Anglophile #13 2022-2023

In this edition

Message from the board, by Reinou Anker-Sollie

Save the dates!

Introducing two new board members, by Elke Maasbommel and Ammerins Moss-de Boer

Calling all book lovers – join the Alumni Book Club on Goodreads, by Elke Maaasbommel

Unforgettable books: R.F. Kuang. Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution, by Ammerins Moss-de Boer

These Are Hard Times for Teachers: On Reading Unimaginative Book Reports, by Elke Maasbommel

The Seventies Revisited, by Fred Adam

The Anglophile Christmas Quiz, by Reinou Anker-Sollie

Knit your own Doctor Who scarf, by Marjan Brouwers

Message from the board

By Reinou Anker-Sollie

Dear readers,

We’re nearing the end of a tumultuous year that started with worldwide lock-downs and ends with an ongoing war in the Ukraine and an energy crisis a little closer to home. To spin this into a positive note, I would say this year has offered us a fresh look on the world we live in and a renewed respect for freedom. Thus, the board wishes you all merry holidays and freedom and peace in the new year. Please enjoy reading the last Anglo of this year!

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Save the dates!

As announced in our previous edition, we are hosting an online pub quiz on Saturday 4th of February 2023 from 20:00 sharp! In January we will send an e-mail with a link to Google Meets you can use to attend our exciting battle of minds! So, keep an eye on your in box and join us!

In the New Year we will let you know the details of our get-together on Saturday the first of April 2023. Details will follow in the next edition of the Anglophile!

Three years ago we started organizing pub meetings in between regular get-togethers. Low profile meetings on a Friday afternoon in Groningen for whoever felt like having a pint with us. Unfortunately, Covid put an end to this. In the New Year, we would like to try to organize regular meetings again. We will keep you posted. And please, let us know if you think this is a good idea!

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Introducing two new board members

by Elke Maasbommel and Ammerins Moss-de Boer

Elke Maasbommel

My name is Elke Maasbommel, I am thirty-one years old, and I live in Groningen, where I also work as a teacher of English at a secondary school. Despite tremendous effort, my students do not quite share my love for literature. My hobbies are reading, listening to sixties music, playing volleyball, travelling to England, and shaking cocktails. I also have my own blog,, where I regularly write about the books I’ve read, bookish adventures, and more. 

Ammerins Moss-de Boer

My name is Ammerins Moss-de Boer, and I studied English at the RUG between 1992 and 1996. During that time, I was involved in GUTS, the drama society, both as an actor and as a board member. I have vague memories of that time (gosh, I wonder why), but I loved it (if I have to believe the pictures that were taken of me at the time). I spent my third year at Trinity College Dublin as a Harting Student, where I taught Dutch at the Germanic Department in addition to working hard on getting to grips with lots of James Joyce and even a bit of Irish. In my fourth year, I decided the world of work wasn’t ready for me yet, and I scored a VSB scholarship, which allowed me to continue in academia a bit, to do a Master’s at Queen’s University Belfast. And that year was definitely a life changer! Not only did I meet countless politicians, terrorists and academics (both while doing interviews on social theatre as a way to heal politic conflict for my thesis and as a freelance journalist for a cross-community newspaper), I again joined the drama society, where I met the love of my life. Mr Moss and I have been living together happily for the past 23 years, and we are the proud parents of a girl (19, now a medical student at the RUG) and a boy (16, Havo-4). We also have 2 cats and some wilder animals roaming around in our even wilder garden.

I did try working for a boss for a while, but let’s say it wasn’t for me… Me and Mr Moss set up Babylonia in 2000 and I have been working as a translator since. I mainly translate legal and medical text, but a few years ago, I was also sworn in as an interpreter, to get out of the house a bit more. The mix of sitting behind a laptop in an office wrestling with complicated texts and going out to help people who are buying a house, who have to appear before a judge, or who want to apply for asylum, keeps me busy enough. This year, I was very proud when my first Frisian book translation (from English) was published, and more is in the pipeline there.

In addition to being on the board of the Alumni Assocation, I am also a board member of the NGTV (Nederlands Genootschap van Tolken en Vertalers) and It Skriuwersbûn (the Frisian writers’ association). Oh yeah, I also knit!

