29 Jun


They always say that moving is one of the most stressful things you can do in life. I’ve always found that hard to belive because I can think of a lot of things I would find far more stressful. Trying to defuse a bomb with only child safety scissors for example, or trying to make a parachute during a skydive.

However, having recently moved I now find myself forced to reevaluate this misguided idea. Although I still can’t say that my move to Friesland was ‘that’ stressful I can’t say it really went to plan either. It ‘had’ been going to plan right up until the last two days. Then it was as if some unseen force had suddenly decided that it rather liked us living in Rotterdam and started doing everything it could to make sure we stayed. This was a bit problematic because we’d already moved most of our stuff up to Friesland.

We only needed to pickup a few last things from our old apartment before we handed the keys over to the new owners and said goodbye to the place forever. So my wife and I hired a van for two days and drove back down to Rotterdam. We spent Sunday morning cleaning up the apartment and loading the van. There was more work to do than we realized and the van was a little smaller than we thought so things were already getting a little difficult. Around mid day we decided to take a short lunch break before I started physically breaking stuff in half to make them fit in the van (like a frustrated Tetris player).

We went up stairs to visit our neighbours who kindly fed us (because the last of our kitchen items were berried somewhere under a box of light fittings in the van). We spent about an hour with them chatting about how the move was ‘theoretically’ going well before saying our goodbyes and returning to work… At least that is what we tried to do.

As my wife walked down the steps towards our apartment her pace started to become slower and slower. I could not see her face (because she was in front of me) but I could tell that something was wrong. It was the kind of ‘try to act natural’ slowing of pace people use when they start to realize they have forgotten something important and are not quite sure what to do about it yet. She stopped before she reached the bottom step and after a moment’s pause started to pat the pockets of her jeans.

“Oh no. I think I’ve…”

She didn’t have to finish the sentence.

My wife had forgotten her keys. She’d left them inside the apartment. In fact, she’d left every spare copy of every key we had re-collected from friends and family inside the apartment (including mine). Basically, we were locked out. This was made worse by the fact that there was still stuff in the apartment that had to go in to the van and the keys (currently locked inside the apartment) had to be given to the new owners the next day. We started to go though our options.

  1. Phone the real estate agent and get his copy of the key (“But it’s the weekend and he won’t be at the office”)
  2. Break down the door (“I don’t think the new owners will like that and you’re not that strong”)
  3. Look up lock picking tutorials on youtube (“We already disconnected the wi-fi”)
  4. Climb up the outside of the building and get in over the balcony (“We’re on the third floor and you’re not spider man”)

We stood in silence for a while, just looking at the door and trying to think up other solutions. I was about to try a combination of option 2 and 3 (using a screw driver) when my wife suddenly remembered that there was actually one spare key left. We’d not collected the one from our downstairs neighbours yet.

We quickly collected the key, averted disaster, got back in to the apartment, continued working and I spent the rest of the afternoon taking the mickey out of my wife for what had happened. This would later turn out to be a bad idea because within less than 24 hours I would be the one making things difficult. In fact, I’d already done it. We just didn’t realize it yet.

By the end of the afternoon we had finished loading the van and cleaning the apartment. We left the van parked outside the apartment, took a tram into the city center and checked into a hotel for the night.

The next morning we returned to the soon-not-to-be-ours apartment and met with the real estate agent for the final inspection. Surprisingly, everything went according to plan. All that was left was to drive to the notary, sign the last of the official documentation and hand the keys over to the new owners. It was just a short 15 minute drive away and we still had 40 minutes until our appointment, plenty of time to get there.

The real estate agent drove ahead in his car. We got into the van, planning to meet him there. I turned the key to start the engine and… nothing happened. I tried again… not even a whimper. The van refused to start.

“Oh no. I think I…”

My wife started laughing before I even finished the sentence. I’d left the lights on since we’d arrived the morning before. The battery was dead. We were not going anywhere, not in the van at least.

We had to phone the office of the real estate agent, and ask if they could phone him, to ask if he wouldn’t mind turning around and coming back to pick us up. He could not help laughing as he picked us up 10 minutes later, having heard the whole story from his secretary.

Luckily everything else went as planned. We made it to the notary on time, signed what had to be signed and handed over the keys. The real estate agent was even nice enough to drive us back. He couldn’t jump start the van for us though. He didn’t have any cables.

So we called the ANWB and asked if they could come and jump start our van. As we waited outside the apartment that was no longer ours, with the van that was temporarily not working, the new owners arrived to have a look at their property. They seemed surprised to see us. They must have thought we were having real trouble letting the place go. The truth was more the other way around.

