Family Days, Story Reading & Pancakes

Last weekend saw the opening of our new office in The Bank on Rembrandtplein. Family and friends were invited to join in the fun and there were activities throughout the building, including cupcake decorating, face painting and Bollywood and Hiphop dance workshops.

Unfortunately, my lil family was absent due to an over-tired toddler and husband, so I adopted another family for the afternoon (thanks Miek and Danny!) The mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan, opened the building and did a speech, which included 3 mentions of the word “arse”. After which, lots of blue and white balloons were released into the sky, which looked pretty cool.

Watching tired but happy children leaving with new designs painted on their faces, and holding their cupcakes, it was safe to say the day was a success and despite missing my lil one, I had a nice time busting some Bollywood moves.

To make up for her no-show on Saturday, Lola took me out for some quality time on Sunday afternoon. First stop was the English Bookshop, where children’s writer, Hennie Jacobs, read from her book for bilingual children Thuis bij Betty & Cat.

As she was about 2 years too young for this storyreading session, Lola instead indulged in her newfound passions, climbing stairs, nicking toys from other children and yelling across the room at me. Throughout this experience, I wore my serene “yes my child, I’m lovingly listening to you whilst wishing a hole would open up in the floor below me” expression.

After the reading was over, Lola had a great time in the book/toy corner (well, she was already loudly doing that, but it was a bit less socially awkward after that). The ground floor of the bookshop really is a cosy place to help get young children into reading.

After the almost-success of storytime, we ventured to Pancakes! Amsterdam on Berenstraat for, well, pancakes. I’d read that it was a child-friendly place, but as is the case for many cafés in the 9 straatjes, it’s a pretty small space too, especially with a stroller and being surrounded by concerned diners, worried that their peaceful Sunday brunch is about to be tantrumed on.

The staff, however, were amazing. They helped stow away the stroller, made some space upstairs and brought us a high chair and some plastic cutlery for the Lil Miss. They were also just very friendly, which was refreshing for a busy café in the town centre.

Whilst she was settling in, Lola did what she would normally do to bring in the crowds – a bit of chucking of things onto the floor accompanied by cries of “oh-ooooooh” and some random chatter at fellow diners. All those endearing things that the general public just love to deal with during brunch….

After a while though, and with the promise of pancakes, she was relaxed and happily scoffing away and it felt more like I was having lunch with a surprisingly young friend rather than my daughter, and I started thinking of all the other adventures we were going to have in the future. Exciting times!

We ordered pancakes with natural yoghurt and strawberries (sneaky mama’s came with sugar whilst lil one’s was without…while I can still get away with it, ahem), and they were heeeeerlijk!

 

After lunch, the staff helped Lola into her stroller whilst I paid up. The tip was well-deserved and I definitely recommend the place.

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Every Day Is Record Store Day @ Waxwell Records

Next door to Sugar and Spice, there is a much more unassuming store. The records on display in the window show both the markings of good taste and a good collection of skulls. Inside the store, the owners have made the best use of the space – the only exhibits are the vinyl being sold, and the flyers for parties where the records will be played. Wooden shelves provide the housing for stacks of second-hand records, complete with their own dusty stories.

Taco is sat at the cash register talking on the phone when I walk in. I’ve met him at some point through our mutual friends, and when we get talking, we try to remember when, maybe in Brighton? Maybe at a Struttin’ party? Who knows. I tell Taco I’ve been writing posts about Record Store Day and he quickly tells me that the store won’t be doing anything for it. But it doesn’t matter, Waxwell Records is one of Amsterdam’s best second-hand record stores, it has heart and if I’m writing about Amsterdam’s local record stores, it needs to be included.

Taco tells me a little about the store. Along with two others, he started with the store 6 years ago, whilst working and DJing at De Duivel. In the beginning, the store was called Kids Love Wax. After realising they had different visions for the store, the two other partners left to pursue other opportunities while Taco carried on with a new partner, making a conscious decision to keep the place as a second-hand record store.

In hindsight, that decision has been a great one. Many of the stores selling new records have closed down, whilst vinyl sales have increased over the last few years. Indeed Taco has seen an influx of 16-18 year olds coming to buy vinyl and whilst we’re talking, there are two young guys deciding on their next purchase.

We talk about Taco’s first record purchase. It’s a toss-up between the Grease soundtrack and Roger Glover’s Love is All. We’re thinking the latter might be a bit before my time but Taco’s enthusiastic about the video, and after seeing it, so am I. Here it is for your viewing pleasure…

Waxwell Records originally started out selling soul, funk, hiphop and jazz. After several trips to the US, they noticed classic rock had a larger presence and brought some back.