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Calling all book lovers – join the Alumni Book Club on Goodreads

by Elke Maasbommel

Do you love reading, but always forget which books you’ve read each year? Do you like reading reviews by others? Would you like to receive personal recommendations? Do you want to share your opinion with like-minded people? Then we have just the club for you!

We have set up a brand-new Goodreads Book Club for everyone who is part of the English Alumni Club! Every three months, we’ll read a book together, and discuss it.

Let’s make reading infinitely more fun- simply go to Goodreads using this link. Then you can join us! (You do need to create an account, first.)

See you on Goodreads, where we’ll announce the title of our first buddy read soon!

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Unforgettable books: R.F. Kuang. Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution

by Ammerins Moss-de Boer

If you are a translator like me, you know how good it feels when you find the perfect translation of a sentence or a word. Especially when the right words have eluded you so far, it can really cause a Eureka moment. A moment of magic. And that is exactly what is at the heart of this book: the magic of translations.

Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution – R.F. Kuang (Harper Collins, 2022)

Babel is the more common name of the Oxford Royal Institute of Translation, an internationally renowned academy where pupils learn the art and craft of translation and, related and more important, silver-working. The right combinations of a word in its original language and its meaning in English (a match pair, far enough removed to not be a stale, direct translation), inscribed on a silver bar can have magical powers, varying from powering machines to curing disease. And it is these silver bars that are at the heart of the power of the British Empire, creating a vicious circle that increases the hunger for more and more silver.

The book centres around Robin, a Chinese orphan saved from squalor by an English philanthropist professor. Robin turns out to have a magical talent for translations and ends up as a student at Babel. Only a handful of students are accepted every year, and it seems a guarantee of a successful career. But the grand opportunity for a better life in England is not the fairy tale it seems. Slowly but surely, he finds out how working for Babel and for the Empire means going against his heritage and against everything and everyone he holds dear. The ending can only be and is catastrophic…

Kuang herself is a translator, and the way she describes the process of translation and silver-working, and combines elements of this fantastical Victorian world with social conflicts in our own past and present, really resonates. It is a proper page turner, and if you love Philip Pullman, you will love this!

If you prefer to listen to it, the audio version is just as good (just make sure you keep your eyes on the road when cycling while listening, and keep all exclamations internal – it is a great listen, even with all the footnotes).

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These Are Hard Times for Teachers: On Reading Unimaginative Book Reports

by Elke Maasbommel

After I had finished my Master’s degree in English Literature, I didn’t quite know what to do with my life. I decided to do the teacher training, so I could earn some money while trying to find out what I really wanted to become. I told myself that explaining the present simple wouldn’t be too hard, nor would I struggle with classroom management. And, the best thing about it, I thought, would be talking about literature with my students. My enthusiasm would be infectious, and all my students would read books instead of staring at their phones all day. They would share all their favourite books with me, and their book reports would be a joy to read. Or so I thought.

Some time ago, one of my students wrote her book report on the book Five Feet Apart. It’s one of those formulaic sick-teens-fall-in-love books. I have never read it, but I can imagine it would strike a chord with teenagers. However, even though she had a boyfriend (I think) like the main character in the book, and she was exactly the same age as these teens, and she suffered from a heart condition, she managed to write down in her book report that she “couldn’t identify with the characters at all, because they had illness.” Right.

It made me wonder what it must be like to be a teenager these days. It does explain, I guess, why they hardly read books anymore. They feel that it’s not about them! It doesn’t matter that they’re about people with issues, with insecurities, with annoying parents (for every teenager has those, right?) – as long as there’s one characteristic that doesn’t match theirs, they simply don’t care anymore. So, let’s do a thought experiment, so see if I can still think like a teenager. Here’s a random sample of books – let’s find out why students wouldn’t be able to identify with them.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, about a butler who slowly realises that his former employer wasn’t exactly the perfect man he always considered him to be, is a book that resonates with me on so many levels. However, here’s how children might respond to it: “I’m not a butler,” or “I wasn’t alive during the Second World War”, or even “I haven’t got a driving license”. I get it.

