a third of the grades for the year.

20160606_181421Since I last tapped a key on this site I have also completed courses in Academic Writing, International Arts Markets and Advanced Economics of the Cultural Industries. I feel academically well equipped and a little nervous about the year to come. Most of my Pre-Master friends will be returning with another thirty five or so new faces who will be coming straight onto the Master year. Lots of new friends to make and new people to learn from. I can confidently say that I have learned as much, if not more, from my fellow students as I have from the formal lectures and assignments – that is how Universities should be.

I will be flying back to Rotterdam in about ten days time. Sue is coming back with me for the weekend and I’ve got a few days to re-orientate myself before the learning begins in earnest. I fear that my limited Dutch has rusted over during the Summer and I will be a lot poorer as the pound has plummeted against the Euro but I look forward to settling back into life on Pancake Street.

I’ve arrived

Forgive me reader, It’s been more that two weeks since I last posted anything on this blog.

Waiting for the Hogwarts Express at Schiphol

Waiting for the Hogwarts Express at Schiphol

Gouda

Sue guards the bikes in Gouda

The big news is that I have now arrived and am resident on Pancake Street.  Sue and I got here last Thursday. I managed to pack most things that I’ll need including the emergency rations of Lancashire Cheese from good friends, Olwyn and Claire. The train from the airport took us straight to Blaak station which is just a stone’s throw from Pancake Street. In effect this makes the cheaper slow train, faster – a great discovery

Today is officially the first day of term here in Rotterdam though my induction day at the University is not until Thursday. There is a free festival on campus this afternoon and evening which Sue and I plan to cycle over to in a couple of hours. We’ve spent the past couple of days doing practical things in the flat and being tourists.

On Friday we got on our bikes and cycled to Gouda – the home of some fantastic cheese. The Netherlands is fantastically compact and flat – perfect for cycling from city to city. I will write more about cycling and bikes very soon. Gouda is lovely and quintessentially Dutch – all fancy gables, canals and cheese – lots of cheese. We went round the cheese museum and ate a lunch of cheese. We also went to a lovely cheese shop and tried lots of different Dutch cheese before buying some cheese to bring back. Sue was really pleased to find a Dutch blue cheese. (not for me!).

A giant jigsaw puzzle

A giant jigsaw puzzle

A chunk of spare time has been spend building the wardrobe. It’s very big and covers a wall in the bedroom. I needed to do this when Sue was here as it’s really a two person job.  Between assembling what really amounts to a giant jigsaw puzzle we’ve pottered around the city, bought some essentials and tried to have a relaxing time.

Last night we went to the open air cinema in the Museum Park to see Love is Strange with John Lithgow and Alfred Molina. It’s a great film. Understated and romantic, it tells the tale of an ageing gay couple who are forced to live apart with relatives until they find a new apartment. See it if you get a chance. It was fantastic watching it outdoors accompanied by the start of a thunder storm that lasted for about six hours. As we watched, the lightening got closer and closer. Luckily the rain only started in the last ten minutes and didn’t fall in earnest till we were safely home.  We got up at 02:30 to watch the climax of the light show and downpour from the balcony.

This morning we successfully rehung the missing doors that I found in the bike store downstairs. They fit perfectly and are now in placeA magnificent door handle

For sale – a magnificent door handle

ready for painting and new door handles. That said the ones on there at the moment are rather magnificent though not quite right for a 1950s flat. I can see why they were taken off – open plan living – but I can also see why they were there in the first place. One closes off the bedroom and shower room from the living room. If anything they make the apartment feel a bit bigger. At some point they’ve both  been altered and fitted with brown opaque glass.  It’s quite nice in a 1970s retro way and goes with the apartment – or it will when the doors are painted and the handles replaced.

Sue heads back to Blackburn tomorrow, leaving me all alone on Pancake Street. Before then off to campus, coats, hats and brollies ready for the HeartBeat festival. Today has been hot and close – we maybe in for another light show.

 

Enrolled and official

I’m going to Rotterdam to study and to learn.  Yesterday, my status at the University changed from ‘accepted to ‘enrolled’ . I am officially a student again. As the start time gets closer I get more and more nervous. Erasmus University in Rotterdam is a proper university. According to the Times World University Rankings it comes in at 72. It is only beaten by about half a dozen UK universities that I would never dream of applying to. I’m just a boy with a mediocre vocational design BA from a former Polytechnic. I can’t even find my alma mater in the rankings. The course that I am going to do is ranked second in the world for  “Arts and Cultural Management” according to www.best-masters.com.  This is serious stuff.20150717_121557_001

I’ve got a lot of experience in cultural management. I’ve been doing it for years but the academic rigour is going to be a challenge. It’s no good just knowing something. You need to know why and how. You also need to back it up with research and evidence. I will also need to get into the habit of academic writing. The thing I’m least looking forward to is all the reading. I want to learn, I want to gain the knowledge but I also know that some of the texts I need to absorb will be rather dry and not well written from a readers point of view.

