vrijdag 24 oktober 2014


He came into the bar wearing a funny little hat and sunglasses on top. With him was a smiling girl half his age who was apparently his girlfriend. Before he could sit down, there was a heavy banging on the window that made me almost jump off my stool. In front of the window was a weird looking guy that jumped up and down and made a gesture like: order me a beer and fast! The man pointed at his forehead but did order three beers and sat down with his young girlfriend.

The jumpy man had placed a bicycle against the window and came in to join them. After sipping from his beer, he started jumping again. This time he had a goal: he tried to grab the sunglasses.
The man with the hat pushed him away and said to me: “He can’t help it, he’s from Norway.” The other laughed and made another try. It was another miss. But when the man took a sip of his pint and had his head a bit lowered, he half succeeded. He was pushed away with the same comment.

The girlfriend told me there was something special with these glasses. The man had just found them again after loosing them fourteen days before. They had been placed on top of a fence. This was very nice because they had been quite expensive: they were real Ray-Bans. You would expect that people would take these home when finding them. So he was very lucky and felt very happy about it.

I couldn’t see the happiness any more; the Norwegian guy must have been annoying him for quite a while already. Still he said, in a sort of trance: “He can’t help it, he’s from Norway.” When he went outside and made a joint, the Norwegian helped him smoke it and was a bit relaxed for a while. But the jumping started again and the man growled something that made the Norwegian stop. He walked outside and started making funny faces in front of the window and banging on it.

Two other men came in and one joined the Ray-Ban-man. The Norwegian started a conversation with the other one. The daughter of the owner of the bar made her entrance with her boyfriend: she was wearing tiny hotpants and a top that was completely open at the back, so that she could show she had an even suntan. The man made comments about the kneading of her buttocks by the boyfriend. He tried to look very angry and dangerous. The man shrugged and went on with his conversation. I don’t have a clue what they were talking about. All seemed quiet…

Suddenly he jumped up, broke the neck of a bottle and pushed it in the other man’s face. Blood splattered around, I sure got my share. I’m not much of a hero, so in five seconds flat I was outside. I could see that half the bar had jumped in to have a part in this fight. I decided to stay safe and walked on to a little park nearby. Here I sat down on a bench, tried to calm down. The whole scene really scared me, I didn’t expect this at all.
After some time I decided to walk home, but knew I had to walk past that bar again. Nothing happened when I did. But soon after the door flew open and the man was pushed out by one of the staff. “You are banned for life from this bar!”, he shouted.
Slowly the man walked away, the broken Ray-Bans in his hands.

donderdag 23 oktober 2014


Too much of control can backfire.
It was in the days that a manager still was called a chief. The chief was in total control and very aware that his subordinates should be controlled every single minute. If he wasn’t there, there should be a replacement to watch the workers. Our chief was very much like that and he liked to make it very clear that he was the man in total control. And he would make it certain that there were no nice things to make the work more enjoyable.

On this day the Tour de France had started. We started a petition to have a radio in the office. That would make us able to listen to the things that were happening in France. There were a few very good cyclists from our country in it. The chief enjoyed it very much to say that it was forbidden. The higher management had decided not to allow it, he assured. We checked this and were told that nobody at higher levels were really bothered to think about this. If the chief said no, it was a no.

When he heard of our probing about this, he was very angry. We were doing things behind his back. So he told us that he was really sharp now about behaviour during working hours. If he could catch us at something, he would not hesitate one second to ask that the persons involved would get punished in an appropriate manner.

We worked in a sort of hall divided by two long rows of very high filing cabinets in the middle. If you wanted to have a look at the other side, you had to walk round. The chief was sitting on the other half of the hall, we were controlled by his deputy. He was a pitiful old man that really had no idea what we were working on. But his only task was to see to it that we kept on working, so that was not a real problem for him. And the chief ordered him around like he did with us.

On my side of the room there was a sort of cubicle built in, with two doors. One to enter the hall from that cubicle and an exit door. On my side the cubicle had been made half open, to make it into a counter. Here we had to give people advice and answer questions. For this purpose we even had real scribbling pads.

