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Friday, 30 December 2011

New Year’s Resolutions

1.       I will lose 18lb, this is my favourite and most faithful resolution, having listed it rigorously for the last decade.
2.       I will try for a distinction on my first assignment on my English Literature degree course.
3.       I will not give up or sulk if I don’t get a distinction (tricky one).
4.       I will groom Alfie every day and not just finger comb and cut out the knots.
5.       I will brush my hair every day and not just finger comb and cut out the knots.
6.       I will train to run 5 kilometres a day.
7.       I will be grateful for the people in my life who love me just the way I am, and for the ones that have faith that I can improve.
8.       I will spend one night this year sleeping under the stars.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Fifth letter: Sugar Puffs and Melon Balls

Hello *******

I have a feeling(Song lyrics attaching to my brain today: I Gotta feeling, Black Eyed Peas) we may have a breakthrough, yesterday I received a comment from anonymous  claiming to be you. Not possessing the trusting nature I once had, I’ve set a simple test to establish the truth.
Back to life, in the Nederlands. (Back to life back to reality, don’t know who sang that) 
Last day before the Christmas Holidays
Alfie has his eye on a tasty bratwurst stall.
The day after our furniture arrived we’d arranged to meet the chap from the relocation agency, I’ll call him Sidney too.  Remember how I fixate over organisation and time? Well on the Isle of Wight I’d already spent several hours ringing or emailing Sidney, who’d indicated that my concerns about immigration would be resolved at our meeting. I prepared a carefully purchased folder with everything from passports, travel insurance, medical records, National Insurance numbers to three notes pads and several pens.
Sidney organised to accompany us to two meetings, the bank (useful) and the ultra trendy town hall.(yes even town halls can be trendy) Throughout the whole hour and a half we had his attention, he addressed all his questions to Andy and Andy alone. Had these have been the kind of questions Andy could answer, I would have been happy to settle back and let the men get on with it, however – the questions went a little like this:

Sidney: ‘Ando, you have your passport?’
Andy: ‘Trace have we got the passports?
I’d pull the passports out of my special folder.
Sidney: ‘Ando, have proof house ownership?’
Andy: ‘Trace, what’s he talking about?’
I’d pull out mortgage papers.
Sidney: ‘Ando, do you have new address?’
I’d pass Andy one of my new address cards, etc.. etc..

Why was I invisible? The Netherlands is an alien country, but the people are organised and liberal, it was hard to imagine the Dutch as sexist. That left one of two explanations: 
1, Andy had once more used his sparkling wit and manly solidarity to eclipse my more practical appeal.  
2, Sidney so enjoyed his new game of listening and roaring with laughter at Andy’s mild Scottish tones wrestling with obscure Dutch village names, that he plain forgot I was there.

‘Sidney was a bit of a knob.’ I moaned at Andy later, looking for support and a bit of camaraderie.
 ‘Really?’ Andy replied, ‘I thought he was quiet nice.’ <hummm>

