woensdag 4 december 2013

Kafka in France

In the seventies I thought about a nice way of deciding where to go on a holiday. I just closed my eyes having the map of Europe in front of me and a needle in my hand. And I just pricked the needle in the map and then had a look at it.
I saw I had hit Issoire in central France, a city not far away from Clermont-Ferrand. In these days there were no possibilities like nowadays where you can find nice hotels on the net. And the travel agency didn't have any information whatsoever about the city.

                                         Train to Issoire

But I just went, took the night train to Paris, took another train over there and yet another and finally a sort of omnibus train with wooden benches and  finally arrived in the late afternoon the following day.
The station was quite old and lovely, but I was so tired that I didn't have much eye for that. So I walked out of the station into the center of the town. I entered the first brasserie I saw and asked the lady behind the bar in my best French if she knew any hotel or bed and breakfast for me in the town.
I was very lucky: they had a vacant room above the brasserie. She gave me the key of the room, explained how to get there and asked me to come back later to fill out the requested forms and have a nice cold beer.


The room was simple but clean and after dropping my luggage over there I did get the cold beer she promised me. With her help I filled in my details on the forms and after a nice meal with some more beer I went to bed.
The next morning I got some advice about sightseeing from her together with the breakfast. The town itself was quite pretty but not very touristy.
Next to the medieval church there wasn't a lot. She told me to walk out of town, into the fields, to the castle that looked over the fields from the hill it was built on.

The walk was really wonderful; it was in the middle of summer and the corn was high so it almost was like walking through a dry canal with lovely shores. It took me an hour to reach the castle and everything was very quiet. I never knew they had siesta in France, but it sure looked like that over here. After two a shop opened and I bought a bottle of water and a snack.
All in all the castle itself was a bit disappointing, it was more a big mansion with some cottages surrounding it.
But I had seen it and I had made photographs of it to prove it.

On my way back there suddenly appeared a huge African man from a side path. He stopped me and politely asked me in fluent English if I wanted to buy some drugs. I didn't want to, so he greeted me and went his own way again. This thing really puzzled me a bit, I did not see any other African person in the town itself.
How did he know I wasn't French?

                                          Sight on Issoire

The next day I decided to visit Clermont-Ferrand; it is quite old and has a rich history.
There was nobody selling tickets at the station, so I assumed I had to buy a ticket on the train. They didn't run a lot, so I had to wait. I really didn't plan anything.
Now I noticed that the station was quite lovely and old. Next to the main track there were two side tracks where a few rail cars were placed.
I took my camera and started to make some nice photographs.

                                          Trainstation of Issoire

Suddenly somebody grabbed me from behind and started cursing in French at me. I was brought into a room in the station by this man and another man followed us and locked the door behind us. I was placed at a little formica table.
The grabber fired loads of questions at me in a sort of rapid fire. I asked politely to slow down a bit in my best school French.
Telling them that I was a foreigner, a Dutch guy, did not really help. I had to show my passport and the silent one took it and disappeared with it for a few minutes.

I had no idea who these men were and why they had taken me here.
When the silent one came back with my passport things became a bit clearer to me. They started to ask why I made photographs of the station and the platform. I tried to explain, but they just shook their head and demanded to see my camera.
The silent one took it from me, opened it and took the film out.
I got my camera and passport back and they warned me: if I were ever to make photographs of the station again, things would become very grim for me.
For this time they let me go.


I was shocked, went back to the brasserie and stayed there the rest of the day. I wanted to talk about this happening to me, but there was nobody to share it with and even then: how to explain this?
The next days I did go to Clermont-Ferrand, really enjoyed it and made loads of nice photographs of ancient churches and statues.
I can't show any of these anymore. Every time you move on, you throw useless things away. And to be honest I could not tell which was which anymore after a few years.
I never used my camera on French stations again.

vrijdag 15 november 2013


Our driver parked the coach skillfully between two other coaches and told us we had forty minutes to enjoy a refreshment at the service center right in front of us. So the old and almost old people (like us) got out and walked with or without walking stick and zimmer frame towards the shops and cafes. There were two cafes: one that sold cheap coffee of a brand I never heard about before and one that sold Costa coffee.
The cafe selling the cheap coffee was overcrowded so we chose for Costa.

We found one of the last available free tables and my wife occupied the two chairs that we wanted to use. In the meantime I joined the queue. There were quite a lot of people in front of me, but the staff of Costa proved to be quite good at the job so I neared them quite soon.
The last people in front of me were a woman in her fifties and what looked like her mother. They both had the same very broad hips that were made even more visible by their winter coats.

