Please come and check out my new blog at: we're not getting any younger where Mr Sunshine will be joining me for a regular weekly rant
Thursday, 4 July 2013
On one hand,I’m waking up each morning this week with a countdown in my head. Twelve, eleven, ten days until Mr Sunshine breaks up for the summer holidays. I hate wishing my life away like this, but I can’t seem to stop – it’s just too damn exciting.
On the other hand: just as I’m wishing my life away with one hand, the other is desperately trying to freeze it. I want to savour this week, I wish I’d made more of last week, I’m still trying to keep fresh all the wonderful big and little events that have made the last few months so jaw-droppingly special.
On one hand, I’m really happy with Alfie’s reaction to our new garden. I’m not exaggerating when I say our daft little mutt tries to cuddle the grass (the first lawn he’s known), he lolls around on his back, flips over and spreads his legs as wide as he can and buries his nose deep in the mown green shoots.
On the other hand: Alfie’s love of the new lawn has resulted in this:
On one hand I've recently had the nicest confirmation that I’m doing ok at something I love, and I’ve realised that it’s only now as I approach the big five O I have the experience necessary to make a childish dream a distant possibility.
On the other hand: this morning I noticed that that very experience necessary to make dreams come true resulted in wrinkles on my nose, on my nose. I don’t mind the nose wrinkles so much, what I do mind was finding out Jack, a dear friend, has just bought a vintage car, and it’s younger than me.
On one hand, just as I think I’m about to settle down to a life of middle-aged tedium a new friend asks if I could help source her a sperm donor.
On the other hand: Any offers?
Saturday, 8 June 2013
Wednesday, 5 June 2013
Four days ago my son walked up the aisle with his bride.
I was not prepared. That’s it – I was not prepared. I expected a few tears, after all what’s a wedding without tears. I anticipated a smudging of pride. I foresaw a hangover.
|Richard and Raian|
What I didn’t predict and what nobody warned me of was the memories. They didn’t flood in to my sleep deprived brain as I watched him speak his vows or even as he stood before the room crowded with floral guests and hushed children to deliver his perfect - unrehearsed – speech.
The memories came later that day, much later. The rest of the guests might have slept with images of the chocolate box wedding tattooed on their eyelids, I had other images.
I remembered his smile as I distracted him with silly stories when the nurse injected cloudy anesthesia in the back of his pudgy four year old hand. I remembered praying as he vanished into the death sleep. Sleeping, night after night, by his hospital bed, and using my fist to silence my own screams the first night I brought him home.
I remembered other, un-shareable, nights I lay awake, hands clenched, praying he’d be safe.
I remembered his grandfather’s (my father) smile as he said: ‘Richard just gave me the proudest moment of my life.’
But most of all I kept remembering his smile as he danced the first dance with his new bride.
Each time I freeze frame Richard’s first dance and see his face as he sings the words to Raian. I see a smile that belongs only to her, a smile filled with so much love, so much promise and honesty that it physically hurts.
For a moment on the dance floor I think it was just them, they forgot about the hundreds of people watching, cameras flashing and videos whirling. They didn’t see people sharing smiles, couples reaching for each other, or dozens of guests placing their drinks down and hurriedly grab tissues. They didn’t see me letting go of my first baby – my first baby.
Richard's smile at 1.10 seconds. That's it.
Saturday, 25 May 2013
Less than 24 hours ago the aptly named KLM Hopper fell out of the sky onto the runway at LeedsBradford airport and I began the countdown to my son’s wedding 7 days 4 hours 45 minutes as from now.
This morning I sat on the bed in Richard’s (my son) room. He kept his eyes averted from the game developer mod of Minecraft images on his oversized screen. And we talked.
I talked him about his granddad and his family in Ireland. He flicked the Minecraft image to Facebook and searched for pictures of his second cousins. He told me about the wedding plans, all the organising he'd done, the bills they had yet to pay – the florist, the caterers, the church. And I remembered.
I remembered the baby who was in such a rush to enter the world he arrived three weeks early and 10 minutes after his immature 20 year old mother climbed on to the delivery bed.
I remembered three year old Richard scaling the six foot wooden fence at the end of our garden to reach the neighbour’s paddling pool.
The policemen knocking on the door – to caution ‘his brother’ for vandalising a car, and eleven year old Richard stepping forward to admit it was him. (It wasn’t vandalised, he fell off his push bike on to the bonnet).
The teacher at his school phoning to say: he’d been hit by a cricket ball, tennis racket, rugby ball and his front teeth had been knocked out - again!
