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Sunday, 27 May 2012

Lovin the man.

 Too many exciting adventures for a trailing spouse in the Nederlands this week.

First, a trip to Ahoy in Rotterdam on Monday night to see my heart throb Cesar Millan (Dog Whisperer). To be honest, I’d been a little disappointed to hear Alfie hadn’t been picked to go on stage. There is a little unreasonable part of my character than assumes everyone will fall in love with Alfie, even if only by picture; and I had sent Cesar Alfie’s very cutest pictures.
If this didn't tempt Cesar I don't know what will...

Rotterdam itself isn’t so far from Breda, which would have been a nice bonus if we hadn’t set off 4 hours before the show started. Keeping the speedometer at 50 mph, we still arrived with too many hours to spare. My Mr Sunshine seemed uncharacteristically good natured about this little piece of time wastage.  Smiling and muttering about buying yourself a nice T shirt he shoved me towards the Cesar merchandise.

                I noticed him ten minutes later, protecting two lagers and a glass of wine, and eyeing up a very pretty Dutch women. I watched them make eye contact, and exchange a smile as he wandered over to her. I felt the hairs on my arms stand up in betrayal. I couldn’t believe he was doing this to us again. I waited with arms crossed as he returned to the drinks, blushing with mischievous pride, and placed two hot dogs on the table. How are we ever going to lose weight!

                The show started late, not because Cesar was a diva, but because the crowds in the Ahoy didn’t rush. Cesar might be a big star in the rest of the Western world, but in the Nederlands he would wait till the audience were ready.

Cesar Millan and Gandhi, really?

                The show wasn't quite what I expected. Don’t get me wrong, I love Cesar Millan; I love his advice, his unique talent with dogs and his ability to entertain.  And yet, perhaps, just maybe, the show was just a little bit cringe worthy. There was a hint of a Mexican, evangelical, Michael Jackson trying to single handedly heal the canine world - but you can forgive him that. What was a bit harder to forgive was his repeated groping of his own pects (or were they moobs). Was it a sign of insecurity or colossal self-love, it’s hard to be sure? During the second half of the show there was an embarrassing moment, when he realised he’d been tweaking his own nipples in front of several thousand dog lovers and apologised.  While Mr Sunshine and I giggled and nudged each other, no one else, not even the row of immaculate ladies who lunch to my left, raised an eyebrow.  Luckily for Cesar this is the Nederlands and anything goes, even a pint sized Mexican, demi god semi masturbating on stage.

                You gotta love him!

                My second adventure came in the guise of a blocked drain.  I'd refused to mention it to Mr Sunshine; he had enough to deal with without a whinging trailing spouse moaning about plumping. So I took the most sensible action I could – I ignored it. After several ineffective homemade attempts to unblock the drain myself I put out a plea for advice on Facebook. The intelligent, practical advice poured in, my favourite of which was ‘isn’t this your landlord’s responsibility?’

I'm not kidding, he looked like this!
 The shower scene might be imagined  though.
                Thirty six hours later the buzzer echoed in the apartment and I ran to the door, expecting Super Mario in blue dungarees. Instead, there stood a half-naked, Vin Diesel lookalike, his hand outstretched in greeting and mischief lighting up his grey eyes (yep, I noted the colour of his eyes). I tried to keep my gaze on his face, but it was beyond the limits of human endurance.  My eyes betrayed me, and were repeatedly drawn to his tanned tattooed pectoral muscles. I sucked in what remains of my abdominal muscles and led the way to my blocked pipe. Once he was ensconced beneath my pipes, I should have left him to his job, but a primitive reflex kept me glued to the kitchen stroking his naked back with my eyes. This plumber knew, of course he did, a sculptured body like that doesn’t happen without major effort and what’s the point of all that effort if it’s not going to be appreciated.

                You would love him!

                Just at the point when Mr Diesel and I were discussing local pubs, Mr Sunshine walked into the kitchen. The, what the f**k is that, bemused expression, and bulging eyeballs, spoke volumes, curtailing the adoration and the plumbary chat. Mr Sunshine and I exchanged a silent battle over who would escort him to the door, neither won. And we plodded behind as he strode towards the door, breathing a sigh of regret as he left the building.

