My long road

Hi there. This page shows you the long road that has taken me to where I am now. On this page, I don’t say much about the relentless contempt, hate and sadistic abuse that I’ve been showered with in Portsmouth.

For a brief bio, click here (PDF).

We are all unique, take up a unique spot in a multidimensional space. So we all have something unique to contribute to society. But we also all have much more in common than is different about us. It’s the differences that stop life from being unbearably boring (though life in England is probably beyond rescue).

I often call myself a critical thinker and researcher these days, but perhaps I am an educator, about something that boils down to “human suffering” or maybe you can think of words like “inclusivity” and “otherization”. You can see me as an advocate, too, if you want, or an activist, a thought leader or a ninja warrior or simply opinionated. You can also see me as a loser. I don’t care. It makes no difference to me. I am just another human being, nothing more, nothing less.

I already became a feminist when I was still in primary school. The disparities were obvious to me. So I decided to make my own choices instead of doing what society dictated. That would make life much more interesting, in my eyes.

My main professional background is in the earth and life sciences, but before I became a scientist, I used to work in tourism and hospitality in Amsterdam. In those days, I dealt with people from all over the world, with very diverse backgrounds, habits and communication styles.

That’s me in my tourism days, second on the right (glasses, tweed blazer, silk burgundy scarf, likely wearing a plaited skirt and penny loafers), interacting with my youngest sister who clearly just said something “daring” to me and is pulling a face in mock fear of my response, making me smile. The guy with the distant look behind me is a real estate “mogul” these days. We don’t have English class nonsense in the Netherlands so his dad wasn’t a Duke or a Lord and his mother no Duchess or Countess or MBE; his parents did not go to university and his mom was a homemaker.

The woman in the chair is my maternal grandmother, after who I am named and after who I take in many ways. In her younger years, she was a professional cook for wealthy (German) families and she rode horses. She was highly interested in politics and societal matters. She maintained that interest throughout her life, but she ran a farm, having lost her husband young.

My dad also came from a farming background, but a much more limited one (hogs only). My grandmother had orchards and grain fields, and sugar beets, cattle and a variety of other farm animals. She lived nearby (with some of her children) and I spent a lot of time there during my summer school holidays (picking fruit).
Here is my youngest sister again, displaying a huge banner and handing out roses when I emigrated to Florida, my friends and siblings sending me off from Schiphol Airport. My youngest sister used to write poems, while my middle sister had a clear talent for drawing. I don’t have a good photo of the latter, but the best ones are still in my mind, one from when she was in kindergarten and another one taken when she spotted me, while descending a staircase at Tampa Airport.

I’m from the Netherlands, a prosperous and egalitarian country with a so-called feminine culture. The Dutch collectively do not glorify aggression and violence and feel that they each have a duty to have an informed opinion and a dialogue on important matters. The latter, that’s called democracy.

I spent the majority of my time in the Netherlands in Amsterdam. I indulged in Amsterdam’s rich cultural life, sometimes attending several performances per week. I also played squash, protested against South Africa’s apartheid on 11 June 1988 (when I was already working on my Master’s) and subscribed to the magazine Amandla as well as to Elegance, which I ditched for Avenue at some point, Avantgarde and one or two aviation magazines until I quit my job.

I took a flying lesson once, yes, and I loved it. I loved the freedom of movement of it – three rotation axes – and the skills and knowledge it required, but my less-than-perfect eyesight meant that I couldn’t become a commercial pilot in my home country. That made flying a little too expensive for me at the time and the nearest airport for flying lessons was at quite a distance, too.

I had finished secondary school with great distinction (magna cum laude), and with a package crammed full with the sciences and four languages. Before I moved to Amsterdam, I studied German language and literature for a semester, at the University of Leiden, which was founded in 1575. I was a whizz at languages and my level of German surpassed my level of Dutch in those days. I couldn’t picture myself as a language teacher, my likely profession after having graduated, and quit after that first semester.

My classes had been going well enough and I also was making friends. Leiden, like Amsterdam, is a canal city, very pleasant, milder in nature than Amsterdam. I lived at Oude Rijn and got along very well with my neighbors, too. I remember doing “Leidens Ontzet” with them, eating rolls with smoked mackerel and eel. I loved smoke eel. My dad used to bring it home with him occasionally, as a treat. (European eel is now critically endangered.) Or Pelle Pinda’s. Candied peanuts in a pointed white paper bag. They were often still warm, freshly candied.

I’d already started learning French when I was still in primary school, but my mother became severely ill with metastasised breast cancer and when her illness progressed, I had to cut my French classes. One of her breasts had been amputated; the wound wouldn’t heal so she never recovered from the surgery. She had some form of chemo – but not really chemo as there was no hair loss – at home (given intravenously if I recall correctly). It had as side effect that it made her white count go down, which therefore had to be monitored. When that got too low, the medication was stopped for a while.

(The first chemo as treatment on its own approved by the FDA for use in breast cancer patients was Pfizer’s doxorubicin, in 1974. It definitely wasn’t that, but I understand that adjuvant chemotherapy had already become standard in those days.)

My mother’s “chemo” came in clear glass ampoules and was quite unstable, a clear, slightly yellowish liquid. I often went to get these ampoules from the pharmacy and sometimes had to tell the pharmacy staff that the stuff had already gone bad (flocculation).

My mother also had radiation therapy (cobalt).

This long bare underground tunnel took you to an underground bunker away from underneath the De Weverziekenhuis (hospital), to the radiation facility that housed the “cobalt bomb”. That was on the right, at the end. You waited on the left. My mother’s oncologist was Dr Lokkerbol. There was also a Belgian female doctor, whose name I’ve forgotten, but she was very pleasant (also to me) and down to earth. My mother really liked her. Source photo:

But the cancer had already spread to for example my mother’s bones and her vocal chords.