His teacher pulling me to one side in the car park her eyes shining. A little girl had climbed the Cedar tree in the school grounds and froze at the top. There wasn’t time to call the fire brigade, and the sports teacher didn’t think he had the balance to bring her down safely. Twelve year old Richard was pulled from his history class. A circle of anxious adults waited at the base of the tree while he scrambled to the top, convinced the little girl to wrap herself around him baby monkey style and swung them both back down.
Watching him plough down the field with a rugby ball, the thunder crack of his skull as it collided with the opposing team’s number eight, the set of his teeth as he kept moving. The astonished gasps from the crowd as he waded through the mud dragging a human chain towards the goal post to score the winning try.
The policemen knocking at the door a year later asking, ‘to speak to Richards parents’. I can still feel the booming of my heart and my bloodless cheeks. What had he done? Was he hurt? Was he ….?
My beautiful, brave, thirteen year old son had stepped into a circle of bullies throwing stones. Inside the circle was a young boy whose brother had been drowned in a canal two months earlier. The family, perhaps understandably, were not functioning well and were on the receiving end of some rather malicious gossip (the early 90’s was a cruel place). Richard tucked the boy’s bike under one arm and the boy under the other and faced down the bullies. Anyone who has ever seen my son in a rage will understand why the bullies ran. The policemen knocking on my door came to give him a commendation.
As I watch him walk down the aisle in seven days. It won’t be the tall young man I see dressed in a morning suit, but the toddler who knew no fear, the accident prone school child the teachers called on in an emergency, and the young man who when he recognised injustice and wasn’t afraid to be the one who stepped into the circle.
I’ll watch Richard and Raian promise to support each other though ‘better and worse’ and I know he’ll have both. But I also know that with courage and bravery, the hallmarks of his life, he’ll be ok.
Friday, 17 May 2013
Letters from the Netherlands: Big knickers and Ex’s: Being an expat means having a lot of ex’s in your life. I’m an ex-boss, an ex-therapist, an ex-Pilates teacher, an ex-runner (might be ...
Wednesday, 15 May 2013
Being an expat means having a lot of ex’s in your life. I’m an ex-boss, an ex-therapist, an ex-Pilates teacher, an ex-runner (might be pushing it a bit), an ex-walker of the Derbyshire Peak District. All these ex’s I accept as part of the life changing adventure that happens to an expatriate. What I didn’t expect, and what I’m struggling to deal with as part of my life changing adventure is the big knickers.
This event is not news to me. I’ve already had advanced knowledge that I might just be included in photographs that could be around for eternity.
With this advanced knowledge in mind, while, feasting on bittenballen, I drew up a plan. Mr Sunshine and I bought a cross-trainer, half an hour a day should see me right I thought, before turning to the latest free Kindle book. I filled the house with lettuce and bananas, Mr Sunshine stocked up on wine and family sized Tiramisu. I can easy do it in six months I thought after Christmas, I’ll start tomorrow!
I needed another plan. My usual (and preferred attire) is jeans and T shirts, if forced I’ll squeeze into something black. Neither of these looks I assumed would work as a wedding outfit for the mother of the groom. So, gathering my remaining shreds of dignity, I set sail for the shops; wisely leaving my glasses at home. Unfortunately none of the shops in Breda stock weight or age shaving garments.
With my head hanging I turned towards the underwear department in V & D. Disappointingly, the shop assistants looked not in the least bit shocked as I harvested an array of skin coloured XL underwear from the section deludingly called Glamour wear. I bought the biggest! It’s uncomfortable, will double as thermals in the Dutch winter, for some reason best not thought about it’s crotch-less, but it works.
My plan was coming together.
All that was needed was the highest pair of shoes I could conceivably stand up in.
|I can't believe I'm swapping my trainers with bespoke dropped arch support for these!|
Sunday, 12 May 2013
Wednesday, 8 May 2013
When we first arrived in the Netherlands we raved about the location of our new home. Breda is an extraordinarily pretty city, the people here are friendly and gracious (with the, possible, exception of a lady at the city hall and one rather unfortunate haemorrhoid suffering vet). We are on the doorstep of so many magnificent cities; we can drive to France, Italy, or Switzerland in a few hours. We can fly back to the UK in sixty minutes, or visit practically any destination that takes our fancy from Schiphol International, Europe’s largest airport.
|Paris or Venice or Frankfurt!|
Mr Sunshine, needed to see a friend and Frankfurt, it seems, is about equal distance from that friend’s home and ours.
So, dizzy with the thought of an adventure, we booked Alfie in for 24 hours at the doggy respite centre, hire a car from Budget Rentals (anything above 35mph in our own dear vehicle turns the passengers into juddering earplug wearing marionettes) and packed our best, rather tight, going out clothes.