“The market’s too small to specialize. You need a variety, and classic rock will always sell. And Queens of the Stone Age and their offshoots are great examples of today’s rock that sells well. And anything off Jack White’s label (Third Man Records) will sell like crazy,” Taco explains.

When I ask what the most popular record is in the store, it’s a quick answer. “Shuggy Otis’ Inspiration Information. When it’s in stock, I can guarantee I’ll sell it within 48 hours.”

We get back to talking about Record Store Day and Taco mentions there’s an element of cynicism about the event, and it’s easy to see why. Every flyer or website will talk about special or limited editions of classic collections. Mostly these are slight variations of the last editions.

“The people buying these are collectors. They’re already spending plenty of money on vinyl, but they’re coaxed into buying more with some fancy packaging or the addition of a free poster,” says Taco. “Then on the other hand there are those people that just want to give record stores a spotlight, which is the real deal, and that’s cool.”

Taco will be DJing with Bart Fdr and Alviz (from Lefties Soul Connection) at the return of their raw funk & soul night, Struttin’, on April 27th @Toko MC, Westergasfabriek. An interesting sidenote to this: Ewoud and I got together at a Struttin’ night almost 6 years ago in Bitterzoet, whilst dancing around to Bart’s set, who I was then lodging with. Cheers Papa P – I owe you a birthday beer!

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I only managed to visit 4 local record stores this week because each one’s owner was so interesting to talk to and happy to share their knowledge, that I always stayed longer than expected – and met cool people and discovered new music in the process.

These days we spend more time socializing, learning and getting news from behind computer screens. A much sought-after record can be found and bought with a 10-second google search and a click of a button. And whilst this is great advancement and a privileged convenience in busy times, the purchase doesn’t always feel as rewarding as it once did.

Quality conversation about your mutual musical interests combined with that moment when you happen upon a forgotten jewel or historical treasure after flipping through hundreds of frayed covers are two pretty good reasons why local record stores should remain important fixtures in our communities.

Record Store Day 2012: Sugar & Spice

Sugar & Spice is the next stop on my Record Store tour. Unfortunately, the store owner, Joanna, wasn’t in today, but Lien was happy to chat whilst working. This store is different to the others I’ve visited lately. Located in the cute Negen Straatjes, it was born after the company had been distributing records for a while and features more than records. The S&S team know how to create eye-catching window displays and have complemented the music with an art gallery, pristine coffee table books and cult DVDs.

Like Concerto, they’ve decided that the only way to keep moving forwards is by accessorizing – and they’re good at it.

The latest expo, 80s Heroes was in the process of being removed when I turned up, but I caught a couple of striking black and white portraits of Nick Cave. The replacement for Record Store Day is collage art by Iris Satijn.

Lien tells me the first record she bought was the 7-inch “Merry Christmas” by Slade. Classic cheese, and in my top 10 Christmas songs list. The last record she bought was by Deadbolt, who describe their sound as Voodoobilly and occasionally use chain saws on their guitars during live shows.

Lien’s music preference is punk and that’s good with me. I also learn that Sugar & Spice are official dealers of Vampisoul records and they have a healthy collection of Cramps albums.

Sugar and Spice are celebrating tomorrow with live music from the Ragtime Wranglers (rockabilly, blues, country music and everything in between – try not to dance to it.) The show starts at 16:00! If you can’t make it down there, they have over 60,000 titles available in their online store. They also have an app out!

With all these methods to buy music now, and with a limited space for stock on their shelves, why the need for a record store? Lien answer comes pretty quickly:

“People love to touch vinyl. They can smell it, feel it, they have the music in their hands and the artwork with it. And then they go home with something entirely different from what they came in for.”

Sugar & Spice, Gasthuismolensteeg 8a, 1016 AN Amsterdam

Amsterdam Record Store Day 2012: Concerto

Concerto lives on Utrechtsestraat, it’s been around since 1955 and has grown to fill 5 buildings with dance, pop, rock, jazz, world music and all those genres in between. I popped in on my way home from work yesterday and had a chat with the store manager, Anton, about how they were planning to celebrate Record Store Day. Turns out there’s a full day of bands playing in the store and plenty of limited edition releases on sale.