The daughter had a look on the display behind the young men who formed the staff. She began to make weird gestures, it was obvious that she became nervous. When I looked at what she must have been seeing, I could imagine her problem. She wanted coffee, but only at the top of the list was the work Coffee.
And then followed the different types of coffee: cappuccino, latte, americano and so on.

Finally she spoke out: "I want coffee!"
The young man asked: "What type of coffee would you like, madam?"
She got red faced: "Coffee!"
He suggested: "Maybe cappuccino? Like that lady has over there?"
She hissed: "I don't want milk! I want coffee!"
He sighed: "Espresso?"
In the meantime she was checking the price list.
She was curious: "What do I get when I order espresso?"
He showed her an espresso cup.

Immediately she became furious!
"You think I'm daft or what? For that price you get that? Are you taking the piss?!!"
He tried to explain: "But..."
"Come on Ma! This a complete rip off. A couple of robbing bastards!"
While they were walking away, I heard "Ma" stepping in: "Ridiculous!"

It was my turn.
The young man looked almost desperately at me.
"Two double espresso, please", I said.
I heard a deep sigh and he started to work on my order.

dinsdag 5 november 2013

Mind Games

On every stop we made new people would join our group in the coach travelling towards Devon. The last addition was near Bristol.  It was three elderly women who all took a seat next to one that remained vacant.
Near us one got seated. She obviously didn't have her teeth in which gave her the possibility to touch her chin with her nose. It made her look a bit retarded to say the least.

She fumbled with the safety belt which you are required to use nowadays. After a few minutes she gave up and growled something like "You do it!" to me. It sounded a bit rude, but coming from an elderly lady  I couldn't refuse to do this for her. So I clicked her in safely and also showed her the armrest. It took a little trick to put that in the right position. She didn't thank me, not even a nod was given.

The ride took hours and most people used this time to read, puzzle, eat, drink or sleep. I  tried to do a crossword puzzle but gave up on this because of the sudden movements the coach made on this part of the journey. Putting letters on the right spot proved to be a bit difficult like that.
My eyes were drawn to the left where the old woman was sitting. She was playing a sort of game with her hands on her legs. She started on her thighs and moved them separately towards her knees. And then one of the hands won and she would start again.

After some time I lost interest and tried to read a bit. The landscape that appeared withdrew my attention from the book and I looked out of the window for some time. England sure was prettier than I had always thought!
A muffled sound made me look to the old lady again. She was sort of drumming on her legs, alternating with the seat in front of her and with the armrest. She had no earphones on, the radio on the coach was off.
She must have had a song in her head and she drummed along like she was the drummer of a rock band.

An hour later we made a stop at a service center. The driver gave us one hour to have coffee or such. To make things very clear he said: "Be back at 3:45; a quarter 'til four!"
"Wha?" the old woman shouted. The driver repeated what he said. "Wha?" she yelled again.
So he shouted the mentioned time in her ear and tried to point it out on his watch in front of her.
She nodded and walked along with the rest towards Costa Coffee.

zaterdag 12 oktober 2013

The Evil Eye

It was very surprising to experience to be accepted so soon. After some years as a somewhat lonely child, because there were hardly any children in the forest where we lived, I found myself surrounded by the village children. I was amazed and sometimes it almost got too much and I tried to get away from the rowdy company. But most of the times I was just very happy with the luxury of so many friends.

The village was quite small and there were hardly any facilities. We had our school, there was a church, a pub that had closed down years before but functioned as an off license, a bakery where you could buy sweets, a milkman without a shop (but you could get milk at the back door) and a smithy. It does not sound like there was a lot to do for children, but our days were always filled.
When we were not in school or on our expeditions in the fields surrounding the village or playing football on the grass in front of the school we would spy on the blacksmith.

His big wooden double doors were always open during the day. The  fire that the blacksmith used made the work space very warm. We would peep in hiding behind these doors, not making a sound. At first I didn't know what this was all about, but the others explained it to me very clear. The blacksmith had the evil eye and when you were caught in his vision you or a person in your family would become seriously ill and could even die.
So whenever the man turned around from his hammering on the glowing metal we would run off, the girls sometimes screaming from fear.

One day my mother took me to the doctor because a wound on my knee would not heal. We got some cream for that and after that I was ready to go to school. Mother thought it would be better to skip all day and so I found myself alone on the streets. I decided to have a look at the blacksmith.
I found him hammering on some horseshoes, once in a while holding them in the fire and when he was done he held them in the water causing a lot of hissing and steam.
"Better show yourself kid!" he suddenly shouted. To my surprise I found myself walking straight in the smithy instead of running off.