Tuesday 27th of December

Is it time for breakfast?
I thought I’d fill you in on our Christmas Break so far: Friday the 23rd we sailed on P&O’s The Pride of Hull (Andy called it an oxymoron) from Rotterdam back to the UK.  My expectation have changed much since we at school, because I loved the ship, the five foot double bedroom,(oxymoron?) the fold down bed and the ensuite with the world’s smallest shower. The staff in Mayfair's famous Langan's Brasserie, skilful and attentive, the menu read beautifully, but tasted better in my imagination. After dinner drinks in the Sunset lounge bar, accompanied by the four piece self-absorbed teenage band seemed so far removed from our apartment, I was beginning to get that nice warm glow that acts as a false companion to the start of any holiday. The nice warm glow didn’t last, we climbed to the sky lounge, bought yet more wine and Andy squeezed my hand all matey and pronounced rather proudly.
‘We’re the romantic equivalent of turds of the ocean, aren’t we?’
The next morning the ships tanoy woke us at 7am, threatening a rush for breakfast. Andy fearing a queue or worse, a sausages shortage had us in the buffet bar within four minutes. (truly) ‘You look pissed.’ Andy said all concerned, as I swayed over the black pudding, I caught a glimpse of my eyes reflected in the polished stainless steel of the serving counters . I didn’t look pissed, I looked like a middle-aged vampire with bloodshot eyes and dried white foam on my lips.(that’s what you get if you rush teeth brushing) I shrugged, I had already been called a turd of the ocean, this was a step up.
All that's missing are the melon balls
Now Andy’s ideal breakfast is normally a protein banquet, but at £20 ahead, he wanted, quite rightly to get his monies worth: full English breakfast, followed by Danish pastries and bizarrely, swimming in milk, a bowl of sugar puffs and melon balls. Unbelieving I watched him finish the bowl, my life has altered beyond all recognition and now it appears I’m living with the Honey Monster.
As a special treat just for us, The Pride of Hull developed technical problems and we managed to disembark in just over three hours, two hours of which we enjoyed in semi dark of the unheated passenger car deck. Even that couldn’t destroy my enthusiasm, it was almost Christmas and I was going to see my family.
Still red-eyed, and a little sleepy we finally hit the dual carriage way which would deliver us from Hull.(which by the way is as flat as the Netherlands) We endured one more finally hurdle – The Petrol Station! For most, a trip to the petrol station is stress free, they would be the people who haven’t stopped at a service station with Andy. Andy as you’ve guessed is a man of great intelligence, kindness, fiercely loyal to his friends and to the god of common sense, however he has one stumbling block, service station savouries: Ginsters steak and Ale pasty, spicy scotch eggs, triple breakfast sandwich, he has yet to actually enjoy any of the overpriced food(loose term). He’s like one of those Wild West bearded Americans’ panning for gold in the 1870’s always believing their big break will come tomorrow. Well Andy believed he found gold as he presented the eight inch wrapped buffet bar to the attendant: soft cheese, crisp coleslaw and mayonnaise, wrapped in pork sausage meat and deep fried in breadcrumbs, this buffet bar contained a man’s total recommended daily calories and enough salt to kill an army of snails. I watched Andy as once more we hit the dual carriage way, squinting against the brain freeze of the diet coke while grappling the eight inch savoury and the steering wheel. Perhaps it was mean of me to mention the Buffet Bar looked not unlike my image of The Turd of the Ocean, as he dry retched on the M18. Then again I have to take my small pleasures when I can.

My handsome sons and beautiful niece

The rest of the week, passed in a blur. Christmas day was quieter than usual, but no worse. I’ve been partially spoiled by my generous family, and my sons’ chose presents with thought and care that makes me proud to be their mother.

However to my family I would like to take this opportunity to publically apologise.
It’s not you, it’s me!
For the last two years,  most of my waking hours have been spent in silence and I’m good at that, I’m good at not making small talk or polite conversation, I’ve a talent for not replying when spoken too,  I’m at my best retreating deep into my grey matter and resurfacing for just a couple of hours a week. If I appear rude, it’s because I’m surprised at needing to think of answers to questions that are not my own, it’s not that I don’t want to answer, rather I need warning that I’ll be spoken too.(5 or 6 hours works well)

Nuff writing, I’m going find some wine and think of my resolutions for next year.

Trace xx

Speak again soon, remind me to tell you about the man inside the A board with the word’s Jesus has risen(In Dutch) chasing me and Alfie down the Beyerd last week.(I know you’d have made me stop)

My own Christmas elf

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Fourth Letter: Watching bats and counting wrinkles

Monday 19th of December

Hi *******

I pretty sure you’ve read the blogs by now, so your silence is as disturbing as it is rare. I’m going to run with the idea that you’re learning how to operate the laptop right now and fully intend to start your own blog in return. (Dreaming again)

Where was I, oh yeah, watching bats and counting wrinkles.  At 9am the next morning the removal company arrived, Sidney(an alias) knocked on the door of our first floor apartment, with my giant Yucca plant in his arms.