We had a nice chat about music, where I found out Anton’s first bought record was Darkness on the Edge of Town by Bruce Springsteen, AKA The Boss. As well as managing Concerto, Anton’s a passionate music collector himself, with a personal collection of over 3,000 records. His collection is organized by genre, and the Blues section (his favourite) is alphabetized for ease of use (favourite Blues record  Muddy Waters'”Folk Singer”). I like Anton.

While I’m there, staff are busying themselves with setting up sound systems and clearing spaces in preparation for the big day. There’s a few customers milling around too, with some intense browsing going on and some intense conversation between customer and staff in the jazz department.

I spend a great deal of time on the internet these days with working, blogging, social media and now buying habits. I wonder how so many record stores in Amsterdam seem to be thriving under the “current economic climate”.

“Most stores have a website too these days, so people can easily source what they want. We also want to keep the real, face-to-face customer service going in the shop. There’s nothing like being able to touch the vinyl, look through records yourself and be inspired by something you find that you may not have otherwise seen.”

I agree. There’s also still that need for human contact and social validation – or heated debate. We love to share our thoughts and passionate opinions on favourite bands, what better way than to do that with someone who’s been working in the field for so many years?

There’s a nice collection of turntables and accessories for sale in the store. But my main interest here is the records, and there are 50,000 new titles and 25,000 second-hand in stock at Concerto. I go behind the scenes to the stock room, where Anton shows me some of the special editions they’ll be selling tomorrow. There’s a great singles collection from Stax Records, “Never to be Forgotten: The Flipside of Stax 1968-1974” and special editions from some of the usual suspects, namely Beatles and Bob Dylan.

There’s live music playing at Concerto from 11:00-17:00 tomorrow, and you can find the full line-up here.

Concerto, Utrechtsestraat 52, 1017VP, Amsterdam

Record Store Day 2012: Record Palace

I’ve mentioned before that one of my all-time favourite novels is High Fidelity by Nick Hornby and the Mixtape Memories section in this blog is a nod to the book, as well as a place for myself and others to share the soundtracks to our personal stories.

I’m not sure which aspect of the book is my favourite – the painfully funny recounting of a sorry love life; the in-depth analysis of the process behind organizing a record collection; the record store setting or the observations about the people that frequent it. It just all works and at the same time celebrates that great institution, the independent record store.

Record Store Day has that same purpose. The fifth annual Record Store Day is just a couple of days away so I wanted to see how some of Amsterdam’s local record stores were marking the occasion. Record Palace on Weteringschans was my first stop.

I arrived at the store at exactly 18:00, which conveniently coincided with it closing. Jan saw me peeking through the vinyl display in the window and, despite being busy with preparations for the big day, opened the door to me, emitting only one loud sigh before inviting me in.

Jan van Dorsten turned his record-collecting hobby into a business back in 1988. Record Palace has since become a thriving business and the go-to place for visiting musicians. One wall on the first floor features albums signed by some of the more famous regulars, including Henry Rollins, Paul Weller, Beastie Boys.

At first I want to ask Jan some questions quickly and leave him to get on with it. But we soon recognise a shared appreciation for music and dry humour as I wander around his closed store feeling like an accidental VIP.

Jan’s first bought (new) record was probably Cliff Richard’s single ‘Bachelor Boy’ (there’s another possibility, but he’s not sharing that right now). He’s currently listening to a lot of Americana, though the store reflects his varied taste; from an extensive Jazz collection on the ground floor, to Rock, 60s garage bands and Reggae on the first.

I ask him if he has a favourite record and the look on his face suggests I may as well ask a kid who’s stuffing his face with sweets what the best grain of sugar was. His favourite record changes on a daily basis, depending on his latest discoveries and mood.

On Saturday, Jan has invited singer/songwriter Max Meser to play at the store and there will be plenty of limited edition vinyl on sale (including a Fall single) and vast music knowledge shared over refreshments. If you should find yourself there (and it would be rude not to), make sure to check out the latest display of record covers on the first floor before nudging your way through some of the 30,000 records in stock.

Record Palace, Weteringschans 33 (opposite Paradiso), 1017 RV, Amsterdam.

On a loosely related sidenote, Foam’s new expo opened this evening – Music &Foam. Highlights of the expo include an exclusive print by Anton Corbijn, portraits by paparazzo Ron Galello and a reportage by Amsterdam’s own Subbacultcha! 

Fond Farewells

Friday was Lola’s last day at the crèche she has been in since she was 4.5 months old. The first couple of months at crèche were pretty harsh on our lal lass. The crèche leader said she was shy, and was very choosy about which staff she liked (fair enough, I reckon!). There were days when she would cry a lot and when I picked her up at the end of the day, I’d feel the guilt of 1000 thieves. We had discussions about whether crèche was the right environment for her. And if it wasn’t…then what?