The blacksmith had taken a seat on a stool and gestured me to sit down too. There was a wooden bench near the doors. I felt no fear I could run off easily. My sore knee didn't bother me that much and I knew already that the man was not very young. He asked me why I was not in school and I explained. He nodded, maybe he had been wondering if this was a day off for all the children.
Now I noticed that he was cross-eyed. Maybe the children knew this too and made this story about the evil eye?

The blacksmith started telling me about the way the children reacted on him. He invented the story himself, by this he tried to keep the children away from the smithy. It was far too dangerous for them.
He asked me to run to the bakery and get him a loaf of bread. No money was needed, I just had to tell him it's for the blacksmith. And on my return he would give me something.    
So I did what he asked me to do and he gave me a few cents.
"And don't tell the others. This is our secret!" I nodded and he told me to go home.
When I left he told me that if I was on my own I could ask him if I could sit on the bench again and maybe I could do an errand again.

I did some more errands in the time that followed. Sometimes I would run along with the other children away from the smithy while coins were tinkling in my pocket.
A year later the smithy closed it's doors forever; the blacksmith had suddenly died and there was nobody willing to take over the business. The smithy stayed like this for years and years. I heard rumors about relatives and the municipality to quarrel about the building.
When I left the village to live somewhere else the building was still there, slowly becoming a ruin.

Years later I came to visit the village again. It changed beyond recognition. The population increased a lot and so did the amount of shops: there was even a shopping center.
The smithy had disappeared, instead there was a new building with a cafe in it. The name of it was "The Friendly Neighbor". I myself would have named it "The Evil Eye".

woensdag 25 september 2013


It was definitely something else going on a coach trip. Most of the people were elderly. It was funny to see them showing the behavior of young children once in a while. And they would all act in the same way. If one started fumbling with the button for air circulation, the others would follow. If one bought a newspaper, the others wanted to have one too. This sometimes would lead to old ladies excusing themselves to the driver and speeding to a shop to buy one. One lady would always be very late because of that. But the champion of being late was Philip.

Philip was a man in his late sixties. His walking was a bit difficult and to help him with that he had the most peculiar walking stick I've ever seen. The top end resembled a dowsing rod. It was not very smart that he and his wife had seats at the rear of the coach. When he got on, he always had to catch his breath halfway. And then he would smile that naughty, boyish smile of his, while his wife was calling him names from her seat.
He seemed to escape from her all the time. On the first days of the trip she would search for him and together they would get in. But later she seemed to give up on this.

One day the company went shopping in the center of a city. The weather was quite bad, the driver had problems parking and so he dropped us on the pavement in the middle of a street where loads of shops were situated. He told us we had to be back on the same spot at 3pm sharp. There would be no time for waiting because of the traffic in that street. Cars were honking behind the coach to demonstrate that. We all promised to do such.
But of course: when it was near 3pm we were all gathered waiting for our transport, except Philip.
So when the coach came, we all hopped in and the driver drove out of the street. Everybody was laughing, except the wife of Philip. She was furious!

We drove a few blocks and then everybody shouted: "There he is!"
The driver stopped and our lost sheep got in and even before he could sit, the coach started to move.
Philip blamed everybody for being late except himself. This caused his wife to start cursing and the driver to threaten that the next time he would just drive back to the hotel and would leave Philip to find his own solution to get back to the hotel.
He even made us synchronize our watches; for Philip!

The next day the weather was bad again, so the trip again went to shops. This time to a shopping mall in another city. Again the time to get back on the bus was put on 3pm .
At that time a miracle happened: Philip was on time, on his own and showing a big grin. He looked like being proud of his own achievement.
Time went on, but his wife was still missing. Finally at ten past three she appeared and got on.
"You're late Honey! I was already here ages ago!" Philip shouted, while laughing.
"You fool! Shut up! I have been searching for you all over the bloody mall! And why don't you answer your bloody phone?"

