Christmas Odyssey

Arctic conditions at Dublin Airport

This time last year, our part of Europe was in the icy grip of winter, and many Irish living abroad were struggling to make it home in time for Christmas. Ironically, I found myself “at home” in Holland for my mother’s birthday, and then tried to get back home to Dublin in time for Christmas. Things did not quite turn out as expected, and it took me more than 3 days of travelling through snow-covered airports and iced-over railway stations to get back in time for Santa’s visit to my real home in Goatstown.

This was the very first time I came to appreciate the power of “social media”, keeping in touch with friends and family throughout my journey via SMS, Email, Twitter and Facebook. This blogpost attempts to put all of the messages that I sent during those 80 hours – and some of the ones I received – in chronological order.

I was lucky enough to make it home in time to help Santa with his deliveries. To all of you who missed out on following me on Facebook and Twitter during those days, and of course to all of you who did, I wish you all a merry Christmas and a very happy New Year.

Email, November 26, 2010
ITINERARY/RECEIPT – All times are local.
From Eindhoven (EIN) to Dublin (DUB)
Mon, 20Dec10 Flight FR1965 Depart EIN at 18:25 and arrive DUB at 19:05
PASSENGERS
1. MR PIER KUIPERS ADT

The Start

I take the 13:00 train from Amsterdam to Eindhoven to begin my journey back home to Dublin.

SMS, December 20, 2010 at 17:28
Flight delayed. Supposed to leave now but not sure has it even landed here yet…

SMS, December 20, 2010 at 17:30
There’s about an inch of snow here but not snowing now. No plane either, though…

6 hours

SMS, 20 December 18:57
URGENT-Your Ryanair flight has been cancelled – please visit www.ryanair.com for free rebooking/refund

SMS, December 20, 2010 at 19:51
Amsterdam Dublin €300 with Aer Lingus. No Ryanair until friday at the earliest

SMS, December 20, 2010 at 20:15
Aer Lingus Booking Ref:28VPT2
EI0607 21DEC AMS-DUB
dep 15:10 arr 15:50.

SMS, December 20, 2010 at 21:40
Still on train travelling at snail’s pace. Jobien picking me up from station. Still snowing there?

12 hours

Twitter, December 21, 2010 at 0:07
OK, so I’m back in Amsterdam, having spent 6 hours in Eindhoven waiting for a Ryanair flight. Dublin Airport closed. Yikes.

SMS, December 21, 2010 at 8:48
Got stuck in Holland due to weather, trying to get home on 3pm flight.

SMS, December 21, 2010 at 9:41
Looks like dublin is in chaos. Praying that airport stays open

SMS, December 21, 2010 at 12:37
On my way to airport, but just heard that “We have had to suspend operations until 17.00 due to a recent heavy snowfall.” fucking great.

Twitter, December 21, 2010 at 13:17
On my way to Schiphol, second attempt at going home. Wish me luck.

24 hours

Twitter, December 21, 2010 at 13:36
Just in from Dublin Airport: “We have had to suspend operations until 17.00 due to a recent heavy snowfall.”
Great.

Andrew Watchorn
Does that mean that you’re just in from Dublin Airport or just in from Dublin airport – as in news. Former = Congratulations. Later = Commiserations!

SMS, December 21, 2010 at 16:39
Hell on earth. Queue at rebooking desk 3 miles long.

SMS, December 21, 2010 at 16:45
If you’re online, would you mind checking if ferries from holyhead are sailing?

Caoilte Guiry
Holyhead to Dublin:0040-0630, 0130-0630 or 1310-1810 (at £41) on 22nd according to national express. I’ll check bus routes too as its quite busy apparently

SMS, December 21, 2010 at 17:25
Stena offices closed, am on the train. Packed to capacity, people standing. What a madhouse

SMS, December 21, 2010 at 17:27
Everything booked out until Friday, including Cork. Thousands stranded. Trains chaos. Making my way to ferry to England, is only hope to get home before Christmas. Not joking.

30 hours

Twitter, December 21, 2010 at 18:48
Flight cancelled, nothing available until Friday. Making my way to Hook of Holland to try and catch a ferry to England.

England here I come

Facebook, December 21, 2010 at 20:30
Fuck Dublin Airport

SMS, December 21, 2010 at 21:55
Status update: Just pulled away from the quay, ferry from Hook of Holland – Harwich. Arriving tomorrow 7am, then train to London, onward to Holyhead. Across the Irish Sea, and home for Christmas:-)

Twitter, December 21, 2010 at 22:40
And the band played “Dreaming of a White Christmas” When the ship pulled away from the quay…

Henk Kuipers 
It was Christmas Eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me, won’t see another one
And then he sang a song
The Rare Old Mountain Dew
I turned my face away
And dreamed about you
etc. etc.

Twitter, December 21, 2010 at 22:47
OK guys, this is it. On the North Sea en route to Dublin, with just that pesky bit of land inbetween. Wondering when I’ll lose my network.

42 hours

Foursquare, December 22, 2010 at 7:43
Harwich International Station
So far, so good

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 8:56
Home sounds like a good place to be! Just arrived in London, gonna check flights. Will keep u posted

Foursquare, December 22, 2010 at 10:07
Liverpool Street Platform 6
Getting tube to Euston station…

Mark Palmer 
You seem to be running to your new schedule OK. Good luck with the rest of your journey.

Chaos at Euston Station

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 10:21
In London Euston waiting for delayed train to Chester. No flights available until Saturday. Not sure if I’ll make Holyhead in time for tonight’s ferry…

Foursquare, December 22, 2010 at 10:41
London Euston Station (EUS)
See if Virgin can get me a ticket all the way to Dublin

Facebook, December 22, 2010 at 11:14
Train to Chester delayed. Massive crowd here, but maybe it’s always like this :-/

Twitter, December 22, 2010 at 11:28
Chester train cancelled. Fuck.

Sinead Lawlor
Don’t lose hope!!

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 11:41
Train to Chester cancelled. Now on the train to Crewe.

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 11:42
It’s unlikely that I’ll make the 5:15 ferry. There is one at midnight, it appears. Still need to get from Crewe to Chester to Holyhead first, though…

Twitter, December 22, 2010 at 12:07
OK, on train to Crewe, it’s a start. Seat with table, power supply and free wifi – no excuse, better do some work :-(

Twitter, December 22, 2010 at 12:15
Right, so the wifi is useless. View from window nothing but SNOW. Read my book?

48 hours

Snowy landscapes near Birmingham

Twitter, December 22, 2010 at 13:07
Picture postcards views of snowy English lanscapes near Birmingham somewhere

Foursquare, December 22, 2010 at 13:54
Crewe Railway Station (CRE)
On to Chester

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 15:03
Given up on ferry, Fully booked so no guarantee of getting across. Eoin got on alright, the bastard. Booked flight from BMX at 20:15

Facebook, December 22, 2010 at 15:57
Leaving Chester, heading back to Crewe. Stena not accepting any more passengers until Friday, so not heading to Holyhead but to Birmingham to catch a flight – hopefully…

Gerry McLoughlin
Jesus Pier, I hope you get sorted.

Tom Wiebe
I sense a book in the making…

Willie Van Velzen
ya poor git!

Email, December 22, 2010 at 14:30
Passenger(s): MR PIER KUIPERS
Flight: EI0277 – Wed 22 Dec 2010
Departs: Birmingham-Terminal 1 (BHX) 20:15
Arrives: Dublin-Terminal 1 (DUB) 21:15
Status: Y/Economy Class CONFIRMED
Airline: Aer Lingus

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 17:14
Made it to Birmingham Airport, flights looking good. fingers crossed.

Foursquare, December 22, 2010 at 17:44
Wetherspoon, Departure Lounge (BHX Airport)
FECK! DRINK!