I heard somebody coming in the cubicle and went to the counter. An old man with a walking stick stood there and showed me a piece of paper. “For your information: because of throat cancer I have to talk with a mechanism that is placed in my throat”. I nodded that I understood; we got a great variety in people we had to talk to, so I wasn’t really surprised. My last ones were a man without arms and a lady with a blouse that was almost completely unbuttoned.

The man started to talk in his mechanical way and I could give him all the answers he needed.
While doing this, I heard the chief yelling: “Who has put on a radio?” Nobody answered, they were all doing what they were supposed to do. I heard the chief stamping towards the cubicle while the old man assured me that he understood what I said. “Immediately turn off that radio!”, the chief shouted.

The chief ended his stampede next to me. One look at the old man was sufficient to make him fall silent. His face turned purple and you couldn’t even hear his footsteps when he walked back to his own desk. The old man watched this quite interested, it didn’t seem to really annoy him.

When I was finished, the old man thanked me and left.
While I went back to my desk I thought I saw the deputy chief grinning.
The next year the higher management allowed us to listen to the Tour de France under the condition that it should not harm our work.

Important phone calls

How sad people can be funny.
Sometimes it’s easy to understand what people are talking about while not understanding a word of it. With some observation and imagination you can witness remarkable things. The reality often is more amusing than fiction.

There are some nice little cafés that surround the new market of Tavira in Portugal. Because of becoming hungry we went into one of them. The things we knew on the menu were sold out. We got only head shakes when pointing at these dish names. So we both picked something from the card we never had heard of before. It was served quite swiftly. It looked a bit weird but it was really nice. We promised ourselves not to find out what was on our plates.

Next to the couple that was running the business was an old African man that helped along. There was something wrong with him. Maybe he was born this way, but it might be caused too by things he had gone through in one of the wars that were fought in Angola or Mozambique in the seventies. The memory of reading horrible stories in the news papers is still there.

He did the odd jobs, like getting new gas containers and bringing away empty beer crates and barrels. He was paid with cash money. The couple shouted at him very loudly with every assignment they gave him. Normally people already talk very loudly in this part of the world, but this really sounded like they were angry. But it was all done with smiling faces and the couple shouted at the same level to each other.

When he came back one time, he went up to the counter and laid down more than a dozen ballpoints. Obviously he wanted to sell these to the couple. The lady shook her head and shouted something. He seemed to insist and she looked like getting angry. This made him go and sit at a table with a newspaper. He tested all the pens on it and after that they all were thrown in the bin. The lady, who was watching the scene whilst cleaning glasses, shook her head and shouted something again.

He grinned and took something else out of his jacket. It was a pair of sunglasses with only one arm and he put them on his nose. He made a funny face and the couple laughed at the scene. He made a tour to show everybody in the café what he had. The man of the couple wanted the joker to do something useful. He obviously wanted him to sweep the floor.

But he showed another gem he had in the pockets of his jacket. It was a fake mobile phone in a terrible pink colour. It must have been a gadget for a Barbie doll. He gestured that everybody should be quiet. There was an important phone call!

The lady shouted and pointed at the door. He followed the orders and went outdoors with the toy at his ear. Once in a while he shouted and nodded with a very serious face. After a while he came back and they gave him a glass of wine and a cigarette. He drank silently at the counter and blew the smoke in the direction of the door. The owner of the shop wanted him to smoke outdoors, so he went out again after swallowing the wine in one gulp.

The café closed and my wife and I decided to walk around in the neighbourhood. The weather was great as always. Near the hotel we saw the old African man sitting on a rock. He was wearing his broken sunglasses again and was having another conversation with the toy phone.

The Happy Guest

Accepting more because of a lovely smile.
When we arrived at Faro airport that early morning there was a total panic going on. The hall was fully packed with people. We had no clue what was going on, so we stepped in on the end of what looked like our queue to check in for our flight to England. We noticed a few minutes later that everybody became a bit quiet and were listening to a ground stewardess who was trying to tell the eager travellers what was the matter. After a while it became clear: there were clouds of volcano ash from Iceland that made flying impossible for maybe days.