She took her seat and started telling stories about Philip's bad behavior to the people near her until we reached the hotel. Philip was silent and sulking the rest of the trip.

woensdag 11 september 2013

A Men's Thing

Like he had told me the day before, my father woke me at four. He had given me a fishing rod for my tenth birthday and till this day I never used it. It certainly was his own hobby. Once in a while he would disappear a full day with his fishing gear; sometimes my older sister would go along.
But this day would be different: we would have a real men’s day and do men’s things.
He whispered to me I should be very quiet; no need to wake everybody. When I came downstairs he already had made a peanut butter sandwich for me, served with a glass of milk. Obviously he had been downstairs a bit longer. His plate was empty and in the kitchen sink. The moped stood packed next to the window. I could see our fishing rods sticking out from the back. He was busy pouring coffee in a thermos flask and hummed a song.
It was a long ride to the big channel and he had to shout a few times I should hold him tighter. We didn’t want to lose me of course. At these times my hands would seek a better grip and would get the smell of his leather jacket even more in my nose.
Slowly I saw the sky getting lighter and when we got to our goal, the day was there. I got off from the moped and must have walked in a funny way. He smiled when I tried to get my legs going in a normal manner. My behind felt like it was made of wood, but slowly I got a tickling feeling and things became back to normal again.
He held a piece of barbed wire up so I could crawl into the meadow that bordered the water. I picked up my share of the things we were dragging along and we went straight to the water. There was one pile of cow poop and of course I stepped in it. He laughed out loud, announced that this would make a nice story at home. I was not amused and tried to scrape the stinking stuff from my rubber boot. He went on and returned to get the rest of the gear from me, it took me quite some time. Things went better when I found a stone. I scraped the rest off and joined him.
My father put two folding chairs on the bank and had the other gear arranged in a nice manner. This way we could get to almost everything, even without getting to our feet. He poured us a coffee in plastic mugs and we warmed our hands with these. Halfway the coffee he announced that we would get into action.
First he took his fishing-rod from its cover, planted it in the ground and opened a small tin with little holes in the lid. It was full of maggots, wriggling white worms trying to escape. He picked one out and speared it on the hook. He took the rod in his hands and threw the line into the water.
The rod was planted in the ground again.
It was my turn, so he did the same thing with my fishing-rod. While busy with the maggot he said that I should learn this too; there was a little trick to it, because if the insect was not attached in a good manner it would slip off in the water. And if this happened you would never catch anything.

                                                                     Robert McAffee - Fishing with Dad

We sat for some time staring at the floats and said nothing. Father asked me if I liked it here as much as he did. “Mwah”, I said and looked a bit better around. I wondered how a painter would paint the colour of the water on canvas. I thought he needed brown, green, grey and black. The sky was just grey with some darker grey clouds that drifted along the horizon but slowly were getting near. At the other side of the water I could see a church tower very far away. A dog was barking on a cargo boat that passed by. A man talked to that dog and waved at us. It was the third boat that passed since we sat down.
Once a bigger boat passed and made big waves. We had to step backwards to avoid getting wet.
Later a miracle happened, my float went up on and down. Father was even more excited than me. “You got one!” Following his instructions I gave it a big fight and got it in. Father scooped the fish out of the water in the landing-net. He fished it out and showed it to me. It was a few inches big, maybe five. Shaking his head he fiddled the hook out of the lip and nose of the fish. He saw me looking in disgust, exclaimed that the fish would be fine and threw it in the water. I saw it disappear slowly, laying sideways in the water. Father explained that this was because the fish was shocked, he would come to his senses soon again. Lucky for me he did the new bait for me on the hook again.
A man with a fishing-rod walked up to us and asked if they were biting a bit. Father shook his head, told the man I was the only one that got something till now. He nodded in approval to me and rolled a cigarette. He asked father about the bait we were using and nodded again. Father showed his different hooks and the man put one thumb up and spat in the water. He walked away and got seated almost out of our sight.
“Nice day, right?”, father said to me. “Fourteen”, I said and he looked at me in astonishment. I looked at the sky; the darker coloured clouds were winning from the lighter ones.
It had started to rain and father gave me a poncho to stay dry. “It will stop soon, according to the weather forecast.” But it didn’t. Once he told me we would wait ten more minutes for the rain to stop. “Nineteen”, I answered. “Oh, we’ll see.”
It was raining harder now and he had enough. We both got the lines out of the water. My bait was gone. “No wonder you didn’t catch anything”, he said. He took his bait off and put the rods in the covers. We collected everything and were off. I looked at the water one more time. Twenty-one.
This time I manoeuvred around the pile. Father was quite handy with  building the gear on the moped again. I stepped up behind him while he was telling a story about other fishermen. They would buy fish and take it home. We were honest folk so we wouldn’t do that. This I fully understood.
It wasn’t very long before the rain stopped and the sun came out. A bit bleak, but this really was sunshine. “What a shame you wanted to go.”, he said. I didn’t react.
At home my mother asked how things had been. Father told about the fish I caught and explained that the fish wouldn’t bite because of the threatening rain. I found my book and read on while he took care of the stuff we had taken along. “Of course you should help him”, mother said to me.
So I ran up to him and offered my help. “No need; you don’t know where I keep the stuff.”
It was the last time he asked me to go along; months later I noticed that my fishing rod had disappeared. I never asked where it had gone.
First published May 3 2011 on www.authspot.com

zaterdag 24 augustus 2013

Not like them?

