Thursday, 29 October 2015

Recollections of Amsterdam, 1979

My 25-year-old son has recently returned from a 4-day break in Amsterdam with his girlfriend who arranged the visit as a surprise for his birthday. No doubt the two of them will have absorbed the culture on offer within the Dutch capital: the exquisite art on display in the Van Gogh Museum; a sombre trudge around Anne Frank House where eight Jewish people tried, unsuccessfully, to evade Hitler’s evil clutches; and the charm of the canal network that meanders around the city.  
Their trip to Amsterdam rekindled memories of my only visit there in 1979, as a twenty-one-year old. Accompanied by my best mate, Alwyn, my patchy recall of our long weekend is rather different and comprises some less refined moments, as two testosterone-drenched, unattached young men experienced what was then the sex-and-drugs capital of Europe.

The passage of 36 years has, inevitably, lessened the clarity of my recollections. Also, the fact that Alwyn and I lived the whole experience in a drunken haze further compromises the reliability of my memories. Nonetheless, here are some of the more salient snapshots:

  1. Attending a live sex show where the lady, kneeling on all fours, appeared bored and unforgiving while the poor bloke thrusting at her rear struggled to sustain an erection.
  2. Arriving back at our economy accommodation – the Magic Inn – at 4.00 am to find a bearded tramp in a stained raincoat asleep on my bed. Having lost the power of speech due to imbibing copious quantities of Heineken, I fumbled my way back to reception and tried, using a combination of grunts and hand signals, to explain to the young girl behind the desk about my unwanted room-mate. She sped upstairs and, seconds later, I heard her scream, ‘Dirck! How many times do I have to tell you – get the fuck out of here!’
  3. A 230-pound pimp in a three-piece pinstripe suit and tie encouraging us not to linger too long gawping at the red-light ladies in the windows. If I recall, his exact words were, ‘Move along or I’ll cut you into little pieces’.
  4. Participating – fully – in an ‘all-day booze cruise’ along the canals and, by the evening, engaging in some communal on-board sexual groping. I have little recollection of the nature of my playmates; I just hope they were human!
  5. Lounging in a city-centre cafĂ© surrounded by hairy, sandal-clad hippies, all of whom were smoking reefers. As a lifelong non-smoker – not even tobacco – I did not join in, but recall the sweet, sickly smell that clung to me. In the aftermath, I suddenly realised that Alwyn was an alien who had been sent to planet earth on a mission to murder me.   

But, alas, standards have slipped. It is such a pity that, unlike their parents, the young adults of today lack awareness of the finer things in life.  
Photo courtesy of scottchan at


Thursday, 8 October 2015

Six pieces of advice I'd give my teenage self

As a contented 57-year-old I’ve few regrets. I found my soulmate and we’ve savoured the 34 years together. Between us we guided two children into adulthood, both of who are decent, talented and – of course – beautiful 20-somethings. And we’re lucky enough to be financially secure and able to travel the world following our recent early retirements at the age of 55.

But knowing what I know now, if I could travel back in time, there are some nuggets of wisdom I’d share with my 16-year-old self.

1. Don’t assume there’s always a ‘right’ answer for all of life’s questions. There are few absolute truths in this world, so rather than devoting all your energies to science subjects, why not give more of your time to English Literature and the appreciation of art. Read more fiction and fewer chemistry textbooks. Don’t always strive for the logical answer – Dr Spock was a bore - but explore the infinite expanse of your own creativity and imagination.

2. Don’t’ expect too much from your girlfriends. Lower your standards. Spread your seed far and wide (while, of course, taking the necessary precautions). Flirt more and don’t take your relationships too seriously – there’ll be time enough for that when you’re older. When someone tells you that your current girlfriend was spotted licking the tonsils of another boy, don’t sink into a depressive stupor; just smile, wish her well and move on to the next gal.
3. Don’t drink copious quantities of Pernod, as it will evoke projectile vomiting and, before you
realise, your orange stomach lining will be sprayed across the bedroom wall like some psychedelic modern art.
4. And try to drink less volume of beer when you stay over at a mate’s house; your best friend’s parents wont appreciate you pissing the bed in their guest room.
5. Actively seek out opportunities to learn new skills. Don’t always play safe by restricting yourself to sporting activities that you already know you’re good at. If you botch up, it doesn’t matter – learn to laugh at yourself.
6.Relish every moment of team sports – football, cricket, basketball – for there are few better feelings than winning and losing together as part of a unit against a common foe. Embrace that togetherness that competition brings; you’ll miss it when it’s no longer around.  
But would my 16-year-old self have listened? Absolutely not for, as everyone recognises, teenagers always know best.

Photo courtesy of iosphere at