We are celebrating our 75th anniversary as British Council in the Netherlands in 2021 by sharing 75 personal stories from people who have a special connection to both the UK and the Netherlands. Read the 75 NL-UK stories and join us in celebrating our 75th anniversary. Watch the videos messages from Wim Pijbes and Janice McNab here and expand the boxes below to read the full stories by Lucky Fonz III, Dame Judith Mayhew Jonas, Marlies Augustijn and Marjolijn Brussaard.

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Wouter le Duc

Marlies Augustijn

Lucky Fonz III

Lucky Fonz III
buried his harmonica in Scotland

In 2002 I studied at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. It was a formative year for me; the preceding three years I had actually done nothing at all – I spent the days in my room listening to Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. I was a very lethargic, mildly depressed student. In Scotland I changed overnight: I was introduced to the depths of literature which sparked a passion for text, and became a member of the folk song society, a study association for folk music. I was inundated with inspiration and desire, was immersed in the world of folk, and bought a guitar and this harmonica for the first time. I have long been insecure about my guitar skills – I still cannot consider myself a guitarist – but the harmonica… This may sound arrogant, but I was able to play it right away. I thought: there are just ten holes, you can either blow or suck the instrument, so you have to make do with twenty options only. It also makes a difference that a harmonica is always in one key, so essentially it is not possible to produce false notes. I bought the harmonica in the afternoon, and in the evening, I was already playing it in a folk pub. It is such an expressive instrument – so closely connected to your breath. To me it felt like an entrance into the folk world, a way to play together, as you can always bring a harmonica with you.

By the end of that year I was a different person: I was convinced I had to become a singer-songwriter. I am sensitive to symbolic actions, beautiful rituals… I could not just discard that harmonica – it had worn out by now – nor give it away, that would be gross. So, in August 2003 I thought: I will simply bury it in the garden of my student dorm. I will leave it there forever, and only allow myself to dig it up when I have become a star in music.

Ten years later, in 2013, I went back to Scotland with my girlfriend Linde with an E. We passed my old house, and I thought of the harmonica. She said: “You could dig up that thing now, right?” So that is what I did – I remembered exactly where to find it. I now keep it in my studio as a relic. When I look at it, I reminisce about my time in Scotland, where I laid the foundations for what I still do today. The artistic ideals of the folk scene are still my personal ideals too: it is about community, amateur music, approachability, and accessibility. My harmonica is a great reminder.

Lucky Fonz III

This is a translation of a text originally published by VPRO 3voor12 / Timo Pisart. The original article can be found here.

Dame Judith Mayhew Jonas

Thoughts on Apeldoorn

Growing up in New Zealand I learnt about Abel Tasman and I was curious about the country he came from. Little did I realise several decades later, having settled in the United Kingdom, I would have the privilege of being the co-chair of the British-Dutch dialogue, Apeldoorn conference.

It was a bilateral relationship which stood out from the rest. It did not consist of the usual political conference attendees but drew on leading thinkers and practitioners from the subject under discussion. The alumni grew as did the relationships many of which, fostered by the British Council, still exist today in a wide variety of fields. At times during a conference, it was hard to know which country a delegate came from. There was trust, mutual understanding, warmth, lasting friendships and professional cooperation. But above all, people enjoyed the experience. This conference was fun and full of laughter as well as learning. Such is the chemistry of the British and the Dutch. The highlight was to explore our “interesting differences” and see what we could learn from one another to solve the issues of the day.

One highlight for me was spending a day in Kenwood House in London exploring ways to look after our cultural heritage, the structures needed, funding, volunteers and relationships with the government. Our differences that day were profound but the co-operation and learning was equally great. We ended the day by looking at the Kenwood collection of Dutch Masters, many of which were to be exhibited in the Netherlands later as part of a cultural exchange.

Dame Judith Mayhew Jonas

Marlies Augustijn

Lockdown in London

On 21 March 2020 I woke up to an eerily quiet London. A day earlier, the UK had gone into full lockdown. I could hardly recognise the city I had come to know in the preceding three and a half years as hectic and energetic, with people constantly on the move networking, socialising or commuting. Soon I realised the circumstances had a major advantage: free way to cyclists across the city! Where my cycling commutes had always been stressful and at times infuriating, I now enjoyed empty streets without red double decker busses racing past at only an inch distance. I cycled along the Thames and from Buckingham Palace in the middle of the grand street The Mall to Trafalgar Quare and China Town. On Oxford Street, a cyclist put his hands in the air and made a cry of joy. London was deserted and it felt surreal.

For a short while, this new situation felt almost like a relief. A break from the continuous crowds and social interactions; exhibitions, openings, performances, drinks… However, I quickly started to miss exactly those events. The intense, diverse and inspiring experience the city normally offers is exactly what makes it worth living there.

I came to London to do the Master Curating Contemporary Art at the Royal College of Art and have been indulging in London’s rich arts and cultural scene as well as that of the UK more broadly ever since. My Master’s was part of the Humanities department of an otherwise practically oriented art and design school, which gave me the wonderful opportunity to be in a creative environment and meet many emerging artists and designers. My homework included going to see as many exhibitions as possible and our in-school social cafe was fittingly called the ‘Art Bar’. 