Everybody looked at each other in disbelief and stayed in line while shouting at the stewardess. Some were even shouting obscenities. We decided it was useless to stay there and discussed a few possibillities. We could try to book something on line, but that idea was skipped immediately. No flights meant NO FLIGHTS, so we were not going to join in another queue at the few internet connections that were available.

We were lucky to have the phone number of the hotel on our mobile phone, so checked if we could get back to our room. They answered that we were not going to have the same room but another, but for the same price as the old one. We found our transport company and soon we were on the road back to the hotel that we just left an hour ago. The driver told us that some hotels in Faro had doubled their prices. We were very aware that we were having a bit of luck in this moment of mishap.

At the reception in the hotel we obviously were going to be checked in by a new member of the staff. She was a pretty girl of about 18 with a very new staff outfit; the colours told us that it probably never had been in the laundry. She had to learn some more English we noticed too, but her smile made up to that. She was prompted by a man with more experience, speaking perfect English. But he was lured away by other customers. Suddenly it became crowded at the desk. Only once he came back to show her how to book things on the computer.

She nodded, she understood everything. He asked something in Portuguese and she nodded again. We were left in her hands.
She asked if we wanted to smoke in our rooms. In unison we asked for a room in the non smokers area. She went ahead on her keyboard while giving us an assuring smile once in a while. She made it very clear that we were handled by someone who had everything under control. I decided I could make her task a bit heavier and asked if she could give us a room very close to the lifts. “My wife can’t walk very far”, I added. She nodded again, I had made myself clear.

Her coach looked once over her shoulder and ran back to a new arrival. She looked questioningly at him, but he gave her an assuring smile. She smiled back and hammered the last keys and entered.
“So!” Her task was completed, she gave me the keys and wished us a nice stay in the hotel.

We took the lift and searched for our room. It was as far as possible from the lift. Walking through the hallway we noticed a door of a room was open. I could see a man in that room, sitting on his bed and smoking a big cigar. Now I noticed too that there was quite some smoke in the air, the airco couldn’t cope with it.
We decided to stay in that room anyway, thought it would only be for a few days. We both didn’t feel like checking in again. We were just tired and wanted to sleep a bit more.

Later that morning I had to ask something about the internet access in the hotel. The girl couldn’t help me. Instead she asked with a lovely smile if I was happy with the room. I couldn’t get myself to disappoint her, so I told her that I did. Her smile became unforgettable.

The few days turned out to be two weeks, but I never complained.

Mateus Rosé

It was quite a hot day. We were having a little rest around 6 PM with a beer in a Chinese restaurant in Tavira, Portugal. We saw them coming in: the Dutch father, the mother and their two children. They were dressed up like they wanted to go to an important meeting. We Dutch like to be dressed sharp when we eat outdoors. It was not very busy at that hour, my countrymen are used to eating at an early hour; so unlike the people who live around the Mediterranean sea.

They took a table very near us while the rest of the restaurant was completely empty.
The waiter obviously had decided to make a lot of work of them. Very politely he gave them their menu and made a half reverence for them. The family was impressed and spoke in a very soft tone to each other. The father was able to help his wife, son and daughter a bit and they were discussing the choice.

The waiter came back to enquire what they wanted to drink. Father wanted a big beer, the children a cola and the mother asked for a Mateus Rosé. The father then asked to be allowed to order the food too. So he asked for a number 11, two times a 13, a 14, two times 41 and two times 43. We Dutch prefer to ask for the numberts on the menue instead of pronouncing the difficult Chinese words.

It reminded me of an episode of a reality show about a Dutch singer on television. The singer was in a hotel in a city where he had a gig. He phoned his wife in shock: “I ordered on the phone food from the Chinese restaurant over here and they brought totally wrong stuff to my room!” His wife asked him what he had ordered. He said that he had asked for what he likes best: number 7, 14 and a mix of 35 and 37.

