Monday, September 10, 2012

Dutch politics

Elections surface in the swamp. Only the cloggies can vote. People who wish to keep their original nationality and live here due to work or relationship with a Dutch partner have no right to vote in national elections. Most Dutch think this is perfectly 'normal' and are completely ignorant of the fact that Dutch people CAN vote in Britain or Ireland. When I inform Irish or British friends of this, they are genuinely amazed that a European country can even be allowed to flaunt such blatant discrimination.

The government has been busy pushing forward a non-dual citizen policy. Meaning, I can't be both Irish and Dutch. Realizing that the regulation would also effect Dutch people who live abroad, they're hastily pushing forward legislation that says if you are Dutch you CAN have dual-citizenship, but if you're a foreign national living in Holland you must choose to be one or the other. Confused. Don't be, its simple, the Dutch don't like foreigners so if every body becomes Dutch the problem is solved. If you're already Dutch you are part of a superior nation, so you can be whatever you like.

For me the most important thing about politics is that the individual has a right to vote. What or who you vote for is secondary, almost insignificant. If I could, I'd vote Green Party or The Animal Party, a fringe party that suggests you're better off voting for animals as they have no say. Perhaps there should also be a Foreigners Party? Of course a Foreign Animal Party would just be ridiculous!

I post a link to the most definitive site I've found in English on Dutch politics and political history. If you're an expat living here you should give it a read. Then you will be able to tell all your Dutch friends why they're talking complete drivel because you actually know something about their politics and your insight is based on something other than the propaganda spouted daily in the national media.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Where now?

I've been busy of late cleaning up my web presence. For my work I help people with their websites, so unfortunately my own web stuff gets neglected. I began this blog to improve my writing, learn more about blogging, show some photography, and communicate with people internationally. Overtime, it became somewhat fragmented.

Perhaps most beneficial, was that it served as therapy, scribbling down my anxieties as an Irishman living amongst Dutch Calvinists. Looking back in black and white helped. So where now? I have a website for my work which includes a blog, I have a youtube channel dedicated to my passion for pipe smoking, and I think I should leave it that way. Like my Dutch brothers, I will segregate and compartmentalize more.

So where does DubintheDam take us now? The title clearly states, "A Dublinman in Amsterdam". That is the narrative. The language of that story has often been too angry, but Dutch society still continues a slippery slide too far right xenophobia. There is more reason than ever, to be pissed. A good friend who shares many of the same insights, says, 'Pearse, you're a really funny guy, you should use your humor more with the Cloggies.'

So I hereby pledge to be funnier, to steer the ship back on course. I will continue to ridicule  xenophobia, as the laughable thing that it is. I will bravely venture into that 'Comedy of Errors' which is Dutch politics. I will assure my fellow ex-pats: 'no you're not going nuts...they really are unbelievable'. I will tell more about Amsterdam which is a great city, about Amsterdamer's too, who are immensely more international than their cousins from the pollder. And I will add more Blarney, lashings of it, promise.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Celebrate not tolerate

I think the picture says it all....there's certainly no need to explain this one to an ex-pat who's lived in The Netherlands for more than a few months. Summer holidays are quickly approaching....thank heavens.

Friday, October 14, 2011


A picture paints a 'probably' Dutch lady of Moroccan decent rounding a corner on the left, camera in hand, cautious eyes with olive skinned beauty - bright in the sun. On the opposite side a Dutch couple of whiter decent stroll down a lane. He, with mobile in hand, glances intently through the café window. It beacons cosyness or gezelligheid. Constantly searching for that gezelligheid is the great pursuit. 

Look upwards and you will catch a CCTV camera dangling from a lamp post, forever filming the tourists and skinny junkies that wander by. In Holland caution is a frequented manner of greeting, people should first be scanned. In conversation, eye contact is minimal but surveillance is practical. That's what I see.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Apples and oranges

Look closely at this image, click again and you may see what I see. It was taken recently in Eindhoven in the south of The Netherlands a few hours prior to a football match. For me, two things jump out. A state of casual ease coupled with an undercurrent tension.

The abundant draping of orange by a broad section of society for a relatively minor football match (San Marino was the intended victim) is indicative of the nationalistic fervor the Dutch exude. The score was equally excessive,11-0, no prizes for guessing who won.

In Holland everyone wears a uniform, it's usually a, "look at me, I'm not wearing a uniform - uniform". Conformity is king and the 'casual look' is the fashion at court. They have 'oh' so many uniforms. Businessmen are sometimes referred to as "Blue Blazers", wearing cargo pants with suede shoes and god forbid, "Don't ever wear a tie"! Whole platoons of them will be seen, all wearing their uniforms together with 'casual' screamed loudly like a Sargeant Major.

This easy way of being, at first sight, greatly impresses the foreign observer but as truth dawns, you see a tense underlay. The Dutch are relaxed and casual because they have a practical society that takes care of most problems. But a tension comes from an unspoken pressure to be always normal. It's all very tiring. "We are here because we want to be, we are this way because it's a good way to be, we like it, nobody tells us how to be".

Not so unfortunately. There is a vicious collective rumour telling the Dutch how to be Dutch, and it assures them that it's really a way that they choose to be as independent individuals. And they believe this, they believe it so strongly that it can only be the surest form of denial. To be like everyone else and totally independent at the same time - is their greatest paradox.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A stone

Pictured above is my most prized possession. It doesn't even qualify as a stone, just a hunk of concrete. It sits on my balcony surrounded by more attractive objects, but none so relevant.