Next, The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams, would probably make more sense to children; it’s about a young girl who realises that the first edition Oxford Dictionary omits female words, making it a highly gendered book. It could be quite an interesting feminist novel, right? I think they’d complain that they don’t care about books, that they aren’t suffragettes, that they’re allowed to vote so they don’t really get what the big deal is, or that they don’t spend their days collecting words – or that they don’t care about language at all: “Cuz language is boring u know.” Ok. How about Milan Kundera’s Immortality then? Hmm. They might say they don’t live in Paris, that they don’t know how to imagine something anymore, or that they are unable to think – period.

Let’s try Nick, a kind-of prequel to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, by Michael Farris Smith (actually, let’s not; it’s one of the worst books I’ve ever read). Here’s what children could say: “I didn’t fight in the First World War”, or “While I have been drunk, he was way weirder than I’ve ever been”, or “I’m not a fictional character who’s been given a new life in another book.” How about Frankenstein, then? Nah, they would probably complain that they’re not a monster, that they have never been out at sea, that they don’t like nature, or that they have never attempted to create a being out of dead bodies. Or it might be more basic: “I have a name.” The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow, perhaps? Hmm, maybe. But my students might complain that they haven’t got any sisters, that they don’t live in America, or that they don’t do magic.

The search continues. The Penelopiad by Margarat Atwood, perhaps, which tells the story of the Trojan War from the perspective of Penelope, Odysseus’s wife? I don’t think this would be a match: Penelope, for instance, has a husband, while they don’t, and the woman can weave. And most importantly, teenagers these days would claim such things as: “I would never wait that long for my husband to return.” That’s why Northern Lights by Philip Pullman might be much more relatable: it’s got a strong female character who sets out to save the world, and she falls in love while doing so. Oh wait, I can hear them complaining, again, this time with arguments like “I haven’t got a dæmon,” “I’m not a girl,” “polar bears can’t talk, ”or “I would be too lazy to walk around all day.”

So is there anything that children these days can identify with? Hmm. Let’s see. How about H. G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon? Oh wait, of course not, how could I even suggest this title? No way that they would like the main characters, for they have been on the moon, while my students have not. Similarly, these men were interested in science, and, let’s be honest, who cares about that nowadays? Also, they lived in the year 1900. How silly of me to suggest this title. There’s only one more I could try: We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver. It’s about a mother who has to come to terms with the fact that her son is a school shooter. Talk about current affairs, right? Well, I can see them shaking their heads and sighing: “This is written from the point of view of a mother, and I haven’t got any children.” They could also add that they have never been involved in a school shooting. Or, if they’re especially detached from the real world: that they don’t know why on earth anyone would write a book about school shootings.

In conclusion: it’s getting harder and harder to get children to read. Every single book in the world is about something that isn’t exactly about them, and even the characters that seem to have been based on stereotypical teenagers are not like them (here’s another one: Harry Potter would be terribly hard to relate to, because nobody’s got a lightning-shaped scare on their foreheads, now do they?). And there’s nothing I can do about it. I can get frustrated, rip out my hair, scream at them, refuse to read their book reports, or tell them that it’s not about reading about themselves but about universal values and overcoming issues every single person has to deal with.

I can only wish that one day, one of the characters they read about will relate to them. And that’s when their minds will open up to new possibilities, they will develop a love for reading, and they will tell others about their favourite characters. They will talk about these books, and say how they’ve changed their lives, and be a different, better person from then on.

And they will never, ever, again write down such drivel as “I couldn’t identify with this character at all”.

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The Seventies Revisited

by Fred Adam

Like Anthony Davies’ excursions, the performances of the Drama Society and all that they entailed feature large in the lives of our alumni of the ‘seventies—at least, of those who consented to record their memories for our readers. Fred Adam, who experienced both, here shares with us the pleasures and anxieties of his time at our Institute, which was from 1972 to 1980. Pictures provided by him unless stated otherwise.

Grote Markt noordzijde, ca 1970, at Christmas time. Photo Persfotobureau D. van der Veen, Groninger Archieven.