The odd facial tick and involuntary arm jerk warned me that Mr Sunshine was still coming down from his Masters high, and in no fit state to take the first shift at the wheel. So, in an attempt to earn some brownie points I offered to drive. For those of you that have never driven a right hand drive car be warned it is not as easy as it looks. Patting your head with one hand and rubbing your tummy in a circle with the other, is a reasonably close description of the sensation. According to Mr Sunshine I was in constant danger of hitting the curb. I noticed my eyes spent dangerously long scanning for the mirror. These were minor inconveniences compared to my door swinging open every time I tried to change gear.
After some rhetorical discussion I convinced Mr Sunshine to let go of the dashboard and I continued with the drive. The long motorway/autobahn drive to Frankfurt was unremarkable, apart from one fact: it circles the longest city in Germany. From the moment we entered the Deutschland autobahn I started seeing the signs for this long city. Mr Sunshine even looked up once or twice from his ‘Zombies R Us’ magazine to comment irritably its ridiculous size.
|Every junction had a sign for this city|
Six hours later the Satnav led us into an abandoned subterranean car park, where we parked, rather foolishly, next to a 1970’s orange and black Mustang and walked out into Harlem. We partook of several more rhetorical discussions while trying to locate the Best Western Hotel.
‘Let’s ask somebody where the hotel is.’
‘Let’s look up here’
‘Can we go home?’
After walking gingerly over the dried vomit littered streets we finally found the hotel under a busy flyover. Trying not to be downhearted we consoled ourselves we the thought that wine and the good company of friends would soften out our first impressions of Frankfurt. And I expect it would have, if the receptionist hadn’t informed us that, not only, had our friends not arrived but they weren’t even booked in.
|Best Western Frankfurt|
Mr Sunshine stormed off to our room muttering 'typical', and I felt that familiar guilty question lurking:
Is it my fault?
Several hours later we discover those friends were, actually, booked in the same hotel, just not in the same city.
At which point I thought longingly of that extraordinarily pretty city I’d been so keen to escape and wished to see another one of those signs for Ausfahrt.
|Translation for Ausfahrt.|
Monday, 29 April 2013
Letters from the Netherlands: Marking my territory: I don’t blog for ages and now, all of a sudden, I don’t want to stop. I’m like the bus that doesn’t appear while you’re waiting at the bu...
I don’t blog for ages and now, all of a sudden, I don’t want to stop. I’m like the bus that doesn’t appear while you’re waiting at the bus stop, then as soon as you decide to go home, three appear one after the other.
|One, two, three, four, five buses|
The only difference is a bus takes you somewhere, whereas my blogs just leave you confused and wondering what the hell did I just read that for?
Today, while Mr Sunshine was locked away in his Masters tower I took Aflie to the forest. Nothing usual in that, you may think, and you’d be right. But, while I was on the way to the forest I was thinking (a dangerous occupation of late).
I have this misapprehension that Aflie is quite possibly the best dog that ever lived. He certainly is the cutest, I’m not deluded about that and towards Mr Sunshine and I he is most definitely the most affectionate. He, also, performs magic (badly), keeps our feet warm while watching Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares, and stands guard all night protecting us as we sleep (sort of).
|Look into my eyes|
So why does this perfect dog, insist on dragging me towards every object that stands at right angles to the ground between here and the forest?
|Hey wait, no really wait - I missed one.|
I’ve watched The Dog Whisperer, I’ve read several How to bring up a well behaved dog books, and I’ve been told countless times that the reason he gravitates towards and cocks his leg at: all lamp posts, bollards, and slow moving OAP’s on the five minute walk to the forest is that he’s marking his territory. I know this is a truth, and yet why then do I always get the feeling he’s leaving a trail so he can find his way home.
|Please don't leave me|
He’s like Gretel (Hansel’s sister)leaving a trail of breadcrumbs, only wetter, in case the wicked step-mother (me?) tries to leave him alone and friendless in the dark sinister forest.
|Very sinister forest|
When I look at the garden I’ve been creating here in the Netherlands I wonder if I’m not all that dissimilar to Aflie. I’m not suggesting I’ve been - knowingly - cocking my leg against the wheelie bin, or marking the drain pipe with my scent. (To be honest I couldn’t do it, although that being said, I’ve always felt a sneaky admiration for anyone that can. Especially if they can do it while standing on one leg and cocking the other.)
By creating our own patch of garden here in the Netherlands am I marking my territory? Am I announcing that this patch of Dutch soil is ours - enter at your peril. Or am I like Gretel, so afraid of being lost in a strange place that I’m creating little crumbs of Britain so that when the time comes I can remember how to find my way home?
|Marking our territory|
Friday, 26 April 2013
I often blog about life as an expat or more accurately mine and Mr Sunshine’s life as expats which, to be honest, is rarely the same as other people experiences.