Shortly after arriving in Amsterdam in 1998 I began working in a busy ad agency in the city center. After a gruelling day at the Mac I would often stop at a coffeeshop homeward bound. It's still there on the Oude Hoogstraat, 'Pick up the Pieces' it's called. Sometimes I would smoke a joint, others not, but would always meet friendly colourful international types and chat with the staff who became good friends over the years.

Holding the door open to release the weary workers from plumes of marijuana was a large piece of concrete. After many months I inquired about it's peculiarity, it some how beckoned significance. I was told that indeed it was a very special piece of cement. The owner of the café was Kishore, an Indian Surinamer who also owned a hotel in Schneverdingen that was frequented by Germans seeking respite and recreation on the adjacent sandy beaches. As the first frantic images appeared on TV from the collapse of the wall, he was spurred on by his loyal Saxony guests to seize the moment and drive instantly to Berlin and be part of something monumental.

The block that held the door wide was the souvenir. To be precise it is half a block. Occasionally I would pop by the café to renew old acquaintances and on one such visit I noticed the chunk of history was no longer. I gawped, "where's the wall gone?". It had split in half and lost the required gravity to keep the door ajar. "What did you do with the shattered remains?", I asked. Johnnie the nephew of the proprietor, walked over to an electric meter cabinette, opened it and there they lay, two broken halves like a young lover's pendant heart. He gave me one of the blocks and so it found a new home.

Poignant enough as a story, permit me to go further. I once pointed out its significance to a visitor, he sceptically commented, "How do you know it's actually a piece of the Berlin wall"? I assured him of its provenance and how its giver was a good friend of sound credentials. My visitor gawked at me with distrust, bewilderment and even contempt. He was such a man, but the giver, like the stone itself, is a tribute to the wonder of life. Thank you Johnnie and Kishore, it will stay with me until my very death and inevitable freedom.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Brown Café

A café bedecked in all things dark brown umber. Sounds depressing? Sometimes it can be. It is a uniquely Dutch phenomenon. The colour of brown is adopted in the Netherlands as old Protestants once adorned themselves in black. Practical, reverent and clerical. By comparison the warmth of the reddish tone is almost indulgent.

I think back to childhood days in my fathers pub, where dark hues suited well the sticky mess of spilled Guinness and billowed nicotine. In Holland the Brown Café is an art form, each premises carefully replicating a non-existing time and place somewhere in the past. Today's commercial interior designer can choose any type of fitting and carpentry from weighty catalogues to meet the wishes of his 'food and drink' retail client. The Dutch are in no need of such catalogues. Once their houses looked the same, but today people are more likely to put Ikea in there living rooms with the wooden patina being left behind at the café on the corner.

Over the last decade many proprietors choose a modern Milano look, rarely it works, the stark white clean lines that begin crisp and fresh start to look cheap and tacky after a couple of years. Some smart thinkers choose to combine the two looks often resulting in charming eclectic interiors that serve leafed mint tea and squeezed orange juice.

I often get asked, "Do I go to Irish Pubs in Amsterdam?". Yes, I do. But I much prefer the Brown Cafés, they to me are the equivalent. I sometimes say to clients, "it's all about authenticity, be what you are, walk your talk". These places, although merely constructed in theme, have authenticity. It is the people who go there that make it so. The subject is worthy of a lengthy thesis, but put simply, going to a brown café is like returning to your mothers womb and who amongst us at sometime in our life has not wanted to just crawl back in.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

"No dogs....".

I am an Irishman who has lived his entire adult life abroad. I'm a European, with youthful times spent in London and Amsterdam. Strangely, I have never traveled outside the Eurozone, not intentionally, but as I love to backpack at short notice in the mountains, I usually end up in places like the Alps or the Pyrenees.

I hope to journey to America and India some day, but I'm still intrigued by how varied and complex Europe can be. How it's many wonderful cultures continue to inspire and inform. These experiences make one feel obliged to vent opinion as an Irish European. Succinctly put, I'm sickened by the steady increase in nationalistic far-right anti-immigrant 'drivel' by some of my fellow Europeans, particularly as an Irishman who's countrymen suffered the same prejudices in previous centuries. "No dogs, No Blacks, No Jews, No Irish"!

I'm not writing about politics here, there is no far-right political debate happening in Europe, there are crude childish prejudices being spluttered in the name of politics. I write at a time where self-designated political and social figures seem to think it's okay to 'debate' the far-right, showcasing it as something other than juvenile rantings. Presenting their observations as intelligent understandings of complex sociology. This frustrates me. I'm not surprised that the conformist and privacy obsessed Dutch people try to embarrassingly blame their own social shortcomings on a Muslim community while they can't even say, "hello", to their 'white' neighbors.

I'm not worried that the English, French or Italians have difficulties with huge increases of immigrants to their countries in recent decades, that the Russian's (yes they are Europeans too!) are still screwed-up over Stalin. I'm not even concerned by the divided Belgians (those crazy Dutch flaming again!), the contrary in fact. Without government for over a year now, things are doing just fine! If anything the blessed Belgians show us precisely how overrated any government actually is.

"Fear of change, marginalized, threats of globalization, rise of homophobia, loss of national identity, regional power struggles"..... just catchy slogans thrown around by our politicians and journalists who haven't got the balls to tell their brothers and sisters to stop whinging like a bunch of spoiled little brats. Suddenly they care that the Church they never went to, will be replaced by a Mosque, or that the healthy Bio-vegetables they increasingly crave are hand-picked by Lithuanians on a cold and frosty morning!