53 hours

Facebook, December 22, 2010 at 17:53
Having travelled all this way over land, getting on a flight at this stage feels like cheating. But let’s not speak too soon – it may yet be cancelled…

Facebook, December 22, 2010 at 20:49
OK, flight’s delayed until 2300. Things are looking up for the anti-cheating squad.

Facebook, December 22, 2010 at 20:56
In Birmingham Airport sipping pint of ale. Flight delayed until 23:00. Aer Lingus gave me a €5 voucher – yay. I lost it – sigh.
Recent experience has taught me that delay is the first step to cancellation…

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 21:39
I am so goddamn bored and homesick. Entering day 4 of my attempts to get back. I’ll get the Aircoach to Stillorgan and a taxi from there no matter what the time, they go all night.

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 21:56
Latest news: flight delayed until midnight. I think I’ll have a pint, so.

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 22:16
Delayed, estimated 0001, gate opens 1 hr 5 mins. Believe it when i see it.

Now boarding...

Facebook, December 23, 2010 at 0:35
“passengers please proseed [sic] to departure lounge by 2355.” Woah. I’d better drink up.

Facebook, December 23, 2010 at 1:26
NOW BOARDING AT GATE 48. Oh yeah, baby.

SMS, December 23, 2010 at 00:27
I can SEE the plane, and people getting off it. They’re very slow, though…

61 hours

Facebook, December 23, 2010 at 2:56
Guess what? My flight has been CANCELLED.
Aer Lingo are putting us all in the Hilton tonight, along with the crew who need their 12 hour beauty sleep now, rather than flying us back to Dublin first.
OK so. Whatever.

SMS, December 23, 2010 at 2:56
Latest travel news: flight from Birmingham CANCELLED at the last minute. Staff need their 12 hour beauty sleep. We’re told we’re flying tomorrow at 14:45. Yah right. All of us being transported to the Hilton now (at 2:45am)

Foursquare, December 23, 2010 at 3:56
Hilton International Birmingham
Ireland? Huh? Where’s that?

Dave Slater
Well, at least you’ll get to see what the outside of the National Exhibition Centre looks like – which I am sure has always been one of those boxes in life you wanted to tick.

Pier Kuipers
Heh. I ticked that box a few months ago when I was here for a meeting. Any other suggestions as to why being here might be a good thing?

Dave Slater
Pier, I was just trying to give you some encouragement.

69 hours

Facebook, December 23, 2010 at 10:12
From Dublin Airport via Twitter: “We are temporarily suspending flight operations for about 30 minutes to allow the runway to be sprayed with de-icer.”

Ronan Doyle
i think dublin is closed until 1.30 :-0

Willie Van Velzen
snowing heavily in Leixlip at the moment

Ronan Doyle
Ever feel like that steve martin from Planes, Trains & Automobiles??

Mr Flight Delayed

SMS, December 23, 2010 at 10:55
Dublin Airport closed until 13:30 to clear snow

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 11:13
Latest News > 09.30: Flight Operations Suspended At Dublin Airport
Think Happy Thoughts.

Facebook, December 23, 2010 at 12:43
The name is Delayed. Flight Delayed. And that’s Mr Delayed to you.

Andrew Watchorn – Classic!

Johan Sölve – Bummer.

Facebook, December 23, 2010 at 13:45
Look! I got another boarding pass for my collection.

73 hours

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 14:09
Yesterday Dublin Airport was open, but we had no plane.
Today we have a plane and a crew, but no Airport. Two out of three ain’t bad?

Facebook, December 23, 2010 at 14:11
Dublin Airport Flight operations resumed at 13.00. Woot!

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 16:21
“ladies and gentlemen, can you please take your seats to enable a speedy departure so we won’t miss our slot”.
HURRY UP YOU MUPPETS!

77 hours

Arctic conditions at Dublin Airport

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 18:06
LANDED IN DUBLIN

SMS, December 23, 2010 at 18:07
Just landed after circling for 30 minutes. Nowhere for the plane to park, pilot describing “chaos & confusion”.

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 18:22
Chaos at Dublin Airport with planes fighting over spaces as if they’re in the car park at Tesco’s

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 18:45
Our plane’s captain needs a martialler to guide him to our parking spot. Can anyone help?

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 18:48
That should be “marshaller” of course. Anyone with a couple of torches and big earphones will do.

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 19:09
OK, plane’s parked. But now the air bridge is stuck, so we can’t get off. Oh, and it’s snowing again.

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 19:42
And bingo: Dublin Airport closed.

SMS, December 23, 2010 at 18:53
Getting next available aircoach out of here

SMS, December 23, 2010 at 19:56
Sitting on bus but not going anywhere fast. It’s supposed to go to stillorgan shopping centre, trying to find out. Chaos here.

The Finish – 80 hours

I finally arrived home at sometime after 21:00 on the 23rd December. I shared a taxi with a fellow Christmas 2010 Veteran from the Burlington to somewhere in Goatstown where the taxi driver told us to get out, because he wasn’t driving any further through the snow drifts.

Twitter, December 25, 2010 at 1:25
Merry Christmas to all, and especially all of you who kept me company on Facebook and Twitter during my recent odyssey – thank you!


View Christmas Odyssey 2010 in a larger map

Pinpointing Ireland

Templemore or Thurles

Templemore or Thurles?

One of my clients asked me to put together a location map for a chain of hardware stores in county Tipperary, to appear on a new website. I was given a bunch of business cards with the relevant contact details. When I finally got around to do some work on the map, I discovered that these details consisted of nothing more than phone numbers and email addresses alongside the name of the town in which each store is located.

Thinking that visitors of the new website might want a slightly more accurate location than Google’s perceived town centre of “Thurles” or “Roscrea”, I asked my client to come back with an actual address for each store. This time, I was given a list with addresses such as “Cahir Road, Cashel” and “Templemore Road, Thurles”.

Looking at Google’s map of Cashel, I see that the Cahir Road stretches for 1.5 kilometres from the centre of town to the M8 motorway on the outskirts, hardly a pinpoint location. Asking Google to find the Templemore Road in Thurles proves even more elusive, when one of those red markers is firmly planted in the centre of the Thurles Road in Templemore (spot the difference of around 14 kilometers).

OK, so I deploy some common sense and trace this road in the direction of Thurles, hoping that we will see the expected exchange between the name of the town and that of the road. No such luck. According to Google, when the N62 coming from Templemore reaches Thurles, it is called the Brittas Road — the Templemore Road simply does not exist, other than in local folklore, maybe. Or maybe Google’s got it wrong, horribile dictu.

Eventually I had no other choice than to take a virtual trip on Google Streetview down the various Main and other Streets of county Tipperary — ultimately pinpointing all of the listed hardware stores. Happy days.

This is not the first time I’ve struggled trying to find a precise location on Irish soil. Every other week or so, I may receive a text message from my daughter’s coach telling us that the next match is against Such-and-Such in Somebody’s Park. Invariably I have no clue as to how I might get to the relevant grounds, and rely once again on Google to help me out.

A match in Hermitage Park landed a Google Maps marker in the middle of a housing estate in Rathfarnham. Alongside the “Park”, there’s a Drive, Court, Grove and a host of other examples of how to avoid using the word Street — but no sign of a sports field. Of course Google is blissfully unaware that locals (and GAA veterans) refer to the sports grounds in nearby St. Enda’s Park as, you’ve guessed it: Hermitage Park.

None of this would be a problem if Ireland had post codes like the rest of Europe, or maybe even the Rest Of The World. Combined with a house number, the average post code will translate into a GPS-friendly point on the map that leaves little room for confusion — or maybe that’s just my utopian view. As it stands, Dublin is the only city in Ireland to use primitive postal districts, carving the city up in 22 chunks, with odd numbers for the northside, even for the south, and a lone alphanumeric 6W for the posh.

