dinsdag 2 december 2014

Being in the Way

Teenagers can be very tiring I noticed when I tried to sleep in my cabin on the ferry. Especially when there are some 20 of them and no adult in sight. I noticed them already in the bar the night before. They were having drinks and became louder and louder. In the night the boys wanted to meet the girls or the other way around,  and I happened to have a cabin right in between theirs.

So I stepped dead-tired on the train the next morning. I was the first in the compartment, so I found myself a very strategic seat, a bit near the door but yet not too near. It was 3-persons bench and opposite me was a 2-person one. I put my backpack next to me, crawled in the corner and tried to get an extra nap on the non-moving train. After some time more people came in, without disturbing me. I wasn’t really asleep but felt like a person that was looking at things almost unaware.

It was all too good to be true: right after there was an announcement on the intercom that this was the train to London, my self-chosen solitude was over. A woman with backpack and two suitcases came over and behind her a man with a lot of luggage. I had never seen a person dragging so much along. They began to make a sort of still-life with their luggage and I put my backpack between my feet. Most of their suitcases were put on the floor too, but it was too much so he put some on the bench and sat next to me while she sat on the opposite one with a backpack. Immediately the train left the station.

They looked like they were even more tired than me;  they must have travelled a long way.  That was proven when he produced a printout.  I could read that it looked like a reservation for a hotel somewhere in London and that this came from a Spanish website. Together they studied the map of the London subway. It seemed they agreed,  my knowledge of Spanish is totally none.  She got the backpack from her bench and put it on top of a suitcase and made a gesture that he should come over to her. She looked quite ravishing to me but he was too tired to feel tempted and shook his head and said something. She shrugged and joined him in yawning.

After a few stations some people had left the compartment and no new people had come in.
She sort of woke up, got up and I thought she would go for the toilet. But she went the other way and called the man. He took a look at her, next to two empty benches, looked at the luggage, shouted something back and sank back on the bench again. She came back and was now totally restless. She couldn’t find a nice way to sit, even took off her shoes and sat on her knees on the bench. Because of this she gave me a generous view on her bottom cleavage. She had this nice coloured skin all over her body. She must have been born this way or taking sunbaths in the nude, I couldn’t help think. But she moved in another position already, a bit like mine and pulled down her sweater.

When I heard the intercom calling my destination being the next station I got up with my back pack and moved to the doors. I heard some rustling behind me.  The train stopped and I got out, but I couldn’t resist having a last look on the couple. She had taken my place and snuggled up against him. He had his arms around her and they kissed.

A Dog in the Brewery

We love visiting breweries. So it was not unexpected that you could find my wife and me on this afternoon enjoying a blonde beer in the brewery in my hometown. It was not very crowded, it just felt cosy.  The people were four elderly men accompanied by a woman of half their age. They were testing the different types of beer and the woman was sounding like someone with a lot of knowledge about this.  Maybe she had been brewing herself, like my wife.  She had attracted the attention of the brewer himself who was testing a new  product with two other men.

At another table was a couple of around fifty with their son who seemed to have Down’s Syndrome. Except for his looks you couldn’t tell his problems. His parents didn’t have to consider this a long time before they gave him a beer too.

In came a father of around forty and his son of around sixteen. In everything it showed that this should be special for the boy. It felt like this was a divorced father and his son. This was his weekend and father had decided to make it worthwhile. So the boy was going to have his first beer.  They had some discussions before ordering, the bartender gave advice.  And he came with a bowl of water for the dog that the father had bound to the table.  The boy shook his head, “Did you really have to take Tommy along?  Now you will have to go out of the bar again soon.”  The father assured him that the dog was okay; he had delivered a short while ago, according to the man. And where else could the dog have stayed?

The brewer walked up to the lady who knew so much about beer and poured some of the new brew in her empty glass.  She had a good look at it,  swirled  her glass, nodded approvingly and then had a careful sip.  She made a gesture to the brewer: PERFECT! He poured some more in her glass and toasted with her.  One of the elderly men had ordered a new round for the others.

We asked the bartender for two more beers and after a short time the parents with the handicapped child did the same.  The divorced father had emptied his glass and was waiting for the boy to finish his. He asked him if he liked it. The boy seemed to shiver a bit and said that it was lovely.  So the man wanted him to finish his beer, so they could have another one.  The boy asked his father to take it easy on him and just order one for himself.  This he did.

When the beer had been delivered, the father stood up and went to the bartender.  He came back with a bundle of paper towels and started to pick up something on the floor next to the dog.  He went with the bundle to the toilets and then emptied his glass in one gulp.  “Come, we go” he said to his son.

The boy’s glass still wasn’t finished but he didn’t complain.  He unbound the dog and they went.
The other guests sniffed the air and drank their beers in great haste.  We did the same.  The brewer went to the brewery rooms behind the bar.  The stench was really awful.  Within five minutes the whole bar was empty for the bartender.


For years and years two blackbirds consider my garden as their territory. At least I think these are the same birds. They can reach the age of five, so there must have been a change a few times.

In the spring they are both very busy collecting material for their nest, that must be very near my garden. After that they almost seem to have disappeared. But in a few weeks they return and bring their children along. These look almost fat and are quite clumsy in their flying and walking the first days you see them. After a few weeks you will only see the couple again, the young have moved out.

This spring it was the first time Henry the cat was here. Why she’s called “Henry” is another story.
Till that morning I only had seen her chasing flies and without any success.

We were having a late breakfast in the weekend when we were disturbed by a lot of noise coming from the garden. Henry was being attacked by the blackbird couple. She almost crawled on the ground forward while the birds were swooping towards her head. Then I saw the reason for the aggression of these birds. A little one was trapped near the shed. It must have been very frightened, it seemed to be paralyzed by fear for the cat.

Should I let nature have its way? I could be very proud of Henry. Catching her very first prey.
But this seemed to be a very unfair thing to me. It was like former Russian president Yeltsin on bear hunt. His staff would drug a few, so they would not be able to move a muscle. In that way he was able to shoot them. I’m being told this method is used for hunting parties of some Royal families as well.

Anyway, I couldn’t bear to watch this and got out in the garden. I grabbed Henry and put her inside.
She almost went crazy and jumped against the window in the door.
The young bird was still sitting in the same position. It’s brothers and sister were on the fence with the mother. Papa went down to the ground to the little one and sort of showed what to do. He flew from the ground back to the fence. The little one’s heart seemed to beat in it’s throat and it didn’t follow.

It took more than five minutes before it was able to move again. There were some trials to lift off the ground, but they didn’t succeed. The father flew to the ground and back on the fence and sort of yelled. Finally it took off and made it to the pick-nick table that is in my garden. After a little rest the next step was made. It landed next to the father.

After I got a new cup of coffee the whole family was gone.
Henry was still jumping in front of the door, it was now okay to let her go. Immediately she ran over to the place where the young bird had been trapped and sniffed all around.

The father reappeared on the fence and looked at this scene for a while. Then he flew away with a sound that really resembled laughter.