Alfie posing by the giant Yucca plant
‘Cuppa tea and a biscuit wouldn’t go a miss.’ Sidney said carrying the Yucca through to the living room. ‘Uses a lot of energy running up and down them stairs.’

I apologised for the lack of biscuits and hastily set of to find a supermarket. The next few hours were spent in a blur of packing boxes, tea making and jokes about broken furniture and my ability to put together an Argos desk. (Speaking from experience, its IKEA all the way now) Sidney and his mate, both over a decade older than us,  with what can only be described as superhuman gusto and regular cuppa stops finished before lunch time, also it has to be said, the speed of the removal was helped by the fact we’d either sold or given away most of our furniture to fit in the house on the Isle of Wight.

‘Make us another cuppa while I pop in the shower.’ Says a red faced sodden Sidney.  I nodded mutely.(turning passive as a line of defence)   Andy’s face was priceless as Sidney locked the bathroom door and began humming the theme from Jaws under the running water. Bemused and still seeing bats I made yet more (8 rounds in total) cuppa’s and took them and the biscuits onto the balcony.  Andy and I exchanged muffled accusations while Sidney hummed his way through The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and a full tube of Links gel in our shower. I’m not sure how it works in most households but we’re a bit precious about our bathroom, this is our personal space where, pills, dyes, cartons of cellulite busting cream and the rest of requirements of our aging humanity are hidden.

‘Left your towels(notice the plural) in the bath.  You might want to think about giving them a wash.’ Said a fresh faced Sidney walking out onto the balcony.  Downing his final cuppa and popping a biscuit in his mouth.  ‘Right we’re off, gonna spend a couple of days in Amsterdam.’ He said winking and enveloping me in a bear hug.

 As we waved them off from the balcony, our last connection with the Isle of Wight drove away, I felt a little more confident  about our decision to move to the Netherlands, Andy however stared longingly at the disappearing beefy lorry and wondered aloud if he’d be able to do a job like that. I pretended not to hear.

The white goods were delivered an hour later by two seriously tall Dutch lads (I was beginning to feel petite), who with bizarre Netherland efficiency  unpacked and fitted our new fridge, washing machine etc.. Then to our great surprise took away the cardboard, I was beginning to warm to Dutch customer service.

 Our meagre(klein in Dutch) furnishing looked doll like in the vast expanse of our new apartment, I felt the pull of IKEA.  Andy however, felt the pull of the drill, he needed to hang his crocodile sized speaker on the wall.(never understood why this was a priority, but I’ve learnt not to ask questions where Andy’s technology’s involved) Now this drill is not just any ordinary drill but his super powered, will muscle its way through any substance drill.

Alfie retreating under the table
 ‘Won’t take a minute.’ He says reverently removing the drill from its case. Forty minutes later the wall had been measured and pencil marked within an inch of its life. I felt the dull thud of my heart that always accompanies the drill as Andy plugged in the extension cable and forced the first of many drill bit’s into the wall. The noise was deafening , not only deafening but on some primitive level terrifying too. Another forty minute passed and unable to stand the noise or watch the beads of perspiration on Andy’s face , I retreated to the kitchen and hid under the table with Alfie.

We appreciate now, that the outside walls are concrete (to match the floor) and nobody, really nobody drills into the outside walls in the Nederlands.

We’re learning to appreciate many things about the Nederlands, mainly that it never works as expected: there are not enough light sockets in the apartment, the people drive on the wrong side, dentists and doctors close for lunch and coffee breaks, bicycles rule the roads and strangest of all the Dutch say what they mean. I may, in time learn to integrate with the Dutch but after a lifetime of half-truths and hidden meanings I doubt  I’ll ever be able to say what I mean.

