“[A] whore isn’t inferior to a housewife”
As many people might know, the Netherlands are infamous for a couple of things: windmills, cheese, tulips, wooden shoes, our drug policy, and, of course, our red light districts and affiliated sex industries.
Eccentric as this might all sound to a non-Dutch person, for us living here they’re simply part of everyday life, and many of us like to call them ‘typically Dutch’ (even though most of these things can actually be found all over the world (nowadays at least), but details and stuff). Yet this doesn’t automatically mean that all of these “typically Dutch” things mentioned above also appear in books, magazines, television programmes, or movies that are aimed towards a younger audience.
Of course I’m not referring to the windmills, cheese, tulips, or wooden shoes here. Or even to the drugs, we actually have quite a large collection of children’s books, movies, and educational programmes dealing with the dangers of substance abuse. And, as a matter of fact, I’m not even referring to our rather extravagant sex industry as we actually also have plenty of children’s book authors and screenwriters who, in one way or another, discuss the topic of sex. No, the thing I’m referring to here, that one “typically Dutch thing” we don’t seem to find that often amongst all of these, is the topic of paid sex.
So why would that be? My guess is that most people are of the opinion that this is something that belongs to the world of grown-ups. As it does (I’m certainly not arguing against that). And although most children here usually have a (vague) understanding of what prostitutes are and what our red light districts entail, we therefore tend to keep this subject matter as far away from them as possible. Even though here in Groningen, to take a random example, we happen to have a day care center right next to one of our red light districts and nobody seems to be bothered by it.
Anyway, who would be brave (or crazy) enough to, let’s say, write a children’s book about such a thing?
Peter Jan Rens: former childhood hero and present day tabloid target (as I also discussed in my previous blog), here groping Miss Universe in his heyday. He also happens to be a writer, and most of his works are children’s books. Although many of them focus on the adventures of Meneer Kaktus, his best known role, he has also written two books about a singing teacher named Meneer Meijer, a book about a six years old who discovers that she is quite capable of a lot of things, two books about holiday romance, and one about a boy named Gluteüs Maximus (because Peter Jan seems to appreciate the occasional butt joke). And then there is Rauzer: a book about a ten year old boy who runs away from home, moves in with a sixteen year old prostitute, and gets drunk with a homeless person.
Rauzer came out in 1992, when I (at eight or nine) was almost the right age to be the book’s perfect target audience.1 And as it happened to be written by someone who was one of my favourite TV presenters at the time, I borrowed it from the library almost as soon as it had arrived there. In fact: I borrowed it several times and read it over and over again. I thought it was really cool.
But is a children’s book about underage (!) prostitution still that ‘cool’ when reading it again as an adult? Especially when seeing its writer in a completely different light right now?
Funny enough, the first thing I noticed when rereading this book twenty-one or twenty-two years later was actually how bad it is written. The book opens with the following two sentences:
“Willem-Jan van Puffelen! Are you reading, while I’m teaching?” the teacher yells and Rauzer looks up from his comic book.
‘Caught’, Rauzer thinks and he sees the teacher coming right at him.2
For the record: this isn’t a bad translation; the writing really is this bad! And as there was an actual publishing house involved with this book, I can’t help but wonder who edited this.3
But anyway, as the opening sentences tell us, we are introduced to our main character Rauzer, a ten year old boy whose official name is Willem-Jan van Puffelen. As he also explains to his teacher, he decided to change his name to Rauzer because feels that his old name doesn’t suit him.
Rauzer isn’t an actual Dutch name by the way. In an essay Rauzer has to write as punishment for reading a comic book in class, he explains that he derived it from the Dutch verb “rauzen”, which could be translated as something along the line of ‘rampaging’.
“…and that’s what I want. I can’t rampage with my old name. A name is very important! If somebody has a wrong name, it can trouble him his entire life. Why? People change. My old name used to suit me. But not anymore. I have changed, therefore I also have to change my name. Rauzer is a bold name. When somebody is named Rauzer, he’ll venture more. I think…”4
Looking at this from a literary perspective (as the importance of names is, of course, a well-known trope in literature), you could argue that, by changing his name, Rauzer cuts himself loose from the rest of his family (who all turn out to have double names as well). This empowers him to choose his own life and subsequent faith. His name change is therefore also an important theme of the book.
Interesting as this is from an adult perspective, there is something way more important than that: who couldn’t relate to this as a child? Who hasn’t had that moment when you decided that the name your parents had given you didn’t agree with who you were or what you wanted to be? It’s of no surprise therefore that this issue can be found in many (children’s) books, movie’s, songs, and television series.