On his website, a South Dublin solicitor states his address as “DX 225 002 Clonskeagh”. It’s a mystery where this cryptic pseudo-postcode comes from, but its progressiveness has to be admired. There are currently several unofficial postcode systems deployed in Ireland, such as GeoDirectory, GoCode and Loc8 Code — but these would be largely unfamiliar to the average punter, and the codes they produce don’t look anything like the one displayed by our solicitor. In fact, their codes appear to be shortcuts to geographic coordinates supplied by Google, and so my front garden would have a different code than my back garden.

Playing with their iPhone apps, I discover that my office is in Dublin L67 CRJ6 (GoCode) — or maybe that should be Dublin NR4-77-B13 (Loc8 Code). Either way, these codes point to my office in Tallaght, and then tell us that it’s the Blessington Road (correct) in Lucan (huh?) — compliments of Google.

Over the past decade, there has been plenty of talk by various ministers about plans to introduce post codes in Ireland. It seems that this project has so far been assigned to the category of perpetual procrastination, along with electronic voting and the rail link to the airport. I’d hate to guess how many millions have already been spent on coming up with suggestions that the post code format should be “memorable” and “alpha-numeric”.

Confusion in Clonskeagh

For now, it seems that we will have to make do without postcodes for the forseeable future. Finding addresses such as St. James’s Terrace in Clonskeagh will therefore remain a challenge when relying on Google, ending up in Dolphin’s Barn instead. Of course we can’t really blame Google when no. 2 St. James’s Terrace, Clonskeagh, is the exact same building as no. 4 Clonskeagh Road. So that’s St. James’s Terrace, Dublin 8. No wait, 6. It’s in Dublin, somewhere.

Pax Vobiscum

missalI belong to a declining group of people who attend mass on Sundays. That may be a bit strange considering I’m a Dutch protestant, the son of a vicar – and one would expect to find me in the pews of the Church of Ireland or something similar. But that’s precisely the point – there is nothing similar to the Calvinist church of my youth to be found in Ireland, at least not in the mainstream. When in Rome, do as the Romans do; and so I became a practising non-Catholic in a country with increasing numbers of non-practising Catholics.

The first mass I ever attended was the Final Profession of a nun, the sister of one of my friends. I guess I didn’t start of with the Light version of the mass. It was all very bizarre — and I’m not just talking about the nuns lying prostrate before the altar. To a simple Calvinist like me, the pomp and ceremony of incense and multiple celebrants were as alien as the standard elements of bell ringing, kneeling, and of course the transubstantiation.

By now, I could be considered a veteran mass-goer and the routines of the mass hold few surprises. Nevertheless, it still amazes me how Catholic congregations mumble their communal prayers without any attempt at keeping time with each other. It took me years to work out the words to some of the basic prayers that every real Catholic can say in their sleep and are deemed so well-known that they are not even printed in misalettes — until recently, that is.

In their wisdom, the powers that be in the English speaking Catholic Church have decided that those familiar prayers and recitations now need to be changed. When the priest says “Peace be with you”, we are no longer to respond with “And also with you”. Instead, we should say “And with your spirit”, apparently because this is a more accurate translation of the original Latin, “et cum spiritu tuo”. And that’s just for starters.

Explanations on some Catholic websites attempt to justify the new English text from a theological point of view. “Of one being with the Father” becomes “Consubstantial with the Father”, supposedly because the English language is incapable of capturing the true meaning of the original Latin.

I would have thought that revised translations of religious texts reflect the language of the time in which they were published. The often used parody of “bible-speak” is based on archaic translations with sentences such as “And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.” (Luke 18:19.) Apart from the obviously outdated English vocabulary, the problem with this type of translation is the literal word-for-word interpretation of the ancient Greek text, resulting in strangely constructed sentences. It’s a bit like translating “qu’est-ce que c’est” with “what is it that it is”.

So maybe the new missal is theologically more correct. In my opinion however, the choice of wording is a step backwards, alienating even more people from a church that could surely do with some modernisation. This would have been an opportunity to weed out some of the male-centered language in favour of more gender neutral wording, but alas.

Looking through the text of the new missal, things are looking good when we see that the publishers have accepted the current liberal translation of “et vobis fratres” in the Confiteor into “and you, my brothers and sisters”. Apparently there is no theological objection to asking forgiveness from both male and female members of the congregation.

However, when we get to the Creed, it seems that these same sisters are not deemed worthy of salvation. The generally accepted phrase in the familiar version of the Creed, “for us and for our salvation”, has been replaced with “for us men and for our salvation”. Sure, that’s what it says in the Latin original — but can our sisters not be saved as much as they can be forgiven?

The new missal does not tell us what to say when the priest tells us good morning at the beginning — so I take it our response does not need to involve his spirit. Thanks be to God.

640k Should Be Enough

“Designers are scum.” My coworkers can confirm that I sometimes come out with sweeping statements like this one, usually when I’ve been emailed yet another yousendit link to a 250MB PDF with designs for a few web pages. If the finished site were even half that size, each page would still take half an hour to load.

Bill Gates, a while ago.

Bill Gates once famously said (or didn’t say, one can’t be sure) that “640K should be enough for anybody” in reference to computer memory (RAM). That was sometime in 1981. Ten years later, our graphic design studio had two Mac IIci computers with 8MB of RAM — more than 10 times “enough”.

We all know that everything related to technology has developed along an exponential curve since those days. The phone I’m using to write this post is about one hundred times more powerful than one of those Macs; you’ve heard it all before.

Although I don’t think I fall into the Silver Surfer category of computer users, I’m certainly no novice. And just like my mother who would insist I eat all my dinner because she remembers what it’s like to have very little, I appreciate how much a Megabyte really is. Everything we produced on those Macs had to fit on a 1.4MB floppy disk if it was to leave our studio.

The proliferation of increasingly powerful computers has done away with their users’ concerns about keeping file sizes within certain limits. As a result there is now an enormous amount of digital waste being generated. Full A4 size high resolution images are used both in print and on web pages where they are displayed at a fraction of their original size — without the designer feeling the need to resize these images first. If Megabytes were bad for the environment, our planet would by now no longer be able to sustain life.

But it is not only the users who have been allowed to become wasteful with their bits and bytes. The modern programmes they use are just as guilty of producing superfluous digital junk — starting with bloated operating systems. Earlier versions of Adobe Illustator produced documents in almost readable PostScript code, but it now saves files in impenetrable PDF format. Export a Word document as HTML, and the result is a horrifying mess of outdated code that’s impossible to work with.

I belong to a generation of developers who are self-taught and started out writing code by hand – partly out of geekiness, but mainly because code-generating applications such as Dreamweaver did not yet exist. Those young web designers of today are spoilt for choice with WYSIWYG editors, GUIs and JavaScript and CSS libraries — so much so, that some of them don’t seem to realise that you really don’t need jQuery to perform basic functions that have been part of JavaScript since time began.

As for graphic designers — they should all be forced to work with a Mac IIci for a couple of months before being let loose in the real world. That should teach them how a design for a few web pages might actually fit on a 1.4MB floppy. And then upload it to the server by carrier pigeon.

Push and Pull

I remember when I first read about the terms push and pull technology in relation to internet stuff. Pull technology is when you go to visit a web page, so you initiate the communication, pulling the information down from wherever it happens to be stored. Push technology is where the contact is made by the server or content provider, pushing stuff to your computer such as new posts on a news feed you’ve subscribed to.

Gary Larson's take on Push and Pull

In the early days of the Internet, pretty much everything was served up through pull technology. The arrival of mobile phones has seen a massive increase in push, and not just smartphone things such as Twitter, email and mobile app notifications — even the humble text message is a very clear example of push technology.