Relaxed Life and Proper Money

While staying at La Tour Blanche in Forest-Montiers we noticed that there is not a single restaurant or bar in the little village. A lot of houses are empty. According to Wikipedia 547 people live here. But that was in 1999. It must be much less nowadays. It’s a typical situation for the north of France. Of course you can find enough places where you can eat or drink in the bigger towns like Rue, Saint Valerie sur Somme or Abbeville. We thought there would be more than this. Exploring a region is something we always like to do.

So we drove on a warm and sunny day to Ponthoile. It seemed even smaller than Forest-Montiers. In the middle of the village you can see 4 different roads, they lead to Forest-Montiers, Morlay, Nouvion and Noyelles. Very cleverly at that spot is a building that reminds of an inn, a public-house. Nowadays you can get your petrol over there from an ancient petrol station. There’s plenty of room in the building so there’s also a bar and a little shop where the local people do their shopping.

After getting some petrol we decided to sit in front of the building enjoying a perfect draught beer. You could see that the elderly lady behind the counter and bar was very experienced as a bartender.
She was very friendly and we almost felt tempted to stay inside. But the weather was so nice on this wonderful day in the spring of 2009 that this would have been a shame to do.

While we enjoyed our beer, people who came on bicycles followed our example. They sat down with a lemonade, spoke a sort of Flemish and went again very soon. On the right we could see the graveyard where a few people were taking care of some graves. An official looking man was walking around with a bundle of keys that would have made a warder jealous. He checked the doors of a sort of shed that was next to a perfect lawn. On that lawn we saw two elderly couples laying in the grass.

A man from that company walked over with two empty beer glasses. Before he could reach the building a car stopped. The driver let the engine run and a woman ran inside and came back within seconds with a few packets of cigarettes. She jumped in the car and they drove away. The bartender/shopkeeper must be very efficient. The man went in the building and came back with two filled glasses and walked back to his company. I have never seen this before. In the Netherlands you would get plastic cups, they would never trust you with glasses. And I couldn’t imagine that this would happen in the UK either.

After four more cars with men behind the steering wheel and women who ran in for cigarettes, the man came back and delivered the glasses to the bartender/shopkeeper. She obviously knew who to trust.
When I wanted to pay, a woman and a girl came with a car and went into the shop department.
They didn’t need to wait a long time, they were served very quickly and yet in a very friendly way.

I had to pay for the petrol and the beer so decided to pay with my credit card. The lady frowned when she saw the card and sighed. She messed a bit with the machine and nothing happened. She wiped my card, sighed and tried again. But nothing happened. She said a French word I didn’t know. Probably not a very nice word.

From the back of the building an elderly man and a younger woman appeared. The man took the card from her hands and also the machine and then I had paid within seconds. The lady said that she was never going to get used to this modern paying. Why did people not pay with proper money? The girl and the man laughed out loud. When we left the lady was still shaking her head.


The End of the World

It was July 29 1960 and we were heading to our most beloved spot in the forest, Sandy Plains. The children living on the edge of this forest were used to going in groups and walking long distances. On this day our group consisted of my oldest sister and me, the boy and girl from next door and a girl of the same age as my sister. My sister was 12, the rest was of the same age or 2 years younger. I was 3 years younger and I was very pleased that they allowed me to go along.

When we reached Sandy Plains, we decided to stay there the rest of the day. Like always we had taken sandwiches along and a bottle of water. Our mothers knew that we would stay away for some time. The weather was wonderful and the sand almost reflected the light from the sun. It was very white and clean; there should have been sea to complete a perfect beach. Instead it was surrounded by ancient pine trees.

We all sat down on the warm sand and suddenly the boy from next door started to talk about the end of the world. According to what he heard we would all perish at 2 pm. Nobody had a watch, but we knew it was about noon, so we had some time left. We discussed how it would happen. I had read about the atom bomb in a political magazine and about the crisis in Germany where the West was in dispute with the Soviets. There were predictions about the cutting off of Eastern Germany. I knew everything about Nikita Khrushchev, Walter Ulbricht, John Kennedy and Willy Brandt, the mayor of Berlin. In the Congo were troubles around Patrice Lumumba and I had seen pictures of Belgian and French people fleeing to Europe because of the violence.

My sister said that there was nothing to be afraid of, we always stayed out of fights. The Netherlands couldn’t do anything, we had no atom bomb. The prime minister, Jan de Quay, was only worried about the wild youngsters called “nozems”. They scared the elderly with their noisy mopeds and their black leather jackets and greasy hair. My sister was sure she would never have a boyfriend like that. The other girls agreed about that. I didn’t know about this. My knowledge came from that political magazine that nobody read in our family and it had nothing about these youngsters.

Every week we got a set of second hand magazines. It belonged to a system that gave you the right to read the magazines in a week and after that they were replaced by newer. We had the cheapest edition: our magazines were 6 weeks old and very much maltreated but we were allowed to keep them and get a newer set anyway. I was supposed to be happy with Donald Duck and another magazine with comics. The other magazines were mostly meant for housewives except for a silly one. It had pictures in black and white of girls in bathing suits. They were film stars and posed in Cannes or such places. And there were jokes about women who had to go to the doctor. It was not my cup of tea. So I read this political thing that always looked like new.

We all agreed that we must be on one of the better spots on earth. We could be seen from outer space and be saved. The boy from next door thought God might do this, the oldest girl knew for sure the Martians would come. But maybe they were no saviors but attackers. My sister knew that if there was going to be a Flood, we would be safe. We were on quite a high point on Sandy Plains.

We ate our sandwiches and drank the water and the sun kept on shining. We all lay down, became quiet and almost slept for some time. The sun was much lower in the sky when we looked around us again. We were sure the hour was later than 2 PM. So we were spared if anything had happened. We decided to go home and see if everything was still there.

Near home we could hear some mothers calling that dinner was ready.


maandag 1 december 2014

My Special Gift

Anxiety made it impossible for me to sleep that night. Still I was very much awake when I was standing in the hall of the airport waiting for you the next morning. I felt sharp as a needle. It was so unexpected, I thought we would be sending messages and chatting on line a lot longer. I was afraid to push too hard and to scare you away by doing this. So it wasn’t me who decided to meet in the real world, you were the brave person who did this.

So here I was with the feeling that my heart was beating in my throat. What if you didn’t show up, things like that happen often. Relationships starting on the internet are not always very successful.
I had read very sad stories about people who had sent everybody away for weeks because their internet friend would come over and who ended up being alone for weeks feeling miserable.

But suddenly: there you were and it was so easy to recognise you. You looked like a gift waiting to be unwrapped, so lovely. I ran over to you and there was no hesitation: we kissed full on the lips.
And you pushed your body to mine. I held you and we really felt like we were fitting perfectly together. After some minutes I realised it was no use standing over here for ages. So I grabbed your suitcase with one hand and with the other I grabbed yours. I was not letting you go any more!

We walked over to the car park, stopping now and again to look at each other and to give a new kiss. We hardly talked, just managed to talk about the flight you had. I had to let go of your hand to pay the parking meter, but I immediately I grabbed it again. When we reached the car I suggested with a croaky voice that we were going straight to the bat cave. You agreed eagerly.