Having just turned only 18, I was very young and immature (and loud and insecure and obnoxious) when I arrived in Groningen in the summer of 1972. I still remember that very first time my sister and I drove to Groningen in my mother’s little car. It was a long trip, because the four-lane highway only went as far as Staphorst (!) and then became a two-lane provincial road passing through the centres of Meppel, Hoogeveen and Assen before becoming a four-lane highway again just beyond Vries. The final approach was impressive: there was an overpass at Haren, and all of a sudden the entire skyline came into view, with the five majestic chimneys of the Hunzecentrale in the foreground and from left to right the A-kerk, the Academiegebouw, the Martinitoren, the Provinciehuis and the spire of the St. Jozefkerk. At the time, those were the tallest buildings in Groningen.

The city looked very different from what it does today: the Broerkerk (across from the Academiegebouw) and the Harmonie were still standing, the A-kerk had its 19th-century windows and the Martinikerk had a flat roof. Also: cars were parked everywhere: on the Grote Markt, the Vismarkt and anywhere else. The Veemarkt, where De Oosterpoort now stands, was still a lively cattle market – and where I saw my first cow up close.

At the Groningen cattle-market. Its former spot is now marked by the Oosterpoort cultural centre. Source HJR Noorden on Flickr.

My sister and I had obtained (through sheer miracle) a house each at the very foot of the St. Jozefkerk in the St. Antonygasthuis on the Rademarkt. I soon found out that having an entire (if small) house to yourself was an extraordinary luxury, especially at the cost of Hfl 100,- a month. But things were primitive: there was no hot running water and there was just one shower for all the inhabitants of the gasthuis – some fifty (mostly elderly) people. You had to collect the key to the shower from the janitor.

The Sint Anthony Gasthuis. Picture by Wiel van der Randen, collection Het Geheugen.

I had a number of reasons for choosing English language and literature. When we were younger, my mother had read David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities to us, just like my grandfather had done with my father (we had no television, so there was ample time). Also, in 1968, I saw Romeo & Juliet by Zeffirelli, and in 1971 saw Hamlet on stage with a very young Ian McKellen as the eponymous prince. From 1971 to 1972, I had a scholarship to the United States, and as a result I spoke English fluently – albeit with a strong mid-western accent. So I thought the language part would be a breeze, and then I could delve into Shakespeare and Dickens. It was to be slightly different.

My American accent proved to be a bit of a hurdle. I was told that I could use it, but only if I did so consistently – which obviously was impossible because we were taught in British (the Queen’s) English – or what some of the lecturers thought that was. After a short rebellious period, I decided that not only would I speak British, but speak it better than most. At my graduation, McKinnon openly wondered why I was awarded only a 9 for pronunciation and fluency: ‘If ever there was a reason to award a 10 …’, he said. Curiously, I never got higher than a 7 (usually a 6) from lecturers whose own command of the language was questionable (I won’t mention names).

Living the student life; picture courtesy of Frank van Broekhoven.

The first three years, till the Kandidaats-exam, consisted of a number of compulsory courses. There was Old English, Middle English, syntax, poetry, literary analysis, institutions, translation and language proficiency (which we did in the language laboratory). Old and Middle English were basically translation classes which I found excruciatingly dull, except for when we got to the Canterbury Tales. I was bad at syntax, but when I studied it more seriously with a group of friends, I got to grips with it and never had a problem again. Poetry was almost entirely limited to the works of Yeats, Eliot and Hopkins. There was an anecdote of a student teacher at one of Groningen’s schools running into an ancient teacher of English who asked: ‘Do they still only teach Hopkins, Eliot and Yeats at the Department?’. The situation was more or less the same with literary analysis, where we mostly discussed works by Lawrence, Conrad and Forster.

‘Institutions’ could be fun, as it included a bit of history. Translation, English-Dutch and Dutch-English could be tricky; every year, the most hilarious mistakes were posted on the board of the third-floor lobby of the Faculty, the floor of our Department. Though I never saw it myself, and I find it difficult to believe it ever happened, rumour had it that someone once translated ‘a careful mother’ as ‘een kar vol modder’.

Dr. Jaap Riewald in 1980, when he had been retired for a while. The lady is Ank de Witt Wijnen; picture courtesy of Annie van der Veen.

In the third year, we had an American literature course, taught by Dr. Riewald. He had obviously done this for many, many years, and the lecture consisted of him reading from a notebook. He never knew exactly how far he had come the previous week, so – to make sure we missed nothing – he began a page or two back from where he thought we had left off. It sometimes meant that you heard practically nothing new. However, we did have to buy American Literature, an anthology by Geoffrey Moore, some 1200 pages that were never referred to during the course but which I still cherish to this very day.