I'm an Irish European and anybody, from anywhere, who wants to go anywhere in Europe and do anything that is remotely within the realms of the law, is cordially welcomed to do so...and anybody who thinks otherwise, should just grow-up or go live on an island. These are my intelligent prejudices and not so informed politics.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What to do on Sunday's

Fr. Leo Nedersticht, now that's a good Dutch name. Whilst busy with preparations for my marriage some ten years ago, I hastily called around looking for a Catholic priest to give a blessing at my civil ceremony. This was met with distain by my first contact, promptly being told by the cleric, "we don't do that sort of thing". An alternative phone number was privided and I was informed, "you need to call Fr. Leo".

"That's the man for me", I thought. A priest with a reputation, I liked him even before we'd met in person. And, he lived up to his reputation. It was a fantastic ceremony with blessings given by both himself and a Buddhist friend, with an equally charismatic civil servant putting on a crowd cheering performance as if not to be outdone by the traditionalists.

We lost contact over the years, as happens, but returned home from vacation to hear his warm voice on the answer machine. He came for lunch a couple of weeks ago, we enjoyed his company as if only parted for a few months. My wife offered to play harp at his service on Sunday and we duly attended both of his churches, a common thing for short staffed parishes these days.

As I stood outside the church with a coffee, smoking my pipe, it struck me how nice it was to have the familiar feeling, that of homecoming, my Sundays of youth rekindled. In times past Irishmen around the globe would rarely miss a Sunday service, beyond faith it was a way of touching base. I realise how important it must have been to them, it filled a real need. How many Irishmen today would do this? More likely to be IT managers than labourers the general decline of traditional faith coupled with the scandals of abuse in Catholic establishments erode any likely chance or renewal of this weekly ritual.

Famous churches in foreign places like St. Patrick's in New York were monuments to self-determination, loyalty and tradition built by the blood sweat and silver of a work weary immigrant community. Today Fr. Leo's churches are cheerfully attended by a good dose of Surinamer's and Filipiono's, immigrant workers not so different from the Irishmen of the last century. Often underpaid and under appreciated they bring their happiness and humility every Sunday, they stand out from the clearly whiter, more sombre and strained looking faces of the Dutch Calvinistic Catholics.

What delights me is that these churches could not be further apart from anything you might see in the 'colonies' or back home, one of Fr. Leo's churches is just an annex of an apartment building, the other is the ground floor of a large Victorian house. In no way grand or decorative, the emphasis is on faith, not institution. It reminds me that we form opinions of our Christian backgrounds, from and within, a very narrow minded and provincial sphere.

Perhaps it's more convenient and less ridiculed for an Irish IT manager today to spend his Sunday mornings at the Coffee Company reading glossy magazines in Eindhoven or Frankfurt rather than a local church. I radically suggest if you're Irish abroad, be it of Catholic or Protestant background, Buddhist or secular conversion, try leaving your wise understandings behind, your intelligent grasp of all things philosophical and just go to church just like Mum and Dad used to. Shock, horror! You might learn something old, or new.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The water's edge

Sometime ago while making selections of my photo's I realized I was intrigued by 'the water's edge'. Unconsciously I would find myself there connecting, looking at other people connecting with themselves. Like many traditions the Celts revered it as a gateway, a portal to communicate with other worlds.

Water is a solid thing in my life. At an early age I became a strong swimmer. One of my dearest memories is that of my parents taking my brother and I to the local pool on Sundays. From the early years their marriage was under duress and this was one of the moments they consciously made the effort to be happy and try for the sake of family. A happy place from which the love of my parents can be easily rekindled bringing warmth to the colder moments of adult years.

My father grew up on a farm over looking Loch Dan, a mystic lake if ever there was one and a frequent backdrop in medieval films shot on location. We would spend our warm summers crossing its cold peaty black waters in a small boat. Deep, rich memories ingrained by the dark waves and majestic mountains that surround them.

My mother comes from a small island off the Irish north west coast (Arranmore). I've only been twice but this watery place is ever present in my life. Even though my mother left as a young women it is the island's watery edge that provides stability and meaning in her life. The island becomes a bridge, a lifeline with her cousins who crossed the sea to America. She speaks on the telephone, she reminds them of home, a place in their hearts. Evermore in their minds they need to journey across the ocean after living so long in a far off place where the grandchildren have gone to good universities, bought big houses and died in motorbike accidents. Like spawning salmon they must return to the water's edge.

When I'm at the water's edge everything becomes clear, I let go of the stories even though they have more meaning at that moment. At the water's edge everything is complete, ended and yet to begin, like jumping off a tall building and knowing you can fly. It's big stuff but what amazes me is that I see this in other people too, even if they don't see it in themselves. When people meet the water's edge, they change, instantly, everybody, always, everywhere. Even in a drained swamp called Amsterdam.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

An ex-pat I shall always be

I recently visited the ex-pupils Facebook page from my old boarding school. I hope some old chums will post me, however I only resided at the Franciscan secondary school for three years and not the normal full five years so perhaps any imprinted memory may be somewhat vague. I ponder that I've kept moving on for most of my life. I guess I was born an ex-pat, whenever I return to Ireland to visit my parents I get the feeling that I've been here, I've done this. Am I a stone that gathers no moss? I suspect not. It's just that the moss has many coloured hues.

