Total Pageviews

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Reasons to be cheerful:

This week I’ve been a miserable expat, the newness and adventure of living in the Nederland have worn off, to be replaced by a sharp awareness of the inconveniences and difficulties of life in a foreign land (okay so it's only the Nederlands, but it's foreign to me). The game of finding reasons to be negative became my new hobby. A hobby which I indulged and rapidly developed a talent for. But, you may not be surprised to hear, this talent didn’t make me feel any better. So, rather than share my miseries with you, (even though I want too) – I’d share a few reasons to be cheerful.

Outsized orange snow coat - in April?
In the Nederlands the Brits are expected to be a bit eccentric, so walking Alfie in my outsized bright orange snow coat, cream knitted beanie and battered trainers in April is okay. 

This reminds me of one of the things I discovered from a decade as a therapist: it’s not what you wear or how you look on the outside that’s important, but who you are beneath your clothes. Obvious really, but it’s surprising how easily we forget. My most beautiful clients were not the ones that turned up, immaculately dressed, rattling with gold jewellery and tottering on four inch heels. They were women, who’d scheduled their time with me, so it didn't clash with hospital appointments. Women, who arrived breathless and harassed, because they were looking after a demanding family and holding down a job. Women who month after month faced disappointments that would have me drowning in a barrel of Sauvignon. Women, who asked after Andy(my Mr Sunshine), remembered my son’s, or turned up with a plate of warm muffins, just because she thought I might like them. That was a very good reason to be cheerful.

Stiletto's do not a beauty make..
 I’ve wrapped my clients up in warm blankets and sat behind them, desperately tried not to let my tears mess their hair, while listening to one describe her daughters funeral, or another the day she finally became a mummy, or a widows uncomplaining depiction of forty years of living alone.  I watched little girls grow in to beautiful young women, and elegant ladies grow forgetful and unsteady on their feet. I’ve been privileged to share a small part of these beautiful women’s life and that is one, very good reason to be cheerful.

Less poignant perhaps, the result of my second assignment with the Open University came back this week. Its nudging a distinction, not quiet there but defiantly nudging – which is another reason to be cheerful.

Also, I found a wonderful expat blog this week, where I read that, whatever problems you face as an expat (and you’ll face many), always blame the situation and not each other.  It’s wise advice, that I’ll remember for a long time.  So, another reason to be cheerful.

Finally, I’ve been amazed by the lovely welcome we've received in Breda. Since we moved into our apartment, there hasn’t been a week go by, without us being invited out for drinks or round to someone’s home for dinner. It can be lonely as an expat partner or trailing spouse(the new politically correct name), but we've been very lucky to arrive in a community that welcomes dour Scot's and miserable ex therapist with open arms.  Yet, another reason to be cheerful.
St Chad's this month's assignment :-(

Okay need to get back to my OU studies; Pugin and St Chad’s Cathedral in Birmingham. Unfortunately this isn’t the most thrilling of subjects and so, not quite, a reason to be cheerful.

Trace xxx


Friday, 20 April 2012

Twentieth letter: Living with slow processes and Mr Sunshine

My lovely hire car
Well, I finally went and did it, I took the test that will define me for the rest of my life. I arrived excited and breathless, after a crushing and bad tempered flight from the Nederlands to East Midlands airport. Hired the American equivalent of a Fiat Panda, contended with the British driving on the other side of the road, a malfunctioning satnav, and the terror of getting lost in Nottingham city centre. All so I could be informed that I’d undermined my own intellect for the last 40 plus years.  In an embarrassingly honest way, that’s almost what I expected to happen.  You see it’s a dreadful thing, to be told by your parents that you’re wonderful as you’re growing up, because you spend the rest of your life waiting for someone else to confirm their opinions. Maybe, just maybe a dyslexic assessor.

Once at the Open University regional centre, I was greeted by a lovely male receptionist who raved excitedly about the merits of living in the Nederlands.

                ‘What did you enjoy most?’ I asked, making polite conversation as he unlocked the toilets.

‘Oh everything, it is simply an amazing country, the people, the culture, the architecture, the landscape and food.’ He said beaming and following me into the toilets. Was it unisex? I hadn’t noticed.

Ummm, something didn’t sound right- the landscape and the food? ‘So - how long did you live there?’ I asked, wondering if he intended to follow me into the cubical.

‘Three weeks (ah), but I’d go back in a heartbeat.’ He said, and then pointed to a giant green button by the door. ‘You need to press this to escape.’

Alarm bells should have started ringing then – why did they need a giant green escape button?

I found my assessor five minutes later in one of the conference rooms, two grey hospital crutches propped up against the table.

‘I’ve just broken my ankle, but I’m controlling the pain with my mind.’ She announced reassuringly.

Great! My assessor was not only a bit peculiar, she was also in agony, this didn’t bode well. The next four hours, yes four sweat inducing hours, were spent in a nightmare of puzzles and impossible bizarre tests. Too quickly I grasped the idea, that my well hidden genius wasn’t about to be uncovered. I decided I would accept whatever she told me, as long as she didn’t say I was slow.

The first test: putting together a dissected Rubiks cube(well similar), and my idea of hell, I wanted to go home, especially when she muttered ‘slow processes’ under her breath. She followed the dissected cube with an assortment of questions and tests, the worst of which was a page of colours which she asked me to read out within a time limit. Simples? No not bloody simple, and slow processes was muttered again. By the time we got to the spelling test I was frustrated, but ready, I would show her!  Watching her face, I thought I saw a flicker of pity as she looked at my answers.

