Camping is extremely dangerous. Not many people realize this but it is. Explorers of undiscovered jungles and unclimbed mountains have some understanding of the hazards involved but even they have never faced anything as dangerous or deadly as a family camping holiday on an ordinary (already discovered) Dutch camping site. If they had they would never want to look at a tent ever again and would most likely give up their adventurous life in favour of a much safer career.
Camping is extremely dangerous! Especially when you are an accident prone Englishman like me!
It all happened on what first appeared to be a nice sunny day (mainly because it was). My wife, daughter and I were enjoying a very Dutch holiday in our newly purchased second hand caravan. Everything seemed to be going fine until I undertook a very dangerous and foolish task… trying to find some shade!
Don’t laugh. Men have died trying to achieve less.
To be more specific I was attempting to put up a sun umbrella so we could enjoy breakfast in the shade. Unfortunately, the sun umbrella was not as enthusiastic about this idea as I was. In fact, it was being extremely stubborn about it and preferred to stay firmly closed. No matter how hard I tried to force it open it simply refused to budge. It continued to show its stubbornness and unwillingness to do its job for several minutes as I pushed and pulled and struggled and generally lost a battle with an inanimate object. That is until it very suddenly and unexpectedly gave in and popped open.
I was about to cheer triumphantly but a not so triumphant collection of swear words shouted in quick succession came out of my mouth instead. This was because the sun umbrella, unhappy about being forced open, had decided to let it’s feelings on the subject be know by slicing the palm of my hand open in the process (thus adding to my very extensive collection of personal scars).
I finally had my shade but for some reason I was finding it a little difficult to enjoy the victory as I bled all over the ground from the large hole in my hand. Maybe it was because the first aid kit suddenly seemed a lot more important.
This particular first aid kit looked like it had not been opened since the 80’s. Luckily it still contained everything we needed to treat my injury; disinfecting alcohol (hurt like hell), plasters, bandages, and various other medical supplies. At the very bottom of the box it also contained (rather worryingly) four screws! I couldn’t really figure out what kind of first aid emergency would require four screws but I was very glad that my injury (which suddenly seemed a lot less severe) did not. I can only guess that someone had borrowed the bone saw and forgotten to return it.
As we bandaged up my hand, just to add insult to injury, the sun disappeared behind a cloud. A short while later the sun umbrella fell over.
Over the course of the next few days I discovered that some things are very hard to do when one of your hands is tightly wrapped in bandages. For example; I was only able to apply sun screen to one side of my body (which could have resulted in a very distinctive sun tan if my wife had not been there to help). Whereas things like cleaning up spillages became considerably easier (but not very medically hygienic).
But the main thing I learned is; camping is very dangerous!
7:45pm – INT – RESTAURANT ENTRANCE
A family of four enters the Pannenkoeken house and waits by the entrance. They are approached by a waiter. He is a young waiter. He probably works at the Pannenkoeken house part time and goes to college where he studies for a less pancake orientated future. For the purposes of this story we will call him Dirk van Pannenkoek. Dirk van Pannenkoek enquires as to how he may assist the family. The family of four requests a table of four since it is what they require.
Dirk shows the family of four to the requested table with four seats and presents them each with a menu (which totals four). English menus are requested and given. Dirk does this quickly and efficiently as he is a well trained waiter.
With the menu’s arranged Dirk enquires if drinks are desired and four drinks are ordered, one each for the family of four. A short while later Dirk returns with the drinks.
7:55pm – INT – RESTAURANT TABLE
When Dirk returns later once more the family of four has suddenly become a family of three. Dirk suggests that he should return when the three have become four again but the family of three insist that they are ready to order. Dirk takes out his order pad and pen and three orders follow, each of which he writes down. He waits for the fourth order for the missing member but no order is given or seems likely to be given. Confused for a moment Dirk wonders if he imagined the fourth family member or if they are a very unkind family who considers someone to be on their own and forgotten when they visit the bath room. Slightly perplexed Dirk returns to the kitchen.
TEN MINUTES EARLIER
My father had spent a good amount of time umming and erring his way through the menu’s selection of pancakes on offer. It seems that no amount of ice cream or strawberry toppings could change his opinion of the pancakes nutritional value so he volunteered to go to the McDonald’s across the street. Shortly after he left the waiter had returned.
