Nathan Wharton,from Tosside, got involved in Stephen to Avenham, here he writes about his trip to Holland to meet PeerGroup
This August when I was in the Crowtrees pub I was lucky enough to meet some lovely new friends Steyn de Leeuwe, Marin de Boer, Roos Euwe and Sjoerd Wagenaar. Sjoerd is the leader of a Dutch company called Peergroup, Marin also works for PeerGrouP, Roos was an intern from Amsterdam and Steyn an actor from Amsterdam. After a few drinks and a good chat (about George the ghost of Crowtrees) they invited me to take part in two local performances they were working on, one in the forest of bowland and the other in the Preston Guild festival, both performances went well, but as it was the first time I’d done anything like this before I found it very scary talking in front of so many people, but when it was done I felt proud to have taken part. After the performances had finished they surprised me by inviting me over to Holland to Peer group to see what they do.
It was the end of November when I went over to Holland and after being scared half to death on the flight I was picked up by Steyn at Schiphol airport, he was very kind and was letting me stay at his and his girlfriend Nola’s home, he was also showing me around Amsterdam, in Holland it is very flat and because of this everybody travels around on bicycle, there are 1.2 million bicycles in Amsterdam which I found strange as there are only 900000 people that live there.
Steyn had managed to borrow his friend’s bike, and I was to ride on his, unfortunately I don’t ride bikes very often and somehow managed to break his bike on the first evening after been taken to a leaving party of one of his friends that was leaving for India the next day. The next morning I felt guilty about breaking the bike but he said he found it funny.
Steyn thought that as I was in Holland I should try some of the local food all of which were very nice however I was slightly concerned when he informed me that I would be trying raw Herring with onions and gherkins, when I tried it I was pleasantly surprised. He showed me some brilliant things in Amsterdam but the highlights for me where definitely the day we went to see the van Gogh museum we also met up with Roos and Joran de Boer who took part in the second performance in England and is studying theatre science in Amsterdam and is also Marin’s sister. Whilst in Amsterdam I went to see a performance with Steyn and Joran, that Steyns girlfriend Nola was working on, she is a costume designer. It was all in Dutch but Steyn helped me out by telling the general story and although I couldn’t understand the words I did get some of the funny bits and got the storyline as well because there was a lot of music involved, so I enjoyed it a lot.
After the show we went for some drinks and I met some of the actors that took part in the show, another reason why it’s so nice in Holland is everyone gets taught English in school and they were all nice enough to use it when talking to me which was handy as I can’t speak a word of Dutch.
On the third day it was time to travel up to the north of Holland to a province called Drenthe, the North of Holland is allot different to Amsterdam it is very rural quite similar to the Yorkshire dales or the Ribble valley except everywhere is flat. This was nice because even though I had a wonderful time in Amsterdam it was nice to be back in the countryside and out of all the noise and madness of the city, how I didn’t get run over by a bicycle I’ll never know!
I travelled two hours by train to a town called Assen where Marin picked me up we went to her home in a village called Gasselte where she was kindly letting me stay for the weekend. I dropped off my luggage and met her two friendly cats, ( Sjoerd also lives at the other side of the same village), we then travelled to Donderen where the base of PeerGrouP is, before I arrived at peer group I thought it was going to be a small theatre company, but as soon as I arrived it was obvious I was wrong, it was huge, situated in an ex- military base there was 25 bunkers all approximately 25m by 10m, all containing different things for example one was full of lights another packed with costumes and another filled with tools.
When in the main offices of peer group I met some of the other people that worked there. Another thing that surprised me when I arrived at PeerGrouP was they have another group called peerjong which is a group for people from the ages from 14 to 20 who want to get involved in making performance’s, I think this is a good thing because it helps them to meet new people and to make them more confident and outgoing. As it happened the weekend I went it was the 5th anniversary of peer jong starting so they were making a performance for their parents and friends, I didn’t take part but tried to help out as much as I could.
On the second day there I was to meet the members of peerjong for the first time and as this was a celebration weekend there was members past and present, but 1st Sjoerd was to show me a city about the size of Blackburn called Groningen I was told it is the city that never sleeps this is because there are so many students that live there and all the pubs and clubs stay open till 8am, it was a beautiful city with lots of nice buildings the most impressive being the cathedral it looked as tall a Blackpool tower, I’ve never seen a cathedral as big as it.
When back at Peergroup we all got asked to make a meal that you like, and was local to you. I made shepherd’s pie! Before everyone tucked in you had to introduce yourself and tell each other why this meal was special to you, again I was scared of speaking in front of so many people but this time I think the fact I was the only English person there made it even scarier because I didn’t know whether they were all going to understand me or not, so I kept it as short and sweet as possible. Although I did think this was a nice way for everyone to get to know each other.
Later that evening we went to Sjoerd’s house for a drink; I met his son Peer for the first time and saw his wife Irma who I’d met before when she was in England, Sjoerd like Steyn was also keen on me trying Dutch things so we were drinking a Dutch whiskey called beerenburg it was very pleasant and I definitely slept well that night.
The following day was the day of the performance for peerjong and everyone was busy, to be honest at times I felt like a spare part but everyone was very friendly and tried to help me as much as possible. The performance went well and everybody seemed happy with what they had achieved, afterwards there was an award ceremony and a party, A good night was had by all.
After the busy weekend Marin showed me around the local area first we went to see some Hunebedden they are what I can only describe as a cross between the Norber boulders in Ingelton and Stone Henge, there are 50 different Hunebedden and they are only found in Drenthe They are believed to be tombs for important people 5000 years ago but nobody knows for sure, like stone henge and the pyramids it is a bit of a mystery how they were built. I have to admit it is impressive how they have got the stones on top of each other with no machinery.
Next we went to visit Kamp Westerbork this was an in interesting place to visit although not a very nice one as it is a transportation camp for all the Jews of Holland like Anne Frank to be transported to concentration camps like Auschwitz. Whist there, there was also a nature trail teaching you about astronomy with some massive radio telescopes at the end of it.
I had a great time over in Holland, I learned and experienced some very interesting things. I would like to thank all the people that made it all the more convenient and pleasurable for me. Hopefully they will be returning to England soon.