That’s my mother, on the right, still a teenager at her parental home, the older sister who passed away due to a different cancer just before her own death sitting next to her in this photo. One day, that sister stopped by at our place on her way home from the hospital. She had taken the bus; there was a bus stop near our home. She stopped by to tell my mother why she had been to the hospital; she’d been bleeding. So, she had cancer of the cervix or of the uterus, I assume. One day, later, when hospital staff was about to wheel my mother’s hospital bed into the room in which her sister had died, my mother stopped them and requested a different room. She got it.

When I was 5, and the kindergarten wanted to keep me for another (third) year, because I was the youngest kid in the class, my mother objected too. So I entered primary school at 5 and remained both the kid who was the youngest and the one who had the best grades, throughout the entire six years.

When I was about 8, and we were asked to draw a map of our house, most kids took a page with a map from a local newsletter and indicated where their street was. Me, I took about one meter of a roll of paper (the backing to some sticky paper, for books or whatever) and drew our entire house and the garden as well as the features in it, more or less to scale. The teacher passed it around at school and it also made its way to the head of the school. By then, that was already Mr Willems, who had just started, I believe, but when I entered primary school, it was still run by Catholic nuns. It was girls-only. (My secondary school was a lot like that too.)

Late 1940s, I presume. (Look at the hole in that wall! A remnant of the war? Overdue maintenance because of the war?) One of my uncles in army uniform, not drafted to fight Germans but in Indonesia, flanked by my mother on the right and my mother’s other sister on the left. Another brother is not in this photo; he got his heart broken when the love of his life chose another man and he never recovered. He played the clarinet and sang in a choir. Later, when I was a teenager, he developed a brain tumor. He had a problem with his arm, but the doctors initially kept the diagnosis from him because the tumor was inoperable. They only told him about it later. Several of my mother’s siblings passed away in childhood. My mother’s other brother in this photo (the guy in the suit on her other side) once had a twin brother, for example.

My mother passed away at age 42, two of her siblings dying at around the same time, each succumbing to a different type of cancer, one a little earlier and one a little later. That taught me that life is too short to sweat the small stuff and that you have to live now. You can get hit by a bus tomorrow and then it’s all over. Make sure that whatever decisions you make aren’t so rigid that you would regret them if that were to happen.

Me not sweating the small stuff (shrugging) sometimes makes people mistakenly believe that they can walk all over me, by the way, but that is a different story.

My mother had me at 28, had a miscarriage 18 months after me (a boy whose name would have been Paul), and had my sisters 3 and 6 years after me.

My dad was not a well man either and I cut off all contact with him in my early twenties. I think he had a pretty severe borderline personality disorder, caused by something that happened in his childhood. I think it was fortunate that I realized at a young age that my dad was simply ill in some way. He didn’t always make sense; the logic was sometimes missing. I could see that. I used to say to myself that he simply didn’t know how to live.

He could get very upset over tiny things and it was always important to gauge what kind of mood he was in when he got home after work. He was a slave to negative emotions and for example had severe abandonment issues. He could go berserk from one moment to the next, as if something in his brain suddenly short-circuited. On at least one occasion, I managed to get a physician over who gave him an injection (likely with valium; my dad also had valium pills). My physics teacher very kindly once came over too and tried to help, but I don’t think he had a good idea of what he was dealing with. My dad engaged in all kinds of emotional blackmail (but he’s never once carried out an actual suicide attempt, to my knowledge).

At some point, my dad flipped out so badly that he did something that made him check himself into a mental health clinic (and that had made the neighbors call the police but they came, shrugged and left). That got my dad out of the house for a while, which gave us some air. (At least, that is how I felt about it. The three of us were probably exhausted and badly needed a break. I remember a moment, back then, when I was angry at my youngest sister – we were quarreling – and felt a tremendous urge to start hitting her like crazy, probably to get all the tension out of my system, but I caught myself and I am immensely grateful that I was able to. I hope I didn’t scare my sister to death that day.) I also had a lot of respect for my dad, for the fact that he checked himself into a clinic. That can’t have been easy.

(Since not saying what that was about is going to make people’s imagination run wild, I had better explain what happened. He tried to set fire to me. Because he flipped out. He was not trying to physically torture me, Portsmouth. The moment the rug I was standing on caught fire, he came to his senses, grabbed a heavy coat and put it on the flames. He’d also thrown a strong herbicide over all his beloved plants in the garden, but I don’t think a single plant died as a result. I too didn’t have a scratch on me, but I was frozen. My sisters grabbed me and we ran to the neighbors.)

My dad did later start seeing a shrink. I don’t know how long that lasted, but the guy contacted me at some point, wanting to check something that my dad had said about relatives, to gain some better insight into my dad. I met with him once; my sisters went with me, wanting to be supportive. I remember that we really looked like a very strong picture of unity that day, my sisters and I, when that shrink came out of his room to find the three of us sitting there instead of just me.

I found my dad’s “antics” very hard to deal with. They often made me miserable and exhausted. I was likely still too young to know that I probably basically should have told him exactly what to do. I found that out later, when I was visiting and staying in the room next to my sister’s, when I heard him talk to my youngest sister one night, threatening to kill himself. “Shall daddy put himself to sleep, then?” rattling a box with pills. He used to do that sort of stuff to me too (but I was in a different part of the house then and I hope that this meant that he was leaving my sisters in peace back then). I got angry, got up, told him to stop the nonsense and sent him back to his room. To my astonishment, he did exactly what I told him to do. I thought to myself “I wish I had tried that before!”

I don’t know if this works with all borderliners. What they are looking for is someone to share their emotional misery with (and 100% loyalty, in an also practically impossible way; that is the fear of abandonment). These tortured souls have a tendency to pull you down with them into their misery and can manage to make your feel responsible for how they feel (also because you can’t “fix” what ails them and that can make you feel like a failure). You need to find a way to pull them out of their negative mental loop, instead, and not give in too much, not pay too much attention to their drama, I suspect. That said, I am now thinking a) 40 to 60 years back, to my dad, to the extent that I still can because it’s all been so long ago, and b) of a friend of a friend, the former apparently having borderline too and possibly a bit of a tendency to create dramas and difficulties out of “nothing”, someone I quickly decided to stop interacting with when I realized that.