8:15pm – INT – RESTAURANT TABLE
Dirk returns with three pancakes for the family of three but something else is wrong now. It quickly becomes apparent that a mistake was made in the order. One of the three pancakes is wrong. Dirk apologizes for the mistake but the family offers to pay for the incorrect pancake anyway. Dirk does not know how to react to the English politeness so he puts the pancake down in front of the empty fourth seat and takes a new order with his pad and pen.
Dirk returns to the kitchen more confused than previously. He is confused by their politeness about the error while they showed such disregard for the missing fourth member (he still wonders if he imagine that). And why had he witnessed the young lady hitting the young man in the arm as he had approached the table.
FIVE MINUTES EARLIER
Even with the English menus the pancakes had a lot of unusual names so it was no surprise when my mother got the names mixed-up and ordered the wrong pancake. When the waiter had returned with a pancake covered in chicken instead of a pancake covered in ice cream the mistake became apparent and she ordered a new pancake.
The unusual sounding names were also the reason I had started making jokes at the expense of my girlfriend and her pancake order. I can be incredibly immature at times and anyone who orders a pancake called, “The farmer’s daughter,” is just asking for it.
“Have you had the farmer’s daughter before?”
“Yes. A few times.”
“So you’ve enjoyed having the farmer’s daughter a lot?”
She hit me on the arm when she realized what I was doing.
8:35pm – INT – RESTAURANT TABLE
Dirk returns to the family of three with the new pancake. He is about to put it down on the table when he suddenly notices something that courses him to pause. The family of three has become a family of four again and the fourth member is sitting with a pancake in front of him.
The confusion that Dirk is experiencing is very apparent on his face. A few seconds pass before he realizes he is standing still, staring at the family, holding the new pancake in mid putting it down motion. The fourth family member smiles at him, looking happy with his pancake.
The cogs in his head are trying to turn. A family of four had ordered four drinks only to become a family of three who ordered three pancakes and then ordered an extra one to become a family of four again.
Dirk puts the pancake down. Dirk wishes the family of four a happy meal. Dirk turns around and leaves. Dirk returns to the kitchen. Dirk sobs in the corner of the kitchen while rocking back and forth.
FIVE MINUTES EARLIER
After a successful trip to the McDonald’s my father had returned. He had sat back in his unoccupied seat and was slightly confused by what looked like a chicken covered pancake we had ordered for him in his absence. Once we had explained the mix up he was less confused than our waiter looked when he returned. My father gave the waiter one of those awkward British smiles as if to say, “It’s alright. This kind of thing happens to us a lot.”
I’m going to tell you a story so scary you will never be able to look at a lift (or elevator for you Americans) in the same way again. Stairs will become your new best friend. What I am going to tell you is a true story and it happened to me. The dictionary describes a lift as such:
A platform or an enclosure raised and lowered in a vertical shaft to transport people or freight.
But I describe a lift as so:
A platform dangling over the void of darkness or a claustrophobic enclosure of terror raised and lowered in a vertical shaft of doom and death to transport and create fear in people or freight.
It all started one Saturday about two years ago. I was working the weekend due to deadline time (and surfing the net) and I was the last person in the building. Around 10pm I finally decided it was time to go home, shut off my computer and got in the lift to go from the fourth floor to the ground floor… if only I had taken the stairs.
As the lift moved down the shaft it suddenly jerked to a stop. At first I thought nothing of it. I thought I had arrived at my destination. Only the doors did not open. I tried hitting a few buttons, nothing happened. It only took a few seconds to realize I was trapped between the first and second floor. It was a Saturday. Monday was a bank holiday. I realized there was a good chance I would not be getting out any time soon and I might have to eat my own arm to survive.
I don’t mind telling you that for the first couple of minuets I was scared like a little girly man. Visions of the lift falling down the shaft danced through my mind. Shouting and using the emergency buzzer did no good. There was no one else in the building. No one was coming to my rescue. In my panic I tried to open the doors with my bear hands. They opened easily but what was behind them was another horror like something out of the ‘Twilight Zone.’ An old red brick wall up to waist height and then the outer lift doors. I tried to force open the outer lift doors but they would only open an inch and no more. For a while I let the panic in, pacing up and down the small space of the lift (but being careful not to shake it too much).