There is a difference, however, between everything else I personally have read and watched regarding this topic and Rauzer: Rauzer perseveres. Where every other example I know quickly resolves this matter with a parental lecture/discussion or a change of heart, Rauzer stays with his decision. This of course doesn’t go well with his parents. Especially not with his mother who wears the pants in the family. And after a short but hefty discussion in which she angrily states that she’ll no longer be his mother as he keeps calling himself that by that ridiculous name, Rauzer decides that, as Rauzer has no family since he created himself, he should leave and create his own life.
So Rauzer takes a shower, picks out his favourite clothes to wear, leaves his former home and takes the train to “the big city”.5 And when aimlessly hanging there behind the big city’s station, contemplating what to do next, he meets Ine:
She waves at a car that passes by. Rauzer turns around and also waves at the car. There’s a man behind the wheel, who doesn’t wave back but has a confused look on his face.
“What are you doing?” the girl asks surprised.
“I’m waving at that man in the car,” Rauzer answers.
“Because you are waving as well.”
“Do you know what I’m doing here?” she asks.
“Rauzer ponders for a short moment and then answers hesitantly: “Getting some air?”
[…] She shakes her head. “You ran away from home didn’t you?”
Ine is kind enough to take him to the station’s restaurant to eat and drink something, but announces shortly after that she has to go back to work. When Rauzer asks her what it is exactly that she is doing there, she replies that she works behind the station and vanishes before he can ask more questions. But as Rauzer still has nothing to do and wants his questions to be answered, he returns behind the station to look for her.
Ine is nowhere to be seen, so he sits down at a bench to wait for her, next to a man with long hair, a beard, a long coat, enormous shoes, and a plastic bag full of beer bottles. After a while the man asks him if he’s looking for someone. He introduces himself as Mr. Groothoff and explains that the second “f” in his name stands for “foetsie”, meaning “vanished” or “gone” in Dutch: “If I don’t like it somewhere, I leave and vanish.”7
Rauzer asks Mr. Groothoff if he knows what Ine’s work entails, but Mr. Groothoff is reluctant to answer: “If I tell you what it is exactly that Ine does, you’ll immediately be an adult.” He does however decide to explain “a bit”:
“Your Ine waits until a Mr. arrives in a car. That Mr. is lonely. She gets into the car with him and then they go for a drive. Which is something that this Mr. enjoys, because then he is not feeling lonely anymore. After that, he brings her back to the station and gives her some money as a way of saying thanks for her company.”
Chuckling Mr. Groothoff puts his empty bottle back in the plastic bag, which now contains more empty bottles than full ones.
Rauzer thinks. It sounds like a fun job to him. It’s not that hard.
“Do you know how Ine’s profession is called?” Mr. Groothoff asks.
“Uhm … a company lady?”
“Good answer, Rauzer.” Groothoff laughs out loud.8
On returning, Rauzer cheerfully tells Ine what Mr. Groothoff has taught him. And when another car arrives, Rauzer opens the door for her and says to the man behind the wheel that she is “great company”.9 When Ine returns the second time, she tells Rauzer to go home. But Rauzer replies that he doesn’t want to go home; he wants to stay with her. She decides to let him tag along and takes him out to dinner. At the restaurant Rauzer learns that Ine is sixteen years old. His sister Marie-José is fifteen years old, he realises, and that’s almost the same age. Yet his sister looks like a girl, whereas Ine looks like a woman. After dinner, they walk to Ine’s home:
It’s now dark outside and they walk through colourfully lit streets. Behind red lit windows are scantily dressed women. Rauzer has never been here before but knows what they are.
“Oh” Ine says.
Rauzer explains that these women make money by sleeping with men. Not by actual sleeping of course, but by having sex.
“Where did you get all this wisdom from?”
“Our teacher told us.”
“That’s a good teacher,” Ine says.10
Ine decides that Rauzer can stay with her, and Rauzer enjoys living with her. Even though there are several things he doesn’t understand. Like Ine’s obsessive and overly frequent shower routines that he also has to follow. Or the fact that the house in which she rents the room they live in is full of idiots. Especially her alcoholic neighbour Willem turns out to be a terrible menace. He attempts to break into her room on several occasions and attacks Ine when he sees her in the hallway. These encounters are usually quite violent: Ine keeps a baseball bat next to her door that she uses to hit him with when things get out of hand. She also tells Rauzer that she hates men, because men always want to be in control over you, and that she therefore never wants a boyfriend. He can only stay with her if he stays a boy forever.
