Total Pageviews

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Eighteenth letter: Happiness is a giant red, bean bag.

That’s a foolish statement to begin my blog ‘Happiness is a giant red bean bag’, but then again this has been a cheery, odd week. My poor confused mind has been sent into overdrive, looking for an explanation for the sudden influx of happiness, could it really, just be a giant red bean bag?

Still working
                Perhaps, but it’s unlikely. Let me explain, last weekend Andy announced he needed to separate his work life from his home life. Those of you that work as lecturers or live with them(I’m starting a support group), know that the work doesn’t end when they come home, far from it. For the last six months Andy’s ‘office’ had been part of a wall in our main living room (main? only! I have delusions of grandeur creeping in). He’d initially been against the idea of being separated from the household (the dog and me), while working from home.  But, during the last few weeks, he’s noticed a creeping dislike for being at home. He reassured me it wasn’t us (the dog and me again) but, the fact was he’d  now begun to associate our ‘main’ living room with work.

                Sunday afternoon he had a light bulb moment, he would create an office in the spare bedroom, our only room for guests, and the empty space left against the wall would become his area for leisure. This involved yet another trip to IKEA, which as you might imagine, is not my idea of happiness. You see, despite what my family think, I’m quite easy going these days, and only want a quiet life, my current needs being along the lines of :

  • Not actually making anyone physically sick with my cooking.
  • Following Cesar Millans philosophies while walking Alfie.
  • Staying awake till at least 10pm.
  • Watching the Walking Dead.

IKEA on a Sunday afternoon, does not fit in anywhere on my desire for a quiet life, and I wasn’t convinced I wanted a red gamers style, bean bag in my ‘main’ living room.  Yet, Andy seems so adamant that this would be the icing on his cake, and the only place he knew he could buy one instantly was IKEA (the meatballs weren’t even a consideration). I knew, I really did that it would be pointless, that IKEA would have all the fun of a five hour traffic jam on the M1. But I couldn’t dash the hope that filled his little round, grinning face.

Supa brightness
IKEA do not sell giant red bean bags or any other kind of bean bags, they did sell a variety of  other useful items, that we left on the floor beside the 20 people deep columns, lining up behind the three working checkouts. The other six stores we tried didn’t sell bean bags either. There was nothing for it, we would have to go home empty handed. I hadn’t got away with it that easily though, on the way back Andy outlined his plan. I would hit the internet, while he finished off some work, if I couldn’t find what he was looking for we’d hit the late night shops on Thursday.

Almost warm enough to sit out
By Tuesday he seemed to have forgotten all about bean bags and my mood lifted, it had been a close shave, but I seem to have gotten away with it. My mood was somewhat darkened again when I met my friend Laura for coffee and she described Alfie and the canine equivalent of an overly friendly Down Syndrome child. However, watching Alfie stand on his two hind legs trying to reach the face of our waitress, presumably for kisses, I had to admit she has a point.  I guess Alfie’s life can’t be all bad, if he sees most people as needing to be the recipient , or as a source of affection.
Jack pointing to the newly returned sky
The real reason for the increase in happiness is, of course nothing to do with red bean bags or mentally challenged dogs. It’s the sky, it’s back! Breda has once more returned to the picturesque European holiday town, I remembered from last summer, full of smiling people, sipping wine in the harbour while basking in the sun.

Okay time to take Aflie out..

BTW, if you’re wondering, we now have a giant red bean bag installed in the ‘main’ living room and Andy is still grinning.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Seventeenth letter: Body Language and onion skins

Unfortunately my Dutch language course had to go on hold for a few months while I sort a little problem in the UK. It’s a shame really as I was just beginning to achieve some small understanding. Although I’m not sure if it’s the actual verbal language I am understanding.

However, I’m still meeting my patient Dutch friend, Annemiek once a week, who’s been very encouraging. This week she’s loaned me one of her favourite childhood books Jip en Janneke, which is a more interesting version of the old British Janet and John books. Reading my first Jip en Janneke was a hair raising experience. Annemiek listened good-naturedly to me butchering her favourite story, while I tried to ignore the horrific memory of reading to my teachers in infant school. The mounting panic, thudding heart, sweaty palms remained unchanged four decades later.

