The circumstances which brought me to a hotel in the windy coastal town of Zandvoort-aan-zee might, with a measure of generosity, be described thus: I was on assignment, as a photographer, with a journalist writing for the Independent.
The penthouse floor of this nondescript hotel played host to a curious, wonderful little event: Cabbagecon, a two-day convention for fans of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels.
The attendance was about equal to the average family gathering (given my freakishly large family tree, I may not have the same perception of such events as most people) and the atmosphere likewise, though without quite so much passive-aggression.
I loved the Discworld books in my youth. I fell out of the series, as a consequence of falling our of reading entirely, around the 25th book, Hogfather. When I was still dependent on my town’s library I’d resort to Dutch translations of the books (rather than risk reading them out of order) and found the translations to be not just surprisingly good, but enchantingly so.
British wit, such as that which resonates with every clack of Pratchett’s typewriter, hinges on cheeky wordplay and profound understanding of common English culture. Dutch is a far less loquacious language than English, so it requires a very insightful, lateral mind to be a Dutch punner.
Reading the Dutch translations and, in my mind, translating them back to English to deduce what might have been the original jokes left me utterly awestruck at the translator’s ingenuity. Not only could he find Dutch equals of clever language gags, but he had an uncanny ability to adapt a joke to apply to common-folk Dutch culture.
And to my great delight, this assignment gave me an opportunity to make the translator’s acquaintance.
Writing under the heteronym Venugopalan Ittekot, Ruurd de Groot is a scientist by trade who, when he isn’t producing staggering works of linguistic genius, visualises human perception for road traffic-related branches of government, to show how the road looks to a driver, simulating impression of peripheral vision or developing specifically calibrated simulations of colour-blindness.
When he granted me some time to sit for a portrait we geeked out about photography and optics.
I have never been so star-struck in my life.
Books, games, handmade props and costumes dotted the space, all in the spirit of good old-fashioned love and handicraft. Cabbage-patterned dresses, frilly lace and gleaming armour; if the event could be accused of lacking quantity, it certainly held its own in ingenuity and spirit.
I didn’t have an overabundance of time to spend with these fine folks, though I did manage to cajole a few into performing an impromptu Night Watch vs Assassin take-down scenario, and I didn’t meet a soul who didn’t appreciate (or at least tolerate) my taking their picture. One gentleman even had a prop iconography he’d fashioned, in which a little imp could be seen painting the picture.
Friendly, familial and ever so clever, my brief time with the Cabbagecon family left me whistling and gleeful, and thinking, in more than a passing fashion, that it’s high time I picked up the Discworld books again.
They’re up to 39 novels now, so I’ve some catching-up to do.