At the age of 16 I realized that remaining in boarding school would stunt my preparation for adult life. By 17 my girlfriend would sleep over, by 18 I knew my future would be founded in work and travel and not taking notes in a lecture hall. At 19 I had grown disillusioned with advertising and commerce and joined the Army. By 20 I was in London. By 24 I had bought my first house and was a junior partner in business. At 29 I became a Buddhist and at 32 moved to Amsterdam to live with my wife.

I suppose since then the rolling of the stone has slowed somewhat. I did return to Ireland in 2002 at the age of 36 for a career change only to find it a step backwards in time. I still see that boy from Dublin in the mirror, he's not altered beyond all recognition. As I would walk the streets of south Dublin as a young man, shuffling from one friend's house to another, from pub to party, I always felt I was just biding time. That I was not meant always to be with the people of that city, I felt the outsider. I probably felt more at home in international London of all the three cities I have lived, but towards the later years friends were few and many relocated elsewhere in England.

One of the things I have learned over the years is that it is many things to be Irish, it's a bag that you can't let go of even if you wished. It's acquired in the formative years growing up there, but that originates from a collective Karma, it doesn't come from a place but from a people who come from a people who have lived in particular places. I think many ex-patriots reading this will be able to relate to my tale and perhaps you like me have always been an ex-pat.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Things I like about the not so nice

A friend once commented on my blog, "well one thing is for sure, you don't like the Dutch". Well, I guess that is true, as a people and society I don't like them, but 'like' is not a word that can be applied to the Dutch. Infact it is a word they generally dislike, it is too vague, too emotive, baseless.

For sure I like loads of Dutch people, and I never let my observations and experience of living in their society carry over to the 'individual'. I approach all with a fresh look, a new embrace. So what do I like about the Dutch.

Well for one I like the fact that it is a less chauvinistic country than many, I love meeting strong liberal and independent women who have broken free from the chains of men. In Ireland women have a power that is derived from the importance of motherhood in the family group. But here it extends further, they can be something for themselves, not just as mothers.

I love the fact that gay couples walk hand-in-hand in the streets with a certain confidence and knowing. I like the fact that the police play it by the book, it doesn't get personal, it's just about rules and fines. You broke 'em, you pay 'em.

I like the fact that things work well, I don't mean their bureaucratically driven systems wrapped in excessive intellectualization (que dictionary: An unconscious means of protecting oneself from the emotional stress and anxiety associated with confronting painful personal fears or problems by excessive reasoning). I mean things like their doors and windows in new buildings, little wonders of well thought engineering that bring a smile to the face.

I like the birthday party thing, the behavior at such parties merits a 5 year thesis in psychology. But the idea that people gather every year to celebrate the birthday of every family member or close friend is remarkable. A brief time allotted in the agenda for the celebration of the individual.

I like the fact that the Dutch place importance and relevance on things other than their work. I like the fact they don't stick to rigid guidelines and norms of dress code at social events, even if they look like shit - which they do especially when they follow the guidelines! I like the fact that they often immerse themselves in foreign cultures and languages if only to escape their grey world. I like the fact that they are responsible and reliable. Pragmatically looking for solutions to improve their sodden plot. Those are some of the things I do like about the 'not so nice' Dutch.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mad Men - those crazy Dutch

I was catching up on the ad scene (advertising industry) news in Amsterdam recently and read a comment by a managing director on how bewildered they were as to the  divide here in the advertising community. It's a world of two sides, one being the international global advertising agencies (three of which I have worked for in the past) and the second being the 'just Dutch' ad agencies. The director comment on how the two communities don't really mix, socially or professionally, and was at a loss as to why that is.

To digress I once met a young Englishman here who lived here for much of his life, his parents where English and he spoke perfect Dutch. One would think that a fluency in the language and a longevity of stay would mean a fuller degree of integration. Not so I was informed, he commented that there were 3 separate communities in Amsterdam, the Dutch, the ex-pat and the international community and essentially the 3 don't mix. I inquired what was the difference between the international community and the ex-pat community, he responded that the ex-pat stayed for a limited number of years while the international community stayed here for the long term.

I was slightly shocked by this as the Dutch very much herald the secret to integration is a good mastering of the language and culture. Twelve years on I have a good understanding of the language albeit not fully fluent, but if anything my increased understanding of the society alienates me even further. I now know what they're saying as well as thinking. I have good relations with many Dutch people, but the best relationships are with those who have lived abroad or are very broad mined, something I could also say applies to the Irish people I have good relations with.

So one might expect that a creative industry would be full of such broad minded individuals. Indeed it is. But repeatedly I find the Dutch need to retreat into a provincial state of mind the more they expand their horizons, it's as if they get scared, afraid that the ground is becoming too shaky, so back they go, clinging.

And. It is this very peculiar behavior that means the Dutch need Dutch creatives to art direct Dutch advertising campaigns and why the many international HQ's that are based here truly need international people to develop their international ad campaigns. My only regret is that too few Dutch colleagues understand this and do too little to address it. It is their loss.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Holland is a province, namely North Holland. The correct term all school boys are taught is The Netherlands, but it should be called Bikeland. The Dutch would like to think they invented the bicycle, which they did not, it was a German invention. But ownership is a big thing in Holland, if they like something or do it frequently they really own it. It is a material society, more so than most. In Ireland it's all about the land you own, in England your castle, in Holland it's about the things you do, and if you do them a lot - it must be Dutch!