No matter how much I might try to deny it, I am beginning to understand people in the Nederlands, but I’m not altogether sure it’s their words I recognise. The following sentences I can clearly grasp through expression and body language alone:

You can’t bring that dog in here.
The sign says; don’t put your basket on the counter.
Please don’t try to say it again in Dutch.
Tell the bald man next to you, he doesn’t need to order, we know already what he wants.
Why don’t you leave your dog at home?
I’m going to say this once more really slowly.
Our dogs like sniffing each other’s penises, don’t they?

Onion beach
Not my favourite beach
Yesterday we had a day trip to Westenschovwen, a kind of island connected to the mainland by a succession of bridges. The day didn’t go exactly as planned: The journey took almost two hours and the flat land and overcast grey sky’s made us both homesick for the rolling countryside of the Derbyshire Dales. Andy developed starvation syndrome and insisted we ate before our 20 minute walk on the pretty beach. The same beach, far from being picturesque, was covering with five foot wide rusty pipes, warning signs for quicksand and littered with onion skins. Yep, onion skins, I have no idea why or how they got there. To top all this, Alfie was ill again and we had to stop the car frequently on the journey there to allow him to release his fluorescent diarrhoea.
Very welcoming
Needing a break from the quicksand, we took a walk through a nearby wooded area filled with sand dunes; let Alfie off the lead and breathed a sigh of relief. This was much better, lots of nice clear trails, friendly people smiling, waving and blowing kisses from a distance. Actually I’m too short sighted to be sure they were smiling, but I imaged they were. Then as we crested a small mound, Alfie chose that moment to squat at the feet of a crowd of people, all watching a herd of wild deer a few yards away.
Their body language now I was close up, was much easier to read, they hadn’t been waving, smiling or even blowing kisses they’d been gesturing for us to stay back, stay quiet and put Alfie on a lead.

Did Alfie bark and chase the deer? No of course not, he’s the sweetest, quietest dog in the world, besides he doesn’t see so well. However the body language from the crowd clearly stated we should try to pick up Alfie’s fluorescent diarrhoea. I think we got away with it, when I explained in Dutch, het is water (pronounced: ut iss vater) and Andy joined in the explanation with a mime.

Yep, we were this close

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Sixteenth letter: Extreme sports and Kenny Loggin

I’ve noticed since we’ve been living in the Nederlands, how fit the Nederlanders (is that the right word?) are. I suppose this is probably due to the fact they all bicycle everywhere, not just the sporty generation, but everyone. Here, toddlers and grandmothers hop onto their bikes with skill and grace only achieved by semi-professional cyclists in the UK. It sounds extreme I know, but let me give you a couple of examples:

  • Last week I spotted an elegant lady, who must have been at least in her 70’s cycling down the Boschstraat (a street near us) wearing a skirt, snug fitted jacket, court shoes and scarf trailing behind her. Fairly impressive? Actually no, not so impressive, it’s a common scene here. What was impressive was the way she used one hand to hold her skirt, preventing it riding up and keeping her dignity intact, while keeping an umbrella tucked under her arm, talking on her mobile and steering with her knees.
  • I thought I’d never be able to top that as an extreme cyclist, but Andy did. A few weeks ago he came home and announced he’d just seen a man cycling past him, with one arm reaching out, tapping an extendable white stick on the cobbles. Now that is extreme cycling.

All this extreme activity seems to be infesting my life recently. My intellectual, once quiet, shy sister became a Salsa dancer within the last year, and spends several evenings every week, whirling around a vibrating dance floor to pulsating Cuban rhythms. And my brother, who has always been into extreme sports, spent several days in Stoke Mandeville hospital waiting for a five hour operation to repair his body after a fall from a young horse.
The strangest feeling has started coming over me, it feels a bit like envy. Could I really be envious of my siblings in the UK? Perhaps, just a little. Even though I don’t possess the right ingredients to become a Salsa dancer; size eight feet, no rhythm, or understanding of left and right, and an inability to stay awake beyond ten pm, rule me out. Yet I envy the effect it’s has, I bet my sister never even glances at the outsized rails in H & M.
Why should I envy my brother’s broken bones? Well obviously I don’t, but I envy the fact he can ski at seventy miles an hour and actually enjoy it, and I envy the life time of amazing memories he has from decades of competitive show jumping. I had the opportunity once, when I was younger, but the only talent I achieved in show jumping was the ability to avoid competing whenever possible, and produce steam from my ears when avoidance techniques failed. Not for me, was the life of getting up at four in the morning, driving half way across the country to gallop around a ring, jumping six foot fences perched on half a ton of horse with nothing more than your own precarious balance to keep you safe. I still don’t understand how my brother can do something so dangerous and potentially painful and call it fun, but still, I envy his memories.