In the car I suggested putting on the radio but you said you wanted to concentrate on the sight of me and the landscape. We drove on the highway and I really wanted to get home quicker instead of the 45 minutes it normally takes to go from the airport to home. My hand got on your knee and you let yourself slide downwards from your chair a bit. My hand reached the border of your stocking and found your soft skin.

Next to me a horn honked. Maybe I got too close to the truck next to me or maybe the driver was jealous. I withdrew my hand and said I didn’t want to ruin our first time together with a car accident. So I would concentrate on the road again. You agreed and sat up straight again. It did take us the normal 45 minutes and we were not very talkative, I could only feel this painful longing to hold you close to me.

We were very happy to finally arrive and we rushed into the house. I wanted to offer to show you the house, but we just ran upstairs. How you knew, I don’t know, but you immediately chose the right door to my bedroom.

I scraped my throat and suggested that I should unwrap my present and started to fumble with some buttons. You took over hastily while I concentrated on undressing myself.
We jumped in bed at the same time and our bodies found each other. We kissed like I never had kissed before and our bodies got tangled up in a knot that I thought of being impossible to be ever undone.

Some Girls are Not Nice

The people in Spakenburg, a village in the Netherlands, used to depend totally on fish. It used to be a fisherman’s harbour when the village was on the Zuiderzee. The Dutch fight against the water has changed a lot. The people still go fishing but the water has changed, the water in the IJsselmeer isn’t salt. The nature of the people didn’t change: they form a hard working community.

So hearing a girl on a terrace near the harbour telling that she now has two jobs, is not very surprising. What followed was not very nice.

We were sitting not even that near and I tried not to overhear things but she and her girlfriends were quite loud mouthed.

One mentioned that another friend had got a new scooter. The girl with two jobs came to the conclusion that she was just a spoiled brat to get this from your parents. One of the other girls knew more about it and told that she got into an accident with the old one. The insurance gave almost enough for a new one, she had added some of her own and the father only paid 50 Euro.

The verdict didn’t change: a spoiled brat! Even the addition that the father loaned the money didn’t help …

A girl came by. Remark about her: she is such a whore. One of the others told that she was with a boyfriend already two years. This was her first and only boyfriend as far as she knew. Verdict: she has horny eyes just like her mother.

A girl on crutches passed by. She was considered to show off. For sure she was faking her walking troubles. To me it looked like she had a broken leg…

Then they had to dive under the table: the grandma was passing by. She didn’t feel like blabbering with her. The old woman would never stop.
Grandma did see her and said “Hi Sweetie!” and just went on.

Our negative girl told that she had been french kissing with a guy. The others were amazed because they knew he was with another girl for months already. Of course she knew this, the stupid turd became angry with her. It was her own fault, she should have been dancing with him instead of talking to friends. That she had cried a lot after hearing about it couldn’t bother her. It was just fun though he wasn’t much of a kisser.

One of the girls had a new tattoo on her leg. The others begged her to show it and so she did. There was a ruffle of clothes, I don’t know where it was placed.
One of the others liked it but our negative girl thought it was totally shit. Her friend should go back and ask her money back. She went on and on about it. In the end they all agreed on it. The girl was going to the tattoo shop next week to get it redone or get a refund.

They all had finished their drinks, so they decided to leave the terrace. The table was not very stable and they bumped against it. The result was that their plates and cups fell on the floor.
One girl wanted to clear the floor, but was stopped by the others.
“Just don’t bother! We paid for this!” and off they went.

A Darker Side of Paris

It was in the lovely spring of 1975. The two former students were very happy to get the opportunity to visit the city of light, Paris. That they had to travel with a group of new colleagues of one of them was not very important to them. There was a whole schedule figured out where the group would go and at what time. They got a copy of that schedule from one of the organisers, just tore it to pieces and threw these in the waste bin in the train. They had their own plans!

When the company arrived in the morning at the station Gare du Nord, they marched like a group of geese to the hotel. It was not very far but the load of beer the young men had been drinking during the night on the train caused a headache for both of them. So they were glad that the distance to the hotel was not very far. Their company agreed to have breakfast in an hour, but the youngsters excused themselves and said they were going to lay down for a while. The others looked at each other without concealing their annoyance with this behaviour.

In the late afternoon they went from the room they shared downstairs to the dining room. Their group had left hours before to see the tourist sights you ought to have seen when you have been in Paris. There was no possibility for a little meal the staff of the hotel told them. They shrugged and went to the nearest Metro station. They decided to visit Montmartre first, for sure they would find something to eat over there.

In the Metro they started a conversation with two girls who were very generous and shared their baguette and camembert with them. The girls insisted that they would visit a concert the next night. The band should be awesome. Vaguely they knew the name, it was a French band that played a sort of symphonic rock music. So an appointment was made, they would meet in front of the tent where the concert would be in.

Montmartre proved to be a bit boring in the opinion of the boys, so they went to a brasserie ordered beer and some snacks and soon felt really okay again. New plans for the evening were made. They would go to Place Pigalle, the red light district of Paris is around this square. They would visit some clubs, just have fun and not being bored by their group at the dinner table.
After visiting some normal bars it got dark and they discussed the situation of one of them. He just found himself a new place but had no glasses. Here in Paris were nice beer glasses nobody had in their own country. They decided to get at least one beer glass from every bar from then on.

Leaving the next bar was almost impossible for them, they both had a laugh fit and went outside while glasses were clinging under their coats. Outside they thought about a logistic problem: how to walk around all the time with these glasses. So a porch in front of very dark house was chosen to drop the glasses over there. When they would feel like going back to the hotel they would collect them again.

Having drunk a few made them bold enough to go to a club. They agreed not to buy champagne, would stick to beer. It would be expensive enough already. The prediction proved to be right, for this price they could drink five beers at home in a bar. But the club was really special!

There was a stage completely draped in red velvet. On this a blond girl in lingerie was sitting on a chair. She seemed to have one duty over there: to look pretty. The young men agreed that she really was attractive, but took better notice of a girl with a darker skin and raven black hair at her feet. This girl really was gorgeous and the less pretty lingerie could not hide this.

After a while one of the young men thought he saw the blond wave at him. He looked questioningly and pointed at himself. The blond nodded and gestured with her finger that he should approach. He went over to the stage and the blond asked him to sit on the edge. She started a conversation: where they came from and such. She made amazed sounds and told him he could sleep with her for only 300 francs. He was quite startled and had to seek for words. This was made even harder by the dark haired girl who sat next to him. She put her hand on his crotch and made encouraging gestures over there. It seemed to be ages before he was able to answer the proposition. He explained that they were students and didn’t have much money to spend.

The blond reacted disappointed and asked if the boys would give her and her girlfriend champagne because they were quite thirsty. The dark girl nodded and played with the buttons on his fly. When he said no, she withdrew her hand like she was bitten by some wild animal. The blond waved the young man away, so he walked a bit awkward back to his friend. Of course he had to explain what had been going on.
Suddenly the club didn’t look that nice. The velvet was a bit worn and they agreed that the blond was wearing a wig. The waiters looked a bit unfriendly and huge. They decided to leave without glasses. Outside they agreed not to try another club but just go to another bar. And they should take a way at least one glass. This was agreed with a sort of oath.