Afraid to be kicked out if he doesn’t contribute, Rauzer washes car windows at a busy intersection in order to earn some money. As apparently nobody in this big city wonders what a young boy is doing on the street during school days, his job provides a nice income. Although Ine has told him not to go behind the station anymore, he goes there anyway and sees her kissing a man. This surprises him: she told him that she never wanted a boyfriend.
Life seems to be tough for Ine. She regularly comes home covered in bruises. And one of Willem’s assaults leaves her with a torn lip that starts to get infected. Ine explains to Rauzer that Willem wants her to work for him, meaning that he would get all the money she earns while paying her a small allowance. She refuses to do so, stating that she is her own boss.
Her torn lip gets so bad that Rauzer has to take her to the infirmary. This proves to be quite difficult as Ine has tried to soothe the pain by drinking beer, and is extremely drunk. On the way there, they pass a newsstand where he spots his picture in the paper: his parents have reported him missing. He panics and forgets about Ine for a moment, who collapses on the street. As a police car stops to check on her, Rauzer flees the scene. He arrives at Ine’s room, only to have Willem violently attacking him and stealing his keys. Confused, Rauzer flees again and seeks refuge behind the station, hoping Ine will meet him there. There he runs into Mr. Groothoff, who’s drinking beer on a bench:
Mr. Groothoff […] [puzzlingly] looks at Rauzer. “Oh, now I see: you’re that hooker’s kid-friend”
“No, I’m no hooker’s friend, I’m Ine’s friend. I’m Rauzer!” He sits down next to Mr. Groothoff.
“Son, you’re a mess. Did you get hit by a tram?” He presses a bottle of beer into Rauzer’s hand.
“I don’t drink beer”
“Well I don’t carry any lemonade,” Mr. Groothoff replies.
Rauzer is thirsty and takes a sip. It’s a bit bitter, but that’s alright. It’s very kind of Mr. Groothoff to give him a beer, he thinks. He takes a big sip. A big sip tastes better than a small one. He takes some more sips. Rauzer starts to feel lightheaded. He wants to tell Mr. Groothoff everything, but so much has happened that he doesn’t know where to begin. Bewildered, he tells what happened to him.
“Where is she now?” Mr. Groothoff asks.
“I think the police took her with them.”
“Stupid whore,” Mr. Groothoff grumbles, “stupid to get herself arrested.”
“Ine’s not a whore,” Rauzer snaps, “she was taken away by the police when we were on our way to the hospital, because her lip was torn, and dirt had gotten into it.”
“Well, if that’s what you want to hear, that’s what you’ll hear. Your Ine is not a whore, but has a
torn lip! ”
“Exactly,” Rauzer replies contented and gulps down the remains of his beer. Everything around him starts to move. It’s like being on a giant see-saw. The station goes up, the cars tilt. Rauzer feels like he’s in a roller coaster. What’s going on? He gets up, but cannot keep his balance. He spins and falls with his head on Mr. Groothoff’s lap. Rauzer giggles and falls asleep while the empty beer bottle slips out of his hand and rolls over the cobblestones.
“Give an exited boy a beer and he’s gone,” Mr. Groothoff hums while stroking Rauzer’s sleeping head.11
Ine wakes him up several hours later. Mr Groothoff has vanished again. She explains that the police brought her to the hospital and that they treated her there. She also kicked Willem out of her room again. He drank all the liquor she had in there and was wasted, so it wasn’t that hard to do. It turns out that Willem used to be her boyfriend, and that he owns the house they live in. He now wants her out, but she refuses to leave. Ine goes back to work and tells Rauzer to go to her room. On his way there, however, he suddenly spots her in a parked car, having sex with a man.
As the penny suddenly drops, Rauzer becomes upset. But before he can make a scene, Mr. Groothoff suddenly appears again and drags him under one of the station’s overpasses. There he succeeds in calming Rauzer down by teaching him a peculiar coping mechanism:
“There’s no such thing as understanding. There’s watching, because you use your eyes to do that. And you use your brains to remember and forget. Watch, remember, or forget. That’s what life is all about.”12
Strangely enough, this seems to work. Rauzer decides to forget the incident and for a while everything goes really well. He expands his car washing business by also selling cans of soda, chewing gum, and cigarettes at the intersection and manages to make a nice profit. (Apparently children could still buy cigarettes back in the nineties.)13 Ine buys him a fancy suit and together they go out to dinner where they drink wine and get drunk. (As apparently they also served alcohol to minors in the nineties.) Rauzer develops an innocent schoolboy crush on her. Mr Groothoff has told him that “a whore isn’t inferior to a housewife”, and Rauzer agrees.14
A day off to the beach changes everything however. Rauzer notices the looks Ine gets from essentially every man they meet that day. He understands why, she’s very pretty, but the attention she gets starts to ruin their day: men keep ogling her, repeatedly walk past her while she’s in bikini, make suggestive remarks, and keep ‘accidentally bumping into her’ when Ine and Rauzer go swimming. At the end of the day Ine has become tense and starts to drink heavily:
“Why are you drinking that much again, Ine?”