The waiter came to serve three drinks quite quickly. The man immediately took a quick swig of his beer and sighed relieved. The children sipped from their colas. The woman only got an empty wine glass. The waiter went away and the woman asked worried to her husband: “Is he forgetting the rosé?” The man shrugged, he expected the waiter would come back with it.
And so he did; he had a bottle of Mateus Rosé, half covered in a cloth and a bucket in his hands. The bucket was placed on the table.

He then took the bottle in his right hand, bent over and poured a little rosé in the empty glass. His left hand was bended behind his back. “If Madam would be so kind to taste if this is okay?” The woman flushed and whispered to her husband in Dutch: “This is weird! Why does he do this? Mateus always tastes the same.” The husband said that he thought that this was a local thing, she had best to go along with it.

So she sipped and nodded in approval. The waiter filled her glass and withdrew. The man burped loudly. “Oh Jan!”, his wife reacted. The father told her that Chinese all over the world see burping as a compliment for good food or a good drink.

The waiter continued to treat them like royalty and the family obviously enjoyed their meal. We had finished our beers and decided to leave. The woman had a flushed face after her second rosé and the husband had started to discuss my wife and me with her. They had agreed that these British are weird people.

“Goedenavond en geniet ervan!” I said when we left. They both choked in their drinks.

No Help

To help or not to help: a choice.
There is something that always will give me reasons for thoughts and I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling like that. It’s remarkable that this is hardly ever being discussed. A positive thing that can turn into something ugly. It’s the problem of offering help while it really is not wanted.

I always want to help if it’s possible for me, but sometimes help is being considered as being humiliating by people. That’s why I always try to find out if my help is going to be appreciated. But sometimes things go wrong.

I remember all too well how I got up from my seat in a tram in Amsterdam and how I offered this to a lady that was not exactly young any more. I think she thought about this in a different way and exclaimed that she didn’t want an already warmed-up seat.
A blind man that I wanted to help to cross a street almost hit me with his cane. He could do it all by himself!
The waitress in the restaurant that dropped a pile of plates, waved me away with a red face.
In the supermarket the man in his wheelchair growled at me when I wanted to put his groceries in his basket.

After experiences like this, I know that I should be selective with my help.
We visit the lovely city of Tavira in Portugal once in a while. When we are there, we stay in a nice hotel. As in most hotels the meals are offered in buffet form. My wife likes me being a gentleman and getting her coffee and such. When busy with that I often see a lady with a mobility walker who is collecting her meal on it. The food is not a big problem, but drinks are and so the walker is in no time covered with milk and orange juice. Nobody helps or dares to help: she really has an attitude like “I can do it by myself!”

Last time there was a man without legs and ears in a wheelchair. He looked like he survived a horrible car crash or a war. He was accompanied by a very fat lady and a very fat boy. My wife and I assumed they were his wife and child. They formed a weird trio, the wife and the boy never uttered a word to the man. The conversation was only between the two of them. The man had to collect his own food, they gave him no help at all. We had no clue if this was what he wanted himself.

We discussed me helping him: it would have been rude to the wife and child at least, we thought.
So we decided that I shouldn’t do it. But I really felt awful every time he came riding by in his chair with a glass of milk or such shaking on his lap and dripping on his crotch.

Besides the meals we never saw the three together. Sometimes we could see him sitting in front of the entrance of the hotel, next to the stairs and the alternative for that: a very steep path to the road. Once in a while new visitors would arrive and he would be a bit in the way for the bellboy who would run out of the building to collect the suitcases. Then he would clear the way a bit.

He always was on his own, nobody would talk to this man. But he always greeted us friendly.
Sometimes he would sit there when we left and was still there when we came back after an evening in the city. We would go in the hotel and he would stay where he was. Through the glass doors we could see him sitting there in the mild evening breeze.

It’s one of the views that I will never be able to forget: the silhouette of the man with no legs and ears in his wheelchair looking over the city of Tavira against the deep red sunset.

The New Manager

How to ruin a good business.
The local brewery in our city has a tasting room, where you can try their beer from tap or bottle.
There are four pumps and they produce some more varieties than that. My wife and I love to come here. Local people have a good one and once in a while there are tourists who want to have a taste. They also sell packages of beer, very suitable for gifts.