It was very busy at the ferry terminal. Quite normal in the summertime: lots of tourists from the mainland of Europe go to London and people from the UK like to visit countries like the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany. Once in a while the amount of people is doubled by groups of people from India or Pakistan. And like today they are easily  recognized because of the way they are dressed.
While Europeans walk around in shorts and t-shirts, they wear winter clothes and coats.
People like me don't like these big groups, because when you check in and they go first;  you'll have to wait for ages.

This time it was not different from other times. A few group leaders in orange jackets tried to get some order and get all these overdressed people in a queue. One was a small guy, a bit overweight and sweating like anything. He kept checking schedules and shaking his head in disbelief and disgust. One was more normal sized, he had a schedule in the pocket of his jacket and was enjoying a cup of coffee while having his feet up on another chair. The third one was a very tall guy with a broad smile that never left his face. He was the one who got all his folk in one line.

A member of staff of the ferry company came over and I could hear her saying: "Could you please tell your people to go a bit more to the back? We want to let the other passengers go first and then handle your groups." The small group leader got very agitated and started to shout while the coffee lover just stayed where he was. He just smiled friendly and didn't do anything. The tall guy just nodded, grinned and started to convince his people to back off a bit. The person of the ferry company dragged a few poles with red string towards the group and like that made a sort of division between the groups of Indian people and the rest of the passengers.

Suddenly a girl popped up from behind the Indians; to me she looked like a typical Dutch girl. Quite tall, slim, on sandals and with a backpack. She apologized to the ferry staff member and got from behind the red line and joined the rest of us.
A boy of about seven or eight observed what happened. His mother stood next to him.
"You better stay close to me", she said. "They might think you belong to that group."
Like his mother he was dressed in jeans and a shirt. But the color of his skin was a lot darker than hers.
He reacted like he was a bit shocked: "They would not do that! I'm different."
"They might not notice, Edward. And why do you think you are different?"
"I wear normal shoes, Mum."
"They do too."
"I have nice hair."
"They do too."
"I have normal clothes."
"They do too."

I could see him thinking about this, having a good look at his and their clothing.
Something his mother was saying wasn't right, he could sense it.
But to be really sure, he slipped his hand in hers.
And it stayed there until they got their boarding tickets.

vrijdag 16 augustus 2013

Music gives you peace

Using the train for travelling is a good thing to do. It's always fast and you don't get the stress of being on a busy road. And lots of times you can find a quiet part of the train where you can read a book or a magazine.
And nowadays you can even go on your computer, so you can continue being connected to your loved ones.
This time I'm not very lucky with quietness: a family takes the seats on the other side of the aisle.
Father in his shorts, mother in a dress with a big flower pattern and two boys. One is around 14 and quite slim, wearing jeans. The other is a few years younger, wearing a jogging suit. He is very much overweight, so maybe it is not very comfortable for him to wear anything else.

The boys are arguing. The youngest one shouts: "You can't keep these skittles for yourself! That isn't fair!"
His brother reacts: "You almost ate the whole packet.  Now it's my turn to have a few. There are hardly any left." The younger one kicks against the table.
Mother gets into action: "Now you boys don't fight. Here is a bag of wine gums. These are nice too."
She puts the bag in front of the fat boy.
He is still not happy: "It's not fair!"

But nobody is listening anymore. Father is busy texting on his mobile phone, mother is reading an important article about singer Peter Andre in a magazine and his brother has put earphones on his head, listening to his I-pod.
The boy continues sulking and sinks down on his chair; his chin is resting on his fat stomach and he manages to get his feet next to mine. The foot nearest starts tapping on the floor.

                                                         Rockabilly hairstyle

After 5 minutes I have enough of this and drag my luggage to another seat, a bit away from the happy family.
I look out of the window, but after some time it feels like somebody is watching me.
I notice a man in his forties sitting backwards in his seat looking in my direction. He is sitting two rows in front of me.
He is doing something I've never seen before: he is spitting in his hands and rubbing the saliva in his hair.
It's very shiny because of this and he sculpts it into a sort of rockabilly style.