“In order to forget.”
“To forget what?”
“What I do!”
“What do you do?”
“You know,” she says, her speech slurred by the alcohol, “I’m a whore.”
“So what? That’s how you earn your money.”
“But I think it sucks, all those men in their cars. I don’t like it.” Ine talks quietly and can’t sit straight because of all the drinks she has had. She loses her balance and falls off her chair.15
Rauzer takes her home.
When she’s in bed, she shivers like a sick little bird. He now sees Ine like a girl, even though she’s already sixteen.
“Oh, Rauzer,” Ine says softly and takes his hand. He puts his arm around her. He feels that he must protect her, but from what? From the men? But that’s her job.
“You have to quit your job,” he says.
Ine stares at the ceiling. She is sad. Rauzer feels it in his gut. It upsets him when something is wrong with Ine. She has collapsed and her entire body trembles. […]
“Ine, say something,” Rauzer whispers.
She doesn’t respond. Rauzer strokes her face. Why is she sweating so much? Rauzer can hardly sleep that night. He has to look after Ine. Occasionally she stops breathing. She can’t die, can she? Of course she can’t. Nobody just dies. Rauzer is afraid.16
The next day Ine tries to commit suicide, only to change her mind at the last minute by throwing up all the sleeping pills she has taken.
“I hate myself, because I let men have their way with me for money. I hate myself because I’m a whore!” She looks at Rauzer desperately.
“You don’t have to! Mr. Groothoff says that a whore isn’t inferior to a housewife.”
“That Mr. Groothoff is a bum who doesn’t know a single thing” Ine says angrily. “The thought of having to go back on the street again in a little while makes me sick”
“Forget that immediately,” Rauzer says.
“How can I forget?”
“By thinking of something nice.”
Rauzer doesn’t tell her that Mr. Groothoff taught him that.
“What’s nice?” Ine asks.
“Well, that we’re together,” Rauzer says. He’s happy that Ine listens and talks to him again. She’s no longer panicking and she even smiles a bit. He snuggles up to her and kisses her nose, her mouth, her cheeks, her forehead and her eyes.
“You’re like a little dog,” she says.17
After this, Ines slides into a depression and decides to become a fulltime alcoholic. She sweet talks Rauzer into buying her beer while she stays in bed all day. After a couple of weeks of taking care of her while also working long hours at the intersection in order to make money for the both of them, Rauzer has had enough of it and cuts her off. At first this doesn’t go very well: Ine simply lets Willem back into her room and Willem brings her all the booze she needs. But after Rauzer kicks a wasted Willem out of their room and down the stairs and takes away her keys, Ine is forced to sober up.
After a non-alcoholic week of being locked in, Ine is doing a lot better again and Rauzer decides that it’s time to talk. He takes her to the park because the weather is nice and Ine could use a bit of fresh air. While finding a nice spot in the shade to sit down at, Rauzer notices a man playing with his dog. The man throws a stick and the dog runs after it and returns it, only to have to chase the stick again, and again.
“I want you to stop working,“ Rauzer says.
“Why?” Ine asks.
“Because your work makes you sad. It makes you drink, and then you stay in bed, and then you want to die.” He had thought very carefully about how to tell her this. ‘Just put things into perspective,’ he had decided.
For a moment, Ine doesn’t know what to say. She looks at him in surprise. “But I make my money behind the station,” she says.
“Aren’t there other ways to make money?”
“Like what, Rauzer?”
“You could work as a sales lady in a store.”
“That doesn’t pay a lot now, does it? Besides, then I wouldn’t be my own boss anymore. Don’t you have a better idea?”
Rauzer thinks. He doesn’t have a better idea.
“Having sex with strange men all the time isn’t fun. You said so yourself!”
“Yes, I did, but I was depressed then and now I’m not. Another job has its disadvantages as well. Take being a shoe sales lady for example. That isn’t a nice job, because you always smell your costumers’ sweaty socks. Listen, Rauzer. What I’m doing right now is the least worst. You’re sweet. I promise you I’ll never drink again. At least not as much as I did before. Listen, Rauzer. You’re intelligent, you have brains. You should go home and go back to school. You have to study, to get a nice job when you’re older. You can’t wash car windows at the intersection for the rest of your life, can you?