Alfie still under the table forty minutes later

Okay, it’s almost Christmas and I doubt we’ll manage to meet up. So from the Nederlands I want to wish you and your family a very merry Christmas.
Please click on the following link or copy and paste to your browser to receive our Christmas greeting:

Trace x
Btw, It was another half-truth about the bathroom contents, I don’t own cellulite busting cream.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Third letter: Illegally parked

Wednesday the 14th of December

Hello again *******

Well the good news is you’ve heard about these blogs, but have you actually read them?
            Right, returning to our amalgamation into the Nederland’s. On the 17th of August we said goodbye to our life on the Isle of Wight, packed the car with a lamp, two laptops, an overnight bag, blow up double bed, two pillows, quilt and of course Alfie. Arriving at the ferry terminal we found, to Andy’s irritation, we were boarding the same boat as our removal company Page the Packers, which meant making small talk or hiding – we hid. However, typically we’d vastly overrated our conversational appeal as the removal blokes similarly kept a low profile and the short sea journey turned into a cat and mouse game of avoidance. Driving to Folkestone was conducted under similar circumstances as the miles of roadworks gave ample opportunity for over and undertaking of the removal lorry, each pass accompanied by a small elbow cringing wave (me) or even worse thumbs up (Andy) to the indifferent, stoic faced inhabitants in the cab of Page the Packers.  
We made the channel tunnel in record time, no more small talk for us! Oh and by the way if you haven’t travel on the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle yet, I can highly recommend it, it’s like a close encounter with Star Trek: strobe lighting, aluminium sliding panels and alien background hum. Driving up to the second level I began twitching with the thrill of the adventure we were embarking on, I was about to travel under the ocean on a train built like a spaceship taking us to a new life, casting Andy a sideways glance I’d like to say he was cool and collected, however he wore a silly sideways smile, partly obscured by his Sony camera straps.
The alien adventure begins
Once in France Andy took over the driving, remember my trouble with left and right?  Well it hasn’t improved and I wasn’t about to put us both in danger by driving on the wrong (right) side of the road. We motored through France, Belgium and finally the Nederland’s with the help of our reluctantly, purchased new friend Mr Satnav,  and drove through the electric doors at 7pm to our underground car park. Only to find some bastard (only fair way to describe him) had parked his Mini in our designated parking space. Had this happened in the UK, we’d have ‘borrowed’ an empty parking slot and left our phone number on the windscreen, however this wasn’t the UK, we'd already committed one faux pas in the underground garage when we set off all the alarms, and we’d just moved house, sailed across the Solent, raced through the south of England, travelled under the ocean and driven through three European countries, logic went out of the window. We had very little grasp of the language but I’m fairly sure the big white NP signs mean the same in English as they do in Dutch - No Parking.  Yet after reversing back and forth for several minutes we decided obviously to park under the largest NP sign. Now, Andy as you’re probably not aware can, at times be quite intimidating and to be sure the evil car parking thief understood the gravity of his crime and the extent of Andy’s annoyance he scrawled the following message to the villain on a piece of A4 paper and stuck it under his windscreen wipers.

Illegally parked  (In English) That’ll show em!

Saturday 17th of December (Going to a birthday party tonight.. yeah!)

            Grumpy and sober we open the door to our new home, the thin grey carpets(cheapest we could find) had been laid and the apartment looked better than we remembered, it almost made up for the illegally parked Mini. Unpacking an overnight bag in an empty apartment doesn’t take long and soon we were itching to go out and explore, after all we deserved a drink.  Don’t we always?
Once again Breda was buzzing with the café culture lifestyle, every restaurant or bar spilled out onto the cobbled streets, the tables and chairs dotted with red or cream blankets, thoughtfully provided to protect exposed shoulders when the sun dips behind the stunning gilded cathedral. We found ourselves a table in the heart of the bars and watched the beautiful people go by. And beautiful they were, we were surrounded by a tall confident race, none of whom appeared over 25 years old. I felt the first of many, new insecurities. On the Isle of Wight I’d been one of the younger generation, here I was approaching grandma status, I almost mentioned this to Andy, but his and Alfie’s attention was captivated by the beautiful white German Shepherd at the next table and the two flawless girls sitting with it, I suggested an early night.
I’d not slept for 36 hours at this point and desperate to get back to the apartment and blow up the temporary mattress. Feeling old and tired seems to bring out the martyr in me, because the blow up double mattress was in fact a single mattress, so I took the sleeping bag on the floor assuring Andy that I’d be fine (I wasn’t) while he and Alfie slept soundly snuggled up on their cushion of air.
Even Alfie looks uncomfortable on this floor
So my first night of our new life in the Nederlands I'd spent wide awake, on a thinly carpeted concrete floor watching the bats through our curtain less windows and occasionally getting up to count my winkles. I felt, almost confident it had to get better than this.