After three years, one was presumed to have passed all necessary tentamens to make the actual exam a mere formality. Now, we had the chance to choose: a minimum of four seminars as well as two subsidiary subjects (bijvakken). So finally it was time for Dickens as well as William Blake, the War Poets and Greek Myths in Ancient and Modern Drama. I also took Palladian Architecture and  Pre-Raphaelite Painting. My thesis was on Little Dorrit. It got my master’s degree in 1980, and by that time I had been teaching for two years. So my formative years in Groningen spanned almost the entire decade.

Fred’s birthday party, 1976. With fellow-students Frank den Hollander and Frank van Broekhoven, and secretary Mariejan Grisel.  Picture courtesy of Frank van Broekhoven.
The Broerkerk towards the end of its lifetime, duly plastered with revolutionary manifestoes. Photo Beeldbank Groningen.

One more thing: the seventies weren’t the sixties. The sixties were known for their revolutionary uprisings, and the earlier generation was clearly hoping that this spark of revolutionary fire would also ignite the seventies. To underline this, in my first year, the GSB (Groninger Studenten Bond) organized a showing of the Maagdenhuisfilm, supposedly hoping we would storm out with pitchforks and teach the decadent bourgeoisie a lesson they would not soon forget. But there was no such fire in the seventies: during the film, we were mostly bored, giggly and slightly embarrassed. However, there were two moments when the sixties came to life again.

The first time was when the Government decided to raise the collegegeld from Hfl 100,- a year to Hfl 500,-. We occupied the Academiegebouw for a couple of hours and then went home with a feeling of having accomplished something (obviously, our courageous protest was never even heard in The Hague and had no effect whatsoever).

Occupying the Academy building, 11 February 1972: the man with the loudspeaker must be Thewis Wits, chairman of the Groninger Studentenbond. The picture also has some departmental interest: seen at the top of the stairs, to the left of the statue, are students of English and fervent GSB members Jan van der Bij and Julia Voort. Photo from Beeldbank Groningen.

The second time was at the Department, where at a public meeting in room 314 a mere formality was supposed to take place: the continuation of Professor Gerritsen’s position as Head of the Department. On the one hand, there was the feeling that this was how it had always been and thus how it would be for the decades to come, but there was a group that felt maybe it was time for change. In the course of the increasingly stormy meeting, things came to a head and Professor Gerritsen stormed out in a frustrated rage, leaving the post to the far more popular Professor Wilkinson. We all had a sort of giddy feeling that day that we had done the unthinkable and triumphed; we weren’t sure yet that the world wouldn’t collapse on us, but at least we had tried.

The major challenge

As a young student, life may have appeared carefree. I more or less sailed through the exams in the early years and enjoyed everything Groningen had to offer, which was a lot.

But really carefree it wasn’t, because we were told and warned from the outset, the Middle English Exam loomed somewhere in the third year. This was an exam (a tentamen or preliminary exam, to be more exact) unlike any other. In the first three years, all subjects were compulsory and they were rounded off by an oral tentamen by the lecturer who had taught the subject as well as by a different lecturer – just to make sure nothing untoward happened. There were also written tentamens, of course. If you had attended the lectures, you knew what to expect from the tentamen; knowing the lecturer and what he or she liked to hear helped as well – as I’m sure it still does. You always knew in advance how long a tentamen would take – usually between thirty minutes and one hour.

With Middle English, or to be more precise: Early Middle English, none of this applied. Professor Gerritsen (here he comes again…) did not actually give lectures, so instead one had to study a reading list, and quite a considerable one, and the Department was rife with rumours about extremely lengthy tentamens that one did with just the Professor and no one else. First though, one had to muster the courage to approach the man and inform him that, to your knowledge, you were ready to sit for his dreaded exam. You then received a Middle English text, for you to translate. If he was satisfied with the result, a date was set.