“And you can’t work behind the station for the rest of your life, can you? Rauzer suggests.
“Oh, but I’ll marry a rich man”
Rauzer is shocked! Ine getting married, that’s not possible! Ine belongs with him.18
I might be overanalysing, but the dog chasing and returning a stick over and over again that I mentioned before appears to be a striking metaphor for the situation Rauzer has gotten himself into at this point: he has become Ine’s lapdog. Taking care of her needs over and over again, even though she lapses back every single time, in order to keep receiving her affection. Ine’s reaction in this excerpt, though hypocritical as fuck in regard to Rauzer, is actually something that a lot of women who work in the sex industry at their own free will realise at some point in their career: even though the job might have its disadvantages, another job might not pay this well. Having that said, there’s of course a lot more to Ine than just that. We never get to read how she ended up being a prostitute at the age of sixteen, which is underage and therefore illegal (and probably therefore also the reason why she works on the street and not in a red light district).19 It’s clear however that she’s been through a lot and is severely damaged because of this, resulting in addiction and (manic?) depression.
It’s at this point that the story also takes a sharp turn however, as Mr. Groothoff barges in to inform Rauzer that the police are looking for him. It turns out that his parents have offered a financial reward to get their son back, and that Willem has caught on to this fact. Unfortunately Mr. Groothoff’s warnings are in vain, as the police have followed him straight to them and all three of them get arrested.20
At the police station Rauzer gets separated from Ine and Mr. Groothoff, and a little while later his parents arrive there and take him home. At home things immediately get out of hand again, as Rauzer refuses to be called Willem-Jan again, and drives his mother berserk because of this, again. His parents lock him up in his room and only let him out when they give him parental lectures on how they expect him to behave. They don’t want to hear a word about his side of the story, or about what has happened to him during his time away from home, as Rauzer’s stories according to them are all about “the bad world” while he should focus on “the good world”. In the meantime Rauzer is deeply worried about Ine’s well-being. He reckons Willem must have taken the advantage of them being arrested to trash her room and kick her out, and he’s afraid that she will attempt to commit suicide again.21
As the parental lectures don’t seem to have any effect, Rauzer’s parents request the help of a children’s psychologist slash family therapist. Having become street-smart during his time away, Rauzer immediately recognises that the man is an alcoholic and, subsequently thinking about Willem and Ine, becomes upset and starts a scene. During this scene, he manages to flee the house and take a train to the city. Having arrived there, he starts looking for Ine, but isn’t able to find her. He does however run into Mr. Groothoff behind the station who confirms that Willem has occupied Ine’s room after the police entered it by force to look for him. Mr. Groothoff also tells Rauzer that he last spotted Ine behind the station two days earlier, and that he tried to talk to her but that she didn’t respond to him. He suspects that she has found a sleeping spot at the station’s depot. Before Rauzer can ask him more, the police find him and take him away again. At the police station Rauzer begs the agents to look for Ine and tries to explain his concerns about her to them, but nobody listens to him.
But never underestimate the power of a bum ex machina: as the police drive him home, Rauzer sees that they are being followed by a shabby old car. And not long after he’s home again, he suddenly notices Mr. Groothoff standing in his parents’ front yard. But he looks very different: he is clean, he shaved off his beard, and he wears a suit. It later turns out that he pulled some strings and was able to shower and borrow a suit from someone. Oh, and he stole the car (“‘That’s not my car. I borrowed it. I wanted to arrive in a newer one but they all have those alarm systems nowadays.’”).22 What follows is something that can only happen in the world of fiction:
“Sir, ma’am.” Mr. Groothoff speaks in a loud voice, as if he’s playing a distinguished gentleman in a play. “I kept a bit of an eye on your son in the city. He has taken up a friendship with a girl. This girl is of easy virtue and has a slight drinking problem. Thanks to your son, she was on the right track, but since you keep your son at home, the girl is going downhill. She is in bad shape. This is why we have to find her immediately. When we find her, all problems with your son will be resolved.” […]
“But …” his mother attempts.
“But nothing,” Mr. Groothoff says loudly, “Stop talking! Friendship is something you have to show. Let’s go! “Mr. Groothoff puts his words into action, and stands up.
“Now listen for a moment, sir,” his mother snaps. “I don’t care what happens to that girl!” She turns around and wants to leave the room, but Mr. Groothoff grabs hold of her. “Let go!” she cries.
