Rauzer: A ‘Typically Dutch’ Children’s Book, part 1

Rauzer header

The Catctus’ Prick

Since I’m in the midst of moving, and my Cats blogs tend to take up a lot more time than I have at the moment, I decided to give you readers some variety the coming weeks. So in between putting stuff in boxes, taking stuff out of boxes somewhere else, getting a decent internet connection at my new place, and looking for a part-time job next to my writing job because I’m broke as fuck right now, I thought it would be nice to take a look at some typically Dutch novels.

And speaking about being broke: let’s talk about Peter Jan Rens, the author whose book I’m discussing this (and next) week. He’s all over the Dutch entertainment news at the moment.

“Who’s he?” many of you non-Dutch readers will probably ask. Well… let’s just say that if you grew up in the Netherlands during the eighties and/or nineties, like I did, there’s simply no way you could have missed him. Back then he was all over our television screens.

Peter Jan Rens (1950) is a Dutch TV presenter/actor /former physiotherapist,1 whose most familiar role is that of Meneer Kaktus, the main character of a sketch show for young children named De grote Meneer Kaktus show (“The Big Mr. Cactus Show”). The show ran from 1984 to 1993 and had a very short and unsuccessful revival in 1999-2000.

Meneer Kaktus (“Mr. Cactus”) is a strange hyperactive man with drawn on moustache and eyebrows. For some never explained reason, he wears a blue pyjama, combined with a black tie. I remember that even as a small child I was confused about that: did he just get out of bed and was he too lazy to dress himself apart from putting on a tie? Was he having a slumber party? What was going on?!

Looking at the show in hindsight, Meneer Kaktus mostly seems to be very physical with his two co-presenters Kweetniet (a contraction of the Dutch words for “I don’t know”, which is something he says all the time), and Mevrouw Stemband (“Mrs. Vocal Cord”). It also appears that Meneer Kaktus likes to put his hands into other people’s pants:

There is some lame excuse for this pants groping however: they are looking for “de lurven en de kladden”. What are those? That’s a good question.

It’s even quite an iconic question here in the Netherlands. For you non-Dutch speakers, this probably needs some more elaboration. So, let’s elaborate…

When I was little, we didn’t have that many children’s programmes and shows on television as we have now. The ones that we did have, thus made all the more impact. And therefore there isn’t a person my age who doesn’t know all the catchphrases this show has produced. Let alone the lyrics of the show’s opening song.

And what a song it was: it starts asking the children in the audience, Meneer Kaktus, Kweetniet, and Mevrouw Stemband to show that their hands are washed, their teeth are brushed, their feet are “fresh enough”, and their bottoms and shoes have been “wiped well”. Why? My guess is this is intended to be educational. Because little children are disgusting little creatures with icky sticky little hands that often still don’t know how to go to the bathroom by themselves in a proper manner.

The intro-song then continues in asking the children to show their “lurven en kladden”, resulting in the now iconic sentence “waar zitten de lurven en de kladden?” (“where are the ‘lurven’ and the ‘kladden’?”).

The catch and intended hilarity here are that nobody really seems to know what the very old fashioned Dutch (slang) words “lurven” and “kladden” exactly mean, let alone where they are supposed to be. And since the show this question comes up every now and again in a radio programme, a talk show, or on a website. We have the known expressions “iemand bij de lurven grijpen”, which means something like grabbing someone aggressively, and “iemand in/bij de kladden grijpen”, which means catching someone (often also in a hard-handed manner) who has commited some form of criminal offense, but what they are still remains a mystery.

A theory I found online suggests that “lurven” and “kladden” are both archaic words for “rags”,2 yet “lurven” might also be those dangling things that hang underneath a goat’s neck. An attempt to translate “waar zitten de lurven en de kladden?” to English would therefore be something along the line of “where are the wattles and tatters?” although that probably isn’t completely accurate.3 And as you can see in the clip I showed above, Meneer Kaktus seems to be under the impression that the “lurven en de kladden” are in your pants.

Oh well… as Kweetniet, also iconically, responds at this point of the song: “Kweetniet”.