                ‘Right, that’s it, we need to get fit and sort ourselves out.’ Mr Sunshine said.

                I could only nod, as I wiped away drool with the back of my hand.

                ‘Come on Trace, we can do this, how hard can it be?’

                I looked at the soft bloated flesh escaping from my jeans and thought, it’s gonna be hard, very hard indeed.

                ‘We’ve no choice, we have to do it , if we’re going to grow old together as sexy mother f**kers.’

                Which is why I love Mr Sunshine! 

                Who wouldn't want to grow old as a sexy mother f**ker? I know I do...

I have definitely NOT just poured more fat down the sink

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Letters from the Netherlands: Borrowed time

Letters from the Netherlands: Borrowed time: Fifteen minutes to describe what it is like to be you. Okay so this is an idea borrowed from another blog, who borrowed the idea.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Borrowed time

Fifteen minutes to describe what it is like to be you.

Okay so this is an idea borrowed from another blog, who borrowed the idea from another blog, who borrowed the idea from a writing course. If I could remember where I’d borrowed the idea I’d put in a link, but as I can’t remember my age (useful) or how many times an hour I repeat the journey to the kitchen and stand gazing into the fridge trying to spot non-existent chocolate cake amongst the 0 % fat yoghurts and once fresh broccoli spears, it’s not going to happen. Ah well, as my Mr Sunshine likes to say ‘There is no such thing as an original idea.’

                If you were me:

                Your first sense of the new day would be a sense of loss. The lost is the dream you’re losing your grip on. In your dreams, your always thirty five, slim, adventurous, and all the people you’ve loved are still alive. Some people say you can’t dream of the dead, but you do and you don’t like losing them again.

                Your second sense is one of horror, what foul creature crawled into your open mouth during the night?

Your third sense is one of horror too, as you remember your mouth has tasted like this every morning since you were thirty five years old.

Grabbing the glass of water by your bed you forget to lift your head from the pillow, water spills in two rivers away from your mouth and soaks the pillow, again.

The sound of heavy breathing reaches your ears and something damp nudges your hand, Mr Sunshine?  Nope – Alfie, and the heavy breathing means you have to get up NOW. Alfie can manage several hours (unlike you) without the need for a toilet visit, but once the heavy breathing starts you know you’ve only got minutes before disaster. You find your clothes quickly and tiptoe out of the bedroom, bypass the bathroom and deodorant (big mistake) and get dressed in the hall. Orange snow coat and beanie hat are a Godsend at this time in a morning, not only to keep warm, but to hide a multitude of fashion and hair sins.

Damp deserted Breda
It’s seven am, the streets are deserted (the Dutch in Breda don’t do early), and Alfie is on a mission. You’re dragged passed the remnants of last night’s party at the Hijgend Hert, into the Boschstraat and across the main road. Thank God there is no traffic this morning, because Alfie can’t wait for no traffic signals. In the park he barely glances at the wildlife in his rushes to reach his designated toilet.

Once Alfie's uncurled from his question mark, you move on. It’s important in the designated toilet not to lift your eyes from the ground, but you do. Two young men cycle quickly past, you’re about to shout out when your foot lands in something a little mushier than the soft grass – it feels like déjà vu.
Never! look up

It’s lucky you didn’t shout out, because the two young men were not your sons, your sons are hundreds of miles away working in the UK, not cycling through a Dutch park at seven am on a damp morning.  It’s amazing how many times a day something triggers a memory of Richard and John, the park alone provides a million reminders. The wild rabbits there take you back to Mother’s day several years ago, and a fluffy bunny holding the trophy, The world’s best mum,  a present from John, that still sits in your bedroom with your other treasures. Every morning when you see the chickens running around the park, you’re reminded of the day Richard endured countless scratches, scrambling through the bushes in Breda, trying to take the perfect shot of the Chickens sitting in the trees for one of your first blogs.