5 Jun

At The Zoo

It was our last weekend in Rotterdam and we had decided to take a break from packing boxes by taking our daughter to the zoo. The day was a great success. Our daughter had a great time running around from animal to animal. We saw big animals, small animals, flying animals, crawling animals and everything in between. Our daughters favorites were the lions, the fishes and the snakes (she is now convinced that every worm is a snake and is not afraid of them at all).

By the end of the day we were all very tired and it was time to go home. We decided to ride the little zoo’s train back to the car park to save us walking. During the ride I spotted an animal that I had not seen yet during the day, a Rhino.

“Oh look.” I exclaimed loudly, “ They even have an…”

I quickly searched my brain, trying to recall of the name of the animal in Dutch. I knew that I knew it but it was eluding me. I could have just finished the sentence in English but I was trying to show off. What was it again?

“… eenhoorn.” I quickly finished when the word suddenly popped into my head.

I heard a couple behind me begin to chuckle immediately. It only took me a second to realize why. I’d got the name wrong. The Dutch name for a Rhino is not eenhoorn. It’s neushoorn.

What I had actually just shouted was, “Oh look. They even have a unicorn.”

15 Apr

Lost Keys

Five months ago I lost my car keys. In my attempts to find them I searched every corner of our apartment. I looked through every draw, checked every coat pocket, emptied every bag but found nothing.

Luckily my wife still had her car keys so started ‘borrowing’ them whenever I needed to go somewhere. She would use these opportunities to impress upon me the importance of finding my own car keys… So I would start my search again.

I interrogated our two year old daughter for information. When that failed I resorted to giving her another set of keys in the hopes that she would lead me to her secret hiding place and my missing car keys. Alas, she was innocent.

Then I became convinced that my car keys were in England. It wasn’t a complete stretch of the imagination. They had gone missing around the time we had visited my parents in London. In fact, my wife had driven us back to the boat with her own car keys. I’d not seen mine since the trip.

I asked my parents to search their home on four separate occasions over the months that followed. I asked them to check under the furniture. I asked them to search the street where we’d parked our car. I asked them to search their entire house from to bottom. Each time they found nothing and asked me to stop harassing them.

But I was convinced that my car keys had to be at my parents’ house or (at the very least) somewhere in England. Maybe I would just have to have a look for myself during our next visit.

More time passed. Life suddenly became very busy so we did not get a chance to return to England and start my search operation. I slowly started to realize that my car keys were probably lost forever and that I might have to get some new ones at some point. However, since I was not quite ready to admit that yet I continued using my wife’s car keys instead.

Five months had passed since my search began.

Then one day I was on my way out somewhere as my wife came in from cleaning the car. I asked to borrow her car keys again as I had done many times before and she responded by dangling a set of keys in front of my face. But when I tried to take them she refused to hand them over. I was puzzled. Was she trying to make a point about finding my own car keys? Did she want a kiss first (which I tried to do but was met with a head shake)? Why did she keep waving the keys and giving me that funny look?

It took me almost a minute to realize what was going on. The car keys she was holding were not hers… They were mine.

She had just found my missing car keys… in the car… under the driver’s seat. I quickly phoned my parents and apologized.

26 Feb

Fake Sun Tan

As a man with ginger hair I have had to accept that I will never be capable of having a proper sun tan. It is scientifically impossible. My light hair and pale sensitive skin means that I get third degree burns even when just thinking about spending five minutes exposed to sun light. Most vampires are capable of achieving a healthier sun tan than I ever will be.

Maybe that is why, during my mid 20s, I decided to do something about it. Something that quickly became an addition to the list of stupid things I did in my mid 20s. I decided to get a fake sun tan.

First I had to figure out how someone went about getting a fake sun tan so, one Saturday afternoon, I walked into the local Body Shop in Haarlem and started asking questions. This resulted in a few strange looks from the people who ran the shop, mostly because I don’t look like the kind of person who would normally walk into a Body Shop and start asking questions about fake sun tan products.

It didn’t help that I had to ask them to explain everything in tiny, step by step detail because I could not read the Dutch instructions of the products they recommended.

I then confused them even farther with my reaction after they informed me that I would need two different kinds of fake sun tan dye; one for my body and one for my face.

“But I can just use one for both right? It’s all just skin.” I asked.

“I would not recommend it.” Replied the shop attendant, looking worried in a way that suggested she ‘really’ would not recommended it.

