The Dutch Balloon Twisting Society
If you twist balloons and are Dutch then the chances are you are a member of the Dutch Balloon Twisting Society. If not, then you are almost certainly some kind of rebel, a maverick in the balloon-twisting world, and the DBTS is probably much better off without you and your anti-social radicalism. Go and make your balloon animals in Cuba, we don’t want you here.
I faintly remember balloon-twisting. When I was growing up it seemed to form part of the school curriculum. Every now and then, in between lessons, there would be some kind of occasion in the hall, and a feature of it would be a middle-aged man in an ill-fitting suit making sausage dogs out of inflatable plastic. Sometimes he made giraffes. But mostly sausage dogs. Camels must have been trickier – I never saw a camel.
I don’t see many balloon-twisters around much these days. Are they a dying craft, like knife-grinders and chimneysweeps? Did they go the way of the miners? Are they the forgotten victims of the economic revolution of the 1980’s? Did Margaret Thatcher order police baton charges on hundreds of striking balloon-twisters? Were they hauled into the backs of police vans screaming ‘Get your hands off my sausage dog?’
They had a union here in the UK: The National Association of Balloon Artists (NABA). But perhaps they were led by a balloon-twisting version of Arthur Scargill, and the Conservative Government wanted nothing better than to see him destroyed along with all the other ‘beer and sandwiches’ brigade. For NABA, I am reliably informed, is no more. Its former leader, Oscar the Clown, ekes out his last bitter days in an old folk’s home in Bolton, showing his giraffe to anyone who cares to see it.
But in the Netherlands balloon-twisters obviously had a brighter future. They didn’t go on strike without a secret ballot. They weren’t secretly funded by an obnoxious Libyan dictator. They just quietly and peacefully plied their art in schools and halls up and down – or rather across, if we’re talking of the Netherlands – their grateful nation. Like clog-making and the manufacture of marijuana cigarettes, balloon manipulation has survived as a craft in Holland into the twenty-first century. To be a balloon twister and to be Dutch, therefore, is to be happy.
Are there any animals peculiar to Holland that the Dutch balloon-twister can make that his British counterpart cannot? Certain snakes, no doubt, given the paucity of those creatures in these islands. The Rotterdam Filligrew Snake? The Groningen Hedgehog? I’ve just made those up. I just don’t know. There, I’ve said it.
One characteristic of balloon artists, of course, is that they all have extremely powerful lungs. An inevitable consequence of their chosen art. They develop, over the years, massive upper bodies. Some of them turn into freaks and have to be hidden away in secret hospitals. This is where the Dutch Balloon Twisting Society comes in – I am told that they fund various clandestine medical centres up and down Holland where victims of ‘Giant Lung Syndrome,’ as it is called, can go for a lung-reducing operation. Balloon twisters book into the clinic looking like Charles Atlas and come out resembling Twiggy. It’s remarkable. I’ve met some of them. Of course once they’ve had the operation they can never go back to balloon-twisting. Their new small lungs are just not up to it. They can scarcely come up with a prawn, let alone a sausage dog.
So if you are a young person on the threshold of life and are about to go in for your first Career Guidance interview at school – and if, when seated before your mentor a sudden vision floats before you in the form of a cylindrical inflated orange dachsund – then balloon twisting must be for you. It’s a calling, a vocation, like nursing or bookmaking. But let me give you one piece of advice. Pretend to be Dutch. To be Dutch and a Balloon-twister, is to be protected.
A poignant work by Hans Stoefflerssen entitled: ‘Regrets’
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