Okay, I better go, I've got another crispy critter burning in the halogen cooker, write back soon.

Lots of love Trace xx

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Second letter: I’ve got a thing about chickens

Monday 5th of December

Hi *******
I guess you’ve not found your first letter yet, that’s okay it’s still early days.
I’m writing this out of chronological order, my original intention was to recount our tales from the Netherlands in date order, but I’ve got these chickens in my head that won’t let go, so I’m going to release the chickens on to you and then perhaps (Did you know perhaps is my favourite word, perhaps closely followed by perchance?) I can get on with the main letters.

Bear with me if I take a while to get to the heart of the story. Remember I wrote to you we rented (Verhuurd in Dutch) the apartment with a lack of carpets or proper kitchen? The other lack I forgot to mention was the lack of a garden, not a problem for a trendy couple like us, although these days we’re more bendy than trendy. The problem is Alfie our much loved and spoiled Tibetan Terrier, we’d only arrived  in our new apartment in Breda for few minutes when we realised that the large (large by our standards not Alfie’s) balcony wasn’t going to cut it as a late night wee wee destination, plans needed to be revised.
Designated brown minefield

We’d already walked through a beautiful park on our flying visit in July and knew it was in the neighbourhood, it was just a matter of locating it. Luckily for Alfie the park is a three minute walk away, unluckily for us the park is guarded by the dog shit police or as we call them over here the Hondedstront politie (My Dutch studies are improving). Should Alfie or any other dog for that matter feel the urge to loosen his bowels anywhere but the designated brown minefield next to the river, the Hondedstront politie will immediately strap him with a 60 euro fine,  Alfie having no money of his own passes the debt on to us. For this reason the park is full of anxious dog walkers dragging their beloved pooches away from lampposts and grassy patches. Improbable as it sounds Alfie, like the rest of the constipated crossed legged dogs over here has learnt (more or less) where he’s allowed to poop.
Now this park is beautiful, not just because it’s a little oasis of green in the city centre but because it’s over run with its own unique wildlife. (You think I’m getting to the point don’t you?) There are birds living in the park I have no name for but they’re huge with large black (Zwart in Dutch) bodies, long white banded necks and irrational lofty demeanour, there are ducks, geese, moorhens, thick necked crows, pigeons, seagulls (even though the sea is an hour away), magpies (spit.. unlucky creatures), five turtle doves that meet every day at four fifteen for a get-together on one of the quieter paths. I mustn’t forget the rabbits, there are brown rabbits, black rabbits, white ones with black stripes running along their spine and my personal favourite the black rabbits with the white spots, for me the rabbits are a pleasant distraction, however for Alfie and his newly strengthen harness they are the untouchable cause of much misery. And then there are the chickens, not just the odd domestic chicken that wandered out of someone’s back yard chicken compound, but a whole community of them, some would say that we, the tax paying community in Breda are barely tolerated in the domain of the chicken. There are dozens of red speckled hens and the occasional glorious white feathered specimens, jabbing and scratching with complete indifference to the frustrated, constipated dogs being hauled past on tight straining leashes. We arrived in the height of summer when most hens paraded a brood of tiny yellow chicks, claiming the lawns and terrorising the dogs by their tantalising closeness.  Lording over all the animals in the park not least the hens and the chicks are the larger cockerels with their black tail feathers and noisy American voices.
Most of my knowledge of cockerels comes from cartoons and… No wait that’s where all my knowledge of cockerels comes from, I remember strutting, swishing tailed cocky cockerels getting the better of the fox and the practical joker Foghorn Leghorn the large white American rooster star of Loony tunes. From my observations so far the real life cockerels or rosters seem remarkably similar to the cartoon characters I used to watch with my brother too many decades ago. (Although I imagine he won’t remember, his mind containing far more substantial matter than roosters)
On our (mine and Alfie) daily visits to the park, we often use a short tunnelled path edged on both sides with spindly trees, I’m not sure of their name, but they look like thread bare Christmas trees. Well, a few weeks ago I was walking through this tunnel of ragged trees when I heard the noisy call from a cockerel, unusually the noise came from above, looking round I was amazed to see a precariously balanced cockerel teetering at the top of a seven feet high tree, on a branch no thicker than my little finger. Now I’m not as big an animal rights campaigner as some of my friends, but I recognise an animal in distress when I see one and this cockerel looked distinctly unhappy, if it moved a centimetre in either direction the branch would surely snap or a sudden gust of wind would blow him right off his perch. I stood beneath the tree trying to decide what to do, watching the rather weighty bird while Alfie had a few minutes of sniffing heaven. The branch was too high for me to reach and Alfie’s presence might have scared the bird into moving, so eventually I took the coward’s way and left the cockerel to its fate.
Once home I told Andy of the strange sight, I couldn’t lose the image of the overweight cockerel balancing on that twig. How did it get there, do cockerels fly? I didn’t think so or at least not very far. Do they climb, it seemed unlikely, they’ve great claws for gripping but no arms to speak of, so each time they released their footing(clawing) from one branch and reached a claw for a new higher branch they would by the sheer weight of their upper body end up swinging upside down. Andy suggested it was students playing a practical joke, as the students in the Netherlands are mainly very tall,  it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility.