We also like it over here because it’s very relaxed, no stress music playing, and people are having real talks where you can understand each other. The staff is friendly and patient and very capable of explaining the procedure of brewing or describing the differences in taste of the beers. They have been there for some years now and quite experienced. Even when things get busy, the atmosphere stays calm and sometimes clients even help out.

But when things go very well they should be changed, is an old saying. Some weeks ago we ordered the new beer that was on tap after getting a description of it. This was quite right: the beer was really excellent.

By now we had noticed a guy who came in the room with a checkered cloth in his hands. He seemed overstressed and had a mark on his shirt. It looked like someone had walked with dirty shoes over his back. He had a bottle of cleaner in his hands and cleaned the table and chairs of some people that had just left. When we ordered a new beer I asked who this man was. Was this a new assistant? We got the answer that this was the new manager.

My wife noticed that he looked like the temporary manager of our favourite pub in Norwich; the man who gave her friend such a hard time every time he was in charge. The manager over here seemed quite harmless, but a bit weird. While it was quite busy he took the coffee machine apart and cleaned every part thoroughly. He got disturbed a few times, had to tap a few beers. His technique was a bit different. We noticed he used double the amount of beer the others needed. This was caused by him being very impatient according to us. People asking for coffee were summoned to wait.

Whenever a person would leave, he would immediately run over and clean the table and chair. Like he had to disinfect them, we thought. Chairs he would bang into a right position.
The brewery is open till 7PM, but we were summoned to pay at 6:30. “What’s the reason to hurry?”, we asked an original staff member. He had no clue. The manager took our money and we waited for our change. It never came, we only got some words: “It has been very busy, that’s why we close early”. We are not the kind of people to moan about a Euro so we left.

The next week there was only the manager, the staff probably was not needed. The manager’s girlfriend was sitting near the bar. A man ordered cheese cubes and the manager seemed to get them from the kitchen at the back. Some people were waiting with empty glasses for his return. He came back and filled the glasses. The man and his company looked questioningly at him, but he seemed not to notice. So the man walked up and asked him about his cheese. After some words we saw the guest himself going to the kitchen collecting his cheese.

At a quarter to six new people came in. They were very welcome according to the manager but were allowed to order one drink only and had to pay immediately. He kissed his girlfriend goodbye. Then he came over to us. According to him it had been a slow day and a waste of energy to keep the business open. We should pay too. And so we did. But we still had to finish our beers. Of course we were the last ones in, when we took the last sips. He was very ready to grab our glasses as soon as we put them down. While we put on our coats he was cleaning our table and seats.

When we came outside, the girlfriend was sitting on a bench near the door.

A Date

The kiss Tina gave me when she left the party was very promising. And it was even better that she invited me to come to Utrecht, the city where she lived, the next weekend. She gave me her phone number so we could make a proper date.
She was the most interesting girl on the party, she told me she was a nurse in a children’s hospital.

So we had been talking about her experiences and about the city of Utrecht. Her kiss was as sweet as the cherry jenever she had been drinking.
So the next Friday I dialled the number. A young man answered and my heart sunk. But it wasn’t the wrong number, this was a student flat and they shared one telephone. I heard him yelling her name and here she really was!

She asked me to come at the end of the afternoon, she would get me from the train.
And so she did. I stepped out of the train and was ready for a nice kiss. Instead there was a hug.
Maybe to early for kissing?

She directed me to her favourite restaurant, a Chinese one. We were the only guests at that hour, but that didn’t stop her from talking a bit loud. It was all about someone called Andy and he was her fiancé.
What on earth was I doing here? Why did she ask me to come to her?
It really puzzled me.

The stories about Andy and his wonderful family went on and on.
I suggested I was going back home after dinner, but she insisted that I would stay. She wanted to have a nice night in town and I could sleep at her place. She pleaded me to stay. I can’t say NO to women, so I did.
We went to a bar and the stories went on and on again. Andy was a straight A-student and a great guy and I would like him too. Brrr, I hated the guy already without ever having seen anything of him.