So it seems that our media experience is shifting from pull to push, and we are becoming passive consumers of whatever it is that is pushed down our gullets. Or is it?

If we can just forget about the Internet for a second, we may realise that push technology has been around for quite a while. Good old television is push — you sit in front of a box and you watch whatever happens to appear on screen. If you don’t like it, you can push a button and have something else pushed into your living room. Fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on.

Outdoor advertising is the ultimate push technology, in that the recipient does not even have to turn on a particular device in order to receive the information. It may not be as accurately targeted as a phone beeping in someone’s pocket to tell them that Wet Dog Ice Cream is on special offer in their favourite deli — but it has been tried and trusted for centuries.

When we visit a library, we can avail of what I consider pull technology in a low-tech kinda way. This truly is where we decide which information we would like to absorb, assuming we don’t live in some totalitarian state where half the books have been burned.

If we consider today’s online equivalents of the television and the library, we are immediately drawn towards YouTube and Google – both are of course Google, but let’s forget that for the moment. My children no longer watch television like I used to when I was their age — ignoring the fact that I didn’t have a lot of options. Instead, they huddle in front of the family computer to watch the latest episode of Annoying Orange, or some American soap that has never aired on this side of the Atlantic. They decide what they want to watch, and when — in comparison to traditional television, that’s a shift from push towards pull. Fifty-seven channels and somethin’ on all of ’em.

Now let’s take a look at Google vs the traditional Library. Before you start arguing that Amazon or Wikipedia would be more appropriate comparison candidates, I’m jumping to my own defense: Google is by far the most-used tool for people who look for information in this day and age. Back in 1975, if you were told by your history teacher to write an essay about something, you would go to the library to do your research and find out more about the topic. Nowadays, you Google it.

At first glance, looking for information in a library and searching with Google appear to have the pull factor in common: you decide what you want and ask the knowledge provider to get it. But hold on a second. Google is amazingly fast when it comes back with results, we’ve all noticed that. The results also appear to be eerily relevant to me, if only by showing me businesses that are located close to where I happen to be, for example.

Of course this is no coincidence. Google filters out an enormous amount of stuff that is deemed irrelevant – by Google, that is. Admittedly, if I’m looking for a French restaurant, I’d like Google to show me the ones in Dublin, if that’s where I happen to be. If I go to google.com, I am automatically redirected to google.ie. That makes sense. It appears however, that there is an awful lot more filtering going on in the background — more than the average user may be aware of. So much so in fact, that when we pull information from Google, it is skimmed off the top of what has already been pushed in our direction. Let’s not forget about the contoversy surrounding Google in China. And I’m sure Jim Corr has something to say about this, too.

Google’s auto-complete functionality lists suggestions as soon as you start typing your query, tempting us to just click on one of those, rather than completing our own search terms. If we make a spelling mistake, Google helpfully suggests a correction and takes the liberty of showing you the results for the corrected version — not your supposedly mistaken phrase. In Decemer 2004, when someone searched for “I love Jews”, Google famously suggested “Did you mean: I love Jesus?”.

Maybe the Google experience could be referred to as nudge technology. Users can fight back, however, and our submission to Google’s nudge is the equivalent of not changing TV channels because the remote is somewhere under the couch. I have seen my kids exhibit this lazy behaviour by routinely selecting one of the first results Google comes up with, rather than actually looking through the results to see what might be of real interest.

Of course the content that’s presented to us on YouTube has also been filtered and customised based on our previous online behaviour — or even based on the content of our emails, if we’re using Gmail, as my friend Dave Slater pointed out the other day. So what I thought was changing from push to pull, turns out to be some sort of pre-pushed pull. As for the information we receive through subscription feeds and other push notifications, as well as banner ads — these have been chosen and pre-filtered either by ourselves or by our perceived tastes, and can be described as, well… pre-pulled push, I guess.

So which is it? What’s better? I’m confused.

I like to think that push represents exposure to new ideas and other cultures. It can open our minds.

Push also represents indoctrination and oppression. It forces information down our throats.

Pull may represent free will and the chance to make our own minds up.

Pull also means that we play it safe and only get what we like to see, read or hear. It can inadvertently narrow our minds.

You decide — I wouldn’t like to push it. Or should that be pull?

Heart Is Where The Home Is – Part 2

When I moved to Dublin in 1986, I had managed to quickly arrange a place to stay with the help of Lorraine, the receptionist with my new employer Irish International. I was soon to become the nightmare of my friends’ address books.

Merrion Road, Ballsbridge

The garden shed at the rear of 69 Merrion Road, Ballsbridge

The address of Merrion Road in Ballsbridge, across the road from the Royal Dublin Society and the heavily fortified British embassy, invokes visions of luxury and grandeur. The reality was somewhat different, however.

The redbricked residence was very impressive indeed. Upon my arrival, I was ushered through the front door and straight out the back where the garden shed was assigned as my first home in the Irish capital. It did have a toilet and a shower, I have to say that for it. I suppose I couldn’t expect much more for £15 a week — I spent the grand total of £30 living in the embassy belt.

My flat was in the basement of the house on the corner, beside the steps.

Upper Rathmines Road

I quickly discovered that Ranelagh and Rathmines were known as “flat land”, and like so many others I roamed the streets of Dublin 6 armed with the Evening Press and enough small change to make the necessary calls from the nearest phone box.

And so I found my first proper Dublin flat in the basement of a four-story redbrick on the Upper Rathmines Road. It had a separate twin bedroom and bathroom, a kitchenette and my own front door. It served me well for several months as I got to know the city and made new friends.

Our flat is on the first floor of the house with the red door.

Lower Rathmines Road

I had become friends with a bunch of engineering students from UCD, at a time when their department was located on Merrion Street, in what is now Government Buildings and the Taoiseach’s Office. When they graduated and looked for jobs, flat hunting also became part of their new life — and I joined them in their quest.

Paddy Ryan, Dave Slater and myself moved into a three bedroomed flat on the Lower Rathmines Road in the spring of 1987. There was lots of drink involved.

Mackies Place

Mackies Place in 1987

Brian Murray, yet another engineering graduate, wished to join our ranks and so a larger flat was needed. We found a small artisan house tucked away in a tiny laneway near Fitzwilliam Square, called Mackies Place — and so the four of us became known as Mackies Boys.

My new location allowed me to travel between work on the Square, home and my local pub (Toner’s of Baggot Street), all without even having to cross a street.

View of Edenvale Road in Ranelagh

Edenvale Road, Ranelagh

After a silly falling out with my flatmates, I moved to a crappy bedsit in Ranelagh — around the time that my new job with Bell Advertising brought me to the same part of town. The music of Christopher Cross will forever remind me of that place, since my upstairs neighbour felt the need to play it at full volume — every evening when he came in from work.

My colleague and friend Tim Mudie lived in an equally crappy flat on Moyne Road — we used to visit each other to share our meagre supply of drink and tobacco, taking the shortcut across the disused railway tracks between our streets, where the Luas now runs.

At this stage, the traditional music scene had introduced me to fiddle player Brian McCarthy who became a very good friend. He was determined to get me out of my cramped living quarters — and that required a move south, to Dun Laoghaire.

Must get a better pic of Ashdoonan...

Silchester Road, Glenageary

Brian’s parents owned two massive redbrick homes in Glenageary — one was the family home and the other was rented out in flats. I was very lucky to be offered the Rear Garden Flat at Ashdoonan, Silchester Road, Glenageary, Co. Dublin. Back in Holland, my friend René was fascinated by an address that didn’t contain a single number.