“No!” Mr. Groothoff barks.
“Joop-Joost, tell him to let go of me!”
“Let go,” his father says, but doesn’t take any action.
“Listen, woman,” Mr Groothoff smirks. He has abandoned his stage voice and pulls his mother towards him. […]. “Your son is doing really well with that girl. You’re doing it wrong with your son. If we go look for that girl, you are doing something right for your son and then he’ll want to be called Willem-Pieter again.” Slightly guilty, he looks at Rauzer when saying that.
“Willem-Jan,” corrects his mother.
“If you won’t come, you’re not worthy of having a son. Then you’ll lose your son forever, because then I’ll take him.” Mr. Groothoff lets go of his mother, folds his arms and waits for an answer.
Father and mother are very confused. They don’t know what to do and remain silent.
Mr. Groothoff is getting impatient.” Just go, otherwise you’ll lose your child,” he urges the indecisive parents.
“We’re going,” his father says.
Rauzer can’t believe his ears. Not his mother, but his father makes the decision to go. Father gets up and walks to the hallway, to get his coat. Mother is dumbstruck.
“Shouldn’t you wear a coat?” Mr. Groothoff asks. She nods and follows her husband.23
The story finishes with a happy though slightly open ending: the four of them go to the city’s station where Rauzer’s parents finally see a part of the life their son has lived. His mother is appalled but his father takes the lead and even comforts Rauzer when searching for Ine turns out to be more difficult than they expected. But at the exact moment when his mother comes around and suggests looking for her in the city, Rauzer finally spots Ine, who is just about to jump in front of a train. He runs towards her and for a short moment it appears as if he has failed and that she has jumped. But then, of course, the train passes and reveals that Ine changed her mind at the last moment, again. Her clothes are torn, her hair is tangled and her face is full of cuts and bruises, but she’s alive! Rauzer embraces her, tells her that he’ll never leave her again, and helps her back up on the platform. His parents arrive and have suddenly decided to call him Rauzer at last. And Mr. Groothoff has vanished again, but, as Rauzer states in the book’s closing sentence: “he’ll come back, when you need him.”24
So that was Rauzer. We never get to know what happens next. When I was little, I always assumed that Ine would become part of the van Puffelen family and that they would live happily ever after. As an adult I think it’s more likely that she’ll be taken up by social services and put into a foster home, or into rehab and/or a closed institution for disturbed youngsters. But again, unless Peter Jan Rens suddenly decides to write a sequel more than twenty years later, we’ll never know.
As I said before, as a child I absolutely loved this book and couldn’t get enough of it. But when rereading it as adult, does it still keep up?
Well.. surprising as this might sound, I still really like it. Sure, the writing itself is cringingly bad, but the story is actually very good. It manages to address an adult subject at a level that is completely understandable and relatable for a younger audience, and does so without becoming too much to handle or by sugarcoating the entire thing. And despite the fact that it deals with all kinds of rather disturbing but realistic topics as violence, (manic) depression, addiction, suicide attempts, neglect, abuse, the male objectification of women (“a whore isn’t inferior to a housewife”), and what it’s like to be dragged down by (and with) someone you love in a rather (self) destructive manner, it’s still full of humour and a lot of fun to read.
This brings me back to my childhood, and also to why many of us loved watching Peter Jan Rens when we were younger: he might be a crazy pervert in hindsight, but he never talked down to children. He always seemed to take us very seriously. And as a child I really appreciated that because that didn’t happen very often.
Take De grote meneer Kaktus show for example: even though now it appears that its presenters are overly touchy feely with one another, it’s the only show I personally know that gave children a genuine opportunity to address the things that angered them. And it let them do so without answering in a baby voiced ‘well that’s not very nice now, is it’ kind of way, without their subjects being refuted as ‘not so important in the bigger scope of things’, or even without the need of wanting to explain why certain things happen. It told us that it was okay to be angry about things sometimes, and that it was okay to have your own opinion about stuff, even if it was such a thing as vandalized basketball hoops on your local playground. And maybe this is something to admire, even when taking everything that we know (or think to know) about Mr. Rens today into consideration.
This theme of not being taken seriously simply because you are a child is something that you can also find in Rauzer: apart from Mr. Groothoff there isn’t an adult who actually listens to what Rauzer feels or has to say. In fact, as the books penultimate chapter also shows, even a crazy homeless man dressed up and overtly acting as if being in a play receives more credibility than Rauzer does. This was something I personally certainly could relate to as a child. (Hell, I can still relate to this as an adult.)