Erasmus University, (EUR), is not ivy covered. It’s not actually very old. In University terms it’s just a baby having been formed a mere 102 year ago in 1913 as the Netherlands School of Commerce. It’s occupied its present site since 1973. As with the rest of Rotterdam there is a lot of concrete. There is also a major building programme going on with twenty first century architecture springing up along the new University Plaza. There is a separate Medical Centre and Erasmus University College, (across the road from my flat on Pannekoekstraat), in the city centre but the main Woudenstein campus on the edge of Kralingen is where I’ll be based. It’s about a fifteen minute cycle or short tram ride away.  EUR has about 21,000 students of which about a quarter are international. Its alumni include nobel prize winners and Dutch Prime Ministers.

I’m still waiting for my timetable. It would be handy to have it soon so that I can book flights back to the UK when they are cheapest. It looks like things are well organised and that all lectures are condensed into half a week. There are four terms and the timetable changes for each one. For the past two years Term One contact time, (lectures, seminars and work groups), has started as midday on a Tuesday and finished at midday on a Thursday.  British universities seem to start in October and finish at the end of November for Christmas.  EUR lectures start on August 31 and don’t finish ’till December 18.  My first exams will be at the end of Term One in November.

If you’re interested this is what I’ll be studying in my first year:

Study schedule per term

Term Courses
Term 1 Introduction to Economic Theory
Creative Economy and Creative Organizations
Introduction to Social Science Research
Term 2 Economic Geography of Creativity and Urban Development
Values of Culture
Introduction to Statistical Analysis
Term 3 International Art Markets
Academic writing 
Bachelor’s Thesis Class (gr. 4-E or 5-E) (4 weeks)
Term 4
Advanced Economic Aspects of Cultural Industries
Bachelor’s Thesis Class (continuing from term 3)
Bachelor’s Thesis

Come fly with me

This is where my green credentials fly out of the window. I never throw a piece of paper away without writing on both sides, I compost all my food waste and teabags, I hate excess packaging. This adventure, though blows it all as it involves rather a lot of flying. I put my hands up and say sorry. As I mentioned in my previous post ” Warning this route crosses Belgium”, the ferry from Hull is eye wateringly expensive and takes an age. Driving down to Dover then up to Rotterdam is also not very sustainable.

GIven that I’ve made the dark decision to fly I seem to have three choices if I want to fly from Manchester to Schiphol. They are KLM, Easyjet and FlyBe and so far I’ve tried all three. I thought I’d try and work out which I prefer.20150628_132550

In fairness all three are OK. Our first investigative trip at Easter was with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. By far the poshest of the three. It’s going home when it goes to Schiphol and gets the best gates. This is the Dutch flag carrier. It has the most flights per day and you get a free drink and snack on the short flight. There is a bit more leg room and if you feel so inclined you can go 20150703_154528first class. I think I’d feel a bit hard done by if I’d paid all the extra gilders only to find that they just put you in front of a curtain and leave every other seat unattended. I can’t imagine that the tea and coffee is of higher quality. The Heineken still comes out of a can. I didn’t like the way that they “Especially want to thank” their Flying Blue customers. It makes everyone else seem a bit inferior.

I’ve used Easyjet before and have always been a bit of a reluctant fan. It is put in the same category with Ryanair which I hate. Have you ever managed to get a Ryanair member of staff to smile with their eyes as well as widening their mouth. (It’s a good game if you’re ever forced to fly with them but it’s hard work). Easyjet by contrast are always smiling and being friendly. They seem to enjoy their work. It’s a bit cramped on an Easyjet flight but the hop over to Schiphol is short enough.

20150628_143434_001The third option is FlyBe which claims to be the worlds largest regional airline, (not really sure what that means). It used to belong to Jack Walker who was a Blackburn metal magnate so there’s a connection to home.  The planes are smaller than KLM and Easyjet which seems to offer the passenger a bit more room. You are sitting two abreast rather than three. I’ve also noticed that the cabin staff seem to be a bit older – this may just be the flights I’ve done. They definitely smile and are really pleasant and smiley. If you can’t do the whole hour without a drink of something then you have to pay like Easyjet but you go get a free branded sweet as you disembark. Flybe definitely has the best in-flight magazine – I really enjoyed reading it and learned a lot. It has a whole business section which indicates that they fly a lot of business customers.