My dad – our family situation – was part of the reason why I quit my German studies; I was still trying to look after the family from many miles away. I eventually had to admit that I couldn’t help him, that I had no (beneficial) effect on him and I decided to save myself instead by cutting off all contact. I had to.

I also learned that, particularly in times of trouble, you need to look well after your health and your well-being to be able to function optimally. (If you don’t do that, if you aren’t there for yourself, you can’t be there for others either, by the way.)

I used to keep pretty quiet about most of this – and I loved school, so I was often quite happy as a teenager, with many people having no idea of my family life – though I have always been open about it with close friends, then as well as later. I can talk about all of this freely now as all or almost all the adults who were alive in those days are gone, including my dad. Within a month of developing pneumonia in 2016, my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. He passed away the next month, a few days before Christmas, and finally has peace.

That is, I was contacted by someone who informed me “your dad has passed away and if someone contacts you to ask you whether you want to accept your inheritance, you should say no”. After that, I was told about the illness, but the person did not want to tell me how that person had obtained that information as that person apparently had not been in contact with my dad for years. I asked around and someone told me that in the Netherlands, it is usually the police who looks for and contacts next of kin if no next of kin can be found.

Four years later, I decided to try and find out more. My family on my mother’s side is and has always been often oddly secretive (or in denial). I just found the announcement of his death; the address in it is no longer accurate, but I have redacted it anyway.

I on the other hand am somewhat surprisingly “middle of the road” and certainly fairly neurotypical. My mother told me that I was a very sweet, problem-free baby, but I’ve always had a mind of my own and have always been very strong-willed. I don’t necessarily say much about what I want (and that has at times been misinterpreted as me not knowing what I want).

I’ve always liked excelling at things, for the sake of excelling at them, for being “in the zone”, not to “beat” others. I liked having that focus of being in flow. I loved it! Bliss! But I also liked having a yardstick to compare myself against and I picked the grades of one of my friends in secondary school, to monitor how I was doing. She had no idea that I was keeping track of her grades (but she always did very well, which is why I picked her). I guess I needed a good way of knowing whether I was doing well, as my dad was not much help in that department. When I finished school I was not happy with my grades as I surely could have done better. For a while, I entertained the fantasy of retaking my exams…

Yep, that’s me in my crib. There is a small teal-ish-green folding album with black-and-white photos of me as slightly older baby (pulling ridiculous faces with high eyebrows) and my mother. That got left behind in the US. If anyone in the US ever comes across it, feel free to contact me about it.

It is fair to suspect that my dad taught my sisters and me some really crappy coping mechanisms that we all had to get over with, or learn to deal with, in our own ways. (Note the understated way of saying this.)

I also developed high-stakes negotiating skills very early in life. (Because I had to. Yes, you really have to when your only parent does things like suddenly flip out, floor the gas pedal and threaten to crash the car with your siblings and you in it and you’re the eldest.)

Folks, they are an asset! They’ve kicked in automatically a few times since and for example helped me stop a mugger from taking off with my passport, driving license and bank cards when I was living in Florida. It made my day.

Please note that my dad was not a bad man at all – to the contrary – and he also was a marvelous solver of practical problems, though he was not very intelligent.

We for example had a purpose built small brick building with wire netting on one side and a wooden, double-walled insulated wooden structure inside, its opening facing sideways so that the wind wouldn’t blow inside. There were also jute bags in it if I recall correctly. That’s where our dog lived. There were wood planks on the floor in front of the wooden structure so that the dog didn’t have to be on cold concrete all the time. These “dog facilities” were of course my dad’s creation (although I increasingly became the dog care over the years). Initially, our dog served as our alarm system as my dad had his own business and burglary attempts are much less likely to succeed if you have a shepherd barking loudly.

Also, when I was a little older, I used to nick packets of crisps from the store room (chips, in Dutch and American) and eat them in my room. Chocolate bars too. Butterscotch, mostly. And hazelnut. My dad must have known and he must have known it it was me, but he never said a word. This was after he no longer had the business, but I bet he knew.

My dad often felt out of his depth, and it bothered him, because he felt that it meant that he could not look after us optimally. He did not always know how to deal with us, also because he had grown up with only brothers. My sisters and I outranked him big time in the brain department; this, too, sometimes made him angry with us because it made him feel vulnerable.

I started taking my youngest sister clothes-shopping from some point onward because my sister, who’s always had a great sense of style and a very strong will, as young as she was, drove him nuts when he went shopping with her. He couldn’t handle it, couldn’t let her be. I didn’t argue with her why one collar was better than another one, which sucked, according to her, even when they both looked the same to me. I just let her do her thing, because she knew what she was doing. The main thing I did was check how much it cost. My other sister got along better with my dad, but she may have accommodated too much, wiped herself out too much, so to speak, growing up. I was pleased to see it when she started to change and came out of her shell. Yep, she sure has come around and grown a lot. We all have…

My dad ran his own retail business for a long time, loved gardening, had other hobbies as well and had a well-equipped workshop. He didn’t have a problem with alcohol or gambling or any other addictions and he always provided for us very well. We owned a pretty big house with a pretty huge garden and there was always plenty of food.

After my mother had passed away, when I wanted a large teddy bear for Sinterklaas – I’d seen it in a catalogue or a shop window – he went to ask one of our neighbors (mevrouw Van der Werf) whether it was appropriate for a girl my age to have a big teddy bear. (She said that it was fine and I got the bear. I simply liked it, though it was not particularly beautiful or special. I put it on display in my room.)

My dad also took me to a riding school one day (Chris and Jeannette Haazen’s), so that I could learn to ride horses properly and regularly. I cycled to the riding school on Saturdays – I think it was one hour each way; I was often quite exhausted the rest of the day – and would save up for extra lessons in the holidays. They cost 10 guilders per lesson, but later 15 or maybe that was for different horses or longer summer lessons. So that was about £3 back then. (Horse-riding is not as elitist in the Netherlands as it is in the UK.) We sometimes went outside, too, riding on the German border, often crossing it. I did this for about three years, until I moved away to go to university for the first time.

