maandag 11 december 2017

Swedish Girls

There were only two pubs in the village. When I didn't see my mates in our regular one, I figured out that they would be in the other one. We normally didn't like it there, they had Skol on draught.
But I tried anyway.

It was surprisingly busy and I even had problems finding a free stool. There was a big crowd of young men surrounding two blond girls. I asked one of the guys what was going on.
"Swedish girls! These are Swedish girls!"
Now I noticed that the conversation sounded a bit weird. I could hear some different languages being exercised. English, German and something undescribable. Was that Swedish?

The slimmest, blonder one of the girls was really under siege. She indeed was very pretty. The other one seemed to take a bit of distance of it all. In my eyes she was more attractive, I'm not really in for skin and bones. At a certain moment she turned around and gave a bit of way so one of the male crowd could get closer to the skinny girl.

My favourite got even further from the crowd and ended up next to me. She looked apologetic to me, it was obvious she didn't feel very comfortable. The gentleman in me wanted to help, so I offered her a drink and we got into a conversation.

I praised the Swedes for all their good things: Volvo, Saab, Bjorn Borg, ABBA. She nodded, good things indeed. I mentioned the Swedish royal family; they are quite special.
After Napoleon got defeated Europe was totally reshaped and some new kingdoms were installed and some were exchanged for new people. But the Swedish kept their royalty, the Bernadottes.
They are descendants of the French general who was appointed as Swedish king.
He was doing so well that the European rulers, like Metternich thought it was not needed to replace them.

She listened a bit in amazament, it was obvious this was all new to her. Now she talked in a normal way to me: "I can tell I can't fool you. We're not Swedish at all. It's a trick we did before. It works, you get free drinks all the time."
I assured her I would not give their secret away and led her away from the rest to a table. She waved at the other girl who just winked at her.

The girls were staying with family in the village for the weekend, would be going back a few days later, she told me. I got disturbed by a phonecall; one of my friend said they were waiting for me in the other pub. I told him about the girl that was sitting next to me. They all shouted that nobody wanted to drink that awful beer they served in the pub where I was. They demanded that I took the girl with me. She shook her head, pointed at her sister. No way she would leave her with that bunch.

I gave her my phone number and made her promise to go out with me the next evening. I was happy with that, gave her a peck on the cheek and went.

The date never worked: she phoned the next day that there was a quarrel in the family.
They all decided to leave immediately. I could hear shouting and banging of doors in the background. I started asking "Can I have your phone nu..." But it was too late, she was gone already.
And gone forever, the "Swedish" girls never returned.
Sometimes one of the guys could be heard bragging about snogging with the Swedish girls.
I never took their dream away.

donderdag 26 oktober 2017

A lost friend found and a friendship dropped

Lots of people will have the same as I had when I got closer to my 40th birthday. You look back on your life until then and ask yourself why and where on earth you lost certain friends. I certainly had this with Peter.
Peter had been very dear to me. There was a strong reason for this.
I can still recal the moment when I awoke from being unconscious and he was sitting next to me, trying to keep the blood running from my temple getting in my eyes with his shirt. Somebody had knocked me down with a motor helmet for some silly reason.

I was taken to the hospital by an ambulance, got some stitches. When I left the hospital it felt like I was walking on clouds. I realised I had to find a taxi, maybe I would have to walk to the station for this. But there was no need: Peter had followed the ambulance to the hospital on his bicycle and waited for me get out. He got me home in his bloody shirt and I felt I would be grateful eternally. Days later I found out I had a concussion, so the bike ride probably was not a brilliant idea. But all the same: my gratefulness had no boundaries.

The weird thing is: within a year we lost all contact. This was caused by an intense but quite short romance with his sister. They didn't get along and that showed. The friendship was lost and was not restored after the love between his sister and me was gone.
Life goes on: people come into your life and people disappear out of your life. There were not many days that I wondered where my friend had gone.