In that bar the price for beer was a bit more normal. Two women came sitting on the stools next to them at the bar. They openly discussed the physics of the young men. Even with their little bit of knowledge of French did they understand. Both women had a fur coat, probably imitation. One had a blood red blouse and the other a blouse with tiger print. After two beers the ladies asked for champagne, instead they gave them a glass of red wine.

The women were having a lot of fun and the youngsters laughed along although not aware what the fun was about. The tiger blouse told them she was going to make one of them very pretty. The red blouse said that this was an excellent idea and while one held his head the other painted his lips red and gave him blue eye shadow. She showed him the result with the mirror on her powder box. It was very pretty indeed!

In the meantime the other young man had put his glass under his coat. But this barman was very attentive and yelled that he had to put the glass back on the bar immediately. And they should leave at once! This leaving lasted to long according to him and suddenly a sort of bulldog appeared which he directed at the boys. They just shouted at the dog that he was very good and sweet. But the dog didn’t understand this and took the shoe of one of them on his mouth and got his teeth through it.
This made very clear that they had to get out quick.

Outside they had a good laugh and decided this would do it for the night. To collect the glasses was the next goal. They wandered around, every street resembled the other and walking into a few porches by gamble didn’t help. The glasses seemed gone forever.
So no beer glasses this time and they should go back to the hotel while they still were able to talk comprehensively. So they walked to a taxi stand. They were lucky, there was one.

Ordering where they had to go proved to be a problem. Both had forgotten the name of the hotel.
So there was a lot of laughter in the back of the car.
The taxi driver got them to tell where the neighbourhood of the hotel was. Very experienced he talked a bit in his walkie talkie and swiftly drove them to the hotel.

When they went upstairs they encountered the group who were going in the direction of the breakfast table. They were looked at with a frown, but just wished them a good morning and went straight to their room.
They took off their coats and the one with the make-up on took a glass from under his sweater.
Laughing out loud they fell asleep fully dressed on their beds.

The Stairs

How many times and in how many different ways can you build a house from my pile of wooden blocks? I must have done them all. There’s nothing else to play with on the floor. And there is nobody else over here. I can hear the faint sounds of children playing outdoors. I’m still not allowed to go outside, otherwise I might have gone along with my big sister.

For a while I listen to the sounds from the children. Then I realise I hear Mama singing upstairs. She must be busy with the beds in the attic and is in a good mood. I hear her singing the melodies and her Tee-a-la-dee-dee instead of the words of the songs. I recognise the melodies from the music player Papa sometimes uses to let us hear songs.

How I would love to be with Mama, it’s so nice to hear she is in a good mood. But it’s a long way up. I crawl to the stairs and look up them. They seem to go on endlessly. I never tried going up before, they won’t let me. But now there’s nobody who can stop me and I want to go to Mama and see her busy and sing.

The first step is not even that hard, my arms can do it. I just drag myself up. And then put my knees on the step. Wow, I can really do this! So it should be possible to get there all the way. Mama will be proud of me if I can do this. The next step is taken quite easily too. After a few steps I really have to rest a bit. I look down and it really looks scary; I must not fall down! I feel a bit scared now, but I’m not able to go back down. I have to go to Mama, she will be proud and she will get me down again. And she will tell Papa about the great thing I did.

So I go on and I get a few steps further up before I have to rest again. I decide not to look back any more, it only scares me. And I will make it to the top; I have to!
When I rest again I can see it’s only a few steps before I get to the top. I can hear Mama much more clearly over here and I just listen a bit to her songs.

I start my struggle again, but I’m stopped before I can even can get my knee on the next step. A white cascade of sheets wraps my body up. I can’t hold myself and down I fall. I scream but the sheets muffle my sound. Falling down is very scary: I fall down for such a long time! But it doesn’t hurt very much: I’m totally cocooned in the sheets and it does stop.

I can move everything only a bit until Mama gets me out of the pile. She’s not proud at all! She tells me I’m a stupid boy and she puts me in my private prison, called a playpen. From behind my wooden bars I see her getting the sheets from the floor and disappearing in the kitchen with them. She doesn’t sing any more, she really is angry with me.

I feel very tired now and just lie down in the playpen.
When Papa comes home maybe Mama will tell him about my adventure.

A Scary Lesson

Big Sister is going to tell me everything that swimming lessons are about. I have missed the first lesson because I was ill and heard some disturbing stories of my class mates. Big Sister tells about crossing the pool under water and she has seemed to have played hide and seek under water. It’s not making me any feel better. Crossing the pool under water… Never knew she had gills. I don’t have any idea what this pool should look like. We never went to a pool before, too expensive for my parents in my first seven years.

We go from school to the pool by bus. I sit next to the same person I sit with in the classroom.
It’s not very far to the pool. The building doesn’t give me associations with water at all. But inside every wall is covered with tiles, it reminds me of the butcher’s. We change into trunks on long benches and hang our stuff in the same hall. Then we go to the pool hall where the swim instructor already waits for us. He’s dressed completely in white clothes, with white gym shoes. Even his hair is white and crew cut. His red face is the only dissonant. He bellows some words and my class mates already know what to do. They stand in line, from small to tall. I understand I have to stand on the end of the line, being the smallest.

Things went to slow according to the man in white and he shouts some more things to us. I’m becoming cold, goosebumps all over my body and I need to go to the toilet. I put my finger in the air and ask permission. He bellows to me that I have to be very quick, otherwise he will get me. They all will wait for me. Even with all the echoing in this hall I do understand this. So I run to the toilet and try to get rid of what’s bothering me. But like always: when I want to do it quick, it won’t come. I try to relax and then it comes. My stomach aches, I shake all over and I have diarrhoea.

Before I’m done there’s banging on the door. It’s the instructor demanding me to come out immediately. I moan that I’m not ready yet and reach for the toilet paper. I don’t understand how but the man in white has opened the door and holds my arm in a fierce grip. He flushes and while I pull up my trunks he drags me back to my class mates. He seems not to notice that I’m very smelly and gets me in line again.
The boy next to me pinches his nose. The rest of the boys start to laugh. The man’s face turns even more red and he starts shouting at him from very close range. I see his spit hitting the boy and he starts to cry. The instructor seems happy with this and steps back again.

He starts to instruct us. I don’t understand any of his words, only thing I can make of it is “How, how, how”. One thing is clear, my group is called “the Floaters”.

We have to stand in line in the water that is knee deep. We are ordered to lay down flat faced and float. I obey with the rest of the group, keep my breath and get up when I need some air. I haven’t moved an inch while the rest is some yards away from me. The man in white shouts at me that I have to get back in the water. I see my own shit in the water and feel disgusted with it. But I’m afraid for this red faced man and obey again.