Take the last six months for example. We buy a house, move in and begin to get to really understand our new home become less expats and more prospective Dutch. We learn the language, get to know our neighbours and explore the beautiful countryside.
No wait, that was a dream I once had.
What actually happened was: we bought a new house and moved in, Mr Sunshine then decided to work while completing a certain teaching qualification and a Masters all in six months. Knowing that we would have no life outside the office I kept my head down and carried on with my Open University studies, finishing 7 weeks ahead of schedule.
I’m hoping that dream I had once is about to come true.
Mr Sunshine has almost finished his Masters so we’re, tentatively discussing long walks on Sundays, considering inviting the neighbours round for drinks, and I’ve sent off an application to join a Dutch language course. Will this make us less expat-ish?
I hate to admit it, but I think the answer is no. We will always feel a little thrill when we see a tin of Heinz Baked Beans, and despite the inflated price drop a couple of tins in our basket. Mr Sunshine will never get used to the klein (small) glasses they serve larger in, and I will always gravitate towards dulcet tones of an English accent – especially Northern accents.
Yet, something has happened, there has been a change, I’ve made a connection to the Netherlands.
Not with the language, culture or even the countryside, but with the soil.
I spent days digging over rumble filled earth, weeks unearthing artefacts, and analysing the remains of the previous 100 years of habitation.
|100 hundred years of rubble|
|Back breaking double digging (Alfie was no help)|
I’ve raked, levelled (I invented my own levelling machine) to flattened the dry sandy earth.
|Patent already applied for!|
I’ve braved Hornbach (D.I.Y shop) and bought a sprinkler on the first day of rain for two weeks.
|Who buys sprinkles in the Netherlands?|
I’ve ordered 32 m2 of turf from a company that speak no English. I’ve worked our small patch of Dutch earth till my back aches, my palms throb with blisters and my fingernails resemble an 18th century coffin escapee. I’ve had soil inside my ears, socks, and hair. I’ve even tasted the soil that generations of Dutch have worked on before me, which is why I can after almost two years in the Netherlands say -
‘I am becoming, not a lot, but a little less of an expat.’
|Mr Sunshine connecting with Dutch soil?|
Tuesday, 1 January 2013
Yesterday was our first experience of New Year’s Eve in Breda, and I found myself asking, over and over, what went wrong?
Mr Sunshine and I woke at 7.30 am, not to the friendly toll of the church bells, but to the loud proud blast of our neighbour’s first firework. Alfie feigned raising an eyebrow, Mr Sunshine mumbled something unprintable, and I assumed it was the act of a sensible dad type figure testing out his safety procedures for the evening celebrations while his children were securely tucked up in bed.
24 hours later I laugh at my naivety
By 8am the city rang with challenging detonations. Battle lines were drawn where once had been garden fences, rivers became frontiers and the streets were a no-man’s land. Only a few brave souls ventured outside their own four walls.
I was one of those brave souls.
I may never recover.
Aflie’s walk waits for no man, and by lunchtime he’d made his need for walkies pretty clear. So wrapped in my Christmas scarf, I took to the streets where I saw no adults, only children. Gangs of roaming kids had taken over the city like a 1980’s futuristic film. I saw one child, who (to give his parents some credit) was at least 6 years old, lob a lit firecracker to a group of children a few metres away. Alfie padded on indifferently, while I pursed my lips in righteous indignation. What had happened to my lovely new home-city and the sensible, practical Dutch I had come to so admire?
Working in the office that afternoon was torture, as eruptions and explosions rattled the glass in our windows. It felt as if the whole city was suffering from a severe form of irrepressible farting.
|Calm before the storm|
|Here we go|
|Andy having braved a closer look, runs back to his troop|
|War torn Beirut or sleepy Breda?|
Luckily, for us, we spent the evening at a great New Year’s Eve party where good food, wine and company pushed away the thoughts of the flatulent city.
Then, 10 minutes before midnight armed with nothing more than umbrellas we hit the streets. I expected an organised firework display; instead, we entered, what was not unlike, my image of a raging battle torn street in Beirut. There were no barriers, no safely officers, and no delighted children gazing in wonder at the sky. Instead crowds of people hugged doorways, while gangs of less than sober youths ignited industrial sized fireworks in the middle of the streets.
This morning I’m reeling, I’m confused; I see a little chink in Breda’s perfect armour.
|Andy and Alfie completely ignored the whole thing, I think they have the right idea|