I remember that Rauzer was actually well received when it came out. All children’s magazines I read at the time were full of positive reviews. According to the website of the book’s publishing house it was even “‘tipped by the Dutch Children’s Jury’”.25 Yet nowadays a copy of Rauzer is not that easy to find as the book isn’t printed anymore. If you’re lucky you can buy a second-hand copy, and it’s probably also available in E-book form somewhere, but our local library, for example, doesn’t seem to have it anymore, even though it does have all of Peter Jan Rens’ other children’s books.26
The disappearance of Rauzer brings me to a question R-man and I have actually discussed quite a lot over the last couple of weeks in regard to the topic of Meneer Kaktus/Peter Jan Rens and his now seemingly pervert behaviour on screen: were we overly exposed to sex and nudity when we were young due to lack of protection back then or has the world around us become overly sensitive and protective nowadays?
As I stated at the beginning of this blog, we still have a lot of children’s books and programs that deal with the topic of sex today. Having that said, it appears that our society is also becoming more prudish by the minute. A few months ago a children’s television program named Dokter Corrie (“Doctor Corrie”) broadcasted by Schooltv, a network specialised in educational programs, met with a lot of resistance from parents because of its focus on sex education. The issue was eventually even addressed in the Dutch House of Representatives! Although Dokter Corrie is still on TV as we speak, a number of schools have now decided against watching the show in class.27
Many of the things that we saw in De grote meneer Kaktus show certainly wouldn’t make it onto screen today. In fact I think that Peter Jan Rens would be fired in an instant would he even attempt to pull down his pants in front of a group of children, let alone putting his hands in a coworker’s pants. Yet when thinking about it, he wasn’t the only one who did these kinds of things back then. Take Telekids for example, a Dutch children’s show from the nineties: its two hosts Irene Moors and Carlo Boszhard ‘went steady’ and kissed on screen a lot (even though Carlo Boszhard is openly gay and has been for as long as I can remember). They even had a weekly contest in which children who were going steady themselves were put in the spotlight and had to kiss each other on the mouth every time they correctly answered a question about each other:
In this clip, Irene Moors explains that the children who are just shown kissing each other are not doing it properly because they don’t look each other in the eyes. She and Carlo then show their audience of primary school children how it should be done. Nowadays nobody would probably even think about suggesting such a thing for a children’s show, yet we watched this on a weekly basis. We also had several shower gel commercials back then that I don’t even dare to embed or link to in this blog because they now would be considered as pornographic.
So back to the topic of Rauzer in this regard: is it harmful? I certainly don’t think it is. The reason why I loved it as a child actually had nothing to do with Ine’s profession whatsoever; I loved the fact that Rauzer decided to make up his own mind and never gave up on this, despite everything that happened to him. I therefore still recommend it today, to children as well as to adults. As the one thing it tells you above anything else is actually that you can always find people caring for each other in the most unexpected places and manners. And that, I think, is something many of us could be reminded of from time to time.
I therefore have to admit that I’m also quite curious about Peter Jan Rens’ new book Ollie that came out last week. Ollie tells the story of a twenty-four year old man who has been spastic since birth, and deals with what it’s like when you’re confined to a wheelchair and trapped inside your own body your entire life. Is it possible to fall in love and to have that love answered? It’s probably no surprise that this book is also about sex: disability sex this time. According to Peter Jan Rens himself, Ollie is based on a friend and devoted fan of his who is also in a wheelchair and unable to communicate properly because of his handicap. Next to that, he states that Ollie is also a metaphor for his own life. Although his explanation why doesn’t seem to make that much sense to me, the core of it is that Ollie manages to find positivity in all the negativity that surrounds him, just like Peter Jan does himself.28
Ollie’s launch actually received a lot of attention from the press. Peter Jan Rens wore a light blue suit that resembled his Meneer Kaktus attire, a throwback to more successful years. As is Ollie by the way: as it turns out, he wrote it in the nineties. I hope that these twenty something years of awaiting publishing at least have given Mr. Rens enough opportunities to do some proper editing this time. Not that anybody seems to care about that: six days later I still can’t find a single review. The reason for all the media attention: Virginia, sick of the tabloids stating that she was already pregnant again, decided to take a pregnancy test at the spot, which came back negative.29 ‘Typically Dutch’ priorities, I guess…
P.S.: For those among you who are interested in reading Peter Jan Rens’ work but don’t speak any Dutch: Peter Jan has announced to the press that Ollie will be translated into “American” because he “has a presentation towards America in two weeks”.30
Many thanks to my good friend and former neighbour Smiley who was kind enough to lend me his copy of Rauzer.
