Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Children are our future

It is the late-1980s. The couple who were our two best friends bought a house in a cheap neighbourhood with a lot of rented social housing in the east of Amsterdam. Like us they had two young daughters.
The man was already an important figure in the local Labour party. He was instrumental in having a small playground built not far from their house.
At the invitation of our friends, we went with them and their daughters to have a look at the playground on the Sunday after it was finished. It looked impressive but it was empty.
The two daughters, who were 8 and 6 years old, stayed there to play when we adults returned to the house.
After about a quarter of an hour the girls came running back, crying. Their faces were very red. A group of immigrant children had come into the playground and had started to slap them.
Our friends consoled them and were very caring. However, they also "understood" how difficult it was for immigrant children, being a minority and poor. So they did not take any further action.
They did tell their daughters that in the future they should immediately come home if they saw those children in the playground again.
Since then the neighbourhood has gone through a lot. Much of the indigenous population left and their places were taken by migrant families. There was a period with drug-related problems.
Now, thirty years later, Amsterdam is in the midst of a housing boom. The well-off are moving back into the city and buying up flats and houses.

The local paper has just run a story about a new problem in the neighbourhood. The indigenous children of the moving back into the city well-off, who are now the minority, do not dare to play on the streets and in the playgrounds. They are scared of the migrant children.

A youth worker blamed the problem on the indigenous children. He said they were not streetwise enough.

Monday, 8 May 2017

He pronounced my name correctly

I have had different kinds of jobs during my work career in the Netherlands.
The lowest in status was cleaner of sex shows and sex cinemas in the Amsterdam Red Light district.
My employer was mean. There was only one vacuum cleaner and I used to walk across the canals dragging my silver-coloured Nilfisk behind me.
Later I was promoted to the next level of bouncer and projectionist in sex cinemas.
These jobs in the sex industry helped to pay for my university study of Politics.

You cannot keep a good man down and I clawed my way up the career ladder to become a part-time porter/concierge in a music school for children.
The teachers at the school were either professional teachers or beginning musicians. They were all very friendly.

The music school was in the same building as the Sweelinck Conservatory (of music), who had a real concierge. Our “offices” were next to each other near the entrance of the building.
We got on well. He had been an active member of the resistance in “the war” and he told me a lot about Amsterdam in that period. He liked to tell me the stories and I liked listening.
He was the first person who told me about the widespread collaboration of the Dutch in the deportation of the Jews.

I used to stand in for him. Then I had more interaction with the often famous musicians who taught at the Sweelinck. 
Some were just as friendly as my music school teachers. Others were not. They were arrogant and condescending to the lesser mortals who worked in the building.
As they were famous, this behavior was considered acceptable.

I have always found it strange how much “famous” people can get away with.
Two girls in my group of friends were communists who worked in the communist bookshop, Pegasus, in the Leidsestraat
Of course, they were also feminists. In the summer they dressed airily and wore miniskirts. That was the fashion then.
Harry Mulisch was a famous Dutch writer.
He frequented their bookshop. Sometimes he would ask one of the girls to get a book that was at the very front in the shop window. To get the book the girl had to bend over and he could look up her skirt from behind.
They knew what he was doing but still bent over. It was one of the quirks of a famous writer.

Getting back to my music school. The director was an organist. Nice chap.
There was one problem. He could never pronounce my name correctly. I told him many times how it was pronounced, but he just kept on forgetting it. In his world I was at the bottom of the hierarchy.

The music school was for 100% subsidized by the city of Amsterdam. The civil servant who processed the subsidy was a young lady of my age. She always came for meetings with the director in the morning. As I only started work in the afternoon, I had never met her.
I do remember that the director was very agitated before her visits.

With my studies finished, I left the music school to become a policy adviser for the city council. When I told him where I was going to work, the director looked at me with wide open eyes and an open mouth.
My new employer was the department that subsidized social and cultural activities in Amsterdam, including the music school.

I was the department’s representative in a number of deprived neighbourhoods.  I wrote the overall policy about where the subsidy should go and was supported by colleagues who advised on how much subsidy an individual organization “needed”.
It was not a 9 to 5 job. As I had a lot of interaction with people who lived in these neighbourhoods, I mainly worked afternoons and evenings.

The young lady who processed the subsidy for the music school was a colleague. We got on very well together. 
One day she said that she had an upcoming meeting at the music school and asked if I would like to tag along. See the place again. I thought it was a good idea.
Her meeting was, as usual, in the morning. She had to change it to the afternoon to comply with my agenda, as I was senior to her in the department hierarchy.

The director was waiting for us at the entrance. He greeted me heartily and he pronounced my name correctly.