My new flat was enormous, with two bedrooms and a big open-plan kitchen cum living room, and access to the huge garden which stretched some 200 feet. Both houses, as well as my own flat, were a paradise for artists, musicians, creatives and other lunatics.

Unfortunately the McCarthy’s decided to sell one of their houses and after two years of luxury my time was up.

Beautiful terrace on Crosthwaite Park South, Dun Laoghaire

Crosthwaite Park, Dun Laoghaire

Ross Cahill-O’Brien, a friend of Brian’s, is an architect who had recently returned from the UK after winning a cash prize in a competition. He put this money towards the purchase of a majestic 19th century home at Crosthwaite Park South, just down the road.

Ross was delighted to share his new home with me, his fashion designer cousin and a mad artist whose name escapes me. Eternally covered in plaster dust and paint splatters, Ross’s mission was to turn his house into an architectural Wonder of the World, and I must say that he came close.

Living in an eternal building site was far from ideal, however, and once again Brian came to the rescue.

My Renault 9 in front of my cottage

Pembroke Cottages, Ringsend

Brian’s brother Francis had bought a small terraced cottage in Ringsend, and was looking for a tenant after spending a mint refurbishing the place. Although the rent was steep, I immediately fell in love with the place and moved in before the paint had dried.

With a bedroom to spare, I was able to provide initial accommodation to Maarten and Gabrielle when they, too, came over from Holland to work and study in Dublin.

Merrion House

Fitzwilliam Street, Dublin 2

When the rent in Ringsend proved too much of a strain on the budget, I teamed up with Brian “Smiley” Norton, taking over the top floor flat in Merrion House on Fitzwilliam Street, recently vacated by my friends Deirdre, Jean and Shirley.

Merrion House appears to be a strange amalgamation of two or three Georgian buildings into one block, divided into flats. Fitzwilliam Street’s claim to fame was that of being the longest Georgian street in the British Isles — until the ESB knocked down an entire section and build their monstrosity headquarters across the road from our flat.

Colourful characters occupied Merrion House; not least the caretakers Rose and Vincent who could usually be found in Larry Murphys on the corner of Baggot Street. Private detective Liam Brady had set up shop in the building too — I believe he’s still in business, albeit in a different location.

Kenilworth Square - the window to the right of the front door was our flat.

Kenilworth Square, Rathgar

After I got married, my wife and I moved into the last flat of my career, based in a large detached period house on Kenilworth Square in Rathgar. Small but sufficient, it served us mainly as a base during our house-hunting days.

If I thought my Christopher Cross neighbour in Ranelagh was annoying, I hadn’t heard anything yet. Our downstairs neighbour in Kenilworth made the windows rattle and rooftiles bounce with noise that had little to do with music and went on till all hours of the morning. The guards advised us to put a brick through his window, since there was little they could do if he started again after they left. Thankfully our landlord kicked him out fairly quicksmart, which was probably a better solution.

Oasis by the Dodder

Orwell Gardens

To blend in more with my adopted society, I joined in with the Irish obsession of owning your own home. We purchased 37 Orwell Gardens in 1995, a small, terraced house nestled in a cute former council development on the banks of the river Dodder.

We were lucky we didn’t drown when we lived there. In 1986, Hurricane Charlie had caused the Dodder to explode and most of Orwell Gardens was immersed in a foot of floodwaters. During another storm that raged just a few months after we had moved out, I watched from the balcony of The Dropping Well as the Dodder overflowed into the carpark and started carrying empty beer kegs downstream. Orwell Gardens, sandbagged this time, was safe from the floods — but I still felt more comfortable having moved uphill.

The start of the property boom had already seen house prices increasing rapidly, and when we decided to trade up in 1999, we got twice of what we originally paid for our wee home. That trend continued, but even after the crash, the current average price appears to be 3 times as much as what we forked out — I’d hate to think what they were worth at the height of the boom.

Somewhere in Goatstown

Baile na nGabhar

So that brings us to the end of my quest. I have finally settled in a three bedroom semi-de, not far from the homes of my very first Irish friends. My own kids are growing up here now, and I hope that to them it will be their Groenezoom.


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Heart Is Where The Home Is – Part 1

I’ve lived in quite a few different places over the years. This post deals with my various addresses in Holland.

Dutch Reformed Rectory, Oldeboorn

Rectory and church in Oldeboorn as seen by Google

In 1960s Holland, home births were the most common way for the country’s citizens to arrive on the scene. It was no different for me, even if I was born in Friesland which is technically not part of Holland — but that’s another blog post.

The home in question was the rectory in the village of Oldeboorn – my father was a minister with the Dutch Reformed Church who had recently been appointed to the job, our family moving from the much smaller village of Wolsum, where my brother and sister were born. It was a grand house, standing on the grounds of a former mansion, with a marble hallway and large gardens, right nextdoor to the 18th century church itself with its distinctive tower.

The rectory has since been converted to a community centre, and the upstairs bedroom where I was born is now a bar — appropriately enough, some might say.

The career of a young minister will require him and his family to move along to bigger and better paid postings on a regular basis. This is why my residence in the grand rectory of Oldeboorn was shortlived.

Dutch Reformed Rectory, Bergentheim

Rectory in Bergentheim, now demolished

In 1966 I had not yet turned three when we moved 100km south, to the village of Bergentheim which is stretched along the banks of the Almelo-de Haandrik Canal. Though not as grand as Oldeboorn’s rectory, our new home was still substantial.

It did not bring our family good fortune, however. On 10th March 1967, 9 days before my big brother’s 10th birthday and after just 10 years of marriage, my father died suddenly.

Our home was the property of the Church, and with my father gone, we simply had to move on. My mother was given 3 months to find alternative accommodation. Thankfully, one of my father’s colleagues came to the rescue.

Interestingly enough, the house and its bad memories did not outlive my father by much. It was torn down sometime in the 80s for reasons unknown to me.

Wethouder Imminkstraat, Lemele

Wethouder Imminkstraat, Lemele

Our next home had been purchased by my father’s colleague as his retirement home. With his retirement still some years away, my mother was able to rent the house for herself and her three small children.

Situated in the small village of Lemele at the foot of the “Lemeler Mountain” (a barely perceptivle bump in the landscape), this is the first home I can clearly remember. I made my first friends in the kleuterschool — equivalent to junior infants.

As I moved up a level to first class in primary school, my brother moved up at the other end of the scale to secondary school. It soon became clear that this was causing unforseen problems. His school was an hour and a half’s bus journey away, so that’s three hours travelling each day. My sister would have to endure the same hardship the following year, and our GP advised my mother that she’d best move somewhere closer to secondary schools.

Groenezoom 158, Rotterdam

Groenezoom 158, Rotterdam

In April of 1956 my mother walked out the front door of my grandparents’ rented home on the Groenezoom in Rotterdam, a married woman. Less than a decade and a half later, she walked back in — a widow with three kids.

My grandmother had suffered a stroke and had moved into a nursing home. My grandfather took us under his wing and cleared out his home of some 35 years to make room for our young family. When he too suffered a stroke on his 80th birthday, Pake — as we called him, Friesian for Granddad — joined Oma (Dutch for Granny because she felt that the Friesian Beppe sounded too old) in the nursing home.

The company in charge of managing the rented home would have kicked us out of the Groenezoom, since our family didn’t qualify as rental candidates. Luckily somebody somewhere pulled a few strings and we were allowed to stay — and that is how Rotterdam became the city where I grew up, in the same house that had been the home of my mother’s youth.

Settling in to this environment was quite a strain on my brother and sister, who had by now lived in 5 different places, substituting the countryside for the big city and losing their dad in the process. At the tender age of six, I was oblivious to all this, taking to my new surroundings like a duck to the Langegeer.