Friday the 9th of December (The boys have been to visit and kept me away from my ruminations)

I thought no more about it, until several days later, I walked with Alfie one afternoon through the tunnelled path, looked up and there were three cockerels in the tree, again all precariously balanced on frail looking branches, yet this time the cockerels looked different, perhaps more comfortable as they jabbed their heads in silence. I couldn’t believe it, the student had managed to catch three cockerels and place them in the tree. I decided to hang around and see if I could catch him, (Oops.. that’s sexist, it might be a she) I walked around this small patch of the park for forty minutes but saw no one who even glanced at the remaining cockerels on the ground. Bored, cold and stumbling around in a dark park is for heros and not for me, so I deserted the birds again and hurried home.
The next few weeks, I asked around my small group of expat acquaintances, had anyone else seen the cockerels up the tree? Can cockerels fly? No one was any wiser than me, however the general opinion was they can fly, but only in short bursts, that didn’t explain how they could reach the top of the spindly tree.  The proximity of the other trees eliminated the possibility of them achieving enough momentum for the short flight. I was none the wiser.
Four thirty last Friday afternoon I was back in the park, Breda had been particularly unlovely that day with freezing fog and piecing winds, not made any more comfortable by a newly chewed and broken zip on my only damp proof coat, a gift from Alfie. Rushing through the now familiar tunnelled path, I glanced into the tree and tripped over Alfie with my size eight boots, the same tree now held eight, silent black tailed cockerels, all oblivious to the branches bowing under their combined weight. They couldn’t climb, had no room for a runway to make their flight and it seemed illogical that any student would go to the extreme of catching eight cockerels in the bitter, biting December weather.  I was left with only one explanation, their black tail feathers, the cockerels were using their long rich tail feathers to elevate them vertically up the tree like the blades of a helicopter.  
I have to say Andy is far from convinced, and I’ve yet to actually catch any of them in action, despite talking my camera daily to the park. If you can shine a light on my thing with the chickens or offer a better explanation I’d love to hear it.

Okay time to get back in the kitchen and rescue the crispy critter from my halogen cooker.(a whole new story) 

Write back soon and tell me all your news.