KLM has a loyalty scheme where you collect air miles but it would take a whole lot of short hops over the North Sea to collect enough to do anything serious.  With FlyBe you get Avois – there are lots of other ways to collect these so it might be worth looking at.

It all boils down to timetables really. All three can be booked easily online but FlyBe’s website is a bit clunky. Their smart phone app is awful. KLM and Easyjet do digital boarding passes. FlyBe seem to be working on this.

A big difference is where they operate at the airports. At Manchester Easyjet operates out of Terminal 1. This is the main one, Its enormous and there are often queues for security. FlyBe and KLM operate out of Terminal 3 which is nearer to the railway station, considerably smaller and considerably faster. There are less shopping opportunities but who buys all that stuff when they’re about to get on a plane. T3s got a Boots and a Smiths. You can squirt yourself with the latest smellies and get a Costa Coffee. What else would you want to do at an airport?

At Schiphol it was a very long walk to get to my FlyBe and Easyjet gates. We only taken hold luggage on KLM so far but loved the automatic luggage drop off machines at Schiphol.

It’s an hours flight. It’s comes down not long after it’s gone up. I suspect I will be an airline tart and fly with the one offering the best price at the best time.

 

Planning ahead

This blog is called Life on Pancake Street – I feel like a bit of a fraud as I’m not currently experiencing Life on Pancake Street. I’m still in the UK working on a busy Summer for Culturapedia. This week we’ve got a troupe of New Zealand Dancers performing on a moving double decker bus across six Pennine Lancashire Towns.

I will be back on Pancake Street on Sunday night, (28 June). I will be busy. On Monday I need to cycle over to my estate agents in Kralingen and pick up keys to the post box and the bike store. In the afternoon I have 50+ square meters of laminate flooring being delivered. It has to sit in the apartment for two days to acclimatise before it can be fitted.

20150530_132624We sorted this out last time we were there from a showroom just round the corner on Mariniersweg. I got a bargain. It was reduced and I’ve saved €5.00 per square meter. Rotterdam is a city that people live in. They live, en masse, right in the centre. They don’t have cars so the market comes to them. Also on Mariniersweg there is a Praxis, part of a DIY chain where we bought paint.

I will need to get busy with a paint brush. It makes sense to get as much paint on the walls as I can before the lovely new floor is down. I also need to lift up the floor that is still down in the living room and the main bedroom.

On Monday they will also transfer over the gas and electricity. I won’t need to do much there other than take meter readings.

On Tuesday I will still be painting and pulling up floors. Ziggo will be coming to fit a digibox and internet. I will be connected to the world. If they come before 2pm I will be able to join in the Culturapedia team meeting via Google Hangouts – live from the new Rotterdam office.

Wednesday, the floor fitter is coming. I will be no doubt moving things out of their way, making coffee etc. I’ve successfully fitted plenty of floors myself in the past including the rather nice bamboo one that we have here in the Culturapedia office. For speed and efficiency I decided to let a professional do this one. I won’t have all the tools and there’s plenty of other things I can do to make the place home.

On Thursday, at some point, A truck will be arriving from IKEA.nl. Last week I braved a Friday evening in IKEA in Warrington. The great thing about it being an international company is that they sell the same products everywhere and they always have the same silly names. I needed to sort out the big things that I won’t be able to carry myself or get up two flights of stairs.

Armed with phone photos and notes I got back home and set about filling a Winkelwagen, (shopping cart) on the IKEA.nl website. Their Dutch website can be as difficult to navigate as their UK one -especially when it comes to finding individual components for their PAX wardrobe systems. I got there in the end.

If all goes to plan the truck will contain: a spare bed, mattress, wardrobes in multiple bits, a washing machine, curtain rails and curtains. Luckily IKEA.nl are happy to deliver to apartments. (It is islands that they don’t like). I had to tell them what floor I was on.  This question was reassuring as the nightmare would be them turning up and dumping it all in the lobby downstairs.

There will still be things I need like some light fittings etc but these are things I can pick up in the city centre easily and none of them are urgent.  It makes sense to collect things once I am actually living in the place.

On Friday afternoon I will be flying back home having spent the morning with an IKEA allen key and finishing off bits of painting.

That will be my itinerary, Let’s hope it all goes to plan.