Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

It's a Topsy-Turvy World

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

It's a Topsy-Turvy World

Article excerpt

What has happened to our children? On a recent school trip, we were carrying out the usual late-night surveillance of the hostel dormitories, ensuring that everyone was safely in bed. We can come across some pretty startling sights at such times, but what we discovered in one room that night still haunts me.

Maybe that bizarre and shocking scene can be partly blamed on the nature of the school trip itself. Visits to the Netherlands are always unsettling, what with the rich mix of dams, dykes, windmills, tulips, cheese and clogs, all served up in so self-consciously stereotypical a fashion.

That day's excursion - to a dam - was a case in point. First, there was the needlessly fearsome guide. On arrival, she ordered us into a small room to watch grainy footage of flood-defence construction (featuring a then-royal Sarah Ferguson at the opening ceremony), with a score seemingly borrowed from a 1960s caper film. Later, she took us around the dam and cheered up noticeably when warning her young audience that all their skin would be sucked off if they fell into the surrounding waters.

The oddness continued in a nearby water-based theme park, with signature features including a model of a whale's phallus and a shed containing a small wind machine. Then we watched a clog-making demo (beaming man with drill and block of wood) and visited a shop containing vast quantities of overpriced Gouda cheese.

Some kind of reciprocal weirdness from our young charges was perhaps inevitable. Nonetheless, imagine our shock when we opened a bedroom door to discover three girls furtively sitting not with roll-ups, beers and boys, but with pens, calculators and textbooks. …

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