It may be a cliché, but I experienced the contemporary art on view in London as truly cutting-edge. The city attracts artists and cultural producers from all over the globe and is at the centre of showing radically new ideas and art forms. In this city, I have been to strange, experimental events as well as some of the best exhibitions I have ever seen; this was eye-opening and inspiring. When London finally emerged from its initial lockdown, one of the first venues I went to visit was the Barbican Centre, one of my favourites in the city. The Barbican is a fascinating brutalist complex comprising of a housing estate and cultural centre with cinemas, exhibitions spaces, concert halls and a gorgeous conservatory with exotic trees and plants. The concert by postminimalist composer Max Richter and the Another Kind of Life: Photography on the Margins exhibition I have seen there were absolute highlights of my stay in London.

I am honoured to have worked for the British Council Netherlands after leaving London to promote the UK’s diverse and dynamic cultural landscape, build cultural connections and stimulate exchange between the UK and the Netherlands. I hope to be able to visit London again soon, and that when I do, I will find myself on a stressful cycling commute, enjoying the bustling, creative and ever-intense city.

Marlies Augustijn

Marjolijn Brussaard - part 1/2

A Dutch Alice in the Wonderland called the United Kingdom

“Curiouser and curiouser”
By the time I moved to the UK nearly a decade ago to work at Nottingham Trent University I had already worked in the UK on multiple occasions. I was really under the misapprehension that we share a similar culture, humour and values system - and as any really Dutch person I thought my English would be more than proficient. Very soon my copy of Alice in Wonderland came out of my luggage for it seemed I’d fallen through the rabbit hole into a world that was familiar but different.

“ …Tea, tea ….oh I’ve never thought of tea….”
There were loads of cups of tea, without the Mad Hatter, from day one of course. During my time in the UK I was never allowed to make tea, putting the kettle on …sometimes… maybe, but never close to the art of making a ‘decent cup of tea’. The different schools of milk first/milk last as well as the distinct preference for a particular tea – well this is still a bit of a mystery to me that one can have such a strong opinion on one cup of tea. Strong opinions in general is more of a Dutch trait. At first I thought the phrase ‘you are so refreshing’ was a compliment until I understood the underlining implication of the comment. What I took away is to always question the reasons behind the reasons to try to understand even the unsaid implications. Any expat can relate to this since it is the only thing to keep you sane. It gives a room for rethinking and readdressing in an in-between space and adds value to collaboration and exchange as well as understanding each other way better.

…"Who ARE You?” Alice replied, rather shyly, “I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”…
After a reasonably soft landing, all my Dutch assumptions on automatic systems failed. Maybe because we drive on different sides of the roads or that doors open the other way. Many, many times I walked against the stream and many more times I bumped into doors that were either shut or opened on the other side. A door is a door is a door, but apart from this the implicit differences in cultural codes are way bigger than I ever imagined. My thoughts kept wondering back to quotes form Alice in Wonderland…

“I’m not strange, weird, off, crazy, my reality is just different from yours”…
What I took away is not to assume you understand anyone you meet just because you seem to speak the same language. Learning the connotation of words in context was essential because otherwise my Dutch brain would jump to conclusions in no time. So checking “do I understand this right?” was step one. Thinking without jumping to (Dutch) solutions was the second step. The only way to get the full meaning of things is to be really interested in each other. The UK taught me how important it is to take a real interest when meeting people.
…"Who in the world am I?' Ah, that's the great puzzle!"… 

Marjolijn Brussaard - part 2/2

…” Alice:” I don’t think … “. “Then you should not talk” said the Mad Hatter”…
Not thinking is not really an option in any case but more so when you are new to the country. All the written processes and protocols helped, since they were all written out in great detail to avoid any risk. What I really liked though was the drive behind it, to be fair to all and to take care of all.  I failed to obtain the stepladder certificate since I refused training to climb a 2 metre ladder under supervision - the Dutch sense of reality prevented me I think.

What I still use to date is what I came to call ‘the Duty of Care Principle’. Once you entered the University the Duty of Care began, not only as a formality but as a genuine care for the welfare of any student. Now I use this in my own University here in The Netherlands as a community compass to help and respect all those that study and work at my University.

"It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"
As a Dutchy I was used to a high pace of work and life, a bit like the white rabbit who was always pushed for time and afraid of the lack thereof. I loved the distinction between work and private life in the UK, almost like there is a time for everything - whilst we Dutch mix and mingle work and private all the time. It kind of reflects in the beautifully kept gardens and landscapes that are timeless and retained as national treasures. The first time I went to the pub with my work colleagues, they left all work talk outside and I was frowned upon many times to even bring up related subjects.

But after a bit of time to adjust, this ethic grew on me. I no longer email or phone my staff before 8 am or after 6 pm. The lesson that still resonates is that there is a time and place for everything.

What I took away from living and working in the UK was the influence of real respect which in the Netherlands you have to earn and negotiate. In the morning on my way to work I would stop for a coffee takeaway. After a few mornings I counted the ‘please’ and ‘thank you’s ‘ in ordering one cup of coffee to go. It came to a minimum of 10. Such a small gesture, such a big difference.

In many ways the UK still feels like home, every time I land (even now) it feels like I’m home. And the realization that I moved back to The Netherlands years ago, in the same split second.

As a side note: I still drink my tea with a dash of milk.

"It's no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then."…
All quotes are from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, one of my favourite books when growing up.

Marjolijn Brussaard