We are celebrating our 75th anniversary as British Council in the Netherlands in 2020-21 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. Expand the boxes below to read the full stories by Branwen Spence, Gertrud and Kees van Erp-Grondsma, Angelique Blom-Meyer, Philip Oostenbrink and Ben Harris.
75 UK-NL Stories - Landscape
I wasn’t meant to come to here, the Netherlands. I was on my way to Saudi, as a nurse, for big bucks and sunshine. But a stop-over in Amsterdam and a wander on Bloemgracht woke me up like a slap in the face. Many years later I’m a teacher with a son – big bucks? No. Sunshine? yes.
On that Jordaan flowered bridge, I saw dreams coming true in this enchanting, quirky village-city with it’s magic within reach. And coming from wild and hilly Wales I was right away at home. Both places magical. Both weathers the same. Both landscapes stunning; one flat, one undulating. Both densely-populated; one with people, one with sheep. Both people efficient with words, and upfront. Both very much my home.
The dreams I had on that bridge?
1. to go from nursing into teaching, which came true.
2. to become a mother, which came true.
3. to get to 100, which, if I do, will mean I’ll have lived here in the Netherlands for 75 years!!! Fingers crossed!!
Gertrud and Kees van Erp-Grondsma
Every Dutch person speaks even just a few words of English. And that helps immensely: from arrival at the port in Harwich, Dover, Newcastle or Heathrow airport. At the same time, everything is immediately different: driving on the “wrong” side of the road and using not euros but pounds, for example.
It is an impossible task to briefly describe what the United Kingdom means to us. It is a specific feeling, a virus that has entered our blood and will never disappear from it.
“Blest Island crowned with matchless beauty when Britain first- at Heaven's command-, arose from out of azure main”
We are fortunate to have been able to discover the beauty of this “island” somewhere in the last century and we have been explorers ever since. You could say “Bloody Tourists” (Dorking 1978, 10CC). Mesmerized by the infinite variety of landscapes. The rolling green hills of Devon, the Black Mountains in Wales, the breath-taking chalk cliffs of Dover, Hadrian’s wall, the Cotswolds, Yorkshire Dales, the beaches and rocky coasts of Cornwall. Centuries of history take hold of you in cities like London, Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Exeter, Canterbury or York (to name a few)… You would (almost) like to be a Brit yourself. And so we could continue, filling page after page. But we won't. What makes the UK our favourite holiday destination: the residents of this Blest Island. The nicest foreigners we’ve encountered, ever! And if we'd write a book about this all, we already found the title: “Albion, mon amour”.
Gertrud and Kees van Erp-Grondsma
Moving to the UK in 2010 was an adventure for me! But a very pleasant one of which I still do have very fond memories. I arrived in Manchester in February when it was cold and snowing. I did not have a place to live, nor an office to work yet. I had to start everything from scratch, which made my arrival extra interesting. However, Mancunians are very friendly and cheerful people, which helped a lot in settling in and getting acquainted to living in the UK. I was able to adapt soon to habits such as queuing, saying sorry for almost everything and being able to respond to the first question asked ‘Are you red or are you blue’?
In these four years living and working among the Mancunians, it was a joy to see how people enjoyed life. People from different generations came together to have a drink and a bite to eat in the pubs around town. I also remembered how proud the people of Manchester are of their heritage and history and at the same time, they enjoyed the luxuries of modern living.
Beautiful rural Britain left an impression for a lifetime. Hiking in the Peak District during weekends with friends and family was a favorite activity. Enjoying the landscape, its animals (and sometimes surviving a meadow with grazing bulls) and of course having a beer or a cider in the pub at the end of the hike still gives me fond memories.
Since moving back to the Netherlands, I was able to come back to the UK a few times for work. It always felt like coming back home.
I moved to the UK in 2008 because it was one of those things I had always imagined doing. I was always fascinated with BBC television, Gardeners’ World and ‘Allo ‘Allo. Though the latter isn’t set in the UK, it was the kind of British humour I appreciated. I didn’t want to look back on my life wondering what would have happened if I had moved to the UK. The first time I had a sense of ‘coming home’ was when I walked out of Victoria Station in London, I must have been a young teenager. The grand buildings, the hustle and bustle were a defining moment for me as I had the sense of ‘coming home’ more than I had ever had this sensation in the Netherlands. In my final year at a Dutch Horticultural College I had the opportunity to do work experience abroad. Obviously I chose for the UK and found a placement at a garden centre near Royal Tunbridge Wells. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and went back for summer holidays every year after that. I mostly enjoyed the people I worked with because of their sense of humour and kind hearts. I always had the impression of English people being quite reserved, but they were completely the opposite, which was a great surprise. I think doing that work experience in Royal Tunbridge Wells was for me the defining moment when I decided that one day I would like to live amongst these lovely people in this beautiful land permanently.
One part of British culture which I have adopted is hugging. When I left the Netherlands in 2008 you would never hug anyone, not even your parents. In Britain it is custom to hug friends and family when you meet them, so taking this into account it was the Dutch who were the reserved ones!
The most valuable experience which I gained in this country is of a horticultural nature. Although Brits see the Netherlands as the horticultural capital of the world, the main reason for this is the large plant growing industry. In the UK gardeners actually garden and estate gardening is something the British are very good at. Working as a self-employed gardener first, then becoming a deputy head gardener at a large site, to then become head gardener at Canterbury Cathedral and now Walmer Castle and Gardens, has taught me more about gardening than I could have ever learned in the Netherlands. As a gardener in the Netherlands you are mainly doing one-off maintenance in small gardens or you do hard landscaping. In the UK, historic gardens are of great importance and generally cared for. How to conserve, revive and develop gardens such as these is something I could never have learned in the Netherlands.
When I was Director of the British Council in the Netherlands, we were fortunate enough to find a house very close to the Vondelpark; it became the site of some of my favourite memories of Amsterdam.
First of all, I was able, when so inclined, to walk, or cycle, through the park to and from work. (It beats travelling on the Tube!)
Secondly, it’s where my son, Alex (who was 6 at the time) first learned to ride a bike. I can still picture him wobbling down the path, gradually gaining in confidence …
It was also the first place we experienced Koninginnedag, when the whole of Amsterdam (or so it seemed) flocked to the park to take part in the vrijmarkt (I can’t remember whether we actually bought – or indeed sold – anything, but it was wonderful to behold!)
And finally, it was the site of the first EUNIC Netherlands Documentary Film Festival, which, as President of EUNIC Netherlands at the time, I co-sponsored and helped to organise. I was lucky enough to be introduced to the wonderful Agnès Varda, who was showing Les Plages d’Agnès: a huge honour for me, and one I’ve never forgotten.