(These days, I have two nieces who ride horses.)

(Yes, Jeanette is a tiny woman, in terms of stature. As a teenager, I was already taller.)

And if it hadn’t been for my dad, I would never have learned to cycle. In the Netherlands, everyone has at least one bicycle, remember? My mother was a little bit too protective of me and I think she imagined me in traffic accidents and such. My dad came home with a bicycle one day, when I was still in primary school. He knew lots of people, through his work, and I think he bought it from or through one of his contacts. Later, he also went with me to buy an adult bike, so that I could cycle to secondary school and no longer needed to take the bus.

So you see, nothing is black and white.

What I’ve also learned is that our feelings are ours and our experiences are too, so we all remember the aspects of our lives that mattered to us as individuals. We all have our own unique perspective. I had the benefits of a few years of age and the input from my mother that certainly the youngest never got. From that unique perspective, you see history in your own way, with the information and feelings that you had at the time.

A few years can make a big difference. An example is that when I started going to school, there was still school on Saturdays, too, and wearing trousers was still not done for girls. (The Netherlands does not have school uniforms.) My first trousers were burgundy corduroy pants. I don’t think that my sisters experienced much of that, if anything. Certainly the youngest did not.

Again, as you see, nothing is black and white.

I was far from perfect, by the way. Yes, I later often accompanied my mother to the hospital, but I also ran away at least once. I was around ten when I took off on my bicycle one day, going to my aunt’s or my grandmother’s, after I’d gotten into a quarrel with my mother. My mother hopped on her own bike, eventually caught up with me and took me home. She was very cross with me. My dad was not amused either. My mother already had cancer back then, but I don’t think that it had already been diagnosed. Because what eventually got her diagnosed was the pain that the tumors in her bones caused. She ended up walking with a stick for a while, until she could no longer walk either.

My parents went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes in southern France at some point, organised by care organisation De Zonnebloem (which still exists today). They drew a lot of comfort and strength from that and it also got them out their normal environment for a while, of course. I think that interacting with other patients and their spouses helped a lot, people who were in the same boat. Lourdes is where Bernadette Soubirous had her visions.

Both my parents had little more than a primary school education. They met at a horse-racing event or a horse market, something like that. (My mom’s family had farm horses; her favorite horse was Jules and the small farm dog they had was called “Fikkie”.) My parents got married in Denmark. (I’m pretty sure that this was so that my mother’s family could avoid having to invite my dad’s family. I don’t think anyone’s ever said this out loud to me, though.) A relative of my mom’s who was living in Denmark – a cousin, I think – wed the pair; he was a Catholic pastor. The bridesmaids were two Danish girls. One of them was called Lotte, if I remember correctly. My mother also had two religious relatives in places like Malawi. (My dad had a cousin in Brazil; I briefly made contact with a relative there some years ago. I ran into him on Twitter. He is an agricultural engineer or agricultural scientist, or maybe forestry, something like that.) One of my mother’s cousins went to Australia with her family. Her husband installed our first TV (a Metz; Metz TVs are still made in Germany today) and also installed the adjustable (rotating) antenna for it that was located in our attic.

My mother was a homemaker, but developed cancer when she was somewhere around 30. She was misdiagnosed twice. The first time was when a nurse or some other mother-care practitioner (not the midwife) told her that the lump in her breast was likely just a swollen milk gland, nothing to worry about. The second time was when the family doctor sent her to physio. The physio caused so much pain that it was clear that something else was going on. My mother had previously had surgery for a kidney stone, but nothing else was noticed at the time. (In those days, kidney stones were still removed surgically, yes.) She kept the stone, in a small tube with a plastic cap.

Among other things, she bought a book about or by Linus Pauling (Vitamin C) and she was also the one who bought me my first mineralogy book. But she told me to become an air hostess so I could get to see the world and my grandmother told me to marry a doctor. Interestingly, I later applied to become an air hostess three times, got invited over each time – and even flown to another country once – but I never made the cut. I guess my heart wasn’t in it. (My dad, on the other hand, at one point suggested that becoming an accountant might be a good idea.)

We did not have many books, but I devoured whatever I could get from the library or for my birthday, and I was always the kid in the front seat at school (except when we had to do knitting, needlepoint and embroidery in primary school; I would position myself next to the cupboard with the books and read instead, if I could, and was often allowed to because I totally sucked at knitting). Enid Blyton became one of my favorite authors when I was a kid (translated of course). I loved the adventures of the famous five. Later, if I wanted a book that turned out to be in the adult section, I would tell library staff that I needed it for school, for Dutch literature. (Typing this is making me chuckle.) My dad bought an encyclopedia at some point as one did in those days. I loved that too.

My mother was not perfect either, of course. I mean, who is? In her drive to protect me, when I was still very young, far too young to understand what on earth she was talking about, my mother seems to have filled my head with a lot of nonsense one day. Something really puzzling happened, of which I think that it was probably a case of over-protectiveness on the side of both my parents, of them going a little overboard. That’s a story surrounded by questions to which I will never have all the answers. I asked my mother’s oldest sister some (general) questions when she was still alive, but she had no answers for me either. I have since come up with a theory of my own that I can live with and that seems to add up. Similarly, I am sure that there were habits or rules in our family that my siblings attribute to my dad but that were actually my mom’s doing. Yes, my mother had cancer but she too was merely human, as human as everyone else. Cancer does not change that.

Did I mention that I was always the youngest in my classes? My kindergarten had wanted to keep me for one more year, in fact, but my mother considered that nonsense, and let me continue. (Thanks.)