Then, as I started to calm down, came the moment that every man who grew up watching 80s TV dreams of… MacGyver time. Also known as ‘The bit at the end of the A-Team where they made something cool’. So I found myself thinking, “What would MacGyver do?” I took stock of my inventory.
1)A laptop with only a little battery power remaining
2) A mobile phone with a dead battery
3) Some paper
4) A technical drawing pencil
5) A can of coke
6) And my back pack itself
I started thinking things like, “Maybe I could somehow wire up my laptop battery to my mobile phone and charge it up. No.. wait… the lift is a dead spot for mobile phones.”
“Maybe I could use the technical drawing pencil to chip away at the mortar around the bricks and tunnel my way out. No… no good either, I might bring the whole building down.”
“I could open up my laptop, find a long wire and tie it to the Coke can. Then I could shake the Coke can really hard, open it and use it as a rudimentary grappling gun to climb up and out of the shaft. Dam… that wont work… there is no hatch in the lift to open.”
“Ah screw it… I’ll use my backpack as a pillow to sleep on till someone comes and rescues me.”
I used the paper and technical drawing pencil to write a note and push it through the small gap in the lift doors in case anyone came along while I tried to sleep. I wrote my SOS on both sides of the paper since I did not know how it would fall when I pushed it through the gap. Luckily I only ended up with spelling errors on one side.
Then insanity started to set in. The creaking and groaning noises the lift was making started to get to me. It sounded like evil mocking laughter telling me no one was coming. The only thing I could do to keep my spirits up and block out the sound was to sing to myself. No songs came to mind so I started making up my own. I came up with great hits like:
1) I’m stuck in a mother %$#@! lift.
2) I hate lift.
3) Why does this %$#@! have to happen to me.
4) I should have asked that girl out. Now I’m going to die in a lift.
After a while I tried to sleep. In a strange way I had come to accept what was happening to me. There was nothing more to do but wait. Panicking served no purpose and if the lift was going to drop me to my death if would have done so by now. Still I could not sleep. The mocking laughter of the lift kept me awake.
How did I escape my fate you might ask. The simple answer is… I didn’t. I’m still here, using the wireless connection on my lap top to send this blog entry in the hope that someone will see it and come to my rescue.
Ok… maybe not. Here is what really happened. The sounds from the lift and thoughts of what I would have to do if I needed to go to the toilet kept me awake. Around 2am I heard something… not the lift… something else… movement… from down stairs. I jumped up and started shouting. I was found by a very surprised Dutchman in a suit from one of the other companies in our building. I don’t know what he was doing showing up at 2am. I did not care. All I cared about was I was saved.
One thing I feel really bad about was I never remembered his name. It went in one ear and out the other because of all I had been through (If you are reading this I am sorry about that). He phoned the fire brigade and sat and chatted with me while we waited. He even tried to hand me a bottle of Bacardi between the small opening in the lift doors but it would not fit and we did not have any long straws.
Eventually the fireman arrived, opened the lift doors with a crowbar and pulled me out. I could have hugged them… in a manly way of course. I thanked everyone, signed some forms that the firemen gave me, walked out of the building and took in a lungful of the air of freedom. In total I had been trapped for a little over four hours. I never saw the man who found me again. Maybe he was an angle… or a smartly dressed cat burglar, I don’t know. I’ve also never set foot in that lift alone again and never ever late at night. I still swear when ever I hear the lift creek it is saying, “I’ll get you next time Stuart and you’ll never escape.”
Think this story sounds to crazy to be true? Then let me leave you with a scan of the actual note I wrote that fateful night:
For the past eight years I have made a lot of friends in Holland. I have got to know the Dutch people. I have (very slowly started to) learn their language. I have even taken part in their customs and learned their culture. However, unbeknownst to my Dutch hosts this is all a lie.
It turns out that for the past eight years since my arrival in the country of Holland I have not actually been registered as living in the country of Holland. In fact, despite having a permanent job with a contract, a tax number, medical insurance and even a membership card for my local DVD rental store the Dutch government was unaware of my existence.
This shocking revelation happened during a recent visit to city hall while the residency official sitting on the other side of the desk from me gave me a very baffled ‘are you serious’ look as I tried to explain to him that I had been living in Holland since 2001.
