Hello, well, if you’ve arrived here, you’ll know that my name is Gemma. I’m not the kind of person who goes about telling people about myself – but then, when you think about it, there aren’t many that do. So this is to give you a brief look at who I am. Because if I’m in Germany, people think I’m either from Hamburg – or if I’m in Hamburg, that I come from Holland. If I’m in Holland, they think I come from Germany.

Mugs of coffee in the restaurant car of a German train, this time, full ones. With my friend Hendrik.
Coffee and cake in the restaurant car of a German train, this time, full ones. With my friend Hendrik.

The one thing they never think is that I’m British. Which, by the way, I am. Not that they’d know, because in assuming I’m from Hamburg/Holland/Germany, they’ve already formed their own opinion – an opinion based on their own knowledge. Not any facts, you understand: facts aren’t needed when it’s obvious, right? Their decision was made on the ‘normality’ of their lives, things that are so usual that you don’t need to think about them – otherwise known as assumptions. They assume that I am from Hamburg/Holland/Germany because they’ve never met a Brit that speaks anything else than, well, British.

You see, on waking, I drink tea with milk in it like the English do; but I do follow it up with a double shot of strong Dutch coffee after breakfast.

Which kinda sums me up, really: people assume things about me that may – or may not be – true.

So this is to put a few things straight: because the British assume as many things as any European. The Brits just do it in a way that is peculiar to the Brits, like assuming that all politicians are as selfish and as greedy. Not to mention as intolerant as any Brit. But then, a dishonest European politician is as rare as the English person who speaks flawless Dutch. But the Brits still rant on about how European politicians are antisocial criminals – and the Europeans still expect the English to be antisocial in expecting everybody to speak English.

Never, ever, get on the wrong side of a Brit: you’ll regret it. Thankfully, the Brits are expert at avoiding each other’s sore-spots. Just like any culture on earth. I’ll tell you this, though, touch that sore spot and you’ll wake ’em up! But then, that’s what avoiding sore-spots is all about, isn’t it? Remaining asleep.

Well, that’s my job in a nutshell: finding those people – be they British, German, French, or Dutch – to determine who it is that has the ability to handle their sore-spots and thus awaken themselves to the realities of the world we live in. Rather than the version they see every night on the telly. I spoke of one such meeting on a train to Hannover in northern Germany, where to my surprise, the young man and his wife were more than happy to meet my proddings – there’s no better word for what I do – with questions that expressed their own viewpoint. (You can read the post here.)

Two rivers meet in Germay, at dawn. For all Germany's industrialization, it's more like France than most people realize.
Two rivers meet in Germany, at dawn. For all Germany’s industrialization, the countryside is more like France than most people realize.

I can learn from any person I meet, but it is usually to find that they are in some way stereotypical; sometimes irritatingly so! There was a time when I had two gentlemen, each on the other side of the world, saying the same thing down to the dot and comma. Talk about inexpressive… which is what this blog is really all about: what it is to be human, that is to say, an individual rather than just another drone.

So, that’s how people see me, and how I see them. You also know that I’m a Brit who speaks four languages fluently (okay, so you didn’t know that, but it was inferred) and I live in Europe. I can get by in half a dozen more. But the point isn’t to brag: it’s to demonstrate that I am interested in everybody I meet, even if they’re not interested in me.

Which, being a fifty something frump means quite a lot of them.

Why would a businessman with thirty years’ experience in seeing his profits eroded be in need of advice? At least, from someone he presumes to be ignorant. Well, he would if he spoke to me, and listened. Oh, and he was willing to speak of the things he does – which is the first key in knowing that somebody is at home with themselves and the things they do. Because most people aren’t. But that’s why they go around assuming things, like ‘she’s female and fifty and so knows nothing at all.’ It’s the best defence on the planet. (Read more on this theme, here).

If defence is what you want in your life. But then, that attitude leads directly to a businessman that sees his profits slowly eroded as the years pass. If you’ve read any of my posts on dementia, you’ll know that this is the same spiral of negative feedback. A little like the thinking that drives austerity – rather than taking a few carefully measured risks to see an economy grow. The little Austrian town of Wörgl is a case where they did invest, and in an ingenious way. That, by the way, is for a future post – and just in case you are interested, there are around thirty posts in the pipeline. My usual problem is that there’s always something new to discuss…

And it’s nice to have a few readers who have the self-confidence to comment. There are a few who have contacted me privately to say that they lack this; but then, my question to them is “why!?” Why do they lack the confidence to express themselves? What is so hard about thinking for yourself… but then, that’s why so many people prefer the negative feedback that leads to dementia, rather than that which leads to life.

So: you know I’m intelligent and easy to speak with – well, I am, just as long as you are. I’m also old enough to be wary of those I meet, and can put up walls if anybody should want them of me. I’m also divorced. There! Something new. Well, it should be obvious, shouldn’t it? Who wants me around, cluttering an otherwise pleasant home??? Mind you, I don’t need someone who treats me as part of the furniture – or worse, as a being who is defined by the clauses in the marriage contract. Fuck off!

(Oh, and I did!)

So don’t think I want a man just because he thinks that I like the thought of him driving a large car down a congested motorway. And my applauding his inability.

Thus, I live alone and I couldn’t be happier. I have a good few friends – more acquaintances really – who live in my village. Of the true friends, those with whom I can speak with openly and from whom I learn a very great deal, there are half a dozen here in the Netherlands where I live. Some of them I am lucky enough to meet every week. There are as many in Germany, which is my second home. These people keep me alive.

A Dutch train at my local station.
A Dutch train at my local station.

I’m not going to give you my address – either here or in Germany. My headline picture is from the marketplace Naumburg Germany. You won’t have heard of it. Here in Holland, I live in a village you’ve never heard of either, nor need to. As you can imagine, it is connected to the rest of Europe in a way that in Britain is practically unimaginable. My nearest city is Utrecht and has direct rail connections to Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Poland and of course, Germany. Two changes of train – from the station in my village – can see me in Berlin, Vienna, Paris, Budapest, Marseilles, Rome, or Moscow.

It’s not as if the Dutch railways are that good, but at least they work – mostly – and provide a half hourly service from six in the morning until well after midnight. I’m afraid the Dutch are a little dim, dim enough to think themselves intelligent. When all they’re doing is following a rule-book that was written by people as stupid as they are. But then, if they don’t question this, they are going to think that their kind of intelligence is how everybody thinks. It’s a little like the British assuming that Europeans think like the British do…

He's not as old as he looks...
He’s not as old as he looks…
Illustrated drop-cap for my book. This for Chapter three of Part One.
Illustrated drop-cap for my book. This for Chapter Three of Part One.

And there’s nothing I can do about it.

Save find the occasional communicative soul that is lost in a sea of assumptions.

As to my real work, I write books. Okay, put better, I’m writing one that if all goes well, will be published next summer. It’s all about the guy on the right, who isn’t as old as he looks. But that’s what the story’s all about. All right, so it isn’t, but isn’t that the point? That even if you do know the ending, you don’t know how it gets there… and more importantly, enjoy reading to the end.


Oh, and I forgot! I’ve got a cat called Misho who is as friendly as anyone could wish for. I also have a garden.


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