When he is done, he stares with an angry look on his face in my direction.
Only then I notice the young man in the seat between us; he has managed to lie on the seats and he has earphones on his head. His eyes are closed; I don't know if he is asleep or just enjoying his music. Vaguely I can hear something escaping the earphones. He is very peaceful and it is very clear that the angry looks of mister spit hair don't reach him.

I pick up my book and the train starts leaving the station.

vrijdag 26 juli 2013

News in a Rocking World

One of our local pubs is frequently the venue for concerts of local bands. A year ago it came in the hands of a new landlord. The old one had a constant struggle with some of the neighbours because of the noise of the concerts. And so there was a sound limiter, a device that cuts off the electricity of the instruments. So in the old days we used to have fun at unexpected moments when only the drummer could play on. We would all cheer and a technician had to put everything back in working order.
Somehow the new landlord had managed to get rid of this awful thing so there were no limits to the sound at all.

                                          Neil Young and Crazy Horse

This Sunday afternoon a Neil Young tribute band was playing. Neil Young himself normally does acoustic concerts or concerts with Crazy Horse. This band combined it: before the break the musicians played the ballads and after that songs from Buffalo Springfield and Crazy Horse. And they showed how loud it could get. The normal impolite chatting of some spectators had stopped and our ears were almost popping out. The people sitting next to us looked at each other and left in a hurry, leaving their drinks. The crowd was standing in amazement and almost started headbanging. I say almost, the average age must have been between forty and fifty. At that age people don't do that sort of thing.

A man in his eighties shuffled to the vacant seats, carrying a few newspapers, followed by a lady of the same age carrying a glass of water and a glass of wine. While the loudness of the music caused a squeaking in my ears he was reading the newspapers and she was fiddling with her blackberry. After each song she would look up and applaud politely. He read on, nothing could disturb him. Sometimes he would reach out for his water. After the last page of his papers he emptied his glass and stood up. She finished her wine, put the blackberry in her handbag and followed him to the way out of the pub.

The band just started "Keep on Rocking in the Free World".
Did I really see her shaking her head up and down or was it my imagination that fooled me...

dinsdag 2 juli 2013

A Jehovah Witness

"Ah, a no table conference!" and I pointed towards a group of people who were seeming to discuss things on a street corner.
"Jehovah witnesses," answered my wife and now I noticed that one of them, a man with a dark suit, had a sort of clip board in his hands. They obviously were dividing up the neighbourhood among each other.
There was the leader, two women with a child, a couple with a child in a pram and a skinny man with drooping shoulders. Luckily this was not our neighbourhood, but they were close.

I remembered these days in the Netherlands when we would discuss the harassment they caused on the weird times they paid you a visit. We thought about a sign on the door: No knocking at our door before noon. We are allowed by God to sleep late.
Even more after I once started a discussion with a Jehovah. I told the man at the door that wars mostly are caused by religion and that Christianity maybe had the worst record of all. He started fuming and threatening, I thought he was going to attack me. But instead he yelled: People like you cause wars!
After that I was fed up with him and told him to leave my doorstep, otherwise I would call the police. He had placed one of his feet in a manner that I could not close the door. I threatened to slam the door on this foot. But he took it away and walked from my path while shaking his fist to me and yelling things I could not understand. And all this while he was a Dutch man, just like me.

The next week we saw the group again, this time our neighbourhood would get a treat. We did not wait for this, an afternoon in the pub with nice live music is a lot better than arguing with somebody at your door.
But the day after there was a knock at the door. At first I thought there was nobody, maybe children fooling around? I opened the door anyway and there he was: the skinny man with the drooping shoulders. He was younger than I expected when I saw his face.
"I have a great message for you", he said almost apologising and he waved his Watchtower at me. I almost expected him to say: "I guess you are not interested." But he didn't.
So I said: "I'm not interested". He answered in a friendly way: "Have a nice day."
And he shuffled from our path to go on with his fruitless work.

donderdag 27 juni 2013


We had just taken our seats in the bus, when the driver collected her things and stood up.  She told the passengers that her shift ended and that the new driver would be there in a few minutes.
"We sure hope so!" most passengers shouted in her direction. She got off the bus and walked away with a big grin on her face. She was amused, but we were not, because we expected to sit in a motionless bus for some time.
After a few minutes a tall, bald and skinny man wearing green trousers and an orange shirt got up and stepped out of the bus to have a fag. He walked nervously alongside the bus a few times till his cigarette was smoked. He threw the butt on the floor and got on again.