Tracey x


Sunday, 4 December 2011

First letter: Finding a place to live in the Netherlands

16th of November 2011
Hi *******,
I’ve finally given up asking or expecting you to use Facebook or email. In desperation I’ve taken it one step further - I’ve created a blog.
If you want to read about my many failures (and I know how you like my failures J) of living in the Netherlands and the odd success you’ll need to overcome your technophobia, borrow the laptop from your new husband and search for your letters, try to imagine it as a treasure hunt.
First things first.  Sorry I emigrated without speaking to you first.  I guess you’ve heard by now? It all happened so quickly. One minute we were lazing around on the island of Cephalonia, then one quiet evening Andy checked his email and we were both dumbfounded to see an invitation from the university here in Breda asking Andy for a meeting. The rest is history, he came out three weeks later for a chat and left with a job. We had six weeks to settle our affairs in the UK and find a place to live in the Netherlands.

It’s a long and in parts an embarrassing story of how we found our apartment but I think you’ll enjoy it so I’ll share. We arrived in the Nederland’s in July for a flying visit and gave ourselves three days to find a home. Easy I thought. We had opted to make life easier for ourselves by renting an apartment with carpets and white goods, however as soon as we’d arranged to view something it would be rented out and in the end we only managed to view three apartments:
1, The cheapest (for a reason) was 15 minutes out of town, on the seventh floor and reached by an outside staircase. (Picture the New York in the 80’s) All the walls painted black or red, with strange plasterboard partitions and a shower in the kitchen. I thought it had promise and Andy suggested we separate.
2, We called the next one Dreamlands. It was on the fourth floor of a handsome apartment block, the public hallways lined in marble and mahogany. The apartment itself, beautifully decorated with an open plan massive living space and brand new kitchen, two bedrooms and two bathrooms (unheard of in the Nederland’s). On the down side it was above a very popular Wok Chinese restaurant, attached to a cinema complex and so expensive it would mean not eating two days a week.
3, Dead Grandma’s apartment was the last(Andy’s name not mine, but it stuck). It appeared to be above a deserted dental surgery and accessed by a strange well like staircase. The fittings all belonged in the late 1970’s and the dusky pink carpet pitted with what I suspected and hoped were only urine stains. On a plus side: it had an electric fire above the bath which made me feel nostalgic and would come in handy if I became too depressed. We could afford it!
On the last day we were becoming desperate, I choose to throw caution to the wind and walk into an estate agency not recommended for expats. I had by this point memorise one sentence which I used infrequently if accosted by any of the natives, roughly translated my sentence was this : It spites me, I speak Nederland’s not so good, speak you English? Impressive no?  Well the natives thought so, in fact as I had mastered the language well enough to put a sentence together, they always responded in Dutch, complimenting me on my accent(or so I like to believe) at which point I would repeat the sentence adding the word baby (means the same in both countries) and pointing to my mouth until they understood my limits.
Fortunately the only agency I was brave enough to try had a great sense of humour and one apartment available. We viewed it an hour later.  It had a concrete floor, antique bathroom and no kitchen to speak off but we fell in love. We fell for the parking space in the underground car park, the extra storage unit, the huge living space and separate kitchen and almost floor length windows. Within 60 minutes we signed the contract, that’s left us three hours to find a taxi to take us to an out of town shopping centre, buy and arrange fitting for the carpets, cooker, fridge, freezer, washing machine and joy of joys a dishwasher.

29th of November 2011 (Sorry for the break, had a week or so of self-pity and a bit of a cold)