The show’s format is simple: it is recorded in a boxing ring in front of an audience of children and has several parts, or “rounds” that consist of sketches and interviews with children and adults. The children who are interviewed talk about various subjects like hobbies and school projects, but also about things in the world that anger them and “need to be punched”, like people who are cruel to animals, teachers who favour boys over girls when handing out difficult tasks, or destroyed basketball hoops, at which point a child wearing boxing gloves gets to punch a pillow.

It also praised children who pulled pranks, or made up their own mind about something. This kind of behaviour was called “the cactus’ prick” and was followed by a weekly returning song that contains the questionable lines “Because I shit shit shit on everything. Because I don’t don’t don’t care. Who can’t stand me, receives a cactus’ prick.”

As I also said earlier, the show probably has somewhat of an educational intention as well, albeit in its own peculiar way. There’s also an adult in each episode who answers questions about his or her profession, and the show’s hosts discuss the danger of everyday household objects by acting it out in a little play. In this element of the show, called “the danger”, Mevrouw Stemband plays “de spelende vrouw” (“the playing woman”) who always gets killed in a stupid accident and tells the audience what she has learned from this afterwards. (So take that South Park: we Dutch did it first!) Strange as it was, I, for example, personally learned never to tie a rubber band around my finger after she ‘died’ by doing just that. (Hell, rubber bands still terrify me to this very day!)

But fun and terrifying as this show was in its glory days, watching old episodes as an adult, as I also touched upon earlier (thank you YouTube), appears to trigger one particular reaction amongst myself and everybody I know: WHAT THE FUCK?!

Why? Because children’s show presenters putting their hands in each other’s pants was not the only thing that was then apparently permitted to be on screen. What about Meneer Kaktus and Kweetniet mooning to an audience of small children! For those of you who don’t believe me, just watch this excerpt between 3:09 and 4:48:

Yes, this happened. And we watched it. I repeat: they showed two mooning adult men in a children’s programme and this did not set off any sort this-might-not be-that-suitable-for-little-children alarm… What was wrong with these people?!

Next to being Meneer Kaktus, Peter Jan Rens also presented other children’s programmes. Best known of these was a show named Geef Nooit Op (“Never Give Up”), in which he helped children fulfill their wishes. He also hosted several game and talk shows that although intended for an adult audience had such a ridiculously unintelligent quality to them that even us kids could keep up effortlessly.

As kids are usually very ignorant, this man was one of our childhood heroes: he was energetic, fluent in toilet humour, and taught us that it was cool to make up your own mind and that everything was possible as long as you didn’t give up. He was awesome.

My personal opinion of him changed rather quickly however: one Saturday evening when I was fifteen, my mother suggested to watch a movie together that she had recorded a few days earlier. “It’s a book adaptation,” she said, “so it might be educational. Maybe they will talk about this in class someday.”

I guess my mother had never heard of Jan Wolkers before, a Dutch author whose work is actually quite well known for its graphic sexual imagery (as I will also discuss in an upcoming blog). So it was there and then, on the couch with my mom beside me, and with a cup of tea and speculaasjes within reaching distance, that I got to watch Brandende Liefde (1983), a Dutch movie that mainly seems to focus on Peter Jan Rens’ penis. As it is on screen in its fullest glory. A lot. There’s even a scene in it in which he gets a handjob above a kitchen sink without any attempt of concealment whatsoever4 . It certainly shed a completely different light on my understanding of the phrase “Cactus’ Prick”.

And nowadays that’s all that appears to be left of Peter Jan Rens: a prick.

As the 20th century ended, so did his career. Sure, he did try the occasional comeback, but he never succeeded. He also has the occasional schnabbel reprising his role of meneer Kaktus, ususally in front of an audience of twenty- and thirty-somethings:

Yet now all of a sudden he’s back in the news again. And not because of his latest performance in Sterren Springen (also known in several other countries as Celebrity Splash), but because the tabloids fell in love with him.