All three of us Kuipers kids went to the same secondary school that had been attended by my father, and when my brother and sister completed their Leaving Cert, they spread their wings to further their studies in Amsterdam and Groningen respectively. For five years I lived alone with my mother in number 158 on the Groenezoom, until it was my turn to seek adventure in Amsterdam when the Leaving was over and done with.

The JB2 gang, Joos Banckersweg 2, Amsterdam

Joos Banckersweg 2, Amsterdam

My brother was on the lookout for a new flat around the same time that I was moving to Amsterdam. He managed to secure a room for me in an apartment we ended up renting with two of his friends. The apartment was perfect and was my home for all of the four years I spent in Amsterdam.

As the new kid on the block, I had a single room on the top floor of the duplex, where the other three lads had two rooms each. When one of the original occupants moved out, I upgraded to his two-roomed space, and that’s the only time I moved house within Amsterdam, as it were. It was quite a different story in the next city I chose as home.


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Tune in next time for another exciting episode of “Heart is Where the Home Is”!

Waar komt die naam vandaan?

This article is also available in English

De meeste mensen die ik voor het eerst ontmoet spreken mijn naam verkeerd uit, en ik ben er zo langzamerhand aan gewend om Pierce, Piet of Pierre genoemd te worden. Nu geef ik toe dat ze allemaal dezelfde betekenis hebben, verwijzend naar de rots waarop Christus besloot Zijn kerk te bouwen (Mattheüs 16:18) — aardig toepasselijk voor de zoon van een dominee, lijkt me. Soms als ik er voor in de stemming ben, leg ik uit dat ik Pier heet, “zoals in Scheveningen”. Mijn naam is zelfs in Holland, waar ik ben opgegroeid, ongebruikelijk — en dat komt omdat het geen Hollandse naam is, maar uit Friesland komt — die meest Noordelijke provincie met haar eigen cultuur, taal en natuurlijk — stamboek vee.

Pier Haagsma and Minke Bosma, 26 June 1915

Pier Haagsma and Minke Bosma on their wedding day, 26th June 1915

Mijn ouders hebben de traditie waar de kinderen naar hun grootouders vernoemd worden ernstig opgevat. Mijn broer, als oudste zoon van de oudste zoon, werd vernoemd naar onze grootvader van vader’s kant — Harmannus, afgekort tot Mans — en zo werd een opeenvolging voortgezet die al generaties lang standhield. Mijn zus werd Minke genoemd, naar mijn grootmoeder aan mijn moeder’s kant, want de traditie schrijft voor dat de oudste dochter wordt vernoemd naar haar moeder’s moeder. Toen ik op het toneel verscheen, had ik Lammechien kunnen heten naar mijn vader’s geweldige moeder, maar ik ben van het mannelijke geslacht en zo werd ik de trotse naamgenoot van Pier, mijn grootvader van mijn moeder’s kant.

Pier Haagsma was blij en vereerd dat zijn kleinzoon naar hem vernoemd werd — zijn vrouw Minke Bosma was een beetje teleurgesteld, want “het wordt nooit een Haagsma”. Net als in de familie Kuipers was er een generaties lange traditie waarbij de oudste zoon de naam van zijn grootvader erft — Jacob verwekte Pier, Pier verwekte Jacob enzovoort, totdat Jacob Ids verwekte, vernoemd naar mijn oom (als tweede zoon was oom Ids vernoemd naar zijn grootvader van moeder’s kant) die in 1944 door de Duitsers was gefusilleerd. Als die tragische gebeurtenis niet had plaatsgevonden, zou de naam Pier geen keuze voor mijn ouders zijn geweest — zoals ik al zei, vernoemen werd door hen ernstig opgevat en ze vonden niet dat je een naam moet kiezen die al eerder in de familie is gebruikt. Zoals in Friesland gebruikelijk is, hebben zowel mijn broer, zus en ikzelf als het merendeel van onze Friese neven en nichten slechts één voornaam — mijn Amerikaanse nicht Esther Minke is een van de weinige uitzonderingen. Met haar tweede voornaam is Esther uiteraard vernoemd naar dezelfde grootmoeder.

Het is goed mogelijk dat mijn grootmoeder’s teleurstelling over het niet doorgeven van de familienaam gedeeld werd door een van de voorouders van haar echtgenoot. Het blijkt dat de naam Pier in 1811 zijn intrede in de familie Haagsma doet — nog voordat de naam Haagsma officieel is aangenomen — als Jan Jakobs trouwt met Ybeltje Piers. Jan en Ybeltje noemen hun eerstgeboren zoon Jakob naar zijn vader, zoals de gewoonte was. Als hun tweede zoon in 1817 geboren wordt, vernoemen ze hem natuurlijk naar de vader van Ybeltje en wordt dus Pier Jans — en aangezien Jan in 1815 de naam Haagsma heeft aangenomen in navolging van de nieuwe Napoleontische wet, is Pier Jans Haagsma de eerste persoon in een lange keten die werd verbroken toen mijn neef Ids Haagsma werd genoemd en ik Pier Kuipers.

Als kinderen waren we ons altijd heel goed bewust van de geschiedenis van onze familie, vooral van onze moeder’s kant. Foto’s van lang geleden overleden familieleden prijkten in alle hoeken van ons huis in Rotterdam, dat — al was het dan een huurhuis — zelf ook een familie erfgoed was, bewoond door leden van de Haagsma club sinds 1936 totdat mijn moeder naar Friesland terugverhuisde in 2002.

De portretten van Rinske Gietema en Jitske van Ketel, beiden gekleed in traditioneel Fries kostuum, hingen boven de trap. Zij waren mijn moeder’s grootmoeders, respectievelijk van haar vader’s en haar moeder’s kant, waarbij mijn moeder de naam Rinske erfde. Volgens de regels van de vernoemingstraditie, betekent dat dat mijn moeder een tweede dochter is, aangezien de naam van de maternale grootmoeder — Jitske — gereserveerd is voor de oudste dochter. Dat was inderdaad het geval, maar mijn tante Jitske de Lange-Haagsma en haar man Piet overleden allebei aan tuberculose in hetzelfde jaar waarin Ids werd gefusilleerd. Ze zijn slechts een jaar getrouwd geweest.

Birth Certificate Jitske van Ketel

Birth Certificate of Jitske van Ketel

Toen ik een paar maanden geleden bij mijn moeder op bezoek was, kwam het gesprek weer op de geschiedenis van onze familie. Tussen alle namen, foto’s en datums in mijn moeder’s indrukwekkende verzameling ontbrak haar nog altijd de preciese geboortedatum van Jitske van Ketel. Google bracht uitkomst en in een mum van tijd zat ik verdiept in tientallen genealogische websites, nieuwsgroepen en email lijsten. Dat wat we zochten kwam al snel aan het licht — 26 September 1855, vergezeld van een kopie van de pagina uit het desbetreffende geboorteregister. Wat ik echter niet verwacht had, was de lawine van informatie die na deze ontdekking loskwam.

De geboorte akte vertelt ons dat Jitske van Ketel de oudste dochter was van Bauke Ygrams van Ketel and Trijntje Baukes Tiemstra. Gebruikmakend van onze vernoemingsformule, kunnen we hier uit afleiden dat Trijntje’s moeder Jitske moet hebben geheten. Wat we ook kunnen aannemen, is dat haar oudste broer Ygram geheten moet hebben — dat wil zeggen, als ze tenminste broers had. Het begint spannend te worden.

De voorchristelijke stammen – inclusief de Friezen – die Noord-West Europa bevolkten voordat Ierse monniken verschenen om het evangelie te verspreiden, geloofden dat hun ziel voortleefde in nakomelingen die naar hen vernoemd waren. Als een oprechte heiden was je verplicht om je kinderen naar je ouders te vernoemen om zo het voortleven van hun ziel te garanderen. Het blijkt dat zelf in de Christelijke tijden, de daaropvolgende traditie met een zekere mate van fanatisme in ere werd gehouden.