I remember a Dutchman telling me with that arrogant pride that they excel at, "We Dutch have a unique love of cycling." I replied, "that this was because it was a flat country." "Oh", he responded, "I never thought of that." This is not an isolated case, most Dutch haven't connected the fact that the country is flat with their abundant use of the bike. Autistic in intelligence is a term regularly applied by the outside observer. What they do own, and what is very Dutch are the bizarre alternatives and inventions they develop when adapting the bike. A 3-wheeler, a motor engine, an attachment to carry a briefcase or your entire family of blond blue eyed children.

Since the 1900's the Dutch have been adapting and adding features to the bicycle in crazy inventor like fashion. An object in Holland is something that can be tinkered with, improved, modified, made better. Unfortunately this is also applied to people, an individual is something to be experimented on, engineered and altered, as is society as a whole. It has the frightening tone of a doctor in a concentration camp about it. Don't get me wrong, their skills of engineering are worthy and inspiring and it has created a country with an impressive infrastructure, but sadly it has also created a society with people who are permanently experimented on, tinkered with and as a result don't really know who they are anymore, they do however, know how to ride a bike.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A suit of armor

 "Nobody want's to read blogs these days, people don't care what your opinion is". This is a frequent comment on the subject of blogging. For most of us and certainly for myself, it is a form of release, it is to undress. We bloggers write, not to confirm our opinions, but to release them. It's like letting loose a caged bird - where it alights is irrelevant. We add real content to the web unlike the advertisers and corporations that fuzzy our cloudy minds with 'Flashy' websites. We put our lives out there in a global database of observations and emotions.

Think of it as a crusade, we battle the foe and our enemy is the shallow belief that being connected on a social network is more important than what we're connected to. This goes to the very core of Google's recent China action, it is NOT just about connection, it's about transparency. If we search in a world that is plagued by denial, what is it we will find, even more denial. The Netherlands is a society dominated by denial. If one has a problem your Dutch friend will more often than not use it as an opportunity to give you pragmatic advise, all-the-while confirming to themselves how well balanced their own life must surely be. Difficulties are are to be avoided by analytical assessment. A solution found and applied. The waters are kept at bay...phew. A new self-help book is on the way.

But you see if we really are to put up with ourselves or put ourselves out there in a blog we need to realize how much denial surrounds us. To recall a Buddhist teacher, "we dawn our suit of steal armor even before we leave the house in the morning". Cocooned we meet the world, protected in a false security called ego. We hide our weaknesses instead of celebrating them.

When we blog we shouldn't be afraid to show our frailty, we shouldn't be afraid to show our emotion, to strip off our suit of armor. We should not be surprised that some will look at our confusions and think better of themselves for it. Just put it out there, just blog and be done with it. I guarantee you will feel better and in time, be better.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

St. Patrick was not a Catholic

As tomorrow is St. Paddy's day and as Dubinthedam is a Dubliner living in Amsterdam I thought it good to do a cross cultural topic. It is said that the Irish tri-colour flag represents the green of Irish nationalists and the Orange of Unionist Protestants with the white in the middle representative of peace between our two communities on the island. Some say that is untrue because the orange is not actually the colour of Dutch Prince William of Oranje (the house of Orange) but that it is actually derived from gold. And, that colour being impossible to produce in conventional printing terms, it altered to a representative orange tint.

Regardless of true origins I prefer to think that the story of peace between the two communities is the more relevant and truer version. More importantly I have known both communities in my brief years of 43. I was once invited to join an Orange Freemason Lodge as young man serving in the Royal Irish Rangers reserve battalions. My Sargent Major who proposed my candidacy once asked that, "as an Irish southern Catholic was it not a problem to receive such an invite". I replied, "that it was an honor and my informed opinion of Freemasons was that many were good people and it wasn't a club solely reserved for those of a Protestant faith". In the end I declined, I had began an interest in Tibetan Buddhism and had decided to leave the armed forces.

During my basic training in Northern Ireland I had befriended another young recruit, we just hit it off. Someone said that as he lived in one of the most notorious hard line Unionist area's of Belfast that our friendship would not be looked upon with great joy. I have often since wondered if he ever suffered reprisals for our innocent camaraderie. I can only assume not, as I never heard of such.

The regiment was predominantly Protestant, but with a surprising amount of Catholics scattered about the ranks, both from the north and south of Ireland. If fact I learned that traditional stereotyped ideas from the Republic of Ireland that Catholics never joined the British Army were untrue, the army was full of such Irishmen serving with great distinction and still are presently today overseas. The stereotyped false theory was actually one born out of fear and a pursuit of nationalistic conformity.

However it was only until I arrived in conformist 'Oranje' Netherlands that I truly began to understand Protestantism as a mentality. Firstly let me say that if I was a Christian by theological debate I would choose to be a Protestant as it makes more sense to me from what I've learned from Christian teachings. But in the Netherlands the 'New' faith interests me and frustrates me when it translates into social behaviors and society. I often say, "this is The Netherlands where even the Catholics are Protestant". By this I mean the Dutch can be very rigid and lacking in any display of emotion, social responsibility is emphasised as is individual responsibility which often results in a good pension fund but a lack of real empathy for those who do not have one.

It often translates into a coldness and indifference to others. It proposes to be a society that is pragmatic and responsible for all - but this translates as leaving the caring to local government or organisations. It leads to a puritanical corrective waving of the finger at misfits and a smugness or arrogance in oneself. It even leads to quiet a well organised Red Light District and a lax soft drugs policy, again stemming from this idea of practical solution from government which allows for self responsibility, you are your own redeemer! It frequently results in a competition to show how normal and responsible one is as an individual. An outcome is often a society where people - as individuals - have great difficulty with empathy and compassion for those around them who have failed and are addicted, dysfunctional or disorderly. The meek and lost are to be 'fixed' rather than a subject of focus for real Christian compassion. "Conform or get therapy, there are institutions to help you".