You start to walk back towards your practical apartment, blind to utilitarian residences and the emerging inhabitants of Breda. Instead your vision has been taken over by memories. Memories of two small boys trembling with excitement on Christmas morning, of a whispered ‘I know Father Christmas isn’t real, but let’s not spoil it for my brother.’ Images of those two beautiful boys growing into handsome young men deserving of so much, crowd your mind.

You try to keep your face hidden from Mr Sunshine back in the apartment; but it’s pointless.

‘Look at me.’ he says.

Fighting to keep the tears from falling, you do.

‘What’s wrong?’ Mr Sunshine asks, even though he knows.

‘I’m just sad.’

That’s all you need to say, he knows because you’ve been through this a thousand times. No amount of reasoning on his behalf will ever make you believe you were a good enough mother.

The rest of the day flows pretty much the same way the rest of them do, you study, you write, you try to cook, you and Mr Sunshine will eat too much and talk about the Derbyshire hills. Underneath all this are your constant companions, guilt and the awareness that time with your children was only borrowed, and you didn't get a second chance to do it right. You hope your children have forgiven you, your many mistakes, because it’s a certainty that you never will.

Richard and John

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Doctor, Doctor, is there a doctor in the house.

Just like my new doctor only mine was bald.
I like them bald...

 So, the time finally arrived when I needed to investigate the Dutch medical system. I’d been putting it off for a number of reasons.

Chiefly because, to investigate any medical system first you need to be ill, or in pain which in my experience is usually a thoroughly unpleasant business. 

The second is of course, the language barrier, I feel like such a twit every time I reel of my little Dutch patter: I’m sorry I don’t speak Dutch so well… And I’m vulnerable enough speaking to a Doctor I don’t need to feel like a twit as well.

The third and perhaps most honest reason I’ve personally avoided a trip to the doctor is –that in my past life I was a serial hypochondriac (before Mr Sunshine’s time). A visit to a Doctors surgery for me is like putting a recovering alcoholic in a pub, it’s just too tempting.  All those posters and leaflets pointing out inspiring symptoms, the possibilities were endless. 

So real it scares me..
My problem is that hypochondria is not something you can ever fully recover from, but in time it has to fade. You see, there are only so many imaginary illnesses you can inflict on your body. I know, I’ve had most of them. I’ve had several fictional brain tumours, I’ve been strapped to heart monitors straining to detect my fantasy heart attacks, I’ve had severe arthritis, numerous lumps, bumps, thrombosis, measles and itching eyelashes(if you search on the internet you can and will connect itching eyelashes to one or two nice diseases). All of these imaginary diseases did unsurprisingly, get better on the day of my Doctors appointment. I’ve had lumps, hang around for weeks, grow during the 6 day wait for the doctor’s appointment and then miraculously disappear in the waiting room.

My rather intimate knowledge of medical establishments taught me a few important lessons:
1.       There is nothing wrong with me (physically).
2.       Most things will go away if left alone.
3.       My own immune system is more effective than antibiotics.
4.   Worrying about myself is both pointless and boring.

My avoidance of the local Doctor's eventually failed, when pushed by Mr Sunshine I finally admitted I’d been in pain for five months. Not any kind of interesting pain, just foot hurting, painful walking type of pain.

The shocks started early. The friendly, polite receptionist, in fluent English made my appointment for 9.20 am the following day. The Doctor came to greet me in reception, shook my hand and made polite conversation (in English) on the long walk to his treatment room. This room was the size of our apartment, full of expensive looking equipment and modern art. The good looking male doctor, spent ten minutes examining my moist foot, which I’d only just managed to dry with the back of my sock. Then had me roll up my jeans (how I wish I’d shaved my legs) and walk. I was almost embarrassed by the thoroughness of his examination.

I left his surgery clutching a letter introducing me to a podiatry centre. Surely it would take weeks to get an appointment there. Nope, just a few days and an apology for the few days wait.

Its the little white bugger in the middle that's broken on my foot
It’s very hard when you experience this kind of service, not to reflect on the difference between the Dutch and the British medical care. It’s true we have to pay for medical insurance here, but we still did in the UK, just not so obviously.  If you are seriously ill or injured the UK is a great place to be.  But anything else, well, you’re just wasting the doctor’s time. Here, you’re a customer first, if you turn up with a problem the doctor assumes you need it fixing and not that you’re wasting his time.