Rushing back to the apartment first, we took the measurements for carpets then checked out the size of underground storage. Once finished in the underground we searched for an exit door to the street. I found one in the corner with a sheet of A4 paper covered in Dutch stuck to it.
Andy insists he said ‘Perhaps we should translate the poster before we open the door.’
I didn’t hear him or he dreamt he said it, because I opened the door and immediately the building rang with warning bells and flashing lights. Running away seemed like the best option and would have worked if we’d been able to close the rotting, mouldy door. In the end Andy, watch by a semi-circle of silent Dutch managed to close the door with his shoulder, however the bells and lights didn’t stop so we rather dejectedly made our way back to the agent to confess. Once there, they rang and explained the alarms to the pension company who own the building and the fire brigade to prevent any more fire engines chasing to our new building. The owner of the agency seemed amused by the stupid English couple and asked if we understood why the alarms had set off.
‘No.’  We replied sheepishly.
            ‘Dat is soo u not touch the door again.’ He answered with a big grin..
By six O’clock we’d made it, found a home, bought everything, not the choices I’d have made if I hadn’t been rushed, but they are only things after all. As we were flying home the next morning we decided to walk into the city and have a few glasses of wine to relax before dinner, it seemed a reasonable decision at the time.
Dinner was bittenballen, the waitress assured us it was a popular dish in the Netherlands, it’s basically I think, mushroom or spam paste made in to a golf balls and deep fried with mustard on the side. Not to be rude I nibbled around the edges, however by now, a combination of stress and very little food was making me  a bit tipsy. Stress + no food + wine doesn’t work well for me.
The city itself was lovely, very much a café culture, everyone sitting outside drinking coffee or wine. (There are a few specialist ‘coffee shops’ that we avoided, you know the kind, they sell cannabis not cappuccinos or lattes.) We spend the next several hours wandering round the city, stopping for a ‘rest’ whenever we saw a pretty bar and finally arrived back at our hotel about 11pm. Now most sensible people would head straight to bed, not us, we were on such a high that we decided to have one last drink in the bar, that one last drink became a bottle and at midnight far too kool by now to operate the lift, we finally walked the three flights of service stairs to room 303 our bedroom.  My only excuse for what followed is old age curiosity. As we opened the fire door to the corridor of our floor I noticed another door on the other side of the small landing, I was about to open it and peer inside, but the memory of the shrieking alarms early that day pieced the alcohol fog and I walked away, although not without some feeling of disappointment.
Once in bed I’d managed to conjure up an image of a beautiful, exotic spa on the other side of that landing door, a spa complete with fully trained therapist ready to give me an Indian Head Massage and a full length swimming pool heated to 30 degrees. Unrealistic really considering this was the third floor of a cheap hotel next to the train station. (Think Travel Lodge) My last thought as I fell asleep was of wonderful spa treatments I’ve had in the past and disgruntlement that I never get to do want I want these days.
            I woke three hours later, alone, slightly chilled and almost completely naked wandering down the hotel corridor. Confusion, horror then shame hit me like stacked dominoes, the shame came from the once pink sagging knickers, my only item of clothing and horror because I couldn’t remember the number of our room. I tried to remember walking from the lift or staircase to the room, how many steps was it? I couldn’t afford to knock on the wrong door, luckily I had a light bulb moment, it was the second room from the lift. No problem you might think just go knock on the door and wake Andy.
            Andy wears industrial strength earplugs! Apparently I snore! (I’ve yet to be convinced of this) and have apparently done so all the time we’ve been together, not only had he the industrial earplugs, he’d also drank more than his fair share of stress relieving wine, it would take a bomb to wake him.
Getting desperate now and starting to feel a none to warm, so I walked the length of the corridor hoping to find a laundry room, or curtains, failing that, a tea towel left over a tray of food or a table runner from a hall table. I found nothing, absolutely nothing, I now think hotels should leave little stacks of linen in all their corridors (just to be on the safe side). I had no alternative - I had to be the bomb that woke Andy.
What originated as gentle raps on room 303, turned over the 30 minutes or so that I knocked in to one handed hammers. (I needed the other hand to hold my boobs up, as they were aching, having never been upright and unsupported for so long) Finally the door opened and guess what? It wasn’t Andy……………………………………………….. Just kidding it was Andy, he looked me up and down, rolled his eyes and stepped back from the door allowing me in, he never spoke or asked for an explanation, just padded back to bed and pulled a pillow over his head.
Of course I woke up the next day with no memory of the incident, just a mild hangover that I knew would get worse during the day. Andy thoughtfully filled me in on the details over breakfast, luckily for me he doesn’t judge and his only comment was ‘It does a man good to cut loose once in a while.’
Needless to say I felt very sick all the way home via train, plane and ferry, I had arranged to emigrate to a country that I’d made a complete knob of myself in.

So there you have it, my first instalment of the Nederland adventure if you want to hear the rest you have to find it and write back.. hehe