Interview by Dave Thomas
Please welcome Britsoc’s new chairman Nick Nugent
1) Where did you grow up and what is your most vivid school memory?
I’m the son of two proper Scousers. I was born in Rainhill, which is famous for two things:
- The largest mental hospital in Europe (now closed)
- Where the first steam locomotive trials took place (http://www.rainhilltrials.com/)
My most vivid school memory is from a school rugby match. For my first three years at secondary school, I played second row in the school team. I was large, quick, but not very skilful. On entering the fourth year, I discovered to my horror that my classmates had all become giants. The opposition has also grown, too. The match I remember was on a cold, windy, raining day. I got bashed around, and didn’t touch the ball all game. Afterwards, I somehow plucked up the courage to tell my Welsh sports teacher Mr Thomas that I no longer wanted to be selected. I’m glad I did because I ‘m much better at swimming than rugby.
2) How did you land up in the Netherlands?
My background is chemistry. I started a Unilever, working as a research chemist at Port Sunlight. Bench chemistry was not my thing, so I switched to sales and landed a job at Philips Analytical. Their headquarters is in Almelo, in the east of the Netherlands. I was a road warrior in the UK for 10 years with regular visits to Almelo for meetings and customer demonstrations. In 2004 I persuaded them to let me do a part-time MBA. When I graduated in 2008 I was offered a position as the Export Business Manager in Almelo. I eventually ended up in Amsterdam in 2011 after getting a new job in a similar area with Agilent Technologies. I now work for a small Canadian software company and I live in Amsterdam West.
3) Which beer should Zine’s Beer Hunter try next?
When it comes to beer I’m really British. I’ve given Belgian and Dutch beers a try, but simply don’t like their sweet, hugely alcoholic, hoppy nature. I prefer British ale. You can get bottles of things like London Pride at Delerium on Piet Heinkade, Café Soundgarden the grungy bar on Marnixstraat and Bar Brouw near the FoodHallen. For draft ale there are only two places: Coco’s has Hobgoblin (but they don’t keep it properly) and Hoopman on Leidseplein has Old Spec, which is kept much better.
4) What’s your Britsoc history in 30 words?
Mike Carn (OBE), Wildshut pub night, Beer, friends, Expatica Fair, 1st Ball – Koppelkerk, Social Fridays, 2nd & 3rd Ball Hilton, Murder mystery dinner, 4th Ball St Olafs, Chair of my 5th Ball, Committee Member, Chairman.
Sorry a little over 30 words.
5) You’re known to Zine readers for your regular Nick’s Nosh column. Where does your passion for food and dining out come from?
I ended up at Birmingham university, which was my second choice, in a self-catering hall out in the sticks. My uni friends included a few chemists who fancied doing Sunday roast like our mums did. So every Sunday, when there was enough of us, we did a big roast dinner. Birmingham is also where I acquired my taste for curry. During my master’s degree, Ready, Steady, Cook made its TV debut. It opened my eyes to the wider world of food. And the odd posh dinner in a fancy restaurant or hotel as a student is where I learned to appreciate fine dining. Since graduating, I ‘ve travelled a lot. I always ask for the local dish where possible, ranging from kumis (fermented horse milk, awful) in Kazakhstan, to gesiers (chicken gizzards, sublime) in France.
6) What should the outgoing Britsoc Chairman, Ian Cherington, be remembered for in the Britsoc roll of honour?
Ian did a great job. At the start of his tenure, several tough decisions had to be taken like scrapping the paper version of Zine, and digitising the society. This has made our large events much easier to organise, although it has alienated some people who are less digitally inclined. I’d like to thank him for his hard work.
7) Which book would you like to see Beth review in her book blog?
I used to read science fiction, and I had a real soft spot for Terry Pratchett. Now I tend to read more non-fiction, mostly business-related stuff. I ‘m about to go on holiday and my “light” reading consists of Six Simple Rules by Peter Tollman, and Simple by Alan Siegel. I’m not sure Beth wants to review those though.
8) Full steam ahead or all change? What do you want to see happen with Britsoc over the next year?
The society has always asked itself “what are we here for?” Ian focused on making sure we are known for our large events. Consequently some of the smaller things have fallen by the wayside due to a lack of organisers and interest. I think this is partly responsible for our dip in membership. People’s first contact with Britsoc is now through a big event such as the Ball or Bonfire night, which mostly non-members attend. We have never been able to convert this attendance into membership. We have argued that it makes sense to join the society financially, as you then pay less for various events. However, people seem happy to pay more to avoid the “hassle” of membership. Non-members also attend many of our regular sports and social activities. So the whole membership issue is one of the first big questions I face, and I want to consult the committee about this.
Socially, things have changed a lot in Amsterdam. There are so many expat events and activities people can attend each week. So what makes ours different? How can we capitalise on our Britishness, and create something that it is really worth being a part of?
I think our relationship with English language schools and organisations needs to improve. I would like to talk with them and find out what they’re looking for. I think this would provide a good source of ideas for events, especially for families.
So initially there will be a lot of talking. I want to collect the thoughts and viewpoints from all corners of Britsoc, and from the English-speaking community. All of our major events are well under way in terms of organisation, so nothing will happen there in the short term. But I think you will see small things starting to happen, towards the end of this year.
If you would like to share your views with me then please do get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
9) We have not got you to do a Texel Island Discs yet. So in the mean time, can you tell us what your favourite piece of classical music is?
Rachmaninoff ‘s Piano Concerto No.2 in Cm Op.18 – I. Moderato. Most people would recognise the more famous South Bank show tune Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. This concerto is, however, my favourite. Mostly for the dramatic dark introduction, and then how the theme expands to a more romantic melody. Reprising the introduction with a stronger melody towards the end.
10) In this 24/7 age of social media and instant gratification how do you plan to get people involved in and committed to Britsoc?
As I said above, I think competing for people’s time has become a real challenge in this day and age. Unless you offer something completely different, or dazzlingly interesting, then how can you hope to compete as an organisation? Social media now allows you to find exactly the tribe you are looking for, whether you are into extreme ironing, or guerrilla knitting. Handling such diversity is a challenge for Britsoc, as a more general group. However, we have a healthy 1000 plus followers on Facebook, and over 800 on Twitter. Together with the 4000 odd readers of our web publication Zine/Fish and Chips for the Soul, and around 30,000 unique hits per year on our website. So we are reaching a substantial audience. These platforms serve as a way to get some of our message across. But for smaller events, I will explore using Meetup as well. This is a well-established tool and I think it could help bring some new and different faces to Britsoc. I think visibility is the key, being relevant and interesting. We’ll need to do some experimenting and stick with what works.
11) We’re a pretty cultured bunch at Zine. Which venue in Amsterdam would you like Britsoc’s photographer, Benjamin Arthur, to capture for you?
One of my passions is modern architecture, and I’m a great fan of the Rogers partnership. Their designs incorporate so much energy efficiency and sustainability. So my choice is “The Rock” at Amsterdam Zuid/ WTC.
12) Finally, back to food. What’s your favourite recipe from Karen Vivers, Zine’s resident cooking coach?
Now that autumn’s started it would have to be the slow-braised beer oxtail (British beer though).