In Catholic Ireland I find a deep level of sincerity, I find a profound sense of the spiritual that swirls and drifts through the hills and bogs. I find devotion. I find a passion and humour, a healthy cynicism. I also find a gross level of corruption, a conservatism that cripples even the new economy and society. I find a spirit of rebellion but a dangerous love of fighting. I find narrow mindedness. I find an 'old boy's' network. I find a pursuit of the material born from a poverty laden history. I find a stubbornness. I find insecurity. I find a lack of individual responsibility and social pragmatism. I find Ireland is a land where the Protestants are too Catholic!

I have lived in 3 countries during my life, between two classes with 2 armies served and 2 religions practiced. That goes well with the meaning of St. Patrick's day, he was after all a Welsh Roman who was made a slave and used the Gaelic Druid traditions to spread the true meaning and teachings of Jesus Christ on the island. He was not a Catholic, nor was he a Protestant and today despite our frustrations with each other's social traits, we have a real and long lasting peace between our two communities both of whom celebrate by the wearing of the green - and perhaps just a little 'Oranje".

Faugh Ah Ballagh.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"You're not like me..."

Elections loom in the swamp, local elections that is. I will probably vote for the Animal Party or the Greenlinks Party, the third - yet to be decided option - being the Muslim Party! So why would an Irish Buddhist be voting for a Muslim party. Well there has been a huge shift towards the right here in the Netherlands. I believe it stems from a inherent xenophobia which arises from a society where conformity is a golden rule. In order to conform one must know what is normal and what is not normal. Being different is only tolerated if it falls into a 'normal' category of excepted creativity or artist behavior. Unique in western society today the Dutch not only steer well clear of abnormality but they exude great suspicion towards it. A finger will be pointed at anybody who does not fall into a strict Calvinistic version of behavior. This really cuts to the degenerative aspect of Dutch society, it needs to destroy what is not excepted in order to justify it's own dull mediocrity.

Dutch society is jumping on a bandwagon of anti-Muslim feeling. It is simply using it as an excuse to vent frustration at a low-income immigrant community who's only real flaw is have a 'few' unruly and anti-social teenage boys who sometimes turn to criminal behavior. A criminal behavior the Dutch police (poorly supported by the government) are usually incapable of dealing with. In recent pols 60% supported the hard-right - bizarrely named - Freedom Party. Many Dutch are deeply angered by this but even few of those are prepared to take an honest look at themselves and the conformity that breeds walls of apartheid both in their past history and present society. It's as if they they put fingers in their ears instead of the dyke while muttering, "no, it can't be so, we're a liberal, tolerant people"!

The Moroccan community are mainly hard working and contribute a huge amount to the society. They not only do important menial jobs and run small businesses, but many of the second generation work studiously at school in an attempt to better themselves. As with Indian daughters in the U.K. the girls statistically do extremely well in academics.

Muslims in Holland do not threaten anybody's identity, they do not wish to convert the country into one of Sharia law. They do not wish to fight a Jihad. They just want to practice their faith, earn a good wage, be shown some respect and grow old like the rest of us. I am like them...and I will vote in whatever way I can to support them against a tide of ignorance, provincial Calvinism and Boerish apartheid.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Some of you may notice that I have deleted a few posts. These in general where some of my more contentious writings with regard to my frustrations being a 'outsider' in the Netherlands. As with most things in life one needs to review and reassess at various stages. Some of these postings generated a healthy amount of comment, but this perhaps is just indicative of how people can more easily relate to critical editorial. The world press is full of such editorial writings. We read such articles on global politics whilst nodding internally in agreement, confirming our belief that we some how understand the complexities of human suffering better than those who actually live in such situations on a daily and all too real bases.

I've decided that should I post a critical comment, then I should always accompany it with a positive one because in reality that is how things are.

In addition, as a man who has worked in advertising for many years I'm all too aware of my 'brand' image, but more importantly as a Buddhist I'm am aware of my karmic footprint. I began blogging and Youtubing in order to grasp an understanding of this new form of global communication - spirited into our lives so rapidly. I read recently on the help menu's of Youtube information about how to close the channel of a deceased member, a shocking moment to ponder that our internet persona is possibly more permanent than our physical self. That our ghosts of the future will haunt the web rather than the granite stoned walls of old castles or houses.

So next time you write a comment somewhere, or have a rant on this new democratic soapbox, remember to end with something nice. Enjoy your day....dub

Monday, April 14, 2008

How much for water?

I'm just back from a short break in Flevoland, an area of Holland that is 1.5hrs journey away from Amsterdam. It is a polder, a parcel of land reclaimed from the sea, waters kept at bay with the building of dykes. It's amazing to sit in a forest and ponder, "this place was an ocean 40 years ago". More bizarrely, we stayed at a Center Parks resort famous for its indoor swimming arena's, where once waves rippled a full on effects theme park of water slides and wake boarding rooms now presides.