I’m not sure if you can tell, but I’m impressed with the medical service here.

Something else, that’s been impressed on me this week is how lucky I am with my friends. Something tells me I must have been a very good person in a past life.

The kindness and support I’ve received through the medium of Facebook from friends back home this week, has left me feeling privileged to know such generous hearted individuals.  And I know I’ve said this before, but the friends we’ve made since we’ve been here, have made the sometimes rocky road of an expat so much more bearable.  This week, I was on the receiving end of some very kind words, from three separate friends; I might not have looked impressed at the time, but that's only because I’m not good with compliments, I don’t know what to say or how to react. Instead of saying thank you, I panicked and quickly changed the subject. When what I was actually doing was, wrapping these compliments up in gold leaf and placing them in my heart for safekeeping.

Precious words

Okay enough with the soppiness, Mr Sunshine will think I’m losing my mind and call the doctor.


Wednesday, 9 May 2012

My dog is just being friendly!

Catch me if you can

I admit it - I’ve been a bit of a voyeur.  I blame it on Facebook. I love seeing my friends photo’s, or reading witty one-liners. But more than that, lately I’ve become obsessed with New Zealand’s, educating dog owner sites, and particularly the sites interested in apparently ‘badly trained’ dogs being over friendly.

I read one analogy in which a ‘badly trained’ dog was compared to an indecent man, who sidled up to a seated women and her husband in a mall and began groping her while licking her ear. The women screamed and pushed the man away, then was dismayed when her husband behaved angrily towards her, and the gathering crowds tutted at ‘her’ bad behaviour. Initially I was all for the article, indignant for the women (and insinuated dog) who’d suffered terrible indignity. Yet, something wasn’t sitting right, all night the article kept reverberating in my mind, yes I know I should have better things to do. Two glasses of wine later I got it! The husband and crowds would never behave that way (it takes me a while to get there sometimes), so the analogy couldn’t work.

For the analogy to work with people not dogs, the more likely scenario would be: husband and wife sitting on a bench in a mall, a man comes over and begins enthusiastically taking to the women or man: asking lots of questions, beaming smile plastered on his face, takes his wallet out and shows them a photo of his family. The couple could, ignore him, tell him to piss off, or shockingly engage in conversation and find a new friend.

           This made me think about the difference between the dogs described in New Zealand and the dog’s Alfie’s met since we’ve been in the Netherlands. Either we’ve been incredibly lucky, or the dog’s here are for the most part friendly and very well balanced. I know I’m generalising but, I was wondering if it had something to do with the small amount of personal space we have here compared to the New Zealanders. People and dogs must learn to get along here, because there is nowhere to hide if you don’t.

If you don't get on with other people( or dogs), the Netherlands is not for you.

For instance last week we took Alfie into the local café (pub) where the owner practically pleaded with us to let Alfie off the lead so he could play with his dog. I objected, thinking it might cause problems with the other customers, but the owner just shrugged his shoulders and said.

                ‘It’s not a problem, I like your dog, my dog likes your dog, everyone here like dogs, if it becomes a problem we do something.’

So for the next twenty minute, Alfie and his new friend danced around the café, sniffing and licking not just each other but any of the customers who called them over, before collapsing under my chair, which vibrated from the beating tails of two very happy dogs.

My dog is just being friendly

           Large expanses of our local forest are designated ‘lead free’ zones. It’s a pleasure to walk there on a Saturday morning and meet up with friends. Alfie has his regular mates: Harvey (the singing dog) and Maggie (winner of canine Miss Breda). When we arrive at the forest I admit Alfie isn’t the best behaved dog, he pulls on the lead and practically hops from one foot to the other, in his impatience to find his mates. When he does spot them he charges (yes I know that's wrong too) leaps into the air and lands about three feet away, his face in the mud and his bottom in the air, tail on permanent vibrate.