When I stand up again, I have moved maybe two inches. My classmates are halfway the pool. The man has a big pole with a hook in his hand. I go in again. When I need to get up, I can’t. I feel the hook in the back of my neck. He’s going to drown me! I really panic now. I struggle from under the hook and get up anyway. When I look at him with my eyes full of tears he looks at me in disbelief.

He goes over to the rest after ordering me to go on. The rest of the lesson I lay down in the water and get up in a minute after that.

When we go back in the bus nobody wants to sit next to me.


zaterdag 29 november 2014

The School Dentist

In the fifties there were a few things distributed for free to schoolchildren in the Netherlands.
Most striking was the school milk. This was delivered every day from a factory and two of the oldest boys had to bring the crates of milk into the school and in the wintertime place them close to the heating. The milk came in small bottles containing one pint. It was obviously not skimmed; there was a thick layer of cream on top. You had to shake it before drinking it straight from the bottle.

Another thing that was installed by the government was for the good cause too: the school dentist.
All around the country there were mobile dentists working their heads off to reach all the children who didn’t have proper dental care. And these were in bigger numbers than the ones without.

When I think back, I’m convinced that these school dentists somehow were not able to start a proper practice. Whether this was caused by the quality of these people or another reason was not clear. I now know that there are only a limited number of practices in a region.

Still, I am grateful to my oldest sister for having endured the torture of the school dentist in our village. The results of his treatment were clear very soon after it was done. But my parents always have a strict belief in anyone who has or should have a higher education than them. But after two days of terrible pain even my parents had to realise there was something wrong. They took her to a real dentist. He was in shock and said that the man who did this to her belonged in prison.

He treated her and also my parents bank account. They had to bring her three times to him to repair the damage. That made them decide to write a note in which they declared that I was forbidden to be treated by the school dentist, he was not even allowed to take a look in my mouth.

It was a big relief, but every year I could sense the nervousness of my schoolmates when we saw the bus of the school dentist in front of the school. They always froze in their footsteps and turned a bit pale. I really felt for them. With some brave boys we would stand around the vehicle, sometimes you could hear his drill howling and kids crying. Most disgusting was the little stream of water mixed with blood that streamed in the gutter.

Sometimes the assistant would walk into the class room while lessons were going on. She would ask which kids not had been treated yet. I would always be on that list and every time the remark would come that I had to go along and let the dentist have a look. He would only have a look. And I felt a sort of pride to be able to say that I was not allowed to go by my parents. The teacher would nod and the assistant would leave with some unfortunate kids. They would return with painful faces. Looking in this case meant poking around with a sharp hook in your mouth.

It was remarkable that year after year more children were having a note. Less and less children were “treated” and finally one year my classmates realised that the school dentist didn’t show up at all. Some told stories that the man was sentenced to life imprisonment. We asked the teacher and he didn’t know anything about it either.

Years later I heard that the reason was very simple. The government stopped subsidising the program because the majority of children had gotten in the hands of dentists with a practice and their teeth were under control.

But sometimes in bad dreams I still see that stream of water mixed with blood streaming in the gutter in front of the school.


The Connoisseur

On the ferry between the Hook of Holland and Harwich we heard a man explaining wines to his girlfriend or wife. We had to laugh a bit:  there’s only one kind of wine aboard.  It made me think of a man who married into my family.

With his father he maintained their family’s wine cellar.  It sounded like a lot of work: they saved every label of wine they drank, discussed how long a bottle should rest before being ready to drink, and he would turn the bottles once a week.  He even had a written down journal about the wines.

At parties in the Netherlands we normally sit in a circle, have our drinks and snacks and talks.
He would always show his knowledge about wines.  After getting his glass he would stick his big nose in it and sniff loudly.  Sometimes he would ask for the cork of the bottle and sniff at that too.

The next thing would be sipping a little bit and rinsing it in his mouth. Sometimes with a sound like “mmm”. Finally he would gulp the wine down, after which he would look to the ceiling for some time. The suspense would almost be killing, he would wait a little more and then would say something like: “Anjou, chateau Perrigord, 1979 and ……I would say, mmmm the south slope.” 
His wife would look at him in admiration. “Yes, my husband is a true connoisseur!”   The host would get the bottle and yes, it was completely right.

A brother in law and I suspected him to have seen the bottle every time he did this. How he managed to do this we didn’t know.  It was just a suspicion.  We decided to put him to the test on the next birthday party.

I bought an excellent wine, a Grand Cru of a famous chateau and a great year as well according to the salesman. After that I went to the supermarket and bought a bottle of Bulgarian Bull’s Blood.
This a very cheap wine, not from a chateau or such, you could even buy it in cartons.   I put the excellent wine in a normal position in the cupboard. The Bulgarian bottle was hidden.

At the birthday party after the coffee and birthday cake had gone, the beer, soft drinks and wine was served. Our wine expert got a glass of the Bull’s Blood.  His nose went in the glass and the normal procedure followed. He was really delighted! “What an excellent wine!”, he exclaimed.
“This is a Grand Cru! You’re spoiling me!” He named the name of the chateau and the year of bottling.  And then he asked for the bottle.

I brought him the Bulgarian bottle and he fell very silent. We didn’t notice anything of him the rest of the evening.  His wife started a conversation about a lot of different things.  My brother in law almost slammed through my shoulder, together we had a big laugh.

After this evening we never got his show any more.  He lost his title of “Connoisseur” that night. Only the sniffing in the glass remained. 

Liberation Day

In the Netherlands they celebrate the 5th of May annually. In 1945 on that day the Second World War came to an end for the country. In 2010 only a small group of people really can tell about that day. And a very tiny group of people can tell even more. They are the veterans who came together with the Canadian soldiers to get the German army out. Every year they have their own ceremonies. From all over the country they travel to a central point to do this together.

I saw them in the train compartment I got in. He, in his late 80’s, dressed in official clothing. His medals were very prominently pinned on his jacket. Next to him his wife was in her super best dress; she couldn’t have been much younger. They were very ready for the celebrations. They didn’t need many words to understand each other. After so many years of being together a little nod of the head or a little squeeze in the others hand was telling enough.

Their peace was disturbed by a noisy group of teenage girls. They held their conversation while they kept their earpieces of their I-pods in. So it took some shouting to get things over to the others.
A discussion started where to go to. In the city they were going to a music festival which was held, like every year, as far as they could probably remember. They hadn’t decided yet which bands they were going to watch and listen to. There was such a great choice!

One of the girls announced that she had the latest piece of a very well known artist on her device. So the others asked her to let them listen to it. The earpieces were removed and a few seconds later the music streamed into the compartment. Some people, who were working on their laptops, looked up and just went on with hammering on the keys.

The veteran looked at his wife and shook his head. It was hardly to be seen. His wife took his hand and placed it on her lap. Together they obviously had made a decision. The rest of the route they looked out of the window, not giving the music lovers another look.

At the next station almost everybody needed to get off the train. Very politely the girls gave way for the veteran and his wife. Behind each other they left the train. The girls were singing the last song they had been listening to.

It looked like the veteran was still slightly shaking his head on the way out but it was accompanied by a faint smile.