So my mother was not so crazy protective of me that she wanted to restrict me that way. She somehow had become a little too aware of the dangers that lurk in the world at large, I suppose. Maybe it’s because she grew up in a small village and was now living in an urban environment with heavy traffic, even though there was a vast expanse of nature behind our lot. She’d grown up really protected, too, and perhaps the big world was not the fairy tale that she may have expected it to be.

Maybe it’s (also) because one of my toddler siblings somehow managed to slip away from the house one day and crossed the busy road in front of our house, even though, I think, the gate had actually been closed. Everyone’s hearts stopped for a moment, that day. I remember that my youngest sister once went through the privet hedge around our property, to play with her best friend next-door. My mother had grounded her for some reason, and my “little sister” wasn’t having it. But the earlier escape artist, that concerned my other sister.

Me, I helpfully pulled up all the carrots one day, after having seen the adults hand-weed. Yep, that’s me (sometimes). Understanding my intentions, my parents weren’t cross with me and put the carrots back into the soil again.

On Sundays, before my mother became really ill, my parents often quarreled. My dad’s also told me that he heard my mother cry after he decided to renovate the kitchen. The kitchen counter was way too low, he said, and he knew that she would love the new (and bigger) kitchen with the higher counter. (My mother was not a tiny woman, in case you wonder.) We also got a proper bathroom with a shower and central heating throughout the house then. (This was in the 1960s.)

My mother loved the sound of the French language, hence the French classes.

Besides, I had cousins of about my age in southern France, where one of my dad’s brothers lived. Another was living in Belgium, not that far from us, in a German-speaking area. He and his family had a huge dairy farm. The cattle was free to roam as all cattle did in those days. My uncle in Belgium also had riding horses (as did our later neighbors, the De Bruijns; that is where I learned to ride and they had a lively, welcoming and warm family where I spent a lot of time as their eldest daughter was my best friend for years).

My Belgian cousins introduced me to singers like France Gall. I listened (and sang) to music from all over the place in my teenage years, including Greece (a beautiful and welcoming country that I visited in 1978), often listening to a little transistor radio tucked under the blankets late at night. I also sent myself to the theater, all by myself. I watched plays and ballets and musicals and what not. I loved it.

My mother’s family had a talent for music. My mother passed that on to her three daughters. One of my sisters later took singing lessons and has performed live for radio. If I recall correctly, my other sister sang with a band for a while, but that too was later, after she had left home. Me, I sang in choirs, but I only did that when I was still very young.

For those of you who don’t know that, the “Matthaeus Passion” is by Johann Sebastian Bach:

John Bröcheler (Christ) went on to have a major international career.

Jef Somers happened to be my music teacher in secondary school; that’s how I ended up singing in the St Matthew Passion.

Ernst Willems, the head of my primary school, also taught music. He had a choir that I was in and which he entered in a national competition.

In addition, there was a local church choir in which I participated. We not only sang a typical church repertoire such as Christmas songs like “The little drummer boy” but also tunes like “Guantanamera” and “La Bamba” as well as “Wade in the water“. I was brought up in the Roman Catholic faith but abandoned it somewhere in my teenage years. My girls-only primary school had lots of nuns and my secondary school still had a few too. The choir, however, had nothing to do with nuns or even overly religious people. We were in it for the music.

Besides singing, at home and in choirs, I’ve played and listened to music all my life; this included violin lessons when I was still a very young child (from a very good teacher, I should add).

In Amsterdam, I later danced flamenco for a while (at, taught by Inés Arrubla, now based in the US) before (and until) I moved to the US and was an extra for TV and film for a while after my return from the US.

After I moved from Southampton to Portsmouth, I was a member of the Sambatida samba drumming band for a while. We played in Commercial Road in December 2009. I took part in Andy Sheppard’s Saxophone Massive in Bristol (18 September 2009) and I had a busking license for tin whistle for a while.

Me at a rehearsal in Bristol. I looked much better than I sounded that day, partly owing to a turquoise fiber deftly stuck onto the pad of my A that day. I later found it at home, when I checked all the pads to see why I sounded so horrible.

I was also supposed to have participated in this, in Brighton in 2014, but couldn’t make it in the end:

I’ve always spent a lot of time with animals, too, from the calves at my grandmother’s farm to the horses I rode in my teens and anything in between, including stick insects. I got the stick insects from a fellow student (pupil) in secondary school; her dad was a biology teacher.

I started running when I was still in primary school, but my running has always been primarily for the joy of it. I also loved jumping over bushes. In my teens, I used to roam the moors or heaths and woods behind our parental home with my black-and-white Staffie-type dog, often for hours.

I no longer have any photos from roughly the first 33 years of my life… so I often borrow other people’s photos such as the two below. After an aunt passed away, one of my cousins sent me scans of photos they’d found; two of them are on this page.

(Are these heaths or moors? Heaths, I think, because this area does not appear to have changed much since Roman times or even before. The underground here contains very pure Miocene quartz sands, but there are also dense pine woods, and fertile löss soils. There are peat/swamp areas, too. The open areas have beautiful birches.)

In Amsterdam, I eventually quit my job, after having myself assessed very thoroughly over the course of several days at a career counseling agency that I had found in the yellow pages. I specifically wanted to know whether I had any weaknesses that should steer me away from some choices and towards others, as I was interested in and good at many different things, including computer science. The result of that assessment was that I chose a highly multidisciplinary field that reconnected me with a hobby from my teenage years. That fit well with the agency’s recommendation of studying environmental science at Wageningen University. They also said that I would make a good lawyer. I had heard that before, but Dutch law did not appeal to me.

I was not, they said, the social worker type – agreed – and I also really suck at any kind of sales, but that was never discussed. I don’t mind things like cold-calling or talking to strangers in the street to get them to sign up to something, not at all, but I believe too strongly in letting them exercise their own free will. 🙂

That’s me aged 31 or 32. I used to call this “Portrait of a scientist.”

In 1993, I graduated – with distinction (cum laude) – from VU University Amsterdam, having obtained my MSc in earth sciences, an additional diploma for chemical oceanography research carried out at VU University Amsterdam in conjunction with NIOZ as well as two certificates for evening courses completed at the Netherlands School for Journalism in Utrecht.