Professor Gerritsen had a cavernous room next door to room 314, the largest lecture hall on our floor. I remember his room as cavernous; it may not have been all that big, but I was way too nervous to study the far end. You were given another Middle English text, and you were expected to read it out loud and translate it into modern English. Also, you were expected to be able to date the text and establish its dialect – and if at all possible, to identify the actual text. Before the actual exam got under way, the professor would unplug his phone – meaning (to me) that there was no being saved by the bell. And to complicate things, the tea-lady (yes, we had those) would come in at some point and Professor Gerritsen would treat you to either tea or coffee (at Hfl. 0,10 a cup). Then, and we had all heard about this long before, he would conjure up a biscuit tin and offer you the driest biscuit in the Western Hemisphere. You simply did not refuse the professor anything, even though you knew that the biscuit would disable all oral functions for some twenty minutes and thus prolong the agony that was the Middle English Exam.

Professor Johan Gerritsen in a characteristic quizzical pose, round about 1990, when he was already retired. Picture (detail) probably by Kees Hartmans.

Professor Gerritsen was not given to a wide range of facial expressions: he closely resembled a marble bust. So it was well-nigh impossible to read his face. With most other examiners, one might have changed directions in the course of a lengthy answer when a frown or grin would indicate that such a change was needed. This was why I preferred oral exams to written ones – but with Professor Gerritsen, there was no such luck. He remained expressionless throughout, and this was what contributed to the fearful reputation of the Middle English Exam.

Finally, when he felt he had heard enough, Professor Gerritsen terminated the exam by informing you whether you had passed or failed. In my case, he never gave an exact grade, but I doubt I ever got anything higher than a tiny, tiny 6. It was only when you were back in the hallway, that you found out how long you had been inside. I failed the first time – after three hours. My second exam took two hours, but that time I passed.

In hindsight, I’m quite sure that Professor Gerritsen never set out to be the nightmare of young students. There was just a hint of autism around him – at least: that would explain a lot. And the very fact that his exams took inordinately long, was probably because he tried to give one every chance to get it right. But the, surely unintended, effect was that I never read another syllable of Middle English. To this day, almost half a century down the road, Middle English means the ghastly experience of this exam, and that is a bloody shame.

Fred’s doctoral graduation, with Alasdair MacKinnon, Professor David Wilkinson, and Anthony Davies behind the table. On the extreme right of the picture half of Professor Johan Gerritsen.

Not without drama

From the day of my arrival in Groningen, I felt I was there for more than just studying. What little experience I had of being on a stage had been extremely pleasurable. So if I was to broaden my horizon, I was sure it was going to be on the stage.

I began looking for opportunities almost at once, and in my second year, I auditioned at the USVA for their annual touring play. It was to be Barefoot in the Park, by Neil Simon, and it was to be played in Dutch. It was also meant to go on tour in the province, to earn the money that would make other productions possible. I got the role of Paul, the male lead (played by a young Robert Redford in the 1967 film …). We played the piece some twenty times, and I still know some lines today, almost 50 years on.

‘The Knight of the Burning Pestle’: Fred as Humphrey and Henk Kloosterman as Mr. Venturewell.

Meanwhile, the Drama Society of the English Department already had a rich tradition. I saw its ninth production, The Bald Primadonna, in 1975 and auditioned for their next play, which was to be The Knight of the Burning Pestle by Beaumont & Fletcher. We had a drama class as part of the curriculum, and this class was taught by Rina van Maanen, who had played in several earlier productions and was directing this one. I got the part of Humphrey. The play had an original premise: a citizen and his wife, who are in the audience, decide that the play they have come to see is boring, and demand that their apprentice is given a heroic role. We performed in the Oosterpoort (Kleine Zaal) either two or three nights to great acclaim – except perhaps from the Nieuwsblad critic who nonetheless detected genuine charm in the production.

The following year, the play selected was Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance, in which I got the role of Tobias – a demanding and very dramatic one. Rina van Maanen took the role of Agnes, Tobias’ wife. We contracted an external director, with the promising name of Ricardo Anasagasti. After a long string of rehearsals and with the first night only a couple of weeks away, we felt uneasy about the quality of the direction – so we asked someone else (it might well have been Anthony Davies) to look in on one of the rehearsals. Whoever he was, he agreed that too much work still had to be done, and so the performance was cancelled.

‘Table Manners’:  left, with Joop Stelwagen and Baukje van Dijk; right, with Els van der Werf.

