Thursday, 29 October 2009

27 August 1942

Out from 9.15 to 10.45 am.  Walk around and one ball game.  Issued with 2  packets of 20 ‘Mascot’ cigarettes.  I still have 3 Capstans left and 2 squares of toffee.  Rumoured that we are to have a big match this afternoon between our bunch and the convicts.


I must admit that my first impressions of the Dutch were not very favourable as it seemed to me that all reported meanness attributed to the Scot was as naught compared with that of the natives of Holland, so much so indeed that in a letter home I misquoted a proverb to the effect of ‘cast your whole bread upon Dutch waters and it will return to you a half loaf’.  That this opinion was not altogether unjustified, let the following experience prove.  As I have already stated, I arrived on Langen towards the end of November and as Christmas and New Year approached, I felt naturally very homesick at the prospect of being so far from home and among strangers in a strange land during that, in all former years, so happy and festive season.  It was therefore to my great joy and satisfaction that I was informed that there would be a Christmas party at the Big House and to which the whole staff was to be invited.  And not only a party by a Christmas tree as well.  My spirits soared at the prospect.  The manager’s wife asked me one day what I should like  off the Christmas tree.  Fenton suggested half a dozen pillow cases as I had forgotten to include these very necessary articles in my outfit.  I considered not only Fenton’s suggestion but also what I took to be the Dutch way of arranging Christmas presents as extremely practical indeed.  Accordingly I acquainted Mrs F V  with my desire and got my first shock when she intimated, ‘You understand, you pay for the present yourself – only it is rather nice to get it off the tree.’  Anyhow, by Christmas Eve I had somewhat recovered and became, although still puzzled, somewhat reconciled to the strange Dutch custom.  We duly forgathered at 8 pm on the night on the spacious open verandah of the Manager’s house where on arriving we sat down in a large circle, radiating from the decorated Christmas tree which stood in one corner.  At 2 am we were still in the same position and during the six hours there had been, if I am not mistaken, not more than two rounds of drinks.  The Christmas tree was hung with many parcels, and many more lay on the ground round about it.  I learned later that the feast of St Nicholas, which is the children’s feast on the 5th December, had on the occasion, probably with a view to economy I should imagine, been combined with the Christmas festival.  St Nicholas is the counterpart of our Santa Claus but it is honoured by the Dutch, and probably by other continental countries as well, with a special feast day on the 5th December each year when, just as Santa Claus does with us on Christmas Eve, he bring presents to the children.  St Nicholas is always accompanied by a black faced attendant, known as Black Peter, who carries a birch in one hand and a large sack over his shoulder.  Black Peter is an object of much apprehension to the very young as it is his ascribed duty to wield the birch and even to bear away in the sack any reported bad boy or girl who is so refractory as not to promise St Nicholas to mend his or her ways in the future.  I have attended many St Nicholas parties arranged for the children of members of the Concordia Club in Bandung where the good Saint and Black Peter were wont to appear in person and it was a delightful sight to see a few hundred mites in their party best regarding St Nicholas and Black Peter with eyes big and round with mingled awe and apprehension.  This feast, in the home particularly, provides an opportunity for members of the family to play tricks on each other in the form of fake parcels purporting to contain something of actual value but yielding, when opened, some trifle or other, together with a screed of poetry, ridiculing or poking individual fun at one or other characteristic of the recipient.  On this particular night, St Nicolas did not, of course, appear but the parcels were legion.  The manager had four children – there were no other on the Estate at that time – and, apart from real presents (such as mine) the other thousand and one parcels had reference only to the FV family.  The accompanying poems were in some cases pages in length and what with the reading of these and the opening of parcels themselves, which were prepared mostly in Chinese puzzle fashion, each parcel revealing a small one when opened and so on, six solid hours were spent in this (to me, at any rate) highly unedifying amusement.  I might have enjoyed the proceedings more had I understood Dutch, but I doubt it.  At 2 am we adjourned to the dining room where we were regaled with a very indifferent dinner accompanied by red and white wines – one bottle of each only.  I feel sure, I was really so sleepy by this time that to eat anything at all cost quite an effort and the rest of the company could have been in no better state.  I will not be  so uncharitable as to suggest that the serving of the meal was timed to this end, but it is a fact that what was not eaten on that occasion was quite sufficient to provide meals in the manager’s house for a few days after.  However, let it pass and haste on to the climax which provided me with a shock compared with which the previous one was but a slight start of surprise.  This was given me at the beginning of January in the form of a debit note for 7.60 guilders, being my share of the Christmas dinner, yes, even unto the Christmas tree itself and the decoration thereof.  I am glad to record that my first impressions of the Dutch, thanks to this experience, have for many years now been utterly removed but it will be appreciated that from such a wound my recovery was slow and followed a long period of convalescence.


Rumour was correct.  Out from 1.30 to 2.45 pm to witness a handball match between us and the convicts.  We got a bad beating 13-8 being the final score.

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