But getting near my 40th triggered a search. I abused the computer programs in my office to find Peter. I found a few people who could be him and it took a few phonecalls, but I succeeded.
It was surprising that he even lived quite near where I had visited him for the last time.
He sounded enthusiastic, like I was and we planned a date for me to visit him.

Of course I went together with my wife. I wanted him to meet her, make him a bit part of my world again.
The address was easy enough to find and I rang his doorbell. The welcoming by him was surprisingly formal; it could have been a total stranger I was giving a handshake. He explained that he lived upstairs, but that we were invited to the living room of his downstairs neighbour.

Her greeting of us was as cold as that living room, it was very spartan and contained only the essentials. On the wooden floor was a child playing with wooden blocks and a plastic police car. The child must have been 3, maybe 4 years old, but was referred to as "the baby".
The woman put coffee cups on the table and we were sitting around it, having a laboured and polite conversation about the weather, the state of the roads around the city and more like this. It never became clear whether Peter and the woman had a relation of some kind.

The child crawled under the coffee table, that was quite low. We had to bend down to get to our coffee. The child tried to get up and banged his head quite loud. I was a bit worried about this, asked if it was okay. Peter and the woman just laughed. And the continued doing that, every time there was a loud bang from under our coffee cups. I was truly horrified and I could see that my wife equally shocked. The fact that we at that moment had been trying to get a child for months must have doubled this for us. I felt so low, really wanted to get that table out of the way.

I finished my coffee and asked my wife if we were still expected by her parents today. I never thought of cancelling. Very surprisingly she had forgotten this too.
So we were very sorry, there was no time for another coffee, we really had to go.
But...if Peter was ever in the neighbourhood he should pay us a visit. Of course he promised this; there was no mentioning of taking the woman along, but I was not really expecting this.
When we left, they didn't even make the effort to get us to the door, stayed at that table.

It is not surprising that Peter never came to our place and that I never felt like visiting him again.

zaterdag 14 oktober 2017

Morris Dancers

We knew this weekend was the Beer and Buses weekend. Vintage buses take you all around the Isle of Wight to all the pubs who are into the celebration. It's a great way to taste some local ale without having to drive your car while doing some sightseeing in lovely antiques vehicles.
A lot better than a pub crawl!

While walking on the Esplanade in Ryde we were pleasantly surprised by an unexpected spectacle: Morris Dancers. I had seen this a few times on tv, in programs about local things of interest.

Why they did it over here, near the base of the hovercraft, I don't know. They had drawn some spectators. The scene made me think a bit of National Lampoon Holiday in which Chevy Chase gets involved in a dance, a bit like this. They keep hitting him, like it is a part of the dance until he gets enough of it and it all results in a big fight. Luckily the Morris Dancers are not like that at all. It appeared to be very professional.

Of course I could not resist to search for the history behind this. The first mentioning of this is in 1448, so it is a very old tradition.
They used to be named Moorish Dancers, what eventually evolved in Morris Dancers.
The tradition almost disappeared in the 19th century, but was picked up again in 1899. Most mining communities were forming their own groups and there were competitions among them.

Another form of Morris Dancers were groups with blackened faces, or wearing scarfs to disguise themselves. The origin of this is the start of unions for miners and other workers. Unions were forbidden and when people attended meetings or rallies they risked being arrested.
The dances of these black groups are quite loud and (almost) threatening. You can imagine the sound of these must have been ominous for the owners of mines and factories.

Nowadays Morris Dancers can be found not only in England, but even in countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the Netherlands.
Nice to encounter some history on the street!

donderdag 12 oktober 2017

Halloween in Holland

I was asked to write something about Halloween. I'm afraid I'm not into scary Halloween stories, but I can write about personal experiences.

In parts of the Netherlands the 11th of November has been celebrated for centuries. It's named St.Maarten after the Saint Bishop Martinus van Tours who lived from AD 316 till AD 397. Since the 1920's the festivities have spread around the whole of the Netherlands.