Hoewel de namen waarover u tot nu toe gelezen hebt misschien al ongewoon genoeg lijken, is het zo dat Ygram zelfs in Friesland erg zeldzaam is. Terwijl ik de details van Jitske van Ketel’s broers en zussen doornam, werd het me duidelijk dat haar vader tot het uiterste is gegaan in zijn pogingen om het voortleven van zijn vader’s ziel te verzekeren. Jitske had inderdaad een oudere broer met de naam Ygram, maar hij stierf in 1871 toen hij net 20 was en zonder kinderen. Na de dood van Ygram worden er niet minder dan nog eens vier zoons geboren. Alle vier overlijden ze als ze slechts een paar maanden oud zijn, and alle vier heetten ze Ygram.

De beschikbare gegevens over mijn voorouders, de van Ketels, gaan veel verder terug dan welke andere familietak ook. Gebruikmakend van de naam Ygram als herkenningspunt, gaat het spoor eerst terug naar 1661, als Jancke Ygrams van Achlum de naam in de familie introduceert door met Jan Alberts van Ketel te trouwen. Jancke’s moeder was een dame die Sara van Vierssen heette, en de familie van Vierssen is terug te voeren tot begin zestiende eeuw – dat is 12 generaties, teruggeteld vanaf mijn eigen generatie.

Louis IV, Holy Roman Emperor

My Great(x18)-Grandfather ?

De stamboom houdt daar niet op – integendeel. Als we hoe langer hoe verder terguggaan in de tijd, komen we uiteindelijk terecht bij een meisje met de naam Elisabeth, die ergens in het midden van de veertiende eeuw geboren is. Men zegt dat zij een buitenechtelijk kind was van Willem V, Graaf van Holland en Zeeland, ook bekend onder de naam Willem I, Hertog van Beieren. Deze Willem was de zoon van niemand minder dan Lodewijk IV, bijgenaamd “de Beier”, Keizer van het Heilige Roomse Rijk, die leefde en regeerde in de eerste helft van de veertiende eeuw.

Onlangs heb ik De Naam van de Roos van Umberto Eco weer eens herlezen, en deze keer vanuit een nieuw gezichtspunt. Wanneer de Heilige Roomse keizer in het verhaal ter sprake komt, gun ik mezelf het plezier om deze historische figuur te beschouwen als mijn overgrootvader tot de 18e macht verheven. Ik vraag me af waar ik terecht kan om aanspraak te maken op de troon?

Oh, en voor het geval u me niet gelooft — ga maar even na:

Pier Kuipers Pedigree

My Claim to the Throne of the Holy Roman Empire

Bronvermelding

Ernst-Jan Munnik en zijn berichten aan de Yahoo nieuwsgroep Friesland-Genealogy:
Bericht 19254
Bericht 19256
Alle Friezen, website die wil laten zien wat er in de Friese gemeentearchieven is te vinden
Genealogie Online
Tresoar, website van het Fries Historisch Museum
Google and Wikipedia
My mother’s archive

What’s in a Name?

Dit artikel is ook verkrijgbaar in het Nederlands

Most people I meet have trouble getting my name right and I’m quite used to being called Pierce, Peter or Pierre. Admittedly they all mean the same thing, referring to the rock on which Christ decided to build His church (Matthew 16:18) — quite fitting for the son of a vicar, it would seem. If I’m in the mood, I may explain that it’s Pier, “as in Dun Laoghaire” or “as in jumping off the Pier”. Even in Holland, where I grew up, the name is unusual — and that’s because my name is not Dutch, but hails from Friesland, the most northern province of the Netherlands with its own distinct heritage, language, and of course — cattle.

Pier Haagsma and Minke Bosma, 26 June 1915

Pier Haagsma and Minke Bosma on their wedding day, 26th June 1915

My parents took the tradition of naming their children after their respective own parents very serious. My brother, being the oldest son of the oldest son, became the bearer of our paternal grandfather’s name — Harmannus or Mans for short — thereby continuing a sequence that’s lasted for generations. My sister was named Minke after my grandmother on my mother’s side, because tradition has it that the oldest daughter is named after her mother’s mother. When I arrived on the scene, I would have been called Lammechien after my father’s wonderful mother; only I’m of the male variety and so became the proud namesake of Pier, my maternal grandfather.

Pier Haagsma was happy and honoured to have his grandson named after him — his wife Minke Bosma was slightly disappointed that I “would never be a Haagsma”. Like the Kuipers family, there had been a generations old tradition of the oldest son inheriting his grandfather’s name — Jacob begot Pier, Pier begot Jacob and so on, until Jacob begot Ids, who was named after my uncle (as the second son, uncle Ids had been named after his maternal grandfather) who was executed by the Germans in 1944. If it wasn’t for that tragic event, the name Pier would not have been an option to my parents — like I said, they were serious about naming and didn’t believe in using a name that had already been claimed by another family member. In the Friesian tradition, me and my brother and sister as well as most of our Friesian cousins do not have a middle name — my American cousin Esther Minke being one of the few exceptions. With her middle name, Esther is of course named after — or for, as the Americans would say — the same grandmother.

My grandmother’s disappointment with me not carrying the Haagsma family name may well have been shared by one of her husband’s ancestors. It turns out that the name Pier arrives in the Haagsma family in 1811 — before the Haagsma name had even been officially adopted — when Jan Jakobs marries Ybeltje Piers. Note that the letter S after the second name denotes “son or daughter of”. Jan and Ybeltje name their first born son Jakob after his father, as was the norm. When their second son is born in 1817, he is of course named after Ybeltje’s father and so becomes Pier Jans — and since Jan has adopted the family name of Haagsma in 1815 in accordance with the new Napoleonic law, Pier Jans Haagsma is the first person in the lineage that was broken when my cousin became Ids Haagsma and I became Pier Kuipers.

As children we were always very much aware of our family history, especially on my mother’s side. Photographs of relatives long deceased adorned every corner of our home in Rotterdam, which — although rented — was in itself a family heirloom, occupied by members of the Haagsma clan since 1936 until my mother moved back to Friesland in 2002.

The portraits of Rinske Gietema and Jitske van Ketel, both dressed in traditional Friesian garb, were hung in the stairwell. They were my mother’s paternal and maternal grandmothers respectively, my mother carrying on the name Rinske. Following the rules of the naming traditions, that would mean that my mother is a second daughter, since the name of the maternal grandmother — Jitske — was reserved for the oldest daughter. This was indeed the case, but my aunt Jitske de Lange-Haagsma and her husband Piet both died from tubercolosis, in the same year that also witnessed the tragic death of Ids. They had been married for only a year.

Birth Certificate Jitske van Ketel

Birth Certificate of Jitske van Ketel

When I was visiting my mother a few months ago, we started talking about our family’s history once again. Among all the names, photographs and dates in my mother’s vast collection, the one thing she was missing was the precise birth date of Jitske van Ketel. Google came to the rescue and I soon found myself ploughing through dozens of genealogical websites, news groups and mailing lists. What we were looking for quickly came to light —the 26th September 1855, along with a copy of the entry in the relevant registry of births. What I had not expected however, was the avalanche of information that followed this discovery.

The birth certificate tells us that Jitske van Ketel was the oldest daughter of Bauke Ygrams van Ketel and Trijntje Baukes Tiemstra. Using our naming formula, we can deduce that Trijntje’s mother’s name must have been Jitske. What we can also assume, is that her oldest brother would have been called Ygram — if she had any brothers, that is. The plot thickens.