As the residency official did some more confused typing on his keyboard I considered showing him my DVD rental store membership card as proof of my claims. After all it was and is a very respectable DVD rental store and probably more efficient then the Dutch government since not only did they know my name, address and date of birth but also my taste in movies. The only downfall to this idea was that they might not make a good character witness since I have a bad habit of returning DVDs very late. I thought about it for a moment and decided to leave the membership card in my pocket. After all, there is no dignity in being deported by Video Land.
The reason for all this was a simple administrative error. By this I mean I was supposed to visit city hall and register myself when I first moved to the country but since no one ever told me I never knew. I only found this out recently during the process of moving in with my Dutch girlfriend. However, it’s not as if I was trying to hide my existence. I was leaving behind some pretty big clues that might tip them off that they had an extra tea drinking Englishman in the country.
After some more confused looks between me and the non- existing data on his computer screen the residency official must have decided that I did exist after all because he simply shrugged his shoulders, said ‘ok then’ in a very Dutch manner and handed me a different form to fill out.
This seemed rather anti-climatic for someone who had been living outside the system for eight years but had only known it for eight minutes. I thought there would be some repercussions. Had I been illegal for the last eighth of a decade?
Did it mean that everyone I had ever shared living accommodation with in the past hadn’t simply been lowering the cost of living by cohabitating in a place of residency with another law abiding citizen as they might have thought but were in fact harboring a fugitive? Someone who knows no laws? A criminal?
And what about in Britain? Had the British government worked out that I had left the homeland? Were they looking for me? Could I have coursed the credit crisis? Had they budgeted for the tax from one extra person who was no longer there and was now paying taxes in Holland instead? And more importantly, did I have any late DVDs to return in Britain?
I thought about it some more and then made sure I filled in the form in my best handwriting to avoid any risk that the residency official might change his mind that everything was ‘ok’.
A few days later after I received the all clear my girlfriends sister sent me this post card to congratulate me on moving to Holland after eight years of living in Holland:
I am a criminal. I have broken the rules of our society and paid the price. People will judge me for the rest of my life. As I walk down the street I already feel their disapproving eyes on me and I hear their hushed whispers to each other.
“Look… there goes the guy who forgot to buy a new train ticket.”
My crime is forgetfulness. Anyone who travels on the train with a monthly pass knows it is all too easy to forget it needs renewing during the early morning half asleep walk to the train station.
I only realized my mistake when I heard the familiar call, “Kaartjes Alsjeblieft,” from the train conductor who had entered the carriage to check everyone’s tickets.
I am an honest person. I didn’t try to pass my ticket off as being in date. When she approached me I apologetically explained my mistake and felt rather stupid. From the look on her face that followed I instantly knew I was in trouble. She was looking at me like she had just caught a hardened criminal stealing charity money from a children’s hospital. Apparently I had also taken their teddy bears just to be extra mean and make them cry.
“You don’t have to tell me if you do not wish to but why did you not buy a ticket?” She asked me with a stern face. It didn’t have the same ring as “you have the right to remain silent” but she said it as if trying to achieve the same level of seriousness and authority. Obviously no one messed with the train service when she was on patrol.
Over the course of the ‘telling off’ she asked me the same question several times. It was as if she was looking for a hole in my story, waiting for me to make one slip that would bring my whole web of lies (as she believed) crashing to the ground.
“I didn’t realize it had run out at the start of the week.” I told her truthfully. “I forgot to…”
“The start of the week?” She interrupted through clenched teeth. “You’ve been traveling with out a ticket for more then one day?”
She made a move that suggested she would have reached for a can of mace if she had one. From the way she talked I was half expecting to end up face down on the floor as she forcefully handcuffed my hands behind my back.
Suddenly the train carriage began to feel like a police interrogation room. I thought about asking for a lawyer or turn snitch and give up the names of other people with out tickets. There was no way I was becoming someone’s bitch in the slammer. Luckily I only had to pay a fine and I could put the plans for my prison break on hold.
I can live with the fact that I had to pay a fine for forgetting my ticket (even though I would have rather kept my money obviously); it might help me to remember next time. However I did not like the smug way the train conductor acted during the whole event. I was obviously a liar and a thief in her eyes. I got the impression she had failed the police force entrance exam and was taking it out on me.
The moral of the story: Never equip train conductors with firearms. Innocent people will die if they have had a bad day.