I normally don’t like discotheques, but this time I was very happy to get into one. The music was so loud that she couldn’t tell me more about this horrible creature.
We ended with a last drink in a bar and she looked tired and was silent.
Her apartment was not far from the bar. It was quite small, consisting of a sitting room combined with bedroom, a little kitchen and a bathroom.

She put a sleeping bag on the sofa and while I was in the bathroom for a pee she already was in her bed that was at the other end of this room.
“Goodnight!”, she said and within 5 minutes she was asleep according to the snoring sound I heard.

It took me some time to get to sleep, the sofa was not very comfortable.
I woke up by the sound of church bells, I hadn’t noticed there was a church at the backside of the flat. But it was loud enough to make me sit up straight. I must have looked a bit bewildered, Tina laughed. She wished me good morning and got out of bed. She was wearing a nightgown and took her clothes along to the bathroom.

Very soon she came back fully clothed. I got up too and splashed some water over my face to wake up a bit better. While I was dressing myself she went into the bathroom again. She left the door a bit open so I could she what she was doing. She was putting a few fingers in her throat and vomited.
After that she brushed her teeth and came back.

I asked her if she was okay. She shrugged and told me she always did this in the morning.
While I had a sandwich with cheese, she was eating a bowl of yoghurt. After that she brushed her teeth again. She asked me if I shouldn’t brush mine. I didn’t take my toothbrush along, so she offered me hers. I kindly refused.
On her bicycle she brought me back to the station. We hugged and I told her to give my kind regards to Andy.

While I walked into the station, I saw her riding away. She never looked back.


At the end of our street lived a family with real different features.
The man had the largest face I ever saw in my life, the wife was very cross eyed. We would make cruel jokes about her crying: the tears would run over one shoulder.
They had two children: a huge girl of which you could impossible estimate her age and a boy with red hair. He looked quite normal but in school they kept in him in grade 4 all the time.

In lunch breaks he would play with the little girls in his group. They made him their dog and he willingly played along because we, the boys of his own age, refused to play with him.
Sometimes we looked at him in amazement: his brains might be behind but his body wasn’t.
So his hairy private parts would peep out of one leg of his shorts.

During holidays he would try to get along with me and my friends. We would not accept him, but he would follow us anyway. And sometimes things would go wrong. Like the time we played hide and seek on a building site. We heard a bang and saw him with blood all over his face. There was only one thing I knew to do. I kept my hand on the gaping wound as if this would help to stop the bleeding and brought him to my parents. My father took him to the hospital and he got a few stitches. The turban on his head made him feel proud.

I remember when I played cowboys and indians with my German friend Claus. He kept harassing us while we were sitting in our wigwam. That only stopped when my friend got a horrible mask out of the living room. It was an Asian one with snakes instead of hairs. He put it in front of his face and really scared the shit out of him. Crying he went home. The mother was stopped giving us a lecture by my mother who had witnessed the scene.
Once or twice I became invited on his birthday and I always made up excuses to leave very soon.

Children are rude. The mother always got stuck with the cake and lemonade.
After I went to high school things went wrong with Harry. He became aggressive and it was impossible to keep him in school. Instead he was kept in a chair in front of the window, full with tranquillizers. On good days he would wave at you, but normally he would just sit there with the drool on his chin. Once in a while his mother cleaned him. People in the street said he was wearing diapers. It was hard for me to imagine.
After a few years he must have got an overdose of his medicine or his system just couldn’t cope with it any more. So everybody living in our street went to the funeral.
It was a very sad occasion. Parents shouldn’t bury their children.

The sister hardly understood what was going on, she was delighted by the interest people showed to the family.
Harry’s mother asked me in a few days later. She gave me the favourite toys of Harry. It was a set of plastic knights and squires. I didn’t want to be rude and thanked her for these.

I could still see the drool of Harry dribbling from them.
I didn’t tell anyone at home about this gift and let the bag with the ancient plastic people disappear in the bin.
For some time I felt guilty about doing this and expected that my parents would discover what I did.
But nothing was said about it and after some time the memory faded away.
Just a bit like the memory of Harry, I must admit.