The Combi System

According to the company that rented out the apartments we and the other people who were going to live in the building, were about to enter the Valhalla. Heating and warm water were going to be supplied by the new invented Combi system. This would reduce costs and would be a lot better for the environment. Showering with water that was used to heat the house really seemed to be a good idea.

Unfortunately the system quit on us already after three days. So we had to phone the 24 hours service. It was a Sunday so we did understand that help would arrive the next day. A mechanic would come by between eight and twelve thirty. Bad luck, it would cost me half a day leave from the office.
At eight the next morning I was ready after a quick splash with cold water. The morning was spent with reading the newspaper and a book, the man showed up at a quarter past twelve. If I had known I could have handled this thing in my lunch break!

The mechanic was carrying little more than an attaché case and was ready within five minutes.
He asked me to come to him: he was going to show me something. He started to open the tap and said: “You always have to open the red tap com-ple-te-ly!”. He asked me to feel the water: it was hot indeed. He closed the tap. “Now it’s your turn!”, he announced. I started to open the tap and he added: “Now open the tap com-ple-te-ly!”. He nodded approvingly when I did and packed his things while I noticed that the water was hot. He left the house saying: ”Don’t forget it!”

That evening I instructed my wife in the same manner; she almost started hitting me.
A few days later: no hot water. And again we didn’t get the help the same day. This time I was wiser and demanded an appointment that was a bit more precise. Between three and five.
So I left the office early and sat waiting from three on. At three thirty another mechanic arrived.
He had a tool-box and started hammering and banging in the combi heater.
He paused for a moment to ask me accusingly if I had been messing about with the thing. In disbelief he went on. It took him almost an hour and when he left there were several screws, bolts and even a little stone on the floor before the cupboard with the combi.

We had high hopes, but again things went wrong. The third mechanic came while we were being home together. He brought a huge tool-box along and an even bigger ghetto-blaster. Without music he couldn’t work, he said. He was a lover of reggae and obviously thought we liked this too. Sometimes he joined in with the singer. Once he came to us bewildered: “What kind of idiot has screwed up this system?”. We could only point at his colleagues. He could hardly believe it and he announced he was going to check who had been doing this job. We were more interested in a working system.

After working almost half a day at the thing, he was satisfied. He made us try it and yes, the thing was working again.
When it broke down again after some days, I was through with it. I collected all the tools in the house and opened the white metal cover. It didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but I noticed one thing that made me think. In the lower part was a switch. It had two positions: 0 and 1. At this moment it was on 0.

I switched it on 1 and asked my wife to open the hot water tap com-ple-te-ly.
The result: hot water!
I closed the metal cover and looked at my wife in a triumphant way. She admired my technical skills. I hoped the thing would at least work a few days to keep this respect.


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 Big 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 walk bended 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 to 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.

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.


vrijdag 28 november 2014

A Cup of Tea

 Things had changed all of a sudden. I was used to travelling all the way to the north, to the city where Grandma lived, but now there was another goal. And it was in the same city.

I was twelve years old and suddenly I had a Grandfather. I visited him once with my father, but this time I wanted to do this on my own.

The train journey was always interesting, even when it took such a long time. In these two and a half hours there was always a lot to see on the train and through the windows. We lived in the woods and the journey took me through meadows and passing lots of stations. The people in this part of the country even spoke in a different manner.

Grandma lived in the middle of the city and Grandpa lived halfway the walk I had to take. So I had decided that this time my day would be divided between both of them. I already knew that she was not going to be happy about this and would complain the first hour after my entrance of her house. But the old man was very intriguing and I didn’t really understand why I never met him in earlier years. Maybe he would tell me more, my parents didn’t give anything away about it.

I did know about his two marriages: my fathers mother gave birth to five children and after she died he remarried and this wife gave him twelve more. And I didn’t know any of these twelve.

The street where he lived was very easy to find again and he hardly seemed surprised I was there when I rang his doorbell. We had a chat about trains while drinking coffee and he offered to show me the neighbourhood. Half of the living room was filled with clocks. Some were open, others had their contents completely spread out next to them and a few were running. Grandpa explained that this was one of his hobbies. I was interested in his large house too but didn’t dare to appear to be curious.

So we went outside and he showed me two old cars I had noticed before. They were his; he didn’t have a drivers license, they both were not usable, but he was busy making one car out of them.

It was amazing! He did all these things and he was in seventies. I always thought that people of that age were dead or close to that. I told him I admired his ability to work on these cars. He explained he got help from workers from the garage next door. He waved at them and they greeted back.

On the other side of the street was a warehouse full of cheese. We walked in and we were greeted again by workers. He showed me around like he was one of their colleagues. On every floor the cheese was of a different age. And on every floor I was offered a bit of cheese. The oldest cheese was tasting really great.

When we got out of the building we saw a lady walking by. She must have been in her late sixties but her way of walking made her look a lot younger.

She asked my grandfather if he liked to have a cup of tea with her in an hour. He agreed and she went in her house. Grandpa said that he drank tea regularly with her, smiled and gave me a wink.

I didn’t understand why he winked, maybe this was tea of a special brand? I didn’t want to look ignorant so I nodded understandingly. We went in his house again and he gave me a sandwich and a glass of milk. After I finished he told me I’d better go to Grandma now, she probably was already a bit worried.

When I walked out of the street I had a last look. I saw him coming out of his house and walking up to the house of the old lady.

I looked at my watch and decided to walk as fast as I could. Grandpa was right: Grandma would be angry with me arriving this late.


War on the Playground

It had been a great relief to have moved to the south. As long as I remembered I had been very careful going outdoors and always very keen on ways of escaping from being beaten up.
I was 7 years of age now and we lived at the edge of a forest in a part of an ancient villa. So instead of seeing the sombre little houses with their small gardens filled with tiles or gravel I now saw trees wherever I looked. The villas were at a very quiet road with a disturbing name: Road of Death.
Later I understood that this name was given because of the two cemeteries at the end.

To go to school we had to walk to the nearest city, a walk of almost thirty minutes.
In school the children from the villas were left in peace, they were hard to understand by the others because of the dialect they were speaking. Big sister was very anxious to adjust herself to this new world and I went along with this. Even at home we tried to speak in what was considered to be quite a posh manner.

The school was not really peaceful at all; sometimes ambulances appeared in front of the school. Normal things were children who got hurt while having gymnastic lessons, but once in a while we heard stories about the oldest children.

The tallest boy in school was Ricardo. Not even his first name sounded foreign, his last name was like that too. But he spoke very much in the local dialect. I was a bit impressed by this red haired boy. He already had acne and missed one of his front teeth. On his forehead he had a large vertical scar. Story went that this was caused by a teacher. The man had literally kicked him out of class. The boy had landed with his head on the hook of a coat-rack.

He was the leader of his own gang and it was easy to see who was his adjudant. That was the boy who got a piece of his red pepper once in a while. We all doubted if he really enjoyed this treat.
There was another gang: the leader’s name was not known by me. Everybody called him Fat Boy. He was from Asian origin, had raven black hair and already a vague beginning of a moustache.

