An Amsterdam education

The kids have learnt a few things in Amsterdam – not all of which would have been on the curriculum back home.

A day spent at the NEMO science centre was filled with educational experience and a lot of fun. NEMO is an absolutely fantastic place and the fact that it has its own, real chemistry lab which the kids could conduct experiments in made it unique in our experience. We can’t recommend the place highly enough (here is Jennifer’s review).

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My own favourite thing was being able to touch a meteorite that is 4.65 BILLION years old. That’s older than the Earth, and that puts our Egyptian old things and even the dinosaurs we’ve seen to shame.

There’s also a section for teens which we had to sternly steer the boys away from as it was, in Dutch fashion, not in the least subtle. The entrance is graced by a wall of Karma Sutra positions made with little wooden artists’ figures. Amazing how much you can bend one of those little dolls.

We also participated in an experiment being conducted by the local university. They are trying to produce accurate computer technology to recognise facial expressions. To this end they get subjects to watch a series of videos under controlled conditions and monitor expressions. One set of videos was a series of very clever commercials from the USA. The idea behind the commercials was people being caught doing something innocuous in a way which looked very bad, the tag-line being something like don’t judge things too quickly. Anyway, the aim in showing them was just to get you to laugh. But one of the ads they showed the adults involved a man handing his daughter some money while she leans in the window of his car; a police car pulls up behind and the scene of course looks very, um, inappropriate. Callum is now desperate to understand what was going on in the scene – so there’s another bit of education for him.

Amsterdam window shopping.

Finally there’s the education that comes from walking Amsterdam’s streets and seeing the laissez-fair attitude to marijuana in action. Our local cafe is called Cafe Reefer. Many cafes advertise, quite subtly but clearly, that they have wares available that are not just coffee. And there’s smoking paraphernalia available in a wide range of shops. So, of course, our inquisitive pair had to be told what it all meant. This led to some complicated conversations about why some drugs are thought to be OK, and others not. Conversations with, I have to say, a solid sub-text that all drugs are bad – which made Declan’s question about why we were allowed, and in our case very willing, to drink alcohol a curly one to deal with.

For three days, Amsterdam has been an education.

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