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Thursday, 30 August 2012

Letters from the Netherlands: Missing Ingredients

Letters from the Netherlands: Missing Ingredients: I’ve been a quiet blogger recently, but haven’t heard many complaints so I’m hoping it is because you’ve all been busy too. Here we a...

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Missing Ingredients

I’ve been a quiet blogger recently, but haven’t heard many complaints so I’m hoping it is because you’ve all been busy too.

Here we are, starting our second year as expats. We’ve long past the honeymoon phase, the irritation and confusion phase lingered a while, now it’s time to embrace the assimilation phase of our life in the Nederlands.

My Hairy Bikers Diet Book
I’ve started cooking, okay, not actually part of the assimilation process, but it does go some way towards helping to make our time here feel more stable. It helps that the cooking is all from the Hairy Bikers Diet Cook Book and the meals taste delicious. Even better with the help of the two Northern hairy lads I’ve lost about 10lbs (Yea). I’m still cooking with a now battered camping stove and a slow cooker, so it’s been a challenge. But that may be about to change!
My kitchen

To improve my chances of assimilation I’ve upgraded my bike (with the generous birthday money from my lovely mum). British bikes here just don’t cut the mustard. Flat tires, unstable frames and vibrating baskets contributed to me spending more time on the floor with bicycle wheels spinning in the air, than my middle aged dignity felt comfortable with. I’ve now a solid Dutch machine that screams - 


Apparently the Dutch can tell you’re British just by looking your clothes, those and the white knuckled hands clenching the handle bars. I’m not complaining, it means cars and other bikes give me a wide berth which is a good thing for all of us.

The MOVE machine

Before I chose my Dutch MOVE machine, I had a trial with a traditional Dutch bike from De Klien Fietsen in Breda an amazing bike shop that I’ll tell you about another time. Anyway this bike was tough, so tough that I think it might have been meant for a female lumber jack. But I thought I could handle it. The steel frame and back pedal breaking system would be a piece of cake to me, after all I used to ride my bike as a child, once learnt never forgotten and all that.

Apparently you do forget.

So, Mr Sunshine and I have been talking. We love our apartment, but we don’t love the noise of the regular parties from the CafĂ© below – remember the Zombie party? After much deliberation we’ve decided to buy a small house. It’s scary stuff!

So I’m cooking, I’ve a Dutch bike, we’re buying a house, what’s left?

I know what’s left to complete the assimilation process, I’m just avoiding it. I need to learn Dutch. It’s no good hiding anymore, this year must become the year I learn to speak the language.

It’s my academic New Years resolution.

One last thing. Just in case you think all this assimilation is a step too far and I’m forgetting about the amazing country that supported me for almost half a century, the country that holds my beautiful family and long suffering friends. I haven't forgot - this week one of the ingredients in a Hairy Bikers recipe was cornflour - and wandering up and down the aisles of a Dutch supermarket was a slightly bow legged, slim-ish British woman, wearing bad clothes, wiping away tears with white knuckles.

Sometime all it takes is one missing ingredient.

with thanks to Mark Allison

Monday, 13 August 2012

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Finding Paradise in Turkey?

Is this Paradise?

Well I did it – I finally tore Mr Sunshine away from his desk in Breda and joined the millions of migrating homo-sapiens on the search for a fortnight in paradise.

How much easier would life be if we could truly migrate like the birds?

Mr Sunshine would wake up one day, look out of the bedroom window and know, just know. He would give me a special kind of nod and we would walk out onto the balcony, hop onto the railings and take off into the sky, gliding on thermal air currents towards warmer climates carrying no than the odd tick (birds carry ticks).

We’re not birds though and life is never that simple, especially when searching for paradise.

It’s just over a week ago since we pilled the back seat of the car with several suitcases (mainly Alfie’s) and drove off with the trusty Tom-tom set for the Channel tunnel - or so we thought.

The fun began as we tried to turn onto the motorway (E19) leading out of Breda. The road was blocked. You wouldn’t expect it to take 40 minutes to find another route out of Breda would you? You also wouldn’t expect two map loving adults to ignore the lack of signs for Caliais or Channel Tunnel for three hours. It was only as the kilometres to Paris started to countdown with alarming haste that one of the adults (me) started to experience doubts about the Tom-toms ability to delivery us to the Tunnel on time. As I whole heartily agree with the old adage ‘A workman should never blame his tools’ and I was the adult who programmed Tom-toms directions, it was with some trepidation that I informed the newly relaxed Mr Sunshine of our dilemma.

We did make it in time – just, despite missing the vet inspection point and created a rather angry tail back as we tried to drive through the checkpoints with a hairy illegal immigrant in the back.

The rest of our journey was not only dull but very LONG and we have promised ourselves that we will never, ever do that again.

Not paradise
A few days later we were ready for the real flight.  Trudging around Edinburgh airport at 6am looking for painkillers while Mr Sunshine kept his earplugs determinedly in place and his eyes glued to his kindle wasn’t the best start to our holidays, but we’ve had worse.  Thirteen (lucky for some) hours later when the non-air-conditioned coach pulled up outside our dream hotel I thought our holiday could truly begin. Walking up the steps to the reception the gentle strains of Drum and Base music felt like some kind of surreal joke and I chose it not to suggest Mr Sunshine remove his earplugs just yet.

To keep Mr Sunshine in the manner to which he’s become accustomed I’d ordered a room upgrade, a recommendation I’d read on Tripadvisor (Do not believe everything you read there), the room upgrade was a soulless bare room (think Travel Lodge with a balcony) looking out on to the large busy activity pool. Those of you that know us well will understand the slight feeling of doom that clouded our first night. That feeling of doom was justified; the next morning the activity pools loud speakers hissed and whined, then belched out an ear insulting cock a doodle do follow by five minutes of a bugle(or was it bungle) playing the army revelry at nine am.

The activity pool was awash with the entertainment team all dressed in red t-shirts, (too hot for red coats) who encouraged the guest to join in the fun.  We almost succeeded in avoiding any type of fun, until fuelled by several glasses of free wine we decided that bingo might be amusing. It almost was, until Mr Sunshine won and had to chase a Sue Pollard impersonator around the hotel for his prize. Still we couldn’t believe the prizes he won for a game of bingo: vouchers for a hat, keyring, a wet shave with added ear and nose hair removal, 45% discount on gems, CD, water ball trial, disco tour and – a paragliding session. We’ve never been that lucky, we were thrilled, until the next day when we tried to claim the vouchers and it turned out we weren’t lucky at all! No one, especially not the guest relations officer wanted to honour or even admit knowledge of the vouchers.
Mr Sunshine winning the bingo!

Receiving a multitude of non claimable prizes

I’d like to say it got better after that and in some ways I can (if I don’t think too hard). It was lovely to spend a couple of evenings with the Walkers, the sun never stopped shinning and the Drum and Base music melted away during midday to be replaced by Barry Manilow and Phil Collins, but then you can’t have everything in Paradise.

I’m writing this midway into our holiday and Paradise has improved, we’ve changed rooms, thrown the vouchers away and found an adults only pool. Which is where we should be now, but Mr Sunshine is sat beside me working on a project he needs for next term, while I tap away here. We’ve already discussed our return journey and although never of us had said it out loud; I think we’d both quite like to go home now.

Perhaps that’s what holidays are really all about – to help you to realise that Paradise isn’t some far flung destination but the place you call home.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Letters from the Netherlands: End of Year Report

Letters from the Netherlands: End of Year Report: Being vicariously involved with education has a unexpected bonus – we get to have two new years! The first we share with the rest of the...