‘How was that I asked?’ I asked hopefully, ignoring the flicker of pity.

‘Well diabolical obviously, it’s to be expected with your slow processes, but then you know that don’t you.’ She said. I didn’t know whether to cry or kick her broken ankle.

Clearly I spent the next few days brimming of confidence. All I wanted, to go home, hide behind my laptop and pretend to write. Five days later, back in Breda, Andy and Alfie were waiting at the train station. This time I didn’t stop Alfie’s inappropriate greeting and scooped him into my arms and allowed his wet kisses to rebuild my confidence. 
Dogs understand how to repair a broken self-confidence.
‘I’m not kissing you now.’ Andy snapped.  Ah, of course.
‘For God’s sake what have you got in here?’ Andy said picking up my bag. Just smile.
‘So how’ve you and Alfie been?’ I asked, trying to change the subject.
‘He’s been a &*’@-ing nightmare.’ Alfie the canine rug? Really?
‘He won’t listen to me.’ This is my fault obviously?
‘I haven’t had time to do anything I wanted.’ Oh dear.
‘All I’ve done is work and walk the dog.’ Oops
‘Do you know how much time it takes out of my day walking the dog?’  I have no idea.
‘I can’t find my &%$@-ing black top.’ Wardrobe or wash basket.
‘I’m sick of the Hijgend Hert(cafĂ© next door to us) all they play is @%$&-ing  jazz music on Sundays.’ Ah, my Mr Sunshine, how did I manage the last five days without him.

Need to rush off now, got to find a cheap flight back to the UK and make peace with my slow processes.

 p.s. Right, I’m going to try and slip this one under the radar, and hopefully my Mr Sunshine will be too busy looking for his black top to notice. 

Monday, 9 April 2012

Letters from the Netherlands: Nineteenth letter: Cesar Millan versus A C Millan...

Letters from the Netherlands:
Nineteenth letter: Cesar Millan versus A C Millan...
: Nineteenth letter: Cesar Millan versus A C Millan, and dreams of Xanadu. What's that he's singing? Life kinda interfered last wee...

Nineteenth letter: Cesar Millan versus A C Millan, and dreams of Xanadu.

What's that he's singing?
Life kinda interfered last week, and I didn’t get round to writing the blog. I blame my second OU assignment, visitors and the engrossing next section of my studies: Dalai Lama and Plato. Actually that’s not strictly true, (whenever I see the word strictly these days, it’s always accompanied by an image of a knobbly Bruce Forsyth). I found I had nothing new to say about being an expat, Andy hadn’t done anything too extreme and Alfie had been quiet and fairly sedate.

So in an attempt to pep up my life - I booked two tickets to see Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisper for the uneducated, in Rotterdam. This did cause a bit of confusion for my poor mum, who thought I’d completely lost my mind and transformed into a football enthusiast. I’m not sure she thinks watching Cesar Millan is any better that travelling to Italy to see A C Millan, the world’s most successful football team, but I know it is. What dog lover wouldn’t want to be within a few feet of the world renowned dog rehabilitator and people trainer? Perhaps, a few hours listening to those pearls of wisdom and being blinded by his sparkly teeth, might improve my limited dog handling skills.

The one sentence that sticks in my mind from repeatedly watching Cesar’s TV show is ‘your dog’s behaviour is a reflection of your own’. I’ve given this some thought, I’ve observed Alfie’s behaviour and tried to link it to my own. This sentence I’ve found, is my only stumbling block with Cesar's advice. Never in living memory, have I ran up to complete strangers, licked their hands and stuck my nose in their crotch. Neither when I’m chilling out, do I lie on my back and expose my genitalia, in the vain hope of getting my tummy tickled - I guess, I’m just not that assured of my charm.

Are you tempted? 
Come on, you know you want to!

Still waiting

Just five minutes, pleeese

Is it worth my while?

Yeah.... success 

So, the last week or so has been quiet; just work and study. Well, Easter Sunday it was all going to change, it was party time! First of all my friend Annemiek introduced us to the music festival that would be taking place in Breda, and then we were invited to the Walkers for Sunday lunch (bliss).

Breda hosts an anthology (the OU’s paying off) of music over the Easter weekend, from heavy rock to swing, to singer songwriters, and Sunday was to be the main event. Somewhere in the discussion of watching a few bands, Andy and I crossed wires. I had visions of sitting on comfortable chairs sipping Pinot Grigio while listening to sweet voiced soloist singing Helen Reddy, while Andy wanted to relive the millennium.

Instead we staggered into town with Martin and Sally after an amazing Sunday lunch. Then strained to look cool on the broken benches in the pub’s back yard. While the other teenagers listened appreciatively to the heavy rock, and we tried not to notice the feral children climbing over the treacherous, battered stolen shopping trolleys. After two songs we admitted defeat, and as inconspicuously as possible with two giant, bald lecturers made our way out onto the street. Undefeated we tried for a change of music and style venue. The lone man with his guitar, I thought looked promising, especially when he spoke and I recognised the name’s Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich. This sounded more like my kind of music. However his laboured lyrics of  "The Legend of Xanadu" left me more confused than the original

Reliving the millennium or my 80’s dream it wasn't to be, and somewhat disillusioned, we made our way home at 9.30pm in the spotting rain, to be welcomed by sloppy licks and our own version of Xanadu.

Okay enough messing about for me, back to Plato..