Suddenly it was celebrated in my city too; very surprising because people in the region are mainly protestants so they would not have anything with saints. The attraction for children is the candy that they can collect with just walking around with lampions, ringing doorbells and singing a silly song about "cows that have tails". They don't need to tell me this, but when you open the door and the group of little brats start singing, with their parents behind them in silent admiration, there is not a lot else you can do but to put some candy in the sticky hands. The parents nod approvingly, they all go to the next door and you can only hope your doorbell will not ring again. Mostly this is in vain, within 10 minutes the next group will pop up.

My children were pleasantly surprised with this show of generosity and they decided to do this too the next year. So we bought them each a lampion and we were ready to go along, but the two of them pleaded us to let them do this by themselves. We agreed that they would try to go along with another group. So off they went.

We already had listened to the stupid song three times when my daughters came home again in a very angry state. They had been chased away by the other children and their parents. "We don't go to the same church and school, so they don't want us to walk along. And people opened their doors for us and accused us that we had been there before, so wanting a double treat. We hate it, won't do it ever again!" So we gave them some of the candy we had in store for the little singers and thought that was it.

The next year, on the 31st of October the groups of children popped up in front of our door, just dressed a little silly. No song this time, just sticking their greedy hands out. The parents watched it silently again from a distance. People seemed to have decided to celebrate Halloween. This American thing was new to us and we were not very prepared for an invasion of children. We did have some tangerines and gave them to these kids. A good thing too, better for their teeth and a bit of help to prevent them to become obese. Lucky for us we had less children ringing at the doorbell that night.

The next day we saw how they had appreciated our fruit. Some was smashed against walls, the rest was thrown on the street. We had enough of it all!
I could already foresee the same children coming to our door on the 11th of November; of course St.Maarten would not be skipped.

I was right, they did go around again. This time without silly costumes, but with their lampions. I had unscrewed the doorbell and drawn all the curtains. There were fruitless attempts to ring the doorbell, they would knock and bang at the door too. But I was determined: no more of this.

The next day we could see that they had spit all over our door. We cleaned it and that was all.
The next two years we had to get the saliva from the door on both celebrations. After that they just left us in peace and my children never again tried to mingle with these children.

woensdag 11 oktober 2017

The new cook

The sight of my living room made me really happy. In just a few hours I had changed what obviously used to be an office room into a very cosy room. Where once the books and files of the company had been, now my books looked really smart. The second hand table and chairs seemed to brighten up because of the sunshine coming through the windows and my coffee table and the new bought sofa were a perfect couple. The book case filled with my records next to the coffee table with the audioset completed the room.

I had done the bedroom in the early morning; there was not a lot to it: my bed against the back wall opposite the wardrobe. I had plans to buy a bedside table later that week. Would be handy for the alarm clock and such. I walked around my new kingdom and was very proud. My own appartment and nobody was going to tell me what to do.

The owner of the building had told me that I eventually would share the kitchen and bathroom, but that for the time being nobody would disturb me. There was no other tenant and it would take some more time for them to find one. There seemed to be some legal problem. It was none of my business and I really didn't care.

The doorbell rang and I spoke for the first time through the intercom. It was a bit disappointing, it was my father. "I found some more things of you!", he shouted. I went downstairs and opened the front door. He had a box in his hands, completely full with books and other stuff. I took it from him and asked him to follow me upstairs.

He was my first visitor and I hoped for an approving word or such, but he hardly looked around, just sat down on the sofa. No need to give him some sightseeing through my domain, I decided. I took everything out of the box: it was very clear that he had tried to clear his loft a bit. None of the stuff in the box was mine. I saw school books of two of my sisters and some second hand books I remembered him buying in a sale from a bankrupt private library.

"Nothing of this is mine", I said, while he started to look a bit annoyed. Did he expect me to apologise or such? I didn't understand, I was certain he knew the contents of that box had nothing to do with me. He asked me if there was anything I wanted. I had noticed that there was one interesting book among all the romantic novels and school books, so I asked him if I could keep that one. That way at least he didn't make a useless trip to me. He nodded, so I laid the book by Rainer Maria Rilke on my table and put the rest of the books and other stuff back in the box.

