One thing is certain. English is not my native language. I don’t remember when I started reading English. It must have been during high school or shortly thereafter. As a matter of fact we had to read at least four English books in order to pass our exam. By the way: I call it highschool. As far as I can judge the Dutch HBS (Hogere= higher, Burger=civilian, School= school) can be best compared to the American High School, but I can be totally wrong. The HBS was a 5-year secondary school that followed the 6-year primary school. (as you might guess.) I started the HBS at the age of 12.
Among the first books I read (not connected to school) I remember I, the jury from Mike Hammer. It was in the mid fifties of the 20th century and I remember only vaguely that Mike Hammer was running around in New York most of the time at night, killing people just because they had to be killed. Most probably the victims were part of the growing communist threat.
Another book that comes tot my mind is The decline and fall of practically everybody, written by Will Cuppy. It gave a rather hilarious history of the most important people in world history. I was rather fond of that book that offered details you don’t easily find in the official history books. For instance: King Philip II of Spain must have scribbled all kinds of notes on little pieces of paper. After his death those pieces of paper were collected bundled with silk ribbons and eventually thrown away. I loved the humorous relativity and understatements in English. Therefore I kept reading.
In 1955 I became an engineer in the merchant navy on the ships of Shell Tankers Inc.
It happened that in 1958 I visited New York for the first time. It was a short visit, as usual; those visits didn’t take more than the time needed for unloading or loading our cargo and prepare for sea again. Our ship was moored in Perth Amboy. I could take a train that went to Pennsylvania Station in the center of New York. I bought stamps at the Post Office near by and discovered that the Empire State Building was only a few blocks away. So I walked those blocks, took the elvator to the top of the building and was amazed not only by the view over New York, but also because I did not experience any of the effects of my usual fear of heights. So I walked through New York and took the picture on this page.
I was struck by the contrast.