Normally the gangs tried to stay away from each other. Sometimes there were incidents; the leaders would both chose a boy to fight their fight. One would win and that would end the problems.
This time it seemed to be different, Fat Boy had insulted Ricardo in a terrible way. So this should be straightened out. The leaders chose a total war, what meant that every gang member would take part in the fight. Ricardo was one man short, so he walked up to me. I was announced a member, refusing was not a possibility I felt. Ricardo pointed at a boy who was almost as tiny and skinny as I was. “You take care of him!” He spat some pepper seeds on the ground.

Suddenly the fight had started; everywhere around me boys were hitting each other. The little boy attacked me. I stretched my left leg between his legs and made him fall. Some instinct told me I had to jump on top of him. So my legs were on top of his and I held both his arms on the floor. Somehow I forgot everything around me. I was in total control, I won! Somebody shouted at my ear that I should hit him. I had no idea how that should be done, I only had two arms and they were busy. The little boy started to cry, his eyes filled with tears and snot ran from his nose. I was totally in confusion, never I had made a person cry before. I had very mixed feelings: I pitied the boy but also wondered if this was my revenge for all the times I had been beaten up.

I woke up from a sort of trance because I felt a big hand in my neck. I looked up and it was the head teacher. He pulled me of the boy and together with the other boys I was sent into the school. We all got punished, had to stay part of the normally free afternoon in school. The leaders were taken apart from the rest. The next day we would see them again. It was a few months later that Ricardo got expelled from school after a fight with a teacher.

When I walked home I felt like an unbeatable fighter, felt myself walking proud and straight. At home nobody asked why I was late. Mother just send me back to the city to get some groceries.

The Pigeon Man

Most houses in our street were terraced, only a few had an alley on one side that attached the street to the alley that was behind them. Ours was one of them. Officially you owned that part of the alley that bordered your house and garden but you could not refuse anybody to use it to pass.

We sometimes had discussions whether people had the right to sit next to your garden in the alley and observe your movements in the house. Some people would enjoy the sunshine at the end of the day over there because they had completely filled their garden with all kinds of goods. Mostly junk, but one neighbour had his garden stacked with all kinds of wooden buildings that housed pigeons.

This man was a middle aged man who obviously was divorced. Once in a while there were teenagers visiting. We assumed they were his children. When it was the season for competition between the pigeons he would spend complete weekends on a stool accompanied by his mate. There would be a crate of Amstel beer next to them and they would look anxiously at the sky for any signs of his pigeons. Less nice was that they constantly were looking into our house too. It made us feel uncomfortable, especially when they would say something to the other and had a good laugh. Sometimes we could see pigeons getting in. Another reason for the two friends to open a new bottle.

On Sunday evening he would go to meetings where the results were made known to the contestants. So sometimes he would celebrate with new beers and at other times would drink a few to be able to accept his loss. After that he would he have to go home on his moped. And every time the same thing would happen: he would try to ride through the alley and he would not make it. So we could hear a big bang and a lot of cursing and he would walk the rest of his way home. It was a miracle he never got hurt.

The situation got worse when we got a cat. When he grew up he showed that he was a bit wild. The cat was not very fond of staying indoors and would scratch furniture and wallpaper to convince us to let him out. Like all cats he was a nature lover, in particular a bird lover. So the neighbour soon yelled a few times to me to keep the cat indoors. He would sit in front of the pigeon houses and make the birds nervous. So he threatened to splash buckets of water over him. That was okay with me, I told him. So a few times the cat came home really soaked.

On a regular basis the cat brought birds to the house. He was acting very proudlv and we praised him and tried to save the life of these poor animals. Most of the times they were just a bit shocked and after some rest we could put them back in nature and they would fly away. The cat we would lock in the bathroom for some time where he would moan like hell.

Once the cat came home with a lovely little pigeon. And – bad luck – this one got really hurt. It died in my hands and I felt very guilty towards our pigeon man. My wife saw it as a sort of compensation for the harassment she felt because of him looking at us all the time in our house.

I was in doubt: should I go over to him and tell about the death of his pigeon and give him some money to compensate the loss?
Nonetheless I sneaked into the garden at a moment I knew he was not there and buried the pigeon.

Within an hour he was in front of our door. I was about to start about the pigeon when he showed me an official writing from the city hall. He asked me to read it for him. He admitted he was not able to read or write. I helped him with this letter and also with his tax papers that he showed me after that.
He told me he had been discussing with his mate if we could be trusted with his problems. After a lot of hesitation he had come over to ask us.

Later that week he proudly showed me the buildings for his pigeons. He didn’t have any small pigeons, he only owned competition pigeons and didn’t miss any. And he told me that our cat never came in his garden after the treatment with the buckets of water.


Black Water

It’s a beautiful day, just what the family has been hoping for.
The boat trip has been planned weeks in advance but the problem is that you can’t predict the weather in a country like ours. Great advantage is that there are loads of lakes and canals that connect these. That way you can spend days on the water going through the flat landscape.

I’m three years old and Big Sister is six. Smart as she is she will tell everybody that it is six and a half. We are the only children aboard and we enjoy all the attention from the aunts and uncles.

The boat is gliding through the water very easily and there is hardly any wind. Yet the adults hold us tight when we want to look in that water. Sometimes we think we see a fish and big sister shouts for father. Maybe he should angle here, or there.

One of the uncles knows a lovely spot he has said. We’ll have a picnic over there.
Big Sister and I don’t have a clue what a picnic is, but it sounds very interesting and we dance around from joy.
It takes longer than we expected, so after a while we forget about it.
Until the uncle yells: “There!”. We all look and it’s a meadow with three trees standing next to each other. It will be possible to be in the sunshine or in the shade, what Mama always wants.

The engine is stopped and the anchor is thrown in the water. Big Sister and I don’t understand how to get on the land. There is still quite a gap between the boat and the grassy land. But the adults pick up a plank that has been there all along and put on the edge of the boat to the shore.
Uncle Hank goes first over this plank, does something with the other end and announces that it is secured.

First the aunts and Mama go ashore with baskets full of drinks and nice food. Then some more uncles follow. Papa now grabs me and starts swinging me a bit. I know this and it always makes me giggle. But this time it’s different: Papa throws me in the air! I close my eyes in ultimate fear. It looks like a long time but I land safely in the arms of Uncle Hank.
He puts me down, but I’m shaking like a leaf.

Papa now wants to grab Big Sister. She has seen me flying and starts screaming: “No, no, I don’t want it! I’m scared!” Papa explains the only other way to get on the land is to walk the plank.
Big Sister nods, she understands.
One of the aunts wants to take me from the spot but I fight my hand out of hers. What will happen to Big Sister?

I can sense her fear when she steps on the plank. Papa is holding one of her hands and Uncle Hank is already reaching out for the other one. Progress is very slow and the adults are encouraging her: “Come on! You can do it, Big Girl!” I can see that she has to make two steps on her own and I feel myself freeze. The first step on her own she makes but the second one goes with stumbling and she loses her balance. Hands waving desperately in the air she falls in the water. I can see the black water closing over her head.