He walked up to some people behind me and stayed on his feet next to them. He obviously wanted to start a conversation. Normally people will moan about the buses or the weather, but he had a different subject.
He ranted on about an exam he just did in college. I didn't expect that from a man in his fifties.
The last question really made him upset, he told us. "Everybody was complaining about that one! No way we could answer that!"
The people, an elderly couple and a lady with a zimmerframe reacted in a polite and understanding manner. Even gave him tips about making complaints.


But he was thinking about something else already.
"I have a great stew in the oven. It has been there all day and it has dumplings. I have really big dumplings!"
The couple looked at each other and didn't react, the lady grabbed the zimmerframe and placed it a bit nearer to her feet.
"Yes, really big dumplings!" And he looked at the women in the bus, one after another. But nobody reacted.
The new bus driver had arrived and the man took a seat.

After a long period of rearranging the driver's seat, mirrors, placing the money box on the door of the cabin and giving directions to passengers who really needed another bus, we drove away.
After a few stops the man with the coloured outfit left the bus and took a seat on a bench at the busstop. He lit a cigarette while we drove off and waved with a big smile at the lady with the zimmerframe. She didn't wave back, but his smile stayed on.

zondag 2 juni 2013

A Holiday to Save a Marriage

Sometimes you can feel that people are looking or staring at you. I looked up from my plate and thought that my eyes met hers. Normally people will look down or watch in another direction when you meet their gaze, but this time it did not happen. Then I realised she was not looking at me, but staring at a point somewhere behind me. She was sitting motionless behind her empty plate while the man opposite her seemed to eat on. She was in her forties, blond, quite good looking and bored to death. At least it seemed so by the way she was yawning. He just ate on. Not a word was exchanged between them while I watched this scene.

She got up and walked away towards the food at the buffet and returned a bit later with a selection of the little desserts. These were very nice, just like everything else in this hotel. A while later he did the same and now I could see what kind of a man he was. He walked very upright and had a thick mustache without the drooping sides that can make the face of a man so sad. To me this man in his forties looked like a military. He sat down and the couple continued their wordless meal. I could not help making a remark about it to my wife. It's really sad when you don't have anything to say anymore to your partner.

When they finished they got up, they had to pass our table and the way he walked in our direction I would name manfully. But the way he grabbed her hand I would call desperate. She looked at him in an almost questioning manner but did accept the gesture. My wife saw what happened and came to the conclusion that these people were here to save their marriage. I felt for them: it's so hard to fight for something that you feel slipping your fingers as sand on the beach.

The next day I saw another couple coming to their table and discussing something with the man. The woman was hardly listening, I could see her stare away again. After a while the other couple left the dining room.
On one of the next days the woman was sitting on her own at the dining table. Only when she already was having her dessert her husband and the other couple showed up. The three spoke enthusiastic about something, maybe a trip they made together in the city or such? The woman seemed to listen with only half an ear. She had her chin in her hand and smiled politely. After the story was finished, she greeted and left the dining room so the man had to eat with the other couple.

The next time I saw them, they had an other wordless meal. The other couple showed up again and this time the woman left the dining room before the story of the couple was finished. Maybe she had to go to the toilet? She did not return, I noticed and the man had to finish his meal on his own.

And then I saw them in the lobby. There were very comfortable seats, settees and armchairs.
He was sitting on the settee while reading a newspaper, while she was sitting in an armchair while texting. In between them there were three suitcases, like a barrier that was impossible to breach. The holiday had ended.


zaterdag 1 juni 2013

The Waterslide

Our resort in Turkey had a very nice lounge area. From there you had a good view on the sea a bit further away and on the swimming pool which was on the ground floor. The temperature was excellent and it was a joy to drink our Turkish coffee over there.

While we were sipping a freshly made one a woman in her fifties came walking in our direction, pulling along a handicapped boy. We had seen them before during dinner time. There was the father, a tall man in his fifties, maybe even sixties, with distinctive features. He must have been quite a man in his younger years, with his tattoos he looked like a retired sailor. His wife must have been equally attractive, her hair was still raven black and she had that mocca coloured skin that sunbathers try to get, but with her it came natural. She must have been a Spanish beauty in the past.

Their son was a very handsome boy of around twenty that suffered from being handicapped. I thought he was spastic, his walking was very difficult, just like his talking. But I thought that what he said, did make sense. There was nothing wrong with his mind.
The mother put him on a chair, put her bag on the floor next to her own chair and went inside to get a drink.
He clawed her bag towards him and started to search in it. I thought he might be searching for her, maybe his own phone. Some things fell on the floor and I picked them up and put them on their table. He mumbled something, probably thanked me.