He wanted to leave without the box, but I protested. I didn't have a clue how to get rid of anything but normal rubbish at my new place, so I insisted that he took the box home again. "I will carry it to your car. I'm sorry nothing was really mine, but I do appreciate that you came over with this." He hardly said a word anymore, drove away without waving or anything.

All this had made me hungry. Luckily I would be done with preparing my meal within minutes. Just a can of ravioli I had to heat up and I would add some already grated cheese.
So I went into my new kitchen where I had one pan, one plate, one fork, one knive and one spoon.
Only then I realised that this can somehow had to be opened. I had forgotten to buy a tin opener.

A look at my watch learned me that it was after 6 PM, so all shops were closed. There would be no cooking for me that day. It felt a bit like a defeat that I had to buy food from the "greasy spoon" that was situated around the corner.

The next day I came home from the office and found a present on my doormat. A girlfriend had dropped a little book through the letter box, called "How to cook for yourself". It seemed to be quite funny. The first recipe I read had words in it like: "put the can on the surface and open it with your can opener". I was feeling in control: I took my new opener out of my bag and laid it next to the can of ravioli. Nothing could go wrong for me!

vrijdag 3 februari 2017


Unlike you the chair didn't change, it's still that sombre dark green with the handy side pocket in which you keep all your remote controls so your wife has to ask you to please turn on or off the radio, the television , the d.v.d. player and all the other electronics. You used to take out a control and turn on the television as loud as possible when you got bored with visitors and pretended not to hear it when your wife pleaded to turn it off.

You yourself did change: the sturdy bon vivant became a dead tired shadow of that man. Your eyes lost their sparkle and most of the time you stare out of the window, a pile of books next to you untouched on the little table next to you. The remote controls stay in their pocket. My mother once in a while will ask you something, almost like she is checking you are still there. You lost interest in most things, starting a conversation with you is like dragging you from the bottom of a very deep sea to the surface.

I don't visit often after I left the country and in earlier years it was quite an event for you and my mother. But now it is like she is trying to convince you constantly somebody is there with you in the living room. We were never mates or buddies or whatever you want to name it, but during this stay it's almost like you forgot we are related. I look at you, hear the clock ticking and try to read on, like my mother is doing.

Suddenly you call out her name and announce that you need to go to the bathroom. You know very well she can't help you with that, being unable to have walk normally. Old age is hitting you both really hard, I wonder if I will be like that when I'm in my nineties and realise it will be me who has to help him to the bathroom. I tell him, I will do it, I can help. My mother looks up from her puzzle.

I see anxiety in your eyes, almost a fear and you refuse. My sister and her husband will help you, you say. I answer that they will not be here for at least another hour, maybe even two, you don't have a choice: it's me or no help at all. I get up and stand in front of you, stretch out my arms towards you, invite you to take my hands.
"No, no, you can't!" you say and there is panic in your eyes, "Martin has to do it."
"He's not here, you don't have a choice", I grab your hands.
"You can't!"
"We'll see about that!", I take your hands and pull you up.

Your eyes are wild now and I feel all your muscles tightening. All the muscles that you still have.
I know that not long ago there would have been no way I could have got you out of that chair, but things go quite smooth even with all your resistance. I walk backwards leading you step by step to the toilet, humming a waltzing melody. "What a nice dance, we have!", I joke. You grumble, concentrate on the little steps you take.

We manage alright and I wait in front of the bathroom door till you are finished. I hear you peeing and sighing from relief. When you open the door again, you stretch a hand out to me. I take it and use the other to close the door before taking your other hand. We make the same dance again and you end safely in front of your chair. When I make you sit down, you squeeze one of my hands very lightly. Something has changed, we both know it and we also know we will not talk about it. There is no need.