After what seems ages Uncle Hank has his arms in the water and out she comes again. Spitting out water and crying like anything. Mama comes to her with a towel and clean underwear. While drying Big Sister she tells her not to cry anymore. Nothing has happened and we’re all okay. She has to stop crying otherwise the aunts and uncles will think she is a baby.

The adults all get to sit on a few blankets they have put next to each other on the meadow.
Big Sister and I get our own blanket, a checkered one with green and red squares. She is told again not to cry anymore and we both get cakes and a mug with lemonade. “But don’t let it fall over!”

Mama has gone to the adults and I see Big Sister in her white underwear behind her mug, now crying in a silent manner.
I feel I should do something and go on my knees towards her. She smells a bit like the potato bucket in our kitchen. When I sit next to her I take her hand in mine and feel how I start to cry along.
On the other end of the blanket I see through my tears my tripped over mug. The lemonade is on top of the squares and slowly changing the colours into dark green and dark red.


Unwelcome Pleasure

It was in the days that nobody ever had heard about double glazing and if the neighbour sneezed, you would say: “Bless you”. And he would thank you from the other side of the wall.

We had an unpleasant reason for all being together in my grandparents house. It was the day that we had to bury my grandfather.

One of my aunts already had shown me grandfather in the coffin. I could say goodbye to him, she said to me. My parents thought it would be too shocking for me, I never saw a dead person before.

I was prepared for something terrible, but all I saw was a sort of big puppet. It was a bad remake of grandfather. I only felt very guilty for not being able to be in tears once in a while, like some aunts and big cousins were.

All of a sudden a very loud music started: the barrel-organ that came by every week. It always came at about the same time and I could see at the clock today was not different from any other.

One of the aunts started to cry almost louder than the organ and a few others joined the lament. The uncles reacted different: some were cursing out loud. This caused some hissing from other aunts, of course this was not very appropriate.

Father said aloud that crying and cursing was not going to change anything in the situation. With big steps he went to the front door. I followed him and got almost blasted over by the loud sound of the music. The barrel-organ was right in front of the door. Father stepped up to the man standing next to the organ. The man was shaking his metal mug, so clinging the coins together that were already in there.

Father shouted at him that he would give double if they would move to the next street, explained that we were waiting for the cars for a funeral. The man tapped his cap and excused for the embarrassment. He signalled the man at the wheel to stop turning it. The music died in a sort of wild mess of tones. My father thanked the men, took me by the hand and we went inside the house again.

Within a few minutes the music started again, less loud but you still could hear it very well.

The uncles started to curse again and one aunt resumed her loud sniffing. Would father send the men away again?

“Let it go”, father said: “Life goes on. You can’t expect the planet to stop turning”.

And I tried to figure out what melody they were playing.


donderdag 27 november 2014

Fear of Falling

Sometimes it could be very lonely in the house. After the divorce the house seemed far too big for him; even when his 18 year old daughter would spent the weekend with him. This officially happened every other weekend but in fact he was alone most of the time. Reading in the newspapers about old people who were found after having died weeks before didn’t make it feel better. And there was this item in the news about a lady who slipped in the bath, broke her hip and had waited for 3 days before she was found.

But really worrying was that this could happen to younger people too. A young colleague slipped in the bath and broke his leg while being home alone. After a few hours his wife came home from shopping and found him. He had been shouting for help the first hour but nobody could hear him.

This story gave the man the shivers. He himself could fall and nobody would show up for days. People in the office were used to the fact that he worked from home a lot. If he did his colleagues were instructed not to disturb him.

He talked about it with neighbours and one gave him the solution he was searching for; the anti-slip mat!

They were remarkable cheap and it didn’t even look too bad in the bathroom. Looking at it he felt really relieved.

The next weekend his daughter came to stay. When she came in she already told him there were two parties she was going to. So there was not a lot of time to be shared. But he was already happy seeing her and knowing she was going to have to share some meals with him.

That evening he had made her favourite dish and even had a nice dessert for her.

He told her about his colleague and about the desperation this man must have felt on the floor while being wet and in a lot of pain. The girl nodded in silence. He explained about the mat and that it would take away a lot of his worries.

His daughter said she needed to hurry, someone was going to pick her up for the party in an hour. And she needed a shower, had to dry her hair and put on her make-up.

So she almost ran up the stairs and while he was doing the dishes he heard her enter the bathroom.

And the next sound he heard was the ripping out of the anti-slip mat.


woensdag 26 november 2014

Weak (A Dilemma)

In the centre of my native city is a street that consists almost totally of bars and fast food shops.
The bars are officially owned by a foundation, which is in the hands of the local bikers club. Police is seldom seen over there, the bikers are used to solving their own problems. And they don’t like to see the police being involved. I’m not a regular visitor over there. The last time I was there I witnessed something that I didn’t like.

In these days I followed a course of a few months to get a better position. The schedule was quite nice: one day I would have lessons, the next day was meant to be dedicated to homework and there was no work in all this time. The homework was supposed to be a lot and would keep you busy all day. I might be different than most other participants in the course. I would have everything completed in a few hours and had the rest of the day to relax.

Once in a while I decided to get to a bar in the afternoon, sometimes I would meet people I knew.
So on this day I ended up in this infamous street. Only a few people were in, nobody I really knew. But I had set my mind on a beer, so I got one.

After a while a guy came in. I didn’t see him for ages. We both years ago were members of a chess club. We played in the club house of a football team and we had a bad name. The chess club drank per head more beer than the football players. And instead of playing our game we had fierce political and cultural debates and had a lot of fun. Not a normal chess club I would say!
It was not hard to see it was him, he still had the same kind of glasses on his head as he did in these days. It gave him the looks of a scholar.

The guy already had drank a few I noticed. He recognised me immediately and we talked about the old days and had a good laugh. When he ordered, the girl behind the bar gave him his drinks without hesitation.

He told me had quit chess too. After the club house had burnt down the club was moved to a former city hall where they didn’t serve beer or liquor. So the fun was gone. I didn’t know about this at all, had left the club years before. He told me that one of the chess players had dropped a cigarette stub in a plastic bin. The stub had been smouldering and had set the bin and the club house on fire in the night after the members had left.

We had two more beers and we talked about jobs and such. All of a sudden his tone of voice changed. He was in the middle of a divorce and was very angry. He blamed all the women in the world for his misery and so started to call the girl behind the bar names. It was quite awful and I felt embarrassed. So I tried to quiet him a bit. It didn’t work.

When he asked for another drink the girl refused and he became really foul mouthed. She asked him politely to leave the bar, which he didn’t. Instead he went on with his swearing.
Two bikers walked up to her and offered help which she eagerly accepted. They took his glasses of his head…

I asked them to just push him out of the bar, explained he was in big trouble. But they just slapped him in the face. I pleased them to stop. And they offered to give me a few. But they did stop, put his glasses back on and told him to pay. He paid and even wanted to tip the girl. She refused the tip and just told him to get out immediately. He did without saying anything to anybody.

My beer suddenly had a weak taste, just like I felt myself. I paid and left.