“It’s ok. I’ll just take the body dye, thanks.” I replied, not picking up on the rather obvious hint at the time.

I returned home, happy that I would soon have a sexy tan. I entered the bathroom, stripped naked and started applying my fake sun tan body dye… everywhere. Soon I would have an amazing tan… or so I thought.

When I looked in the mirror a short while later I discovered that things had gone horribly wrong. I’d left the dye on for too long, far too long. It had had almost half an hour to soak into my skin. I had turned completely brown. Not a healthy sun tan brown but a ‘I just had an accident with a tin of brown paint’ kind of brown. I looked like an out of season Zwarte Piet.

To make matters even worse it seemed that I had not distributed the dye evenly. My new sun tan was rather more ‘patchy’ than you would expect from the real thing. Between my fingers, for example, the dye had been able to accumulate and had turned the sides of each digit extremely dark in comparison to the rest of my hand. I won’t mention the other bodily crevices where this had happened but there were a few, some easily visible, some more private.

There is a serious problem when it comes to using fake sun tan dye. If you mess it up (as I had done quite spectacularly) you can’t simply remove it. You have to wait it out until it fades away a few weeks later. This meant that I had to return to work on the Monday looking like I had fallen into an entire vat of industrial strength sun tan dye when I had left on the Friday as the palest and whitest guy in the office. Obviously, no one was fooled by my fake sun tan. In hindsight, it probably didn’t help that it was already October.

For the next few weeks everyone was asking if what I had done had been by choice or if I had somehow been forced into it. I had to reply, “neither.”

By the end of November my skin had finally returned to a more normal colour for someone of my complexion (just in time for the real Zwarte Pieten to show up).

I told myself that I would never do anything as stupid ever again as long as I lived… That was until a few months later when someone convinced me that I would look good with blond hair with brown patches. Hair dye also takes a few weeks to wash out.

24 Jan

Bald Stu

If you spend any amount of time living in the Netherlands people will tell you that there are several very good reasons why you should learn the Dutch language. For example; they might suggest that it will make it easier to meet people and make friends, or that it will help you fit in and understand what is going on around you.

But they are wrong. These are not the reasons why you should be learning the Dutch language. There is only one reason that really matters and it is very, very important one… It is so that you receive the haircut you were intending to get when visiting the hairdressers.

“Oh my god! What happened to your hair?” my wife asked while trying to hold back her laughter. Something she had been unable to do when I had first walked through the door a few seconds earlier.

“There was a communications mishap,” I replied.

“What did you do?” She asked, because in these situations she knows it is usually caused by something I did… she was right.

“I tried to talk Dutch,” I replied, defeated.

When I had arrived at the hairdressers half an hour earlier I had been determined to speak Dutch. My hair had been getting quite long but I only wanted it trimmed a little. So I sat down in the chair, looked at my hairdresser in the mirror and confidently told her in Dutch how I would like my hair cut… Unfortunately there is a big difference between saying, “Ik wil het een beetje korter,” and what I had accidentally said; “Ik wil het kort.”

For the English speakers amongst you that is the difference between saying, “I’d like it a little bit shorter please,” and, “I’d like it short.”

Unfortunately I did not realize that I had made a mistake straight away. When the hairdresser reached for the electric hair trimmer I had been slightly puzzled but I had not really thought to ask what she was planning to do with them. Out of English politeness I thought it best not to bother the nice lady and point out that this light trimming only required scissors. I assumed that she probably knew what she was doing… But then one side of my head had suddenly been shaved off and I found myself rapidly reassessing the situation.

As my hair fell to the ground in great big clumps my English politeness took control of the situation and told me to keep on smiling and act like everything was going to plan (It’s an English survival instinct). Meanwhile, my inner English panic was doing what it does best and discovering several new swear words to describe the situation. Before my sense of politeness and my sense of panic could reach a consensus on how best to handle the situation it was too late. My hair was gone. I suddenly realized my earlier mistake.

To fully grasp what this looked like it is important to remember that in real life I have a beard. This meant that I now had more hair on my face then I had on my head. I think if you take a moment to visualize that we can all agree that that is a very strange look. My hair was now short enough that I could easily enroll in the army or be mistaken for a mob bosses henchmen.

And that was why my wife had been unable to control her laughter when I had first returned to our apartment (and for the several hour that followed that).

“Why didn’t you say anything?” She asked after I finished my story.

“I… don’t… know,” I replied.

“Didn’t you learn from last time?”

Oh… yeah. I should probably mention this was not the first time something like this had happened. I really should improve my Dutch.