Everything about him confirms that Jamie McAleenan (20), originally from Ireland, is a total gentleman. On agreeing that the EM reporter could join him, he advises wearing comfortable shoes. “The journey takes over two hours and we might not get a seat.” Once on the way from Kralingse Zoom, he will only sit down if there’s also a seat for the journalist. When he subsequently speculates aloud whether journalism is actually an art form, because it asks questions, inspires and stimulates, the charm offensive is complete.
The NS regularly messes up
Incidentally, McAleenan speaks very little Dutch. The only things he understands are the NS announcements, he explains at Rotterdam Alexander station. “I now know most of the times and routes of all the trains that stop here. You have to do something to pass the time when there’s another delay. The NS regularly messes up – write that down!”
Twelve years ago the family moved from Ireland to Arnhem for his father’s work. “Because we went to an international school, I never learned the language.”
He’s now in his second year studying history in Rotterdam. “It’s the only English-taught history programme in the Netherlands. The alternative was to move to the UK or the US. But the political climate there doesn’t appeal to me.”
Churchill was a war criminal
What does he do while he’s travelling? “The correct answer is that I get out my laptop and study. The honest answer is that I often take out my phone and play games or look at memes. If it’s not too busy, I might even read a paper. If the subject’s interesting, the journey can pass amazingly fast.”
After buying a snack at Utrecht Central – “It’s difficult not to buy something” – we get on the intercity to Arnhem. As we speed through the landscape of the Utrechtse Heuvelrug, we discuss conspiracy theories about Winston Churchill. A total war criminal, according to McAleenan. On arrival in Arnhem, he needs a train to Arnhem-Zuid, so we say goodbye. He waves and goes down the steps, a two-hour journey done and still some way to go.