Paid maternity leave in The Netherlands lasts for 16 weeks and if you and your partner aren’t high earners but need to have reliable care in order to work, there’s not a lot of options after kinderopvang. Luckily, before we had to make the decision, Lola suddenly just got into it all. One day, her eyes stopped following me on my way out of the door and, instead, turned immediately to a doll or a playmate or a favourite crèche leader and the group leaders talked of how much much fun they were having with her. And since then, it’s gone brilliantly.

Except…it’s a 30-minute power walk in the opposite direction to our workplaces, so for the past year, we rushed around in the morning, legged it to crèche to drop Lola off and then just made it to work in time. Vice versa that for the PM, just before tea-time and the Witching Hour.

And then, joy of joys, a space became available in our lovely neighbourhood kinderopvang, a mere 5-minute walk from our front door. And if that’s not convenient enough, when Lola’s 2.5, she moves to the pre-school part which is next door and is filled with the kids she will most likely go to basisschool (primary school to the UK-ers) with! With that in mind, I checked it out and it turns out, the staff are as cool as they were in the other crèche and the place felt really cosy too. Jackpot!

So we decided to make the move now to ensure minimum disruption later on. Of course, we thought of how Lola may be with the change (memory similar to that of goldfish, might be a bit weird at first, but give it a week and she’ll be reet) and how we would be with it (woohoo, extra 5 minutes’ snooze alarm!) but we hadn’t paid much thought to those at crèche.

Last Friday we picked Lola up from her old crèche for the last time and took a big box of chocolates and card for the group leaders who have cared for her over the past year. And they gave us a book filled with Lola’s drawings (well, there were signs of an attempt at crayon hitting paper), some photos, and messages from the team.

Some highlights:

“Bye Lola, The months that I have experienced with you were really nice. I have seen you grown from a crawling baby to a walking toddler! I will miss you.”

“I find it a real shame that you are leaving. You are such a nice girl. Have a lot of fun in the new creche. We will miss you very much.”

Very rough translation:

Dear Lola,
These are your artworks which you made in the group.
When you first came to us you had a difficult time but after a while it went so well with you.
You’re a happy girl and I’ll miss you. I hope to see you again sometime.
Have fun at your other daycare and hope that it also goes well for you there.

They’d known Lola almost as long as we had. They’d gone through their own journey with her, building a relationship, working through challenges, gaining trust and not just caring for her because it’s their job, but really enjoying being with her. And we had the luxury of taking that for granted while we went off to work.

We sat on the couch on Friday night and looked through the book, reading the comments, admiring Lola’s replication on paper of Jean Michel Basquiat’s street art, and I questioned, for the 4,980,6770 time since becoming a parent, if we’d done the right thing.

“Who knows?” is normally the right answer, which is followed by “lets wait and see”. No doubt Lola will settle into her new crèche, as she did her old one. She’ll make new friends, build bonds with other caretakers and rock the place. And we’ll carry on watching her development like amazed by-standers, and feel fortunate that we have these great day cares that our lil one can go to, and thrive in, when we’re not around.

So…what do you do for care providers who go that extra mile? The over-sized box of Merci chocs from AH aren’t cutting it this time. Ideas in the comments section are gratefully received!

Pieces of Easter

Its been a busy but fun time in the Benoist household over the last couple of weeks. We’ve had visitors, work trips and social stuff and today is all about clearing up the place. And sitting down in it.

Easter weekend was lots of fun, with friends coming to stay and Lola having an in-house playmate. After several territorial toy-grabbing sessions, they bonded over food and drink. A typical holiday weekend then…

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It was a mixed bag of weather over the weekend, but the Sunday turned out pretty sunny so after a mammoth brunch we headed off to our new favourite place, Amstelpark to check out Puremarkt. This is another of Amsterdam’s cute markets, featuring organic food and beauty produce and all that kind of wholesome goodness. Oh and there’s booze too!

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Highlights included spicy pulled pork wraps, cheap Hungarian champagne with our imaginary friends and running with ducks. Lowlights included a tired hubby who had to leave early, overly dry lemon cake and being too Northern about the presence of the sun and failing to wear a big coat.

Here’s a few photos of the market and the play areas of Amstelpark, in case anyone needs further encouragement to check it out.

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What’s your favourite Amsterdam market?