Amsterdam: Kloveniersburgwal, where Royal Academy or Arts and Sciences (KNAW) is located and many workshops and small symposiums are held.

While working on my Master’s, I was a member of the university’s “Studium Generale” think tank. I also was one of the organisers of two symposiums for women in science and technology in those days. So, not surprisingly, besides for example writing a report and giving a presentation on the then brand-new, exciting and Nobel Prize-winning developments of scanning tunneling microscopy and atomic force microscopy for my department, I also carried out a literature study on gender bias in sociobiology (and collected signatures for example against the atrocities of the Yugoslav wars).

The specialization of my Master’s was in hardrock geochemistry. I did my final two months of fieldwork in the Swedish Precambrium around Loftahammar. My main research interest concerned the (marine) biogeochemistry of metals such as iron, cobalt and manganese as well as the rare earths, however. I already discussed the redox chemistry of iron in my second-year field report on the beautiful Spanish Buntsandstein area of the Sierra de Albarracín. My first-year fieldwork took place at about 100 kilometers west of Alicante (Cancarix, Sierra de las Cabras); to my delight, I had a volcanic lamproite plug in my area, with the mineral K-richterite.

This photo was taken in (from) one of my fieldwork areas in Spain. (It’s not by me.)
Me in Sweden. Geological fieldwork.
That’s the photo taken for my university ID in Florida. I was 33 then, the high humidity in Florida making me look ridiculously young.

I have since worked at and with universities and other organisations all over the world and have lived and worked in the United States for a while.

After I had graduated, however, the job center in Amsterdam kept instructing me to apply for secretarial positions. That did struck me as strange, but I figured that they too thought that I was too old for anything else. (At past 30, I was considered too old for an academic career in the Netherlands. This has to do with Dutch labor laws and the way the social security system works, but another consideration was that I would surely start having children soon and then quit again.) So I emigrated.

Years later, someone I had met in another context and who had then taken up a position at the job center in Amsterdam elucidated what had happened. Out of curiosity, that person checked if I was still in that computer system one day. (Her partner had a chemistry degree and she had a law degree.) She discovered that the job center in Amsterdam had registered me as never having graduated! Everyday sexism? Or just a lack of interest or knowledge combined with sloppiness among the job center staff? What I said during the few meetings we had can’t possibly have matched with the info they had in their system.

Me holding a glass of wine, standing on a boat on a river near Arnhem during a get-together with a group of people from Arcadis shortly before I moved to England.

2002: panel member at NIMF symposium

I am a former board member and member of several committees for a Dutch foundation for women in science and technology (NIMF, founded in 1988), a former associate editor for the international newsletter of the US-based Geochemical Society and a former board member of the Environmental Chemistry (and Toxicology) Section of the Royal Netherlands Chemical Society, which is not an organisation exclusively for academics but for all chemistry professionals, regardless of whether they work in the industry, for the government, within their own businesses or at universities.

Dinner with the board of the Environmental Chemistry (and Toxicology) Section of the Royal Netherlands Chemical Society (“KNCV-MC”) after a symposium (me third left)

I am also a former member of Toastmasters of The Hague (part of Toastmasters International), a former member of the Portsmouth Environmental Forum (no longer in existence), which was supported by Portsmouth City Council and contained several city councillors, and one of the eleven graduates of the NCFE-accredited course “Taking the Lead”, also supported by Portsmouth City Council.

Me in Portsmouth, in early 2011, receiving the course certificate from the mayor.
(Source: PCC on Flickr.)

To the mayor, it seemed to be as if I was from another planet. I was the only foreigner in this group of 11 graduates of the NCFE-accredited course in community leadership called “Taking the Lead”. It was offered within the UK government’s Take Part initiative, but was cut short by austerity and thus we remained its only graduates.

The mayor asked something along the lines of whether England was very different from my home country. I don’t recall if she knew where I was from. I think that all I said to her in response was “very”. She gave me the impression that she’d never been outside of the UK, but that impression may have been wrong. I remember being surprised that she seemed so uncomfortable around foreigners. I, on the other hand didn’t even know which political party she was in. I should have asked her.

In addition, I am a former member of the Amsterdam American Business Club and of the Southampton-based SHEA business club (Southwest Hampshire Enterprise Agency, no longer in existence). For those who don’t know that, which is common even among people working at the tax authorities: a “business club” has nothing to do with cocktails and entertaining clients but is dedicated to business networking. It’s like the English Chambers of Commerce. (The Dutch Chamber of Commerce, by contrast, is more like Companies House.)

I started my first small business in Amsterdam in 1997 and moved to England at the end of 2004, taking my business with me.

In my business, I initially offered university scientists the opportunity to outsource some of their many tasks, which I accomplished in conjunction with an international team of associates. Other parties later discovered me too. I have worked with universities such as the University of Twente, Utrecht University, Wageningen University and Arkansas State University (desk research, teaching, scientific editing), high-end consultancies such as Arcadis (Elements print magazine), NATO C3 (presentation skills workshops) as well as with mining companies, publishers and the like.

I have been called very creative, immensely versatile, attentive, flexible and highly conscientious. I’ve always been highly driven, have always been a self-starter.

When I was in my mid forties and already living in the UK, I let go of my ambition to become a full professor with my own cutting-edge marine biogeochemistry research group.

It was around that time – looking for a new professional direction in my life – that strange things started happening in my life. I became a persistent target of what can best be described as sadistic stalking (also known as resentful stalking).

This experience led me to start exploring personality disorders and (neuro)diversity (as well as neuroscience and bioethics).

A lot of this, perhaps even all of it, revolves around otherization. It certainly is highly relevant within the context of diversity.

Otherization is the opposite of inclusivity. The world needs more of the latter, but particularly potato head politicians keep peddling otherization.

Otherization begets otherization.