We returned homeward on friday via the local harbor, the ferry to the adjacent town across (yet more water) did not run on that day so I approached the harbor master in the office and asked if there was anybody that would take me across to Spakenburg for €10 or €20. He raised his hands to his head rubbing his hair in a nervous fashion, I said in my bad Dutch, "yes I know it's a bit stupid off me to forget the ferry doesn't go on Friday's, but my idea is a bit creative". Pausing a while, a rest period given while he could come to terms with this major crisis being trust upon him. He asked when did I want to go and said he would drop me over on the speedboat in an hour or so.

The Dutch do not like unexpected things, there were signs clearly stating that the ferry did not go on fridays, who was this 'outsidelander' getting all creative, we have timetables and systems, do they not suffice for all? By the passing of the hour he'd adjusted to the impending drama well and was positively enjoying the spontaneity of the whole situation while not displaying it overtly. "It was good to get away from the harbor office" and a glow spurted on his reddish cheeks as we walked toward the boat. He sped across, the glow shifting to a fresh sigh of relief as the windforce swept through the boat...all said and done the love of water was why he choose this job.

As we disembarked onto the harbor wall, I took two €10 notes from my pocket, I handed him both, one after the other, he looked gob-smacked as if to say, "Really!". In some countries a display of cash on such an occasion would be offensive, an Irishman might babel, "not at'tal at all, would ye go way outta that". In other lands a sparring match might commence, "take it, no I won't, ah go on, no I couldn't, I insist, sure it was only a few minutes, right you are so". Not possible in Holland, I love watching their faces as I tip them too much, you see they 'LOVE' money, they adore it, like a boy presented his first teddybear or a bar of chocolate, so delighted with the gift he clenches it until it has melted between his chubby fingers. It has an innocence to it. They don't even care or ponder on which purchases they might make. They just put it in their pocket, as if it was one of those charcoal winter warmers. The whole experience was worth twice the price...but the harbor master probably still thinks I was just a pleasant but foolish American who tips too big.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

waving the finger

 Holland is in the news recently, I do not wish to get into politics on my blog but I think I should explain what I believe is going on here. Calvinism, that's what's going on...that famous old Calvinistic finger is being waved again telling anybody in it's narrow minded way what others are doing wrong...and what they must do to be tolerated. Oh the irony! It is hilarious as the Dutch so often are...shame on you Holland, shame on you...I wave my finger back!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

happy St.Pats

Plans for St. Paddy's day
Not getting me alternative! Avoiding the center of Amsterdam where there is said to be an estimated 25 to 45,000 Irish descending for the weekend. Maybe wearing my kilt if I'm in the mood, but it does take a long time to get dressed, failing that - some green will be worn! Do go for dinner in a posh local restaurant with some friends and my wife. And..of course I will smoke some University Flake in my St.Pats 105.

I'm often asked what is THE thing for the Irish to do on St.Pats...answer... fly to New York! No city in the world celebrates St.Pats like New York. Paddy's day is a celebration of all things Irish with a strong emphasis on getting completely pissed. I sometimes call it Alcoholics Quilt-Free Day. But on a deeper level it is very much a time for the Irish to connect with home while they're overseas. A phone call will be made, a greeting card received, church attended and if you're in an Irish Regiment anywhere in the world a march around the barrack square with some Brigadier asking you silly questions at the end and then getting very, very drunk!

Ironically people in Ireland don't have to go to mass on Monday, word-up is Sunday's attendance will do for both. The main reasons for this are the Irish are too busy and stressed making money to pay for their over priced homes (no it's not just the USA!) and there aren't enough priests to go around, the latter possibly caused by the fact that there are better prospects of power, wealth and corruption in business and politics these days...and being gay and Irish no longer forces you to move to England or join the priesthood.

Happy Saint Pat's...and just for the record...he was Welsh!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Call me sicko

I went to see Micheal Moore's Sicko yesterday. It was my wife's birthday and as it was her day, I said, "We shall do whatever you wish". Sicko was no.2 on the wish list, strange perhaps, but granted all the same. A great documentary, he gets better all the time, apart from subject matter, his films improve on all levels with each production. He highlights many things, mainly the 'undemocratic' nature of health care in the USA, but also the fear many Americans are subjected to when it comes to anything that maybe considered, in the slightest way; 'socialist'. I love Michael Moore, as a person and a spirit even more than his politics and concerns. He gives me hope in humanity when so many disappoint.

There was a women to our left who cried throughout the entire film, I assume affected in some way by a friend or relatives' illness or death in a health care system, in the USA or somewhere, that had failed. I wanted to hit the Dutch that scoffed and laughed all too heartily every time Micheal spoke to a Cuban, Canadian, Frenchman or English gent who highlighted the advantages of their social systems.

The 'cloggies' laughed so much and too easily, intoxicated by a feeling of superiority every time the American way of life was exposed. They paid their €7.50 so they could get their fix of smugness and comfort, conveniently forgetting that the generous pension funds they possess are powered by their huge investments in industry and stocks. Investments that rate them the sixth biggest foreign investors in the the US. Investing in the very companies who's practices Moore's film highlighted as immoral. They went home to to give their St. Nicholas presents and poems to each other...thanking God or Jung that they lived in Holland...and the woman on the left went home to cry, until she feel asleep. Call me 'Sicko', but I am not a blind man.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Jump, how high?

Over 3000m to be exact. Last weekend I had a couple of old friends from the reserves over. They were participating in a parachute course on Texel, the biggest of Holland's islands in the north. Just to get into the spirit of things I booked myself in for a tandem jump. The quick and easy way to do a free fall or skydiving jump, no pre-training or medical certificate required. Well, what a great experience. I had jumped before, static line (automatic opening dome/round parachute), but this was a totally different experience. Free fall for 30 seconds and 5 minutes in the air...amazing. Highly recommended. What more can I say, surprisingly enough it was as much a very meditative experience as it was an adrenalin rush, both falling from the aircraft and the glide down is a gentle and floating feeling, rather than a speed rush.