Rather than wallow in self-pity, I’ve been trying ways to increase my own activity. I’ve joined a gym, not actually been, but I have joined. More effective has been the addition of music to my iPod shuffle. I’ve been using the iPod to listen to another Dutch language course while walking Alfie around Breda, just occasionally the Dutch gets a little too much and I need a break. That break comes in the form of Sammy Davis Jr. singing Mr Bojangles and Kenny Loggins with Footloose. I defy anyone while listening to Mr Bojangles, even the tone deaf like me, not give in to the urge to give a little hop on the pavement or a restrained one legged tap dance at the traffic lights. Yet, when Kenny Loggins starts singing Footloose it all changes and its necessary to check for the absence of other humans as restraint goes out of the window when I break into extreme skipping.

Enough talking, time to scour the OU forums.
Trace xx
Btw.. I forgot to mention one very annoying result of living here, I keep buying conditioner when I want shampoo. Last night I had to wash my hair bubble bath, again.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Fifteenth letter: Tourette’s fingers and stolen sky

 Just as we started getting used to living in the Nederlands, a new phenomenon jumps up to reminds us that we are foreigners living in a strange land. 

For the last few weeks we’ve been feeling mildly claustrophobic, I thought initially this was due to being stuck in the house when the temperature dropped, but it’s now relatively warm. I even walked the dog today without a hat and scarf, and wearing only four layers, that’s true British stoicism for you!
This is not a normal sky
Anyway I’m moving off the point, which is, that the sky appears to be missing. Back in the UK we’re used to grey skies, black clouds, and red skies at night for a sailors delight, forgiving rainbows, wonderful blue skies and fluffy white clouds. Over here all that’s been available above my head recently, has been a low, suffocating, white atmosphere, it looks like a low dense fog that’s masking the real sky.  In fact the sky looks so low, I feel like Chicken Likken from the children’s fable, constantly looking up, expecting the sky to fall on my head.

I shouldn't really share this publicly, but lately I appear to have developed a sort of physical sickness that’s been growing in strength. For simplicity I’m going to call it ‘Tourette’s fingers’, not that I’m in anyway demeaning Tourette’s, which is a very difficult neurological condition often resulting in difficult or inappropriate behaviour or tics.
Like certain symptoms of Tourette’s my fingers seem to have developed their own behavioural traits/tics, and unless I concentrate very hard, they take over my actions. Let me give you an example: 

Andy’s has another virus this week, and as he was feeling under the weather yesterday treated himself to a box of Frosties, he had one small bowl and because the Frosties flake's scratched his throat, he intended to save the rest for when he’s better. Well my Tourette’s fingers have other ideas, each time I find myself lost in the kitchen, they (my fingers) creep up to the cereal cupboard and rummage inside the Frosties packet and take out a small hand full of flakes. The repetition of these small hand fulls (I just did it again!) means the box is now almost empty. My fingers know this is inappropriate behaviour and yet they do it anyway.  As Andy improves I’m going to be forced to either own up or replace the Frosties, and to be honest I’m not keen on either idea.
It might seem dramatic comparing these urges to Tourette’s, but when I checked on Wikipedia I read the following: ‘These tics characteristically wax and wane, can be suppressed temporarily, and are preceded by a premonitory urge.’ If that doesn’t describe what’s been happening to me lately I don’t know what does. The other night, feeling a bit bored and lonely (Andy ill in bed) I decided to treat myself to a nice bottle of Pinot from the local shop, which in itself should be enough of a treat for a Tuesday night. However once I placed the wine by the till, my fingers strained and pulled towards the sweetie section, twitching and stretching like a concert pianist warming up for the piano, dancing along the boxes of unfamiliar sweets, only resting when they found Rolos.

Did I love poor, sick Andy enough to give him my last Rolo? No, not then, because in the 100 yard walk back from the shop, my fingers extracted three quarters of the Rolos, the rest disappeared before I’d even opened the bottle of wine. Besides, it would mean owning up to eating the rest of the packet, plus I don’t believe giving chocolate covered toffee demonstrates affection, that just another one of those urban myths or children’s fables.

 Okay, time to go and hide the Chunky KitKat packet...

Trace xx