The pre-Christian tribes — including the Friesians — who occupied North-Western Europe before Irish monks came along to spread the Gospel, believed that their spirit would live on in descendants who bore their name. As a good pagan, you were obliged to name your children after your parents to ensure the survival of their souls. It appears that even in Christian times, the resulting tradition was pursued with a degree of fanaticism.

Although the names you’ve read about so far may seem unusual, Ygram is in fact very rare even in Friesland. Looking through the records of Jitske van Ketel’s siblings, I disovered that her dad went to extreme lengths in looking after the wellbeing of his father’s soul. Jitske did indeed have an older brother called Ygram, but he died in 1871 when he was just twenty and with no children of his own. Following Ygram’s death, no less than four more sons are born. All die when they are only a few months old — and all four were called Ygram.

The available records of my ancestors the van Ketels go back much further than any other branch. Using the name Ygram as a marker, the trail first goes back as far as 1661, when Jancke Ygrams van Achlum introduces the name into the family by marrying Jan Alberts van Ketel. Jancke’s mother was a lady by the name of Sara van Vierssen, and this family has been traced back as far as the early 1500s — that’s 12 generations back from my own.

Louis IV, Holy Roman Emperor

My Great(x18)-Grandfather ?

The pedigree does not stop there, however — far from it. Moving further and further back in time, we come across a girl by the name of Elisabeth who is born sometime in the mid 14th century. She is said to have been an illegitimate child of William V, Count of Holland and Zeeland, also known as William I, Duke of Bavaria. William was the son of no other than Louis IV, Holy Roman Emperor, who lived and ruled in the first half of the 14th century.

I recently read Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose for a second time and with a slightly different perspective. When the Holy Roman Emperor is mentioned in the story, I now allow myself to think of this historic figure as my great18-grandfather. I wonder where I should go to claim my rightful place on the throne?

Oh, and in case you don’t believe me — check this out:

Pier Kuipers Pedigree

My Claim to the Throne of the Holy Roman Empire

Credits

Ernst-Jan Munnik and his messages to the Yahoo newsgroup Friesland-Genealogy:
Message 19254
Message 19256
Alle Friezen, website that presents data from Frisian municipal archives
Genealogie Online
Tresoar, website of the Friesian Historic Museum
Google and Wikipedia
My mother’s archive

The Urge For Going

In fourth year of secondary school in Rotterdam, we were asked to write a French essay on the subject “voudriez-vous vous habiter à l’étranger?” — “would you live abroad?” I remember it well, rambling on about how I wouldn’t mind spending some time travelling the world, but concluding that I would never wish to move away from Holland permanently.

Famous last words.

It’s now almost 25 years since I came to live and work in Dublin — and so I have spent more than half my life away from the home of my French essay. Of course I’m still a blow-in, although it appears that being Dutch is not half as incriminating as being from, God forbid, Cork or some other culchie place.

Ireland has been good to me, even if the romantic idea of playing the pipes by the turf fire in a cottage somewhere in county Clare is not something that has become a regular part of my life here. I’ve always played it safe, and moving to Ireland was something I did only after I secured a job so I would not have to depend on busking for a living.

Europe was in a recession back in 1986, although I don’t remember anyone calling it that. I had finished a two year course in Finished Art at the Amsterdamse Grafische School and decided to enroll for another course to turn me into a proper designer. I didn’t get very far. Having spent the summer doing freelance work, a return to the school benches felt like a step backwards.

There were other factors that contributed to my sudden decision to pack up and go — although I suppose a 23 year old does not need much of an excuse to develop itchy feet. My friend and oboe teacher Joost Flach had set an example of how you can take control of your life, when jobs for oboists were at a premium after he graduated from the Amsterdam Conservatory. In 1984 he took a job with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and has been living in South East Asia ever since. It was Joost’s radical move that planted the idea in my head that you can always try your luck abroad.

I had been on holidays in Ireland just once before, in the summer of 1984. While the rest of the world was watching Live Aid, I took uilleann pipes lessons at the Willie Clancy Summer School in Miltown Malbay, co. Clare. After a week I was joined by my friends Bill and Jochum and together we hiked across the Burren and Connemara.

Plans to return to Ireland for another holiday were thwarted through lack of funds. The closest I got to anything Irish were frequent music sessions in The String, just off Dam Square. And then I suffered a broken heart (but that’s another story) and one night I announced to my brother’s understandable bewilderment that I’d had enough and was going to move to Dublin. My brother and I shared an apartment with two other guys at the time. Their joined efforts at making me rethink such a drastic decision did little to divert me from the road ahead.

I have been asked that question many, many times: why Dublin? The connection with Irish music was one reason, the fact that they speak English another. I had wanted to go back anyway, so why not try and live and work there for a few months?

As it turns out, there was in fact a good reason not to move to Ireland: the Irish themselves were leaving en masse. “Will the last one to leave please turn off the light” is said to have been painted on the outside of my namesake in Dun Laoghaire, at a time when more than 40,000 people a year were leaving Ireland for good. Jobs in 1980s Ireland were a rare commodity, but I was determined to find one.

Armed with photocopies of the advertising and printing sections from Dublin’s Golden Pages, kindly sent to me by the Irish embassy in The Hague, I set out to write 200 cold call applications. Only 17 companies bothered to respond with the familiar “we’ll keep your CV on file” — and then there was the single phone call that changed my life.

Irish International was one of the bigger advertising agencies that were dotted around Dublin’s Fitzwilliam Square area. They happened to be on the lookout for a competent finished artist when my letter arrived. As it turns out, formal training in finished art did not exist in Ireland, and the job was usually given to design graduates with higher aspirations.

I was asked to come over for an interview, and on the 10th September I was in Dublin for the second time in my life, scanning the impressive Georgian doors I had photographed two years previous. When the formalities were over and done with, I was told that I got the job and brought to Sachs Hotel for a liquid lunch, in good old Dublin advertising tradition. All I had to do now, was go home to pack for a one-way trip.

Schiphol, 22nd September 1986

Schiphol, 22nd September 1986

Two days after my 23rd birthday, friends and family flocked to Schiphol Airport to bid me farewell in a bizarre reversal of Irish fortune. As always, my wonderful mother fully supported my decision, my brother reckoned that moving from one big city to another is probably less traumatic than moving between rural and urban habitats, and my sister would be the first to visit me in my newfound home.

Joost and I now share the common bond of being expats. What did not strike me as relevant at the time, is that we both hail from Friesland — and like the Irish, the Friesians have a tendency towards emigration; much more so than people from other parts of the Netherlands. America and Canada were popular destinations with tens of thousands of my fellow tribesmen and -women over the years, and the parallel with the Irish diaspora is remarkable.

In keeping with this Friesian characteristic, my mother’s family has seen its fair share of emigration, my uncle Meinte moving to the States in the early 50s. The other two uncles passed the buck to my generation, with cousins from both families settling in America and Spain respectively. And so it appears that the urge for going is part of my genetic makeup.

By moving to Ireland from Holland in pursuit of a career in advertising, I unwittingly became part of yet another tradition. Nick van Vliet, Gerry Huisman and Willie van Velzen are just some of the names associated with a wave of Dutch graphic artists who invaded Ireland in the latter part of the 20th century to exploit a gap in the market. Having a Dutchman on the studio’s payroll appears to have become the holy grail for Irish ad agencies in those days. This might be the reason why MD Finbar Costello invited me to join him and his team at a client briefing in my first week in the job — his agency could now boast two Dutch graphic artists, since Willie van Velzen Jr. had joined their ranks earlier.

On holidays in the sun a year or two ago, my sister-in-law was discussing the merits of moving to Spain to live and work there. In all innocence she asked me if I would ever consider such a move. The truth is, I wouldn’t mind spending some time travelling the world, but I would never wish to move away from home permanently.

Been there, done that.