Whether it was the radio or not, ik weet het niet. Surprisingly enough, I think that I had heard most European languages daily before I was five and could imitate quite a few. The trouble started with my father…
What with his being in the services for seven years; no wonder he knew so many things and places – but this is too quick; the story has to be kept in order. Dat is dan in orde.
Father’s radio – and therefore ours at home was an RCA AR88. We got all kinds of things on there, including the Light, Home and Third from the BBC. But there was also Hilversum; AVRO; France; Belgium; Germany; and at night, Moscow.
Spinning the orange dial you got everything. And you had to luisteren erg goed to work out which was what country.
At the age of five or six, one day we visited Manchester. Lewis’s warenhuis there had a great Exhibition Hall on the top floor. Seeing it wasn’t Christmas and Santa wasn’t there, I peeped around the big doors. Een tentoonstelling. “Mother,” I said, “There is a thing, come on.”
There was a thing. A real thing. The Netherlands had come to Manchester. We went in. We zien kaas, tulpen, een DAF daffodil, en ook, mensen – pratende mensen. Zij praatte Nederlands. “Do you think the people are really Dutch?” I asked Mother. “Ask them,” she said. So I went up to the ladies in National Costume and I said “Excuse me please: But are you really Dutch?”
“Yes we are,” they said. And with a kindness that is usually reserved for the helpless and needy, the two young ladies walked me around their exhibition and promotions. Eventually, I left with some souvenirs – wat klompen; een krant en wat andere dingetjes.
I have remembered it all my life.
School was for me – apart from probably about two years – a real disappointment, seldom interesting and the teaching was disgraceful. Interest in European Languages was often ridiculed and no help but no help of any description was ever meted out to those who might be interested.
In the end, I gave up looking for books that might help me de krant om te lezen. But I kept trying. There weren’t any. But if you don’t give up on a thing, you will find it eventually. Dus was het voor mij!
I often wondered if the young ladies in the exhibition realised that their enthusiasm had started something really important for me? For they did not dismiss that child.
I expect they might be about seventig of tachtig now. They won’t remember me. But I remember them, and now say “Dank u wel dames. Jullie waren aardig hoor (en ook schattig!). De klompen nog steeds hier of daar zijn! Eindelijk las ik mijn krant en ook enkele andere dingen. Ik zal jullie herinneren in eeuwigheid.”
Moral: Be kind – you might change a life.