You don’t foster understanding by throwing stones at people or at their homes. You don’t make people appreciate you if you paint slogans on their walls.

However, you need more than people nodding and agreeing – but ultimately doing nothing – if you want to engender inclusivity. You need to kick people out of their comfort zone to be able to make them feel what they see and then start implementing positive changes. It’s a tricky and delicate balancing act.

Hate, violence and terrorism are almost always the result of otherization. The same goes for health disparities.

England is awash in otherization, but because it’s all most English people have ever known, it looks completely normal and natural to them.

Setting employees on fire at work, just for fun, does nothing to create a good work atmosphere.

Most people will agree with that, yet setting apprentices on fire is seen as perfectly fine in some work environments here. Because the people who work in these environments got so used to these practices that they started seeing them as normal and natural. Mere “horseplay”? With unwilling participants who may land in hospital as a result of the “horseplay”? That too is the result of otherization. The otherization of the latest employee or of apprentices.

These issues are often much more subtle, however.

Otherization is not a mere matter of differences in communication styles, of banter being misunderstood or of other people being too sensitive or too “PC” or “woke”.

Otherization costs governments and companies a heck of a lot of money, to, in terms of lost productivity, policing expenses and healthcare costs.

Years ago, I read the puzzling information that the longevity for women in the UK – but not for men – is relatively low. (I wish I still had the link to that information.) Why do you think that is?

Being black should not mean that you’re less likely to be in optimal health either. (Why was it that CNN had headlines about racism in England before the English mainstream media did, and when many English top politicians rejected the idea of BLM?)

Poverty and good health do not go hand in hand either. The poor are also badly otherized in England.

“Poverty is a political choice.”

This is the opinion of Philip Alston (NYU law professor, and former Special Rapporteur on poverty for the UN).

“Poverty is not a lack of character, it’s a lack of cash.”

That’s what Rutger Bregman says, the guy who lambasted the rich at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2019.

Childhood nutrition matters greatly, folks! Because it determines the extent to which children are able to develop their brains and do well in school, hence also later in life. Ask neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett if you want to know more.

“Childhood poverty is a colossal waste of human opportunity.”

And did you know that hunger and anger are associated? Lack of food makes people angry and irritable. It’s not a character flaw or due to “bad genes”. Read more:

You beat poverty by beating otherization and by holding top politicians to account when they say things like “people could eat more venison” or “people should learn how to cook” as an excuse for not alleviating poverty by changing the government policies that create and worsen poverty.

Also, is it really normal and natural to provide the best healthcare to well-to-do white English males, for example, but dismiss women’s and mothers’ and older adults’ health concerns and see the health of England’s millions of poor people as completely irrelevant? Is it smart?

(selfie, 2017)
(selfie, 2021)

Inclusivity is often a matter of giving people breathing space instead of forcing them into a mold and making them feel suffocated.

(Empowering people sometimes means “needing to back off” or allowing people to shop with the music off and the lights dimmed, which more and more supermarkets are starting to offer.)

It’s matter of familiarizing ourselves with other people, and sometimes with how they tick. It’s a matter of listening without judgement and being there for them. Being present.

Do not respond with “it sounds as if you can’t cope” or suggest that the person sees a doctor when that person is being otherized, targeted, bullied, harassed, discriminated against or has even been the target of violence. Because that means that you are dismissing their concerns and are signalling that you are not listening to them, have no time for them. It signals that you are labeling and judging them, otherizing them. Victimizing them.

It’s like hinting that “it’s all in your head” to (black) women who go to their doctors
with legitimate health concerns, like for example happened to Serena Williams.
(Yes, that Serena Williams.
Women in the UK have such experiences, too, and not only black women.)

It’s also a matter of letting people be who they are and seeing the special qualities and insights that they can bring to the table. We all have them. Everyone. Not just the happy few.

Push prejudices and stigmas away instead of people.
This is me in Florida during dinner with friends visiting from the Netherlands. I’ve just taken something from the oven.
I convened a conference session in Boston in 1998 and met up with a good friend from Florida after the conference. She had moved to upstate New York by then and drove over. Before the conference, I stopped by at WHOI. The conference resulted in making one great new connection and in an invitation to speak at a conference in Hong Kong. I submitted an abstract, but went to (Oxford and) Plymouth where I talked at a similar symposium (because Hong Kong was expensive and having an economic crisis so they couldn’t pay my expenses, which is relatively rare for that kind of thing anyway).

For those who wonder: I dealt with my childhood when I was in my mid-to-late twenties. I was raped by an intruder then, and when you’re in a state of turmoil, old traumas become easier accessible. I could feel that very clearly and contacted a mental health clinic, but they had no appointments available with a psychologist any time soon, so I tackled it myself. I took self-defense classes, read a lot about rape but also about scapegoating etc in families and about learned helplessness and what not.

(When police investigated my rape, they found people who seemed to to recognized my description of the guy in question; he may have been a voyeur. That didn’t prove it was him; DNA evidence didn’t exist yet back then.)

The only thing that I couldn’t deal with is something that happened when I must have been 4 or 5; my middle sister’s been hampered by that too, but she was much more aware of it than I was, on a different level. We were too young at the time and didn’t understand it. I’d forgotten about it, but it had created a fear in me that I didn’t understand (and was not even really aware of).

There is a Tony Robbins coaching episode in which Tony helps a guy discover that something happened when he was 4 or so and made him see that it had left him with some kind of hangup that he couldn’t deal with because he had no idea where it came from. He didn’t even know that he had it, but it was certainly hampering him in his business dealings (negotiations etc). Solved – and resolved – in 5 minutes! It’s like that.

It isn’t the “bad” things that happen to you that matter, what matters is what you can do with them, including whether you get the opportunity to process them right away or are forced to stow them away to deal with later.

Generally speaking, Americans have a get up and go can-do attitude and English folks love to whinge and tell sob stories with a cuppa tea. A trouble shared is a trouble halved, sure, but there is also such a thing as a trouble being over and in the past. Being obsessed with sob stories creates a kind of tunnel vision that I don’t find very helpful in life. It may be the difference between finding solutions and finding excuses.