I must say I can’t blame them, as the object of their affection certainly gives them plenty to talk about: after a 40-year marriage of convenience, combined with a second wife in Thailand, Peter Jan Rens last year claimed to have fallen in love with the nineteen year old Virginia.5 Or as she put it: he ordered her a mojito and got her drunk.6 He left his former wife with a debt of ca. 200.000 euro,7 and now lives in between homes with his new wife-to-be and their recently born daughter while debt collectors are looking for him everywhere. He reportedly stole furniture from a chalet that he rented8 and conned several people.9 Virginia, in turn, apparently chases away people with kitchen knives.10 Their relationship seems to be in an off-and-on-again phase at the moment, with her occasionally beating him to pulp and the police coming in to soothe the situation.11 In the meantime Mr. Rens entertains himself by posting repulsive self-written poems on his Facebook page concerning his daughter pooping in the bathtub and spitting after being fed.

So what does all of this tell you about this man? For one: that he’s all over the place. Not only in the literal sense that his work as an actor is (was?) very diverse, ranging from children’s shows and game shows to adult movies and trashy entertainment shows, but also in the sense that he appears to be a rather crazy and deranged jerk. And for two: that he, in hindsight, might have been not much more than a pants groping and exposing pervert to begin with.

Now what if I tell you that this man also writes books? And that most of the books he has written so far are children’s books. What kind of books would you expect to find?

Well… what about a children’s book in which a ten year old boy runs away from home, moves in with a sixteen year old prostitute, and gets drunk together with a homeless person?

More about this in part 2


Pietje Bell
Het verhaal van Bobbel die in een bakfiets woonde en rijk wilde worden
Alfred J. Kwak - Afspraak is afspraak
Gabrielle Pinkster

Gabrielle Pinkster

Gabrielle Pinkster (a.k.a. The Reading Dutchwoman) studied English Language and Culture at the University of Groningen and specialised in early 20th century literature and poetry. Like most (former) students of literature she is ‘currently working on her novel’.
Gabrielle Pinkster
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  1. Wikipedia, last consulted 19-8-2014 

  2. http://www.trouw.nl/tr/nl/5009/Archief/archief/article/detail/3247282/2012/04/27/Kladden-zijn-vodden-lurven-wellicht-ook.dhtml last checked 27-7-2014  

  3. I decided to discuss this matter on Facebook, since I couldn’t come up with a completely decent translation myself. A friend replied: “Wattles are used for animals only – using it will lose all meaning in relation to the human body (which is what the entire song is focusing on). By far the most suitable word in this situation would be ‘scruff’ (to grab someone by their scruff/the scruff of their neck). A word to pair it up with in the song was more difficult to find; I found nape/scrag as direct synonyms for scruff, and ‘heartstrings’ as something that can be grabbed/plucked at/tugged in a metaphorical sense only – but the definition of that and its relation to love/sentiment might be too specific to be suitable in a children’s song. Seeing as how words like ‘lurven’ and ‘kladden’ derive from clothing and have their roots in local slang (Bargoens mostly) that doesn’t translate well, you might want to look at English slang – especially terms used for various body parts.”  

  4. For those of you who are interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVOWlOiP6tQ about 40 minutes in. 

  5. http://www.wtf.nl/spotlight/14193/peter-jan-rens-63.html, last visited 19-8-2014 

  6. http://www.dumpert.nl/mediabase/6604840/01b1627b/meneer_kaktus_is…_ok_.html , last visited 19-8-2014 

  7. http://glamora.ma/2013/05/peterjan_rens_laat_ex_creperen.html last visited 19-8-2014 

  8. http://www.revu.nl/entertainment/ja-lieg-geef-mensen-graag-mooie-verhaal/ last visited 19-8-2014 

  9. http://glamora.ma/2013/03/meer_slachtoffers_peter_jan_re.html last visited 19-8-2014 

  10. http://glamora.ma/2013/12/messentrekkende_viriginia_is_g.html last visited 19-8-2014  

  11. http://glamora.ma/2014/08/peter_jan_rens_moest_vluchten.html  last visited 19-8-2014