It took two long years for the Drama Society to recover from this debacle. But in 1979, we were back: with Alan Ayckbourn’s Table Manners, the first part of The Norman Conquests, a trilogy. The three plays depict the same weekend; the first play showing the events in the dining room, the second in the living room and the third in the garden. Since Table Manners contains most of the exposition, it can most easily be performed separately; this we did, pinching some good lines from the other plays. Paula de Valk, who had played the citizen’s wife in The Knight of the Burning Pestle, directed. Since all the action takes place in the dining room of a Victorian vicarage, this meant real meals in every act and scene. We actually ate a very non-descript stew ‘with lumps’ which they must have smelled in the rafters of the theatre. My role was Norman, and I had a few difficult lines: during breakfast Annie (Annie van der Veen) and I were waiting for Reg (Joop Stelwagen) to bring toast from the kitchen – which I referred to as ‘a blazing sliced loaf’ but which more often than not came out as ‘a slazing bliced loaf’; I couldn’t even hear the mistake myself. We played three or four nights in a sold-out Kruithuis, to blazing reviews (to use the word again), particularly for the role of Sarah by Els van der Werf.

The next year, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest was the selected play. More than once, I had requested it, and now I had my last chance as this was also the year I expected to graduate. I got the role of Algernon Moncrieff, the best role in the play in my view. Paula de Valk directed again and the other major roles were played by Alex van der Stouwe (Jack Worthing), Baukje van Dijk (Cecily Cardew), Carolyn Swart (Gwendolyn Fairfax) and Joop Stelwagen (Lady Bracknell). We played in the Kruithuis again: four sold-out nights. Especially Joop Stelwagen was a sight to remember: all rustling black silk and feathers. It was a triumph and I still remember Professor Wilkinson roaring laughter from the depths of the Kruithuis.

The Importance of Being Earnest: Fred as Algernon, Carolyn as Gwendolyn, and Alex as Jack.

The Importance of Being Earnest was produced again in 2006, as one of the very few plays ever to have been produced more than once in the long history of GUTS. And I noticed that The Bald Soprano (apparently we now know more about her vocal range) was on the menu again last March.

What, no cucumber sandwiches? Joop as Lady Bracknell and Fred as Algernon. On the right, with his back turned, Johan Capelle as Lane, manservant.

As from 1980 I was no longer a student, I also was no longer a member of the Drama Society, so there my acting days ended, at least in English. I kept performing in all kinds of productions as well as on my own till I finally moved back to The Hague in 1986. Here, I lacked the network to take up acting or performing again. But writing these memories, I am surprised by how vivid they turned out to be after all those years, and I must confess to feeling quite nostalgic for the seventies!

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Christmas Quiz

by Reinou Sollie-Anker

You can take the quiz via the following link:

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Knit your own Doctor Who scarf

by Marjan Brouwers

Tom Baker as Doctor Who. Photograph by courtesy of

Watching the BBC in December is like swallowing an almost inedible amount of sweets. They really like their Christmas episodes, Christmas films and Christmas specials at the BBC, adding snowflakes, reindeers and whatnot to every television programme they air. Too much of a good thing, in my opinion. There is only one exception: the Doctor Who Christmas Special, which I looked forward to every year until someone decided to skip these wonderful episodes of Whovian fun. Fortunately, you can do something else: knit your own Doctor Who scarf to keep you warm and cosy in these trying times!

When the BBC rebooted the Doctor Who franchise in 2005 I was thrilled to bits. I remembered very fondly my own introduction to Doctor Who when Dutch television aired the first episode of Robot in the summer of 1976, introducing Tom Baker as the fourth Doctor. I was amazed, thrilled, excited, while my younger brother hid behind the couch like so many British children before him. I was hooked to the world of the Tardis, the Daleks and of course the Doctor and his companions. I still am!

Now, the fourth doctor wore a very long, colourful scarf. An iconic scarf that you can knit yourself. It is not a difficult pattern at all. My own scarf is really long, but you can stop knitting whenever you like and still amaze people with your original style. Hardly anybody I meet recognizes my scarf, but when someone does, it is like sharing a happy secret. On You Tube Tom Baker talks about how this scarf came to be. Below you will find the original instructions by the BBC and the pattern I used myself. Have fun!

Original instructions by the BBC

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