Want an example? I probably should have become a vet. But the childhood incident that I just mentioned, which happened when I was 4 or 5, made me mistakenly believe that I couldn’t stand the sight of blood so I never even looked into it. Decades later, while volunteering in wildlife rehab in the US, I noticed that I was assisting with medical procedures and watching necropsies without the slightest uneasiness. One day, a visitor even ran outside to get me because another volunteer – who had brought in a bird – had just fainted.

I have since checked a few times whether I could still become a vet, in the US, in the Netherlands and also in the UK, but the short answer was “no”. There’s no point in sitting down with a cup of tea and drowning myself in sorrow over that. I see no problem either, however, with finding an alternative, whether professionally or as a hobby activity, such as volunteering at a place like Wildlife Aid, which I don’t. I did volunteer briefly during the Covid vaccination effort, which to some degree is similar, of course (and was fun until there were many more volunteers than patients and the patients came mostly for flu shots). I also do the very occasional solo litter-pick with my Bentley; it’s an activity that benefits all species.

The reason why there is so much personal information on this page is also because of the following.

It serves to counter otherization- and alcohol-fueled rumors spread about me by anonymous people in the small English island town in which I am based. People have a tendency to gorge themselves on nasty aka juicy gossip cooked up in pubs about strangers.

My family personal background makes no difference for whether I am able to distinguish fluorine from fluoride, a wood pigeon from a rock dove or a crocodile from an alligator or whether I can understand concepts above the level of a three-year-old.

Through sheer coincidence, I discovered at some point that there were locals who had been spreading the myth that my dad had an anti-social personality disorder. That he was a cold-hearted psychopath who likes hurting living beings. That wasn’t what my dad was like at all. They also said that my mother had only died very recently and they dismissed my professional background as non-existent.

The same nonsense included a bunch of other bizarre bullshit that I couldn’t even begin to make sense of unless its sole purpose was to depict me as a lunatic.

These and other things that I have encountered in this town have thoroughly shaken my faith in humanity. I was and still am taken aback by how much vile, mean-spirited stuff goes on here.

At the same occasion as when I discovered these lies that were going around behind my back, through sheer coincidence, I also learned that other people who didn’t know me had also been vilifying me behind my back in all sorts of other ways. I noticed to my grateful amazement that one stranger had stood up for me, however.

General visitors can skip the next bits; they are just for distant relatives (and I may even remove them again).

His full name was Gerardus Hubertus Marie Souren. He was called Sjir as a child but my mother’s family had some posh elements and someone in my mother’s family (tante Paula’s mother) called him Gérard, the French way, which got turned into “Sjra”. (We had at least one other family member called Gérard and he became a lawyer based in France, oddly enough; he may have worked for the EU or something like that. One of that guy’s siblings was an agricultural engineer, a Wageningen graduate who was a government advisor, or so I was told.) My mother and my father met at a horse show or at a horse race; my mother asked who that guy was who was smiling so much. My mother and he got married in Denmark, so that my mother’s family could avoid having to invite my dad’s family. My dad had around ten brothers, none of who are included in this announcement. My dad had relatives in France, Brazil and Belgium and possibly in other places that I am simply not aware of. My dad is included in, but only his birth is listed there. (For any of you who land on this page, he’s been cremated.) My mother’s first names were Gerardine Maria Theresia and I seem to be the only one in the family who knows how she spelled her nickname. Before my mother passed away, she was in tears one day, upset about my two still very young siblings who were behaving in a very spoiled and selfish manner at the time, and said, a bit angrily, “they’ll remember me when I am gone and then they’ll wish I was still here”. Perhaps not, mams. But then again, Harrie’s death was kept a secret too. I found out about it by accident, via a similar newspaper announcement, so they either kept it from my aunt – which I doubt – or my aunt kept it from me, which is much more likely. I’ve only met Harrie once or twice, though. After he died, his eldest daughter really seemed to want to talk with me and said that things were “not very good”, but her mother then apparently selfishly forbade her to interact with me. She had previously pushed me as the only one being able to talk to her daughter (IQ145) and wanted me to be some kind of babysitter, while she herself dismissed me, oddly enough. (My sisters both are very smart too, but they grew very used to me in a serving role at some point and possibly never forgave me for wanting to break free to live my own life; I first raised that point with that particular sister around forty years ago.) I had asked my sister if she wanted to come stay with me, just to have a breath of fresh air. I had a large place by the sea at the time, with two bathrooms; she could have driven all the way here with only a few miles of “wrong-side-of-the-road” driving, if she wanted, and she always loved to drive. Anyway, there was more to my dad than “schoffelen” (using a hoe). Yes, he was a simple guy but he loved solving practical problems and actually used to be pretty good at it. He used to pick me up after school and I used to accompany him at work far more often than my sisters ever did. He ran his own business and he also sold crops from our garden at times. The “schoffelen” increasingly kicked in when my mom became increasingly ill and as my dad used to work VERY long hours and never had a full day off, he wanted to be able to be at home more. Yes, he was a simple guy with some sad childhood trauma that he never got over.

I am not into genealogy at all, but a lot of people are, hence the above bit. No, I am not worried about ID scams. There is no money and almost everyone else related to my dad has passed away by now; this will soon even include me. So I shrug about the privacy aspects. I understand that collection agencies started hounding one or two relatives after his death; that may be how they found out about his passing, but I don’t know if it is actually true and I never heard a thing after that. Collection agencies don’t go on random chases for dead people’s relatives in all sorts of countries; it’s an expensive waste of time and effort. What else would there be to be concerned about? My dad was good enough with money, obviously, because we lived well when I was a child, but he never believed in salting money away for the sake of money. One of his sayings referred to one’s final suit having no pockets anyway.

While looking for this, I found another death announcement from around the same time concerning another relative; that one had people’s towns included, so I am not really giving away a lot of information at all.