She came back with two coffees, grabbed her bag and told him off while she put the things back in it.
In both coffees she put a sweetener and lit a cigarette. With the cigarette in her mouth she stirred the coffees.
The boy looked away to the sea and the pool. Once in a while he laughed, when somebody went from the slide and landed in the water.

"I would love to go on that slide", he said very clear.
She pushed her cigarette abruptly in the ashtray and said in a sharp tone: "That's only meant for healthy people." Her lips changed into a thin red line.

The boy looked away beyond the horizon, I could sense so well that this hurt him. He didn't say a word anymore. She drank her coffee and pushed his a bit further in his direction. "Don't let it get cold."
Without a word he took the cup with two hands that looked misformed by the way he held them out. When he had them on his lap, they seemed to be quite normal. In two gulps the coffee was gone and he put the cup carefully back on the saucer.

The father came from the other side of the pool, with the boy's walking stick that had a tripod as a base in his hands. On the tripod rested two armbands for the pool. "Can we go?" he asked.
She nodded and took her bag from the floor.
The boy wanted to take his walking stick, but the father just passed it on to his other hand and stretched his arm out. The boy got up, sighed and took the hand of his father. While he was dragged from the lounge area he had one last look at the slides.

donderdag 28 februari 2013


   The better pubs in England have landlords and ladies who are true hosts. They don´t just sell you a beer or a snack but will try to make you feel at home. Now I have come over here for some years already, I know a bit about where to get the feeling that you are welcome and at ease. In one of my favorite pubs the landlord is sometimes even seen playing a game of ring throwing with his guest. And it is big fun if he throws whilst being blindfolded or standing backwards to the goal. In that manner the guests have a slight chance to win a game.

   The landlord is becoming a bit of age and has his health problems, but despite that you will never see him ill tempered and he always shows his youthful smile. His wife has even more problems because of the dreadful disease of MS.  When you see her you would certainly not guess her right age: just like her husband she has a very young appearance.  Once in a while when she is feeling good she will show up in the pub and will try to give a hand to the staff.

   This time she has taken the job of cleaning the tables. When she gets to our table with the blue wet rag in her hand, we take our glasses and the beer mats off the table to give her room. My wife asks how she is doing and that stops the landlady in her work. She sighs and tells us that things are not getting easier. Because illness and age there is a lot on her mind.  She polishes the table and I'm ready to put my beer back when she stops and  tells us about the trouble she has with her medicine and the side effects it causes.

   She sighs and starts polishing the table all over again. Suddenly she stops again and tells us about the annoyance she gets from hearing politicians talk about the National Health Service and discussing diseases and not showing any real knowledge while doing this. She shakes her head in utter disbelieve and polishes the table again. Then she greets us and moves over to the next table. Nobody is sitting there and because of that she's finished quite soon. We put the beer mats back on the table and place our glasses on top of them.

When I go to the bar to order a new round of beer, I see her on the other side of the pub in a discussion with some other customers. Because they are always filled to the brim I spill a bit of beer from both glasses on the clean table.

donderdag 31 januari 2013

Gothic Tears

When I reach the bus stop I see her sitting on the small red bench, a bit shielded off from sight. Her black clothes, boots and hairdo give a big contrast with the red of the bench. Normally I greet people but this time I decide to remain silent. Words from me would disturb her; she seems to be texting on her mobile phone. Her raven black hair hides her face, but I can see the phone on her lap.

First I think she's is just sniffing, needs a tissue, but when I look again I can see her whole body shaking. The wind blows her hair in every direction and she gets it out of her face. She wears a nose ring and has two piercings through her lip, snakebites, I think. And big black tears run over her cheeks, her mascara completely ruined. I feel like a sort of intruder by watching her, but it really touches me. And I see, she's not typing a message herself, but reading a message over and over again. Sometimes she is pressing a button on the mobile phone to lighten the screen up again.

She seems so hurt and vulnerable, I feel like I should sit next to her and talk to her at least. A person in distress like this should have somebody to hold her and dry her tears. What is the matter? Her friend that broke off their relation in this cruel manner? Or a relative ill, maybe in hospital or even worse? While my mind is rambling on I see the bus approaching and I wave. The bus stops and I wait till she gets on. But she is not moving. I grumble something like You go first, but she shakes her head and stays where she is.

I get in and find a seat. When the bus rides away I can see she has started to cry again. I can't help but feel a bit guilty and her image stays on my mind the rest of the day.