The funniest part was when I landed an Italian couple approached me. The man asked me if I could assure his girlfriend how safe and easy the experience was, she being extremely nervous about it. This I did and sometime later I spoke with them after they had both jumped. She was; "wow amazing", beaming with joyous delight, he on the other hand looked pale and nervous and complained he felt sick and dizzy. Men, how sad are we?

The photo and video isn't of me by-the-way, that would've cost an extra €80, the memory is in the heart, don't you know.


Thursday, May 31, 2007

300 Buddhists in a Dutch forest

I'm not such, in the mood to write a new post, but feel concerned that anyone who hits my last post might get the wrong impression from images appearing at the beginning. So what have I been up to? Well I went to a buddhist conference by Sogyal Rinpoche, here in Holland. So there!

Actually I haven't been on one for quite sometime, so it felt a bit like starting all over again. What can I say, try it sometime. Yes there can be a lot of baggage people bring along (myself included), but that aside, it is a great journey to begin...unfortunately almost impossible to finish. Anyway that's what I did last weekend. Good Kharma or what!

So what is it all about? How could someone as screwed-up as me do the Buddhist thing? Well as I often say, "just because I am a Buddhist doesn't mean I ain't as screwed up as anybody else"! It is a belief system, it is one that helps me. And, it is one that has many elements that really help in a constructive way. I find atheists can often be just as dogmatic and religious about their belief system as someone who follows a traditional religion. The worst part is people think you should be some how a 'good' example if you do follow a faith. Of course you should, but I don't think I am better than anyone else who does or doesn't follow a belief system. The good thing about Buddhism is it actually encourages that kind of thinking. And I think that's pretty cool.


Thursday, May 3, 2007

I ventured back... see the folks in Dublin a couple of weeks ago. Always great to visit. I prefer being a tourist in Dublin, I don't get so frustrated when I know I can just leave and go back to my 'other' life in Holland. I find over the last couple of years Dublin is slowly getting back to normality, the crazy 'new money' hype is dying a little. This, I find, is a good thing.

I also love the way most of the people in the shops/restaurants are foreigners. It just makes me feel the city is becoming more cosmopolitan.

There is 'still', of course, the usual obsession with money and big houses, and as coincidence would have it, I bumped into the chap who bought the old family farm when I visited Loch Dan. He seemed like a nice guy to me, not arrogant at all. It's funny because some of my family are 'annoyed' that the farm could have been sold for 'millions' more than it was (people in Ireland only talk in millions these days). I sometimes refer to Ireland as 'the land of the greedy and corrupt'. Hundreds of years of spiritual and socialistic revolution seems to have been brushed aside, without the blink of an eye. A true irish 'shame'. This i feel will change eventually, it's just a phase we must go through.

When I first went to London as a young man, people would say' "Oh I guess you moved because of work", and I would reply, "no actually, I had a good job in Ireland, I left to broaden my mind". In fact, financially, it would have been wiser for me to stay in Dublin. But that was not my aspiration. The longer I am away, the more I appreciate Ireland for its good points, and the more glad I am that I live in two worlds, cheap flights and all.

In Holland money and 'status/class', as with most, is still dominant in society, but there are many other factors respected and encouraged. Such as intellect, modesty, creativity, rest (rustic aan), social conscience etc. etc.

Not to get too 'alternative' on you, I did - in materialistic fashion - pick-up a new Peterson's pipe in Grafton street for ONLY....wait for it...€35! That would have cost me at least €70-80 over here. The dutch will tell you they are great traders (don't believe a word of it ...this usual means they charge whatever they think they can get away with. Most of the buyers in the dam are tourists...'they won't be coming back'. If you do try to bring the price down, they just say, "NO, that's not possible!" 'Some other fool will buy it for this, so why should I sell it at a cut down price'.

No, the dutch can be greedy too...and far less generous than the ol' Irish. So the next time I am back in Dublin I shall buy another Peterson's pipe, and not a house or a farm. As for tobacco, a tin of peterson tobacco in Dublin will cost €14 and here, only €9. Thank heavens for the tobacco taxes in Holland, at least that.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Oudekerk on the Amstel

I got away today from the laptop and my newfounder's delight of blogging....and return with the fruits of my day. We rode along the Amstel river to Oudekerk (old church) village, about 30 mins away on the bike, we do this often on the weekend when the weather is good. The nature begins almost as soon as we leave our door, and if we were to go into town (the opposite direction) we would be in the Red Light in 15 mins.

That's the great thing about Amsterdam, particularly where we live - just a little outside the city centre, a few minutes on the bike and your surrounded by dykes, windmills, farms, playboy mansions, and dukes country castles. Yes I do live in the dam! It's just most people who visit, don't leave the tiny city centre.

In Ireland the landscpe is awesome, but often you need a car to get there, and the patients to sit in a traffic jam for an hour. I don't drive a car, thankfully, and never really felt the need to, except when back in Ireland. I really wish you could join me some sunny sunday afternoon, just to see how beautiful the ride is. Next time your in the Dam, rent a bike and just follow the Amstel river all the way south on the east side. You'll think you've died and gone to heaven. You don't need to be too envious though, there are lots of downers about holland, but today we shall just leave them someplace else.