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According to several websites, the intended age for this book is 10-12. ↩
Peter Jan Rens, Rauzer (Ploegsma 1992), chapter 1. Translated by me. ↩
Rauzer was published by Ploegsma, a Dutch publishing house that specialises in children’s literature. As I checked their website I noticed that Peter Jan Rens is no longer on their authors list. He does however still has his own page that apparently only can be found through the Google search engine. ↩
Peter Jan Rens, Rauzer (Ploegsma 1992), chapter 2. Translated by me. ↩
Peter Jan Rens, Rauzer (Ploegsma 1992), chapter 3. Translated by me. It is never specified which city Rauzer goes to. ↩
Peter Jan Rens, Rauzer (Ploegsma 1992), chapter 3. Translated by me. ↩
Peter Jan Rens, Rauzer (Ploegsma 1992), chapter 4. Translated by me. ↩
Peter Jan Rens, Rauzer (Ploegsma 1992), chapter 5. Translated by me. ↩
Peter Jan Rens, Rauzer (Ploegsma 1992), chapter 9. Translated by me. ↩
Peter Jan Rens, Rauzer (Ploegsma 1992), chapter 10. Translated by me. ↩
Due to a strict ban on underage smoking nowadays, you have to show your ID when they suspect you to be under the age of twenty-five, even though you can legally buy them from the age of eighteen. And if you have a child with you while buying them, there is even a chance you will not get them anyway, ‘because you might be buying the cigarettes for them’. ↩
Peter Jan Rens, Rauzer (Ploegsma 1992), chapter 12. Translated by me. ↩
Peter Jan Rens, Rauzer (Ploegsma 1992), chapter 13. Translated by me. ↩
Peter Jan Rens, Rauzer (Ploegsma 1992), chapter 16. Translated by me. ↩
The legal age to work as a prostitute in the Netherlands is eighteen. In the 1990’s red light districts were not fully legal but were tolerated, they became fully legal in 2000. As red light districts were and are usually under close supervision of the authorities in order to prevent exploitation, sex workers who don’t meet up to the demanded requirements can often be found on the streets in certain areas of town (which is or is not legal depending on what town or city you’re in) where supervision is less frequent. For more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostitution_in_the_Netherlands, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Street_prostitution and http://www.rnw.nl/english/article/faq-prostitution-netherlands ↩
Peter Jan Rens, Rauzer (Ploegsma 1992), chapter 16. Translated by me. ↩
Peter Jan Rens, Rauzer (Ploegsma 1992), chapter 18. Translated by me. ↩
Peter Jan Rens, Rauzer (Ploegsma 1992), chapter 19. Translated by me. ↩
Peter Jan Rens, Rauzer (Ploegsma 1992), chapter 19. Translated by me. ↩
Peter Jan Rens, Rauzer (Ploegsma 1992), chapter 20. Translated by me. ↩
As found on http://www.ploegsma.nl/web/Schrijvers-tekenaars/Auteur/Peter-Jan-Rens.htm, last checked 31-8-2014. The Dutch Children’s Jury is an annual literary kids’ choice award organization funded by the CNPB. According to Wikipedia “The Collectieve Propaganda van het Nederlandse Boek (CPNB, “Collective Promotion for the Dutch Book”) is a Dutch organization that includes representatives of bookstores and publishers, whose goal is to promote Dutch literature.” (Found on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collectieve_Propaganda_van_het_Nederlandse_Boek, last checked 31-8-2014) Yet the children’s jury also hands out awards to children’s books that are translated into Dutch from other languages, as, among others, Roald Dahl and J.K. Rowling have also received awards over the years. (Found on http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prijs_van_de_Nederlandse_Kinderjury, last checked 31-8-2014). ↩
Peter Jan Rens has told in several inteviews lately that he lost his former publisher a few years ago, which is also the reason why all his children’s books aren’t printed anymore and therefore only available second hand. Yet I personally think that the fact that Rauzer seems to be the only book that is not available in our public library anymore is very typical ↩
Heard in http://www.rtl.nl/rtl-late-night/#!/321877/video/9b225494-ad16-b7d9-af1b-02448171bfea-peter-jan-rens-ollie-is-mijn-alter-ego/, last viewed 31-8-2014 ↩
For pictures and a report of the launch in Dutch: http://glamora.ma/2014/08/fotos_mevr_kaktus_doet_live_zw.html#more, last checked 31-8-2014 ↩