My dog is just being friendly

In the centre of the 'lead free' zone is a vast open space, with benches and tables for people to sit and a surplus of logs to jump and sticks to chase for their canine friends. This is where the dogs really get to socialise. Alfie play’s happily with Great Danes, Pit Bulls, Lurchers and Chihuahuas, he adjust his speed to the capabilities of the other dog as they play the game of ‘chase me, chase me’. These games are always instigated by either Alfie or the other dog approaching, sniffing and giving the let’s play signal.

My dog is just being friendly

Dogs, like people are not all alike, some are grumpy, some have had bad experiences in their life and some are just old and tired. Dog’s that have been allowed to socialise and greet other dogs freely will almost always sense those less willing to play and keep a wide berth. Although, Alfie will at times wander up to within three or four feet of a standoffish dog, just to see if he can’t change his mind and invite him to play.  Sometimes it works. Last week I watched while Alfie and a beautiful white lady Boxer chased after each other in the forest, occasionally dropping to play bow like some elaborate mating ritual. The Boxer’s owner explained in broken English, how it makes her heart swell, to see her dog happy and playing for a change.

My dog was just being friendly

I know I’m probably over stating my point here, and God knows I’m no expert, but what’s so bad about a dog being friendly? Surely the good points outweigh the bad?  Although I'm willing to be proved wrong here..

Lots of pictures of my dog just being friendly:
He's coming!

Quick lets run

Another one (just behind Andy)

Alfie taking a break between games

Which one of you is going to chase me first?

I'm gonna get you

yeah.. You got me!!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Where did we go my little labia?

‘We need to get away.’ Mr Sunshine announced (He might actually have said, I need to get away, but I’ll overlook that for the sake of harmony).

Not sure why I'm so very fond of this
Great, a holiday in the sun, perhaps a health spa or even a city break? Nope - sneaky Mr Sunshine knows, I’m happy to go anywhere if it means I don’t have to cook. That’s why he could safely suggest three days in Belgium looking round caves. I’m not sure about you, but Belgium has never been high on my list as a holiday destination. After all, wasn’t Belgium just another version of the Nederlands and well, basically full of Belgium’s. And, while caves may seem romantic for some (cavemen), for me it meant wandering round the damp, dark interior of hills, peering into gloomy corners and counting the freezing drips on my head. Honestly, if we’d gone any slower I would have grown my own stalagmite.

And so the drips begin

Although the caves might not have been my perfect holiday, Belgium was! Mr Sunshine and I were blown away by the beauty and history of this small country. We stayed in a small faultless hotel just outside Dinant in the Ardennes, called L’ Auberge de Bouvignes (check out my review on trip advisor).   From the moment we arrived, Vincent (the owner) made our stay extra special, not just because he looked like Carl Pilkington, Mr Sunshine’s TV idol. But, because never stopped trying to make our stay perfect: wonderful breakfasts, offering the use of his bicycles, advice on the best caves to visit (hummm),  driving us to and from Dinant and recommending the best restaurants.

Beautiful Ardennes (if you look closely you can see my new house in the shadow of the ruin)
It was in one of these restaurants that Mr Sunshine suggested we have a proper conversation. We spent a few minutes looking at each other shyly, waiting for the other to start the conversation. Nothing happened; we had lost the art of conversation. Where did it go? What happened to the articulate, trendy couple who used to talk into the small hours?  

Our conversational skills had been traded for familiarity and our own unique language. We no longer talked in full sentences but, half muttered phrases and facial expressions. Sometime during the last 12 years we’d invented a whole host of new words to replace the need for normal conversation. Here are a few of the sillier ones:

Feeds = Feet or foot

 Mr Kipley = I’m going to sleep
Crispy = Fresh bedding

Donkel = Urine

Flip Flop = Defecate

Flap = As above

Tastetacular = Nice

Masturbation boss = Local forest

Mr Slinky = Alfie

Larry = The car
 (Who due to a sex change in the Nederlands and became)
Sarah Jessica Parker = The car

Scab–a-doom = Mr Sunshine’s home town

Rumpole of the Bailey = Sex

My little Labia = Me
(Until one very good and not so gullible friend pointed out labia- wasn’t in fact Scottish for Lady)

We might not have had a particularly intellectual chat that night, but we did giggle realising how low we’d stooped on the conversation roster.

Is it just us?

Trace xxx